Whenever I prepare a couple for their marriage, I stress several critical things that will help them build a happily-ever-after-marriage. The first thing I stress is that our preparation is going to focus on their life together—their marriage—rather than focusing on their wedding. The second thing I stress is that for them to have a happily-ever-after-marriage they need to learn how tolove. Interestingly, what many couples come to realise is that these principles don’t just help improve their relationship—it also helps to improve their other relationships as well.
¶ Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. Colossians 3:12-14
LEARNING TO LOVE
When Paul wrote these words to the Colossians, it was at a time when there wasn’t much of what he was talking about: compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and harmonious love. His entire epistle to the Colossians is grounded in who Christ is. As he brings his epistle to its application section, he gives the Colossians these radical instructions. Upon reflection, we can see that each of these injunctions was emulated by Christ. We might summarise what Paul had told the Colossians as, draw near to Christ, worship Him, and you’ll begin to treat others the way He treated others.
¶ Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in Him, rooted and built up in Him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving. Colossians 2:6-7
Paul seems to sum up these loving virtues (compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness, and harmonious love) as being achieved when we are committed to love like Jesus. Each of these virtues can be learned and developed.One of the best ways to do this is to practice good listening. I usually tell a couple in their pre-marriage preparation that there are threetypes of listening they must develop to become good listeners.
I recently heard an example of one of these types of listening as I was listening to Dr. J.P. Moreland give a lecture on Apologetics in Canada. At the end of his lecture he took questions. A young lady asked a tricky question about God’s goodness and human suffering. Instead jumping in and giving a sound theological answer, the veteran apologist paused, then asked the young lady, “Is there something behind this question?” She paused and then shared how her mother had been recently diagnosed with terminal cancer and was experiencing a lot of associated pain. Dr. Moreland spoke tenderly to her and expressed his sympathies for what her mother was enduring. (Some deep questions don’t really need an answer as much as they need a hug!) When we learn to listen to others we hear their heart, their story, and perhaps their hurt. (How we respond to what we hear is another category of listening which I might write about another day if anyone is interested.)
Following on from this list love-virtues, the apostle then discusses how this applies within our homes – marriages, parenting, childrening, and then within our workplaces. Christian love is not just intended for those we should love.
BECAUSE WE CARE
Several years ago I began to pray and ask God to help me to see and hear better, but to especially feel better. I particularly wanted to see what He saw, and to be sensitive enough to hear what He needed me to hear. But I felt that I really needed to feel as He felt. I found myself watching movies and more often than not being brought to tears. I found that when I would be driving into town that there were other people also driving into town as well who may not know Christ. I would feel compelled to pray for them to see their need for a Saviour and to come to see that Jesus the Christ was that Saviour. The same thing happened when I entered into a shop. I saw people. I prayed for people. The same thing happens on a Sunday. I see people. I pray for people. I wrote in this weekly pastor’s desk some time ago that this developed into something quite mysterious where I began to manifest the very conditions that blighted those I was praying for. This dramatically happened again two weeks (this is what I alluded to in last week’s eNews when Iasked for prayer for my health).
We all have people in our world for whom we care. We care about them and their now, but we especially care them and their eternities. As we pray for each other to be more effective in reaching out to these precious folk, we might never know the effect our prayers are privately having on them. Some of us want to do more than just pray for them. We want to share the love of Christ with them in the hope that they too will come to experience His saving grace and forgiveness. Sometimes this requires intentionally starting a conversation with them about spiritual things. These conversations might commence with –
“Have I ever told you why I became a Christian?”
“Have you ever wondered why I go to church each Sunday?”
“Getting married was the second most important thing I’ve ever done with my life.” (Then wait for their question about what the most important thing was, then share your testimony—this only works if you’re actually married by the way.)
“What do you think happens to a person after they die?” … “How do you know?”
“How do you think life began?”
You may have found your own conversation starters that have worked for you. For some of us, starting such conversations seems too awkward. When we consider how the early Christians shared Jesus with others we see that often it was a “Come and see” approach.
Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.” John 1:46
“Come, see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?” John 4:29
“Come and see” was what many of the original disciples asked their families, friends and neighbours. And they did come, and they did see, and they too were convinced that this Jesus was no ordinary man. Come and see still works today. It’s because we care that we invite others to church so that they can come and see. Perhaps this Sunday there will be more coming to see. I pray that we all see them! I hope you’ll join me in prayer and pray that as we work together on Sunday to worship Jesus that they will indeed see Him who loves them and want to forgive them and become their heavenly father. I pray that we can love like Jesus. As we consider the fifteen greatest description of love ever given, I pray that it will challenge each of us to ask God for the help we need to love Him and to love others.
¶ Love is patient and kind; love does not envy or boast; it is not arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrongdoing, but rejoices with the truth. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. First Corinthians 13:4-7
Finishing is quite different to ending. Novelists have the privilege of finishing their literary creations before they write those two delightful words, The End. Life, however, doesn’t always afford the same privilege. Too many lives endrather than finish. But the apostle Paul was among the privileged few. He last epistle was written to Timothy in which he could confidently state, “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith” (Second Timothy 4:7). Although Paul’s life had a brutal ending, his life didn’t end — it finished. Moses, on the other hand finished before he finished.
THE MISSION OF MOSES
At this time Moses was born; and he was beautiful in God’s sight. And he was brought up for three months in his father’s house, and when he was exposed, Pharaoh’s daughter adopted him and brought him up as her own son. And Moses was instructed in all the wisdom of the Egyptians, and he was mighty in his words and deeds. Acts 7:20-22
Moses lived with a sense of divine destiny. Although raised in the palace of Pharaoh, through the sovereignty of God, his mother was hired to help raise him. She would have impressed upon that he was chosen by God to be the deliverer of their oppressed people from Egypt. By the time he was 40 years old, he ‘supposed’ his time had come, but things went horribly wrong when he discovered that what was obvious to him was not at all obvious to anyone else!
¶ “When he was forty years old, it came into his heart to visit his brothers, the children of Israel. And seeing one of them being wronged, he defended the oppressed man and avenged him by striking down the Egyptian. He supposed that his brothers would understand that God was giving them salvation by his hand, but they did not understand. Acts 7:23-25
By taking matters into his own hands without waiting for God’s time, he was forced to flee Egypt into the wilderness as a fugitive wanted for murder. What was to come now of God’s destiny for him to be the deliverer of Israel from the cruel hand of their Egyptian oppressors? Through his rash, hot-headed, arrogance the entire redemptive plan of God had now been derailed! But how God responded to this setback is one of the most magnificent insights into the identity and character of the redeeming God.
THE MISSION OF GOD FOR MOSES
God has an amazing propensity for transforming our failures and mistakes into the tapestry of His grand plan. This is perhaps no clearer than how He redeemed Moses before He used Moses to redeem Israel. (God often does in us what He calls us to do in others.) Moses roamed the wilderness for 40 years as a shepherd. In the Palace of Pharaoh he would have been taught that the lowest job in the world was that of a shepherd (Egyptians despised sheep and despised shepherds even more – note Gen. 46:34; Exodus 8:26). This season for Moses would have been a very humbling one for him. But God knew what He was doing. In order for Moses to be redeemed and restored he need his arrogance eradicated and his heart transformed with meekness (see Numbers 12:3).
After the 40 years of humbling (note how Moses’ life was comprised of three 40 year chapters) he encountered God at the burning bush.
And Moses said, “I will turn aside to see this great sight, why the bush is not burned.” When the LORD saw that he turned aside to see, God called to him out of the bush, “Moses, Moses!” And he said, “Here I am.” Exodus 3:3-4
The Moses who appeared before the Lord at the burning bush was not the brash, cocky, arrogant prince of Egypt. He was now the broken, humbled, contrite, unsure of himself, Moses. This encounter with Yahweh (the Hebrew name for ‘God’) was a moment of rededication to the Lord for Moses. (It has been noted by many that God never uses one for His glory without breaking them first.) In this sacred moment of surrender to the Lord Moses received his commission from God: Deliver Israel out of Egypt and into their Promised Land.
This commission came in 4 stages for Moses. With God’s help, Moses was able to finish Stage 1 – the affliction of plagues upon Pharaoh’s Egypt until Pharaoh relented and released the Hebrews. Moses was able to finish Stage 2 – the exodus of Israel out of Egypt through the Red Sea and onto Mount Sinai where the twelve Hebrew tribes received the Law of God and formed a covenant with Yahweh. Moses was able to finish Stage 3 of his mission – the 40-year wilderness wandering of Israel until a generation arose who were prepared to trust and obey God. Stage 4 of Moses’ mission was lead Israel into their Promised Land. But Moses never finished it. When Israel craved water again, God told Moses to ‘speak’ to the rock and God promised to pour water out of this rock for Israel to drink from. This was to be a powerful picture of how we are to approach Christ and receive living water from Him. But Moses disobeyed God.
“Take the staff, and assemble the congregation, you and Aaron your brother, and tell the rockbefore their eyes to yield its water. So you shall bring water out of the rock for them and give drink to the congregation and their cattle.” And Moses took the staff from before the LORD, as He commanded him. ¶ Then Moses and Aaron gathered the assembly together before the rock, and he said to them, “Hear now, you rebels: shall we bring water for you out of this rock?” And Moses lifted up his hand and struck the rock with his staff twice, and water came out abundantly, and the congregation drank, and their livestock. And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold Me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them.” Numbers 20:8-12
The consequences of Moses striking the rock twice were dire. The beauty of the picture of Moses speaking to the rock as a representation of how the believer was to look to their Saviour, Christ, was a powerful picture that God wanted Moses to demonstrate. Sometime before this incident, Israel had originally cried out for water at a time when they felt parched with thirst. They then pleaded with Moses for water. Back then, God told Moses to strike the rock and water would come out for all to drink.
Behold, I will stand before you there on the rock at Horeb, and you shall strike the rock, and water shall come out of it, and the people will drink.” And Moses did so, in the sight of the elders of Israel. Exodus 17:6
This was a powerful picture of what the atonement (sacrificial death) of Jesus Christ would one day look like. But when Moses struck the rock for the second time he was desecrating what the atonement achieved and painting a picture that declared that Christ’s death on the cross was pointless. No wonder Yahweh was furious with Moses. “And the LORD said to Moses and Aaron, “Because you did not believe in me, to uphold me as holy in the eyes of the people of Israel, therefore you shall not bring this assembly into the land that I have given them”” (Num. 20:12). Moses must have been gutted. He had failed. He would later be led up to the top of Mount Nebo and showed the Promised Land, before he breathed his last.
¶ Then Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Pisgah, which is opposite Jericho. And the LORD showed him all the land, Gilead as far as Dan,..And the LORD said to him, “This is the land of which I swore to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, ‘I will give it to your offspring.’ I have let you see it with your eyes, but you shall not go over there.” So Moses the servant of the LORD died there in the land of Moab, according to the word of the LORD Exodus 34:1, 4-5
When a person’s life ends rather than finishes, it is sad. When a great leader fails to finish their mission through their own defiant stumbling, it is tragic. The circumstances of Moses’ death were tragic. Before he died, he commissioned Joshua to finish his mission; and Joshua did. This closing chapter of Moses’ life is surely one of the saddest in all the Bible. Moses entered into eternity as the leader called by God to establish one of the most foundational pillars in God’s redemptive plan who failed to finish it. All people are designed to find deep fulfilment by finishing – but leaders, like Moses, crave the fulfilment that comes from finishing. Moses died and entered into eternity without the leader’s greatest source of fulfilment and accomplishment: finishing.
But God (Gen. 3:3; 8:1; 20:3; 21:12; 31:7, 24; 45:8; 48:21; 50:24; Exo. 13:18; 21:13; 1Sam. 23:14;) is the Redeemer—the One who turns failures into redeemed saints. I wonder how Moses felt in the dimension of eternity with this horrible failure hanging over him like a shadow? Then one day, his eternal future was changed forever. He had failed God, but God had a redemptive plan in His lavish, extravagant grace. Moses may have eternally pined that he never got to set foot in the Promised Land. But then God interrupted Moses’ eternity…
Moses had longed to finish his mission and set foot in God’s Promised Land and then the day came that never comes after one enters heaven. This was the day he discovered that the day he entered heaven was the day he came face-to-face with the reality of all that the Promised Land foreshadowed—the Divine Christ. But this realisation probably didn’t occur to him until AD 30 when Yahweh sent him on a surprise mission.
¶ And after six days Jesus took with Him Peter and James, and John his brother, and led them up a high mountain by themselves. And He was transfigured before them, and His face shone like the sun, and His clothes became white as light. And behold, there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with Him. Matthew 17:1-3
It’s called The Mount of Transfiguration – the night that Christ took Peter, James and John, up a high mountain where He was ‘transfigured’ (His appearance radiated an incredibly bright light) and then Moses and Elijah appeared to Him. God graciously allowed Moses not just to see the Promised Land, but to set foot in it! Mission accomplished! And although it was night, Christ’s transfigured radiance permitted Moses to see up close what he once saw from a great distance. It was in this moment when God allowed His beloved servant Moses to finish his mission and enjoy eternity with the deepest sense of fulfilment. Yet, most importantly, this was the moment when He saw Christ as the fulfilment of all the Promised Land foreshadowed. God’s promise to Abraham was never really about dirt because it was always about Jesus.
And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise. Galatians 3:29
I’m pretty sure that when Moses got to stand in the Promised Land for the first time that night on the mountain with Christ, it was a thrill without measure, until he realised that he stood in the presence of mankind’s greatest Leader and Redeemer, the only One who could declare after He completed the ultimate mission and fulfilled Yahweh’s eternal plan of redemption, “It is finished!” (John 19:30).
To the pure, all things are pure, but to the defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure; but both their minds and their consciences are defiled. Titus 1:15
The tricky thing about predicting, someone once said, is that it often involves the future! This is what makes prophesying very difficult. Australians, perhaps more than most people, are very well accustomed to people failing to predict the future. In 1976 John Nash publicly prophesied that Adelaide would be destroyed by a tidal tsunami at 10:30AM on January 19th because the Don Dunstan Labor Government had decriminalised homosexuality and God’s wrath was about to be unleashed. Premier Dunstan defiantly went down to the Glenelg pier and awaited the impending yet fanciful tidal wave.
Clairvoyant John Nash predicted that an earthquake and tidal wave would hit Adelaide in January 1976. It was all a big joke to Chris Overall of Rosslyn Park, who paraded in Glenelg wearing hard hat and carrying a sign that read ‘surf’s up!’.
Australians well remember what the pundits had predicted about Steven Bradbury’s chances of winning gold in the 2002 Winter Olympics, or Scott Morrison’s chances of defeating the unbeatable Prime Ministerial candidate, Bill Shorten in 2019 Australian Federal Election, or even Alan Bond’s chances of wresting the prized “America’s Cup” from the undefeated USA, in 1983.
Then, having established that prophesying the future is incredibly difficult, how can I dare to claim that I know how to ensure that we can prophesy and ensure its fulfilment? Here’s how…
There was once a manager who was conducting interviews for a position in their company. The first applicant arrived for the interview and the manager asked them about their previous job. “Oh, I left there because the other staff were so self-centred and always gossiping! It was not a very enjoyable place to work at all.” The manager listened. The applicant then asked, “What are the staff like here?” The manager replied, “You’d find them exactly the same here.” Later in the day the manager interviewed the next applicant and the manager asked them about their previous job. “Oh, I loved working there. I got on so well with all my colleagues. We worked really well together and were more like family than work colleagues. They were all so caring and committed to each other, the company and our customers—it was great!” The manager listened. The applicant then asked, “What are the staff like here?” The manager replied, “You’d find them exactly the same here.”
This story highlights one of the most powerful principles of self-fulfilling prophecy—our attitude toward others. Some people have a very fearful, negative, opinion about others and even before they’ve taken the time to get to know someone they’ve already made certain ‘prophecies’ about them, which their attitude ensures will be right. “I bet the people in this church won’t be friendly toward me either!” And sure enough, they find what they ‘prophesied’ to be true. Another person says, “I made so many great friends in my last church, I bet God is going to connect me with a whole set great friends in this church as well!” And sure enough, they find what they ‘prophesied’ to be true.
Our attitudes can become the main ingredient in how we ‘self-fulfil’ our prophecies.
Whoever covers an offense seeks love, but he who repeats a matter separates close friends. Proverbs 17:9
It takes humility to forgive and to choose not to harbour hurt and it is the humble person whom God favours with grace and blessing (James 4:8, 10). Such a person has discovered the joy of how humility brings sweetness to a person’s soul which in turn affects how they see others. This too leads to the powerful principle of how our ‘prophecies’ can be fulfilled. When it comes to the core teaching of the New Testament, it is most interesting how incredibly simple and short that list is. The expression “above all”, as it relates to Christian conduct, only occurs three times in the New Testament and might be boiled down to two rules: (i) tell the truth to each other (James 5:12), and (ii) love each other richly (Col. 3:14; 1Peter 4:8).
Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins. First Peter 4:8
And it’s in these two things that we discover our greatest potential to fulfil our own prophecies about our situations and those we come in contact with. People are not your problem and may well be God’s answers to your prayers to come to know Him more deeply and intimately. May God help us all to see and prophesy that the glass really is half full!