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Thursday, January 31, 2013

Terms of The New Covenant Part 15 - Holy Spirit SatNav

I have much more to say to you, more than you can now bear. But when he, the Spirit of truth, comes, he will guide you into all truth. He will not speak on his own; he will speak only what he hears, and he will tell you what is yet to come. John 16:12-13

Guidance is a big issue for many Christians.

I know the plans I have for you. Jer 25:9

This well known verse is often quoted to people seeking guidance. My reaction has sometimes been, "well, I wish He would tell me."

Job's Comforters 
It's easy to trot out this passage and others like it when someone else is in the midst of confusion. "All things work together for good," we say to the friend who has had the proverbial rug pulled from under their feet.

All sorts of things crowd our minds when we face difficulties - what should I do, why doesn't God do something, where did I go wrong? We think we've missed God's will somewhere along the line and our current experiences are the result of that.

It strikes me that the way we "comfort" one another is often not dissimilar to the way Job's so-called friends treated him. Broadly speaking it amounted to, "you've brought this on yourself, repent and everything will be alright again."

Sometimes the fear of making a mistake, of stepping outside of the will of God and attracting the wrath of God causes us to become so paralysed we don't do anything.

We believe the corollary of the words of Job's friends, that if we make a mistake God will punish us severely. So we don't step out in faith to try new things for God. We lay out "fleeces" and we wait for confirmations from outside sources.

It is true that our God is a jealous God who can be angry. But His anger is not with those trying to serve Him out of genuine love for Him. His anger is against those who set up idols in their lives or hearts and turn away from loving and worshipping Him.

God spoke through the prophet Isaiah to say, Whether you turn to the right or to the left, your ears will hear a voice behind you, saying, “This is the way; walk in it.” Is 30:21

This voice is the voice of the Holy Spirit. The message is clear. If you want to know the direction you should take then you have to be moving, trusting the Lord to speak up if you're headed in the wrong direction.

However, Jesus' promise is that we will be guided into truth. We often forget that God is far less concerned about whether we're in the right place geographically than He is in the state of our hearts.

He has showed you, O man, what is good. And what does the Lord require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God. Mic 6:8

Everything else is a side issue. The things we think are important to get right - which church we're in, what our ministry is to be, whether we are called to work with a particular group - all these things are meaningless if we are not walking humbly with our God.

I once heard a missionary to Bhutan, sent out by our local church, talk about the awesome beauty of her adopted homeland. "But," she said, "it doesn't appear beautiful if your heart is not right with God."

Saturday, January 26, 2013

The Terms of The New Covenant Part 14 - Our Friend Jesus

Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command. I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you. John 15:13-15

Friends of God
It is an awesome thing to be called a friend of God. Exodus 33:11 tells us, "The Lord would speak to Moses face to face, as a man speaks with his friend," while there are three references to Abraham being called God's friend (2 Chron 20:7, Is 41:8, Jms 2:23).

Apart from theses two great men of faith no-one else in Scripture is regarded as a friend of God.

Covenant Friends
We make a mistake if we think that Jesus is inviting us to be mates or buddies. The word friend within the context of a Covenant is a technical term meaning a partner in the Covenant.

There is a clear example of this in 1 Samuel 20:42.

Jonathan said to David, “Go in peace, for we have sworn friendship with each other in the name of the Lord, saying, ‘The Lord is witness between you and me, and between your descendants and my descendants forever.’” Then David left, and Jonathan went back to the town.

It is clear from the account leading up to this verse that the two men were already friends in the usual sense of the word. But here they were making a covenant - they called upon the Lord as a witness, swore that their families would be loyal to one another for ever and so became covenant friends. This is why David brought Jonathan's son Mephibosheth into his household (2 Sam 9). It was not a mere gesture or a random act of kindness, it was the outworking of the covenant between the two men.

Jesus Our Friend
Jesus is our Covenant Friend. We are partners with Him in the New Covenant. This means He has the absolute right to demand we fulfil our side of the agreement: to come to the Father through Him, to love Him and our Covenant brothers and sisters, to keep His commands, abide in Him and testify about Him.

Equally, we have the right to appeal to Jesus, on the grounds of the New Covenant, that He will keep His promises to, for example, to empower us through the Holy Spirit, answer our prayers and make us fruitful.

There is nothing matey or casual about this friendship. It is a robust relationship with the heart of the matter being to bring God's kingdom of love into reality in our lives, in the church and in the world.

Sunday, January 20, 2013

The Terms of The New Covenant Part 13 - Joy

Now is your time of grief, but I will see you again and you will rejoice, and no one will take away your joy. John 16:22

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade - kept in heaven for you, who through faith are shielded by God’s power until the coming of the salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These have come so that your faith - of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire - may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed. Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. 1 Pet 1:3-9

One of the over-arching themes of the New Testament is joy. It is part of God's covenant with us in Jesus and it is often contrasted with grief. The first thing we need to be clear about is that happiness and joy are not the same thing.

Happiness is an emotion which comes and goes in dependence on circumstances while joy remains independent of circumstances.

Jesus links the disciples joy with the realisation of His resurrection. His disciple Peter, who personally experienced the grief of the death of his Lord, knew the absolute joy of seeing Him in His resurrection glory.

In 1 Peter he recognises that, even those believers who did not witness all that he did, have that inexpressible and glorious joy despite all their troubles because they have salvation. No-one can strip us of our joy in Christ and what He has done for us.

There may be many things which make us unhappy but there is, if we are confident in our salvation, a deep sense of joy. That joy which comes from God provides us with the strength we need to persevere through the unhappy times.

Are you finding it hard to rest in the joy of the New Covenant? The Bible writers often associate joy with the presence of God (eg 1 Chron 29:22, Ps 16:11, Ps 21:6, 1 Thes 3:9).

Spend time in prayer and in His word for in His presence is fulness of joy.

Friday, January 11, 2013

The Terms of The New Covenant Part 12 - Fruitfulness

I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. John 15:5

It's all or nothing when it comes to being fruitful for the Lord. In Him we bear much fruit; apart from Him there is nothing to show for our lives.

My dad aquired a vine when he bought a new house. The previous owners had grown it in the greenhouse and it looked as though it had been well cared for. My father was well intentioned but didn't really have the time to tend it. Year after year it grew and continued to produce grapes. Because it was left to itself it became an ungainly plant with branches growing in every direction and the fruit becoming smaller and less palatable.

But there was always fruit.

In the end my father took down the greenhouse, dug out the vine and burned the branches. Of course, there was no more fruit.

Our heavenly Father is a diligent gardener and so He prunes the branches and removes the little grapes so there is room for the good fruit to flourish. As long as we remain in Jesus (see Part 4) the Father will ensure that we bear much fruit.

So what fruit will we produce as we remain in Jesus?

Paul tells us in Galatians 5:22-23:  

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.

Thursday, January 03, 2013

The Terms of The New Covenant Part 11 - Peace

Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid. John 14:27

I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world. John 16:33

Jesus offers his Covenant friends His peace. But He's not talking about peaceful circumstances. If you want to live a peaceful life don't become a Christian. You will still have all the problems of the world plus two others - the tension of church life and the attention of the devil. At times the two may seem to be the same.

In this discourse Jesus lists a whole range of problems which the disciples can expect to face. Having told them they will be hated, persecuted, put out of synagogues, be scattered, even murdered. But, "cheer up!" He says - that is the literal meaning of "take heart".

Jesus offers us peace within the storms of life.

Yes, sometimes He will still those storms as He did on Lake Galilee. But the peace He now offers to us is a deeper peace, the shalom which enabled Him to sleep in the stern of that fishing boat even while it was being tossed and buffeted by the waves (Mark 4:35-41).

But there is a command we must obey in order to obtain this peace. We must not let our hearts be troubled and we must not be afraid.

Paul said this:

Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Phil 4:6-7

Peter who had been there in that boat and at the Last Supper put it this way:

Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you. 1 Pet 5:6-7

In other words, trust God from within the circumstances, pray about them, and experience the peace of Jesus through them.