‘Except for these chains’

I like the concluding sentence of today’s study: ‘And the only convictions that hold are those that are based on God’s truth. Nothing else is good enough.’

On completion of this issue, where we have been sharing with Selwyn his thoughts on his twelve life convictions over the last two months – I guess, I’m starting to think about this whole area of having fixed or firm beliefs – convictions – and, that over the years our convictions shape our character.

In reading the scripture set down for reading and meditation for today’s study Acts 26:19-32, I actually started with verse 1 of Chapter 26; and I’m glad I did. Two points stand out for me – the first is the last part tof what Jesus says to Paul (verses 17b,18): “I am sending you to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are santified by faith in me.”

The message could not be clearer – those who do not have a relationship with Jesus are under the power of Satan.

If you live by the conviction – strongly held belief – that Jesus paid the penality for your sins on the cross and released you from Satan’s power – you will have a place in Heaven with Him – having been santified by faith in Jesus. Amazing grace.

Just after these verses, comes – what I would call the crunch line – verse 19, we have Paul saying: “So then King Agrippa, I was not disobedient to the vision from heaven. First to Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds. …”

What I get from the above is this – it’s fine to have convictions – strong befliefs based on God’s word. It’s also good that these beliefs over the years, mould our character, as long as our beliefs are reflected in our actions. Faith comes first – a gift from God – then we demonstrate this faith by our actions based on our dependence on the Holy Spirit. It needs to be said that people who do good works without faith in Jesus earn their rewards, if any, in this life – only those who are santified by faith in Jesus ‘carry’ their deeds to the next life!

Do you agree?

The bottom line

Today’s study is much like yesterdays: Selwyn continues to make the point that: “The needs of people are important, but they must never be the bottom line. God’s glory must be the bottom line. For it is only as He is glorified that we are glorified.”

In a way, I’m not sure of the last sentence – perhaps it would be better, if it read: ‘For it is only as He is glorified that we are blessed.’ What do you think?

Has anyone any addition thoughts about today’s study?

Victim or agent?

I did not get a lot out of today’s study – probably because I have little to do with counselling – what do others think?

I guess the main idea is: ” ‘Others have hurt me, so I will never trust another person again. I will go so far in giving myself to people, but no further.’ That’s acting in the role of agent. We have decided to protect ourselves rather than trust God, and we are in effect saying to the Almighty. ‘Don’t ask me to get close to people because they will hurt me. I’m not sure, Lord, that I can trust You enough to hold me in such situations, so I will handle things in my own way through self-protection.’ Now, what’s the bigger issue here? The wounds others have inflicted on us or the way we are wounding God by our determination not to trust?”

I think it’s not so much that we wound God but that we limit ourselves in our ability to serve Him. We have this one life to live it to the full by working in His harvest field. If we enter this field without fully trusting God it is as if we are putting hand-cuffs on, we don’t do much work and we don’t put ourselves into many risky situations but we miss out on a lot of opportunities. How sad is that – what do you think?

[P.S. Somehow, I was picked to deliver the sermon at our evening service today – only a handful of people  – so not a major event; it was on I Kings, Chapter 21, and I spoke about God’s mercy as shown to the evil Ahab after he had humbled himself before God – and I talked about how it was relevant to us in 2006. Did you have the same reading at your Church?]

God-esteem

I like the emphasis Selwyn makes that we should first look at understanding God’s glory which will then enable us to better focus on what’s important in our lives: “In his book, Finding God, Larry Crabb makes the point that Christians have been busy (albeit unconsciously) reducing God to someone useful – a power whose reason for existence is to make our lives more personally satisfying.

In every Christian’s heart there is a desire to know God, but all too often it is not so that we might bring Him glory but so that we might gain some benefit for ourselves … This preoccupation with self-esteem has to be resisted, not because self-esteem is unimportant, but because the way to experience it is not through self-effort but through a close encounter with God … we will find that the more we hold God in esteem, the more we hold ourselves in esteem.”

I’m often surprised by how ‘small’ some appear to have made Jesus – many seem to think He is a person closer in nature to us than to God. Perhaps this view of Jesus is less confronting than to see Him as the creator of all that we know!

Jesus – as He is now – in His glorified form – is as John describes Him in Relevation 1:12-17, where we read in verse 17: ‘When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead.’

The relationship we develop with Him now dictates what sort of relationship we will have with Him after we die – something to reflect upon – do you agree?

 

The right order

Today Selwyn looks at the question: ‘What proof is there that narcissism – that is, excessive self-interest – is taking over the modern-day Church?’ He looks at the subject matter of the material found in Christian media and concludes that ‘how we are getting along at any moment seems more important than whether we are connecting with God. And when we do connect with Him we tend to be more concerned with what’s in it for us than with what’s in it for Him.’

Perhaps, there are people with a ‘what about me’ attitude, who on hearing the message that Jesus loves them, respond with a demand – ‘Jesus, if you really love me then you will do this for me to make my life easier.’ These people may hear a false ‘prosperity’ gospel message, which will always end up in disappointment!

We are first to love God then to love our neighbour – there is a consistent order seen throughout scripture. This is what Selwyn refers to in his conclusion: “At our Lord’s birth the angles’ message was this: ‘Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace to men on whom his favour rests’ (Luke 2:14). This is the right order: God’s glory first and humanity’s well being second. When we tamper with that order we not only demean God but we also demean ourselves. For we are what we are because He is who He is.” I like the last sentence – great isn’t it?

The prayer is also worth reflecting upon: “Father, I see this is a truth not merely to be looked at but to be lived out. Help me to put Your glory ahead of everything, and to live out my life here on earth in a way that glorifies not my name but Yours. Amen”

Think about this – how many tele-evangelists appear to be more interested in promoting their name and ministry than promoting the glory of God? Is this a growing trend?

Who’s the focal point

I guess Selwyn was saving the best until last – his final life conviction is: ‘God’s glory must be the point of everything we do.’

In a sense it’s the compass bearing we must follow on our life’s journey. The central verse from 1 Corinthians 10:23-33, set for reading and meditation today, is verse 31: “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.”

Perhaps it’s a good idea to constantly ask ourselves what it is that motivates us to do the various things we do, during each day – are we so busy working and paying the bills that we tend not to reflect on the answer to this question – except for a short time each Sunday?

Selwyn makes the comment that this truth is “greatly neglected in many of our Bible colleges, namely that God must be the point of all we say and do … few authors or preachers are focusing on this issue nowadays. The bestsellers in our Christian bookshops (in general) are those that tell us how to make our lives more satisfying, more enriching. Not that these matters are unimportant, but they are explored in a self-absorbed way that treats our enjoyment of life as more of a priority than anything else.” Do you agree with this view?

Maybe I’m a bit different but the last two books I’ve looked at don’t fall into the above category. One, was ‘The Practice of the Presence of God – Brother Lawrence’, revised and rewritten by Harold J. Chadwick; it’s about the views of a 17th century brother who worked as a cook in a monastery kitchen then, due to severe sciatic gout, he spent the rest of his years as a sandel-maker for the barefooted Carmelites. In summary he sought the presence of God in all his simple, daily activities – which is a good example for us all. However, he sometimes aggravated his physical suffering with a view to increase his devotion to the suffering of Jesus – I don’t think that such acts of extreme self-discipline are something God seeks from us – just my view.

The other book I’ve re-looked at, is: ‘Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes, A Literary-Cultural Approach to the Parables in Luke’, by Kenneth E. Bailey. Now this is a book I can recommend – if you you find any of the parables in Luke difficult to fully understand, this book may help. It attemps to outline the sort of views that would have been expressed by a person living in a Middle-Eastern village/community on hearing Jesus tell the parables. It examines the small village/ community response which most of us in the western world have little appreciation of – and hence provides a context for much of a parable’s impact which is often left out by today’s preachers.

Lastly, I like Selwyn summary: “If we do not know what it means to sacrifice self-interest in our lives day by day then in reality we are not living for God’s glory. We must ask ourselves: Whose concerns dictate what I am doing and the way I am living – mine or God’s?

This question really separates those who follow Jesus to further their own agenda and those who follow Jesus to do the Father’s work and thereby give glory to God – it’s a good question – because it forces us to examine our motives.

Note, the discussion starter for 26-31 Oct: ” ‘God’s glory must be the bottom line.’ Is this one of your life’s convictions? If you were to adopt it, how would your life change?” Any views on this question?

Times of refreshing

In today’s study Selwyn introduces a note of caution, in that we should not become obsessive about a particular goal to the exclusion of everything else that is good.

He says: “Some say that putting before people the idea of praying for, and expecting, a world wide outpouring of the Spirit causes them to neglect the issues that need to be confronted in the present, such as evangelism and social action. I have some sympathy with this view as I have known many who have become so preoccupied with the subject of revival that thay indeed, overlooked the needs of the present.”

Thinking about this – I feel that it’s like someone who keeps asking a question but never pauses to hear an answer – some become some obsessed about persistently asking God a question they never stop and be still in front of HIm to listen for an answer – maybe, the answer is ‘not yet, just a little while longer’; but they never hear and so become deeply disillusioned. It’s important to understand that God always hears our prayers and they are answered – it requires us to be alert, awake and to be prepared to patiently listen. Often hard – so well, I know!