Even the crumbs are enough

This is a passage that I have shared thoughts on previously and rather than repeat some of those thoughts, this time I wanted to step back and see if there were any fresh insights I could bring out of this passage for you today.

We must remember that as Jesus’ ministry unfolded, with an initial focus on the Jewish people, it then began to broaden to include the Gentiles.  In today’s passage we are told that Jesus withdrew to the region of Tyre and Sidon – both port cities on the Mediterranean Sea north of Israel – both in a Gentile area.  It is here that he has an encounter with a Syrophoenician woman.

Jesus’ is likely to have had several motives for travelling into this region:

  • It would serve as a valuable and significant lesson to his disciples about the nature of faith, the nature and importance of having a relationship with God and the role of the Gentiles
  • It would have provided valuable opportunity for Jesus and his disciples to have time away from the pressure of the crowds and the Pharisees, with his absence perhaps helping diffuse rising tensions

There is always a risk that when we read an account of an event, we subconsciously interpret it in light of the ‘baggage’ that if we are honest with ourselves we all carry, rather than seeking to put that to one side, and being prepared to ask important questions like:

  1. What did this mean in the context of the event at that time, and in light of other events that took place leading up to this one and subsequently?
  2. What was the motive and intent of all of the people involved?
  3. Is there a deeper truth that emerges from the event that speaks to us today?

Many recent commentators bring accusations that Jesus’ exchange with this woman was dehumanising for her, revealing Jesus’ ethnic prejudice and bigotry.  They go on to say that Jesus was ‘taught a lesson’ by the woman as a result of this encounter.  These views present some serious issues for me:

  1. These views call into question whether Jesus knew what he was doing.  Not only do I believe that Jesus knew exactly what he was doing and chose his words carefully; but he will have known the woman’s heart and her faith too.  It is abhorrent to me that anyone would consider Jesus to be ethnically prejudiced, bigoted, and someone who dehumanised others.  That implies that Jesus was not perfect and without sin, and the body of evidence and the context speaks clearly against this.  Jesus is fully man and fully God and without sin.
  2. His words have to be looked at in context and in the context of the “audience” bearing witness to this encounter.  Some recent commentators give little if any regard for the context or the nature of the use of the language of dispute and argument in Jewish culture. I am sure you have had teachers or even friends who have helped you to formulate your thinking by presenting a controversial view to you, even if it wasn’t a view they themselves adhered to.  It is a way by which we might be encouraged to know what we believe and why we believe it.  It is a way in which the nature and heart of our faith and belief comes clear.
  3. Just because Jesus was “mirroring” the typical response of Jewish people doesn’t mean that is what he himself thought or believed in that context.  In my opinion he was bringing these wrong views out in the open so that they might be summarily dismissed, and his followers might learn some valuable lessons. We must bear in mind that his disciples urged him to send the woman away, which is something that Jesus did not do.
  4. Jesus was not calling her a dog in the way that a Pharisee would have addressed a Gentile.  The Greek word that Jesus instead used is a term of endearment, the term one might use for a little pet dog.
  5. The woman’s faith was not destroyed or diminished by this encounter; instead, it was deepened and grew. At all times she behaved with dignity and respect.  Her example presents a valuable lesson to us about the nature of persistence in prayer.
  6. The woman had such faith that she knew that even a “crumb” from Jesus would be sufficient.  Her faith exceeded that of many Jewish people.

Jesus’ final response was to heal and set free her daughter who was demon-possessed and suffering terribly.

What might we take away from this today?

  1. To be encouraged to be prepared to set aside our own baggage and prejudices when we engage with scripture so that we might better grasp the original meaning and context of the passage.
  2. To remember how Jesus had to break some prejudices, reaching out to include the gentiles.  This may give us a challenge today to do likewise, as we consider who the ‘gentiles’ might be to us.
  3. To be encouraged in our prayer life and to be persistent in prayer.
  4. To know that even the “crumbs” are enough, and to be mindful of the fullness of God’s grace and love.
  5. To trust in God, and to hold on to his truth and promises and that he knows what he is doing.

Amen

Stepping out of the boat

This account of Jesus walking on the water occurs immediately after the miraculous feeding of the 5,000 that we looked at together last week.  Events continue to unfold here as Jesus instructs his disciples to get into the boat and go on ahead of him to the other side while he dismissed the crowd.  Perhaps this was because Jesus wanted to dissuade the crowds from causing any difficulties with the authorities, especially knowing that the time – his time – had not yet come.

Instead of immediately joining his disciples, Jesus went up on the mountainside to spend time alone with his heavenly Father.  After giving of himself in the miraculous feeding of the 5,000, it is not surprising that he wanted to spend time alone to be restored.  It is an important example for us too since we should also seek to spend time with God to be restored and give ourselves chance to refocus on our calling and vocation.

Some time must have passed; we are told that Jesus went out to join his disciples shortly before dawn (between 3 am and 6 am) by which time the boat was already a considerable distance from the land, and was being buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it.  It must have been slow and hard progress, but despite this they managed to travel between 3 and 4 miles from the shore (see John 6:19).  It is here that Jesus approached them, walking on the lake.

At first, the disciples’ reaction is very human – they were terrified, thinking Jesus was a ghost.  And let’s be clear here, some of Jesus’ disciples were seasoned fishermen and no strangers to the storms and dangers they might experience in a boat on the water.  Their reaction must therefore have been in seeing something different, something other.  I wonder how you might have reacted.  Knowing their terror, Jesus immediately calms and reassures them – “Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.”

The great evangelist and pastor F B Meyer said Jesus used “the element we dread as the path for his approach. The waves were endangering the boat, but Jesus walked on them. In our lives are people and circumstances we dread, but it is through these that the greatest blessing of our lives will come, if we look through them to Christ.”  Jesus can step into our lives in this way and it helps when people come alongside us when we face terrors to remind us that we are not alone and that he will bring us through.

A series of miracles have happened in rapid succession.  First the feeding of he 5,000, then Jesus walking on the water.  But it does not end there.  Seeing Jesus stood there on the water, Peter’s response at this moment is incredible.  “LORD, if it’s you,” Peter replied, “tell me to come to you on the water.”  What must have prompted Peter to say this I wonder?  And when invited to by Jesus, Peter walked on the water towards him. This is nothing short of miraculous too.

A number of things occur to me from this encounter:

  • Firstly, let’s not lose sight of the fact that Peter actually walked on water
  • Yes, the wind and likely the waves will have caused Peter’s faith to waver at which point he began to sink.  But instead of turning back and making his way to the boat (as I am sure many of us would have done), Peter cried out to Jesus – “Lord, save me!” 
  • What was it that Peter’s faith wavered in – Jesus or himself? At a time when his faith wavered, he turned to Jesus.  Jesus response suggests to me that he is basically saying to Peter “you know I am with you and no harm will befall you…don’t doubt yourself and trust in me.”  I believe the fact that Peter turned to Jesus and not the boat suggests he lost faith in himself and what he might accomplish through Christ.

Making their way to the boat together, they climbed into the boat and the wind died down.

There will be times when we too feel buffeted by the wind and waves of life and perhaps feel anxiety and fear.  There will also be times when we face challenging and testing times.  It is good to remember Jesus words at this time.  Take courage (or take heart).  He will not cause us to endure more than we can bear because we are not alone, and Jesus himself is with us.  Do we look to him or do we look to the ‘boat’ which might be represented by all of those things in life in which we place our security?  Sometimes we need to begin with small steps.  Yes, the steps might be small but what is important is that we take them. And then when we are “in the boat” and the wind and waves of life have died down, what is our response when we encounter Jesus?  Do we come before him with grateful hearts, and with reverence and awe?  The rest of the disciples’ response says it all.  Their response was to worship him…“Truly you are the Son of God.”  Amen

Turning the boat around

I am sure we are all familiar with today’s reading which describes Jesus’ feeding of the five thousand. It is an event that is covered by all four gospels (also in Mark 6:32-44; Luke 9:10-17; and John 6:1-14)

The events preceding this are both tragic and earth-shattering:

  1. Firstly, the beheading of John the Baptist.
  2. Secondly, it seems clear that Jesus’ activities and ministry were beginning to come under the scrutiny of Herod the tetrarch.

In light of this, it is no surprise that when Jesus “heard what had happened, he withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place.” (Matthew 14:13a) Jesus will quite likely have been distressed and grieving hearing of John’s brutal death, and also at this point in his ministry wanted to keep a low profile. I am sure you have known times when you have been upset and needed a time-out too?  There are times when we need to ‘switch off’, when we need to rest and recuperate.  An analogy I would use is that of how we need to recharge batteries, whether on our phone or tablet.  Withdrawing to a solitary place allows us to recharge our mental, physical, spiritual and emotional batteries.  Imagine though that you begin to withdraw to that solitary place, desperate for that time out, only to be confronted with a clamour of demands from a large crowd, people who were sick in body, sick in mind and sick in spirit.  What would you want to do?  How would you react? Would you turn the boat around and simply sail away?

So here’s a thought…imagine that you have had a long and busy day.  You are tired and depleted.  As you walk down the street you encounter a homeless person who is unwashed, unkempt, and in clear need.  How would you respond?  Would you do like many people and cross over the road to avoid them (figuratively turning the boat around), would you ignore them, or would you take a deep breath and come alongside them in love?  I’ve seen some people do the former, and some people who have done the latter.  I have too.  Of the few times when I’ve walked past and ignored them, I’ve felt convicted…convicted by my lack of grace, lack of charity and lack of compassion.  It is in such times when I’ve had to pause for thought and ask myself where is my boat headed and why?  So yes, I’ve turned my ‘boat’ around – but towards them, and endeavoured to response with compassion.

What I generally do now is begin by asking them to tell me their story.  I listen and as we’re talking bring them before God in prayer.  If I am invited to, I share the hope that I profess.  I may not give them money, but I will gladly get them some decent food and a drink.  I also signpost them to places of support.  These might be local hostels and support agencies, places where they can get a decent hot meal for free and places where they can get sound advice to help with their circumstances.

Jesus’ response to the clamouring of the large crowds was not one of frustration, it was instead one of love.  He had compassion on the crowds and healed their sick.  The literal translation of ‘had compassion’ is Jesus had his ‘inner being stirred’, that deep heart moving that results in an abundant outpouring of love.  This wasn’t the first time that Jesus was moved in this way (see Matthew 9:36); it wasn’t the last time either (see Matthew 20:34, Matthew 15:32).  It is comforting to know that when we ourselves are in need, Jesus will have compassion on us too drawing alongside us and offering support and guidance.

It wasn’t just Jesus who was tired and depleted.  His disciples were too.  In light of this, seeing that the day was drawing to an end, and realising that they were in a solitary and remote place – so far from any town or village – the disciples suggested that the crowds should be sent away to get themselves some food. I love Jesus’ response…“They do not need to go away. You give them something to eat.” (Matthew 14:16)  I don’t know about you, but when confronted with a large crowd comprising 5,000 men (which doesn’t include the women and children who would have been there too!), my response to Jesus might have been “Are you serious?  What with!”.  You pick that up in what the disciples said: “We have here only five loaves of bread and two fish.” (Matthew 14:17)

Note that their immediate reaction was not to look to Jesus.  When we are presented with a need, do we seek to look to Jesus first?  That’s a challenge for all of us isn’t it, because we sometimes tend to look to God as a last resort, when all else has failed, instead of seeking his will, exercising faith and involving him from the outset.  The disciples looked at responding to this clear need only with what they had, the five loaves of bread and two fish.  Jesus can provide for our needs, and reminds us of the obligation we have to others in meeting theirs, recognising there is a huge difference between needs and wants!  This was a lesson that the disciples needed to hear and learn repeatedly.  Jesus’ decision to directly involve them was an opportunity for them to realise that truth, to make that connection, and to look to Jesus and trust in him. There is another powerful lesson for us to learn in this too; Jesus can take the relative meagreness of all that we might be able to offer and turn it into abundance.  Please take comfort and hope from this.  If you feel inadequate and believe you have little if anything to give, remember this…the impact that we might have on one another goes far beyond what we often realise, and your prayers are NEVER wasted.  In the hands of Jesus, such riches can come from our poverty.  Jesus took “the five loaves and the two fish and looking up to heaven, he gave thanks and broke the loaves. Then he gave them to the disciples, and the disciples gave them to the people. They all ate and were satisfied, and the disciples picked up twelve basketfuls of broken pieces that were left over.”  (Matthew 14:19-20)

Hope in a broken world

There may well be times when we groan inwardly as we come face to face with the brokenness of the world, or even our own brokenness and our poverty of spirit.  I’ve seen and experienced that groaning when people experience death and bereavement.  I’ve seen and experienced that groaning when marriages break down irreparably.  I’ve seen and experienced that in the dark depths of people suffering from and struggling with adverse mental health.  I’ve seen and experienced that groaning when people treat each other in appalling ways.  I’ve seen and experienced that groaning in people who are addicted to drugs or alcohol, in people whose very humanity is diminished by bad life choices.  We groan because in the core of our being we know that this is not how this world or the people in it (including ourselves) are created to be, and we realise in the deepest places the wrongness of it.  Our groaning can be manifest physically, mentally, emotionally or spiritually.

The realisation of this is a burden that bends us down to breaking, taking us to a place of weakness.  But it is not a burden that we bear alone.  It is in that place of weakness, when everything is stripped away that we find ourselves at the foot of the cross.  Christ on the cross lifts us up in our brokenness and “the Spirit himself intercedes for us through wordless groans” leading us to a place of renewal, and to a place of hope. 

One of the fruits of being hopeful is that it builds up our strength and resilience.  Being hopeful helps us to endure, to persevere and not give up.  Paul begins today’s reading with the words “in the same way…” – in other words, much like hope bears the fruit I have mentioned, so too does the Holy Spirit at work in us, giving us strength and sustaining us – even through there may be times when (in a worldly sense) all hope seems lost. 

The truth is that we often come face to face with the grace and glory of God at our times of greatest weakness.  Think about Job “But as for me, I know that my Redeemer lives, and he will stand upon the earth at last.” (Job 19:25 NLT) or Paul “‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me. That is why, for Christ’s sake, I delight in weaknesses, in insults, in hardships, in persecutions, in difficulties. For when I am weak, then I am strong.” (2 Corinthians 12:9-10), and finally “This is the word of the LORD to Zerubbabel: ‘Not by might nor by power, but by my Spirit,’ says the LORD Almighty.” (Zechariah 4:6).  There are many more examples.

In my journey of faith, and having “lived life”, I have noticed that my spirituality has changed.  I have become much more contemplative, with (my) silence often a feature of my quiet times.  I am very aware though that there is often that inward groaning as I bring situations before God in prayer.  It is almost as if mere words are not enough, almost as if I am lost for words.  In this there is a sense of awe and humility in consciously coming into God’s presence. 

We see this in Job 40, in which Job replied to God “I am unworthy–how can I reply to you? I put my hand over my mouth” (Job 40:4), or as Michael Card so eloquently put it “I am unworthy, how can I reply? There’s nothing that you cannot do. You are the storm that calmed my soul. I place my hand over my mouth. I place my hand over my mouth.”  If you get a chance, read the whole of Job 40 or perhaps listen to Michael Card’s ‘The Job Suite’.  I want to encourage you if you find yourself lost for words in prayer, if you are unsure or uncertain of what to say – let your whole being cry out to God knowing that God knows our thoughts from afar, and how the Holy Spirit joins in with that so we might express what we cannot fully express ourselves.  In that may you realise another truth; God knows what he is doingin all things God works for the good of those who love him!  Let’s have in mind; “For our present troubles are small and won’t last very long. Yet they produce for us a glory that vastly outweighs them and will last forever!” (2 Corinthians 4:17 NLT)

It is sometimes said that a picture paints a thousand words; but I also believe that we can paint such pictures with words!  If you ever wanted a picture of hope realised, then turning to our reading today:

Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall trouble or hardship or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword?” (Romans 8:35)  “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our LORD.” (Romans 8:38-39)  NOTHING – NO THING – can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.  In Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we are called, justified and glorified.  So “let us draw near to God with a sincere heart and with the full assurance that faith brings, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful.” (Hebrews 10:22-23)

Thank you, Lord, that we are never truly alone and that nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. Thank you that you draw alongside us and that your Spirit intercedes for us through wordless groans.  Thank you that your grace is sufficient for us and that your power is made perfect in our weakness.  Thank you, Lord, that in Christ and through the power of the Holy Spirit we are more than conquerors.

Taking responsibility

We don’t seem to hear much about responsibility and accountability these days, and we are in my opinion, far worse off because of that.  Many people in positions of authority seem to be able to say anything and get away with it without ever taking responsibility or being held to account for what they have said.  There are times when what they say is at best disingenuous or misleading and at worst a blatant lie.  This seems to be the norm, and I believe we are diminished because of it. The degree of cynicism and sometimes anger we see in people in our communities and the media in response to that is alarming.

In his book ‘12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos’, the controversial Clinical Psychologist Jordan Peterson argues that we should take responsibility, tell the truth, repair what’s broken, obey rules and standards and have values and moral obligations.  You might not agree with everything Peterson says, but his suggestions seem like sound advice to me.  His suggestions aren’t rocket science, are they?  I’d be surprised if anyone disagreed.

It is perhaps no surprise that the Bible offers a solution to this malaise too – we should seek to live according to the obligations placed upon us.  That leaves little, if any, room for selfishness and instead encourages accountability, responsibility and upholding Christian values.  We have an obligation to God, and we have an obligation to each other.  We are responsible for our actions and choices, and we must be prepared to accept the implications and consequences of those – whether good or bad.  If we don’t do this, we are simply in servitude to sin, and that leads to death.  If more Christians took these obligations seriously the Church would be transformed.  Too many Christians seem to be motivated by “what’s in it for them?” rather than “how can I bring delight to God, serve others and help build his Church?”

Many years ago, a church I attended decided to organise a day out which involved a walk and a picnic.  If you do a lot of walking and rambling in groups, you will know that best practice is that you complete the walk at the speed of the slowest member.  You stick together and support one another.  Unfortunately, as soon as the walk began some members of the Church set off at such a pace that the entire group quickly became scattered and dispersed.  Those who walked slower felt disgruntled and left behind and were unsure of the way.  Those who walked faster felt disgruntled because people didn’t keep up!  It was a very powerful testament to the lack of unity that existed, with many people only being interested in their own wellbeing and choices rather than seeking to support one another.  They failed to fulfil their obligations to the people around them.

There can be no doubt that it is a struggle to take responsibility and fulfil our obligations, and the causes of that struggle are sin and rebellion.  We can actually (and all too easily) make an idol of ourselves.  Yet if we make the right choices, we are enabled to fulfil these obligations – obligations that we can’t necessarily fulfil in our own strength – in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the grace of God.  We seek to fulfil these obligations together.  Fulfilling these obligations leads to life, and freedom – free from fear.  What casts out all fear?  Perfect love, the love of God. (1 John 4:18)

It is incredible that even though “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we nevertheless have an Advocate in heaven (1 John 2:1), and the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  I implore you to think about the significance of this.  We are God’s children and we are heirs — “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”  What an encouragement to us!  Next time you encounter a brother or sister in Christ, pause for a moment and remind yourself you are dealing with a child of God and a co-heir with Christ.  That is what defines them and that is what defines us and in that we find dignity, value, and purpose.

We cannot simply ignore the struggle that we face.  Such is that struggle that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Sometimes when I watch the news and I see the brokenness in the world, or when I encounter the brokenness in me I recognise the lament, the heart cry within me – that inward groaning.  My spirit cries out “Lord, have mercy!” If we live in grace, set free by love and mindful of our spiritual inheritance then we might develop a growing awareness that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

We can endeavour to fulfil these obligations by:

  • Being active as we seek to be disciples of Christ.  That would involve daily prayer, Bible study, Christian service, worship, fellowship and confession.
  • Seeking to be open to the guiding of the Holy Spirit. That can involve praying for and earnestly seeking the gifts of the Spirit and that the Fruit of the Spirit might be abundantly evident in our lives.
  • Exercising genuine humility and servanthood.
  • Being awakened by grace and knowing the fullness of God’s love.
  • Being willing to be accountable to one another, taking responsibility for our actions, and telling the truth.

We are called to live in Christ; the way, the truth, and the life.  His way is the better way, his truth is absolute truth, truth that sets us free, and his life is life in all fullness.  We are loved by God, and esteemed by God.  In Isaiah 66:2 God says, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”  The hallmark and outworking of us seeking to uphold those obligations is an all pervasive hope in which we are able to acknowledge our current wretchedness, but mindful of what God has in store for us as his children.

With these thoughts in mind, let me bring this message to a close with these words from Hebrews: “Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:19-25)

In Christ

I recently posted about the law in which I shared some thoughts about Romans 7. Paul concludes the chapter with an assurance of the ongoing and future hope we have in Christ through which we are set free from the law, able to have ultimate victory over sin and encounter the breadth and depth of God’s love and grace.  I also briefly touched upon this week’s reading from Romans 8 which continues with that theme, made clear by how this passage begins with “Therefore,” – i.e. In light of everything that has been said before.

It can be all too easy for us to be selective when reading the Bible, especially if we like to include some parts and miss out others.  This is something we should avoid at all costs.  An example of that is if we look at verse 1 of Romans 8.  It is easy to read this and proclaim “there is now no condemnation” but that is certainly not the full picture.  The full picture is “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”!  It is always important to consider the context.  The New Testament scholar Ben Witherington lll stated: “A text without a context is just a pretext for what we want it to mean…” This has been expressed in slightly different ways by many scholars and theologians over the years.

What does it mean for us to be “in Christ”?  Folks, we truly have such a wonderful and incredible gift from God – Salvation from God in Christ and I cannot state strongly enough how significant that is.  If you have a concordance, or electronic Bible, it is worthwhile taking some time to look up passages in the Bible that mention “in Christ” to begin to realise its significance.  Here is a short selection of Bible passages on that theme:

  • Being reconciled to God: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: the old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
  • Being children of God in unity: “So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, neither male nor female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.” (Galatians 3:26-28)
  • The gift of eternal life: “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our LORD.” (Romans 6:23)
  • Receiving the love of God: “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our LORD.” (Romans 8:38-39)

In Christ we are redeemed, justified, sanctified, and adopted into God’s family.  God made that gift possible by sending himself in Jesus Christ.  He makes it possible for us to claim it by doing it again in sending the Holy Spirit.  This was necessary because (as I said in my post on the law), the law is the means of diagnosis and not the actual treatment. 

In itself, the law could not help us overcome sin or escape the penalty for sin.  Jesus came “in the likeness of sinful humanity to be a sin offering” thus giving us the means and the choice to be set free from sin and live as God intended.  The difference is clear.  There are “Those who live according to the sinful nature [and] have their minds set on what that nature desires; but those who live in accordance with the Spirit have their minds set on what the Spirit desires.”  The former leads to death; the latter leads to life and peace.

As believers we must make the right choice every day and we are able to make that choice because we are no longer “controlled by the sinful nature but are in the Spirit, if indeed the Spirit of God lives in you.” As we saw last week, it isn’t easy to make the right choice. I know I am a work in progress.  Sometimes I imagine I journey through life with an ‘L’ plate on my back.  There is always more to learn!  But there are some practical steps we can take that might help.  These include:

  • Seeking to have regular (daily) quiet times.  These might typically include reading the Bible, prayer and meditation.
  • Guarding our hearts and our minds.  If you have a TV, I am sure you know what I mean if I said that there is a lot of rubbish on it.  We can guard our hearts and minds by being discerning about what we watch.
  • Being in fellowship.  When we are in fellowship, there will be time when a particular experience is like a mirror being held up to us – perhaps as people speak words of truth and encouragement to us.
  • Practicing humility and exercising wisdom.  We have to be willing to step back and at times ask ourselves why someone might have behaved in a particular way or said something that we found upsetting.  We also have to be prepared to reflect on why we might have behaved in a particular way that has upset other people.  Part of that involves us being prepared to apologise and admit that we were wrong.  It is sign of emotional and spiritual maturity if we are able to do that.
  • Being accountable to one another.  I’ve spoken before about having ‘accountability partners’.  These are people who can speak directly and honestly into my life, to bring either challenge or encouragement.  Understandably we have to be wise about who we are that open and vulnerable with but as we grow together as a Church family, it becomes easier for us to do that.
  • Praying for each other specifically.

Let’s take hope in knowing that if Christ is in us, then even though our body is subject to death because of sin, the Spirit gives us life because of righteousness. And if the Spirit of him who raised Jesus from the dead is living in us, he who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to our mortal bodies because of his Spirit who lives in us.  Praise the Lord! Amen

Obligations and responsibility

We don’t seem to hear much about responsibility and accountability these days, and we are in my opinion, far worse off because of that.  Many people in positions of authority seem to be able to say anything and get away with it without ever taking responsibility or being held to account for what they have said.  There are times when what they say is at best disingenuous or misleading and at worst a blatant lie.  This seems to be the norm, and I believe we are diminished because of it. The degree of cynicism and sometimes anger we see in people in our communities and the media in response to that is alarming.

In his book ‘12 Rules for Life: an Antidote to Chaos’, the controversial Clinical Psychologist Jordan Peterson argues that we should take responsibility, tell the truth, repair what’s broken, obey rules and standards and have values and moral obligations.  You might not agree with everything Peterson says, but his suggestions seem like sound advice to me.  His suggestions aren’t rocket science, are they?  I’d be surprised if anyone disagreed.

It is perhaps no surprise that the Bible offers a solution to this malaise too – we should seek to live according to the obligations placed upon us.  That leaves little, if any, room for selfishness and instead encourages accountability, responsibility and upholding Christian values.  We have an obligation to God, and we have an obligation to each other.  We are responsible for our actions and choices, and we must be prepared to accept the implications and consequences of those – whether good or bad.  If we don’t do this, we are simply in servitude to sin, and that leads to death.  If more Christians took these obligations seriously the Church would be transformed.  Too many Christians seem to be motivated by “what’s in it for them?” rather than “how can I bring delight to God, serve others and help build his Church?”

Many years ago, a church I attended decided to organise a day out which involved a walk and a picnic.  If you do a lot of walking and rambling in groups, you will know that best practice is that you complete the walk at the speed of the slowest member.  You stick together and support one another.  Unfortunately, as soon as the walk began some members of the Church set off at such a pace that the entire group quickly became scattered and dispersed.  Those who walked slower felt disgruntled and left behind and were unsure of the way.  Those who walked faster felt disgruntled because people didn’t keep up!  It was a very powerful testament to the lack of unity that existed, with many people only being interested in their own wellbeing and choices rather than seeking to support one another.  They failed to fulfil their obligations to the people around them.

There can be no doubt that it is a struggle to take responsibility and fulfil our obligations, and the causes of that struggle are sin and rebellion.  We can actually (and all too easily) make an idol of ourselves.  Yet if we make the right choices, we are enabled to fulfil these obligations – obligations that we can’t necessarily fulfil in our own strength – in Christ, by the power of the Holy Spirit, and in the grace of God.  We seek to fulfil these obligations together.  Fulfilling these obligations leads to life, and freedom – free from fear.  What casts out all fear?  Perfect love, the love of God. (1 John 4:18)

It is incredible that even though “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Romans 3:23), we nevertheless have an Advocate in heaven (1 John 2:1), and the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children.  I implore you to think about the significance of this.  We are God’s children and we are heirs — “heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in his sufferings in order that we may also share in his glory.”  What an encouragement to us!  Next time you encounter a brother or sister in Christ, pause for a moment and remind yourself you are dealing with a child of God and a co-heir with Christ.  That is what defines them and that is what defines us and in that we find dignity, value, and purpose.

We cannot simply ignore the struggle that we face.  Such is that struggle that “the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time. Not only so, but we ourselves, who have the firstfruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait eagerly for our adoption, the redemption of our bodies.” Sometimes when I watch the news and I see the brokenness in the world, or when I encounter the brokenness in me I recognise the lament, the heart cry within me – that inward groaning.  My spirit cries out “Lord, have mercy!” If we live in grace, set free by love and mindful of our spiritual inheritance then we might develop a growing awareness that “our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.

We can endeavour to fulfil these obligations by:

  • Being active as we seek to be disciples of Christ.  That would involve daily prayer, Bible study, Christian service, worship, fellowship and confession.
  • Seeking to be open to the guiding of the Holy Spirit. That can involve praying for and earnestly seeking the gifts of the Spirit and that the Fruit of the Spirit might be abundantly evident in our lives.
  • Exercising genuine humility and servanthood.
  • Being awakened by grace and knowing the fullness of God’s love.
  • Being willing to be accountable to one another, taking responsibility for our actions, and telling the truth.

We are called to live in Christ; the way, the truth, and the life.  His way is the better way, his truth is absolute truth, truth that sets us free, and his life is life in all fullness.  We are loved by God, and esteemed by God.  In Isaiah 66:2 God says, “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.”  The hallmark and outworking of us seeking to uphold those obligations is an all pervasive hope in which we are able to acknowledge our current wretchedness, but mindful of what God has in store for us as his children.

With these thoughts in mind, let me bring this message to a close with these words from Hebrews:

Therefore, brothers and sisters, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, and since we have a great priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” (Hebrews 10:19-25)

Amen

Jars of clay

A few weeks ago, I briefly touched upon some parts of the service for the ordination of priests in the Church of England.  You may have never been to an ordination service, so I wanted to share a little more of that with you now.  In the service we come across the following:

Priests are called to be servants and shepherds among the people to whom they are sent. With their Bishop and fellow-ministers, they are to proclaim the word of the Lord and to watch for the signs of God’s new creation. They are to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord; they are to teach and to admonish, to feed and provide for his family, to search for his children in the wilderness of this world’s temptations, and to guide them through its confusions, that they may be saved through Christ for ever. Formed by the word, they are to call their hearers to repentance and to declare in Christ’s name the absolution and forgiveness of their sins.

With all God’s people, they are to tell the story of God’s love. They are to baptize new disciples in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, and to walk with them in the way of Christ, nurturing them in the faith. They are to unfold the Scriptures, to preach the word in season and out of season, and to declare the mighty acts of God. They are to preside at the Lord’s table and lead his people in worship, offering with them a spiritual sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving. They are to bless the people in God’s name. They are to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need. They are to minister to the sick and prepare the dying for their death. Guided by the Spirit, they are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith.

It is incredibly humbling for me to read those words again, which I seem to do almost annually – perhaps in some way to recommit myself to God and the task entrusted to me of ministry – much like we do in our Annual Methodist Covenant service.  Doing this is helpful in these strange times we are living in, especially when several Ministers may be struggling with the inability to fulfil what they see as their calling – is this new ‘way of being’ what they ‘signed up for’?  More about that later.

These words serve as a constant reminder of 2 things:

  • The enormity of the love and grace of God.
  • That it is impossible for me to exercise this ministry in my own strength.  That is why the responses made by priests to the ‘charge’ that comes later is “with the help of God, we will.

Those words are both challenging and inspiring and I wanted to try and make a connection between them and today’s Gospel reading which I have included in full.  More specifically where it talks about Jesus’ compassion on the crowds in the towns and villages through which he travelled. I hadn’t really given it much thought before, but it struck me that Jesus often shared his message with people in the synagogues.  We are told the people he taught were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd, lost in the ‘wilderness of this world’s temptations’.  That makes me wonder what on earth were the leaders of the synagogue up to?

Guided by the Spirit, Priests are to discern and foster the gifts of all God’s people, that the whole Church may be built up in unity and faith. I am passionate about laity being built up and equipped to exercise their calling and to exercise the gifts of the Spirit to the glory of God. I cry, and I cry for 2 reasons – firstly with joy when I see the people of God ‘being’ the people of God at their best – when the people of God ‘get it’ and have those lightbulb moments, exercising the gifts of the Spirit they have been blessed with; and secondly with compassion when I see the mess, the plight that people in our community sometimes find themselves.  Technically, parish Priests are Curates of the parish.  A Curate is a person invested with the care or cure (cura) of souls of a parish.   In the ordination service, the Bishop declares “Receive this cure of souls which is both yours and mine.” We will need to exercise this cure of souls as never before over the coming weeks as clergy, lay ministers and disciples together. At its heart is the ministry of reconciliation between individuals and God and between people and communities through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.  At its heart is compassion.

Jesus said to his disciples, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few.  Ask the LORD of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field.” We may be relatively small in number, but never underestimate the significance of the work we are able to do for the Lord.  There are many ministries, and your prayers are never wasted.  It may well be that you are feeling inhibited and restricted in your ministry, also thinking ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’ either.  If that is something you are grappling with, please know that you are not alone, and your prayers are never wasted.  Granted, we may not currently be able to exercise our ministries in the ways we historically have but I am heartened by the extent to which people have adapted to help Church continue to be the body of Christ.  Examples of this would be our weekly Zoom church services, the various phone calls, emails and text messages exchanged throughout the week and the chats with passers-by and neighbours.  We adapt and we do so with boldness and confidence because of our calling, our love for one another and our community and because we have been given authority by Jesus.  We don’t need ornate trappings to exercise these ministries.  Much like the disciples we can travel light, with what we have, and seek out people of peace, worthy people in our community as we tell the story of God’s love.  In doing that we need to be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves, and yes there will be times when the message that we bring is rejected and we are not welcomed.  We have, however, been faithful in doing our part.

I believe wholeheartedly in the priesthood of all believers, and I wanted to testify to the deep encouragement it is to me to know that in seeking to exercise the ministries to which I believe God has called us, these are not ministries that we exercise alone.  I know full well from the discussions that we have had and the prayers that we have prayed together that all of us have compassion for the community that we serve and all the people who live in it. 

It is very easy for people to get lost in the fog and uncertainty of 21st century living.  It is all too easy for people to lose their voice and become harassed and helpless.  I thank God for the work of the Churches in our area, for the fantastic efforts of volunteers in the Foodbank, the Community Centre and other community support groups, as well as the work of staff in our local schools and medical centres.  I thank God for your prayers too.  Imagine how much worse life would be in the absence of these?

Priests are called to be servants and shepherds, to be messengers, watchmen and stewards of the Lord.  Priestly ministry is never about ‘look at me’, it is always about ‘look at Him’ – Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.  When you consider folks you know who are ordained I hope you see God’s grace in action, and you capture many glimpses of the compassion, love and yearning that they have for the flock that they minister to and the communities that they serve. Priests are “to resist evil, support the weak, defend the poor, and intercede for all in need.” That isn’t something I can do in my own strength or alone.  When the Israelites were at war with the Amalekites, they prevailed as long as Moses had his arms help up high: “As long as Moses held up his hands, the Israelites were winning, but whenever he lowered his hands, the Amalekites were winning. When Moses’ hands grew tired, they took a stone and put it under him and he sat on it. Aaron and Hur held his hands up—one on one side, one on the other—so that his hands remained steady till sunset.” (Exodus 17:11-12)  Thank you for the times you’ve encouraged me and helped to hold my arms steady.

This precious and extraordinary ministry is entrusted to us in this most difficult of seasons. We are (and we all quite likely feel) insufficient to the task.  As Paul writes in 2 Corinthians 4:

…we have this treasure in clay jars, so that it may be made clear that this extraordinary power belongs to God and does not come from us.”  It is a privilege to pray for our community and thank God we have a presence and a role within it.

Later in the ordination service, the words are:

In the name of our Lord we bid you remember the greatness of the trust that is now to be committed to your charge. Remember always with thanksgiving that the treasure now to be entrusted to you is Christ’s own flock, bought by the shedding of his blood on the cross. It is to him that you will render account for your stewardship of his people.

You cannot bear the weight of this calling in your own strength, but only by the grace and power of God. Pray therefore that your heart may daily be enlarged and your understanding of the Scriptures enlightened.

Pray earnestly for the gift of the Holy Spirit.

I am not in any way wanting or seeking to abdicate the charge I know I have.  However, it does seem to me that in these words are some noble and worthwhile things we might all pray for.  Will you perhaps join with me in praying as I do, praying for a deepening and widening of our experience of the grace and power of God, praying that our hearts may daily be enlarged and our understanding of the Scriptures enlightened, and praying earnestly as we have been for the gift of the Holy Spirit.  Amen

The law

I wanted to take a look at one of the major topics in the Bible, namely the law.  A good place to begin is to ask to what extent is ‘the law’ still in effect?  But before we can answer that question, it is perhaps helpful to consider what is meant by the law, which can be looked at in many different ways and contexts.  For example, from a Biblical perspective the law might be the mosaic law (the Law of Moses), the Ten Commandments, the first 5 books of the Bible (the Torah, or the Pentateuch), or the entire Old Testament.

During a service of Holy Communion, we often hear the following words:

Our Lord Jesus Christ said:

The first commandment is this: ‘Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God is the only Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’

The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’

There is no other commandment greater than these. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.

Have you ever realised that if we truly uphold these 2 commandments, then quite naturally we will not break any of the others?  The astonishing thing is that “we love because God first loved us” (1 John 4:19).  God sets a standard and then gives us the means to attain that standard, and the means is through our Lord, Saviour and Redeemer Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit.  We do this in grace.  Jesus opens our eyes to what God’s law was intended to do.

How many of us can identify with the statement “I knew what the right thing to do was, but I just couldn’t do it?”  Paul recognised that conflict and struggle all too well and speaks of it very personally in our first reading from Romans 7:  For what I want to do I do not do, but what I hate I do.” (Romans 7:15b) In that chapter, Paul makes the case that because of how God’s people had tried to uphold the law, rather than it having a positive and transformative effect on people’s lives, it left people in condemnation and instead had a tendency of provoking rebellion in people’s hearts, stimulating sin and bringing death (Romans 7:5).  Through the way it was implemented, the burden of the law was quite simply too much. Paul recognised the enormous weight of this, the huge tension with his sinful nature, the inadequacy of the mosaic law alone, and how easy it is for us to become captive to the ‘law of sin’ at work within us.  A contemporary example of this would be how some people have rebelled against recent lockdown restrictions in our communities – the way in which lockdown restrictions have been communicated and imposed have provoked rebellion in some people’s hearts even if the purpose of the law was to protect them and the people around them.

To be clear though, the law is not at fault – we know that God’s law is good and holy (Romans 7:12), but it is in itself powerless to change the human heart. Furthermore, we often choose to interpret the law in our own way, apply it incorrectly and fail to live it. We can so easily approach the law with a legalistic ‘tickbox mentality’ where we believe that because we have ticked off the boxes of following the law, we must be good and righteous – but actually in our heart we can still not be right with God (so we follow the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law). Instead, if we follow Jesus and live in grace, which involves a heart-change and serving him in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are released from the law since we have died to the law through the body of Christ (Romans 7:4).

In Galatians, we read: “Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was put in charge of us until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under the supervision of the law.” (Galatians 3:23-25)  That does not mean that the law is irrelevant.  Neither does that abdicate us from any responsibility.  Being free from the law does not present us with a blank cheque book to sin.  That’s why in Matthew’s Gospel we are told that said “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” (Matthew 5:17-20)  Jesus did not come to abolish the law and the prophets; he came to fulfil them or take them to completion.  He came to open our eyes to the spirit of the law and what its purpose was (more of that later). He came to demonstrate the enormity of God’s love and grace so that we may stand free of condemnation.  This is set out really clearly in Romans 8:1-4: 

Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus, because through Christ Jesus the law of the Spirit who gives life has set you free from the law of sin and death. For what the law was powerless to do because it was weakened by the flesh, God did by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh to be a sin offering. And so he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the righteous requirement of the law might be fully met in us, who do not live according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.

Unless we know the righteousness of God, how can we submit to it?  We can so easily try (and fail) to establish our own righteousness independently of God, “Since they did not know the righteousness of God and sought to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness. Christ is the culmination of the law so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.” (Romans 10:3-4)  Christ is the culmination of the law, and for a reason – that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.  Our righteousness can only be found in Christ. 

So what is the purpose of the law?  The law:

  • Serves as a spotlight to the sin within us;
  • Illustrates our need for and dependency on God;
  • Reveals the power of the extraordinary grace of God (all have fallen short);
  • Is the means of diagnosis and not the actual treatment;
  • Can help to restrain or limit evil and sin;
  • Must be fulfilled in and through Christ because in itself, it cannot overcome human sin. ‘Fulfilled’ has that sense of taking it to completion or making it perfect;
  • Is only a shadow of the good things that are coming—not the realities themselves. (Hebrews 10:1);
  • Can easily become distorted, misinterpreted and misapplied (i.e. overly legalistic where people seek to follow the letter of the law and not the spirit of the law)

My dear friends, we follow Jesus because of love and through his grace. When we really love someone, it is not burdensome.  So I pray that the eyes of your hearts might be enlightened so that you might recognise the fullness of God’s love, God’s grace and God’s mercy that triumphs over judgement.  I pray that in Christ you might be set free from condemnation, hear God’s invitation to you and the words of Jesus: “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30)

The Lord will provide

Before you read any further into today’s message, I’d like to begin by asking you a question.  Do you think that God tests us, or do you think that God allows us to be tested?  Take a couple of minutes to think about that.

When we think of being tested, it is something that we can view in either of two ways:

  • In a positive light

For example as an opportunity for growth (we wouldn’t want life to always be easy because we would become complacent and it is good to have a target to aim for), or as a means to demonstrate competency (you would after all certainly hope that a doctor was qualified and had passed all tests to demonstrate competency).

  • In a negative light

We may have experienced times when people have ‘tested us’ out of some perverse pleasure in seeing us challenged and struggling. I once provided pastoral support to an extremely insecure person.  She openly admitted that she found it comforting to test people’s boundaries and frequently tried to push people away, even good people.  They passed her test if they stuck around and failed if they gave up.  This testing was incredibly destructive and unhealthy, to say the least.

Returning to the question I began with, I think the answer is both, i.e. I do believe God tests us and I also believe that God allows us to be tested.  Both of these have something in common which I will pick up later.

How do we know God tests us?

Let’s take a look at some passages from Scripture:

1 Thessalonians 2:1-4

“You know, brothers and sisters, that our visit to you was not without results. We had previously suffered and been treated outrageously in Philippi, as you know, but with the help of our God we dared to tell you his gospel in the face of strong opposition. For the appeal we make does not spring from error or impure motives, nor are we trying to trick you. On the contrary, we speak as those approved by God to be entrusted with the gospel. We are not trying to please people but God, who tests our hearts.”

Exodus 16:4

“Then the Lord said to Moses, “I will rain down bread from heaven for you. The people are to go out each day and gather enough for that day. In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions.

Isaiah 48:10

“See, I have refined you, though not as silver; I have tested you in the furnace of affliction.

James 1:2-3

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.

I think it is fair to conclude from Scripture that God does indeed test us.  When God tests us, though, I do believe without exception this is something we should consider in a positive light.  Being tested by God helps develop the “muscle of our faith”, producing perseverance, a deeper trust and reliance on God and brings us to a place of blessing.

How do we know that God allows us to be tested?

The key book which speaks into this is the book of Job, which tells us how God gives permission to the ‘accuser’ (or Satan) to test Job with the severest of afflictions, hardship and trauma (Job 1:12; Job 2:6).

What does this mean for our faith?

There is a big difference between being tempted and being tested.  I would suggest that the Pharisees and the Sadducees didn’t ‘test’ Jesus; they tempted him.  So did the devil in the wilderness.  This is clear from the context; temptation implies enticement to do evil and turning away from God, whereas testing is an event or process that proves one’s character, reveals integrity and brings us into a deeper relationship with God.  God would never entice us to do evil; that is abhorrent to him.  So let’s be clear here – God will never tempt us, although he may test us or allow us to be tested.

The Bible is also clear that although we may face temptation, not only is there a way out (if we choose to take it) but also God will not allow us to be tempted beyond our abilities.

So what about Abraham?

I think it is helpful to consider that God knows all things.  In asking Abraham to sacrifice his son Isaac, God already knew what the outcome would be.  He knew Abraham’s heart.  It was always God’s intention to provide a lamb to be sacrificed.  He wanted Abraham to come to that place of obedience, deep faith and reliance on God.  I believe that God also wanted to lead Abraham away from the prevailing custom and practice of human sacrifice. We see that emerging when Abraham declares “God himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering, my son.” (Genesis 22:8)  Once again Abraham “believed the Lord, and God credited it to him as righteousness.” (Genesis 15:6)

And so we see that “By faith Abraham, when God tested him, offered Isaac as a sacrifice. He who had embraced the promises was about to sacrifice his one and only son, even though God had said to him, “It is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned.” Abraham reasoned that God could even raise the dead, and so in a manner of speaking he did receive Isaac back from death.” (Hebrews 11:17-19)

In the same way, God knows our hearts too. He does not need to test us to find out what we’re made of… He already knows. God sees how we are and he sees how we can and will be in faith.  God may test us or allow us to be tested for our sake.  Whether He tests us or allows us to be tested it is always for a GOOD or beneficial reason.  Can you imagine the deepening of faith in Abraham as a result of this event, especially when you consider subsequent events that unfolded in his life? What about Isaac? This event certainly would have produced an unshakable faith in his life!

Spiritual testing then has a tendency of bringing us closer to God and revealing more to us of his nature, character and faithfulness.  It is for our benefit.  That’s why James exhortation was to “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.” (James 1:2-3)

A key reason God allows us to be tested is to demonstrate His power in our life so that we will not only build strength and endurance, but we will know just how strong we are in Him. Often in our times of testing, we can so easily lose sight of the bigger picture. Let’s try and remember that God is a God who is in control and who provides – “Abraham called that place The LORD Will Provide. And to this day it is said, “On the mountain of the LORD it will be provided.”

Amen