May 2023

Jesus centered living

For believers in Jesus Christ, Christianity is not merely part of life, Christ is our life. Everything other that Christ forms the various components of life, with Jesus being the hub, the axis from which everything grows and orbits. This, in part, is because Jesus is the source of eternal salvation to all who obey him (Hebrews 5:9). The believer accepts, trusts in, and arranges their priorities to conform to Jesus’ declaration; I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me (John 14:6).

Paul had proclaimed Jesus Christ as Lord to the Corinthian church (2 Corinthians 4:5), which he did everywhere that he declared the gospel. And it is compliance to Jesus’ lordship, within a believer’s unique and sometimes complex circumstances, that develops transformational living for Christ. For the Christian, their heart’s desire is that in everything he (Christ) might be preeminent (Colossians 1:18).

Near the end of His earthly life, Jesus explained in John 15:4-5, Abide in me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit by itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in me. I am the vine; you are the branches. Whoever abides in me and I in him, he it is that bears much fruit, for apart from me you can do nothing. While this may sound strange to the nonbeliever, the child of God acknowledges the essential nature of belief that is dependent upon Jesus. The longer we live and walk with the Lord, the more we recognise the truth of Jesus’ teaching in this matter.

The horticultural parallel of integration with Christ, and dependence upon Him as the only supplier of spiritual nutrients is unmistakable. Just as the branches of a vine require sap from its own root to survive, to grow, and then to produce fruit, the same is true of the believer. Those who live in Jesus, whose daily existence depends upon His spiritual food, they remain faithful and grow to produce Christlike fruit through their lives. For them, only Christ can satisfy by providing what they need.

While life has many important relationships and activities that require commitment, Christ is life’s essence, life’s motivation, and goal. As Lord, Jesus is permeated through every facet of Christian living, nothing goes untouched by Him. Relying continually upon the spiritual resources of Jesus, our vine, enables us to use the earthly necessities and activities of life for His purposes and our blessing.

It is a sharp focus on Jesus that brings joy, comfort, and security in this everchanging world that we live. Clear focus on the Lord Jesus inspires perseverance during difficult chapters of life while we wait upon Him to resolve the issues that distress us. Listen to Job’s testimony during his greatest suffering, what is my strength, that I should wait? And what is my end, that I should be patient? (Job 6:11). Here, the child of God can experience genuine peace while enduring great difficulties.

Living a Jesus centered life enables us to …run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith… (Hebrews 12:1-2). Similarly, Paul wanted the Colossian believers to reach all the riches of full assurance of understanding and the knowledge of God’s mystery, which is Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:2-3). May we pursue knowing and living Christ. And as we grow in our understanding of Him, may our hearts place Him more and more in that central place of focus.

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God of Change

It was only a few days before Jesus’ crucifixion, and the chief priests and elders of Israel were determined to create a way to kill Him. Although Jesus publicly exposed their hypocrisy, their false teaching, and even pronounced seven woes upon them, He did not bring instant judgement as they deserved. Jesus knew that many of his enemies were receiving grace which would soon change them into faithful believers in Him as Lord and Saviour (Acts 4:4; 6:7).

Sometimes we see change coming, but often, uninvited change just happens abruptly. Change will always be part of our lives by God’s design and administration. Although we often struggle with unpleasant changes, we need to remember that no change happens outside of God’s governance or His purposes.

In Matthew 21:32, Jesus confronted the chief priests and elders over their unwillingness to change saying, for John came to you in the way of righteousness, and you did not believe him, but the tax collectors and the prostitutes believed him. And even when you saw it, you did not afterward change your minds and believe him. Determined unwillingness to change for Jesus can have devastating consequences if allowed to play out to its ultimate goal. But in God’s grace, He perseveres with us to achieve His will, which always involves great change.

All of Scripture records that mankind is required to change their beliefs and behaviour for God, this is normal repentant faith-life, and it’s good. Personal change should be expected, it should be preached, it should be included in our gospel explanations and in all discipleship. Faith in Jesus Christ brings great changes, which we call sanctification. The Lord employs a variety of circumstances and events; medical, financial, employment, location, and relationship changes, to grow our faith and maturity in Christ.

Jeremiah 29:5-7 tells of Yahweh’s instruction to those under His discipline of exile in Babylon. Build houses and live in them; and plant gardens and eat their fruit. 6 Take wives and become the fathers of sons and daughters, and take wives for your sons and give your daughters to husbands, that they may bear sons and daughters; and multiply there and do not decrease. 7 Seek the peace of the city where I have sent you into exile, and pray to Yahweh on its behalf; for in its peace you will have peace. Israel, like many of us, resented and resisted the changes God had forced upon them. Although they should have understood why, they had such a long and determined history of rejecting God’s instructions and warnings, that they were both blind and deaf to the preventative Word of God.

Again, grace prevailed, with God telling them to accept it and get on with living in a God honouring way. They were to proactively seek the blessing of their captors, the Babylonians, and in so doing God would benefit them, even returning them to Israel in the future. As if the trauma of being dragged off to a foreign land with every aspect of life forcefully changed was not bad enough. Now Yahweh says, seek the blessing of your enemy. This must have been like rubbing salt in the wound, the ultimate insult that would have gone against everything they felt.

But this is so typical of the Lord, and Jesus repeats the same lesson in Luke 6:27-28. May we accept change that is outside of our control as being used by God for His glory and our blessing. May we seek the benefit of others that can often only come through change (1 Peter 3:9).

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Hezekiah – Shepherd Amongst Kings

Among the many Old Testament kings of Israel and Judah, few ever fulfilled their God given assignment of leading the nation in faithful worship and testimony of Yahweh to the world. Towering above many, Hezekiah, King of Judah, ranked impressively, as recorded in 2 Kings 18-20, 2 Chronicles 29-32, and Isaiah 37-39. Hezekiah, son of wicked king Ahaz, was twenty-five years old when he became king; and he reigned twenty-nine years in Jerusalem (2Ki 18:1-2). The thing that made Hezekiah admirable was that he did what was good, right, and true before Yahweh his God. And every work which he began in the service of the house of God in law and in commandment — to seek his God — he did with all his heart and succeeded (2Ch 31:20-21).

Hezekiah inherited his father’s throne accompanied by a nation enslaved to idolatry with every form of wickedness imaginable, including child sacrifice (2Ch 28:3). Leading the spiritual restoration of this belligerent nation would be no easy task, as sinners usually prefer to hold onto their sin. However, ignoring his father’s wicked example, Hezekiah went against his nation’s preferred idolatrous culture and religion. So, how would Hezekiah turn the nation around? What was his strategy? He removed the high places and broke the pillars and cut down the Asherah. And he broke in pieces the bronze serpent that Moses had made, for until those days the people of Israel had made offerings to it (2 Kings 18:4). Hezekiah got the people (2Ch 31:1) to remove both the source and the objects of false worship and he reestablish the temple worship of Yahweh, which successfully redirected the nation. Which is a great strategy for both nations and individuals.

Now it happened in the fourteenth year of King Hezekiah, that Sennacherib king of Assyria came up against all the fortified cities of Judah and seized them (Isaiah 36:1). The Assyrian spokesman, Rabshakeh, took great pleasure in mocking Hezekiah, Judah, and Yahweh, even sending his insults by letter. 2 Kings 19:14 records that Hezekiah went up to the house of the LORD and spread the letter before the LORD and prayed about it. In response, God destroyed the Assyrian army of 185,000 soldiers using a single angel (Isa 37:36). The king of Assyria returned home to Nineveh (Isa 37:37-38), where he was killed by two of his sons while worshipping an idol.

During this time Hezekiah became sick with a boil (Isa 38:21) and was about to die. Although  he prayed to the Lord (2Ch 32:24), he didn’t actually ask for healing in the way we would expect (Isa 38:2-3). God responded, I have heard your prayer; I have seen your tears. Behold, I will add fifteen years to your life (Isaiah 38:5). The Lord healed Hezekiah by telling Isaiah the prophet to have a poultice of figs applied to the boil (Isa 38:21), which they did, and the Lord enabled Hezekiah’s healing.

Hezekiah was a man of godly integrity, of prayer, courage, and uncompromising faith in Yahweh. When under pressure he didn’t fold, he didn’t neglect his relationship with the LORD, and he didn’t listen to the negative mutterings of those working against him. He was a king, a true shepherd of his nation, and a man in love with his God.

Hezekiah did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, according to all that David his (ancestor) father had done (2 Kings 18:3). In fact, this righteous king trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel, so that there was none like him among all the kings of Judah after him, nor among those who were before him  (2 Kings 18:5).

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Waiting upon the LORD

Whether you are a new believer in Jesus Christ, or a matured believer, all share the blessedness, and sometimes the struggles, of waiting upon the Lord. However, for those who make waiting part of life, there is great reward in learning the discipline. Micah, who prophesied during the reigns of Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, knew the pain of wicked rulership as well as the joys of having a righteous King. Micah witnessed the terror of spiritual compromise throughout a nation. Yet, for him, there was only one correct response to it all. But as for me, I will watch expectantly for Yahweh; I will wait for the God of my salvation. My God will hear me (Micah 7:7). Micah’s priority was to patiently grow in knowing Yahweh’s character, which should be our goal also. Micah’s confidence was in God alone, far more than in an expected human outcome. He prioritised this while trusting God to invisibly take care of his needs and the needs of the nation. Regardless of what twists and turns life takes, it is God honouring and personally comforting, to expectantly watch for the Lord’s leading each day.

The author of Psalm 130 had obviously experienced life’s pains, as expressed through these 8 heart-felt verses, out of the depths I cry to you, O LORD! (Psalm 130:1). God knows that the human heart sometimes needs to be touched by the ugly realities of this sinful world to motivate the deepest cries for His listening ear of mercy (Psalm 130:3).

Within the merciful acceptance of the forgiving Saviour, there is found an oasis for the troubled heart. A place of rest. There, the Psalmist could honestly say, I wait for the LORD, my soul waits, and in his word I hope; my soul waits for the Lord more than watchmen for the morning (Psalm 130:5-6). Some days the waiting is short, while other days it’s lengthy. Some days the waiting is uncomfortable, while other days it’s smooth and easy. Either way, waiting grows patience and encourages the enquiring mind to question the Lord, exploring His Word for the possible reasons for His choices over our lives. Often waiting begins with nervousness and doubts, but as the Lord works out His plan in your life, those negatives are gradually replaced with joy and confidence in Him. This waiting doesn’t invite superficial thoughts or feelings, but calls for our deepest emotions and beliefs to be shared with Him.

God centred, and God focused waiting develops assurance of His receptive care because with Yahweh there is lovingkindness, and with Him is abundant redemption (Psalm 130:7). In the waiting rooms of the Christian life, failings are confessed, forgiveness is assured, and expectations change as fears subside, giving way to fresh possibilities. Confidence gradually replaces apprehension as we watch and pray, observing how God not only transforms our hearts, but directs the people and events of our lives. Patience in each of life’s waiting rooms matures our Christian learning skills and our ability to observe God’s lessons from God’s perspective.

Occasionally, the waiting rooms of life become crowded as complexities increase and others place  demands upon us. When this happens, it’s most likely time to invite a Christian friend in with you. Carry each other’s burdens, and in this way you will fulfill the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2). The fellowship of prayerfully waiting upon the Lord together in God’s Word is both strengthening and comforting. United and trusting dependence upon the Lord really can assist the aligning of our hearts with the Lord’s heart in the waiting. Let us patiently wait upon the Lord with confidence and humility.

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Living Grace

The word “grace” appears in approximately 116 New Testament verses. Obviously, grace is not only significant in God’s character and gospel truth, but to a believer’s Christlikeness also. While the meaning of grace is simple enough, the application is to be far reaching as it impacts every facet of Christian life. The New Testament dictionary meaning of grace is to express those things which are beneficial, favourable, and are worthy of thanks. The implication is that grace operates for the benefit of its recipients even though they may not be worthy of what is being offered.

As the apostle Paul was affirming the certainty of believers’ future resurrection, he explains the role of grace. For it is all for your sake, so that as grace extends to more and more people it may increase thanksgiving, to the glory of God (2 Corinthians 4:15). Resurrection grace is for the believer’s sake, for their benefit. Grace is intended by God to be shared, to be spread to an ever increasing number of people. Grace received, and rightly understood, should produce thanksgiving by the recipients, which also extends to glorifying God as it fuels believers’ worship.

Grace is responsible for every expression of God’s lovingkindness shown to mankind, and especially to His believing children. Therefore, it’s only right for Christians to likewise be characterised by gracious love in action. Paul spoke of God’s grace working through the Macedonian churches by their sacrificial giving during times of great hardship to help meet the needs of the poor saints in Jerusalem. But as you excel in everything — in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in all earnestness, and in our love for you — see that you excel in this act of grace also (2 Corinthians 8:7). Grace is both intentional and spontaneous because it flows from hearts saturated with God’s love (Romans 5:5). As with other Christian qualities, grace should be pursued with passion, not for self-gratification, but for the benefit of its recipients and God’s glory. Grace gives evidence that we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them (Ephesians 2:10).

Scripture portrays the quality of grace at every level of human character as desirable and beneficial as it displays God’s merciful heart. Therefore, see to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no root of bitterness springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled (Hebrews 12:15). Nothing good ever comes about through the absence of grace. In fact, the author of Hebrews cautions us, that in the absence of grace, bitterness can fill the void, which only ever contaminates the body of Christ.

In 1 Peter 1:13, Peter reminds his readers that alert Christian living is forward looking as you set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ. Just as God’s grace saves us, sanctifies us, and keeps us secure in Christ, so it will bring to fulfillment all of God’s eternal purposes upon Christ’s return. Which Paul affirmed to the church in Philippi, I am sure of this, that he who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ (Philippians 1:6). Therefore, may Peter’s closing words be true in our lives today, as we grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. To him be the glory both now and to the day of eternity. Amen (2 Peter 3:18).

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