Sunday, October 15, 2017

Elijah and the widow of Zarephath

God’s commands aren’t always instantly carried out, nor perpetual.
In this 17th Chapter of 1 Kings there is a God-ordained famine and drought.
God instructs Elijah to live by the brook at Cherith, where he is able to drink, and God commands the ravens to feed him, and each morning and evening he is given bread and meat.
But after sometime the creek runs dry.

Does this mean God’s word has failed?
Has God departed?
Has God found a better prophet for the job and forgotten about Elijah?

I’m not sure how long between the drying up of the brook and God’s speaking to Elijah, but whatever the period of time was, in someone like me, doubts would have arisen, doubts and fears.

But then God’s Word comes to Elijah to go to Zarepath in Sidon.

“Behold I have commanded a widow to feed you”.

Firstly ravens, then a widow.

God uses unexpected means to fulfill his purposes.

But whereas the ravens seemed to have clearly heard God’s command and were performing their task without need for Elijah’s prompting, the widow seemed to know nothing of God’s command when Elijah met her.

In fact, if you read the passage from verse 10, ignoring verses 8 and 9, it seems that it is Elijah who commands the widow, not God.

This is very interesting to me, and I could gather some implications.

Firstly, in the case of the widow, God uses Elijah to be both the spokesperson of God’s will and also the co-benefactor of the outcome of this command.

Furthermore, the widow requires a little coercion to do what God has commanded, if not coercion, at least some explanation, so God's command sometimes requires further action by us. We don't simply sit back and watch.

Finally, though it seems that Elijah’s word is prophetically powerful, Elijah is simply following God's orders, the instigator, initiator, and provider are all God.

When amazing things happen, which involve people using their abilities, God is still the source, the reason and the person to thank.

This widow and her son are on the brink of death, but because God commands it, they are able to feed both themselves and Elijah from a miraculous jar of flour and another of oil.

It would seem that this event was a big enough miracle to convince anyone that Elijah was a man of God, yet the story becomes even more dramatic.

The son of the widow becomes sick and then dies.

The widow approaches Elijah in her distress saying

“What have you against me, O man of God? You have come to me to bring my sin to remembrance and to cause the death of my son!”

These are very interesting words.

Up until this point, no one has mentioned anything about the widow regarding sinfulness.

From the passage, we see a woman, though somewhat doubting, willing to offer a perfect stranger part of her last meal. This is extreme generosity.

We see a woman chosen by God to sustain his prophet.

Nothing about sin.

Yet when disaster strikes, she does not plead innocence.

She attributes the death of her beloved son as an act of God and an act of justice or punishment for sin.

We have no idea what sin she is speaking of, but does it matter?

The truth is we are all sinners, and all deserve God’s just judgement on our sin.

Elijah is clearly distressed.

He takes the son upstairs to the upper chamber, and then he cries out to God:

“O Lord, have you brought calamity even upon the widow with whom I sojourn, by killing her son?”

Again, this prayer is extremely interesting.

Firstly Elijah is caught by surprise, even confused. Being a man of God and a prophet of God did not help him predict this event. Even Godly people don’t have all the edge on God and his actions.

Secondly, Elijah also gives God the blame for this death. He is acknowledging that God is sovereign and nothing happens outside his will.
Logic would say that if God has ordained this death, then that’s the end of the matter, yet Elijah thinks otherwise. Faith does not need logic.
So Elijah begs for this life to return, for death to be sucked up and for breath, life and health to return.
He doesn’t simply pray, he physically lies on top of the corpse, three times.

Why he does this is inexplicable.

Added also to this strange action is his pleading to God “O Lord my God, let this child’s life come into him again."

Maybe, by this action, Elijah is directing the life force of God, the Holy Spirit, to go through him into the child, like an antenna drawing in and focusing the power of God through his person into the child. Or maybe Elijah is offering his own life in exchange for the child. Nothing is explained.

But then the wonderful power of God is revealed, as God listens to Elijah, and the child revives.

Elijah then delivers the child to his mother. In a real sense the child is reborn.
Only then the widow exclaims that now she truly knows that Elijah is a man of God

It took calamity upon calamity, then miracle upon miracle to convince this widow of Gods favour upon Elijah, and therefore also upon her.

Are we any different?

Do we also need calamity upon calamity, and miracle upon miracle, to understand that God’s grace is greater than our sin?

Romans 5:20-21
But where sin increased, grace increased all the more, so that, just as sin reigned in death, so also grace might reign through righteousness to bring eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Sunday, September 10, 2017

They Will Be Satisfied

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew Chapter 5)

I have experienced both hunger and thirst, but not to extremes.
If you cannot satisfy either sensation, it is possible to endure and even get over the initial feeling.
 In some situations, there is no choice.  But the drive to satisfy that hunger with food, and that thirst with water, is powerful.

Starvation sadly does exist in our world. Even in our western society, people sometimes die as a result of starvation. Diseases sometimes rob us of our appetite. It is also an observation of mine that people that use heavier drugs often lose weight and become gaunt. The appetite for drugs over-riding that for food.

I will never forget a young mother once telling me that the desire for drugs overtakes everything, even care for your own child. In tears she described doing nothing for her daughter's birthday as she turned 5, instead spending what she had on a hit.
Certainly the hunger for drugs must be powerful.

But what of this hunger and thirst for righteousness?

What is it? How powerful is it?

Having discussed it in bible study recently, one of my brothers mistook this as the hunger for justice.

Yes, this too is a hunger. A strong driving force that can keep us awake at night, in prayer to God, in anxiety, in plotting for revenge, but this is not a hunger for righteousness, in my opinion.

The hunger for righteousness, in my opinion, is the sense that one is overwhelmed with conviction of their own sin and unrighteousness. A sense that they now can see an inkling of how we were meant to be, created to be, and how far we have fallen from that state.

It includes a sense of God’s utter holiness, and our utter unworthiness. A sense of how deserving we are of punishment or abandonment for our sin.

This sense can drive us in certain directions.

I believe it was the hunger for righteousness that led Nicodemus to seek Jesus at night in John Chapter 3.

This same hunger drove the rich young ruler to run and at fall at Jesus feet, asking Jesus how a man can find eternal life in Mark 10:17. The interesting point here is that although he had been trying to follow the 10 commandments all his life, his hunger had not truly been satisfied.

I also believe it was this same realization of unholiness that led Peter to tell Jesus to go away from him in Luke 5:8.

I think that without a hunger for righteousness, we can’t actually come to faith and salvation.

I came to faith relatively painlessly as a university student, but soon after, in those early days I came across some false teaching regarding salvation. A very strict view of the "how to" of salvation which added full immersion baptism to faith and repentance. There were other points. I struggled with this. I couldn’t theologically argue my way out of these propositions, and for a time I felt totally lost. IE going to hell for my sins.

I still know clearly that I remain totally unworthy of God’s presence and love in my life. Still every day, I struggle with sin.

Before I finish this personal point, I want to re-tell a story from a great teacher.

He described being at a series of meetings where he was teaching from the bible in his usual manner.

He was finishing off one talk, which would lead into a break, and then he would continue on with the topic.

He finished on a difficult point. He clearly stated that God, in His holiness and righteousness, could not, would not, ever forgive sin.

I agree this was an awkward spot to finish that talk.

During the break (probably coffee and chat for 15 minutes) a lady who had been listening, pushed through the crowd to speak personally to him.

She said to him.
 You just said that God could not, and would not forgive sin.
He replied “Yes, that’s what I said”.

I imagine with a cold sweat and in desperation she cried to him; “Well then, what hope is there for me?”

“None whatsoever” was his reply.

“Apart from the cross.”

I’m sure that he went on to complete a rich series of meetings proclaiming the power of the cross of Jesus, and I have no doubt that this lady, from that day on, was secure in the love of Christ, and his great work for us all on the cross.

Back to my story.
A good friend (Greg) many years ago, saw how troubled I was regarding baptism and being right with God. He gave a cassette tape, which I played in my car. I can still remember where I was, in Sydney, at dusk, parking before I met a friend.

On this tape I heard that same teacher powerfully proclaiming the message of grace and the cross.
In quiet tears my hunger and thirst were finally satisfied. 

I've made a point of keeping my infant baptism since then, as my only baptism experience. But I also espouse adult baptism as a great way to express what God has already done.

So, as I ponder the need for revival in our land, I think that, were God to bring revival, one sign would be a great hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Tuesday, August 22, 2017

Manger Boy

Three old men and a horse
Making paths in the sand
You might think they were lost or mad
As they pass in the night.

Old men's nights were troubled by a dream
Visions of a humble deity
Born beneath a star that they could see
He would set them free

Manger Boy
Manger boy

Three old men and a horse
met a proud, jealous king.
tried to tell him about their dream
and the star in the night

Hearing them, his smile became a frown
He would stop at nothing for his crown
ordered that the manger boy be found
and put into the ground

Manger boy
Manger boy

Three old men and a horse
Gentle tears fill their eyes
Dreams could never prepare their hearts
for the one they saw that night

'Round a manger, far from any throne
Shepherds find a shepherd of their own;
King of heaven, resting here below
Finally at home

Manger Boy
Manger Boy
Manger Boy
Manger Boy

Old mens nights were finally at ease;
following the star that they had seen
They beheld the humble deity,
He had set them free

Saturday, August 19, 2017


How many steps does God take?

I’m a GP.
When I see a patient, I listen, ask questions, work out how I think I can help and then give advice, which may include a prescription, a referral letter, instruction on taking medication or getting an X ray, etc.

Sometimes, people need extra help.

Maybe they have a chest infection and need an X-ray. I give them an X-ray form. That may be enough. But for some I would need to explain that the x-rays are taken at the hospital x-ray department, I may need to explain that a phone call needs to be made to book a time, I may need to explain where the hospital is, and check that they are able to get there. Sometimes I make the phone call myself, to make sure they have an appointment, write down the time and draw a map, check that they can read my writing and then re-explain the procedure.
I may even get one of my staff to drive them there if I am really concerned that it may not happen.

But as far as my duty of care is concerned, it would be enough to simply hand the patient a request form for an X-ray and see them out of my office. For many, that would be enough to get the job done. If the person walked out with the form, but had no clue about how to go about it, and I knew that, I would feel as though I had not fulfilled my duty as a GP.

This form of care can be taken advantage of. Some people may like being “spoilt”, having everything done for them, when they are quite capable of doing things themselves.

Sometimes, it is better to let a person take care of themselves. For example, one of my disabled patients prefers to dress themselves after an examination, despite it taking longer.

What of God’s salvation, provided in Jesus?

What, or how much is done by God.

Does he simply make sure we have a bible to read or have an opportunity to “hear” the gospel and leave the rest to us?

Does he make sure it is in our language?

Does he give us just one opportunity in our lives?

Or does he take us by the hand and lead us through experiences and explanations, opening our mind and heart to the truth of his forgiveness, bending our stubborn will by his patient kindness so that we are flooded by repentance and faith, opening the door to fellowship with the right people who will speak kindly to us, explaining with care the truth of Jesus and what he has done for us? Does he wait patiently as we struggle through difficult situations, relationships, poor teaching, as well as our own stubborn refusal to align ourselves with his will?

Maybe this is the difference between “free will” and “predestination”.

The God who walks with us verses the God who watches from afar.


Monday, July 31, 2017

The Church

The Church, The Church, the church, the church
how big and yet so small.
how powerful, and influencial, and untouchable, yet how hypocritical and unworthy.
How can the church boast?
Why would the church wish to look attractive and appealling to the world?
How can it hold up a fist full of polished Jesus?
How can the church justify the unjustifiable
and condemn the innocent?

When Jesus spoke to Peter about the rock and the church upon which it would be built, did he know how ugly it would look?
Did he know how expensive it would look?
Did he know?

And what if there were no buildings, only people, no artwork, only faces, no music only voices, no brochures only bibles, no pulpits only confessionals, no collections only gifts, no congregations, only families, no screens, no announcements, no programmes, no goals, no ladders to climb, no offices to inhabit, no priests, or pastors, only grandfathers and grandmothers, no saints only sinners, no noise, no applause, no grand hymns, only prayers and tears?

What if, for a moment we all had a sense of unworthiness, and beat our chest and cried silently, with heads bowed low, "God forgive me" ?

Would our prayers then be answered, would our sicknesses then be healed, would our enemies love us, would God join in our gatherings and sooth and forgive and recreate?

the church, the church, the people, the sinners,

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

One on One with Jesus

How often do we see Jesus meeting with just one person in the bible?
The woman at the well, Jesus with Satan in the wilderness, the thief on the cross, Nicodemus, who went in the night, secretly (the conversation happens to include the most well known new testament verse, John 3:16 - so much for secrecy!!!). There are many conversations that appear one on one, for example, with Peter and some of the other disciples, but in reality, others are listening, otherwise we would not be privy to these conversations.

Yes, Jesus had some direct personal responses to individuals, lepers, blind men, pharisees, and crippled people, but these messages were in public, with crowds present.

Even the disciples, were mostly as a group with Jesus, he occasionally singled a few out, for example at the transfiguration.

This may have been frustrating to the disciples. Maybe this was part of the reason they sometimes argued over who was the greatest?

I want to suggest that it was difficult to get one on one time with Jesus.

I want to also suggest that when that time comes, that great final day, when Jesus appears, and we also appear with him, that it will be very difficult to get one on one time.

First children get to have one on one time with their parents, unless they are twins. But this time is often short, with the arrival of the next sibling often putting noses out of joint.

At church, I am often hunted for one on one time.
When I am in my office as a GP, I realize that my patients are somewhat spoilt with one on one time with me. They crave it. It's addictive. It can be therapeutic.

But in heaven, I don't think there will be queues of people waiting patiently to have one on one time with Jesus. Or with the Father and the Holy Spirit. And I don't think Jesus is particularly excited by the thought of spending one on one time with any of us. No, not even with Elvis. He has gone to prepare a place for us. Not "us" as in "each single one of us", but "us" as in "all of us".

My understanding of heaven is that it will be communal worship of the most glorious kind.

So if you crave one on one time with Jesus, the only chance you have is right now in personal prayer. (so we'd better get on with it!!)

The other point that relates to this thought is that we will be sharing Jesus with the rest of christendom. This includes the denominations we detest, the people at church we avoid, and every other uncomfortable thought that the Holy Spirit brings.

Yes we really are meant to love one another as Jesus loves us.

And if there is a queue in heaven, the first will be last and the last will be first. Again, Elvis misses out. I am an Elvis fan.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

More Precious With Time

As in faith I grow older, my heart sometimes falters,
Remembering with sadness the things I’ve done wrong.

Though I may be a Christian with years of religion,
I still need His mercy and love.

More precious with time, more precious with time,
That's how God's sweet Gospel grows.
Just to know that he lives, just to know he forgives,
And that one day to Jesus I’ll go.

Now to all who are younger, who for righteousness hunger,
There’s only one Savior who’s food for our soul.
And for all who are laden with guilt's heavy burden;
 It’s Jesus who carries our load.
More precious with time, more precious with time,

That's how God's sweet Gospel grows.
Just to know that he lives, just to know he forgives,
And that one day to Jesus I’ll go.

Sunday, June 25, 2017

Propitiation in Genesis 20

Genesis 20:16-18
To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.” Then Abraham prayed to God, and God healed Abimelek, his wife and his female slaves so they could have children again, for the Lord had kept all the women in Abimelek’s household from conceiving because of Abraham’s wife Sarah.

Here is another unusual story from Abraham's life recorded in Genesis.
As Abraham moved from place to place, he seemed to have a particular weakness which made him a likely target from those in power; his wife Sarah.
It is not clearly stated, but Sarah must have been unusually attractive, so much so, that people may have killed Abraham to get to her.
This is a little hard to imagine, knowing that Sarah was in her 90's. However, my only resolution of this seeming incongruous situation, is that in those relatively early days of creation, not only did people live longer, they aged more slowly. Somehow, maybe less UV rays, less chemicals, cleaner food etc,  a woman of 90 then, was able to retain much more  of the beauty of youth.
So for what seems to be self preservation, Abraham and Sarah had a pre-arranged agreement to refer to each other as brother and sister rather than husband and wife. This implied that Sarah was available for marriage, and as had happened earlier in Genesis, the ruler of that region, Abimelek immediately detained Sarah with a view to marriage.
But God visited Abimilek, and strictly warned him that he was on the verge of disaster, as Sarah was in fact, Abraham's wife.
In his defence, Abimilek stated that he was ignorant of this fact, and that he had not "touched" Sarah.
There are a number of implications which can be derived from this passage that surprisingly must hve applied at that time.
Firstly, marriage was honored strictly, even by "relative non-believers" (my terminology).
God was feared by relative non-believers.
God visited and spoke to relative non-believers.
God punished sin.
Ignorance of sin does not clear away guilt. Abimilek was not cleared of his guilt simply by declaring his ignorance.

So Abimilek was given clear instructions on how to clear himself of guilt.
Firstly he was to return Sarah to her husband, Abraham.
Secondly he was to ask Abraham, the great prophet, to pray on his behalf.

But without instruction, so it seems, Abimilek went further. Above and beyond seeking mercy and restoring his mistake, Abimilek gave gifts.

To Sarah he said, “I am giving your brother a thousand shekels of silver. This is to cover the offense against you before all who are with you; you are completely vindicated.”

When we commit sin, apart from the economic cost, the physical damage (and some things can never be replaced), there is also the offense of that sin.

God is offended by our sin. even if we could make right what we have done wrong, that does not clear the offense of our rebellion, and restore a right relationship.

Propitiation is a gift that removes anger or offense.

Abimilek gave beyond the actual cost of his sin. This was propitiation.

Zaccheus promised to repay fourfold anyone he had wronged, once he had been befriended by Jesus.

Jesus suffering and death was not just a payment for our sin, his provision of a pure life given freely was a beautiful propitiation for our sins.
Our sins were not just paid for, the offense was also completely cleared.

We have true and lasting peace with God, through the precious propitiating  blood of Jesus.

Friday, May 26, 2017

That Special Day

I’m not expecting a medal, or a crown,
or to be remembered. I don’t deserve anything like that.
Please don’t burn me to ashes, but let me lie in the cool dark earth
sleeping peacefully as I wait for that special day.
The only place I want to go is where I can meet with the man who died for me.
So that I can shake his hand and say thank you for giving his life.
After that, I don’t mind if I sit on the back row, looking on in wonder and with deep satisfaction, as many are welcomed into his extravagant wedding reception.
Even from the outside, I will sing along, from my heart, with whatever celebration songs are led, in whatever style, and whatever language. If I don’t know the words, I’ll try to hum along, with my hand on my heart and a tear in my eye.
And if there is a job I can do, like trimming the edges, or picking up waste, I will do it gladly. And if not, I’ll stay where I’m told to stay and wait for the next job.

Sunday, May 7, 2017

Acts 2:42-47

They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.

A wise man once taught me; "this passage in Acts is descriptive, not prescriptive". In other words it is simply describing how the early church behaved. It does not necessarily imply that this is exactly how Christians, everywhere, at all times, should run church. Yes there have been many movements that have tried, with varying success, to reproduce the dynamics described above. I am not criticizing attempts at copying this described community. It is certainly a beautiful and blessed early church community.
Are modern church gatherings less beautiful, less loving, less sharing, less devoted?
How long did this early pattern of church behaviour last? Why did it change? Is this the “secret” to “successful” church growth?
What motivates us and why, regarding church growth?

I am not going to answer all these questions.

I will point out that although this passage of Acts is truly a wonderful picture of Christians living out their faith, even within the pages of the New Testament, which was fully written within the lifetimes of those early Christians, their are many, many passages of exhortation and correction. The one that comes quickest to mind is Paul's chastisement of the Corinthian church for the way in which they shared the Lords Supper. (1Corinthians 11)
And even in the very next chapter of Acts, a husband and wife, members of the early church, die prematurely under God’s judgement when they half-give money they received from selling goods, somehow attempting to deceive the Holy Spirit. A shocking event for those of us that are honest about our own misguided/divided motives.
So the early church also struggled.

But I don’t want to concentrate on the negatives.

Looking at the passage above, certain words stand out.

“They devoted themselves”

Over the years, I have missed the beauty of this word, “devotion”.

Why is it that we can make such a word sound like hard work?

My answer is that today, our attitude of working hard at, for example, a menial task, for years on end, with a view to a goal or reward at the end, is our interpretation of devotion.
Think of the many hours of training of an athlete, or hours of voice or instrument practice for a performer, or simply those hard workers that turn up day by day at their jobs which involve physical or mental strain, slowly saving money or paying off a mortgage. This is a form of devotion. An application to a means for an end.

But this is not the devotion described above in the early church.
The early Church, did not devote themselves to prayer and fellowship and listening to long sermons, and having communion, so that their church would grow and they would be the pride of Jerusalem,  with stadium meetings spreading across the world…

What we see here is more of the devotion of a mother to a newborn child, or a love struck couple for each other, or even the devotion of a diehard music fan, who lines up on a sidewalk on a cold winters evening to wait endlessly for a chance to buy a ticket to see their idol.
This type of devotion does not feel like hard work, rather the opposite. In fact, I would go so far as to say that it would be impossible for these original believers not to pursue the tasks involved in their devotion, and that they received great joy simply in the process of practicing their devotion.

I believe it was this type of devotion, deep, heartfelt joyful devotion, that compelled these early Christians to live as described above, devoted to the Apostles teaching, prayer, breaking the bread and fellowship. In other words, It wasn’t forced, it came naturally.
Because Jesus, not only was the most amazing, powerful and morally perfect teacher of all things good and right, he had actually risen from death. Not only had he risen from death and by so doing declared and proved that he is truly the Christ, The Messiah, God’s chosen one to redeem the world and rule it. Not only had he risen from the dead, but he had appeared to the disciples. And out of all of this there was now true forgiveness of sins. All early believers cherished an understanding that they were now at peace with God, despite their past, their failing, their broken relationships, their greed and selfishness. All was forgiven in a powerful and permanent way, and the forgiver was alive, immortal, resurrected and all powerful with a guaranteed promise to appear again and to bring all of creation to it’s beautiful goal.
Because they cherished this understanding in their joyful hearts, they practiced the logical behaviour evoked by this understanding.
Devotion to hearing from the chosen eyewitnesses of Jesus, devotion to doing what Jesus told us to do to remember him, devotion to meeting with those we now love as brothers and sisters, and presenting our needs and expressing our gratitude to and through the one we know is alive powerfully at God’s right hand, the King of kings and Lord of Lords, our Lord and God, Jesus Christ.

And what of church growth?

Verse 47 says it clearly; their program of strict daily prayer, fellowship and sermons led to exponential consumer interest…


God added to their number. God is the one who makes things happen, and we recognize and rejoice at His work in our lives.

Saturday, May 6, 2017

Just a Simple "Thank You Jesus"

Every day can be a mountain
Or a valley of despair;
It's so hard to face each moment
With the devil in your ear.

It's too easy to be falling
For the lies that bring us down,
And forget our loving Saviour,
Who's forgiven every failure,
Never leaves us on our own.

Just a simple "thank you Jesus"
Gives me all the strength I need,
Helps me do the things I'm meant to,
Leave behind the things that grieve.

Just a simple "thank you Jesus"
Gets me through the hardest days,
Brings me back to being grateful
For the peace he always gives.

When I'm thirsting for forgiveness
And my conscience says I'm wrong,
When I stay away on Sundays
Too ashamed to join the throng,

When I'm crying on the inside,
Hurting from the bitter past,
Even then I know he's near me,
His sweet mercy calling dearly;
"Come back home my precious child."