Given Over

“So I gave them over to their own stubborn heart, to walk in their own counsels.” Psalm 81:12

What could possibly provoke the Shepherd of Israel to say such a thing to the people He loves? The answer is in the earlier verses of the Psalm. Psalm 78 gives much more detail. The Lord had spoken to Israel through Moses and the prophets. They had His word but they would not hear or heed. Instead they preferred their own counsel.

Israel’s determination to do what was right in their own eyes led the Lord to cry out. “O Israel, if you will listen to Me!” (v 8). In the next verse we read that Israel had forsaken the first commandment which implies they had forsaken all Ten. Whenever we place our wisdom ahead of God’s word it reveals that we think ourselves wiser than our Creator. What an absurdity!

Sadly, we all too often hear that some in the professing church are doing the same as Israel. They take the counsel of men that is contrary to the Bible and, in so doing, they are claiming to be wiser and a greater authority than their Creator (cf. 2 Timothy 3:16, 17). The Bible is to be the measure of our lives. It is the height of arrogance for any created being to think that he knows better than his Creator. If people persist on this course Paul writes, “As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God give them over to a debased mind” (Romans 1:28).

What would have been if Israel had listened to and heeded the word of the Lord? “He would have fed them with the finest of wheat; and with honey from the rock I would have satisfied you” (v 16). Instead of receiving all the good things the Lord desired to give, their stubbornness to hear and heed the Lord meant that He gave them over to their own counsel and they reaped accordingly.

Christians are in a similar situation. The world is trying to coerce us into its mould and we must decide: will we hear and heed God’s word or will we arrogantly think we know better and accept the world’s counsel? Consider what would have been for Israel had they obeyed the Lord and what they suffered because of their arrogance. The church is also suffering because so many have replaced God’s word with their own wisdom and rejected the wisdom and authority of the Lord. “Oh, that My people would listen to Me” (v 13).

Bought With a Price

“The earth is the Lord’s and all its fullness, the world and those who dwell therein” Psalm 24:1

Everything that exists belongs to the Creator. It is His by right of creation; He brought it into being and sustains it in its entirety. The foundation of atheism is the denial of this fact. Paul bases his words to the Christians in Rome on this fact in contrast to others who suppress this truth (Romans 1:18-32). Peter likewise addresses this suppression to his readers (2 Peter 3:1-9). Fallen and sinful people refuse to acknowledge that they are owned by the One who created and sustains them. This is the essence of Satan’s lie to Eve and the root of pride.

Christians recognises this and are glad that they are owned by Christ through redemption. Paul writes, “You were bought with a price; therefore glorify God in your body” (1 Corinthians 6:20).

Everything we are and have is on loan as to a steward. A steward serves the one who has placed his possessions into his hands. Our lives are not our own; our bodies are not our own; our talents and skills are not our own; our time is not our own. The opportunities that come our way are also given by God. Material blessings are not ours but His and He has given us all these things to glorify Himself. This means that they are all to be seen and utilized to express God’s Divine and glorious nature.

In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30) Jesus commended the servants who utilized what they had been given to them by their master to manage and they were rewarded. The third servant had made no attempt to utilise his master’s money. Jesus refers to him as being wicked and lazy (v 26) and not only did he not receive a reward but he was cast out from his master’s presence.

God has greatly blessed us with life, various types of talents and gifts with varying levels of these. He expects us to use that which He has given for His glory. One who despises the Creator will refuse to act as a faithful steward and will be cast from His presence.

When once we have come to know the Lord Jesus it is hard to understand why anyone would not gladly love and serve Him.

“It is good to give thanks to the Lord and to sing praises to Your name, O Most High; to declare Your loving kindness in the morning and Your faithfulness every night” (Psalm 92:1-2).

The Greatest Miracle

“Rejoice because your names are written in heaven.” “Blessed are the eyes which see the things you see; for I tell you that many prophets and kings have desired to see what you see, and have not seen it, and to hear what you hear, and have not heard it.” Luke 10:20, 23, 24

The disciples had returned from their first ministry trip and were astonished at the miracles that they had seen. Even demons were subject to the delegated authority Jesus had given them (v 17). The disciples were rejoicing over the authority they had exercised but Jesus brought them back to reality. The greatest miracle ever performed, infinitely greater than authority over demons, is that by God’s grace a person is saved. Paul wrote, “For by grace you have been saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of god, not of works, lest anyone should boast” (Ephesians 2:8-9).

Throughout history, even to this day, there are people clamouring for miracles of various kinds but few seek the miracle of the new birth. The incarnation of Jesus Christ foreshadows the incarnation of Jesus in the believer by the new birth and the Holy Spirit. Jesus reveals Himself to those of humble heart who seek Him and not just some physical miracle.

Jesus reminds His disciples that many who prophesied His future coming never saw Him. Kings desired to see Him but did not see Him. Perhaps Moses and Elijah were the exceptions (Matthew 17:3). Simeon (Luke 2:25f) and Anna (Luke 2:36f) also desired to see their Salvation (Luke 2:30, 38) and they saw Him.

We may not have seen Him in bodily form as Simeon and Anna had but we have seen Him through the eyes of faith witnessed to us in the Bible and confirmed by the Holy Spirit.

We should not be surprised that the first public announcement of His birth would be to shepherds. King David had been a shepherd and Jesus will sit on his throne forever. Also Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives His life for the sheep (John 10:11; cf. Psalm 23).

This Christmas our rejoicing would best be focused on the wonderful fact that Jesus has opened our ears to hear Him and our eyes to see Him. Second only to Jesus’ incarnation this is the greatest miracle ever. Jesus came to save sinners. That He saved you and me is the greatest miracle. Let us pray that He will open other eyes of the spiritually blind and other ears of the spiritually deaf and perform the greatest miracle of all – the new birth (John 3:1-7).

It is God’s Battle

“You will not need to fight in this battle. Position yourselves, stand still and see the salvation of the Lord, who is with you, O Judah and Jerusalem!” 2 Chronicles 20:17

This occasion is one of several where God gave Israel victory without them having to draw a sword. Three armies had combined and were making ready to attack Judah, including Jerusalem. King Jehoshaphat sought the Lord and his prayer is a model for us all. He acknowledged God as Creator and sovereign (v 6), and appealed to the covenant He made with Abraham (v 7). He then submitted himself and the people to the Lord’s word and command (v 12). In response, God reminded him that it was not his battle but God’s (v 15).

The king was told to set himself and the people of Judah as spectators. Before they did this, because they believed the word of the Lord (v 19, 20) and they worshipped the Lord in prayer, praise and singing (v 22). Then they went out to witness God’s victory.

They observed a dispute arise among the three armies. This resulted in two of the armies destroying the third and then the two remaining armies disputing further and destroying each other (v 23). No one escaped (v 24).

This is by no means the only time that Israel’s enemies had disputes among themselves such that they fought among themselves without touching Israel. We can observe this happening in part today. Remember that Iran is not Arabic, it is Persian. Iran is currently attempting to re-establish the Persian Empire to pre-eminence as it was centuries ago. This means subjugating all Arab states, Egypt, Israel and parts of Europe and Africa – as a start! That it uses religion to validate war to promote its ideology is nothing new to history. It concerns the Arabic states that Iran is gaining a stronghold in Syria and boasting of having infiltrated others.

At present, the nations that have been threatening Israel’s existence are disputing and fighting among themselves and therefore ineffective against Israel. As in the days of King Jehoshaphat, the battle is God’s and He will confuse His enemies. The key difference so far is that Israel is yet to seek the Lord and pray, as Jehoshaphat had done, appealing to the Lord’s covenant with Abraham. When they do, they will again be spectators as God destroys His, and their, enemies (Revelation 19:15).

The Perfect Gift

“All things come from You [God], and of Your own we have given You” 1 Chronicles 29:14

When we give a gift to another person we may experience a number of emotions including love, joy, happiness and self esteem. King David recognised that, in reality, everything he had, had its origin in God. With regard to the kingdom he knew that he was king because God chose Abraham, Isaac and Jacob and then Judah to himself to be of the royal line (28:4). He knew this would pass to Solomon (28:5) and eventually to The Son who would reign forever (28:7). Solomon would build an earthly temple but The Son would build a heavenly temple not made with human hands that would endure forever.

There are similarities in the development of both the earthly and heavenly temples. In Exodus thirty five, and again here, we read that the people first gave themselves to the Lord’s service (29:5) before any consideration of material things. The same is true of Jesus’ disciples (2 Corinthians 8:5). In these accounts the people were not motivated by what others thought of them, by duty or seeking God’s favour. They were motivated by God’s love, mercy and grace which they had already received. They gave themselves willingly and joyfully, not grudgingly.

The Lord is interested in our motivation for giving to Him and less interested in what we actually give. He is able to discern our motive (28:9). This was the difference between Cain and Able. The right heart motive cannot be artificially created or induced. It develops from a right understanding of who Jesus is, what He has done for us and a close intimate walk with Him. The right motivation comes from a genuine love for Jesus and thankfulness for all that He has given. Everything has its origin in Him.

None of us chose the time or place of our birth. Neither do we choose our parents and ethnicity. None of us chose our natural talents or the opportunities that present. None of us chose our sex, height, natural pigmentation of skin, hair and eyes.

All we are and have has its origin in God. We show our love and appreciation for His love and gifts by gifting all that we are and have into His hands. He has given you Himself, would you give Him less? Holding anything back is idolatry. We are His by right of creation and redemption. Let us rest in His love and sovereignty.

Don’t be Sorry

“Heed the voice of the people in all that they say to you; for they have not rejected you, but they have rejected Me” 1 Samuel 8:7

School Children will be well aware that they are now in the final term for the year and that means Christmas is drawing near. They will soon, if they haven’t already, be making a list for parents and grandparents. No parent will give their child that they love a gift that will harm them.

God loves all people and will not give any gift that will bring harm but He sometimes allows people to have what they demand so they can experience the consequences with a view to a change of heart. Those who do not know God in a personal way interpret God’s restrictions as hatred and so they respond to God and His people with hatred. They fail to understand that the commands of God are to lead us into green pastures and keep us from the dead barren desert.

In Ezekiel 18:32 we read, “’For I have no pleasure in the death of one who dies,’ says the Lord God.” God has no pleasure in judgment after a person dies (Hebrews 9:27). God has provided the greatest Gift possible in Jesus Christ who takes away our sin by bearing it in Himself. The Lord is not willing that anyone perish (2 Peter 3:9). The evidence of this is that Jesus Christ has already borne our sin on the cross.

While some may attest that they want to go to hell to be with their friends, if they had any real idea of hell as described by Jesus (Mark 9:42-48) they would not wish for such a thing. There is only one reason a person will end up in the lake of fire (Revelation 20:10, 15); they have rejected Jesus as God’s only remedy for sin. They will have what they wanted; existence without Jesus Christ but they will not be at all happy or content.

As with Israel in Samuel’s day, God sometimes gives people what they demand but they will be sorry they rejected Him. There is no way to God except through Jesus because He is the only One who has dealt with sin. Jesus said, “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). Peter wrote “Nor is there salvation in any other, for there is no other name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12).

People who do not know Jesus see God as a harsh dictator out to spoil their fun. In reality He loves them and sets boundaries to protect us in the way a good shepherd does his sheep.

Well Meaning

“It shall be that you shall drink from the brook, and I have commanded the ravens to feed you there.” 1 Kings 17:4

There have been occasions when I have asked my wife a question but, instead of answering the question I asked, she has answered a question she thought I meant to ask. We are quite different people when it comes to conversation. This can be very helpful or, as in this case, a little frustration to me. My usual response is something like, “Please just answer the question I asked.” My wife’s response to that is something like, “Well I thought you really meant ….” Perhaps we cause a little frustration for the Lord when we treat His word that way.

Imagine if Elijah had done that with the word of the Lord on this occasion in 1 Kings 17? He would have said that the Lord could not have meant what He said because a raven could not sustain him with enough food. It’s impossible! Later the Lord sent him to a widowed Gentile woman who, with her son, was on the verge of starvation. How could she provide for him? It’s impossible!

The Bible is replete with these kinds of situations where people received a word or command from the Lord and they must take His words in the normal literary sense even when what He was asking seemed impossible. What if Moses had refused to return to Egypt because he interpreted the Lord’s command on the basis of what he thought possible? What of Joshua being commanded to march around Jericho thirteen times to bring down the walls. No, the Lord couldn’t mean that because it was illogical and impossible. When Jesus sent men to obtain the colt of a donkey that was ready and waiting for them they could have decided that a donkey already broken in would be better and safer risk for their Master. Well meaning but wrong.

The eleventh chapter of Hebrews mentions many men and women who took God at His word and acted upon it without interpreting it through a grid of what is logical and possible, or that there may be a better and safer way.

Seven times in his letters Paul writes to the effect that he didn’t want his readers to be ignorant of some truth, so he wrote plainly. That is how God writes. Twice in 1st Thessalonians he writes for his readers to be comforted by what he has written (1 Thess. 4:18; 5:11). Unless his words were intended to be taken in their normal literary sense there would be no real comfort at all. God wants to communicate truth not confuse the truth.

The Whispering Voice

“It happened that night that the word of the Lord came to Nathan saying …” 2 Samuel 7:4

Generally we would have a high regard for the prophet Nathan especially for his courage in pointing out King David’s sin as recorded in chapter twelve. But at this point he got it wrong. In the previous verses we read that David had expressed to Nathan his desire to build a house for the Lord. David had a house of cedar and it seemed reasonable that the Lord should also have such a place to dwell with men instead of the “tent.” Nathan responded to David’s desire without seeking counsel from the Lord and got it wrong.

However, he had ears toward the Lord and that night, in the quietness of his home and heart, the Lord corrected him and gave him the words he should speak to King David.

Since the advent of radio, television and telephone our evenings have not been so quiet that we might hear the quiet gentle voice of the Lord. These electronic creations have their place and can be helpful but they can also blot out the voice of the Lord. We live in an age of noise. Mobile phones are always at hand and, for many, play music or games whenever it is not being used for phone calls or texting. We live in an environment of noise.

It should be of no surprise then that few hear the voice of the Lord. If we want to have conversation with our spouse, a family member or a friend we will shut out noise as much as possible. We should do the same for conversing with the Lord, that we might hear Him.

In 1 Kings 19:11-12 we read of one of Elijah’s encounters with the Lord. Elijah stood on the mountain and felt the wind, an earthquake and a fire, but the lord was not in any of them. “After the fire a still small voice” or a delicate whispering voice came to Elijah. God has trouble getting our attention if we have constant noise so He may have to try more intensive, less comfortable, ways to get our attention.

Fortunately for Nathan, he was not engrossed with his phone, he was not watching his favourite TV show or movie, and his Hi Fi was not blasting his ears. Had he not heard the whispering voice of the Lord, his incorrect confirmation to David would have proceeded against the will of God. The Lord has a word for you but will you hear it above the noise in your world?

Drifting Anchors

“This hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure and steadfast, and which enters the Presence behind the veil” Hebrews 6:19

The anchor is God’s Word and Jesus Christ (vv13,14). Sometimes we have the wrong anchor. Many years ago I had a small open boat that I used for fishing and crabbing or just relaxing in either of the gulfs in South Australia. I had two anchors. Which anchor I took  depended on where I was going. One anchor was like a grapple and was used where the ocean floor was rocky or had obstacles on which the anchor could snag. The other anchor had flukes and it was designed for sandy sea or river floors. As tension was increased the flukes dug into the sand. On occasion I had the wrong anchor. The grapple anchor would not hold in sand if there was wind and waves. The boat would then drift away from where the fish were and it also opened up the possibility of drifting onto rocks.

When our understanding of Scripture is challenged we may respond in several ways. How we respond will have a lot to do with whether we have the right anchor in use. If our anchor is based on the teaching of other people, regardless of whether what they taught was correct or not, our anchor may start to drift. When that happens we will feel insecure or confused and may be at risk of shipwreck of our faith. On the other hand, if our anchor is our personal first-hand relationship with Jesus Christ and knowledge of God’s word then our anchor will hold securely just as the writer of Hebrews writes. After all, “It is impossible for God to lie” (v18).

I haven’t heard this hymn sung for a long while and perhaps it is time we revived it to encourage assurance and trust in God’s word.

Will your anchor hold in the storms of life
When the clouds unfold their wings of strife
When the strong tides lift and the cables strain
Will your anchor drift, or firm remain

We have an anchor that keeps the soul
Steadfast and sure while the billows roll
Fastened to the Rock which cannot move
Grounded firm and deep in the Saviour’s love

If you feel that your anchor is drifting it could be because your anchor is someone else’s teaching and not what you have personally received from the Bible confirmed by the Holy Spirit. Our anchor must be God’s word, not the teaching of another no matter how good we may think their exposition.