Abiding

He who dwells in the Secret Place of the Most High will rest under the Shadow of the Almighty.

Psalm 91:1

As for you, the anointing you received from him remains in you, and you do not need anyone to teach you. But as his anointing teaches you about all things and as that anointing is real, not counterfeit—just as it has taught you, remain in him.

1 John 2:27

Remain in me, as I also remain in you. No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. Neither can you bear fruit unless you remain in me.

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.

“As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love. 10 If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.

John 15:4-10

It seems to me that there are few things more important for a Christian to learn and to continue learning about than how to abide in Christ.

This is a spiritual thing, it cannot be learned unless you know that the Spirit of God dwells in you and understand something of what that means for your internal disposition. In other words, like so much of the Christian life, you must be able to worship God in spirit and in truth (John 4:23). If you don’t know how to do that then you need to question whether you have ever encountered God and allowed Him to overwhelm you (Matt. 22:37-40).

But presuming you are spiritual, then the great essential thing is to abide in Him (Luke 10:42). This is where the battle is – it means bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4-6), setting your mind on things above (Col. 3:1-3), putting to death the deeds of the flesh (Col. 3:5-8), taking up our cross daily (Matt. 16:24).

But who is able for these things? It is so important we realise that God has a unique road for us to follow that He knows we can do (1 John 2:27, Jer. 29:11, Romans 7:24-25, John 12:26). We are empowered by the Holy Spirit (John 14:12-18) and He can teach us and lead us in a way no man can if we would just fall helplessly into His arms, desperately and fully in love with Him.

Different ways of seeing

In the middle of Jesus’ discourse on the Holy Spirit in John 14-16 He suddenly says this about Himself:

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me, because I go to the Father” (John 16:16).

His disciples are confused so they repeat the statement:

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me’;and ‘because I go to the Father” (John 16:17)

Finally, Jesus repeats the statement again before not answering their questions about it (see Proverbs 25:2):

“A little while, and you will not see Me; and again a little while, and you will see Me” (John 16:19)

When something is repeated 3 times in the space of 3 verses you would expect that the Holy Spirit is trying to draw our attention to something. However this is one of those places where the English translations generally miss something important: The first word translated “see” in each verse above is not the same in the original Greek as the second word translated “see”.

The first word translated “see” is the Greek word θεωρεῖτέ (thee -or- rei-te) and is often used in the sense of beholding something with your physical eyes.

The second word translated “see” is the Greek word ὄψεσθέ (ops -es-te) which is often used in the sense of perceiving something.

I am no Greek scholar and, anyway, it is not good to make a doctrine out of a single Greek word difference. But let’s look at a possible distinction in some other ways.

It is of course well known that seeing something can have different depths to it. For example, I might see my wife sitting at the table and perceive that she is very happy about something. Someone else seeing her might not perceive that about her. That person might just see her sitting at the table.

The context of the verses is also very important of course. For all the earlier part of Chapter 16 Jesus had been explaining the role of the Holy Spirit. He explained how (in verse 7) it was to the advantage of the disciples that Jesus went away. By going back to the Father He could send the Holy Spirit. He also explained (in verses 13-15) that the Holy Spirit would speak whatever He hears from Jesus.

So this is what these thrice repeated verses mean: In a little while Jesus was going back to heaven and the disciples would not see Him in the same way again. A little while later (after Pentecost) they would see Him again but this time it would not be physically but in the form of the Holy Spirit. This would require them to see differently since now they needed to perceive and hear some One spiritual. They would no longer have in front of them Jesus in the flesh.

Paul confirms this in 2 Corinthians 5:16b:

“Even though we have known Christ according to the flesh, yet now we know Him thus no longer.”

Again, the context is important.

A Relevant Application

In the first half of the same verse Paul has this very relevant and important application for our lives, particularly in the context of the current upheavals since the murder of George Floyd:

“Therefore, from now on, we regard no one according to the flesh.” (2 Cor. 5:16a)

The crucial thing is that we perceive the underlying Spirit (or spirit) and character of the people we meet. We ought not to regard people according to their outward appearance including the colour of their skin (see also 1 Samuel 16:7 and Gal. 3:28).

Martin Luther King Jr. made it clear that this was his aspiration also for all people (in his “I have a dream” speech from 1963) :

“I have a dream that my four little children will one day
live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color
of their skin but by the content of their character”

I used to think that that was the whole answer to the race problem – ignore the outside and act according to the inside of someone – but I don’t think that is enough. Now I think we ought to be more aware of the fact that the outside of some people determines how they get treated and think all their lives. Now I think we need to be more proactive as a church and those who call themselves by God’s name in addressing why this is. May God give us all wisdom and much love while we work through this together.

In the end though if we are to consistently see the Bride of Christ as she really is, and all humans as they really are, we have to see them according to their spirit or character and not according to their external appearance.

Thoughts on Communion: Healing

Many of us have, at some distinct point in the past, known a time when we realised that Jesus died on the Cross for us personally. For me it was a life changing experience.

We usually associate that experience, if we have had it, with a sense of relief that comes from forgiveness of sins. We are also created in such a way that the Holy Spirit’s conviction of God’s love for us in our hearts causes us, in turn, to fall in love with Him. We love Him because He first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Every time we break bread and share the cup we remember these things.

The realisation that it is of grace is very important. We didn’t do anything to deserve Jesus dying for us. In fact we were His enemies before He met with us (Romans 5:8). For it is by grace -undeserved favour – that we have been saved through faith and that faith is not of ourselves, it is a gift of God (Ephesians 2:8).

In these days of the corona virus it is good to remember another thing about the work of Jesus on the Cross: He can also freely heal our bodies by the same principles that He can forgive our sins. We don’t deserve it, of course, but healing is also freely available through the same grace which He lavishes on us (Ephesians 1:6-8). In the same way as Jesus offers forgiveness of sins to all who believe, He also offers physical healing. They go hand in hand. Here are some verses which back this up:

Isaiah 53:4-5

Surely He has borne our griefs
And carried our sorrows;
Yet we esteemed Him stricken,
Smitten by God, and afflicted.
But He was wounded for our transgressions,
He was bruised for our iniquities;
The chastisement for our peace was upon Him,
And by His stripes we are healed.

Psalm 103:3

Who forgives all your iniquities,
Who heals all your diseases,

Romans 8:11

11 But if the Spirit of Him who raised Jesus from the dead dwells in you, He who raised Christ from the dead will also give life to your mortal bodies through His Spirit who dwells in you.

One of the first miracles recorded in detail in Mark’s gospel is that of the paralytic whose sins Jesus forgave first:

Mark 2:1-12

2 And again He entered Capernaum after some days, and it was heard that He was in the house. 2 Immediately many gathered together, so that there was no longer room to receive them, not even near the door. And He preached the word to them. Then they came to Him, bringing a paralytic who was carried by four men. And when they could not come near Him because of the crowd, they uncovered the roof where He was. So when they had broken through, they let down the bed on which the paralytic was lying.

When Jesus saw their faith, He said to the paralytic, “Son, your sins are forgiven you.”

And some of the scribes were sitting there and reasoning in their hearts, “Why does this Man speak blasphemies like this? Who can forgive sins but God alone?”

But immediately, when Jesus perceived in His spirit that they reasoned thus within themselves, He said to them, “Why do you reason about these things in your hearts? Which is easier, to say to the paralytic, ‘Your sins are forgiven you,’ or to say, ‘Arise, take up your bed and walk’? 10 But that you may know that the Son of Man has power on earth to forgive sins”—He said to the paralytic, 11 “I say to you, arise, take up your bed, and go to your house.” 12 Immediately he arose, took up the bed, and went out in the presence of them all, so that all were amazed and glorified God, saying, “We never saw anything like this!”

The trouble with saying someone’s sins are forgiven is that there is not usually any immediate obvious sign to any observer that anything has changed. In that sense, it is easy to say to anyone – who can prove that the sins are not forgiven?

However when you say to someone “Arise and walk” and they are paralysed and couldn’t normally do that, then you immediately run the risk of being put to shame. Normally, there are few things more of a deterrence to a man doing something that being put to shame in front of everyone. It is made even worse if you are also seen to be disproving the power of Jesus.

Of course Jesus has no such problem. So if we stay close to Him and hear His promptings about when to pray and when to claim someone’s healing we can be on surer ground. Jesus didn’t actually heal everyone that was sick all the time (see John 5:1-9 esp. v.3), sometimes He has better plans for them, though we struggle to believe that.

In the Letter of James we can also see the connection between believing prayer and healing:

James 5:13-18

13 Is anyone among you suffering? Let him pray. Is anyone cheerful? Let him sing psalms. 14 Is anyone among you sick? Let him call for the elders of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. 15 And the prayer of faith will save the sick, and the Lord will raise him up. And if he has committed sins, he will be forgiven. 16 Confess your trespasses to one another, and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The effective, fervent prayer of a righteous man avails much. 17 Elijah was a man with a nature like ours, and he prayed earnestly that it would not rain; and it did not rain on the land for three years and six months. 18 And he prayed again, and the heaven gave rain, and the earth produced its fruit.

In this passage we are encouraged to pray for one another in the context of confessing our sins to each other (v.16). Elders are expected to have the “prayer of faith” which will save the sick and the Lord will raise the sick person up (v. 15). Elijah was like us, James says, and he prayed effective prayers that we can too.

I hope that the above will encourage you to believe that Jesus wants you to be well during this time. Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God (Romans 10:17). If we stay close to the Word of God and hear those living words as from the Holy Spirit we can see ourselves and those we love healed more often.

But always remember God may have a better plan for that person. None of us know another person the way God does. We need to trust Him when He doesn’t answer our prayers the way we would like as well as when He does.

If we ask anything according to His will then He hears us and grants what we ask (1 John 5:14-15). So if our prayers are not answered the way we want it then the problem is with our will not His. We haven’t heard Him correctly or, perhaps, we don’t want to hear the answer He is giving about what He wants. Prayer should always be about hearing first and praying accordingly afterwards. Once you have heard God’s answer then you will believe since faith comes from hearing the (living – ῥήματος) word of God (Romans 10:17).

Blessed is the One Psalm 1

Charles Haddon Spurgeon says Psalm 1:

“..may be looked upon … as the text upon which the whole of the Psalms makes up a divine sermon.”

The Treasury of David Vol. 1, Psalms 1-57 by C. H. Spurgeon available at https://archive.spurgeon.org/treasury/ps001.php

Because it is such an important Psalm it is worth learning off by heart. Hopefully this mind map helps with that – start in the centre and follow the numbers around:

Verse 2 lines up very closely with the command given to Joshua about meditation in Joshua 1:8

“This Book of the Law shall not depart from your mouth, but you shall meditate in it day and night, that you may observe to do according to all that is written in it. For then you will make your way prosperous and then you will have good success.”

I have written about Christian meditation based on this verse in more length in this post. In that post I bring out the point that the Hebrew word (“Hagah”) translated as “meditate” here and in Psalm 1 is better translated as “deeply connect” or “allow it to well up and out of you” day and night.

There is no way of this happening naturally. None of us are going to think about and express the bible day and night, hour by hour, in our own strength. Maybe some people could do that for a few days but for your life to be the expression of Psalm 1 – a tree planted by rivers of wateralways bearing fruit – and whose leaf never withers – you need a fundamental change to your heart, mind and soul to start with.

Jesus says you shall:

“Love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your mind, all your soul and all your strength”

Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, (quoting from Deut. 6:5)

This is a promise only He can make true in our beings by His Holy Spirit within us. God says I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit within you (Ezekiel 36:26).

When you are born again (John 3:3-8) and baptized in the Spirit (Acts 2:1-4, 9:17-18, 10:44-48), you have the power within you to enable you to meditate on – eat, chew, deeply connect with – God’s word day and night. As a disciple of Jesus Christ you can do what your new heart craves to do, be fully in love with Him and hang on every word He says. There is satisfaction for your thirsty and hungry soul in Him – He is the Bread of Life (John 6:35) and the Living Waters that satisfy your eternal thirst for something deeper (John 4:13, 14).

However, there is a “not yet” to the promises of God. We won’t ever know full satisfaction in this life because we don’t get a new body until the next one (1 Cor. 15:42-44). You still have to take up your cross daily and deny yourself even as you eat and drink the body and blood of Jesus.

Paul describes the answer to this predicament in Romans 7:14- 8:4. We know there is another law working in our members that tends to bring us into bondage to sin. But thanks be to God that Jesus delivers us from this body of death. Because we know Him we can hear His voice (John 10) and obey Him unto the saving of our souls and eternal life. There is therefore no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh, but according to the Spirit (Romans 8:1). The answer is to walk with Jesus, take his light yoke upon you (Matt. 11:28-30) and learn from Him.

That way you won’t progress down the path of walking alongside, standing and eventually sitting down with sinners.

Foolishness

The foolishness of God is wiser than men, and the weakness of God is stronger than men. 1 Corinthians 1:25

Do you see a man who is wise in his own eyes? There is more hope for a fool than for him.

A sluggard is wiser in his own eyes than seven men who answer discreetly.

Proverbs 26 v. 12, 16

Fools come in for a rough time in the Scripture. In Proverbs in particular they get a very bad press. There is a moral element to the definition of a fool in Proverbs that adds to the negativity of the word. Fools rage against all common sense, speak words of death and cause mayhem to those who employ them.

Yet the Scripture says there is more hope for a fool than for someone who is unteachable (wise in their own eyes). And even worse is someone who is lazy and unteachable. Wise people will answer discreetly in the presence of this kind of person. The wise recognise that there is no point in confronting this person’s laziness nor their unteachability. The result is that this lazy, unteachable person thinks that they are wiser than those who have not confronted them. They continue to make excuses for their laziness and justify their behaviour in their own eyes.

According to the Scripture, a lot of what we go through as Christians is related to character building. This is a huge topic in itself but one place it is summarised is in Romans 5: 3-4:

we also glory in tribulations, knowing that tribulation produces perseverance; and perseverance, character; and character, hope. Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit who was given to us.

Persevering through suffering is not something that is taught often in our churches nor in our homes. Instead clever doctors and psychologists invent pleasing names for conditions that parents and we can all hide behind. Conditions like under active thyroid, ADHD, ME, autism, asberger’s syndrome are not always representative of a life threatening or life altering condition. People’s reactions to these diagnoses often show whether they are letting them build character or whether they are simply using them as excuses for opting out of things. We all know stories of people who rose above their conditions to bless those around them and the world. These are often people with conditions that are very often much harder to deal with than some of the ones covered by the names we invent these days.

There is no one in this life that is free from tribulation but how you respond to it is crucial. We all have seen people commit suicide from despair. According to the Scripture at least one way of avoiding that despair is to persevere through trouble. As the Word of God says:

The spirit of a man will sustain him in sickness,
But who can bear a broken spirit?

(Proverbs 18:14)

The Gospel that I believe, the Good News of Jesus Christ is that our spirits are made whole when we are born again. We can rejoice through trouble as so many disciples have done and continue to do because of what God has done in us through the Holy Spirit.

The trouble may not go away but we can still glorify God by our attitude in it.

Easy to Understand, Hard to DO

Jesus’ definition of a hypocrite was someone who did not practice what they taught (Matthew 23:3).  In my experience this is a surprisingly common phenomenon especially in my own life!

James also said this about the same type of thing:

22 But don’t just listen to God’s word. You must do what it says. Otherwise, you are only fooling yourselves. 23 For if you listen to the word and don’t obey, it is like glancing at your face in a mirror.24 You see yourself, walk away, and forget what you look like. 25 But if you look carefully into the perfect law that sets you free, and if you do what it says and don’t forget what you heard, then God will bless you for doing it. 

(James 1:22-25)

So, here are some things that are easy to understand but hard to do that are challenging me lately.  Perhaps you can identify with some of them:

  1. The cure to being overweight is to eat less.  In my case, if I simply cut out eating cakes and biscuits with my teas and coffees I would do all I need (taking into account point 2 below) to get to my best weight.  The trouble is I really like cakes and biscuits with my teas and coffees.
  2. The cure for flabbiness is more exercise (and point 1 above).  In my case a few exercises every morning for about 15 mins coupled with 30 mins walk or a 20 mins cycle will do the trick.  The trouble is I don’t like going out in the rain.
  3. The cure for impure thoughts is to catch them as they appear in my mind and bring them captive to Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).
  4. The cure for poverty is to live within my income, not to spend more than I earn.  The trouble is I want the “freedom” that comes with being able to buy something when I want it.

The reality is that we are all, by nature, hypocrites to some degree or another.  We can be no other way.  Paul talks about this phenomenon in Galatians 5:17 (see also Romans 7:22, 23):

17 For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary to one another, so that you do not do the things that you wish. 

He also tells us the cure:

“Walk in the Spirit and you will not fulfil the desires of the flesh.”

That is the real challenge.

Out of the same spring

Simon Peter answered, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus said to him, “Blessed are you, Simon Barjona, because flesh and blood did not reveal this to you, but My Father who is in heaven. 18 I also say to you that you are Peter, and upon this rock I will build My church; and the gates of Hades will not overpower it.19 I will give you the keys of the kingdom of heaven; and whatever you bind on earth shall have been bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall have been loosed in heaven.”  Then He warned the disciples that they should tell no one that He was the Christ.

21 From that time Jesus began to show His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem, and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and be raised up on the third day. 22 Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him, saying, “God forbid it, Lord! This shall never happen to You.”23 But He turned and said to Peter, “Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; for you are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s.”

Matthew 16:17-23

It seems to be in the nature of Peter that he was capable of being the very best and the very worst of men at the flick of a switch.  He walked out on the water in an unsurpassed show of faith one minute and then begins to doubt and sinks the next.  He professes that he will go to prison and death with Jesus and then soon after denies Him.  In the above passage he gets a revelation from God that Jesus says He will build His church on, and then goes on to try and prevent God working out His purposes by looking at things from a very human viewpoint.

James asks the question: “Can a spring produce both salt water and fresh?” (James 3:11).  He goes on to say that a salt spring cannot produce fresh water.  However, to take the analogy further, the Christian life seems to indicate that those who have the fresh springs of the Spirit in them are still capable of producing bitter waters at times.  Or at least Peter did in the above passage.  [Some people argue that that was before Pentecost – or even before Jesus breathed on him and the other disciples saying to receive the Holy Spirit but I don’t see that changing much in Peter’s life after Pentecost (e.g. see Galatians 2:11-14).]

So it seems we are all capable of doing this especially if we have the sudden, mercurial temperament of a Peter.  We can all say something completely in keeping with God’s will one minute and then, maybe in the same sentences, say something that in no way reflects His purposes.  It is to be noticed that, in the passage above, Peter is most wrong when he is saying something that seems most reasonable and loving from a human point of view.

As the hymn writer says: “I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ Name.”