Sunday, 27 November 2016

Choices[2] ` Rabqa

WE are continuing to learn about choices  

But if you refuse to serve the Lord, then choose today whom you will serve. Would you prefer the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates? Or will it be the gods of the Amorites in whose land you now live? But as for me and my family, we will serve the Lord.”Jos 24:15 

Regardless what other people may think, serving & following the Lord is really the only way to live a fulfilling & victorious life. 

In Jesus' day, many leaders believed in Jesus but would not confess their faith to others. They feared they would be expelled from the Synagogue if they went public with their belief in Him. (Jn 12:42 & 43). They were hindered from a relationship with Jesus all because they were addicted to approval. Although they wanted a relationship with the Lord, they loved the approval of others. That is so sad but it happens all the time. 

Joshua, on the other hand, was bold in in his belief in God, declaring that "As for me & my house we will serve the Lord". We need to be like Joshua & determine that you & your household will serve the Lord. Follow God not people! 

The leaders of Jesus' day knew that He was real. They believed in Him, but their love of people's approval would not permit them to have a true relationship with Him. I ask myself how did their lives turn out. What did they miss because they said YES to people & NO to God? I wonder how many of them were never mentioned in the Bible again. I wonder did they fade into oblivion & never fulfilled there destinies because they loved the approval of man more then the approval of God. How many of them spent their lives disrespecting themselves just because they were people pleaser’s & not God pleaser’s. 

We need to realise that not everyone is going to like us. If we live worrying about what others think, we will never take risks & stretch ourselves into new realms. We will simply give up our dreams. Satan is a dream thief, & he works through people who are selfish enough to steal our dreams in order to have theirs. 

Do not let anyone steal from you what Jesus died to give you that is the freedom to follow the leading of the Holy Spirit for you as an individual. As you follow Him I guarantee that He will lead you into a rewarding life. Like Joshua make a deliberate personal decision or choice to serve the Lord boldly & declare "As for me  & my house we will serve the Lord". 

Choosing to side with God's Word is a continual challenge. It's not something you do just once. It is a process of choosing to believe & act upon the Word of God over & over in every circumstance. 
That is what every one has to do. Years ago I decided that I was going to follow Jesus. Since then I have had to choose Him again & again in situations every day. I have chosen Him as my Lord & Saviour, I have chosen Him as my healer, I have chosen Him as my financier, I have chosen Him as head of my household. & I still choose Him moment by moment. 

Sometime that choice gets tough, but God has promised it will never get too tough In 1 Corinthians 10:13 It says The temptations in your life are no different from what others experience. And God is faithful. He will not allow the temptation to be more than you can stand. When you are tempted, he will show you a way out so that you can endure. 

 The Lord is saying that He will not allow you to be subjected to a temptation that you are not able to overcome. With every temptation He will provide a way out. He Always makes sure you have a choice. 

The devil doesn’t come to tempt you while God is off somewhere else unaware of what is happening to you. The Spirit of God is constantly there with you, providing you with the way to overcome. To put it another way God matches even the toughest temptation with the weapons & power you need to conquer them. He always make it possible for you to choose life. 

Choose to walk in love, choose to walk by faith, choose to live by the Word. Jesus is the way the truth & the life. choose Him. 

We learn in Joshua 24:14-24 that the fear the Lord is reverence & respect towards the One who loves us & is also just. The word serve means to give allegiance exclusively to God. Joshua did not call the people to choose for themselves because he believed there were two options from God's perspective. Doing so offered him the opportunity to affirm his own loyalty to God & urge the people to do the same. 

The people's strong covenant response was undoubtedly sincere; however, for most it did not develop. Many soon did forsake the Lord. 

When Joshua said: "You cannot serve the Lord" It was his way of sternly warning them of the seriousness of their covenant promise. The Word forgive in verse19 means that the Incarnation was predestined from eternity, & Christ's atonement was retroactive (Heb 10:14) God is dealing with His people, however, it is conditional. If Israel gave her allegiance to God then rebelled against Him they would be punished.   

Verse 23 invites us to reject & turn away from this world & it's ways. Be assured that you will be free to fully yield your heart to God. 

Joshua continually exhorts God's people to live holy lives. God's holy people will live unto Him & apart from the world. Joshua demonstrates our failure to live in holiness can & will have dire consequences. 

This next piece of Scripture we looked at last time but I believe it is important & is worth repeating again. 

Today I have given you the choice between life and death, between blessings and curses. Now I call on heaven and earth to witness the choice you make. Oh, that you would choose life, so that you and your descendants might live! Deut 30:19 
Thousands of thoughts fill our minds every day, & we must allow our minds to be renewed after the Spirit & not after the flesh. Our carnal (worldly fleshly) minds have so much practice operating freely that we can think wrong thoughts without much effort at all. On the other hand we have to purposely choose to think right thoughts. After all we have finally decided to be like minded with God, so therefore we will need to choose & continue to choose right thoughts. 

When we begin to feel that the battle of the mind is just too difficult & that we are not going to make it, we must cast off negative kind of thinking. We must choose to think that we are going to make it & decide not to to give up. When we are bombarded with thoughts & fears, we need to take a stand  & say: "I will never give up! God is on my side, He loves me & He is helping me! 
You & I have many choices to make throughout our lives. As we see in Deut 30:19 The Lord told His people that He had set before them life & death urging them to choose life. Proverbs 18:21 also tells us we can choose life or death. It says Death and life are in the power of the tongue, 
And those who love it will eat its fruit. 

I like the way the message puts it Words kill, words give life; they’re either poison or fruit—you choose. 

Our thoughts become our words. Therefore it is vitally important that we choose life—giving thoughts. 

Understand that when you choose any action, you choose it's consequences as well. God cannot bless & prosper disobedience & unfaithfulness. 
Holiness means being separated from & distinct from the world. We need to discipline ourselves to build lives that are fully dedicated to God. 

People have said jokingly for years "God is going to get you for that. They have somehow believed that God slaps us down with pain & punishment every time we sin. But that is just not true. There are deadly wages for sin, but God is not the one doing them. 

You see the Bible tells us there's been a curse in effect for thousands of years. & the devil is the cause of it In Deuteronomy 29 it describes in detail the blessings that fall upon those who  followed God & the terrible suffering that would follow those who were separated from Him, He said that He had set before us life & death telling us to choose life so that our descendants might live. 

Another way to look at is that Curseville is out there. God warned us about it & urged us not to travel along that road. He has promised to give us freedom, & He will allow us to choose our own way. If we get on the road to Curseville & don't get of it then we are going to end up there. Now you may be thinking God sent us there. NO He didn't He urged us not to go. 

The vital thing to realise is this: At any point of the journey that is to say whether you are on the road to Curseville or living right in the middle of it  God will save you from it. He will take you out of it & deliver you. He will deliver you from disease, addictions, or anything else that has being holding you captive. 

Today if you find yourself on the wrong road & see destruction just ahead, repent & get on the right road. By committing your way to Jesus He will deliver you from whatever may be holding you captive. You can begin by praying, in fact let us pray it together, repeat after me. Lord Jesus I have chosen the wrong road & right now I ask you to forgive me. Today I choose life by choosing your way. Please deliver me from this bondage & fill me with Your Holy Spirit. Thank you Lord. 
Remember that no matter what you have done, God does not want to get you for it, He loves you & wants to forgive you for it. He does not want to slap you down, He wants to save you & lift you up. Trust Him & let Him put you on the road to life today. 

We learn from Deuteronomy 30 that verses 1-10 is a passage that is predictive, seeing beyond a future captivity bought on by disobedience to a period of repentance & restoration the steps to restoration will include: remembering that they are captivity as a consequence of disobeying the covenant. 

From V 2 we find if they are wholeheartedly are committed to obey His voice. God would then bring them back from captivity. He has compassion on them & brings them back to the land. He circumcises their heart this is a reference to the messianic covenant when God would deal with man's spiritual problem through an internal transformation. 

We need to be confident that God will supply the dynamic for all He demands. Understand that our life in Christ is a life of faith. Depend upon His constant provision. 

Verses 11-14 returning from the ceremony in Moab, Moses reminds them that the commandment did not impose on the people conditions so they could not understand or fulfil. It was practical & realistic so there was no excuse for disobedience.   

This chapter closes with with the call to choose the way of life. 

2 Corn 12:7 even though I have received such wonderful revelations from God. So to keep me from becoming proud, I was given a thorn in my flesh, a messenger from Satan to torment me and keep me from becoming proud. 

Allow Jesus' strength to be exhibited & exalted through your weakness. 

Humility looks to God for what it needs. Humility is not shocked to discover it's own weakness, having learnt to trust God's strength. Nor do the humble take faith for granted, they always drawing near to God & distrusting self. 

The devil has used the traditional teaching of Paul's thorn in the flesh to talk believers out of God's blessings for years, to try to convince us to settle for everything from sin to sickness & not only that but to do it of from our own free will. 
It is perhaps the most destructive & the most wildly excepted misinterpretation of Scripture that exists in the Body Of Christ today. Some countries have hardly any knowledge of the Word & yet they know about Paul's thorn in the flesh. & most of them sadly have have had the wrong teaching. 
Tradition says that God gave Paul the thorn in the flesh. What's more, tradition makes the thorn into some great mystery. Now Scripture does not say that at all! 

It says that the thorn in the flesh was a messenger of satan. Not God but satan! The thorn was quite literately just what Paul says it was—a messenger from satan. 

You see, everywhere Paul went, he preached the gospel & every time he preached, he destroyed a little more of satan's kingdom. So satan sent a messenger or an evil spirit to stop him. 
When Paul sought the Lord concerning this thorn  (2 Corn 12: 8-10) God didn't answer Paul in the negative, He said "My grace or my favour is enough for you. My strength is made perfect in your weakness. 

To put it another way, when Paul didn't have enough human strength to overcome, God's miracle working power was sufficient for him. It enabled him to be an overcomer in spite of his weakness. 

DO NOT allow the devil to talk you out of your victory. Throw tradition out of the window & dare to believe in the Word of God. Fight the good fight of faith just like the Apostle Paul, you will see the salvation of the Lord. 

We learn from 2 Corinthians 12:9 that Jesus' grace is sufficient for us; that His strength & power are made perfect in our weakness. 
We become frustrated when we try to achieve by works, a life that God not only brought into being, but was designed to receive by grace. Grace is the power of God to meet our needs & solve our problems. 

Weakness is not very popular. Most people do not advertise their limitations. However Paul's says he boasts in his weakness. You may ask why would he do such a thing, because he knows that God's strength is great in the midst of his infirmity. If there is an area in your life where you feel weak, do not rely on your own strength; ask God to be strong in your weakness. When you admit your frailty, God pours out His strength. Know that His grace is more then sufficient & thank God for His Power that is made perfect in your weakness. 
1 Corn 5:9 AMP I wrote you in my [previous] letter not to associate [closely and habitually] with unchaste (impure) people— 

The company you keep has such an influence on your spiritual life. Fellowship with godly people who will help you speed on to victory, while fellow shipping with those who are ungodly drag you down to defeat. 

That is why the Bible has some things to say about your friends. That is why it tells you to separate yourself from the world. Because evil companions will corrupt you. 

 Now, I am not talking about ministry, after all Jesus Himself ministered to sinners. You have to mix with them to preach to them & to pray for them. What I am talking about here is the people you choose to be your friends. 

If you want to walk in things of the Lord, don't choose friends who walk in things of the devil, people who talk & act ungodly, who don't give God any place in their lives, will pull you down. As you rub shoulders with them, you will expose yourself to temptation. You will get so familiar with sin it will start to appear less repulsive to you. Sooner or later you will fall into it. 

So choose friends wisely. Fellowship with those who call on the name of the Lord Jesus out of a pure heart. (2 Tim 2:22). Expose yourself to their love & peace. Let their faith rub off on you. 

We learn from 1 Corinthians 5:9-13 That the converts in Corinth had misunderstood Paul's instructions in an earlier letter concerning association with immoral people, concluding that he meant withdrawal from all contact with non-Christian sinners. He was actually referring to immoral people who claimed to be Christians. 

Acknowledgement Kenneth Copeland.      


Sunday, 20 November 2016

The Jesus We Follow: an introduction to Discipleship ~ Ganeida

In the district of Galilee, Israel, there was an obscure hamlet called Nazareth.  It was built on the side of a hill overlooking a beautiful basin shaped valley. The area had been invaded, abandoned & resettled until in Jesus time it was so despised Nathaniel queried, Can anything good come out of Nazareth? John 1:43

Nazareth was at the *Back of Beyond*, Hicksville Incorporated, a township of Gentiles, farmers & tradies; a blue collar region far from the centres of culture & learning & at least 70 miles of rough journeying from the capitol, Jerusalem. In many ways it was like our own island: a small, mixed population living quietly in obscurity but perfectly suited to keeping God’s chosen Messiah from unwanted attention while Jesus grew in wisdom and in stature and in favour with God and all the people Luke 2:52.

Interestingly it was also a fundamentalist community.  More famous Jewish teachers came out of Galilee than anywhere else in Israel.  They had great reverence for scripture & a desire to faithfully keep Torah. The historian Ray Vander Laan says: This translated into vibrant religious communities, devoted to strong families, their country, whose synagogues echoed the debate & discussions about keeping the Torah.  They resisted the pagan influences of Hellenism far more than did their Judean counterparts.  When the great revolt against the pagan Romans & their collaborators finally occurred, it began among the Galileans.  

Nazareth had its own synagogue, which is important to note because Jewish schools were attached to the local synagogue. 

From birth Jesus would have watched his mother light the shabbat candles each Friday night while reciting the prayer:  Blessed are you, Lord our God, King of the universe, who has sanctified us with His commandments, and commanded us to kindle the light of the Holy Shabbat.

By 5 He would have been in school learning to read & write the Torah & memorising it by heart. At 13 He would have been considered capable of keeping the commandments.  At 15 He would have begun the study of rabbinic interpretation of the Torah until at 20 He began to pursue a vocation.  Not until 30 would He have been allowed the authority to teach others.
The relationship between a student & their teacher was very intense, very personal.  The goal was not to see how much the student could learn then repeat back again like much of our Hellenised western education. The goal was to train the student to be as much like his teacher as possible.  To this end emphasis was put on 2 things: saying & doing.

Learning the Torah by heart was so that it could be meditated upon & not forgotten.

Do not let this Book of the Law depart from your mouth; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful.  Joshua 1:8

Now the Hebrew word Hagah does translate literally into our English word meditate but it does not mean the same thing.  Basically it means to mutter, to growl.  The idea is that of a hungry lion roaring desperately for food.

Then comes the doing.  The 2 things go together. You repeat the Torah so you don’t forget to do what it says.
In Jesus day there were 2 main types of teachers: those who could only teach accepted interpretations of the Torah ~ & those who could give a new interpretation & teach with authority. The 2nd group was very, very small.  Jesus taught with authority. Matthew 7:28~29

The last thing I want to show you is the yoke.  When a teacher invited someone to study under them it was called Taking the Yoke of Torah so when Jesus says For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light in Matthew 11:30 He is referring to the yoke of Torah ~ the living of one’s life to the glory of God.
I have gone to the time & trouble to explain the basics of discipleship so that you have a better understanding of what Jesus meant & what His disciples understood Him to mean when He called each of them to Follow Me.

You also need to understand Acts4:13 The members of the council were amazed when they saw the boldness of Peter and John, for they could see that they were ordinary men with no special training in the Scriptures. They also recognized them as men who had been with Jesus; does not mean they were completely uneducated.  They would have learnt the basics otherwise how else could they keep the Torah? Interestingly one of the Greek words used is idiōtēs ~ idiots. It was a term used of people who did not take an interest in or contribute to the public arena; nobodies only interested in their own affairs.  They were not academically smart men, academically trained men but they were discipled men because they were easily recognised as having been with Jesus.

Come with me to Matthew 4:19 because I want to look at what we have learnt about discipleship in the light of Jesus call to Andrew & Peter to Follow Me.

18 One day as Jesus was walking along the shore of the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers—Simon, also called Peter, and Andrew—throwing a net into the water, for they fished for a living. 19 Jesus called out to them, “Come, follow me, and I will show you how to fish for people!” 20 And they left their nets at once and followed him.
21 A little farther up the shore he saw two other brothers, James and John, sitting in a boat with their father, Zebedee, repairing their nets. And he called them to come, too. 22 They immediately followed him, leaving the boat and their father behind.

There are several things in this account.  Jesus was not some random rabbi popping out of the wild blue yonder to invite people who didn’t know Him & were not known by Him to drop everything & follow Him.  No.  If all 4 gospels are read together it becomes apparent that Andrew & Peter, James & John knew who Jesus was, even that John the Baptist called Him the prophesied Messiah, & were known by Him.
A rabbi considered the person’s character & commitment carefully before issuing the call to  discipleship.  This initial call was not to full time discipleship.
If you read John’s gospel you discover that Andrew was already a disciple of John’s. Remember Jesus & John were cousins. If anyone knew who Jesus was, it was John. It was because of John’s testimony that Andrew followed Him, then having spent time with Jesus brought his brother Peter to Him.

I love this story because in their excitement at thinking they had found the Messiah they were curious but I’m pretty sure they would also have been fairly cautious.  They were Jews. They did know the scriptures. Yet Jesus does not try to convince them of anything.  The invitation is to Come & see ~ in other words to consider for yourselves the truth of the matter.
Psalm 34:8 says  Taste and see that the LORD is good. Oh, the joys of those who take refuge in him!
Many, many people reject Jesus out of hand without having considered for themselves the validity of His claims yet the invitation has always been Come & see for yourself.

It is after this initial introduction that the call to follow is given. This is where so much trouble occurs.  The disciples were not sent into the world to make converts.  They were sent to makes disciples: people who would set aside everything to become like their master.

Paul says to imitate him as he imitates Christ 1 Corinthians 11:1.  Christianity has a lot of converts but few disciples. When the church has believers who neither know the Word of God nor obey it then we have exactly the situation Paul comments on in Romans 2:24 ~
No wonder the Scriptures say, "The Gentiles blaspheme the name of God because of you."

So what did Andrew & Peter, James & John, Nathaniel & Philip, those very first disciples, understand by Jesus call to follow Him.

Firstly these are the traditional Jewish words used by a rabbi to call a disciple.  They understood they were being asked to come under the Yoke of Torah & learn what the Torah meant & how to apply it in their daily lives according to Jesus.

Matthew 5:7 "Don't misunderstand why I have come. I did not come to abolish the law of Moses or the writings of the prophets. No, I came to accomplish their purpose.  I need to be very careful here because we are not under the law in the same way that the Jews were under the law. We are under grace.  We have a new & better covenant.  At the same time Scripture says:

And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. Ezekiel 36:26
'I will give them a heart to know Me, for I am the LORD; and they will be My people, and I will be their God, for they will return to Me with their whole heart. Jeremiah 24:7

We have spoken much about the Holy Spirit, His presence & work in our lives.  It is He who gives us the new heart, the tender responsive heart, a heart that desires to obey out of love. This is part of the new covenant.  The old testament believers were totally reliant on their own efforts to follow the Torah.  We are not.  We have the Holy Spirit to help us.  What’s more Jesus effectively combined all the law & the prophets into just 2 commands: love God; love your neighbour.  Everything else is a commentary on these two.

 Romans 5:5 says  For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.  God Himself has given us all the love we need through His Holy Spirit.  Without the Holy Spirit we can only love as any person might love but God’s love is like his shalom: a part of His character. The Hebrew word is hesed & almost impossible to translate so you will see it translated variously as lovingkindness, mercy, loyalty, dependability, kindness, compassion. It is a quality that is sacrificial & wishes the best for another, the idea expressed in Romans 2:4 Don't you see how wonderfully kind, tolerant, and patient God is with you? Does this mean nothing to you? Can't you see that His kindness is intended to turn you from your sin?

It is not something one feels.  It is how one acts ~ & it does not overlook wrongdoing. That may seem harsh but it is not.  Consider how you teach a child what will hurt him & how to avoid that. You may have to remove something, set boundaries even punish but whatever is done is done with the best interests of the child in mind.  So it is with God. In Jewish theology it contributes to the repairing of the world. This idea is expressed in 2 Corinthians 5:18~19

And all of this is a gift from God, who brought us back to himself through Christ. And God has given us this task of reconciling people to him. For God was in Christ, reconciling the world to himself, no longer counting people's sins against them. And he gave us this wonderful message of reconciliation.

Just as in Jesus day many follow Him at a distance, reluctant to take on the full yoke of discipleship but discipleship is the point. Jesus said: Students are not greater than their teacher. But the student who is fully trained will become like the teacher. Luke 6:40

Our teacher is the Holy Spirit & He wants to make us like Jesus.  He will guide us, correct us & empower us if we let Him but we will grieve Him & quench Him if we resist Him. 

The invitation is Come & see but +eventually a choice must be made & then the command is Follow Me. The only question left is are you one of those prepared to leave everything & follow at Jesus back just as closely as you can or are you content to follow at a distance seeing from afar but never partaking of the fullness of life in Christ?