Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Facing temptation

“No temptation has seized you except what is common to man. And God is faithful; He will not let you be tempted beyond what you can bear. But when you are tempted, He will also provide a way out so that you can stand up under it.” 1 Corinthians 10:13
Every temptation we will ever face in life can be boiled down to one of three, as given in 1 John 2:16 – the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life. These are the things Satan tempted Eve with in the Garden of Eden: “’For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.’ When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food [lust of the flesh] and pleasing to the eye [lust of the eye], and also desirable for gaining wisdom [pride of life], she took some and ate it” (Gen. 3:5-6). Satan offers us things that look good, that satisfy our bodiliy desires, or will enable us to get a step ahead. But if it’s taking a short cut, and especially if it goes against the word of God, we are to recognise it for what it is – a temptation that we need to resist.
This verse in 1 Corinthians is a great comfort. We will never be free from temptation as long as we are in this mortal body. But God has given us a promise, and He will keep it: that for the child of God, along with every temptation there is an escape route. And every temptation has been vetted by Him first. He knows what we are capable of resisting in the measure of faith that we have, and He will not let us be overwhelmed. So next time you are tempted, recognise it, and resist it in the power of the Holy Spirit. If it proves to be too much for you, look for the escape route – it’ll be there. The important thing is not to give in.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Taking on Satan

“With God we will gain the victory, and He will trample down our enemies.” Psalm 108:13
It may come as a surprise to you that nowhere in the Scriptures are believers spoken of as trampling Satan, binding him, or even rebuking him. We are told to resist him (James 4:7, 1 Pet. 5:8-9), to not give him a foothold (Eph. 4:27), to take a stand against him (Eph. 6:11).
Here’s the thing: it’s not that God allows us or gives us the power to trample Satan, but He Himself tramples the enemy. Jesus dealt with Satan at the cross. If we belong to Christ, Satan no longer has a hold on us. Yes, he still attacks us, but we just have to stand in the promises of God and resist him. This doesn’t mean we can ‘bind’ him – God is the one who does the binding. In fact, we read in Jude’s epistle that even Michael the archangel did not take Satan on directly, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you’ (Jude 1:9).
Although Jesus gave His disciples power and authority over evil spirits (Luke 10:19), this is not the same kind of power that we have been given through the Holy Spirit (Acts 1:8). The disciples received exousia power, the power to work miracles as and when they pleased. We receive dunamis power, the ‘dynamic’ work of the Spirit as He pleases. The authority we have over Satan is only because we are found in Christ, and He has defeated him. It’s unwise for us to engage with Satan directly. Let God deal with Satan. We are simply to resist him, and he will flee from us (James 4:7).

Sunday, May 29, 2011

Don't be disqualified

“No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” 1 Corinthians 9:27
In the last few verses of 1 Corinthians 9, Paul likens the Christian life to a race, encouraging us to “Run in such a way as to get the prize” (1 Cor. 9:24). This isn’t to say that we are competing against each other; rather, it shows us the kind of dedication that is required to live for God. Here, in verse 27, Paul says it is possible, even for him, to be disqualified from the race.
A disqualification is different from ‘did not finish’. It means you ran the race, and crossed the finishing line, but somewhere along the way you cheated or did something against the rules of the race. It means you are ineligible to receive a prize, even if you came first.
So too in the Christian walk. Being disqualified does not mean a loss of salvation (because we did finish the race), but it does mean a loss of rewards. We can all think of preachers who stood up against some sin or lifestyle, and then ended up falling into it themselves. Even Paul acknowledged that he had the capacity to do this. So, he says, he beats his body and makes it his slave. He refused to give in to his sinful bodily desires. We should learn to do the same thing. Sin starts in the mind, when we entertain a sinful thought. If you don’t nip it in the bud right there, it will grow and eventually manifest itself in the actual act. There are valuable spiritual rewards to be obtained. Don’t blow it by indulging in sin – be disciplined.

Saturday, May 28, 2011

Judging others

“Therefore judge nothing before the appointed time; wait till the Lord comes. He will bring to light what is hidden in darkness and will expose the motives of men’s hearts. At that time each will receive his praise from God.” 1 Corinthians 4:5
Have you noticed how easy it is to judge other people? No wonder the Bible reminds us, time and time again, not to judge but to leave the judgement to God. This is because we are frequently unable to draw a line between judging someone’s actions, and judging their motives. The Bible says we are to judge actions: if someone claims to be a Christian but is indulging in sinful behaviour, we do have Scriptural authority to confront that person about what they are doing. What we are not to do is judge their hearts, saying, ‘They can’t be a Christian, if they are doing that.’ Only God knows our hearts and our motives behind doing something. We see someone doing nothing to help others, and think, ‘That person just wants to sit there and have other people do everything for them.’ We see someone who goes out of their way to do good, and think, ‘They’re only doing that to show off.’
Jesus faced similar judgement from the Pharisees: “For John the Baptist can neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and you say, ‘Here is a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and ‘sinners’.’ But wisdom is proved right by all her children” (Luke 7:33-35).
So we must be careful not to judge people’s motives. Only God knows what they are; we can only guess – and it’s better not to judge at all than to judge wrongly. It will all come out in the wash in eternity. In the meantime, we should always give people the benefit of the doubt, and leave the judging to God.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Being worldly

“You are still worldly. For since there is jealousy and quarreling among you, are you not worldly? Are you not acting like mere men?” 1 Corinthians 3:3
The word ‘worldly’ gets tossed around a lot in Christian circles, so it’s worth taking some time to discuss what it means. This isn’t a new term; as we can see from this verse, Paul uses it in the Bible to refer to the Corinthians, in this particular instance. Paul says that we are ‘worldly’ when we are jealous and bicker amongst ourselves. ‘Worldly’ means ‘to act like mere men’.
When we become a Christian, we enter into the kingdom of God, right here, right now. We are part of the realm that Jesus has dominion over. At the present time, He rules in our hearts; a time is coming when He will literally rule over the whole earth, from His throne in Jerusalem. So at the present, we are actually living in enemy territory. Satan still rules over the earth, and it is the ethos that he has in place that is called ‘the world’ in Scripture – that is, everything that is self-seeking and in opposition to God. We become worldly when we start to seek after the things that the world in this sense thinks are important. For example, if we are looked over for a promotion at work, we can get jealous that someone is getting ahead of us. We might be unfairly treated, and decide to let everyone know how we’re really feeling. These should not be part of our Christian life. We know that the world we live in is temporary. There’s no point getting upset when things don’t go our way – instead, as Christians, we should come to expect a bit of persecution now and then. Instead, we ought to pursue the kingdom of God, and His righteousness –and all these other things will be given to us as well (Matt. 6:33).

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Foolish things

“But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong.” 1 Corinthians 1:27
Many people have said, at one time or another, ‘If I were God, I would...’ – usually in some complaint about something that God hasn’t done. We need to understand that God’s way are quite different to ours – and sometimes they are the polar opposite.
The world places high value on those who are successful, wealthy, famous, athletic, powerful, etc. We look at a person like that and think, ‘Wow, they’ve made it.’ But with God it’s different. God is no respecter of persons. He loves everyone equally, and has made the way of salvation open to all – the Joe-averages, the emotionally scarred, the abused, the forgotten. We don’t receive acceptance from God because of our own efforts, but by faith. And even that faith is a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). Think about it: even a child can come to saving faith in Christ. And their faith may be more profound than that of an intellectual mastermind.
Why did God do this? The answer is this: “so that no one may boast before Him” (1 Cor. 1:29). We can bring nothing to the table. We simply have to accept what God has done for us.

Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Those who ridicule Christianity

“For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.” 1 Corinthians 1:18
Every day we will come across people who ridicule Christianity. Lately I’ve encountered this because the Rapture didn’t happen last Friday as so many were hoping. Anyone who knows anything about Christianity knows that we believe Jesus will indeed return, but no one knows the day nor the hour (Matt. 24:36). The Rapture didn’t happen last Friday, but in no way does that mean that it won’t happen at all.
If someone is ridiculing Christianity, it is a sure sign that they are among those who are perishing. People will ridicule the virgin birth. They will try to explain away the miracles through natural causes, or say that Jesus deluded His followers into a trance. They will say that He didn’t really die on the cross (despite the sword piercing His side, and the Roman soldiers knowing a dead body when they saw one) but that He simply fainted and was revived in the tomb (but then how did He leave it empty?). Yet to us who are being saved, all these things show God’s power and love towards us, that He would send His own Son to earth, for the express purpose of dying on the cross to bear the punishment that was due for our sin. There is no middle ground here. A person is either being saved, or they are perishing.

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Helping the servants of God

“Go and tell Ebed-Melech the Cushite, ‘This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: I am about to fulfill my words against this city through disaster, not prosperity. At that time they will be fulfilled before your eyes. But I will rescue you on that day, declares the Lord; you will not be handed over to those you fear.’” Jeremiah 39:16-17
In Jeremiah 38 we read of how Jeremiah was put in a cistern by the officials of Jerusalem and left to die, but then a man from Cush called Ebed-Melech went to King Zedekiah to plead for Jeremiah to be pulled out.
In the Bible, Cush refers to the present-day region of Ethiopia. This man, Ebed-Melech, was not an Israelite, although he was a palace official. He showed kindness to Jeremiah because he was the Lord’s prophet (Jer. 38:9). And because of this, the Lord promised to deliver him on the day that Jerusalem fell to the Babylonians.
Jesus gives us the same principle in Matt. 10:41-42, “Anyone who receives a prophet because he is a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and anyone who receives a righteous man because he is a righteous man will receive a righteous man’s reward. And if anyone gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones because he is My disciple, I tell you the truth, he will certainly not lose his reward.” In other words, there are rewards for us if we help someone, not because they need our help but because they are God’s servant. There will be a similar standard of judgement of the nations in the last days, for how they treated the people of Israel (see Matt. 25:31-46).

Monday, May 23, 2011

Holy days

“One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.” Romans 14:5
Most Christians understand that Sunday is not the Sabbath. But for the Christian, neither is Saturday the Sabbath. Jesus Christ fulfils the Sabbath, meaning that we have a Sabbath rest in Him, every day (Heb. 4:9-11).
Ok, so Sunday is not the Sabbath, so we don’t have to worry about breaking the Sabbath laws (not lighting fires, not working, etc.). But what about shopping on Sundays? Or going to the supermarket on a Sunday? Or eating out on a Sunday? Many people – my family included – take issue with going shopping on Sundays. I’m not asking this to point out that they are wrong, nor that they are right. As Paul said, ‘Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.’ Whatever decision you’ve made about spending money on Sundays (both what is ok and what is not ok), stick to it.
Another example is Good Friday. Here in New Zealand, Good Friday is a public holiday. The only shops that are allowed to open for business are petrol stations and convenience stores (which we call ‘dairies’), although others try to, risking a fine. However, I did spend a year working in the US and was shocked to learn that Good Friday is treated no differently from any other day. Shops are open, people go to work, etc. I took the day off to reflect on the meaning – and yes I know, Jesus wasn’t crucified on a Friday, just as He wasn’t born on 25 December. Again, ‘Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind.’ Should we observe ‘holy days’ as Christians? I would answer this: as long as they bring you closer to God.

Sunday, May 22, 2011

Submitting to authority

“Everyone must submit himself to the governing authorities, for there is no authority except that which God has established. The authorities that exist have been established by God.” Romans 13:1
It’s a favourite pastime of many people to complain about the government, particularly if we live in a democratic country. You might have voted for the party in power, and feel that they are not representing you in the way you want to be represented, or you may have voted for the party that didn’t get into power, and feel that they aren’t doing enough as the opposition. But human governments are never going to be avid promoters of Christian ideals, so we shouldn’t be surprised. However, the Bible tells us that we are to submit to whatever government structure is over us. We are to live by the laws of the land. There is one exception: if we are required to do something contradictory to the Word of God, then we are to submit to God as the higher authority, and we have an exemption from submitting to the government in that situation. For example, Peter and John, when told by the Sanhedrin that they must stop preaching about Jesus being risen from the dead, replied, “We must obey God rather than men!” (Acts 5:29). Jesus had given them a direct commandment before He ascended into heaven, to go into all the world and preach the gospel to every creature (Mark 16:15). But like the apostles, if we do have to stand against the government because it is requiring us to do something contrary to the Word of God, we should expect to be persecuted by it.
Paul himself lived in the time of the Roman emperors, a tyrannical dictatorship. If he could submit to that government, we can submit to ours.

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Living at peace

“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.” Romans 12:18
If there’s one thing you can be sure of in life, it’s that every day you get out of bed (and even on days where you don’t get out of bed), someone, somehow, will do or say something that annoys you. What do you do when that happens? Do you get over it, or do you try to give it back to them? Do you rant and rave, or internalise it?
The Bible tells us to live at peace with everyone. But that doesn’t mean that we force other people to conform to a way of life that doesn’t annoy us. Rather, living at peace depends on us. Being resentful and always getting upset doesn’t hurt the person who is upsetting you – it only hurts yourself.
Assume the other person isn’t going to change for the better, and change your attitude towards them. Make a decision to see them the way God sees them. Let their hurtful words go – don’t hold onto them. There are going to be people who you’ll never see eye-to-eye with. But don’t make them your enemy. Ask the Holy Spirit to help you.

Friday, May 20, 2011

Do not conform to the world

“Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.” Romans 12:2
The Greek for ‘do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world’ carries the meaning of ‘Don’t let the world squeeze you into its mould.’ As in many other passages of Scripture, ‘the world’ means not planet Earth, but the world system, the realm of unregenerate mankind. Every day we feel the squeeze from the world: to fit in with the crowd, to buy the latest fashions, to pursue the things it values, to adopt the same moral code about what is right and wrong as it does. The Bible tells us we are not to let this happen. God has told us what is right and wrong. God has told us what we should value in life. And when the Bible tells us not to do something (‘do not conform’), it also tells us what to do instead: ‘But be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ This is the work of the Holy Spirit dwelling inside us. The mind is the place of thoughts, emotions, and willpower. A mature Christian is one whose will is aligned with God’s – and His will is always ‘good, pleasing and perfect’. Let the Holy Spirit do that work in you today, to shape you into the image of Christ. After all, He submitted Himself to the Father’s will – we should too.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Offering our bodies to God

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship.” Romans 12:1
The word ‘offering’ conjures up images of animals being killed on an altar. So it can be quite hard to stomach what Paul is saying here, that we ought to offer our bodies to God. But notice what he says: “as living sacrifices”. This means that not just our spirits, but our bodies also are to be used in a way that is devoted to God.
The body is the vehicle that carries your spirit around. An ancient school of thought was that the body was evil but the spirit was pure, and the two were thus disconnected. Therefore it didn’t matter what you did in your body, it couldn’t affect your spirit. The truth is far from this. For example, sexual sin affects your spirit (1 Cor. 6:18-20). It is not just something that affects your body. Instead of sin, we should use our bodies to help people in a way that brings glory to God. As Paul said elsewhere, “Do not offer the parts of your body to sin, as instruments of wickedness, but rather offer yourselves to God, as those who have been brought from death to life; and offer the parts of your body to him as instruments of righteousness” (Rom. 6:13).
Paul says this is our spiritual act of worship. Worship is not just singing songs. It is a lifestyle. Every day, every moment, we have the opportunity to worship God through what we do, say, and think about. And we do this “in view of God’s mercy”. Mercy means not getting what you deserve (in contrast to grace, which is getting what you don’t deserve). God has delivered us from sin’s punishment. The least we can do is commit ourselves to him, 100%.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Only if day and night ceases

“This is what the Lord says, He who appoints the sun to shine by day, who decrees the moon and stars to shine by night, who stirs up the sea so that its waves roar – the Lord Almighty is His name. ‘Only if these decrees vanish from My sight,’ declares the Lord, ‘will the descendants of Israel ever cease to be a nation before Me.’” Jeremiah 31:35-36
There’s a popular, man-made doctrine that has infiltrated the church over the years, but seems to be gaining more prominence lately. It is called ‘replacement theology’, ‘Kingdom now’, and a plethora of other names. Essentially it boils down to this: that when Israel rejected Jesus as their Messiah, God also rejected Israel. Now the church has replaced Israel in God’s covenant and receives the blessings God promised to them.
There are so many things wrong with this doctrine that it’s difficult to know where to start in refuting it. But this verse is a key one: it says that Israel will be a nation before God for as long as the day and night and tides endure. If those things were to stop, then we might be able to imagine that God has completely forsaken Israel.
Other issues with this doctrine are these:
- the covenant God made with Israel was unconditional; it doesn’t depend on anything they do
- Israel features prominently on the earth in the Tribulation, but the church does not
- the church seems only concerned about receiving the blessings of Israel, but they forget there were curses associated with the covenant too.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Jacob's trouble

“How awful that day will be! None will be like it. It will be a time of trouble for Jacob, but he will be saved out of it.” Jeremiah 30:7
‘Jacob’s trouble’ is a term used of the Great Tribulation, also called ‘the day of the Lord’ in the Old Testament. Obviously it is not a single day, but a period of time. There’s no inconsistency here; we still use the word ‘day’ to refer to a period of time longer than a day (e.g. ‘someday’).
What’s interesting to note here is that the Great Tribulation is Jacob’s trouble. It is not the earth’s trouble, although the earth will also be in trouble. It is also not the church’s trouble (in fact, I believe the church will be removed prior to the Great Tribulation). The primary purpose of the Great Tribulation is for Israel to come to a point of acknowledging Jesus as their Messiah (see Zech. 12:10). But here, in Jeremiah, it is not called ‘Israel’s trouble’, but ‘Jacob’s trouble’. As we know, after the angel of the Lord wrestled with Jacob, He gave him a new name. From Jacob (‘heel-catcher’, or ‘deceiver’), he became Israel (‘a prince with God’). But in the Genesis narrative after this, Jacob is still called Jacob most of the time. A few times he is called Israel, but it is not a complete name change from that point on as it was for Abraham. As we look closer at the instances where ‘Israel’ and ‘Jacob’ are used, we see that ‘Jacob’ refers to him acting in his own flesh, while ‘Israel’ refers to when he is acting in tune with God. So too with the nation Israel. At the moment they are (generally speaking) living as any other nation in the world, with little thought of God. It is this nature that God will purge out of them in the Great Tribulation, so that they too may be ‘princes with God’.

Monday, May 16, 2011

All or nothing

“You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart.” Jeremiah 29:13
Seeking God isn’t a casual thing that we might pick up from time to time and then lay to one side if we don’t quite get there. If our search for God is lacklustre like that, He says that we won’t find Him. It is said that every person has a God-shaped hole inside them, a spiritual emptiness as the result of Adam’s sin, that can only be filled by God. Yet people go seeking after all kinds of things in attempts to fill that void with something else – business success, intellectual pursuits, fame and fortune, or turning to other religions to find meaning in life. Without God, all these are meaningless.
Our quest for God must be sincere. We will never stumble across Him by accident, but there must be a deliberate search. If someone is really serious about finding God, they will find Him. God won’t hide Himself from anybody. But nor will He reveal Himself to someone who doesn’t really care one way or another, who happened to say one day, ‘I wonder if there is a God?’ No, we must seek God with our whole heart; everything that we are. And once we have found Him, we are to devote everything that we are to Him. You can’t be a part-time Christian. It’s all or nothing.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

God's plans for us

“For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.” Jeremiah 29:11
This is a well-known, if not a favourite, verse for many people. It appears in a letter that Jeremiah wrote to the Israelite captives in Babylon, telling them to settle down where they were, because it would be 70 years before they would return to their land. There would be no quick fix, but it was all part of God’s plan and He was still in control.
God has a plan for each and every person. If we are obedient to Him, He will work it out in our lives – and all of God’s plans are good. Jesus reiterated this: “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? 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!” (Matt. 7:9-11).
God’s plans for us are also long term plans. And to get there, it may involve some pain along the way. But we can trust God, that He knows what He is doing. He can see the final result; we can’t.

Saturday, May 14, 2011


“The words ‘It was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us, to whom God will credit righteousness – for us who believe in Him who raised Jesus our Lord from the dead.” Romans 4:23-24
Righteousness is a state of being accepted by God. It isn’t something that is inherent to man, nor is it something that can be earned. Instead, it must be credited to us, and this works the same way now as it did in the Old Testament with Abraham.
Abraham and his wife Sarah were old and past the point in life where they could have children. But God promised Abraham that he would have a son, and through that son would come the Messiah to save the world from sin. Abraham believed God and righteousness was credited to him.
If we share in this faith, we are called the children of Abraham. Like Abraham, our bodies are dead because of sin. We have faith in God’s promise of resurrection through Christ, in “the God who gives life to the dead and calls things that are not as though they were” (Rom. 4:17). If we believe in Jesus, we too, like Abraham, have moved from death to life.

Friday, May 13, 2011

Children of Abraham

“Therefore, the promise comes by faith, so that it may be by grace and may be guaranteed to all Abraham’s offspring – not only to those who are of the law but also to those who are of the faith of Abraham. He is the father of us all.” Romans 4:16
When I was in Sunday school one of the more popular songs we sang was ‘Father Abraham had many sons, Many sons had father Abraham, I am one of them and so are you, So let’s just praise the Lord’. When I got a bit older I wondered about it. Abraham was the father of Isaac, Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of the twelve tribes of Israel. I’m not Jewish*, so how could I be one of the many sons (children) of Abraham?
Paul explains to us here what it means to be a child of Abraham. Abraham has two types of children: those after the flesh (‘of the law’, i.e. the physical descendants of Abraham, to whom the Law was given by God through Moses), and those of faith.
What did Abraham have faith in? He had faith in God’s promise to him, that through his descendants the Messiah would come to save the world from sin. Although at that time Abraham was old and had no children, he believed God that it would happen. And we are told, “Abram believed the Lord, and He credited it to him as righteousness” (Gen. 15:6).
If we have faith in Jesus as Messiah, then we are exercising the same faith that Abraham had. This makes us Abraham’s spiritual children.

*My great-grandmother was Jewish, but despite much effort by other family members researching our family tree, we know very little else about her.

Thursday, May 12, 2011

The Law is like a mirror

“Therefore no one will be declared righteous in His sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin.” Romans 3:20
Many people have the wrong idea about what the Law is supposed to do. It is true that it is the way that God wants us to live. But it is not true that we can be saved by keeping the Law. Every one of us has broken it at one time or another, and some of us more often than others. The commandments of the law aren’t like strands on a rope, where a few can be broken but the rope will still be ok. No, they are like links in a chain – break just one, and the load it is holding will come falling down.
But here’s the thing: the Law was not intended to bring salvation. Rather, it was intended to show us what sin is, and that we are guilty of it. It is like a mirror – it can show us that we are dirty, but it cannot make us clean. Cleansing from sin is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

The grain and the straw

“‘Let the prophet who has a dream tell his dream, but let the one who has My word speak it faithfully. For what has straw to do with grain?’ declares the Lord.” Jeremiah 23:28
God speaks to us in many different ways – through His word, through dreams, through angels, through the gift of prophecy working in another person – the list goes on. However, Jeremiah tells us, there is one way that is much better than another.
In Jeremiah’s time, the kingdom of Judah was under attack from the Babylonians. Already, some of the people had been taken captive to Babylon, along with most of the gold and silver implements used in the temple. There were many false prophets going around saying that they had a dream that the people and the temple items would soon be returned. This is what Jeremiah is speaking out against. They may have dreamed a dream, but the dream was not from God.
God may speak to us through dreams. He did so for Pharaoh (Gen. 41), Nebuchadnezzar (Dan. 2 and Dan. 4), Daniel (Dan. 7), Joseph (Matt. 1:20-21, 2:13, 2:19-20), the Magi (Matt. 2:12), etc. He may speak to us through visions, as he did for Peter (Acts 10) and John (Rev. 1:10). But we need to realise that if we do have a dream or vision, these are ‘straw’ compared with the ‘grain’ – the Word of God, the Bible. If there is a conflict between these, we must stay with what the Bible says. It is inspired by the Holy Spirit. He will not contradict His word with a message given in a dream or vision. If they are contradictory, then that dream or vision is not from God.

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

The curse on Jeconiah

“This is what the Lord says: ‘Record this man as if childless, a man who will not prosper in his lifetime, for none of his offspring will prosper, none will sit on the throne of David or rule anymore in Judah.’” Jeremiah 22:30
Here we find a very interesting verse. It concerns Jeconiah (also called Jehoiachin, and Coniah), a king who ruled over Judah at the time when Nebuchadnezzar was making Judah a vassal state of Babylon. God pronounces a curse on Jeconiah and all his descendants, that none of them would sit on David’s throne. But before this, God had promised that Messiah would be of the royal line and sit on David’s throne forever (2 Chr. 6:16, Ps. 132:11, Isa. 9:7). So how can God curse the Messiah?
In Matthew 1, we read Jesus’ genealogy, beginning with Abraham, through David, Solomon, all the kings including Jeconiah, down to “Jacob the father of Joseph, the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus, who is called Christ” (Matt. 1:16). This wording appears to be carefully chosen. Joseph was not the father of Jesus by blood. There is a second genealogy given to us in Luke 3: beginning with Jesus, saying, “He was the son, so it was thought, of Joseph, the son of Heli” (Luke 3:24). The Greek actually says that Joseph was the son-in-law of Heli. So Heli is Mary’s father, and in Luke 3 we have Mary’s bloodline up to David, then to Abraham, then to Adam.
The curse on Jeconiah was on the blood of the royal line from that point onward. Jesus was the legal son of Joseph, but not the blood son. Yet He was a descendant of David by blood, from His mother’s side. Now it becomes clear what the reference to “the seed of the woman” (Gen. 3:15) means. It also demonstrates that the virgin birth of Christ was absolutely necessary.

Monday, May 9, 2011

Anyone could be a Christian

“Then Agrippa said to Paul, ‘Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?’
“Paul replied, ‘Short time or long – I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’” Acts 26:28-29
When Paul appeared before King Agrippa, he took the opportunity to preach the gospel to him. To this, Agrippa responded, “Do you think that in such a short time you can persuade me to be a Christian?” It’s important to note that at the time, the term ‘Christian’ was used derogatarily. It was not a term used by believers of themselves; they called themselves ‘followers of the Way’. Agrippa was apparently familiar with Judaism (Acts 26:2-3). As far as Paul was concerned, believing in Jesus was the completion of what the Law and the Prophets were pointing to. It was not a great leap for someone acquainted with Judaism to make (c.f. the Ethiopian eunuch, Acts 8:26ff).
Paul responds, ‘Short time or long – I pray God that not only you but all who are listening to me today may become what I am, except for these chains.’ Paul was praying that every person he came into contact with, might come to faith in Jesus Christ. In his mind, it was not impossible for anyone to be converted. I suppose he looked back on his own life, as one who used to persecute the church and wouldn’t give it the time of day, to becoming one of its most powerful advocates. There is a lesson in this for us. Indeed, it is not impossible for any person to become a Christian. We should pray for all the unsaved people we know - even the staunchest of athiests - that they might come to Christ.

Sunday, May 8, 2011

The potter

“But the pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands; so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him.” Jeremiah 18:4
God sent Jeremiah to the potter’s house to watch the potter in action. As Jeremiah watched, he could see the pot beginning to take shape on the potter’s wheel. But then something happened with the clay, and the potter had to change his mind about the pot, and reshape it into another form, with another purpose. We read, “Then the word of the Lord came to me: ‘O house of Israel, can I not do with you as this potter does?’ declares the Lord. ‘Like clay in the hand of the potter, so are you in My hand, O house of Israel’” (Jer. 18:5-6).
When God starts working in a person, or a nation, He has His best plan in mind. But if that person or nation disobeys, so that His plan cannot be worked out, He will go to plan B. At the end of the day, He will still form a pot. He won’t just throw out the lump of clay, the half-formed pot, and start afresh. But the function of the pot and the value that others place on it may be quite different from what He initially intended.
It’s a similar case for our own lives. God’s plan for us is much, much better than anything we could strive to achieve for ourselves. But how often do we hinder Him from working out that plan? Have we, through our disobedience, forced Him to go to a plan B, or C, for our lives? It’s comforting to know that He won’t simply discard us because we mess up. But if we want the best for our lives, we will obey God so that He can work out His perfect plan.

Saturday, May 7, 2011

Deceitful and incurable

“The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9
When we talk about our heart, in regards to desires and feelings, we know that we aren’t talking about an organ in our body. But if you ask people what they are talking about, they can’t really explain it.
Our heart is the deepest part of us. We have the body – the vehicle that carries us around. We have the soul – our willpower, personality, emotions. Then we have our heart, our spirit. The fact that we have a spirit it what makes mankind unique and sets us apart from animals (which have souls, but not spirits). The Bible tells us that only the Word of God can separate between the soul and spirit (Heb. 4:12).
In the light of this, we read what Jeremiah writes here: that the heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. That is, the heart of an unregenerated person. Think about it: nearly everyone thinks they are a good person, deep down. They may have different definitions of ‘good’, but generally it comes down to ‘I do more good things than bad things.’ But if they would actually take on objective view of their life, they would realise that their motivations are generally selfish, not caring about others. They are being deceived that they are a good person even by their own standards. It is impossible for us to know our own hearts (see Ps. 139:24 – David asks God if there is any offense in him, indicating that he himself does not know).
Jeremiah tells us here that such a deceitful heart cannot be cured. It cannot be cured by psychology, because psychology only reaches the psyche, the soul. It does not reach to the spirit. Only the Word of God reaches to the spirit, and when it does, it shows us that we need a new spirit, given by the Spirit of God. Our hearts cannot be cured – they must be replaced.

Friday, May 6, 2011

Don't turn to them

“Therefore this is what the Lord says: ‘If you repent, I will restore you that you may serve Me; if you utter worthy, not worthless, words, you will be My spokesman. Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.’” Jeremiah 15:19
In recent times it has become popular for churches to engage in ‘friendship evangelism’. That is, make friends with people in the world so they will let down their guard enough for you to witness to them. It kind of backfires if they reject your message – then what? According to the friendship evangelism manual, if there’s little chance they will come to Christ, you’re best to cut your losses and stop spending time with them. No wonder people call Christians hypocrites and say we’re only interested in shoving the Gospel down people’s throats, if this is what we do.
Similarly, there’s a trend for churches to become ‘seeker-friendly’. Replace the boring pews with chairs, tables, and a little cafe. Crank up the music, get bigger drums, lights, show videos on a massive projection screen, darken the room, so it’s like being at a concert or a cinema. Make it a polished performance, then unsaved people will think church is cool and want to come. Oh, and to ensure that they aren’t offended so that they’ll stay, tone down the message. Don’t talk about sin, judgement, or hell.
What the Lord says to Jeremiah here is extremely relevant today. “Let this people turn to you, but you must not turn to them.” We are not to become like the world in order to witness to people. We must not to compromise on the Scriptures or the Gospel message. In fact, rather than becoming like the world, if we stand out (in a good way), living a genuine life of service to God, people will notice. They’ll want to know what makes us different to them, not what makes us the same.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


“The following night the Lord stood near Paul and said, ‘Take courage! As you have testified about Me in Jerusalem, so you must also testify in Rome.’” Acts 23:11
In Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem that is recorded in the book of Acts, the religious Jews started to riot against him. The Roman authorities had to step in and put Paul in prison to protect him. In Acts 23 Paul appears before the Sanhedrin, the Jewish ruling body. He begins by saying to them, “My brothers, I am a Pharisee, the son of a Pharisee. I stand on trial because of my hope in the resurrection of the dead” (Acts 23:6). He said this because he knew that some of those present were Pharisees and some were Sadducees (who deny the existence of any spiritual thing, including angels and the afterlife). Sure enough, they started arguing amongst themselves. Things again became so violent that the Roman commander had Paul taken back to the prison for his own safety.
We might look at these events, and think that what Paul said didn’t seem like much of a testimony. After all, he didn’t preach the gospel message of Jesus dying on the cross for our sins. But in God’s sight, Paul was faithful. In fact, his testimony got the Pharisees thinking, and we know that many Pharisees did in fact come to faith in Christ during this time (see Acts 15:15).
For us, testifying about God doesn’t mean giving a sermon. It can simply mean having consistency of character that reflects God to the people around us. A life lived for God can have a great impact on people. It gets them thinking, and that’s where the Holy Spirit can start to work in them. Don’t give up.

Wednesday, May 4, 2011

Commanding His angels

“For He will command His angels concerning you to guard you in all your ways; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.” Psalm 91:11-12
If this verse sounds familiar, it’s possibly because Satan used it when he was tempting Jesus in the wilderness (Matt. 4:6). There, he suggested that Jesus could throw Himself off the top of the temple, and would come to no harm because the Scriptures promised that angels would protect Him. Jesus replied with Deut. 6:16 – “Do not put the Lord your God to the test.” (Matt. 4:7).
The context of this verse, in the rest of Psalm 91, is that if we stay close to God, He will protect us from outside harm. It does not mean that we can live recklessly, and expect God to pick up the pieces. That, Jesus says, is putting God to the test. We are not to endanger ourselves unnecessarily. But it is comforting to know that if we end up in peril by accident, God has promised that His angels will protect us.

Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Curses of the covenant

“But they did not listen or pay attention; instead they followed the stubbornness of their evil hearts. So I brought on them all the curses of the covenant I commanded them to follow but that they did not keep.” Jeremiah 11:8
Here God tells Jeremiah His reasons for the trouble that Israel was experiencing. They were under the Mosaic covenant, by which if the nation Israel obeyed God and kept the Law that He gave them, He would bless them. But if they turned away from God and disobeyed the Law, they would be cursed.
In Deuteronomy 28 are given the blessings for obedience (v1-14) and the curses for disobedience (v15-68). That is, 14 verses of blessings, but 54 verses of curses. This is not because God enjoys cursing people. It is because He knew that they would tend to fall into disobedience, and so He emphasises what would happen in that case, so they would be dissuaded from doing it.
If we are in Christ, we are no longer under the Mosaic covenant. We are under the new covenant, as promised in Jer. 31:31-34 (see also Luke 22:20, 2 Cor. 3:6, Heb. 9:15). The new covenant does not include curses, because it involves the Holy Spirit indwelling our hearts. If we are following our evil hearts, we have not been born again and are therefore not part of the new covenant.

Monday, May 2, 2011

The foundation of God's throne

“Righteousness and justice are the foundation of Your throne; love and faithfulness go before You.” Psalm 89:14
A foundation is something that undergirds something else. Without a solid foundation, whatever is built runs the risk of collapsing. God’s throne, by which is meant His reign, is founded upon two things: righteousness, and justice. God has complete sovereignty over all things, because He is first of all righteous, and second, just.
Righteousness means being completely sinless. Not only has God never sinned, He cannot sin – nor can any sin enter His presence. This is why the Fall of man is such a tragedy. God created man to fellowship with Him, but sin breaks any possibility of that happening while man is still in a sinful state. This is why we need to be reborn, by the Spirit, by placing our faith and trust in Jesus. When we do this, we are clothed in His righteousness and are thus enabled to enter God’s presence.
Justice is complete fairness. Whatever we do in life, God will treat us completely fairly. This treatment may not be immediate, but when everything is done and dusted, we will all acknowledge that we received what we deserved. God is never unfair.
Lastly, we read that love and faithfulness go before Him. Love is the essence of God’s character (1 John 4:16). He is also faithful – He never fails to keep His promises.

Sunday, May 1, 2011

Trusting in the temple

“Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’” Jeremiah 7:4
Here, God was telling Jeremiah what to say to the people of Israel, who had forsaken Him. On the outside, they were coming to the temple to make offerings, but in their hearts they were serving the gods of the Canaanites and generally pleasing themselves. They had deceived themselves into thinking that because they had the temple of Jehovah, they were safe from destruction. But it doesn’t matter how many times you say ‘the temple of the Lord’, if your heart is not the temple of the Lord then you are just as lost as the next person.
We see the same thing today. People think that because they go to church in some fancy building, that they are home and dry. Not necessarily so. The building is not where God resides. The building is a facility so that a congregation can meet together and stay dry if it is raining. It is in the assembling together of believers, that Jesus promised to be in the midst (Matt. 18:20). Now, we are the temple of God, where He resides (1 Cor. 3:16).