Awesome Majesty

“On this one will I look: On him who is poor and of a contrite spirit, and who trembles at My word” Isaiah 66:2

About twenty years ago I was in the co-pilot’s seat of a light plane flown by an MAF pilot. We were flying from Bokondini to Wamena in the central highlands of Papua, Indonesia. I knew nothing of how to fly the plane and it was my first light plane flight in the region. Fortunately there was no need of a co-pilot’s services and any uneasiness on the part of my friends on board was relieved!

For several days previously, we had been unable to fly due to smoke and fog. Now, we were soaring between huge steep mountains with cavernous gorges kilometres deep. We were awestruck at the scale. We might say that we trembled at the beauty and scale of what we were beholding.

Twice in Isaiah sixty six the Lord refers to trembling at His word (v 2 & 5). He does not mean the kind of trembling that demons experience (James 2:19). Theirs is a trembling of fear of God’s impending wrath and judgment that is hanging over their heads. The “tremble” in Isaiah is one that arises from being awestruck at the beauty, wisdom and holy magnificence of the Lord. In colloquial terms, we might say it is the “WOW factor”.

Who will stand in awe of the Lord and tremble, not from fear of wrath or judgment, but in seeing the greatness of His beauty, wisdom and majesty? The Lord tells us that it is the one who is poor in spirit and of a contrite spirit. In Isaiah 57:15 the Lord says that He dwells with the one who is of a contrite and humble spirit. The Psalmist writes, “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit, a broken and contrite heart – These, O God, You will not despise” (Psalm 51:17). The “poor in spirit” in Isaiah equates with the first Beatitude in Matthew 5:3, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.” That is, those who know that they are spiritually bankrupt with regard to righteousness.

Sometimes when we are out walking, riding, driving or flying, we see some amazing scenery and are moved in awe of great beauty. This, however, is only a subdued emotion compared with that of the tremble we may experience as the Lord allows us glimpses of Himself through His word and the experiences of life we have as we walk with Him. The next corner in our lives that we turn or the next page of the Bible that we read, may be the means by which He reveals Himself to us with more of His beauty, wisdom and awesome majesty and holiness.

We cannot demand that the Lord reveal Himself; but we can put ourselves in the right place so that, when He chooses, we will have the right spirit of heart that causes us to tremble in delight at His presence.

“Behold Your Mother!”

“Then [Jesus] said to the disciple [John], ‘Behold your mother!’ And from that hour that disciple took her to his own home.” John 19:27

When Jesus spoke these caring words to John he was already nailed to the cross and suffering excruciatingly from that cross and events leading up to it. We are not told how or when Joseph had died but from this passage it is clear that Jesus had assumed responsibility sometime before this for His mother’s care and well being. In Paul’s letter to Timothy Paul writes concerning the care of believing widows and the responsibility a son has for his widowed mother. He writes that it is unthinkable that Christians would not care for their ageing parents (1 Timothy 5:8). After all, it is an aspect of the fifth commandment!

It appears that Jesus was not just asking John to look after Mary until she could get back to her other sons in Galilee. He was commanding John to treat Mary as he would his own mother and Mary was to relate to John as her own son – indefinitely. At this time none of Jesus’ half-brothers believed that He was the Son of God and Israel’s Messiah. That would come later but for now they seemed to have little interest in His teaching or what was happening in His life.

Jesus wanted to ensure that a godly man was caring for His mother. That John was chosen ahead of other disciples may be for several reasons. John referred to himself as “the disciple whom [Jesus] loved” (v 26) so there was already a very special bond between Jesus and John and most likely between Mary and John also.

The society and culture in which we live is quite different but the principle remains the same. We have a privilege and a responsibility to care for our parents when they are unable to do so themselves and especially our widowed mothers (1 Timothy 5:8; John 19:26-27). As a church body we have the privilege of being able to care for them according to their need. Paul writes that we should honour such mothers by caring for them (1 Timothy 5:1) just as Jesus provided for His mother’s care even while on the cross.

There are several places in the Bible where we are told that the Lord will care for the fatherless and widows (cf. James 1:27; Psalm 146:9). The church is Christ on earth and is therefore His heart, arms and legs to minister to the need of believing widows when family is unable or unwilling to do so. The church is the “John” to the widowed mother without believing children. The application of that caring may be as varied as there are widowed mothers. We honour and reveal Jesus Christ in the world when we apply His example.

Count it all Joy

“Do not call me Naomi (pleasant); call me Mara (bitter), for the Almighty has dealt very bitterly with me.” Ruth 1:20

This lament came from Naomi soon after she had said to her daughters-in-law, “the hand of the Lord has gone out against me” (v 13). Naomi understood that her husband should not have taken her and their sons out of the Promised Land and neither should he have permitted his sons to marry Gentile women. Her husband and both her sons had now died so she had no one to provide for her. She interpreted this to mean that the Lord was punishing her.

When trials come our way we may think that they are because we have offended God in some way but that is an unbiblical way of viewing our walk with Jesus. We are not told why or under what circumstances Naomi’s husband and sons died. People do die for a multitude of reasons but it would be wrong to believe that any death was for a specific reason unless God makes it clear that such is the case.

Naomi could not see at that time that her bereavement was preparation for, and would lead to, a most wonderful blessing. She wrongly believed that the Lord was against her and was punishing her. How wrong we are when we make the same error. The very trial we are experiencing today may be preparation for the outpouring of a blessing tomorrow. Many have found it so.

Read the book of Ruth through and ponder on the blessings that came Naomi’s way. She received a most loyal daughter-in-law who abandoned her gods for the one true God. Through Ruth’s marriage to Boaz, all the lands of Naomi’s husband were returned and his heritage restored. She was now provided for all her days. A further blessing was that her heritage included the lineage to Israel’s Kings David and Solomon. Further down that family line came Israel’s Messiah, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world (John 1:29) who is Jesus Christ the Lord.

Naomi would not have known all this at the time but even just seeing her husband’s lands and heritage restored opened her eyes to see that the Lord was not angry or bitter toward her (2:20). The leading people of the town blessed her without realising the extent to which it would be fulfilled (4:11-12). The women also blessed Naomi without knowing the wonderful way that too would be fulfilled.

Because she wrongly interpreted her trial Naomi thought the Lord was punishing her when all along he was preparing the way for wonderful blessing. Surely this is at least part of the reason that James wrote, “My brethren, count it all joy when you fall into various trials, knowing that the testing of your faith produces perseverance” (James 1:2-3).

The trial you are enduring today may be preparation for blessing tomorrow.

“Yes, I Believe in God”

“You believe that there is one God. You do well. Even the demons believe and tremble.” (James 2:19)

“I believe in God” is a comment that is often given by a person who does not know Jesus Christ in a personal way but doesn’t want to risk dismissing God altogether. I once listened to a man for several minutes while he criticised the way God was running His world and then switched his attention to “the church.” “Why doesn’t the church do anything to stop abortion?” A good question but the motivation for the question was meant to be a criticism.

Since the man was criticising God I suggested that he was in fact making himself of a higher moral authority than God and therefore superior. He had, many years before, had some involvement in a church and in more recent years undergone JW indoctrination for a couple of years before rejecting their teaching as well.

As the conversation went on it was clear that he did feel he knew how to run the world better than God and if he was in charge of the church it would operate more assertively. I suggested that there was another religious/political group that was being assertive but he fortunately didn’t warm to that group either.

After putting down everything in this world that pertains to God he affirmed, “Don’t get me wrong I believe in God” but it sounded like a patronising line to try and appease God – if indeed He exists. It doesn’t wash with God. He knows when a person is putting themselves in the high position over Him in breech of the first commandment.

In God’s grace we had enough time to clear up quite a few misconceptions and misunderstandings that he had. It became clear that even though he had rejected the JW doctrines as a whole some detail had stuck.

When anyone criticises the way God runs His Creation or His church they are making themselves as God. This is what Satan successfully achieved with Adam and Eve and has been doing with considerable success ever since.

It is no different when a Christian is critical of the way Jesus manages and grows His church. Perhaps you have been impatient with the spiritual development of another Christian or your church. It hasn’t gone the way you thought it should or perhaps not fast enough. If you were in charge things would be different. That is the voice of one who places himself above Jesus Christ.

Seeking F.A.T. Christians

“… because your heart was tender, and you humbled yourself before God when you heard His words …” 2 Chronicles 34:27

In our part of the world many people have become fat from the pleasures of this world. For the Christian, to be spiritually fat can be a good thing if we utilise the following acronym: F.A.T. God is seeking F.A.T. Christians: Christians who are Faithful, Available and Teachable.

 

Faithful: A key aspect of the Divine Nature is faithfulness. If God is not faithful to His word then we have nothing in which to trust. Those who are His people will also be faithful. Paul writes, “It is required of stewards that one be found faithful” (1 Corinthians 4:2). Jesus spoke a lot about faithfulness of His people in Matthew 24 and 25. Instructing Timothy in regard to the fulfilment of the Great Commission Paul writes, “The things you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit these to faithful men who will be able to teach others also” (2 Timothy 2:2).

A faithful person is one who knows the truth from God’s word and then lives it out and passes it on. To know the truth is not enough as we see in the parable in Matthew 25:14-30. The reward for faithfulness is to be given more responsibility. Jesus said, “Well done good and faithful servant; you were faithful over a few things, I will make you ruler over many things” (Matthew 25:21).

 

Available: To be available to Jesus means that He is the priority over everything in our lives. In Luke 9:59-62 we read that a man wanted to take care of his father until he died before following Jesus. Another wanted to delay by returning to his family. In both these cases the men had a priority over following Jesus. There delaying tactics may have resulted in them never following Jesus.

Jesus does not need advisors but much of our prayer would seem to be along that line. We ask that He physically heal this person, provide funds for another and relational healing for yet another. While we do pose these as requests outwardly, it is possible that inwardly we are actually advising Him how to run His church. It may be that many of us are available to Jesus but only in an advisory capacity. To be available to Jesus means that when He calls we come, when He sends, we go (James 2:20).

 

Teachable: A person who is teachable is always a humble person. Only the proud are unteachable. To be teachable does not mean that one should be gullible or without discernment. Quite the contrary (Acts 17:11).

Jesus (Matthew 28:20) and Paul (2 Timothy 2:2) both exhort those who are teachers to seek out people who are teachable. The reason is that they will then pass it on to future generations. It is a waste of time and effort to try and teach and disciple a person who is neither humble nor teachable.

A teachable person is also responsive to the Holy Spirit (Luke 12:12; John 14:26). The Holy Spirit resists the proud and unteachable (James 4:6). Let us be humble and teachable students of the Lord Jesus Christ. Faithful, available and teachable.

There is Always More

“We all stumble in many things. If anyone does not stumble in word, he is a perfect (mature) man” James 3:2

Quite a few years ago during a family discussion on a particular activity I espoused some knowledge from my distant past experience with that activity. My son (in his twenties at that time) was amazed and asked how I knew so much on that subject. What he didn’t know was that I had participated in the activity in question for several years but it was all before he was born. He didn’t know what he did not know. This is true with us in regard to the Bible. It may seem to us that there isn’t any more to know, that we know the whole  story, but we cannot know what or how much we don’t know.

The verse above reminds us to be humble and teachable with regard to the Bible. Pride will want to make us an authority in order to make us feel good or to elevate ourselves and diminish others in our sight. Then we will “stumble in many things.” We may not say it outright but in our hearts there is pride that will make us feel a little better than others. It may be that some Christians have little interest in further study of the Bible because they think they know all there is to know. James wrote, “We ALL stumble …”

Understanding God’s word is very important in living our life with Christ but it is not the ultimate objective. The Bible is replete with affirmations on the importance of knowing and understanding God’s word and wisdom in its application but it is not the ultimate goal. We seek Jesus. Paul writes, “… that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death” (Philippians 3:10). Yes, we will stumble in many things but let us keep our eyes on Him. There will always be more that we don’t know so a humble teachable spirit should underpin our character. This involves placing ourselves where we can learn and is why God has given gifted teachers to the church.

We acknowledge that there is more to know and understand but that does not mean that we should be as the wind blowing to and fro when it comes to doctrine. The Holy Spirit is the One who will help us to learn and understand God’s word. After all, it is He who moved men to record what we now have in the Bible. Our part is to read the Bible daily, meditate on it and study it. God will then take us through life experiences that will help in our understanding.

The mature Christian will know that there is a limit to his knowledge and will not be lifted in pride so as to stumble in word.

Faith is its Own Reward

“Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; whatever a man sows, that he shall also reap. For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption,  but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life” Galatians 6:7-8

Whenever we see a statement like the commencement of these verses it is for our good that we take notice. That Paul would write such a line shows that he knew Christians who were being deceived and who were attempting to mock God even if unwittingly.

The principle of sowing and reaping was also used by Jesus in teaching His disciples. It isn’t uncommon for a person to say that they haven’t enough faith or that they desire more faith. We can even read it in the Gospels. In Romans Paul writes that “faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God” (Romans 10:17) but if just hearing audibly or reading visually was all there was to it many more Christians would have greater faith. “Hearing” has more to it than that.

“Hearing” means also believing to the point of obedience or conforming in thought and activity. A sower may fill his pouch with seed but if he does nothing with it he will not increase his seed. The same is true of faith. If we don’t follow through it will remain just as it is, seed without increase. This is one reason that James wrote, “Faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). If we want our faith to increase we must sow that which we already have. In other words, if we don’t act on what we already know then we will know no more. If we do not act upon something we know it shows that we don’t really believe it to be true.

The new Christian is able to exercise the same faith as a mature Christian even if that mature Christian is a theologian who has studied the Bible for decades. The problem we have in regard to faith is not in how much we know but in believing and acting upon what we already know. This is just like the farmer who takes his seed and sows it in the ground. It is the act of sowing that is evidence of faith, not the quantity or quality of the harvest.

In the parable of the Sower Jesus tells us that not all seed will reproduce and bear a harvest but that is in no way a reflection on the faith of the sower.

As we exercise faith in Jesus Christ and His word we will discover that He is faithful to who He is and what He has said. If we think that sowing faith will reap health, wealth and prosperity then we have missed the principle that kind begets kind and we reap what we sow.

The reward for acting in faith in Jesus Christ and His word is more faith. The writer of Hebrews puts it this way, “Without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is and that He is a rewarder of those who diligently seek Him” (Hebrews 11:6). The reward for acting in faith in Jesus Christ is more faith in Jesus Christ.