A humble friend of Jesus

What would it be like to have an intimate friendship with Jesus?
I have been pondering this lately and can’t get away from what Jesus said  to His disciples:

“This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you. No longer do I call you servants, for the servant does not know what his master is doing; but I have called you friends, for all that I have heard from my Father I have made known to you. You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you that you should go and bear fruit and that your fruit should abide, so that whatever you ask the Father in my name, he may give it to you. These things I command you, so that you will love one another.” (John 15:12-17 ESV)

The core of what Jesus is saying is that His friends love one another and bear the fruit of the ‘upside-down’ kingdom of God.

If I want to deepen my friendship with Jesus I will walk in love. That sounds wonderfully easy, just be kind and loving. And if I was kind and loving by nature it would be easy. But I am not and it isn’t.

I am sinful by nature and despite  being grafted into the life-giving vine, I’m still wild and need pruning in order to bear kingdom fruit (Romans 11:17, John 15:1-2). Love is not my natural inclination. Besides, God’s definition of love is a lot higher than the world’s.

The friends of Jesus love their enemies, have no fear for their lives, are humble as children are, daily deny themselves, are not anxious, hope in all things and endure all things. That is not what I am like by nature, I need God’s Spirit to create this fruit in my life. (See Matthew 5:44, Matthew 10:28, Matthew 18:4, Luke 9:23, Luke 12:22, and 1 Corinthians 13:4-7).

Fortunately Jesus knew His disciples well, knows human nature well, knows me well and knows you. He knows that we are not already holy, He requires of us to simply begin the journey and humbly entrust all we are into His hands. If I do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with Jesus, He will make the fruit grow.

It is good for me to keep reminding myself what Jesus expects of His friends, that way it is no surprise when He demands these things of me. I am better prepared then to humbly walk with Him rather than resisting and sinfully going my own way – tearing friendship apart.

External links related to this topic:

Pray for your kids

With a new month of 31 days about to begin, why not download some prompts to help in praying for your kids:

What may be the original version can be found here

[March 2012] I have just discovered another blog working through this list of prayer prompts, Keeping it Personal in a post called lets Pray for Our Kids and to accompany their effort have produced a great infographic of the prompts: 31 Biblical Virtues to pray for your children

Other posts related to this topic:

Pray for your kids – Peace-loving https://mikemcarthur.nz/peace-loving/ Pray for your kids – Peace-loving

From charis to eucharisteo and chara

Thanksgiving has come slow and hard this week. There has been grace (charis) as always, but dull eyes, tired body and dreary heart have been slow to see and give thanks (eucharisteo). Consequently there has been little chara (joy). It is easy to blame external and organic causes, working night shift, change in medication, lack of time, lack of sunlight. Yet the real cause is one from the will – lack of looking.
As John Piper says, “the fight for joy is a fight to see“, (emphasis mine). I have plenty that I am thankful for if I choose to look. If I figuratively walk around my life and pick up each thing that is part of it there is reason to thank God for all of them. Even the ‘bad’ stuff can contain reasons to thank God.

Recently I realized that the season I am currently walking through is quite likely part of something I was told will come way back when I first began this walk with Christ – over twenty years ago! In that single thought is gratitude for the wise man who spoke the words to me then, the Holy Spirit who inspired the words and brought them to my recollection, and the multitude of saints who have walked before me through the usual difficulties of the narrow way.

Another cause for thanksgiving in a season of struggle is that it forces me back to the essentials. The basics of living in Christ and holding onto faith, hope, grace and love. In a world filled with distractions and conflicting demands it is a peculiar blessing to be thrust into reliance on the basics, stripped of the fluff and marketing hype of a consumer age.

So, even in the span of 400 words to write this post I have moved from grace alone to thanksgiving and attained a measure of joy. Must do this more!

Gifts I have noticed this week (#473 – #485):

473) A messy story encouraging me to just do the next thing.
474) Some time to read quietly.
475) Freely offering praises to God.
476) Getting all the washing folded while watching a John Piper DVD.
477) Finally fixing the leaky spouting.
478) Stewed apples with custard and ice cream.
479) Seasons; in a year and in a life.
480) Fear and hope at opening up to another.
481) Going to church after a night working.
482) Being able to draw near to God through Christ, our High Priest (reminded by this post).
483) A mild winter (so far at least).
484) This astonishing technological entity we call the internet.
485) Encouragement today that even in this secular nation souls hunger for You. (The Harvest is ripe)

I don’t desire God…

…But I want to.

God commands me to rejoice (Philippians 4:4), I want to rejoice, but moving from dry to delighting is impossible for me to achieve myself.

Frankly my heart feels more like a desert than a spring of living water. Joy in the Lord is a fading memory, taunting me with glimpses of herself while remaining beyond my grasp.

Fortunately, that fading memory and some rare rational thinking prompted me to watch a DVD of John Piper speaking on this very topic last night. His passion for the topic and sincerity in exhorting his listeners to fight for joy is greatly encouraging. Something he said has stuck in my mind:

You must fight, but only God can give joy

Sometimes God ordains that joy remain elusive. Even so, I must continue to fight for joy.

Satan would have me believe there is no way out of the pit, that life will get worse rather than better. Faith takes hold of the encouragement of other Christians who have travelled this Way longer than I and of the Word of God. Faith acknowledges the struggle, the dryness, and resolves to continue seeking God regardless of how I might feel.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
(Psalm 63:1-3 ESV)

For now, the best thing I can think to do is to read and ponder God’s Word looking for the glory of Christ in it. I desire to desire God. This is enough to get started.

I don’t desire God…

desert-dunes

…But I want to.

God commands me to rejoice (Philippians 4:4), I want to rejoice, but moving from dry to delighting is impossible for me to achieve myself.

Frankly my heart feels more like a desert than a spring of living water. Joy in the Lord is a fading memory, taunting me with glimpses of herself while remaining beyond my grasp.

Fortunately, that fading memory and some rare rational thinking prompted me to watch a DVD of John Piper speaking on this very topic last night. His passion for the topic and sincerity in exhorting his listeners to fight for joy is greatly encouraging. Something he said has stuck in my mind:

You must fight, but only God can give joy

Sometimes God ordains that joy remain elusive. Even so, I must continue to fight for joy.

Satan would have me believe there is no way out of the pit, that life will get worse rather than better. Faith takes hold of the encouragement of other Christians who have traveled this Way longer than I and of the Word of God. Faith acknowledges the struggle, the dryness, and resolves to continue seeking God regardless of how I might feel.

O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you;
my soul thirsts for you;
my flesh faints for you,
as in a dry and weary land where there is no water.
So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary,
beholding your power and glory.
Because your steadfast love is better than life,
my lips will praise you.
(Psalm 63:1-3 ESV)

For now, the best thing I can think to do is to read and ponder God’s Word looking for the glory of Christ in it. I desire to desire God. This is enough to get started.


Other posts related to this topic:

Image of desert dunes: iStockphoto

Celebrating beauty

Today is my wife’s birthday.
In our family we use birthdays to celebrate the person who is entering another year of life. I love to celebrate Heather, she is a wonderful person and blesses our lives far more than she knows. She is beautiful, to look at and to live with. The sort of beauty that gets better with age rather than fading or deteriorating. Beauty that God has given her, not a glossy veneer painted on to cover flaws.

We all have our flaws in this family. Each of us stumbles and makes life a bit rough for the others from time to time. The grace which makes it all work out comes from Christ.

He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed. For you were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls. (1 Peter 2:22-25 ESV)

Our biggest blessing is that God deals directly with each of us, reminding us that “When he was reviled, he did not revile in return” and we “were straying like sheep”, it is by His grace that we can live together without sin ravaging us like wolves.

When room is made for grace, the beauty of Christ is able to shine through as we hold to his word and to Him who is our life ( Philippians 2:15-16).

My wife shines in this way, she doesn’t see it very well, but her gentle spirit and humble serving reveal the beauty of her Saviour. Her smile is the delight of my days. I love our evening yarns over cups of tea. To her husband and children she is very precious, and I know that to God she is also.

Do not let your adorning be external—the braiding of hair and the putting on of gold jewelry, or the clothing you wear—but let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. (1 Peter 3:3-4 ESV)

An external post related to this topic:

5 Steps from wet-blanket to worship

Our preaching team is currently focusing on Psalms, here are some thoughts on  Psalm 146 from my most recent sermon:
Have you ever stood in church, somewhat irritably, resenting that some bubbly, happy person up the front is telling you to praise God? Have you ever secretly thought, “If you, smiley person, had just endured my week you wouldn’t be nearly so happy about worshiping God”?

Have you ever wanted to praise God and just not felt like it? Sometimes the difficulties of life can make it hard to move our hearts beyond the mundane to praise God.

Is there any way to get from not feeling like praising God to rejoicing in the Lord without being a hypocrite?

Psalm 146 shows 5 steps to get there:

1) Resolve to praise

2) Relinquish idolatrous mistrust

3) Rely on God

4) Remind yourself why God can be trusted

5) Rejoice in the Lord

Leaving behind the wet-blanket

Praising God does not start with the emotions. While it may appear easier for the happy, bubbly, exuberant person to enter into praising God, they actually start from the same place as the dour, grumpy soul – an active resolve to praise, even telling my own soul to do so:

Praise the LORD!
Praise the LORD, O my soul!
I will praise the LORD as long as I live;
I will sing praises to my God while I have my being.
(Psalm 146:1-2 ESV)

The will-choice to praise God is a lifelong committment, and then some. We are commanded to praise God as long as we live, after that we get to praise Him in heaven forever!

However, we can only sincerely praise what we are impressed with. Some folks are most impressed by talented sports people or high achievers in other fields. It could be a thing; the latest Apple gadget, a new car, a new house. It could even be an experience.

These can all bring happiness (blessedness), but we are fools to seek full happiness in them. They will all let us down – trusting in earthbound sources of happiness will end in grief. All men die, all people fail, things wear out, experiences fade into memories. They are idols if we give them the trust and praises rightfully due to God – let them go:

Put not your trust in princes,
in a son of man, in whom there is no salvation.
When his breath departs, he returns to the earth;
on that very day his plans perish.
(Psalm 146:3-4 ESV)

I have to relinquish my hope in whatever else I trust in for happiness (blessedness) and transfer it to hoping in God. If I rely on God for my hope I will be truly blessed (happy).

Blessed is he whose help is the God of Jacob,
whose hope is in the LORD his God,
(Psalm 146:5 ESV)

How do I move from ambivalence toward God to praise?

I need to remind myself of the reasons why God can be trusted: God is the Creator, He has sufficient power to save me. He is trustworthy, He keeps faith forever, He will remain true to Himself and His promises. God brings justice, He gives food, freedom, sight, relief and love. He protects the foreigners, fatherless and widows, but He will bring ruin upon the wicked.

who made heaven and earth,
the sea, and all that is in them,
who keeps faith forever;
who executes justice for the oppressed,
who gives food to the hungry.
The LORD sets the prisoners free;
the LORD opens the eyes of the blind.
The LORD lifts up those who are bowed down;
the LORD loves the righteous.
The LORD watches over the sojourners;
he upholds the widow and the fatherless,
but the way of the wicked he brings to ruin.
(Psalm 146:6-9 ESV)

There is a problem though – look around, do you really see all this happening?

Scientists say they can explain how the world created itself. All over the world justice is being corrupted, people die of hunger, millions are blind, the oppressed get no relief, innocent people are in prison, travelers are robbed, killed even. The weak are exploited while the wicked get fat and rich. Where is God?

Try looking for Jesus in  Psalm 146

Rather than giving in to unbelief, consider what we know God has already done:

  • Jesus created the world (John 1:3).
  • Jesus controls the sea (Matthew 8:24-27) and the fish in it (Luke 5:4-8).
  • Jesus did as God promised (Acts 3:18).
  • Jesus brought justice to the oppressed (Acts 10:38).
  • Jesus fed the hungry (Mark 6:41-44).
  • Jesus set free those bound by Satan (Luke 8:28-29).
  • Jesus lifted up those bowed down (Luke 13:10-13).
  • Jesus opened the eyes of the blind (Mark 10:51-52).
  • Jesus stood by travelers, widows and the fatherless (Matthew 8:20, Luke 21:1-4, Luke 7:12-15).

It was only for three years. It was two thousand years ago.

But He did leave His Church, filled with His Spirit, commanded to continue His work.

God is working, He is in control and He will reign forever!

Rejoice in the Lord!

The LORD will reign forever,
your God, O Zion, to all generations.
Praise the LORD!

(Psalm 146:10 ESV)

Part of reminding myself of why God is worthy of praise includes thanking Him for His unending gifts.

An external post related to this topic:

  • I Think Therefore I’m An Atheist?

Plan to endure

Only a fool would attempt to climb Mt Cook without a plan.

Likewise, it has become popular to have a ‘Life Plan‘ or similar sort of personal ‘mission statement’.

Interestingly, we Christians don’t tend to have much of a plan with regards to following Christ. I’m sure there are some rare individuals out there who do have some plan for serving God, but the more common approach seems to be either no plans at all or else waiting for God to give us a ‘call’ to do something particular with the life He gave us.

God does appear to call some folks to serve Him in particular ways, He certainly calls all of us to follow His commands. What I’m beginning to realize is that I have never given adequate consideration to how I am going to deal with the hazards and obstacles which will certainly arise in serving Christ. It is one thing to know my goal, quite another to have a plan of how to reach the goal.

Currently my thinking is fuzzy on this, but just as someone climbing Mt Cook needs to consider how they intend to cope with the cold, avalanches, rock falls, crevasses, ice, rock, falling off, &etc; so too I need to consider how I will cope with the obstacles and hazards known to be part of following Christ.

What might those hazards be?
  • Growing weary (Galatians 6:9)
  • Disillusionment
  • Lack of faith
  • Love of the world (1 John 2:15-16)
  • Satan snatching away the word from my heart (Mark 4:15)
  • Falling away during a time of testing (Luke 8:13)
  • Being choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of this life (Luke 8:14)
  • Temptation (1 Corinthians 10:13)
  • Sin
  • Prayerlessness
  • Inadequate fellowship
  • Failing to rejoice (Philippians 3:1)
  • Being unfruitful

Having only compiled this list right now (and I am sure there are more hazards I could add), I don’t yet have a plan for dealing with each of these potential obstacles to my following Christ. I am going to need to ponder and pray over each hazard and come up with at least an emergency strategy for each. As with physical hazards, experience of the real thing teaches valuable insight into how to best overcome them so my tentative plans will no doubt evolve and be modified by experience over the years ahead!

For which of you, desiring to build a tower, does not first sit down and count the cost, whether he has enough to complete it? Otherwise, when he has laid a foundation and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish.’ (Luke 14:28-30 ESV)

How would you cope with these hazards?

By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:19 ESV)

My snakes and ladders spiritual life

snakes-and-ladders

Goal: To follow Christ faithfully all my life.
Reality: Stumbling through life barely seeing, fearful at times that I have completely lost my way.

My spiritual life doesn’t contain much ‘plain sailing’. It is much more like a game of snakes and ladders in which I plod along for a bit, climb to heights occasionally, to be brought back down again by all too frequent attacks from the serpent.

No doubt spiritual attacks from the evil one(s) are fairly constant but some have a more crushing impact than others, bringing me tumbling from a proud place way down into the pit. Perhaps because I thought I was doing OK for a while.

All this climbing and falling, up and down, delight and despair, confounds my will to live in Christ. I want to walk in obedience, for:

…whoever does the will of God abides forever. (1 John 2:17 ESV)

Yet this proves impossible, my wretchedness oozes through (Romans 7:24). I certainly am under no deception regarding the reality of my own sin (1 John 1:8), yet this condemns me because acknowledging my sin shows I am walking in darkness (1 John 1:6).

Both chapters 8 & 9 of Romans and also the book of 1 John address what following Christ is really like – blameless in Christ yet wandering off into the darkness and filth of sin. John blatantly writes:

I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin… (1 John 2:1 ESV)

In the end I take up the words of a hymn in prayer to God:

Oh to grace how great a debtor
Daily I’m constrained to be
Let Thy goodness like a fetter
Bind my wandering heart to Thee
Prone to wander, Lord I feel it
Prone to leave the God I love
Here’s my heart O take and seal it
Seal it for Thy courts above
(Come, Thou Fount of Every Blessing)


Image of Snakes and Ladders game: Flickr, Sezzles

Every spiritual blessing

Fish and bread

In Christ we have every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places. What does this mean? It is obviously good, but just how good? It has to be better than a little good. Better even than a lot good – we have been blessed with every spiritual blessing! God is not holding anything back, there is no conditional, “I will give you most of it and if you are good you get the rest”. We already have the guarantee now (see Ephesians 1:13-14), God will give us the entire blessing.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places,
(Ephesians 1:3 ESV)

It can be hard to accept such all-encompassing promises from God. They seem too good to be true and in our fallen, cynical world we know that if something sounds too good to be true it must be a scam. Our economy works in such a way that if one person is to have a lot, others go without.

God’s economy doesn’t work that way – He is the creator of all so having enough to go around is not a problem. He can afford to make extravagant promises and follow through!

And he brought him outside and said, “Look toward heaven, and number the stars, if you are able to number them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” And he believed the LORD, and he counted it to him as righteousness.
(Genesis 15:5-6 ESV)


Image of bread and fish: Studio-Annika (iStock)