Wednesday, November 30, 2011

What God has done for you

“The man from whom the demons had gone out begged to go with Him, but Jesus sent him away, saying, ‘Return home and tell how much God has done for you.’ So the man went away and told all over town how much Jesus had done for him.” Luke 8:38-39
Many people, especially those who come to Christ in their 20’s or 30’s, want to go into the ministry straight after their conversion. This is what this man, who was once possessed by a legion of demons (a Roman legion being 6,000 soldiers) and was so tormented that he lived like a wild animal, wanted to do. But Jesus refused. Instead, He told him to return to the town and tell the people there how much God had done for him. For this man – and for all of us – our most effective witness is to the people we know already. They knew our lives before we were saved, and they notice a difference in us. Simply tell what God has done for you. They can’t deny that you are a different person, a new creation, and that the reason for the change is Jesus Christ.
Certainly God does save some people in miraculous ways, in order that they might go into full-time ministry. We see this in the Bible in the life of the apostle Paul (see Acts 9:15). But even Paul didn’t become a missionary straight away. He spent fourteen years in obscurity before Barnabas sought him out a second time and brought him to Antioch (see Gal. 2:1-2, Acts 11:22-26). The Bible specifically says that leaders in the church should not be recent converts (1 Tim. 3:6). Sometimes, especially in countries where Christians are persecuted, churches grow so rapidly that leaders must be appointed who have only been believers for a short time. In those cases God is able to grant extra grace to those people. But I think we need to be careful who we appoint to leadership positions – that it really is a call of God and not simply the new-found exuberance that comes with conversion, where the person thinks that the only way to serve God fully is to ‘go into ministry’.

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Ear, hand, and foot

“Moses slaughtered the ram and took some of its blood and put it on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, on the thumb of his right hand and on the big toe of his right foot.” Leviticus 8:23
Yesterday we read how, when Aaron was being ordained as a priest by Moses, as directed by God, Moses was the one who dressed him with the priestly garments. Following this dressing, there were sacrifices, which Moses made on Aaron’s behalf. There was a sin offering (Lev. 8:14-17, to atone for Aaron’s sin), a burnt offering (Lev. 8:18-21, symbolising devotion to God), and the offering of a ram of ordination (Lev. 8:22-29). It was the blood of this ram that Moses put on the lobe of Aaron’s right ear, the thumb of his right hand, and the big toe of his right foot. This is hugely symbolic – and it applies to us, because the Scriptures tell us that we belong to a royal priesthood (1 Pet. 2:9).
First, the ear: representing what we hear. Our spiritual ears should be attuned to the voice of God (Luke 8:18). Second, the hand: representing our actions. We should only do that which is pleasing and brings glory to God. Thirdly, the foot: representing our walk. The Christian life isn’t a couple of hours once a week; it’s a daily journey. Like Aaron, our lives are consecrated to God. “Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind” (Rom. 12:1-2). “You are not your own; you were bought at a price. Therefore honour God with your body” (1 Cor. 6:19-20).

Monday, November 28, 2011

Being clothed

“Then Moses brought Aaron and his sons forward and washed them with water. He put the tunic on Aaron, tied the sash around him, clothed him with the robe and put the ephod on him. He also tied the ephod to him by its skillfully woven waistband; so it was fastened on him.” Leviticus 8:6-7
Leviticus 8 gives us all the details about the ordination of Aaron and his sons to serve God in the priestly ministry in the tabernacle. In the first part of the chapter, we see Moses dressing Aaron with all the garments that God had instructed to be made (see Ex. 28). The main thing that we notice is that Aaron did not dress himself. A similar instance happened in Zech. 3:3-5, where another high priest, Joshua, had clean clothes put on him. We also read that God was the one who clothed Adam and Eve with garments of animal skins after their fall (Gen. 3:21).
This is an insightful picture for us. Clothing is symbolic in the Scriptures of righteousness (Rev. 19:8, Isa. 61:10, Ps. 132:9). We are clothed with the righteousness of Christ, but we cannot clothe ourselves. He is the one who clothes us – taking away our old garments, our self-righteousness, those filthy rags (Isa. 64:6) – and clothing us with His perfect righteousness.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Loving our enemies

“But love your enemies, do good to them and lend to them without expecting to get anything back. Then your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, because He is kind to the ungrateful and wicked.” Luke 6:35
Loving our enemies is not easy. Yet it is a command that Jesus gives us – and something that we can do, through the Holy Spirit. We don’t have to like them, but we are to love them – to put their needs ahead of our own and do right by them. We see a similar passage in Matt. 5:43-48, but there are some differences in this passage in Luke (in fact, some commentators think that the two passages actually arise from two different occasions where Jesus was teaching His disciples).
The major thing I want to pick up on here is the reason Jesus gives us as to why we should love our enemies. That reason is because God is kind to the ungrateful and wicked, so if we are His children, we should do the same.
Ingratitude is one of the hardest attitudes to deal with. Although we can demand that someone say ‘Thank you’, there is nothing you can do to make them grateful. If we feel indignant when people are ungrateful toward us, how much more do you think God feels – when people refuse to acknowledge His blessings, His sovereignty, or even His existence? Yet He still provides them with food, shelter, oxygen, etc. Is it too much for Jesus to ask us to do good to our enemies?

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Calling all sinners

“Jesus answered them, ‘It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.’” Luke 5:31-32
The first step in coming to Christ is to admit that you are a sinner. It doesn’t matter if you’ve broken every one of God’s laws, or just one – the Bible tells us, “For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it” (James 2:10). Getting to heaven by keeping the law is like hanging on the end of a chain. It doesn’t matter if one, or ten, or a hundred links in the chain are broken, you are going to fall. None of us will be declared righteous by God, apart from faith in Jesus Christ (Rom. 3:20-22).
Here is one of the great mysteries of the gospel: that Jesus calls us while we were still sinners (Rom. 5:8). He reached down into the cesspool of this sinful world, and pulled us out. We can’t do anything to save ourselves. If we had to clean up our lives before we could be saved, then it would be salvation by works, and the door would not be open to all.
Another way of reading this verse, especially in the light of the attitude of the Pharisees He was talking to, is, “I have not come to call the self-righteous, but sinners.” The Pharisees were criticising Jesus for spending time with the tax-collectors, whom they viewed as traitors, having sold out to Rome. Jesus did not deny that these people were sinners, but He knew that they were spiritually hungry for Him. He did not spend His years of ministry debating with the Pharisees and persuading them to believe in Him. He made Himself available to those who knew they were sinners, and who wanted to be saved.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Jesus' prayer life

“But Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” Luke 5:16
There are several verses that give us a glimpse into Jesus’ prayer life. He prayed regularly and often, and sometimes spent all night in prayer. Prayer is talking to God, spending time with Him, voicing to Him what’s on our heart and allowing Him to speak to us. A lifestyle of prayer is a lifestyle of continual fellowship with God. The more time you spend with Him, the better you will get to know Him.
“Jesus often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.” The Greek word for ‘lonely’ is eremos, which appears fifty times in the New Testament. It is the same word translated elsewhere as ‘wilderness’ (such as where John the Baptist preached) or ‘deserted’ (such as in Matt. 14:15 where the people followed Jesus and the disciples, leading to Him feeding the 5,000). In this case it’s unlikely that the word refers to the desert regions of Israel, as Jesus wasn’t always near the desert. Instead, it probably takes on the broader meaning, a place where He could be alone – with no-one else around, and no distractions.
We need to find times and places where we can be alone to pray, just us and God. If we only pray with others, for instance, at church prayer meetings, we have missed the point of prayer. Corporate prayer is good, but it is not a substitute for daily, individual prayer. Imagine if you only spoke to your husband or wife when you were out with other people! Jesus knew how important prayer is. If He needed to pray, then how much more than we!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Being troubled by sin

“I confess my iniquity; I am troubled by my sin.” Psalm 38:18
Confessing our sin is one of the first steps towards conversion, but as we all know too well, it doesn’t end there. Christians do continue to sin – sometimes small, sometimes big; sometimes through weakness, other times deliberately. Paul addressed a wrong attitude that was floating around the church in Rome: “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). There are two categories of ‘sin’ in view here: what Paul is referring to is continuing to live in a sinful lifestyle. The other category is the individual sins we commit through the day. Someone who is continuing to live a sinful lifestyle, has not understood the magnitude of what sin is – nor what it cost God.
Are we troubled by our sin? This can take many forms. Martin Luther was so troubled by every little sin he committed that it nearly tipped him over the edge – until he was set free by discovering that well-known verse: “The just shall live by faith” (Hab. 2:4, Rom. 1:17, Gal. 3:11, Heb. 10:38). Are we troubled because, like Luther, it shows us our own weaknesses? Is it because we know that our sin causes God pain? Jesus died for every single one of our sins; do you get the feeling that every time you fail, you are adding to His suffering?
This is the measure of our spiritual maturity: how much we hate sin in our lives and want to live righteously, for God. If we think nothing of it, we show that we don’t understand the cost of sin (Rom. 3:23). God doesn’t love us any less when we slip up, He is always there to forgive us when we confess our sin and ask for His forgiveness (1 John 1:9). But we must understand how God views sin, and develop His attitude towards it.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

When unbelievers prosper

“Be still before the Lord and wait patiently for Him; do not fret when men succeed in their ways, when they carry out their wicked schemes.” Psalm 37:7
Have you ever been annoyed because a non-Christian got ahead of you in life? Perhaps you got passed over for a promotion at work; you were next in line when all the tickets for a big game got sold out; they got upgraded to business class on a flight and you didn’t – the list goes on. It may be something trivial, or it may be something more critical and prestigious. But the Bible tells us on several occasions not to worry or be envious if we see wicked people prospering. Habakkuk complained to God: “Your eyes are too pure to look on evil; You cannot tolerate wrong. Why then do You tolerate the treacherous? Why are You silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves? (Hab. 1: 13). The psalmist said, “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me – until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understodd their final destiny” (Ps. 73:16-17).
This is the key: look at things from God’s perspective, from eternity. Unbelievers may prosper now, but their prosperity will not last. On the other hand, we are looking forward to spending eternity with God. There’s no need to envy them. Just be still, and wait patiently for God. We read “Humble yourselves before the Lord, and He will lift you up” (James 4:10). And again, “Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time” (1 Pet. 5:6).

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In our own eyes

“For in his own eyes he flatters himself too much to detect or hate his sin.” Psalm 36:2
It’s a risky thing to flatter ourselves. Usually this happens when we look around us at other people, and say to ourselves, ‘Well, I’m not as bad as that person.’ It’s easy to slip into the world’s way of thinking: that if our good deeds outweigh our bad, God will smile upon the good things we have done, ignore the bad, and welcome us with open arms into heaven. But to have such an attitude, especially if a person dosen’t know Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour, is a dangerous thing that could see them ending up in hell.
Paul tells the Corinthians, “When they measure themselves by themselves and compare themselves with themselves, they are not wise” (2 Cor. 10:12). The standard that we have to measure up to is not to be in credit on the good vs. bad deeds count, or to be above average in comparison to other people. The standard God has set is absolute perfection. None of us can claim that. “For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23).
Jeremiah tells us, “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?” (Jer. 17:9). Deep down, we all think that we are good people. But the reality is that deep down, we are all sinners. We are self-deceived, if we think that we are inherently good and can get to heaven on our own merit. We need the Holy Spirit to reveal to us what is really going on in our heart, so that we can see our sin for what it is, then repent of it and be restored to a right relationship with God.

Monday, November 21, 2011

The golden calf

“So I told them, ‘Whoever has any gold jewellery, take it off.’ Then they gave me the gold, and I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf.’” Exodus 32:24
Most of us are familiar with the incident concerning the golden calf. Moses had last been seen climbing Mount Sinai and entering the thick darkness on top of it. While he was there, receiving the commandments from God and instructions about the tabernacle, the people grew impatient and wrote him off as dead. They turned to Aaron, Moses’ brother and spokesman, and asked him, “Make us gods who will go before us” (Ex. 32:1). Aaron asks for their jewellery, and from it he makes a calf. At that point, Moses comes back down the mountain to find them worshipping it.
It’s interesting to note here that Aaron makes the calf sound like an accident: “I threw it into the fire, and out came this calf!” The reality was, he had fashioned it into the shape of a calf using tools (Ex. 32:4). Why didn’t he just tell the truth?... probably because human nature always tries to shift the blame to something or someone else – in this case, the fire.
Another interesting point is that they were trying to worship the God who brought them out of Egypt (Ex. 32:4). Why they thought God was shaped like a calf, I don’t know. They were probably just following the examples they had seen in Egypt, where there were many gods in the shapes of all kinds of animals, birds, and insects. They hadn’t yet been given the law, which expressly forbade the fashioning of idols or images to worship.
There is a lesson here for us. God did forgive the people. We shouldn’t be like Aaron and try to make excuses for our sin. Instead, we should be quick to confess our sin to God and repent of it (1 John 1:9).

Sunday, November 20, 2011

Facing trouble

“A righteous man may have many troubles, but the Lord delivers him from them all” Psalm 34:19
You may have noticed, but life as a Christian isn’t easy. Life in general isn’t easy – you have the pressures of work, family, finances, time, sickness, politics, etc. But as a Christian, you can add to the list persecution in all its guises: from the snide remarks by your co-workers, through to the threat of imprisonment or even execution from your government, in some countries. Becoming a Christian doesn’t make these troubles go away. But our faith does give us hope for the future – both in this life, and in eternity. One day there will be no more sickness or death or pain. Jesus said, “I have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33). We can find peace in the midst of the storm, in Him.
You might be facing a really difficult time right now. Perhaps everything just seems too overwhelming, with no let-up in sight. Perhaps you’re struggling to see how everything could possibly go back to normal. Here’s God’s promise for you today: He will deliver you from your troubles. You don’t have to face them alone – He is with you, all the time. Just keep holding on to Him, and He will bring you through.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

'But not during the Feast'

“Now the Passover and the Feast of Unleavened Bread were only two days away, and the chief priests and the teachers of the law were looking for some sly way to arrest Jesus and kill Him. ‘But not during the Feast,’ they said, ‘or the people may riot.’” Mark 14:1-2
We’re familiar with the events that have come to be celebrated as Easter: Jesus being betrayed by Judas, arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane, tried before Annas, Caiaphas, Herod, and Pilate, beaten, flogged, and ultimately crucified – then buried, and rising again after three days. All of this happened on the Passover: this was the reason that the soldiers were instructed to break the legs of those hanging on the crosses, and thus hasten their deaths (John 19:31).
But it’s interesting to note that the chief priests were deliberately trying to avoid having this happen on the feast day. The Feast of Unleavened Bread, which follows immediately after Passover, was one of the feasts for which it was compulsory that every able-bodied Jewish male come to Jerusalem to celebrate. There would have been crowds of people from all over Israel, and no doubt they would have heard of Jesus. To see Him killed at this time could have incited a riot – and if that happened, the Romans would come down heavy on the nation.
But Jesus was crucified on the Passover. He had to be, in order to fulfil the prophecy as being our passover lamb, sacrificed in our place so that we might have life (1 Cor. 5:7). God’s timing over-ruled theirs. He was in complete control of the events.

Friday, November 18, 2011

It's what's inside that counts

“Make the tabernacle with ten curtains of finely twisted linen and blue, purple and scarlet yarn, with cherubim worked into them by a skilled craftsman.” Exodus 26:1
We learned earlier that the tabernacle was built as a model of God’s throne room in heaven. The innermost part of the tabernacle, the Holy of Holies (called ‘the most holy place’ in some Bible translations), was the place where God’s presence resided between the cherubim on the mercy seat. Although only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies – and even then, only once a year – the descriptions that we are given of it in the Scriptures allow us to imagine what it might have been like.
Inside the tabernacle was beautiful. We see four materials being used: white linen, blue, purple, and scarlet yarn. Each of these symbolises something different. White linen speaks to us of God’s righteousness. Blue is the colour of heaven (hence the blue threads the Israelites were to weave into their clothing, Num. 15:38). Purple speaks of royalty. Red symbolises blood. It was embroidered with cherubim, just as the cherubim stand around the throne of God in heaven, giving Him worship and glory and honour.
But the rest of the people never saw this beauty. The tabernacle was covered with curtains made of goat hair (Ex. 26:7), then a covering of ram skins, then a covering of hides of sea cows (Ex. 26:14). It must have looked quite ugly from the outside.
But even here, there is a picture for us. We read of Jesus, “He had no beauty or majesty to attract us to Him, nothing in His appearance that we should desire Him” (Isa. 53:2).
It’s the same for us: it’s not what we look like from the outside that matters – it’s what’s inside the counts.

Thursday, November 17, 2011

End times deception

“For false Christs and false prophets will appear and perform signs and miracles to deceive the elect – if that were possible.” Mark 13:22
The Bible tells us, over and over again, that the end times will be a time of great deception. Ever since Jesus ascended to heaven, there have been people who have claimed to be Him (we still see them today from time to time, usually appearing on TV). Rightly so, we straightaway write them off as nut jobs – but what if such a person, claiming to be Jesus, started gong around performing miracles, healing the sick, and so forth? The world is not ready for this! The false Christs that will arise will seem to meet all the requirements of Jesus in terms of His ministry. And, just to show how great this deception will be, Jesus adds the words “to deceive the elect – if that were possible.” ‘The elect’ refers to believers, those who have been elected by God for salvation. What He is saying is that if believers did not have the Holy Spirit to help them discern this deception, if they looked at things solely on face value, knowing the Lord, they would be deceived. We read also in 2 Thess. 2:9-11: “The coming of the lawless one [the Antichrist] will be in accordance with the work of Satan displayed in all kinds of counterfeit miracles, signs and wonders, and in every sort of evil that deceives those who are perishing. They perish because they refused to love the truth and so be saved. For this reason God sends them a powerful delusion so that they will believe the lie and so that all will be condemned who have not believed the truth but have delighted in wickedness.”
The lesson for us is clear: If you don’t know the Lord, if you’ve been shown the gospel but refused to believe it, then you will be deceived in the end times. There is no guarantee that you will be able to resist this deception, and come to Christ once all the things prophesied by Scripture start coming to pass. The only way to avoid being deceived is to have the Holy Spirit indwelling you, so that you can have discernment. “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Do you know you're forgiven?

“Blessed is he whose transgressions are forgiven, whose sins are covered. Blessed is the man whose sin the Lord does not count against him and in whose spirit is no deceit.” Psalm 32:1-2
There’ll be times in your Christian walk, when you’ll feel so miserable about some sin or other that you’ve committed, that you wonder if God has really forgiven you. Perhaps you can accept that He’s forgiven all your sins up to some point, but the latest ones are just too much. These thoughts always have the same source: Satan, trying to cast doubt on your salvation. It’s times like this we need to turn to verses like this, and to hold fast to them. The Bible tells us, over and over again, that we can be sure all of our sins are forgiven, covered by the blood of Christ (Mark 3:28, Col. 2:13). God does not count our sin against us any more – “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12. Note that the separation is not between north and south, but between east and west. You can get to the north or south pole; you can keep going east or west forever and never reach the east or west pole.)
Another way to think about it is this: when Jesus died on the cross, how many of your sins were yet future? The answer of course, is ‘all of them’. God isn’t surprised when we sin. He knows that although we are saved, we are still feeble human beings with a sin nature that is still resisting Him. “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).
When we finally grasp this truth – that our sins truly have been forgiven by God – we find that peace that passes all understanding, that ‘blessedness’ that only a child of God can know. The word ‘blessed’ means ‘happy’. Are you happy, knowing that your sins are forgiven?

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Making the tabernacle

“See that you make them according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” Exodus 25:40
This is an interesting verse; it occurs in the description God gives Moses concerning how he was to build the tabernacle and its furniture. All we have is a description in words, but apparently God showed Moses something, which the tabernacle was to be modelled after. In Rev. 15:5 we read how the tabernacle in heaven was opened. In Heb. 8:5 we are told that the earthly tabernacle was a copy of things in heaven. So by understanding the tabernacle that Moses built, we can gain some insights into what is in heaven.
There isn’t time or space in this posting to go into great detail about all the items in the tabernacle – the ark, the mercy seat, the golden altar of incense, the lampstand, the table, the bronze altar, and the laver. But it is worth pointing out that God refers to the mercy seat (which sits as a cover on the ark of the covenant) as the place where He would meet with Moses (Ex. 25:22). He described it as being ‘between the cherubim’ – which is how the throne of God in heaven can also be described (Rev. 4:6, c.f. Ezek. 10:14, 20).
Each of the pieces within the tabernacle show us some aspect of Jesus Christ. The lampstand: He is the light of the world. The veil: He is the door for the sheep. The table of shewbread: He is the bread of life. The white linen fence surrounding the outer court: representing His righteousness, imputed to us. These things are all worth studying in more detail; they will give you a much better appreciation of who He is and what He has done for you!

Monday, November 14, 2011

Blood and yeast

“Do not offer the blood of a sacrifice to Me along with anything containing yeast.” Exodus 23:18
Many people who start reading the Bible from Genesis, get to about Exodus 19 and then lose interest – most of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy are rule after rule concerning social justice, ceremonial procedures, instructions for sacrifices, the tabernacle, and the like. It’s tempting to skip over these sections if you’re not Jewish. But as with all things, these books are in the Bible because they show us truths about Christ.
Why would God tell the Israelites not to offer yeast and blood together? We need to understand the symbolism being used here. In Lev. 17:11 we read, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” In the Old Testament, the life-blood of animals was offered as a substitute to cover the sin of a person, sin that required their life to be ended. The ultimate example of this, of course, is the death of Christ on the cross for our sins, shedding His own blood for us.
So what about yeast? Throughout the Bible, yeast is used as a symbol of sin. If yeast is added to dough, it ferments and causes the bread to be puffed up. You don’t need much yeast; it will spread and multiply until it has permeated the whole lump of dough.
So what God is saying here is this: the blood of the sacrifice offered must be without sin. This is beautiful symbolism of our Saviour: He had to be without sin. Otherwise, He could not have redeemed us; He would have died for His own sin.

Sunday, November 13, 2011


“Calling His disciples to Him, Jesus said, ‘I tell you the truth, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others.’” Mark 12:43
Those of us who have been Christians for a while, know that when it comes to giving, God doesn’t notice the amount that we give. I would even go so far as to suggest that it’s not the percentage of what we have, that we give, either. A person with $10m could give half of it away and still live quite comfortably. But for the person with only $100, to give half away would be of much greater significance.
Another important passage to consider is 2 Cor. 9:6-11 – that on giving cheerfully and not because you’re forced to. We might have been told to ‘give until it hurts’. But that’s not what God is about. Give as much as you are happy to do so. And if the thought of giving anything at all makes you grumpy, then don’t give – but pray that God would soften your heart.
So, it’s not the amount, or the percentage, that we give, but what it costs us. We see a glimpse of the heart attitudes of the poor widow and the rich people: the rich people “threw in large amounts” (Mark 12:41), but the poor widow “came and put in two [lepta]” (Mark 12:42). It was easy for the rich people to give, and so they were unconcerned about it. They threw the money in and thought nothing more of it. But for the widow, it was a deliberate action. It required great willpower to let go of those two coins, knowing that she was giving to God. And Jesus noticed. This is a lesson for all of us, concerning not what we give to God (since that is between you and Him), but how we give.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Committing your spirit

“Into Your hands I commit my spirit; redeem me, O Lord, the God of truth.” Psalm 31:5
These words probably sound familiar to us – and they should, because they are the words uttered by Jesus on the cross (Luke 23:46), and by Stephen as he was being stoned to death (Acts 7:59). We should have this attitude too. However, it should not only be when we are on our deathbeds, but while we are still alive. If we have been born again, then we are to count our old nature, the sin nature, as dead to us (Rom. 6:2, 11). “But if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness” (Rom. 8:11). “For you died, and your life is now hidden with Christ in God” (Col. 3:3).
This new life that we have is spiritual life, not physical life. Physically, we are all getting closer to death. Our bodies are wearing out; becoming a Christian doesn’t change that. But coming to faith in Christ grants us new, eternal life, with Him. And here’s the point: we don’t have to wait until we physically die, to start enjoying that eternal life. God gives it to us, and the smartest thing we can do with it is to give it right back to Him – committing it into His hands. This means, to say to God, ‘You are in control.’ This isn’t a once-for-all thing; it’s a daily decision we need to make. And that’s the first step you need to take, in order for God to use you in a mighty way.

Friday, November 11, 2011

The pillar of cloud and fire

“By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.” Exodus 13:21-22
The pillar of cloud by day and fire by night was the way God led the Israelites through the wilderness. It represented God’s presence among His people, settling on the tabernacle (Ex. 40:36-38). When the pillar lifted from the tabernacle, it was God’s way of telling the Israelites to pack up their tents and move with Him, and they would follow the pillar until it stopped again. In this way, God guided the Israelites. You would think that with such an obvious, visible manifestation of God’s guidance, the people would have believed in Him. Yet they still doubted. Time and time again, God led them to a place where there was no food, or no water, and they grumbled against Him and against Moses.
We might not have visible guidance from God like the Israelites did, but He does still guide us every day. We have the ‘more sure word’ of the promises in the Bible (2 Pet. 1:19). The promises that He will never leave us nor forsake us (Deut. 31:8, Heb. 13:5). The promise that all things work together for good for those who love God (Rom. 8:28). The promise that we will not face any temptation we cannot bear (1 Cor. 10:13). The promise that Jesus is returning (Acts 1:11, Rev. 22:12). If we have trouble believing these promises of God, having a pillar of cloud and fire guiding us would not make any difference. It is just as Jesus said to Thomas, “Because you have seen Me, you have believed; blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed” (John 20:29).

Thursday, November 10, 2011

The Lord hardened his heart

“But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let the Israelites go.” Exodus 10:20
Many people have a problem with this verse (and others) that talk about God hardening Pharaoh’s heart. “So you mean to say that if Pharaoh had wanted to repent, he couldn’t?” That’s right. But it’s also important to note that there is a progression. With each of the plagues, we see Pharaoh promising to let the people go, and then after Moses prays for relief, he reneges on his word and refuses.
0. Aaron’s staff turns into a snake. Pharaoh hardens his heart (Ex. 7:13).
1. The Nile turns to blood. Pharaoh’s heart becomes hard (Ex. 7:22).
2. The plague of frogs. Pharaoh hardens his heart (Ex. 8:15).
3. The plague of gnats. Pharaoh’s heart is hard (Ex. 8:19).
4. The plague of flies. Pharaoh hardens his heart (Ex. 8:32).
5. The plague on the livestock. Pharaoh’ heart is hard (Ex. 9:7)
6. The plague of boils. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 9:12)
7. The plague of hail. Pharaoh’ heart is hard (Ex. 9:35).
8. The plague of locusts. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 10:20)
9. The plague of darkness. God hardens Pharaoh’s heart (Ex. 10:27).
10. The death of the firstborn. Pharaoh lets the people go, but then God hardens his heart and he pursues the Israelites to the Red Sea (Ex. 14:8).
The lesson for us is this: Yes, God hardened Pharaoh’s heart, but only after he had hardened his own heart first, to the point of no return. It is still possible for people to do this today. The Holy Spirit is alongside every person, convicting them of their need for a Saviour, but they can reject Him over and over to the point where their heart becomes so hard that they cannot hear Him anymore. They are like the path that the seed fell on and the birds snatch it away (Matt. 13:4, 19). Their heart is unyielding to the things of God. “For this people’s heart has become calloused; they hardly hear with their ears, and they have closed their eyes. Otherwise they might see with their eyes, hear with their ears, understand with their hearts and turn, and I would heal them” (Matt. 13:15, quoting Isa. 6:10).
Have you hardened your heart towards God? Is your heart becoming calloused? It’s not too late to repent and turn back to Him.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

God's purpose in judgement

“For by now I could have stretched out My hand and struck you and your people with a plague that would have wiped you off the earth. But I have raised you up for this very purpose, that I might show you My power and that My name might be proclaimed in all the earth.” Exodus 9:15-16
Here in Exodus 9 we come across a very interesting verse. If you think about it, it does beg the question: why did God bother sending ten plagues upon Egypt, when He knew all along that it would not change Pharaoh’s heart? Why didn’t He just wipe them all out straightaway?
We can extend this kind of questioning to the events of the Great Tribulation. Why bother with all the seals, the trumpets, the bowls; all the plagues upon the earth – why not just say, ‘That’s all, folks!’ and be done with it?
Because God’s purpose in bringing these judgements is not just about judging. Even in the midst of the plagues of Egypt, and also in the midst of the Great Tribulation, there will be some who are not a lost cause. They just need a little prodding to come to God, by seeing His power. Pharaoh had hardened his heart, but there were some Egyptians who heeded the words of Moses and Aaron (see Ex. 9:20-21). It is for these people that God has mercy in not destroying them completely, so that they might be saved. God does not delight in the death of the wicked (Ezek. 18:23, 33:11). Judgement is called His ‘strange work’ and His ‘alien task’ (Isa. 28:21). Judgement is His last resort, and even in it He is showing mercy so that people might come to Him and be saved.

Tuesday, November 8, 2011

Whoever has will be given more

“Consider carefully what you hear,” He continued. “With the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more. Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” Mark 4:24-25
This thought crops up in Matt. 13:12, Matt. 25:29, Mark 4:25, Luke 8:18, Luke 19:26. It’s interesting to note that it does not refer to money, as many people imply and teach. Mark 4:24 begins with “Consider carefully what you hear”, and Luke 8:18 begins with “consider carefully how you listen”. This is a promise that refers not to money, but to knowledge and understanding.
“With the measure you use, it will be measured to you – and even more.” As we spend time in the Word of God, studying it, meditating on it, praying that the Holy Spirit would teach us what it means, we will receive more and more understanding of it. If we don’t spend much effort, the Word will have little impact in our lives.
“Whoever has will be given more; whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.” If we are constantly in the Word, being spiritually fed by it, we will receive more and more understanding and insight. But if we neglect it, our spirit will atrophy. The little understanding we had, will shrivel up. “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” (Gal. 6:8). You have two natures within you: the flesh, and the spirit. They are in competition with each other. The one that you feed the most, is the one that will grow. If you want to grow spiritually, feed your spirit with the Word of God.

Monday, November 7, 2011

Stubborn hearts

“He looked around at them in anger and, deeply distressed at their stubborn hearts, said to the man, ‘Stretch out your hand.’ He stretched it out, and his hand was completely restored.” Mark 3:5
This is the only instance that it is recorded that Jesus get angry at something or someone. (We also see Him driving out the money-changers in the temple (on two occasions: John 2:14-17, at the start of His ministry, and Matt. 21:12-13, Mark 11:15-17, Luke 19:45-46), but it is not said there that He was angry.) There are many other instances which, if we had been in His situation, we would probably have been angry – facing Judas in the garden as he betrayed Him, standing before the high priest as He was illegally struck in the face, being told by the pig-farmers to leave their area after He had delivered a man from a legion of demons, etc. He wasn’t angry when people abused Him, when they deserted Him, or when they didn’t have enough faith. There was only one thing that made Jesus angry: people having stubborn hearts.
There is a good side to stubbornness: it’s called perseverance. That’s when we refuse to give up on God. But stubbornness is more often than not a bad thing – refusing to believe God despite the evidence, and wanting to keep doing our own thing instead of what God has told us to do. We see other examples in the Scriptures. Moses made excuses time and time again why he couldn’t be God’s mouthpiece to the children of Israel (see Ex. 4:13-14). Balaam persisted in seeking after the reward that Balak offered him; his donkey was more attuned to the presence of the angel of the Lord than he was (see Num. 22:22-35). The nation Israel, time and time again, refused to believe God, turned away from Him to follow idols, mistreated the prophets He sent, all the while thinking they were better than other nations (see Luke 14:16-24).
It’s easy to point the finger at other people. But do we do the same thing? Has God told us to do something, and we are stubbornly refusing to do it? Has He told us to stop doing something, and we are stubbornly persisting in it? If that’s the case, we need to watch out: being stubborn makes God angry. Let Him soften your heart; be obedient to Him.

Sunday, November 6, 2011

New wineskins

“And no one pours new wine into old wineskins. If he does, the wine will burst the skins, and both the wine and the wineskins will be ruined. No, he pours new wine into new wineskins.” Mark 2:22
This is a familiar passage, but it can be difficult to understand what is actually meant by it.
First, we need to understand how wine was made at that time. A wineskin was a leather bag; ‘new wine’ was grape juice that was still in the process of fermenting. This would be poured into a new wineskin, which was supple and was therefore able to stretch as the fermentation process produced carbon dioxide gas. But after the wineskin had been used once in this way, it became brittle and was not able to stretch again. Thus, putting new wine into an old skin would result in pressure building up, and the wineskin would eventually break because it was not able to stretch.
Many people have suggested what the symbolism might be referring to. Some speak of how the gifts of the Spirit tend not to be in operation in the more traditional churches. But that is not the context here. Jesus was asked, “How is it that John’s disciples and the disciples of the Pharisees are fasting, but Yours are not?” (Mark 2:18).
John was the last of the Old Testament prophets, as said by Jesus Himself (Matt. 11:13). The Pharisees, likewise, were followers of Old Testament Judaism. But Jesus was bringing a new way of relating to God, a new power that came through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit inside a person. What He was saying is this: you cannot put the power of a life in Christ into the Old Testament law. Even today, there are those who try to take their Christian faith and fit it into the Mosaic law. Jesus says it can’t be done. The new wine – the new life that Christ offers us – needs new wineskins: a way of life that allows us to be stretched and filled with the Spirit of God.

Saturday, November 5, 2011

All authority

“Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.’” Matthew 28:18
When we think about Jesus, we often think of a gentle man who wouldn’t hurt a fly; a man who would sit and talk with His disciples, a man who didn’t have a house or a penny to His name. And that’s true – for the time that He was ministering, before His crucifixion and resurrection from the dead. The well-known passage in Philippians 2 (called ‘the Kenosis’) tells us the depths to which God the Son stooped down, and the heights to which He has been raised again. He “made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore 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. 2:7-11).
Now Jesus has been raised from the death, He is once again glorified with the Father, with the glory He had before (John 17:5). He laid aside His deity for a time, but now He has taken it back up. He has paid the price to redeem the earth out of Satan’s clutches. This is why He could say, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to Me.”
Think for a minute what that means. He has authority – discretionary power – over all things. Whatever happens on earth, only happens because He allows it. This is true for nations, and it is also true for each one of us as individuals. Jesus has authority and control over our lives and our circumstances. Do we really believe this? We don’t need to worry about what might happen, because He has everything in hand.

Friday, November 4, 2011

The valley of the shadow of death

“Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” Psalm 23:4
The 23rd psalm is one of the most well-known psalms, in both Christian and secular circles. It is also called the shepherd psalm, because in it David likens God to a shepherd guiding us, His sheep. We read how He provides for all our needs and guides us to a place of safety.
Today we focus on the fourth verse of this psalm: “Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff, they comfort me.” What is the valley of the shadow of death? I have read that in Israel there is a certain wadi called the Wadi Kelt, which literally means the valley of the shadow. It lies between Jericho and Jerusalem, and is the main route by which shepherds would take their flocks from the Jordan river valley to the hill country of Judea. It has steep cliffs and many caves, and it is easy to get lost there. Bandits would hide in the caves and ambush travellers passing through (c.f. Luke 10:30). There is no vegetation.
Sometimes we can feel as if we are passing through a desolate place with potential danger around every corner. The heat is on, and we aren’t sure of the way to go. But it’s in those times that we need to stay close to our Shepherd. He comforts us with His rod and His staff. These were implements the shepherd used: the rod, to keep the sheep moving and pull them out of any holes they fell into; the staff, to fight off wild animals who might attack the flock. This is exactly what the Christian life is like. God will sometimes prod us with His rod to keep us moving. If we fall into sin, He will not leave us there but will seek to pull us out. When we face the enemy, we don’t need to fight him ourselves; we leave that up to God. Once we can grasp these truths, and keep our eyes fixed on the Lord, we realise that in life we have nothing to fear. He is big enough, and wise enough, to guide us in safety – even though the valley of the shadow of death.

Thursday, November 3, 2011

God is 'I AM'

“Moses said to God, ‘Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, “What is His name?” Then what shall I tell them?’ God said to Moses, ‘I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: “I AM has sent me to you.”’” Exodus 3:13-14
‘I AM’ might seem like a bit of a strange name to our ears, but God says it is His name. In the Bible, a person’s name tells us a lot about them. God didn’t say that His name was ‘I was’, nor did He say it was ‘I will be’. You see, for God, there is no past or future. He is always in the now. Also, His name is not ‘I speak’ or ‘I give’, but ‘I AM’ – He is to us whatever we need. He is our helper when we need help, our Saviour when we need saving, our comfort when we need comforting.
There’s another place in the Bible where God speaks of Himself as being ‘I AM’ – Jesus declared this seven times in the gospel of John (John 6:35, 8:12, 10:9, 10:14, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1). He declared that He was the bread of life, the light of the world, the gate for the sheep, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the way and the truth and the life, and the true vine. He also laid claim to being the same ‘I AM’ as we read in today’s verse when God spoke to Moses from the burning bush (see John 8:58).
What are you needing today? Allow God to become that to you. He loves you and wants the best for you.

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

What happened at the cross

“I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint. My heart has turned to wax; it has melted away within Me.” Psalm 22:14
Psalm 22 gives us a graphic prophecy of what happened to Jesus on the cross. It begins with His first words uttered: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken me?” (Ps. 22:1, c.f. Matt. 27:46). It then goes on to describe some of the torments He faced. These are details we aren’t given in the New Testament – possibly because crucifixion was seen as relatively routine, so that the shock factor was not necessary; possibly because the disciples had all fled by that point (Matt. 26:56).
We often focus on the physical suffering Jesus endured (Ps. 22:14-18): His joints dislocated, His back ripped to shreds, severe dehydration and weakness from loss of blood, the public humiliation of being hung there naked, seeing His garments divided between the soldiers. But this psalm also gives us a glimpse of the spiritual torment He faced. As if God the Father turning His face away was not enough, Jesus was also attacked by demonic forces. “Many bulls surround Me; strong bulls of Bashan encircle Me. Roaring lions tearing their prey open their mouths wide against Me” (Ps. 22:12-13). Bashan was an area in the north of Israel, today called the Golan, where the giant king Og ruled in the time of Joshua. It was known for its idolatry, and the ‘bulls of Bashan’ is a reference to the demonic forces behind these idols. Also, we read in 1 Pet. 5:8 how Satan is likened to a roaring lion, seeking whom he would devour. As Jesus hung there on the cross, Satan must have felt like he had won.
Jesus didn’t deserve any of this. It was a punishment for sin that He hadn’t committed – our sin. Similarly, we don’t deserve what He gives us because of His death on the cross. Thinking about this humbles me, and fills me with appreciation. How about you?

Tuesday, November 1, 2011


“Then Judas, the one who would betray Him, said, ‘Surely not I, Rabbi?’ Jesus answered, ‘Yes, it is you.’” Matthew 26:25
Sometimes we can wonder what happened, spiritually, to Judas. Was he saved, or not? Did he betray Jesus because he was trying to force His hand in establishing His kingdom, and it backfired? Should we feel sorry for him?
Certainly none of the other disciples suspected Judas as being the one who would betray Jesus. They all doubted themselves. They didn’t even know until much later, that Judas used to help himself to money from the bag they all shared (John 12:4-6).
But it’s interesting to note that throughout the gospels, Judas never once called Jesus ‘Lord’. He only called Him ‘Rabbi’. In our vernacular, we could say that he was religious, but he was not saved. The word ‘rabbi’, of course, means ‘teacher’. Yes, Jesus was a teacher, but confessing Him as ‘teacher’ doesn’t save you – you must confess Him as ‘Lord’.
Think how tragic this was – for a man to spend nearly four years, day and night, with Jesus, and still not be saved. We probably all know people like this – they’ve spent their whole lives going to church every Sunday, but they don’t have a living relationship with Jesus Christ. We need to pray for people like this, that they would truly come to know Him.