Monday, December 31, 2012

The greatest love of all

“My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” John 15:12-13
If we were to try to describe God’s love, we need look no further than Jesus dying on the cross for the sin of the world (Rom. 5:8). Jesus was the ultimate example of someone who put others’ needs first before His own. And this is the kind of love that we should be showing to one another – and not just to other believers, but to everybody.
On two occasions recently, I had the opportunity to dramatically inconvenience myself in order to help someone else. In one case it was accommodating a family of five in my two-bedroom home for a weekend. In the other it was trading places with a colleague who couldn’t get a seat on a flight but had been placed on standby for the following morning, while I had a seat on a flight leaving that night. In both cases I had a decision to make, and in both cases God worked things out so that the inconvenience didn’t happen (the family stayed elsewhere, and when we enquired about swapping the flights, a seat was available for my colleague to travel that night also).
But even thinking about this, I am challenged: would I have done the same thing for someone I didn’t know? Or for somebody I knew, but didn’t like? Yet Jesus died for those who hated Him, for those who would reject His offer, for thse who wouldn’t believe, as well as those who would. Not everybody appreciated what He did, but He did it anyway. Are we willing to show this kind of love to other people?

Sunday, December 30, 2012


“He cuts off every branch in Me that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit He prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.” John 15:2
John 15 contains the well-known ‘vine and branches’ discourse. Jesus states that He is the vine, we are the branches. We need to be connected to the vine to produce fruit. God wants us to be fruitful – to demonstrate His qualities in our lives. Here we see the way God treats us in two opposite scenarios: one where we are not bearing any fruit, and one where we are.
If we are not bearing fruit, we will be ‘cut off’. This does not mean we will lose our salvation – after all, we are still attached to the vine. Rather, God has ways of disciplining us, cutting off the pleasures of sin that we are following after instead of following the Lord whole-heartedly. He does this in order to teach us how we should be living in Christ. He will cut off those areas of our lives that are unproductive.
On the other hand, branches that are producing fruit are pruned. The Greek word here means ‘cleaned’. After the fruit has been produced, the branches are pruned back so that in the next season they may grow back stronger and able to produce even more fruit than the first year. If this pruning did not take place, the branch would become hard and woody, and eventually become less productive. Pruning can be painful. For instance, if you’ve always been quite active in ministry in your church, it can be painful to have to take a back seat for a while. But this is God’s way of pruning, so that you can have more time to seek Him and have the sap of the Holy Spirit run deeper through your life, so that when your next season of ministry comes around, you will be even more fruitful in it. This has happened to me a number of times. There is the initial excitement of getting involved, but after a few years ministry becomes a chore. The pruning is painful, but we need to learn to see it as a time of preparation for the next thing God has for us. Don’t despise it; recognise it as God’s way of producing more fruit in your life in the long-term.

Saturday, December 29, 2012

The prince of this world

“I will not speak with you much longer, for the prince of this world is coming. He has no hold on Me, but the world must learn that I love the Father and that I do exactly what My Father has commanded Me.” John 14:30-31
Jesus uses the phrase ‘the prince of this world’ here, and it is worth taking some time to understand what it means, and what the implications are. It is used also in John 12:31 and John 16:11. The title ‘prince’ is also used of angels (e.g. Michael, Dan. 10:13, Dan. 10:21, Dan. 12:1) and evil powers (Dan. 10:13, Dan. 10:20, Matt. 9:34, Matt. 12:24). Jesus Himself is also called a prince (Acts 5:31, Isa. 9:6). We also see the title ‘ruler of the kingdom of the air’ (Eph. 2:2). This, and the title ‘prince of this world’, both refer to Satan.
Satan is the prince of the world. He is the one who rules over it, and has done so even since Adam sinned and handed over the reins. But the good news is that Satan will not rule over the world forever. Jesus will depose him, and reign as King of kings and Lord of lords.
At the time Jesus spoke these words, the cross was imminent. This was the great showdown God prophesied to the serpent in the Garden of Eden: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel” (Gen. 3:15). In the same act, the heel of Christ was struck by the serpent, and the head of the serpent was crushed by Christ. Satan did not overpower Jesus by his own power, but because Jesus allowed him to – and this was out of His obedience to the Father. Now, if we are in Christ, he has no power over us either, unless we allow him.

Friday, December 28, 2012

Ask Me for anything

“You may ask Me for anything in My name, and I will do it.” John 14:14
Many people read this verse and think Jesus is offering a blank cheque. ‘Ask Me for a Porsche, and I’ll give it to you,’ or ‘Ask Me for the winning lottery numbers,’ or ‘Ask Me for the perfect husband.’ But we know from the rest of the Scriptures that this is not what Jesus is referring to. We must ask with the right motives (James 4:3). In his epistle, John tells us, “This is the confidence we have in approaching God: that if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us” (1 John 5:14, emphasis added). Jesus also said, “And I will do whatever you ask in My name, so that the Son may bring glory to the Father” (John 14:13).
The key to receiving what we ask for is to ask according to God’s will, in order that He may be glorified when that prayer is answered. While on the one hand it means that our prayer for a Porsche probably won’t be answered, our prayers to become more godly, to show more of God’s love to other people, to be more attuned to people’s needs, to get closer to God – these kinds of prayers will be answered, because they are God’s will and will result in Him being glorified. Jesus also said, “If you remain in Me and My words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be given you” (John 15:7). The key to godliness is not a noble eightfold path, or pilgrimage, or self-flagellation. If we desire to be more godly, we only have to ask.

Thursday, December 27, 2012

The easy way, or the right way

“They say to the seers, ‘See no more visions!’ and to the prophets, ‘Give us no more visions of what is right! Tell us pleasant things, prophesy illusions.’” Isaiah 30:10
Imagine if you went to the doctor for a check-up, and he or she told you, ‘Everything is fine – you couldn’t be more healthy.’ But in actual fact, you have three weeks to live. What would you think? Would you thank the doctor for their kind words? No – you would be angry because they didn’t tell you the truth. Sure, the news may come as a shock to you, but at least it allows you to prepare and do something about it.
When it comes to telling people the gospel, many of us are too afraid to mention words like ‘sin’ and ‘hell’ because we don’t like to be confrontational. We think people will be angry at us for telling them they will spend eternity in hell if they have not believed in Jesus for salvation. They may well be angry, but if the Holy Spirit is convicting their hearts, it will be at the situation that they are in, not at you as the messenger per se, so long as you have told them the truth in love.
People don’t want to hear the truth of God because it would mean they would have to do something, to change their lifestyle of sin. Paul wrote to Timothy, “For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear” (2 Tim. 4:3). Even after becoming a Christian, there are some hard lessons that we need to learn if we want to grow in the Lord. There are certain things that we may have liberty to do, which we need to give up in order to have more time to spend with the Lord. There are often two ways for us to choose from in a situation: the right way, and the easy way – and they are usually not the same.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

The world's view of God

“You turn things upside down, as if the potter were thought to be like the clay! Shall what is formed say to Him who formed it, ‘He did not make me’? Can the pot say of the potter, ‘He knows nothing’?” Isaiah 29:16
It really irks me hearing people say things like ‘God is just a figment of man’s imagination’, or ‘Santa Claus, God, the Tooth Fairy, whatever – they’re all imaginary friends’, or people calling God ‘sky-daddy’ or ‘the man upstairs who’s not really there’. As if these statements were not blasphemous enough, they are usually said with an air of pompous superiority. But God is not made up by people. He is the one who made people. He is the one who holds our lives in our hand and gives us the breath with which people curse Him.
Then there are people who accept the idea of the existence of God, but they have an erroneous view of Him. They think He is waiting with glee for them to mess up, so that He can smite them with a bolt of lightning or some such punishment. Or they think He doesn’t care, because after all they are just one of billions of people in the world and not very important in the grand scheme of things. They think that God has human attributes: that He gets jealous and throws tantrums if He doesn’t get His own way. But this could not be further from the truth. God created us and He loves us. He wants us to be with Him for all eternity, free from the power of sin – that’s why He sent His Son to earth to die in our place. God is not like us. He doesn’t seek revenge; He is just and fair and holy. He doesn’t have favourites; He loves us all. God is not like man, but through the power of the Holy Spirit, we can become like Him. God lives on a higher plane than us, and the amazing thing is that He has invited us to join Him.

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Happy birthday Jesus!

“Today in the town of David a Saviour has been born to you; He is Christ the Lord.” Luke 2:11
Celebrating a birthday is a wonderful time for a family to come together and remember how it all began for that person. We might celebrate with presents, cards, a special meal, a cake. Isn’t it interesting how at Christmas time, families come together and have presents, cards, a special meal, a cake – yet the guest of honour is so often absent.
Let’s take some time this Christmas to think about the circumstances around Jesus’ birth: how His heavily pregnant mother had to travel for several days to get from Nazareth to Bethlehem, how when she and Joseph arrived in the town no-one had any room for them, so they ended up sleeping with the animals, how they were visited by shepherds, how Anna and Simeon prophesied over the child when they went to visit the temple for the prescribed offerings. Jesus’ birth as a human happened in the ordinary way – just as each one of us was also born. Yet the birth of that baby in the middle of the night in that tiny town in Israel set in motion a chain of events that changed the course of history forever. By the time Jesus’ life on earth was over and He ascended to the Father, the power of sin over the human race had been destroyed. The way for man to be reconciled with God, impassable for so long, was now wide open. At Christmas we remember the birth of our Saviour, Jesus Christ – God’s gift to all of mankind.

Monday, December 24, 2012

The stone

“So this is what the Sovereign Lord says: See, I lay a stone in Zion, a tested stone, a precious cornerstone for a sure foundation; the one who trusts will never be dismayed.” Isaiah 28:16
In Old Testament imagery, a rock or a stone is a common picture of Jesus Christ. Paul writes about the rock that was struck by Moses in the desert and provided water for the people to drink, saying, “and that rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:4). Elsewhere he writes of Christ as the foundation stone (1 Cor. 3:11). Peter writes about the living stone (1 Pet. 2:4). Jesus referred to Himself as the stone the builders rejected which had become the capstone (Matt. 21:42-44, see also Acts 4:10-12, 1 Pet. 2:7).
Here we see a stone laid in Zion, the city of God. It has been tested and proven to be strong. Jesus was tested at the cross, and proved Himself to be faithful and obedient to the Father’s will. We can trust Him completely with our lives, knowing that He will lead us to eternal salvation. He is the foundation stone for our faith. If we place our trust in Him, we will never be shaken (Matt. 7:24-27).
Jesus is also called ‘a precious cornerstone’. He is the foundation for us not only as individuals but also collectively as the church. The purpose of a cornerstone is to ensure that the building is straight on all sides, so that it is strong and true. It is “built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, with Christ Jesus Himself as the chief cornerstone. In Him the whole building is joined together and rises to become a holy temple in the Lord. And in Him you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit” (Eph. 2:20-22). All true believers are part of the body of Christ, the church. Are you doing your part?

Sunday, December 23, 2012

The gospel: A simple message

“Who is it he is trying to teach? To whom is he explaining his message? To children weaned from their milk, to those just taken from the breast? For it is: Do and do, do and do, rule on rule, rule on rule; a little here, a little there.” Isaiah 28:9-10
This verse refers to the ridicule that the prophet Isaiah was receiving from his countrymen concerning the message he had been given from God to tell them. They ridiculed him for it being too simple, and only fit for children. For them, it was only about what to do and keeping rules. (The actual Hebrew here is sav lasav sav lasav, kav lakav kav lakav - mimicking baby talk.)
Similarly, there are people today who ridicule the gospel for it being too simple. They can’t understand how we can be saved by something God has done, without us having to do anything more than believe. They read the Bible and come away thinking, “It’s just a whole bunch of ‘Thou shalt’s and ‘Thou shalt not’s.”
The difference for an unsaved person reading the Bible and a Christian reading the Bible, is that the Christian has the benefit of the Holy Spirit illuminating the word of God to them. The unsaved person does not have this, and so the words on the page are just that - sav lasav sav lasav, kav lakav, kav lakav. I have found that there is very little to be gained from debating with an unsaved person as to the validity and power of the word of God. If they say they don’t believe it, there is little you can say that will make them change their mind. Instead, we need to pray that the Holy Spirit would open their eyes, that they would come to faith in Christ and be able to read the Scriptures in the light of their Author. It is true that the gospel is simple. It has to be, because otherwise there would be an intellectual barrier preventing some people from being able to be saved. If we needed a measure of intellect to understand the gospel, it would give us opportunity to boast because we had figured it out. The gospel is simple enough that a little child can understand it and believe in Jesus. And it is so simple that it confuses the minds of many great intellects of the world. “But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things – and the things that are not – to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before Him” (1 Cor. 1:27-29).

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Judas' true colours

“[Judas] did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.” John 12:6
Today we’re going to look at the character of Judas Iscariot – a name that has become synonymous for ‘traitor’. Judas was a common name at the time, but not any more.
It would seem that none of the other disciples suspected Judas as a traitor or a thief. When Jesus announced at the Last Supper that one of them would betray Him, they all asked Him if it was them. Nobody, it seemed, suspected Judas. Judas was a city boy, from Kerioth in Judah (hence, ‘Iscariot’), whereas most of the other disciples were from the Galilee area. This was probably the reason why he was entrusted with the group’s finances, being more familiar with money than the fishermen in the group.
Here John notes that Judas was a thief and used to help himself to the money bag. John would not have known this at the time, but it had been discovered by the time he wrote his gospel in around 90 AD. Judas was obsessed with money. When he saw Mary’s generosity at giving up her dowry to bless Jesus, he only saw the money involved.
I think it’s fair to say that Judas was not a true disciple. He never called Jesus ‘Lord’, but only ‘Rabbi’. Why did Jesus choose him as one of the Twelve, then? I can think of a couple of reasons. Firstly, the Scriptures had prophesied that Messiah would be betrayed (John 13:18, Ps. 41:9). This does not mean that Judas had no choice in the matter. Secondly, Judas gave testimony as to the innocence of Jesus (Matt. 27:3-4). He had lived with, eaten with, listened to, and watched Jesus for nearly four years, and not once in that time had he seen Jesus sin.
It is the same in Christianity today. There are people who appear to be disciples, who have ulterior motives – often involving money. It’s not too late for them to repent and serve the Lord in spirit and truth. But if they don’t, then like Judas, one day their true colours will be shown for what they really are.

Friday, December 21, 2012

When Christians are an embarrassment

“May those who hope in You not be disgraced because of me, O Lord, the Lord Almighty; may those who seek You not be put to shame because of me, O God of Israel.” Psalm 69:6
I don’t know about you, but when I see people on TV doing strange things and justifying their behaviour by saying, ‘I’m doing this because I’m a Christian’ – whether it’s walking down the street with banners condemning everyone to hell, or holding hands and gazing up at the sky with glazed looks because they are convinced that today is the day of Jesus’ second coming, or liberal churches putting up sacrilegious and blasphemous billboards to ‘spark debate’ in a community – I feel mightily embarrassed. These people are ridiculed by the world, and rightly so. Unfortunately, those of us who are Christians who don’t do these things, are usually lumped in together with the ‘redneck’ ‘Bible thumping’ ‘fundamentalist’ ‘fanatics’.
I can’t do much about the behaviour of those people I see on TV. But I can take time to examine myself and my own behaviour. We often think about whether we are a good example of a Christian to non-believers. But equally important is to think about whether we are a good example to believers. Does my behaviour edify other Christians, or does it embarrass them? If I am being persecuted, is it because I am living a life of righteousness that silently highlights people’s sin, or is it because I do weird things worthy of being made fun of? Am I disgracing the name of Christ among my brothers and sisters by anything I am doing?

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Everything we have comes from God

“Lord, You establish peace for us; all that we have accomplished You have done for us.” Isaiah 26:12
The chapter in the book of Isaiah from which this verse comes describes how the Israelites would praise God for delivering them from their enemies. They acknowledge that God is the one who brought about deliverance and gave them victory – it was nothing they themselves had done.
We can often forget to acknowledge God’s hand in our own lives, and we would do well to acknowledge God’s influence just as Isaiah spoke about here. If you think about it, all that we have done and achieved is only because God has given us the opportunity and the ability to do those things – be it excelling at sport, receiving education, landing a job, finding your spouse, earning wages, participating in activities, and so on. Moses warned the Israelites, “But remember the Lord your God, for it is He who gives you the ability to produce wealth, and so confirms His covenant, which He swore to your forefathers, as it is today” (Deut. 8:18). Job and Solomon both wrote about how we come into the world with nothing, and leave the world with nothing (Job 1:21, Eccl. 5:15). Let us always remember that God is the one who has given us the abilities and talents that we have, and that He is the one who gives us the opportunities to use them. He is the one who provides for us, and He is the one who deserves all our glory and all our praise.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Being steadfast

“You will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast, because he trusts in You.” Isaiah 26:3
The word ‘steadfast’ here is the Hebrew samak, meaning ‘to lean upon’ or ‘to be propped up’. It conveys the sense of putting all your weight upon something. If our mind is steadfast on God, it means we have made a conscious, unwavering decision to trust God and follow Him no matter what. We have made up our mind, and no-one can compel us to change it. A deep-seated faith like this is absolutely necessary for us to stand in the midst of the storms that life throws at us. And although those storms will come, if our mind is steadfast in holding onto the fact that God is in control, we will have the peace that only comes from Him.
If you are in need of peace of mind today, look to God as the one who protects you and provides for you. Cling to Him like you would cling to a life raft in the sea. He is always watching over you, and He will never let you go.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Jesus was in control

“No-one takes it [My life] from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authoirty to take it up again. This command I received from My Father.” John 10:18
Here in John 10 we see Jesus expressing His understanding of His mission to earth: He had been sent by His Father to give His life for the sin of the world. He understood that His death would happen in a very precise way. Jesus knew that He would not be beheaded, or stoned, or torn to pieces by an angry mob. He would be crucified, as it had been prophesied hundreds of years before (c.f. Ps. 22:16). This meant that He would be subject to the Gentile Roman powers, since the usual Jewish method of executing someone was stoning. Even on the cross, Jesus did not just die, but He was the one who dismissed His own spirit (Luke 23:46).
There are several times in the gospels where it is recorded that the crowd tried to kill Jesus (see Matt. 26:4-5, Mark 11:18, Luke 13:31, Luke 19:47, Luke 4:29-30, John 5:18, John 7:1, John 7:30, John 7:44, John 8:20, John 8:59, John 10:31, John 10:39, John 11:53, etc.). Yet they did not succeed until the day that Jesus allowed them to arrest Him, try Him, condemn Him, and crucify Him. Jesus was the one in control of His death – and of His resurrection. And the comforting thing is, He is also in control of our lives (John 10:28).

Monday, December 17, 2012

Healing a man born blind

“As He went along, He saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked Him, ‘Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?’” John 9:1-2
In the time of Jesus, there wasn’t the welfare system that we have in Western society today, where someone with a disability such as blindness can receive financial help from the government. In those days, if you had a disability, you would usually be reduced to begging on the street and hoping that people would take pity on you and help you out. In places like Jerusalem, there were busy places where such people congregated. It was not unusual to see people sitting beside the road, begging. It was easy for the disciples to look at this man born blind and use his misery to ask Jesus a theological question that had been bugging them: “Who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
There were two schools of thought, both stemming from the notion that if bad things happened to you, it was the result of some previous sin. For a man who was born blind, this posed a difficulty. Some rabbis taught that a person could sin while in the womb. Others taught that parents’ sin could be passed to their children (despite Ezek. 18:20 and other passages).
Jesus answers that neither is the case (John 9:3), but, He says, “so that the work of God might be displayed in his life” (John 9:3). The man and his parents were not more wicked sinners than anyone else. But God had a special plan for this man, and it involved him being blind for a time so that he might be healed. The work of God would open this man’s eyes, and through that healing the man became a great witness to others (see the rest of John 9).
If you have some disability, or know someone who does, take heart: God allows these things to happen for a reason, and all these reasons have a common factor: that He might be glorified through it. I don’t know how, or when, He will do it; but we can rest assured that He knows what He is doing.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

God's grace

“May God be gracious to us and bless us and make His face shine upon us – Selah – that Your ways may be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations.” Psalm 67:1-2
Ps. 67:1 is reminiscent of the priestly blessing that Aaron was instructed to pronounce upon the children of Israel in Num. 6:24-26 – “The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make His face shine upon you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn His face toward you and give you peace.” This is a three-fold blessing, reminding us of the tri-unity of the Godhead (Father, Son and Holy Spirit). It reminds us of God’s blessings and protection, His favour and grace, His watchful eye over our lives and His peace. All of these are wonderful attributes of God to meditate on. God has indeed blessed us greatly, and shown us immense grace – blessings we don’t deserve – especially in sending His own Son to earth to die in our place for our sins.
Then we see the word ‘Selah’, which occurs frequently in the Psalms and indicates a connection between two thoughts. The connection is that God’s blessings upon our lives would lead to His way of salvation being known among all nations.
God doesn’t just bless us for our own sakes, but so we might be a blessing and a witness to others. When people can see the grace and peace that we have in our lives because of our relationship with God, an inner strength that can withstand any storm that life throws at us, they will take notice and want to know how we are able to keep going. That’s our opportunity to share with them what God has done in our lives, and how we are now living for Him.

Saturday, December 15, 2012

The woman caught in adultery

“[They] said to Jesus, ‘Teacher, this woman was caught in the act of adultery. In the Law Moses commanded us to stone such women. Now what do You say?’ They were using this question as a trap, in order to have a basis for accusing Him.” John 8:4-6
Many times we see the Pharisees asking Jesus a theological question in order to trap Him. Here they bring Him a woman whom they say they caught in the act of adultery. This was a violation of the seventh of the Ten Commandments (Ex. 20:14) and was punishable by death according to the Mosaic Law (Lev. 20:10). However, at this time, the Roman authorities had taken away the Jews’ right to execute capital punishment. Here is the trap: if Jesus said, ‘No, she should not be stoned,’ they would accuse Him of breaking God’s Law. If He said, ‘Yes, she should be stoned,’ they would go to the Romans and say that Jesus was breaking Rome’s law. (A similar instance is seen here in Matt. 22 where the Pharisees ask Him whether it is right to pay taxes to Caesar or not.)
There is another clue that tells us this is a trap. If the woman had indeed been caught ‘in the act’ of adultery, the Law required that both the man and the woman be brought and put to death (Lev. 20:10). It has been suggested that the man was one of the Pharisees.
Jesus avoids the trap completely. He bends down and starts writing on the ground, and when they press Him for an answer, He responded, “If any one of you is without sin, let him be the first to throw a stone at her” (John 8:7). We don’t know what He was writing, but it caused them one by one to leave. It has been suggested that He was writing down their sins. Alwyn Wall points out that the proper translation of Jesus’ words is ‘If any of you is without this same sin.’ Perhaps Jesus was writing down names, places, dates... In any case, they all leave and Jesus pronounces to the woman that she is not condemned. He tells her, “Go now and leave your life of sin” (John 8:11) – acknowledging that she was guilty, but giving her a second chance.

Friday, December 14, 2012

Having hang-ups about Jesus

“Others said, ‘He is the Christ.’ Still others asked, ‘How can the Christ come from Galilee? Does not the Scripture say that the Christ will come from David’s family and from Bethlehem, the town where David lived?’ Thus the people were divided because of Jesus.” John 7:41-43
We see from the Scriptures that there was a lot of controversy amongst the people concerning Jesus’ identity. At one point, Jesus asked His disciples who people were saying He was, and there were suggestions of John the Baptist, Elijah, Jeremiah, or one of the other prophets (Matt. 16:13-14). Here we see some people saying they thought Jesus was the Christ (or Messiah – ‘Christ’ is from the Greek, ‘Messiah’ is from the Hebrew; both mean ‘anointed one’). But others disagreed, because in their eyes Jesus didn’t fit the description. He had a Galilean accent; they expected Christ to be a leader from the line of David. They knew from the Scriptures that Christ was supposed to come from Bethlehem (Mic. 5:2). This carpenter from Galilee was not the rabbi from Bethlehem they had in mind.
But Jesus was indeed born in Bethlehem, as the Scriptures foretold. He was of the line of David, as prophesied. These hang-ups that the people had about Him could be rationally explained.
It is the same today. Many people have hang-ups about God, Jesus, or the Bible that prevent them from coming to faith in Christ. They will say, ‘The Trinity makes no sense to me; I can’t believe in God because I don’t understand it.’ Or, ‘I can’t believe in a God who allows bad things to happen to good people.’ These things can be explained from the Scriptures, if people would be willing to listen. However, those who say these things usually do so as an excuse not to believe – it’s not because they can’t believe; it’s because they don’t want to. There is a big difference.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

God doesn't reject anyone

“All that the Father gives Me will come to Me, and whoever comes to Me I will never drive away.” John 6:37
This verse should bring us great comfort. Many times we can feel unworthy to approach God – and rightly so, because He is perfect and we have broken His Law. We are without excuse, and if it were not for the blood of Jesus Christ, we could only expect the punishment of death for our sins (Rom. 3:23). But Jesus came to bridge the gap between mankind and God, and now the way is open for anyone who would come. God will not drive anyone away who wants to come to Him. If someone you know feels as if they are being rejected by God, know that it is not God who is rejecting them, but Satan trying to prevent them from coming. One of the primary works of the Holy Spirit in the lives of unbelievers today is drawing them to Christ. God “wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). He will not reject anyone.
In this verse we can also see the two sides of the predestination-free will coin. “All that the Father gives Me will come to Me” – those who have been predestined. No-one can be saved unless they have first been drawn to Christ (John 6:44). “and whoever comes to Me” – by their own free will. The Holy Spirit draws us to Christ, but we must also respond to that drawing.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

God can do a lot, with a little

“Another of His disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, ‘Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?’” John 6:8-9
In John’s account of how Jesus fed over 5,000 people with just a small boy’s lunch, we see some interesting points that are not included in the other gospels (Matt. 14, Mark 6, Luke 9).
Firstly, we see that Jesus’ question about providing food for the people was directed to Philip. John also says, “He asked this only to test him, for He already had in mind what He was going to do” (John 6:6). Jesus was giving Philip an opportunity to prove his faith. But Philip could not see beyond the natural. He exclaimed, “Eight months’ wages would not buy enough bread for each one to have a bite!” (John 6:7).
Enter Andrew, who had found a small boy who had some food. First he announces, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish,” – but then he too expresses doubt: “but how far will they go among so many?” (John 6:9).
There is comfort here for us. Jesus took that small amount of food, and turned it into a feast for over 5,000 people. He also took the small amount of faith that Andrew had expressed, and demonstrated that He was able to provide for the needs of all. Elsewhere, Jesus said, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20). Even if we only have a little faith, God can use it for great things. Even if we only have a small amount of talent, or time, or resources, if we give them to God, He can use them to accomplish great things that we would never have believed possible. So the lesson is clear: be generous when you give to Him!

Tuesday, December 11, 2012


“Hear me, O God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy.” Psalm 64:1
We all complain. Nobody’s life is perfect, nobody can say that everything goes their way all of the time. Everyone has problems, and it’s up to us how to deal with them – and this is what shapes our character.
David wrote this psalm, probably during a time when he was on the run, either from Saul or from Absalom. He had been falsely accused (Ps. 64:3) and his life had been placed in danger. He and the men with him were under constant threat of attack. Now imagine what would have happened to the morale in the camp if David had complained to his men about how he felt and what was happening to him. They would have quickly become sick and tired of hearing him, and left him to wallow in self-pity.
This is how other people can feel about us if we are constantly complaining – not necessarily about them, but even just to them about life in general. It is immensely draining listening to someone complain. So let’s try not to be people who complain to others. It is ok to complain, to voice your frustrations, but do it to God, not to other people. Let Him know how you are feeling – and let Him lift you up.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Trusting in God

“Surely God is my salvation; I will trust and not be afraid. The Lord, the Lord, is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.” Isaiah 12:2
There are many benefits in being a Christian; for me perhaps the greatest day-to-day blessing is the peace that I have, knowing I can trust God in all things. I don’t need to fear or worry about anything, because He has everything under control. Trust takes time to develop, and God is constantly stretching us just that little bit more, so that our faith will grow from strength to strength. For you it might be health issues, or the threat of losing your job. It might be a rift in your family, or some chaotic event that turns your life upside-down. But no matter what happens, God will be there. If we are truly trusting in Him, we don’t need to worry about or fear anything. He is our strength – the power within us that enables us to keep going. He is our song – the joy and praise within us that gives us hope for the future (in eternity, if not also in this life). He is our salvation, and is becoming our salvation. He has provided for us to be saved through the death and resurrection of His Son, and He is continually sanctifying us, purifying us for heaven. Our relationship with the Lord should be what defines us. It shouldn’t just be a part of our lives, something that we do; it should be the primary characteristic of who we are.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Talking with the Samaritan woman

“The Samaritan woman said to Him, ‘You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can You ask me for a drink?’ (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans.)” John 4:9
In Israel in Jesus’ time, as in many places today, there were certain groups or types of people that you simply didn’t associate with. Jews did not associate with Samaritans (the ‘half-Jews’ who were products of the northern kingdom of Israel who had been taken into captivity in Assyria and forced to integrate with other races). Men did not associate with women who were not related to them. You didn’t associate with lepers, or befriend tax-collectors.
Yet Jesus showed no partiality on the basis of someone’s race, gender, or social standing. He talked with this Samaritan woman – whom even the other people in her own town avoided, because of her having had multiple husbands. He taught her the truths of God, just as He taught His own disciples. He gave her the same opportunity to believe in Him that He gives to you and I today.
I don’t know about you, but I constantly need reminding of this fact: Every person is important to God. We might look out over a crowd of people, or pass by them in the street, and think nothing of it. But God knows each one of those people: their name, their family situation, what is troubling them, what He has planned for them. Each person is created in the image of God and they are precious to Him. If we are to represent Him faithfully, we should act like Jesus and not show partiality to anyone, but treat everyone with respect. Everyone needs to hear the gospel, so that they might believe and be saved!

Saturday, December 8, 2012

Three things about God

“One thing God has spoken, two things have I heard: that You, O God, are strong, and that You, O Lord, are loving. Surely You will reward each person according to what he has done.” Psalm 62:11-12
In today’s verses David describes three primary attributes of God. He does so in poetic language, by saying ‘one thing... two things...’ (this construct is quite common in Proverbs, e.g. Prov. 30).
Firstly, God is strong. In fact, He is omnipotent – all-powerful. He can do anything. Nothing is impossible for Him. Because of this, we can rest assured that He is in control of all things.
Secondly, God is loving. Many people seem to think that God is different in the Old and New Testaments; in the Old Testament He is seen as judging people, while in the New Testament He is seen as loving people. But God’s love is seen in the Old Testament, just as His judgement is also seen in the New. He is the same yesterday, today and forever (Heb. 13:8). God’s love is what sets Him apart from other gods. The depths of God’s love are shown in how He allowed His only Son to die on the cross for our sins (Rom. 5:8).
Thirdly, God is just and fair. He rewards each person according to what they have done. If they have believed in Him, they receive salvation. If they have rejected Him, they receive condemnation. If they have not come to Him for forgiveness of sins, they will receive a fair punishment for those sins. If they have believed and performed good works with good motives, they will receive rewards (1 Cor. 3:12-13). God doesn’t punish the children for the sins of their fathers. He ensures each person receives what is fair based on how they lived.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Isaiah's children

“Here I am, and the children the Lord has given me. We are signs and symbols in Israel from the Lord Almighty, who dwells on Mount Zion.” Isaiah 8:18
There are several people in the Bible who were told what to name their children, and Isaiah is one of them. Both of his sons had prophetic names. First there was Shear-Jashub (Isa. 7:3), which means ‘a remnant will return’. This is a theme throughout the book of Isaiah (Isa. 10:21) and indeed throughout the whole Bible. Isaiah was instructed by God to take his son Shear-Jashub to meet the king while the city was under attack from Rezin king of Aram and Pekah king of Israel. Imagine the impact that Isaiah would have had upon the king by introducing his son, ‘a remnant will return’. God still had His hand upon the nation of Judah; He would preserve a remnant even through seventy years of captivity.
Isaiah’s second son was called Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz (Isa. 8:1-3). This name means ‘quick to the plunder, swift to the spoil’. He was named as a sign that within a few short years, the northern kingdom would be taken away into captivity in Assyria.
Isaiah’s own name means ‘Jah (a shortened version of Jehovah) has saved’. Every time Isaiah introduced himself and his sons, the people would be reminded of the messages: God would be their Saviour, their enemies would be defeated, and although they themselves would go into captivity later, God would ensure that a remnant would return.
There’s application here for us too. Our families ought to be witnesses to those around us of the reality of God. People should notice that we are different – not in a weird kind of way, but the love, joy, peace etc. that we have in the Lord.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

Facing the battle

“Raise the war cry, you nations, and be shattered!! Listen, all you distant lands. Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Prepare for battle, and be shattered! Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us.” Isaiah 8:9-10
As we look back through history, both ancient and modern, we see that the nation of Israel has endured some pretty horrific battles – wars where she should have been obliterated many times over, fights where she was vastly outnumbered by her enemies. Yet the nation still exists today – and not only exists, but thrives. The only explanation for this is because God is on her side. The nations of the world can plot and scheme all they like; they can build up troops and weapons, but if they attack Israel, they will lose. God has a plan for the end times, and Israel is at the centre of that plan, not least of which because He longs for them to come to salvation.
While the church does not replace Israel in terms of receiving her blessings as a substitute, she can share in Israel’s blessings, by faith. One can look at the co-ordinated attacks by various anti-Christian groups, and wonder how the church can survive in today’s environment in certain cities and certain parts of the world. But the Bible promises that no weapon formed against us will prosper (Isa. 54:17) – be they physical or spiritual weapons. Throughout history, God has always ensured that at least a remnant of His people have survived. So if you are facing opposition today, don’t despair – God is with you, and He will bring you through.

Wednesday, December 5, 2012

Encountering God

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.” Isaiah 6:5
There’s no shortage of songs put out by Christian artists that go along the line of ‘I want to touch You, Lord, I want to see Your face’, but when we read in the Bible of people encountering God, their reaction is usually like that of Isaiah in today’s verse. When Isaiah saw God in His full glory, he didn’t sit there, overcome by warm fuzzy feelings. He was filled with the awareness of his own sin and his own unworthiness. Moses was told by God that he could not look at Him directly, because the discrepancy between God’s glory and Moses’ sin would cause Moses to die (Ex. 33:18-23). When Daniel and John saw the glory of God, they fell face down because all their strength was gone (Dan. 10:8-9, Rev. 1:17).
When we compare ourselves with other people, our sin doesn’t look so bad. We say to ourselves, ‘I’m a good person, because I don’t sin as much as that person.’ But other people are not the yardstick by which goodness is measured. God is good, and any of our sins, no matter how small, makes us unworthy in His sight. That is why He sent His Son to die, to take the punishment our sins deserve, so that one day we might be able to come into His presence and see His glory.

Tuesday, December 4, 2012

He knew what was in a man

“[Jesus] did not need man’s testimony about man, for He knew what was in a man.” John 2:25
This verse puzzled me for a long time – I didn’t understand what it meant, or what it was referring to. Like much of the gospel of John, it’s one of those things that I needed to mull over for quite a long time, but when the understanding came, it was worth it for the insight that was revealed.
We know that God knows us better than we know ourselves. In Psalm 139 we read, “You know when I sit and when I rise; You perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; You are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue You know it completely, O Lord” (Ps. 139:2-4).
The verse has two implications, which can be summed up as applying to mankind in general and to each person in particular.
Jesus didn’t need anyone to tell Him what it was like to be human. He experienced humanity to the utmost. We read in Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Heb. 4:15).
Secondly, Jesus didn’t need anyone to tell Him what someone else was thinking or what their motives were – He knew. In many cases their motives were selfish and superficial, only following Him because of His popularity and His ability to perform miracles (John 2:23). This was why John writes, “But Jesus would not entrust Himself to them, for He knew all men” (John 2:24).
For some people, knowing that God knows everything about us, including our thoughts, scares them. But I find it immensely comforting – that the God of the universe should care that much about little old me!

Monday, December 3, 2012


“I long to dwell in Your tent forever and take refuge in the shelter of your wings.” Psalm 61:4
We don’t know what circumstances David was in when he penned these words in Psalm 61, but it could have described many situations in his life, when he was on the run from Saul and later from his own son Absalom. David knew all too well what it was like to be on the move, for his life to be in danger constantly, to not have a permanent place of refuge. But David came to realise that no matter what happened to him physically, he would always have God as a spiritual refuge.
Perhaps this describes how you feel today. Are you being hounded by someone or something? Do you feel as if they’re out to get you, through no fault of your own? Are you looking for a place to call home, where you can be safe and secure? Those things may not exist for you in this world, but you can be sure that God will always be there to protect you and give you shelter.

Sunday, December 2, 2012

Bringing disaster upon yourself

“The look on their faces testifies against them; they parade their sin like Sodom; they do not hide it. Woe to them! They have brought disaster upon themselves.” Isaiah 3:9
The Bible tells us, very clearly, over and over again, that disasters await those who parade their sin. As humans we can have different attitudes towards sin, and different ways that it can happen. The Bible tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God” (Rom. 3:23), and the wages of sin is death (Rom. 6:23). We all have a sin nature, inherited from Adam. This sin nature separates us from God, and is our greatest weakness. The tendency of this sin nature, if we are faced with a choice to sin or not, is to sin. Then there are the specific sinful acts which result from us giving in to this sin nature. These may be accidental – we may not realise that we are sinning by doing something, but it only becomes apparent later. In the Old Testament these kinds of sins had provision for atonement through the guilt offering and the sin offering. These may be sins of commission or sins of omission – failing to do what is right. Then there is another type of sin: the sin that is deliberate. We know something is wrong, and yet we do it anyway. There was no provision in the Old Testament for forgiveness of these kinds of sins.
Isaiah speaks of people who go one step further than this: engaging in deliberate sin, not just to bring pleasure to themselves, but to parade it in front of others. I am noticing this more and more in today’s society. Things which wouldn’t have been mentioned a few decades ago, now feature on prime time TV. They are spoken of as ‘alternative lifestyles’ and protected by ‘freedom of speech’. A year or so ago someone I knew was telling a group of us how her 14-year-old daughter had lost her virginity only a couple of months before and was now regularly sleeping around with boys. She was laughing and had absolutely no shame in telling us this – nor did it seem she was planning on doing anything about it. It shocked me deeply at the time, and now reading this verse I can only think how these sorts of actions will only result in that girl – and mother – bringing disaster upon themselves. We all need to examine ourselves and see if there is any sin that we are holding onto and parading around, and deal with it.

Saturday, December 1, 2012

Problems with modern Christianity

“You have abandoned Your people, the house of Jacob. They are full of superstitions from the East; they practise divination like the Philistines and clasp hands with pagans.” Isaiah 2:6
These words were written to the nation of Israel prior to their judgement in being sent into captivity, but they could equally well apply to Christianity at large today. The ecumenical and emergent church movements have a lot to answer for, having sacrificed Biblical truth on the altar of ‘tolerance for all’. It is scary to notice how many Eastern traditions and ideologies have made their way into the church today: the use of candles, chanting, and so on, seeking ‘inner peace’, ‘meditation’ being interpreted as seeking a trance-like state rather than the Biblical sense of ‘chewing over’ a passage of Scripture, and so forth. The Ecumenical movement prides itself on trying to marry up Christianity with other religions – as Isaiah said, to ‘clasp hands with pagans’. This movement teaches erroneous doctrine such as ‘Christians and Muslims all worship the same God’, and ‘there are many paths to heaven’. They teach about limbo and annihilation instead of the Biblical reality of hell. They liken the Holy Spirit to ‘the Force’ from Star Wars (which itself contains many underlying ideas from Hinduism). Some of them even suggest that God may be female!
It is no wonder then, that God has distanced Himself from these people. In their self-determined superior knowledge about spiritual things, they have rejected the God of the Bible and invented another god of their own making. Jesus’ instruction to us about these people is clear: “Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit” (Matt. 15:14). Israel’s judgement came to a head when they rejected God in favour of the gods of the nations surrounding them. It would seem that the same thing will happen to the church, one day (1 Pet. 4:17). We need to come back to the Bible as the basis of Christianity, the true foundation of our faith.

Friday, November 30, 2012

Isaiah's vision

“The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” Isaiah 1:1
This verse is one that we might normally skim over when reading a book, but it caught my attention. In particular, one word caught my attention: ‘vision’. It is ‘the vision’, singular; not ‘the visions’, plural. The book of Isaiah, with its 66 chapters, is one unified vision, even though it spanned many years, from Uzziah through to Hezekiah – at least 55 years.* It is the vision of God’s plan. In the book of Isaiah we see the first and second comings of Jesus Christ (Isa. 7:14, Isa. 66). We see His death and resurrection (Isa. 53). We see Israel’s unfaithfulness, and salvation being extended to the Gentiles (Isa. 49:22). This is all unified in God’s plan for history. (A similar truth applies to the book of Revelation. It is not ‘the book of Revelations’ as many say; it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, coming in glory, one unified vision that John was given.)
In fact, one of the most astounding things about the Bible as a whole is the unity of every book and every chapter. Even though it was written over a period of 2000 years by more than forty different people, the consistency of its message is testament to God being its author. Let us never take the Bible for granted!

* Isaiah probably started ministering late in Uzziah’s reign (Isa. 6:1), Jotham and Ahaz reigned for 16 years each (2 Chr. 27:1, 2 Chr. 28:1), and he ministered right through Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kin. 20) until Hezekiah’s son Manasseh came into power (there is a tradition that Manasseh killed Isaiah by cutting him in half, which may be what Heb. 11:37 alludes to).

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Prophecy in the Psalms and the Law of Moses

“He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’” Luke 24:44
These words were spoken by Jesus shortly before He ascended to heaven, after He had revealed Himself to the disciples in His resurrected body. This is an interesting statement, because He says that the things written about Him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms have now been fulfilled.
We understand that the prophetic books of the Old Testament speak about future events and contain many prophecies about the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the Law of Moses and the Psalms? We don’t tend to think of those books as being prophetic, but they are. There are certain psalms that are recognised as being prophetic, such as Ps. 22, which portrays a graphic description of the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, and Ps. 69, which describes His rejection by His own people. Ps. 24 is another prophetic psalm that looks forward to the return of Christ to establish His Kingdom. Ps. 118 contains the verses Jesus quoted of Himself at the Triumphal Entry (Ps. 118:22-24).
The Law of Moses – the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – also contain many prophetic pictures of Jesus Christ. In Gen. 3 we see God promising a Saviour who would come from the human race, who would crush the serpent’s head. In Gen. 22 we see a picture of a father (Abraham) taking his son (Isaac) to the top of a hill for a sacrifice. In Gen. 37-50 we see the life of Joseph, ridiculed, thrown in prison, mistreated, and finally exalted. In Exodus we see the institution of the Passover, where a lamb was sacrificed so that death might ‘pass over’ all those who trusted in God to protect them. We see the provision of manna, bread from heaven (see John 6:48-51). In Leviticus we see the establishment of the various kinds of sacrifices, which all give us insights into the life of Christ. In Numbers we see Moses putting a serpent on a pole, so that the people might look to it and live (see John 3:14-15). In Deuteronomy we see the promise of another leader like Moses (Deut. 18:15).
Many Christians neglect to study the Old Testament, thinking that it only applies to the Jews. But there is much value to be found – simply ask, ‘What does this passage teach me about Jesus?’ – and you’ll be surprised what the Holy Spirit teaches you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Facing ridicule

“For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:31
Jesus spoke these words as He was being led out of the city to be crucified. We read how a crowd of people were following, some of them weeping. There is no doubt that ‘these things’ refer to His scourging and crucifixion, even though He had been declared innocent by Pilate, the Roman governor. He was in this situation, firstly because it had been prophesied, but also because of the jealousy of the priests and the Sanhedrin. ‘When the tree is green’ refers to this period of history when Jesus was walking around on the earth, God clothed in flesh. Trees are green in summer, a time of settled weather, long days where the light remains long into the evenings. This describes the period of time they were in; as John writes, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Isaiah had prophesied of a time when “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isa. 9:2, quoted in Matt. 4:16). But the religious leaders sought to put an end to that light, and it would seem at the crucifixion that they succeeded.
People rejected Jesus when He was walking around on this planet, when God’s presence was obvious – when the tree was green. Have you noticed how antagonistic people are about Jesus, now that He has not here? It sickens me sometimes to hear the ridicule that certain people spew out against God and against those who believe in Him. But this is simply one of the symptoms of a person who has rejected God and is living for themselves. It seems that man’s wickedness knows no bounds. It wasn’t enough for the Sanhedrin to disagree with Jesus; they campaigned for Him to be crucified. It isn’t enough for people to disagree with the Bible; they have to launch billboard campaigns and form lobby groups and shake their fists in the face of God and treat His followers with derision. This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus told His disciples, “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15:20). Simply stand firm in the Lord. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


“He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me; Selah – God sends His love and His faithfulness.” Psalm 57:3
Hebrew poetry and song is not so much linked through rhyme and metre (rhythm) as western music is; rather, it is based on the connections and contrasts between thoughts or ideas. The word Selah appears many times in the Psalms. It indicates a break in the passage, time to meditate on what has been said, and also as a linkage to the next passage, thought, or idea.
The thought contained in the first passage is one of God’s deliverance from our enemies. The linkage to the second thought is through the word ‘sends’. In the first passage, David is being pursued by his enemies and calls to God to ‘send’ from heaven and save him. We would think that the answer to this prayer would be for God to send an angel to fight off the enemies, or to confuse them so that David could escape. But the Selah connects to the second thought: ‘God sends His love and His faithfulness’. God didn’t send an angel to deliver David physically, but He did send His love and faithfulness, letting David know in his heart that God would keep all the promises He had made to him.
If you think about it, the spiritual answer to prayer is more important and more valuable than the physical answer to prayer. Many times we ask for physical healing, which may leave us short-changed if God’s plan is to build us up to be spiritually strong. We may pray for our physical needs to be met, but if God were to answer these prayers and not meet our spiritual needs, we would only have temporary relief.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ready for Jesus' return

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” Luke 21:34
Here in Luke 21 Jesus gives His disciples some insights into how life will be like before the last days (Luke 21:12). We should take notice of these and apply them to our own lives.
As the months and years go by, it feels as if the world is spinning faster and faster. Technology is advancing at an ever-increasing rate. Global troubles seem to get bigger and bigger, and we can easily get caught up in these things, and lose our focus on the things of God.
The doctrine of the return of Christ is called a purifying doctrine (1 John 3:3). It is called ‘the blessed hope’ (Tit. 2:12-13). If we lose sight of this, we can fall prey to three things, which Jesus tells us are ‘dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life’. These parallel the three ways in which we are tempted: the lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). These were the three ways in which Eve was tempted (Gen. 3:6), and the three temptations offered to Jesus.
‘Dissipation’ (NIV) refers to overindulgence – a lust of the eyes. Drunkenness is a lust of the flesh, and anxiety about the world we are in is one of the prides of life. These things can weigh us down and shift our focus away from the Lord. We may be prone to forget that Jesus could return at any moment, and neglect to be ready. In Matt. 24:45-51 Jesus tells a parable about a servant who was left in charge by his master, who departed for a journey. The servant would be rewarded if things were in order when his master returned; however if the servant had misused his position and lived as if his master was not returning, he would receive punishment. Which are you today – are you ready for Jesus’ return, or has your heart become weighed down by the things of the world?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The fig tree, and all the trees

“He told them this parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.’” Luke 21:29-31
Recently we saw a similar verse to this in Mark’s gospel, in which, similarly to Matt. 24:32, Jesus only mentions the fig tree, referring to Israel. This discourse in Luke’s gospel, although similar in many respects, was actually given at a different time (at the temple, Luke 21:5, as opposed to on the Mount of Olives, Matt. 24:3, Mark 3:3). We know that Jesus repeated some of His statements and teaching to the disciples on multiple occasions. So here, He talks about “the fig tree and all the trees.” Israel, we know, is what the fig tree symbolises. So then, “all the trees” refers to all the other nations. Jesus is talking about the end times approaching; as we have seen, the nation Israel has been regathered in their own land. But the end times scenario doesn’t only involve Israel. It involves the whole world: certain nations aligned together in Ezekiel 38-39, a one-world government arising from the revived Roman empire. Today we see ‘all the trees’ sprouting leaves, moving into position for that final scenario. And so we know that the time is near when Jesus will return.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Facing the battles

“He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.” Psalm 55:18
The Bible promises us over and over again that if we are a child of God, we will face battles and difficulties while we are in this world. When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we cease to be under Satan’s control (1 John 5:19) and are instead in the minority who oppose him. John wrote, “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). Peter wrote, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). Paul wrote, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). Persecution and spiritual battles will be part of our lives until the day we go to be with the Lord.
But even though we may face persecution and intense spiritual battles, we are not overcome. God will deliver us if we trust in Him. It doesn’t matter who is opposing you – all that matters is that God is on our side, and He will bring about the victory. Listen to these verses: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Being happy in our work

“Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 5:19
I am very blessed (I initially wrote ‘fortunate’, but that conveys the idea of fate, luck, and chance) to have a job that I enjoy doing. Many people don’t have this, and work is a never-ending stream of drudgery, week in, week out. Sure, some days are better than others, but on the whole I am thankful for the independence and flexibility I have. During my student days I worked on the checkout at a local supermarket, which really opened my eyes to see how for some people, that is all they can ever aspire to. I remember one night one of the other girls getting really upset with both me and the supervisor because I had been asked to empty the rubbish bins – doing any little job that was different to scanning and packing food items was highly desirable just to break the monotony. I don’t remember what I said, but in hindsight I should have just said that she could do it – knowing that for me it was just a temporary, part time thing to earn a bit of money, while for her it was a big deal. I suppose even then I was trying to do the best job that I could, even for something as mundane as packing groceries.
It’s easy for us to look at others around us and envy their position or their salary. But we should not concern ourselves with other people. We should simply be thankful to God for what He has given us, and stop comparing ourselves with other people. Being content with our lives is indeed a gift of God, and one we can all be thankful for, if we have it. (If not, it’s not too late to learn to be content!)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

God is my help

“Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” Psalm 54:4
The subscript (introductory text) to Psalm 54 explains to us that this psalm was written when the Ziphites were helping Saul to track David down, in 1 Sam. 26:1. David was on the run from Saul, with a few hundred men who had likewise fallen out of favour. They were not all righteous, like David; they did not all have the right motives in joining him. They would have been seen as a band of renegades, rebelling against the king. Saul was pursuing David incessantly, driven by an evil spirit, following him from city to city and through the wilderness areas. David thought he had found safety in the desert of Ziph, but then he was betrayed by the people he was hiding among. He could not stay there but had to go on the run again. No doubt he was tired – physically and emotionally. But instead of giving up, David reminded himself that although the whole world seemed to be against him, God was still on his side, helping him and sustaining him.
We all need to learn to depend completely on the Lord, however it’s only in these hard times that we are truly able to understand what that means. God uses these hard times to teach us to rely on Him, and when we come out the other side, we are able to see how much stronger our faith has become. So next time you feel like everything and everyone has turned against you, remind yourself, like David, that God is your help and the One who sustains you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Eternity in our hearts

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
Despite the often depressive language of the book of Ecclesiastes, it does contain a few gems. One is given here, concerning how much greater God is than us, yet He has placed eternity in our hearts.
What does this phrase mean? It is a reference to our individual spirits. Man is a kind of ‘trinity’ – body, soul, and spirit. Having a spirit is what sets us apart from the animals: they have a body, and a soul (personality, willpower, animate life force) – but they do not have a spirit. And that spirit is eternal, for every person – whether they are saved or not.
It has been said that every person has a God-shaped hole in their heart. As we look at the things people pursue after in life, we realise that this pursuit is driven by a feeling that they are lacking something. They try to satisfy that lack with money, pleasure, fame, relationships, etc. But the reality is that only God can fill that void. This is why our highest purpose in life is to be reunited with Him. Knowing Jesus as our Saviour is what makes us complete as human beings, the way God intended us to be.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Life under the sun

“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 1:14
First up, let me admit that Ecclesiastes is not my favourite book of the Bible. Sometimes we can wonder why it was included in the Scriptures. But if we are willing to read it, we can understand some important points about how unbelievers view life.
Here we come across a phrase that is repeated over and over through the book of Ecclesiastes: ‘under the sun’. Solomon writes concerning life here on earth, during the days that we are walking around in our physical bodies. He writes as if this is all there is, and discusses all the pursuits that a person could engage in – education, pleasure, work, money, etc. For each one he concludes that it is meaningless, because for every example of someone who worked hard, there is an example of someone who didn’t work at all and was better off in life. If this is the meaning of life, then what we do doesn’t really matter, because it seems that everything is down to fate.
But this phrase ‘under the sun’ is what separates believers from unbelievers. For the unbeliever, who is not aware of God or of eternity, this life is all they are focusing on. If this life is all that there is, then it is indeed pointless and meaningless, and we are each a random collection of molecules drifting randomly through random events. From this worldview, unbelievers can’t understand why Christians would deny themselves pleasure and don’t try to get ahead of everyone else. Paul wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor. 15:19).
But as believers, we know that life does not end when we die. In reality, these 70 or 80 years that we might spend on planet Earth are less than a blink in eternity. That’s where we are headed, and this life is simply preparation for it. Our lives are not meaningless, because we are living for eternity. Let us all remember that when we go through seasons of doubt and discouragement about the meaning of life.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Being content

“Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8-9
There are a number of passages in the Bible that concern contentment, and this is one of them. It’s interesting to note that it was written by Solomon – at one time the richest man in the world. He knew what it meant to be rich, and all the pressures that come with having much wealth and many possessions. He knew full well the danger he was in of trusting in his wealth instead of trusting in the Lord. In the early part of his life it seems he managed to avoid falling into this trap, but towards the end of his life, after he had amassed many wives and done everything his heart desired, his relationship with God had suffered greatly. Riches themselves are not evil; they can be a great tool to enable ministry to happen. The problem is our attitude towards them.
But the converse is also true: poverty can also be a problem in our relationship with the Lord, if we seek to correct it through our own means (e.g. stealing) instead of trusting in God to provide for us. The best path, Solomon says, is to have enough for today. This is reminiscent of the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:11).
Paul also understood the value of being content with what we have: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:11-13). Being content is an attitude we can decide to have. Have you learned the secret of being content?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Being trustworthy

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10
There’s a saying, ‘Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves.’ It’s referring to our attitude in dealing with small things, because if we have integrity with small things, we will also have integrity with big things. If we don’t steal pens from work because we know it’s wrong, we won’t cheat on our taxes. If we don’t flirt with our co-workers, we won’t be drawn into adultery.
This principle doesn’t just apply to money. It applies to secrets we might be asked to keep, ministries we might be given to do in church – the list is endless. We may desire to minister to thousands. But are we faithful in ministering to our own family at home?
Jesus told a couple of parables about some servants who were given large amounts of money and told to put it to work until their master returned (talents, Matt. 25:14ff, and minas, Luke 19:12ff). In the parable of the talents, although each servant received a different amount and gained a different amount through his work, all received the same commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt. 25:21, 23). With the minas, each one received the same amount, and gained different amounts, and received a reward in proportion to what they had gained (Luke 19:16-19).
There are rewards in heaven to be gained. They are gained in proportion to what we were given in the first place. Here Jesus tells us that money is one of the ‘little’ things (Luke 16:11). In the light of eternity, all our material possessions won’t add up to much. None of it will matter. But our attitude is demonstrated in how we treated those things. Have you proven yourself to be trustworthy in the little things?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me

“Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.” Psalm 51:11
We all know that Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance after the prophet Nathan confronted him over his sin with Bathsheba. It contains a line that was made into a popular worship song: ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, O Lord; And take not Thy Holy Spirit from me; Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; And renew a right spirit within me.’
For decades this song was sung in churches, and I wonder how many Christians started to worry because of it that the Holy Spirit might be taken from them because of some sin that they might commit. I know I certainly did, and although I tried to stay as close to God as possible, there was always that nagging doubt that one day I might try to act, and like Samson discover that God had left me and I wasn’t aware of it (see Judg. 16:20).
But the Bible tells us that these fears are unfounded. In the Old Testament, the presence of the Holy Spirit with someone was transient and dependent on their relationship with God. While they were obedient, He was happy to stay around; but if they fell into sin, He might depart – e.g. Samson (Judg. 16:20), Saul (1 Sam. 16:14), David (Ps. 51:11). But under the New covenant, the Holy Spirit is given to believers permanently as a seal upon their souls, a promise of salvation (2 Cor. 1:22, Eph. 1:13-14). We don’t have to worry about the Holy Spirit being taken from us, so in a way it is kind of pointless singing David’s words, ‘take not Thy Holy Spirit from me’ – it’s never going to happen. However we can grieve and quench the Holy Spirit by our sin (Eph. 4:30, 1 Thess. 5:19). He will not leave us, but He might withdraw to an inner room inside our hearts, waiting for us to notice that He is not working through us in the same way He used to before. In those situations, we need to repent. But we will never lose the Holy Spirit once we have been born again.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Iron sharpening iron

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
This proverb has made its way into secular vernacular, so it’s good for us to look at it in a Biblical light. The image is of a knife or a sword being sharpened. Think about it: to sharpen a blade, it must be ground against the sharpening stone or tool. There is pressure applied to it and a grating noise comes out, sometimes even sparks. But when the process is finished, the blade is no longer blunted and dull, but is sharp and effectual.
This is the picture of our interaction with fellow believers. In my life, I’ve seen two ways this sharpening works. The first is with a friend who’s not afraid to confront you. They’ll point out your error, applying pressure. It might sting for a time, but if you acknowledge that they have a point and do something about it, your life will be the better for it. Then at some point in the future, the roles might be reversed. Having a good Christian friend like this is valuable indeed.
But there’s another way that sharpening works among believers, and this one is more difficult to talk about. We all have people in churches with whom we just don’t get along. We see things completely different from them, and they from us. We struggle to see how we can be brother and sister in Christ because we are just so different. We may even have run-ins with them from time to time. The sparks begin to fly, and a grating noise emerges. But if we can take a step back and look at the bigger picture - what God is doing in our lives – we can learn from the situation. If we allow it to, we will be sharpened. We will learn things such as humility and how to defuse a heated situation. We will learn forgiveness, and how to Biblically ‘agree to disagree’.
Note that to sharpen a blade, it needs to be placed at the correct angle to the sharpener. If you place it straight on, you will only succeed in dulling it even more. So when we face those people whom we find difficult, remember that. Soften your approach towards them, consider that they may have a valid point. You will find that you’ve been sharpened – and you may have also been sharpening them.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Being reunited

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8-10
I have a very compact usb drive that is small enough to fit on my key ring without creating much extra bulk. I got it at a conference overseas about two years ago and have used it pretty much ever since. It’s just so handy and can fit a lot of data on it.
Earlier this year, I lost it somewhere at home. I had been showing photos of an overseas trip to my family, and somehow I had taken it out of the TV but not put it back on the key ring straight away. I searched high and low for it for several hours, racking my brain trying to think where it might have gone. I checked all around and under the TV, in the washing machine, everywhere I could possibly think it might be. But I didn’t find it, so eventually I stopped looking. I still hoped that it would turn up, but that hope was waning.
But then, several months later, I put on a jacket, put my hand in the pocket, and found it! It was a piece of clothing that I don’t wear too often, but I must have been wearing it that night and put the usb stick in the pocket to keep it safe. Although it is just a collection of plastic and metal, I had such a great sense of relief and a feeling of joy at being ‘reunited’ with it. That experience really brought this passage to light for me. If finding this inanimate object produces such joy, how much more joy must God feel about sinners being reunited with Him!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Envying unbelievers

“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord.” Proverbs 23:17
It’s easy to get discouraged sometimes when we see unbelievers prospering. We look at how they live their lives and think, they seem to be managing fine without God, while here I am struggling! If that’s you, you’re not the first person to think this way. The psalmist Asaph wrote about how he felt when he saw the wicked prospering: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence” (Ps. 73:13). He went on to say, “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me – until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (Ps. 73:16-17).
As we read just a couple of days ago, life is not about amassing things, or about becoming famous, or about leaving a family legacy. The most important thing in life is to know Jesus as your Saviour, to be part of the family of God. This is what we should be focusing on, because this will endure forever, while everything material will pass away in an instant. The material world is what we see currently, and it can be hard to get our focus off it onto the things of God. But if we make God our first priority in life, serving Him in awe and reverence, He will reward us in due time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Making excuses

“The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside!’ or, ‘I will be murdered in the streets!’” Proverbs 22:13
The book of Proverbs tells us many things about fools, but is also tells us many things about sluggards, that is, lazy people. Today’s proverb describes how lazy people make excuses. They don’t go to work because they might get attacked by a lion or murdered on the way there. (In our vernacular, they don’t leave the house because they might be run over by a bus.) The chance of being attacked by a lion, or murdered, or run over by a bus, is very small. Life is full of risk; some big, some small; some with a higher probability of happening than others. Wisdom helps us to mitigate risk.
Have you ever known someone who is always thinking about the worst thing that could happen? Such people become tiresome to be around. I think I am generally quite positive about things, looking for the good in a situation (something with the words, ‘It could always be worse’ – but the difference is, not expecting things to get worse). If we are always thinking about the worst that could happen, that fear will cripple us from doing anything.
So next time you hear a ridiculous excuse coming out of your mouth, stop for a minute and think: am I saying this because I'm being lazy?

Monday, November 12, 2012

The most important thing in life

“Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem my life from the grave; He will surely take me to Himself.” Psalm 49:14-15
The motto of our society seems to be, ‘Get all you can, and can all your get’, closely followed by ‘Look out for number one’. A person’s worth is frequently judged based on their assets – their bank balance and their possessions. But the Bible reminds us over and over that what we may amass in this life in terms of material possessions, will count for absolutely nothing. The old saying is still true: you can’t take it with you.
When you think about it, our lives here on earth are very, very short compared to eternity. Yet what we do in the 70 or so years that we are here, will impact the position we will have there. It is a certainty that we will all die at some point (barring the rapture of the church). At that time, it won’t matter how much of a fortune we had, or where we lived, or whether we gave to charity or did other good things. The only thing that will matter is where we stand with God.
The most important thing in life is not to make money, but to know Jesus as your Saviour. If you don’t know Him, may I encourage you today to reach out to Him. The Bible says that as we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:8). Acknowledge and repent of your sin, and believe that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for the punishment that your sins deserve. Receive forgiveness from God, and commit to following Him. Your life will never be the same!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Maintaining standards

“Differing weights and differing measures – the Lord detests them both.” Proverbs 20:10
The story is told of a baker and butcher who used to do business with one another. As time went by, the baker noticed that the butcher was giving him smaller and smaller cuts of meat, for the same price. One day he challenged the butcher about it: ‘If I ask for a pound of meat, I expect to get a pound of meat.’ The butcher replied, ‘Well, all I do is take the pound of bread that you give me, and weigh out the same amount of meat to give to you.’
In the law of Moses, God stipulated that people should have one set of weights and measures to buy and sell with. “Do not have two differing weights in your bag – one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house – one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly” (Deut. 25:13-16). By using a light set of measures to sell with, and a heavy set of measures to buy with, people were taking advantage of other people. While today we have measurement standards that largely take care of this, the principle still applies today: Be honest in your business dealings, and don’t try to rip other people off.
Another aspect that applies to all of us is in spiritual principles. Have you noticed how we seem to have one standard of morality that we apply to ourselves, and another standard – usually higher – that we apply to other people? Jesus tells us, “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2) – speaking of judging other people. It is good to have standards, but we must be sure that we are living up to them ourselves.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Quality friendship

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24
In today’s vernacular, this proverb might read, ‘Having a lot of ‘Facebook friends’ won’t help you in times of trouble; it is better to have one close friend who will be there with you through thick and thin.’ When it comes to friendship, it’s quality, not quantity, that matters. Do you have a close friend on whom you can completely rely? Or do you only have acquaintances?
It is also possible to have friends who are closer to us than family members. I’m blessed to be part of a Christian family, where my parents and both of my brothers are believers. But not everyone has this, and relationships can be strained for those who have unbelieving family members, because their priorities in life and their outlook on life are completely different. In many cases, we can feel a closer kinship with other believers than with our own families (this is certainly true for me when I think about my extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins).
The next question is, if I don’t have ‘a friend who sticks close then a brother’, how can I find someone like that? The key to having a friend like this, is to be a friend like this.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Having a good work ethic

“One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.” Proverbs 18:9
Our workplace is one of our mission fields. While some people have the ability to talk to their workmates about their faith, we can all demonstrate that we are Christians by our work ethic. The simple fact is this: People are counting on you to do your job properly. If you do the bare minimum, or don’t finish a task in time, it makes a big problem for others. They may have to complete the task in a hurry; or worse, do the work all over again. In this sense today’s proverb is very true: someone who does a half-baked job may as well have not done anything. At least then other people know what needs to be done, rather than relying on you to do something, and then finding out at the last minute that you haven’t been doing it.
The Bible tells us to work as if we are working for God (Col. 3:23). If we do our work with that in mind, we will be noticed by our employer as being honest, trustworthy, and hard-working. We will stand out, and that will give us opportunity to share about why we act the way we do: because of God working in our lives.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The importance of forgiveness

“He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9
Forgiveness is something that we as Christians must all learn to do. Our natural (sinful) instinct is to hold on to memories of being hurt by other people, to play the victim, to keep those who have hurt us at arm’s length, to try and get revenge. But the Bible tells us to forgive those who have hurt us, to let go of those past hurts. The person who often benefits most from offering forgiveness, is the one offering it, not the one receiving it! And, forgiveness is not a feeling: it’s a choice – a choice to leave the past in the past, and not let it affect your future relationship with that person.
The first part of this proverb is reminiscent of 1 Pet. 4:8 – “love covers over a multitude of sins”. The supreme example of this is God, who demonstrated His love for us by having His Son die on the cross. If we have God’s love working in our lives, we too will seek to cover the sins of others with forgiveness. This doesn’t mean to pretend as if those sins never happened, but to deal with them in a Biblical way: through acknowledgement of the sin, repentance, and forgiveness.
The second part of the proverb shows another aspect, and one we don’t often consider when we gripe and moan about someone else to our friends: Constantly bringing up your past hurst about someone to your friends will make them not like you. There are several reasons for this – firstly, they’ll get sick of hearing about it, and secondly, they’ll start wondering if you’ll talk to other people about them in the same way. So the lesson is clear: learn to forgive people. It will set you free.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Doing what we're told

“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” Proverbs 16:20
We often think that ‘doing what you’re told’ only applies to children keeping commands that we give them: don’t run out on the road, tidy your room, eat your vegetables. But it applies to everyone: not just in the sense of keeping rules, but also if we are learning how to do something. When we are being taught something – for example how to drive a car, or how to play a musical instrument, or how to solve partial differential equations, the person teaching us by definition must know more about it than we do. It is wise then to submit to their superior knowledge and do what they tell us, and we will learn the correct way to do something. If we ignore their instruction, and try to do it our own way, we won’t get anywhere. We will eventually come back to what they told us to do, but we will have wasted time in the process.
It’s the same with God’s Word. He has given us much instruction in the Bible as to how we should live: how we should treat others, what our attitude should be towards Him and towards sin, the kinds of things we should think about. We ignore God’s instruction at our peril. But if we submit to Him, things will go well for us. God’s knowledge is infinitely superior to ours. It is foolish to ignore what He is trying to teach us!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Responding in gentleness

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
Proverbs is full of simple gems of what may appear to be common sense, but which we often fail to perform in our lives. Here is one that makes perfect sense, but which is often so hard to put into practice. When there is a heated situation, responding in kind can only make things worse. An argument can’t be sustained by one person ranting – it needs two people, throwing words back and forth at each other, to survive and grow. The trouble is, often times when we are arguing with someone, we do so in ‘the flesh’; that is, the sin nature that we all have. It takes great control and discipline to resist the temptation to respond harshly when someone is lashing out at us, and instead, to respond in gentleness. But if we do, it will have the effect of quenching that fire, and ultimately bringing healing and restoration. Responding harshly only stirs up anger and makes the situation worse.
The house where I lived in London was part of a terrace, and our neighbours on one side used to argue frequently. We could often hear every word that was said – at least by the husband. It seemed that he had a very quick temper, and he certainly could shout and swear the loudest of the two of them, but after some listening I couldn’t help but wonder if the wife was only making things worse, perhaps by goading him. Here in Proverbs the key to defusing a heated situation is to respond with a gentle answer. The other person won’t be expecting it, and it will take the wind out of their sails.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Having patience

“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” Proverbs 14:29
We all know that patience is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and something that God wants us to have more of. Patience is more than just the ability to wait. It’s the ability to hold our tongue while we are waiting, to not get huffy or exasperated because things are taking a long time to happen, to see God’s plan in it and to be content to wait.
Today’s proverb tells us that to be quick-tempered is to display folly (foolishness). If we are quick-tempered, it is easy to get the wrong end of the stick about someone, or about something they said, and jump to wrong conclusions. That can have disastrous consequences, as friendships are severed needlessly and relationships are strained because someone thought someone else meant something which in fact they didn’t. It’s impossible to take hurtful words back once they have been said.
On the other hand, patience allows us to see the whole situation, without jumping in having heard only half of the story. If this is an area that you struggle with today, take some time to pray and ask God to help develop more patience in you.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rejecting Jesus

“He who listens to you listens to Me; he who rejects you rejects Me; but he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” Luke 10:16
It’s a wonderful thing to watch someone accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour for the first time. But the sad reality is, more often than not, people will choose to reject the gospel message. This is no reflection on our ability, because salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. The most eloquent speaker cannot cause someone to be saved; on the contrary, the Holy Spirit can bring repentance in a person just from a few words (see for example Jonah 3:4-5).
The people I find hardest to deal with are those who say, ‘I believe in God, but I don’t believe in Jesus.’ Today’s verse clearly tells us that such a statement is false. If we truly believe in God, we will believe in Jesus because God tells us about Him. If we reject Jesus, we have rejected God. John also says the same thing: “No-one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23).
So what do these people actually believe, who say they believe in God but not in Jesus? They have fabricated a ‘God’ to suit themselves. They do not in fact believe in the true and living God of the Bible.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pride and humility

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2
Here is a principle that we see played out over and over again in the Bible, and it is still true today. When I first read this verse I immediately thought of Haman in the book of Esther: when he was invited to the banquet that Esther was preparing, because of his pride he thought it was because he was being lined up for a promotion. When the king called him in one night asking, ‘What should be done for the man whom the king delights to honour?’ he thought, ‘Who is there that the king would rather honour than me?’ (See Est. 6). Imagine Haman’s shame when, after making his suggestion that the man should be honoured by wearing a royal robe and being paraded around the streets on one of the king’s horses, the king turned to him and said, ‘That’s a great idea – now go and do it for Mordecai the Jew’ (whom Haman detested)!
The ultimate example of pride causing disgrace, however, is Satan. “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne abouve the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (Isa. 14:12-15).
The supreme example of humility is Jesus. “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but 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. 2:6-11).
It’s no secret that God hates pride, and He wants to see it eradicated from our life. Satan will try to stroke our ego, because he knows it’s a surefire way to get us to sin. But if our desire is to be like Jesus, we will seek to live in humility.