Monday, 18 May 2020

1 Kings 19: Elijah and God

I was listening to a podcast the other day which was speaking about 1 Kings 19 and it reminded me of how very relevant this passage is to our present situation as many of us struggle to cope with the ongoing Coronavirus lockdown across the world.

There are some relevant points to be applied in this passage which I hope will be a benefit to some as they were to me. There are lessons about ourselves and lessons about God which were a tremendous encouragement to me. This post is not an answer or solution to depression or anxiety, but rather intended as a help and encouragement to believers who might be struggling. 

Let us first consider the man Elijah... Elijah we are told in James 5 was a man subject to like passions as we are, so hopefully we can all  identify with Elijah in some way. Elijah wore his heart on his sleeve and experienced tremendous highs (take a look at the previous chapter on Mt Carmel) and he was used mightily for God, but he also had moments of weakness and vulnerability as well. In fact when we find Elijah in 1 Kings 19 he is despondent and is clearly at his lowest point. he even ponders death being preferable to life and I don't think hyperbole is being used here, as Jezebel certainly had a very real track record in murdering and persecuting the prophets so his anxiety was certainly understandable! In any case his feelings are recorded for us in scripture and they are for our learning I would judge. "For whatever things were written before were written for our learning, that we through the patience and comfort of the Scriptures might have hope." 

In this passage we see 3 symptoms present with Elijah that are still found today amongst believers struggling with coping in a time of crisis.

ANXIETY - There can be no doubt that Elijah was crippled with fear, anxiety and worry at this moment. The threats of Jezebel had cut deep and coupled with a sense of isolation and lack of support or encouragement, Elijah flees and begins an emotional downward spiral. FEAR or ANXIETY as we can see, alters our perspective and changes the way we view the world and even our FAITH. It will often lead to further negative symptoms as we will go on to discuss. I heard someone say recently that "worry is a prayer to the wrong God" and I certainly take the point! When we worry we beset ourselves with the problem instead of bringing it to God. Let us couple this point with the New Testament encouragement: "Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

INACTIVITY - Fear and anxiety can almost always lead to a total lack of motivation and 'get up and go' as some people describe it. We become paralysed, and uncertain what to do first or what to do next as we slip further into the malaise. Here in our passage we see Elijah sitting down, then lying down and then falling asleep, in fact twice the angel tells him to "arise". I'm not saying we shouldn't lie down and have a rest but as often found in scripture I believe that in this instance they are symptomatic of a broader problem and we can make application to ourselves. Elijah was usually a busy active man and so this is atypical behaviour. Physical symptoms like this manifest themselves when we are struggling with low mood and motivation, often brought on by stress and anxiety. "Therefore, my beloved brethren, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labor is not in vain in the Lord."

DESPAIR - Hear we see in Elijah's prayer what he is thinking and we can see that he has lost hope, and is deep in despair. The fear mentioned previously has changed his perspective and his mind is now filtering everything so that he now only sees the negative in the situation. In addition he has slipped into a 'victim mentality' whereby he has filtered out his tremendous experiences with God and is now left with the anxiety that he is now consumed by. He has isolated himself both physically and mentally ("I alone am left!") and this is not healthy, spiritually or mentally! " content with such things as you have. For He Himself has said, “I will never leave you nor forsake you."

Let's now look at how God responds to the plight of his servant.

GOD NOTICES - Elijah's situation had not gone unnoticed. God had seen, noticed and now calls out to his servant "what are you doing here Elijah?" I don't think this question was a judgement from God but rather a prompt for Elijah to unburden himself to God. If we are struggling, let's unburden ourselves to God!
GOD LISTENS - I love how God listens to Elijah. Twice God listens carefully to Elijah as he pours out his worry without interruption or judgement! God had sent fire from heaven for Elijah, but here he listens lovingly as his servant cries out to him in despair. Perhaps there is a lesson here in listening to each other and sharing our problems, first with God and then with others who might be able to help or encourage us.
GOD SPEAKS - Not only does God listen but he speaks! Our relationship with him is a two way thing, praise God! We speak to him in prayer and he speaks to us through his Word. Sometimes our Bible reading and meditations can slip when we feel burdened by problems, and this often contributes to a downward spiral. I certainly speak from experience here, but reading his Word has often brought me fresh perspective and encouragement.
GOD MOVES - Not only does God speak to us but I believe God can move in our lives as well. God responds to Elijah and passes by the mountain on which he stood. First there is a mighty wind, then an earthquake, then a fire, all spectacular and destructive forces. But God wasn't in any of them! Rather God chose to visit him in a "still small voice". What a contrast! It was not in the spectacular or mighty but in the ordinary and everyday that God was seen and found. I take tremendous encouragement from this! Too often I look for God to do the spectacular or to change my life in a mighty way in order to deal with a particular problem or low period in my life. But this passage teaches us that God can be seen and felt in the small everyday things of life, perhaps even things that can be so easily overlooked. God can often bring us out of our despair by showing us little things, so let us look out for and notice the 'still small voices' in our life!
GOD HELPS - God also provides real solutions and helps for Elijah.
  • He gives FOOD - For those who cry out to him in distress He makes sure we have what we need spiritually when "the journey is too great for thee"... We should return to his Word for sustenance when we are low and weakened! 
  • He FORTIFIES - God encourages us through his Word. Very often he can point us to a verse or a thought that can lift us and remind us of His goodness and then we regain perspective, and realise that things are not as bad as they might seem. This was certainly Elijah's experience and I can identify with this personally as well. God gives Elijah fresh perspective and HOPE by pointing out that there were 7000 that had not bowed the knee in Israel, and Elijah was needed now more than ever!
  • He gives FOCUS FUNCTION -  God gives Elijah several important tasks to do and it would seem that this is the best thing for us when we slip into a negative spiral and feel unmotivated - to look for something positive to do for God, to meet a need and help his people! This would take the focus away from the problems and worry and help deal with things positively. We see Elisha introduced at this point, and this would give Elijah a project to put more positive energies into, and a legacy to pass on. It is always a positive thing to help encourage and help the next generation and have something positive to regain our spiritual FOCUS and FUNCTION.
  • He provides FELLOWSHIP - Not only does Elijah have fellowship with God at this time but he now has Elisha as a welcome source of fellowship. If Elijah felt isolated and alone before, having the presence and help of Elisha would be a great blessing to him. How good it is to have fellowship with the Lord's people and to surround ourselves with people who will help and encourage us! "And let us consider one another in order to stir up love and good works, not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some, but exhorting one another, and so much the more as you see the Day approaching."
I hope these simple thoughts are of some help and encouragement to a believer in need at this time.

Yours in Christ,


Wednesday, 29 April 2020

Criticism of the Lord Jesus in Mark 2

I want to look at 4 questions posed by the Pharisees as they criticised the Lord Jesus in Mark chapter 2. Of course the Lord Jesus was criticised regularly by the Pharisees as they observed him and sought to discredit Him, trap Him and take Him. However in these confrontations there is much we can learn about the character of the Lord Jesus and apply to ourselves. The last two questions form a couple so there are 3 main points that I want to make from these thoughts, that will hopefully encourage us in our Christian lives as we make application.

Who can forgive sins but God only?

Found in verse 7 the Pharisees reason and murmur in their hearts, outraged at the 'blasphemy' from this Jesus of Nazareth! Of course, their question was accurate - only God can forgive sins, but they failed to appreciate that the man standing in their midst was God manifest in the flesh, their  Immanuel (God with us)! We are eternally grateful that we know a Saviour and a God who forgives sins, made possible through the work of Calvary. The point we realise here is that as God, He rewards FAITH with FORGIVENESS. Verse 5 says - "when Jesus saw their FAITH... Son, thy sins be forgiven thee." Praise God for the joy of sins forgiven! (Psa 32:1)

How is it that he eateth and drinketh with publicans and sinners?

Again the observation of the Pharisees was correct! We are ever thankful that our Saviour was known as the friend of publicans and sinners (Matt 11:9), all who came to him were never cast out, our Saviour was approachable and the common people heard him gladly (Mark 12:37). Here we learn that our Lord rewards FOLLOWERS with FELLOWSHIP. We see this in the preceding verses when he asks Levi the tax collector to follow Him, and then he is found sat at meat in Levi's house much to the consternation of the scribes and Pharisees! We thank God that we have a Saviour who not only FORGIVES but blesses us with His presence and FELLOWSHIP! (Matt 28:20, Matt 18:20)

Why do thy disciples fast not? Why do they on the sabbath that which is not lawful?

In verse 18 the criticism was about fasting, or depriving oneself of food. The Lord Jesus points out that his disciples (friends) had the Son of God in their presence, and they were enjoying their privileged position with their Lord, why should they fast? The Christian life is to be enjoyed, unfortunately sometimes we think it is a life of restriction or denial! We have so many spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus (Eph 1:3) our life should be one of Christian liberty, free from the power and dominion of sin (that can so easily beset us! Heb 12:1)
In verse 24 the question also was concerning food and restrictions! This was characteristic of the Pharisees who thought that such empty ritual legality made them right with God, whereas their hearts were far from Him. In these two criticisms we learn that God also rewards FRIENDS with FOOD. The Lord Jesus wants to see us happy and growing as believers! He doesn't want us to be weighed down with restrictions and denial but rather to be feeding on the Word (lots of scriptures for this) and to grow in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ (2 Pet 3:18) Our Saviour can meet all our need (Heb 4:16) and desires to feed us and sustain us through our lives, what a wonderful Saviour He is!

Yours in Him,

Wednesday, 8 April 2020

Coronavirus and the Tribulation?

Introduction – A warning against false prophets!

Lots of crazy theories are circulating at the moment regarding the Coronavirus and some people are telling us that this proves that we are going through the Tribulation period, and that we can see the Mark of the Beast coming (connected to a microchip implant or something) and the Judgement of God currently starting to be poured out upon the world. I believe this is incorrect and in this short article I hope to lay out why I believe this is not the case and encourage my fellow Christians.

1 John 4:1 tells us “Beloved, do not believe every spirit, but test (try or prove) the spirits to see whether they are from God, for many false prophets have gone out into the world.” Caution must be exercised! We should not believe everything we are told by people who are usually either very eccentric or very confused people (sometimes professing believers) who are only contributing to the confusion and current crisis with their false teaching.

All the way back in Deuteronomy 13:1-3 the people of God were told to be very cautious about prophets, particularly those telling them things which did not marry up with previous God-revealed teaching and principals. We also see in Deut 18 that the acid test of any prophet was if the thing prophesied actually came to pass or not. If not, then they were clearly false and not of God. We can see this principle with Micaiah the prophet in 1 Kings 22:28. A lot of these scaremongers are asking us to forsake our Bible teaching and believe them despite these ideas being contrary (I believe) to well-established Biblical principles and truth. Ultimately have not been proven to be correct, neither will they!

Let’s remember that many theories and claims regarding future events and prophecy have come and gone, there is nothing new under the sun regarding this. We can all remember hype surrounding Identity Cards, EU Passports, Photo Driving Licenses, the ‘millennium bug’, previous financial crises, epidemics, natural disasters and military conflicts etc… all things proclaimed to be the ‘End of the World’ or ‘Apocalyptic’ type events.

Therefore, the scriptures are teaching us to be cautious and if we hold these new claims up to the light of the rest of scripture and see them in the correct context, we will realise that these things cannot be so. Acts 17:11 gives us the example to follow as the Berean believers searched the scriptures daily to see ‘whether these things were so’.

A Simple but Sound Starting Point

We must have a sound framework in which to view future events and a simple but firm understanding of the bigger picture as found in the Bible.

Right at the outset we stand by the simple yet firm conviction that the next prophetic event we are going to see as revealed in the Bible is what is known as the ‘Rapture’ or ‘snatching away’ of all believers in the Lord Jesus Christ from the earth. We see this promised by the Lord himself in John 14 (“If I go I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am there ye may be also”) and the details further given in 1 Thess 4. Both passages incidentally are recorded in the context of comforting the believers! I think that is quite important as this truth is something that should encourage and comfort us not cause us to be worried about future events.

Critically therefore, the rest of the prophetic calendar - events such as the Great Tribulation, the appearance of the Man of Sin (or the Beast) and also the seal, trumpet and bowl judgements that are poured out by God upon the world, will all occur AFTER the Church is taken out of the world.

I firmly believe that “God has not appointed us (the Church) for wrath” (1 Thess 5:9) but rather for glory! Romans 5 says “Therefore, having been justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom also we have access by faith into this grace in which we stand, and rejoice in hope of the glory of God… since we have been made right in God’s sight by the blood of Christ, he will certainly save us from God’s condemnation.” Later on in this epistle we will read “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus.”(chapter 8:1) I would judge this to be a simple promise of God, we will NEVER fall under his condemnation, his wrath or judgement. If this were true, surely it would take away from God’s ‘so great’ salvation and the work of Christ on the cross!

In short, the Church will NOT be here for the terrible times that will befall the earth as prophesied in Revelations (and other passages).

A Right Understanding of Revelation

Let us just briefly understand something about Revelation as it is this book that people are misunderstanding and misappropriating when spreading their conspiracy theories…

At the beginning the Apostle John is told by the angel “Write therefore the things that you have seen, those that are and those that are to take place after this.” There are clearly 3 groups of events mentioned here and I believe they form the framework and outline to this book.

Things that you have seen – this is HISTORY and refer to the first 2 chapters of Revelation as these are events which are past (Church history if you like)

Things that are – this is PRESENT and can be seen in the third chapter of Revelation where the churches Sardis and Laodicea are presented to us, both speaking of the Church in present times. We read about ‘strengthening the things that remain’ (an instruction for us today), we also read about the warning to the Laodiceans in a materialistic consumer age and we read about the Lord coming quickly. All pertinent and relevant points for us today.

Things that are to take place thereafter – this is all FUTURE and refers to the remaining chapters of Revelation. The key phrase is in verse 1 where the angel says to John “Come up here” and John is transported into Heaven to see the remaining visions and events from God’s perspective. This is very much a picture of the rapture, and everything therefore that follows is prophecy that will be fulfilled AFTER believers are caught up to Heaven to be with the Lord. The fact that the final chapter of Revelation has the phrase “I come quickly” repeated 3x is very telling, and we should take note!

Pictures that Prove a Point

Here are 3 simple ways the Church is referred to in the New Testament, and each of them reinforce the idea that we will NOT be subject to God’s judgements upon the earth, neither will we be on Earth to see those future events unfold. With each of these well-known pictures we can ask ourselves – “with this in mind, do we believe that God would subject us to the Tribulation?”

The Church as the Bride of Christ

The scriptures tell us; “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for it”. The beautiful relationship between us and our Saviour is described as that of a bride and her bridegroom who clearly has a deep and unconditional love for his bride. We must then ask ourselves, if this is clearly the relationship presented to us in the New Testament, would the Lord Jesus subject his bride, the love of his life that he sacrificed himself for so we could be saved, to wrath and judgement? This is inconsistent with what we know to be true and supported by the Word of God.

The Church as His Flock

This is also a lovely picture, found throughout the Bible from Psalm 23 to Luke 10. The Lord Jesus is the Good Shepherd who gives his life for the sheep, he loves us and cares for us and sought us when we were lost and in danger of destruction! No one can pluck us from his hand. If this is so, why would he subject his flock, who so need his love, care and protection to God-sent wrath and judgement? This is inconsistent with what we know to be true and supported by the Word of God.

The Church as His Body

1 Corinthians 12 makes it clear that we as believers are the body of Christ, a truth also mentioned and supported by passages in Ephesians 4 and 5, and Colossians 1:24. If the Church is the body of Christ, then once again why would God pour out judgement and wrath upon the body of His blessed Son again? Christ has suffered ONCE, his suffering accomplished salvation and blessing at Calvary and that work is done, finished and perfect. It is therefore inconceivable to think that his blood-bought saints (His Body in picture form) would be subject to the wrath and judgement of God. We have been saved FROM this! This too, is inconsistent with what we know to be true and supported by the Word of God.

A Quick Proviso

With all this said however, the scriptures do make it clear that we will be able to see and feel signs of those last days drawing close… For example 2 Peter 3 speaks about the last days and some of the signs we will be able to see, as does the Lord Jesus himself in Matthew 24 where he speaks about that list of troublesome signs being ‘birth pangs’, the picture being of a precursor to end times and that the rapture therefore must surely be close!

What should we be doing?

So, in conclusion let us think positively and ask ourselves what we as Christians should be doing in the present situation.

Waiting and Watching

2 Pet 3, Rev 1:3 and Titus 2:13 all speak about believers as waiting and watching in hope, expectation and obedience for the appearing of the Lord Jesus from Heaven. 1 Thess 1:10 says we are to “…wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead, even Jesus, which delivered us from the wrath to come.” Take note of the last phrase of this verse! Remember that we have a heavenly hope (Col 1:5) and the comfort and reassurance of a soon returning Saviour! (John 14, 1 Thess 4, Rev 22)

Working and Witnessing

We are exhorted to live godly and holy lives, busy in the Lord’s service especially considering future events (2 Pet 3:11). We have a Master to serve with reward in view - the Judgement Seat of Christ occurs after the rapture where believers will stand before Christ and our service will be reviewed, and reward given. We have plenty of scriptural support for this (2 Cor 5, Rom 14, 1 Cor 3 to name 3 main passages) We must remember that right now there is a gospel to preach, a Saviour to worship and fellow believers to help! We must be faithful and diligent in these things as the Lord Jesus is coming soon.

Not Worrying (about the Tribulation) but Resting in the Word!

This is easier said then done of course as these are troubling times, but I believe we as believers have been given the Word of God to rest in and to be reassured by, not threatened or worried by it! We must remember what we know about our God, he is sovereign and in control, and although we will have ‘troubles’ in this world and we are certainly not immune from persecution, suffering and hardship (in fact God’s Word prepares us for this!), God has not appointed us for His wrath and judgement but rather for blessing and glory. Let us encourage ourselves with the words of comfort concerning the future and prospect for the believer! God’s holy wrath and judgement is only ever reserved against an unrepentant world that has rejected Him.

A Word for the Unsaved…

Of course, the unrepentant sinner is in a very different position and should repent (see their sin as God sees it and turn away from it!) and trust Christ for their own eternal salvation. This is salvation from the wrath to come as mentioned previously (1 Thess 1:10 and Rom 5:9). 2 Peter 3:8-9 states the solemn warning; “The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness; but is longsuffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” We are still living in the day of grace, the ‘accepted time’ when mankind can respond to God’s mercy and grace and be saved!

“Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.” John 3:36

“Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life. He does not come into judgment, but has passed from death to life.” John 5:24

“Behold, now is the accepted time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” 2 Cor 6:2

1 Kings 19: Elijah and God

I was listening to a podcast the other day which was speaking about 1 Kings 19 and it reminded me of how very relevant this passage is to ou...