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.