Motive, value and direction

Read Ps 131

I find myself still thinking about yesterday’s reading: Jeremiah 23. I suppose that as a shepherd I should take more time with passages that challenge those of my craft and calling who have strayed from the path.

Yesterday I wrote that a thousand prior decisions lead to an eventual change of value and direction. Today I am thinking that we can stay ‘in the Lord’s council’ (Jer 23:22) by ensuring that our ‘thousand prior decisions’ are one’s that honour God and reflect his character.

David (who wrote Ps 131) says ‘my eyes are not haughty, I do not concern myself with great matters, or things too wonderful for me.’ Instead, like a weaned child he has put his hope in the Lord.

What determines your direction, really?

These are remarkable words for a King. They expose motive, values of heart, attitudes of will, and direction of mind. They speak of priority and forethought. David has not set his heart on the big money, the great sets of numbers, or the wins. These things are not bad in themselves. They are generally good ‘goods’… it’s just that they are lousy gods.

Ps 131 reminds us that if we make God our priority, and his Kingdom and character the centre of all our values and ideals we will end up being more calm, with quieter ambitions, and being more content. And the outcomes we achieve, whilst they may not be world beaters, high end, or great, may in the end last longer that that which rusts and rots.

That’s what Jesus said, right?

“But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well. Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own. ” (Matthew 6:33–34, NIV84)

Think about your own life. What are the first things? What has priority? What determines your direction, really?

What I am posting about lately

Just to fill you in…

I thought I would just give you an update about how the blog is working of late.

I have been following a guide for daily devotional reading: A Guide to Prayer for Ministers and Other Servants (Job & Shawchuck). This great resource was recommended to me by Jack de Vries, the Mission Training Coordinator of the Christian Reformed Churches of Australia. There are readings for each day, following the basic form of

Prayer

Psalm for the week

Silence

Daily Bible Readings

Reading for reflection

Prayers for myself, the world, and others

Reflection: silent and written

Hymn or song for the week

Benediction

A few week’s ago I set myself the goal of regularly working through ‘A Guide to Prayer…’. I started recording my thoughts in a devotional journal, and after a few days I thought that I would share them with you. Perhaps the daily readings and the comment I make might also encourage you to be more regular in reading your bible and focusing your mind on the things of God.

This sort of discipline is not always easy to sustain. Well, I don’t always find it easy.

So I hope these posts help you deepen your understanding of the goodness of God and of his call on your life. As always, I encourage you to comment regularly, and engage with the subject matter.

Grace and peace,

Dave

Are you standing in God’s council?

Read Jeremiah 23

This is a sobering read. God’s prophets were using their power unjustly, and the God whose words they should be speaking has a broken heart and trembling bones because of their unfaithfulness (23:9,10). These prophets are speaking grand words among their friends (23:25,35,36). It’s funny how the words they had crafted for the ears of people, prophecies they had staked their future, are nothing more than delusions (23:26). Who would work so hard for a delusion?Why invest so much energy in a vapour?

Is this the cult of personality? Popularity’s trap? It’s an easy one to fall into. Any preacher or leader knows how good it is to feel words like ‘wonderful message, great sermon, terrific decision’ slap us on the back. It can have us chasing the affirmation, intoxicated by the stream of positive strokes. It’s easy, isn’t it, to seek endorsement of people instead of following God and saying what he wants us to say.

I don’t think anyone rolls out of bed one morning saying, ‘I think today I’m going to start to be a lying prophet.’ These things happen incrementally. They are the amalgam of a thousand prior decisions, each of them minuscule on their own, but adding up over time to represent a totally different direction, a changed value, a new behaviour. Only rarely are these changes for the better.

the temptation to give our own message is always present

Jer 23:22 shows us the better way, ‘If only they had stood in my council…’. If only the first decision each day would be to hear God through his word, to discern his better and best way, to hear his voice. His affirmation and his honour are paramount. Seeking this, we are will do a better job of speaking His word.

Q: Are the affirmations you are receiving leading you deeper into God’s will and council? What might need to change?

Fuel for the fight…

Read: Leviticus 26:1-13

The book of Leviticus is a challenge at the best of times. One writer says ‘The contents of the book, perhaps more than any other book of the Bible, see so removed from the daily life of the contemporary Christian that one is tempted to avoid the effort.’

Even so, maybe today’s reading is a cameo of the book’s purpose, and perhaps God’s purpose, too. These 13 verses rock between the ‘I’ of God’s action and the ‘you’ of our response.

As they affirm the Lord for his blessing and grace, and call us to specific behaviour and attitudes, they also present a powerful reminder that the capacity for people to respond and obey starts with his work in our lives.

I know some Christians think differently about this, but I have never been able to accept that we initiate faith and belief and spiritual movement, and only then will God love us. It seems to indicate that God is somehow waiting for us, or dependent on us. I don’t think a God like that is much of a God, really. God is not waiting for us to act: He has acted. He has drawn us into grace, and we get to respond. Sometimes it seems as though we have come up with the idea, but God has always seeded that thirst and exploration in us. And the fact we think it started with us just shows how creative and gentle God can be.

Leviticus teaches us these truths. The central plank of the book, amongst all the other detail, is the Day of Atonement (Lev 16). God graciously acts to forgive rebellious and sinful people. In Lev 20:26 God says ‘You are to be holy because I, the Lord, am holy, and I have set you apart from the nations to be my very own.’ So our motivation to obey find its source in his lavish grace.

Have a look at the passage again, and notice the rhythm: ‘I have acted’ and then ‘you will do this in response.’ The story of Jesus fits this same rhythm perfectly: while we were still sinners, enemies of God, and rebels, Christ died for us.’

God’s lavish grace is the fuel I need for life’s fight

I find this reality of God’s lavish grace is the fuel I need for life’s fight. Isn’t this the wonderful ‘resource beyond myself’ that enables me to give even when I am at the end of my rope? For sure.

Truth be known, this truth is not well enough known. Is it any wonder that I tire so consistently of doing what God calls me to do? Is it any wonder that sometimes it feels as though God is far from me, even though I know he never is?

And then, no wonder that I am surprised when God answers my tardiness with even more love and grace.

“I will put my dwelling place among you and be your God, and you will be my people. I am the Lord your god who brought you out of Egypt, so that you will no longer be slaves to the Egyptians; I broke the bars of your yoke and enabled you to walk with heads held high.” [Lev 26:11-13]

Q: What makes it so hard to believe that God just keeps giving grace, even when all we give him is brokenness and failure?

No longer I…

Read Gal 2:11-21

The theme for our readings these last days has been ‘The Lord is with us’. Could there be a more relevant passage than Gal 2:20?

“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me.”

I am deeply moved by this reality.

All ancient religions, and many modern religions speak of people making places where God can dwell. Temples. Holy places. Attitudes of contemplation. These are the things people create to so God might dwell with them.

Instead of people creating a place where God dwells, God creates a people in which he dwells.

The Gospel of Jesus is very different. Totally opposite. Instead of people creating a place where God dwells, God creates a people in which he dwells. In Jesus, you are a new creation (2 Cor 5:18). You have become his temple (1 Cor 6:19, 1 Cor 3:16,17) It is remarkable that in a place like Athens Paul would remark that it is not God who lives in our Temples, but that we live in him (Acts 17:28). In Ephesus, a city dominated by the temple of Artemis/Diana, Paul makes the point that the Gospel is not about gods made by human hands, but that by grace we have become God’s workmanship (Eph 2:8-10).

Could there me a more transformational reality that the fact that God lives in you? That through Jesus he is recreating you after his image and likeness? (Eph 4:24)

Q: What difference will it make for you today to know that at because of Jesus, every moment He lives is you and is with you?

Present

Read: Romans 8:1-11

This morning I am struck by the simplicity of this week’s prayer:

Lord, you have promised to meet those who seek your face. Come now and reveal your presence to me as I make myself present to you. In the name of Jesus Christ, my Lord, Amen

We invest so much energy in ‘coming into God’s presence’. We seek to do this through prayer, worship, singing, ‘going to church’ and much more. It is as if we think God will not be present unless we are doing something holy.

This prayer reveals a better reality. We simply to pray ‘Lord, reveal your presence to me’. That is, show me how things really are. Show me what is true. Open my eyes to who you are irrespective of who I am, or what I do.

It is as if we think God will not be present unless we are doing something holy

The truth is God is simply present. And we are too often oblivious to this profound truth. Most of the time we are ignorant, preoccupied, proud, blind, deep in self. Is it any wonder we can trawl through our days feeling as though God is absent?

Romans 8 declares the glorious world changing fact, ‘There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus’. Because of Jesus, God is as close to us as he can be. Christ’s death has removed every barrier, every sin filled chasm, and brought us into the presence of the God who is. This is the God who is present with us by his own gracious doing.

This is why we pray for God to reveal his presence ‘as I make myself present to you.’ If God is as present to us as he can get, it’s clear that we are the ones who need to do some moving, and draw near to him. We do this not to enable or establish relationship, but as the grateful response of thanks of a fallen son or daughter to a Father who is lavish with grace, and who longs for us to thrive in his presence.

Q: What one thing will you do differently today to practise the presence of this gracious God?

It’s tough, but…

Read: Acts 18:5-11

Paul encounters great opposition as he preaches the Gospel in Corinth (18:5-6). In the context of this abuse, the Lord spoke to Paul and said “Do not be afraid; keep on speaking, do not be silent. For I am with you, and no one is going to attack and harm you, because I have many people in this city” (18:9-10).

It is such an encouragement to know that despite opposition, God still has work for us to do. This is good reason to keep our eyes firmly fixed on God’s mission and his priorities. I need to remember this, because it is too easy to become distracted, restricted and constricted by my circumstances. It is just too easy to engage in self pity, to brood on my problems, lick the sores of my discontent, and continue to feed my pain. You know what? Jesus is worth more than that. And His Kingdom and mission are worth more than that. I must make a commitment to focus on His grace, and to carry my gripes lightly.

despite opposition, God still has work for us to do

Lord Jesus, let my vision be defined by your calling and your mission. May your grace and power define my circumstances and how I respond to the challenges around me.

I love Psalm 121, and how The Message communicates the shalom that comes to those whom the Lord surrounds…


I look to the mountains Does my strength come from mountains?

No, my strength comes comes form God, who made heaven and earth, and mountains.

He won’t let your foot slip, he won’t let you stumble,

Your Guardian God won’t fall asleep. Not on your life! Israel’s Guardian will never doze or sleep.


Q: What makes it so hard for us to really trust God when the going is so tough?

Your Attitude is Showing…

Read Acts 13:44-52

Acts 13 confirms a turning point in redemptive history: the focus of God’s saving work is moving away from the Jews and toward the Gentiles. This remarkable move of God’s Spirit is worthy of contemplation on its own. But what struck me when I was reading this passage was the very different way various the groups in this passage reacted to the Gospel. The Jews were filled with jealousy because of the crowds listening to the Gospel. In contrast, the Gentiles honour the Lord with gladness, ‘and all who were appointed to eternal life believed’ (13:48).

As I read, I wondered whether various people’s reactions sometimes show us something of where God is actually at work, and where our priorities in ministry and mission should lie? Could it be that the prevailing culture of a church, or its dominant voice or ethos, tells us not only something about people, but also something about God?

I don’t think God is drumming his divine fingers on the celestial table of indecision, waiting for human beings to show him where he should work. It’s more that a receptive church culture shows he is already at work. His spirit is bringing change to attitudes and behaviour and the deepest recesses of the human will. Like how the Gentiles in Antioch Pisidia who responded so warmly to Paul’s message.

So: give careful thought to the the church culture you are working for. Is it one of one of negativity, jealousy, control and manipulation? Might God be turning away? Is His Spirit being quenched, and the Spirit’s flame being put out? Or is the prevailing church culture and its dominant ethos one of joy, gladness and the celebration of faith in Christ? Is this where God is focusing his attention?

give careful thought to the the church culture you are working for

I know these can be uncomfortable thoughts for people whose theology rests upon the wonderful sovereignty of God. Even so, the Bible helps us face the music of our own responsibility. That means the way we behave, the things we do, and the attitudes we hold have profound implications for God’s mission in our church community and the world in which we are placed.

Consider: What might happen if we directed our resources toward those contexts where there’s a context of joy, gladness and faith?

Q: Do you think this passage allows us to draw these conclusions? Leave a comment as to why or why not.

Are there any hazards of thinking this way?


Prayer: Lord, let my ministry and mission be one that draw people into the gladness of faith, honouring you. May it draw people into a deeper desire to share you grace with those who are far from you.

Strength for the Weary

Psalm 121

After everything that has happened these last months, I am so encouraged and humbled by the security afforded by the Living God. Help comes from him (Ps 121:2), his foot does not slip, so nor will mine. He watches over me (Ps 121:3), he keeps me safe, and he protects me:

“The Lord is your shade at your right hand” (v.5)

He knows my life’s path, he knows all the challenges I face, and he is with me as I go through all the trials that lie before me today. I feel safe, I feel blessed, I feel confident in his goodness and grace. What a privilege!

Q: What aspect of this Psalm has the most impact on you today?

…I thought it would be good to share a few devotional thoughts with you over these next weeks. My hope is that you find them helpful, and that God uses them to draw you to himself. DG