Sunday, July 31, 2011

Without faith it is impossible to please God

“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to Him must believe that He exists and that He rewards those who earnestly seek Him.” Hebrews 11:6
This is a well-known verse, and it’s good to take a bit of time to delve into it and understand what it is saying to us. If we want to please God, we need to have faith. Why is this? Does this mean that someone who doesn’t believe in God, cannot please Him – even though they may treat everyone fairly, make large donations to the poor on a regular basis, and be a good example to others, building up society? The answer is yes: such a person cannot please God. This should emphasise to us just how crucial faith is.
The reason for it is this: without faith we are still in our sins, and are still separated from God.  God would be unjust if He said He was pleased with someone in that situation, because at the end of the day they have not met the basic requirement to enter heaven: to believe in His Son (John 3:18). Believing in Jesus Christ is actually a command of God (1 John 3:23). If we don’t believe, we are actually being disobedient.
But even this faith that we have in Christ, is a gift of God (Eph. 2:8). Here’s how it works: we are each presented with the opportunity (or perhaps many opportunities throughout our life) to take hold of faith in Christ. ‘Just believe, and you will be saved,’ we are told. If we decide to give it a go, and reach out in that direction, we are given the faith required to believe. But if we decline the invitation, we won’t receive it. Once we have that saving faith, we are to guard it (2 Tim. 1:14). How’s your faith doing today? Are you pleasing God?

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Shining for God

“Those who are wise will shine like the brightness of the heavens, and those who lead many to righteousness, like the stars for ever and ever." Daniel 12:3
This is a wonderful promise that we find, right at the end of the book of Daniel. Shining, brightness and light are symbols that God uses of Himself (see for example John 1:9). Light speaks of truth and understanding; even today we use the phrase ‘I saw the light’. Jesus says that He is the light of the world (John 9:5); He also says that we who follow Him are the light of the world (Matt. 5:14). This is not light (truth, righteousness, etc.) that we have of ourselves, but it is the Holy Spirit indwelling us and working through us (John 1:4). We are like a lamp, with the light shining inside us.
This verse in Dan. 12:3 tells us two aspects that will ensure we will be shining forth God’s light. Firstly, if we are wise, which can also be translated if we impart wisdom. This is a spiritual wisdom, not a secular wisdom obtained through study at university. It is wisdom that begins with the fear of the Lord (Prov. 9:10). James tells us,  “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).
Secondly, if we are leading others to righteousness. I believe this has two meanings: both leading unbelievers to salvation (evangelism), and then leading new believers on to spiritual maturity (discipleship). None of us are perfect. We read in Hebrews, “And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb. 10:24). We can all encourage those around us to lead more righteous lives – and lead by example. Let your light shine today!

Friday, July 29, 2011

Antichrist will exalt himself

“He will show no regard for the gods of his fathers or for the one desired by women, nor will he regard any god, but will exalt himself above them all.” Daniel 11:37
Here we read some interesting things about the Antichrist. He will not regard any god or religion that has preceded him. We hear and read about the ‘one-world religion’ and speculate as to what it might be – Islam, Roman Catholicism, and the ecumenical movement are the usual candidates. But it might be something completely different: a religion centred around the worship of this man, commonly called the Antichrist, the world leader who arises at the end times to unite the world, make a seven-year covenant with Israel that he breaks, empowered by Satan.
The phrase “the one desired by women” (NIV) is an interesting one. In some Bibles it is translated “the desire of women”, and in recent times, unfortunately, some have taken this to mean that the Antichrist will not desire women, i.e. he will be a homosexual. But this is not what the phrase means. “The desire of women” is a term for the Messiah. The number one thing that all Old Testament Jewish women wanted, was to be the one who would give birth to the Messiah.
This verse ties in with 2 Thess. 2:4 – “He will oppose and will exalt himself over everything that is called God or is worshipped, so that he sets himself up in God’s temple, proclaiming himself to be God.” Antichrist will force the world to worship him, under penalty of death. It will be a strange time for the world.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

The 'seventy weeks' of Daniel

“Seventy ‘sevens’ are decreed for your people and your holy city to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy.” Daniel 9:24
Daniel 9:24-27 contains one of the most amazing prophecies in the whole Bible, if we will take the time to understand it. Gabriel tells Daniel that seventy ‘sevens’ (or ‘weeks’ in some Bibles) have been determined: 69 of them from the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem to the coming of Messiah, and then the final ‘seven’ being the time of the Great Tribulation, when the Antichrist comes on the scene. We know that this last ‘seven’ is seven years. In fact in Jewish thought, there were several kinds of ‘weeks’ or ‘sevens’ – a week of seven days, a week of seven weeks (c.f. the Feast of Weeks, also called Pentecost or Shavout), a week of seven months (the religious calendar), and a week of seven years, as is in view here (and e.g. Lev. 25:8). In the Bible, a year is treated as 360 days. So that means, there would be 69 x 7 x 360 = 173,880 days from the commandment to rebuild Jerusalem to the coming of Messiah. Those dates are well-known from history. The commandment to rebuild Jerusalem (note: the city, not the temple) was given by Artaxerxes on 14 March, 445 BC. The public revealing of Messiah took place at the Triumphal Entry, on 6 April 32 AD – exactly 173,880 days to the day. What’s more, in 270 BC the Hebrew Scriptures were translated into Greek (called the Septuagint) – and this prophecy is contained in it. So we can be sure that it wasn’t post-dated.
Let’s now look at what was to be accomplished during the seventy weeks: to finish transgression, to put an end to sin, to atone for wickedness, to bring in everlasting righteousness, to seal up vision and prophecy and to anoint the most holy (or, the Most Holy Place). I think we can all agree that these haven’t happened yet. But the 70th week has not yet taken place. At the present time we are in an interval, between the 69th and 70th weeks. Just as the 69 weeks were fulfilled to the day, we can be sure that the 70th week will also be fulfilled. Jesus will return again, having dealt with the sin of the world for good, and bringing in His Kingdom of everlasting righteousness.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Daniel's intercession

“we have sinned and done wrong. We have been wicked and have rebelled; we have turned away from Your commands and laws. We have not listened to Your servants the prophets, who spoke in Your name to our kings, our princes and our fathers, and to all the people of the land.” Daniel 9:5-6
Daniel 9 contains the prayer of Daniel, which culminates in one of the most amazing prophecies in the Bible (which we’ll look at tomorrow). Daniel is one of only two major characters in the Bible of whom no sin is recorded – the other being Joseph. (We read earlier in Dan. 6:4, “At this, the administrators and the satraps tried to find grounds for charges against Daniel in his conduct of government affairs, but they were unable to do so. They could find no corruption in him, because he was trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent.”) Yet he includes himself with those who had ‘sinned and done wrong’, with those who had ‘been wicked and... rebelled’, with those who had turned away from [God’s] commands and laws’. Daniel was human and he would have sinned occasionally, but it did not characterise his life. He was diligent in keeping God’s commands, even in a foreign land, and obeying Him. In addition, he says, ‘We have not listened to Your servants the prophets’ – even though the reason Daniel was praying was because he had read and paid attention to the prophecy of Jeremiah that the Babylonian captivity would last for seventy years, and the time was nearly up (Dan. 9:2).
In this we see Daniel being an intercessor. He prayed as if he was guilty of all the things the people he was praying for had done. Jesus did the same thing – not only praying for, but dying in the place of sinful mankind. We can pray in like manner today. Interceding is much deeper than simply praying for someone as an outsider. It will lead you into deep anguish of spirit. But in doing so, it will reveal God’s heart to you – His hatred of sin, and His love for humanity and desire that all would be saved.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Jesus, the high priest, and the Day of Atonement

“so Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many people; and He will appear a second time, not to bear sin, but to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him.” Hebrews 9:28
Hebrews 9 continues the theme from the previous few chapters of Christ being our high priest, of the order of Melchizedek, and being superior to the Levitical priesthood for a number of reasons:
- The Levitical high priests’ terms were limited; Christ is a priest forever
- The Levitical priests had to make atonement for their own sins before they could minister to the people; Christ had no sin
- The sacrifices made by the Levitical priests could only cover sin, not remove it, and had to be made over and over again; Christ’s sacrifice cleansed us of our sin once and for all.
In Hebrews 9 we see the contrast between Christ, and the high priest entering the Holy of Holies. This happened once a year, on the Day of Atonement (Yom Kippur - see Lev. 16). The high priest would take the blood of his sin offering into the Holy of Holies and sprinkle it on the mercy seat. Then he would take the blood of the sin offering for the people and do the same thing. The people would wait eagerly for him to emerge, because then they knew that their offering had been accepted by God and their sin had been forgiven. This is a beautiful picture of Jesus: His resurrection proves that His sacrifice was accepted by God on our behalf. And His one sacrifice was sufficient to cleanse every sin.
Also in this verse we see the promise of the Second Coming. Jesus came the first time as the suffering servant. He will come a second time, as the victorious King. Are you ready and waiting for Him?

Monday, July 25, 2011

The little horn

“He will speak against the Most High and oppress his saints and try to change the set times and the laws. The saints will be handed over to him for a time, times, and half a time.” Daniel 7:25
Yesterday we read about the four beasts that Daniel saw in a vision. The fourth beast was “terrifying and frightening and very powerful” (Dan. 7:7), having ten horns, and then a little horn that grew up later. We are told the little horn spoke boastful things against God and against His people. The horn refers to a man who will rise in the end times, commonly called the Antichrist. We read that he will try to change the set times and the laws. ‘Set times’ is the word zeman, an appointed time. It is used several times in the book of Daniel, referring to a time that God has set. A variation also appears in Eccl. 3:1 – “There is a time for everything, and a season for every activity under heaven.” ‘Laws’ is the word dath, used of a royal or divine decree. God has decreed that judgement will come upon the world at a set time. The Antichrist seeks to change this. He is empowered and inspired by Satan, who knows that when this day comes, his time is short (Rev. 12:12).
Another very important thing to note is that the ‘saints’ being referred to here are not the church. The church is a mystery in the Old Testament (Eph. 3:3-5) – it is concealed. We are promised victory over the enemy, and freedom from Satanic oppression. Rather, the saints in view here are those who come to faith during the Tribulation. Many of these believers will be Jewish, because their current blindness will be lifted (Rom. 11:25-27). But although they will be oppressed, ultimately God’s purpose will stand. He will provide deliverance for them. What a glorious day that will be!

Sunday, July 24, 2011

The four beasts of Daniel 7

“Daniel said, ‘In my vision at night I looked, and there before me were the four winds of heaven churning up the great sea. Four great beasts, each different from the others, came up out of the sea.” Daniel 7:2-3
Many people get to about this point in Daniel and stop reading, thinking that it is too difficult to understand. Indeed, Daniel himself didn’t understand what it meant (Dan. 8:27). But the prophecy is possible to understand, and we will find that it is full of detail, showing its divine origins.
The first beast Daniel saw was like a lion with wings like an eagle (Dan. 7:4). The winged lion was a symbol of the Babylonian empire. Its two wings were torn off, and then it was lifted from the ground and given the heart of a man – referring to Nebuchadnezzar’s fall into insanity and later restoration (Dan. 4).
The second beast was like a bear, raised up on one side, with three ribs in its mouth (Dan. 7:5). This refers to the Medo-Persian empire, a lopsided kingdom where the Persians became stronger than the Medes (see Dan. 8:3 where the two horns refer to the two parts of the kingdom).
The third beast was like a leopard, with four wings and four heads (Dan. 7:6). This represents the Greek empire, which under Alexander the Great conquered the known world at a phenomenal rate. After his death, his kingdom passed into the hands of his four generals (the four heads).
Finally, Daniel doesn’t liken the fourth beast to anything; he simply says it was “terrifying and frightening and very powerful” (Dan. 7:7). This beast had iron teeth and crushed all in its path – referring to the Roman empire juggernaut that conquered the world. But then Daniel adds, it had ten horns, and then another little horn sprung up. This ‘little horn’ refers to the Antichrist, who we’ll read about more tomorrow. It would seem from the Scriptures that the Roman empire will be revived, in some aspect, in the last days.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Jesus saves us completely

“Therefore He is able to save completely those who come to God through Him, because He always lives to intercede for them.” Hebrews 7:25
It should be of great encouragement for us to read that Jesus saves us completely. When He died on the cross, He paid the full price for our salvation. He didn’t go part way, and we have to make up a shortfall. No, He made provision for our justification, our sanctification, and our glorification. And this provision is available to all – if they will come to God through faith in Jesus Christ (after all, He is the only way – John 14:6).
The word ‘completely’ here is the Greek panteles, from pas (every, all, full) and telos (end, goal, conclusion, result, purpose). Jesus has saved us in every sense of the word. He has saved us from the punishment of sin, from the bondage to sin, from the power of sin.
We know that salvation is not a one-off deal, but it is also an ongoing process (of sanctification). It’s comforting to know then, that during this process Jesus is always interceding for us. Just like the high priest would offer sacrifices on behalf of the people and present them to God, so too Jesus stands before God on our behalf. And the sacrifice He presents to God is that of Himself.

Friday, July 22, 2011

Melchizedek's priesthood

“Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, like the Son of God he remains a priest forever.” Hebrews 7:3
The writer of Hebrews makes several references to Melchizedek, including all of chapter 7, even though he is only mentioned twice in the Bible (Gen. 14 and Ps. 110:4). Melchizedek was a priest-king who met Abraham when he returned from defeating the four kings who had taken his nephew Lot captive. Melchizedek pronounced a blessing over him, and Abraham gave him a tenth of the plunder he had recovered. Then the story ends; except for Ps. 110:4, which announces that Messiah would be a priest forever in the order of Melchizedek. It is this point that the writer picks up on.
The book of Hebrews is written to Jewish believers. They were familiar with the Levitical priesthood, which obviously traced back to Levi – and thus being completely separate from the royal line, which traced back to Judah. It was impossible for someone of the Levitical priesthood to be a king. Jesus the Messiah is both our King of kings and high priest – but not of the Levitical order. He is of an earlier order, that is superior (as evidenced by the fact that Abraham, the ancestor of Levi, paid a tithe to Melchizedek).
Heb. 7:3 has led to some confusion – because we don’t understand Hebrew logic. The Scriptures give us no record of Melchizedek’s origin or his death. This doesn’t mean that he didn’t have a father and mother, or that he didn’t die. But these details being absent invoke the idea of eternity, and paint a picture of Jesus as our eternal high priest.

Thursday, July 21, 2011


“Finally these men said, ‘We will never find any basis for charges against this man Daniel unless it has something to do with the law of his God.’” Daniel 6:5
In Daniel 6 we have the account of Daniel being thrown to – and delivered from – the lions. By this stage in his life he was an old man – he was already retired when Darius overthrew the kingdom in ch. 5 (see Dan. 5:11-16). Under Darius he became one of three administrators over the government officials, even though it was a position he had not sought (Dan. 5:16-17). Darius was thinking of making Daniel the head over all his officials (Dan. 6:3). This naturally aroused the jealousy of the others, and they sought to find a way to discredit him. But we read, “They could find no corruption in him, because he was so trustworthy and neither corrupt nor negligent” (Dan. 6:4).
As Christians, we will come under extra scrutiny from unbelievers. Any sin we fall into, they will be quick to point out. And if (or when) they make up their minds that they don’t like us, they will go looking for dirt in our lives in order to discredit us. That’s why it’s important, even if we’re not in a leadership position (but especially if we are), to make sure we are people of integrity. That means, we are trustworthy and transparent, having no hidden agendas, not doing dodgy deals behind the scenes, keeping our promises. Daniel is a great example to us, of a man who was faithful to God even when he was taken from his home and placed in an environment of godlessness and fierce competition. God will reward us if we are faithful to Him in what we are given to do.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011


“See to it, brothers, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God.” Hebrews 3:12
Did you know that unbelief is a sin? The writer of Hebrews links the two together here. We often think of unbelief as being unable to believe. If we look at Christian belief from the world’s point of view, this is often what we see. Belief in an invisible God who created the world? That’s too hard for some people to do. It’s too big a jump to go from the tangible to the spiritual.
But if we look at it from God’s point of view, we see a completely different story. God created man to know Him and to fellowship with Him. Without Him, our life is incomplete. He made us to have three parts – a body, a soul, and a spirit. At the Fall, man’s spirit became disconnected from God. We lost our primary purpose in life. And ever since then, there has been a void in every person’s heart that only God can fill. Given this, it’s not hard to believe in God, when the opportunity comes. Rather, it is the natural thing to do – it brings everything back into alignment. So then, to not believe, is a choice. It is just as much a choice to not believe, as to believe. Since God wants us to believe in Him (and thereby be saved), to not believe is against His will, and as such, is sin. It is even worse, if we have known God – even superficially – and then turn away from Him. Test your heart today. Where are you at with God?

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Nebuchadnezzar's pride

“Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all His ways are just. And those who walk in pride He is able to humble.” Daniel 4:37
In Daniel 4, we read a letter written by King Nebuchadnezzar and sent throughout the Babylonian empire, telling all the people of the events that had happened to him. He had another dream, of a tree that was cut down to a stump, was forgotten about for seven years, but then sprouted again. He sought Daniel to interpret it for him, who explained it was referring to him: he would be deposed from his throne for seven years, but if he would repent, he would be restored. This is indeed what happened to Nebuchadnezzar. And the reason for his fall? “he said, ‘Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?” (Dan. 4:30). We read elsewhere in the Scriptures that pride goes before a fall (Prov. 16:18).
We might not be the king of an empire, the boss of a company, or be in leadership over anybody, but we should all take note of this. None of us are invincible. We brought nothing into the world; everything we have – including our abilities – has been given to us by God. If we do become puffed up with pride, God is able to bring us down at any time. How much better it is to humble ourselves, so we will not be humbled publicly like Nebuchadnezzar.
But there is a happy ending: After the seven years, Nebuchadnezzar saw the light. He acknowledged that God was the supreme ruler over all, including him. And God restored him to his former position.

Monday, July 18, 2011

The faith of Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego

“Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego replied to the king, ‘O Nebuchadnezzar, we do not need to defend ourselves before you in this matter. If we are thrown into the blazing furnace, the God we serve is able to save us from it, and He will rescue us from your hand, O king. But even if He does not, we want you to know, O king, that we will not serve your gods or worship the image of gold you have set up.’” Daniel 3:16-18
The book of Daniel is full of exciting events, and real people. We know these three men as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego – the Babylonian names given to Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. They had been taken with Daniel in the captivity, and like him were trained for service in the Babylonian court.
After Nebuchadnezzar’s dream of the multi-metalled statue, he built a solid gold statue for himself and demanded that everyone throughout his kingdom bow down and worship it. But for Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, bowing down was not an option. God’s law, to worship Him and Him alone, was higher than any law of man. It’s interesting to read what they said to the king. They trusted in God: “the God we serve is able to save us... but even if He does not...”. They acknowledged God was able to save them, but they didn’t know if He would or not. This shows the depth of their faith, and their resolve to stay true to God no matter what. Of course we know that God did save them from the furnace, even when it was heated seven times hotter than usual.
We can read of, and even experience ourselves, instances where God miraculously saves a person from persecution or certain death. But we also read of, and experience, times when He doesn’t. This doesn’t mean He is any less able. It just means He has a better purpose, and that our suffering will glorify Him more than He would be glorified if He rescued us. We may not understand this now, but when we come into eternity, we will.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Made like His brothers

“For surely it is not angels He helps, but Abraham’s descendants. For this reason He had to be made like His brothers in every way...” Hebrews 2:16-17a
When we think of angels, we think of majestic, powerful beings, shining white, flying around, messengers of God, living in heaven. But when Jesus thinks of angels, He sees them as servants (Heb. 1:7). Bearing that in mind, we can begin to see that it would be a huge step down for Jesus to become an angel. But here’s the thing: He stepped down even further than that – He became a man. “But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels” (Heb. 2:9, referring to Ps. 8:5). In today’s verse, we see the reason: Jesus came to help mankind – the descendants of Abraham (by faith). Jesus did not come to provide salvation to the angels. The fact that He became a man shows that He came to provide salvation for man.
And Jesus wasn’t just made a man in physical form. He had appeared in physical form as a man several times previously, in the Old Testament (see Gen. 16:9-10, Gen. 22:15-16, Num. 22:35, 38, Josh. 5:13-15, Judg. 6:11-14, Judg. 13:16-22, etc.). But this time, He took on all the limitations of being human – the intellectual, emotional, and physical limitations. For 33 years, He was confined to his physical body, and had to endure all of its weaknesses (tiredness, hunger, etc.). He was made like us in every way, being tempted and so forth. Why? So that we may become like Him (1 John 3:2).

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Jesus is superior to angels

“Are not all angels ministering spirits sent to serve those who will inherit salvation?” Hebrews 1:14
Hebrews is an interesting book. As its name suggests, it is written to Jews, and has the ‘Jewish-est’ flavour of any book in the New Testament. It presumes a decent understanding of the Old Testament and uses Hebrew thought and logic to make its points.
In the first chapter of Hebrews, the writer (who does not name himself) demonstrates how Jesus is superior to the angels. He uses Old Testament Scripture to contrast them in several ways:
In verse 5: Jesus is the only begotten Son of God. None of the angels can make this claim.
In verse 6: The angels worship Jesus, indicating that He is greater than them.
In verses 7-8: The angels are servants, but Jesus is the king forever.
In verse 9: Jesus has been set above all others, including the angels.
In verses 13-14: Jesus is invited to sit at God’s right hand and be served; while the angels are those who do the serving.
There are some bizarre doctrines that people hold. The Jehovah’s Witnesses believe and teach that Jesus and Michael the archangel are one and the same. This is completely untrue, and is a dangerous doctrine because to deny that Jesus is God* is to deny the Father also (1 John 2:23).

*JW’s will acknowledge that Jesus is the Son of God, but they will not acknowledge that He is God the Son.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Nebuchadnezzar's dream

“In the time of those kings, the God of heaven will set up a kingdom that will never be destroyed, nor will it be left to another people. It will crush all those kingdoms and bring them to an end, but it will itself endure forever.” Daniel 2:44
In Daniel 2 we have the familiar account of Nebuchadnezzar’s dream. He used it as a test to see if the magicians he had inherited from his father as advisers, actually knew their stuff – by asking them to tell him what his dream was, and then interpret it. (In ch. 4 he has another dream which he tells Daniel, which indicates that he found him to be trustworthy.)
In Nebuchadnezzar’s dream there was an image made of various metals: a head of gold, chest and arms of silver, abdomen and thighs of bronze, legs of iron and feet of iron mixed with clay. Daniel interprets each of these as a kingdom, beginning with Nebuchadnezzar’s kingdom, Babylon, being the head of gold. Each one is inferior to the one that proceeded it. The Medo-Persian empire succeeded the Babylonian empire; this is the chest and arms of silver. Next came the Greek empire; the abdomen and thighs of bronze, which “will rule over the whole earth” (Dan. 2:39). Finally was the Roman empire, the legs of iron, the “fourth kingdom, strong as iron – for iron breaks and smashes everything – and as iron breaks things to pieces, so it will crush and break all the others” (Dan. 2:40). The feet of iron mixed with clay, some believe, refers to the revived Roman empire that will arise when the Antichrist comes to power during the Tribulation; this corresponds to the little horn that grew up later on the head of the ‘terrible beast’ in Dan. 7:8.
But even while Nebuchadnezzar was looking at this statue, the world empires, the pinnacle of human power, a ‘rock cut without hands’ came and smashed the statue to pieces, then became a mountain that filled the whole earth. This is what we long for, and what we pray for when we say, ‘Your kingdom come.’ One day Jesus will return to earth in power and great glory. He will destroy all human governments and establish His own kingdom of righteousness on the earth. The corruption and ego trips we see in the halls of power today will not continue forever. Are you looking forward to that day?

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Faith, knowledge, and hope

“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ for the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness – a faith and knowledge resting on the hope of eternal life, which God, who does not lie, promised before the beginning of time...” Titus 1:1-2
Here we have three key words: faith, knowledge, and hope.
Faith is the Greek pistis, meaning persuasion or conviction. It speaks of our reliance on Christ for salvation.
Knowledge here is epignosis, meaning recognition or discernment, to be thoroughly acquainted with by experience.
Hope is elpis, meaning to anticipate with pleasure, to expect, to have confidence in.
We read here that our hope of eternal life is based on a promise that God gave before time began. This is not a wishful hope, but a confidence that God will keep His promise (because He does not lie, and always keeps His word). It is upon this hope, or confidence, that our faith and knowledge can rest. As we grow in the Lord, we become more sure of the hope that we have, and we become throughly acquainted with “the truth that leads to godliness”, by experience. Our faith becomes stronger.
So these three things are linked; they are similar, but not the same. They are things that can develop, and they are things we can rely on. Do you have the faith of God’s elect – those He has chosen? Do you have the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness? Do you have the hope of eternal life?

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

A form of godliness

“having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them.” 2 Timothy 3:5
We see these traits, given in 2 Tim. 3:2-5, all too prevalent in our society and even in the church, today. People are indeed lovers of themselves, lovers of money, lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God. They are proud, unforgiving, abusive. We could go through the whole list, but I’ll just focus on this aspect for now, and leave the others for a later time perhaps.
What does it mean to have a form of godliness? We would also call it, putting on an appearance of godliness. These people speak in Christian jargon, “praise the Lord, brother!”, but their lives are far from what a Christian ought to be. The Bible tells us that by their fruits we will recognise them. Time and time again, we are told that it’s not what comes out of our mouths that is important, but what comes out of our lives.
Then there are people who claim to know God, but they deny Jesus Christ is the Son of God or that He is Lord of their life. The Bible tells us that these people don’t know God at all (1 John 2:23). They don’t know the power of God – the power of the Holy Spirit indwelling us, enabling us to live a righteous life, pleasing to God.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Correctly handling the word of truth

“Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a workman who does not need to be ashamed and who correctly handles the word of truth.” 2 Timothy 2:15
This is a favourite verse of many people who have recognised the importance of reading and studying the whole Bible. The Bible is God’s Word to us. It contains everything we need to understand God’s plan for mankind. It shows us the way to salvation, and to Christian maturity. It shows us examples of men and women throughout the ages who trusted in God and saw Him keep His promises. It gives us prophecies and promises for the future.
But it’s not enough just to own a Bible, to bring it out on Sundays, carry it with us to church, and only open it occasionally. Many Christians have the idea that the Bible is too hard for them to understand, and so they substitute it with devotional books. But to correctly handle the Scriptures, we need to be reading all of the Bible, on a regular basis. The Word of God is called the sword of the Spirit (Eph. 6:17). And just as it takes training and practise to be able to wield a sword effectively, so too with the Bible. Whatever time we spend in the Word will be of benefit to us later on. I would challenge you today, if you haven’t yet read through the whole Bible, to do so. A Bible reading plan can help. Reading just 3-4 chapters a day will see you read through the whole Bible in a year. It’s not an onerous task. If you would like help with this, just leave a comment (comments of this nature won’t be published).

Monday, July 11, 2011

Guarding our faith

“Guard the good deposit that was entrusted to you – guard it with the help of the Holy Spirit who lives in us.” 2 Timothy 1:14
Our faith is one of the most valuable things that we have. That’s why we are instructed to guard it, and make sure it is safe. It’s interesting to note that Paul says it has been entrusted to us... our faith is not something that we conjured up, but it was a gift from God (Eph. 2:8). It is by faith that we are saved, justified; it is by faith that we are sanctified; and it is by faith that we will be glorified. From faith springs forth the hope that no matter how bad things get in life, God is watching over us and He will ensure that we reach that final destination and spend eternity with Him. By faith we have this assurance. The Scriptures tell us, “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1).
But we are not alone in guarding our faith. The Holy Spirit helps us. He knows, much better than we do, just how valuable that faith is. He knows what faith can do, if it is exercised. He knows the outcome if our faith is shaken or lost.
God didn’t just save us and then leave us in the dark about whether He did it or not. No, He gave us faith so that we can be sure of our salvation, and of spiritual things. Now that’s worth guarding!

Sunday, July 10, 2011

The love of money

“For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs.” 1 Timothy 6:10
This is one of those verses that has often been misquoted (that ‘money is the root of all evil’). It is not a sin to have money. Abraham was rich, so too was Lot – and his possessions were multipled double to him after his time of suffering, as God’s way of blessing him. So too in the New Testament were Joseph of Arimathea, and Lydia (Acts 16:14).
But it is a sin to love money – and you don’t have to be rich to fall into this. Making the accumulation of money our primary driver in life, will bear fruit in all kinds of evil. We’ll be tempted to cheat on people, treat them unfairly, just so we can get ahead and make more money. Then when we have it, we spend it on luxuries for ourselves, being selfish and not thinking of other people. Solomon said, “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income” (Eccl. 5:10). Jesus said, “No-one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24).
The Bible teaches that God should be our primary driver in life. Everything we do should be to please Him. If we are blessed with money, we should use it to further His kingdom and be generous with it (1 Tim. 6:17-19).

Saturday, July 9, 2011

The laying on of hands

“Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, and do not share in the sins of others. Keep yourself pure.” 1 Timothy 5:22
For part of my childhood our family attended a church where the laying on of hands was a big deal. People would be invited to come forward at the end of a service to be prayed for and have hands laid upon them. Usually when this happened the person would fall down, which was called being slain in the Spirit. It was so prevalent that some of the women in the church were asked to make garments for people to wear when they went forward to pray, so that when they fell over they would be properly covered (particularly women wearing skirts). If you didn’t fall down, it was an indication that you were resisting the Holy Spirit and there was something wrong with you. But is this really what the Scripture says about the laying on of hands?
In the New Testament, we do see people laying hands on others during prayer for the purpose of healing (Mark 5:23, 6:5, 8:23-25, 16:18, Luke 4:40, Luke 13:13, Acts 28:8). Jesus placed His hands on the children to pray for them and bless them (Matt. 19:13, Mark 10:16). The apostles laid hands on people so they would receive the Holy Spirit (Acts 8:17, 9:17, 19:6) and gifts of the Spirit (1 Tim. 4:14, 2 Tim. 1:6). When people were ordained for ministry, they had hands laid on them (Acts 6:6, 13:3).
All these aspects of the laying on of hands are still valid today. I believe it is the last one that Paul is referring to here in telling Timothy not to be hasty in the laying on of hands. Now we must understand that the laying on of hands is not something magical that suddenly makes a person able to do the ministry. Rather, it is an acknowledgement of the calling that God already has upon that person’s life. But if we get it wrong – if God has not called them, and then that person falls into sin, we take part of the responsibility for that because we endorsed them by laying on hands.

Friday, July 8, 2011

Physical and spiritual training

“For physical training is of some value, but godliness has value for all things, holding promise for both the present life and the life to come.” 1 Timothy 4:8
Think of how much time we devote to our physical fitness and appearance – washing, eating, working out, preening ourselves. For some people, keeping fit and looking beautiful have become their reason for living, their sole purpose in life. We know this shouldn’t be the case for a Christian. Here’s the question: do we give our spirit the same degree of attention as we do our body? We might go to the gym to work out, but are we reading commentaries and studying the Word of God, to strengthen our spiritual muscles? We might spend hours in front of the mirror, fixing our hair and putting on makeup (maybe not the latter for guys, but you never know) – but do we take the time to reflect on our character development, which is the measure of spiritual beauty (1 Pet. 3:4)?
I’m not saying that we shouldn’t spend time on our physical body. Our verse today states that physical training is indeed of some value. If we are physically fit, we will enjoy a healthy life, which is itself a blessing from God. The question is, is our focus on it detracting from us spending time with the Lord in prayer, reading and studying His Word, and being among His people. After all, godliness – spiritual fitness and maturity – has value both in our present lives and the life to come.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Don't stop doing what is right

“And as for you, brothers, never tire of doing what is right.” 2 Thessalonians 3:13
Sometimes it’s tempting, in this fallen world we live in, to stop going out of our way to do good things. It often seems we get little recognition, and may actually be ridiculed for trying to bless another person by helping them. But that’s exactly what the enemy wants us to do. He wants us to focus on ourselves, so that we won’t be shining the light of God’s love to those around us.
We are told that one of the characteristics of the last days is that the love of many will grow cold (Matt. 24:12). We read the letter to Laodicea, the lukewarm church, which so aptly describes modern-day Christian society (Rev. 3:14ff).
Yes, doing what is right is tiring. It’s hard to be the only one, or one of a few, standing up for God’s standards of righteousness. It can be demoralising to constantly be speaking out against injustice and ungodliness in the world. It has been said that “All that is necessary for the triumph of evil is that good men do nothing.” We are God’s representatives in this world. We are not to hide our light under a bowl (Matt. 5:14-16). We should never give up doing good, and standing up for what is right.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The restrainer

“For the secret power of lawlessness is already at work; but the one who now holds it back will continue to do so until He is taken out of the way.” 2 Thessalonians 2:7
2 Thess. 2:1-8 gives us a description of the series of events leading up to the Rapture, followed by the Tribulation and the return of Christ. The ‘lawless one’ (commonly called the Antichrist) is only revealed after the restrainer is removed. I believe this is the Holy Spirit in the sense that He indwells the church. That is, the removal of the restrainer refers to the rapture of the church.
We’ve all heard people complain about Christians ‘forcing their standards on other people’ – by which they mean, they don’t like Christians telling them that something they are doing is wrong and a sin. They want to be free to indulge in their own lusts, use whatever drugs they want, live with whomever they want, raise their children however they want, put whatever they like on a billboard or TV, the list goes on. ‘If only those Christians would just disappear,’ they say. ‘The world would be a much better place without them.’
If only they knew. There will come a day when all the Christians will disappear. And after that, things get really bad. If we think the state of the world is bad now, how much worse will it be after the church is gone. We are seeing a restrained version of evil.
When God promised the land of Canaan to Abraham, He said that there would be a delay of 400 years before it would be fulfilled, because “the sin of the Amorites has not yet reached its full measure” (Gen. 15:16). God does not bring judgement prematurely. He waits until the people He is judging have passed the point of no return. The fact that we are still here, shows that God is still waiting; there is still hope for those around us to come to salvation.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

The valley of dry bones

“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me in the middle of a valley; it was full of bones. He led me back and forth among them, and I saw a great many bones on the floor of the valley, bones that were very dry. He asked me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ I said, ‘O Sovereign Lord, You alone know.’” Ezekiel 37:1-3
Ezekiel 37 gives us the famous ‘valley of dry bones’ vision. It speaks of a time when the nation Israel would be regathered, rebuilt, restored, and reborn. This occurs in two stages: first the coming together of the bodies (v7-8), but without breath. Then Ezekiel is told to prophesy again, and the breath of life enters into them (v9-10).
We have seen part of this vision fulfilled. “Therefore prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: O My people, I am going to open your graves and bring you up from them; I will bring you back to the land of Israel. Then you, My people, will know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves and bring you up from them’” (Ezek. 37:12-13). Indeed, the nation Israel is back in their land. But they are a nation ruled by their own flesh. We are still waiting for the fulfilment: “I will put My Spirit in you and you will live, and I will settle you in your own land. Then you will know that I the Lord have spoken, and I have done it, declares the Lord” (Ezek. 37:14).
We are living in exciting times. Jesus told us that when the leaves on the fig tree start to come out, we know that summer is near. That is, when Israel starts to come alive again, the time of the end is close (Matt. 24:32-33). Watch this space!

Monday, July 4, 2011

For God's name's sake

“Therefore say to the house of Israel, This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of My holy name, which you have profaned among the nations wehre you have gone.” Ezekiel 36:22
In Ezekiel 36 we see God’s promise to restore the nation Israel from their captivity, removing their heart of stone and replacing it with a ‘heart of flesh’ (Ezek. 36:26). Israel has been restored from the Babylonian captivity (which they were in at the time Ezekiel wrote this), but a number of verses in this chapter imply that the fulfilment really applies to the present day regathering of Israel, from “all nations” (Ezek. 36: 24).
Although Israel may have fallen from grace in terms of being God’s witness to the world as the path to salvation (that task now falling upon the church), they are still His chosen people. But God didn’t choose them because they were special or deserve anything – it was because of His commitment to keep the covenant He made with their forefather, Abraham (Deut. 7:7-8). Through the nation Israel, God wants to show that He keeps His promise in choosing them (even though many of them today still profane the name of God by saying He doesn’t exist).
Similarly for us: we can be sure that if we profane God’s name by our actions, God will uphold His name at any cost. We are not to take His name lightly, but instead to place as much value on it as God Himself does.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

Test, and hold

“Test everything. Hold on to the good.” 1 Thessalonians 5:21
This is a good principle to apply to anything in life. We can apply it to books we read, sermons we hear, movies we watch, or pursuits we engage in.
What does it mean to test something? It means to assess it with regards to a standard. When it comes to the standard of what is good or not, there can only be one: God’s Word. How does what we are reading/hearing/seeing/doing line up with God’s Word? Is what this preacher is saying consistent with all of Scripture? (This is why we need to read the Bible ourselves, so that we know what Scripture says and what it doesn’t say.)
Now there are some who will say, ‘Touch not the Lord’s anointed!’ with regards to us questioning their teaching. This phrase comes from 1 Sam. 26:11 – and it’s in relation to David killing Saul. There is no teacher who is above question. David did question Saul (1 Sam. 24:12-15). Paul was tested by the believers at Berea, to check that his teachings were supported by Scripture. They were called ‘of more noble character than the Thessalonians’, who, it would seem, did not do this (Acts 17:11).
This verse has also been summed up in the phrase, ‘Eat the meat, spit out the bones.’ That is, receive what is in line with God’s Word, and discard what it not. This requires us to know the Scriptures, and to be discerning.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Like a thief in the night

“for you know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.” 1 Thessalonians 5:2
1 Thessalonians is one of those books that gives us precious insights into the return of Jesus Christ. In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus also likens His coming to a thief: “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” (Matt. 24:42-44).
One thing to note is that it is not the Lord who is a thief. Rather, it is ‘the day of the Lord’ that is likened to a thief. And the likeness is not one of it being a crime, but the suddenness and unpredictability of the event.
It’s no good installing a burglar alarm after you’ve been burgled – it won’t help you regain the possessions that were stolen. Similarly, if we want to escape the day of God’s wrath and be taken in the Rapture, we need to get right with God right now. The Lord is coming. Are you ready? or will it take you by surprise?

Friday, July 1, 2011

Muddying the waters

“Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture? Must you also trample the rest of the pasture with your feet? Is it not enough for you to drink clear water? Must you also muddy the rest with your feet?” Ezekiel 34:18
We all know people who do this: they get as much as they can out of something, and then ruin it for the next person who would come along. I’ve been taught to have the attitude to leave a place in a better state than you find it (for example, when out hiking, camping, picnicking etc.).
But this happens in the spiritual sense as well. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for doing this: “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You shut the kingdom of heaven in men’s faces. You yourselves do not enter, nor will you let those enter who are trying to” (Matt. 23:13), “Woe to you experts in the law, because you have taken away the key to knowledge. You yourselves have not entered, and you have hindered those who were entering” (Luke 11:52).
We must be very careful that we aren’t doing the same thing. If you’ve been a Christian for a while, it can be very easy to look down on people and think they are so sinful that they couldn’t possibly be saved, or that they would have to clean up their act big time before God would accept them. We forget what we were like before we were saved. (In fact, I must admit, I have a worse time than this: having grown up in a Christian home and always knowing God, I can’t really point to any sin I was living in ‘before’ I was saved. Instead, I look at where I could have ended up if He hadn’t saved me, and try and take that perspective.)
Jesus died so that anyone and everyone would have the opportunity to come to salvation. We mustn’t be the gatekeeper, trying to keep the riffraff out. If we are making it hard for people to come to faith and putting obstacles in their path, ‘muddying the waters’, so to speak, we had better repent!