More on Suffering and Spiritual Growth.

The joy of the Lord is my strength, is going through my mind as I find myself facing a new week and my mind immediately feeding and focusing on several things that need to be done, obstacles to be overcome – I step back and remind myself that I should rather focus on “The joy of the Lord which is my strength”.

“Understand what this means, Ian, the joy lies totally in trusting Me all the time and when you face obstacles and difficulties to remember that nothing in your life is unforeseen to Me – so you can quietly place your trust in Me and know the peace and joy of being in a relationship with Me. As you move into the week and face obstacles and difficulties – you can face them by recognizing My power and guidance, My presence – My purpose and handing over any sense of unease – simply placing your trust in Me and taking the next logical step. So turn your eyes upon Jesus and look full in His face – trust Him and sense the joy of the relationship of perfect safety – being in His grip which you have.”

Revisiting my last blog on spiritual warfare, reflected in persecution and Christian growth, I by no means was suggesting that persecution was the only way to experience true Christianity or spiritual growth. My point was that while we feel compassion and pity for those who are suffering persecution and are led to intense prayer for them, the irony is that some (surely not all) have rather ironically expressed a pity from their side towards brothers and sisters who live in the western life of affluence and ease and the effect it has on spiritual growth and experience (Nic Ripkin raises this in his book “The insanity of obedience”). Francis Shaeffer once said “the greatest threat to Christianity in the 20th century is personal affluence and privacy”. Personal affluence removes one’s sense of dependence on God and the privacy it buys, walls one off from a sense of community and the perception of interdependence.

Reading ch 27 of Acts, which describes Paul’s journey to Rome, beset by storms and finally a disastrous shipwreck, I am again struck by How much opposition and suffering Paul had during his life and ministry. How can we explain it? Well on the one hand surely Satan was at work trying to divert the potential spread of the gospel. Yet God in His sovereignty allowed it. I can just fall back on the thought that in all this he was constantly being brought to a deeper and deeper sense of dependence on God with the resultant growth in faith and trust.

More books than the hairs on my head have been written about Christian suffering, so far be it from me to think I can contribute something new. Suffice for me to say is suffering and its role in each of our lives is a very real factor in our spiritual growth, however, each of us is totally unique, so there is no way one can make a blanket statement about this subject which fits all.

We can learn from each other and from the scriptures but ultimately we need to apply what we are hearing Jesus saying to us in our particular situation and allow God to lavish us with His grace, through His word and through His Spirit, ministering to our particular, unique personality and circumstance. And by interaction with each other to support one another without offering easy answers, yet directing them back to God’s word.

Special thank you to Lilly for her interaction which provoked me to think through this subject again.

Persecution as part of Spiritual Warfare

“Here Ian – come close to Me that I can speak to you – ‘Yet not I but Christ in me’ – that is the life I want you to live – that is the message I want you to preach. As you live that message well, there will be less of yourself and more of Me in everything that you do – I am still giving you a completely free will – yet I am drawing you closer to that aim – ‘Yet not I but Christ in me – the life that I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave himself for me’. So I am setting you free again – free to live that gospel.”

As I read the story of Paul in Acts, describing his persecution while he tries to share the gospel, I envisage thousands of other Christians who were persecuted during the first century (and over the whole gospel era). Tradition has it that the gospel of Mark was written to strengthen and encourage Christians who were being persecuted by Nero in Rome. Pictures of the saints dipped in tar and tied to poles to be set alight at night to light the streets of Rome, come to mind. Saints in iron cages left in arenas for lions to pull pieces of flesh from them till they die and the church hiding in catacombs to escape.

And so my thoughts go to the recorded message Julie placed on our WhatsApp group who follow this blog, of a woman pleading for prayer for the Christians in Afghanistan. While I was listening to that, close to tears myself at the thought of the incredible suffering, my thoughts went to Revelation 6:9,10.

(The best way to read the book of Revelation is to imagine a modern rugby match where there is a slow-motion replay where the same event is played over from different angles to see it better. In the same way John was shown in a graphic, mostly pictorial and symbolic way the events that would play out during the gospel era. So there are a number of scenes (7), which each depict the same events in a different way. Many of the events have such horrific pictures that one is tempted to pass them over. To balance these however, you must keep in mind the key verse which describes the purpose of the book Rev 17:14 ‘They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because He is Lord of Lords and King of Kings – and with Him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers’).

In 6:9,10 we are reminded of the reality of the fact that there are going to be many martyrs over the years and it seems to them never ending, as they cry “How long, Souvereign Lord so holy and true until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?”

Heh, but isn’t that so distant and unreal to us, safely in our Western comfortable houses, free to speak the gospel and worship the Lord. In a comment on these vv (Rev 6:9,10), John Piper in his book “Don’t waste your life”, urges us to have a wartime mindset and our weapon is the word of God .

“I need to hear this message again and again because I drift into peacetime mindset as certainly as rain falls down and flames go up. I am wired by nature to love the same toys that the world loves. I start to fit in. I start to love what others love, I start to call earth home. Before you know it I am calling luxuries needs and using my money just the way unbelievers do. I begin to forget the war. I don’t think much about people perishing. Missions and unreached people drop from my mind” pgs 110,11.

Nik Ripkin, who spent a number of years in the Sudan, later set out to research how Christians survived and still shared the gospel in countries where they are being persecuted. It was originally intended to be a task for which he set aside two years. He ended up doing it for 15 years and visited 72 countries, where there was severe persecution, interviewing over 600 people. Brother Andrew from Open Doors says in the foreword to Nik’s book “the Insanity of Obedience”, that the only place where the church is really growing is where it is suffering persecution.

To us in our safe homes and life-style we are horrified at what is going on out there, yet you know what, many of those people are actually sorry for us, because they believe we are not experiencing Christianity as it really is. So yes, let us pray for those people. Let us pray much for them. But let us pray for ourselves that we would become infected with the urgency of the kingdom. That it would infiltrate every part of our lives and we would be bold to take up the weapons of spiritual warfare, of which prayer is an integral part. As we have seen the warfare is as intense now as it has been from Paul’s time.

(If you are not on the “Ian’s blog WhatsApp group” and would like to hear the video send your no to 082 579 4149, and I will add your name, where you will also be informed when a new blog is published and can share prayer requests).

Paul’s Captivity turned to Gospel Opportunity.

I start my time with the Lord on this Monday morning, with the week looming ahead, with the lively song “Who can be against us if our God is for us”.

I am assured, by faith that the Lord is very present with me. “I am here in the full power and might of My presence – that power that I used to create the universe – I am here fully in this room with you today. Now let me lift you up into the celestial world where you can float on the clouds and look down and see the bigger picture – see My plan being worked out fully – driven by My love – which is the most powerful force in the universe – and that power is working all things together to complete My plan – even to where My judgement falls – and the promise, My personal promise to you is that you are a recipient of that powerful force of My love – which is driving every part of your life – and nothing can separate you from it, even the combined forces of all the evil. So now feel and experience the lightness of your burdens lifted – take My yoke – feel it – it is easy and it is light and in no way should it make you feel burdened again. Just take one step at a time – do the next thing that you must do – don’t try and live in the future. Make the most of every moment with Me – even when difficulties come your way. Remember My power released in My love, is protecting and shielding you.”

While I have been munching through Galatians I have picked up the story we were reading in Acts again. In ch 21 Paul’s arrest in Jerusalem is described. Stott makes the point that from that time on Paul was never again to be a free man. This section to the end of the book describes 5 different trials that Paul faces. The main subtheme seems to be the difference in the attitudes of the Jews and the Romans to Paul. As this is narrative compared to the concentrated teaching in Paul’s epistle to the Romans, it is often a bit more challenging to hear Jesus speaking to us from it.

Today I am reading the defence of Paul in his trial before Felix in chapter 24:9-21. To understand the context one should probably read from ch 21. I am going to focus just on these few vv.

So in the background the question continues to hover, “Why is God allowing Paul to experience such opposition, especially in the light of Romans 8:28? Have you ever pondered that? So where Romans 8 shows God’s attitude towards the individual, this needs always to be seen against the background of the bigger picture. The bigger picture of Paul’s ministry, however shows that God always has the growth of His Kingdom, represented by His church as His main objective. Of course the real issue that God affirms in Romans 8 is that whatever His bigger plan is, His personal plan for each one is driven by His love for us and what we experience is always for our ultimate benefit, as well as the benefit of the church. So we must draw the conclusion that opposition will always result in benefitting the spread of the Gospel and the growth of the Kingdom as well as our personal sanctification.

This is not a question of God being nasty. The fact of opposition is one of the main motivators to persevere and carry out any plan. Considering that it is necessary for one to be sure that the plan is the correct one, opposition will often start one examining the plan again to confirm that it is the right way to go. So in a way it purifies the purpose and the implementation of the plan. I have experienced this first-hand in my early years in Stellenbosch. Being involved in a church with a very powerful evangelistic ministry I became convinced of the need to follow that with a concerted discipleship program. For a number of years I worked on developing such a plan and am still in contact with some of the people who were part of that program.

However rather than support from the leadership in the church I found them being responsible for the most opposition. I also experienced attempts to hi-jack the program for personal gain. The net effect was that I worked harder than ever, trying to improve the program to avoid unnecessary criticism and looking back it was a time of glorious growth in a personal way as well as in numbers, giving God all the glory.

Back in Acts 24. To pick up what Jesus is saying to me I would start by reminding myself of the main theme of Acts: the description of how God, through His Spirit, used the Apostles to take the fledgling message, the message which will result eventually in the completion of His Kingdom, into the then known world. Luke repeatedly remarks how the word spread and grew, in the various places where it was taken.

What can I see in this passage that speaks to me? 1. The accusers use ‘fake news’ and hearsay to bring their accusations against him, whereas Paul sticks to the truth. This strikes me as an important point in making a defence for the gospel – not to be dragged down by these tactics, rather sticking to the truth as it is recorded in God’s word. 2. Paul’s interaction with the Law and the Prophets is interesting, especially in he light of what he wrote in Galatians about the law. Perhaps you would like to think that one through. 3. Whatever his defence, he uses it to steer the conversation back to the central point of the gospel. In this case he focusses on the resurrection, cf vs 16,21. This was probably the most controversial point of the gospel, yet Paul doesn’t hesitate to bring it forward, to turn the interaction into an opportunity to explain the gospel. Opposition often throws out red herrings in an effort to distract us as we present God’s truth.

These things all remind me of the supreme importance of all of us being prepared to be a representative of and speak out for the gospel at all times.

But you may be saying, “I am not a bible teacher. Or someone who can go and confront people.” That is why I cannot tell you what Jesus is saying to you. You must be listening to His voice to you personally. What I can say is that every one of us is called to place the gospel central in our lives and thinking so that we will be its representative. How that manifests itself will vary, as we are all individuals with unique gifts and personality. It may mean just a smile at the right time, a word of encouragement, a prayer or open offer to pray, a gift in Jesus’ name, a little card or posy, a loving visit or even just a phone-call. The Spirit will guide each one of us, if we are sensitive and listening to Him. The important thing is that you won’t be led by Him if you aren’t listening to Him. For instance, for many years Emily used to buy packs of small cards with Christian messages on them. These she would post or hand out whenever she felt led to do it.

Mocking God.

Firstly, let me thank Lily for sharing her “listening prayer” on the group’s Watts App platform. She shows she is grasping and practicing this wonderful way of interacting with God. I hope that many of the rest of you are also learning to enjoy the same sort of interaction.

This morning as I was listening to the beautiful song by Bill Gaither, “Worthy is the Lamb”, In my mind’s eye I felt I was being buoyed up on the voices – a billion voices singing together – I see a myriad of faces – golden crowns and the song swells and rises Worthy, worthy worthy is the lamb that was slain.

“Think back where the picture of a slain lamb comes from – when my people were being released from captivity in Egypt – a lamb had to be slain so that they could be set free from captivity – remember that it wasn’t just any lamb – they had to take a lamb into the house and make it into a pet – they would grow to love it over a few weeks – that was the lamb – perfect – without blemish, loved by the owners which was the one that was to be slain to set them free – that picture in a very small way showed my Son – whom I love dearly, not just a random person – a Son going to the cross voluntarily for the sins of all people -to set them free from captivity – of sin, Satan and the world. As you look at the multitude singing ‘worthy is the Lamb’ – you may not be able to grasp it all – but there is a place kept for you amongst the billions – because each person there is special to Me – so just absorb that picture and the knowledge of My love for you – and let that be he driving force in your life”.

As we come now to the last chapter of Galatians, Paul gathers some important applications for the readers. Just reading the first paragraph there are 5 separate instructions which are nevertheless linked integrally. These are quite clear to understand but perhaps worth spending a quiet time on each to work out with the Lord how you can implement them in your life.

I want to come to the statement in vs 7 “Do not be deceived: God cannot be mocked.” I struggled for a while to understand what Paul was getting at, then it struck me. What Paul was saying is basically “You cannot fool God. You may think that He is not perceiving your behaviour, but the attitude which you have towards Him will show in your behaviour. Maybe just in a small way at the beginning, but if you continue in that behaviour the seed you have sown will grow bigger and bigger till it takes over your life and can ultimately be an indicator of whether you were ever saved in the first place. In other words your actions and behaviour will ultimately show what is going on in your mind and the more you feed them the bigger they will grow. So let the harvest in your life, says Paul, be doing good to all people, that will reveal that you are being led by the Spirit and walking with Him.

I shared this with our morning prayer group and one person remarked that Paul says we should not become weary of doing good. So there is a possibility that we can become weary of doing good. Some thought heh?

So, as we come to the closing remarks in Paul’s own handwriting, he repeats a statement he made in ch 5:6 “neither circumcision or uncircumcision has any value”. What is unsaid is the towering statement of the gospel in 2:20. If that is placed central in everyone of our lives, thoughts, minds bodies, souls hearts etc we will not drift away into the clutches of the wrong teachers which abound today.

More on Christian Freedom.

Be still and know that i am God – the God of Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and Jesus is here with you (yes in Ephesians 1:3 Paul refers to the “God and Father of our Lord Jesus”. I take that to mean in His humanity He saw God as His God and Father).

“The key word is not just to know that I am with you – but that you know Me and even more important that I know you. From your conception I have known you – from a young age you have known and accepted that I am real – but there came a time when your eyes were truly opened and in a full flush of wonder you came into a different dimension of ‘knowledge’ – a dimension where you met Me in a new way – From that moment on I knew you too in a new way, because I started a relationship with you – where you could meet and speak to me. Now as time is passing I am drawing you deeper and deeper into knowing Me. My word speaks of Jesus as a ‘Mystery’ and though that Mystery is revealed under the New Covenant – while it is revealed there are yet such riches in that Mystery that there is a deeper and more intimate knowledge revealed of Me as you walk with Me, hence Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:17 – and the aim is twofold – to give you hope – and to open your eyes to the power that is available to you to live the life – the new life of freedom I have given you. So my continual invitation to you is to keep close to Me and to walk step by step in the way and power of the Spirit”.

Today I was reading in Acts again (Ch 21), describing Paul’s arrested in Jerusalem. John Stott makes the point that from that time onward Paul was never free again. Yet, as I considered this, it came to me that despite his physical bondage and captivity he was still, perhaps the person with the greatest freedom. He understood fully what it meant to be set free from the bondage of the law, yet he used the law to open a way to preach the gospel, without falling into bondage again. So it is important that we understand that the freedom that the gospel brings is a spiritual and mental freedom and not a physical freedom. There are many people who are in bondage to sickness, pain, captivity, disability, poverty etc yet have a sense of the complete freedom which comes with a true understanding of the gospel. Take Joni Ericksen-Tada as an example.

If we look again at Galatians 5, there is a clear choice set before the readers: either to live by gratifying the sinful nature v 16 and performing the acts of that nature or by being led by the Spirit. This is clearly describing before and after our conversion. At first glance we easily pat ourselves on the back as we read the list of the acts of the sinful nature, because they seem so obvious and awful and we would never act like that, yet in vs 17 Paul reveals the real state of affairs in every Christian’s life (including Paul’s, that’s why he could speak from experience). We each have two natures, although the sinful nature has been suppressed and we have been set free from its cloying hold, it still remains a factor in every Christian’s life. Thus Paul can say our two natures are “in conflict with one another” and he says these ominous words in that vs “so you do not do what you want“. Wow! So we may not be involved in debauchery, drunken orgies and the like, but there are many acts of this sinful nature which still can trouble you without you realizing it, just to mention two: Idolatry, worshiping anything other than God, for instance yourself, your family, whatever. He demands our whole heart, mind, body, strength etc. Then there is the sin of ‘muttering’, which made God so angry on a number of occasions in the OT. It is so easy to join in the general chorus of complaint against everything that is going wrong in our country. Oh yes, are these things worse than what the Israelites experienced 3 days into the desert with no sign of water or food? Or when plagues broke out among them in the desert? When we complain we are implying God does not know what He is doing, or that He is powerless to change things. How does that affect our testimony in general conversation when we go along with all the negative comment? There are many more but the important point I want to make is that though we are free we need to be careful to maintain and grow in that freedom.

So the battle for freedom from the bondage to sin and ourselves is ongoing. What are we to do about it? Try harder? That puts us back into bondage to the law again. No – the answer is to remind ourselves of the central gospel message in his book in ch 2:20,21. “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life that I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God who loved me and gave Himself for me”. And to repent and start afresh in faith and trust of His power and to live in step and in the power of the Spirit. That is true freedom.

Are We Living in True Freedom?

Grace – the word grace fills my mind as I become quiet, waiting for My Lord to speak to me – He is giving me a picture of grace which appears almost like a cloud or a liquid which is being poured over me – the word in Ephesians 1 comes to mind “grace lavished on me” vs 8.

“Every aspect of your life is governed by My grace – it is so much more than what many understand by the simple explanation of ‘receiving what you don’t deserve’ – it describes My whole attitude towards you from the moment your life was conceived – it describes My whole plan for your life – every detail, every moment (was) is covered by My grace it is not only My attitude – it is the very power I release constantly for you to live your life – like I want you to – it embodies My love which is the attitude I have towards you and your life which causes Me to cover you with My grace. And while I encourage you to live one day at a time – as you look forward into the future – there should be one word that covers all that your life is still to bring – My grace – so be still – relax – give over and take comfort – My Grace covers you all the time – do not fret about anything”.

Last time we started talking about “freedom”, true freedom. May I ask you to stop now and examine the deepest thoughts of your heart and answer these two questions for yourself. What do I understand about true biblical freedom? Am I living in this freedom? Put aside the temptation to draw the narrative you tell yourself and start from the bottom asking the Lord to search you and show….. Psalm 139:23,24.

The key vs in Galatians is 2:20 “I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live but Christ lives in me. The life I live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave Himself for me.” It describes the moment that every Christian is set free and can from then on live in complete freedom. We have spoken about freedom from what? Bondage to the law, the flesh, the world and the devil. OK so we know that intellectually, but are you experiencing it in your everyday life. The point of Galatians is exactly, that although we have all, as Christians been set free, our tendency is to be drawn back into some sort of bondage again. In the first 4 chapters he is speaking about bondage to the law. But when he comes to ch 5 where he cries out “it is for freedom that Christ has set you free”, he brings the other end of the swing of the pendulum and that is the danger of seeing freedom as an excuse to fall back into licentiousness and the influences of the world and the flesh and the Devil from which you have also been set free but which are still lurking around the corner waiting to draw you back into bondage again.

Hence his grave warning in vs 15 if you keep on biting and devouring one another you will be destroyed by each other. And to counter all this is to remind each one of us that the entire law, to which we as Christians subscribe, is summed up in a single command “to love your neighbour as yourself”. So how do you live like that? He introduces his ‘solution’ in vs 16 “So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature”.

So do you as a Christian really believe that you never live to gratify the desires of the sinful nature? That is a myth. So this magnetic attraction to move back under the law or feel free to gratify your own desires is one of the greatest challenges that each one of us faces. Consider this carefully and next time we will look a bit more at the instruction Paul gives here at the end of the letter to help us live according to the Spirit. And the key to all this, of course, lies in the words at the beginning of this blog: His grace covers all.

True Freedom.

Today two words are going through my mind: “Power” and “Freedom”. And a question I have been pondering. “Can my service or anyone’s service for the Lord become so onerous that it in itself becomes a bondage?” I have seen ministers who have felt so overloaded and burdened that they become depressed and even leave the ministry.

I hear the Lord, “True freedom comes in living out the full potential you have in being Ian – the Ian that I have sculpted, prepared and loved you to become – as as you grow in that you will experience true freedom. Everyone is born into a slavery to the flesh, the world and the Devil – each one is born unable to help yourself – as you grow up you are being moulded by these forces – although in the background I have always been working – Jesus’ life and death has made it possible for you to be set free from those forces – to serve Me – NOTE: Matthew 11:28/30. Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened and I will give you rest (freedom). Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light”. The burden of the world and sin is heavy and exhausting – depressing – you are set free – rather to serve Me with joy – ultimately your service will only be a burden if your attitude is wrong, if you lose sight of My love and My invitation, if you lose touch with the power of the Spirit. My yoke will never be a burden if you keep in step with My Spirit and walk by Him”.

This morning I was reading in Acts 20, how Paul had gathered a number of disciples around him and was delegating more and more tasks to them. So one observation I would like to make is that some ministers don’t understand and apply Ephesians 4:11,12 where the role of the pastor, teacher is to “prepare the people for the works of the ministry”, and end up trying to do everything themselves, for various reasons but often because they don’t trust others to do things correctly. We are all called to be ministers for God towards each other. If this is understood, ministry becomes a real joy.

So this morning on my early walk I saw a sad sight. A discarded mask, lying wet and muddy half under a bush. A feeling of melancholia swept over me as I thought “this is our world today. Everyone covered by masks and here is one discarded and useless just like the Lord has discarded the world”. I quickly realized that thinking was way off course. God hasn’t discarded the world He made. What He has done is put the world under a curse. But His purpose is NOT to throw the world and its people away, rather He has done it for a specific purpose: that many will repent and turn to Him as He prepares His bride. And the mask? Why, that represents the mask that every non-Christian hides away behind. That is the mask that God tears away when we realize that Jesus has set us free. That once we have been crucified with Him and you start living your new life in Him, you will never need again if you appropriate the freedom that God has given you completely.

That is the mask each one of us must determinedly toss away like the discarded one I saw today. The message of Galatians is much about those who, having had their masks removed, find them and put them on again. Hence Paul’s cry in Galatians 5:1 “it is for freedom that Christ has set us free. Stand firm and don’t let yourselves be burdened again by a yoke of slavery.” (Don’t go and find your discarded mask and try to put it on again).

So at the beginning of the week, go out and live and experience God’s freedom and if you still have a mask, dispose of it as completely as you can in Christ. I must confess it is so easy to slip back into bondage again so I am going to talk more about Galatians 5 next time. Bless you all in His name.

Not My Will.

As the words of the song “Not my will” are being threshed out in my mind I hear the Lord “I have a special message for you on this, your birthday – it is not a new message – it comes from the ‘Ancient of Days’ and is as old as I am. Look up at the mountain.” I look up and see a vast light shining on top of a tall mountain. “That represents my presence to you – Moses met with me on a mountain, Jesus had a special meeting on a mountain – Psalm 121 says ‘I will lift up my eyes to the mountain from whence comes my help – my help comes from the One who made heaven and earth’, so this is the message for you today – I am still with you – I am still pouring My love out on you – if I gave My Son on the cross for you, how much more will I give you all that you need – and mostly you need Me – you need My love. So this year you will continue to experience My grace – lavished on you, poured out without measure – and as you walk in step with the Spirit – will be helped to make the moment by moment decisions of ‘not my will but yours be done’. The big decision has been made but the moment by moment decisions can only be made as you come to them – that is how you grow in faith – making the decision, often difficult, which you believe by faith, is My will is instead of yours. So go out today and every day in My strength, grace and love which I will continually lavish on you”.

Just a short message today, but one that spoke powerfully to me. In Gal 4:17 Paul writes that “those people”, ie the false teachers, “are zealous to win you over, but for no good. What they want is to alienate you from us, so that you may become zealous for them”. They wanted the glory, they had no desire to give God the glory for the salvation of the people of Galatia.

*** The whole fight, there in Galatia and the whole fight over the understanding of the gospel which is raging in the world on all fronts today, is not about the truth, it is about “my will against God’s will”. It is about me being right and getting the praise for it, which I can measure in the number of people who laud me and follow me. Don’t underestimate this battle. So for me as a teacher of the word, I have to be doubly careful that I submit to God’s word and His will which is revealed in it, remembering especially James 3:1-6. And for you folk it is your duty and responsibility to yourselves and to the church to make sure you are submitting your will to His and to listen to what He is saying to you, through His word and the teachers you listen to.

I am devastated at what I see happening around me in “Christian circles” as God’s word is being taken apart and submitted to the people by teachers who want to benefit from different “interpretations”. What they are actually doing is trying to make a name for themselves, like at the Tower of Babel. Following their own will rather than God’s will. That is why I chose to study Galatians and will tackle this again as I start to preach through it next month. Have a blessed day and thanks to all those who have wished me well on his special day

Some more on “The Promise”.

This is a week in which I feel I can start with excited expectation, – not because I have anything (except my birthday) planned – but because I walk with the Lord – that makes anything possible. As I remind myself to “be still and know the Lord”, He takes me back to Psalm 46 where that quote comes from. The whole theme of that Psalm is a picture of a turbulent world and a God acting in that world like a river of peace – a God not phased by the uproar of nations – a God not phased by corruption, plundering, Covid etc and in the midst of all these we can be still and know this God, who is our fortress, whose river makes glad the city of the Lord. In one way God has plucked us out (yes the Hebrew for salvation has this meaning) of this maelstrom of a world which is rushing along like a torrent, unchecked in a huge canyon – He has already plucked me out, He is plucking each one of His children out – but in another sense we need to remind ourselves that He is our fortress where we must constantly run for protection from the evil of this world – Praise you Lord you are my impenetrable fortress.

On reflecting on the words of Paul in our book Galatians, I am drawn again to the word “promise” which plays such an important part in his argument. He repeats it 9 times in ch 3 and 4. As fallible humans we may see this word perhaps slightly differently to what its biblical meaning is. When you and I may make a promise it would be like “I am coming past your place next week and I will pop in to see you”. Actually it may even be qualified with “I hope to pop in to see you”. The completion of the promise is dependent on many factors, not the least that one may change one’s mind. Because of this unpredictability of the outcome of our promises, we have taken ways of trying to ensure that an important promise will be fulfilled. Hence the practice of signing contracts so that the promise may be verified. In cases where the promises are reneged on there are courts of law which will adjudicate. All because the certainty and value of the promises are subject to so many variables in a world dominated by evil.

Now God made a singularly important promise to Abraham in Genesis 12;2-3, which makes up the central theme of the whole of God’s story, as told in the bible. This promise of bringing a blessing to the world, labouring under a universal curse, was based entirely on His character. Later to confirm it He made a contract with His people in the form of a covenant agreement which was instigated entirely from His side. All the people had to do was accept the conditions of the covenant and obey them to benefit from them. Something they proved unable to do in the years that followed, but this did not affect God’s promise at all.

On the contrary when God saw that the people could not obey, He put into action the ultimate fulfilment of the promise by sending His Son, Jesus, who through His death, put into effect that promise. In 1 Corinthians 1:20 Paul underlines this “for no matter how many promises God has made, they are yes in Christ”. Every promise that God has made is fulfilled in and through Jesus. That is how certain the outcome is. We simply need to stand back and look at the cross and its historic reality to know that whatever God has promised will be fulfilled.

Why am I making such a fuss about this? Because for us to benefit from this Promise we need to accept it by faith, before it becomes real to us cf Gal 3:14,24. And here is the crunch. Where does faith come from? Romans 10:17 faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ”. So as you read and ponder these things which are the message of God’s word, may this discussion strike virulence into your faith as you accept and believe the promises as laid out in that word. Because the opposite of faith is the often held misconception that you can somehow do something to facilitate your salvation, (obey the law) it is extremely important that we understand and apply this teaching to experience the freedom that we are going to talk about next time.

So when we say we have a hope it is based not on the vagaries of some human promise but THE promise and more from our God, based on His unchangeable nature and we can be absolutely sure that that hope which arises from it, will be fulfilled.

May you bathe in the certainty of His Promise based on His almighty power and love.