Waiting for God.

16Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael. 1When Abram was ninety-nine years old, the LORD appeared to him and said, “I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless. 2Then I will make my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers.” 3Abram fell facedown, and God said to him, 4“As for me, this is my covenant with you: You will be the father of many nations. 5No longer will you be called Abram; your name will be Abraham, for I have made you a father of many nations. 6I will make you very fruitful; I will make nations of you, and kings will come from you (Genesis 16:16-17:6).

When we look at the life of Abraham, we see a man who had learned to wait. The end of Genesis chapter sixteen points out to us that Abram was eighty-six years old when Hagar bore him Ishmael, but chapter seventeen tells us that nothing had happened for 14 years until God finally spoke to him again at ninety-nine years of age (Genesis 17:1). What can we learn from what is not written about that time?

Why do you suppose God made Abram wait so long? What work does God do in a person through making him or her wait? Some of the greatest lessons I have learned have been in times of waiting. God does His best preparation work in His servants in the waiting times. The prophet Isaiah gives us a picture of the preparation of a servant of the Lord:

Before I was born the LORD called me; from my mother’s womb he has spoken my name. 2He made my mouth like a sharpened sword, in the shadow of his hand he hid me; he made me into a polished arrow and concealed me in his quiver (Isaiah 49:1-2).

For every servant of God called to do an important task for the Kingdom of God, there is a preparation time that is compared to the making of an arrow. There is a personal calling, then a preparation of what issues out from his lips, a cleansing of his language. He or she are also drawn close to the Lord, an intimacy under God’s hand before a polishing of his character.  And then, lastly, there is the concealment in the quiver. During this phase of training and preparation, a man or woman of God are not allowed to do anything that is “seen” by the world, at least for a time. He or she is called to be in hidden ministry that has to wait until the right timing to be shot in ministry from the Lord’s bow. Think of Moses and his having to wait forty years while shepherding his father-in-law’s sheep in the wilderness of Midian. God made him wait until he was eighty years of age before the Lord would use him to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt. He definitely had to endure the hiddenness and waiting of the quiver!  Imagine how hard it would have been for him to be trained in the best schools of Egypt, and then do nothing seemingly of value while he shepherded the sheep in the desert. Why would God do that to a man? The greater the task, the greater the training. It is hard to wait for God’s timing, but it is part of the training. Keith Thomas

What is a Vision?

“Look up at the sky and count the stars—if indeed you can count them.” Then he said to him, “So shall your offspring be.” 6Abram believed the LORD, and he credited it to him as righteousness (Genesis 15:6).

Abram was given a vision of what the future would look like. When God calls a man or a woman, often He will give them a vision. Any leader worth his salt has been given a vision in his mind’s eye of what the future will look like. After getting a vision one must prayerfully plan how he or she is to bring the vision into reality. I am reminded of the things God used to envision me for my future. It is not the same method for every person. Stay open to God and be alert to His promptings.

God used various things in my life. Shortly after my fishing career ended, I worked for a while as a window cleaner, and as a painter and decorator. During this time, I was also involved in starting small groups and leading a small group in our home, along with my wife, Sandy. At one point, I worked in a print shop for a Christian printing organization called Cornerstone Print and Design. This small printing company served missionary agencies as well as other churches and Christian organizations in England by printing all kinds of literature that would help them to reach the world for Christ. I remember they had a sign on the wall that said: “A drop of ink will make a million think!” At that time, I really didn’t see myself as a Bible teacher, I was more of an evangelist that would share the message of Christ whenever I had the opportunity. But the sign on the wall grabbed my attention. God used my time at that printing agency for me to get a vision for spreading His Word to others, even in other countries. I could see the need for Christian literature that would help people understand the gospel of God’s love. It was good to be a part of printing tracts for Christians to use in other countries. These tracts explained the Gospel in their own language. God began to show me His vision to reach the world, and that is what I am still seeking to do today.

What is vision? I have heard it described as “foresight with insight based on hindsight.”  We ought to look into the future and begin to see with the eyes of faith what God wants us to do. Vision also focuses on one’s present circumstances and asks the question: “how do I get to there from here?” Also, vision takes into account the learning that one has accumulated from the past. Vision is a clear mental image of a preferable future that is given to a man or woman of God, to enable him or her to work toward that particular goal that he or she has seen. When a person has obtained a clear vision of what God wants to do, then the man or woman of God goes to the Lord in prayer for practical steps to reach that goal or vision. Without practical steps toward the preferable future, there is difficulty in stretching beyond the present reality. Abram is shown a picture in his mind’s eye of the future that he is waiting for and holding onto in faith.

What methods does He use today? How can you tell if a vision is from God?

God will often use His Word, or a message through a dream, through song, encouragement from another, a mentor, or someone who inspires us to do what they are doing. It can also be a need which we want to meet, or a strong desire to do something. It can be as simple as a natural God-given talent mixed with a strong desire. If a vision is from God, it will always be in line with scripture. Test your vision to see if it matches up with the Word of God. Ask Him to give you the first step in seeing your vision come to pass. Be ready to take a step of faith. Often, there is an excitement that comes when we see what God has for us to do… 13for it is God who works in you to will and to act according to his good purpose (Philippians 2:13). What vision sustains you while you wait for God’s promises to be fulfilled? If you do not have one, ask Him for a vision for your life. Keith Thomas

 

This Man Welcomes Sinners

1Now the tax collectors and sinners were all gathering around to hear Jesus. 2But the Pharisees and the teachers of the law muttered, “This man welcomes sinners and eats with them” (Luke 15:1-2).

The way the Pharisees and the teachers of the law were mouthing these words was with much venom and disgust. They muttered together about him. The Greek word diagongyzō is used, a stronger word than the simple Greek word gongyzō, which is used more often in scripture, and it meant to complain or grumble (aloud). They were voicing their disdain so much that those that He was seeking could hear them.  I’m sure Christ’s heart went out to the tax collectors and ‘sinners’ that he was seeking to reach, that they might know God’s heart towards them is one of love and mercy extended.

The Jews saw tax collectors as being turncoats. They were making money hand over fist working for the Romans in taxing their Jewish brothers and sisters. They were sometimes ranked with prostitutes (Matthew 21:32), being thought of as the lowest of the low. The religious elite uses the word ‘Sinners’ to describe those who were held in bondage to a sinful lifestyle. The Greek word translated is harmartolos. It speaks of one not careful at all about the observance of ceremonial duties, an irreligious person. The term was used of either an immoral person or a person whose occupation was not ceremonially clean.

There were many of the population that had given up on trying to keep all the rules and regulations that the Oral Law, the traditions of the elders, had imposed on the general populous. It is the same today in many countries—it is just different religions these days. The rules were so numerous and nonsensical that it became a heavy burden to the people. Many felt alienated and far away from God. When Jesus came preaching about God’s love for lost and unloved sinners, they were drawn to Him like flies to rotting fish. We don’t know what Jesus looked like, but his personality was and is attractive, He is altogether lovely (Song of Solomon 5:16). When those who were caught in their sin looked at the Scribes and Pharisees, their scowls showed no godliness or grace at all. There was no accepting attitude. They did not see God’s love in the religious leaders. People know when they are loved. When they looked at Christ, He had an inviting heart and welcomed sinners eagerly. The orthodox Jews had written off the tax collectors and sinners as worthy of the fires of hell, but God is gracious and extends kindness to men. He takes the initiative in seeking those that are alienated from Him.

But God does not take away life; instead, he devises ways so that a banished person may not remain estranged from him (2 Samuel 14:14).

What a beautiful truth the above passage communicates. The creator of the Universe has devised ways of reaching out to each of us.  I believe that God has arranged situations in your life and mine so that through the painful trials we undergo, God reveals Himself to us. The trials you are experiencing are used by God to shake you out of spiritual lethargy, forcing you to wake up to the reality of a God who is seeking to draw you closer to Himself. How far will you go before you turn to the One who welcomes sinners?

Keith Thomas

One Thing is Needed

38As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him. 39She had a sister called Mary, who sat at the Lord’s feet listening to what he said. 40But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, “Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!” 41“Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “you are worried and upset about many things, 42but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her” (Luke 10:38-42).

Mary comes across as a person who is passionate about the things that really count. She knows that she is expected to be helping Martha with the food and drinks, but how often does one have the God of the universe over for tea and crumpets (or whatever they had for tea in that day)!  She sees the eagerness on the face of Jesus as He begins to answer questions and discuss the Scriptures. Wild horses could not drag her from the room! She made a conscious decision to ignore the unwritten rules, obligations, and expectations to help Martha in the kitchen. There are higher priorities than laying the table and pouring drinks. I am sure that Mary had a number of questions stored up in her heart. She was just waiting for the words of Jesus to feed her soul. Mary was right in putting the word of God as her highest priority.

Martha strikes me as a person whose self-esteem was bound up in what she does for Jesus more than who she is in Christ. She was a task-oriented person, and there is nothing wrong with that. We need task-oriented people. God has gifted them in their inner DNA to be like that. It was her home, so she felt that the responsibility was on her to treat the Master right. After all, if the Lord Jesus was coming to your house, wouldn’t you try to prepare a nice spread of food in hospitality to the visiting Rabbi? By the time Martha makes her final outburst to Jesus, we can imagine that she was getting as steamed up as her kitchen was! I can picture Martha banging the pots around, making plenty of noise to remind Mary of her duties in the kitchen. Martha’s focus shifts from trying to get Mary’s attention to blaming Jesus. “Why doesn’t He say anything to her?” she thinks to herself as she bangs a few pots in the hope of drawing Mary’s attention. There is no indication that Martha was directing her anger toward her sister. She can’t get her attention; instead, Martha accuses Jesus of not caring: “She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’” (v. 40).

Martha wanted Jesus to redirect Mary; however, Jesus wanted to redirect Martha! Martha attempted to get Mary to serve Jesus in the same way that Martha did. Martha’s irritability had grown to the point where she was literally commanding Jesus as to what He should do. We must give room to let people be different to ourselves. We are given different temperaments for a reason, i.e. to learn to live with one another’s temperaments. It wasn’t that Martha was wrong and Mary right, but that we should imitate Mary in our worship and Martha in our work. To achieve a balance in both, we must put first things first.

Martha felt like she had to do everything and felt let down because Mary was not pulling her share of the load. She felt that this was unfair. Have you felt like that before? Some of us have heard these words from our parents: “Life is unfair! Get used to it!” Jesus does not respond this way, however. He gets straight to the heart with Martha. “Martha, Martha,” the Lord answered, “You are worried and upset about many things, but only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen what is better and it will not be taken away from her” (vs. 41-42). How tenderly He responds to her. These are not words of anger or disappointment levelled at Martha, and the doubling of her name reflects deep emotion on His part.

Some would say that Jesus was only after one thing on Martha’s menu instead of an elaborate meal. Bread and water would have been quite sufficient. It is more logical to interpret the “one thing” to be Mary’s attitude of hungering after Christ’s presence. Time was short. Jesus was headed to the cross, and food was not on Jesus’ priority list, but Martha and Mary were! They were His priority! Jesus did not stop by Martha’s house for the food but primarily to spend time with them.

What if Jesus were coming by your house today, would you be too busy for Him, or are you a Mary and love to sit at His feet?

Taken from study 26 in Luke entitled “Jesus Martha and Mary.” Found in the middle column under the heading Luke, A Walk Through the Life of Jesus. Click on the link to all the studies in Luke and find study 26

Keith Thomas

The Self-Substitution of God

What does self-substitution mean? In his book, Miracle on the River Kwai, Ernest Gordon tells the true story of a group of Prisoners of War working on the Burma Railway during World War Two. At the end of each day the tools were collected from the work party. On one occasion a Japanese guard shouted that a shovel was missing and demanded to know which man had taken it. He began to rant and rave, working himself up into a paranoid fury and ordered whoever was guilty to step forward. No one moved. “All die! All die!” he shrieked, cocking and aiming his rifle at the prisoners. At that moment one man stepped forward and the guard clubbed him to death with his rifle while he stood silently to attention. When they returned to the camp, the tools were counted again and no shovel was missing. That one man had gone forward as a substitute to save the others. In the same way Jesus went forward and satisfied justice by dying in place of us.

Jesus was our substitute. He endured crucifixion for us. Cicero described crucifixion as “the cruelest and hideous of tortures.” Jesus was stripped and tied to a whipping post. He was flogged with four or five thongs of leather interwoven with sharp jagged bone and lead. Eusebius, the third century church historian, described Roman flogging in these terms: “the sufferer’s veins were laid bare, and…the very muscles, sinews and bowels of the victim were open to exposure.” He was then taken to the Praetorium, the Roman courtyard inside the fortification, where a crown of thorns was thrust onto His head. He was mocked by a battalion of 600 men and hit about the face and head. He was then forced to carry a heavy cross bar on His bleeding shoulders until he collapsed, and Simon of Cyrene was press-ganged into carrying it for Him.

When they reached the site of crucifixion, He was again stripped naked. He was laid on the cross, and six-inch nails were driven into His forearms, just above the wrist. His knees were twisted sideways so that the ankles could be nailed between the tibia and the Achilles’ tendon. He was lifted up on the cross, which was then dropped into a socket in the ground. There He was left to hang in intense heat and unbearable thirst, exposed to the ridicule of the crowd. He hung there in unthinkable pain for six hours while His life slowly drained away. Yet the worst part was not the physical trauma, nor even the emotional pain of being rejected by the world and deserted by His friends, but the spiritual agony of being separated from the Father for us—as He carried our sins.

Because of the finished work of Jesus on the cross, in full payment for what your sins deserved, God is now able to grant those who will receive it, a full pardon. The Lord shows us that He is not aloof from suffering. He Himself has taken all and more than many of us deserved upon Himself. He died in place of us and for us. On the cross God revealed His love for us.

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life (John 3:16).

If you will believe the truth of what God has done for you, the gift of righteousness and peace along with the Holy Spirit, will flood your mind and heart. He is as near as a prayer. Can you simply speak to Him and tell Him that you need forgiveness for things you have done? Ask Him to come into your life, and receive the free gift of eternal life.

Keith Thomas

Taken from the study that is second from the top in the middle column, Why Did Jesus Die?