The Bible isn’t just a collection of heart-warming stories. More importantly it gives us clues on how other people, just like us interacted with a real God who knew their highest thoughts, deepest worries and darkest sins – yet still loved them and longed to bring them into a full experience of His love and power.
Our God communicates through words we understand. It is our sacred responsibility to respond to Him, not with grand-sounding speeches with little true meaning, but with words of faith from the heart – this is the message of Luke ch. 18 v. 9-14.
If you believe that God is, by definition, good; then that conviction must include a faith in a God who is not capricious, who does not leave you in any doubt about His ultimate will and desire for your spiritual maturity. This is what James wrote about when he referred to God as not being like a shifting shadow in chapter 1 verse 17. sometimes it helps to define what you mean by clearly stating what it isn’t.
A god who continually changes his mind, who is inconsistent; cannot be placated or depended upon. You cannot make a bargain with such a despot, for there is no way of knowing if he would keep his side of any deal. Such a god is no better than blind chance. You could not even develop a relationship with such a monstrosity – for there would always be the nagging doubt that you were deluding yourself or being deliberately deceived.
Fortunately we have clear and unequivocal evidence that this is not our fate. Through Jesus’ resurrection and the power we receive through our faith in Him we can be certain of the consistent, dependable goodness of a God who has our interests in mind as we seek to fulfil His will here on earth.
Jesus was an invited guest at a wedding in Cana – you can read about it in John ch.2 v.1-11. It’s an interesting story for a number of reasons. John tells us this was the first public sign that Jesus performed to demonstrate that He is the Messiah.
To me it is interesting because Jesus shows two specific characteristics that you would expect of God:
- He provided the best
- He provided abundantly
There was no compromise on either quality or quantity. As His followers, He not only calls on us to be uncompromising in our generosity of spirit; He empowers us to do so.
There is one verse that people often seem to misquote. In verse 10 the chief steward says, “You have saved the best until…” Far too many people seem to think it should say ‘last’ – but it doesn’t. The Good Book says, “You have saved the best until now!” God doesn’t wait until the end to act. He is active now. God provides the best for us now – at the start of a wedding, at the birth of a child, while you’re driving to work. Wherever you are, God has provided the best for you now to be able to achieve everything He has called you to do.
Acts ch.9 begins in a startling way. Saul sets out to destroy the church, but instead encounters Jesus in a miraculous way. However, it is Ananias who catches my attention. His obedience is key to God’s unfolding plan.
We see only a small snapshot of this man’s life of faith. He has a vision – he doesn’t run off and tell everyone about how great he is because the Lord chooses to speak to him. Even more to the point, he argues with the vision. Would you say, “Sorry, Lord – I don’t think you quite understand the situation here…”?
More importantly, he does what he is told – but it is his character that speaks even more clearly through his actions. He doesn’t do the task grudgingly – he calls Saul “brother”. He doesn’t just pray for Saul to receive his sight back, he sees a deeper need and prays for him to receive the Holy Spirit.
It is not too much for us, even in these modern, sophisticated times; to expect God to direct us with the same clarity to achieve His purposes by obediently touching other people’s lives in the way he directs.
The knowledge of God’s glory will cover the earth as the waters cover the sea. It’s a powerful statement – implying that the aim of God’s kingdom is not for a small struggling band to survive persecution, but that there will be a strong, universal church made up of a wide variety of backgrounds and races, for whom the only common factor will be the depth of their relationship with their Creator.
This isn’t something confined to the pages of the New Testament (Ephesians ch.1 v.10 and Philippians ch.2 v.10 immediately spring to mind). Habakkuk, Isaiah, Jeremiah, Zechariah and Zephaniah all allude to it – it’s in the Psalms too. But the first reference is in Numbers ch.14 v.21.
This is the pivotal point – where the vision God had given Abraham of a family that impacts the whole world; a vision which then develops into a nation of priests; now becomes something more.
God’s plan isn’t just for a single individual, family or nation to be blessed – but for the whole world to be transformed by every nation, family and individual becoming a blessing.
The plan has never changed – but our perception of its impact has.
The question for us now is are we prepared to become that blessing which the rest of the world so desperately needs?
There are some passages in the Bible which make a specific point abundantly clear. Many people memorise John ch.3 v.16 as it sums up the purpose of Jesus’ mission succinctly. Others will look to Matthew ch.16 v.16 as a key point in Jesus’ ministry, when Peter acknowledges who He is – Jesus’ response is also interesting.
I will focus on another pivotal point in humanity’s encounters with the Divine – but I am going to focus on a New Testament interpretation of an Old Testament event. Romans ch.4 v.3 tells us that Abraham believed God, and it was credited to him as righteousness. The passage refers to Genesis ch.15 where God makes a solemn, legal, binding commitment to Abraham. There is no outward evidence that God is capable of fulfilling His promise. Abraham recognises the reality of his situation.
However, Abraham recognises that if you believe that God is able to call a whole universe out of nothing, and bring life into a dead world; then keeping His promise to Abraham is childishly simple. He therefore accepts God’s promise at face value and finds himself entering a quality of relationship with his Creator based, not on anything great that he could do, but based on the greatness and power of the One who is able to call that which is not as if it already exists, the One who can restore the dead to life and bring about His will in a universe crying out for his order to be made known Rom ch.4 v.17.
We find ourselves in the same position. We see ourselves as poor, wretched, limited by our own vain self-interest – that is our reality. But God sees something more – yes, our state is real; but the reality He calls us to is shaped by His word to glorify Him. The question to us is therefore, do we, in spite of our current state, accept God’s perspective on our own reality and act on His promise to us?
Acts ch.1 v.8 tells us “..you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you…” It’s a promise with a purpose. We receive power precisely because we have a specific job to do. We need what’s on offer in order to be able to accomplish it.
But that’s not all. The promise comes in answer to a specific question. It was a tricky, politically charged question. Jesus’ answer was equally to the point – it’s none of your business! You have my mission to complete and here are the tools you will need to achieve all you’ve been called to do.
We’re all called to be Jesus’ witnesses. It’s an interesting Greek word used here – we get the word martyr from it. And that’s the point. A witness has a single responsibility, to give the facts, regardless of the personal cost to themselves. It’s not a witnesses job to tell the audience what they think they want to hear, or to put a specific spin on some information to suit their own agenda. Their responsibility is to the truth.
Truth can be entertaining. It can also be baffling or provoke fear and rage in its hearers. This is why we need the Holy Spirit so badly if we are to communicate the truth effectively. He can and will give us a holy boldness to speak uncomfortable truths. He can help us find the words to explain our faith appropriately to an audience He has already prepared.
It’s a guarantee that we can confidently take God up on, for He has made this promise precisely because He is supremely confident that we are able to do this in partnership with Him.
By definition, God will always surprise us – by turning up in unexpected ways, not acting in a way we could predict or control. After all, He is God. He will do as He wishes and we have no right to demand that He acts in a specific way to suit our concept of how He should behave. To believe otherwise is to attempt to limit God to the boundaries of our own finite imaginations.
However, in tension with this we have God’s guarantee that He will act consistently in relation to how He has chosen to reveal Himself. We therefore need wisdom to understand Him and deepen our relationship with Him.
A classic example of this is the image of the suffering servant in Isaiah ch.42 v.1-9. This is a sharp contrast to our view of the Lord of the Universe on whom we have no claim for mercy beyond His grace – yet it does not contradict this revelation. It gives added nuances and depth and explains much of how we are expected to act. We are shown this picture of a suffering servant, because to lead, we too must serve. We see incomparable power exercising justice – but tempered by a tender mercy, because we too are expected to do what is right and forgive as we are forgiven. If it is not too hard for our Creator, then as the people He has chosen to demonstrate His power and love, it should not be too hard for us.
This is the challenge we face, but – also with it comes the promise that not only will He fulfil it, but that the future is assured – we can touch it through faith and live in its benefit now. The choice is entirely up to us.
The saying is familiar. God blesses us, so we in turn can bless others. It’s at the heart of the sentiment behind the prayer of Jabez in 1 Chronicles ch.4 v.10 – but it’s more than that.
God’s purpose in blessing us is to achieve His will, not ours.
He doesn’t heal us or make us wealthy in order to make us feel good about ourselves. He doesn’t even do it to make us feel good about Him – neither should the converse be true. If bad things happen to us, do we re-assess our theology and declare that a god who we previously thought was good, must – according to our twisted logic, actually be bad?
Theology is fundamentally a relationship. Good theology stems from a good relationship with God.
Continuing an exposition of John ch.3 v.16: “so loved” – God’s main attribute, the one word that gives most insight into His nature and the way He works through us, for us and in our universe; is His love.
It does not define Him completely, or put Him in a box – He is too complex, too astounding, too powerful to fully comprehend or predict.
But the principles He reveals to us provide complete confidence in His consistency – we can have a certain faith that He will make His love known to us. How He does so, we can guess (sometimes wrongly), or listen to see if He will reveal more of His will to us.
It is no coincdence that this verse focuses on God’s love. Not His power, or wisdom or knowledge. For without love, these attributes would be pointless at best, a fearful tyrrany at worst.