Simon van Bruchem

Your Faith Is Demonstrated in How You Respond to Problems

It is not for us to know why we face what we face. The ‘why’ question often leads nowhere. Yes, there were times in 1 and 2 Kings when a famine or event happened directly due to God’s judgement. Most of the time we won’t know why our lives are how they are. Perhaps we have issues due to our own sinful decisions; maybe it is part of a bigger plan of God we have not been told about. Seeking to know why is not the main focus of what we should be thinking and doing.

In some circles, Christians are directly taught that if they are faithful to God, they will be blessed with an abundant, happy and healthy life. It is a compelling message. We’d love it to be true. A neat life where faithfulness directly leads to an easy life right now sounds fantastic!
And this is not only an issue for Christians who have been taught this kind of prosperity theology. All of us will, at times, think along these lines. We will wonder if the problems we are currently facing are some sort of judgement from God. We will be upset if our plans don’t come about, assuming that God should give us what we want.
Yet the ease of your life is a bad indicator of your faith in God. Even a cursory look at the Bible will demonstrate that. The men who wrote Psalms 37 and 73 both noted that those who care nothing for God often seem to have happy, successful lives while believers struggle. Evil kings like Ahab and Manasseh reigned for a long time. The prophets and apostles all had difficult lives facing all kinds of problems. Life is not as simple as the faithful getting blessed now and the wicked facing immediate judgement.
Looking through the many kings described in 1 and 2 Kings, both good and bad, is instructive for us here. The vast majority of them faced major problems in their lives. The difference between the good kings and the wicked kings was not the circumstances they lived through; it was how they reacted to those circumstances.
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Consider Your Attitude to the Local Church

Local churches are made up of sinners. There are those whose lifestyles do not match your standards. You will see obvious sin and hypocrisy in the lives of others. Yet, as has been often said, church is a hospital for sinners rather than a museum for saints. We are all sinner with deep problems. We need Jesus, we need the Spirit to change us over time, and we need the help of other imperfect believers as we get there.

All of us have different experiences of church. We can get frustrated with other people or tired from our service. We can feel as if no-one speaks to us or overwhelmed that there are too many people to speak to. We can notice all the problems with our local church on some days and rejoice at God’s goodness to our local church on others. As many people consider the big issues in their lives during January, make sure you are thinking rightly about church this year.
Do you love Jesus, but not the church? It’s a popular view. It sounds so logical and modern and enlightened. After all, most of us have had poor experiences with the local church at some stage in our lives. The problem is that the local church is central to God’s work in the world. When people came to know Jesus in Acts, they immediately started meeting together. When Paul spends three chapters in Ephesians 1-3 explaining what Jesus has accomplished for believers, he emphasizes that we are united together (Eph 1:10, 22-23, 2:19-22). So many instructions for Christians make no sense if done by ourselves (such as to “be completely humble and gentle”, Eph 4:2). There are many commands for Christians to do things to one another (love, bear with etc). If you are a Christian, you should be active in a local church, despite the challenges and difficulties that come with that.
Are you disappointed with the other people at church? If not, you will be! Local churches are made up of sinners. There are those whose lifestyles do not match your standards. You will see obvious sin and hypocrisy in the lives of others. Yet, as has been often said, church is a hospital for sinners rather than a museum for saints. We are all sinner with deep problems. We need Jesus, we need the Spirit to change us over time, and we need the help of other imperfect believers as we get there.
In our assessment of other believers, we are usually failing to see our own sin. We don’t want to become judgmental and only picking on the problems we see in the lives of others.
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Are You Actually Responsible for How Your Year Turned Out?

When I reflect on my past year, some of the things I prayed for and planned for did come about. Yet many things were unexpected. One of my co-pastors became very unwell. Many people joined the church and some people left. Many things, both large and small, happened that I could never have known in advance. It makes me humble knowing that I have far less control over my life than I often think I do.

As you reflect on 2023, how did your year turn out? How do you judge if it is a good year or a bad year? One measure is financial: did you meet your budget or your goals? Another is by achievement: did you get everything done that you hoped to? These are the kinds of things that are easily measured. We know when we have met these goals.
Yet, if we are honest with ourselves, many of the things that happened in the past year we didn’t plan or expect. We probably were unwell at some stage. We might have lost a job or had an unexpected job offer. Any number of things might have happened that we could never have known in advance.
It is like James reminded his readers of when it came to planning:
13 Come now, you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go into such and such a town and spend a year there and trade and make a profit”– 14 yet you do not know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes. 15 Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we will live and do this or that.” 16 As it is, you boast in your arrogance. All such boasting is evil.
(Jas. 4:13-16 ESV)
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Does the Parable of the Talents Teach Salvation by Works?

Christians who are trying to serve King Jesus do not need to fear that they will be found to have not done enough on the Last Day. We should work hard in response to the grace we have been shown, to be sure. But we are saved by Jesus and what He has done for us; what we do is only evidence that we know how great a gift we have been given.

The famous parable of the talents in Matthew 25 sounds a lot like it is teaching some kind of salvation by works. After all, three servants are given money to use. When the master returned, the two who used that money well were rewarded and welcomed into the master’s happiness. The one who did not use the money well was cast outside into the outer darkness. That sounds like those who serve God well enough get in while those who do not fail to make the cut.
That is what it seems to teach at a quick glance, but that’s not understanding the whole parable well.
All of the servants in the parable of the talents were servants to start with. Their status was not something that was earned by what they did. And they were given an incredible amount of wealth to manage right at the start. The starting point for everyone is the blessing of God; that is not something that we did something to deserve.
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Seeing What You Have as Something That Doesn’t Belong to You

If we know the real owner of all we have, it makes a massive difference to how we approach life….God has blessed all of his children so richly. Let’s use what we have been entrusted with well and enthusiastically for His glory!

Have you ever borrowed someone’s car or looked after their house while they have been on holidays? While it is a blessing to have use of a car or house that you don’t usually have, we feel the responsibility of it. We are nervous that something might go wrong with this important and expensive thing we have been entrusted with.
And we are not free to alter the house or car the way that we might personally like. We cannot paint them a different colour or carry out renovations on the house. After all, they don’t belong to us. We are only looking after them for someone else.
That is a good analogy for what our possessions and abilities are really like. All that we have is a gift from God. We see this in the parable of the talents in Matthew 25. Each servant was given a massive amount to look after by their master. Everyone involved in this knew who the real owner of the money was. When the master returned, the first two servants gave the money back with any return they had made through their work. All they had, and all they achieved, was returned to the master in the end.
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What Does a Good Life Look Like?

God chooses whether our lives will be full of troubles or ease; this is not a reflection of how faithful we happen to be. Good King Hezekiah had to rule through a siege of Jerusalem, while evil King Manasseh lived a long and peaceful life, dying at a good old age. All of us will face trouble of some kind sooner or later. Living a faithful and good life means to trust God whatever happens.

There are so many different concepts of what a good life looks like. Many would define it as being able to do whatever you want. Others would say that it is having enough money to buy a standard of living that brings comfort and safety. Still others would say living for your family and knowing that they are well regarded and well looked after.
In certain Christian circles, people are taught that a good life is one free from troubles including sickness and poverty. If you are faithful to God, God will bless you with a good life, a life of ease and comfort and blessing.
The Biblical answer is rather different to all of these. A life assessed by God to be a good life, one that is good and right in the eyes of the Lord, is a faithful life. We see this in the books of 1 and 2 Kings. So many people in the books of Kings are assessed as evil in God’s sight, including kings who were timid and did what their fathers did as well as domineering kings who pushed the nation away from the true God. Yet some are counted as right in God’s sight.
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Eloquent Voices Don’t Make Our Faith Untrue

Don’t let the eloquent voices of our culture make you doubt your faith. There is no magical argument that disproves Christianity. For many generations, people have claimed that it is foolish to trust in Jesus who died and rose again. They have based this view on their understanding of science, on their philosophical positions, and on their personal preference to be free of some higher authority. Yet there is no killer argument that disproves our faith. There cannot be one, for what Christians believe is true. The message of the gospel is uncomplicated. It is simple enough that small children can understand it.

The Assyrian army threatened the city of Jerusalem in 2 Kings 18. A great army massed outside the walls and a spokesperson (with the memorable title of the Rabshakeh) came out to speak to the people of Judah. This man was clearly educated and clever. The Rabshakeh spoke to the official delegates of the king and to the common people in their own language. And his speeches are eloquent, full of rhetoric and repetition, convincingly putting his case across.
The message of the Rabshakeh was clear: you should surrender to Assyria. Don’t believe that King Hezekiah or your God or your own strength can save you, for they cannot do it. No other nation has been able to resist Assyria, and you are no different. You face certain ruin, so save yourselves now.
This reminds us of the eloquent voices of our own culture. There are spokespeople like Richard Dawkins and Stephen Fry who use any opportunity to mock Christianity as being ridiculous. University professors write books against our faith and television writers and producers present a vision for the world without God in it. This message is put forward with cleverness and force. At times, we might even wonder if we have chosen the right side. All the power and eloquence of this world seems to be united against our faith.
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You Can Build Better Family Traditions

I know many people who have become Christians from non-Christian family backgrounds. They want to live a life honouring the true God but need to set up new family traditions and ways of living. What does it look like to be a Christian husband? What does it look like to live a single life that is faithful to God? These are questions their parents never asked or attempted to answer, yet they are trying to do these things day by day. And, by God’s grace, they are setting up ways of life that might well not only influence themselves but their families and those around them.

Every family falls into patterns of doing things. It can be something minor, like placing the cups in the cupboard upside down when you have washed and dried them. Or it might be something major, like a pattern of responding to disagreements with anger or resentment with little forgiveness or grace. Some families value sport above all other things, while others value reading with every member of the family engaged in a book of their choice.
There can be something very positive about family traditions. But there can also be something terribly destructive. Following other religions often continues for generations. Big issues like drunkenness and violence also have a tendency to be passed on from parents to children.
If you’ve grown up in a destructive family tradition, or a family who have followed another god than the true God, you might feel negative or despondent about it. All of us are a product, to a significant degree, of the way we have been brought up. Yet there is always hope; you can change the path set before you by your parents.
We see this in the latter chapters of 2 Kings. The family line of kings in Judah was almost entirely negative. Most kings tolerated the high places where people worshipped other gods. Some of the kings went far further than this, actively following other gods and persecuting the prophets of the true God. What hope was there that a child born into this kind of family would end up living a faithful life?
Well, we do see this on a couple of occasions. Hezekiah was the son of Ahaz, a man who built a major altar in the temple to another god.
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We Need Encouragement in Sermons, not Only Challenge

We need to be challenged and encouraged. We need hope as well as conviction of sin. Let’s do all we can, if we formally teach the Bible or informally meet with other Christians, to share the hope that we have. We need to hear the wonder of the gospel regularly to keep us going in a world where we don’t see a lot of hope anywhere else.

What do you expect from a sermon when you go to a church service? What is it that you need to hear, and what is important to be included?
I have been listening to sermons my whole life, preaching for over 15 years, and now help to teach others how to preach as well. I have also been visiting churches from other traditions and denominations in the past few years to get a sense of the variety that is out there. Of course, every preacher has their own personality and style; there will always be a large variety in how sermons are delivered. There is no one way to preach faithfully.
When Christians come to listen to a sermon, we need to be fed from the word of God. This means that the sermon needs to be based on the Bible (and not in a loose ‘this is a proof text for what I wanted to say anyway’ kind of way). It needs to explain how that particular Bible passage applies to the lives of those present.
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The Tragic Culture of Complaining

When you find your conversations dominated by complaining, stop and pause for a moment. You have far more to rejoice in than you do to complain about! Let’s stand out as people who know God works all things for our good.
Complaining is a way of life for so many people. It seems to be the default setting in our minds. When something doesn’t quite work out the way we would like, we complain. We complain about traffic, about weather (whether it is too hot or cold or rainy or humid), about our co-workers and family members, about the cost of living, about the government, about anything that comes into our minds.
Just read the comments section on any news article on the internet (and note that the news article is probably also complaining about something!). The comments are just more complaints.
I noticed this complaining bias when I looked online to find reviews of a product I was interested in buying. While I knew it was a good product with a good reputation, there were quite a number of very harsh and critical reviews and a relatively small number of positive ones. Why was this? It is because people who are happy with a product don’t tend to go online to write reviews. The people who go to write reviews are the angry people who are dissatisfied. If we are unhappy with something, the research says that we are far more likely to tell others than if we are happy with something.
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