July 2020

Belief with purpose

When Christians wrestle with their belief in Christ, possibly thinking that faith is without purpose, voices in the mind can mutter the devil’s lies of belief being redundant and of no value. As the Christian life was never intended by God to be about self, this internal battle of the heart becomes a blood thirsty war that can only be won with “the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God” (Ephesians 6:17). God’s truth must prevail for God’s purposes to conquer the heart. In this way “we destroy arguments and every lofty opinion raised against the knowledge of God, and take every thought captive to obey Christ” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Everything in God’s creation has designed purpose, nothing is accidental or without reason, and nothing is redundant or of no use. Everything and everyone is an expression of God’s purposeful will, including you and I. Therefore, even our weak and immature belief can have great purpose when in the hands of God.

Before executing the 7th plague upon Egypt, the Lord explained to Pharaoh, “for this purpose I have raised you up, to show you my power, so that my name may be proclaimed in all the earth” (Exodus 9:16). Stubborn Pharaoh could not escape his usefulness to God, sacrificing his life through acts of rebellion, he sent a timeless message to the world of God’s greatness and the futility of disbelief (Exodus 14).

Even in the middle of Job’s great and perplexing suffering, he understood “that no purpose of God can be thwarted” (Job 42:2). Job realised that God was engaged in his suffering and that God was working out His purpose which could not be changed, restrained, or prevented. Job may never have understood the details of why he suffered so badly, but He did understand God’s holy intensions for divine purpose to be fulfilled.

Employing all the twists and turns in your life, God determined from eternity past for you to respond favourably to Him by putting faith in his Son. Consequently, you “believed in him, were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit” and personally became an expression of “the praise of his glory” (Ephesians 1:13-14). That was God’s unalterable purpose for your life in Christ. You personally, including all of your complexities and struggles, are now a living, breathing, moving, proclamation of “his glorious grace” (Ephesians 1:6).

The very difficulties which our flesh uses to challenge our belief, are intended by the Lord to give opportunity for His strengthening grace to be displayed. God has equipped your belief with purpose, “so, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God (1 Corinthians 10:31). Belief in Jesus Christ and His glorifying purpose for you is a daily “walk by faith” and “not by sight” (2 Corinthians 5:7). Therefore, we do not allow the things we observe and experience in life to distract us because we have made “it our aim to please him” (2 Corinthians 5:9).

Christian faith builds on the foundation of God’s truth. So, when the times of conflict arrive, the believer defaults to that proven truth of God. The apostle John wrote, “I write to you, not because you do not know the truth, but because you know it, and because no lie is of the truth” (1 John 2:21). Even weak belief clings to God’s truth, because biblical truth is where we connect with Jesus who is “the way, and the truth, and the life” (John 14:6). Today, may we live with praising confidence which comes from knowing that our belief has purpose.

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The fine line dividing belief and disbelief

Eight days following Jesus’ resurrection, Thomas faced the greatest confrontation of his life – the risen Lord Jesus. Doubt was not Thomas’ primary problem; it was deep seated disbelief. A week earlier he had exposed this faith problem saying, “unless I see in his [Jesus] hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe” (John 20:25). Somehow the other disciples failed to recognise the severity of this disbelief.

Today, this same battle between belief and disbelief wars with long term faith struggles and present day challenges, placing the individual in spiritual conflict. This is where Thomas found himself, showing the severity of his battle with belief in the Lord Jesus when he said, I will never believe.”

In that moment, Thomas discovered that his assumed belief in Jesus was conditional, making it false belief. His was not surrendered or accepting belief. Although Thomas had completed three years of intense mission and discipleship with Jesus, witnessing irrefutable evidence of Jesus deity, the battle was fiercer than ever. Thomas possessed proud belief that demanded his expectations be met. This was idolatrous disbelief because it attempted to dictate the terms of faith, thinking that self is the highest authority and self is in control.

Despite being born into a state of spiritual death (Psa 51:5; Eph 2:1), sinners are still called of God to turn from disbelief to belief in Jesus as Lord, this is a volitional act of faith. The transition is influenced by every sensory input of your life, including the testimony of God’s Word and the conviction of God’s Holy Spirit. The only response the Lord wants is the one which Thomas eventually gave to Jesus, “my Lord and my God!” (John 20:28).

Thomas, enabled by the Holy Spirit, had to bring it all together within his heart and mind, the deity of Jesus, the substitutional death of Jesus, the resurrection of Jesus, and the sovereign Lordship of this risen Jesus over his life.

Jesus had explained earlier in John 14:23-24, “anyone who loves me will obey my teaching. My Father will love them, and we will come to them and make our home with them. 24 Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching…” This is what it means to “confess with your mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead…” (Romans 10:9-10). Obedient belief authenticates itself, while disobedient belief proves itself false.

If you find yourself in a spiritually uncertain and difficult stage in life, the challenge before you remains the same as when life was comfortable – belief or disbelief. In God’s grace, He permits us a role in all this, the role of dependant trust which overrules disbelief by choosing to believe with obedience. It is the obedience that distinguishes surrenderedness to Christ’s Lordship. It is this surrendered heart that says, “I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope” (Psalms 130:5).

If, through the confrontations of life, you have discovered your belief to be disbelief, “repent therefore, and turn back, that your sins may be blotted out, 20 that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord…” (Acts 3:19-20). “Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. 9 Grieve, mourn and wail. Change your laughter to mourning and your joy to gloom. 10 Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up” (James 4:8-10 NIV).

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Living with disappointment – Part 2

While Joseph served as a good example of processing disappointment well, Jonah demonstrates disappointment that empowered dissatisfaction in God. God’s mission for Jonah was simple; “go to Nineveh, …and call out against it, for their evil has come up before me” (Jonah 1:2). But Jonah sailed in the opposite direction with no intention of obedience.

As the story goes, “the LORD appointed a great fish to swallow up Jonah. And Jonah was in the belly of the fish three days and three nights” (Jonah 1:17). During that time Jonah had a rethink and obedience now seemed appealing. So, “the LORD spoke to the fish, and it vomited Jonah out upon the dry land… Jonah arose and went to Nineveh, according to the word of the Lord” (Jonah 3:2-3). Good man!

Possibly the world’s quickest revival followed Jonah’s preaching as he walked through Nineveh. “The people of Nineveh believed God. They called for a fast and put on sackcloth, from the greatest of them to the least of them” (Jonah 3:5). The king decreed, “let everyone turn from his evil way and from the violence that is in his hands. 9 Who knows? God may turn and relent and turn from his fierce anger, so that we may not perish” (Jonah 3:8-9). “When God saw what they did, how they turned from their evil way, God relented of the disaster that he had said he would do to them” (Jonah 3:10). Praise God, you would think. But not defiant Jonah.

“But it displeased Jonah exceedingly, and he was angry. 2 And he prayed to the LORD and said, “O LORD, is not this what I said when I was yet in my country? That is why I made haste to flee to Tarshish; for I knew that you are a gracious God and merciful, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love, and relenting from disaster” (Jonah 4:1-2). Jonah previously had the right expectations of God – mercy. But Jonah preferred justice for his Ninevite enemies, not mercy. Jonah’s heart was the problem, it was conflicted against God’s mercy.

Jonah had elevated his feelings of injustice to become anger towards God. His selfish and thankless conclusions vindicated him sitting on a hill complaining about God’s grace to the Ninevites. He wanted to “see what would become of the city” (Jonah 4:3-5). Wake up Jonah! So, the Lord sent a plant which provided shade for burning Jonah, then a worm which ate the plant, then a burning hot wind which enraged Jonah even more (Jonah 4:6-8).

Enraged by the hungry worm and loss of shade, plus burning with anger at God’s mercy, sinful Jonah preferred death over watching the Ninevites experience mercy. To which the Lord replied, “you have been concerned about this plant, though you did not tend it or make it grow. It sprang up overnight and died overnight. 11 And should I not have concern for the great city of Nineveh, in which there are more than a hundred and twenty thousand people…” (Jonah 4:10-11 NIV). Jonah was not entitled  to dictate who God could show mercy to, as stated in Romans 9:15, “I will have mercy on whom I have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I have compassion.”

Jonah’s prejudices had become his god, and he was willing to die for them. He refused to accept God’s sovereign wisdom. He was unwilling to celebrate the loving compassion of a Saviour God. Sin won the battle for Jonah’s heart, but lost the war against the souls of Nineveh – PRAISE GOD! As we rejoice over God’s choices, entrusting life’s outcomes to Him, we are set free from failed expectations, resentment, and heart-breaking disappointment. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 4:7).

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Living with disappointment – Part 1

Disappointment at some point is an inescapable reality. We all deal with it differently and grant it varying levels of permission in our lives. Disappointment is the terrible twin to expectations, invisibly connected, and knitted together in our thoughts. These twins often wreak havoc, fighting within our emotions, our beliefs, and our relationships. They do not respect your level of maturity, your financial status, or your state of health. They relentlessly war within, unseen, and hungry for conquest over your heart and mind.

Weak or wrong expectations can lay the foundation for disappointment to feed off. Solomon expressed this in Proverbs 11:7, when the wicked dies, his hope will perish, and the expectation of wealth perishes too.” The things which the world promises to bring lasting meaning, value, and security, attempt to build a strong set of expectations. However, the ugly reality is this, earthly death proves every one of those worldly expectations to be false, and eternally disappointing and damming.

Found in Genesis 37-50, Joseph serves as a good example of dealing correctly with expectations and disappointment. He was the favoured son of Jacob and hated by his brothers (Gen 37:3-4). His brothers plotted to kill 17-year-old Joseph but ended up selling him as a slave to some travelling merchants. They proceeded to on-sell Joseph to an Egyptian named Potiphar (Gen 37:20-28, 39:1). Despite promotion within Potiphar’s house, Mrs Potiphar betrayed Joseph with false allegations of attempted rape because he would not commit adultery with her.

Consequently, Joseph was wrongly imprisoned (Genesis 39:7-20). “But the LORD was with Joseph and showed him steadfast love and gave him favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison… and whatever he did, the LORD made it succeed.” (Genesis 39:21, 23). Through a series of God orchestrated events, Joseph was “brought out of the pit” of prison (Genesis 41:14) and proceeded to correctly interpret Pharaoh’s dreams. So, Pharaoh (the king of Egypt) said to Joseph, “See, I have set you over all the land of Egypt.” 42 Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his hand and put it on Joseph’s hand, and clothed him in garments of fine linen and put a gold chain about his neck. 43 And he made him ride in his second chariot. And they called out before him, “Bow the knee!” (Genesis 41:41-43). Now that’s an impressive promotion, from prisoner to governor.

Following seven years of plenty under Josephs leadership came seven years of famine. Predictably, Joseph’s wicked brothers came in search of food. Well, they found food, plus they were reunited with Joseph, and they experienced unexpected grace. But the pinnacle character in this story is God. The Lord worked through both Josephs terrible circumstances and within Joseph’s heart attitudes and thinking.

At the conclusion of the story, Joseph explained to his brothers how God’s sovereign grace had been at work in all of their lives. Joseph brought his brothers understanding into God’s reality; “you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good… So do not fear… thus he comforted them and spoke kindly to them” (Genesis 50:20-21).

Joseph would have felt the pain of enforced slavery, the betrayal of Mr and Mrs Potiphar, the injustice of wrongful imprisonment, yet his hope was in God who governed those events. We do not read of Joseph asking for better conditions or moaning of how unfair life was. As his life unfolded, Joseph aligned his acceptance with his understanding that God was working out a much bigger plan of which he was just one small player. Joseph was not disappointed with God because he never had selfish or unrealistic expectations of God, he simply accepted God’s will without resentment, while living in obedience.

My point is this; remove wrong expectations of God, and you remove the potential for disappointment in God. Next week, we shall consider the negative flip side of expectations and disappointment through the life of Jonah.

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