Does God Really Care?

“ You call me friend. I have indeed promised that all those who obey me and follow me will be called my friend. I have said that a master does not reveal his way to his servant, but I have revealed everything My Father has show Me to you. Now what does that friendship mean to you today? Friendship comes from both sides – and it involves seeking the best for the other one. So while I am your friend I am doing that, but in return I expect you to be doing the same for Me. And as we care for each other we will grow closer and closer to one another. So come closer here to me now and let us celebrate this friendship today and forever more.”

I have chosen to look at Psalm 73 in greater depth as God spoke to me through it recently.

I like the Passion translation of the opening vv: 1. “No-one can deny it-God is really good to Israel and to those with pure hearts. But I nearly missed seeing it for myself. 2. Here is my story: I came so close to missing the way”.

He the launches into the net 10 vv of looking at the way of the wicked, who seem to prosper no matter how they regard and treat God. He finds himself frustrated by the fact that he has tried to live a pure life, yet seems to have been punished every morning (v13,14).

Now as I pondered this section, I could say that I have no envy for the wealthy and prosperous as such. However I do look at the enormous corruption and evil in our country and see that those who perpetrate it seem to be able to thumb their noses at the law and therefore God Himself who stands behind the law. So I could relate to the Psalmist’s (Asaph) frustration that they get away with all this evil without God seeming to take any notice, in fact even helping them to prosper.

So the rest of the psalm swings into action so that I and any reader can get the perspective that Asaph was able to get when he did certain things. So what did he do?

“He entered the sanctuary of the Lord”. In other words he went into the presence of the Lord where he could relate to Him. This is the key vs of this psalm. It is easy to see and understand, however do I put this into action?

So the first and may I say the continuous step to getting the right perspective on life around us is to draw close to God and ask Him to show you what is really happening behind the scenes in the bigger picture.

Asaph recognizes 3 three things in the next vv.

1. These people who reject God are already under judgement and their day will come when God completes that vv 18-20.

2. He sees that he has been like a brute beast when he envied these people. Senseless and ignorant. Severe words of condemnation on himself for underestimating God and His ways.

3. Then from vs 23 he comes to a realization of the value of staying “near to God”.(v28) fully understanding that God is the most precious gift he can imagine v 25. God holds him and guides him, strengthens him and is his refuge. It is these last vv that should be the focus of our meditation and prayer as all these things are true for each one of us as well.

This psalm is so real for us in SA today. It is so easy to take our eyes off all that God means to us and His wonderful gifts and focus on all the evil around us, being perpetrated without any apparent consequences and almost feel that God does not really care. This psalm should wake up the realization of how deeply God does really care.

Next week I will look at psalm 116 and in the mean time may God bless each one of you.

Contending for the Faith.

“You have been singing –’ I belong to Jesus, I am not my own’. This is the most precious thought – you are not a free, unattached spirit roaming through the universe or the world. You are Mine and belong to Me and therefore I take the responsibility to care for you as My precious possession. Emily looks to you and feels secure because she knows deep down that she belongs to you. But what she does not know is that on your own you are unreliable. You can only give her as much security as you have in Me which is certain. So take into this day the comforting knowledge and feeling that you are Mine and I am yours and we belong together.”

I was led to read Jude this week because of a vague sense of similarity to 2 Corinthians and I have not read it is for some time. So here goes: The key statement pointing to the purpose of he letter lies in vs 3 “I felt I had to write to you to contend for the faith”.

But what does he mean by this? Contending brings to my mind physical combat or confrontation. However as we move into the letter we see that there have been “certain men” who have infiltrated the church secretly. These false teachers have led the people away from the true gospel, especially twisting the understanding of God’s grace. It is contending for true gospel which he has in mind.

I think the words in vs 4 ring down through the ages and that thought is very prevalent today. Many would presume on the grace of God. In their minds, Jesus has died for their sins and set them free. But their idea of freedom is not freedom from the law or sin it is an idea that they are now free to live a life which has no constraints. Jude says, “they have changed the grace of God into a license for immorality”. vs 4.

Jude then launches into a reminder of several instances of God’s judgement in the past as he focuses on the destiny of these men. Notably he starts with the judgement of the Israelites who died in the desert after being saved from slavery in Egypt. Ostensibly saved, yet falling back into their old way of life. He specifically mentions Sodom and Gomorrah because of the nature of their sexual sin and the complete judgement after that.

He then almost seems to be carried away with his sense of indignation and condemnation of these people, using some of the most fruity language in the next 8 vv. He comes to a climax in v 14 “See the Lord is coming with thousands upon thousands of His holy ones to judge everyone and convict all the ungodly for all the ungodly acts they have done in an ungodly way…..” The ultimate description of ungodliness is perhaps the statement in v 16 “they follow their own evil desires”

At this point in the letter I almost felt he was going to write these people off, yet there is a distinct change here in vs 17. In vv 17 – 19 he reminds the readers that they should not be surprised by all this because the Apostles had warned of this type of behaviour which would come as the gospel era unfolded.

Just as a side note. he speaks of “in the last times scoffers will follow their own ungodly desires”. We need to remember the description “in the last times” does not describe only the period just before Jesus returns, it describes the whole gospel era. The gospel era was regularly referred to as “the last times”, the end times or the last days, for instance.

Now comes the surprise “but”. Instead of writing them off, Jude first warns the readers to not get distracted in their Christian walk and then in vs 22 he shows his attitude towards these people, whom he has described earlier in the most fruity terms, He tells the readers to be merciful and do everything they can to snatch them from the fire and save them. Show mercy, mixed with fear. They should hate all their actions (their very clothing stained by corrupt flesh”) but still love them as God’s creation.

Then he ends with the well-known doxology which reminds us that it is God who keeps us through Jesus from the same fate. To help us to stay in the faith and keep contending for it.

This letter has reminded me again of the need to be careful with my faith. There are many forces and temptations out there that seek to drag us away. Deep down inside us is still a core of sin which is often just ready to believe some of the nonsense out there.

In the forefront is the battle to understand and apply God’s grace. On the one hand there is the temptation to believe that because of His incalculable grace we can behave as we would like. His forgiveness has won us this. On the other hand there is a lack of appreciation of the true value of His grace which leads to a life of trying to please God by doing all sorts of things, like keeping the law. So that one can win some extra points for winning God’s love and His saving grace.

As we were warned by Paul in the letter to the Corinthians and here again, one of Satan’s main attacks on us as Christians and God’s holy church, is through false teaching. Especially today with the mass of information being poured out there are many who are seeking to twist the gospel, starting with something only small which escalates to a complete break-down of the faith and effectiveness of the church. Much food for thought as we look back into the past and see his has been happening from the very beginning.

So friends, I am going to read a few Psalms in the next few weeks till I decide which book to tackle next. May God bless you all.

Are You There?

“You have been singing that I am your treasure. I indeed want to be your treasure. Emily always said you must not call her your treasure because a treasure is something you bury. So words can have a completely different meaning if the context or experience is changed. But I indeed want to be your Treasure forever more because that concept of a treasure is something worth way more than anything you can imagine. That is how I want you to view me as worth way more than you can conceive. Glittering and beautiful – the center-point of your consciousness and your love. So – yes I want to be your Treasure if you will make me that.”

As we come to the end of 2 Corinthians, we can see Paul’s real purpose in writing this letter. It seems that his main purpose was to re-establish his relationship with this church. A church in which a number of the members had wandered away from the central gospel message. There were also those who were in open conflict with Paul. In ch 12:20, we can see a list of all the things that Paul is aware of that have been happening there.

Paul has spent a lot of time defending his position of true Apostleship. This was not an ego-trip. It was necessary that the Corinthians should understand who he was and the authority that position carried with it. 12:11 ff. But behind that defence, his real concern is for the congregation, the people themselves. vv 14 ff

In ch 13 we can see that he is determined that his reconciliation with them should not mean that he accepted their faults. He required a definite repentance and change of attitude from those who are guilty. The readers should not mistake his declaration of his weakness to mean that he was really weak, because though he is weak he has Christ’s full strength, power and authority behind him. 13:1-4. The Christian faith is full of enigmas. The very basis of our faith, our King and Saviour came as a helpless babe and was crucified in apparent weakness, yet in reality He is the Creator and Ruler of the whole universe and sustains it with His almighty power.

At the end of the letter we come to an extremely important section from 13:5 ff. We know from what we have read so far that, there were many things happening in the Corinthian Church which are hard to reconcile with true Christianity. This happens still today in many Christian churches. Members sometimes behave in ways that are really hard to reconcile with true Christianity. The question sometimes is how do you deal with this? On the one hand if they are true Christians they need to be persuaded of the need to repent, ask forgiveness and start afresh. If they are not real Christians asking them to repent is like throwing the law at them and saying, “here live according to this”.

We all know that trying to live your life according to the law without the benefit of salvation and regeneration is totally impossible and counterproductive. The non-Christian needs to have the gospel explained to them again and again until they accept it and their hearts are truly changed. Then it is time to talk about their future obedience.

At the end of his letter Paul comes to the point where he challenges the Corinthian congregation to, “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves”.

This is a very real reminder of the huge importance that we cannot live as Christians if we are not. In so many churches people today are admonished and warned to live more upright and law-abiding lives without it being made clear that this is impossible without understanding the gospel of Jesus.

It is also a challenge which we should make to ourselves regularly. You should not be embarrassed to examine yourself and see if you are in the faith, if you are living the gospel. At the same time it is important that we assess whether those we speak to, family, friends or whomever, are really in the faith. This is not the same as judging them. It is an appraisal which enables you to know how to approach them, either as a Christian or as an unbeliever. but to determine what you should be presenting to them. The law and repentance or the gospel and repentance.

To sum up Paul’s letter, what has Jesus said to me from it? Several issues come to mind. Paul’s emphasis on compassion and how we should pass on our experiences to others.

The huge defence by Paul of His apostleship has been a great encouragement to me about the authority of scripture.

Then the constant glimmering of the gospel in the background has reminded me again of the importance of keeping that central in our thinking and speaking.

And of course, several gems like, “Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. 4:16 ff

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness”.12:9.

“But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us.” 4:7

“And He died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for Him who died for them and was raised again”. 5:15.

“If anyone is in Christ he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!” 5:17

“Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret, but worldly sorrow brings death” 7:11.

There are more but why don’t you share your favourite on the blog site with the rest of us.

Next week I plan to read Jude and then will decide where to go after that. May God bless you all.

Overflowing, All Sufficient, Grace.

“Peace – be still – experience my peace as I surround you with my love. Set aside the tumult of noise which the world is clamouring and be still. Let the only noise that you hear be the sound of My grace as it comes crashing in waves over you. Waves of joy, waves of forgiveness, waves of love, waves of a new power to love and to live in the victory I have won for you and My kingdom. Pause at the beginning of this new day and consider My grace which is so much more than just an attitude I have towards you – consider and experience it. Open your mind and I will help you as you seek to know this incomparable never-ending gift I flood you and the world with.”

How often have you been frustrated with things that are happening in your life? Of the way things are working out in the lives of your children or close friends? How often have you been frustrated by ill-health or some other challenge which has affected your quality of life? Have you stopped and considered that these very frustrations may actually have been “given you” in the words of Paul in Corinthians 12:7? That there has been a purpose behind this frustrating experience?

We come in today’s reading to the climax of Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians. This represents, in the words of Scott Haferman, “the theological substructure of the whole letter”. It summarizes the message that Paul has been trying to bring across from the first chapter.

Let us start by picking up the context from last time again. Paul has been warding off the attacks by the false apostles which have arisen in Corinth. He has been confronting and challenging them on several fronts. They have especially been boasting about their prowess and speaking ability and comparing it to Paul’s lack of super speech and his frail appearance. They have pointed out his many bad experiences are a sign that he has no power and therefore cannot be a true Apostle.

From 11:16 Paul picks up the intensity of his argument by turning to an almost sarcastic revelation of all the bad experiences he has been having, as an Apostle. He is actually boasting in these experiences. Seventeen verses devoted to the hardships he has experienced. Just as you start wondering if he is crazy wanting to boast about these things we come to a verse which actually reveals the point he is trying to make. 11:30 “If I must boast I will boast of the things that show my weakness” Four times in the next 12 vv (1: 5; v 9; v9 again; v 10) he repeats this intention he has of boasting about his weakness. But in 12; 9,10 he reveals exactly why he can and feels he must boast in his weakness. Can you see why?

Can you see why this is actually the very core of the gospel message? As I have often said before and will go on repeating. If your life is chugging along OK and your relationships are fairly good and your Christianity involves nothing more than going through the motions of Church, bible study, prayer etc, then you actually don’t need the power of Jesus which is released in you and for you through the gospel. You look no different to every one else and have no witness to the world. In fact it becomes easy to join the chorus of the world complaining about all the “inconveniences” that everyone experiences.

But God wants more for you and your relationship with Him. God wants us to be humbly dependent on Him, recognizing that He is the Provider of all we have. He wants us to appreciate Him, and how could we appreciate Him more than when we experience His power and guidance when we are struggling with health or other problems? So Paul has come to he conclusion which God wants all of us to come to, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My power is made perfect in weakness”.

I’ll never forget my first experience of the truth of this passage when in 1983 I dragged myself out of bed with severe flu while my partner was away on leave, so that I could deal with a farm emergency. As I drove, barely able to make out the road ahead, I kept repeating, “my grace is sufficient for you” and it was. In this year during the 9 months of my experience with Long Covid, this was my repeated mantra, when I felt I could not go on any longer, “My grace is sufficient for you”, then I could pick myself up in His grace and go on. And you know what? His grace was always sufficient. More than sufficient.

That is the deep overriding message of 2 Corinthians. So we can say, with Paul, “That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, insults, hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak then I am strong”. 12:12.

Just a remark or two to add to this, Firstly Paul says that he was given a messenger from Satan. Who gave it? Well God, in His loving mercy, but He used Satan to implement the message. He was given this message for his ultimate benefit. Mmmm makes you think.

Secondly there is the seemingly strange statement where Paul says he prayed and pleaded with the Lord to take it away three times. I have often wondered why the only prayed 3 times, if it was so serious. Without going into detail, it seems the use of he expression 3 times should not be taken literally. It symbolizes a continual devotion to pleading and the number 3 symbolizes completeness. he prayed often and he prayed enough. So the problem wasn’t with his prayer or lack of it, it was a question of God saying “wait” or “no”. And in the mean time my grace will sustain you.

Friends, grace is so much more than God’s attitude of giving us what we don’t deserve. It involves every aspect of our relationship with Him. By His grace he sustains us at every level. By grace he changes our lives, constantly intervening in multiple ways. No wonder Newton’s hymn is so popular. God’s grace is truly amazing. I personally just want to get to know and understand it personally in a greater and deeper way. Unfortunately there is no better place to experience it than when we are suffering. However, it infuses every aspect of our lives and if we will only be sensitive to it we will be more and more aware of it.

Blessed week for all of you immersed in God’s amazing and all-pervading grace.