Saturday, March 31, 2012

Trusting God

“These all look to You to give them their food at the proper time. When You give it to them, they gather it up; when You open Your hand, they are satisfied with good things.” Psalm 104:27-28
We can learn a lot from observing creation. Jesus pointed to many examples of things in creation to teach us spiritual truths. “Look at the birds of the air; they do not sow or reap or store away in barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them... See how the lilies of the field grow. They do not labour or spin. Yet I tell you that not even Solomon in all his splendour was dressed like one of these” (Matt. 6:26-29). God also used creation as an extended object lesson to teach Job about His sovereignty (see Job 38-41).
Here’s one thing we can learn from observing the animals: to trust God to provide for us. Every now and then, I’ll throw some old bread out onto my back lawn, and the birds come and eat it. It doesn’t take them long to find it and all come flying in. But what do they do on the days it’s not there? Of course, they find food somewhere else; but they don’t stress and worry that they won’t find it. We might put it down to a ‘survival instinct’, but what they are really doing is trusting God to provide.
Do we trust God to provide for us? – and not just the big things, but the small things too? God is intimately interested in us. He cares about providing for our needs more than He does for the birds (see Mat. 10:29-31). The source of all our stress and worry is ourselves, and our lack of trust that God will in fact provide. To change this requires a change of mindset – it’s not an instant thing. When those thoughts of doubt and worry come, you can begin to recognise them, stop them in their tracks, and say, ‘Perhaps; but no matter what happens, God will provide for me.’

Friday, March 30, 2012

Ebenezer

“Then Samuel took a stone and set it up between Mizpah and Shen. He named it Ebenezer, saying, ‘Thus far has the Lord helped us.’” 1 Samuel 7:12
Here in 1 Samuel 7 we see the defeat of the Philistines by Samuel and the Israelites. The people had returned whole-heartedly to serve the Lord only, and the Lord caused a great panic to fall on the Philistines during the battle. As a reminder to the people, Samuel erected a stone as a monument of remembrance. It was to remind the people how God had helped them by giving them the victory over their enemies. Samuel called the stone ‘Ebenezer’, which means ‘stone of help’.
Sometimes we need reminders, like this stone, so that in times of trouble we can look back on what God has done for us in the past and how He has helped us through. These reminders are a great encouragement. One idea is to keep a journal of all the things God has done. Some things may be miraculous, like the way the Lord delivered the Israelites here (1 Sam. 7:10). But very frequently, God works in very natural ways. He will use other people, He will use ‘coincidences’. He will use radio interviews, books, and your friends, to speak to you.
Do you have something that happened in your life that could only be God? Then hold onto that; make it your Ebenezer, reminding you that God is for you, not against you; that He will be with you wherever you go and whatever you face, now and in the future.

Thursday, March 29, 2012

Serve the Lord only

“It was a long time, twenty years in all, that the ark remained at Kiriath Jearim, and all the people of Israel mourned and sought after the Lord. And Samuel said to the whole house of Israel, ‘If you are returning to the Lord with all your hearts, then rid yourselves of the foreign gods and the Ashtoreths and commit yourselves to the Lord and serve Him only, and He will deliver you out of the hand of the Philistines.’” 1 Samuel 7:2-3
After the Philistines captured the ark of the covenant, and later returned it because it brought plagues on the people in every city where it went, the ark was taken to Kiriath Jearim, a town in the region of Judah. It remained there for many years, until King David sought to take it up to Jerusalem.
Although the ark had now been returned to Israel, the people were still not happy. They sought after the Lord, but were in perpetual mourning. But Samuel could see the problem: while they were seeking the Lord, they were not doing it whole-heartedly. They were still holding onto their worship of the gods of the people around them.
Here’s the lesson for us: Mixed worship will not make you happy. You can’t cover all your bases when it comes to religion. If we are not serving God and God alone, we will always be miserable. This is the basis of the first commandment: “You shall have no other gods before Me” (Ex. 20:3). Many people misunderstand this commandment. God is not saying that He is to be the first among many gods that we might worship, but He is to be the only God we worship.
Sure, we might not worship statues or physical idols like the Israelites did back in Bible history, but we do worship the gods of this world: sporting heros, beauty, and the most insidious idol of all, money. It’s time to commit ourselves to the Lord and to serve Him only. Only then will we find true satisfaction and meaning in life.

Wednesday, March 28, 2012

The Philistines and the ark

“Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, ‘What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?’
“When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. ‘A god has come into the camp,’ they said. ‘We’re in trouble! Nothing like this has happened before. Woe to us! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the desert. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!’” 1 Samuel 4:6-9

In 1 Samuel 4-6 we have the account (which I find rather amusing) of the effect the ark of God had on the Philistines. The Israelites went into battle against the Philistines, and in their first encounter they were defeated. So they decided to call for the ark of the covenant to be brought to the battle. While this motivated the Israelite troops, it motivated the Philistines even more, who became even more determined to win. They defeated Israel soundly and captured the ark. After that they took the ark to the temple of their god, and God sent plagues upon the city. Wherever the ark was taken, the plague followed, until finally the Philistines decided to return it to Israel.
I find it interesting to observe the Philistines’ reaction to the ark coming into the Israelite camp. It would seem that they believed in God’s power more than the Israelites did. They identified the ark as belonging to the God who brought plauges upon Egypt, and were afraid. The Israelites, on the other hand, were using the ark as a kind of good luck charm: “that it may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies” (1 Sam. 4:3).
There’s a lesson here for us. It’s easy to become complacent concerning God’s power once you are part of His chosen people. Sure, we don’t have to fear anything anymore, but we mustn’t let other people’s zeal against our faith overcome our zeal for the faith.

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

God has compassion on us

“As a father has compassion on his children, so the Lord has compassion on those who fear Him; for He knows how we are formed, He remembers that we are dust.” Psalm 103:13-14
When I came across this verse recently, I was greatly encouraged by it. Sometimes we can feel like complete failures, and wonder why God bothers with us. We struggle against sin, but every now and then we are overcome by it. Like Paul, we can despair in our inability to serve God as fully and faithfully as we would like to: “I know that nothing good lives in me, that is, in my sinful nature. For I have the desire to do what is good, but I cannot carry it out. For what I do is not the good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:18-19).
But here’s the comforting thing: God knows how weak and pathetic we are. He knows that we are mortal, frail, fickle beings, created out of dust and blown about like dust by the difficultes we face in life. He knows our limitations, better than we know them ourselves. And therefore He has compassion on us. Like a father watching his child start to learn to walk, He is smiling on us as we take those few faltering steps. He knows it’s inevitable that we won’t be able to do everything perfectly, that we will fall down from time to time. But every time, He is there to pick us up and put us back on our feet again. He treats us with compassion, not condemnation.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The importance of the Bible

“Consequently, faith comes from hearing the message, and the message is heard through the word of Christ.” Romans 10:17
I don’t think it’s possible to overstate the importance of the Bible. Many people think it’s just another religious book, but the reality is far different. The Bible is unlike any other book on earth: it was inspired by God Himself (2 Tim. 3:16). The Bible doesn’t just contain God’s words, it is God’s word. It was not dreamt up by man; it is not a collection of ancient myths. It is entirely relevant for our lives today; it is “living and active” (Heb. 4:12).
How would we know the way to salvation, apart from the Bible? No doubt each of us were verbally told the Gospel message by someone, but as we search out what that actually means, that’s where we need the written word of God. Reading the Bible produces and strengthens our faith.
This is the reason I’ve been doing this blog every day for the last two-and-a-bit years. Because the Bible is the very word of God, given to us, it has a dynamic aspect to it that sets it apart. It quickens our hearts, it brings us into the presence of God Himself. It encourages us, challenges us, disciplines us. We come to know the existence of God from studying creation. But we come to know the character of God from studying His Word.

Sunday, March 25, 2012

Confessing Jesus as Lord

“That if you confess with your mouth, ‘Jesus is Lord,’ and believe in your heart that God raised Him from the dead, you will be saved.” Romans 10:9
Salvation is a very simple process: there are just three aspects to it. Anyone is able to do them – it doesn’t require physical or intellectual ability. They are not ‘works’ by which we are saved, but rather it is the ‘work’ of God in our hearts, prompting us to respond.
One aspect is repentance. Repentance means to turn from our sin, recognising how offensive it is to God. This is more than just being sorry, but involves a conscious decision to turn away from doing those things. The Bible promises that if we truly repent, God forgives us straightaway.
Another aspect is faith – believing that God raised Jesus from the dead. This is the most important truth about the Gospel, and what sets Christianity apart from all other religions. We don’t follow the teachings of a man long dead; we worship a risen Saviour. If Jesus did not rise from the dead, then we are still lost (1 Cor. 15:17). But Jesus was indeed raised, and it is by His resurrection that we too can have life.
However, belief is not enough. James tells us, even the demons believe in God, and tremble (James 2:19). Many people, too, may believe that Jesus was raised from the dead. But this is where a third aspect comes in: we must confess with our mouths, ‘Jesus is Lord’. This doesn’t mean we have to stand on a street corner and make a public declaration. What it means is that we have made Jesus Lord of our lives: we have made a choice not to live for ourselves any more, but to live to please Him. What He says, in His Word, goes, in our lives. Is Jesus Lord of your life today?

Saturday, March 24, 2012

The blessing on Boaz and Ruth

“Through the offspring the Lord gives you by this young woman, may your family be like that of Perez, whom Tamar bore to Judah.” Ruth 4:12
At the end of the book of Ruth, we read how Boaz and Ruth were married, after Boaz acted in the role of the kinsman-redeemer, buying back the land that Naomi and her husband had sold, and taking Naomi’s dead son’s wife, Ruth, to be his own wife. At that moment, this blessing in Ruth 4:12 was pronounced on him by the elders of the town.
We might be tempted to skip over it – after all, if you didn’t know who Perez and Tamar were, you’d think they were just drawing an analogy to bless him with.
The story of how Perez (and his twin brother Zerah) came to be born is given in Gen. 38, and the circumstances were less than desirable. Judah’s son Er married a girl called Tamar. Er died, and so Judah told his second son, Onan, to fulfil his duty to his brother and take her as his wife. Onan also died, and Judah was unwilling to give her to his one remaining son, Shelah, on account of his young age. Later on, Tamar saw that Judah was not going to marry her and Shelah, she dressed as a prostitute and enticed Judah himself – her father-in-law – to sleep with her. She conceived, and Perez and Zerah were born.
So, knowing this, what the elders said to Boaz now doesn’t sound like much of a blessing. But there’s more to it. The tribe of Judah was prophesied to be the royal line, the line from which the Messiah would come (Gen. 49:10). Boaz was one of Perez’s descendants (Ruth 4:18-22). What the elders are saying, is they are asking God to bless Boaz by having the Messiah come from his family line.
As we know, the son of Boaz and Ruth was Obed, who had a son called Jesse, who had a son called David, who became the king of Israel, and from whom Messiah did come. God can use even undesirable circumstances to accomplish His purposes.

Friday, March 23, 2012

The kinsman-redeemer

“May I continue to find favour in your eyes, my lord,” she said. “You have given me comfort and have spoken kindly to your servant – though I do not have the standing of one of your servant girls.” Ruth 2:13
The book of Ruth is like a gemstone, hidden away in the Old Testament between Judges and 1 Samuel. It tells the story of Ruth, a Moabite woman, and Naomi, her Jewish mother-in-law. Their husbands had both died, and they returned to the land of Israel to seek a better life among Naomi’s family. Ruth, being resourceful, goes out to glean in the fields, as widows would do in those times. The field she was gleaning in turned out to belong to Boaz, a near kinsman of Naomi. Ruth comes to meet Boaz, and eventually Naomi comes up with a plan by which Ruth could be married and the land that had been sold when she left the country could be returned to her. Both aspects have to do with the kinsman-redeemer: the closest male relative who was willing to pay the debts (Lev. 25:25) and marry the widow of his relative (Deut. 25:5-6).
Here’s why the story of Ruth and Boaz is included in our Bible: it shows us a beautiful picture of Jesus, our kinsman-redeemer. The redeemer had to be a blood relative. Jesus became fully human, so that He could redeem mankind. The redeemer acted willingly and voluntarily. So too did Jesus. Ruth becomes the Gentile bride of Boaz – just as the church may be considered the (primarily) Gentile bride of Jesus Christ. And like Boaz and Ruth, our kinsman shows us favour, even though we are Gentiles and have no claim on Him (compare the Canaanite woman in Matt. 15:22-28). The book of Ruth is a picture of grace, and hope. There is a redeemer for us. Do you know Him?

Thursday, March 22, 2012

Ruth and Naomi

“But Ruth replied, ‘Don’t urge me to leave you or to turn back from you. Where you go I will go, and where you stay I will stay. Your people will be my people and your God my God.” Ruth 1:16
The book of Ruth has only four chapters, but it is a beautiful story about how a Gentile woman was accepted into the people of God. Through the book of Ruth, we learn about the role of the kinsman-redeemer (demonstrated by Boaz), which relates to us in how Jesus Christ is the kinsman-redeemer of all mankind.
Naomi and Elimelech came from Bethlehem, but a famine led to them moving to the region of Moab. While they were there, their two sons married Moabite women, one of whom was Ruth. Over time, all three men died, leaving Naomi with her two daughters-in-law. This would have immediately spelled a life of poverty for all of them, since widows usually had to rely on the generosity of society to provide for them – there was no welfare system. This was why, when Naomi decided to return to the land of Israel, she urged both of them to stay in Moab and find new husbands among their people.
But Ruth refused to leave. She was committed to Naomi, and to Naomi’s God. She must have seen something in Naomi’s life that she wanted – that covenant relationship with God. And so she was determined to stick by Naomi and go back to Israel with her. In the rest of the book, we see how Naomi coaches Ruth through the practice of gleaning, and how she encourages her to approach Boaz to ask for his covering.
All of us are setting examples for other people. Are you like Naomi, and setting a good example for the younger generations?

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Sin in the heart

“But sin, seizing the opportunity afforded by the commandment, produced in me every kind of covetous desire. For apart from law, sin is dead.” Romans 7:8
Have you ever noticed that people will walk past a wall without a second glance at it, but if you put a sign up saying ‘Wet paint – Do not touch’, they have to touch it? That’s the kind of thing that Paul is talking about here, as he describes how he himself came to realise his sin. It’s only when we are told not to do something, that the temptation arises to do it – otherwise it might not even occur to us.
Before Paul was saved, he lived as a Pharisee, according to their strictest regulations (Acts 26:5). At the time, he thought he was free from sin. He kept all of the regulations regarding sacrifices, feasts, avoiding uncleanness, and so on as instructed by the Law of God, and many others that had been added by the rabbis over the years. He said of himself at that time, he was “as for legalistic righteousness, faultless” (Phil. 3:6).
But Paul was convicted over one of the Ten Commandments, which he had not kept: “Do not covet.” It had probably slipped his notice, since as a Pharisee he would have been entirely focused on making sure his outward actions were in complete obedience to the law. But God’s law is not only about our outward actions. It addresses those as symptoms of sin in our hearts. You can’t tell if someone is coveting something in their heart – you can only see the outward manifestations of it (e.g. stealing). But God sees. And when Paul realised that God could see this in him, he knew that he was doomed. He had to seek God’s forgiveness for entertaining these covetous thoughts. He later wrote to Timothy, “The sins of some men are obvious, reaching the place of judgement ahead of them; the sins of others trail behind them” (1 Tim. 5:24). We might be able to hide our sin from other people, but there’s no hiding from God. Have you sought His forgiveness for your sins today?

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

The wrong question

“The Israelites went up to Bethel and inquired of God. They said, ‘Who of us shall go first to fight against the Benjamites?’ The Lord replied, ‘Judah shall go first.’” Judges 20:18
At the end of the book of Judges we have a somewhat disturbing account, given to us as an example of the kinds of things that were going on in Israel during this time, and also to explain why the tribe of Benjamin was nearly eradicated. A Levite and his concubine were travelling through the region of Benjamin, where they stopped in the town of Gibeah to spend the night, and were taken in by an elderly man. That night the men of the town came clamouring at the door, and so the Levite sent out his concubine to them. They raped her repeatedly and left her for dead. The next morning, when he found her body, he cut her into pieces and sent them throughout all Israel. This enraged the nation, who gathered together as an army to fight against Gibeah. The tribe of Benjamin also came together as an army to fight against Israel.
We see that Israel enquires of God three times during this campaign, as the first two times they suffered heavy casualties (given the relative sizes of the two armies). Let’s look at them:
1) “Who of us shall go first to fight against the Benjamites?” (Judg. 20:18)
2) “Shall we go up again to battle against the Benjamites, our brothers?” (Judg. 20:23)
3) “Shall we go up again to battle with Benjamin our brother, or not?” (Judg. 20:28).
This shows a progression. In asking the first question, the Israelites assumed they were to fight. In the second question, they were asking for confirmation that they were doing the right thing. In the third – which should have been the first question they asked – they admitted the possibility that perhaps it was not right for them to fight against their own people.
Nobody was a winner in this battle. Israel lost 40,000 men, and the tribe of Benjamin was all wiped out except for 600 men (making a casualty count of 25,000 – see Judg. 20:46-47). If only they had dealt with the problem at Gibeah, all this bloodshed could have been avoided.
There are many applications we can draw from this for our own lives. From the Benjamites’ point of view, the moral of the story is to deal with the problem of sin before it destroys you. From the Israelites’ point of view, the lesson is not to be presumptuous. They presumed that the only way to deal with this was to go to war. Similarly we can be easily drawn into heated debate with people. But there is always another way.

Monday, March 19, 2012

Do not let sin reign

“Therefore do not let sin reign in your mortal body so that you obey its evil desires.” Romans 6:12
Chapters 6-8 in the book of Romans are one of the most thorough teachings on the effect of sin in our lives, and how to overcome sin by the power of the Holy Spirit. (For those who are interested, a verse-by-verse study through Romans 8 is available from here.) Like it or not, we are all born with a sinful nature, inherited from Adam. Before we were saved, we were subject to that nature; we were slaves to it (Rom. 7:14). Even when we tried to do good works, they were tainted by that sin nature, through selfish motives (Rom. 7:18).
But now, Paul tells us, we have been set free from that sinful nature by the power of God. We have not been set free to please ourselves, but that we might serve God. We have moved from being a slave to one master (sin), to being a slave to another master (God). But whereas the old master only sought to destroy us, our new master loves us and wants the best for us; His yoke is easy and His burden is light (Matt. 11:28-30).
This doesn’t mean that our sin nature is gone. No, it still lingers, seeking to regain control over us through sinful thoughts and temptations, reminding us of our guilt and our unworthiness before God. But here’s the thing that will set you free, if you will take it: we don’t have to give in. We now have the choice whether to sin or not – we didn’t have this choice before. We must never say, ‘I can’t help myself’ when it comes to sin. God has given you the power, through the Holy Spirit, to resist temptation and not be drawn into sin. He has set you free from being its slave, set you free so that you might be devoted to Him.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Reconciliation

“Not only is this so, but we also rejoice in God through our Lord Jesus Christ, through whom we have now received reconciliation.” Romans 5:11
Reconciliation is a great word. It is something that happens when two people, who were once estranged, are brought back into fellowship with one another. It usually involves one or both of them apologising, and those apologies being accepted.
Mankind’s greatest need is not food or shelter, or a sense of belonging, or love. Mankind’s greatest need is to be reconciled with God. We have caused ourselves to be estranged from Him, through our sin. But here’s the kicker: God is the one who initiates this reconciliation – we can’t do it ourselves. Even though God is the innocent party, He is the one who reaches out His hand to see that fellowship restored. We bring nothing to the table – the fault is entirely ours, and we are powerless to make things right. The price of our restored fellowship with God was the death of Jesus Christ. We cannot add to that, and we must never take away from it.
God is not reluctant to be reconciled with people. When Adam and Eve sinned in the Garden of Eden, it was God who went looking for them – not to punish them, but to seek to restore fellowship. He does the same with us. And we should be sharing this with others, because God has now given us, as believers, the ministry of reconciliation (2 Cor. 5:18-20). That is, to share this message with others so that they too might be reconciled to God as we have.

Saturday, March 17, 2012

Being fully persuaded

“Yet he did not waver through unbelief regarding the promise of God, but was strengthened in his faith and gave glory to God, being fully persuaded that God had power to do what He had promised.” Romans 4:20-21
Paul, in writing to the church at Rome, uses the account of Abraham as a detailed example of what it means to live by faith. Here was a man, who at the age of 75, had no children. Yet God met with him and gave him a promise that he would have a son, and through that son would become the father of many nations – and even changed his name to mean this (see Gen. 17:5). What God didn’t tell Abraham at the time, was that it would be another 24 years before his son Isaac was to be born.
Most of us, if we had been in Abraham’s shoes, would have had great difficulty accepting what God was telling us. Certainly Sarah, Abraham’s wife, did (Gen. 18:10-15). She laughed in incredulity that she might one day, at the age of ninety, become a mother after she had been barren for her whole life. Abraham had laughed too (Gen. 17:17), but this was laughing in joy at the promise of God.
Abraham’s faith was based on the knowledge that God keeps His promises. The promise of a son was an encouragement to him, and an opportunity for him to see God’s power at work. The promise was not something that he found impossible to believe.
We need to have this same kind of faith. Think about the things God has promised us, in His Word. He has promised that He will return, to take us to be with Him forever (John 14:3). He has promised to be with us always, and to give us victory (Matt. 28:20, Heb. 13:5, 1 Cor. 15:57). He has promised to make everything in our lives work out for good (Rom. 8:28). Do you doubt these promises? Or do you, like Abraham, embrace them and watch eagerly for their fulfilment? Have you been fully persuaded that God has power to do what He has promised?

Friday, March 16, 2012

Simply believe

“This righteousness from God comes trough faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.” Romans 3:22
One of the most difficult things for us to get our heads around, is how simple it is to be saved. Other religions will tell us we have to do some mammoth thing, or attend special classes, or serve for x number of years, or give so much, or ... But Christianity is not like this at all. Christianity is not about us doing things for God to be saved, but about what God has done for us. This is what God has done for you: He sent His only Son to die on the cross, paying the price for your sin so you don’t have to. The offer is available to everyone – all you have to do is accept it and believe that Jesus Christ died and rose again, and by doing so has made atonement for you.
It all boils down to one word: faith. Now, ‘faith’, along with ‘hope’, are two Biblical words whose meanings have been weakened in our everyday usage of them. We say things like ‘I hope it won’t rain’, meaning, ‘I wish it won’t rain.’ Then we tend to think of the hope of salvation as being a wishful thought. (Rather, Biblical hope is a deep-seated confidence in something God has promised, that we know will come to pass in the future.) Similarly, we think of faith as being some wishy-washy thing, that it’s something you would like to be true, but reality might pan out differently. We might have faith in a sports team, believing they can win.
But Biblical faith is much more than this. The Bible tells us that faith has a substance: “Now faith is being sure of what we hope for and certain of what we do not see” (Heb. 11:1). How sure are you that Jesus died and rose again? How sure are you that your sin has been paid for?
Often we use the Christian-ese phrase, ‘taking a step of faith’. It’s not a physical step. But spiritually, it is. When we decide to accept Christ’s work on the cross on our behalf, and come to salvation, we are making a conscious decision to relocate ourselves spiritually. That’s where the ‘step’ comes in.
Sometimes we can feel like faith is not enough, that surely God requires more from us. But this spiritual relocation, that conscious decision we make, is the only thing God requires us to do. It was said of David, “Man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart” (1 Sam. 16:7). It’s the same with us. We might not look any different on the outside, but God sees the difference inside. That’s why it’s enough to ‘simply believe’ in Christ for salvation.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

Hating evil

“Let those who love the Lord hate evil, for He guards the lives of His faithful ones and delivers them from the hand of the wicked.” Psalm 97:10
Here’s a question for all of us: how much do we hate evil? Sure, most people would agree that they hate evils such as murder and rape, they will agree that the Holocaust was evil, etc. But what about other sins? Adultery is glorified in our TV programmes. Lying isn’t seen as a problem. Stealing is seen as a good thing when it’s taking from the rich to give to the poor. When it all boils down, who defines what ‘evil’ is?
The Bible tells us, ‘Let those who love the Lord hate evil.’ Evil is defined by what God says is evil. His definition of right and wrong is much more black and white than our human definition. Society’s morĂ©s can and do change over time. But God doesn’t change. What He hated back in the Garden of Eden, He still hates today – and if we love Him, we will come to love the things He loves and hate the things He hates.

Wednesday, March 14, 2012

Showing contempt for God's kindness

“Or do you show contempt for the riches of His kindness, tolerance and patience, not realising that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance?” Romans 2:4
Often we can wonder why God doesn’t make the final curtain call and get on already with judging the world. We look around us and see homosexuality paraded in the streets, prostitution legalised, pornography encouraged, and ethicists saying that killing newborn babies is no different to abortion and should therefore be allowed (because an earlier generation deemed that a woman’s right to kill her baby in the womb had precedence over the right of that unborn child to live). But even in the midst of this, God is kind and patient. He can see that, even though many are living with no thought of Him, there are some who are still being drawn by His kindness – and they are worth it for Him to hold off for just a little bit longer.
Those thoughts that we have, wishing God would step in and bring judgement upon someone in particular or upon the world in general, are actually showing contempt for His kindness. It’s a selfish attitude to have, and essentially boils down to ‘Well, I’m saved, so that’s all that matters.’ I admit that I do think this way from time to time; I’m tired of the world, I just want everything to be over.
What can we do instead? Contemplate God’s kindness and patience, and show it to others. Demonstrate His kindness through your actions and conversations. We are still living in the age of grace, where God draws people by His love. They come to repentance when they realise how they have hurt Him through their sin – they aren’t forced to repent because He is beating them with a big stick. God has shown us mercy in this regard – we should show it to others.

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Passing judgement

“You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgement on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgement do the same things.” Romans 2:1
I don’t know about you, but I find that I am constantly catching myself judging other people. I guess it’s part of our sinful human nature. We judge people based on their looks, their fashion sense (or lack thereof), their education. While the Bible calls us to be discerning – which by definition means making a judgement – we are also told not to judge others, or else we will be judged by the same standard (Matt. 7:1-2).
We can judge the fruit in people’s lives, but we must never make a judgement as to whether they are saved or not, or judge someone’s motives. Those are things of the heart, which only God knows. If we do judge, we only expose ourselves. Paul tells us this in today’s verse. We are always much more sensitive to the sins that we commit ourselves, especially when it comes to judging someone’s motives. Our own sin always looks much worse when other people do it. ‘Look at them raising their hands in church – they’re only doing it to get noticed.’ Are you thinking this because of pride – because you’d like to be noticed? ‘Look at them talking to the pastor – they’re trying to butter him up.’ Again, we mustn’t judge people’s motives. Instead, give them the benefit of the doubt, take every judgemental thought captive (2 Cor. 10:5), and get on with serving and praising God yourself. “Who are you to judge someone else’s servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand” (Rom. 14:4).

Monday, March 12, 2012

Thanking God for salvation

“Sing to the Lord, praise His name; proclain His salvation day after day.” Psalm 96:2
Have you ever been praying and praising God, thanking Him for various things He has done for you, and become completely overwhelmed at the depth of His grace shown towards you? It’s a wonderful thing – and humbling as well. Whenever I’m feeling down, just spending time thanking God usually helps immensely. I especially thank Him for salvation; without it, I would have no hope at all. If God does nothing else for me; if the rest of my prayers go unanswered, if I lose my job or if my health begins to suffer, if my friends and family desert me, He has still saved me from an eternity of torment and invited me to spend that eternity with Him. So often we can take our salvation for granted, because it’s the fundamental thing that defines us as Christians and as people. But our salvation is entirely a gift from God: we do not deserve it, and we can’t earn it. At this point in our train of thinking we can get caught up in ‘why did you save me, God?’ – but I would encourage you not to go there. The fact remains, He has saved you, out of His love; accept it, receive it, and thank Him for it.

Sunday, March 11, 2012

The angel of the Lord

“Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the Lord, ‘What is your name, so that we may honour you when your word comes true?’
“He replied, ‘Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.’” Judges 13:17-18

There are several instances in the Old Testament where we read of the angel of the Lord appearing to someone, giving them a message from God or acting on His behalf. The word ‘angel’ simply means ‘messenger’. It doesn’t necessarily refer to the created heavenly beings that we refer to as angels.
When we look at the appearances of the angel of the Lord, we notice a few interesting things. There is usually a seamless crossover in the text between ‘the angel of the Lord said’ and ‘God said’, for example, Gen. 16:11-13, Gen. 22:15-16, Judg. 2:1. The angel of the Lord accepts worship from people (Ex. 3:2-5, Josh. 5:15). For other instances, see Jacob (Gen. 32:24-30), Balaam (Num. 22), Gideon (Judg. 6), Elijah (1 Kin. 19:7, 2 Kin. 1).
In today’s passage we have a hint of who this angel is. Manoah asks him what his name is, and he replies, ‘Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.’ The word translated ‘beyond understanding’ is the Hebrew piliy, meaning secret or wonderful. It is only used twice in the Bible: here, and Psalm 139:6 (“Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain”). The root of the same word appears in Isa. 9:6, speaking of Jesus the Messiah: “For to us a child is born, to us a son is given, and the government will be on His shoulders. And He will be called Wonderful, Counsellor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.”
All of these aspects point to these appearances of the angel of the Lord as being times when Jesus came to earth prior to His incarnation. He came as a messenger, and acted in His divine power, doing the Father’s will.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Manoah

“Then Manoah prayed to the Lord: ‘O Lord, I beg You, let the man of God You sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy who is to be born.’” Judges 13:8
There aren’t many instances in the Bible where we are told of how a particular person came to be born, but Samson is one. His father was Manoah; we aren’t told his mother’s name. We are told that the angel of the Lord appeared to her and told her that although she was barren, she would conceive and bear a son. She then told this to her husband Manoah, who prayed and asked God to send His messenger again to give them more information. This shows great humility and faith on his part. He didn’t doubt what she said, or what she had seen.
Although the Bible teaches that the husband is the head of the home, it doesn’t say that he is always right! God speaks to both men and women, husbands and wives, and both are told to submit to one another in Christ (Eph. 5:21). Yes the husband is the head, and he is the one who must ultimately make the decisions in the home, but a man who doesn’t listen to his wife’s advice is failing to use one of the greatest gifts God has given him.
Manoah didn’t ignore his wife or rebuke her for being ‘super-spiritual’. He didn’t ask God to send the messenger to appear to himself as He had done for his wife, instead saying, “let the man of God You sent to us come again to teach us how to bring up the boy” (emphasis added). He and his wife were a team, a single unit. They were in this together.

Friday, March 9, 2012

The meaning of repentance

“First to those in Damascus, then to those in Jerusalem and in all Judea, and to the Gentiles also, I preached that they should repent and turn to God and prove their repentance by their deeds.” Acts 26:20
Repentance is a critical part of a person’s conversion. Repentance was what Jesus preached at the start of His ministry (Mark 1:14-15). It is listed as one of the basic principles of the Christian faith (Heb. 6:1). It leads to salvation (2 Cor. 7:10). Repentance is what enables our sin to be removed (Acts 3:19).
Repentance is not simply feeling sorry for our sin, although this is what Paul calls ‘godly sorrow’ which leads to true repentance (2 Cor. 7:10). Many people can feel sorry, because their sin has brought about painful consequences – but this is not repentance. Repentance arises from regret that we have sinned against God, and hurt Him by doing so. Repentance involves change, turning things around in your life, so that instead of living to please yourself, you try to live to please God. (We can’t do this in our own strength, but it’s as we try to live righteously, the Holy Spirit enables us to do it, more and more, as we grow in maturity in Christ.)
Because repentance involves a changed life, it should be evident to other people. This is what Paul means when he says that our repentance can be proven by our deeds. Here’s a question for all of us: do our workmates, our friends, our family, know we are Christians? Or have we kept our light so well hidden that they don’t suspect a thing?

Thursday, March 8, 2012

Life is what you make of it

“Abimelech son of Jerub-Baal went to his mother’s brothers in Shechem and said to them and to all his mother’s clan, ‘Ask all the citizens of Shechem, which is better for you: to have all seventy of Jerub-Baal’s sons rule over you, or just one man? Remember, I am your flesh and blood.’” Judges 9:1-2
In the book of Judges we come across certain characters, who are presented to us because of their importance in Israel’s history, and also to show us examples of what those times were like. In Judges 9 we have the account of Abimelech, and in Judges 10 the account of Jephthah. These two men had several things in common, but they were also very different.
Firstly, let’s look at the things they had in common. Both were sons of prominent fathers: Abimelech was the son of Gideon (also called Jerub-Baal, for tearing down his father’s altar to Baal, see Judg. 6:32), while Jephthah was the son of Gilead, whom the region of Gilead is named after. Both were sons of women other than the wives of their fathers – Abimelech the son of a concubine, and Jephthah the son of a prostitute. As such they were viewed as second-class sons. But this is where the similarities end.
Abimelech resented his social position, and took power for himself, killing all of his brothers (the sons of Gideon). Jephthah, on the other hand, was approached by the men of Gilead to be their leader – and it took them asking him three times, before he accepted. Abimelech was arrogant, while Jephthah was humble. Abimelech was a carnal man,while Jephthah sought to please God.
Here’s a lesson for us: our personal situations don’t determine our character. Here were two men in similar situations, who each made a different life for themselves out of it. The choice is yours – so choose life, choose eternal life, choose to follow Christ.

Wednesday, March 7, 2012

There is no wickedness in God

“The Lord is upright; He is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in Him.” Psalm 92:15
It’s amazing the number of people there are who say things like, ‘If God allows babies to be born deformed/natural disasters to kill people/etc. then I don’t want to have anything to do with Him - He must be evil.’ It’s hard to reason with such a person, although the answer is simple: the world we live in has been corrupted because of sin, and God isn’t responsible for these tragic events that happen.
The Bible teaches us over and over again about the character and nature of God. Today’s verse is one of the key cornerstones: The Lord is upright, and there is no wickedness in Him. Everything God does is right, pure, good, perfect. He is the definition of what is good (see Mark 10:18). But every now and then we are tempted to think, if we were God, we would do something different, and better. We would have answered that particular prayer by now. We would have saved that child from being injured, or contracting that disease. By thinking this, we are saying that what God has done in the situation is not good. The truth is, if we think there is any wickedness in God, then we are the ones who need to change.
I’m not trying to pretend that we can understand or explain everything that happens. The Bible says, God works all things together for good for those who love Him (Rom. 8:28). I once heard of a Christian man whose wife was raped in their home one night while he was out at a prayer meeting. How can God use this awful thing for good in their lives? I don’t know – but I know that He can, because He is God, and He is good. The verse doesn’t say that everything that happens to us will be good, but everything works together for good. When tragedy strikes, God is not the one responsible. We live in a fallen world, under the influence of Satan, the wicked one. But God is able to bring good out of it. And that’s all I need to know.

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Paul's unfinished sermon

“‘Then the Lord said to me, ‘Go; I will send you far away to the Gentiles.’’ The crowd listened to Paul until he said this. Then they raised their voices and shouted, ‘Rid the earth of him! He’s not fit to live!’” Acts 22:21-22
In yesterday’s post we saw how Paul began his speech to the Jews after they had seized him in the temple and beaten him. He had been accused of preaching against the Law of Moses, and for bringing Gentiles into the temple (Acts 21:28). Neither of these were true, and it would seem that Paul was intending to address this in his speech. But he was only able to share his testimony: how he was once as zealous for the law as all of them, persecuting the church and putting believers to death (Acts 22:3-5). Then he went on to tell them how Jesus appeared to him on the road to Damascus (Acts 22:6-11), how Ananias, a righteous man, had prophesied to him concerning his mission (Acts 22:12-16), and how after this the Lord Himself had appeared to Paul, telling him to go to the Gentiles (Acts 22:17-21).
Most likely, if Paul hadn’t been interrupted, he would have gone on to talk about God’s grace and how the Gentiles had received it – and how these Jews listening to him could accept it too, and become complete. He later wrote, “salvation has come to the Gentiles to make Israel envious” (Rom. 11:11).
Abraham was given a promise by God: “All peoples on earth will be blessed through you” (Gen. 12:3). But over the centuries, the Jews developed a superiority complex. They looked down on Gentiles, and thus anyone – like Paul – who associated with them, much less ministered to them and taught them the word of God, was a traitor to his nation and to God. This is why their response was so extreme.
Let’s finish with some more of Paul’s words: “I do not want you to be ignorant of this mystery, brothers, so that you may not be conceited: Israel has experienced a hardening in part until the full number of the Gentiles has come in. And so all Israel will be saved, as it is written: ‘The deliverer will come from Zion; He will turn godlessness away from Jacob. And this is My covenant with them when I take away their sins.’” (Rom. 11:25-27).

Monday, March 5, 2012

Paul's desire to reach the Jews

“Having received the commander’s permission, Paul stood on the steps and motioned to the crowd. When they were all silent, he said to them in Aramaic: ‘Brothers and fathers, listen now to my defense.’” Acts 21:40-22:1
Reading about Paul in the book of Acts shows what an incredible man he was. In an earlier post (Paul’s calling), we looked a little bit at his unique life story that enabled God to use him in such a mighty way.
In the early church, it was acknowledged that Peter was to be the apostle to the Jews, while Paul was the apostle to the Gentiles (Gal. 2:8-9). But Paul didn’t give up on his dream of preaching the gospel to his own people. He wrote to the church in Rome: “I have great sorrow and unceasing anguish in my heart. For I could wish that I myself were cursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of my brothers, those of my own race, the people of Israel” (Rom. 9:2-4). Paul’s desire to see the Jews saved was so intense that, if it was possible (which it’s not), he could give up his own salvation if it meant they could gain eternal life.
We see this desire not only in his words, but in his actions. The crowd in Jerusalem had just been trying to kill Paul (Acts 21:31), and yet he still wanted to witness to them and tell them about the love of God that led to the death and resurrection of His Son, Jesus Christ.
Here’s the kicker for us: do we love people this much? Most Christians – unfortunately, myself included – are generally content to live in the knowledge that they are saved, and don’t go out of their way to witness to others. Sure, not everyone is called to be an evangelist or missionary, as Paul was, but we can still share our testimony with others, and tell them about the difference that God has made in our lives.

Sunday, March 4, 2012

The next generation

“After that whole generation had been gathered to their fathers, another generation grew up, who knew neither the Lord nor what He had done for Israel.” Judges 2:10
Here at the very start of the book of Judges, we find a verse that sets the scene for the rest of the book. The theme of the book of Judges can be summed up in Judg. 17:6 and Judg. 21:25 – “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit.” Despite their glorious beginning of total reliance on God, bringing them out of Egypt, it was only a few generations after Joshua led the people into the Promised Land that a generation grew up having no knowledge of God.
We see this today, to varying degrees. There are kids growing up who have only ever heard the name of Jesus used as a curse word – and use it as such themselves, because they are copying their parents and people on TV. Can they be held accountable for this? This is a difficult question to answer... please feel free to leave a comment with your thoughts. On one hand, the Bible tells us that “the Lord will not hold anyone guiltless who misuses His name” (Ex. 20:7, Deut. 5:11). But we also know about the age of accountability, that a child who sins prior to this age of knowing right from wrong, will not be held accountable. During this time, it is up to their parents to train them in the right way – and this includes teaching them about what is right with regards to the use of the name of God.
It pains me deeply when I hear children using foul language and blasphemy. But often, all I can do is pray, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do!”

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Warning signs

“I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.” Acts 20:23
As we know, Paul faced many hardships during his ministry. He told the Corinthians about some of these: imprisonment, floggings, death threats, beatings, stoning, shipwrecks, and dangers while travelling (2 Cor. 11:23-29). He told Timothy to expect persecution for living a godly life (2 Tim. 3:12). Jesus warned us of this also (Mark 10:30, John 16:33, etc.).
Paul was warned about these hardships, through others prophesying to him (e.g. Ananias, Acts 9:15-16, Agabus, Acts 21:10-11) and through the Lord speaking directly to him. As Paul was determined to head to Jerusalem, it was only natural for his companions to see these warnings as signs from God that Paul should not go. But this wasn’t necessarily the case. By this stage in Paul’s life, he was well-attuned to the leading of the Holy Spirit. The warnings were there so that he would be prepared for the mistreatment that he would receive. It was through the uproar that ensued in Jerusalem because of Paul’s preaching to the Jews, that he was able to appear before the governors (Felix and later, Festus), as it had been prophesied to him (Acts 9:15), which led to him appealing to Caesar, and then travelling to Rome (Acts 23:11).
If we are doing the will of God, we will face opposition. Jesus never said that following Him would be easy – rather, we need to be prepared for it to cost us everything. But if we have the mind of Christ, then none of that matters, only doing what God wants, knowing that our true rewards are waiting for us in heaven.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Remembering what God has done

“Then the people answered, ‘Far be it from us to forsake the Lord to serve other gods! It was the Lord our God Himself who brought us and our fathers up out of Egypt, from that land of slavery, and performed those great signs before our eyes. He protected us on our entire journey and among all the nations through which we travelled.’” Joshua 24:16-17
Here in the last chapter of the book of Joshua, we see Joshua’s final address to the people. He warns them against turning away from the Lord and following other gods of the pagan nations around them. As we know from reading the rest of the Bible, it wasn’t long before they were doing this, during the time of the judges, then on into the time of the kings, ultimately leading to the captivities of the northern kingdom in Assyria (from which they never returned), and the southern kingdom in Babylon. All this, despite the people promising at the time that they would never forsake the Lord.
Their intentions were good at the time. They had seen the miracles that God had performed on their behalf – crossing the Jordan, the conquering of Jericho, the provision of manna. They had heard about the plagues in Egypt, the crossing of the Red Sea, the destruction of Korah, and so forth. Yet they still turned away from God.
There’s a lesson here for us. We all need to remember always what God has done for us in the past. One thing that can really help you with this is to keep a journal of what God does and says to you, insights you find in the Word, prayers He has answered. It doesn’t need to be every day. But it becomes a wonderful reminder, for those times when God seems to be acting aloof. We can be deceived into thinking that we’re not like these Israelites, we’ll never turn away from God. But how can we be so sure? Better to stick close to God; the way to prevent becoming lukewarm is to stay hot.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

God's justice

“But just as every good promise of the Lord your God has come true, so the Lord will bring on you all the evil He has threatened, until He has destroyed you from this good land He has given you.” Joshua 23:15
Many people are quite happy to receive the blessings of God (and not even thank Him for them), but when it comes to receiving punishment for sin, they complain that He isn’t fair. But fairness, or justice, is one of God’s primary attributes that we see in the Bible.
God’s holiness means that He cannot tolerate sin – it is repulsive to Him. His justice means that He must punish sin – it would not be just or fair to allow it into heaven. If He allowed, say, lying, into heaven, on what basis could He refuse to allow stealing? We see various sins on a kind of spectrum of ‘badness’ – murder is worse than stealing; adultery (cheating on your spouse) is worse than lying. But all of them break God’s standard of holiness, which is perfection.
On the other hand, think about it this way: was it fair that Jesus was punished for all of our sins? Not at all! But He bore them willingly, because of His love and the Father’s love for us. God’s love is another of his primary attributes shown to us throughout the Scriptures. It is only because of His love and patience that the earth still endures and hasn’t been judged yet.
I heard an interesting thing the other day. God’s love is spoken of as being everlasting, but not His grace and patience. There comes a limit. If we reach that point and still refuse to accept the forgiveness of sin found in Christ, God cannot let it go. This is not unfair – He gave us plenty of time and opportunity to take action, when He didn’t need to give us any in the first place.