Monday, October 31, 2011

Seeing the big picture

“So then, it was not you who sent me here, but God. He made me father to Pharaoh, lord of his entire household and ruler of all Egypt.” Genesis 45:8
The story of how Joseph was reunited with his brothers is one of my favourites in the Bible. The famine that had struck Egypt, as shown to Pharaoh in his dreams, which Joseph interpreted, was also affecting the land of Canaan. Jacob sends ten of his sons to Egypt to buy food. Joseph recognises them instantly, but they don’t recognise him. He sets a series of tests – putting the silver back in their sack, taking Simeon away and imprisoning him, and demanding that they bring their youngest brother to him (Benjamin, who of course was Jacob’s full brother, them both being sons of Rachel). Finally, when Joseph knows that their attitude has changed towards how their father expressed favouritism towards one son (himself, and then Benjamin), he reveals to them who he really is. They are in shock – and who wouldn’t be. Here was their brother, whom they had sold as a slave. What would he do to them now?
But Joseph had forgiven them in his heart long before this moment. He was not going to take revenge on them for what they did (and he had to reassure them of this fact on several occasions, see Gen. 50:15-21). How was he able to do this? Because he had seen the bigger picture. He saw God’s plan in the situation. God needed to get him to Egypt somehow, before the famine struck. God needed to get him in a place where he would be noticed by Pharaoh. And God also needed to humble him, so that he could become great. That’s what the slavery and imprisonment were all about.
There’s a powerful lesson here for us today. It’s easy for us to focus on our immediate situation, and forget to look at the big picture of what God is working out. It’s easy for us to despise the small things – the seemingly insignificant tasks we are given to do – but we shouldn’t (Zech. 4:10). And we need to remember that in all things, God is working for good (Rom. 8:28). That’s what He did with Joseph, and that’s what He will do for us too. Life is not a sequence of random events – God is in control of everything that happens to us.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

Give to Caesar

“and [Jesus] asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’ ‘Caesar’s,’ they replied. Then He said to them, ‘Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.’” Matthew 22:20-21
In Matt. 22:15-22 we see one of the many ways in which the Pharisees tried to trap Jesus by His own words. They asked Him the question, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?” If Jesus said it was right, He would become unpopular with the crowds, who resented the Romans and their heavy taxation. But if He said it was not right, they would go straight to the Roman authorities and tell them that Jesus was stirring up rebellion against them.
But Jesus does not answer ‘yes’ or ‘no’. Instead, He asks them to show Him a coin. The coin, of course, had Caesar’s name and picture on it. Then He utters the words, “Give to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”
The picture and inscription implies ownership. Just as we write our children’s names on their clothing so that everyone knows who it belongs to, God has written His name on us (Rev. 3:12). We are made in His image and in His likeness (Gen. 1:26) – we bear the image of God. The coin bore Caesar’s name and image; it belonged to him, and therefore, Jesus said, what is Caesar’s should be given to Caesar. But we bear God’s name and His image, and we are to give ourselves to God (putting Him first in our lives, living to please Him).

Saturday, October 29, 2011

Joseph and Potiphar

“Joseph found favour in his eyes and became his attendant. Potiphar put him in charge of his household, and he entrusted to his care everything he owned.” Genesis 39:4
Joseph is one of the most exemplary characters of the Old Testament. Here we see him, still a young man (probably about seventeen, see Gen. 37:2), having been sold by his brothers as a slave and taken to Egypt. But God was with him the whole way, and he found favour in Potiphar’s house.
What we learn about Joseph from this episode is that he was trustworthy, and had integrity. It was not long before Potiphar’s wife started showing an interest in him (Gen. 39:7). But despite this constant temptation, he resisted. He had already made up his mind about it: to do what she was asking was a wicked thing and a sin against God (Gen. 39:9). Joseph did what all of us should do in such a situation: he removed himself from it (Gen. 39:10).
When Potiphar’s wife saw that she could not tempt him, she accused him falsely to anyone and everyone (Gen. 39:13-18). We read that Potiphar was angry and had Joseph put in the prison, and get the impression that he believed his wife, that Joseph had tried to take advantage of her. But if this were really the case, he would not have put him in the prison but would have had him executed. It is more likely that Potiphar was angry with the situation, and how he had to do something to Joseph in order to save face, but that would mean losing the best attendant he had ever had.
Joseph was a pawn in this drama, but God was with him the whole way. He submitted to becoming a servant, and he did not defend himself when he was falsely accused, instead, letting God take care of things on his behalf. Jesus did the same thing... and we should, too.

Friday, October 28, 2011

God is always with you

“I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken.” Psalm 16:8
Have you set the Lord always before you? That is, are you conscious of Him being with you and being involved in everything that you do and everywhere you go? After all, He is. He hears every conversation that you have, He sees every TV programme and movie that you watch, He is with you on the sports field or out on the town, in the classroom and at the supermarket. If this makes you feel uncomfortable, you need to ask yourself why. Are there things that you do or watch, that you would be embarrassed to watch if Jesus was bodily sitting next to you?
The flip side of this coin, is that knowing God’s presence is with us at all times gives us great encouragement and strength. To be at someone’s right hand is to be the most important person in their life. Is Jesus your ‘right hand man’?
This verse should remind us to always be conscious of God always being with us – through the good times and the bad. With Him, we can face anything that life throws at us.

Thursday, October 27, 2011

The rich young ruler

“All these I have kept”, the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Matthew 19:20
In Matt. 19:16-22 we see the dialogue between Jesus and a rich young man, who came to Jesus asking, “What good thing must I do to get eternal life?” (Matt. 19:16). Jesus knew what was in the man’s heart, of course, just as He knew what was in everyone’s heart (John 2:25). So He leads him along a path of self-examination. First He says, “If you want to enter life, obey the commandments” (Matt. 19:17). The man asks, “Which ones?” Jesus responds by quoting some of the Ten Commandments, and it’s interesting to note the commandments that He lists: Do not murder (6th commandment), do not steal (8th commandment), do not give false testimony (9th commandment), honour your father and mother (5th commandment), and love your neighbour as yourself (which He said was the second most important commandment, after ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ (see Matt. 22:37-39).
But then the man replied, “All these I have kept. What do I still lack?” He knew that he still lacked something, and he believed that Jesus had it. Then Jesus responded by challenging him to sell everything he had and give to the poor, then to follow Him (Matt. 19:21). He is touching on the 10th commandment: you shall not covet. This was something the man could not let go of, and he went away sad (Matt. 19:22).
There are several lessons here for us. Firstly, if you know that you are lacking something, you should come to Jesus. He will meet your needs – especially your spiritual needs. Secondly, it is possible to covet your own wealth. It’s human nature to want to get what we can, and can what we get – not sharing it with anyone else. But God commands us to be generous with everyone (1 Tim. 6:18, Prov. 11:25). After all, everything we have belongs to Him anyway. It’s wrong for us to try and keep it all for ourselves.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Benefits of being single

“Jesus replied, ‘Not everyone can accept this word, but only those to whom it has been given. For some are eunuchs because they were born that way; others were made that way by men; and others have renounced marriage because of the kingdom of heaven. The one who can accept this should accept it.’” Matthew 19:11-12
This is a verse that is difficult to take in, so it’s just as well Jesus started by saying, ‘Not everyone can accept this word.’ However it’s one that I have come to be able to accept, as someone who is single, so for that reason I’d like to share with you what it means to me.
First we come across the word ‘eunuch’. Traditionally, a eunuch was a castrated man, employed as a guard over a king’s harem. By extension it came to mean a royal official. It can also be used more generally of an unmarried person, and this verse can be interpreted in this way.
So what Jesus is saying is that a single life is not for everyone, but those who can live a single life, should. Paul said a similar thing: “I would like you to be free from concern. An unmarried man is concerned about the Lord’s affairds – how he can please the Lord. But a married man is concerned about the affairs of this world – how he can please his wife – and his interests are divided. An unmarried woman or virgin is concerned about the Lord’s affairs: Her aim is to be devoted to the Lord in both body and spirit. But a married woman is concerned about the affairs of this world – how she can please her husband. I am saying this for your own good, not to restrict you, but that you may live in a right way in undivided devotion to the Lord” (1 Cor. 7:32-35). One of the major benefits of being single is that your focus can be completely on God and serving Him.
“Now to the unmarried and the widows I say: It is good for them to stay unmarried, as I am. But if they cannot control themselves, they should marry, for it is better to marry than to burn with passion” (1 Cor. 7:8-9). At the time Paul wrote this letter, he was single (some say he must have been married at an earlier time, because he was a member of the Sanhedrin, which required him to be married). This also shows an aspect that has plagued the Catholic church by enforcing celibacy on its ministers. Marriage is not a sin; if you are strongly desiring to be married, then you should do so (being led by the Lord, and marrying a believer, of course). After all, God instituted marriage in the first place. “But if you do marry, you have not sinned; and if a virgin marries, she has not sinned. But those who marry will face many troubles in this life, and I want to spare you this” (1 Cor. 7:28).
Singleness can be hard at times, especially when your friends and siblings are all getting married; you can literally be the ‘odd one out’. It is something that you need to be sure that God has called you to. It can be lonely, sometimes. But it’s in those times that God will minister to you in a special way, when you cry out to Him. So if you are single, and this verse speaks to you, rejoice and serve God with all that you have. In heaven, there is no marriage or married couples (Matt. 22:30). Our focus will be on serving God. So living a single life now, is kind of like a head start for heaven.
This post is a little more personal than usual, so if you can identify with this, please feel free to leave a comment...

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Where two or three are gathered

“For where two or three come together in My name, there am I with them.” Matthew 18:20
We often think this verse means that when we get together with a bunch of Christian friends to hang out, Jesus is there, hanging out with us. While there is a special unity that Christians share, that’s not what this verse is referring to. Coming together in His name means much more than just physically spending time with other believers. It conveys a sense of coming together for a purpose, in unity – coming together for prayer, or worship; things where Jesus is at the forefront. It’s those times when Jesus promises to be with us. Sure, He is with us all the time, even when we are by ourselves (Matt. 28:20, Heb. 13:5). But He is with us in a special, dynamic way when we gather with other Christian brothers and sisters for prayer and worship, being led by the Spirit. This is why we can’t afford to go through the Christian life solo – we lose this dynamic.
So it’s important to gather together, but also note how many are needed – only two or three! Jesus doesn’t require a minimum of twenty, or two hundred, in order for Him to turn up to a prayer meeting. He’s not about the numbers; but He is about unity within the numbers that are there. So next time you’re joining one or two other believers for prayer, be encouraged – Jesus is with you.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Who are you living for?

“Then Jesus said to His disciples, ‘If anyone would come after Me, he must deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for Me will find it. What good will it be for a man if he gains the whole world, yet forfeits his soil? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?’” Matthew 16:24-26
In life, we have a choice who we live for. We can live for the Lord, or we can live for ourselves. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been a Christian for; we all ought to stop regularly and check where our hearts are at on this.
We may know intellectually that Jesus has redeemed us – He has bought us – out of the cesspool of sin that we were in, with no hope of saving ourselves. We may know that in so doing, He has given us the destiny of spending eternity in heaven with Him. We know that we should be living for His kingdom and for His glory. But do these truths get lived out in our lives? Have we committed every moment to Him?
I’m not saying that all Christians should quit their jobs, work full-time for the church or go into missions, sell all they have and give it to the poor. Our workplaces are often part of God’s plan: they can be our mission field. God may have given you special abilities, and by working in your job you are using them. The key here is not to get pulled into the world’s way of thinking about your job – on one hand that ‘it pays the bills’, or on the other that it’s a way you can get ahead of other people. Also with your possessions: you can use them for God’s kingdom. Invite people to your house for meals, lend them your books and tools, without expecting to receive anything back in return. And as often as you have opportunity, use your lifestyle as a witness that you are living for God. People will notice.
At the end of the day, only the things that we do for the Lord with the right motives, will count. The rest will be burned up as straw (1 Cor. 3:12-15). To gain true life, we must give up our lives – setting our own goals aside and pursuing God with everything that we have.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Spiritual jargon

“Jesus replied, ‘And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition?’” Matthew 15:3
In Matt. 15:1-9 we see the Pharisees coming to Jesus, criticising His disciples for not washing their hands according to the tradition of the elders. This was an elaborate procedure, washing the hands up to three times with the water running in various directions over the palm or back of the hand. While there is a time and place for tradition, it is never to come at the expense of keeping God’s commands. Jesus gives an example of how the Pharisees were deliberately breaking the command of God and justifying themselves using spiritual jargon. God’s command says we are to honour our father and mother. But the Pharisees had found a way around this: you were excused from helping your parents out by saying that the money was ‘Corban’, or, dedicated to God (see Mark 7:11). Jesus gave more examples of this kind of hypocrisy in Matt. 23.
But we need to ask ourselves: do we do the same thing? Do we hold onto man-made traditions, and fail to keep the word of God in the process? One example might be tithing/giving. We might have made this into a ritualistic thing, setting aside 10% (or whatever proportion) of our income to give to the ministry. It might have become a ‘ho-hum’ thing, where we just do it because it’s what we’ve always done. But God tells us to give generously and with gladness in our heart, because it is to be an offering out of our appreciation for Him. It’s not the amount that God is interested in; it’s our attitude.
Do we justify our selfishness with spiritual jargon? This could be saying things like, ‘God knows I didn’t mean what I said’, instead of humbling ourselves and asking for forgiveness if we have offended someone; or telling people ‘The Bible says, ‘Judge not’!’ when they draw your attention to some character flaw (that you know about, but refuse to deal with). None of us are perfect; we can all do better at keeping God’s Word and living it out in our lives.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Watering the camels

“May it be that when I say to a girl, ‘Please let down your jar that I may have a drink,’ and she says, ‘Drink, and I’ll water your camels too’ – let her be the one You have chosen for Your servant Isaac. By this I will know that You have shown kindness to my master.” Genesis 24:14
Genesis 24 tells us the story of how Rebekah came to be Isaac’s wife. Abraham called his most senior servant to return to his family in Aram and find a wife from among his relatives. The servant obeyed, and upon coming to the town, he went to the well and asked God to show him which of the girls was the one He had chosen. The sign he asked for was that she would willingly offer to water all his camels.
Since we don’t have the background of that culture, let me explain: a thirsty camel can drink up to 200 litres of water. This servant had ten camels (Gen. 24:10), which could mean the girl was offering to draw 2000 litres of water from the well, or about 530 gallons. That’s a lot of water!
As we know, Rebekah came to the well and offered to draw water for the camels. She hadn’t heard the servant’s prayer and didn’t know what the reward was for doing so. She was simply showing hospitality to a stranger. Similarly for us: the book of Hebrews tells us, “Do not forget to entertain strangers, for by so doing some people have entertained angels without knowing it” (Heb. 13:2). Showing hospitality should be a characteristic of our lives as Christians. We should be going out of our way for others – you don’t know who they are. They might be the person with that once-in-a-lifetime opportunity that God has for you, or they might even be an angel. But of course, our motivation should not be for what we can get out of it, but out of our love and gratitude to God.

Friday, October 21, 2011

What's in your heart?

“You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks.” Matthew 12:34
The Bible talks about the heart quite a lot, and while we understand that it’s not referring to the physical organ that pumps blood around our body, sometimes it’s difficult to put your finger on what exactly it is. The heart is different to the soul – the two can be divided (Heb. 4:12). God refers to giving us a new heart (Ezek. 36:26). Here’s the way I’ve come to view it. Each person is comprised of spirit, soul, and body. The body contains the soul – the personality. Similarly, the soul contains the spirit, or heart. For an unsaved person, their spirit is dead, but for a saved person, their spirit has been given life through Jesus Christ. The Greek word for soul is psyche, from which we get ‘psychology’. But psychology can only go so far: to the soul level. It cannot probe the deepest levels of a person’s heart and spirit.
But there is one way we can tell what is in someone’s heart – or our own, for that matter. What is coming out of their mouth? If their words are uplifting, focused on God and not themselves, true, pure, right, etc. (Phil. 4:18), then you can be pretty sure that their spirit is alive and connected to the living God. If on the other hand, their words are harsh, biting, selfish, sarcastic, belittling, or full of foul language and sexual innuendo, this could well be an indication that they are not saved. At the end of the day, only God knows for sure where each person stands with Him. But the words that come out of our mouths are an overflow of what is going on in our heart. By our fruit, we will be known (Matt. 7:16-20, see also Heb. 13:15).

Thursday, October 20, 2011

The offering of Isaac

“Then God said, ‘Take your son, your only son, Isaac, whom you love, and go to the region of Moriah. Sacrifice him there as a burnt offering on one of the mountains I will tell you about.’” Genesis 22:2
Genesis 22 gives us the famous account of how Abraham was instructed by God to sacrifice his son Isaac. As we know, at the last possible moment, God called it off and showed Abraham a ram to sacrifice instead. But this episode is about much, much more than a test of the depth of Abraham’s faith and his loyalty to God.
There is great symbolism contained within this chapter. In verse two there are two interesting points to note about what God says. Firstly, He calls Isaac Abraham’s ‘only son’. But as we know, Ishmael was thirteen years older than Isaac. However, as far as God was concerned, Isaac was the son He had promised to Abraham (Gal. 4:23), and thus was his ‘only son’. Secondly, we note the phrase, ‘whom you love’. This is the first mention of the word ‘love’ in the Bible. Together, these aspects are very reminiscent of John 3:16 – “For God so loved the world that He gave His one and only Son”. Thus the offering of Isaac was prophetic of how God the Father would sacrifice His own Son.
And Abraham knew this. He named the place so, “The Lord will provide” (Gen. 22:14). And indeed, it was on that very same mountain that Jesus was crucified.
Abraham had faith in God through all of this. He had faith that God would provide a Messiah through his own family line. He had faith that God would fulfil His promise. He didn’t argue with God for being contradictory: saying that through Isaac he would be the father of many nations, and then asking him to sacrifice him. Instead, he “reasoned that God could raise the dead, and figuratively speaking, he did receive Isaac back from death” (Heb. 11:19).

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A little lower than the angels

“You made him a little lower than the heavenly beings and crowned him with glory and honour.” Psalm 8:5
Psalm 8 is a reminder to us of where man fits into God’s creation. Compared to the majesty of the universe, man seems rather pathetic. “When I consider Your heavens, the work of Your fingers, the moon and the stars, which You have set in place, what is man that You are mindful of him, the son of man that You care for him?” (Ps. 8:3-4). There have been times when I have stood outside and looked up at the night sky and wondered why God cares about me – one little human sitting on one little planet orbiting around one little star, while at the same time He has the whole universe to take care of. But the fact of the matter is, He does – and He doesn’t just know that we exist; He doesn’t just know facts about us (like how many hairs are on our head); He knows us completely, inside and out, and He is intimately involved with our lives. In verse 5 of Psalm 8 we read that He made man a little lower than the angels, and crowned him with glory and honour. When Adam was created, he was given dominion over the earth (Gen. 1:28). We read about the ‘anthropic principle’, the observation that every physical parameter about the earth and even the universe, is optimised for man to live on planet Earth. Indeed, man is the pinnacle of God’s creation.
In Heb. 2:6-9, the author to the Hebrews quotes this passage, relating it to Jesus. Although He was God, He was made a little lower than the angels when He became a man. What a demotion that was! But at the same time, this act shows the depth of God’s love for us – that He would send His only Son to rescue us.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Greater than John

“I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than John the Baptist; yet he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” Matthew 11:11
At first glance, this statement by Jesus seems to be a contradiction. How can John the Baptist be the greatest man who had arisen, but the least person in the kingdom of heaven be greater than him?
We need to realise that there are two groups of people in view here. John is called the last of the Old Testament prophets (Matt. 11:13). When we look at a list of the prophets of the Old Testament, we come up with names such as Elijah, Daniel, Jeremiah, Isaiah, Ezekiel, Jonah, etc. John is greater than all these: because he was the one who heralded the coming of Messiah. The others prophesied about Him, but John was the one who pointed directly at Him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29).
But then we read, “he who is least in the kingdom of heaven is greater than he.” The kingdom of heaven is a term used by Jesus referring to the time after His coming. It encompasses the church, because Jesus is King in the hearts of His followers. (By ‘the church’ I am referring to all true believers in Jesus Christ, all over the world, from the time of Pentecost to the Rapture.) Everyone who is part of this group of believers is greater than John: because they have taken the opportunity to believe in Christ who has already come.
We read similar thoughts in the books of John and Hebrews. “Then Jesus told [Thomas], ‘Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed’” (John 20:29). Are you one of those who have believed in Jesus, yet have not seen Him? Then you are being referred to here!
“These [Old Testament believers] were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect” (Heb. 11:39-40). We have a fantastic opportunity that the Old Testament saints did not have. Where they looked forward, we can look back on the finished work of Christ.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Standing firm to the end

“All men will hate you because of Me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved.” Matthew 10:22
This verse comes from Jesus’ commission to His twelve disciples, as He sent them out for a short-term missions trip into Israel. But it’s just as applicable to us today, and it contains two certainties that we always need to bear in mind.
The first of these is that “all men will hate you because of Me”. It’s a fact that as soon as you start to live your life 100% for Jesus, you’ll start to cop flak from the world around you. The reason is because you are now shining forth the light of Christ, which the people of this world (meaning, those who follow the mindset of the world, living for pleasure and living for themselves) find an irritation. John wrote, “This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but men loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that his deeds will be exposed” (John 3:19-20).
The second is a promise: “but he who stands firm to the end will be saved”. The Bible has a lot to say about the rewards we receive for persevering in the faith. We read in Hebrews, “We have come to share in Christ if we hold firmly till the end the confidence we had at first” (Heb. 3:14). We have help in doing this: “[Jesus Christ] will keep you strong to the end, so that you will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 1:8). Are you standing firm?

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Your faith has healed you

“Just then a woman who had been subject to bleeding for twelve years came up behind Him and touched the edge of His cloak. She said to herself, ‘If I only touch His cloak, I will be healed.’
“Jesus turned and saw her. ‘Take heart, daughter’, He said, ‘your faith has healed you.’ And the woman was healed from that moment.” Matthew 9:20-22

Today we read the account of the woman with the issue of blood, who pressed through the crowd to touch Jesus’ cloak as He was on His way to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead. It’s easy to misunderstand what happened, because we usually only look at the external actions and fail to see what is happening in the woman’s heart.
Jesus tells us what healed her. It was her faith. But faith by itself is nothing; faith must be in something. What was her faith in? As we read this, we might think that her faith was in Jesus’ clothes, that somehow she thought they had magic powers. But if that were the case, she would not have been healed. No, her faith was in Jesus, that He had the power to heal her. Touching His garment provided a point of release for her faith, knowing she would be healed when she did it. A similar account of people being healed by touching someone’s clothing can be found in Acts 19:11-12, where items of clothing that Paul had touched were laid on sick people and they were healed. Again, these items provided a point of release for the sick person’s faith in God as their healer.
The same thing still happens today. This is why the Bible tells us to have the elders lay hands on the sick and anoint them with oil (James 5:14-15); it provides a point of release for their faith. The important thing is not to confuse the source of the healing. All healing comes from God, through faith in Him.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Why are you so afraid?

“[Jesus] replied, ‘You of little faith, why are you so afraid?’ Then He got up and rebuked the winds and the waves, and it was completely calm.” Matthew 8:26
Today’s verse comes from the well-known passage where Jesus and His disciples are sailing across the Sea of Galilee, when a violent storm bears down upon them. Jesus is sleeping in the boat, but the disciples are panicking. They wake Him up, saying, “Lord, save us!” Then He responds, “You of little faith, why are you so afraid?”
A storm can be frightening, all the more so when you are out on the water and your boat is being swamped. But Jesus was not bothered by the storm – He was soundly sleeping through it. (It has been suggested that the storm was actually Satanic in nature, because when Jesus arose, we read, He rebuked the wind and the waves – the same word used for when He rebuked demons.)
The disciples showed a lack of faith. Jesus was with them, but they thought the boat was going to sink. They were fearing for their lives, yet the One who had given them life was right there with them.
Jesus says the same to us today. He has promised that He is always with us (Matt. 28:20), that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5), and that He is the same yesterday, today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). Why are we afraid, if we know that He is with us? We need to get our eyes off the wind and the waves, and look to our Lord who is always right there.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The narrow road

“Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it.” Matthew 7:13-14
Christians are often accused of being narrow-minded and intolerant when it comes to describing who goes to heaven and who doesn’t. But we have good reason to be: Jesus Himself said so. “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through Me” (John 14:6). He tells us here that the road to eternal life is narrow, and you get there by a small gate (the gate, of course, being Jesus – see John 10:7). “Salvation is found in no-one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). The road to hell, on the other hand, is broad and with a wide gate. It welcomes people of all lifestyles and worldviews. It does not exclude anyone. Its motto is tolerance of all.
So if you find yourself on a road of life with lots of other people, it might be time to check how big the gate was that you went through!
If this is hard for you to stomach, think about the flip side: we should be thankful that God provided a way at all, for us to be saved. If a doctor told you that you had a life-threatening condition, would you prefer for him or her to prescribe the one form of treatment that would cure you, or to tell you that it didn’t matter what you did, that you could try eating more spinach or taking up knitting and see what happened? The answer should be obvious. Here’s the thing: we all do have an (eternal) life-threatening condition: it’s called sin. Ignoring it, or trying to placate God by engaging in religious activities, will not help you at all. There is only one form of treatment that will cure it: faith in Jesus Christ.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

The purpose of prayer

“And when you pray, do not keep on babbling like pagans, for they think they will be heard because of their many words. Do not be like them, for your Father knows what you need before you ask Him.” Matthew 6:7-8
We can come across a verse like this and think, ‘Why bother praying, if God already knows what we need?’ Such a thought shows that we don’t really understand what prayer is all about. Prayer is not about informing God of anything – because He knows everything. He knows about your situation and your needs. He knows about the hurt you are feeling, the pressure you are under, the worries that you have. Neither is prayer about bringing a shopping list to God of things that we need, things that we want, or things that would be nice to have.
Prayer is God’s way of getting us to keep communicating with Him. Yes He knows what we need, but He has also said that the condition for us receiving it, is that we must ask Him (Matt. 21:22, John 16:24). In the model prayer Jesus gave His disciples, He instructed them to pray, “Give us today our daily bread” (Matt. 6:11). We need to be coming to God regularly, frequently, daily, in prayer.
Prayer helps us to get our focus off ourselves and onto God. We know that God doesn’t answer prayers if we are holding on to sin in our hearts (Ps. 66:18-19), or if we ask with wrong motives (James 4:3), but He answers prayers that are in accordance with His will (1 John 5:14-15). As we pray, we develop God’s perspective and we are able to pray more effectively, because we can pray according to His will. Our will begins to conform to His. Prayer is not about us changing God’s mind about something; it’s about Him changing us into His image.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

God is in control of the climate

“As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.” Genesis 8:22
This is bound to be a popular topic, so let me say right from the outset that having read about ‘climate change’ and considering what the Bible says, what follows is simply my opinion on the matter.
Firstly, what does the Bible say?
1. God created the earth and set man over it to care for it and work it (Ps. 24:1, Gen. 1:28, Gen. 2:15).
2. The earth will endure because God sustains it (Col. 1:16-17, Gen. 8:22).
3. The earth will be destroyed, but not by man (2 Pet. 3:5-7, Rev. 16:8-9).
4. God will create a new earth (Isa. 64:17).
Secondly, what are the issues with Christians jumping on the climate change bandwagon? One of the biggest issues I have is that much of the thrust behind it is the worship of ‘Mother Nature’. For a Christian, this is bordering on idolatry. The first of the Ten Commandments is to have no other gods before God. Romans 1:25 says that worshipping the creation rather than the Creator is a characteristic of unbelievers who have been deceived. It’s easy to see how climate change is being billed as a great crisis which the whole world needs to unite together to fight against – thus possibly paving the way for a one-world government, founded on a one-world religion. Indeed, even today there are ‘interfaith’ organisations such as the ‘Christian-Muslim Youth Forum on Climate Change’. It is my strong belief that these are not organisations that believers should be a part of.
This is a summary of what I think. Each person should read into the issue and decide for themselves, whether climate change is actually happening or not.* Whatever conclusion you draw, don’t let the environment become an idol. We are not to abuse the environment, but we are not to worship it either. Ultimately God is in control.

*I would strongly recommend Michael Crichton’s book, State of Fear, which documents much of the scientific literature on this subject in a very readable form.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

The days of Noah

“The Lord saw how great man’s wickedness on the earth had become, and that every inclination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil all the time. The Lord was grieved that He had made man on the earth, and His heart was filled with pain.” Genesis 6:5-6
In Matt. 24:37 Jesus says, “As it was in the days of Noah, so it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” So it makes sense for us to study what the days of Noah were like.
The similarity is in the impending judgement that has been prophesied to come (the Flood in Noah’s day, and the Great Tribulation in the end times), and the general mindset of indifference that people had toward it. “For in the days before the flood, people were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, up to the day Noah entered the ark” (Matt. 24:38). For them it was business as usual; on God’s calendar, time was up.
We look around the world today and see things moving into place as required to fulfil various prophecies concerning the end times. The technology is in place to establish a cashless society, the mark of the beast, a one-world government. But the social environment is also moving into place: our world is getting to the point that man’s wickedness seems to know no bounds, and every inclination of the thoughts of people’s hearts are only evil, all the time. People criticise the Christians for being kill-joys; they want to be left alone to indulge in their wickedness without someone telling them that what they are doing is wrong. One day, and I believe it will be soon, they will have their wish. “And they know nothing about what would happen until the flood came and took them all away. That is how it will be at the coming of the Son of Man.” (Matt. 24:39)

Monday, October 10, 2011

Spiritual amputation

“If your right eye causes you to sin, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell.” Matthew 5:29
This topic is one that Jesus touches on several times (see this post on Matt. 18:8-9, also Mark 9:43). It sounds pretty extreme and shocking, and that’s why Jesus used it. It’s important to note that He is not talking about self-mutilation; otherwise the church throughout the ages would be characterised by people with missing eyes, hands, and feet. He uses this gruesome imagery as an illustration to show us how serious sin is.
Cutting off your own arm to save your life is not something that most of us would ever imagine doing. A few years ago, a mountain climber cut off his own arm to free himself when he became trapped. People who suffer from gangrene often have to make the decision to have their fingers or limbs amputated. If they don’t, the tissue rots and infects their bloodstream, and they die shortly afterwards.
Thinking about our own lives, is there anything gangrenous that we are hanging on to? If we refuse to cut it off, it will ultimately destroy us. This is what Jesus is talking about here. Just a little bit of sin, if allowed to remain, will eventually affect your whole life – and not just your life, but the lives of others around you, in your family and in the body of Christ. We have been called to live a holy life. That means getting rid of “the sin that so easily entangles, and... run with perseverance the race marked out for us” (Heb. 12:1).

Sunday, October 9, 2011

Sin starts in the heart

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Matthew 5:27-28
Most of the commands in the Old Testament concerned people’s actions. Do not lie, do not steal, do not commit adultery. This was why it was possible for the rich young man, when Jesus asked him if he had kept the commandment, to reply, “all these I have kept since I was a boy” (Mark 10:20). The Pharisees, the professional law-keepers, thought that they were the most righteous people on earth. After all, they not only kept these laws, but all the laws of the Talmud as well (washing their hands the correct way, not touching Gentiles, and so on). As a result, they became prideful and looked down on the people around them.
But they missed the point. What Jesus is telling us here, is that while the outward action is sinful, this is not where sin begins. He equates looking at a woman lustfully, with adultery. He equates getting angry with another person, with murder (Matt. 5:21-22). We might think these things, but not carry them out. Even so, we still entertained that thought – of wanting to hurt someone, of thinking of how we could tell an untruth, of figuring out how to take something without anybody noticing.
No, sin starts in the heart. We aren’t sinners because we sin. We sin because we are already sinners. We all have a sinful nature inside us, inherited from Adam. Because of this, none of us will be declared righteous apart from Jesus Christ, by our own actions, no matter how many good deeds we do. What we need is for that sinful nature to be replaced. And for that there is only one solution: to believe on Jesus, to invite Him in so that He can give us a new heart.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Nephilim

“The Nephilim were on the earth in those days – and also afterward – when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them. They were the heroes of old, men of renown.” Genesis 6:4
We read of the Nephilim on two general occasions in the Bible. The first is before the Flood of Noah (and, it seems, was one of the reasons God brought the Flood in the first place). The second is “also afterward” – when the Israelites entered the land of Canaan (Num. 13:33).
So what do we know about them? They were giants. We read of Goliath, who was 9 feet tall (1 Sam. 17:4), a Rephaite (see 2 Sam. 21:15-22 and 1 Chr. 20:4-8). We read of Og, the king of Bashan, who was also a Rephaite, whose bed was 13 feet long (Deut. 3:11). Thus the Rephaites, or Rephaim, were one of the Nephilim tribes. The Anakites (or Anakim, the descendants of Anak) were another (Deut. 13:28, 33).
The word ‘Nephilim’ comes from the Hebrew word naphal which means ‘to fall’. Thus the Nephilim were the ‘fallen ones’. They were produced, we are told, “when the sons of God went to the daughters of men and had children by them.” There is only one group in the Old Testament who are called the ‘sons of God’ – the bene Ha Elohim - and that is angels. (See Job 1:6, 2:1, 38:7.) Clearly these are fallen angels, for godly angels would not engage in this kind of sin, corrupting the human race. Jude and Peter refer to them in Jude 1:6 and 2 Pet. 2:4-5. Thus the Nephilim were the offspring of fallen angels and human women.
This also explains why God chose Noah and his family. We read “Noah was a righteous man, blameless among the people of his time” (Gen. 6:9). What the Hebrew actually says is that he was ‘perfect in his generations’. His genealogy had not been corrupted by these activities. And so God spared him through the flood, and used him to start the human race all over again. This also explains why the Israelites were instructed to kill every many, woman and child of these tribes in Canaan. God did not want the gene pool of His people, from whom He had promised the Messiah would come, to be corrupted by fallen angels.

This is a controversial topic, and there will be many who disagree. But if you would like to read more, I can recommend the following:
E.W. Bullinger, ‘The Companion Bible’, Appendix 23 and Appendix 25.

Friday, October 7, 2011

Not abolishing, but fulfilling

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Matthew 5:17
Many Christians today don’t bother reading the Old Testament, especially books like Leviticus and Deuteronomy, which, they say, are full of laws that applied to Israel but not to us. They say Jesus has done away with the Old Testament law. But Jesus says completely the opposite – He did not come to abolish the Old Testament (‘the Law and the Prophets’), but to fulfil it. “I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen [jot or tittle – the smallest parts of the Hebrew letters], will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18).
So the Old Testament still stands today. It is the standard that God requires of us. But here’s the thing: Jesus kept it perfectly, and He imputes that standard to us, if we believe on Him. What that means is that when God looks at us, He sees us as if we had kept the Law perfectly, just as Jesus did.
If Jesus had abolished the Law, He would have said, “You know, all that stuff about adultery and that, they don’t apply any more. I’ve come to show you a new way.” But He didn’t. Instead, He took those laws and amplified them: “You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt. 5:27-28). It’s relatively easy to refrain from committing adultery; it’s very difficult to stop a lustful thought from forming.
Jesus also fulfilled everything that the Old Testament sacrifices pointed to (He is our sin offering, 2 Cor. 5:21). He also fulfilled everything that the Old Testament feasts pointed to (being the Passover lamb, 1 Cor. 5:7, the firstfruits of the resurrection, 1 Cor. 15:10, the atoning sacrifice for our sin, 1 John 2:2, 1 John 4:10).
So the Old Testament law still stands, but now we live by a higher law: the law of love, the law of the Spirit.

Thursday, October 6, 2011

From fishermen to fishers of men

“As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, He saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. ‘Come, follow Me.’ Jesus said, ‘and I will make you fishers of men.’” Matthew 4:18-19
This is probably a well-known account to many of us: Jesus calls Peter and Andrew to follow Him. But there’s something in it for us, too. You see, Jesus called these two fishermen, and said He would make them ‘fishers of men’.
As fishermen, they had developed many skills. They knew where to look for the fish, depending on the time of day and the kind of weather. They knew what type of bait to use to attract each type of fish. They had developed the strength to pull in a full net, the ability to sail a boat, the craftsmanship required to make and mend nets.
Jesus would use all these skills that they already had, to make them effective for the kingdom of God. As fishers of men, they would get to know how to present the gospel to different kinds of people. They would know where to go to find the lost souls who needed to hear the message of salvation. And He does the same with us. Are you good at organising and administrating? Are you good at public speaking? Are you generous, with your money or your time? Are you able to problem-solve? God can use all of that for His kingdom.
God will use whatever skills you have. He didn’t take these fishermen and say, ‘I’ll make you into heavenly accountants and scribes’. No, He used Matthew – who had been a tax-collector - for that. And God won’t call you to do anything that He hasn’t given you the skill and the desire to do.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

When Satan tempted Jesus

“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil.” Matthew 4:1
We can read about the temptations that Jesus faced, and think, ‘That would have been easy for Him, because He is God.’ But the temptations were very real, and Jesus had to resist them as a man – He had to succeed where Adam had failed. Satan brought three temptations against Him; let’s look at them in some detail.
The first temptation was to turn the stones into bread (Matt. 3:3). It was a natural thing to want to do – Jesus had been fasting for forty days, and was hungry. During fasting, after the first few days, hunger goes away. But after about forty days it returns, and it is imperative that one eats at this stage. But Jesus resisted: to turn the stones into bread would be to use His own Divine power to help Himself. Jesus never did this during His earthly life – not at the temptation, and not at the cross.
The second temptation was to throw Himself down from the temple (Matt. 4:5-6). This may seem strange to us – how was this a temptation, on par with the first one? Satan knew that Jesus had come to deliver the people out of spiritual darkness to light. They were lost in sin and He had come to save them. By throwing Himself off the temple, He would certainly create a scene, and since (according to Satan) the angels would prevent Him from injury, this would be a surefire way to gather a following. But it would require Him to force God’s hand, something He was not prepared to do (Matt. 4:7).
The third temptation was to bow down to Satan in order to receive the kingdoms of the world (Matt. 4:8-9). At the time, Satan did have control over the world – the dominion God had given to Adam, had passed to him when Adam sinned. What Satan is offering Jesus is the reward He would receive from dying on the cross, without having to go through with it.
These weren’t the last temptations that Satan offered Jesus. But they show us the depth of commitment He had for us.

Tuesday, October 4, 2011

The fruit of repentance

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance.” Matthew 3:8
John the Baptist came with a message of repentance (Matt. 3:2, Mark 1:4, Acts 13:24, Acts 19:4). This was Jesus’ message too (Matt. 4:17). Repentance means to turn yourself around 180 degrees. Repentance is different from being sorry. We can be sorry that we were caught doing something wrong, because we don’t like being punished; but given the opportunity again, there would be nothing stopping us from repeating that action (and probably with a resolve to hide it better). Repentance means turning away from that thing, that action, that attitude, and making a conscious decision not to do it again. The word in Greek is metanoia, which means to reverse one’s decision, or change one’s way of thinking. We can be sorry for our sin all we like, but if we don’t repent and change our way of thinking about that sin, we will keep falling into it.
Now that we know what repentance means, we can talk about its fruit. The result of turning away from sin and refusing to indulge in it anymore, is a life that is vastly different to before. If we have truly repented, we will have a changed heart and a new attitude. We will develop humility. We will want to please God. Regarding sin, we will come to see it how God sees it. Then we will really want to stay away from it!
Another beautiful thing about repentance is that it’s not too late, and it’s not too hard. Allow the Holy Spirit to transform your mind (Rom. 12:2). If you make the first move in this direction, God will help you to follow through.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Inheriting the nations

“Ask of Me, and I will make the nations Your inheritance, the ends of the earth Your possession.” Psalm 2:8
This verse has been misunderstood and, I believe, misused – often with good intentions. You see, many people think it applies to the church. In 1999 Hillsong church wrote a song based on this, with the repeated lyric, ‘O Lord, we ask for the nations’.
So what is the problem with this? As always, we need to consider the context. The preceding verse tells us who this promise of the nations is given to: “I will proclaim the decree of the Lord: He said to Me, ‘You are My Son; today I have become Your Father’” (Ps. 2:7). There is only one person this can be referring to, and that is Jesus Christ. Also the following verse: “You will rule them with an iron sceptre” (Ps. 2:9), is also a reference to Jesus (see Rev. 19:15).
Yes, it is true that the saints will inherit the earth (Matt. 5:5). But they inherit it because they are in Christ, and He is the one who is given the nations by God (Rev. 2:26-27).

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Cain and Abel

“In the course of time Cain brought some of the fruits of the soil as an offering to the Lord. But Abel brought fat portions 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.” Genesis 4:3-5
At a first glance, it seems unfair to us why God would reject Cain’s offering. He was a farmer, so it made sense for him to offer to God something that he had produced; Abel was a shepherd, and so he brought an offering from his flock that he had produced.
It has been suggested that God had specified that any offering made to Him was to be a lamb (recalling how He had killed an animal to provide garments of skin for Adam and Eve). If this is the case, then Cain tried to change the rules, but God refused to accept his offering – as was His prerogative to do so. We also read that Abel brought fat portions (i.e. the best parts) from the firstborn of his flock. This would be written down as law by God through Moses (Ex. 13:2, etc.). Abel gave God his best; Cain just brought ‘some of the fruits’.
We also see a difference in response. Instead of repenting and seeking God as to why his offering was not accepted, Cain got angry and pouted. Instead of sorting things out in his own life, he let jealousy take over and he killed his brother Abel (Gen. 4:8).
There’s a lesson here for us. We can see God blessing other people, accepting their offerings, as it were, while to us He seems to be silent. We mustn’t get angry; instead we must seek God and repent. Also, God has specified in His Word how He is to be worshipped (see, for example, John 4:24). We would do well to follow His directions. Both our heart and our actions must be in the right place.

Saturday, October 1, 2011

Garments of skin

“The Lord God made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them.” Genesis 3:21
Genesis 3 tells us about the fall of man. It starts with Satan tempting Eve, who disobeyed the one command God had given and ate the fruit, giving some to Adam to eat too. After this we read, “Then the eyes of both of them were opened, and they realised they were naked; so they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Gen. 3:7). Then God comes walking through the garden, Adam and Eve hide themselves from Him, only to be confronted with what they had done. God curses the serpent (Gen. 3:14-15), the woman (Gen. 3:16), and the man (Gen. 3:17-19). But then He does something that might seem a bit strange: He makes garments of animal skins for Adam and Eve.
Why did God do this? It wasn’t because animal skins were more durable or warmer than the fig leaves they had used. Rather, it was to show them something. Up until this point, the world had not seen any death. But God took an animal and killed it in order to provide the skins that would clothe Adam and Eve. This animal had done nothing wrong – it was innocent. God was showing them that it was only by the shedding of innocent blood that they would be covered. This is a beautiful picture of the substitutionary death of Jesus, who would come to make atonement for the sin of the world.