Category Archives: God Stuff

God, church, spirituality, theology, that sort of thing

To Much To Handle?

“God won’t give you more than you can handle”. It’s a phrase I remember hearing a few times over the last fifteen months which have been without a doubt the hardest of our lives to date. I only realised the other day that this phrase is no where to be found in scripture. Perhaps the closest it gets is in 1 Corinthians 10:13:

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your ability, but with the temptation he will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.

This isn’t the same thing though. Temptation does not come from God but from Satan. God allows us to be tempted but not beyond our ability to withstand it and we can turn to Jesus for help (Hebrews 2:18). God’s own trials and testing are a different matter. 1 Peter 1:6-7 says:

…though now for a little while, if necessary, you have been grieved by various trials, so that the tested genuineness of your faith—more precious than gold that perishes though it is tested by fire—may be found to result in praise and glory and honour at the revelation of Jesus Christ.

The purpose of these trials that grieved some of the readers of Peter’s letter were to test and refine their faith as gold is tested and refined in a fire, burning away the dross until all that is left is pure.

If those trials were only up to what God knows we can deal with, what would be the need for faith in him? By testing us beyond our limits to cope he encourages us lean on him and in this way builds up our faith and trust in him, with the ultimate aim of the praise, glory and honour of the Lord.

To me this is a far more satisfying and comforting thought that “God won’t give you more than you can handle”. This sounds to me like you’re expected to deal with the situation by yourself, as if God has given you a problem to solve or a question to answer and left you to it in the expectation that you’ll be able to do it without him.

Does that sound like the same God who says this in Matthew 11:28-29?

Come to me, all who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.

When you feel like you can’t deal with any more pain and sorrow remember that we have a God who knows and understands our weakness and has made provision for us. In our weakness is his strength and what he wants is for us to turn to him and tell him we can’t cope without him. That’s what faith is about, realising that alone we’re helpless and lost and only by calling out to our creator can we have a hope.

These last months may have been the hardest time we’ve ever experienced but we’ve found that not only has it drawn our family together, it’s drawn us nearer to God too and we’re still feeling the effects of that and understanding what it means for us all.

2 Corinthians 1:8-9 NIV
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead.

Messing With Marriage

Mark 10:1-12

The Pharisees had set out to test Jesus; they were trying to get him to say something that they could use against him and they chose a controversial subject in the sure knowledge that whichever side of the fence Jesus came down on that he would alienate or upset someone.

God made them male and female. ‘Therefore a man shall leave his father and mother and hold fast to his wife, and the two shall become one flesh’. So they are no longer two but one flesh. What therefore God has joined together, let not man separate.” (vs 7-9)

Forced marriages, arranged marriages, celebrity marriages , polygamy, same-sex marriage, civil partnerships, civil marriage, cohabiting, pre-nuptial agreements, messy divorces, divorce settlements and child custody cases all make it into the news on a regular basis for one reason or another. The statistics on divorce are well documented.

Compromises over marriage, in marriage and what marriage is are nothing new, even 2000 years ago Jesus was dealing with some of these issues about marriage and divorce.

When we read those words of Jesus response carefully, we find that marriage creates not just a bond, a partnership or an agreement but an entirely new single entity from the two people. It’s not a legal or social institution, although that’s part of it. Marriage is the joining of two people into one. Do you see why marriage carries such weight? Jesus adds his own voice to his quote from Genesis, he emphasises and draws out the truth from the passage; no longer two but one flesh, united not by man or law but by God. His command is that no one should separate what God has joined.

The concession for divorce Jesus tells us was given because of man’s hard heart. Israel was unable to fulfil the creator’s intention and needed laws that reflected that second-best reality.

Christ-Like
Marriage, in it’s purest, biblical form, is a beautiful picture of Christ’s relationship with the church and the picture is clearest in the marriage of Isaac and Rebekah:

Abraham, sends his most trusted servant Eliezer to find a suitable wife for his son Isaac from his own people many hundreds of miles away. God leads Eliezer to Rebekah; grand-daughter of Abraham’s brother Nahor and after he explains his mission to her family he returns and presents Isaac with his bride.

Just as Abraham sent out his most trusted servant to find a bride for his son God the Father has sent his Holy Spirit into the world to take a a bride for Christ a people for his name, chosen with the same particular care and attention.

As the church was chosen in him before the foundation of the world, Rebekah’s marriage was planned long before she knew about it. Like the Christian, God chose to make her a necessary part in bringing about the completion of his purpose. She was to share in the glory of the son, she learned of the son through the emissary of the father, she left everything to go to the son, loving him before she saw him and rejoicing in him. Rebekah journeyed through wilderness to meet him, guided by the servant and she was loved by and finally united to the son.

Isaac, like Christ, was promised long before his coming, finally appeared at the appointed time, was conceived and born miraculously and assigned a name by God before his birth. He was obedient even to death when he obediently followed his father up mount Moriah when Abraham would have sacrificed him, in a way he was brought back from the dead and ultimately would be the head of a great nation to bless all peoples.

Purpose
God’s Marriage is designed for our, holiness (keep us from sexual sin), happiness (and companionship, to unite us together as one) and procreation but all three have been subverted to a greater or lesser degree. Children are seen as an imposition or worse and Western culture has turned hedonism and sexual sin into an art form.

Explicit sexuality is the energy behind much of our economy, the material for entertainment, the substance of art, the enticement of advertising. Those who believe that sexual intercourse should be limited to marriage are dismissed as moral throw-backs, hopelessly outdated creatures who simply have no clue about the modern world. (Al Mohler)

Above all though marriage is designed for God’s glory. Our main purpose as God’s creation is to glorify him — and marriage is a means of His greater glory. If you take away God’s part in marriage, if you remove that miraculous union of man and woman becoming one flesh then you take away not only the foundation, but it’s real purpose. All you’re left with is the fluff. It becomes selfish and inward looking instead of upward looking.

Divorce
Jesus lays out plainly his opinion of divorce and it’s consequences for his disciples in case there were any misunderstanding from his words to the Pharisees:

Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another woman commits adultery against her. And if she divorces her husband and marries another man, she commits adultery. (vs 11-12)

The bond of marriage is not made by man but by God and he decrees that it’s a life-time deal. Obtaining a bit of paper to legally separate does not make any difference to that. Waving divorce papers in God’s face is not going to change his mind or change the consequences and yet we have this culture of divorce where a marriage is broken as easily as any other legal contract.
It’s created a cycle of destruction; as it becomes easier to divorce, getting married becomes less of a commitment, after all there’s always a way out.

Those words of Jesus to his disciples in verses 11 and 12 are hard to take in, some might even say they’re uncaring and cruel. There’s an uncountable number of lives that have been damaged, hearts that have been bruised by marriage breakdowns and this strong line of Jesus on the matter appears to condemn and heap yet more distress on to those lives.

But in the very next paragraph Mark reminds us of the real victims of divorce

“Let the children come to me; do not hinder them, for to such belongs the kingdom of God” (vs 14)

A legal form of divorce is necessary in a fallen world of hard hearts but that doesn’t mean that God has to pretend that it’s OK.

Whose Church is it anyway?

In Mark 9 John and the other disciples encounter a man who was going around doing good and working in Jesus name, he was working on the same side as the disciples.

His works spoke for themselves; we’re not told that he ever met Jesus or any of his disciples previously but his faith in his unseen saviour resulted in the power of the Holy Spirit being channelled through him to relieve suffering and yet they turned against him and prevented him from working.

Do we see God’s Church as only those churches who agree to our particular statement of faith? Are Evangelicals the only true Christians? Does the Church belong to Reformed churches or Eastern Orthodoxy? Anglican or Roman Catholic? Methodists or Baptists? Or to put it another way…Whose Church is it anyway?

The Church doesn’t belong to any particular group or denomination, the true Church belongs to Christ. But history shows that we often become jealous not for Jesus but for our branch of his church. Too often we’ve made an idol of our own peculiar way of doing or seeing things. Christians persecuting Christians for no other reason than that given by John in Mark 9:38; because he was not one of us.

Moses faced a similar problem when two elders; Eldad and Medad started prophesying in the camp in Numbers 11. Joshua, the man who was next in line to lead the nation, came to Moses and asked him to stop them; Moses replied:

Are you jealous for my sake? I wish that all the Lord’s people were prophets and that the Lord would put his Spirit on them! (Num 11:28)

Who was Joshua jealous for? Was it for the sake of Moses, was it himself? It certainly wasn’t God. Christ’s in Mark 9:39 response is similar:

“…no one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me for whoever is not against us is for us”

If he’s working in Jesus name then he’s not likely to be found speaking badly of Jesus and his movement, Paul completes the sentiment in Philippians 1:18 and takes it even further because he’s speaking about people working from false motives:

The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice.

There’s a war on, and if Jesus Christ himself says, as he does in verse 40, that the man is working on the Lord’s side who is anyone to argue? We can go further if we compare Mark 9:40 (whoever is not against us is for us) with Matthew 12:30 where Jesus says

He that is not with me is against me

All these statements taken together declare that there is no neutral position when it comes to our relationship with Jesus Christ and our chosen side in this war.

Sometimes we might see many evils resulting from religious dissensions and divisions but we mustn’t let that prevent us from rejoicing if Jesus is glorified, and if the works of the devil are defeated and souls are saved. It’s too easy to think small when we think of the church but it’s bigger than we can imagine, God is bigger than we can imagine and this war is bigger than we can imagine too.

It appears that the disciples didn’t comprehend what Jesus had called them into. The war is real and the actions that we take here and now in this temporary home of ours can and do have eternal consequences. They, like us, need to realise what is really going on and start thinking strategically like Moses, Jesus and Paul.

This remark on this passage makes interesting reading, particularly considering it’s author was a dissenting 17th century French Roman Catholic theologian:

Christ suffers many things in his Church which are done without his mission; but he makes them contribute to the establishment of his Kingdom” (Pasquier Quesnel)

This isn’t that ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ but that the work of the church is down to Christ and not man, and he will use diverse means and people to perform the will of God.