Thursday, September 22, 2011

Witnessing With Our Lives For Life

2 Tim 1:8, “So do not be ashamed to testify about our Lord, or ashamed of me his prisoner. But join with me in suffering for the Gospel, by the power of God.”

In this verse, Paul exhorts Timothy not to be ashamed of witnessing or suffering for the Gospel. Perhaps this is a good time to try and understand what the Gospel really means to us. On Good Friday, we remember that our entry into heaven was secured at a high price. Jesus, God himself, had to die so that we might be forgiven of our sin. Yet if our thinking were just to stop there, i.e. that we are now forgiven and so we are going to heaven, I think we are missing the point because the other aspect of our salvation tells us that we are also God’s children. That is what we are told in John 1:12 “Yet to all who received him, to those who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.” Children of God – what an awesome thought!

I wonder if there is another religion with the thought or teaching that God can be addressed as Father. Some religions think of a deity that is very powerful that can destroy them anytime. So when they approach their deity, they do so out of craven fear and trembling. They pray asking that their god will not harm them or hurt them in any way. Some others may teach that god can be manipulated. So if they make the right offerings and sacrifices and mumble the right words to please him, they can manipulate him to get what they want. Even in the Old Testament, I think the Israelites never addressed God as father. God was acknowledged as the Lord of Hosts, the Almighty One, etc but never as a heavenly Father. Yet that was how God himself perceived his relationship withy those who accepted him, even the Israelites. In Jeremiah we learnt of how the Jews were conquered and exiled. God speaking through Jeremiah promised to restore them and then he said these words, (Jer 31:20) “Is not Ephraim my dear son, the child in whom I delight? Though I often speak against him, I still remember him. Therefore my heart yearns for him; I have great compassion for him". He is a God who has compassion for his children. Do we get the picture here? A tender-hearted God who always has the interests of his children in his heart, a God filled with compassion for his children. That is why when Jesus’ disciples asked him to teach them to pray, his opening words were “Our Father”. Our omnipotent God cares for us and is also our Heavenly Father. Therefore, as children of an omnipotent God, who cares for us, we can have confidence to live for him. So then let us be what we are, children of an all-powerful God, and live for him alone.

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Elijah – A Man Like Us

Jesus called Elijah one of the greatest prophets in Israel. Yet, the Bible does not say much about him. We are told only that he is from Tishbe in Gilead. Bible maps shows that Tishbe is in the centre of Gilead, (Num 32: 28-32) on the rugged side of the Jordan River. The land is sparsely populated, a wilderness. No wonder, Elijah’s manner of dressing was described as strange as he wore “a garment of hair, with a leather belt around his waist” (2 Ki 1:7-8). The image of Elijah was that of a mountain man, a country bumpkin especially when compared with the slick city people from Ahab’s palace.

The lesson from Elijah’s life is that everyone is useful to God as his instruments, even those seen as obscure. Elijah was called, out of obscurity, to deliver Israel from idolatry. We can see he had a heart zealous for God’s agenda and God’s glory. What brought this about?

If we look at the text of James 5:17, 18, we read that Elijah prayed and the rain stopped. Then he prayed again and the rain came down. Such powerful prayer is not the fruit of a man who prays occasionally. It can mean only one thing - long before he appeared in King Ahab’s palace, he was already praying for God’s glory to return to Israel. What do we do when we see something that is brings dishonour to God but yet is beyond our power to do anything? We pray because nothing is impossible with God.

Basically prayer is seeking to know God’s Will and purpose so that we can re-align our will with his. I believe that when we pray and especially when we pray earnestly, God’s Spirit will take control and lead us to do the very thing that we are interceding for. I think that is how Elijah probably received his calling. As he prayed, he came to see God’s Will clearly and stepped forward to do God’s Will.

The people had been warned by Moses that they will have to endure judgment by God if they turned to idolatry (Deut 11:16, 17). So as Elijah prayed, and with the full knowledge of Scripture, he could see even more clearly God’s Will - no rain in Israel. God was leading Elijah to do something greater than what Elijah himself could have asked for or imagine.

Prayer changes things and us. This is the power of prayer. It is a relationship that we continue through every part of our lives. It is being in constant communion with Someone always ready and always wanting to listen to us and talk to us. In that communion, we are slowly changed to seek God’s Will above ours. Perhaps this is a change in ourselves that we are not prepared to make. Confronting Ahab in his own palace was not easy for Elijah but he did it out of obedience. Obedience to Someone who is greater and more powerful than we can ever imagine, yet Someone who is more loving and merciful than anyone we can ever hope to meet on earth.

God has a plan for our lives, greater than we can ask for or imagine. He wants us to proclaim his wonder, his power and his love wherever we are and be surprised at his power as we do it. Such a plan can only be discerned through prayer. Why wait?