Digging Deeper

One bewildering feature of church life is that of the person who starts out well, full of zeal and enthusiasm and then appears to cool off and completely lose their way. The happy, exciting days of their first encounter with Jesus are a distant memory. Reminiscences of the baptism service when all their friends came along to cheer them on and celebrate with them their new found faith are but sad reminders of happier days.

What happened? The answer to that question is usually lost in a fog of emotion, misunderstanding and dashed expectation. God gets blamed. People get blamed – especially other Christians.

Such soul-wrenching discouragement is not an unusual experience for disciples. Jesus’ disciples faced the same kind of challenges. When you read about the progress of the disciples, you find that they had moments when discouragement and even fear threatened to unship them.

One instance is recorded in Luke 12.32-34:

32 “Do not be afraid, little flock, for your Father has been pleased to give you the kingdom. 33 Sell your possessions and give to the poor. Provide purses for yourselves that will not wear out, a treasure in heaven that will not be exhausted, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. 34 For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.”

At the close of Luke 11, Jesus has a bruising encounter with the Pharisees. For His disciples, the vehemence of the encounter must have been a shock. They had begun to follow Jesus, believing that, in some way, He fulfilled the promises that God had made about a Messiah. To find that their rabbi was hated by the religious establishment of the day – to the point that they wanted Him dead – must have raised a whole load of questions.

Jesus addresses their state of mind in the verses quoted above. The way in which He addresses them is perhaps a little surprising. It’s not surprising that He should address their fear and turn them toward the Father – your Father. Even though they might be in spiritual shock, God is not only still their God, He is still their Father. And however weak and discouraged they might feel He has given them the kingdom..

Jesus’ next move is perhaps not what you would predict. He doesn’t just try to dissuade them from pulling back, He urges them to dig deeper.

It’s as though Jesus says to His disciples “Go for broke!” It’s not only a challenge not to go back, but to close off any routes that might enable them to make a backward journey.

Most of us would agree that when we are trying to help someone who is discouraged or disillusioned taking them back to God’s promises and reminding them that they are still God’s child makes good pastoral sense. What might not be so obvious is to combine encouragement with a challenge to dig deeper.

The time of disappointment and disillusionment is a time to press harder into Jesus and His kingdom as well as a time to remind yourself of God and His promises.

So if your going through the kind of valley the disiples were facing in Luke 12, dig deep! And if you know people that are in the same kind of place as the disciples, to your gentle encouragement about their relationship with God, add some strong encouragement to keep pressing on. Times of disillusionment and disappointment are times to dig deep.

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The Real Story of the Week

You might have missed what could have been the biggext news story of the past week. With the discovery of the so-called God particle, Andy Murray’s brave attempt to win Wimbledon and a crisis in the financial sector that seems to escalate daily, it’s not surprising that you missed this one. The story? The real king of England died last week.

Michael Abney-Hastings, who lived in a little town called Jerilderie in Australia was apparently the real king of England. Back in 2004, Tony Robinson aka Baldrick, made a documentary based on evidence gathered by a mediaeval scholar from Glasgow university which purported to prove that Richard III’s son Edward IV was conceived illegitimately and therefore the monarch should have been passed to the Duke of Clarence, and Mike Hastings is a direct descendant and therefore rightful heir to the throne.

When Tony Robinson and his team visited Hastings in 2004, they found that he was blissfully unaware of his prestigious heritage and potential claim to the throne.

It’s a fascinating story of what might have been. King Mike had no clue that he really was King Mike – or at least potentially King Mike.

Knowing who we are and remembering who we are is so important.

Peter says in his first letter:

9 But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light. 10 Once you were not a people, but now you are the people of God; once you had not received mercy, but now you have received mercy. 1 Peter 2.9-10

Our identity is established by God through the finished work of Christ. We have been called both to know God and to represent God in this world. The enemy will try to dispute our claims and we might even allow our circumstances and experiences of life to try and convince us otherwise, but we can trace our heritage back to and through Jesus.

The late Henri Nouwen once remarked “One of the great tragedies of life is that we keep forgetting who we are.”

Let’s not forget who we are. Let’s keep reminding ourselves:

3-6 How blessed is God! And what a blessing he is! He’s the Father of our Master, Jesus Christ, and takes us to the high places of blessing in him. Long before he laid down earth’s foundations, he had us in mind, had settled on us as the focus of his love, to be made whole and holy by his love. Long, long ago he decided to adopt us into his family through Jesus Christ. (What pleasure he took in planning this!) He wanted us to enter into the celebration of his lavish gift-giving by the hand of his beloved Son. Ephesians 1.3-6 (The Message)

That’s the real story of the week.

If you want to get into Canaan, you have to cross a Jordan

Even before the people of Israel left Egypt, they were dreaming of Caanan. God had promised them the fabled land flowing with milk and honey as their future home. By the time Moses had died and Joshua had assumed leadership of Israel, the dream destination was within striking distance. It was Israel’s moment. The people were ready. They had waited forty years. In Joshua they had a leader who was confident in God and capable of providing direction for the battles that lay ahead. All the problems and challenges that could be managed were well under control. A report from two spies had revealed that the even the enemy nations had been softened up by Israel’s reputation to such an extent that they were terrified (Joshua 2.8-13, 24). All told, the conditions were just right for a successful invasion of Canaan.

Except for one thing. There was a river between Israael and her destination, the river Jordan. And this just happened to be the time of year when it was in full flood -it was overflowing its banks (3.15). If they were going to land in Canaan, they had to cross the Jordan. To do that they needed a miracle. God had to do something. This was one obstacle that could not be overcome by capable leaders or well-thought out strategies. It had to be God.

When God gives us a promise or a vision or a dream, He leads us in ways that enable us to fulfil it. He puts us through training. He gives us insight and instruction. He gives us people who will help us and encourage us. Often, however, there are obstacles that we cannot manage or overcome with even our most spiritual ingenuity. There are times we need God to show His power. We need a move of God, because nothing else will do.

Our reaction to such obstacles is sometimes one of surprise. Surprise that we should find our way blocked since we are doing what God wants. And the surprise can lead us to discouragement and eventually to us abandoning the project.

If Joshua 3 teaches us anything, it teaches us that obstacles are par for the course when it comes to realising our inheritance or fulfillling our God-given dream. If you want to get into Canaan, you have to cross a Jordan.

Does Joshua’s experience at the Jordan provide any clues about crossing the rivers that lie between us and the promised land?

The short answer is that Joshua heard God and moved in faith (3.5-11).

He stated what he heard and he took steps to obey. Statements and steps.

We need a conviction that God is going to take us through the obstacle. And we need to verbalise that conviction. Our conversation needs to come into line with our conviction. And we need to act according to what we are saying.

We know how it all ended for Joshua and Israel. They made it to Canaan. But the Jordan crossing was a significant spritual landmark for them and remained so for generations to come. God’s action on that day that they crossed over was a witness to the surrounding nations and a reminder to His own people of His awesome power (4.23-24).

If you want to get into Canaan, you have to cross a Jordan.