Friday, April 30, 2010

Salvation for the Gentiles

“Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” Acts 28:28
Throughout the book of Acts, we see Paul’s pattern in evangelism: to the Jew first, and then to the Gentile (Rom. 1:16). In every synagogue he went, there were some who believed, but inevitably a group would arise who threw him out. In that case, he would start preaching to the Gentiles, until the same Jewish group threw him out of the city.
Don’t get me wrong: the Jews are still God’s chosen people. “What advantage, then, is there in being a Jew...? Much in every way!” (Rom. 3:1-2). “I ask then: Did God reject his people? By no means!” (Rom. 11:1). Their unbelief was prophesied about beforehand (Isa. 6:9-10, quoted by Paul in Acts 28:26-27; Isa. 29:10, quoted in Rom. 11:8; Ps. 69:22-23, quoted in Rom. 11:9-10, etc.). It is through the Jews’ unbelief that the door of salvation was opened to the Gentiles.
In the Great Tribulation, God’s focus will once again turn to Israel. How awesome it will be when the Jews realise that Jesus Christ is indeed the Messiah, and their faith is made complete! “But if their transgression means riches for the world, and their loss means riches for the Gentiles, how much greater riches will their fullness bring!” (Rom. 11:12)

Thursday, April 29, 2010

God's discipline

“Blessed is the man You discipline, O Lord, the man You teach from Your law.” Psalm 94:12
There is a big difference between discipline and punishment. Discipline always has the goal of teaching someone and improving their character. Punishment is something unpleasant that is inflicted on a person for doing something wrong. They are not the same thing.
We are blessed if God disciplines us – it means we are His children (Heb. 12:7-8). If He simply punished us, it would mean we are sinners with no hope of reform. God disciplines us because He wants us to grow up to become more like His Son. He does this in many ways: allowing us to endure the consequences of our poor choices, until we come to our senses and seek His forgiveness. Through this we learn what His will is, because if we get outside of His will, our lives seem to dry up.
“No discipline seems pleasant at the time, but painful. Later on, however, it produces a harvest of righteousness and peace for those who have been trained by it” (Heb. 12:11). The benefits of God’s discipline are not necessarily immediate, but they are long-term and eternal. Is God disciplining you today?

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The thoughts of man

“The Lord knows the thoughts of man; He knows that they are futile.” Psalm 94:11
To know that God knows every single one of our thoughts, is an amazing thing. This truth might comfort us, or it may alarm us. As we read elsewhere in the Scriptures, “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God’s sight” (Heb. 4:13), and “You perceive my thoughts from afar” (Ps. 139:2). Jesus displayed this attribute while He was ministering on earth (Mark 2:8, Luke 6:8, John 4:25). There’s not much we can do to prevent thoughts entering our minds, but the choice is entirely ours as to whether we entertain them or not. As Christians we are instructed to “take captive every thought to make it obedient to Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5).
People have many thoughts today about God; many of them misguided. Some deny He exists, others think God is an angry old man with a big stick waiting to punish us. But it doesn’t matter to God what people think about Him. He exists whether they think so or not. He is merciful and patient, whether they think so or not. He loves us – whether we think so or not. What we think does not change Who God is.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Gideon's army

“The Lord said to Gideon, ‘You have too many men for me to deliver Midian into their hands.’” Judges 7:2
As we read earlier, God had called Gideon to lead the Israelites against the Midianites, who had invaded the land. Gideon gathered an army of 32,000 men. But God told him this was too many for Him to use, and whittled the numbers down to 300.
In the natural, they would have been defeated with 32,000 men: 22,000 were afraid to fight (Judg. 7:3) and 9,700 laid down their weapons when they drank, indicating they were unprepared for battle. They were up against an army of 135,000 (Judg. 8:10).
However, with only 300 men but with the Lord on their side, Gideon and the Israelites triumphed over the Midianites. God sent the Midianite camp into confusion and they fought against each other.
The lesson for us is clear: It is better to let the Lord work in a situation, than to fight in our own strength. We have weaknesses that we may or may not know about, but God is all-powerful. He wants to get the glory for any victory in our lives. And it’s only with the Lord, whether we have 300 or 30,000, that we will gain the victory.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Unnerved, but unmoved

“As Paul discoursed on righteousness, self-control and the judgement to come, Felix was afraid and said, ‘That’s enough for now! You may leave. When I find it convenient, I will send for you.’” Acts 24:25
Paul had a number of opportunities to present the gospel message to Felix, the governor. He was ‘well-acquainted’ with Christianity (Acts 24:22) but did not delve further into applying it to his own life. He was unnerved by what Paul had to say, but brushed him off until a time that was more ‘convenient’. Two years passed (Acts 24:27) but there is no mention of Felix coming to faith in Jesus Christ. Here we are told that Paul talked about righteousness, self-control, and the judgement to come. On righteousness: God requires us to be sinless to enter heaven. Our righteousness is “as filthy rags” (Isa. 64:6). We need the righteousness of Christ to cover us in order to be able to stand before God. On self-control: our lives are not our own. We exist for God’s pleasure and for His purpose. To find that is the highest calling in anyone’s life. On the judgement to come: there is one deciding factor on that day – have you accepted Jesus Christ as your Saviour or not?
Felix knew about the Way, but he did not know the Way. Christianity is not an intellectual thing. It needs to change us from the inside out. If the gospel message unnerves you, don’t ignore it, like Felix did. Do something about it.

Sunday, April 25, 2010

A clear conscience

“So I strive always to keep my conscience clear before God and man.” Acts 24:16
Having a clear conscience is one of the most valuable things in life. It gives peace and security, knowing that you have no need to keep up appearances, or to remember secrets and lies you have to keep hidden from people. When your life is transparent before man, when ‘what you see is what you get’, people will respect you. Before God, we know (at least intellectually) that nothing is hidden from Him. But does this truth really impact our lives? If it does, we will be seeking to remove every sinful thought and every ungodly attitude from our lives in order to live in purity before Him. As we mature in the faith, we learn to let go of the things that displease God, and the things that are not entirely beneficial for us (although they may not be outright sinful). We will seek what He says is best for our lives.
Clearing your conscience starts with confession. Confession requires humility. But God will honour that confession, for “if we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Gideon's call

“‘But Lord,’ Gideon asked, ‘how can I save Israel? My clan is the weakest in Manasseh, and I am the least in my family.’” Judges 6:15
Like many people in the Bible, when Gideon was called by God he was very surprised and expressed his own low view of himself. Gideon knew he was a nobody. But even so, God chose him. He called him a ‘mighty warrior’ (Judg. 6:12), even as he was threshing wheat in a winepress (Judg. 6:11) – an act of cowardice and fear, since threshing wheat in the open would bring the Midianite raiders coming to attack you and take your food. Gideon was as far from a ‘mighty warrior’ as one could get. Yet he was exactly the sort of person God chooses to use in such a situation – one who knows he can’t do what God is calling him to do, in his own strength.
It would seem that Gideon did not have much faith, and God showed grace to him by giving him signs through the two fleeces, and the dream of the Midianite soldier, that God would be with him to lead Israel to fight her enemies. He was a transparent vessel who was used by God in mighty ways.
It’s the same for us. The bigger our ego, the less God can use us for. The more self-confident we are, the less of God’s power we will see working in our lives. But when we have a humble view of ourselves, that’s when God can use us most effectively.

Friday, April 23, 2010

God's protection

“‘Because he loves Me,’ says the Lord, ‘I will rescue him; I will protect him, for he acknowledges My name. He will call upon Me, and I will answer him; I will be with him in trouble, I will deliver him and honour him.’” Psalm 91:14-15
Psalm 91 is a favourite for a lot of people. It’s about God being our refuge, a safe haven in a world of chaos. In these verses from that psalm, God promises a number of things: (1) to rescue us, (2) to protect us, (3) to answer us when we call upon Him, (4) to be with us in trouble, (5) to deliver us, and (6) to honour us.
Notice that rescuing someone and protecting them are different. Rescuing involves extracting someone from peril they are in; protecting them is preventing them from getting into peril. As well as this, God promises to be with us whenever we are in trouble. (After all, some of the trouble we experience is a situation God is using to make us grow stronger in faith.)
Why does God always keep an eye out for us? According to this verse, it’s because we love Him and we acknowledge His name. These are voluntary things, and they are things that sinful man would not choose to do of his own accord. If we love God, we have nothing to fear either in this life or in eternity to come. He will protect, deliver, and be with us in any trouble we may face.

Thursday, April 22, 2010

Numbering our days

“Teach us to number our days aright, that we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
When you think about it, our lives here on this earth are incredibly short. In 70 years we will each see about 840 full moons. We will each have about 3500 weekends.
Life is deceptively fragile. It can be snuffed out in a moment’s notice – a microsecond of lapsed concentration on the freeway, a misjudged step at the top of a flight of stairs. The Bible talks of our lives being ‘like grass’ (Ps. 103:15, Isa. 40:6), or ‘a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes’ (Jas. 4:14).
However, in the course of our brief, fragile lives, we can achieve amazing things for the Lord. In the light of realising that our days are short, we need to prioritise what we do. It’s been said that no man on his death bed will wish he had spent more time at work. What is the most important thing that we could be doing with our lives? That is the thing we should be focussing on during our time here. Pursue the things that will achieve for you an eternal reward.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Secret sins

“You have set our iniquities before You, our secret sins in the light of Your presence.” Psalm 90:8
We have the tendency to classify our sins into different categories: ‘big’ sins versus ‘small’ sins, outward sins (actions and words) versus inward sins (thoughts and attitudes). But to God they are all the same. All sin is repulsive to Him, no matter how small it is or how much we keep it to ourselves. “Nothing in all creation is hidden from God's sight. Everything is uncovered and laid bare before the eyes of Him to whom we must give account” (Heb. 4:13).
We must deal with our secret sins – the ones we allow to sit there, and maybe entertain from time to time. Lustful thoughts that are never acted upon; anger and spite, jealousy, bitterness, etc. These are not to be a part of our lives if we are a child of God. God sees all these things and He is grieved.
There is no sin too big to be covered with the blood of Christ on the cross. And there is no sin that is too small not to be dealt with.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

History repeats

“Whenever the Lord raised up a judge for them, He was with the judge and saved them out of the hands of their enemies as long as the judge lived; for the Lord had compassion on them as they groaned under those who oppressed and afflicted them. But when the judge died, the people returned to ways even more corrupt than those of their fathers, following other gods and serving and worshipping them. They refused to give up their evil practices and stubborn ways.” Judges 2:18-19
The book of Judges presents us with a recurring cycle of the nation Israel being oppressed, repenting, being delivered by God through a judge, living in prosperity for a time, then forsaking the Lord and falling back into oppression again. These verses tell us that the people served the Lord only for as long as the judge was alive. When he died, that ‘revival’ came to an abrupt end.
People have very short memories of tragic events. In some cases this is good – women would never have more than one child if they remembered every detail of the pain of childbirth. But with regards to spiritual things, it is something we need to be very aware of. The heart of the natural man is inherently wicked (Jer. 17:9). When the Israelites became prosperous, they forgot the reasons they were following the Lord. Let us not be guilty of the same thing. Don’t let their history repeat in your life.

Monday, April 19, 2010

The church under attack

“I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them.” Acts 20:29-30
Paul in speaking to the elders of the church at Ephesus, warns them of two sources of attacks against the church: the obvious ones, from outside; and the less obvious – those from within. It would seem that the Ephesian church took his warning to heart, as they were commended for their strict adherence to the true doctrine in Rev. 2:1-7.
Today also, the body of Christ is under continual attack. There are the obvious false teachers – ones who preach a gospel of self-enlightenment, improving your own self-esteem and saying that Christianity is merely one of many roads that lead to God. These may be people knocking on your door on a Saturday morning, or they may be university professors. But they are easily discerned, compared to the ones who arise from within the church and seek to lead people astray to follow themselves instead of pointing people to follow Christ.
God, through Paul’s words to the Ephesians some 2000 years ago, is warning us today. Satan’s attacks are not new. We should be discerning.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Finishing well

“However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me – the task of testifying to the gospel of God’s grace.” Acts 20:24
Paul likens the Christian life to a race. I think we all know, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. It requires serious training and chances are you will fall down along the way. But the most important thing in that situation is to get back up and keep going. When you hit ‘the wall’, to push through in the power of the Spirit. The most important part is not how we start, but how we finish.
“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified from the prize.” (1 Cor. 9:24-27)
Paul took his Christian life and calling seriously. There are eternal rewards that are available, but only if we finish well. Don’t be disqualified from the prize by allowing some sin back into your life. Run in such a way as to get the prize.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Power over the grave

“What man can live and not see death, or save himself from the power of the grave?” Psalm 89:48
In the Old Testament, this was a rhetorical question. No man could say he would never die, and no man was exempt from going to Sheol (translated ‘the grave’ – the place of departed spirits).
Now, however, we have One who has indeed triumphed over death and the grave. If we are in Christ, then He has promised that we will never die (John 6:50, John 11:26). Jesus is the only One to have decended to Sheol and returned. He is the only One who has, or could, save Himself from the power of the grave.
Physical death is something that all people will have in common. It represents the ultimate mystery to the world. It is one thing that human power cannot prevail over. It is one of the sureties of life. Death is the result of sin – Adam’s, and our own. The Bible calls death our ‘enemy’ (1 Cor. 15:26), but Christ has done away with it. While we will all face physical death (setting aside the Rapture occurring tomorrow), if we are in Christ then the second death has no power over us (Rev. 2:11, Rev. 20:6).

Friday, April 16, 2010

God's good promises

“Not one of all the Lord’s good promises to the house of Israel failed; every one was fulfilled.” Joshua 21:45
God has made many promises throughout the Bible to His people. He promised the nation Israel to protect and provide for them in the wilderness and lead them to the Promised Land. And He kept His promise by sending the pillar of cloud and fire (which protected them from the pursuing Egyptian army at the Red Sea, and also led them through the wilderness), by providing manna and quail for them to eat, and water from the rock to drink. He led them into the Promised Land and gave them victory at the major cities – Jericho, Ai, etc. Canaan was a land of giants, yet God caused great fear to come upon them so they were defeated by the Israelites.
Consider also the promises given to us. God has promised to never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5, Matt. 28:20). He has promised that He will return and take us to be with Him in heaven (John 14:3). He has promised us the presence of the Holy Spirit (Eph. 1:13). He has promised to complete the work He has started in our lives (Phil. 1:6).
Feel free to add a comment with those promises of God you find the most comforting!

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Dealing with philosophers

“All the Athenians and the foreigners who lived there spent their time doing nothing but talking about and listening to the latest ideas.” Acts 17:21
One of the most frustrating witnessing experiences I have ever had was trying to present the gospel to a girl at university. Everything I said just seemed to go into her head but not into her heart. She was completely unmoved by talk of sin and hell and God’s judgement. I later found out that she was majoring in religious studies. To her, what I was saying was just another aspect in the patchwork of world religions that she was learning about in class. Talking about these things was an analytical exercise for her. Paul found the same frustration in Athens. As soon as he started talking about life after death, they started mocking him (Acts 17:32).
The word ‘philosopy’ comes from the Greek ‘philo’ to love, and ‘sophos’ wisdom. Thus a philosopher is one who loves wisdom or ideas. It’s hard to reason a philosopher into the kingdom. To them, one idea is just as good as any other. It’s been said that anyone who can be reasoned into the kingdom, can be reasoned out of it. “But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless” (Tit. 3:9).
Rather, the gospel is spiritually discerned. We need to use the Word of God – share Scripture with the person. The Word has spiritual power, “it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit” (Heb. 4:12). Philosophy is in the realm of the soul; the gospel works in the realm of the spirit.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

The Bereans

“Now the Bereans were of more noble character than the Thessalonians, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true.” Acts 17:11
Here we see the Bereans commended for having a discerning attitude towards Paul as a visiting preacher. (I’ve actually heard people teach that they lacked faith because they didn’t believe him instantly but that is inconsistent with the rest of the verse about them having ‘more noble character’.) We look at Paul today as basically being infallible – after all, he did write a large portion of the New Testament – but back in those days there were many itinerant preachers doing the rounds.
Today there are preachers who would like to think they are infallible. We need to be especially careful of those who have a ‘I can’t prove this from the Bible, but just trust me on this point’ attitude. Even the ones whom we may respect highly, and enjoy their teaching (as the Bereans did with Paul, receiving his message ‘with great eagerness’), we still need to check out what they say against the plumbline of Scripture. A preacher who is diligent to stick with the Word will not mind this kind of scrutiny at all – rather, they will encourage it. If the Bereans could inspect the apostle Paul, it is our duty to do the same with today’s preachers.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

How long?

“So Joshua said to the Israelites, ‘How long will you wait before you begin to take possession of the land that the Lord, the God of your fathers, has given you?” Joshua 18:3
Entering the Promised Land is an analogy of finding the abundant life that Jesus promised, where we are living in the power of the Holy Spirit. But for some of us, we may have entered the land and are just sitting on our laurels waiting for things to happen around us.
Just as the Israelites had to step out and go through the land taking hold of it, we have to get moving if we want to see the Spirit work through our lives. Are we going out of our way to help others and show them God’s love in action? Are we preaching the gospel, through our lives and our testimony? How much spiritual potential is sitting there, idle, because of our inaction? How long will we wait?

Monday, April 12, 2010

The right words, but...

“This girl followed Paul and the rest of us, shouting, ‘These men are servants of the Most High God, who are telling you the way to be saved.’” Acts 16:17
I find this episode in Acts 16 fascinating. Here is a slave girl who is demon-possessed, yet she is pointing people to Paul and his group as having the message of salvation (which of course they did). This seems counter-intuitive to how we think demons should behave – surely Satanic forces all deny the things of God?
Not at all. You see, the demon was cunningly trying to make people think that the same spirit that was at work in Paul, was also at work in her. It was taking credit where it was not due, and thus taking the glory away from God. This is why Paul commanded the demon to come out of her, because it was misleading the people.
There are people today who can say all the right words, but have a wrong spirit behind those words. Think of the cult members who knock on your door, using words like ‘salvation’, ‘Christ’, and even ‘born again’. But they all deny the deity of Jesus Christ. They use these words to mean different things to what the Bible does. It takes a great deal of spiritual discernment to spot this, but once you find it and start explaining what the Scriptures actually say, they won’t stick around for long. I’m not saying these people are all demon-possessed – some may be, but most have simply been deceived. We need to pray for them, that they will find Him who is the way, the truth, and the life.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

An undivided heart

“Teach me Your way, O Lord, and I will walk in Your truth; give me an undivided heart, that I may fear Your name.” Psalm 86:11
This is a beautiful verse – a heartfelt plea to be led by God in all things in life, following His way wholeheartedly. This is not as easy as it sounds; in fact it’s impossible for us to do in our own strength. We are deceived by our own hearts, as Jeremiah said: “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). We may think that we are humble, gentle, and so forth – but it may be a false humility and a self-righteousness. We need to be willing to examine our hearts in the light of God’s Spirit and the Scriptures, and face the facts when the truth about us is brought to light.
We need to have an undivided heart when it comes to following after God. We need to have a single purpose in life, and for the Christian that should be: to bring glory to God. Jesus said, “No-one can serve two masters... you cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24). When we are living our lives solely for God’s purpose, this is when we can truly learn what it means to fear Him, to reverence Him. He is the potter, and we are the clay. Stay malleable and teachable before God, and He will use you for great things.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

Keeping it simple

“It is my judgement, therefore, that we should not make it difficult for the Gentiles who are turning to God.” Acts 15:19
In Acts 15 the early church had a dilemma. Up until that point, the believers were primarily Jews, or Gentiles who had proselytised into Judaism. Now all of a sudden, it appears that Gentiles are coming to salvation without going through Judaism first! What a scandal!
Peter was involved in some of those early events, with his visit to Cornelius and his vision of the sheet being lowered down from heaven. While some of the other, well-meaning, believers were adamant that the Gentiles had to proselytise through Judaism and undergo the rite of circumcision in order to be saved, he declared, “No! We believe it is through the grace of our Lord Jesus that we are saved, just as they are” (Acts 15:11). Note the order here: he has no doubt the Gentiles being spoken of are saved.
So here we have it: Gentiles were indeed coming to salvation, apart from Judaism. The fact they are leaving their idols and false religions behind and coming to faith in the true and living God should be encouraged, rather than having extra burdens of circumcision and dietary restrictions forced on them.
It is the same today. People may present the gospel to someone, but then add, “Oh, but you can’t become a Christian until you cut your hair/give up smoking/stop listening to that music.” No – the gospel is about inward, not outward change. If there’s no inward change, then any outward change means nothing. But if there is an inward change, it will become reflected in a person's outward behaviour. Let’s not make the gospel difficult for someone who is trying to find salvation.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Christ offers more

“Through Him everyone who believes is justified from everything you could not be justified from by the law of Moses.” Acts 13:39
Salvation through Christ is a precious thing. We often undervalue it, because of the minimal cost it requires of us. Christ has done it all; all we need to do is believe that His sacrifice is sufficient to cover our sins, confess and turn from our sins in repentance, and voila, we are justified before God. Being justified means ‘just if I’d never sinned’. God sees us in the perfect righteousness of Christ.
Contrast this with trying to obtain salvation by keeping the Law. This requires extraordinary, superhuman discipline on our part to never sin in deed, word, or thought. Of course, this is impossible. Paul hammers this point home in the epistle to the Galatians: we cannot be justified through keeping the Law, because we are all sinners. With the law, we only need to break it once for it to be ineffective. In contrast, the justification we find in Christ covers all our sins – past, present, and future.
There’s a move in the church at present where people are again seeking to put themselves under the Old Testament Law – keeping the feasts of Judaism, observing Sabbath days, eating according to the dietary restrictions laid out there. I am sure some of them even put tassels on their garments (Num. 15:38), which of course are made of a single fabric (Deut. 22:11). While I admit this latter point was a bit tongue-in-cheek, I just don’t get why people want to go back under the Law. It does not make us any more righteous before God (although it could well make a person more self-righteous). Christ came to set us free from the Law. We live, in Him, by faith.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

A dwelling place

“Blessed are those who dwell in Your house; they are ever praising You... Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked.” Psalm 84:4,10
Where do we feel most at home? Those special times when we know we are in the presence of God – don’t you just want to stay there for as long as possible? This is not a physical location (although for the psalmist, the temple was the only place one could meet with God). Rather, it’s a state of existence where you are aware of God’s presence, wherever you are. To dwell in His house means the place He resides. In His presence is contentment and peace. If we are dwelling in the tents of the wicked, we can be sure we won’t find God’s presence there. It is better to be the lowest servant in God’s kingdom than to own a mansion in a wicked city.
The ultimate state of being continually in God’s presence will be found when we get to heaven. There “we shall see face to face” (1 Cor. 13:12). Heaven is a place where there is perpetual praise and worship to God, from the seraphim, the angels, and us. What a privilege it will be to join that chorus! And for those for whom praising God feels like a chore here, when we get there it will be a delight.

Wednesday, April 7, 2010

Why the slaughter?

“The Lord also gave that city and its king into Israel’s hand. The city and everyone in it Joshua put to the sword. He left no survivors there. And he did to its king as he had done to the king of Jericho." Joshua 10:30
Many people come across accounts like this, particularly in the Old Testament and with regard to the commands to completely annihilate all of the Canaanites, and struggle to understand why God would condone, let alone command, such a thing. Many see God as a monster because of this. But God is not a monster, and He has good reasons for commanding that all the people be destroyed: “Do not intermarry with them. Do not give your daughters to their sons or take their daughters for your sons, for they will turn your sons away from following Me to serve other gods, and the Lord’s anger will burn against you and will quickly destroy you” (Deut. 7:3-4).
God had chosen the nation Israel to be His special instrument in the world, to show the world how a nation that obeyed God could be blessed. He knew that the Israelites, like any nation, were easily swayed into idolatry. The idolatry that the Canaanites were involved in was of the worst kind – obscene sexual rituals, child sacrifice, the works. They were on a path to destruction anyway, like a rabid dog, beyond cure. There is also the issue of the gene pool being contaminated by the Nephilim (“and also after that”, Gen. 6:4, see Num. 13:33).
God also calls for a cutting off in our own lives of anything, inherently sinful or not, that would draw us away from Him. It is not to spoil our fun, but to protect us from contamination. We need to see these things from God’s perspective.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Warring against Israel

“‘Come up and help me attack Gibeon,’ he said, ‘because it has made peace with Joshua and the Israelites.’” Joshua 10:4
Throughout history – from the Old Testament right up to the present day, the world has been hostile to Israel and all who support her or make peace with her. As we read yesterday, Gibeon was the only Canaanite tribe that sought to make peace with Israel. All the other tribes sought to make war against Isarel and ultimately failed. Here we see five Canaanite kings forming an allegiance against Israel and against Gibeon too, for making peace with her. This leads into the battle where Joshua called for the sun to stand still so they could finish the job.
Have you noticed that if someone openly supports Israel in your workplace etc., people generally seem to have an adverse reaction? There’s no rhyme or reason to it, other than spiritual forces behind the scenes that the people reacting are unaware of. Trying to understand the Middle East conflict today from human terms is impossible. It’s not about land – the Arab world already covers some 1000 times the land area of the state of Israel. It’s about Israel’s right to exist.
Israel was, and still is, God’s chosen people. His covenant to Abraham was unconditional and it is still in force today. God’s plan for the end times sees the Jews playing an integral role, and Israel as centre stage. Indeed, Israel and Jerusalem is “an immovable rock for all nations... all who try to move it will injure themselves” (Zech. 12:3). God Himself said, “I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse” (Gen. 12:3). We should all be aware of the consequences for standing for or against Israel.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Enquiring of God

“The men of Israel sampled their provisions but did not inquire of the Lord.” Joshua 9:14
Early on in Joshua’s campaign to subdue the land of Canaan, a group of people wearing worn-out clothes and carrying mouldy food arrived at their camp. They said they were from a land far away and had come to make a treaty with Israel, having heard of the wonders that God had done in bringing them out of Egypt. In reality, of course, these people were Gibeonites, and lived in the land of Canaan. They knew that the Israelites had been commanded by God to wipe them all out.
The ruse worked. Just as we read in the account of Ai following Jericho, so too this is another lapse by the people following the eventual victory at Ai. There is no doubt that if Joshua and the Israelites had enquired of God, they would have discovered the truth. (God probably would have been merciful and allowed the Gibeonites to live, since they were the only Canaanite tribe to profess faith in Israel’s God, and voluntarily submit themselves to the Israelites rather than going to war against them.) As the record stands, they disobeyed the commandment of God to “be careful not to make a treaty with those who live in the land where you are going” (Ex. 34:12).
It’s vitally important for us to remember that when faced with big decisions and when being pressured to make promises and oaths, to first inquire of the Lord. Don’t do anything until you know He approves.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

He is risen

“Why do you look for the living among the dead? He is not here; He has risen!” Luke 24:5-6
This Resurrection Sunday, I would encourage you to think about the big picture and try and grasp just how important this day is.
This is the day Jesus proved without a doubt that He was the Messiah, in rising from the dead.
This is the day that the new covenant (Jer. 31:31-34) came into force.
This is the day Jesus proved that He has power over sin and death.
This is the day we are set free.
This is the day of salvation.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

The sin of presumption

“When they returned to Joshua, they said, ‘Not all the people will have to go up against Ai. Send two or three thousand men to take it and do not weary all the people, for only a few men are there.’” Joshua 7:3
We notice many differences between the attacks on Jericho and Ai. Perhaps the foremost one is that God told them to attack Jericho, but at this point He had not yet told them to attack Ai (c.f. Josh. 7:2 with Josh. 8:1). Instead, Joshua had taken it upon himself to send spies to Ai, and he listened to their advice. These men came back, filled with self-confidence over the events of Jericho. Yet they had not really done anything to fight against Jericho – God had caused the walls to fall down and the people merely had to walk in and take plunder. They presumed the same thing would happen at Ai, that it too would be a cake walk.
In addition, there was sin in the camp. Achan had taken some of the things that God had order to be given over to Him by destroying them. The people were on a high, but God had not told them to move on just yet until that sin was dealt with. As a result, He allowed them to be defeated so they would humble themselves, fix the problem, and trust in Him as the source of their strength.
How often do we continue in our own strength after God does something amazing in our lives? Sometimes, like the children of Israel, God has to bring about a fall in our lives to get our attention regarding some sin we need to deal with. It’s a painful lesson, but a necessary one, to get rid of our self-confidence and make us recognise the true source of our strength.

Friday, April 2, 2010

Good Friday

“We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way; and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” Isaiah 53:6
Perhaps the greatest torment that Jesus faced while on the cross was that of separation. The disciples had deserted Him in the garden; only the women and John stood by the cross as He died. But even more than this: Jesus was separated from the Father for the first time in eternity. He did not merely bear our sins, He became the embodiment of sin (2 Cor. 5:21). It was as if Jesus Himself had committed every sin by every person who ever walked on the face of the earth. God laid all that upon Him. And when He did so, it meant that Jesus could no longer be in God’s presence, so the Father withdrew Himself.
I don’t think it is possible for us to completely grasp the enormity of what happened on the cross. How can God Himself become the embodiment of sin? And why would He do it for weak, fickle humans like us? But while I can’t fully understand it, I can grasp it with both hands and express my gratitude to the One who bore my sin and died in my place, taking the punishment that I deserved. It was my sin that took Him to the cross – and it was His love that held Him there.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

What God has made clean

“The voice spoke to him a second time, ‘Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.’” Acts 10:15
The events in Acts 10 show us a massive theological and cultural hurdle that Peter had to overcome: the fact that Gentiles could receive salvation without first proselytising into Judaism. And Peter was not the only one – the Jews were taught by the religious leaders that Gentiles were only fit to keep the fires of hell burning.
We can face similar hurdles, when we encounter people who may have been extremely wicked and immoral, who come to faith in Jesus Christ. In God’s sight, their sins are washed as white as snow just as ours are. But we often continue to judge them by their past sins. A few years ago I remember reading in the news about a Christian man was brought to trial and jailed for some child sex offences committed years before he was saved, and thought it wasn’t fair. God had forgiven his sins, but I suppose human justice still had to be carried out. But even amongst our unbelieving friends who come to salvation, it’s important for us to stop bringing up their impure past, because God has made them clean.