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Today’s nations

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I find it difficult to understand the word “nation”. The modern world seems to have turned to the individual, rather than the nation, as its cornerstone. It doesn’t help that the way nations are talked about in the Bible shift from a specific group of people, circumscribed geographically, to a much larger meaning, referring to all of God’s people.

Image credit: Suttonhoo reused under CC license

This makes it harder to find talk about nations relevant. It seems distant. When we talk of other nations, we translate it directly into “other countries”, other states, geographically distant, and therefore not tangible, not real to us. How we react to our own country depends heavily on which country we consider as ours.

So I have a tendency to overlook those bits. A tendency to not let those words sink in.

But the malleability of the word “nation” through the Bible makes me think that we should, perhaps, modernise our understanding of it, turning it towards, for once, the individual. Not to celebrate the individual, but to let that individual be transformed through and through.

So now, when I see the word nation, and when it makes sense to do so, I think of the different “nations” within me – of the different parts of my identity which may not all be yet under God, and I take the Great Commission also¬†inwardly: to make disciples of all the nations in me. Re-reading the Psalms under that new light can be challenging (118 in particular).

Get your inheritance

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Callings can be daunting, regardless of how difficult or easy they seem to fulfil.

Fear has a role to play: a feeling of not being capable of doing what seems to be expected of us. A feeling of unworthiness or inadequacy can also stop us in our tracks. At the root of these two lies, fundamentally, a misconception that we have to do it alone. Seen like that, the seeming humility turns into pride; and it is the same pride that leads us to stall, to refuse the callings.

In reluctantly answering our callings, we miss out, because we take on an attitude of spiritual procrastination – and end up not receiving the prize because we do not claim it. The same goes for our gifts – we often shy away from putting them to use and from reaping the rewards from God.

“How long will you put off going in to take possession of the land, which the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” (Joshua 18:3, ESV)

Of course, our inheritance is more than simply the specific gifts we may have. As Christians, we enjoy the freedom from the shackles of sin and the peace of God. But our inheritance also includes these spiritual gifts, and we need to take possession of them.

What are your gifts? Which spiritual lands have been given you as an inheritance? And how are you working that fertile ground?

It’s ok to be afraid

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Some of the Bible’s most encouraging verses tell us not to be afraid – that God is with us. Some argue the fear of God is the only good fear.

This can lead people to a feeling of inadequacy or worthlessness.

Leaders, especially, should not be afraid… because they know they can rest on the Lord, and should set a good example of a peaceful heart. And they should exhort their followers to show no fear and a complete boldness in everything they undertake.

Wrong.

Image: Wil Wheaton, reused under CC license

God knows us perfectly. He knows our fears, and he knows how to deal with them if and when appropriate. Look at what he says to Gideon:

“But if you are afraid to go down, go down to the camp with Purah your servant.” (Judges 7:10, ESV).

Gideon does not try to look tough in front of God. He does not try to pretend he’s not afraid. He takes God’s advice, acknowledges his own fear and goes down to the camp.

In the same way, we should not try to pretend we’re not afraid: it can only lead to that fear taking hold of us, or to a feeling of undue pride and self-importance.

Conversely, though, we should recognise when our “fear” is a lie. When it is simply disguising laziness or fickleness in front of a decision. The fact that God knows us and loves us and is on our side means that he will deal with our fear, if it is real, in due time.

Ever since I started to feel a call towards ministry, I have felt the fear that I was mistaken. That I wouldn’t be up to the task. God has dealt with that fear, in many various ways (including making me stumble upon a few great bloggers – thanks Ben; and including leading me to certain parts of Scripture). But still now, I sometimes feel like I’m afraid to make the wrong decision. That fear is a lie – it is simply a way for me to justify putting off decisions; and recognising it helps.

Which of your fears are lies? Which are real?

Go for it!

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With great power comes great responsibility.

The converse is just as true and far more challenging. The Bible is full of such encouragements:

Joshua 1:9 (ESV)
“Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be frightened, and do not be dismayed, for the Lord your God is with you wherever you go.”

Isaiah 41:10 (ESV)
“Fear not, for I am with you;
be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.”

Philippians 4:13 (ESV)
I can do all things through him who strengthens me.

God equips those He calls.

Do not be afraid. Do not consider, for even one second, that you don’t have the skills necessary to your calling. Because you’d find it’s true – you don’t. But with reliance on God, you will put skills which aren’t yours to use.

Knowledge is key

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Image credit: D.B. Gaston, modified and reused under CC license

In the beginning, it was easy. One command – do not eat of the tree of knowledge of good and evil.

Then sin crept in, and suddenly things became more complicated. We started to have a law written on our hearts, and yet transgressing it.

Cain’s sin is exactly that – he knows that he shouldn’t have killed his brother, and therefore tries to hide it; and that’s what gets him exiled. That he knew he had done wrong.

Then the Law came. But without knowledge of the Law, it is nothing. Let us remember that we all have the knowledge of the law that’s written in our hearts, and not try and twist the written Law.

Yet, a little knowledge is a very dangerous thing. Recognising the Devil’s temptation (Matthew 4) as Biblical truth would have made devout people yield to temptation. The difference was – Jesus’s knowledge was perfect. He could know right from wrong – easily, too, and instantaneously.

We can’t know the fullness of the Law and have it in our mind constantly. That’s the difference.

But after the Law, Jesus came. And there is a difference between knowing an object, and knowing someone. We can know Jesus, and through knowing him and following him, we can follow the Law too.

Biblical knowledge is important, but it must not supplant personal relationship.

Otherwise, the scholar’s pride comes knocking at the door.

How do you get this across in your Bible studies?