Looking at Matthew’s account of Jesus walking on the water in the storm. Focusing on the words of Jesus “I am here”, “Don’t be afraid” and “Why did you doubt me?”. An encouragement to step out in faith and keep our eyes on Jesus in fearful times.
Texts: Matthew 14:22-33
The Bible is filled with stories and wisdom that make sense not only for the time when it was written, but it makes sense for us today.
It has been my habit for the last (approx!) 3.5 years to read a chapter of the Bible, and record a verse in a whattsapp group group with other friends. I always seek to find application of the Word to my life, and to bring godly and biblical perspective to the world around me.
Today, I was in Judges chapter 6. And I found myself reading the familiar story of a man called Gideon, raised up by God to rescue the Israelites from the trouble inflicted on them by their enemy, the Israelites. These Midianites were oppressing God’s people in many ways. They camped on the land belonging to Israel, destroying the crops planted as well as the livestock, forcing the Israelites to cower away into mountain clefts and caves. The Bible records that Midian was like a swarm of locusts; impossible to count and ravaging the land wherever they could.
For the Israelites, they must have felt like a plague – destroying everything they had, forcing them from their homes and causing them to live anxiously.
But then Israel cried out to the Lord for help (verse 6).
And without delay, God answered their prayer. He raises up a man called Gideon, to lead a revolt against the Midianites and rescue God’s people. Cut a long story short, (especially because Gideon tested God three times!), God did rescue Israel from the pesky Midianites through Gideon.
The personal application of the story came quickly to me. It was simple, but nonetheless so relevant for many right now.
The coronavirus situation is a worrying time for many. People I know have lost their jobs. Schools are closed. Most businesses can’t claim from their insurance policies for loss of income. Those with low incomes, vulnerable or living on their own with limited means may find this a difficult time. In one way or another, we will all directly or indirectly be affected by this global crisis. The enemy each of us may face is not called ‘Midian’ – it may be called ‘Loss of job’, ‘Loss of investments’, ‘Lonely’, ‘Overwhelmed’, ‘Distressed’, ‘Hungry’, ‘Anxious’.
Whatever you call your enemy right now, know that God is willing and able to rescue you from it. No one wants to go through hard times. But they can be the place where God reveals His kindness, compassion, love, faithfulness and provision in our lives. You don’t need to fight these battles on your own. The battle is the Lord’s – 2 Chronicles 20:15
David once faced an enemy, it was called Saul. This was the inspiration for him to pen Psalm 18. If you are facing an enemy today – cry out to the Lord in prayer for He will rescue you!
Psalm 18 (from the NIV)
6 He reached down from on high and took hold of me;
he drew me out of deep waters.
17 He rescued me from my powerful enemy,
from my foes, who were too strong for me.
18 They confronted me in the day of my disaster,
but the Lord was my support.
19 He brought me out into a spacious place;
he rescued me because he delighted in me.
A witness between us that the Lord is God
I reckon (not that I am a big history buff) that most wars are the result of a long standing tension between two rivals, suddenly triggered by an event that pushes one side too far, resulting in quick escalation and all out war.
In chapter 23 of the book of Joshua we have a situation where an all out war almost broke out – but not between two rivals with long standing issues, but rather between tribes of the same nation with no previous history of tension. The story bothered me a bit. Actually it bothered me a lot. That the people of God could be prepared to go to war and destroy each other, where just moments previous they were brothers in arms. Let me highlight the main points of the story:
The nation of Israel had just conquered the inhabitants of Canaan under the leadership of Joshua. Each tribe would receive land as part of their inheritance. Moses had previously agreed that the two tribes of Reuben and Gad, and the half tribe of Manasseh, would receive their land on the other side of the Jordan. (Not part of Canaan). But the deal was that the 2.5 tribes would fight for the other tribes first to receive their inheritance. Once they finished helping their brothers, they would be allowed to return to the land they wanted on the other side of the Jordan (called Gilead).
The 2.5 tribes kept their end of the bargain. Joshua commends them for doing all that Moses commanded, and obeying him in everything he commanded. He tells them that it has been a long time since the promise of their land was made, but commends them for not deserting their brothers and carrying out the mission as agreed. (Pats on backs all round at this point). Joshua sends them off with his blessing; but not before telling them to be very careful to keep the commandments of the law; that is, to love the Lord their God, walk in all his ways, obey his commands, hold fast to him and to serve him with all their heart and with all their soul. (Quite a list. I imagine them nodding agreeably).
And they all lived happily ever after. Not quite.
Shortly after moving into their new land outside Canaan, the 2.5 tribes were a little worried that being on the other side of the Jordan could estrange them from the rest of Israel. That one day, a future generation would consider them to not be a part of Israel. It was a fair viewpoint. And so the 2.5 tribes decided of their own accord to build another alter near the Jordan river. Not to replace the one alter all of Israel was required to offer sacrifices on at the Tabernacle – no, no, no. They knew that the law forbade the offering of sacrifices on any other alter other than the one designated. No, this was just a token alter – kind of like flying the same flag – a visual reminder to all that they too were part of Israel. No harm done, right?
Unfortunately, that’s not how the rest of Israel saw it. They freaked out. Memories of what happened as recorded in Joshua 7 haunted them. A single mans sin by stealing devoted things resulted in judgement on the whole nation. And now reports had come in that the 2.5 tribes had forsaken the law and built another alter! What a wicked thing for them to do. If Achan’s sin, the actions of just one man meant judgement for the nation, how much more could this abominable act bring the wrath of God? Like an unwelcome flame of fire in a dry forest, this wicked act needed to be snuffed out, put out, extinguished – ASAP. No time for chit chat. Call in the army. Actually, no. That’s not enough. Assemble the entire nation to go to war. Wipe out the 2.5 tribes. Yes, your enemy over that side of the Jordan. Your brothers. Destroy them. The brothers who have just fought with you side by side to help you get your inheritance. The brothers who risked their lives for you and didn’t desert you. The people of your own nation.
Fortunately, as the army stood with weapons in hand and awaiting the order to charge, someone had an idea. Let’s try talking first. The son of the high priest and the heads of the tribes go to speak to the 2.5 tribes. Turns out there was a simple misunderstanding! Reuben, Gad and Manasseh explain their reasoning for the alter; that it wasn’t to be an actual alter to offer sacrifices on, but simply a replica. Ok, so it wasn’t exactly ‘by the book’. Strictly speaking, they shouldn’t have built another alter at all. But they knew that God knew their hearts, crying out “The Mighty One, God, the Lord! The Mighty One, God, the Lord! He knows!”
Everyone breathes a huge sigh of relief. The weapons are lowered, the army is disbanded. Everyone is glad and praises God. I love the ending of the chapter: ‘And they talked no more about going to war against them to devastate the country where the Reubenites and the Gadites lived’. Ah well, that’s good then (!)
Having understood each other’s intentions and realising that they all still loved and worshipped God foremost, the Reubenites and Gadites call the alter: ‘A Witness between us that the Lord is God’.
What do I learn from this fascinating chapter?
Both sides reacted in fear.
The 2.5 tribes were fearful that they would be estranged from Israel in the future. They thought about it, and came up with a solution that was ‘out the box’. It was risky. It was a bit naïve. They had no intention of offering sacrifices on it. They knew God knew their hearts! However with some wisdom they might have thought to let Israel know what they were planning.
What of the rest of Israel? Well, their rash decision to rally the army and destroy their brothers was also based on fear. Fear that God would judge them all like he did because of Achan. One could say their reaction was over the top, uncalled for. You could say they were sticklers for the truth, the upholding of the law. Highly sensitive to any deviation from obedience to the law which could result in judgement. Obeying God and serving Him was clear in Joshua’s parting words.
At the very least there is a strong warning and lessons in this story for the church today. God’s chosen people, his holy nation was almost torn apart through a simple misunderstanding. The importance of unity against a spirit of divisiveness. Of trusting one another. Of communication. Of the danger of the church being polarised and fighting over differences of opinion. Of listening deeply to the other side before jumping to fearful conclusions.
And perhaps that’s where the lesson ends. Except that as these thoughts permeated through my mind I wondered if there is a further lesson in what some may perceive to be the conflict in the church today between Grace and Truth. How did I come to that conclusion?
Israel’s reaction was because of their sensitivity to the truth, the commands of Moses which they pledged themselves to obey. Their ‘senses to sin’ were on high alert! They were not wrong in their concern for the second alter, being against the law. But they were in danger of so upholding the truth that they were prepared to destroy their own brothers. That would be bad enough; but their assumptions were wrong. You cannot fault Israel for wanting to be rid of sin and maintain truth. I tick that box. Right. But their way of going about it and fearful response? Wrong.
What then of the actions of the 2.5 tribes? Yes it was against protocol and risky. They took the view that the scriptures had not forbidden them to build a replica alter for the purpose of being known as part of Israel. They loved God and knew that He knew their hearts and their intentions. So they were also Right. But their way of going about it by not checking with Joshua first? I think it was at worst, wrong. At best, naïve.
Both sides were not so polarised after all. It was just actions that were unwise, naïve, fearful, reactionary and in knee jerk fashion that really caused the conflict.
The church should be full of Grace and Truth. Some may view these two truths as somehow pulling in different directions. The church is under pressure to accept cultural norms and worldly ways of viewing things. Truth is under fire. The church should be the pillars that hold the truth up. (1 Tim 3:15). For issues such as homosexuality, gender and abortion, the church is under pressure to change truth to suit what the world wants. But it is not only fear of upholding TRUTH that the church faces. It also must fight the fear of embracing and engaging a world that is broken and earnestly needs love, the kindness of our Saviour, GRACE.
John 1:14 says that Jesus Christ came full of Grace AND Truth. Here there is no conflict. Jesus who embodied truth, and who never sinned or compromised truth, was also the generous giver of grace and mercy and forgiveness to those who fell far short of truth and living God’s way. It is such an incredible thing – not only that Jesus Christ touched and loved a broken world, but that a broken and unloved world touched Him! If I can get that right – then I think I will be closer to the heart of God and pleasing Him in the way I live and reach this world for Christ.
We must not let the issues of our day destroy unity in the church, by dividing and polarising us into camps of ‘Truth’ and ‘Grace’, warring against one another. Rather, let’s strive to be one community of Grace AND Truth. Let’s lay down our pride on the alter and recognise in each other the same desire to love, serve and represent our Lord who is both full of Grace and truth.
After all, we are all on the same side and with a shared witness between us that the Lord is God!
The apostle Paul wrote the letter of 1 Corinthians partly in response to some reports he had heard from Chloe’s household. Having previously spent 18 months planting this church in Corinth, he now heard that some problems had arisen in the church and which Paul knew he had to bring correction to. Yet rather than respond with anger, Paul reflects the heart of God our Father with 9 verses packed with incredible truth of their identity in Christ. Words of correction would follow in the next 16 chapters, but these first words in 9 verses would bring complete assurance that even though they would need to change, God was still for them and their identity would always remain in Christ.
In this talk, Hannah continues with The Cloud series, looking at the life of Elizabeth Fry. We spend some time looking at how God changed her life to be able to do His work and how we can seek God’s plan for our lives.
When Paul the apostle left Corinth after having lived and preached the gospel there for 18 months, he left behind a thriving new church with radical converts. Yet when he arrived he it was in weakness, as he wrote in chapter 2 of the letter of 1 Corinthians. Paul discovered the secret that at the heart of effective Christian ministry is a complete dependence on the Spirit of God, where in being weak he was in fact strong. This is the second talk in the series through 1 Corinthians, where Grant also gives an introduction to the series, the city of Corinth and the context into which Paul was writing.
In this first teaching of the series through the letter of 1 Corinthians, Grant explores what it means to do all things for the glory of God.
Paul wrote that this will require us to remove stumbling blocks so that others can receive the ministry and message we have of Jesus Christ, seeking the good of others and living in a way that reflects the nature and character of God to the world.
At the Christmas party Grant and Dave performed a sketch for us! Grant was inspired to write the play from the story in Genesis where Joseph was locked up in the dungeon by Pharaoh. The day that Pharaoh heard that Joseph could interpret his troubling dreams, he called for Joseph. But Joseph was required to get dressed into fine clothes before he could stand before the king. This story contrasts with the gospel. Jesus is King, and he calls men and women everywhere to Himself. But he does not require that they clean up their act first and appear before him ‘clean’ and ‘righteous’. (While we were still sinners Christ died for us). Rather, he takes us as we are and clothes us in garments of righteousness.
This is a short talk delivered at our Christmas party. It is based on the line from a carol – “the hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight”.