Lessons in hope

walking-69708_640 (1)Ezra 10:2: And Shecaniah the son of Jehiel, of the sons of Elam, addressed Ezra: “We have broken faith with our God and have married foreign women from the peoples of the land, but even now there is hope for Israel in spite of this.

Hope is a strong word.

The bible says that to him who is joined to the living there is hope (Ecclesiastes 9:4).

There is hope for tree if it is cut down and its root had dried in the ground (Job 14:7-9), if it experiences the scent of water, it will sprout again. It could rebound, regain its lost glory, experience change for the better, and regain what is lost as if nothing bad had ever happened. It will have time reversed, restoration experienced.

Mephibosheth

The man Mephibosheth is a testament on hope (2Samuel 9; 4:4). He was physically lame. His history was “lame.” He came from the line of King Saul who pursued David the current king with the intent to him, running him to a foreign land. So he could expect no help from David in anyway or for anyone for that matter. People may fear helping him so that they do not be seen to be helping the enemy of the king.

But David made the decision to honour the memory of Jonathan his friend, who died in battle with his father Saul, and Mephibosheth who was Jonathan’s son became a beneficiary of that decision, when he was not expecting it.

He could not do much for himself being lame and was therefore severally disadvantaged by the standards of that time, but the David’s decision did much for him. Eventually, it was discovered that what worked for him is more than what worked against him, especially from God’s point of view.

Why did God choose to put such story in the bible? Maybe to show the generosity of David, a man who thought beyond himself, as an example for others to follow? But it was also a lesson in hope. From the dustbin of history, Mephibosheth became one who ate with the king, from forgotten to recognised.

Hannah said that it is God who lifts up the poor from the dunghill and makes them to sit with princes (1Samuel 2). That described the situation of Mephibosheth.

Remember Mephibosheth did not do anything to better his lot. This shows that hope operates regardless of what you do or not.

Mephibosheth had inheritances that he was deprived of. He must have resigned to his fate, but God ensured that what was rightly his came to him. God, who fights for the widow and fatherless, fought for him in unbelievable ways.

Repentance and hope

In the focus verse, the speaker was saying that no matter how far gone in error the people were, there is still hope. If the people take the path of repentance, they will yet attract the favour of God. The path of repentance always gives hope of a better day. You cannot continue in sin and say that grace should abound.

God does not want any to perish but to come to repentance in Jesus (2Peter 3:9). That is why there is hope even to the point of the last breath but not after, because the bible says that it is appointed for man to once die and thereafter is judgement (Hebrews 9:27). Once the Rubicon of death is crossed, then hope is none existent.

But there are two kinds of judgements. The good and the bad. After Jesus died, he experience the positive judgment which led to his rising from the dead.

Before he died he expressed hope in God saying, “He will not allow his holy one to see corruption, but raise him from the dead (Acts 2:27).” And in him we have the hope of resurrection for those of us who believe in him. Hope here has a stronger meaning than possibility, it is a certainty that one cannot yet determine the time of occurrence.

Faith in Jesus puts us in line for resurrection, and that hope motivates us to live the right way so that when the time of judgment comes we would not be ashamed when we see him face to face (Colossians ), because we had lived worthy of his calling (Colossians 1:9-10).

Hope and change

Hope facilitates change. It helps us to take the steps to change because we hope that change will surely come if we make the necessary effort. You got married in the hope that it will bring a positive change into your life. But when hope is lost, commitment is lost. When there is no hope, we stop making the effort, we stop performing our roles, we quit.

You will not be committed to change without holding firmly to the possibility of the change you seek will be realised, because hope breeds endurance.

When you say: my hope is in God, you are saying that something in your future will be determined by God to make it radically different from the present.

Hope in the word of God (Psalm 119:81)

The word of God paints pictures of divine possibility on the tablet of our heart. Listening to the words of the devil painted a false expectation in the heart of Eve (Genesis 3), which caused her to take the wrong step into darkness. But believing the words of the devil brings error. The devil is a liar and the father of lies. But Jesus is the truth. His is the word of truth.

But hoping in the word of God (that it means what it states, and will do what it says) keeps us on the right track. When God told Abraham he was going to have a child even in his old age, the bible said that Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). He set out to believe that what the word says is true even when his circumstances states the contrary.

When Joseph told the people of Israel in Egypt that they should take his bones with them when God visits them, he was speaking hope. As far as he was concerned, he may not know how or when, but the word of God will manifest in reality and he was sure of it.

God has told Abraham that Israel will stay hundreds of years in a foreign land and will come out powerfully and take over the land promised to him. Joseph had his hope in that word and made plans accordingly.

Hope in the steadfast love of God (Psalm 147:11)

God’s love expresses his unending favourable disposition to us. It is in the context of the love that we go about with the hope that all things work together for our good (Romans 8:28). He told Israel: the thoughts that I have towards you are thoughts of good and not of evil (Jeremiah 29:11).

When the devil convinced Eve that the thought of God for her was not for the best, she stopped hoping in the love of God, stopped seeing God as the God of love. When we lose the right picture of God as the God of love, we lose the right relationship with him. Jesus went to great length to introduce the God of love to us.

It’s complicated

rope-219716_640Ezra 10:44: All these had married foreign women, and some of the women had even borne children.

Do you think the issue you are involved is complicated? Are you traumatised by your serial wrong decisions or a recurrent sin from which you seem to not be able to extricate yourself? Are you reaping the fruits from a bad decision in your past, maybe you are even in prison or your wife has deserted you, or your children taken away from you, because of your complicated lifestyle?

Maybe you are from a broken home and you can feel to your bones that the decisions your parent made to part from each other have resulted in you being tied up emotionally. Or you have faced a series of disappointment from others, which has left you bitter, and all tangled up within.

Judah found himself in a complicated situation (Genesis 38). He got a wife for his first son, but the son died mysteriously because of his wickedness, and the second son also died because of his wickedness.  The wickedness of the second son was based on his refusal to sire a child in the name of his late brother and God struck him. There was a third son who was too young to marry the woman in question at the time of the death of the second son. But after the boy grew up, Judah declined to have him married to the woman, who was now feeling neglected.

The woman then pretended to be an harlot, and was able to get Judah to sleep with her (the wife of his dead sons) and she became pregnant with twins. Now, that’s complicated!

Are you entangled in associations and relationships that you want to get out from but you can’t? Are you enmeshed in divorce issues, business issues that seems there is no way you can find your way out; in family or church issues that will not go away anytime soon?

There is something you can do, to make the changes needed to arrest the move towards more complication. When Judah realised that the woman pregnant for him was his daughter-in-law, he never again make a complicated situation more complicated by continuing to frolic with her.

He did not continue to relate with her as a wife, though he got her pregnant. As a lesson, getting pregnant for someone out of wedlock (or getting somebody pregnant) is not a confirmation that you should marry the person. Stopping the relationship right then may be a way to stop a complicated situation from degenerating further.

Judah refused to go further on that road. There are some complications that still remained with him afterwards, he can’t undo what happened, but did what he can to arrest the situation.

No matter how complicated things are there is something you can do or something you can stop doing to make the situation less complicated. There is a change you can make to the pattern of your life that can immediately arrest the cycle of pain, or at least move you to the path of recovery.

You can walk away from an abusive relationship so that you can begin to discover yourself and be a proper human being. You can begin to express your opinion and not allow yourself to be abused again.

David got himself involved in a complicated situation; He seduced the wife of Uriah, got her pregnant and killed her husband to hide that fact and then married the woman (2Samuel 11:1-12:13). Pretty complicated you would say.

When confronted with his sins, he stated un-complicating the situation but asking God for forgiveness. There is nothing that complicates one’s life like sin in any form. And for that you need to take the path of repentance.

Why not let go the anger in you that is complicating your life and allow God to help you see things from his own perspective.  That will give you a fresh uncomplicated perspective on things. When you stop further involvement in things that complicates your life, with people and activities that complicates your life, you can now start to get on God’s uncomplicated wavelength.

Jesus used a phrase to describe the complicated lifestyle. He said it is being heavy laden and under a burden and having a stressful life (Matthew 11:28-30). As a solution he said we should come to him and learn from him because he is humble and lowly in heart. Humility is the path to an uncomplicated life. You are not struggling with anybody for attention or glory.

Those who want to be rich must be ready to have a complicated life. Paul said that those who will be rich in this world will pierce themselves with many sorrows (1Timothy 6:6-10); driven by greed they can get entangled in numerous court cases.

He advised that godliness with contentment is great gain; it makes you be valuable in God’s scheme of things, flexible in his hands. But many falsely think that money is what gives them real value. You don’t need to complicate your life with inordinate pursuit of wealth. Paul said people should live a quite life (1Thessalonians 4:11), minding their own business and not be busybodies in other people’s matters.

Jesus’ life was not complicated. He was focused on the will of God, Paul’s life was not complicated, he said: this one thing I do… (Philippians 3:10). He is not involved in too many things. You can complicate your life by lack of willingness to fully break from the past, or not knowing how to say: “no.”

When you sleep and wake up embrace the opportunity that the new day presents, and allow the regret of what happened, or did not happen, yesterday squeeze out the life in today. Also, don’t complicate today with tomorrow’s issues. Jesus said: don’t worry about tomorrow, sufficient for the day is its problems (Matthew 6:25-34).

Carrying un-forgiveness is a sure way to complicate your life, and carryover anger will also do that. When we recognise that forgiveness is a choice, we can come to God to help us make that choice, in view of the greatness of the mercy of God we have received in forgiveness of our sin and the guarantee of heaven that we have (Matthew 18:21-35). Let others also have guaranteed forgiveness from us, since we are the grace as sons of God.

The bible says that we should beware lest there be a root of bitterness in us causing defilement. Bitterness is festering anger and un-forgiveness because of a past hurts.

We need to allow God to help us deal with our angers and avoid things that trigger them. The bible says that anger lies in the bosom of fools (Ecclesiastes 7:9). Anger and un-forgiveness, bitterness, envy jealously, the works of the flesh, complicates our emotions (Galatians 5). But the fruits of the Holy Spirit love, peace, joy, kindness, things that manifest in our life as children of God, are reflective of an uncomplicated life; a life that is about walking in the Spirit and not fulfilling the lusts of the flesh, a life in which we are yoked with Christ in the work of the kingdom. Striving to obey the law will also complicate your life in this age of grace (2Corinthians 11:3, Galatians 2:14).

The bible warned against being unequally yoked with unbelievers (2Corinthians 6:14-18). Why should you unnecessary complicate you life by marrying an unbeliever (a non-Christian or a nominal one ), or choosing to be a close associate of those who do now bow to God the father of our Lord Jesus Christ, those who don’t share your core values a Christian? You think those things do not matter? They do. Not being unequally yoked with unbelievers helps us to live uncomplicated lives. The writer of the book of Hebrews says we should lay aside every weight and sin which hinders us so that we may run the race set before us (Hebrews 12:1-2).

Cares and worry serve to complicate your life. Jesus said: if by worrying you cannot increase your height, or achieve any other thing (except turn your black hairs to gray); why do it? To un-complicate our life, Peter said we should learn to cast our cares upon God, recognising that he cares for us (1Peter 5:5-8).

In the parable of the sower, the heart is the ground on which the seeds are sown, the thorns on the ground complicate things for the seed so that it does not bear fruit (Mark 4:1-20), and that life is not productive. The thorns are called the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches.

Why not choose a simple life today, having simple desires and simple ambitions. Jeremiah told Baruch: don’t seek high things for yourself (Jeremiah 45:5). In order words, acquisitions will complicate your life (except the acquisition is for the purpose of the kingdom of God). It is vanity upon vanity (Ecclesiastes 2:11), emptiness multiplied by nothingness, futility hugging futility.

 

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The hand of the Lord

hand-174031_640Ezra 7:6: this Ezra went up from Babylonia. He was a scribe skilled in the Law of Moses that the LORD, the God of Israel, had given, and the king granted him all that he asked, for the hand of the LORD his God was on him.

The hand of the Lord made the difference in the life of Ezra. He has uncommon favour with the pagan king of Babylon, so that he was assisted to bring to pass what was in his heart, which was helping to restore the right order of life, according to the word of God, to Israel; after decades in which they were in exile and now returning to their land (Ezra 7:10-12, Nehemiah 8:4-8, 13-18).

To the level that God has called you to bring changes on the earth, the hand of the Lord will be upon you to get it done, regardless of the opposition. Ezra had the love of the law of the Lord at heart and over years he had studied and lived by it and developed a passion to communicate the truth and instituting in Israel the ways of the Lord. He was on assignment for God and he had his total backing.

That was what he has been doing over years in Babylon and gained a reputation for being an excellent handler of the law, and a communicator of the heart of God to the people.

So after years of being faithful, he was rewarded with the hand of the Lord upon him to be part of the rebuilding of Israel when they returned to the land.

Ezra was not known for building the temple, that was the Job of Zerubbabel (Zechariah 4:6), neither was he known for building the wall of Jerusalem, which was the call of God on Nehemiah (Nehemiah 2:8) which he fulfilled. Both of them (Zerubbabel and Nehemiah) had the testimony that the hand of God was with them, that the grace of God marked their effort to carry out the divine mandate of the restoration of the nation.

They were both part of the restoration move of God at that time and so was Ezra. But his was more of the building the culture of the word of God in the life of the people. He was the leading teaching priest in his time. His was not a flamboyant ministry, he did not have political office, neither did he have an army, but he had the word of God and the willingness and the ability to teach people leading them to please God, among others so that the whole of the people will word as one. He was zealous about helping the people not to be disloyal to God of their ancestors, because of which they were judged by God and their cities left to rot.

Paul, intending to leave a legacy of the word of God, the word of truth in his generation, told Timothy: the words you have heard from me among many witnesses, commit it to faithful men who will be able to teach others also (2Timothy 2:2). While Jesus was leaving the earth he gave the commission of teaching to his disciples. He said that they need to make disciples of all nations through teaching them his word (Matthew 28:19-20).

The apostles showed that they took those words of Jesus to heart, when later as the numbers of the disciples swelled, and there arose problems concerning the serving of food, they recommitted themselves to the Ministry of the word (Acts 6:4). Ezra was likewise committed to the ministry of the word.

Ezra ascribes the favour he has to the hand of God. He did not say:  I am so good, I am irresistible, I am the bomb, and I am the man. He knew it was not about him, he was just a tool in the hand of God, and God was making things happen for him so that he can use him in a special way in Jerusalem, to help get the people back to the ways of God through the teaching of the scriptures. The hand of God upon him was to ensure that he fulfil the plans of God through him for the nation of Israel. Years earlier, the hand of God was likewise upon Joseph to achieve his purpose for the children of Israel (Genesis 37, 39-50).

Joseph’s story has a bitter beginning but a sweet ending. He found himself in hard times at the age of seventeen when he was sold as slave to Egypt by his brothers. But when he became a slave he decided to be the best slave Potiphar, an Egyptian official, has ever had. He had the culture of doing his best in every assignment he is given in whatever situation.

Though he still does not know if the will of God is being served by his being slave yet he was fully faithful to God, refusing to commit fornication with his master’s wife and because of that, she lied against him and he found himself in prison and it seems the worst has happened.

But when he became the Prime Minster in Israel, the famine all over the world drove his family to Egypt and through his influence, they were preserved the nation of Israel (still a clan then) where they stayed for hundreds of year (and became a nation), in fulfilment of the plan of God which he revealed years earlier to Abraham, their ancient father.

It is easy to see the hand of God in the good things, e.g. Joseph coming from prison to be leader of all Egypt, but until we can see the hand of God in the seemingly bad things (e.g. Joseph’s imprisonment and sale as slave), we do not have a full understanding of the love of God and how all things work together for us who love God (Romans 8:28), and her called according to his purpose. God’s hand was upon Joseph because of his great purpose for his life, working in the good and the not-so-good event to bring him to an expected (blissful) end (Jeremiah 29:11). Joseph died in a full old age as a satisfied man, in the turbulence of his youth, he understand that it was the hand of God working, and thank God that he was imprisoned, thanked God that he was sold as slave, without which he would not be prime minister in Egypt. He lost some things. He lost years in the relationship with his sibling; which were remained the same, but it was well worth it in the context of the overall plan of God.

Later he summarised his life story in the following words: the Lord caused me to come ahead of you (children of Israel) to preserve you. The good, the good, the bad and the ugly was ultimately worked for good. Joseph recognised the operation of the mighty hand of God in his life’s journey.

So what the children for Israel thought they did to their brother motivated by hate, selling him as slave, was to sell him as slave was termed by Joseph with the benefit of hindsight as the operation of the hand of God. He said to them later on, what you meant for evil, God turned it out for good.

In both the pleasant and the not so pleasant things, he recognised that the hand of God guided him in a grand scale plan in his own mind, far beyond what Joseph could have planned for himself. The hand of God can move the pieces of our lives with such dexterity that at the end we can say: checkmate. In the end we win.

 

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Foundation

hirsch-173131_640Ezra 3:11: And they sang responsively, praising and giving thanks to the LORD, “For he is good, for his steadfast love endures forever toward Israel.” And all the people shouted with a great shout when they praised the LORD, because the foundation of the house of the LORD was laid.

When the foundation is laid then all of their activities concerning the building of the house can commence. The foundation is not usually seen, so the public ministries must be an outflow of our private relationship with God. Before you begin to complain of the fruit, check the root. If you don’t pay enough attention to the need of the root, before long, there will be no fruit to talk about.

It is by abiding in Jesus that your productivity, fruitfulness, is assured, (John 15:1-6). When your public life is more beautiful than the private lifestyle of seeking God, then you are a disaster waiting to happen. That model is not sustainable.

There will be a time to test the source of your “spiritual” work, if it is from God, through your connection with him, or from self-effort (1Corinthians 3:8-15). It should not be based solely on your schooling, the strength of your personality, your connection, your scheming, but on God. If that foundation of relationship with God is not firm, then everything built is bound to fall like a pack of cards, if not today, then tomorrow.

Jesus said that the one who believes in him and acts based on his word (which you get in connection to him) is like a man who builds his life on a solid rock which will continues to stand no matter what; that man will continue to have relevance, will continue to be a reference point (Matthew 7:15-29).

Mary decided to take the time to be close to Jesus, to be at his feet, learning from him, hearing his words, and Jesus said she had made the right choice (Luke 10:38-42). A choice to prioritise one on one relationship with Jesus more than doing things for Jesus like Martha Mary’ sister seems to have decided upon.

Every Christian is either a Mary or a Martha. Mary has a strong foundation of relationship with God while Martha was strong in service; she has expertise in the kitchen department that she would like to show off to Jesus and backs it up by complaining against Mary, whom she sees as a lazy bone, lacking in ingenuity and vigour in service.

Service is good but receiving from Jesus, in his presence, is more important. What do you think is more important: prayer time or preaching time? You answer gives a hint where your priority lies, if it is responsibility over relationship, if it is public life of private life, than you are treading on a dangerous path.

What if you have a “private” life with God just for the purpose of making it public, blowing your own trumpet? Jesus said you might as well not focus on any private time at all (Matthew 6:1-6), as you will not be rewarded. In other words, it is your motivation that gives meaning to your action. The private life of relationship with God should be motivated by love for Him.

Jesus went out early in the morning unannounced to pray, away from the glare of his disciples to have an alone time with God (Mark 1:35). Following in that example (priority of prayer) Peter said that the apostle would do everything to be able to realise ensure that nothing else replaces the priority of prayer in their lives. All the result you see in their lives in the book of Acts and the letters they wrote emerge from the foundation of prayer in their lives (Acts 6:1-4).

Foundation is what you stand on, and all of us should have Christ as our foundation. Paul said that there is no other foundation that can be laid except that which has been laid: Jesus Christ. He also said that the foundation of the Lord stands sure, having this seal; the Lord knows those who are his and let those who name the name of the Lord depart from iniquity (2Timothy 2:19). So apart from having the foundation of a personal relationship with God, an adjunct of that is to have the foundation of righteousness, the foundation of holiness. As the Lord is holy, so we should be holy in our conduct (1Peter 1:15-16), we should be imitators of God (Ephesians 5:1).

That is the base from which all our activities and expressions and pursuit should flow, being like our father by whose will we are born again (John 3:3). The bible says that Jesus came to his own people and they did not receive him, but those who receive him, he gave the power to become sons of God, even those who believe in his name, who are not born of the will of man, of flesh, but the will of God (John 1:11-13). We are born again by an act of God, and experience spiritual renewal by his Spirit.

In the foundational truth that was mentioned in the book of Hebrews chapter six, repentance from dead works was number one.  If we don’t start with that in our lives, we are not going anywhere. Jesus said the solid rock foundation for our life is hearing his word and doing them; that’s holiness, we should be separated to obeying God. A psalmist says that his motivation for reading the word is so that he can please God. He has the right foundation in his life (Psalm 119:11).

Without the right foundation, there will be no right building. When you don’t understand that grace actually frees us from sin then we do not have a foundational understanding grace (Titus 2:11-15); when you don’t understand that the purpose of Jesus is to save us from our sins (Matthew 1:21) then you don’t have the foundation to accurately understanding who he is; if you don’t understand that the wrath of God is still directly at sin (Romans 1:18. Ephesians 5:6), then you will not understand the need to recognise that the blood of Jesus does more than making us acceptable to God, but it also cleanses us from all sins.

If you don’t understand that the problem in the Garden of Eden was sin and that the attendant judgement of death still subsists, you will not appreciate the imperative of the sacrifice of Jesus (that he shed his blood) and the fact that he is the only way back to God.

Jesus spoke of the imperative of having the life of righteousness in God when he spoke about false prophets, saying by their fruits we shall know them, without the fruits of righteousness then, you should not follow such a person. Timothy was instructed of the need to be an example to the believers in speech, faith and righteousness (1Timothy 4:12). That is the mark of leadership. To be used by God, the foundation of holiness should be laid. Thus Paul also told Timothy that it is the vessel that has purges itself of wrong behaviours that will be fit for the master’s use (2Timothy 2:19-22).

 

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Build

singapore-243669_640Ezra 1:3: Whoever is among you of all his people, may his God be with him, and let him go up to Jerusalem, which is in Judah, and rebuild the house of the LORD, the God of Israel—he is the God who is in Jerusalem.

There are at least seven things that need to be built in our lives.

1. Relationship with God

2. The people of God

3. A reputation

4. Trust in God

5. Wall of protection

6. Finances

7. Hope

1.            Relationship with God

Relationship with God needs to be built. Not everyone is at the same of level of relationship with God. When we become Christ in a way God knows us as his, but the process of knowing him just began, that knowledge and understanding of him is meant to be a lifelong pursuit. When the relationship is God is not built, nothing else is worth building, when you don’t know God, nothing else is worth knowing. It will be like a waste of time in the ultimate scheme of things.

2.            The people of God

The people of God should be built up spiritually, not fed with empty activities but fed on the word of God, which is the spiritual food; the word is the building block of our lives. We should take in the engrafted word of God which is able to save our souls (James 1:21-23). The quality of our life on earth will be determined by the transformation we have experienced through the word, the change the word has caused to the form of our soul, because it is our soul that forms our earthly life. The task of the spiritual leaders is to build the children in faith and in the word, and both are related. It is written that faith comes by hearing the word of God on a continuous basis. The people of God should be built up in truth of their inheritance in Christ Jesus (Acts 20:32).

What the people of God needs is to be built up. The leaders will not be built up by wishful thinking. They will not build them up by complaining against how things are, or shaming, threats and harassment; they will be changed by the ministration of the word, and nothing else, to which they should be exposed to on a constant basis.

3.            Reputation

The bible says that a good name is to be prized more than rubies (Proverbs 22:1). In this world reputation is a currency. That is why you have your resume. There in a summary of your reputation as you want people to view them, to help them form a favourable judgement of you, giving them a summary of the reputation you have built over the years.

You reputation is the basis of the confidence that people will have in you. They may not have met you but they will relate with you, have expectations of you, based on the reputation you have build determine (which will in turn determine your value).

Paul said that he does not what people to have a higher expectation of him based on hearsay but based on their experience of him (2Corinthians 12:6-9). He doesn’t go about blowing his own trumpet (2Corinthians 3:1, 10:12-18), trying to get people to see him in a good light. He does not want to create a myth, a false air around himself. He doesn’t want to create a bubble, because eventually the bubble will burst and the false claims made or exaggerations expressed will be disclosed as untrue. The bible says: let another man praise you and not your own mouth (Proverbs 27:2).

4.            Trust in God

This has to do with God, the need to have built in us, a solid base of trust-in-God. At salvation, we got to trust God for our eternal salvation, but afterwards we need to learn to trust him every step of the way along our lives’ path, developing a lifestyle of faith.

Even at Jesus’ point of death, He trusted God with his life. He said: into your hands I commit my Spirit. It was at a time he had just said: “my God why have you forsaken me (Mark 15:32, Luke 23:46)?” in a tone of loss, but afterwards he still trusted him with his spirit, just like Job still trusted God even after all he went through. He said: “even if he slays me I will still trust him (Job 13:15),” in an expression of unshakable attachment/trust to God.

Paul said: I know whom I have believed and I am convinced that he is able to keep what I have put in his charge till the end (2Timothy 1:12).  He said this after many years of dealing with God, relating to him, he can say: I know him, and because of that I trust him.

Abraham needed to have a good amount of trust in God to immediately obey God when he asked him to sacrifice his son (Genesis 22). He trusted God that he (God) would not do anything but the best things for him. The bible says that as far as he was concerned, Abraham was firm in his belief that for God to ask for the sacrifice of Isaac and Isaac being the promised miraculous child through whom God will make Abraham a father of nations, he was absolutely sure that God will raise up his son from the dead (Hebrews 11:17-19), since God was incorrigible faithful. That was the only logical thought that aligned with his understanding of the goodness of God he has learn to truth overtime. He trusted God to the hilt. That is why God decided to bless him in like measure.

5.            Wall of protection

When the wall of Jerusalem was broken down in the time of Nehemiah, it was a shame on the people (Nehemiah 1:1-3). The wall represent the identity for the city, it gives it shape, defines its space.

The building of a wall around a possession is to guide and tend it, just as God gave Adam the Garden of Eden to create wall of protection and possession around it, preserving it, as his (Genesis 2:8-15). Similarly, you are supposed to give a cover to whatever God gives you in prayer. Jesus said: watch and pray so that we don’t fall prey and lose our standing (Matthew 26:41). We read: he that breaks the hedge, the serpent will bite (Ecclesiastes 10:8). The wall is to protect against harmful intruders into what we have been given rule over.

6.            Finances

You should build up your financial base. It is not the best to live from hand to mouth. That may be the case now, but the will of God is that you make progress from there, to not be a borrower but a giver (Proverbs 22:7, Deuteronomy 28:12). And that does to happen if you are a spendthrift, if you are a compulsive buyer. If you do not build up your finances, you will not be a blessing as you should.

7.            Hope

One thing that should be built in you is hope. Hope is one of the three qualities which Paul says abides forever, having eternal relevance (1Corinthians 13:13). Not only that, it is also associated with faith (Hebrews 11:1), so you need it.

Hope is the picture of the future and without that picture (that template) we would not be able to operate according to God’s preferences for us (we would not be able to cooperate with God), in that ever progressive sense.

Hope is the assuredness that God will come through for you, and it should stay with you throughout your lifetime and into eternity. Paul describes hope as the anchor for the soul which goes into the very presence of God (Hebrews 6:17-20), meaning it ensures our stability in the turbulent waters of this world, helping us to stay focused on the agenda of God.

Our life is guided by our expectation which is based on the inner template we are working with. The bible says that to him that is joined to the living there is hope (Ecclesiastes 9:4), there is something better ahead; there is a possibility of greater things. You always need to have in you the conviction that there is something better ahead, that there is something to stretch towards, it gives pep to living. That is what will make life exciting. So always build up you hope, or allow God to build up hope in you. Fixate on the picture God has and is showing you, and don’t get distracted by the devil’s pictures of fear, hopelessness, aimlessness and futility. Let hope in God guide your interpretation of events, it will guide how you react to it, determining your outcome.

 

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Proclaiming a fast

plateEzra 8:21: Then I proclaimed a fast there, at the river Ahava, that we might humble ourselves before our God, to seek of him a straight way for us, and for our little ones, and for all our substance.

How do you proclaim a fast? Should you proclaim a fast? Is it right to ask that a whole congregation fast all at once?

As far as Ezra was concerned proclaiming a fast was as a means of seeking God, a sign of humility and an expression of neediness.

By eating the forbidden fruit the first family showed their pride and rejection of the rule of God. I am talking about Adam and Eve.

In fasting, there is the expression of humility and dependence on God; conversely, eating the fruit (by Adam and Eve) signified independence from God.

Ezra was going to seek God for a straight way, the right way, for a safe journey, and that journey represented a new responsibility for him (Ezra 7:1-8:32).

He was the leader of a delegation that was taking valuables from Babylon back to Israel. It was a new chapter in his life, where he was changing location, going to a new place. He believed he needed help in this time of his transition. And he sought it through fasting and prayer.

He refused to lean on the arm of flesh (Jeremiah 17:5) by asking the king to supply security personnel, determined to lean on the everlasting arm. This means fasting is not “nothing”; it is big deal for those who want to have a walk with God, those who depend on God. It is the rejection of human strength to take on the strength of God.

Ezra called for fast, and there was no dissenting voice in the camp, as much as we know, meaning that they all saw the necessity for such a fast, believed enough in the leadership of Ezra and saw things from his perspective, having gained his vision.

Queen Esther also called for a fast. We do not know the length of the fast embarked upon by Ezra and his people but for Esther, it was three days and night of no eating or drinking, what you can call an absolute fast.

It was a time of a “national” emergency. Someone had gone to the king and moved him toward the destruction of all the Jews in the land at a particular date. If that had taken place, it means that there would be no Jesus Christ to come and save the world, if the nation that was to produce him, have all been wiped out, the plan of God for the earth was in serious jeopardy.

To stop this satanic agenda, Mordecai made a call to Esther that she needed to get to the king as a queen, for him to change his mind. But the problem is: you only approach the king without invitation, on the pain of death; hence Esther’s call for a fast. She called for an intense fast. The whole Jews in the capital city were to go without food or water for three days (night and day); they needed a rescue from God as the date determined to have them wiped out by the enemy of Israel drew near. And there was a reversal of fortune on that day for them. The nation was saved.

In Nineveh, the king called for a fast (Jonah 3). It was also in the face of impending danger to the nation. There was no fasting-sacrifice too much because the danger they faced just like Israel in a foreign land was that of being wiped out.  So they fasted for their own good. They decided to express their need for salvation from their impending doom through a fast, and the prophesied evil was averted.

In the New Testament one example of corporate fasting that we see was done by the leadership team of the church in Antioch (Acts 13:1-3). Who decided to separate themselves not because they were in mortal danger but as an expression of corporate hunger for the presence of God?

Another place where corporate fasting was mentioned it was as part of the arrangement for ordaining elders, leaders in the churches that Paul and Barnabas founded (Acts 14:23). In fasting, they sought to invoke the presence of the Holy Spirit in a corporate setting, to help the people to carry on the work of leadership in that place. Remember that it was during a time of fasting that the Holy Spirit was invoked (in Antioch) and he said Paul and Barnabas should be set apart for a new role and they were thus energised for it.

However, Jesus seemed to condone the lack of fasting of his disciples as opposed to the practice of the Pharisees, and the disciples of John (Luke 5:33-35). Though he himself went without food for forty days and forty nights at the beginning of his ministry, it seemed he had a lax attitude towards fasting when it comes to his disciples. When people criticised his disciples for not fasting, He defended them saying: “they don’t need to.”

He criticised the prevailing manner of fasting at that time (Matthew 6:16-18). Then, fasting had become a part of public relations for the religious. Jesus described some people as hypocrites, who were fond of looking sad and making a scene of themselves when they fast to show how deeply religious they are, they seek to gain attention of the people when they fast so that they would be seen as really spiritual.

Jesus said that is what they are seeking (human attention) is what they will get and nothing more. They should not expect God to account to them any blessing because of the fast. That means that going without food without the right attitude delivers no spiritual value.

So throughout the time he (Jesus) was with the disciples, he taught the people on faith, and on following Him unflinchingly. He wanted them to focus on him.

When he spoke on why his disciples do not need to fast, he said it was because they don’t need to fast when he is with them. When with them, they have no need since he is all they need. But when he leaves, he said they will fast. It means fasting is a decision they will make when He is no longer with them in the flesh.

The occasions in the book of acts when the leadership of the church fasted happened based on what Jesus said that his disciples will fast when he is no longer with them.

Back to the original question of the validity or otherwise of congregational fasting; I don’t believe there is any hard and fast rule to it. Remember that the bible says that anyone who eats does so unto the Lord and anyone who does not eat, does not eat to the Lord (Romans 14:3-8). What that means is that the one who fasts (and in this case, the congregation who fast) should make sure it is focused on the Lord and the one who don’t, should still maintain an attitude of devotion to God.

Whatever the case, there is the biblical promise for reward of fasting; there is a release of new vision, new commission in fasting. There is renewal of spiritual strength in fasting, there is the denying, stifling the works of the flesh in fasting to release the spirit.

Don’t reject congregational fasting, cutting off yourself from the blessing in it. However you should ensure that your faith is not in fasting but in God.

 

A man of the word

woman-reading-bible-op-800x533Ezra 7:10: For Ezra had set his heart to study the law of the LORD, and to practice it, and to teach His statutes and ordinances in Israel.

Ezra was a man of the word. He lived and breathed the word.  He invested years into the mastery of it, probably in the investigation of the hidden meaning and historical features; and above all, he invested his life into the practice of the word.

Ezra was a quintessential man of the word.  He committed his time to study it, his life to practice it and her talent for communicating it.

Jesus described the kind of man who is great in the kingdom of God as the one who obeys the word and teaches others to do the same (Matthew 5:17-20).

So Ezra qualifies to be called a great man. The psalmist said that your (God) word have I kept in my heart that I may not sin against you (Psalm 119:11). No one can presume to please God without checking out the divine demand in his word.

As a Christian, you are supposed to be a person of a book, the bible. You are to master the book, eat it inside out.

Okay, here is the hard truth: you should cover your eyes in shame if you are five year old as a Christian and have not read it from cover to cover. You should cover your face in shame.

Look at what Jesus told Nicodemus (John 3:1-10); he told him that as the teacher in Israel, there was certain things, he was expected to know. In the book of Hebrews, the bible says that when some people ought to be teachers but still needed to be taught the elementary principles of faith, it is a sad situation (Hebrews 5:11-14).

Of Timothy, Paul affirmed that right from his childhood, he had known the Holy Scriptures, which is able to make him wise for salvation which is in Christ Jesus (2Timothy 3:14-17). And there are the Berean Jews who the bible says are noble and take the pain search out the truthfulness of the words of Paul, for themselves, from the scriptures (Acts 17:10-12).

Jesus acknowledged that the Pharisees search the scriptures, you should do nothing less (John 5:29). Or are you not even curious, do you not have any sense of exploration at all? What excuses are you giving yourself to not have finished the bible from cover to cover all these while, or is it just plain laziness? Examine yourself, and shake off yourself from the chains of lethargy when it comes to the 66 books of the bible.

Don’t you want to be taken on the adventure called the bible that starts with the creation dynamics (Genesis) to the future of the world in the book of Revelation? Except you have allowed people to tell you to see the bible in a negative light: as the book of fables, as myths, or blatant lies? Have you been taught to not respect Paul and what he stands for, being responsible for many of the books in the New Testament? Shake off those wrong thinking and embrace the blessing in the word.

As a man of the word Ezra studied, practiced and taught the word of God

Study

Paul told Timothy to give diligence to his study of the word of God (2Timothy 2:14-16) so that when he stands to preach he would accurately divided the word of truth. You cannot give what you don’t have. It is the depth of your meditation on the word that will determine the flow of it from you.

You are called to stand apart as a man who studies God’s word. Every one of us is called to continue in God’s word (John 8:31). To study means to pay more than a cursory attention to the word of God. It means to seek to understand how passages of scriptures relate to each other, and how they relate to the plan of God for your life, for the church and for the ages.

A psalmist prayed that God will open his eyes to behold wondrous things out of His word (Psalm 119:18). In every act of studying the word, we need the illumination of the Holy Spirit (John 14:16-17, 15:26, 16:12-14). Regardless of your age and exposure in life, God’s word is opened to those who realise that the Holy Spirit is the one who brings the reality of the word to them, who brings out the treasure from the word out to them.

To study means you seek to have a comprehensive view of the word. Through that we would no more be children and tossed to and fro by every wind of doctrine (Ephesians 4:14-15). We are admonished that in malice we should be novice but in understanding we should be mature (1Corinthians 14:20).

Practice

We are admonished to not be hearers of the word only, thereby deceiving ourselves but we should be doers of the word (James 1:21-25). Jesus brought a strong indictment against the Pharisee, telling the people to do what they say but not follow their example (Matthew 23:1-8).

Here you are teaching about prayer, and you don’t have any prayer life to talk about, here you are teaching about holiness and your holiness level is nose-diving! Examine yourself. Paul said that he pummels his body so that after preaching to others he would be found in error and judged for it (1Corinthians 9:24-27).

Talking about the Jews in the book of Romans, Paul accuses them of claiming to be custodians of the oracles of God, his very words, but neglect to live true to it (Romans 2:19-24).

Note that God is not interested in breeding hypocrites, who hear but don’t do.

Teach

Part of the passion of Ezra is to teach the statues and the ordinances of God in Israel. He has a passion for getting it right and he also wants the people to get things right.

But juxtapose that with the words written by James that everyone should not desire to be teachers because greater judgment is directed to them (James 3:1). Then you will realise that not everyone is called to occupy the position of teacher in the body of Christ, but God does not want us to be so empty-headed that we are not able to offer the simplest defense of the gospel, while we can articulate things that have to do with the our worldly pursuit.

The primary desire to study and practice must be the responsibility of individual Christians. But teaching is another kettle of fish.

It is one of the seven gifts of God as outlined in the book of Romans by Paul (Romans 12:3-8). And one of the ministries set in the church is that of a Teacher (Ephesians 4:10-14). There is a difference between the two (gift of teaching and Ministry of a Teacher), with the latter carrying more authority and scope of expression (combining with a leadership status in the body of Christ as a whole), and the former more localised and limited. The latter obviously also possess the gift of teaching.