Friday, December 31, 2010

A pure heart

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

Thursday, December 30, 2010

He would not let the demons speak

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

Wednesday, December 29, 2010


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

Tuesday, December 28, 2010


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

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

Monday, December 27, 2010

Mary's devotion

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

Sunday, December 26, 2010

Wonderful, Counsellor

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

Saturday, December 25, 2010

A child is born

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

Friday, December 24, 2010

Keeping watch

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

Thursday, December 23, 2010

The fig tree

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

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

It will be obvious

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

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

Birth pains

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

Monday, December 20, 2010

The meditation of my heart

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

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Creation and the Bible

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

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The night sky

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

Friday, December 17, 2010

Using your position

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

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Do what they say, not what they do

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

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


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

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

The Son of David

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

Monday, December 13, 2010

The greatest law

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

Sunday, December 12, 2010

God answers prayer

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

Saturday, December 11, 2010


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

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

Friday, December 10, 2010


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

Thursday, December 9, 2010


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

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Cut it out

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

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

Causing children to sin

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

Monday, December 6, 2010

Like a child

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

Sunday, December 5, 2010

The Transfiguration

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

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Jesus' mission

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

Friday, December 3, 2010

Who do you say?

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

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Being famous

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

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

The Canaanite woman

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