Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cain, Balaam, and Korah

“Woe to them! They have taken the way of Cain; they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error; they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion.” Jude 1:11
The thrust of Jude’s epistle is to warn us about false teachers. Here he gives three Old Testament examples of what false teachers are like, and what their end will be.
First, he says, “they have taken the way of Cain”. The passages where Cain is mentioned in the Bible are Gen. 4:1-16, Heb. 11:4 and 1 John 3:12. We know the story of Cain and his younger brother Abel. One day they each brought an offering to God – Cain bringing some fruits of the land (being a farmer), and Abel a lamb (since he was a shepherd). We aren’t told explicitly why, but God accepted Abel’s offering and rejected Cain’s. Naturally Cain was upset, and God spoke to him about it, saying, “If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it” (Gen. 4:7). Cain didn’t master this sin; instead he lashed out as his brother and killed him. The way of Cain, then, is a refusal to repent which ultimately leads to being cast out by God to wander as a nomad.
Next, he says, “they have rushed for profit into Balaam’s error”. Balaam was a prophet hired by Balak king of Moab to pronounce a curse over Israel (Num. 22-24). Initially Balaam refused, but after a bigger and better offer by Balak he went. On his journey he was opposed by the angel of the Lord, which his donkey saw but he did not. God strictly told him to only say what He told him to (Num. 22:35). And Balaam did this: four times, Balak took him to a high point looking over the Israelite camp, and four times Balaam prophesied a blessing over Israel. But we infer from other passages of Scripture (Rev. 2:14) that after Balaam was done prophesying, he still wanted the reward from Balak, so he suggested to Balak to have the young Moabite women go to the Israelite camp and get the men to engage in sexual sin and idolatry, reasoning that if the people sinned in this way God would curse them. The error of Balaam, then, is trying to tempt people into sin, which is exactly what false teachers do.
Finally, he says, “they have been destroyed in Korah’s rebellion”. We read about this in Num. 16. Korah was a Levite, who rounded up some other men and came to Moses and Aaron saying, “Why do you set yourselves above the Lord’s assembly?” (Num. 16:3). He was destroyed when the earth opened up and swallowed him and his tents and his family alive. Korah refused to acknowledge that it was not Moses and Aaron who had set themselves over the people, but it was God who had appointed them to that position. False teachers can have this same attitude, and while God may not deal with them in literally the same way, He will ensure that they are removed from the community of His people.

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Called, loved, kept

“To those who have been called, who are loved by God the Father and kept by Jesus Christ...” Jude 1:1b
Here are three words in Jude’s greeting to his readers that remind us of what God does. He has called us, He has loved us, and He has kept us – all three are the work of God.
We read of God calling us in several other Scriptures. We are called for His purpose (Rom. 8:28), His call on us is irrevocable (Rom. 11:29), we are called into fellowship with God (1 Cor. 1:9), we were called to receive eternal life (1 Tim. 6:12), we are called to live a holy life (2 Tim. 1:9), we were called out of darkness into light (1 Pet. 2:9).
We read of God’s love for us throughout the Bible. It is because of His love that God gave His Son (John 3:16, Rom. 5:8, 1 John 4:9-10), He laid down His life for us (John 15:13, Eph. 5:2, 1 John 3:16), we cannot be separated from Him (Rom. 8:38-39), we are called His chilren (1 John 3:1). His love is unfailing (Ps. 6:4, 13:5, 31:16, etc.), surpassing knowledge and understanding (Eph. 3:17-19). He loved us before we knew or loved Him, while we were still in our sins (Rom. 5:8, 1 John 4:19). He’s not going to love us any less now that we are saved.
Finally, we are kept by Jesus Christ. He keeps us safe (Ps. 27:5, Ps. 121:7, 1 John 5:18), He will keep us strong to the end (1 Cor. 1:8), He keeps us from falling (Jude 1:24), He keeps His promises (2 Pet. 3:13), He will keep us from the hour of tribulation (Rev. 3:10).

Monday, August 29, 2011

When your children walk in the truth

“I have no greater joy than to hear that my children are walking in the truth.” 3 John 1:4
I find this verse encouraging and quite thought-provoking. We read in John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” Here, we read there is no greater joy than hearing that one’s children are walking in the truth. Thinking about this, it can be seen to apply for both one’s physical children and also one’s spiritual children. (In fact, John is referring to spiritual children here.) By ‘spiritual children’, those whom we have led to Christ and discipled. I’ve been privileged to have taught at a kids’ programme a few years ago, and it’s always a great encouragement to see them (who are now in their early 20’s) going on with the Lord. However, there are some whom I know have not continued in faith, and it breaks my heart. I don’t have physical children of my own, but I imagine it would be much the same.
How much more, then, with God! – for we are His creation, and if we have come to believe in Him, we are His children (John 1:12). Did you realise that you can bring God joy? If we continue to walk in the truth, we bring Him joy. Similarly, if we disobey Him, we bring Him pain. This shows that God really does love us – you can’t hurt someone who doesn’t love you. So the encouragement to you today is this: keep walking in the truth.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

God knows us better than we know ourselves

“You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O Lord.” Psalm 139:2-4
Reading Psalm 139 always makes me stop and think. It reminds me just how intimately God knows me. So much, in fact, that He knows me better than I know myself! And it’s not just me, but every person on the planet.
We read that God knows the number of hairs on our head (Matt. 10:30). But God doesn’t just know the physical facts about us – how tall we are, where we live, how many cells in our body. He knows every one of our thoughts, our motives, our desires. This might seem frightening, but think about it. God doesn’t make sure to know these things so He can punish us. He knows these things because He cares for us.
Jer. 17:9 tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” Certainly not us. That’s right: we can be deceived by our own hearts. But because God knows the innermost depths of us, we can ask Him to reveal these things to us – the things hidden inside our own hearts. God really does know us better than we know ourselves. And that’s why, when we slip up and fall into sin, He has compassion on us and extends the offer of forgiveness to us. He saw it coming. I find that very comforting – how about you?

Saturday, August 27, 2011

God provided

“Then the Lord God provided a vine and made it grow up over Jonah to give shade for his head to ease his discomfort, and Jonah was very happy about the vine.” Jonah 4:6
In reading through the book of Jonah, we can often wonder why God bothered including chapter 4. After Jonah finally went to Nineveh, he preached a message of judgement, the people repented, and God did not send calamity. Then in chapter 4 we read of how Jonah pouted, and the Lord taught him a few things. But there is a recurring phrase that I want to pick up on: “God provided”.
In Jon. 1:17 we read, “But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah”. In Jon. 4:6-8 God provided first a vine, then a worm, then a scorching east wind. Some of these things were good – if it hadn’t been for the fish, Jonah would have drowned; and the vine gave welcome shade from the sun. But some of them were bad: the worm chewed the vine and caused it to wither, and the wind made Jonah dehydrated and miserable.
Here’s the lesson for us: Not everything provided by God was good (in and of itself), but they were all necessary. God was teaching Jonah to have a merciful attitude towards the Ninevites. He showed Jonah that he had had more concern for the vine, which he was not in control of, than for lost souls. Is God teaching you something about your attitude, through what He ‘provides’?

Friday, August 26, 2011

Jonah and the whale (or great fish)

“But the Lord provided a great fish to swallow Jonah, and Jonah was inside the fish three days and three nights.” Jonah 1:17
The book of Jonah is short – only four chapters, or 58 verses – yet it tells us an amazing story. It tells the story of Jonah, the reluctant prophet, told by God to go to Nineveh to preach the word of the Lord against it. But, as we know, Jonah deliberately went in the opposite direction, boarding a boat to Tarshish. God had other plans, and he brought a storm that made the sailors make inquiries into who was responsible. Eventually Jonah confessed and offered to be thrown overboard. It is at this point that God provided a great fish to swallow him, which later spat him out onto dry land, after which he obeyed God and went to Nineveh.
Many people write this off as fiction. But Jesus refers to it as an actual event (Matt. 12:39-40), and if it’s good enough for Him, then it’s good enough for me. In fact, Jesus even points to Jonah’s story as an allegory of how He Himself would spend three days and three nights in the belly of the earth.
These two events are interesting to compare. Both were seemingly impossible situations to get out of. What would you do if you’d been swallowed by a fish? Most of us would give up hope at that point. Similarly with Jesus descending into Hades – no-one had ever returned from there before. But God is in the miracle business. He brought Jonah out alive, and He raised Jesus from the dead.
So if you’re in a seemingly impossible situation today, don’t give up hope. Trust in God – He will bring you through!

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Reasons why God doesn't answer prayer (3)

“This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us – whatever we ask – we know that we have what we asked of Him.” 1 John 5:14-15
In two earlier posts (here and here), we looked at two reasons why God doesn’t answer prayer – if we have unrepented sin in our heart (Ps. 66:18-19), and if we ask with selfish motives (James 4:3). In today’s verse we have a promise that God will hear and answer our prayers, given one condition: that we ask according to His will.
This is reminiscent of how Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane: “Yet not My will, but Yours be done” (Luke 22:42). Some people see the addition of this phrase to our prayers as a bit of a cop-out; but if it’s good enough for Jesus, it’s good enough for us! Imagine if God answered all of our prayers without any restraint. The world would be a mess. We need to remember that prayer is not for the purpose of getting God to do things for us, like a genie in a bottle; rather, prayer is about conforming our will to His, so that we will pray according to His will.
In light of this, we know that there are some prayers that God will always hear, because they are His will. In the Scriptures we read, “[God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). So any prayer that a particular person would come to salvation, will be heard by God. God wants us to be light to the world, so He will hear any prayer asking to make us more effective witnesses. He wants us to have faith in Him, so He hears the prayer, ‘Help me overcome my unbelief!’ (Mark 9:24). But we must also remember that God answers these prayers in His timing. Don’t be discouraged – if you are praying according to God’s will, if there is no unrepented sin in your life, and if you are asking with right motives – God is hearing your prayer.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Having assurance of salvation

“I write these things to you who believe in the name of the Son of God so that you may know that you have eternal life.” 1 John 5:13
Having assurance of our salvation is a big deal, and it’s something that a lot of Christians actually don’t completely have. I’ve been there; in fact there are times when I start to slide in that direction. Then I have to remind myself of verses like this.
What are ‘these things’ that John says he has written, that give us assurance of our salvation? They are the things in the preceding verses, 1 John 5:1-12. Let’s look at a few of these:
“Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God” (1 John 5:1). Do you believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Saviour of the world and the Saviour of your soul? If so, then you have been born of God and have eternal life.
“This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome, for everyone born of God overcomes the world” (1 John 5:3-4). Do you try to keep God’s commands, to love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, and love other people as you love yourself? Are you resisting temptation that the world throws at you? If so, then you are overcoming the world, by the power of the Holy Spirit living in you, and you have been born of God and have eternal life.
“He who has the Son has life; he who does not have the Son of God does not have life” (1 John 5:12). Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus? Do you know Him, and do you know that He knows you? If so, then you have eternal life.
God wants us to be sure of our salvation. He wants us to be sure that we are indeed His children. Now being a child of God is not something that depends on how we are feeling. It’s not something that changes from day to day. It’s something that we can be sure of. Praise God!

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

When pride creeps in

“Though the Lord is on high, He looks upon the lowly, but the proud He knows from afar.” Psalm 138:6
There are days when we can feel like nobody cares about us; when we can feel that if we were to fall off the face of the earth, no-one would notice. And when we think about the majesty of God, we can often be left wondering, ‘Why does God take such an interest in me? I’m nothing!’
Today’s verse tells us that none of us are too insignificant for God to care about. With God, these kinds of things are often the other way around to how the world operates: God takes special interest in those who are forgotten and neglected by society. But those who are proud, who push their own barrow and blow their own trumpet to draw attention to themselves, God takes no notice of at all.
Pride can creep into anyone’s life. It might start through a well-meant compliment. It can even start as a reaction to being unnoticed – you can think, ‘Well, nobody thinks I’m great, but I think I’m great.’
Pride has no place in the life of a child of God. Pride is the oldest sin in the book – it’s what caused Satan to fall at the very beginning. The Bible tells us that “those who walk in pride He is able to humble” (Dan. 4:37).
Don’t let pride creep into your life. Keep your eyes on the Lord, and this will give you a right perspective about yourself.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Tall poppy syndrome

“Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother. And why did he murder him? Because his own actions were evil and his brother’s were righteous.” 1 John 3:12
John gives an interesting insight into the reason why Cain killed his brother Abel, that we only see a hint of in Genesis. There, we read, “Now Abel kept flocks, and Cain worked the soil. In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brough fatportions from some of the firstborn of his flock. The Lord looked with favour on Abel and his offering, but on Cain and his offering He did not look with favour. So Cain was very angry, and his face was downcast.
“Then the Lord said to Cain, ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it.’
“Now Cain said to his brother Abel, ‘Let’s go out to the field.’ And while they were in the field, Cain attacked his brother Abel and killed him” (Gen. 4:2-8).
Many people read this and think Cain was hard-done-by. Abel was a shepherd, so it was natural for him to offer a lamb to God; Cain was a farmer, so why was his offering of the fruits of the soil not accepted? Because God had already told them, through the picture of His providing garments of animal skins for Adam and Eve (Gen. 3:21), that He required an offering of a lamb. What Cain tried to do was offer the works of his own hands. At that point God gave him a warning and a choice: to master the sin that was crouching at his door.
Cain was angry at God for not accepting his offering, and he took it out on Abel, his righteous brother who had done as God commanded. If we stand up for righteousness, we too will find that we are the victims of ‘tall poppy syndrome’. People in the world don’t like us, because by our lives we show that theirs are not righteous. But rather than repenting, they try to bring us down. This is expressed in John 3:19-20, they loved darkness rather than light.

Sunday, August 21, 2011


“But if anyone obeys His word, God’s love is truly made complete in him. This is how we know we are in Him: Whoever claims to live in Him must walk as Jesus did.” 1 John 2:5-6
In the first two chapters of John’s first epistle, he makes many statements about claims that people might make, and how these should be evident in their lives (but sometimes are not). If we claim to know Him, we must walk in the light (1 John 1:6-7). If we claim we have never sinned, we are lying; but if we acknowledge our sin we will find forgiveness (1 John 1:8-10). If we claim to know God, we must not continue to live in sin (1 John 2:3-4). If we claim to live in Christ, we must walk in obedience to God, as Jesus did (1 John 2:5-6). If we claim to be in the light of God’s truth, we must love our fellow man (1 John 2:9-11).
In the mid-1990s it became fashionable in the Christian youth community to wear a bracelet with the letters ‘W.W.J.D.’ written on it, standing for ‘What would Jesus do?’. Although it’s become a cliche in some circles, and ripped off by Christians and non-Christians alike (‘Who was John Denver’, ‘What would Jesus drive’), the notion of constantly asking yourself, ‘what would Jesus do in this situation?’ does have Scriptural basis, as we find in today’s verse. How did Jesus walk? We can look at specific examples in the gospels; but more than that, we can look to the principles by which He lived. The primary principle is this: complete obedience to the Father’s will and to the Word of God. This should be what we are aspiring to.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Unlimited atonement

“He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins, and not only for ours but also for the sins of the whole world.” 1 John 2:2
‘Limited atonement’ is one of the pillars of five-point Calvinism, and it’s one that I struggle to find in the Scriptures. In fact, I find the opposite – verses like this, which show that Jesus’ death was sufficient to atone for the sins of the whole world.
But that’s not to say that everyone will be saved! There is a condition: that we repent of our sins and believe in Him for salvation. Only then is that atonement applied to our lives. If someone refuses to repent and believe in Christ, that decision will condemn them to an eternity separated from God. We read in John’s gospel: “For God did not send His Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through Him. Whoever believes in Him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son” (John 3:17-18).
Jesus’ death makes provision for anyone and everyone to be saved, if they would choose to respond to the Holy Spirit prompting them, and believe in Christ. But people may say, ‘Then in a way, some of Jesus’ suffering was wasted, by providing atonement for those people who would reject Him.’ But, think about this: every year on the Day of Atonement, a goat was sacrificed for the sin of the whole nation. It didn’t matter how many people were there in the nation at the time – whether it was 200,000 or 20 million – the blood of the one goat was sufficient for all. The atonement Jesus’ blood provides for the sins of the world isn’t about numbers. It’s about Who He was, the fact that the perfect Son of God Himself died, bearing the punishment for all sin.

Friday, August 19, 2011


“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.” 1 John 1:9
Forgiveness is one of those things that we are encouraged to ask God for again, and again, and again. It appears in the Lord’s prayer – “forgive us our sins, as we forgive those who sin against us” (Matt. 6:12, Luke 11:4). And God is always willing to forgive us. But there is one condition: we must confess our sins to Him.
In confessing our sins, we acknowledge that we are in the wrong. Confession requires us to humble ourselves, and it is this attitude that God is looking for.
It’s the same when we seek forgiveness from other people, or when they seek it from us. When someone does something wrong against us, we are to forgive them in our heart, so that when they come to us and acknowledge that what they did was wrong, we can instantly extend forgiveness to them. Forgiveness means to not hold that sin against them, to use as ammunition later. I’m not saying this is easy – most of us are prone to holding grudges. But we need to let the hurt go, otherwise we are only harming ourselves.
Having said that, we are under no obligation to offer forgiveness to someone who hasn’t asked us for it. In some cases it is unwise to do this, as it gives the person a false impression that they can use you as a doormat (if they feel no guilt about what they did to you). God does not forgive until there is first a confession. But when there is confession – even if it’s non-specific, so long as it’s genuine – He will readily forgive. Ask the Holy Spirit today to help identify those sins in your life you need to confess and have forgiven. God promises that He will forgive your sins and purify you from all unrighteousness.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Visual reminders of God's truth

“What do you see, Amos?” He asked. “A basket of ripe fruit,” I answered. Then the Lord said to me, “The time is ripe for My people Israel; I will spare them no longer.” Amos 8:2
God spoke to several of the Old Testament prophets through visual pictures – Amos with the plumbline (Amos 7:8), Jeremiah with an almond branch (Jer. 1:11), the potter’s wheel (Jer. 18:1-6), and baskets of figs (Jer. 24:3), Zechariah with a lampstand and two olive trees (Zech. 4:2-3) and a woman in a basket (Zech. 5:5-8).
He can do the same today for us. Just the other day an image popped into my mind of an appointment diary. Then I thought about what God’s appointment diary must look like! – except that God isn’t limited by time. Then this truth dropped into my heart: God has all the time in the world for us. While our day is limited as to how much we can accomplish and how many people we can spend time with, God has no such limitation. He is omnipresent; He is with each of us 24/7. He isn’t in a rush to finish being with us because He has to go to a meeting somewhere else.
I think we may well have more of these kinds of visual reminders of God’s truths than we realise. Why not start a journal, and write them down? Then in days to come you can look back on His faithfulness to you.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Living in anticipation

“Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward to the day of God and speed its coming.” 2 Peter 3:11-12a
One theme that is present throughout the Bible – even in the Old Testament – is that Jesus Christ will return to earth to establish His Kingdom. In fact, one of the earliest prophecies recorded in the Bible, was spoken by Enoch and concerned the return of Christ (Jude 1:14-15). Those who say the Second Coming refers to Jesus establishing a spiritual kingdom, which has already come, or those who say it is not going to happen, are deluding themselves.
The Bible tells us of a time of great tribulation such as the world has never seen. God’s judgement will be poured out on a Christ-rejecting world, but those who believe in Jesus will be exempt. Ultimately the world will be destroyed by fire (2 Pet. 3:10), and God will create a new heavens and a new earth (Isa. 65:17).
We are much closer to the end now than when Peter wrote his epistle. Therefore, if he was encouraging his readers how to live in anticipation of Christ’s return, how much more should we heed his words. How should we live? Peter tells us: “live holy and godly lives”. Living in anticipation of Jesus’ return purifies us. We are like the servants who were ready and watching for their master’s return (Matt. 24:45-46, Luke 12:37). Living holy and godly lives means to purge our lives of sin and live for God, seeking to do His will in all things. Keep looking up – Jesus is coming soon.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Make your calling sure

“Therefore, my brothers, be all the more eager to make your calling and election sure. For if you do these things, you will never fall, and you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.” 2 Peter 1:10-11
This is one of those verses that can be easily misunderstood. Peter is not advocating either salvation or sanctification by works. We aren’t saved by God for a ‘test-drive’ period, after which He decides if He wants to keep us or not. Rather, making our election sure is for our own benefit, so that we know that we are truly saved and born again.
Peter says we will know this, and never fall, ‘if we do these things’. What things is he referring to? The qualities listed in the previous verses: faith, goodness, knowledge, self-control, perseverance, godliness, brotherly kindness, and love (2 Pet. 1:5-7). The Christian walk should be just that – a journey of character development, conforming more and more to the image of Christ. We mustn’t settle for ‘just’ being saved – we ought to press on to maturity (Heb. 6:1). Then we have the promise that we will be warmly welcomed into eternity and receive rewards.

Monday, August 15, 2011

The plumbline

“This is what He showed me: The Lord was standing by a wall that had been built true to plub, with a plumb line in His hand. And the Lord asked me, ‘What do you see, Amos?’
“‘A plumb line’, I replied.
“Then the Lord said, ‘Look, I am setting a plumb line among My people Israel; I will spare them no longer.’” Amos 7:7-8

On several occasions I helped my parents hang wallpaper in our house. After stripping and scraping the old paper off, and priming the walls, the hanging could begin. To start, you would drop a plumbline – a weight on the end of a string. You would then make marks with a pencil on the wall following the string, and you knew this line was perfectly vertical. But you had to be careful when hanging, not to use marks from a previous plumbline. And every time you went around a corner, you would have to drop a new plumbline, because the walls were not perfectly straight. They move very slightly over time.
God used this analogy as a warning for Israel, and it’s a warning that the church today would do well to heed. Do we still measure up to the plumb line we were initially built against? Or have our walls become warped and twisted? Do we put more emphasis on traditions than on trandformation in people’s lives? Have we allowed our love to grow cold – love, that is supposed to be the primary characteristic of those who belong to Christ? (John 13:35). Have we turned church into a concert, and watered down the message so that we don’t offend anyone? Have we tried to reason away some of the harder Biblical truths, saying, ‘Well, that was their culture but it doesn’t apply to us any more’? Maybe it’s time to check things, by dropping the plumbline of the Scriptures against what we believe and what we are doing.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Church leaders

“Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, serving as overseers – not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not greedy for money, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock.” 1 Peter 5:2-3
In several places in the Scriptures we read instructions that are given to church leaders. It’s interesting to read these and take note of what they say. Do you measure up to these?
1) ‘Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care’. The local church congregation does not belong to the pastor or church leader. It belongs to God. The people need to be treated well, fed, and protected, as a shepherd protects his master’s sheep.
2) ‘serving as overseers’. Church leaders are to oversee, stepping in where needed, but allowing the Holy Spirit to work in the lives of believers.
3) ‘not because you must, but because you are willing’. Anyone who is leading a church out of a sense of obligation, should quit. They should only do it because they are willing to, and God has called them to it.
4) ‘not greedy for money’. I don’t really need to elaborate this one! (See also 1 Tim. 6:5.)
5) ‘eager to serve’. Leading a church is hard work, but the leader who has been truly called by God will be empowered to do it by the Holy Spirit. Again note that leaders are supposed to serve the congregation.
6) ‘not lording it over those entrusted to you’. Don’t think that your position as a leader in the church means you can treat other people badly, like the world does. In Jesus’ kingdom, the hierarchy is upside-down (Matt. 18:4, Matt. 20:26, Matt. 23:11, Mark 9:35, etc.).
7) ‘being examples to the flock’. This is an attitude that Paul had towards the believers in the churches he planted (1 Cor. 11:1, Phil. 3:17, 2 Thess. 3:7) and encouraged others to adopt also (1 Tim. 4:12, Tit. 2:7).

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Suffering for being a Christian

“However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.” 1 Peter 4:16
The word ‘Christian’ is only used a few times in the New Testament (Acts 11:26, Acts 26:28, and here). It was not used by believers of themselves – they called themselves ‘followers of the Way’ (Acts 9:2, Acts 19:9, Acts 19:23, Acts 24:14, Acts 24:22). The word ‘Christian’ was initially a derogatory term. It means ‘little Christ’ (and of course, Christ means Messiah, or Saviour). How interesting that in subsequent centuries, we have taken this derogatory term and turned it into a badge of honour – just as the symbol of a cross, an instrument of torture and gruesome death, because a universal symbol for Christianity.
People use other words today to put Christians down. They call us ‘fundamentalists’, ‘Bible-bashers’, and so on. I don’t mind being called a fundamentalist. I believe in the fundamentals of the Bible, so therefore I suppose I am a fundamentalist. The believers whom Peter was writing to had other issues, more serious than just being called names. To be labelled as a Christian in that culture could mean being ostracised from society – nobody would trade with you. In the worst situations, believers would be rounded up and executed by various means, sometimes for sport. But even in all this suffering, Peter tells them not to be ashamed, but to praise God that they bear the name ‘little Christ’. Paul says, “if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory” (Rom. 8:17). Suffering and persecution is only for a time. If we do suffer for the name of Christ, we will receive “an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17). Hold onto that truth today.

Friday, August 12, 2011

Suffering for doing right

“Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. ‘Do not fear what they fear; do not be frightened.’ But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord.” 1 Peter 3:13-15a
Unfortunately, it is true that if we do good, there will be people out there who want to harm us. Just watch any TV programme following the activities of the police on duty, and watch the abuse they receive as they try to do good and enforce the law. Just as those who are doing wrong see the police as people who are only there to stop them having fun, so too many unbelievers rail against Christians – even if the Christian is not confronting them about their sin. To them, we are an irritating reminder that what they are doing is wrong.
But the prospect of being persecuted – be it physical or verbal – is not an excuse to stop shining your light brightly for God. Peter tells us here, if we suffer for what is right, we are blessed. If we are faithful, we will receive the crown of life (Jas. 1:12, Rev. 2:10). As Christians, we have a higher calling in life – one given to us by God Himself. We are called to live on a higher plane, a spiritual one, that never ends.
So take courage today, if people are speaking ill of you because of your faith. People may ridicule us for doing good, but do good anyway. Set apart Christ as Lord in your heart, and live for Him.

Thursday, August 11, 2011

Grace is not a license for sin

“Live as free men, but do not use your freedom as a cover-up for evil; live as servants of God.” 1 Peter 2:16
Some people get the strange idea that we can sin as much as we want, because God’s grace will cover it. They see grace as a license for sin. But there are many, many passages in the Bible that speak against this kind of attitude. Perhaps the strongest is found in Romans 6: “What shall we say then? Shall we go on sinning so that grace may increase? By no means! We died to sin; how can we live in it any longer?” (Rom. 6:1-2). “What then? Shall we sin because we are not under law but under grace? By no means!” (Rom. 6:15). The phrase translated here ‘By no means!’ in the NIV is the most emphatic ‘No!’ that can be expressed in the Greek. Paul says, it is absolutely wrong to use God’s grace as an excuse to keep on sinning.
In our verse today, Peter tells us a similar thing. We have freedom in Christ – freedom from having to obey the sinful nature, freedom to serve God. It’s estimated that half the population in the Roman empire were slaves of some sort or another. They were ‘owned’ by another person. For us today, the analogy would be employers and employees. We are to enjoy our freedom in Christ, because we are no longer slaves to sin (Rom. 6:6). But while we have this new freedom, we are to use it to willingly submit and be a servant – or employee – of God. It’s by God’s grace we are able to do this, and live for a higher calling in life. We ought not take this for granted.

Wednesday, August 10, 2011

A royal priesthood

“But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God, that you may declare the praises of Him who called you out of darkness into His wonderful light.” 1 Peter 2:9
Here are four descriptors of believers: a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. These are all used of Israel: they were chosen by God (Deut. 10:15), they were a holy nation and kingdom of priests (Ex. 19:6), a people belonging to God (Lev. 25:55).
The term ‘royal priesthood’ is interesting to note. In the epistle to the Hebrews, the writer spends a whole chapter (ch. 7) describing the priesthood of Melchizedek and how it is different to the Aaronic priesthood. Under Judaism, it was impossible for a king to be a priest, or for a priest to be a king. Priests were descended from the tribe of Levi (and specifically from Aaron), while kings were descended from the tribe of Judah (specifically, David). But in Gen. 14:18 we are introduced to this mystery man Melchizedek, who was the king of Salem and a priest of God. It is this priesthood that Jesus belongs to – an eternal one, not based on the Levitical law (Heb. 7:24). And it is this priesthood that if we are in Him, we belong to too. Like Israel, we have been chosen by God (John 15:16, 2 Thess. 2:13), we are made holy (Col. 3:12, etc.), and we belong to Him (Rom. 14:8, etc.).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

What it means to be born again

“For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God." 1 Peter 1:23
The term ‘born again’ can be taken to mean many things, but let’s look at its usage as found in the Bible. In fact, it only occurs here and in John 3, where Jesus spoke to Nicodemus.
Being born again refers to a spiritual birth, a work that God does inside us. We have already been born once – physically. To be born again is to undergo a second birth, a spiritual one. Of this Jesus said, “Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit gives birth to spirit. You should not be surprised at My saying, ‘You must be born again’. The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear its sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit” (John 3:6-7). You can’t tell by looking at someone if they have been born again – but you will be able to see the effects of it in their life.
A new birth results in new life. Someone who has been born again has a spiritual dynamic to their life that wasn’t there before. Peter tells us in today’s verse that this is not something that will die (is perishable), but something that can never die. This is how Jesus could say, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me will live, even though he dies; and whoever lives and believes in Me will never die” (John 11:25). Our physical body may die, but if we have been born again, our spirit will never die. We will never lose contact with God.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The years the locusts have eaten

“I will repay you for the years the locusts have eaten – the great locust and the young locust, the other locusts and the locust swarm – My great army that I sent among you.” Joel 2:25
This is a promise of God that many people will be familiar with. It would seem that the prophet Joel wrote this around the time a locust plague had decimated the crops of the land of Israel. These still happen today in the Middle East, and they can be devastating. Through Joel, God draws a likeness between the locust plague and the ‘plague’ of the Babylonian army coming to conquer the land.
It can take years for a nation to recover from a disaster like a locust plague. But God promises, if they will return to Him, He will repay them for those years of desolation (in both cases – as a result of the literal locusts, and as a result of the Babylonian invasion).
It’s this promise that we can cling to also. God will restore us, if we repent. It’s not impossible for us to get back on track with Him, and enjoy the blessings that we had once before. If you’re going through a dry spell at the moment, just dig deep in God. He’s wanting to teach you something through this time.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

God wants our heart

“Rend your heart and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love, and He relents from sending calamity.” Joel 2:13
Sometimes God takes drastic measures to get our attention. When the Israelites turned away from Him, giving Him lip service while worshipping their idols, He allowed them to be attacked and besieged by their enemies. Ultimately, He allowed them to be taken away into captivity in foreign lands. The prophet Joel was writing at a time when Jerusalem was under siege by the Babylonians. But God said there was still hope, if they would just return to Him. This had happened once before, when the Assyrians had conquered the Northern Kingdom and were besieging Jerusalem. Hezekiah, the king at the time, prayed to God, the people repented, and God sent the destroying angel to decimate the Assyrian army.
When it all boils down, God wants our heart, not our outward actions only. We can do all kinds of things outwardly – rending our garments, as it were (a sign of mourning and distress) – but if our heart isn’t in the same place, then nothing has really changed. God doesn’t delight in seeing us go through hard times. He is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and abounding in love. And He will relent from sending calamity, if we would just repent and get back on track with Him!

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Humble yourself

“Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up.” James 4:10
God’s way of thinking and working is often the complete opposite of the world’s. One example that comes up frequently throughout the Bible is that of humility. Humility is often seen as weakness by the world, and is often confused with low self-esteem. The world will tell us, if we want to get ahead, we need to push ourselves forward, to look out for number one. But Jesus tells us otherwise. We read about the parable of the wedding feast, and how it is better to sit at a low table and be invited to come to the top table, than to take a seat at the top table and be asked to move to a lower table. We are instructed to consider others as better than ourselves (Phil 2:3). When it comes to us relating to God, we have two choices: to fall down before Him voluntarily, or to have His judgement fall upon us (Matt. 21:44, Luke 20:18).
If we will humble ourselves before God, He will lift us up. It may not be within our lifetime here on earth. But He will reward each of us in heaven for our faithfulness.
Jesus Himself was the ultimate example of what it means to humble ourselves. Here was God the Son, who voluntarily became a human. He began life as a vulnerable baby, born in a stable, to parents so poor they could not afford a lamb for an offering at His circumcision (Luke 2:22-24, c.f. Lev. 12:8), raised in the backwater town of Nazareth (c.f. John 1:46), trained as a carpenter. During His ministry He had “nowhere to lay His head” (Matt. 8:20, Luke 9:58). Then He suffered the death of a criminal, by crucifixion. You can’t get any lower than that. But “God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:9-11). Hallelujah!

Friday, August 5, 2011

Resisting the devil

“Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.” James 4:7
There are some people today who are all about fighting the devil, seeking to cast him out from every situation that isn’t going their way. It’s true that in Christ we stand victorious over him (1 Cor. 15:57), because He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4). But today’s verse doesn’t say anything about casting out Satan. It says to resist him. And this is not even the first port of call. First and foremost, we are to submit to God. As we do so, Satan will attack us – you can be sure of that. But if we stand firm in our faith and resist him, he will flee from us.
Consider how Jesus responded when Satan tempted Him in the wilderness. He was in the wilderness because the Holy Spirit had led Him there (Matt. 4:1). Satan tempted Him with three things: turning stones into bread, to satisfy His physical need; throwing Himself down from the temple to prove that He was God; and bowing down to worship him. In all three cases, Jesus resisted, and responded with the Word of God. He did not ‘bind’ him, or curse him, or speak out in tongues against him. We should take note from His example the next time we are tempted. Stand firm in faith, in Christ, and in the Word of God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you. We already have the victory over him.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Reasons why God doesn’t answer prayer (2)

“When you ask, you do not receive, because you ask with wrong motives, that you may spend what you get on your pleasures.” James 4:3 There are several reasons why God doesn’t answer prayer*. According to Ps. 66:18-19, one reason is if we are holding on to sin in our hearts. Another is here: if we ask with wrong motives. Prayer is like so many other activities that we can engage in. God doesn’t care how we do it or where we do it, He cares about why we are doing it. In Matt. 6:5-6 Jesus tells us that if we pray loud and long in order to be seen by other people, then we have already received our reward (being seen by people). Instead, if we want to be rewarded by God, we should pray discreetly and privately, locking ourselves in a closet if need be. I don’t know about you, but I’m constantly checking my motivations behind doing things. I find myself asking, ‘Why am I praying for this?’ Today’s verse tells us that if we pray selfishly, asking for things to please ourselves, we won’t receive. Yes, God wants to bless us, but He won’t give in to our every whim. He isn’t Santa Claus. When we pray, we should be seeking His will – because it’s the prayer prayed in accordance with His will that is answered (1 John 5:14). *See other posts here and here.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Sowing and reaping

“Sow for yourselves righteousness, reap the fruit of unfailing love, and break up your unploughed ground; for it is time to seek the Lord, until He comes and showers righteousness on you.” Hosea 10:12
Just as there are physical laws that we encounter (the law of gravity, the laws of thermodynamics, etc.), there are also spiritual laws. One of these that is mentioned throughout the Bible, is that of sowing and reaping. There are three things we need to know about how this law works.
Firstly, the reaping always comes after the sowing. And it might not be immediate. Just as there are months that pass by after sowing seeds in a field until the grain or vegetables can be harvested, so too with spiritual things that we sow, the reaping can come long after the sowing. This works in both positive and negative things that we sow.
Secondly, what we reap is always of the same kind. We read in Gal. 6:8, “The one who sows to please his sinful nature, from that nature will reap destruction; the one who sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life.” If we want a harvest of righteousness, as Hosea tells us in today’s verse, we’d better start sowing it.
Thirdly, we always reap more than what we sow. Again, this works for both positive and negative things. If we sow discord, gossip, and bitterness, it will come back to bite us ten times as hard. But if we sow love, we will receive even more. What are you sowing today?

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

The author of Hebrews

“Greet all your leaders and all God’s people. Those from Italy send you their greetings. Grace be with you all.” Hebrews 13:24-25
Hebrews 13:25 may give us an indication as to who the author of Hebrews was. “Grace be with you” was Paul’s sign-off. It appears at the end of all the other epistles that he wrote: Rom. 16:20, 1 Cor. 16:23, 2 Cor. 13:14, Gal. 6:18, Eph. 6:24, Phil. 4:23, Col. 4:18, 1 Thess. 5:28, 2 Thess. 3:18, 1 Tim. 6:21, 2 Tim. 4:22, Tit. 3:15, Phm. 1:25. It is not used by any of the other New Testament writers (James, Peter, John).
We also know some other things about the author. He worked with Timothy (Heb. 13:23). Certainly the readers knew who he was (Heb. 13:19). We also know that Paul longed to minister to the Jews (Rom. 9:1-4, Rom. 11:13-14). But given the hatred of the non-believing Jews towards him wherever he went – they saw him as a traitor to their religion – it would make sense that if Paul did write a letter to his own people, he would not sign it by name. The writer of the book of Hebrews also shows mastery in Hebrew logic and a deep knowledge of the priesthood and temple service – something that would be expected from a Pharisee, as Paul was. In addition, Peter mentions that Paul did write to Jewish believers (2 Pet. 3:15).
Other suggestions as to the authorship of Hebrews have included Apollos, Barnabas, and Priscilla, but with little Scriptural backing to support these.
If you happen to disagree with me on this, I must apologise and say that I don’t want it to be a stumbling-block! Regardless of who the human writer was, the book of Hebrews is ultimately inspired by the Holy Spirit.

Monday, August 1, 2011

God's plan for marriage

“Marriage should be honoured by all, and the marriage bed kept pure, for God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral.” Hebrews 13:4
Here’s a principle reiterated over and over in God’s Word, with this verse being perhaps the clearest in the Bible, that is just as relevant today as it ever was. Yet in our western society, marriage is on the decline. If you were to take a survey of people on whether marriage is important, you’d be left with an overwhelming sense that peole don’t think it matters if you’re married or not, there’s nothing wrong with living together, that marriage is ‘old-fashioned’, and what’s the point in getting married because in five years’ time they’ll most likely be with another person anyway. If you were to ask them about sex, you’d find that most people don’t think anything of it; sure there are still some who wait ‘for the right person’, but it’s only a small subset of these who wait until after they are married. (Consider how people comment that getting married at 22 or 23 is 'too young', but someone who is still a virgin at 22 or 23 is seen as weird.) ‘Sex education’ in schools is becoming just that – expecting that kids are already engaging in it. People think nothing of having multiple sexual partners and some even boast about it.
But the Bible shows how we should think about these things. Marriage should be honoured by all – that means everybody, not just believers. Marriage is a binding covenant. And a marriage is different to a wedding – a wedding is one day, but marriage is the long-haul: for better or worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health. We also read that the marriage bed should be kept pure. There’s no other way of saying this: the Bible teaches that sex before marriage is wrong. Next we go on to read that God will judge the adulterer and all the sexually immoral. Any sexual activity that is not between a husband and his wife, is sin. God created sex: for procreation, for enjoyment, for a picture of unity. He also knew how addictive it is and therefore He placed it firmly within the boundaries of marriage. Sex is more than just a physical act. We read in Gen. 2:24 that the man and his wife became one flesh. When we join ourselves to another person in this way, we give away half of ourselves as the two become one. The more sexual partners you have, the more of yourself you are giving away. If you’ve been living like this, it’s not too late to change. It’s not too late to stop what you are doing and seek God’s forgiveness.