Sunday, June 29, 2014

Discipleship #3 When the Winnowing Comes.

Verse: My flesh is true food and my blood is true drink … When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This teaching is difficult; who can accept it?” John 6:55. 60.

Winnowing is meant to sort the wheat from the chaff. This farming principle was used by Rabbi Jesus to explain a reason why some things happen to us. It is meant to reveal those who were genuine and those who are simply along for what they can get. The master Teacher could easily draw a crowd as the supreme story teller. Others crowded Him as the miracle worker and healer. Who wouldn’t want a free fish and bread lunch or see amazing healings. To cap it all off this apparently unlearned man revealed the covetous nature of so many Scribes and Pharisees. Even today Jesus can draw a crowd whether it be through movies, meetings or testimonies, for or against Him.

Jesus confronted the multitudes with some interesting statements that unmasked those who were self seekers, not disciples. By His Holy Spirit and the Scriptures the process continues today. Consider John 6. Jesus talked about being the ‘Bread and Wine of Heaven’ and didn’t try and explain it. Even today His words are misunderstood or inadequately explained. This is a reference to Leviticus 17:11: ‘The life of the flesh is in the blood; and I have given it to you for making atonement for your lives on the altar; for, as life, it is the blood that makes atonement.’ Notice the link to the altar. This was the place for animal sacrifice. Each of those offerings on the altar were pictures of a future event which will fulfil them. That was and remains the cross on which Christ Jesus was crucified at Calvary. Not knowing the Scriptures, as was the case in John 6, still produces all types of weird conjectures.

The result? This statement became a winnowing of the commitment of those who gathered around Jesus. Those who were attached to Jesus because of ‘bread and fishes’ or seeing Him do signs and wonders were ‘blown away’ by Christ’s tough sayings. Those who simply enjoyed being with a celebrity were also sifted because it was no longer kosher to be seen in His presence. That remains true even today. Will we stand with the Lord on what He taught? Will we compromise our faith and be sifted on such matters as: Creation, the uniqueness of Christ Jesus, the cross and resurrection, the ‘Noah’ flood, the promise return of Christ to judge and rule, to highlight just a few. Today’s church going crowds will need to answer these questions. What will be their response? Will it be that of the crowd or ‘the twelve’ when asked by Jesus? “Do you also wish to go away?” What held this group to Jesus? Conviction! Peter’s reply must ultimately be ours: “Lord, to whom can we go? You have the words of eternal life. We have come to believe and know that you are the Holy One of God.”

Would Jesus make an exception about the principle of ‘winnowing’ for those with good social credentials? Remember the rich young man who asked about earning the gift of eternal life? (Luke 18:18–25) He was also observant of the Law and thereby had good moral integrity. Jesus challenged this young man on the issue of priority and faith. Would he relinquish his love of and security in money? Would Jesus become his Master and provider? The winnowing must have been severe in the heart of this inquirer. The breath of the Lord blew upon Mammon but the man would not let it depart from his heart.

There are forces, spiritual, physical and emotional which we may face. These may appear unannounced. They can pounce on any of us to crush, bruise and take us away from Jesus. Again the fisherman Peter becomes an example for us. In the future he would face the greatest crisis in His life. It would take place when he denied his Lord. This caused not merely emotional pain, guilt and self loathing it opened the door for Satan’s onslaught. What saved him? Jesus prayed for Peter. Then, after the resurrection, Jesus made a point of meeting with Peter and assuring him of forgiveness and re-instatement.
He does this for you too. He knows there will be times when you and I fail to stand the test. Jesus doesn’t abandon His disciples. Correct them yes. Forgive them definitely. Lift them up to get on with the task, assuredly. Jesus continues to be our intercessor (and restorer) according to Hebrews 7:25.

Jesus is up front to men and women who are drawn to Him. What He offers is beyond price and is eternal. However, there is a cost factor. You will be faced with it in many of the devotions. As Jesus went to the cross to secure for you all He promised so you must have a ‘death to self’ encounter to receive the promises. To walk in newness of Life means you could be opposed, ridiculed, ignored or condescendingly endured. Jesus considers this part of the sifting process. You must recognise what awaits you. When the choice is made you either begin the discipleship journey or remain uncommitted. In Athens you get a glimpse of the winnowing of the Holy Spirit through the preaching of the Gospel. ‘When they heard of the resurrection of the dead, some scoffed; but others said, “We will hear you again about this.” – But some of them joined him and became believers’. Acts 17:32–34

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Hope Even When Despair's Tear Fall

To look into the eyes of the displaced people from Syria, Iraq and elsewhere, what has God got to offer them? Does the Bible speak to their situation? Do all we have to say merely sounds like pious but hollow words?

There is a book in the Old Testament written especially for people caught up in war. It was written by the prophet Jeremiah after the destruction of his beloved city, Jerusalem. The book is called Lamentations. In any conflict the innocent suffer. The causes of the conflict will vary from that of Israel in Jeremiah’s day. You read of his anguish, his identification with its destruction and even his questioning of God. However in the midst of this book of tears the radiance of Hope bursts through. This isn’t a whistling in the dark, fingers crossed type of hope. It is founded on the rock solid faithfulness of God to His promises.

Jeremiah was distraught by the apparent hopelessness which the burning rubble of city and temple presented. He believed God had promised through Abraham, Isaac and Jacob a Messiah and King would come through the tribe of Judah. Was all that now abandoned by God because of human faithlessness, failure and folly? The nation was in captivity in Babylon. The city destroyed. God’s promise seemed null and void. Had the ungodly won the battle?

Even today this scenario is being played out, especially in Islamic countries. Rival Islamic militants are intent on destroying each other. All of those Islamic groups also have the desire to eliminate Jews and Christians. Where is the Lord Jesus Christ in all of this? The United Nations relief agencies are in the camps supplying food and shelter but where can hope be found? Where will the heart find comfort that truth, righteousness and justice will ultimately one day come? When the Christian suffering refugees bury their dead what will sustain their faith? What can they offer to the children who are hungry, naked and confused?

There can only be the promises of God spelt out in the Bible. These are not wishful thinking words. The promises of God are verifiable and tested by time and fulfilment in a number of areas. Jeremiah wrestled in his pain, poverty and loneliness with wondering if God would succeed in doing what He promised. The prophet wrote down his convictions in Lamentations 3. (see below). He also declared that God would bring back the nation to the Land after seventy (70) years. It happened! We also know that God kept His word in the sending of His son Jesus to be the Messiah. Christmas and Easter are testament to that.

Therefore, what hope can we offer to those who sit in the rubble of their world? What can we say when injustice, cruelty and corruption flaunt themselves and defile the Name and Word of God? ‘(God) has fixed a day on which he will have the world judged in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed, and this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead’. (Acts 17:31 speaking of course about Jesus Christ) Compare also Jude 15-25 Revelation 20.

The Bible is actually a book written to refugees assailed, expelled or threatened for their faith in Jesus as God’s Son, our Saviour. Those of us in the more stable countries at this moment need to pray for those who are suffering and dying for their faith, now. We may well be next. Therefore each of us needs to reconnect and take to heart the wonderful words of faith which held Jeremiah together even as his tears of despair flowed.

‘My soul … is bowed down within me. But this I call to mind, and therefore I have hope; The steadfast love of the Lord never ceases, His mercies never come to and end; they are new every morning; great is your faithfulness. “The Lord is my portion,” says my soul, “therefore I will hope in Him.” The Lord is good to those who wait for Him, to the soul that seeks Him. It is good that one should wait quietly for the salvation of the Lord.’ (Lamentations 3:20-26)

Hope is founded on God’s character, integrity and track record in fulfilling what He promised. Now is the time to be strengthened in it through reading, believing and obeying His word. Now is also the time to make His promise of forgiveness and a new destiny by putting your trust in Jesus Christ as Lord and Saviour. He is the One who will one day come to judge the world in righteousness. That’s hope sustained by God’s faithfulness!

Sunday, June 15, 2014

Where's God in Life's Storms?

The disciples must have wondered what hit them. One moment they are enjoying sailing on Sea of Galilee, the next rowing for their lives. From out of nowhere the storm had struck. How long they struggled is not mentioned
however it must have been an extended period of time. Did they wonder, ‘where was their Lord when they needed Him’? Why hadn’t He come to their aid? He’d been there for them before when they were in similar strife. At that time they woke Him because of their fear. He stilled that storm (Matthew 8:23–28). Where was He in this one?

In everyday Christian living, sudden, unexpected ‘storms’ blow down upon us. These may be theological issues, personality conflicts or financial difficulties, to name just three. Each one is whipped up or made worse by the bad breath of Satan. Our ‘rowing harder’ is usually in the form of increasingly urgent prayers and making promises. In this mix are questions about where in all of this is the Lord?

Prior to the storm Jesus had gone into a mountain for two reasons. One was to get away from an emotional crowd of ‘king makers’ after the feeding of the five thousand (John 6:1–3). It was also to pray. Was it also to give space for the disciples to experience another Faith lesson? Being Passover the moon would have been full and Jesus could have seen their struggles. Why didn’t He go immediately to their aid? Only He knows the real reason. We can only surmise. If we are honest with ourselves, similar emotions play in our minds when we face such times.

According to the Scriptures Jesus is our ever present companion. His assurance to never forsake us is intellectually comforting when the going is smooth. The problem comes in the storm. Emotion devours the confidence of faith. The physical swamps the spiritual. We don’t ‘feel’ the closeness of our Lord and Saviour and we wonder ‘where is He?’ It doesn’t mean He has withdrawn from us. It may be He has something of a Faith lesson for us to experience. He is praying for us similar to the prayer He prayed for Peter, ‘I have prayed for you, Simon that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers.’ (Luke 22:32).

Within our nature there is a perverse streak. It imagines Jesus should be at our beck and call. What an insipid, spineless disciple we would be if Jesus simply allowed us to ‘sail over the mill pond of life to Heaven’s shore?’ Life isn’t like that in this fallen soul saturated playground of the Devil (1 John 5:19). To exercise our call to be trust and follow Christ Jesus means we are to be witnesses unto Him. In turn that means we are to prove Him faithful and his Word true in all of life’s rough and tumble. We must face the natural and the spiritual storms of life by faith, perseverance and a godly attitude. Only then will faith be firm not fanciful.

Why didn’t the rowing disciples abandon the boat? One reason may well be that to do so would find them in greater peril. The only real option was to ‘hang in there’ and see how the Lord would act. Patience and perseverance are different aspects of trust in the goodness of God. The former seems to embrace a waiting in comfort or anxiety. The latter is shrouded in pain and strife, the gritting of the teeth and the steeling of the heart to hold on until God acts. It is an attitude which believes and knows from previous experiences God is good and His promises are reliable.

How strange it is to read the attitude of the disciples when Jesus turned up. Thinking He was a ghost they were terrified. His reassuring words of self disclosure must have calmed their hearts long before they realised the wind and waves had abated. Many of us can undoubtedly identify with the disciples’ confusion and then relief. So often when the Lord acts in our own ‘storms’ we fail to recognise Him. This isn’t because of unbelief or ignorance but from weariness from the struggle to stay ‘afloat.’ After we recover our breath and realise the terror has passed we should bend knee in praise and gratitude.

Reflection: Are there ‘storms’ brewing around me? Am I confident in God’s grace? Do I understand that the Lord is never late to intervene? What we see in His delay is Christ’s way to deepen our faith.
Request: Help me to trust you in the ‘squalls and storms’ of life. Tune my ear to hear your voice and know your peace above the roar of the ‘waves’.

Sunday, June 8, 2014

Biblical Fools #3: The Foolish and 'Fossilized' Prophet

1 Kings 13 has a depressing story of a ‘fossilized and foolish prophet.’ All of us, especially ministers would do well to heed its message. The amount of detail preserved in Scripture concerning this man must surely be a warning for all. As the years roll over us and we deal with the rawness of people’s experiences we need to be on guard. We should be alert to any hardening influences which want to creep into our spirits. The ‘Old Prophet’ syndrome is easily caught and hard to overcome. Don’t let it be your obituary notice in Heaven’s log book.

How did this man, unnamed, become spiritually hard, barren and ‘deadly?’ He would not have set out to become what we read about him. The paralysis of the spirit must have been insidious, slow and poisonous. His call to serve Yahweh was during the reign of Solomon. When that king died the nation was divided into the North and South kingdoms. Jeroboam established two rival religious and political centres. Their aim was to seduce his supporting tribes from going to Jerusalem in accordance with the Law. It worked! It was idolatrous but it worked. Did the old prophet speak up for Yahweh’s law and worship? Did he denounce such treason? Did he lose heart because no one seemed to listen? Did he think that silence was safety? What forces were in play to keep him in Bethel which no longer meant the house of God? His subsequent behaviour revealed the hardening power of compromise and indifference to the Word of God!

We live in a multi–cultural and litigious society. As such it’s hostile to the moral and spiritual doctrines of Scripture. The safety of silence can become a wonderful hideout. Whilst our Lord did call us to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves He didn’t ask us to be mute. Nor does He expect us to back pedal on what His word declares. Ministry has to be gracious, not necessarily popular.

We are repeatedly told in Scripture not to be false witnesses. The Old Prophet was this in two ways at least. He was false to his calling and false in what he said to the young man of God. This unnamed man of God knew his mission and carried it out. He was on his way home in accordance with the Lord’s word for he had been instructed not to hang around or to fraternise. Then along comes this senior prophet and deceives him saying God had told him to have this young man home for a meal. Was the young man’s acceptance due to respect for the aged prophet? Did the young prophet imagine God had changed His mind? Surely he would never have suspected that another man of the prophetic class would deliberately lie.

Why would this fossilized prophet want to have the young man come home for ‘supper’? Was it nostalgia? Was it seeking to impress? Whatever it was he became an instrument of death to an unsuspecting young man. One of the saddest aspects of this matter is how the ‘fossilized prophet’ is portrayed. He showed no remorse, no conscience nor repentance over what he did or what happened to the young ‘man of God’. The young man was led astray by someone who should have been a mentor but turned out to be a traitor.

Within churches today such characters move with cunning, deceit and apparent immunity. These faithless and compromising ministers and priests have lost touch with the Lord Jesus and His word. Sad to say they cause spiritual and ministerial death to many bright and faithful men and women of God. Society views the behaviour and its devastating impact and curses God and rejects His scriptures and grace.

Another question seeks an answer. How were the Fossilized Prophet’s family affected by his betrayal of the Law’s doctrine and duty? Would they have had any interest in the things of Yahweh? If they bothered to go to any form of worship how genuine could it have been? To cap it all, would his treatment of the ‘man of God’ be a stumbling block too high for them to climb? Did he care? There is such a high price to pay with wide ranging consequences when a man or woman betrays God, scripture and God’s sacred calling.

Such ‘fossilized’ fools will be called to account before the judgement seat of God one day. They might expect favourable and merciful treatment from a sentimental God. How wrong they are. God will be just but also true to His holy character and render to them as their deeds deserve. Fossils may hold pride of place in museums, but in Heaven they have no place. We should always heed the description of our Lord in Hebrews 12:29. He is a consuming fire. Unless we are true to Him and know Jesus as our Lord and Saviour we will not escape condemnation and rejection.

Don’t be a fool or try and play God as if He is one. Be true to Christ Jesus and you will find Him eternally true to you. Now that is the wise thing to do!

Sunday, June 1, 2014

Series: Discipleship. Christ's invitation

students @ Woolwich Bible College 1963
To be a disciple is to be a student. Therefore to be a disciple of Christ Jesus is to be in His classroom ad learning from His curriculum. From what I can see people were never called to make ‘decisions’ for Christ. They were invited to enter into His ‘classroom’. This would begin a series of student/Master engagements, both theological and practical, in groups and individually, in a set place or out in the ‘market place’.

How Discipleship Begins: John 1:35-39.

Someone who knows about Jesus (eg John the Baptist) points out to someone the person of Jesus. When that person (Andrew) shows interest Jesus (or now His servants) says: “Come and see” (v.39)

One of the key words of Jesus is “come”. Don’t rush into commitment or hasty vows. Check Him out. This use to be the role of such things as Sunday Schools, Youth groups, Gospel services, specific Bible Studies. Our society has by-passed most of these, unfortunately, today.

The early parts of the Gospels have this “come and see” aspect. You see the person of Jesus under all types of circumstances. You hear of His teachings. You watch His debates and marvel at His miracles. He also gives you areas of responsibility, Matt. 10. Matt.14:13 etc.

How Discipleship is Sifted: John 6: 22-71. Matthew 16:24-26.

It’s great and exciting in the early days and months of being a disciple. See and hear all types of things. Suddenly, you hit the proverbial ‘brick–wall’. It takes at least two forms.
1. Jesus lays out some tough sayings. Some cannot handle them or misunderstand the implications and metaphors. They drop out of class.
2. Then to those who remain comes even harder words: Deny self: Take up your cross: Follow.

In a sense this is the penultimate part of Discipleship. It is also a requirement which is never lifted. It says you are prepared to put to death all your personal ambitions, dreams, lusts and likes to obey Jesus. It says when you have a choice of serving self or obeying Jesus you deny yourself.

The ultimate test is when it seems as though the One you call Lord is beaten in battle and crucified literally or verbally. It’s as though all the teaching has been a fraud and He is either a liar or sad lunatic. Graduation from being a disciple into a follower/soldier etc arrives when the wonder, the reality, the awesome triumph of Jesus and His Word over the tomb and human philosophy grips your heart.

How Discipleship is Celebrated: John 21:12.

The Greek is “Come and breakfast (or dine)”. I find it interesting that after Acts the term ‘Disciple’ isn’t used. Actually we would be better called ‘sent ones’ (apostles) Matt. 28:19-20 as well as other descriptive terms such as ‘co-labourer, fellow-soldier, elder, evangelist, and collectively ‘saints.’

Was this a ‘graduation’ dinner? Those in the upper room and others were convinced about who Jesus is and why He had come. The profound statement by Thomas in John 20:28 sums Jesus up. “My Lord and my God!”

In this passage just before the ascension of the Lord (Acts 1) Jesus comes for a breakfast with His ‘ graduates’. One or two matters needing addressing but now they were to be commissioned. What did that involve? Matthew 28:19-20 ‘Go into all the world and make disciples…’ They were now the ‘sent ones’. That also spills over onto us.

From “come and see” these men and women of Jesus were now invited to “come and dine”. It reminds me of our personal calling. The Lord invites us to ‘come and dine’ regularly with Him around Communion/Eucharist. After sharing in that precious time we are sent into ‘our world’ as Christ’s witnesses. One day, when all the ‘sending out’ has been completed we will dine with our Lord at the Marriage Supper of the Lamb (Revelation 19:7-10).