Thursday, September 30, 2010

God vs. the nations' gods

“Who of all the gods of these countries has been able to save his land from me? How then can the Lord deliver Jerusalem from my hand?” 2 Kings 18:35
Imagine the scene: the Assyrian army, buoyed by its conquering and annihilation of the northern kingdom, has laid siege to Jerusalem. The Assyrians were renown for their cruelty; many cities, when they were besieged by the Assyrians, chose to commit mass suicide rather than fall captive to them. But ruling in Jerusalem at the time was king Hezekiah, and he trusted in God.
The Assyrians had heard how Hezekiah had destroyed the high places and Asherah poles (2 Kin. 18:4). But they didn’t realise that these things were contrary to the worship of the Lord. Instead they mocked Hezekiah for pulling down God’s own altars – when they were in fact the altars of idols (2 Kin. 18:22).
The Assyrians were making a big mistake by comparing the true and living God with the false gods of the other nations, which Hezekiah had purged from the nation. God is indeed mighty to save, and anybody who dares God to show Himself may well get more than they bargained for. In the Assyrians’ case, He sent the destroying angel to wipe out 185,000 soldiers from the army, in one night.
We see these same attitudes in our world today. People compare Christianity with other religions, as if they are all equally valid. They try to reconcile all the world religions, but it cannot be done. There is only one true and living God. Do you know Him? And does He know you?

Wednesday, September 29, 2010

Becoming like idols

“Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them.” Psalm 135:18
Psalm 135 contrasts the attributes of God with the attributes of idols. It tells us how God is the creator and the sustainer of the universe, how He chose the nation Israel and delivered her from all her enemies. The contrast is then made between God’s awesome power and the uselessness of idols: “The idols of the nations are silver and gold, made by the hands of men. They have mouths, but cannot speak; eyes, but they cannot see; they have ears, but cannot hear, nor is there breath in their mouths” (Ps. 135:15-17). Then comes the warning: “Those who make them will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Ps. 135:18).
We will become like that which we worship. If we worship idols, which are insensitive and lifeless, we too will become insensitive and lifeless. But if we worship God, who is life, love, and truth, then we will become alive, loving, and true. Who, or what, are you worshipping today?

Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Israel the chosen

“For the Lord has chosen Jacob to be His own, Israel to be His treasured possession.” Psalm 135:4
The nation Israel is one of the most prominent themes throughout the Bible. Beginning in Genesis, we read of how God chose Abraham from the town of Ur in Chaldea, and later called his son Isaac and grandson Jacob, to whom were born twelve sons from whom would come the twelve tribes of Israel. We read how God prepared a homeland for them in the land of Canaan, how He delivered them out of Egypt and led them through the wilderness to the land promised to Abraham. He gave them His law, established the place where He was to be worshipped, and instituted the tribe of Levi to minister to Him. He raised up prophets to admonish the people and promised a kingdom to David culminating in the Messiah, who would save the whole world.
We see Israel now in a state of blindness towards God (Rom. 11:25). Most Israelis today are not religious; and many of the few that are are clinging to the Old Testament laws as their means of salvation, not realising that Messiah has indeed come. Yet despite all this, God has not cast off Israel.
He has not forgotten her (Isa. 49:14-16). Israel is still God’s chosen and treasured possession, and He has a future plan for her that will come to pass..

Monday, September 27, 2010

The bronze snake

“[Hezekiah] removed the high places, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. He broke into pieces the bronze snake Moses had made, for up to that time the Israelites had been burning incense to it. (It was called Nehushtan.)” 2 Kings 18:4
The bronze snake was made by Moses during one of the many events where the Isarelites grumbled against the Lord when they were wandering in the desert. He sent serpents which bit the people and many of them died. The people repented, and God told Moses, “Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live” (Num. 21:8). The bronze snake was also referred to by Jesus as a symbol of Himself (John 3:14-15) – the serpent being the symbol of sin, and bronze being a symbol of judgement. Thus as Jesus was lifted up on the cross, He bore God’s judgement on our sin.
Despite these origins and the symbolism that the bronze snake embodied, it became an idol. For 500 years, the snake had existed – long past its original intent. It had been made specifically for those people who had been bitten by snakes in the wilderness. But later generations saw it as having healing powers, and were worshipping it. It was not until the time of Hezekiah that it was destroyed. This means that it existed through the time of Joshua, Samuel, and even David.
Here is the pinch: how many things do we have, carried over from a past experience, that we look on with such fondness that we forget the circumstances from which they came? Have those things become idols to us? If this verse shows us nothing else, it shows that something intended for good purposes can become a hindrance and an idol, when it is taken out of context.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

Fearing, and serving

“So while these nations feared the Lord, they also served their idols; their children likewise and their grandchildren, as their fathers did, so they do to this day.” 2 Kings 17:41 (NASB)
This verse describes the state of the people from many nations who had been captured by the Assyrians. Their policy was to separate their captives and mingle the various people groups together so their individual national identities would be lost. Then they would re-settle these mixed people in other lands. The area of the northern kingdom of Israel, also called Samaria, was one of these places. (Hence we get the term ‘Samaritan’, referring to one of these mixed people who could not fully trace back to their Jewish heritage and so were despised by the Jews in Jesus’ time.)
The people ‘feared the Lord’ in the sense that they were afraid of Him. When they first arrived and were worshipping their own gods, He sent lions into the cities (2 Kin. 17:25). But they were not converted: they continued to serve their idols, and tried to placate the Lord at the same time.
The lesson is the same for all people today. There is but one true and living God. People may fear Him, but serve their own idol, be that their career, their ideals, their possessions, money, etc. The Bible tells us that we cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24), and that we are to choose whom we will serve (Josh. 24:15). We are to fear God, and to serve Him and Him alone.

Saturday, September 25, 2010

The good life

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.” 1 Peter 2:12
I would think that most people reading this blog, who are in paid employment, will automatically think of their workplaces when they hear the words, “Live... good lives among the pagans”. Certainly this is true of my own workplace. While I know a few fellow believers there, most people are either not Christians, or worse, are anti-Christianity. People who belong to the world system, frequently try to catch Christians out and accuse them of various things. They will try to embarrass us by their topics of conversation, pointed questions, references to our past ‘Before Christ’ lives. They will insinuate that our good works are bad and that the Biblical truths that we hold to are just fairy tales. They do all these things, because the light in our lives only makes them aware of their own darkness (John 3:19, Matt. 6:23).
Christians are often accused of being intolerant, archaic, grumpy, self-righteous, bigoted, party poopers. When we make a stand for righteousness, people will tell us we are wrong. When churches or Christian doctrines are attacked, we are expected to stay silent because it’s ‘freedom of speech’; but if a Christian says anything against Islam or the cults, they are labelled ‘intolerant’. God sees these injustices, and He will deal with everyone in complete fairness at the end of it all. In the meantime, we are to live good and righteous lives. “In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:16).

Friday, September 24, 2010

Watch what you say (2)

“With the tongue we praise our Lord and Father, and with it we curse men, who have been made in God’s likeness. Out of the same mouth come praise and cursing. My brothers, this should not be.” James 3:9-10
We read earlier about the power of words. All too often we say things, without thinking about the consequences. How many of us remember everything we said yesterday? Or, if that is not possible, how many of us remember saying things that might have been insulting, defamatory, or dishonest? As Christians, we should be asking God to help us purge these kinds of things from our lives. Our speech should be pure and edifying. We shouldn’t be repeating the crude jokes that we hear, or the sexual innuendos, in order to ‘fit in’ to whatever group we are with at the time. Nor should we be gossipping about people behind their back or being rude to their face. Jesus gave a high standard: “Again, anyone who says to his brother, ‘Raca’, is answerable to the Sanhedrin. But anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell” (Matt. 5:22).
James gives us the reason here. Man is created in the image of God. John tells us, “If anyone says, ‘I love God’, yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen” (1 John 4:20). For sure, we will come across many people in life who rub us up the wrong way. But we are not to curse them. The challenge to all of us today is to weigh up our words before we say them. Would we say it to Jesus, or in His company? If not, then don’t say it at all.

Thursday, September 23, 2010


“Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, bceause you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly.” James 3:1
Teachers – in both the Biblical and secular arenas – are given a reminder here, of the greater accountability they are under. They have power to lead people closer to God, or to lead people astray. “Anyone who breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:19).
Teaching children carries a particularly heavy accountability. Children are very impressionable. “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” (Matt. 18:6). I don’t envy those schoolteachers who think they are doing the right thing by teaching kids that they evolved from slime. What they are taught at school, and what they are taught in the home, will shape their character and their thought processes for life.
The same is true among new believers. They are spiritual children, and with a newly re-created heart, they lap up anything they are taught. We need to be careful to teach them the majors of the faith instead of emphasising things that really don’t matter (like what kind of haircut they should or shouldn’t have now they are a Christian).
The same goes for this online forum. I don’t know who might be reading this. I hope and pray that it will edify somebody out there. And I acknowledge and accept the accountability that comes with teaching the Word in the online domain. This accountability is not something to be afraid of, unless you are teaching falsehood.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Rich and poor

“Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen tose who are poor in the eyes of the world to be rich in faith and to inherit the kingdom He promised those who love Him?” James 2:5
The world has no qualms about measuring people’s worth by what’s in their bank account. This is why there is the drive towards becoming rich, because in the eyes of the world it means you are worth more and that you are better than other people. This love of money is a trap, because money can never satisfy a person, no matter how much they have. It always wants more (Ecc. 5:10). We touched on this in an earlier post. Conversely, those who are poor are seen as being of little value. I remember a lunchtime conversation while I was at university, where I mentioned that I sponsored a child in Kenya. Another person replied that she thought it was pointless, and why not give the money to the SPCA, because with the same amount of money they help many animals. I was aghast that people could compare a human being’s life with the lives of animals in this way.
But God’s Word tells us, time and time again, that this is not the value system God uses. Rich and poor are alike to Him, because money is irrelevant to Him. He is able to bless someone (like Jacob, Gen. 32:10) and He is able to bring someone to absolute poverty (like Job, Job 1:21). James tells us here that being rich is not the sole sign of God’s blessing. Solomon, the richest man in the world, wrote: “Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God” (Prov. 30:8-9).
The poor are blessed in spiritual ways – they have a deeper faith in God to provide for them, out of necessity. Which is better?

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Watch what you say

“My dear brothers, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry.” James 1:19
This is good advice to people of all ages and to people throughout the ages. We are all guilty of jumping into conversations without first listening to what the other person is saying. It’s been said that God gave us two ears and one mouth, so we should listen twice as much as we talk.
Words are powerful (and James goes on in ch. 3 to talk about the power of the tongue). They have the power to build someone up, or to tear that same person down. Once hurtful words have been said, it is impossible for us to take them back. Similarly when we get angry, it stirs up strife that cannot be easily calmed. James 1:20 goes on to say, “for man’s anger does not bring about the righteous life that God desires”. Anger itself is not a sin - Jesus got angry (Mark 3:5, John 2:13-17). But His was always a righteous anger, because He saw God being profaned by the people. He never got angry at what people did or said to Him personally. Anything that comes out of our fleshly motives, for self-promotion, is not of God.
James 3:2 says, “If anyone is never at fault in what he says, he is a perfect man, able to keep his whole body in check.” The ultimate display of self-control is being able to control what comes out of your mouth. Proverbs says, “Even a fool is thought wise if he keeps silent, and discerning if he holds his tongue” (Prov. 17:28). We can all do better at watching what we say to other people.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Running, and being watched

“Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.” Hebrews 12:1
One of the analogies Paul often uses to describe the Christian life is that of a running race. You don’t see runners carrying packs or wearing heavy coats. No, they run as light as possible. If we are constantly carrying our past failures and guilt, and falling into sin, we will not run as effectively as if we surrendered all those things to God and left them behind at the start line.
And why should we do this? Because of ch. 11 (which is what the ‘therefore’ is there for). “These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Heb. 11:39-40). The Old Testament saints looked forward to Messiah coming to pay the price for the sin of the world. For us, this is an historical fact. When we meet them in heaven, I suspect they will have more questions for us than we will for them. For the time being, they are the ‘great cloud of witnesses’ spoken of here; watching how we live our lives. Christ has set us free from sin and we are no longer compelled to live according to it. The Holy Spirit indwells all believers permanently, not like in the Old Testament when He only indwelt a few, and then only for a season. Let us set an example for each other, but also for those Old Testament believers who are watching.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Waiting for the Lord

“I wait for the Lord, my soul waits, and in His word I put my hope.” Psalm 130:5
One of the wisest things we can learn to do in life is to wait for God, instead of rushing into things in our own strength. He hasn’t forgotten about you; He is just waiting for the perfect timing to move – not just in your life, but in the lifes of the other people who will be impacted too. Very often we can get frustrated and think that God is moving too slowly for our liking. But “the Lord is not slow in keeping His promise” (2 Pet. 3:9). He acts at just the right time.
And so we wait, because God has told us in the Scriptures what will happen and that He is the one who has the power to do it. We read the Word, and we trust it. It is the Word that gives us hope for the future and for eternal life. And yet many Christians today have given up reading the Bible. To be honest, I don’t understand this. Why would you not want to read the words of encouragement that God has given us, over and over, reminding ourselves of them on a daily basis? The Scriptures are the foundation of our faith. They are God-breathed, and when we read them, the Holy Spirit within us brings them to life in our hearts.

Saturday, September 18, 2010

The definition of faith

“Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see.” Hebrews 11:1
Hebrews 11 is widely known as ‘the hall of faith’. It gives numerous examples of people in the Old Testament who had faith, how they demonstrated it, and how they were commended for it. We have the familiar stories of Noah building the ark, Abraham offering his son Isaac, Moses leading the Israelites; and lesser known people like Rahab, Barak, and Jephthah.
All of these examples have a thread in common. None of these people knew what the future would hold, as they stepped out into the unknown. In the natural, there was no way of knowing whether they would reach their destination, or have victory in a battle. But they trusted that God would bring about what He had said to them. They were sure that everything would work out for the good.
Earlier we read in Rom. 8:24-25 about what hope is. It is an assurance of what will happen in the future. We can’t hope for something we already have it, because if we have it, it is not future any more. The biggest thing we hope for is salvation – our future glorification and entry to heaven. But God already sees us there (see for example Rom. 8:30, discussed here, and Heb. 10:14, see the post on that verse). This is the essence of faith. Faith is not blind trust. Faith is a certainty that God will keep His word and do what He has promised. Do you have this kind of faith?

Friday, September 17, 2010

Seeing angels

“And Elisha prayed, ‘O Lord, open his eyes so he may see.’ Then the Lord opened the servant’s eyes, and he looked and saw the hills full of horses and chariots of fire all around Elisha.” 2 Kin. 6:17
Elisha and his servant were staying in Dothan while the king of Aram was making military forays into the land of Israel. But God was telling Elisha where the king of Aram would attack next, and Elisha would inform the king of Israel so he could be prepared. Naturally the king of Aram decided to try and capture Elisha, so he sent a large army to Dothan. In the morning, Elisha’s servant looked out and saw that the Aramean army had surrounded the city and went to Elisha in despair. But then we have this event: Elisha prayed that God would open the servant’s eyes so that he could see the spiritual world. He saw the hills full of the angels of the army of God. The story goes on: Elisha prayed that God would blind the Arameans, then he led them to Samaria, where they were shown hospitality and returned to Aram.
I don’t recall having ever seen an angel. That’s not to say that I might not have; angels appear in human form, and many people have entertained angels without knowing it (Heb. 13:2). But I most certainly believe in their existence and their influence in the world around us. Satan has his agents of darkness at work, and God has His agents of light, who are “ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation” (Heb. 1:14).
See also 1 John 4:4 and Rom. 8:31 (which was discussed here). If only we were more aware of the spiritual world around us – particularly those who are on our side as believers. Then we would not despair.

Thursday, September 16, 2010


“But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Ababa and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, butter than any of the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage.” 2 Kings 5:11-12
Naaman was a commander in the Syrian army who had leprosy. He had an Israelite slave girl, who told his wife about the prophet Elisha and how he could cure Naaman of his leprosy. The king encouraged him to go, and so he did, but when he got there Elisha didn’t even come to meet him. Instead, he told him to wash in the Jordan River seven times and he would be healed.
Now here’s the interesting part: Naaman got angry at this. I can understand that he would be a bit miffed that Elisha wouldn’t come to see him, but it seems the part he was most annoyed about was being told to wash in the Jordan River. One of his servants convinced him to try it though, saying, “if the prophet had told you do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, ‘Wash and be cleansed!’” (1 Kin. 5:13). Eventually Naaman did obey, and he was indeed healed.
Sometimes we can get annoyed when God asks us to do simple things. But we need to be obedient and humble ourselves. Salvation itself is a very simple thing: it requires repentance, and faith – nothing more. Perhaps its simplicity is the very reason many do not enter the kingdom of God. But because of its simplicity, God is all the more glorified.

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

He has made perfect

“because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.” Hebrews 10:14
Here we have a classic example of God’s perspective versus our perspective regarding our salvation. This is the only way to interpret this verse, because the mix of tenses (‘has made perfect’... ‘being made holy’) does not make any sense otherwise. God, as we know, is outside time. To Him, everything in time is laid out before Him, like items on a table. He can see it all. We, however, are like ants crawling across the table. We encounter each object, each event, in a sequence. We cannot see what is ahead of us until we get to it.
God already sees us in our glorified state. He already sees us as we will be – made perfect. Christ’s work will not fail (Phil. 1:6). Yet in our perspective, we are still being made holy. There is still a lot that God has yet to do in our lives to make us perfect. How encouraging it is, then, to know that we will reach that destination!
And also here in this verse, we see the complete sufficiency of Christ’s sacrifice on our behalf. By that one sacrifice, we are made perfect forever. Jesus hasn’t just partly saved us and we have to do the rest. No – He has done it all, and the purifying process we are now going through (sanctification, being made holy) is all His doing as well.

Tuesday, September 14, 2010

Is God in it?

“Unless the Lord builds the house, its builders labour in vain. Unless the Lord watches over the city, the watchmen stand guard in vain.” Ps. 127:1
How many times have we tried to do something in our own strength, and seen it fail? It may even have been something for God’s kingdom, yet we saw few results and became discouraged in it. Could it be that God was not behind that idea?
This is a universal truth: if God is not behind something, it will be an uphill struggle that ends in futility and failure. We can try our hardest to build something or protect something, but things just don’t seem to go our way. Conversely, if God is behind something, it will succeed. This is not to say that it might not be difficult; chances are it will be. But we will be strengthened for the task by the Lord.
Sometimes it’s only when we step out and attempt to do something that we realise God is not in it. Rather than to keep going, it would be wise to stop, take stock, and seek Him regarding it. Perhaps it is His will, but you are going about it the wrong way, or you are ahead of His timing. But if He is behind something, it will only come to fruition when we step out in faith. God isn’t going to run an outreach, or help a needy family, or minister to the homeless by Himself. He wants you to go to those places – because then He can work through your life.

Monday, September 13, 2010

Resisting temptation

“For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin.” Hebrews 4:15
I find this verse encouaraging, but it also gives us insights into Jesus’ life while He was on this planet in human form. There is the theological aspect: Jesus succeeded where Adam failed. He resisted the temptations of Satan in the wilderness (which tested him on the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16)), whereas Adam and Eve fell in the garden (she saw the fruit was good to eat (for the flesh), pleasing to the eye, and desirable for gaining wisdom, Gen. 3:6).
But there is another aspect as well. These weren’t the only temptations that Jesus faced. We read that after Satan couldn’t make Him sin in the desert, “he left Him until an opportune time” (Luke 4:13). All the things that we struggle with, He also faced, and overcame. It is not the tempting thought that is a sin, because Jesus had these. Sin comes when we dwell too long on that thought (instead of taking it captive, 2 Cor. 10:5) or worse, act upon it.
Another point to note is that Jesus resisted all these temptations in the power of a man. He laid aside His Deity when He came to earth. His life shows us what a man filled and led by the Holy Spirit can do. This means that we too can resist every temptation that comes our way, in the power of the Spirit. And because Jesus knows what we face, as our high priest He is compassionate and willing to forgive.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

The power of the Word

“For the word of God is living and active. Sharper than any double-edged sword, it penetrates even to dividing soul and spirit, joints and marrow; it judges the thoughts and attitudes of the heart.” Hebrews 4:12
We should always quote the Bible when we are witnessing to people. It has great power that even our most eloquent and persuasive words do not. It is living, because it was God-breathed, and when we speak it forth, the Holy Spirit empowers those same words to those who hear it. The Word of God has the power to penetrate to a person’s spirit. This is the deepest part of a person, within their soul. The soul is the place of emotions, personality, and decision-making. This is the furthest that human persuasion and psychology can reach. Only God can reach into a person’s spirit; only God can regenerate them from within.
You will come across some people, who when you say, ‘The Bible says...’ will respond, ‘I don’t believe the Bible.’ It’s tempting at that point to try and convince them some other way. But don’t do it! Keep quoting the Bible. It alone has the power, because the Holy Spirit works through it, to save people.
And the Bible continues to have power in the lives of believers. We can often be blind to the true state of our heart. We may think we are doing something out of right motives, when actually it is self-serving. The Bible will expose these attitudes within us, if we will listen to God speaking to us through it. This is why it’s important for all believers to read the Bible regularly, preferably daily, for the spiritual cleansing that only comes by the Word (Eph. 5:26).

Saturday, September 11, 2010

God always has a remnant

“Yet I reserve seven thousand in Israel – all whose knees have not bowed down to Baal and all whose mouths have not kissed him.” 1 Kings 19:18
After the climax of 1 Kings 18, where Elijah confronted the 450 prophets of Baal and the Lord answered his prayer by burning up the offering with fire from heaven, comes 1 Kings 19. Jezebel, the manipulative queen of the northern kingdom, threatens to kill Elijah, and he flees to the wilderness and wishes he was dead (1 Kin. 19:4). God spoke to him in a still small voice as he was hiding in the cave at Mount Horeb, and re-commissioned him.
It’s safe to say that Elijah was suffering from considerable depression at this time. Despite being told by Obadiah that a hundred of the Lord’s prophets had been hidden away so they would not be killed by Jezebel (1 Kin. 18:13), he laments that “I am the only one left, and now they are trying to kill me too” (1 Kin. 19:14). But God gently reminds him that he is not alone – there are seven thousand believers in Israel who are loyal to Him.
We too can sometimes feel isolated, and like we are the only true believer left in the world. So it is comforting to know that God always has a remnant, somewhere.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Elijah and the prophets of Baal

“Answer me, O Lord, answer me, so these people will know that You, O Lord, are God, and that You are turning their hearts back again.” 1 Kings 18:37
The showdown between Elijah and the 450 prophets of Baal on Mount Carmel is one of the great Bible stories. In a time when the people of Israel had been turned away from God because of wicked king Ahab and his wife Jezebel, Elijah stood up for the Lord.
We all know the story: how Elijah and the prophets each built an altar, placed a bull on it for an offering, and agreed that whichever god answered by sending fire from heaven, was the true God. The prophets of Baal cried out all day long, but nothing happened. Then Elijah called for his own altar to be doused with water, before he called on the Lord, who of course answered by sending fire from heaven, burning up the bull and the wood even through it was thoroughly wet.
Elijah had no doubt that God would answer his prayer. He prays that God would do this so that the people would know that He is God. The people he has in view here are the Israelites who had been led astray. While the prophets of Baal would also know that the Lord is God when He did this, it would be too late for them to change sides.
We read of this motivation for many of God’s awesome works: that the people would know that He is God. The restoration of Israel (Joel 2:27), and their deliverance from the invading army of the north (Ezek. 38:23) are two such examples. Similarly in the end times: we read how every knee will bow and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord (Phil. 2:10-11). Not everyone will be saved, but every knee will bow. There won’t be a second chance to accept Christ when we are standing before Him – that decision has to have already been made.

Thursday, September 9, 2010

Divisive people

“Warn a divisive person once, and then warn him a second time. After that, have nothing to do with him.” Titus 3:10
We all know, or know of, people who come into churches, fellowships, or groups of friends and try to go about turning part of the group against another part. They encourage people to form cliques, they wheedle their way into positions of influence and then shun various people and speak against them. They use gossip and backstabbing techniques to divide the body.
There is no doubt that such tactics are Satan’s idea, and anybody doing them in the body of Christ is doing Satan’s work. We are called to unity in the Spirit. This doesn’t mean that we need to agree on everything, or that we need to be best mates with everyone in our church fellowship, but we do need to realise that we are brothers and sisters with all true believers in Christ. And just as natural brothers and sisters don’t always get along, sometimes we will find it hard to get on with our fellow believers. But we are still family, and as such, we need to look out for each other.
We need to be aware that Satan is always trying to infiltrate the church by some means or other. It may be through a popular book or reading programme that seeks to replace the Word of God with man’s wisdom and secular psychology. Or it may be through people, who come in and stir up dissension. Jesus called these wolves in sheep’s clothing (Matt. 7:15).
The reason Paul says here to give a divisive person two chances, is because sometimes believers get the wrong end of the stick. They think they are trying to do something helpful, but it is in fact dividing the body. If a true believer is warned about what they are doing, they will repent and desist. But a wolf will keep trying.

Wednesday, September 8, 2010

The pure and the corrupt

“To the pure, all things are pure, but to those who are corrupted and do not believe, nothing is pure. In fact, both their minds and consciences are corrupted.” Titus 1:15
Have you noticed how worldly people can make almost anything into an innuendo? Words like ‘gay’, which used to mean ‘happy’, now mean something completely different. I’m sure we can all think of many other examples, and new words are being re-invented every day. More than a few times at work, people have said various things and everyone laughed except me, which then caused them to laugh even harder at the puzzled look on my face. I can’t even remember what was initially said, but I do remember the response, which was, ‘she’s purer than the driven snow.’ I took that as a compliment.
As Christians, we shouldn’t be participating in the crude jokes and lewd conversations. It’s not that hard to excuse yourself when these things start to be discussed. We should be “wise about what is good, and innocent about what is evil” (Rom. 16:19). We should be looking for the best in people, not the worst. We shouldn’t judge someone immediately by thinking, ‘What’s their hidden agenda?’ Of course, we are to be wise and discerning, but our initial reaction to a new situation or person shouldn’t be one of suspicion.
This world is going to become more and more corrupt as we get closer to the end. It will be hard to keep ourselves pure – it will take diligence and discipline. But to “keep oneself from being polluted by the world” (James 1:27) is a desirable thing in the eyes of God.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

A form of godliness

“...having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” 2 Timothy 3:5
Paul writes to Timothy here about the characteristics of people in the last days. He describes how they will be lovers of themselves and lovers of money, yet not have love for other people; boastful, proud, abusive, ungrateful, unholy, disrespectful of their parents, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. And to top the list, he gives this interesting phrase: “having a form of godliness but denying its power”.
We all know religious people who do not know God for themselves. People who call themselves Christians, but live according to the world. People may call themselves Christians if they come from a Christian family, or if they were baptised as an infant, or because they come from a ‘Christian country’ (I’ve found this quite prevalent in Europe, for example). They deny the power of the gospel, because they have not applied it to their lives. And especially if they display the other traits listed here by Paul (2 Tim. 3:2-4), the instruction is clear: “Have nothing to do with them.” For by associating with them, we endorse their version of what it means to be a ‘Christian’. We also run the risk of falling into the mire that they are in. Stay close to God, rather than people who have compromised themselves with the world.

Monday, September 6, 2010

Whom I have believed

“That is why I am suffering as I am. Yet I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed, and am convinced that He is able to guard what I have entrusted to Him for that day.” 2 Timothy 1:12
The apostle Paul faced many trials in his life as a believer; too many to be counted, although we do have a partial list in 2 Cor. 11:23-29. He who had once persecuted the church so vehemently, was now being persecuted by the world for his faith (Acts 9:15-16). Yet through it all, he held fast to the Lord, saying, ‘I am not ashamed, because I know whom I have believed.’
Do we know the One whom we have believed? We may know about Him, but do we know Him?
Are we convinced that He holds our lives securely in His hand? Are we sure of our eternal security, found only in Jesus?
After all, the Christian life is not about peace and blessings in this world only. We may not have those things. “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor. 15:19). Rather, the Christian life is always looking forward to being united with the Lord in heaven. Until then, we wait patiently. We have entrusted our souls to Him, and He will guard them until that day.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Jeroboam's lack of trust

“After seeking advice, the king [Jeroboam] made two golden calves. He said to the people, ‘It is too much for you to go up to Jerusalem. Here are your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of Egypt.’” 1 Kings 12:28
Jeroboam had received a prophecy from Ahijah that God would divide the kingdom and give him control over ten tribes (1 Kin. 11:31-33). At that time, Jeroboam was one of Solomon’s officials. As we know, when Solomon’s son Rehoboam took the throne, he treated the people harshly and ten of the tribes rebelled.
God’s promise to Jeroboam was significant: “If you do whatever I command you and walk in My ways and do what is right in My eyes by keeping My statutes and commands, as David My servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Isarel to you” (1 Kin. 11:38).
However, Jeroboam did not have faith in this promise. Instead, he felt threatened, because the people were required to worship at the temple, which was in Jerusalem, the capital of the southern kingdom of Judah. He thought that if the people were constantly going down there, they would turn back and give their allegiance to Rehoboam again (1 Kin. 12:26-27). So Jeroboam set up the two golden calf idols, and in so doing, led the people astray.
God’s promise to Jeroboam was not fulfilled, because he failed to serve God. Indeed, the Northern Kingdom had seven dynasties, while Judah had one. One can only wonder how history might have been different if Jeroboam had trusted in God’s promise to him.

Saturday, September 4, 2010

Solomon's downfall

“As Solomon grew old, his wives turned his heart after other gods, and his heart was not fully devoted to the Lord his God, as the heart of David his father had been.” 1 Kings 11:4
We read some time ago how Solomon started off strongly. He was serving the Lord alone, taking seven years to build the magnificent temple for Him. At the dedication of the temple, the presence of the Lord filled it so that even the priests could not go inside (1 Kin. 8:11). God had also spoken directly to Solomon: when he asked Him for wisdom (1 Kin. 3:5) and after the dedication of the temple (1 Kin. 9:1-2). In the second instance, God specifically warned him that if he or his descendants served other gods, then God would uproot Israel from the land.
Solomon had everything going for him. He enjoyed a time of peace with the surrounding nations. He had great wisdom, and became well-known because of it. He became wealthy. The combination meant that he could obtain anything he wanted. We read, ‘King Solomon, however, loved many foreign women... He had seven hundred wives of royal birth and three hundred concubines, and his wives led him astray’ (1 Kin. 11:1-3). One could say that Solomon was ‘unequally yoked’!!
Perhaps when Solomon filled his harem, he saw it as simply another collection of things. And these possessions of his wanted to serve the gods from their own culture. So to pacify them, Solomon allowed them to establish places of worship. Then he got drawn into participating in that worship. He broke the first and second commandments: to have no other gods but Jehovah, and to not make an idol or bow down to it. The lesson for us is this: be careful what you tolerate. Because what you tolerate, you encourage; what you encourage, you will participate in.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Godliness with contentment

“But godliness with contentment is great gain.” 1 Timothy 6:6
This verse comes in the middle of a short passage on the love of money and how people have corrupted themselves in seeking after wealth. Money is neutral and impassive. It is neither right nor wrong; neither is having a lot or a little money right or wrong. It’s how we allow ourselves to be affected by it. Eccl. 5:10 tells us, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless.”
In contrast however, great gain is found in godliness, with contentment. Godliness is seeking to live up to God’s standards; that is, to live righteously. Everything we do, we do to please God. Not to please others, or please ourselves, or to gain riches, or to gain popularity. Seeking to live to please God means that we must let go of our selfishness, pride, and all the other traits of our fallen nature. Godliness with contentment, then, is to live in this way without bitterness, satisfied with God and with His lot for our lives. It means we don’t compare ourselves with others. If God does nothing else for us in our entire lives, He has still saved us from eternal torment. He deserves our undivided attention and affection. Put Him first – seek to live in godliness – and don’t concern yourself with anything else; what you have or what you don’t have. “But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33).

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Romans 8:38-39 (b)

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

...continued from part a...

The next thing Paul lists is ‘nor any powers’. The word here is dunamis, the word for power to work miracles. It also means spiritual strength or force (the gospel is the ‘power of God’ (Rom. 1:16); Jesus will return to earth ‘with power and great glory’ (Matt. 24:30); and ‘the powers of heaven will be shaken’ (Matt. 24:29)). God’s love is not substituted by any of these things.
Next we have, ‘neither height nor depth’. There is no physical place we can go to where God’s love cannot reach us. Psalm 139:7-12 tells us how we cannot hide from God. Also, this can be extended to height and depth in society. Our position does not affect the extent to which God loves us. He does not show favouritism based on our perceived value by society. Rich and poor are the same in His sight. He does not love anybody any less, or any more, than anyone else. Christ died for all.
The last thing on Paul’s list is, ‘nor anything else in all creation’. That pretty much sums it up, for all things, both physical and spiritual, were created by God. How much more emphatic does Scripture need to be – nothing can keep us from the love of God.
“No power of hell, no scheme of man, can ever pluck me from His hand; ‘Til He returns or calls me home, here in the power of Christ I’ll stand.”

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Romans 8:38-39 (a)

“For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

Paul lists ten things here that he is convinced will not be able to separate us from God’s love. (And this is the reason for what he states in v37: ‘we are more than conquerors... for I am convinced...’.)
Firstly, neither death nor life can separate us from God’s love. Death will only bring us closer to Him (2 Cor. 5:8, Phil. 2:23). Paul says in Phil. 2:21, “For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain.” It also means that nothing that is dead nor anything that is alive can separate us from God’s love. Our relatives, our ancestors - no matter who they were or what they did in their lives, cannot separate us from God’s love. Our children, no matter what they get up to, cannot separate us from God’s love. God doesn’t stop loving us because our grandfather was a murderer or an occultist, or because our children have gone off the rails.
Neither can spiritual beings – angels or demons – separate us from God’s love. God’s love doesn’t wane because we have angels looking out for us, nor is it affected if we are under demonic attack. God is supreme. Satan couldn’t keep Christ in the grave, and he still can’t stop God’s love from reaching us.
As for the present or the future, these cannot separate us from God’s love either. His love for us will endure, without end. Notice that Paul doesn’t say ‘the past or the future’. If we are in Christ, we are a new creation. The old is gone and the new has come. Our past doesn’t matter to Him (although we may still have to deal with the consequences of it). But if we are in Christ, there is nothing still ahead in our lives – which of course, God already knows about – that can sever His love for us. This is greatly comforting. We don’t have to worry about the future. be continued...