Are we free to choose?

Two things which are in separable – God’s love and the cross. Those are inseparable from His love for you as you are sealed into a potent inseparable relationship with God Himself.

“It is good that you recognize the cross as the great symbol of My love. It stands out far above anything else in history – it is the marking point of the world’s destiny and any words about love or any other emotion which don’t have the cross somewhere in mind are not permanent or absolute. So, revel in that awful symbol of cruelty because it is there where your freedom was won because of My deep, deep love for you. This is the great enigma of the Christian faith like so many others which are often difficult to grasp – however let these thoughts just lift you up and carry you forward as you revel in that reality which you can see of a love which you cannot always see and grasp”.

Today I will pause and address Lilly’s concern about whether we have freedom to choose. This is a vast subject and one which has caused great contention in the past, so it is impossible in the space I have today to deal with it exhaustively. What I will do is put forward a number of thoughts concerning the subject for you all to ruminate over.

To start with there are some concepts which are clearly defined in God’s word and others which are not so clearly defined but revealed in many different ways as the bible story unfolds. As one reads this story, ideas which seem to contradict each other or seem to express opposing views sometimes come to the fore. There are a number of such apparent enigma’s in the word. I like to think that the truth lies, held in tension between them. They are often difficult to grasp completely and lead us back to realize the God is so much greater and wiser than we are and His ways “unsearchable” in Paul’s words in Romans 11:33. That is when we have to step back and be careful of making definite judgements when He has not given us a clear one Himself. It is tempting to try and put God in a box where everything is clear and cut and dried and you can understand Him completely. He will not allow that however, He is always mystical in a way and far above that.

Going back to the beginning of the creation story we are presented with God’s interaction with the first people He has created. He, in somewhat pictorial language gives them a choice. They could follow Him or follow their own way. He clearly did this because of His intention in creating man as expressed for instance in Acts 17:27 “God did this (created man) so that men would seek him and perhaps reach out for him and find him” God wanted a being who would seek to have a relationship with him.

When man decided to follow their own way in rebellion to God’s invitation in Genesis, God was angry and placed a curse on the whole of the creation and especially on this very creature whom He had wanted to love and have a relationship with. The result was that every person since then is born with a bias away from seeking God which is clearly described for instance in Romans 3 cf vs 10 “There is no one who righteous, not even one; there is no one who understands, there is no one who seeks God.”

God’s rescue mission through Jesus provides a way out of this impossible situation. Through Jesus we can have a softened heart and a relationship with God through His Son. The question is, “does He grab some people by the scruff of the neck and force them to love Him and follow Him?” Clearly not, he makes the offer and each person is invited to respond by faith to receive this gift.

Is this response a free choice? Well, given our bias it cannot be entirely. Yet there is a degree in which we have to exercise our choice to follow Him and receive the New Birth, otherwise we would simply be puppets. So God is operating in His sphere of grace as He draws us into making this decision. cf Ephesians 2: For it is by grace you have been saved through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is a gift from God”.

To help me understand this I imagine God wooing each person like a lover (Maybe that is why the book called “Song of Solomon” is included in the word). Of course, He is an all-powerful lover and can create circumstances to suite His purposes, but within this there is still, there must be a degree to which we are responding of our own “free” will.

Then once we have been saved this dance with Him as our lover continues. He places before us diverse challenges and tribulations in which He is inviting us to trust Him. We are continually faced with the need to make choices. These choices can lead to various outcomes, but in the end He is so controlling the final outcome so that His will will be achieved.

Ultimately the verse that Lilly quoted (Ephesians 1:4) gives us the assurance that when we look back we can see that He chose us before we were even born and predestined our lives, so we are completely secure in His love. It is nevertheless pertinent that we present the choice to everyone that they should choose Jesus and leave it up to Him to complete the dance. That is what Jesus Himself did repeatedly.

I hope I have not confused you all, but this is a hugely difficult subject to describe and pin down. We need to continually remind ourselves that God is souvreign and far above our understanding.

Please comment if you wish. Do this by clicking the title of this blog and the comments section will open up. Questions are also welcome. God bless till next week.

Is this the New King?

If you seek me you will find me, if you seek me with all your heart.

” As I created man, I sought to have a creature who would make it his life’s goal to seek me. To make me the center point of his life’s goals. But I wanted that to be a free choice, that is why I placed an alternative to seeking Me in the garden. They rest you know and understand – however My goal is still to woo as many as will respond into a relationship with Me which starts with them seeking Me. This attitude of searching for Me will always be rewarded – I will open the door, I will answer you with the greatest gift – My love through My Spirit and ministered through My grace. So, as you seek – here I am waiting to be found are you.”

In Chapter 22 of 1 Samuel, we see David still on the run from Saul. In Ch 21 David was completely isolated, on his own and without any weapons to protect himself with. He is forced to flee to gentile territory where he runs into more trouble. In ch 22 as he returns to Israeli territory, he is joined firstly by his family and then by a number of men who seem to all be in trouble. Not wanting to expose his elderly parents, he takes them to Moab which is once again outside of Israel, before returning to Adullam which is near Bethlehem.

During this time, we see he is still being led by the Lord through the prophet Gad first and later Abiathar., son of Ahimelech who had been murdered. He seems to have been living like a sort of Robin Hood, continually on the run from Saul yet caring for a body of people.

On the other hand, Saul is behaving more and more irrationally. Firstly, when he hears the whereabouts of David, he tries to gain the loyalty of his soldiers by promising them all sorts of things (vv 7 ff). Sounds a bit like SA politics. Then comes a fly in the ointment in the form of a fellow called Doeg who is an Edomite. We ran into him before, but he now again appears to support Saul. Doeg casts doubts on the prophet Ahimelech and Saul takes the bit between his teeth after this innocent prophet. Despite his innocence and a good, logical answer to Saul, he decides to punish the whole colony of priests at Nob and when his own men won’t do it gives the instruction to kill all these people and their families and livestock to Doeg who is a foreigner.

Saul is descending further and further into the irrational state of madness while David is slowly rising. The chapter ends with the promise of David to Abiathar the priest that he will protect him and he will be safe with him..

Now what is Jesus saying to me from this section?

Firstly, we see how the Lord, through His providence, is still preparing the way for David to become king. The narrow path he is being called to follow has many difficulties and twists, but God is busy all the time preparing this man for his ultimate role. We can expect the same, remember Jesus’ words, “in the world you will have tribulation, but take heart in Me you will have peace”. We should never fear the tribulation though but rather, in Paul’s words in Romans 5:3, rejoice in our tribulations, because they are a sign that God is busy with a process in each one of us which will lead us to glory, where we will have the ultimate satisfaction.

Secondly, we see here again the faint picture of Jesus’ the greater king being reflected by David as he gathers the outcasts of society and takes care of them.

Although it is not specifically mentioned in this passage, I can also see the hand of Satan as Saul moves further away from the Lord and even from his people, reaching a lowest point as he annihilates a whole town of priests. God will still be the ultimate victor, but we are all to be aware that there is this battle going on. Remember Jesus’ words in His prayer “lead us not into temptation but deliver us from the Evil one”.

To God be all the glory as we look forward to meeting again next week.

The Road to David’s Kingship continues.

From the song “Above All”: Like a rose trampled on the ground, you took the fall and thought of me above all.

”The enigma of Christian faith – a God who is so mighty, so wise, so all powerful – who spoke a creation into being so large it is immeasurable – yet taking on the form of man and coming to live among his creatures – experiencing the limitations of rejection, pain and loneliness of life here on Earth. And then actually dying and taking the punishment on himself which each person deserves – placing love for my creatures above all. Now as ever before I invite you and everyone who wishes into an intimate relationship of love – more intimate than the greatest loves of the Earth. I invite you – ‘Come onto me all who are heavy laden and all those who are full of joy and I will give you rest – rest in an intimate relationship with me'”.

We move now into chapter 21 of 1 Samuel, which describes a period where David is exiled and persecuted, which continues to 26:25. This chapter pictures David as desperate and alone, as he flees from Saul’s wrath. As I read it, it raised a few questions in my mind.

Despite the desperateness of his situation, is this not the same man who, as a boy, had faced Goliath on the basis of trusting in a God who had always rescued him from the fiercest wild animals?(1 Samuel 17:37) About whom now is written: vs 12; David took these words to heart and was very much afraid.

This spoke to me of the danger of ever feeling so secure in your faith that you think you will never be tempted and fall. Our faith depends on our growing in our relationship with God continually. Yes, and He will test us in many ways, but His purpose is not to get us to fall but to strengthen our faith.

The picture of the loneliness of David and the desperate situation he was in is perhaps a small foretaste of the greater David, King Jesus, who was sought and persecuted from the beginning of His life.

What else should be kept in mind is that there is more than just a jealousy and hate being reflected here. It is also a reflection of the great Spiritual battle which was going on in the background as Satan sought to derail God’s plans. When we come to Jesus’ life, we see from the very beginning how Satan attempted to derail God’s plan, with the actions of Herod for example, as he sought to kill the “future King of Israel”, by killing all the little boys of a certain age. (Matthew 3:16 ff)

It is a timely warning to all of us not to ever under-estimate the spiritual battle that is going on for each one of our souls. Jesus has won the victory, but the battle still rages and we need to be cognizant of it. cf Ephesians 6:10 ff

It is hard to reconcile the young lad who took on Goliath with the frightened man escaping into a Philistine king’s hands and then having to resort to appearing mad to survive. Yet in all this we must believe that God was there through His grace, continuing to prepare David for the huge task that lay ahead. It is comforting to know that this fearful, appearing mad man would eventually be called by God as a “Man after my own heart”. We can never fall too far that it stops God, through His grace from loving us completely.

We will come back to this but just a mention that this time of exile was a period when David was prolifically producing many of the beautiful psalms which we love. Experiencing all the emotions of rejection and fear he was able to write the psalms that give us so much comfort.

So let us take heart as we read about this favourite son and his struggles as we go into a new year, knowing that God equally has a plan for each one of us and though we will face difficulties along the way, He will be there, He is there through His Spirit guiding and supporting us all the way. Bless you all till next week.

What a Friend We have in Jesus.

”You’re my friend and you are my brother, only You can satisfy”.

”Maybe you have not really considered the concept of Me being a friend to you as that word is not used much in my bible. Yet the whole concept of friendship lies behind my relationships with you and every other brother in Me. There are few human friendships which stand the true test of time and challenge – yet there are many who come close – at the best each of these is merely a small foretaste of the friendship which awaits you in me, when you enter into my fathers glory. Just know that although My friendship may be clandestine yet as you consider your life and how My Grace has change that, you will have some small inkling of what My true friendship is to you. Meditate on that and enjoy the realization of My total commitment to you.”

Turning to 1 Samuel ch 20 we come to the most beautiful revelation of true friendship. Recently there has been an attempt to hijack this chapter to suggest a sexual relationship. There is, however no suggestion of that at all. Here is a quote from a Christian author, “Like the sacramental use of water, bread and wine, friendship takes what is a common and human experience and turns it into something holy”

David would probably not have survived to become king if it wasn’t for Jonathan’s friendship. All the more surprising since Jonathan was actually the heir to the throne cf v 31., but was actually supporting David to take that position.

So let us look at various aspects of this great friendship:

Self sacrifice. Jonathan was prepared to risk his life for David and as we have seen before how he had relinquished his claim to the throne for David.

Love : v17. This showed a strong bond between them.

Kindness: v 15. Kindness lies beneath every aspect of building a strong friendship.

Faithfulness. We cannot see the completion of Jonathan’s faithfulness in this chapter alone, but he remained faithful to David till his death.

Companionship: Lying behind the whole structure of this story we see the strong bond of companionship between them.

God’s hand in friendship: Both David and Jonathan recognize that their bond of friendship has been given them by God Himself cf eg v 42.

Now these and other attributes of friendship don’t arise overnight. They are built up over time. Companionship comes from spending time together and from that grow the other attributes of real friendship.

As I read this chapter a warm sense of belonging came over me as I recognized shades of Jesus’ friendship with each one of us portrayed here. We often speak of having a relationship with God through Jesus, but what we really have , which is portrayed here so well is a true friendship, which the word “relationship” perhaps doesn’t do complete justice. This friendship is never really given a name in the New Testament but lies behind the whole concept of Jesus’ mission to save us.

What a friend we have in Jesus! Read the chapter again and meditate on it, while realizing that this is only a faint picture of the friendship we can and should have with Jesus. May I add that friendship comes from both sides and we cannot expect to have a deep experience of friendship if we don’t spend time with our friend Jesus, getting to know Him well and responding to His love towards us. He is ready to speak to you mainly through His word, but in other ways as well, at all times. Listen to Him, and speak to Him as well. Speak to Him about everything that matters in your life.

May He bless each one of you as you develop a deeper friendship with the Greatest Friend you could ever have.

David’s further preparation to become King.

“Oh love that will not let me go.”

”Love, that overused, over rated word which is bandied about in the world, yet in the context of My relationship with you and the world, is the most useful word which describes My commitment to you all and what I desire should be your response to Me. Emotions are often confused with real love, emotions come and go and can be extremely powerful in driving us to action – yet are unreliable and subject to change for many reasons. My love is not devoid of emotion but is nevertheless fixed in the attitude I have towards you all and the way I act in all circumstances. That love is the binding force which took Me to the cross and is My invitation to you in this coming year to respond by loving me – yes My desire is still that you love Me with all your soul, body, mind and strength and I am working towards getting you there. Unfortunately there will be pain as I prune away the branches in your life that bear no fruit.

As we get to 1 Samuel 19, we see the saga continue to unfold as God prepares David to be the future king of Israel. Saul’s importance is rapidly becoming diminished. Standing back and looking at the bigger picture of what is described in this chapter I saw so beautifully how God works with all of us to bring us ultimately to glory. Of course, the details vary with each individual, yet the process is the same, as described for instance in the first vv of Roman’s ch 5.

Behind these events one can see another dimension, which we often lose sight of. The powerful spiritual battle, which is raging, often unseen behind David’s and our lives, but which manifests in various ways.

What is important is that the forces of evil which seem to be the driving force behind Saul’s actions, are nevertheless completely under God’s control. We see this so well in the last vv of this chapter as Saul sends men to capture David and eventually tries to go himself when they are unsuccessful. What precisely the prophets were doing as they prophesied is not clear, probably a sort of praise session, and as soon as the antagonists join them, they find themselves, against their will, drawn into the same activity.

And so David survives. Even within Saul’s own family David has two strong allies, Jonathan and Michal, whom God has obviousy arranged they be there so that they could support David during all the vicissitudes he was experiencing.

All the time, God was doing what He describes in Romans 5. Producing perseverance, character and hope. In this way Dvid was a much stronger person after all these experiences, as unpleasant as they must often have been.

This passage was a strong back up to my sermon on Sunday and a further encouragement for the coming year. May you all experience God’s firm and loving hand on yourselves and your loved ones during this coming year.