Friday, December 31, 2010

A pure heart

“Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.” Psalm 24:3-4
Being able to come into God’s presence is a wonderful thing. That connection with Him, is the reason we were created. But we can’t just waltz on in, because God has standards of righteousness that need to be met, as described in this verse. Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.
Do we have clean hands? Have we ever committed sin? Unfortunately, yes – we all have. Have we lifted up our soul to an idol? Perhaps not an idol carved from wood or stone, but an idol can be anything that takes God’s place in our lives (money, career, a person, a car, a house, ...).
And here’s the clincher: Do any of us have a pure heart? The Bible tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Even we don’t know our own hearts – except that they, like our physical bodies, are affected by the Fall.
But there is one Person who can say that He has pure hands, a clean heart, has not lifted up His soul to an idol or sworn by what is false. Jesus Christ lived a perfect, sinless life, as a human. He alone is able to come into God’s presence. And by doing so, if we are in Him, He enables us to enter also.

Thursday, December 30, 2010

He would not let the demons speak

“and Jesus healed many who had various diseases. He also drove out many demons, but He would not let the demons speak because they knew who He was.” Mark 1:34
Every time we see Jesus driving out demons, we read how He would not permit them to speak, or if they did, declaring Him the Son of God, He would tell them to be silent. See Mark 1:24-25. A similar instance might be found in Acts 16:17-18, where Paul was troubled by the slave girl calling attention to them.
There are a few things to note here. Firstly, the demons believe Jesus is the Son of God. They believe He has the power to judge them. They believe in hell. How many people do we know, who call themselves Christians, who don’t believe these things!
Secondly: Why would Jesus forbid them to speak? Although they are telling the truth, they are wanting to make a scene and draw attention to themselves. When Peter confessed Christ’s divinity (Matt. 16:16), Jesus told him, “Blessed are you, Simon son of Jonah, for this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven” (Matt. 16:17).
The answer is this: Jesus wanted people to make up their own minds as to Who He was, without being influenced by a demon. Unfortunately, the same thing happens today. People get into Christianity because of some demonic weirdness that amazes them. But if you can get into Christianity through a demon, you can get out of it too. It is far better to come to know the Lord personally, and to make that your reason for believing.

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


“Going a little farther, He fell with His face to the ground and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from Me. Yet not as I will, but as You will.’ ... He went away a second time and prayed, ‘My Father, if it is not possible for this cup to be taken away unless I drink it, may Your will be done.’” Matthew 26:39, 42
It pains me sometimes to read of the agony that Jesus endured in the Garden of Gethsemane, even before He went to the cross. In fact, when He was on trial and even as the soldiers were crucifying Him, He was calm and at peace. This is because the battle between His will and the will of the Father was concluded in prayer, in the garden.
Luke’s account tells us how Jesus sweated blood. This is a known medical condition and points to the sufferer being under acute stress. This was no ordinary prayer.
God certainly heard what His Son was saying. And He answered... yet Jesus still went to the cross and died there. What does this tell us? If there was another way for us to be saved, God would have pulled the plug and said, ‘That’s enough.’ But the fact that God allowed Jesus to go through with it, shows that the death of Christ is the only way we can be saved.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


“When evening came, Jesus was reclining at the table with the Twelve. And while they were eating, He said, ‘I tell you the truth, one of you will betray Me.’
“They were very sad and began to say to Him one after the other, ‘Surely not I, Lord?’” Matthew 26:20-22

Leading up to this, the Last Supper, Jesus had been telling His disciples that He would be handed over to the authorities, that He would be crucified, and that He would rise again. Now He drops another bombshell on them: He would be handed over by one of His own.
It’s interesting to note the disciples’ reaction to this announcement. They all suspected themselves. Nobody suspected Judas – they didn’t point the finger and say, ‘I bet it’s him.’ We read the gospel accounts in hindsight, since they were written in hindsight, and there Judas is often described as ‘Judas Iscariot, who betrayed Him’ (Matt. 10:4, Mark 3:19, Luke 6:16, John 6:71, John 12:4). But at the time, the disciples did not know. In fact, perhaps even Judas did not fully know, although by the time the Last Supper came around, he had already made some arrangements with the chief priests to lead them to Jesus. Perhaps he did not realise what they intended to do with Him.
Rather, the disciples suspected themselves. The truth is, we could all be capable of betraying the Lord. We would like to think that we wouldn’t, but we know that such a moment of weakness could strike us at any time, especially when we are under pressure. But it’s in those situations that the Holy Spirit protects us and gives us the resolve to stand strong for the Lord. If we know Him and are known by Him, we don’t need to worry that we will betray Him.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mary's devotion

“While Jesus was in Bethany in the home of a man known as Simon the Leper, a woman came to Him with an alabaster jar of very expensive perfume, which she poured on His head as He was reclining at the table.” Matthew 26:6-7
There are several accounts of Jesus being anointed by women, but they are not all the same. Note that this is a later time and different place to the woman who wept and kissed Jesus’ feet and poured perfume on them in Luke 7:37-38. It is probably the same account as John 12:3, where we are told it is Mary, the sister of Martha and Lazarus.
This act was not merely symbolic of her affection for the Lord. In those times, the dowry system was widely used, and wealth was often converted into costly but small things, that could be stored – such as perfume. Thus, the perfume that Mary poured over Jesus, from head to foot, was probably her dowry. Without it, her chances of being married were slim to none. She gave her marital prospects up for Jesus as an act of complete devotion to Him. The disciples did not see it this way at all. They thought that she was making a big show, and questioned why the perfume was not sold for the high price that it was worth and the money given to the poor. They didn’t realise what Mary knew: that the Lord was of much, much higher worth than the perfume.
The smell of the perfume was most probably still upon Jesus’ body as He hung on the cross a few days later, and as His body was laid in the tomb. But the smell of her devotion, carries to us today, as we read in the Scriptures of what she did. Indeed, as Jesus said: “I tell you the truth: wherever this gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her” (Matt. 26:13).

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wonderful, Counsellor

“... And He will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.” Isaiah 9:6
It’s great to reflect on some of the names of Christ. As we know, names in Jewish culture are not just chosen for how they sound, or to name the child after a relative or famous person (usually), but for the meaning behind the name. For example, the name ‘Jesus’, or in Hebrew ‘Jehoshua’ means ‘Jehovah is salvation’. See Matt. 1:21. He is called ‘Immanuel’, meaning ‘God with us’.
Here, Jesus is also called ‘Wonderful’, ‘Counsellor’, ‘Mighty God’, ‘Everlasting Father’, ‘Prince of Peace’. He is indeed wonderful – if you know Him, you will know how He can fill you with wonder and awe when thinking about Him. He is our counsellor: He guides us through His Word and through His Spirit. He stands before the Father, mediating for us. He is the mighty God – just read Revelation 19. He is everlasting. And He is the prince of peace. Only someone who knows the Lord, can know what real peace is.
How awesome that we can know God in this way, that He would reveal Himself to us! He didn’t have to – He is complete without us – but He wanted to because He loves us.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A child is born

“For to us a Child is born, to us a Son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders...” Isaiah 9:6
This is a familiar Christmas verse to most of us, but it shows us a glimpse of the profundity that is the Incarnation of Christ.
At Christmas we celebrate the birth of Jesus, God’s Son, as a human baby. A child was born, who would grow up to bear the sin of the world and provide salvation for all mankind. This child would grow into a man, and succeed in every place that Adam failed. Yet Jesus existed before His Incarnation. He was intimately involved in the creation of the world. He was the one who appeared to Abraham (Gen. 18:1), the one who wrestled with Jacob (Gen. 32:24-30), the one who fought the battle of Jericho (Josh. 5:13-15), the one who appeared to Samson’s parents (Judg. 13:17-18).
Since Jesus always existed as God the Son, it is in the sense of His Deity that He was given up for the sin of the world by the Father. Thus in the phrase “a Child is born... a Son is given”, we see both the humanity and the Divinity of Jesus Christ.
In the Old Testament, Jesus appeared to people from time to time in human form. But in the Gospels, He was born as a human. The difference between these is huge. We might behave like an animal, perhaps to entertain children by giving piggy-back rides or making animal noises. But to become an animal, 24-7, would be unthinkable. Yet Jesus took an even greater step down in putting on flesh and dwelling amongst us, subjecting Himself to human physical limitations.
My pastor made an interesting point when he taught on this verse last week. Jesus was born as a baby. He wasn’t created as a full-grown man, like Adam was. No, He was born as a baby, vulnerable, completely dependent on His earthly parents. He grew up, just as we did. He knows exactly what it’s like to be completely human, yet still being God.
As we think about the baby in the manger, let’s take time to consider the enormity of what happened. God stepped into our world to rescue us from sin. Isn’t that worth celebrating?

Friday, December 24, 2010

Keeping watch

“Therefore keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come. But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him.” Matthew 24:42-44
We come across several verses in the Bible about Christ coming in secret, like a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2). As we saw earlier in Matthew 24, the second coming will be obvious and preceded by many signs. Not so for the rapture of the church. That could happen at any moment.
I believe the rapture of the church will happen before the Tribulation begins; before the 7 years of ‘Jacob’s trouble’. People may say that’s escapist, but that’s kind of the point! (Luke 21:36). The Tribulation is God’s judgement upon a Christ-rejecting world, and He does not judge the righteous with the wicked. No, rather than being escapist and burying our heads in the sand, the pre-Trib rapture is a purifying doctrine (Tit. 2:12-13, 1 John 3:3). Because the Lord could come at any time, we live righteously. We are not like the servant who slacked off because he thought the master was not coming soon (Matt. 24:48-51).
The implication of the words, ‘the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect Him’, is that He is coming sooner than we think. When people say, ‘Jesus couldn’t come back today because...’ – then He very well could come back today, because they are not expecting Him! Are you ready for Him to return?

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The fig tree

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see all these things, you know that it is near, right at the door.” Matthew 24:32-33
Throughout the Old and New Testaments, the fig tree is used as a symbol of the nation Israel (Jer. 24, Hos. 9:10, Luke 13:6-9). In this light, we can understand what Jesus is referring to here, concerning the end times.
Israel was reborn as a nation in her homeland in 1948. It is coming back to life, just as Ezekiel saw in his vision of the valley of dry bones (Ezek. 37). Instead of being a dry, dead-looking stick, it is starting to produce shoots and leaves. After the leaves, comes the fruit. (This is why Jesus cursed the fig tree upon entering Jerusalem – as a symbol of the nation, it had not produced fruit for the Messiah. Matt. 21:18-19)
We are privileged to be living at the present time. Israel has not existed as a nation for hundreds of years, and yet we have seen the people regathered and restored. We have seen these things, and Jesus tells us that we can know that the time of His coming is near.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It will be obvious

“So if anyone tells you, ‘There He is, out in the desert,’ do not go out; or, ‘Here He is, in the inner rooms,’ do not believe it. For as lightning that comes from the east is visible even in the west, so will be the coming of the Son of Man.” Matthew 24:26-27
There is considerable confusion in the church today concerning the rapture of the Church and the second coming of Christ. But the confusion dissipates when we realise that these are two quite separate events.
Here, Jesus tells us that His second coming will not be in secret. People won’t have to go looking for Christ when He returns. Rather, His return will light up the sky. It will be obvious to all.
“At that time the sign of the Son of Man will appear in the sky, and all the nations of the earth will mourn. They will see the Son of Man coming on the clouds of the sky, with power and great glory” (Matt. 24:30).
What will be in secret, is the rapture of the Church. At the second coming, every eye will see Him; but at the rapture, He comes as a thief in the night (1 Thess. 5:2). The second coming is for all people; the rapture is only for His own. The second coming will occur exactly three-and-a-half years after the Antichrist desecrates the temple in Jerusalem; no-one knows the timing of the rapture (Matt. 24:36). At the rapture, we rise from the earth to meet the Lord in the air; at the second coming we come with Him on the clouds to rule on the earth. People might miss the rapture, but no-one will miss the second coming. It will be obvious.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Birth pains

“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.” Matthew 24:7-8
In Matthew 24, Jesus gives His disciples a number of signs that will precede His second coming. Here He describes how wars will increase, famines will increase, and earthquakes will increase, all over the world. He likens these events to birth pains – that is, they will increase in frequency and intensity up to the moment of birth.
When we look at the world around us, we do indeed see wars in various places. In fact, there has not been a single day since 1945 that there has not been a war being fought, somewhere on earth. We see the number of people affected by famine and disease increasing. And we see the number of earthquakes increasing, and their severity.
However, we shouldn’t read the newspaper with dread. Jesus said that these things would happen, and they are. Moreover, they are signs that the end is getting closer. What a glorious day it will be when the Kingdom Age is finally born, and Jesus Christ is ruling and reigning on the earth! The joy we will have then, far surpasses the trouble we may have now. So hang in there, and keep looking up.

Monday, December 20, 2010

The meditation of my heart

“May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in Your sight, O Lord, my Rock and my Redeemer.” Psalm 19:14
These words of David are worth spending a bit of time pondering over. We know that our words come out of the overflow of our heart (Luke 6:45). And we also know that God doesn’t only look upon our words and our actions, but He looks at what is going on in our hearts (1 Sam. 16:7).
When we consider these two things – the words of our mouth, and the meditation of our heart – I would say that the words of our mouth are much easier for us to control. We can think of satisfying revengeful comebacks, or crude jokes, or think of what we (in our flesh) would like to say to that person who hurt us, but then decide to not say it. Nobody knows what we were thinking... but God knows.
Now, there is a difference between thinking and meditating. Sometimes we have all kinds of ungodly thoughts pop into our minds – some from our flesh, but sometimes they are temptations from Satan. Even Jesus was tempted, yet He was without sin (Heb. 4:15). So it is not the initial thought that is the issue, but rather what we do with it. When a lustful thought comes into our mind, do we entertain it? When a thought of how we could get away with stealing something comes into our mind, do we dwell on it? The ‘meditation of my heart’ is what I choose to dwell on. The Bible says we are to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). And really, if we are able to control the words that come out of our mouths, we are on the way to being able to control what our minds dwell on – through the help of the Holy Spirit. “Finally, brothers, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable - if anything is excellent or praiseworthy - think about such things” (Phil. 4:8).

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Creation and the Bible

“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.” Psalm 19:7
Psalm 19 begins in the first six verses by drawing our attention to the magnificence of creation, illustrating how we can know God’s existence and power by looking at the universe around us. But creation cannot tell us any more about God, and it cannot tell us how we should live, because it is fallen.
This is where verses 7-11 come in, with a second witness to teach us how we should live. That second witness is the law of God, the Bible. Let’s read what the Bible can teach us:
“The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul.”
“The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy, making wise the simple.”
“The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart.”
“The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.”
“The fear of the Lord is pure, enduring forever.”
“The ordinances of the Lord are sure and altogether righteous.”
(Ps. 19:7-11)
It is through the Bible that we gain an understanding of our sin and how it has separated us from God; and how we discover the path to salvation through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is through the Word of God that we gain wisdom. And it is through the Word of God that God’s character is revealed to us, so we can develop a deeper relationship with Him.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The night sky

“The heavens declare the glory of God; the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” Psalm 19:1
Most of us have had moments where we have looked at the night sky, or pictures from various space telescopes, and being overawed by the enormity of the universe that we live in. And in amongst the billions of stars and galaxies and light-years of space, is the tiny ball of dirt where even tinier entities live. We are so insignificant compared to the universe; if size was the only thing that mattered, we wouldn’t even rate a mention. Yet that tiny ball of dirt is where God focuses on; and He became one of those tiny entities that lives on the tiny ball of dirt, in order to provide salvation for all of us.
Consider the Creation account: on the fourth day, God created the sun and moon and stars. “God made two great lights – the greater light to govern the day and the lesser light to govern the night. He also made the stars” (Gen. 1:16). Even here we see the anthropocentricity of the creation (everything is made for man’s benefit), because the sun and moon define man’s day and night. And the rest of the universe is summed up in the words, ‘He also made the stars.’
So next time you are looking at the night sky, remember this verse. Marvel at God’s glory that is evident there. Thank Him for what He has done in your life. He is more interested in you than in the stars and planets.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Using your position

“‘O Lord, let Your ear be attentive to the prayer of Your servant and to the prayer of Your servants who delight in revering Your name. Give Your servant success today by granting him favour in the presence of this man.’ I was cupbearer to the king.” Nehemiah 1:11
Every place we end up in life, every person we come into contact with – God uses to grow our character, and as opportunities to witness to others and make a difference for the Kingdom. Jesus spoke about this in the parable of the unfaithful steward, Luke 16. “I tell you, use worldly wealth to gain friends for yourselves, so that when it is gone, you will be welcomed into eternal dwellings” (Luke 16:9). He’s not talking about buying friendships, but using our resources for God’s purposes. Similarly Esther was encouraged by Mordecai, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Est. 4:14).
As Christians, we should be a positive and godly influence in our workplaces, our classrooms, our sports teams, committees we are on. Nehemiah was cupbearer to the king and was thus in contact with him every day, having to taste the food and wine to check it was up to standard and not poisoned. He had the king’s trust. And he was rewarded for faithfully bringing his plea to go and rebuild Jerusalem. It might sound like you have selfish intentions, to use your position as a platform for God. But doesn’t He deserve it? Sure, if you create a bad witness in doing so, that’s not right. But God is supposed to be first in every aspect of our lives, not just when we meet together with other Christians.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Do what they say, not what they do

“The teachers of the law and the Pharisees sit in Moses’ seat. So you must obey them and do everything they tell you. But do not do what they do, for they do not practice what they preach.” Matthew 23:2-3
Matthew 23 gives us some insights into what it was like living in Judea at the time of Christ, with the Pharisees, the professional law-keepers, and the teachers of the law, ruling over the people and generally looking down on them. These people were proud of their position and their good works (see for example, Luke 18:10-14). But Jesus had a lot to say against them – their good works were not out of gratitude to God, but done for other people to see how wonderful they were.
Since the people couldn’t read or understand Hebrew, they relied on the Pharisees and teachers of the law to tell them what was in God’s law. So the Pharisees were teaching God’s law, but they were not living the essence of it – as we read in Matt. 22:37-40, firstly to love God, and secondly to love other people.
We can come across people like this today. They know the Bible forwards, backwards, and inside-out, but they don’t live it. Listen to Jesus’ words here: don’t be discouraged by those people. Just get on with your life, and live how God wants you to. Those people will have to give account to Him – as do we all.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


“O Lord, God of Israel, You are righteous! We are left this day as a remnant. Here we are before You in our guilt, though because of it not one of us can stand in Your presence.” Ezra 9:15
Chapter 9 of the book of Ezra gives Ezra’s intercessory prayer on behalf of the nation Israel for some of the Israelites disobeying the law of God by taking foreign women as their wives. As soon as he heard of this, he tore his clothes and sat, appalled. In the evening, he arose and prayed.
Ezra was an intercessor. He had not personally sinned by taking a Canaanite woman as a wife, but he includes himself in every sentence: ‘We have sinned’, ‘our guilt’, etc. To be an intercessor means to stand in the gap for another person. We identify with them, and pray accordingly.
As we mature in the Lord, we realise that sin in the body of Christ does not affect people in isolation. It does not affect only the person who is committing that sin, but as the body, we are all connected. Therefore, we can’t ignore it when a Christian is falling away. We need to stand by them and intercede on their behalf.
God didn’t answer Ezra’s prayer with fire or a voice from heaven. But He did move upon the people’s hearts to repent of their sin and make amends.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Son of David

“[Jesus] said to them, ‘How is it then that David, speaking by the Spirit, calls [Christ] ‘Lord’? For he says, ‘The Lord said to my Lord: sit at My right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.’ If then David calls Him ‘Lord’, how can He be his son?’” Matthew 22:44-45
In Matthew 22, Jesus is asked a series of questions by the Pharisees and Sadducees, not because they wanted to learn from Him, but because they wanted to trap Him in what He said (Matt. 22:15). But He silences all of them with His answers. Having done so, He then poses a tricky question to them. He asks them, whose son is the Christ? They answer, the son of David. Then He quotes to them Psalm 110:1 – “The Lord said to my Lord, sit at My right hand until I put Your enemies under Your feet.”
In the Jewish culture, a person’s ancestors were all greater than their descendants. Everyone had respect for their elders, and titles of respect were never bestowed on younger people by older people. Thus how can David as the ‘father’ of Christ, call Him ‘Lord’?
The Pharisees were unable to answer, but the answer is quite simple. Yes, Jesus was a descendant of David physically (through Mary) and legally (through Joseph). But He existed prior to His incarnation – and prior to David. He was the one who brought David himself into existence.

Monday, December 13, 2010

The greatest law

“Jesus replied, ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbour as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.’” Matthew 22:37-40
Jesus was asked by the Pharisees, ‘What is the greatest commandment in the Law?’ (Matt. 22:36). Now, out of over 600 commandments to choose from, including the most well-known Ten Commandments, which would you have chosen as the greatest?
Jesus doesn’t pick a ‘Thou shalt not...’ commandment. He does not pick one to do with our outward actions at all. Rather, He highlights the law of love: loving God, and loving our fellow man. And it must be in this order.
Paul picks up on this: “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10).
The Pharisees sought to keep all the nuances of the law, but only as it applied to their outward actions. Because of this they developed a proud, unloving attitude to the people around them. Rather, God wants our heart attitude to be changed. That change will naturally flow outwards into our actions.

Sunday, December 12, 2010

God answers prayer

“I call on You, O God, for You will answer me; give ear to me and hear my prayer.” Psalm 17:6
Prayer is a wonderful, powerful thing that we have. It is a direct hotline to God, and the bottleneck is always at our end, not His. We might not pray often enough (I know I am guilty of this), or we may not be praying in complete accordance with His will, or there might be some sin we need to deal with before He can answer our prayer and bless us. But if we are a child of God, He will always hear our prayer, and He will always answer us.
How come then, we don’t seem to see our prayers answered more often? Well, God doesn’t always answer in the affirmative. We might be praying for something out of selfishness, without thinking about the implications an affirmative response would have on others – or on ourselves further down the track. We might be praying for something that is not God’s will for us. Also, He might not answer our prayer immediately. Maybe He has to work something else out in another person’s life, before your prayer can be answered. Or maybe He has to work something out in your own life. But the Scriptures give us assurance that God does hear, and He does answer. He doesn’t ignore us.

Saturday, December 11, 2010


“When the enemies of Judah and Benjamin heard that the exiles were building a temple for the Lord, the God of Israel, they came to Zerubbabel and to the heads of the families and said, ‘Let us help you build because, like you, we seek your God and have been sacrificing to Him since the time of Esarhaddon king of Assyria, who brought us here.’ But Zerubbabel, Jeshua and the rest of the heads of the families of Israel answered, ‘You have no part with us in building a temple to our God. We alone will build it for the Lord, the God of Israel, as King Cyrus, the king of Persia, commanded us.” Ezra 4:1-3
It disturbs me to read of those who speak for various churches and Christian ministries, espousing the idea of combining with those of other faiths. Holding ‘prayer meetings’ with Muslims, as if we were worshipping the same God. This was the issue that faced Zerubbabel, the leader of Israel after the return from Babylon. He did the right thing and vehemently declined the offer.
We are not to mix Christianity with other religions*. Many people would say they believe in ‘God’, but one needs to delve a bit deeper to find out which God/god they are referring to. Usually, they are not referring to the God of the Bible, the Creator of heaven and earth, the living God who put on flesh and dwelled among us. How can we ‘meditate’ or ‘pray’ together, if we are praying to a different God/god?
God gave the children of Israel a number of commands about not sowing their fields with two types of seeds, not wearing clothes made of two materials (wool and linen), not ploughing with an ox and a donkey together (Deut. 22:9-11). These were symbolic of the heart attitude He was seeking to instil: don’t mix your faith with the different faith of other religions*.

*I think it’s clear that by ‘other religions’ I don’t mean ‘other Christian denominations’. This is indeed a source of confusion to the world.

Friday, December 10, 2010


“But many who are first will be last, and many who are last will be first.” Matthew 19:30
In many Scriptures, Jesus teaches us how the values of the kingdom of God are completely opposite to the values of the world. The world says, ‘Get ahead at all costs’. But in God’s sight, those who trample over others to pursue their own interests are the low-lifes (Ex. 22:22-24, Deut. 27:19, etc.). The world says, ‘Look out for number one’. But God tells us to “consider others better than yourselves” (Phil. 2:3).
God looks at the heart of each person. Those who are seen as important by the world, may not be so in eternity. “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov. 3:34, Jas. 4:6, 1 Pet. 5:5). Some people even fall into the trap of thinking, ‘Well, I come from a ‘Christian’ nation – I will be more blessed in eternity than people from other, pagan, countries.’ Not necessarily so. It was a similar situation in Jesus’ time: the Jews in general and the Pharisees in particular, believed that they alone were going to heaven. They believed that Gentiles only existed to keep the fires of hell burning. Gentiles, who historically were the ‘last’ to be offered salvation (the Jews being ‘first’), will receive some of the highest places in heaven.
How then should we live? Don’t worry about anybody else and what they are doing or how successful they are. But live in humility and faithfulness to God, and He will reward you for it in eternity.

Thursday, December 9, 2010


“Then Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother when he sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times.’” Matthew 18:21-22
Following this verse, Jesus gives the all-familiar parable of the servant who was forgiven a debt of 10,000 talents (several million dollars) because he couldn’t pay, and who then turned around and abused a man who owed him a hundred denarii (a few dollars). The point He was making is, sometimes we can be like that servant.
Peter thought he was being generous by offering to forgive someone seven times for the same sin. Jewish custom only required you to forgive someone three times. But Jesus says, “not seven times, but seventy-seven times.” (It could also be translated ‘seventy times seven’ – in either case, the intention is that we are to always forgive when someone asks us to, without keeping score.)
How often do we keep holding onto unforgiveness? God does not do this with us, so why do we do it to our fellow man? By doing so, we undervalue the debt that we have been forgiven by God. We could not possibly hope to repay God for what we owe Him. So we should be willing to forgive other people.
Forgiveness is not an emotion, it is a choice. It is a choice to let that wrongdoing go, and not to use it as ammunition against the person in the future. We are to forgive someone in our hearts straightaway, so that when they come to us to ask for forgiveness, we can readily offer it to them. But it is Scriptural not to offer until they ask.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cut it out

“If your hand or your foot causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life maimed or crippled than to have two hands or two feet and be thrown into eternal fire. And if your eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to enter life with one eye than to have two eyes and be thrown into the fire of hell.” Matthew 18:8-9
This is a hard teaching by Jesus, but once we understand that He is not advocating self-mutilation, it is a little easier to stomach.
How does our hand or foot or eye cause us to sin? Because of what we allow it to do in certain situations. Are you tempted to look at things that you shouldn’t? Then what Jesus says is, it is better to cut that thing (that you are tempted to look at) out of your life, than to indulge it and pay an eternal price.
As Christians we have liberties – things that are neither good nor bad, that the Bible is silent about. Things like going to parties, drinking alcohol, reading magazines, listening to secular music. Some of these things are not that edifying, but still the choice is yours whether to do them or not. However, for some people – particularly when they had an addiction to something before they were saved, the thought of indulging in that thing as a Christian liberty, leaves them feeling weak. It is better in that case, to forego the liberty so that you don’t stumble.
There may be a part of life that you don’t get to experience. But it is better to enter eternal life without experiencing it, than to indulge and end up in hell because of it.

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Causing children to sin

“But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in Me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea.” Matthew 18:6
Children are extremely impressionable. If you tell them something, they will believe it – and they will usually take it literally. (There’s the story about the boy who was terrified about ‘asking Jesus into his heart’ because he thought it meant he had to have his heart cut open so Jesus could get inside...)
This goes for both teaching children the truths of the Bible, and also when they are taught falsehoods. We need to be very careful if we are in a position where we are teaching children, because their minds are so malleable. If we are teaching them the Bible, we need to teach it faithfully.
We’ve also heard stories of people using their children to help them shoplift. Jesus says here that it would be better for those people to have a millstone hung around their neck and to be drowned in the sea. We have a responsibility to train our children in righteousness. If we train them to sin and tell them it’s ok, the chance of them finding the Lord is made much, much smaller. The same goes for what children are taught in schools, regarding evolution and ecumenicalism. Let us not be guilty of teaching children to sin. They have a sin nature already – we don’t need to encourage it.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Like a child

“And He said, ‘I tell you the truth, unless you change and become like little children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.’” Matthew 18:3
Finding salvation is something that children and adults alike can do. It is not complicated; there is no secret agenda that we must unravel in order to understand the gospel. In actual fact, children often have an easier time than adults of accepting the gospel message, because it is so simple.
Jesus tells us here that we must all come to God like children. That is not to say that we throw a tantrum until He gives in to our demands, but we come to Him openly, not arrogantly, having a simple faith. A child can easily acknowledge that there are things he or she cannot do. He can’t run fast enough to be in the Olympics. She can’t ride a bike yet. And children can easily understand that they are unable to be good all the time, but with Jesus by their side He has made a way for them to be friends with God again.
The gospel message is this: We need to acknowledge that we are sinners and therefore in need of a Saviour. We need to repent of our sins, turn away from them and turn to God. We need to believe that Jesus’ death on the cross and subsequent resurrection, has paid the penalty due for our sins. We need to accept it personally and start to walk in the new spiritual life He has provided for us. We need to confess Him as Lord of our lives, openly acknowledging that now He is in charge. That’s it!

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Transfiguration

“Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, it is good for us to be here. If you wish, I will put up three shelters – one for You, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.’” Matthew 17:4
At the Transfiguration, we see a glimpse of Jesus in His future glory. He took three of the disciples – Peter, James, and John – to a high mountain. His face and clothes began to glow, as if light was radiating outwards from Him. Then Moses and Elijah appeared, and Jesus was talking with them.
It was at this point that Peter opens his mouth, which invariably means that something foolish is bound to come out. In awe, Peter offers to build three shelters for the three people he sees. (Some suggest that this event occurred around the time of the Feast of Tabernacles.) But in doing so, he makes a grave mistake: he unwittingly puts Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. In Matt. 17:5 a bright cloud envelops them and a voice from the cloud responds, “This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased. Listen to Him!”
Jesus is on a different plane from every other person, even those as illustrious as Moses and Elijah (who in Jewish thinking represent the Law and the Prophets). It is a mistake to compare Jesus with any other religious figure. He is the Son of God, and He is God the Son. Despite Peter’s confession (Matt. 16:16), he still had a lot to learn. But I am thankful for Peter. He was not perfect, and yet he was used mightily by God. There is hope for all of us.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jesus' mission

“From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, chief priests and teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life.” Matthew 16:21
There are a few major turning points in Jesus’ ministry, and this is one of them. In Matt. 13:3 we saw how after the Pharisees accused Jesus of acting in the power of Satan, He no longer talked to the crowds plainly, but in parables, so that the truth would be hidden from those who did not believe, but revealed to those who did believe. Similarly here, catalysed by Peter’s confession of Jesus as “the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 17:16), Jesus starts to tell the disciples about the real reason why He came to planet earth.
Jesus’ mission at His first coming, was not to establish the Kingdom, as the disciples were expecting (Luke 19:11, Acts 1:6). Rather, it was to die for the sins of the world. But Jesus’ death was not the end, for He was raised from the dead. When Jesus spoke to the disciples about His death, it was always in the context of the resurrection (Matt. 16:21, Matt. 17:23, Luke 9:22). The disciples didn’t understand that Jesus would be resurrected, until after the event (John 20:9). Even the Pharisees remembered this before the disciples did! (Matt. 27:62-64).
Jesus’ death and resurrection is central to the Christian faith. It is the means by which we are saved – which is the reason that He came.

Friday, December 3, 2010

Who do you say?

“‘But what about you?’ He asked. ‘Who do you say I am?’” Matthew 16:15
This question is a significant one, both for the disciples and one which we must each answer today. Jesus was at Caesarea Philippi, a place in the north of Israel where people had been going for centuries to get closer to nature and whatever god inspired them. It was a place where there were shrines to many gods. So Jesus asks the disciples, “Who do people say the Son of Man is?” (Matt. 16:13). They give three answers: John the Baptist (c.f. Mark 6:14), Elijah, or Jeremiah or another prophet. Jesus then gives them the opportunity: “But what about you? Who do you say I am?” (Matt. 16:15). Peter is the first to respond: “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16).
If you ask people today who Jesus was, you might get answers like, ‘He was a good teacher,’ or ‘He was a prophet.’ But the Bible clearly presents that Jesus said He was God. Now, if He was not God, there are two options. Either He thought He was, but He was not – which makes Him a lunatic. Or, He knew He was not, but said He was – which makes Him a liar. If He is either of these, then He is not a prophet and not a good teacher. This leaves only the third: that He really was God. We can’t look to Him merely as an example to us. Jesus was not merely a prophet, or a good teacher. We need to come to the point where we too, like Peter, declare, “He is the Christ, the Son of the living God.”

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Being famous

“And when [Manasseh] prayed to Him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so He brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.” 2 Chronicles 33:13
In the corresponding account in 2 Kings 21, we read only of Manasseh’s wickedness. He was the son of Hezekiah, and became king when he was 12 years old after Hezekiah died. This means that he was born during the 15 extra years Hezekiah was granted (2 Kin. 20:6).
I find it interesting that Manasseh’s wickedness is recorded in both accounts, but his repentance is only recorded in one. If we only had the record in 2 Kings, we would not know that he repented. We see a similar thing today. When famous people – politicians, movie stars, singers, sports players – become Christians, they often fade into obscurity. People only remember them for the unsaved person they used to be. It always saddens me to know that an actor is a Christian (Denzel Washington and Jim Carrey are two that come to mind) and then see them acting out rather less-than-Christian roles, with language to boot. I don’t know what the answer is. We are all to be salt and light to the world around us. When it comes to Manasseh, I can only imagine that his repentance did not have as big an effect on the nation as his wickedness did. This is a tragic legacy to leave.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Canaanite woman

“A Canaanite woman from that vicinity came to Him, crying out, ‘Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession.’ Jesus did not answer a word. So His disciples came to Him and urged Him, ‘Send her away, for she keeps crying out after us.’” Matthew 15:22-23
This passage used to bother me, until I heard it explained. Why did Jesus not respond to this woman who was pleading for help? There are two clues in v22. Firstly, she was a Canaanite. This is why, when Jesus does respond, He says, “I was sent only to the lost sheep of Israel” (Matt. 15:24). And secondly, she was crying out to Him as ‘Lord, Son of David’. She was not a Jew; she had no claim on Him as ‘Son of David’.
It was only when she simply called Him ‘Lord’ that He answered her. And He does so in gentleness, saying, “It is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs” (Matt. 15:26). This is not a rebuke, and He is not calling her a ‘dog’ in the sense of the rabid mongrels referred to in other passages (viz. Phil. 3:2, Rev. 22:15). Rather, the word used here is a pet dog or puppy.
The woman clearly understands what He is saying, because she answers in the parabolic symbolism He is using: “Yes, Lord, but even the dogs eat the crumbs that fall from their masters’ table” (Matt. 15:27). She knows that she does not have first priority when it comes to receiving something from the Messiah. But she hopes for a crumb, that her daughter might be delivered. Jesus sees her faith and grants her request.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Clean and unclean

“But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man 'unclean'. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man 'unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him 'unclean'.” Matthew 15:18-20
We all know people who have a habit of saying one thing and doing another. We tend to hold them in low esteem, and rightly so. This can happen in two ways: they may say good things but fail to live it out in their lives; or they may go to church, give to charity and do other good things, but what comes out of their mouths makes you wonder whether they are really saved.
It is the latter case that is in view here. According to Jewish custom (not the law of God) there was a specific way of washing your hands so they would be ceremonially clean. The Pharisees were extremely diligent to wash their hands in this way, while at the same time they were the same ones who had the murderous intents in their hearts that eventually led to the trial and execution of Jesus Himself. They criticised the disciples for not following the ceremonial hand-washing protocol, while in actual fact they had bigger issues in their own lives that needed dealing with.
The Bible tells us that “out of the overflow of the heart, the mouth speaks” (Matt. 12:34). We can know what is in someone’s heart by what they say. (Similarly, we know what is in God’s heart by reading His Word). Ultimately what this passage means to me, is that having the right character is much more important than keeping religious traditions and living up to other people’s religious expectations.

Monday, November 29, 2010

God's Word is pure

“The words of the Lord are flawless, like silver refined in a furnace of clay, purified seven times.” Psalm 12:6
How does a silversmith know when the silver he is refining is finally pure? He can see his face reflected in it.
This analogy is extremely powerful when we consider it in the context of this verse. The Word of God is flawless, without falsehood or error. It is ‘purified seven times’ – seven being the number of completeness, or perfection. Every word He has said is true, even the things He has told us about that are yet future for us. But more than this: God’s Word reflects His face to us.
We can know God’s power by looking at creation. The forces at work in the universe, the immense heat and pressure inside a star, the vast distances of interstellar space, all the way down to planet Earth, to our own bodies, to the microscopic structure of the cells that make up our bodies; even the molecules that make up those cells and the atoms that make up the molecules, show God’s creative power. Creation shows us God’s existence, but it cannot show us His character, because we see it in a fallen state. To find out what God’s character is like, we need to read His Word.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Treasure in the field

“The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field. When a man found it, he hid it again, and then in his joy went and sold all he had and bought that field.” Matthew 13:44
This parable of Jesus is often misunderstood. A common interpretation (since Jesus does not explain this parable in the Scriptures) is that Jesus is the treasure and we must give up all to find Him. But this does not fit with the idiomatic usage of the different elements of the parable, used in all the other parables.
In Matt. 13:37, Jesus says that He is the man who sowed the seed. It stands to reason then, that he is the man in this parable also. In Matt. 13:38, He says that the field represents the world. In Heb. 12:2 we read, “Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy set before Him endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
So we have Jesus as the man, finding treasure in the field, the world. He sold all He had to buy the field, because of the treasure in it. At the cross, He did indeed give up everything to purchase salvation for whoever would come. We are the treasure in the field, that He gave everything for!

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Pride keeps us from God

“In his pride the wicked does not seek Him; in all his thoughts there is no room for God.” Psalm 10:4
Have you noticed that people don’t give God credit for anything these days, except maybe natural disasters? People study nature and pontificate about how it ‘must’ have evolved from this, that, or the other – yet they don’t stop to consider that it is God’s creative power that is responsible for the complexity we see in every single living thing.
The reality is, God is involved in everything in this world, both spiritual and physical. He is the One who created it in the first place, and He is the One who is sustaining it to the present day. Physicists talk about the strong and weak nuclear forces (as two of the four primary forces in the universe, the other two being the electrostatic and gravitational forces), but they don’t really understand how they arise.
Why don’t people seek God, either from observing creation, or events in history? This verse tells us, because of their pride. You see, to acknowledge that God created the world, is to acknowledge that He created me. This means He is superior to me, and I am accountable to Him. He has decreed how I should live, and when it all boils down, people don’t want to live in a way that is pleasing to God. They want to please themselves and feed their sin nature. The first step to come to God is to set aside this pride, humble yourself and utter the most difficult words known to man: ‘I’m sorry; I was wrong.’ Don’t let your pride keep you separated from God. Your eternity depends on it.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Searching for meaning in life

“In his time of trouble King Ahaz became even more unfaithful to the Lord. He offered sacrifices to the gods of Damascus, who had defeated him; for he thought, ‘Since the gods of the kings of Aram have helped them, I will sacrifice to them so they will help me.’ But they were his downfall and the downfall of all Israel.” 2 Chronicles 28:23
Ahaz was the son of king Jotham and the grandson of king Uzziah. Unlike them, he did not follow the Lord. As a result, God did not prosper him but delivered him into the hands of his enemies. Yet despite this, and despite the whole history of the nation being available for him to read, he did not think to repent and turn to God. Instead, he started looking to the gods of the nations who had defeated him. He was only moving further away from God.
People do the same thing today. They look for life’s meaning in all the wrong places. They seek success in the corporate world, the political world, the sporting world. They think if they marry the perfect person and raise a family that they will be satisfied with that as a legacy. They engage in higher education to build their intellect. They travel the world to gain new experiences. They measure their popularity by the number of facebook friends that they have. But ultimately all of these things will fail to satisfy a person’s deepest longings. Then the saddest thing of all happens: they start exploring religion. ‘Those monks I saw in India seemed content with life,’ they think. ‘Maybe if I get into that, I’ll finally find a reason for living.’ But if they would just turn to the God of the Bible in repentance, He would give them all this and more!

Thursday, November 25, 2010


“But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.” 2 Chronicles 26:16
Uzziah was one of the most popular kings in Judah’s history. He was a godly king, he reigned for 52 years and was well-respected by the people. God gave him success in war, in his building projects, and caused him and the whole nation to prosper.
But like all the kings before and after him, this only lasted as long as Uzziah served the Lord whole-heartedly. Uzziah became proud and thought that he could do whatever he liked – he was the king, after all. So he sought to enter the Holy Place of the temple and offer incense on the altar. Yes, he was seeking to worship God, but he was stepping over the line that God had established. Only the priests were allowed to do this. But Uzziah was not satisfied to let the priest offer incense on his behalf – he wanted to be the one doing it. He did not respect what God had established.
As we read further in the account, when Azariah the priest confronted him there in the temple, Uzziah became angry with him. Then the Lord caused leprosy to break out on his forehead, and he had leprosy for the rest of his life. In the parallel account in 2 Kings 15:1-7, we are not given these details, only that he had leprosy.
There is a lesson here for us. God has decreed the ways in which He is to be approached. If we start to come up with other ways outside of these, He will not be pleased. We must approach Him through the cross of Christ.

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Our spiritual family

“He replied to him, ‘Who is My mother, and who are My brothers?’ Pointing to His disciples, He said, ‘Here are my mother and my brothers. For whoever does the will of My Father in heaven is My brother and sister and mother.” Matthew 12:48-50
Have you ever noticed how we can feel a closer kinship with certain other believers, than we do with our unsaved natural family members? Being related to somebody by ancestry may be the only way that we relate to them – we may have nothing else in common.
Sure, we may have friends who we feel close to, but there’s something about the fellowship that Christian believers have together that is on a different plane – and it’s because that difference is a spiritual one. We know that this planet is not our final destination, but that we are only passing through. We know where we will be spending eternity. We know that we serve the same God, who loves us and sent His Son to die for our sins, in our place.
Jesus felt the same way. None of his brothers believed He was the Messiah, until after the Resurrection (John 7:5). His mother Mary knew, of course, but as a woman living in those times her opinion would have been considered of little value.
This verse also relates to Mark 10:31-32 – “... no-one who has left home or brothers or sisters or mother or father or children or fields for Me and the gospel will fail to receive a hundred times as much in this present age... and in the age to come, eternal life.” The ‘hundred times as much’ refers to this age, not eternity. What family affections we might lose in order to follow Christ, we will receive a hundred times as much from other believers. Spiritually speaking, we really are family.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The blasphemy of the Holy Spirit

“But when the Pharisees heard this, they said, ‘It is only by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that this fellow drives out demons.’” Matthew 12:24
Many Christians worry about committing the ‘unpardonable sin’, that is, the blasphemy of the Holy Spirit. Is it possible for a believer to do this? To answer this question we need to understand what the blasphemy of the Spirit is, because Jesus tells us this is the only sin that will not be forgiven (Matt. 12:31-32).
The blasphemy of the Spirit is exactly what the Pharisees here are guilty of. They see Jesus casting out a demon that caused the afflicted man to become deaf and mute. The casting out of a demon like this was considered by the Jews to be something only Messiah could do, because the Jewish method of exorcism was to first ask the demon what his name was. A man made mute by a demon could not answer, and the demon could not be driven out.
However, when Jesus cast the mute demon out – a sign that He was indeed the Messiah – the Pharisees attributed that work of the Holy Spirit to Satan. Thus, they blasphemed against the Holy Spirit, and in so doing, reject the only means by which they could receive salvation. This is why the blasphemy of the Spirit is the unpardonable sin – because one must respond to the Holy Spirit favourably to receive mercy, forgiveness, and salvation.

Monday, November 22, 2010

God's name is His character

“Those who know Your name will trust in You, for You, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek You.” Psalm 9:10
In Hebrew thought, a person’s name is much more than just a word that makes them distinguishable from another person. Rather, the name reflects the person’s character. This is why Noah was called Noah, meaning comfort (Gen. 5:28-29), why Isaac was called Isaac, meaning laughter (Gen. 21:26), and why God changed Jacob’s name from Jacob (deceiver) to Israel (prince of God) (Gen. 32:28). Of course, there are many more examples.
So when the Bible talks about knowing God’s name, what it means is that we know His character. The name of God, Jehovah (or Yahweh), means ‘the becoming One’. That is, whatever our situation, God becomes to us that which we need. When we are needy, He is Jehovah Jireh, the One who provides. When we are sick, He is Jehovah Rapha, the One who heals. When we are falling into sin, He is Jehovah Tsidkenu, the Lord our righteousness.
We get to know someone’s character by spending time with them. When we spend enough time with God, we realise that He really will always be there for us. We may forsake Him, but He will never forsake us. We can completely trust Him to take care of us, because of this. It’s good to be reminded that God will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:8, Heb. 13:5).

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Joash and Jehoiada

“Joash did what was right in the eyes of the Lord all the years of Jehoiada the priest.” 2 Chronicles 24:2
Joash was the only surviving son of Ahaziah after Azaliah the queen mother killed all the other heirs to the throne (2 Chr. 22:10). He was hidden in the temple for six years (2 Chr. 12:22) and was made king at age seven, the youngest of all the kings of Judah.
Joash had the perfect upbringing with regards to opportunities for spiritual education. He was raised by Jehoiada the priest, who became like a father to him – establishing him on the throne of Judah, finding wives for him, advising him. Jehoiada would certainly have trained Joash in the ways of the Lord.
Yet Joash only did what was right in the eyes of the Lord while Jehoiada was alive. He was the one who collected money from the people and ordered repairs to be carried out on the temple. But when Jehoiada died, Joash turned away from God and followed the ways of his officials, worshipping and serving the Canaanite gods (2 Chr. 24:17-18). When Jehoiada’s son Zechariah prophesied against Joash, he had him executed (2 Chr. 24:22).
I don’t know why Joash forsook God after Jehoiada died. I guess you never know who is truly saved until they have to stand for God for themselves.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Power in praise

“As they began to sing and praise, the Lord set ambushes against the men of Ammon and Moab and Mount Seir who were invading Judah, and they were defeated.” 2 Chronicles 20:22
We read of this account during the reign of King Jehoshaphat in the southern kingdom, when he was being attacked by the Edomite, Moabite, and Ammonite armies. He was alarmed, but didn’t panic. Instead, he sought the Lord (2 Chr. 20:3). He received a word from the prophet Jahaziel that he would not have to fight the battle, but the Lord would fight on behalf of the people (2 Chr. 20:17).
The people of Judah went out to face the Edomites. Throughout the account that follows, we read how they praised God at several key points: (a) when they received the word, 2 Chr. 20:19, (b) when they were marching towards the armies, 2 Chr. 20:21-22, (c) when they returned, 2 Chr. 20:27-28. In other words, they praised God before, during, and after the victory.
The same applies to us. No matter what happens, or is about to happen, we can and should always praise the Lord. There is never a time when it is inappropriate to praise Him. When we praise – and by ‘praise’ I don’t necessarily mean ‘sing’, because singing is only one way of praising God – we are acknowledging His greatness and His goodness. This causes us to develop a right perspective of the situation: God is much greater than whatever we are facing. In turn this increases our faith. This is why there is power in praise.

Friday, November 19, 2010

The cross

“and anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me.” Matthew 10:38
This is the first mention of the cross in the New Testament. Today it is fashionable, even for non-believers, to wear the symbol of the cross on a necklace or other piece of jewellery. But in the first century, the cross was a symbol of shame. It was an instrument of torture, invented by the Persians and perfected by the Romans. Death by crucifixion was agonising (hence we derive the word ‘excruciating’). It was also a means of humiliating the victim, as people crucified by the Romans were often nailed to the crosses naked and placed beside the main road to a city to serve as a deterrent to others. This is what our Lord endured on our behalf.
When a person was condemned to die by crucifixion, they would carry their cross (or the cross-bar) through the city to the site of the crucifixion. It would be a public parade of how they were guilty of death. This is the context in which Jesus says, “anyone who does not take his cross and follow Me is not worthy of Me”. He knew the death He was to die (Ps. 22, Isa. 53). We need to acknowledge that we are sinners, that we should have been the ones dying for our sin, not Him. We are to identify with Christ in His humiliation. And as we humble ourselves in this way, He will raise us up.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

A healthy fear of God

“Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell.” Matthew 10:28
Our relationship with God is a balancing act, between fear of punishment for every little sin on one hand, and feeling like you can get away with anything because of God’s grace and love. We need to have a healthy fear of God – realising that He isn’t our ‘buddy’ and giving Him the respect He so rightfully deserves; yet not being fearful that at any moment our salvation may be pulled out from underneath us for falling into sin one time too many.
Yes, God is able to destroy men’s souls in hell, but if we are His children, this punishment for our sin has already been meted out. If we still have this fear, John tells us that we have not yet been made perfect in love (1 John 4:18). It’s like standing at a lookout spot at the base of a thundering waterfall. We can look at it in awe, sensing the great power of it; but we don’t need to be afraid of falling over the edge of it or being crushed by it, because we are in a safe place.
Consider what Peter and John said to the Sanhedrin when they were commanded not to preach the gospel and Christ raised from the dead: “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (Acts 4:19-20). We are to obey the authorities that God has established (Rom. 13:1), but when they require us to do something contrary to the Word of God, we are released from that obligation. We must obey God rather than man.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Shrewd as snakes

“I am sending you out like sheep among wolves. Therefore be as shrewd as snakes and as innocent as doves.” Matthew 10:16
Earlier we read about false teachers being likened to wolves in sheep’s clothing. The same analogies are used by Jesus consistently here: sheep being believers (John 10) and wolves being antagonistic unbelievers. So when Jesus sends His disciples out into the world, they are likened to sheep going out amongst the wolves. They need to be on their guard. This is the situation that we find ourselves in today: we are in the world, but not of it. We will come across people who are vocally and/or violently opposed to Christianity. So how should we prepare ourselves?
Jesus says we are to be as shrewd as snakes and innocent as doves. The snake is obviously a symbol of Satan and of evil, beginning with Satan’s appearance as the serpent in the garden of Eden. We need to know how Satan operates, so that we will not be deceived or caught unawares (Eph. 4:27, Eph. 6:11, 1 Pet. 5:18). But at the same time, we are to be as innocent as doves, the dove being the symbol of the Holy Spirit (Mark 1:10). We are not to participate in the words of Satan. One application of this is to know how the teachings of the cults differ from the Bible. But we should not immerse ourselves in studying the cults to the extent our theology changes in their direction. We might want to minister to drug addicts, but this does not justify taking drugs in order to know what it feels like. Our number one priority in life is moral and spiritual purity and devotion to our Lord.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Which is easier?

“Which is easier: to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven,’ or to say, ‘Get up and walk’?” Matthew 9:5
Because the world we live in is largely based on physical, visible things, we can have misconceptions about the spiritual scene. Take this verse for instance, which Jesus says in response to what the teachers of the law were thinking when He forgave the sins of the paralytic.
We think of physical healing as something that is hard for God to do, because we don’t understand how He can suddenly heal someone and make them walk again. We think that forgiving sins is easier than healing someone physically, because we don’t see the record of those sins being erased from the person’s life. We think of Jesus waving His hand over the situation and saying a few easy words.
But the implication from what Jesus says here, is that to forgive sins is actually harder than healing someone and enabling them to walk again.
Let’s think about this in another way. We know that God created the world in six days by speaking a word – ‘Let there be...’. To heal someone physically is to apply that same creative power. Consider how much it costs God to do that. Now, consider how much it cost God to provide forgiveness for sin. Surely the cost to forgive sin is much greater – the separation and death of His only Son. These were not merely trite words that Jesus uttered to encourage the paralytic. He knew that the man’s need for forgiveness was greater than his need for healing. And He healed him to prove to the crowd that He did indeed have the authority to forgive sins – authority that belongs to God and God alone.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Forsaking God

“After Rehoboam’s position as king was established and he had become strong, he and all Israel with him abandoned the law of the Lord.” 2 Chronicles 12:1
Solomon’s kingdom was the epitome of prosperity, not just in Israel, but in the whole world at the time. This is the environment in which his son, Rehoboam, took the throne. After the rebellion of the northern tribes, who chose Jeroboam for their king and defected from the Davidic line of kings, we read that “those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the Lord, the God of their fathers. They strengthened the kingdom of Judah and supported Rehoboam son of Solomon three years, walking in the ways of David and Solomon during this time” (2 Chr. 11:16-17).
But how quickly people’s allegiances can change. In many ways it’s easier to die for God than to live for Him. It’s easier to find time to pray and seek God when we are being persecuted or we are in need, than when everything is smooth sailing. We need to be careful in our own lives, not to neglect or forsake the Lord if we become prosperous, getting too caught up in the pace of life that we don’t have any time to pray – or even worse, think that we don’t have any need to pray. We need to remember that it was God Himself who caused us to prosper. If we then forsake Him, He has ways of getting our attention and getting us back on track, and it may not be pleasant for us. We need to make Him our first priority, and keep a right perspective on life.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Wolves in sheep's clothing

“Watch out for false prophets. They come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ferocious wolves.” Matthew 7:15
There were false prophets around in ancient Israel, there were false prophets around in Jesus’ day, and there are false prophets around today.
How do we spot false prophets? They may look and smell like believers – attending church, giving, saying all the right words – but there is one thing that shows them for what they are: their diet. Rather than eating the same thing as the sheep, they eat other sheep. They seek to divide and conquer and draw a following after themselves, away from the Lord. They seek to profit financially from believers’ naivety. And all the while, they don’t eat the same food as the sheep: the Word of God.
Jesus says we will recognise them by their fruit (Matt. 7:16). Do you know someone who says they are a believer, but gossips about others and seeks to divide a fellowship? They might give lip service but don’t actually participate in things that a believer would. The fruit of their life is division, bitterness, criticism, pride, etc. If so, then that person needs to be confronted and avoided (Tit. 3:10). They have not come to know the Lord, and instead are a thief and a robber (John 10:1).
It’s good for us to continually review the fruit that is coming from our lives. Does it show without a doubt that we belong to the Lord?

Saturday, November 13, 2010

God's good gifts

“If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask Him!” Matthew 7:11
Let’s admit it – none of us is perfect and without sin (‘evil’ here is the Greek poneros, meaning able to cause hurt, guilty). But we know how to treat our children well. We enjoy giving them gifts that make them smile, and we know how to take care of them, what needs they have, and how to protect them. How much more does God, our heavenly Father, know how to take care of us, what our needs are, and how to protect us! And He also enjoys giving us things that make us smile. We should not be afraid to ask God for anything. He loves it when we come to Him, acknowledging our need.
In Luke 11:13 Jesus reiterates this teaching by saying, “If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask Him!” Many Christians today are averse to the idea of ‘being filled with the Holy Spirit’, because they are afraid they will lose control of themselves, having heard of people barking like dogs and laughing uncontrollably. This is a real loss for them, because the Scriptures teach the Holy Spirit does not override our will and our bodily functions. What those manifestations are, I am not sure. But Jesus equates the Holy Spirit with a good gift that God gives us, and one to be sought. If we ask to be filled with the Spirit, He will not give us a demon or cause us to involuntarily embarrass ourselves. God will only give us good things.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Why worry?

“Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Matthew 6:27
We can worry about all sorts of things – how we’re going to be able to afford something, what our kids will be like when they grow up, what people might think of us if we do x, y, or z. We worry about the climate, the economic climate, the political climate, the threat of war. We worry about big things and trivial things.
Worry is a dread of things that might or might not happen in the future. When you think about it, most of the things we worry about, are things we have no control over. Worry is the opposite of hope: hope looks forward to the future, believing the promises of God when He says, those things in the future for us are as good as done in His sight.
Many medical studies have shown that worrying is detrimental to our health: insomnia, high blood pressure, migraines, ulcers etc. can all be the result of excessive anxiety. So Jesus is right on the mark here, when He says, “Who of you by worrying can add a single hour to his life?” Worry will not only shorten our lives, but will also take the joy out of the hours that we do have.
So what is the solution? The Bible tells us that we are to take every thought captive and make it obedient to Christ (2 Cor. 10:5). When you start to worry about something, stop and pray about it (Phil. 4:6). God is in control of everything, and if He’s not worried about it, then there’s really no need for us to be.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Reward or no reward

“Be careful not to do your ‘acts of righteousness’ before men, to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven.” Matthew 6:1
Time and time again we read in the Scriptures that our good works are judged and rewarded not according to what they are, but according to the motives behind them. Do we go to church services, prayer meetings, etc. to spend time with God fellowshipping with other believers, or do we go to be seen by those believers as someone who is ‘spiritual’? Do we tithe, or give to charity, as an act of worship and appreciation to God for what He has given us, or to let other people know how much money we have that we can give away? When we pray in a group, do we adopt a different voice so that people will listen to us?
Thinking about these things hits a raw nerve for many people. I’m guilty of doing good things with wrong motives. Our works will be judged and rewarded at the bema seat of Christ (1 Cor. 3:12-15). “It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each man’s work” (v13). Things done with the right motives, for God alone, in secret, are gold, silver, and precious stones in His sight. Things done to be seen by people are wood, hay, and straw and will be burned up. As Jesus said in Matt. 6:2, 5, 16, if we do things to be seen and applauded by others, that in itself is our reward. Wouldn’t you rather receive an eternal reward from God, than a passing compliment from someone here and now?

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

If My people...

“if My people, who are called by My name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and will heal their land.” 2 Chronicles 7:14
This is a favourite verse of many people, and it’s not hard to see why. It is a wonderful promise from God to hear from heaven, forgive our sin, and heal our land. But we also need to read the first part of the verse, not just the last bit with what’s in it for us. This three-fold promise to God’s people is conditional upon four things.
Firstly, to humble ourselves. This is easier to say than to do. We read in the Beatitudes about how we need to be continually submitting our lives to God. This doesn’t mean that we are to have low self-esteem, but we are to recognise our position compared to God. Secondly, we need to pray. How many times do people ‘claim’ this verse but don’t actually pray and ask God for the things He has promised in it? Thirdly, we need to seek His face. This isn’t getting God to approve of what we want, but rather it is moving ourselves so we are in His sight and in His will. This comes about through time spent in prayer. Last, but not least, we need to turn from our wicked ways. God will not bless us if we are continuing to live in ongoing sin. We need to forsake those things and cut them out of our lives. If we find that we are continually being drawn back to something, we need to find that source of temptation and cut it out – even though it might not be sinful in and of itself. Once we are doing these things, we can start looking for God to move on our behalf.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

The Beatitudes (8)

“Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven." Matthew 5:10
By the time we get to this Beatitude, with the other qualities in place (repentance, submitting to God, hungering after righteousness, showing mercy, seeking to live a pure life, having God’s peace within us) – we are describing a spiritually mature believer. And this may come as a surprise to some people: the world doesn’t like spiritually mature believers. We are the light that shines in the darkness, exposing the works of unbelievers for what they are – evil (John 3:19-20). People don’t like to be reminded of this, but rather than repenting, they attack the source of light. It was true in Jesus’ day, and it is still true today. The world hates us, because it hated Him.
Persecution is inevitable for a believer (1 Pet. 4:12, 2 Tim. 3:12). And we are blessed when we are persecuted, because it shows that our lives are having that irritating influence on the people around us. It shows that we are not of this world. It means that we are well on the road to Christian maturity.
So when you are persecuted for believing in Jesus Christ, don’t despair. Remember the words of Jesus here: you are blessed, and your eternal destination is heaven.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Beatitudes (7)

“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” Matthew 5:9
The first four beatitudes concern our relationship towards God. Once these are taking place in our lives, the last four will follow, concerning our relationship with other people. Here we read about the peacemakers being called sons of God.
If we are a child of God – born again by His Spirit into His spiritual family – we can know His peace. Peace is a fruit of the Spirit (Gal. 5:22), it was promised by Jesus as a hallmark for a believer’s life (John 14:27), and Jesus Himself is called the Prince of Peace (Isa. 9:6). And you can be sure: in times of turmoil and strife, people will notice that you have an unshakeable inner peace that will witness to them. The absence of peace is fear and worry. War arises because one nation is afraid of another. And man’s conflict with one another is merely an expression of his conflict against God.
As the old Christianese slogan goes, ‘No Jesus, no peace. Know Jesus, know peace.’ But it’s true. The only way people can have peace is when they live righteously, live for God, and thus live for the purpose for which they were created.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Beatitudes (6)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” Matthew 5:8
Purity is something that is often scoffed at by people of the world – be it moral purity, spiritual purity, sexual purity, etc. But purity is the root by which we can see the power of God work through our lives and through our church fellowships. Purity doesn’t begin with our outward actions. Instead, it begins in our heart: our motives and our thoughts. When our heart is pure by the working of the Holy Spirit, our actions will become pure and a witness to others both inside and outside the church.
Consider what happened to Ananias and Sapphira, Acts 5:1-11. They had seen how Barnabas had sold a field and laid the money he obtained at the feet of the apostles. So they did the same thing – only they kept back some of the money. Their sin was not keeping the money – it was theirs to do with as they wished. There was no commandment from God for believers to sell their possessions and give the money to the church. Rather, their sin was that of hypocrisy: making it seem to other people that they had given everything, to be seen to be spiritual. They were found out and an example was made to others. There was no place for hypocrites in the first century church.
We cannot expect to see God work in power in and through us, if we are compromising with sin in our lives. We don’t need to be perfect, but we do need to be genuine. We need to seek God wholeheartedly – and when we do, we will find Him (Deut. 4:29, Jer. 29:13, Matt. 7:7).

Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Beatitudes (5)

“Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.” Matthew 5:7
Following the progression, as we submit our lives to God, and a hunger and thirst for righteousness develops, we will become more like Him. One of God’s key attributes is that He is merciful. It is only because of God’s mercy that the world has not been destroyed already.
We all need to remember where we have come from. Or, if we were saved at an early age and there is no ‘before’ in our testimony (as is my case), where we could have ended up if it wasn’t for the Lord. If we have this perspective, we won’t be looking down self-righteously on other people.
Having mercy means to climb into someone else’s skin. Think of how Jesus had compassion on the crowds of people who “were like sheep without a shepherd” (Matt. 9:36). He imagined Himself in their situation – a fruitless, aimless existence, harassed and helpless – and reached out to them to offer something far better.
We have been given a second chance by God – to no longer live for sin but live for His glory. Let’s reach out to offer others that same chance. God hasn’t given up on them, and neither should we.

Friday, November 5, 2010

The Beatitudes (4)

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6
This is another aspect in the progression of salvation in a Christian’s life. As we recognise and mourn over our sin, and submit our lives to God, in our hearts will develop a hunger for the things of God and a thirst for righteousness. We desire spiritual things and want to live in a right way before Him.
Think about this: dead people are not hungry or thirsty. In spiritual terms, those who are alive in Christ will have a healthy appetite for the things of God. Enforced religion is futile and has no benefit to those who are not saved.
It’s important to remember that these are all attitudes that develop in our hearts when we are saved. They are not a set of rules to become saved by. When we are saved, we are given a new heart, and with it, the power to overcome sin and the desire to live a holy life (Phil. 2:13).
Living a holy life is not to live a boring life. Rather, it is a life dedicated and separated to God. God created man for mutual fellowship. When we seek to know Him, in purity, we will find our purpose in life.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

The Beatitudes (3)

“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Matthew 5:5
The word ‘meekness’ is often misunderstood. Meekness is not weakness. If we are meek, it doesn’t mean we are a pushover. The Greek word, praus, refers to power being brought under control, like an ox or stallion being tamed so as to become useful to its master.
This is the next progression in the series of attitudes that develop in our hearts. We recognise our sin and come to salvation; we mourn and receive comfort; this leads to us submitting our lives to God in meekness, instead of serving ourselves as we did before. Jesus is the ultimate example of this. Here is God Himself, the Son submitting Himself to the will of the Father, coming in human likeness and choosing not to exercise His Divine power, but enduring the scorn and suffering piled upon Him, and the humiliation of death on the cross. All this, because it was the Father’s will, so that many might be saved through Him.
The blessing for those who are meek, is that they will inherit the earth. Submitting our lives to God will involve a cost. We are to let Him fight our battles, instead of getting angry at people and retaliating. “And everyone who has left houses or brothers or sisters or father or mother or children or fields for My sake will receive a hundred times as much and will inherit eternal life” (Matt. 19:29). We will receive blessings in this life, as we submit ourselves to God and start to produce fruit for Him. And in the age to come, we will inherit the earth as we rule and reign with Christ.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

The Beatitudes (2)

“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.” Matthew 5:4
Following on from the previous Beatitude concerning the poor in spirit, we read, “Blessed are those who mourn.” This is not mourning for someone or something that is lost, as the world mourns. Rather, it is mourning in our hearts over our sin and the pain that we have caused God. Just as being humble and poor in spirit is to be an ongoing attitude in the life of a Christian, so too is this kind of mourning – since we continue to sin. “Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation and leaves no regret” (2 Cor. 7:10).
This is to be an attitude of heart, not an attitude of mind. Christians are not supposed to be depressed or miserable. After all, Jesus was called “a man of sorrows” (Isa. 53:3). As we mourn over our sin and seek God’s forgiveness, He grants it to us and the Holy Spirit comforts us. We are comforted in that we can know our sin has been paid for through the cross of Jesus Christ.
Before the Holy Spirit can fill us with comfort, He must first empty us. As we are convicted over our sin, we are led to repentance. Then He can start to work in our lives.
There is also a future application: the promise that one day all the sin of the whole world will be dealt with. We look at the world around us in despair, wondering how God can stand it. But one day He will make everything right. No wonder it is called “the blessed hope” (Tit. 2:13).

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

The Beatitudes (1)

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:3
Pastor Alwyn Wall of Calvary Chapel Westminster, London, gives an interesting viewpoint on the Beatitudes that I think is worth sharing. That is, that the Beatitudes are not merely a collection of character descriptions that describe a happy, contented person, but they are also a progression in the Christian walk.
The first Beatitude concerns those who are “poor in spirit”. This is when we see ourselves for what we really are, compared to the righteousness that God requires. When we realise how repugnant our sin is to Him, we will have the same response as Isaiah, Daniel, and Peter: “Woe is me!” (Isa. 6:5, Dan. 7:28, Luke 5:8). Nobody who has this revelation of God, comes away feeling good about themselves. But this is the first step to salvation: recognising the state of our depravity and thus our need for a Saviour. This is why the poor in spirit are blessed, because this is the way to inherit the kingdom of heaven.
Being poor in spirit is not a one-time thing, but should be an ongoing attitude in the life of every Christian. We come into the Kingdom in poverty and humility, and this should characterise our lives ever afterwards.

Monday, November 1, 2010

When God shows up

“and the priests could not perform their service because of the cloud, for the glory of the Lord filled the temple of God.” 2 Chronicles 5:14
Sometimes we’ll be trying to serve God – it may be in a church service, or teaching a home group, or leading a children’s programme – and God will interrupt proceedings. It may be a word and interpretation in tongues, a word of prophecy, a move of the Spirit’s peace, a question or statement from a child, and so on, that is unscripted and unpredicted. We can have several reactions to this: we might try to carry on (and thus risk quenching the Spirit, 1 Thess. 5:19), or we can be open to what God is saying through that thing that seems to be an interruption. Whatever is from God, is always for the better.
Think of the scene in 2 Chron. 5: the temple is complete and the ark of the covenant is being brought to it. The priests in their robes, offering incense and sacrifices to God, the music and celebration of the people. But then, God takes first place. The cloud of His glory fills the temple. How much better is God’s glory than the finery man can produce! Wouldn’t you rather enjoy the tangible presence of God, than be entertained by a Christian show (as so many church services are becoming these days)? So, if you are the one being interrupted, don’t immediately react negatively and get upset. Rather, recognise if God is moving, and if so, go with the flow.

Sunday, October 31, 2010

Satan knows Scripture

“‘If You are the Son of God,’ [the devil] said, ‘throw Yourself down. For it is written: “He will command His angels concerning you, and they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.”’” Matthew 4:6
Three of the Gospels mention how Jesus was tempted by Satan in the wilderness; two of them (Matthew and Luke) give more detail as to what the specific temptations actually were. In both accounts, Satan begins two of the three temptations with the words, ‘If You are the Son of God’. This is not denial on Satan’s part – He knows that Jesus is the Son of God. Rather, these statements should be translated, ‘Since You are the Son of God’.
We see another interesting and alarming aspect in this particular temptation, where Satan tempts Jesus to reveal His Deity by throwing Himself off the temple. He quotes Scripture to Jesus. We think of Satan as being so anti-God, that he is ignorant of what is written in the Bible. But rather, the opposite is true: he knows the Bible better than most Christians! It is no surprise then, that many people in cults are Scripture-literate, but also misquote it. We need to watch out. Just because someone can quote the Bible, doesn’t mean they are saved. Also, we need to know for ourselves what the Bible says, and what the context of particular passages is, so that we don’t fall into the same trappings. This only comes by immersing yourself in the Word on a regular basis, preferably every day.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Jesus' baptism

“Then Jesus came from Galilee to the Jordan to be baptised by John. But John tried to deter Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by You, and do You come to me?’ Jesus replied, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ Then John consented.” Matthew 3:13-15
The obvious question that arisees when we read of the baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist is, why was Jesus baptised? John’s baptism was a baptism of repentance (Matt. 3:11, Mark 1:4, Luke 3:3, Acts 19:4). Jesus had no sin to repent of. John recognised this, and tried to deter Him, saying, ‘I need to be baptised by You’. He knew that Jesus was the Messiah, bringing salvation from God as spoken by the prophets. Yet Jesus, in the role of a servant, submits Himself to John’s baptism.
He did this, saying rather cryptically, ‘It is proper for us to do this to fulfill all righteousness.’ There are three reasons this refers to. Firstly, He validates John’s ministry as the forerunner of the Messiah (Isa. 40:3, Matt. 3:3). Baptism was a fairly common occurrence in Biblical times; it was a symbol of identifying oneself with what the baptiser stood for. Thus Jesus shows His approval of John’s ministry and his message, by submitting Himself to being baptised by him. Secondly, it represented an anointing on Himself as the Messiah. It was after Jesus’ baptism that His ministry properly began. Thirdly, Jesus sets an example for us to follow. Water baptism, for Christians, symbolises the death of the old man and the rising again in the new life of Christ. “We were therefore buried with Him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life” (Rom. 6:4).

Friday, October 29, 2010

The Nazarene

“and He went and lived in a town called Nazareth. So was fulfilled what was said through the prophets: ‘He will be called a Nazarene.’” Matthew 2:23
Many Bibles have helpful footnotes where Scriptures are quoted by other Scriptures, giving the reference where the prophecy can be found. For example, at Matt. 2:18, there is a footnote advising the reader that this is quoted from Isa. 40:3. However, at this verse, there is no footnote.
This is because “He will be called a Nazarene” is not a direct quotation from any of the Old Testament prophets. What is being referred to, however, is a play on words. In Isaiah 11:1, the coming Messiah is referred to as “the Branch”. The Hebrew word is netser. It is from this that the word ‘Nazarene’ is extracted in Matt. 2:23.
There is also another aspect to the word ‘Nazarene’ (note that this is not the same as a Nazirite, as in Num. 6). Nazareth was a backwater town, despised by the devout Jews (c.f. John 1:46). The words ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ were used not as a neutral descriptor, but as a derogatory term. This aspect of the treatment of Jesus by men was most certainly prophesied about in the Old Testament:
“He was despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows, and familiar with suffering. Like one from whom men hide their faces, He was despised, and we esteemed Him not” (Isa. 53:3). See also Ps. 22:6-7, Ps. 69:7-8.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

A new order

“He will wipe away every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” Revelation 21:4
We read in both the Old and New Testaments how God will create not only a new earth, but a new heaven also (Isa. 65:17, Rev. 21:1). He will make all things new and glorious, and He will dwell among His people forever. Satan and all that is wicked is cast into the lake of fire and erased from our memory. Everything is restored to harmony.
So, in the light of all this, what are the tears for, that God wipes away? Isaiah tells us that “the former things will not be remembered, nor will they come to mind” (Isa. 65:17). The hardships, persecution, pain, suffering, etc. that we go through in this present life, will all be forgotten. Nor will we be mourning for lost opportunities, or for unsaved friends and family. Rather, these are tears of joy, at finally seeing the new heavens and the earth created for us to dwell in God’s presence forever; tears of gratitude, for all that He has done for us.
There’s a lot that must take place between now and then – the rapture of the Church, the Tribulation, the Second Coming of Christ, and the Millennium. But God shows us that He already knows the end result. And I get the feeling, that He is looking forward to that as much as, if not more than we are.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Giving to God

“But who am I, and who are my people, that we should be able to give as generously as this? Everything comes from You, and we have given You only what comes from Your hand.” 1 Chronicles 29:14
Many people grumble and complain when the word ‘offering’ is mentioned in a church service. In our heads, we know that giving, monetarily or otherwise, is part of our worship to God; we know that we receive a blessing for it (Mal. 3:10); we know that we should enjoy giving to Him (2 Cor. 9:6-7); yet still we complain sometimes.
What this attitude points to, is that we need a different perspective. Who provided the abilities you have, to do the job you have been appointed for, to earn the money you receive, from which you can give to God? “But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth” (Deut. 8:18). God created the world and all its resources. He created each of us with certain talents and abilities. Job recognised that without the Lord, he was nothing: “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised” (Job 1:21).
So really, everything we have belongs to God anyway. Even our bodies are not our own, but belong to Him (1 Cor. 6:19-20). When we can give graciously to God, saying, ‘Lord, I’m only giving back to You what is Yours already’ – then we have the right attitude about giving, and God will bless us.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

God judges our motives

“And you, my son Solomon, acknowledge the God of your father, and serve Him with wholehearted devotion and with a willing mind, for the Lord searches every heart and understands every motive behind the thoughts. If you seek Him, He will be found by you; but if you forsake Him, He will reject you forever.” 1 Chronicles 28:9
In both the Old and the New Testament, we read how God doesn’t judge our words, actions, and thoughts at face value, but instead for the motive behind them (see Prov. 16:2, Matt. 5:27-28, 6:1-2, 5, 16, 1 Cor. 3:10-13, 1 Cor. 4:5, Jas. 4:3, etc.). We may say and do all the right things, but if the motivation is not out of love for God then those things are worthless (1 Cor. 13:3).
Likewise, there are many passages of Scripture that talk of God searching our hearts. In fact, God is the only one who can know our hearts – the most inner part of us. Even we don’t know our own hearts (1 John 3:20, Jer. 17:9).
So how should we live, then – since our hearts are judged for their motives, but we don’t know our own hearts? This is where we need to be open to the Holy Spirit. If we have been born again, then the Spirit of God is dwelling in our hearts, purifying us. We need to be sensitive to His prompting. Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desires of your heart.” I used to think this verse meant God will give you whatever you want, but that is inconsistent with the rest of Scripture – God is not Santa Claus. Rather, it can also mean, if we delight in the Lord, He will place His desires within our hearts. When we allow this to happen, we can be sure that our motives are godly and true, because they come from God Himself.