Posted in Psalms

Your Wagon Tracks Overflow With Abundance (Ps. 65)

Psalm 65:9-11 (ESV):
‘You visit the earth and water it;
you greatly enrich it…
…You crown the year with your bounty;
your wagon tracks overflow with abundance.’

The word I want to focus on in these verses is, ‘your.’

As David paints this beautiful picture of God, the generous provider, coming to the earth, watering it and blessing its produce, you might expect him to say:
‘You crown the year with your bounty; our wagon tracks overflow with abundance.’

After all, it’s the people, not God, who benefit from his bountiful earth. I wouldn’t have questioned it if he had said, ‘our food,’ ‘our land,’ or, ‘our abundance.’

In fact, I’m pretty sure that the people would have worked the land, dug the ground, planted the crops, etc. It is God who brings growth, but if the people planted nothing, nothing would have grown.

And yet David looks past the people’s work and the fact that they are the ones inhabiting the land and benefiting from its produce. He acknowledges that it all belongs to God- the land, that which grows, the waters… everything!

In his generosity and goodness, God chooses to share and give these wonderful things to his people, but ultimately, it all belongs to him- regardless of the inhabitants of the place and the workers of the field.

Today, let us remember that everything we have comes from and belongs to God. Be that the salary we work for, the gifts of others, or the abundance in our lives whose origin we cannot even explain. It’s all from God. It all belongs to God. So, when managing what we have, let us turn to God and say: ‘Lord, what I have is yours. What would you have me do with it?’ 

Posted in Psalms

God is Our Refuge and Strength (Ps. 46)

Psalm 46:1-2 (ESV):
‘God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way,
though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea…’

V7 & 11 (same words repeated):
‘The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our fortress.’

In this Psalm, I looked at all the different nouns ascribed to God:
– ‘Refuge’ (v1)
– ‘Strength’ (v1)
– ‘A very present help in trouble (v1)
– ‘Fortress’ (v7, 11)

What interests me in this list of nouns is the contrast that takes place:

First, God is described as a ‘refuge and strength.’

People seek refuge when they are in a vulnerable position. In their weakness, they need a shelter: someone/something that is strong where they are not. In verse 1, by calling out to God as their refuge and strength, the psalmist is acknowledging their own vulnerability and weakness.

Fast-forward to verses 7 and 11, however, and what do we see? God is a ‘fortress’ ! As I understand it, a fortress is the combination of a ‘refuge’ and ‘strength.’
Because the Psalmist turned to God, they are no longer in a vulnerable position of weakness. They have the high-ground. They are safe and strong in their fortress.

This is what happens when we run to God in our weakness- we don’t stay weak.

‘For when I am weak, then I am strong.’ (2 Cor. 12:10b -ESV).
This is what Paul writes to the Corinthians, talking about the hardships and persecutions he faces in life. Our weaknesses force us to run to God, to hide and take shelter in him. And when we do so, his strength can be made manifest in our lives so that no longer are we vulnerable refugees, but warriors with the high-ground in God. We are seated with Christ in the heavenly places above all powers and authorities (Eph. 1:20-21, 2:6).

Let us run to God in our weaknesses today, thanking him for being our refuge and strength, our ever-present help in trouble. Let us expect his power to break through- he is our fortress and in him we don’t have to fear our weakness.

Posted in Bible study and reflections, Psalms

A Future for the Man of Peace (Ps. 37)

Psalm 37:37 (ESV):
‘Mark the blameless and behold the upright,
for there is a future for the man of peace.’

Psalm 37 is filled with contrasts: the wicked man compared to the righteous man.

It seems that the wicked man prospers in his wrongdoing and thinks he has got away with it:
‘I have seen a wicked, ruthless man,
spreading himself like a green laurel tree.
But he passed away, and behold, he was no more;
though I sought him, he could not be found.’ (v35-36).

Our human nature cries, ‘it’s not fair!’ when we see the prosperity of the wicked. ‘He doesn’t deserve wealth and comfort!’ But the reality is that his legacy will not last. His name will not be known in God’s Eternal Kingdom.

The righteous man, however, has a different story. He may not seem like anyone special on the outside- he receives no fame nor accolade. And yet the psalmist says to mark the blameless and behold the upright, for there is a future for the man of peace.’ 

There are two commands there: ‘mark’ and ‘behold’Take note of the righteous man! He may not seem like anything special right now, but just wait and see…

There is a future for him. The man of peace will be known by God in His Eternal Kingdom and that is far greater than any temporary prosperity that one could know on the earth.

Today, let us not envy those who seem more successful than us by unjust means. Be not deceived- what they have now is worthless in comparison to an eternity with God. I pray that we might have this eternal mindset, looking far ahead to the fruit of our actions now, not just a quick-fix for tomorrow.

Posted in Bible study and reflections

Paul’s Model for Evangelism

Today as I read the first letter to the Thessalonians, I was struck by the detailed account of how Paul, Silvanus and Timothy brought the gospel to the Thessalonians. The following list shows aspects of the ministry as listed in chapter 2:

  • They preached after having suffered and being treated shamefully at Philippi (2)
  • With boldness in the midst of conflict (2)
  • Not out of:
    Error
    Impurity
    An attempt to deceive (3)
  • To please God, not man (4)
  • No words of flattery (5)
  • No pretext for greed (5)
  • Not seeking glory from people (6)
  • Gentle like a nursing mother
  • Not only sharing the gospel, but also their own selves (8)
  • Laboured & toiled to not be a burden (9)
  • Holy, blameless & righteous conduct towards them (10)
  • Like a father:
    Exhorted
    Encouraged
    Charged them to walk worthy of God (11-12)

This is quite an impressive list of characteristics to display when bringing the gospel somewhere! What I see is that Paul did everything in his power to present the gospel in such a way that the Thessalonians would accept it as truth. He didn’t just make a day trip to the city to preach the gospel and then leave, trusting the Holy Spirit to do his thing. He knew it was the Holy Spirit’s work to draw people to the Father, yet he also did everything he could to facilitate that process.

I’ve heard people say things like, ‘If we just preach the true gospel in church, people will know the truth and believe. If they don’t, at least we did our part.’

On the other extreme, I’ve seen even more believers with the attitude of, ‘We just need to love people and serve them and they will see Jesus in our example.’

Whilst neither of these are wrong in themselves, the truth is that we cannot do one and not the other. Paul & his team demonstrate a good balance: ‘We were ready to share with you not only the gospel of God but also our own selves’ (8).

They used their mouths to preach the gospel with boldness: ‘declared’, ‘spoke,’ and used ‘words’ (not of flattery!), but they also ‘laboured and toiled’ so as not to be a burden on the Thessalonians*; they demonstrated ‘holy, righteous and blameless conduct’ (living what they preached); and they loved the Thessalonians as a father and mother love their children.

This is what preaching the gospel and making effective disciples looks like: proving by your actions the love of the gospel that you preach with your words.

If we want to make disciples of the nations (which we do!), then we cannot neglect either aspect of evangelism. It’s not enough to serve and love others in action but then just expect them to figure out the gospel without explaining it. But it’s also not enough to just preach the gospel without reaching out to people, serving them, and sharing one’s own self with them.

Which aspect of evangelism do you tend to focus more on? How can you strike a balance so that you can make strong, well-grounded disciples like Paul did? How can the local church model Paul’s example in the modern-day setting?

 

 

 

*My interpretation of the labour/toil so as not to be a burden: if Paul hadn’t worked whilst ministering to the Thessalonians, he would have had to rely on the Thessalonians to take care of his needs. However, if you’re trying to convince someone of the gospel, forcing them to cover your costs isn’t really going to help your cause! They didn’t ask you to come- you’re asking them to accept you. So, it was important for Paul to work & cover his own needs in order to avoid burdening the people.
We, too, should make sure we’re not a burden to the people we’re ministering to. However, I believe that according to 3 John, the church has a responsibility to support the ‘travelling preachers’ i.e. the missionaries who preach the gospel for free. At this stage, Paul obviously didn’t have any outside support and therefore needed to toil for himself to avoid being a burden. But ideally, the church should support missionaries as they preach the gospel so that they don’t need to toil day and night and can also be a blessing, rather than a burden, to the people they want to reach.

Posted in Psalms

Unless the Lord builds the house… (Ps. 27)

‘Unless the Lord builds the house,
those who build it labour in vain.
Unless the Lord watches over the city,
the watchman stays awake in vain.’
-Ps. 127:1 (ESV)

There’s no point in working and striving after something if God’s hand is not on it. If we are not working in God’s will, it will come to nothing.

Though this is a Psalm of Solomon, the word for ‘vanity’ is not the same as that used in Ecclesiastes. In Ecclesiastes, ‘vanity,’ is the Hebrew word, ‘hevel,’ which is actually to do with ‘mist’ or ‘vapour’ – something transient and mysterious which is there one moment and gone the next.

However, here, the word for ‘vain,’ is, ‘shav,’ which is to do with desolation and uselessness– a much stronger word, it seems to me, than that of Ecclesiastes.

Maybe you’ve found this in your own life: you’ve striven after something that wasn’t part of God’s will for you, you’ve worked hard for it, but in the end, all you gained was vanity- a useless desolation and nothingness.

Perhaps on the outside, it didn’t look like a desolation- perhaps in the eyes of the world it was quite successful! But it’s in our hearts that we know whether something was really worthwhile, constructed by God, or whether we were just striving in vain.

I hope this Psalm might be an encouragement to you, as it is to me, to seek God’s will and work for that alone, because we can be sure that when we are in God’s will, it is never in vain. And that doesn’t even necessarily mean seeing results; just look at the lives of the Prophets! Ezekiel, for example, was warned from the beginning of his ministry that the people of Israel would not be willing to listen to him (Ez. 3:7). Does that mean his toiling for the people was in vain? No. Because he was obedient to God and doing his will- that is what matters above all.

‘Unless the Lord builds the house, those who build it labour in vain…’

We have to let God be the chief builder in our lives- it won’t work any other way. Let him lead, and you will surely find rest and reward in your work.

‘It is in vain that you rise up early and go late to rest, eating the bread of anxious toil;
for he gives to his beloved sleep.’ 
(Ps. 127:2 -ESV)

Posted in Bible study and reflections

Humility: The second chance to get it right

Humility, having to lower yourself and acknowledge your imperfection is a really difficult thing to do. But this morning, my wonderful friend reminded me that this is something we can always fall back on.

I was reminded of Saul and David. Both of them made some terrible errors- arguably, from our human perspective, David’s sins were even greater than Saul’s!

But look at their reactions…

When Samuel convicted Saul of his disobedience to God by not devoting the Amalekites and all that they had to destruction (1 Sam. 15:17ff), Saul argues back, saying:

‘I have obeyed the voice of the Lord. I have gone on the mission on which the Lord sent me…’ (1 Sam. 15:20a -ESV)

He tries to justify himself! He refuses to admit his disobedience to God and argues with Samuel, rather than acknowledging his sin, humbling himself, and repenting.

The result?

God rejects Saul as king over Israel (1 Sam. 15:23)!

Only when Saul hears this punishment does he try to back-track and repent (15:24-25), but repentance should come from a humble heart before God, not because you’re trying to make someone change their mind about a punishment!

David, on the other hand, when convicted by Nathan the Prophet of his sin with Bathsheba (2 Sam. 12) – which, we should remember, was not just adultery, but also planning and carrying out the death of Uriah, Bathsheba’s husband, and then taking her as his own wife! – doesn’t try to deny it or justify himself, but simply says: ‘I have sinned against the Lord’ (2 Sam. 12:13 -ESV).

The result?

‘The Lord also has put away your sin; you shall not die. Nevertheless, because by this deed you have utterly scorned the Lord, the child who is born to you shall die’ (2 Sam. 12:13-14 -ESV).

David was punished by the death of his child, but the kingdom was not taken away from him, and nor was his life.

If we go to Psalm 51, the famous psalm of repentance written by David after being visited by Nathan, we see that his humility and repentance was not just by himself before God and Nathan, but actually sung by the choir, presumably before quite a number of people!

‘To the Choirmaster. A Psalm of David, when Nathan the Prophet went to him, after he had gone in to Bathsheba’ 

This is what makes Saul and David different. Both sinned. Both committed terrible errors. But while Saul tried to justify himself and deny his wrong until he received a punishment, David accepted his fault and sought God’s mercy.

The original sinful action is always wrong, but as it is said: ‘two wrongs don’t make a right!’ Humility offers a second chance to get it right and this is something I realise I need to grow in and seek to walk out practically every day.

Posted in Bible study and reflections, Ephesians: Every Spiritual Blessing (series)

He Made Known to us the Mystery of His Will: Every Spiritual Blessing (Pt. 5)

‘…Making known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.’ -Eph. 1:9-10 (ESV)

The word, ‘mystery,’ is quite significant in the book of Ephesians, appearing 6 times (1:9; 3:3, 4, 9; 5:32; 6:19)

Paul says that one of the things we are blessed with in Christ is the knowledge of the mystery of the Father’s will. 

So, what is this mystery if it’s now been revealed…?

Thankfully, we don’t have to look too far to find the answer!

‘The mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’ -Eph. 3:6

‘…A plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth’ -Eph. 1:10

What an amazing God we have- that he not only wanted relationship with one nation, but with all people, that all things be united in him.

This is not some small revelation or mystery, but it was God’s plan for the fullness of time!

We discussed in part 3 of this series that as God’s adopted sons, we get to share in his inheritance (read about that here)- and this same idea is echoed here in the revealing of the mystery: we are ‘fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel’ (3:6).

Notice that this is a spiritual blessing in Christ, i.e. it wasn’t available before Jesus’ ministry on the cross. Before Christ, only God’s people, the people of Israel, could inherit the blessings of being God’s child, but God’s intention from the beginning was that all things in heaven and on earth would be united in his Son, Jesus. As a Gentile, I for one am very glad to hear this good news!

Do we see this fulfilled now? Do we see all things on heaven and on earth united?

Well, not quite…

Sure, now, through Jesus, every tribe, nation and tongue can enter into God’s family and be united in one body- Jesus’ body, the church.

However, it’s not perfect yet. I would say from experience that all things in heaven and on earth are not yet united; sadly, even the body of Christ on earth is not yet completely united!

We’re in a time which we call, ‘The Age of Tension.’

Jesus’ first coming has meant that now, we get to see the fruition of God’s plan, but only in part. We are waiting for Jesus’ second coming, when he will bring everything to completion. When he returns, we will see everything in heaven and on earth united in him; we will see what God has been working towards since the beginning.

It’s exciting stuff! And it’s worth us getting excited about it! The fact that we know God’s will for the fullness of time, and that we get to experience it in part already, is amazing. It should spur in us a desire to see more of God’s Kingdom now- isn’t this what Jesus tells us to pray?

‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven’ -Matt. 6:10

This line from the Lord’s prayer sounds remarkably like what Paul says is the mystery of God’s will… It’s like Jesus was giving the disciples a ‘sneak-peak’ into this revelation as he taught them to pray, even before he went to the cross so that this uniting of all things could actually begin!

Let’s be excited about this mystery- that all can partake in the promise in Christ, and that all can be part of the body. Let us commit to praying this prayer- to see God’s Kingdom come and for his will to be done on earth right now as it is in heaven. And let us commit ourselves to God as his vessels, that he may use us to bring forth his purpose for the fullness of time.