Peace, brother.

‘Sanctification begins in regeneration. The Spirit of God infuses into man that new living principle by which he becomes “a new creature” in Christ Jesus. This work, which begins in the new birth, is carried on in two ways—mortification, whereby the lusts of the flesh are subdued and kept under; and vivification, by which the life which God has put within us is made to be a well of water springing up unto everlasting life.’ – Charles Spurgeon.

Spirituality has become something of a shopping spree these days hasn’t it? There are so many options that in some way closely resemble one another, the search for inner peace.

Sometimes we hear the popular notion that people need to be ‘true to ones’ self’ or ‘find their inner you’ – but I would like to suggest that this is a meaningless search. Who we are on the inside may well be determined by our own will, our own environment, or the character that we were born with – but how changeable is it? We label each other in society as a way of segregating and defining our relationships. Labels we apply to others may be fair of unfair, but usually determine who we choose to be friends with, or not.

This is the situation for women of the bible who were socially excluded because of their lifestyles; they were branded and labelled with no hope for their future. The woman who anointed Jesus feet with oil (Luke 7:36-50), the Samaritan woman at the well who met Jesus (John 4:1-42) and the Rahab of the bible (Joshua 2),  abandoned their former selves by becoming completely emptied and re-filled with the glorious grace of God. What would it have been like for them to return to the town or walk into the Israelite camp after being made new? Did women avoid making eye contact or developing trusting friendships with them – never really sure if their new commitment to God was legitimate?

It was not only the faith of women but the faith of the community that had to truly believe that God is able to make all things new, only He can perform miracles. Because the women completely emptied themselves (humbled themselves) before God, the grace of God is generous. The nourishment of the Holy Spirit is immeasurable.

If you find yourself weighing and measuring people, applying labels and examining others, you may need to lay aside this preoccupation.  Jesus tells us about such women ‘her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.’ (Luke 47) Perhaps the extent to which we empty ourselves is also the extent to which God can fill us. The harsh labels that we apply to others; to the same degree we will be harshly judged.  Jesus tells us the actual contents are irrelevant and labels are misleading – only our choice to completely follow him is honoured ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’ (Luke 7:50)

If your ambition is to be a good person, if you’re looking to choose the right spiritual product, or you’ve abandoned the right to choose a belief and have decided to follow yourself, give up the searching and surrender to the generous grace of God who makes all things new. God sets us apart as His people; He can make us Christ-like inside and out, and are no longer measured according to the standards of the world.

‘For we are the temple of the living God; as God said,

I will live in them and walk among them,

And I will be their God,

And they shall be my people.

Therefore come out from them,

And be separate from them

Says the Lord

And touch nothing unclean;

Then I will welcome you,

And I will be your father,

And you shall be my sons and daughters, says the Lord Almighty.

Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.’ 2 Corinthians 6:16-7:1

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Great Expectations

Expectations are the mother of all disappointments.

Luke 4:14-30 (read it, it’s really good)

When Jesus returns to his homeland Galilee once his ministry was well underway, he preaches at the hometown synagogue and proclaims that HE is the fulfilment of the good news as prophesied by Isaiah – the anointed one “Messiah” has come and is standing before them. Jesus, the son of the carpenter named Joseph.

“All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came out of his mouth.” (v22.)

(A short time later),” they drove him out of town… so that they might hurl him off the cliff” ??!!??!!

What happened?

Jesus would not perform miracles for these Galileans (not Gallifreyans) to prove his power to them. They ask “Is this not Joseph’s son?” Perhaps familiarity breeds contempt..?

No prophet is accepted in the prophet’s own hometown. Jesus gives examples from Scripture of Elijah not being sent to heal widows in Israel; also Elisha not being sent to heal lepers in Israel.

Do we interpret this to mean that some people God will heal and some will not? Does he not care for us all?

Does this also mean to us that some will be saved and some will die?

Does this suggest that while some will believe and be blessed with the power of the Holy Spirit, others will form an angry mob?

The Galilean synagogue hoped that the “Messiah”, Jesus – one of their own – would surely heal them and perform miracles for them. But, no, he refused them and their needs were not met… their violent outburst suggests they were pretty disappointed.

As Jesus moves from place to place healing people and teaching them about God’s promises, there seems to be two responses to him both personally and to his message.

Love or hatred.

(indifference is perhaps a non-response?)

Jesus fully expects this, in every place he visits he gets a mixed reception and he predicts this throughout much of the gospels. (insert carefully researched bible passages)

He is never deterred by these incidences and certainly does not spend any time trying to persuade people who are not willing to listen to him. He protects himself, escapes, takes time alone with God – until the God-appointed time when he gives himself over to the enemy, so that he might die and conquer death for the benefit of those who believe – and for the purpose of redeeming a sinful world.

These Galileans had great expectations of Jesus that led to disappointment.

So, what expectations do I have of Jesus? Is he a cure-all to help us when we feel down, cover over our mistakes, when we pray and ask for forgiveness? Are we excused from having to change ourselves because God’s grace is sufficient? Are we exempt from suffering because we are God’s people (even though Jesus suffered)? Are we entitled to receive blessings because of the good things we have done?

What expectations do I have of God? Is He absent, living ‘up in heaven’ looking down on us and judging us? OR is He ever-present in all things, as Creator and Redeemer and ultimately the Renewer of the whole cosmos?

What expectations do I have of ourselves? Are we partners with him in his work; seeking to ‘build his kingdom’ on our own turf? OR is His work a divine gift to which we are witnesses, rather than works in which we collaborate?

Perhaps we need to put to death our expectations of God, the world, Jesus and ourselves. We need to nail our disappointments to the cross of Christ. ‘We cannot ourselves die for the sins of the world’[1]  We cannot do God’s work of salvation, restoration or recreation. [God does not expect that of us].

His only command to us is to LOVE Him and LOVE others ‘as He loved us’. (John 13:34-35) We should do this without putting false hopes or expectations on the world, expecting what we are ‘owed’ for the work we have done, or asking ‘Why?’ when we are short-changed.

God is sovereign over everything, even in suffering and sickness, disappointment and even death. Jesus conquers them all. This is where our eternal hope lies, where we can expect to receive comfort and joy amidst the pain. But first, we must choose our response and daily lay aside our false expectations.

Just as God’s expectations of us could not be met , our weaknesses and doubt prevent us from being able to fully love Him or others. But the Spirit of the Lord is the impetus for change, the good news for the weak and poor (but also the rich); the release for the prisoner, the sight for the blind. (Luke 4:18-19) The Spirit of the Lord within us sets us free from our sins, grief, expectations and disappointments.

But we cannot do this work ourselves in a broken world – we cannot be a Creator, Redeemer or Restorer, we cannot expect to BE God!

We, like the Galileans, expect our needs to be met on demand, we expect peace to reign on earth. Instead we ought to have Grander Expectations of heaven, a new earth, new bodies, no sickness or disease – but most importantly a fully restored relationship with our Creator. (Isaiah 66:22; 2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1) This hope in God’s promises can take away our low expectations of life, and fear of death.

These are the promises that are assured, we can expect God to come through on His eternal promises and so we can acknowledge His loving presence and guidance in every aspect of our daily lives. The Spirit of God in our lives gives us a taste of what’s to come..

To change our expectations, we must change ourselves – God is unchangeable, to truly have faith in His promises we must trust in His will. Pray (along with me) for God’s Spirit to renew and restore and we won’t be disappointed.

The Spirit of God dwelling within us gives us the capacity to love Him and demonstrate love toward others in ways that bear witness to His power and glory.

The power to love an ‘unknown God’, the power to love the unlovable or those who have hurt or offended us, the power to even love ourselves. The source of love is not ourselves:

God says “Love one another as I have loved you. By this, shall all men know that you are my disciples.” We belong to Him and not the world. The command of love is not a command to change the world, that’s God’s business. We cannot bear the burden of the world’s sin, it’s what Christ came to do. We cannot carry out God’s promises to the world, yet we are urged to seek His help in following His commands. Just to love… not angry mobs.

“With eyes wide open to the mercies of God, I beg you, my brothers, as an act of intelligent worship, to give Him your bodies, as a living sacrifice, consecrated to Him and acceptable by Him…

Don’t let the world around you squeeze you into its own mould, but let God re-mould your minds from within, so that you may prove in practice that the Plan of God for you is good, meets all His demands and moves towards the goal of true maturity.” (Romans 12:1-2)

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[1] What is the Mission of the Church? Making Sense of Social Justice, Shalom and the Great Commission. By Kevin DeYoung and Greg Gilbert, P.42