Part two – the power and the glory
“You are the God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples”.
What is power? Power is often defined as ‘strength in action’. Power is not just strength in the sense of having someone who is strong but someone who is able to continue in strength and in doing so is powerful. So power is strength in action and the power and strength that we are to live by is that of the One who said:
“…but those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.”
Through God’s amazing grace, His power and ability is available and present with all believers because of the work of Jesus Christ and through the on-going work of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16). As Paul writes to the Corinthian Church…
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:18
Through Jesus, we partake of the Kingdom of God. Through His gracious intervention and the empowering of our lives by the Holy Spirit, all the resources of heaven are available for us - not to use at will, but to engage with as we serve Him. In living with Him we need to start each day by submitting our lives to our father, and not simply presenting our own plans. We have entered His kingdom through Christ, are indwelt by His Spirit and called to put Jesus first in all things. In putting God first we live from His world to ours; but what does that mean?
Living from His world to ours
Living from His world towards the visible world means that I allow Gods teaching to define my life and not my own experiences or view of self that life has foisted on my thinking.
Living from the perspective of God’s teaching and presence means that I accept who I am in Him no matter the circumstances I find myself in. I accept that I am made in the image of God (Gen 1:27), am adopted into His family (Eph 1:5), and sealed with the Holy Spirit (Eph 4:30) who is spoken of as a deposit (Eph 1:14) guaranteeing the life to come. I know that my security is in God alone.
Living from the perspective of what God says rather than my own ideas means that I will be empowered by His Spirit (1 Cor 3:16, 2 Cor 3:18) and strengthened by His power in my inner being (Eph 3:16-20). If I am to benefit in this way then I also need to realise that His indwelling is not about what I do for Him first and foremost, but about receiving and growing in what He has done for me. In this way, I can continue to be filled with the Spirit (Eph 5:18).
If I am not prepared to spend time with God and get to know what He is really like through the scriptures and meditation, then I am going to forgo much of the power and blessing that is mine through Christ. I become like a hungry person who does not see the food in front of him, like a thirsty person who does not see the Well of water beside them and like a powerless person who does not realise that His power is present. When I feel distant from God it is not God who has moved: it is me.
The power of the Holy Spirit is God’s strength in action in my life and, as already said, those who trust in and conflate their thinking with the Lord, will exchange their strength for His living presence (Isaiah 40:31; Mt 28:20). Everything stems from this relationship we have been given by God and the only way to live in His power is by submitting our lives to Him.
All that God has done for us has come about through His grace and mercy through the work of the most powerful man who ever walked these earthly realms: Jesus Christ – the sin-free man.
The Sin-free Man
"I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.”
In The Incarnate Son of God we see that someone from the perfect realm of heaven has visited the dusty realms of the earth with the promise of life in all its fullness (John 10:10). In Jesus we find incredible grace and mercy – the King above all kings (Rev 19:6) who came as a man (Phil 2:5-9) and revealed the loving-kindness of God in both word and deed.
Love speaks of God’s sacrificial giving (1 John 4:8f); the decision to give out of self for the benefit of another. The word ‘kindness’ carries with it the picture of bending the neck to look at another. God sees our fallen ways yet does not turn from us. He stoops low in Christ in order to rescue the enemy; to restore the sinner. Therefore in Jesus we clearly see the love of God.
In Jesus we clearly see the love of God
In Jesus we see the embodiment of God’s grace and mercy in the dusty realms of space and time as He stands with the ‘weighed-down ones’ - people like us - as the sin-free second Adam.
In Jesus we have the clearest picture concerning what man should really be like as a person who lives in the continual consciousness, presence and love of their heavenly Father.
In Jesus we see the Son of God whose life was rooted in a deep abiding relationship with His Father (John 4:34), and a complete reliance on the leading of the Holy Spirit.
Because of God’s willingness to reach out to fallen man and because of the sacrificial giving of this perfect man, we have hope in what is often described as a hopeless world. We find hope because, in Jesus, God has come to us and in Him we see a person who genuinely cares for us and reaches out to us with the offer of life (John 3:17; Rom 8:1). Everyone from the smallest and weakest baby, to the oldest person whose fading life splutters like an almost-spent candle, is made in the image of God and of great worth.
God really cares for us and throughout scripture that are many stories that speak of His love and compassion for people, such as the stories of the loving Father running out to greet a prodigal and the Shepherd searching for a lost sheep.
As Christians we are called to reach out to others with the same love and concern that has been shown to us. A story that I recently read highlighted this truth for me in a very powerful way. In a difficult depressing situation we find a young boy caring for, what to many, was no more than a nameless non-person.
“The story, reported in the ‘Houston Chronicle’ on March 16th 2007, is about an eleven-year-old boy named Roger Holloway. His baby sister was delivered stillborn at thirty-one weeks and would have been disposed of in the usual manner – nameless and unmarked. The “Foetus” simply marked “Foetus Girl Holloway” had been held at the Harris County Medical Examiner’s office. For one year, young Roger battled with the authorities for the body of the baby he had named Rachel. His mother was in drug rehabilitation facility miles away, the baby’s father was unknown, and Roger’s own father was dead. But this little guy fought long and hard speaking to the powers that be and even getting a nearby church to donate a burial plot. And on March 5 2007, Roger and his three cousins held the funeral and carried the white casket to its resting place. In the casket, containing Rachel’s body he placed a baby blanket, flowers, and stuffed animals. “Since my dad died I never got to know him,” the boy said after the graveside service. “And since my sister died, I never got to know her either. The good thing is she’s with God and my dad is in heaven and she’s going to rest in peace.”
Dr. R. Zacharias in ‘The End of Reason’ – a response to the new atheists, pages 127-8.
Jesus sees all people as treasured possessions (Mat 13:45-6), albeit tarnished and torn. Ironically we are tarnished and torn by the tyranny of our autonomy and accompanying isolation that crushes the life we try to preserve in our own strength. We are called to let go of what we have made of life and take hold of new life in Him and then reach out to others in the anointing that the Holy Spirit gives.
A few years ago God prompted me to give the last copy a book that I had to a man serving with London City Mission. The book was part of a private publication contrasting Islam and Christianity and I had already given out some of the last remaining copies I had been able to get my hands on.
I did not know that giving away the last book would be the beginning of a journey to finding and meeting the author, receiving 1,000 free copies, working with him on other books and re-writing a book after his death which involved adding new chapters to it before it was taken by a publisher and distributed across the world. I even had a phone call from the publisher a few years later who informed me of how a Catholic man had gone into a Christian bookshop in Australia to find a book contrasting Islam and Christianity. He read the book my friend and I had written and went back into the shop the following week saying he had thought about becoming a Muslim, but now realised he needed to be born again. God reaches out in amazing ways and the power and glory of God is often felt and experienced in amazing ways when we just open our lives to Him and take the first step. Each one of us is precious to Him.
We belong to the All-Seeing One
Because of God’s salvation-creating activity we now belong to another world and to a father whose rule and reign of restorative love and justice is breaking through right this very minute. We belong to God and therefore can say, as Paul writes, that:
”…in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. 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.”
The amazing truth for us is that we have come into fellowship with the awesomely Holy One (Ps 89:18), the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17) who is the source of all blessings (Num 6:24-6).
We belong to another world and to One whose rule and reign of restorative love and justice is breaking through right now; right this very minute. Our life-journey now has an eternal destination with God who is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb 13:8). Through Jesus’ work we really are the ‘brought home’ and ‘being brought home’ ones (Eph 2:6) and time no longer has to be viewed as that which limits or imprisons us. Instead, it is part of an incredible journey with the very One who seeks to redeem time. Every moment is important and every moment is in His hands; the hands of the One who sees and knows all things.
In Jesus we have the all-seeing One who took everything to its deepest level. He clearly saw the cries from the hearts of oppressed people and also the barrenness of religious people who should have been ‘life-breathers,’ but were ‘burden-makers’. Yet, despite this, Jesus did not turn away from them. Instead, this King - our King - walked in poverty and reached out and touched all levels of human relationships. He touched them with His riches and breathed life - His life - into all who were open to receiving the awesome grace present in the Holy One (Col 1:15) who said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest.” (Matt 11:28). In Jesus’ words and actions we see what God is like (John 14:9): He is caring and compassionate and His loving-kindness is immeasurable.
I remember two young men who’d just become Christians really believing that God wanted them to go out on the streets of London late one night. They had been homeless and were now living in the church where I was the pastor. I reluctantly agreed to go with them and on a cold Saturday night we parked in central London and started walking around. Almost immediately we found a man reading a bible and stopped to talk to him. He was running away from occult activity in his own area and reading the bible to find help, yet he did not know Jesus. After sharing the gospel with him, this man came to Christ and now, many years later, is serving the Lord in the church. God is always about His business, but the trouble is we are often so busy with our business that we fail to see what He is doing and fail to recognise the promptings of the Spirit.
God has said, “Yes” to us
Through Christ, our heavenly Father has said ‘yes’ to us (2 Cor 1:2). Yes, through Christ we will be able to find freedom and victory over the past, present and future and can do great things in His name. Yes, these great things can be as diverse as giving a glass of water in His name (Mk 9:41) or bringing light into the most difficult of situations and seeing captives set free (Acts 16:25-31). Yet nothing of the Lord comes about automatically as if it were simply a remedy found in a bottle on a shelf that we can pick up and use at will. If we think this way then we quench the Spirit through assuming power is present for our use rather than understanding it is always and ever the presence and power of the Holy Spirit – the third Person of the Trinity who is with us.
God is the ‘Life-breather’ who resurrects the fallen and heals the ‘not deserving ones’ and helps ordinary people, like you and I, to walk in His power and anointing. In light of the truth that God is always about His business of redemption we need to recognise afresh that all miracles are part of His overall plan and not as random acts of blessing that pop up when we push this or that button, so to speak.
Ghulam Masih Naaman was a Muslim who, many years ago, was caught up in the events accompanying Indian independence and the division between Muslim Pakistan and Hindu India. Kashmir was claimed by both States and Muslim leaders called for a Holy War. Ghulam became an underground fighter and was involved in eliminating non-Muslims from the territory. Speaking about this time in his life he said, “It was our general practice to enter a village, send everyone at the point of a gun to their houses, shut the doors securely from the outside and set the whole village alight. Somehow the inhumanity of this kind of act did not penetrate into my consciousness. I was merely doing a job and the job had to be done well.”
One night he was preparing to kill a family of Christians whose ten-year-old daughter asked to pray with her parents. They finished their prayer with, “In the name of Jesus Christ, Amen.” As they did so Ghulam saw a wall of light rise up between him and his victims. He murmured, “forgive me” and left with his men, without harming the family. He later said that the Jesus the little girl had prayed to seemed to be pursuing him. After many more strange incidents and feeling betrayed by his own religion, Ghulam started searching for peace. He began praying and asking God to show him the right path because he was not willing to trust any of the religions or creeds in the world. He also asked for mercy.
One day, in the early hours of the morning whilst in the waiting room at a railway station, he was praying and was suddenly conscious of a hand on his shoulder and a voice that said, “My grace is sufficient for you.” No one was visible yet Ghulam had felt as if an electric charge had gone through his body and felt forgiveness. He was not sure what the phrase “My grace is sufficient for you” meant and was muttering it under his breath as he left the station. A sweeper heard him and said, “Son, are you a Christian?” The sweeper told him what the scripture meant and about Jesus. Ghulam became a Christian and later went on to become a pastor, despite great hostility from his family.
Jean-Marie Gaudeul in, ‘Called from Islam to Christ.’ (pages163-5)
Approaching God in confidence
“Let us then approach the throne of grace with confidence, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us in our time of need.”
Through Jesus’ life-empowering work we have received the Spirit of adoption (Rom 8:15-17). What this means is that our past has been completely forgiven and we now have the position of being a child of God for whom there is “no condemnation” (Rom 8:1).
We come to God in and through His work and in the power of the Holy Spirit (Eph 2:18) and can approach with freedom and confidence (Eph 3:12). This confidence is only possible because everything is ours through Jesus. We come as those rooted and established in His work and not our own. He is always the’ all-giving One’ and insofar as we are open to Him we can always be the ‘receiving ones.’
The God who is always present
Chris Plekenpol was an officer in the American Army who lost many friends during the troubles in the Middle East. Writing about the importance of the presence of God at all times he says…
“God created this perfect order of things, and when our sin entered, it became a place of terror. Sin unchecked is a terrible thing. God exists in those moments to show us how desperately we need him, how he can redeem us, change us, give us new life. In combat you see that. There are places in life where God is an afterthought. You are driving down the road and life is pretty much all worked out, but in battle God is so much more real. …I always come back to this one thought, life is short. It’s so urgent. I have this need to share the hope of Jesus with people who have no clue, who are still enemies of God. I want them to know that God took the hit for them. He has this irrational love for us, I just can’t understand it. It doesn’t make any sense to think that the Son of God would come down out of heaven and die a criminal’s death for people that hate him. But he did it. He died for our enemies.”
I Am Second, Ed: D. Bender and D Sterrett, pages 159-160.
Jesus did not come for what He could get from us, but because God wants to be with us in all that we go through. God is not like an employer who constantly wants us to do better, but is spoken of as a Father who encourages us to do the very best so we can partake of all that He has already provided.
“God is our strong refuge; he is truly our helper in times of trouble. For this reason we do not fear when the earth shakes, and the mountains tumble into the depths of the sea, when its waves crash and foam, and the mountains shake before the surging sea.”
He knows us by name
Our Father is always aware of what is going on in and around our lives. He knows all things and is always in control. He is never distracted and His attention towards us is so great that He knows the very hairs on our head (Mt 10:30) and sees a glass of water we give in His name (Mt 9:41). He is the master of all things.
In a blazing furnace three men did not lose their lives and not one hair on their heads was singed whilst the Pre-Incarnate Son of God walked with them (Dan 3:27f). Elsewhere in history, Stephen sees heaven open and the Son of God standing (Acts 7:55-7) as he breathes his last and enters life in all its fullness.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a penny? Yet not one of them will fall to the ground apart from the will of your Father. And even the very hairs of your head are all numbered. So don't be afraid; you are worth more than many sparrows.”
God is in charge and we must allow Him to rule and not allow our own thoughts and ideas about what should be happening all the time to control us. We are kingdom people and partakers of amazing truth.
In fellowship with our Father
This amazing truth is that we have come into fellowship with the awesomely Holy One (Ps 89:18), the Father of heavenly lights (James 1:17) who is the source of all blessings (Num 6:24-6). A testimony I recently read which spoke to me of God’s blessing is that of Barry Taylor who worked with a notorious rock-band.
Barry Taylor was once the sound man for the rock-band ACDC. He often got into drink and drugs as the band toured and much of life was little more than a blur. On a visit to Los Angeles he was shocked to find one of his good friends had just become a Christian and sought to attack his friend’s faith. Instead of disproving his friend, Barry found himself starting to agree. Of this time in his life he said, “I read about Jesus, and found myself really touched by His compassion and concern for ordinary people.” Within a few months he had read through the Bible and said that he could see a difference between Jesus and religion, but did not know where he fitted in.
One night, during a concert before 18,000 Barry was drinking a coke behind a stage-screen when a thought came to him, “Barry, you are going to have to forget all this God stuff, and carry on with the band….or stop it all and go on with God. By this time in his life he was unsettled, hard-hearted, cynical and drug-wasted. He remembered Janis Joplin, Jimmy Hendrix and other dead stars. Then, as the band played on, Barry Taylor gave his life to Jesus. Later, now back on the band’s bus, a party was in full swing and in the midst of this he took out the Bible he had been reading. He said that the only prayer he could recall was one a schoolteacher had often recited in assembly; so he prayed, “Teach me Lord to serve you as you deserve. To give and not to count the cost, to fight and not notice the wounds, to labour and not look for any reward – except that of knowing I do your will.”
The One who painted the dawn in a myriad of pastel colours (Ps 19:1-2) is our Father (Mat 6:9) and it is only His presence and power that makes our lives different. He is the One who can halt all destructive building programmes that reach into our lives and He is the One who can remove the rubble of our failure and raise us into newness of life. He is the One who helps His people to build their lives and the lives of others, wherever they are, be it in a prison camp in North Korea, the Middle East, or in a fellowship of two or three (Mat 18:20).
Wherever people meet in Jesus’ name, He will be present, for He is the “I will never leave you or forsake you” One (Heb 13:5) and in Him there is always hope. We are called to serve Him and can do so no matter the circumstances we find ourselves in because He is the enabler of great blessing.
Our Father has said “Yes,” but blessing is not automatic
Through Christ, our heavenly Father has said ‘yes’ to us (2 Cor 1:2). Yes, through Christ we will be able to find freedom and victory over the past, present and future and can do great things in His name. Yes, these great things can be as diverse as giving a glass of water in His name or bringing light into the most difficult of situations, or seeing captives set free. Yet, as we have already noted, none of this will ever come about automatically as if it were simply a remedy found in a bottle on a shelf that we then pick up and use at will.
If we mistakenly think the Christian life comes about automatically then we quench the Spirit through assuming His power is present for our use and at our bidding when it is nothing of the sort. We forget that Christianity is all about a two-way relationship.
God’s power speaks of the presence of the Holy One whose kingdom rule is being brought to bear on all that is around us right now. It is the presence of the ‘Life-breather’ who resurrects the fallen and heals the ‘not deserving ones.’ Therefore all miracles must be seen as part of His overall plan and not as random acts of blessing because all that the Holy Spirit does is out of the Trinitarian relationship between Father, Son and Spirit. He is the ‘energising One’ whose purpose is to help us become rooted and established in Kingdom rule and reign.
Our faith must be rooted in our relationship with the All-Powerful One who is our Father and not in our plans or agendas. Everything Jesus did flowed out of Jesus’ relationship with His Father and therefore our calling in life is not first and foremost about doing; it is about receiving from the One who knows us best.
We are to be the ‘Rooted Ones’
The importance of being rooted in an ongoing relationship with God is captured in Jesus’ words to His disciples after their return from a Spirit-empowered mission to heal the sick and set people free. The disciples had experienced God’s amazing work of blessing and were understandably full of what they had been able to do. Yet note what Jesus said to them…
“Rejoice that your names are written in heaven”
The main point that Jesus wanted the disciples to note was not so much the healing or the miracles, but the truth that they were ambassadors of another kingdom and rooted and established in His work – hence their names were written in heaven.
“That man or woman is a happy one who does not practice the clever thought habits of godless people, who does not stand around the way sinners do, or sit down with mocking, scoffing company. That man or woman is a happy one whose pastime rather is the torah of the LORD, who ruminates on the torah of the LORD day and night. That person is like a tree transplanted near running waters, a tree which bears its fruit on time and whose leaf does not wither – all that man or woman does is prospered!”
I am the child of another kingdom
“A person, says the Bible, is peculiarly fashioned in the image-likeness of God (Gen 1:26-28). A person is not God’s (graven) image; only Christ is God’s spitting image: a person is in God’s image. That means that a person is created structurally unlike all other creatures, that a person peculiarly bears the stamp, ‘Made in Heaven’
’In the Fields of the Lord’, Ed: C. Bartholomew, P 149
Through Christ we are the children of another kingdom and this kingdom is not a far-away place, or an unobtainable kingdom. It is a kingdom that has been given and therefore our only true response is to be open to receive guidance and power from our heavenly Father. We really are called to be the ‘always-receiving ones’. If we do not receive from God then how can we find healing and how can we give out?
Unfortunately the problem for many is that they remain caught up with what has happened in the past and fail to realise that this is not just a part of who they are; it is what they have become and needs to change. All of us can feel small or inadequate and as if we don’t quite fit in or aren’t accepted by God in the way others around us seem to be. The fruit of this thinking can then be a lack of trust towards God and a lack of engagement with the presence and power of the Holy Spirit. Yes, we believe in God, but is God really there for us? One man who experienced these difficulties is the writer Brennan Manning who writes…
“The biggest obstacle on my journey of trust has been an oppressive sense of insecurity, inadequacy, inferiority, and low self-esteem. I have no memory of being held, hugged, or kissed by my mother as a little boy. I was called a nuisance and at best told to shut up and be still. My mother had been orphaned at age three – both her parents died in a flu epidemic in Montreal – and sent to an orphanage where she lived for several years, until she was eventually adopted. Then, at age eighteen, she moved to Brooklyn, New York for training as a registered nurse. Having received little attention or affection through those early years, she was incapable of giving any….my father was never there “
B. Manning in ‘Ruthless Trust’ p 13.
Hold on to the truth
Through Jesus’ gift of life we are recipients of the Kingdom. The cheque has been made out in our name and the mortgage deed is now paid off and everything is ours by virtue of another. The debts have been paid and we can spend with what is freely provided (Isaiah 51:1-2) to empower us in His work of restoration and new growth. Yet this only happens out of a deep abiding fellowship with God and a desire to see all people lifted up for His glory; it is not automatic. Jesus did not live as if everything happened automatically without reference to His Father, and neither can we.
Whether we like it or not, we cannot run ahead of Him and achieve anything of value in our own strength and we also need to realise that we will only truly have all the power we need to live this life when we come to Him with the attitude of a servant. We have been made for a relationship and nothing else will suffice.
Everything is about relationships
In Jesus we have a Son who did everything out of the deep abiding relationship that existed between Him and His Father. He did not, as some wrongly assume, just do as He pleased, for He came as man (Phil 2:5ff) and said, “I tell you the truth, the Son can do nothing by himself; he can do only what he sees his Father doing, because whatever the Father does the Son also does”.
“The great tragedy in modern Christianity is that pools of living water are bubbling in the burning sand of our souls and we don’t know it. We haven’t dug deep enough through the debris of our self-deception, through the strategies we carefully follow to make life work, to drink from the divine stream within. We’re drinking polluted water and thinking it’s pure. Worse, we’re feeling refreshed…but it’s false refreshment. It’s both contrived and counterfeit….”
Dr L. Crabb in, ‘The Pressures Off’ p 48
We cannot access God’s power as if it were a remedy in a bottle or a “this will make you better potion.” All power and authority belongs to God and the power at work in us is not some abstract force; it is the presence of the third person of the Trinity: the Holy Spirit. It is His leading and guidance and perspective on life that we should be seeking, which is precisely why Jesus told the disciples to ask for more of the Spirit and not just what they thought they needed: “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!" (Luke 11:13).
Since the power and the presence of the Kingdom comes about through the servant-heart of God it stands to reason that children of the Kingdom must be servant-hearted.
In a world which clamours for wealth, recognition and position God tells us to live according to the Kingdom. In this Kingdom – His Kingdom - a powerful person is one who seeks to serve rather than to be served, and who genuinely seeks to uplift others. He or she will also be a person who walks in authority and is enabled to do things far beyond their normal abilities and in a way that clearly points to the presence of the Shepherd-King. Everything we do must relate to Him and we must see Him as He is and not as circumstances would try to dictate.
An unjust relation with God is no relation at all. A skewed communion is not a communion worth having. The Psalms crave for and mediate communion with God, but Israel insists that communion must be honest, open to criticism, and capable of transformation. These are the prayers of a people with a deep memory and a profound hope for a new kingdom.”
Prof Walter Brueggemann in, ‘The Message of the Psalms’ p 173.
Miracles are not random acts of power: Seeing all the colours in the picture
Imagine going into an art gallery with a friend and you are only able to see one colour in all the paintings whilst your friend can see a completely different colour. On leaving the gallery, you talk about the amazing cobalt blue shades of colour that you had seen, whilst your friend does not stop talking about the emerald greens that he has seen. There is no real connection between you because you have not seen what the other person has seen and therefore cannot relate what you have seen to what they are saying.
Perhaps we can be a little like those in the above illustration when it comes to miracles and the power of God in that we wrongly view them as little more than random acts of healing, deliverance or control over nature. In reality, they are nothing of the sort.
In looking at the miracles of Jesus we need to understand that we are not seeing random acts of healing, deliverance or control over nature. Instead, what we are seeing is part of a much bigger picture that we must engage with. What we are seeing is the impact and power of the rule and reign of God upon society and the world we live in.
The miracles of Jesus are part of what it means to see the kingdom of God in action: the work of the All compassionate One – the Life Breather who restores and uplifts broken lives. This Kingdom can only be received (Luke 18:17), which requires a trusting and yielded heart and an open mind that does not limit God to our own thinking.
For example, there were many in the crowds at the feeding of the five thousand who wanted to make Jesus King (John 6:15) and restore Israel back to its former glory. In reality they were limiting the kingdom in their thinking.
Those who wanted to make Jesus king were doing little more than seeking to define Him through their experiences and views concerning what should or should not happen. Yet the Kingdom of God – His rule and reign – will not conveniently fit into our plans, no matter how good they may seem. We are called to submit our lives to the leading of the Spirit – the Holy Spirit who is the third person of the Trinity.
If we want to see more of the power and glory of God then surely there is the need to recognise, on a daily basis, that we should be seeking to see all life from His perspective. For example, and at a very basic level, we may see someone next to us as a person we don’t really get on with, when first and foremost we need to see them as a brother or sister made in the image of God and equally loved by a heavenly Father.
“(Jesus) constantly referred to eternal life as a present reality. Eternal life is the life of God in time in us. Heaven comes to us before we go to heaven. So the fact that heaven has begun means the claim to enter heaven later is not the first giant claim,. The prior claim is just as big, even more basic. That claim is as startling, as special, and as strong as the other.”
John Gilmore in, ‘Probing Heaven’ p 212.
God has approached us so that we can then approach Him. He has not approached us so that we can bring Him into our worldview, as if He were some sort of cosmic cleanser at our disposal. Miracles are part of kingdom living and how and when they come about is totally down to the leading of the Spirit and cannot be viewed as part of our system or programme, as if God were endorsing it. He has come to us to bring us to our true home in Him.
In John 6 we read of Jesus withdrawing from the crowd. When the crowd found Him the next day Jesus pointed out that they were there because He had fed them and not because they saw miraculous signs (John 6:26). In other words they were earthbound and had not seen the miracles as the kingdom of God breaking in, but as a means of personal gain. In everything we need to be heaven-bound in our thinking so that, in the power of the Holy Spirit, we can see people released from all manner of darkness and suffering into the light and life of the Kingdom.
One of my friends from a Jewish background who became a Christian was able to lead her father to Christ a few years later just before he died. This occurred even though her father, when she had first become a Christian, had held a funeral service for her saying that his daughter had died because she had converted to Christianity. Let us be encouraged to reach out to others by first reaching out to the One who reaches into what, in worldly terms, seem the most impossible of situations, and brings great blessing.
The All-Powerful One
The miracles of Jesus are the norm in the Kingdom of God and they are the vanguard and presence of the new world, where, one day, we will be fully reconciled, (in experience as well as position) to God.
In the biblical mind-set God is the supreme creator to whom all strength and power belongs and it is important to take note of this! God does not just have power and authority; He is all power and authority and is the only One to whom all power and authority belongs. He is the One true God of whom David writes, “The God who performs miracles; you display your power among the peoples.” (Psalm 77:14). God is always present to help us, but we need to want that help and be open to receiving it any way He wants to give it.
In his book, “If Only We Knew, John Murray speaks of the power of God in the story of a young woman called Svetlana. Svetlana, now a Christian, speaks of how worthless she used to feel as a child abandoned by her mother. She was brought up by an Aunt who lived a few doors from her mother who never contacted her. Yet in her story we get to see something of the goodness and greatness of God.
Svetlana ended up hating her mother and, due to this bitterness and anger, was very much against everything and everyone. She eventually got help from a Christian group who encouraged her to see that God loved her unconditionally. She became born again and said, “Christ has healed my heart and bridged the gap that existed between me and others.” In commenting on this and other amazing stories, John Murray went on to say…
“For each of us our situations are unique. We might think that there is no answer to our particular crisis but, as we have already indicated, God is the God of the impossible. With God there is no such thing as a hopeless case. The word hopeless does nto exist in the Divine vocabulary. To us, our situations might appear hopeless, but with God, nothing is impossible. We have real hope in Him, which brings purpose, motivation and enthusiasm. God made you, therefore God cares for you.”
John Murray in, ‘If Only We Knew.’ P 108
God is the Shepherd who protects and guides His sheep (Gen 48: 15, Psalm 23:1Ezek 34:12 Jn 10:11, 14 He 13:20 1 Pet 2:25, Num 6:24) and the One who wants to be known and experienced as a Father. He is the all-powerful Creator who knows the stars by nature and composition (Ps 147:4), and also the number of hairs on each head (Mt 10:30) and He knows us by name. He is the LORD (Yahweh): the One who breathes life (Gen 2:4; 2:7); the One who raises up - who resurrects (Phil 4:13). He is the covenant-maker and the covenant-keeper. He is the Lord (Adonai), the door to life (John 10:11; 12:47) and the Holy One (Isaiah 40:25; 41:14) whose love endures forever. He is the All-Powerful One, the Life-breather, Hope Giver and Ressurector of Broken Lives.
“Give thanks to the Lord of lords: His love endures for ever. To him who alone does great wonders, His love endures for ever. Who by his understanding made the heavens, His love endures for ever. Who spread out the earth upon the waters, His love endures for ever. Who made the great lights — His love endures for ever. The sun to govern the day, His love endures for ever. The moon and stars to govern the night; His love endures for ever.”
Let’s now move on to look at the glory of God. All glory belongs to Him and in realising what glory is and how God will not share His glory with others we will hopefully become more open to the empowering presence of His Spirit.
Just before Christmas in 1914, Germany shipped 100,000 Christmas trees to the front line and on Christmas Eve singing could be heard from the German, British and French trenches. The Germans had drafted in a famous tenor and when he sang, “Silent Night” the Scottish contingent of the British army came out of their trenches and asked for an encore, which the German tenor promptly gave. The German and Scottish commanders then met and the result was that French, British and German troops walked into ‘No Man’s Land’ and exchanged gifts. At a summit the next day the commanders of each army allowed each army to return the dead and gathered their own for a burial. In these actions we see something of what man is called to be like: we get a glimpse of the glory of man.
As history clearly reveals, nothing that man does will last (1 Peter 1:24) and the wars that continue to abound in heart and mind as well as between individuals and nations reveal more of what we have become by way of sin than of who we are called to be.
A pale idea of the tarnished glory of man can sometimes be seen in others, in the good things man does, even in a fallen world. Yet how would we describe ‘glory’ and how is it seen when it comes to God?
The word ‘glory’
On one occasion I remember picking up what I thought was a really valuable antique bronze statue only to find that it was a copy made of resin. What gave it away was that there was no weight to it – it felt light and, in my eyes, instantly valueless, because it did not have the substance and weight that I would have expected in a valuable bronze. .
Figuratively speaking the word ‘glory’ carries the idea of weight in the sense of valuable and precious and can point to what a person has or is. By way of illustration, think of a house that someone renovates and then gives, free of charge, to a homeless family. This act of selfless giving of time, money and energy in order to provide for another is, in a sense, the glory that points to what the person who renovated the house is like.
God’s glory speaks of what He is like; seen in His acts of power, grace and mercy in a world that deserves nothing but condemnation. All that God does carries weight and substance and is of great value and worth.
A friend of mine recently commented on how it was as if nature had spoken to him that morning and had revealed even more of the glory of God to him (Ps 19:1-2). In that same week, another friend spoke of reading a scripture that he had read on many occasions, but having it almost jump out of the pages and really touch him in a special way. God reveals His presence, His glory in many different ways.
Psalm 19 points out that the heavens declare the glory of God – in that they point to a creator. This Creator – our heavenly Father- is the All-Powerful, Other-World-One who lives in unapproachable light and whom no-one has seen as He is in His essential being (1 Tim 6:16). Yet, in amazing grace, He limits the power and radiance of his presence and communicates with us in ways that we can learn, understand and experience what He is like.
Because of God’s nature and character, His glory is revealed through His work of redemption. It is because of God’s glory that a diverse group of people at Corinth found fellowship and love with God and with each other (2 Cor 3:18). They, like us, did not always get it right, but were on a journey into wholeness with a heavenly Father whose son promised never to leave or forsake them (Mat 28:20, Heb 13:5).
God really is someone who has come close, who seeks to raise up the downtrodden and who comes against all that is wrong in our lives so that we can live in the freedom of all that is right.
The power and the glory
The heavens declare the glory of God (Ps 19), yet His glory can also be seen in amazing acts of kindness such as the putting on, as it were, of weighty armour, in order to come to man’s aid. For example, His heart for man and His hatred for all that is wrong can be seen in the following words from Isaiah…
“He saw that there was no-one, he was appalled that there was no-one to intervene; so his own arm worked salvation for him, and his own righteousness sustained him. He put on righteousness as his breastplate, and the helmet of salvation on his head; he put on the garments of vengeance and wrapped himself in zeal as in a cloak.”
The appearance of the glory of God, in whatever form or way in which God chooses to reveal Himself establishes the truth: God desires to be with man. There is nowhere that is off limits to Him and He can speak in any way He wants to, whether that is through a burning thorn bush that is not consumed (Exodus 2:3-4) or by supernaturally protecting three men in a blazing Babylonian furnace (Dan 3:27).
Many years ago I used to visit an old lady called Elsie who was almost blind and very worried about where she was going to move to when her flat became too much of a burden for her. The topic would often come up in conversation since it was preying on her mind and was something she prayed about a lot.
On a subsequent visit Elsie seemed completely different. She said the previous night she had been half-asleep in her chair when she saw a powerful person who was ‘full of light’ standing in front of her. This person told her everything was going to be alright and then disappeared – as did her worry about moving. Within two to three weeks she had moved into a home. God reveals His glory in many ways.
In all things God reveals Himself as the Master of all, whether speaking through a spewed up prophet in a pagan city (Jonah 2:10, 3:4) or a young girl snatched into slavery, leading to the healing of a pagan army commander (2 Kings 5). Other incidents include the glory of the Lord filling the Temple (1 Kings 8:11), chariots of fire and horses of fire separating Elijah from Elisha at the time of Elijah’s departure in a whirlwind (2 Kings 2:11).
Isaiah has a vision and sees the head of the covenant seated on a throne, high and exalted (Isaiah 61:3), and decades later the King of Glory is seen by Ezekiel (Ezekiel 1:3ff) whilst Ezekiel stands by the river Kebar in the land of captivity (Babylonian Empire). When God moves nothing ever remains the same and God is always about His business of bringing redemption to a fallen world. His glory is the work of the otherwise invisible Holy One in space and time so that we can see and know Him.
Every event recorded in the Bible is recorded because God is about His business of redeeming a fallen world. He is the King upon the throne and the law of His kingdom is the Law of Agape-love (1 Jn 4:8); in all He does we see the glory of the Lord: amazing acts of grace, mercy, power and love that clearly point to who He is and what He does.
A few years ago I visited a Muslim woman called Benaz. Her son had become a Christian and I wanted to talk to her about what this meant. In the Muslim faith there is no belief in the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, yet on telling her that Jesus had risen from the dead she said, “I know – he came to me in a dream and told me.” That day, now over thirteen years ago, Benaz became a Christian.
Jesus: God with us
At the birth of Jesus we see the glory of God shining around the Shepherds (Luke 2:8-10) as the heavenly armies proclaimed His arrival: the arrival of One who chose to dwell among us (John 1:14). Later, on what became known as the Mount of Transfiguration, we read that the appearance of Jesus’ face changed and His clothes became as bright as a flash of lightning (Luke 9:29-31). Moses and Elijah also appeared with Him in glorious splendour revealing something of our future destiny in Him; the One who will return (Mt 25:31, 2 Thess 1:7, Rev 1:14).
God’s glory – His visible presence in whatever way He chooses, reveals His work of redemption and His salvation-creating activity. Our response to this should be repentance and an openness to receive all that our heavenly Father wants to give us.
God is like a shepherd who protects and nurtures the sheep and like a king who surrounds and protects his people and of whom David writes: “But you are a shield around me, O Lord you bestow glory on me and lift up my head” (Psalm 3:3).
Last week I spent time talking to someone about Jesus and who then made a profession of faith. After doing so they sat, as if transfixed, and said, “I feel such tremendous peace.” In the presence of this peace they were able to experience the glory of God in and around their life.
God has crossed the line to be with us
God is the ‘glorious Father’; (Eph 1:17) and glory (His salvation-creating activity) begins and ends with Him. The richness of His glory (Rom 9:23; Eph 1:18; Col 1:27) speaks of the strength, power and presence of the One who crosses the line, so to speak, to be with us.
In Jesus we see the One who crossed the line to stand in front of us with the offer of life in all its fullness. In this we see that God found us: He came close so that we could see and reach out to Him. Through the work of Christ all people – even slaves, tax collectors and hardened soldiers were able to possess a living experience of the One True God, who lives with us by the Spirit.
This servant King will one day return in glory Matt 25:31-32, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
Scripture states that God’s throne will last forever and ever and all power and glory is His. In generous grace and amazing mercy and loving-kindness the power of heaven touches earth as the glory of God is revealed.
God points to no one but Himself
God will not give His glory to another (Isaiah 42:8) for He alone brings salvation and restoration to broken lives. He not only knows how all things should be, but is also the only One who has the wisdom, knowledge, understanding and power to bring us to healing, wholeness and life as it should be lived. Therefore, when we see people being set free and brought to a place of wholeness and healing we must be careful to point to Him. We are never to rely upon our brand of ministry or assume that any move of the Spirit comes because of our ability or achievements.
God will not share His glory with another and this explains why, at the dedication of the Temple that Solomon had built, the “priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled his temple” (1 Kings 8:11). Everything had been put in place for this dedication, yet the sheer overwhelming presence of the Spirit meant they would never be able to say it was their actions that brought blessing. Their obedience, in serving the Lord, enabled them to benefit from what was already present by way of the grace and mercy of God. Many years previously God had spoken through Moses and told His people that they were to use uncut stones when building an altar to the Lord (Ex 20:24-5), as was also the case when Israel crossed the Jordan (Josh 8:31).
Something else we must take note of is that the glory of God speaks of His work from first to last and no sign, wonder or miracle brought about by Him should ever be seen as an isolated incident that has somehow randomly punctured someone’s existence with a waft of healing power. It is nothing of the sort. Instead, it is the glory of God and a clear demonstration of the presence of the Kingdom of God.
“And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord's glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.”
2 Corinthians 3:18
To those who knew little or nothing of the power of the gospel, the church at Corinth must have looked rather strange. After all, in their gatherings there would have been rabbis mixing with ex-prostitutes, intellectuals with labourers and ex-slaves with land owners. All were speaking of a relationship with Jesus and all, whether rich or poor, slave or free, were experiencing the power and blessing of a heavenly King who stood in our world with the offer of life. Therefore, in this peculiar gathering we see something of the glory of God in the reconciliation of man with God and man with his fellow man. Glory is not a word that stands on its own because it points to what something or someone is like. So how much of His glory do we reveal as Kingdom men and women; how much of His power and blessing flows through our lives?
Knowing the real Jesus and walking in the power of the Spirit
“When the Sabbath came, he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were amazed. “Where did this man get these things?" they asked. "What's this wisdom that has been given him that he even does miracles! Isn't this the carpenter? Isn't this Mary's son and the brother of James, Joseph, Judas and Simon? Aren't his sisters here with us?" And they took offence at him. Jesus said to them, "Only in his home town, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour." He could not do any miracles there, except lay his hands on a few sick people and heal them. And he was amazed at their lack of faith. Then Jesus went round teaching from village to village.”
In the background to the above reading we catch a glimpse of the incredible faith in the lives of two very different people. These pictures then become the background canvas to our reading and are, in a sense, contrasted with a distinct lack of faith at Nazareth. So who were these two people and what do we know about them?
On the one hand we have Jairus, a synagogue ruler, (Luke 8:41ff) who sought healing for his only daughter (a twelve year old girl), and on the other hand we have the story of a struggling and somewhat marginalised woman. (Mark 5:23).
In Jairus’ story we have a little girl who was at the point of death when her father set out to find Jesus. Jairus lived in a day and age when there were many faith-healers around and yet he was aware that Jesus was someone quite different. Despite being a synagogue ruler who would in all likelihood have heard the religious intelligentsia’s views on Jesus, he was willing to run the gauntlet of religiosity and ask this new Rabbi for help.
In a sense everything was stacked against Jairus. Jesus was a relatively unknown rabbi and he had a position to consider: he was a synagogue ruler who would be all too aware of what others thought. Yet Jairus was also a desperate man in a day and age when sudden illness and death were all too common.
Jesus was on His way to Jairus’ house when news came that Jairus did not have to bother Jesus anymore because his beloved daughter was dead. Jairus had done what he could and in many respects all now seemed lost. But then the words of Jesus broke into his life before the news of her death overcame him: “Don’t be afraid; just believe, and she will be healed.” Jairus showed great faith in his approach to Jesus and Jesus encouraged that faith to grow in both his words and in the raising of Jairus’ daughter from death.
The second person exhibiting great faith was an unnamed woman who had spent many years trying to find healing for her gynaecological problems (Mark 5:25-7). This woman would have had to deal with both the frustration and disappointment of not finding healing and the burden of many who, according to some of the thinking of the day, would assume her illness was due to sin in her life.
Despite physical and emotional difficulties this marginalised struggling woman braved the crowds and touched the tassel of Jesus’ prayer shawl. Jesus then engages her in conversation and goes on to say, "Daughter, your faith has healed you. Go in peace." (Luke 8:48). But what is this peace?
Shalom peace is about what normal life should be like with our heavenly Father. It also speaks of the peace and presence of the Holy Spirit. When Jesus said, ‘Go in peace’, to the newly-healed woman He was letting her know she was fully accepted by God. In a day and age where many were so quick to judge, this must have been a great comfort for her and a clear statement to those who might still have wanted to look down on her; she was totally accepted by God.
In the encounter with both the Synagogue ruler and the woman we see something of God’s faith-creating activity in a fallen world. It is because God is present and reaching out to people that faith in God becomes possible. The faith of these two diverse people is presented in stark contrast to the lack of faith in many at Nazareth. The people of Nazareth would have seen, or at the very least heard about the miracles and would also know something about His teaching. We know this when we combine Matthew’s account of events prior to Nazareth to what we have already seen.
In Matthew’s lead up to the Nazareth incident we also see that Jesus had been encouraging people to think and enter into the truth of what He was saying through giving short parables.
For example, Jesus spoke of the Kingdom of God as a great treasure that should be sought above all else, yet also likened the Kingdom of God to a merchant who gives everything in order to purchase a pearl of great value (Mat 13:45-6). We are that pearl of great price and God gave His Son in order to make a way for us to come home and receive great blessing and the power to live new lives. Now let’s move on to what Jesus said to people in Nazareth…
Life in a lifeless place: Nazareth
Nazareth’s reputation at the time of Jesus was one of immorality, problems with religion and a crude Galilean dialect which only added to the view that, “nothing good could come out of Nazareth” (John 1:46).
Despite miracles being seen and the life of the Kingdom in their very midst, many still saw Jesus as no more than a Carpenter’s son and took offence at what He said. Despite the history of their nation containing a shepherd boy who became a King (so why can’t God use a carpenter’s son?) and a God who could raise the dead, they were not open to the Kingdom and Jesus was amazed at their lack of faith (v6).
Throughout Jesus’ ministry there were many who measured Him by their own religiosity and found Him wanting, yet still perceived Jesus as a great threat. So much so that some of the religious leaders not only wanted to put Him to death, but also some of those associated with Him, such as Lazarus. They could not see the King and they could not see the Kingdom.
“Meanwhile a large crowd of Jews found out that Jesus was there and came, not only because of him but also to see Lazarus, whom he had raised from the dead. So the chief priests made plans to kill Lazarus as well.”
Many people were not willing to accept the truth about Jesus, seeing Him as little more than another religious healer or magician of the day. Yet in reality the ‘Life-Breather’ was standing before them. The One who ultimately held all power and authority in His hands was right there in their midst, yet most were not open to seeing what God was doing. It did not fit into their mind-set and so was rejected. Although some would have seen a few miracles they would not have been attributed to the glory, power and grace of the kingdom of God reaching in with the offer of life.
Jesus expected people to see that He had power and authority from His Father to heal the sick and raise the dead and that this was the presence of God’s rule and reign impacting a broken, rebellious and often troubled world. He also expected people to see that He had the power to forgive sins, wanting them to understand the big picture: the Kingdom of God is in their midst.
In our modern day where many seek some sort of spiritual experience it is important to recognise that when people are touched by God it is not some random act of abstract power that we just happen to tap into. It is the presence of a compassionate and loving God and part of His on-going work of reconciliation and restoration.
Seeing fellow Christians as Kingdom People
Scripture speaks of the church as the Bride of Christ (Rev 17:9), yet how often do we fail to see those around us in church as clothed in the work of Christ (Gal 3:27)? How often do we remember that those around us are also destined to be ‘clothed’ with their heavenly dwelling (2 Cor 5:2-4) one day and that this is a gift from God? They, like us have also been bought at a price (1 Cor 7:23) and are His treasured possessions (Mt 13:45-6).
Do we really see people as God wants us to see them (His work), or do we act more like Joe’s neighbour in the following story….
Once upon a time there was a man called Joe. Joe was in his forties and had struggled for most of his life with his own problems and those that others had heaped upon him. One day something really good happens to Joe and he is transported from his lowly job and the small dilapidated home he had been living in, to a new home. He is given a new home and a car and a completely new wardrobe of clothes.
Joe is really pleased with the changes in his life and takes his old clothes down to the local second-hand shop. Yet a few days later one of his neighbours goes into the shop and sees Joe’s old clothes. He buys them and gives them back to Joe, whom he thinks should be wearing them. But Joe has a new position and new clothes; he does not need his old ones anymore.
As the weeks and months go by Joe’s neighbour continues to buy up Joe’s old clothes whenever he comes across them in the second-hand clothes shop, and returns them to Joe. Everyone in the community gets to hear about this – and can even tell you what Joe’s old clothes look like. The local paper gets hold of the story and many people write in to say how strange and peculiar it is for the ‘un-named neighbour’ to continually act like this.
Joe’s old clothes and the house he built for himself represent the way many people seek to protect their lives and deal with all that is wrong in their own strength. What we build by way of the world may be commendable at times, yet ultimately it will not last (1 Peter 1:24) and scripture often views this sort of living as imprisonment with self as the jailor. But what about Joe’s new home and clothes?
Joe’s new home and new clothes represent the person who has left his or her old ways having encountered the saving work of Christ and embracing Him as Lord and Saviour. They are now clothed in the work of another and, on this basis alone, totally accepted by their heavenly father. That person – a ‘clothed one’ may not get it right all the time, but is still a son or daughter of the living God because God says so (Rom 8:1).
Joe’s neighbour, on the other hand, represents those who look at others and see them more by the mistakes they make than through the work of Christ. They have the tendency to see what is wrong and displeasing to them in the life of others before all else. In doing so they ignore what God has done and is doing in those around them. Everyone is on a journey and mistakes will be made along the way, but that does not mean any of us have the right to bring up a person’s past or measure them by it – in a sense putting a person’s old identity (‘clothes’) back on them. As already mentioned, Christians are called sons and daughters of God not because they get it right, but because He has declared them right (Rom 5:19) through the work of His Son. We are the ‘no-record-is-kept-of-their-wrongs’ ones (Ps 103:12-13, Zech 3:5-7, 1 Cor 13:5) and are not to be those who continually to look at people through their past, or even present, failings. Other believers, like us, are clothed in the work of Christ (Gal 3:27)
A Son Clothed in Grace, Mercy and Love
“…Quick, bring the best robe and put it on him!”
In the parable of the loving Father we see a returning prodigal son being clothed in the best robe in the house: the Father’s robe Up until that point the servants in this Father’s household may have thought they could slander and mock this wayward son for causing such trouble. After all, had he not forfeited the rights of a son and therefore could they not ignore him altogether if they wanted to?
We don’t know what may have gone through the minds of the loving Father’s servants when they first saw the wayward son approaching. Yet we do know that, when they saw him being clothed in the father’s best robe they were now seeing a man who stood in forgiveness, total acceptance and the authority and power of another. All of the servants would have recognised that they had no right whatsoever to ever bring up that which the offended party (the Father) had chosen to forgive and cover at His own cost.
Like the servants, we need to remember this when we look at others around us: we must see who they are in Christ, and not from the perspective of what they were like before they came to Christ or on the basis of mistakes they may be making as they learn to grow in the Lord. However, as we shall now see in going back to our story about Joe and his neighbour, things can get even worse than constantly measuring people by their past failings – we can measure them through ours!
Joe and his neighbour
The weeks have gone by and Joe’s neighbour still buys back Joe’s old clothes and leaves them outside Joe’s door. Yet one week the pile seems even bigger than ever. Joe’s neighbour has also put some of his own old clothes in with what Joe used to wear. So how does this new addition fit in with what we have been saying?
Sometimes we have the wrong view of those around us because we apply our past to their lives, often without realising it. For example, a bad experience with a dentist in the past can make it more difficult to go to a new dentist in the future because the past is projected on to the future (the new dentist). When we see the new dentist our view of him or her is already coloured despite never having seen them before. This can easily happen at all levels of life and sometimes what we think and say about others, says more about us and our past than it does about anyone or anything else.
Many of the problems that the early church experienced would have come from their past – from the background of those who had now embraced Christ. For example, men from a particular religious background were going to have to learn that women were not inferior, and women from a cultic background (such as the female-dominated cult of Diana/Artemis of the Ephesians), needed to learn that men were not to be looked down on and so it goes on. Let us pray that we do not place our old clothes on those who have been clothed in Christ!
Those around us are God’s workmanship (Eph 2:8-10) and part of His church (1Cor 1:2). If we do not see this then we quench our ability to receive more of the strength and power of the Holy Spirit because our thinking is not in line with the restorative nature of God’s Kingdom. Whilst those around us (like many of us) may have issues that need dealing with, we must see them from God’s perspective first and foremost and not ignore what He is saying and doing. They, like us, are Kingdom people.
God is not exclusively ours and loves those around us as well. Whilst we may be good at saying, “God is my Father,” we also need to acknowledge He is also a Father to those around us. Because of the work of Christ we can say, “Abba, Father”, and so can our Christian brothers and sisters. They, like us, don’t always get it right; but they always have a father. God is not our guru to moan to about others; He is to be Lord of our lives and we must submit all things to Him – including our prejudices and distorted views of life which we often impose on others. Jesus has to be Lord of every area of our lives and is not the one who is going to help us Lord it over others whom we may disagree with.
Teresa Seputis runs a school helping people learn to pray for the sick and has been a great support to many people. In writing about her early Christian experience she speaks of one of the problems she had which eventually led her to walk away from God for many years. She says…
“I had been a Christian for many years, having accepted Jesus as my Saviour at the age of fourteen, but no one told me that Jesus had to be Lord (e.g., boss) of my life. As a result, my early Christian experience was not very successful or powerful, and I never developed a deep and intimate relationship with God.”
Written in, “There is More” by R. Clark, p 79
In drawing things to a conclusion let’s finish by reminding ourselves of what God is like. In doing so let’s make a real effort to engage more fully with Him on all levels and walk in the anointing of His Spirit.
God is the true Shepherd who protects and guides His sheep (Gen 48: 15, Psalm 23:1 Ezek 34:12 Jn 10;11, 14 He 13:20 1 Pet 2:25, Num 6:24); God is the One who has put everything under his feet (Ps 8; Eph 1:22, Heb 2:8), speaking of absolute mastery over all things and the Earth trembles at His presence (Psalm 114:7). We are not our own, having been bought at a price (1 Cor 6:19-20) and His grace is sufficient in all things ( 2 Cor 12:9). He is the One who is sustaining us right now, bestowing great blessing in equipping us for all things (2 Peter 1:3). We were made to know Him as a Father and we were also called to live a life empowered by the Holy Spirit as was Jesus during His earthly ministry. We are called to live and think as Kingdom people.
Jesus was open to the Father at all times and whether preaching to thousands or being smashed to a cross the simple truth remained: He was not controlled by His surroundings and neither should we. We march to a different drum.
"There is no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus; no power can stand against us; none can bring any charge against us; nothing can separate us from the love of Christ. All is given to us through Christ; all things must work together for good to those who love God; in all things we are more than conquerors through Him whom loved us.”
Nygren in, ‘Commentary on Romans’ page 347
Let us pray that, as sons and daughters of the living God we walk in His presence and power in a hurting world, bringing glory to Him as we do so. We were made for Him and there really is no other calling.