Overcoming Evil with Good

Sometimes the practical implications and implementation of these words of Jesus are hard to stomach:

 “But to you who are listening I say: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, 28 bless those who curse you, pray for those who mistreat you. 29 If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also. If someone takes your coat, do not withhold your shirt from them. 30 Give to everyone who asks you, and if anyone takes what belongs to you, do not demand it back. 31 Do to others as you would have them do to you.

32 “If you love those who love you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners love those who love them. 33 And if you do good to those who are good to you, what credit is that to you? Even sinners do that. 34 And if you lend to those from whom you expect repayment, what credit is that to you? Even sinners lend to sinners, expecting to be repaid in full.35 But love your enemies, do good to them, and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be children of the Most High, because he is kind to the ungrateful and wicked. 36 Be merciful, just as your Father is merciful.”

(Luke 6:27-36).

It is one thing to read those words in theory and quite another to put them into practice in the very real presence of the ungrateful and wicked, especially those who have proven through time that they won’t change nor respond to the Gospel.  Even worse can be trying to love those you trusted who then betrayed you.

unfair

Along with Jeremiah (chap. 12) and Asaph (Psalm 73) I ask: “Why do the wicked prosper?”

My prayer is: “Change my heart so I can love them in Spirit and truth.”  Then the actual actions I take will flow from a right heart.  I don’t want to believe one thing in theory and then find my actions are taking quite an opposite approach in practice simply because I haven’t fully internalised the truth.

 

Three Pillars

Recently I spent a couple of hours with someone I hadn’t met in years.  As we spoke together it became obvious that he was struggling with his faith.  He is a bright guy and had spent a long time researching the nature of Christ as part of trying to allay his doubts.  He did what many intellectuals do, that is, he put too much emphasis on a logical analysis of the Bible only.

As someone in relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ I know the Holy Spirit uses the 66 books of the Bible to speak the truth to me.  It is part of what Jesus promises the Holy Spirit will do in John 16:13.

But that is the point I made to my friend.  Approaching the Bible without the leading of the Holy Spirit is a waste of time.  We cannot by our intellects alone know or find God.  It is up to Him to reveal Himself to us.

I knew my friend had had an encounter with God many years ago.  Prompted by the Spirit I asked him to go back and recall what it was he had heard or experienced then.  I believe that if he could continue in what he had heard from the beginning (1 John 2:24) that he would hear and do what he needed to address his doubts.

Standing on one foot is hard.  You will eventually fall over if all that is holding you up is one of the three pillars that God has given us.  An objective understanding of Scripture is one of those pillars.  If you know the Bible off by heart and can quote any part of it then you have a strong leg to stand on but that is not enough on its own.  You must be born again and continue in the relationship that God initiates with you spiritually from that time forward.  Intimate, experiential relationship with God the Father through Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit is essential if you are to interpret the Bible correctly and if it is to become a living word not just a deadly letter (2 Cor. 3:6).  This is the second pillar.

The third pillar is the Church.  When we are born again we are part of the body of Christ (1 Cor. 12) and it is foolish not to meet together with those who are your brothers and sisters in Christ (Hebrews 10:25).  I believe firmly in the priesthood of all believers (1 Peter 2:9) and that no one needs to teach you anything if you are born again (Hebrews 8:11, 1 John 2:20).  However it would be arrogant of anyone to think that they can live in this sin and devil filled world in a way that is pleasing to God without the other members of the body supporting and feeding into them.

So read the Scripture and understand it as well as you can but don’t do that on your own, let the Holy Spirit guide you into all truth and let others who love you in Christ encourage you.  We all need encouragement.  Relationship is at the heart of knowing God.

Be willing and pure and you will know

My teaching is not Mine but His who sent Me.
If anyone is willing to do His will, he will know of the teaching, whether it is of God or whether I speak from Myself. 
He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who is seeking the glory of the One who sent Him, He is true, and there is no unrighteousness in Him.
This is Jesus speaking as recorded in John’s gospel chapter 7:16-18.
Many people seem to have a problem knowing what God’s will is for their lives.  I’m not one of them.  For me the problem has not been not knowing but not being willing to do what I know He wants me to do.
But as Jesus says above, the reality is that if you really want to know what God is saying you have to be willing to do His will.  This truth applies whether you are in prayer listening to the Holy Spirit or whether you are listening to someone preaching.  Or whether you are reading a blog from some obscure Irish man who seems to think he can teach you a thing or two about being a disciple.

Clay Vessels

What is man?  If we are to be disciples, one of the things we have to fundamentally understand is that we are creatures, i.e. we were made by Someone greater than ourselves. 

The thing molded will not say to the molder, “Why did you make me like this,” will it? 21 Or does not the potter have a right over the clay, to make from the same lump one vessel for honorable use and another for common use? (Romans 9:20, 21)

But we have this treasure in jars of clay, to show that the surpassing power belongs to God and not to us. (2 Cor. 4:7)

This is the word that came to Jeremiah from the Lord: “Go down to the potter’s house, and there I will give you my message.” So I went down to the potter’s house, and I saw him working at the wheel. But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.

Then the word of the Lord came to me. He said, “Can I not do with you, Israel, as this potter does?” declares the Lord. “Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in my hand, Israel.  (Jeremiah 18:1-6)

There is a risk of oversimplifying things but it is possible to see ourselves as vessels similar to the ones that were at the wedding feast of Cana (John 2) or like the vessels in the scriptures above.  Vessels are meant to contain something and in this way of looking at things our vessel contains a spirit soul mixture.  We were designed to hold the Holy Spirit and only He can properly fill us.  We are not talking about something small when we talk about the body being a vessel for a spirit.  In the dimensions of the spirit/soul, our bodies are almost inconceivably large and complex.  It is quite possible for many spirits to exist in a body as Mary Magdelene experienced (Luke 8:2) and the story of the demoniac with a legion of devils shows (Mark 5:1-20).

Through submission to His will, be filled and overflowing with the Spirit.  As He moves in you He will stir up a lot of dirt.  So don’t be surprised if in your most “holy” moments of communion with God some completely inappropriate and downright evil things appear.  Let them come to the light, confess them and cooperate with God by obedience in dealing with them.  Don’t dwell on your evil, look up and out, God is love and to love isn’t to be consumed with care about one’s own personal holiness.  Jesus has it sorted.

 

The Key to being a Disciple

If you want to be a disciple of Jesus you need to meditate long and hard on John 15.  One word is repeated throughout the first 17 verses: Abide (or remain).  To abide in God is hard if you value your freedom above anything else.  It requires complete submission to His will, a childlike trust.  If you really want to do His will you will know what it is (John 7:17) and be able to abide in it.

grape vine

One of the central paradoxes of the Christian life is this:  Jesus died for all our sins, past, present and future so we can have eternal life freely without having to do anything other than allowing the Holy Spirit to apply that truth to our lives.  We receive that truth, believe, are born again and we are fit for heaven.  But if you want to be a disciple you need to realise that you have been bought with a price, you are not your own (1 Cor. 6:20). If you want to be a disciple you need to lay down your life and decide, here and now, not my will but Yours be done.  You give up your freedom for something better: to be a slave of God.

This may seem harsh but in reality God’s yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matthew 11:20).  It is the constant fighting against it that can be hard.

Here is an illustration from real life that I have found useful: We have two dogs which we take for walks.  These dogs love their freedom. We dare not let the biggest one in particular off the lead since he will then just make a dash for it and could easily get killed on the roads.  He won’t come back when you call him.  He values his freedom above obedience but one day that could cost him his life.  Because we love him and don’t want to lose him we keep him on a lead.  Part of his training involves being made to walk close to his master.  Sometimes we make it so he is constrained to walk between a wall and his master’s feet with no room to manoeuvre.  It seems harsh, he has no freedom, no choice but it is the best way for him to learn to walk at the pace of his master.

dog on lead

There is an interesting contrast between the two dogs.  The smaller one causes less trouble when she pulls on the lead than the bigger, stronger one does.  So she gets away with more.  But anyway, if we let her off the lead she will come back when you call her.

God works with us in similar ways.  If you are big and strong you may need more pressure and constraining than someone weaker.  Either way, the key to getting more freedom is to be more submissive to your Master’s will.

 

On Being a Disciple (cont.)

To say God inspired John’s gospel doesn’t do it justice.  God took over John, possessed him and spoke through him with pretty well no impediment.  Huge chunks of it are reported speech, the words Jesus spoke faithfully and accurately recorded in extraordinary detail.  In John’s gospel we are given insight into the inner workings of Jesus’ mind and heart.  His total submission to the Father comes through everywhere.

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You might be thinking that surely we are not the same as Jesus, the Son of God, member of the Triune God.  And of course you would be right.  However that is not the same as saying we are not called to have the same approach and heart as Jesus has.  The wonderful beauty of this kind of relationship with God is that it is impossible without experiencing the same kind of love and intimacy with His Father that Jesus experienced.

To go the way of a disciple of Jesus you need to be romantic.  You need to be head over heels in love with God, fanatical, call it what you will.  It is something all the best movies have, the idea of self sacrifice because of love.

Don’t be afraid, little children, your Father in heaven loves you.  Let Him be intimate with you and show you the radical, adventurous things He would have you do to bless others.

On Being a Disciple

A disciple is, by definition, someone who follows and learns from a master with the aim of becoming like the master.  Christian disciples follow and learn from Jesus with the aim of becoming like Him.

If you want to be a disciple then the Gospels are paramount.  And there can be few more succinct and challenging passages about what it means to be like Jesus than in John 5:30.

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At this point there is a good argument to be made for just throwing up your hands and forgetting all about this discipleship thing.  How on earth can anyone do nothing of themselves?  Thank God for the Cross because if this is the standard then none of us have a hope in …..

But with God nothing is impossible (Luke 1:37).

There are some keys to discipleship in this verse.  One of the main ones is that if you want to get your judgments right you had better not be seeking your own way over God’s.

Context is, of course, critical.  The overarching context is John’s gospel.  When it comes to the four gospels, one of these is not the same as the others.  John’s gospel stands out for its emphasis on the deity of Christ and its focus on the inner life and motivations of Jesus.  It is the most intimate of the gospels with a miraculous recording of the words of Jesus.  The impression you get reading it is that John is repeating verbatim what Jesus said and that it is the Holy Spirit that is inspiring him word by word.  In other words John is practicing what Jesus preached:  John is saying only what he hears from his Father.

Which brings me to the other more immediate context.  This passage starts with another “impossible” statement of what it means to be a disciple:

“Truly, truly, I say to you, the Son can do nothing of Himself, unless it is something He sees the Father doing; for whatever the Father does, these things the Son also does in like manner.”  (John 5:19, NASB).

So, perhaps in this lies the secret.  If you are born again (another great theme of John’s gospel) you become a child of God.  Like any child you will end up doing what you see your Father doing.

“Love God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your strength. This is the first and greatest commandment.”

“When you pray, pray like this:  Our Father…..”

Being a disciple is not for the faint hearted.  It is for children.

Fellowship with the Saints

The words “fellowship” and “saints” are old-fashioned and rarely encountered in modern Evangelical/ Pentecostal circles.

JRR Tolkein’s first book in the Lord of the Rings trilogy is called “The Fellowship of the Ring”.  Fellowship in that context, and generally, speaks of a group of people united in a common purpose.  The purpose is greater than the individuals and calls for self-sacrifice and submission.

The word “saint” means sanctified one.  In the context of Scripture, Paul writes to the saints at various places as members of the local churches there.  Saints in the biblical context are those who have an ongoing, personal relationship with God in the context of the local church.

Put the two words “Fellowship” and “Saints” together and you have a group of people united in glorifying God through their lives together.