Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Jesus' prayer for us: Unity in the church

“My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in Me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as You are in Me and I am in You. May they also be in Us so that the world may believe that You have sent Me.” John 17:20-21
John 17 contains a unique insight: we see Jesus praying directly to His Father. First, He prays concerning Himself, stating that He has finished the work He was given to do. Then, He prays for His disciples, for their protection. Finally, He prays for us. That’s right: “for those who will believe in Me through [the disciples’] message”. Once we get over the shock of discovering that Jesus actually prayed for us, we note specifically what He was asking for: unity amongst us, in love. “May they be brought to complete unity to let the world know that You sent Me and have loved them even as You have loved Me” (John 17:23).
I wonder what Jesus thinks when He sees the competition and conflict between the various denominations in the church today, the teaching from certain pulpits that ‘if you don’t belong to our church you aren’t saved’. And have you noticed how unbelievers will point to this division and mock Christianity, saying, ‘Which one’s right?’ People will even ask you, ‘Which religion are you – Baptist? Methodist? Lutheran?’
It all starts with us. What is our attitude towards Christians who choose to fellowship in a different denomination than us? Do we look down on them, or do we welcome them with open arms, as the brother or sister they truly are? I understand that different ‘flavours’ of churches appeal to different people, at different stages in life. One church is unlikely to meet the needs of all people (especially when different cultures and languages are factored in). But we shouldn’t be saying ‘I’m a Methodist’ or ‘I’m a Baptist’ at the expense of saying ‘I’m a Christian’.

Monday, January 30, 2012

The origin of the kosher laws

“Do not cook a young goat in its mother’s milk.” Deuteronomy 14:21b
Those of us who know something about Jewish dietary rules, know that it is forbidden to eat milk and meat together in the same meal. In fact, the rabbinical take is that you must wait at least two hours after eating milk or milk products, before you can eat meat, and at least four hours after eating meat before you can eat milk or milk products. (The difference being the length of time estimated for the food to be digested in the stomach; the reasoning being that if both milk and meat were in the stomach at the same time, that could be considered ‘cooking’.) No steak for dinner and ice-cream for supper! They even go so far to say that you can’t eat chicken and milk products together (even though chickens do not produce milk). However, fish and milk products are ok...
Unlike the laws concerning not eating pork or shellfish, among other meats, which God specifically laid down (Lev. 11:7, 10-12), this notion about milk and meat together has been taken out of context from what God intended. Consider this: Abraham served meat and curds as a meal to the Lord and two angels who came to visit him prior to the destruction of Sodom and Gomorrah (Gen. 18:8). And God ate it.
Cooking a young goat in its mother’s milk was actually a Canaanite fertility rite. God didn’t want His people to adopt the ways of the nations around them, either in worshipping Him, or, even worse, worshipping pagan gods. This law is not so much about eating, but about following heathen practices in worship.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

How not to worship God

“and after they have been destroyed before you, be careful not to be ensnared by inquiring about their gods, saying, ‘How do these nations serve their gods? We will do the same.’ You must not worship the Lord your God in their way, because in worshipping their gods, they do all kinds of detestable things the Lord hates. They even burn their sons and daughters in the fire as sacrifices to their gods.” Deuteronomy 12:30-31
When the Israelites were about to enter the Promised Land, God warned them on several occasions not to let the Canaanites live but to wipe them out completely. He gives the reason over and over again: so that the Israelites would not be drawn in to worshipping their gods – or, as we find here, worshippng the true and living God in the same way as the pagans worshipped theirs. This was what happened at the incident with the golden calf: the people made an idol, and started bowing down to it, thinking they were worshipping the God who brought them out of Egypt (Ex. 32:8).
It’s easy for us to point the finger at the Israelites and condemn them. But do we do the same thing? Think about the things the world worships today: money, fame, success, themselves. How do they worship these things? By wanting everything for themselves, and being prepared to step over others in order to get it.
God is not like other gods. He doesn’t need to be placated – in the Isralites’ time, to be brought child sacrifices; in our time, to be given lots of money or service. We need to learn how God wants to be worshipped, and do it. “God is spirit, and His worshippers must worship in spirit and in truth” (John 4:24).

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Why the world hates Christians

“If you belonged to the world, it would love you as its own. As it is, you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.” John 15:19
In this post on John 8:23 we saw how Jesus declared that He was “not of this world”, ‘the world’ referring to the mindset of the world at large. We also know from John 17:14 that, if we have been born again, we too are not of the world – although we are still in it. We used to be of the world – following its ways (Col. 3:7). We were travelling the broad road towards the wide gate (Matt. 7:13-14). So how did we come to be loosed from that bondage?
The reason is this: that Jesus chose us and called us out of the world. To the world’s mindsets, we are traitors. We are no longer doing the ‘cool’ thing in rebelling against God, but have submitted to Him. This is why the world hates Christianity. The fact that the world hates us, shows that we don’t belong in it; we don’t belong in it because we have been born again by God’s Spirit.
But we are not alone; nor are we in the minority. With God on our side, we are in the majority. He already has the victory. Jesus has overcome the world (John 16:33) - and so have we, if we are in Him.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Showing our love for God

“If you love Me, you will obey what I command.” John 14:15
We can find ourselves asking the question, ‘How can I prove to myself and others that I really love God?’ Jesus tells us that it’s quite simple: Do we obey what He commands?
Now, obeying commands sounds like something impersonal, following orders like being in the military. It conjures up thoughts of duty and obligation, something you just have to do, whether you like it or not. When we hear the word ‘commands’ we tend to automatically think of the Old Testament law, that by and large feels pretty irrelevant to us. Is that what Jesus means? Do we have to keep the Old Testament law?
John writes in his first epistle, “This is love for God: to obey His commands. And His commands are not burdensome” (1 John 5:3). In fact, Jesus tells us what command He has in view here. “My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you... This is My command: Love each other” (John 15:12, 17).
Paul writes, “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for he who loves his fellowman has fulfilled the law. The commandment, ‘Do not commit adultery,’ ‘Do not murder,’ ‘Do not steal,’ ‘Do not covet,’ and whatever other commandment there may be, are summed up in this one rule: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ Love does no harm to its neighbour. Therefore love is the fulfilment of the law” (Rom. 13:8-10).
Do we go out of our way to help others? Do we treat them with respect, the way we would like to be treated? Do we love them as the Lord loves us? If so, then we are keeping Jesus’ command, and we are demonstrating that we do love God. “If anyone says, ‘I love God,’ yet hates his brother, he is a liar. For anyone who does not love his brother, whom he has seen, cannot love God, whom he has not seen. And he has given us this command: Whoever loves God must also love his brother” (1 John 4:20-21).

Thursday, January 26, 2012

My rock of refuge

“Be my rock of refuge, to which I can always go; give the command to save me, for You are my rock and my fortress.” Psalm 71:3
We all need a rock of refuge at various times in our life, a place where we know we are safe. For the Christian, that place has to be with God. It’s not a physical place, but a spiritual one.
Throughout the Bible God is called a rock, a fortress, a strong tower. These are all things that, once you are inside, the enemy can’t harm you. God’s arms are always open to take you into safety. It doesn’t mean the battle stops, but it means you are protected.
If you’re feeling under attack today, seek out God as that fortress and rock of refuge. Here are some other verses that I hope you will find encouraging:
“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge. He is my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold” (Ps. 18:2).
“The name of the Lord is a strong tower; the righteous run to it and are safe” (Prov. 18:10).
“He will cover you with His feathers, and under His wings you will find refuge; His faithfulness will be your shield and rampart” (Ps. 91:4).
“So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God. I will strengthen you and help you; I will uphold you with My righteous right hand” (Isa. 41:10).

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Washing the disciples' feet

“He came to Simon Peter, who said to Him, ‘Lord, are You going to wash my feet?’ Jesus replied, ‘You do not realise now what I am doing, but later you will understand.’” John 13:6-7
We all know how at the Last Supper, Jesus rose from the table and washed the disciples’ feet. This is a practice that doesn’t really translate into our society – we don’t understand just how menial the task was. When guests would come to a house, the host would ask one of his servants to wash their feet – necessary to keep the house clean because, having been walking along dusty roads in sandals, their feet would be dirty. It was not a chore that was envied, and it was usually given to the lowest servant.
This is why Peter protested. He thought, Jesus was the master; He shouldn’t be washing feet!
But the truth is, becoming human was such a step down for Jesus, that stepping down from master to servant was much less humiliating than that. Jesus came to earth to serve (Mark 10:45). It must have been uncomfortable for the disciples to have Him do this, but it was necessary: as Jesus said to Peter, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with Me” (John 13:8).
Jesus used this to teach the disciples about service. “Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet” (John 13:14). Some people today have taken this literally, even though foot-washing is no longer a necessary part of Western culture. What we should do is apply the principle. Nothing should be too menial for us to do, in serving one another.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Manna: a lesson in humility

“He gave you manna to eat in the desert, something your fathers had never known, to humble and to test you so that in the end it might go well with you.” Deuteronomy 8:16
We all know about how the Israelites ate manna for forty years while they were in the wilderness. It was provided by God from heaven - in Ps. 78:25 it is called ‘the bread of angels’. It appeared on the ground after the morning dew evaporated, and the people had to collect it every day except the Sabbath. On the day before the Sabbath they were to collect twice as much, and it would last; but any other day if they tried to keep any overnight it would go bad. (See Ex. 16.) The people complained about it, which resulted in God sending quail and plagues upon the people. (See Num. 11.)
But manna is not just how God provided for the Israelites in the wilderness – it is a picture for us today. Jesus called Himself the bread of life who came down from heaven (John 6:32-35). Like the Israelites, we need to be seeking this manna, this bread of life, every day. This is why Jesus instructs us to come to the Father in prayer daily (Matt. 6:11). This forces us to rely on God, trusting Him to provide for us from day to day. That’s how the Israelites were humbled in the wilderness with the manna, and it’s a lesson we all need to learn. And the result? “So that in the end it might go well with you.”

Monday, January 23, 2012

Being zealous for God

“I am a stranger to my brothers, an alien to my own mother’s sons; for zeal for Your house consumes me, and the insults of those who insult You fall on me.” Psalm 69:8-9
This verse is one that is quoted in the New Testament as being prophetic of Jesus (John 2:17). In fact, the whole of this psalm contains prophetic insights into the life of Jesus, even though David was writing from his own personal experience. David was indeed shunned by his brothers (see 1 Sam. 17:28-29) and had great zeal for the house of God and upholding God’s name. Jesus too was shunned by his brothers (see John 7:3-5) and of course was zealous for the house of God, on two occasions turning over the tables in the temple of those selling animals and doves for sacrifice, and those changing money.
Are we zealous for God in this way? Do we feel offended when people blaspheme God’s name? Do we voice our objection, or do we say nothing and let it slide? The word ‘zealous’ is very similar to the word ‘jealous’. Both imply passion for something; jealousy on the negative side (not wanting to share it) but zealousness on the positive side. Being zealous for God means doing everything you can to promote Him. People are zealous for all sorts of causes today: civil rights, the environment, political parties, etc. As Christians, we should be zealous for the cause of Christ. I know I could definitely be more zealous for Him...

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Lest we forget

“be careful that you do not forget the Lord, who brought you out of Egypt, out of the land of slavery.” Deuteronomy 6:12
Here Moses gives a warning to the children of Israel: when they enter the Promised Land and start to enjoy a life of prosperity and blessings from God, they were not to forget the Lord. It’s very easy when things are going well in our lives, to forget to thank God for it. Instead, we start to think that everything is good because of something we have done to make it that way. It’s easy to leave God out of the picture.
The same thing is true in our spiritual life. It’s easy to become self-content in our salvation. But we must never forget what God has done in saving us, nor where He has brought us out from. In the Bible, the deliverance of Israel from Egypt is used as a picture of how God delivers us from being in bondage to sin. It’s good for us to periodically think back on what our lives were like before we were saved, or (especially if, like me, you were saved at a very young age) to think about where you might be right now if it wasn’t for the Lord. Having this perspective will definitely make you more aware of the Lord and what He is doing in your life. You see, He doesn’t just save us out of the world and sin, but He saves us for something: His purposes. God doesn’t just save us and say, ‘Now you’re on your own.’ Life is a journey that He wants to share with us – and He wants us to remember Him, always.

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Teaching our children

“Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates.” Deuteronomy 6:7-9
Teaching children the things of God is a privilege and responsibility that, the Bible clearly says, belongs to parents. It isn’t the job of your Sunday school teacher to teach your children about God and the Bible. And, it shouldn’t only be limited to Sundays, or saying grace at meal times. It should be a natural part of family life, every moment of every day. That’s what Moses is getting at here. Unfortunately, in later generations the Jews took these verses literally, making little boxes to tie on their hands, foreheads, doorways, etc. that hold a small piece of paper with a Scripture written on it (usually Deut. 6:4, “Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one”). The instruction to integrate God into everything you do as a family, largely became a impersonal tradition.
Our relationship with God is not a part-time one. If we have committed our life to Him, then we should be conscious of Him everywhere we go and in everything we do – and we should demonstrate this to our children. Proverbs 22:6 tells us, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.” That's a promise, but it's also a command.

Friday, January 20, 2012

In the hands of God

“I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of My hand.” John 10:28
Here’s a comforting verse for all of us. Do you sometimes feel that life is like a rollercoaster, and you don’t have a seatbelt? You see the drops and loop-the-loops coming up and think, ‘How am I going to make it through this!?’ Jesus tells us here that we are safe in His hands. He goes on to say, “My Father, who has given them to Me, is greater than all; no one can snatch them out of My Father’s hand” (John 10:29). There are two hands in view. We are completely protected from anything that would try to strip us of our salvation. That’s what ‘eternal life’ means – eternal, everlasting, neverending! Certainly there will be temptations, and we will fall into sin, but we don’t lose our salvation over those things. We are still in God’s hands.
There’s another issue that arises here: no-one can snatch us out of God’s hand, but what if we choose to turn our back on Him? Can we revoke our salvation and jump out of His hand ourselves? Calvinists would argue ‘no’, on the basis of ‘once-saved-always-saved’, and say that a person who does this was never saved in the first place. Arminians would say ‘yes’, and some would even go further to say that we need to be careful to keep ourselves in God’s hands, so that we don’t fall out. Scripture clearly tells us we are not in danger of falling out. God isn’t careless with us – He loves us too much to let us go that easily. But can we, by our free will, extract ourselves from His hands? For me the answer is possibly – but once you have known the Lord, why would you want to?

Thursday, January 19, 2012

A God who saves

“Praise be to the Lord, to God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens. Selah. Our God is a God who saves; from the Sovereign Lord comes escape from death.” Psalm 68:19-20
I love coming across these verses when reading the Bible, that remind us about some of the core attributes of God. We can never be reminded too often that God saves us.
We also encounter here the word ‘Selah’. It can mean ‘pause’, or ‘lift up’ and indicates that at this point the reader ought to stop for a moment and consider what is being said. ‘Selah’ links two thoughts. Here we have the first thought: God is God our Saviour, who daily bears our burdens – being linked to the second thought, which is an amplification of the first: God is a God who saves, who brings escape from death.
God isn’t aloof, watching us from a distance, impassionately. No – He is right there with us, every moment of every day. He bears our burdens daily. He is deeply interested in everything that is happening to you, every aspect of your life. He has saved you, and He is is continuing to save you. It’s not a one-off thing, but it’s a lifelong commitment that He has made, to watch over you.
But how often do we forget this, and try to carry all our burdens ourselves? If only we would realise how much God loves us and wants to help us. Sometimes we think, ‘God, You’ve saved me, that’s enough – I can do the rest myself now.’ But the truth is, Him saving us in the past is only a fraction of the story. In fact, presuming that you can handle things and walk without stumbling, is a demonstration of pride. We were saved by the grace of God, yes, but we also need to continue in the grace of God, as He sanctifies us. This is the ongoing salvation process. It is never finished, while we are in these earthly bodies.

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Driving out the giants

“That too was considered a land of the Rephaites, who used to live there; but the Ammonites called them Zamzummites. They were a people strong and numerous, and as tall as the Anakites. The Lord destroyed them from before the Ammonites, who drove them out and settled in their place.” Deuteronomy 2:20-21
In Deuteronomy 2 we read of several of the nations that lived near the land of Canaan: the Ammonites, Moabites, Edomites, and Caphtorites, and how they had driven various peoples of giants out of their lands before settling in them. The Moabites drove out the Emites (Deut. 2:10-11), the Edomites drove out the Horites (Deut. 2:22), the Ammonites drove out the Zamzummites (Deut. 2:21), and the Caphtorites drove out the Avvites (Deut. 2:23).
All of these peoples were Rephaites (descendants of Rapha), a second wave of Nephilim. We recall how in Numbers 13 the children of Israel rebelled against God and refused to enter the land because of the bad report about there being giants (Anakites) living there. As a result, God was angry with them and sentenced them to wander in the wilderness for forty years until that entire generation had died out.
But here we see that Israel’s rebellion was completely unnecessary. Here were these other nations, who had no covenant with God, but had driven out giants with God’s help (Deut. 2:21-22).
There’s a lesson here for us. God has made a covenant with us, just as He did with the nation Israel. He has promised us victory over the enemy, the presence and power of the Holy Spirit, and much more. Yet how often do we look at some mountainous challenge in life, that many unbelievers before us have endured, and think we can’t do it? God is with us – of course we can make it.

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Not of this world

“But He continued, ‘You are from below; I am from above. You are of this world; I am not of this world.’” John 8:23
When the Bible talks about ‘not being of the world’, it doesn’t mean that Jesus came from another planet. In this sense, ‘the world’ refers to the mindset of the world at large, the mindset of unregenerate mankind. This is the mindset that says ‘get all you can and can all you get’, that looks out for number one, that shakes its fist in the face of God, seeking after pleasure, having an insatiable appetite for sin. We can all agree that Jesus was not like this.
And here is an awesome thing: if we have been born again, our new man is not of this world either. Jesus prayed to His Father, “I have given them Your word and the world has hated them, for they are not of the world any more than I am of the world” (John 17:14). If we have been born again, then we are new creations – creations of God, with our spirits made alive to Him, and with the Holy Spirit indwelling us. We have the influence of heaven inside our hearts. That’s not to say that we don’t fail sometimes, and fall into sin. But sin is no longer the pattern of our life.
So next time you, as a Christian, feel like you don’t fit into society, be encouraged – there is a reason this is the case. You are not of this world.

Monday, January 16, 2012

The cities of refuge

“These six towns will be a place of refuge for the Israelites, aliens and any other people living among them, so that anyone who has killed another can flee there.” Numbers 35:15
Before Israel even entered the land of Canaan, God had instituted the law concerning the cities of refuge (Ex. 21:12-13). Here in Numbers 35, just before Israel entered the land, God gave them more specific instructions as to how these cities were to operate.
The city of refuge was designed to protect someone who had accidentally killed another person (what we would call manslaughter). Ordinarily, if someone was killed, their next of kin would seek out the person who killed them, to put them to death. God allowed this to remain in place for cases of murder, where the initial killing was intentional. But where it was an accident, He made provision for that person to receive mercy.
The cities were selected from among the Levitical cities. We find out later that they are Kedesh in Galilee, Shechem, Hebron, Bezer, Ramoth Gilead, and Golan (Josh. 20:7-9). These cities were within easy reach of everyone; no city was more than a day’s journey from anywhere in Israel.
Someone guilty of manslaughter was to flee to the city, state his case to the elders, and if they determined that the killing was accidental, they were to allow him to enter. Once inside, he was safe (although if he ventured outside and the avenger of blood found him, he could be killed, Num. 35:26-27). There was one condition upon which he was free to leave the city: when the high priest died (Num. 35:28).
How does this apply to us today, as Christians? Once again, it is a picture of Jesus. He is our refuge, where we can find safety from the avenger. Also, it is by the death of the high priest – Jesus being our high priest (Heb. 4:14) – that we are freed. Imagine what it was like for those people living in a city of refuge. Being a Levitical city, they would have direct access to the word of God, to be taught by the Levites. Also, they would have come across many other people who were there for the same reason as themselves: because they had killed someone accidentally, but had found mercy there. God shows us mercy and grace by giving us His Son. Have you found your refuge in Him?

Sunday, January 15, 2012

The Holy Spirit in us

“‘Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.” John 7:38-39
There is confusion in some Christian circles about the role of the Holy Spirit in the life of a Christian, and what the terms ‘receiving the Holy Spirit’ and ‘baptism of the Spirit’ mean. Some people think they are the same thing, but they are not. To demonstrate this, today we’re going to learn a little bit of Greek.
There are three Greek prepositions used to describe the relation of the Holy Spirit to the believer. We see two of them in John 14:17 – “for He lives with you and will be in you”. ‘With’ is the Greek para, meaning beside (from which we get words like ‘parallel’). This refers to the influence of the Holy Spirit in the hearts of unbelievers, working alongside them, convicting their conscience of their need for a Saviour (John 16:8). ‘In’ is the Greek en, meaning in. This refers to that which happens when a person becomes a believer: the Holy Spirit becomes resident in their heart and indwells them (Rom.. 8:9, Rom. 8:11, 1 Cor. 3:16, 1 Cor. 6:19, 2 Cor. 1:22, Eph. 2:22, 2 Tim. 1:14). So all Christians have the Holy Spirit ‘in’ them, as a result of conversion. We see this with the disciples: the Holy Spirit was with them (John 14:17), and after Jesus’ resurrection, we read, “And with that He breathed on them and said, ‘Receive the Holy Spirit’” (John 20:21). At that moment the Holy Spirit came to indwell them.
But it doesn’t stop there. In the Scriptures we see a third relation: when the Holy Spirit comes ‘upon’ believers. This is the Greek epi, meaning on, over, upon (from which we get words like ‘epicentre’, ‘epidermis’, etc.). For the disciples, this happened at the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:4). Here were believers, encountering a new relation with the Holy Spirit (see also Acts 8:16). Peter told them that this had been prophesied by Joel, that God would pour out His Spirit on (epi) all people (Acts 2:17, Joel 2:28). We see this called the baptism of the Spirit (Acts 1:5), the filling of the Spirit (Acts 2:4, 4:31, 9:17, Eph. 5:18, ), and the overflow of the Spirit (Rom. 15:13). This is a separate event, and not all Christians have experienced it. The baptism of the Spirit is something that happens after conversion, to enable God’s power to flow out through us to touch others with spiritual life. This is what Jesus was referring to in today’s verse (John 7:38-39). It’s something that is available to you today, if you will just ask for it.

Saturday, January 14, 2012

The lame man at Bethesda

“When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, He asked him, ‘Do you want to get well?’” John 5:6
Here in John 5 we have the miracle of the healing of the lame man at the Pool of Bethesda. The pool was well-known in Jerusalem in Jesus’ time for having healing properties; specifically, an angel would periodically come down and stir the waters, and the first person to get into the pool after this happened would be healed (John 5:4). But this lame man was at a disadvantage: he was not able to move quickly enough to get into the pool. He had been in this condition for 38 years (John 5:5, although whether he had been at the pool for that long, we don’t know).
I think it’s interesting to note the question that Jesus first asks of the man. He doesn’t say, ‘Do you believe I can heal you?’ but instead, ‘Do you want to get well?’ You see, there are some people who don’t want to get well. They prefer to live in suffering so that other people will pity them. I heard a story once of a man in a wheelchair who went along to a healing meeting, and when told to stand up and walk, he did. But then he went and sat back in the chair, saying, ‘They’ll take my benefit away if they find out I can walk.’ He never walked again.
The same thing is true spiritually. For whatever reason, some people want to stay in a state of spiritual immaturity. They want to play the part of the victim and bemoan their lack of faith. They want to complain about how hard done by they are, to draw attention to themselves.
At least this man had been trying to get in the pool. His actions demonstrated that he did want to get well. The saying ‘God helps those who help themselves’ is not correct, but it is true that God won’t help those who refuse to try.

Friday, January 13, 2012

Thirsting for God

“O God, You are my God, earnestly I seek You; my soul longs for You, my body longs for You, in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” Psalm 63:1
The superscript to Psalm 63 tells us that David wrote this psalm when he was in the desert of Judah – most likely when he was on the run from Saul. Although he had been anointed with oil by Samuel and told that he would be the next king, here he was, running for his life, with nothing but a few other disgruntled men.
Deserts are lonely, desolate places. David certainly knew what he was talking about when he wrote about longing for God ‘in a dry and weary land where there is no water’. But even in that time of great physical thirst, he knew that his need for God was greater.
Think about the great lengths people go to when they are thirsty – drinking dirty, muddy, water, or even their own bodily fluids. Here’s a hard question for all of us: what lengths would we go to in our thirst for God? If it means forsaking all to follow Him, even though other people may ridicule and shun us, are we still willing to obey? Are you ‘drinking’ of Him every day, in fellowship, through prayer and His Word? If you’re feeling spiritually parched, maybe today is the day to start seeking God in earnest.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Zelophehad's daughters

“So Moses brought their case before the Lord, and the Lord said to him, ‘What Zelophehad’s daughters are saying is right. You must certainly give them property as an inheritance among their father’s relatives and turn their father’s inheritance over to them.’” Numbers 27:5-7
Inheritances in the Bible were not dealt with as they are today, where all the children (usually) receive an equal share. Women generally did not receive any inheritance, since they were expected to marry and become part of their husband’s family. Only the sons received an inheritance, with the firstborn son receiving a double portion. Here we have an interesting case of a man who had five daughters and no sons. These daughters went to Moses to ask what would happen to the inheritance. Moses in turn asked the Lord, who instructed him that the inheritance was to pass to the daughters if there were no sons, and if there were no sons or daughters, then it would pass to the man’s brothers; if there were no brothers, then to the next male relative in the family (Num. 27:8-11). In this way, by the inheritance passing to the daughters before the man’s brothers, God was instituting something that was extremely unusual in that culture.
Zelophehad’s daughters had nothing to lose by asking. If Moses or God said ‘no’, they were no worse off. But there was a chance that a provision might be made for them, and as we know, there was. You see, God cared for them. He isn’t bound by society’s norms. And the same is true today. We might think that God can’t bless us, or use us in ministry, because we grew up in an undesirable neighbourhood, or we failed in our past – things that people would write us off for. But God doesn’t see those things. He sees us for what He can do through us, now and in the future.

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Taking Jesus at His word

“The royal official said, ‘Sir, come down before my child dies.’ Jesus replied, ‘You may go. Your son will live.’ The man took Jesus at His word and departed.” John 4:49-50
Here in the latter part of John 4, we see the account of a healing that is only recorded in John’s gospel. Jesus was visiting Cana, where He had earlier turned water into wine. A royal official heard he was in the area, and travelled from Capernaum to Cana to ask Him to come and heal his son, who was dying. Jesus did not go with him, but instead said, “You may go. Your son will live.” This is very similar to how He also healed the centurion’s servant (Matt. 8:13) and the Canaanite woman’s daughter (Mark 7:29-30), from a distance. The man obeyed, and when he returned home he found that his son had been healed at the same time Jesus spoke the word (John 4:51-53).
The key phrase I want to highlight is that he ‘took Jesus at His word’. Without any proof that his son was in fact healed, but only a promise from the Lord, he obeyed. Similarly, we need to be obedient – not just in small things or big things, but in all things. (Sometimes it’s easier to obey in the big things – seeking the Lord before making major decisions, or upholding the pillars of the Christian faith; and neglect to obey things that God has told us that we think don’t really matter. Of course, major decisions also require faith, but they generally involve a lot more prayer and seeking the Lord – at least, that’s what I have found in my own life.) A walk by faith is made of many steps, small and large. It’s not the size of the steps, but the direction in which they are made, that determines where you will end up. We need to walk in obedience, taking hold of the promises God has given us – taking Jesus at His word, and trusting that we will see the results.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Doing God's will

“My food,” said Jesus, “is to do the will of Him who sent me and to finish His work.” John 4:34
Jesus’ purpose in life was to do the Father’s will (John 4:34, 5:30, 6:38). But what is God’s will? Jesus even instructed His disciples to pray, “Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” (Matt. 6:10).
Thankfully there are many Scriptures that show us what God’s overarching will is: salvation for mankind. “And this is the will of Him who sent Me, that I should lose none of all that He has given Me, but raise them up at the last day. For My Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in Him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:39-40). “Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, who gave Himself for our sins to rescue us from the present evil age, according to the will of our God and Father” (Gal. 1:3-4). “And He made known to us the mystery of His will according to His good pleasure, which He purposed in Christ, to be put into effect when the times will have reached their fulfilment – to bring all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Eph. 1:9-10). “In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost” (Matt. 18:14). “The Lord... is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
God’s will is also that we would be sanctified – the ongoing salvation process, being made holy. “It is God’s will that you should be sanctified” (1 Thess. 4:3). “And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Heb. 10:10).
Jesus has indeed accomplished God’s will, by providing salvation for anyone who wants it. But it doesn’t end there. God wants us to continue to be made holy, to obey Him, to commit our lives to Him every day. Are you doing God’s will?

Monday, January 9, 2012

I must become less

“He must become greater; I must become less.” John 3:30
In John 3:22-30 we see how some of John’s disciples were getting upset because Jesus was becoming more popular than John, whom they were following. Some of John’s own disciples had gone across and were now following Jesus (see John 1:35-37). But John wasn’t bothered that Jesus was more popular. He knew his place, as the ‘voice crying in the wilderness’, preparing the way for the Messiah. Now that Messiah had come, John knew that it was more important that people follow Jesus, not him.
We should have this same attitude. None of us have made it yet; there are still aspects of our fleshly sin nature that rear their ugly heads from time to time – feelings of jealousy, of not receiving the credit you think you deserve, of being ignored, neglected, or overlooked. It’s been said that it’s amazing what you can accomplish if you don’t care who gets the credit. Jesus conducted Himself in such a way that every miracle He performed, people gave the glory to God – not to Him directly (Matt. 9:8, 15:31, Mark 2:12, Luke 7:16, 18:43, etc.). We should do the same (1 Cor. 10:31). Paul also developed this attitude: “It is true that some preach Christ out of envy and rivalry, but others out of goodwill. The latter do so in love, knowing that I am put here for the defence of the gospel. The former preach Christ out of selfish ambition, not sincerely, supposing that they can stir up trouble for me while I am in chains. But what does it matter? The important thing is that in every way, whether from false motives or true, Christ is preached. And because of this I rejoice” (Phil. 1:15-18).
We all have some area in which God is still working to make us more like Jesus. The road to Christian maturity is all about setting our own will aside and seeking to do God’s will instead. Make a decision today: to have more of Him showing in your life, and less of yourself.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Does God change His mind?

“God is not a man, that He should lie, nor a son of man, that He should change His mind. Does He speak and then not act? Does He promise and not fulfill?” Numbers 23:19
This is an interesting verse. It was uttered by Balaam as part of his second prophecy concerning the nation Israel. Balak, king of Moab, had asked Balaam to curse Israel, but Balaam knew he could say nothing other than what God wanted him to say.
God never says anything He doesn’t mean. He doesn’t say things in jest, saying He will do something with no intention to actually carry it out. Of course, we do come across other passages in the Scripture that seem to imply God did change His mind, for example, on two occasions, telling Moses that He would destroy Israel: with the golden calf, Ex. 32:9-14, and with the rebellion that ensued following the bad report brought by the ten spies, Num. 14:11-25; and with the visions He showed Amos, Amos 7:1-9. These can be reconciled, because God did have the intention to carry it out, if the person He was showing it to did not plead with Him for mercy on the nation.
The same also applies for God’s good promises to us. He has promised to never leave us nor forsake us (Heb. 13:5). He has promised to be with us always (Matt. 28:20). He has promised to bring us to be with Himself (John 14:2-3). We can be absolutely sure that He will keep these promises!

Saturday, January 7, 2012

Balaam's reckless path

“The angel of the Lord asked him, ‘Why have you beaten your donkey these three times? I have come here to oppose you because your path is a reckless one before Me.’” Numbers 22:32
In Numbers 22 we have the account of Balak, the king of Moab, requesting Balaam, a prophet, to come and curse Israel for him. Initially God said ‘No,’ and Balaam refused to go. The second time, God permitted him, but as he went God was angry and sent the angel of the Lord (thought by most Bible scholars to be a reference to Jesus appearing in the Old Testament) to oppose him. Then we have the quite amusing incident of how Balaam’s donkey saw the angel and tried to avoid Him by turning off the path or laying down underneath Balaam. He beat her, and then God enabled her to speak (Num. 22:28).
I used to wonder why God got angry with Balaam after telling him it was ok to go. Apparently, it was Balaam’s attitude in going. The prospect of a great reward awaited him, and he was itching to take it up. Next, we need to look at what God said to him: “Since these men have come to summon you, go with them, but do only what I tell you” (Num. 22:20). The word ‘since’ (NIV) should probably be ‘when’. The men had come to Balaam the day before and he had told them no, but invited them to stay the night in case God changed His mind. What God actually told Balaam was, if they came back to him in the morning and asked him again, then he could go. Apparently Balaam didn’t wait for them to ask, but went to them.
Sometimes we can do exactly the same thing. We have our heart set on something, which might be far from what God desires for us. We keep pressing and pressing, hoping that by our pleading God will eventually give in. Sometimes He will make a concession, but as we learn from the Scriptures, it never turns out to be the best thing for us. We can be sure of this: if our path is reckless, God will oppose us. He doesn’t do this because He hates us, but because He loves us, and He doesn’t want us to get hurt.

Friday, January 6, 2012

The stairway to heaven

“[Jesus] then added, ‘I tell you the truth, you shall see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’” John 1:51
In John 1:35ff we see how some of the disciples were initially called by Jesus – Andrew, Peter, Philip, and Nathanael. Nathanael was initially skeptical, when Philip told him that Jesus was from Nazareth (John 1:45-46). But Jesus demonstrated His divine knowledge about Nathanael and what he was doing at the time Philip spoke to him (John 1:47-48), and Nathanael knew at once that Jesus was indeed the Messiah (John 1:49).
Jesus says to Nathanael, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree before Philip called you.” Apparently, what Nathanael was doing was reading and meditating on the Scriptures – specifically, the story of Jacob. Jesus’ initial words to him were, “Here is a true Israelite, in whom there is nothing false”, which could also be translated, “Here is a true son of Israel, in whom there is no Jacob” (since the name ‘Jacob’ means deceiver).
Jesus then makes a reference to Nathanael seeing “heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man”. This is not referring to His baptism, where the Holy Spirit descended like a dove upon Him. Rather, it is again a reference to the passage about Jacob that apparently Nathanael was reading: his dream at Bethel of the stairway (or ladder) reaching from heaven to earth with angels ascending and descending it (Gen. 28:10-12). What Jesus is saying here is that He is that stairway. The angels were not ascending and descending ‘onto’ Him, but ‘on’ Him. Thus the picture of Jesus being the stairway is heaven’s way of reaching down to earth. Jesus came down to our level, so that we might be brought up to His level. We cannot reach God by our own merits. We need to use the stairway He has provided – that of Jesus Christ.

Thursday, January 5, 2012

The Lamb of God

“The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, ‘Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!’” John 1:29
This title of Jesus, ‘the Lamb of God’, is only used by John: twice in his gospel, and thirty times in the book of Revelation. It causes us to look back to the first time the word ‘lamb’ appears in the Bible, in Genesis 22, where Abraham is told by God to take his son Isaac to the top of Mount Moriah and offer him. Isaac asks Abraham where the lamb is, and Abraham replies, “God Himself will provide the lamb for the burnt offering” (Gen. 22:8). This statement, and the location of the event, are prophetic of Jesus’ substitutionary death on the cross at that very same spot.
The sacrifice of a lamb also featured prominently at the first Passover in Egypt, where the Israelites were instructed to take a lamp, keep it with them as a pet for a period of time, then slaughter it and put its blood aroud the doorways of their houses. The death angel would pass over those houses with the blood. It doesn’t take much to see the symbolism that would become reality in Christ: inncoent blood being shed, no bones to be broken, etc. (see 1 Cor. 5:7, John 19:36).
The use of the title in the book of Revelation is telling. In the midst of the events of the Tribulation, and Christ’s triumphal return to earth as the reigning King of kings and Lord of lords, John does not use the title ‘Lion of the tribe of Judah’ (except by one of the 24 elders in Rev. 5:5). Instead, thirty times, we see the reference to the Lamb. Jesus still bears the marks of His sacrifice (Rev. 5:6). But they are not marks of shame and disgrace, but a trophy, because by those scars He provided salvation for all of us.

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Making God known

“For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made Him known.” John 1:17-18
The contrast is made over and over in the Scriptures between the law, given through Moses, and grace that comes through the gospel of Jesus Christ. They are not in competition to one another – the law was given as a ‘guardian’ until Christ came (see Gal. 3:19-25, 4:1-5). The law was never intended to make anyone righteous by their keeping it, but to show us that we are all incapable of keeping it. The law gave us a glimpse of one aspect of God’s character: His holiness. But only Jesus can show us another aspect: His grace.
Similarly, when we look back at the life of Moses, we see that his perspective of God was incomplete. In Ex. 33:18-23 Moses asked God is he could see His glory, to which God replied, “You cannot see My face, for no one may see Me and live.” Instead, God allowed Moses to see His back as He passed by. This is echoed here in John 1:18. But now God’s face has been seen, in the face of Jesus Christ. Through Jesus’ life, we see God, revealed to us in a way that goes far beyond anything found in the Old Testament. We see His heart of compassion for hurting people, His righteous anger at those who think they are good enough without Him. We see the utter hatred He has for sin. We see the lengths He goes to in order to reach out to us and provide a way for us to be saved.

Tuesday, January 3, 2012

The bronze snake

“The Lord said to Moses, ‘Make a snake and put it up on a pole; anyone who is bitten can look at it and live.’ So Moses made a bronze snake and put it up on a pole. Then when anyone was bitten by a snake and looked at the bronze snake, he lived.” Numbers 21:8-9
When reading through the book of Numbers, we come across this incident, which seems rather bizarre. Not long before, God had given the Israelites a law – actually, the second of the Ten Commandments – saying they must not make anything in the form of something created, to be an idol and to be worshipped (Ex. 20:4-5). It was not the intention for the snake to be worshipped, although it did become an idol for the Israelites in later generations (see this post on 2 Kin. 18:4).
But a snake? The snake/serpent was the reason that sin was able to enter the world. Why would God tell Moses to make something that was the antithesis of Himself, for the children of Israel to look to for healing? Why not a dove, or a lamb?
The answer is given by Jesus in John 3:14-15. Moses lifting up the bronze snake (bronze being a symbol of judgement, thus, a picture of sin, the serpent, being judged) was a prophetic object lesson of how Jesus Himself would be lifted up on the cross, being judged for our sin. The Israelites only had to look at the bronze snake to be healed from the snake bites. They didn’t have to make offerings or pledge any money. So too with us: whoever looks to Him, believing, will be saved from the effects of the bite of sin.

Monday, January 2, 2012

Why Moses wasn't allowed to enter the Promised Land

“But the Lord said to Moses and Aaron, ‘Because you did not trust in Me enough to honour Me as holy in the sight of the Israelites, you will not bring this community into the land I give them.’” Numbers 20:12
In Numbers 20 we have the second accound of Moses bringing forth water from the rock for the children of Israel. This had happened once before, at Rephidim, very early in their travels (Ex. 17:1-6). There, Moses was instructed to strike the rock. He did so, and water gushed forth for the people to drink. Here, the people are again complaining, and Moses again strikes the rock, saying, “Listen, you rebels, must we bring you water out of this rock?” (Num. 20:10).
It might seem like a hefty punishment: Moses had been faithfully leading the people for forty years, and this one incident rendered him ineligible to enter the promised land. But Moses had misrepresented God to the people on two accounts. First of all, Moses gave them impression to the Israelites that God was angry with them, but He was not. Secondly, God had told him to speak to the rock, not strike it. It might seem like splitting hairs, but God was trying to teach the Israelites something, using the rock as a pattern. Paul tells us, “They all ate the same spiritual food and drank the same spiritual drink; they drank from the spiritual rock that accompanied them, and that rock was Christ” (1 Cor. 10:3-4). Jesus is called a rock or stone in prophecy (Ps. 118:22, quoted in Acts 4:11). If Moses had obeyed God, the water from the rock would have provided a beautiful picture: the first time, Christ was smitten, and living water poured out (John 7:37-39). The second time He comes, He will not be struck again, but simply spoken to, and will provide salvation for Israel (Hos. 5:15, Zech. 12:10).

Sunday, January 1, 2012

Jesus in the Old Testament

“And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, He explained to them what was said in all the Scriptures concerning Himself.” Luke 24:27
The story about how Jesus appeared to two disciples on the road to Emmaus after His resurrection, is one that I always enjoy reading about. How they were [http://verses10.blogspot.com/2011/03/emmaus-road.html] initially kept from recognising Him, but as they walk along together, they are privvy to what must have been one of the most insightful Bible studies ever given. It’s interesting to note what Jesus taught them about: Himself, using only the Old Testament Scriptures.
It’s been said that ‘The New Testament is in the Old Testament, concealed; the Old Testament is in the New Testament, revealed.’ All the major theological truths are found in both. It is no secret that Messiah was to come to earth and suffer for sins, that He would provide salvation for all people and one day return to rule and reign as King. Sure, the picture was not as clear as it is in the New Testament, but it is there all the same.
Could you tell someone about Jesus, using only the Old Testament? Here are some key verses:
“And I will put enmity between you [the serpent, Satan] and the woman, and between your offspring and hers [Messiah]; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel [speaking of the crucifixion]” (Gen. 3:21).
“I will raise up for tehm a prophet like you [Moses] from among their brothers; I will put My words in His mouth, and He will tell them everything I command Him” (Deut. 18:18).
“But He was pierced for our transgressions, He was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was upon Him, and by His wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way and the Lord has laid on Him the iniquity of us all... Yet it was hte Lord’s will to crush Him and cause Him to suffer, and though the Lord makes His life a guilt offering, He will see His offspring and prolong His days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in His hand. After the suffering of His soul He will see the light of life and be satisfied; by His knowledge My righteous servant will justify many, and He will bear their iniquities” (Isa. 53:4-5, 10-11).
“And afterward, I will pour out My Spirit on all people...” (Joel 2:28).
“that Your ways ay be known on earth, Your salvation among all nations” (Ps. 67:2).