Thursday, May 31, 2012

How God speaks

“In the past God spoke to our forefathers through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days He has spoken to us by His Son, whom He appointed heir of all things, and through whom He made the universe.” Hebrews 1:1-2
The author of the book of Hebrews makes many, many comparisons between the way things were done in the Old Testament, and how they are all superseded by Jesus Christ. He discusses the priesthood, the sacrifices, the tabernacle, and the Law. He begins the epistle by contrasting the way that God speaks to mankind.
In the Old Testament God spoke to different people in different ways. To Joseph He used dreams (Gen. 37), to Moses He spoke from a burning bush (Ex. 3), over and over He spoke through the prophets, He appeared to people in human form as ‘the angel of the Lord’, He guided the nation through the use of the Urim and Thummim.
But in the New Testament God used a superior method to speak to people: His Son. Pastor Alwyn Wall has an interesting take on this verse: according to the Greek, the phrase reads, “He has spoken to us in Son” – that is, as we might say, ‘I am speaking in English’, God spoke ‘in Son’. Jesus the Son is more than just an example of God’s character. He is the language that God uses to speak to us. And now that He dwells in our hearts, God has a direct line of communication straight to our spirits. Surely this is better than dreams, visions, and prophecy, which all need interpretation through a third party!

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Making God angry

“because of all the sins Baasha and his son Elah had committed and had caused Israel to commit, so that they provoked the Lord, the God of Israel, to anger by their worthless idols.” 1 Kings 16:13
There’s one particular sin that makes God more angry than all other sins. It’s not murder or adultery. It is something that we may all be guilty of at one time or another. It is the sin of idolatry.
An idol isn’t necessarily a wooden, stone, or metal statue that we might bow down to, as is usually referred to in the Old Testament. In simple terms, an idol is anything that takes the place of God in our lives. Sure, those things can be made of wood, stone, or metal – how much devotion do we have to our house or car, for instance? Having these things is not wrong, but when they start to take priority over God, there’s a problem.
There’s a misconception that God is angry when people worship idols, because He is jealous. He isn’t jealous or insecure at all. God made man in order that He might fellowship with him. This is the highest calling in anyone’s life: to have fellowship with God. So when a person substitutes something inferior for God, they are degrading themselves. The Bible tells us that “Those who make [idols] will be like them, and so will all who trust in them” (Ps. 115:8). We were created in the image of God, to know Him and grow to become like Him. But those who worship idols will become like them: cold, hard, lifeless. No wonder this sin frustrates God most of all!

Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Be prepared!

“Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage – with great patience and careful instruction.” 2 Timothy 4:2
Paul’s advice for us today is to be prepared at all times. While there are times when we can prepare for something in advance – for instance, leading a home Bible study, much of our ministering to other people on a daily basis comes with little warning. It might be a conversation over the lunch-table at your workplace, or an issue that arises in the family. These are the ‘out of season’ times when knowing the Scriptures and having them hidden in your heart is essential, so that the Holy Spirit can remind you of it, and bring it forth in that situation.
Another aspect about being prepared is to think about your testimony, so that you may “always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have” (1 Pet. 3:15). Questions like, ‘So what do you mean, you’re a Christian?’ or ‘How come you’re always so upbeat?’ – we should be able to answer these instantly, pointing people to Jesus Christ as the Lord of our lives.
Many Christians haven’t ever really thought much about preparing their testimony, even mentally. Here’s a simple outline that you can use to guide you: (1) What was your life like before you became a Christian? Don’t go into gory detail – it’s important not to glamourise the sin you were in. (2) What led to you giving your life to Christ? Maybe it was something someone said, or something you read. It may have been a singular event, or a process of realisation over time. (3) How has your life changed since you became a Christian? Think about the joy, peace, hope, and purpose that you now have in Christ. Everyone can do this – you don’t have to have a gift of evangelism. Only some are called by the Holy Spirit to be evangelists – but we are all called to be witnesses: to tell our salvation story when we are asked.

Monday, May 28, 2012

Facing persecution

“In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted...” 2 Timothy 3:12
Here’s a verse that most of us probably wish wasn’t in the Bible. But when Jesus taught His disciples about following Him, He didn’t say it would be a bed of roses. He told them on several occasions that persecutions were in store – but that they were to count these as a blessing (Matt. 5:10-12. See also Mark 10:29-30 and John 16:33).
The fact is, once you become a Christian, you suddenly find yourself in enemy territory. Like it or not, the world is under the control of Satan (1 John 5:19, 2 Tim. 2:26). If we live godly lives, being salt and light in the world, you can be sure that the enemy will try to bring you down. He wants to discourage you to the point where you cease to be effective for God. But as long as you are a threat to him, he will keep trying to attack you.
We should not think at all that persecution is some strange thing (1 Pet. 4:12), or that it is God’s judgement upon us. Far from it! – rather, it shows whose side we are on. God has promised to protect us in the persecutions that will certainly come our way, if we are living for Him in faithful obedience.

Sunday, May 27, 2012


“You have done more evil than all who lived before you. You have made for yourself other gods, idols made of metal; you have provoked Me to anger and thrust Me behind your back.” 1 Kings 14:9
In today’s verse, God makes an astonishing statement. He declares that Jeroboam had done more evil than all who lived before him. He didn’t say ‘than your forefathers’, but ‘all who lived before you’. This includes wicked men like Nimrod, and wicked peoples like the Canaanites and Philistines, who practised child sacrifice and other abominable things. What had Jeroboam done that was so evil?
Jeroboam had been given a word from God several years before he became king. God told him that He was going to divide the kingdom after Solomon died, and that Jeroboam would be ruler over ten of the tribes of Israel. At the time, he was told, “If you do whatever I command you and walk in My ways and do what is right in My eyes by keeping My statutes and commands, as David My servant did, I will be with you. I will build you a dynasty as enduring as the one I built for David and will give Israel to you” (1 Kin. 11:38). Jeroboam had the chance to lead the people in a godly way. But instead, fearing that the people would revert their allegiance to the house of David because of the requirements to go to Jerusalem for their sacrifices, he deliberately led the nation into the sin of idolatry by erecting golden calves at Bethel and Dan (1 Kin. 12:36-30). While Nimrod, and later the Canaanites, all practised idolatry, they had not had as clear a word from God as Jeroboam did. With this knowledge and revelation he had, came responsibility. Their idolatry was out of ignorance. His was deliberate – to keep the people from coming to God.

Saturday, May 26, 2012

Direction from God

“The old prophet answered, ‘I too am a prophet, as you are. And an angel said to me by the word of the Lord: “Bring him back with you to your house so that he may eat bread and drink water.”’ (But he was lying to him.)” 1 Kings 13:18
Here in 1 Kings 13 we have the account of two prophets. The first was a young man who had been sent by God to give a warning to king Jeroboam. He had specifically been told not to eat or drink until he returned home, and to go back by a different way (1 Kin. 13:17). Then we meet the second prophet: an older man, who invited the first prophet to his home for a meal. Initially the younger man refuses, but when the older prophet says that an angel told him that the plan for the younger man had changed, he accepts. While they are eating, the older prophet receives a true word from God, and reprimands the younger man for going with him and disobeying God.
It always seemed a bit unfair to me, that the same man who misled the younger prophet, was the one to reprimand him. One question that naturally arises is, why did the older prophet lie about receiving a word from an angel of the Lord? I am convinced that this was not a trap. It was probably because the old prophet was lonely and wanted some company, so he could talk with a like-minded person over a meal. This is why he says, “I too am a prophet, as you are.”
There’s an important lesson for us in this story. Not everything that someone says is a word from God, is a word from God. God had told the younger prophet what to do in the first place. If He really had changed His mind, He would have told him personally. Sometimes this does happen; especially since God usually leads us one step at a time, and He may lead us somewhere and then cause us to backtrack (e.g. Ex. 14:1-2). But God is capable of letting you know – He won’t speak to you through someone else, without speaking to you about it also.

Friday, May 25, 2012

Lift up your eyes

“I lift up my eyes to the hills – where does my help come from? My help comes from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth.” Psalm 121:1-2
I know that a lot of my blog posts recently have been concerning how we need to see things from God’s perspective. It might get repetitive, but there’s a reason: it’s something that we easily forget!
The place where I grew up and where I now live, is surrounded by hills. I spent a year living in London, where there are no hills to speak of, and found it quite disorienting. Back home, you can look towards the horizon and know where you are and what direction you are facing by the hills. Similarly, the land of Israel is also quite hilly. I can just imagine someone in a town under attack, looking to the hills in expectation of the army coming to rescue them.
But our real help comes from the Lord. And our Lord is the Maker of heaven and earth. Let us never forget that – the same God who created the universe, lives in our hearts today. The same God who laid out the heavens, cares about every detail of our lives. And here’s the thing: no matter what problem we may be facing, God can fix it. He created the world from nothing, simply by speaking the word – He can heal your body from its infirmity or sickness. He spoke the sea and the land and everything that lives in it into existence – He can provide for your physical needs. He breathed the breath of life into man – He can heal you mentally, emotionally and spiritually. Where does our help come from? From the Lord, who created all things.

Thursday, May 24, 2012

The uncertainty of riches

“Command those who are rich in this present world not to be arrogant nor to put their hope in wealth, which is so uncertain, but to put their hope in God, who richly provides us with everything for our enjoyment.” 1 Timothy 6:17
Here is a verse that we have seen played out all too often in the world in recent times: the uncertainty of wealth. How many people had trusted in their monetary savings and seen it all evaporate overnight?
I was listening to a sermon by pastor Alwyn Wall recently (concerning David’s numbering the army towards the end of his life – a lapse of faith in God, since he wanted to know how large his army was in order to feel secure). He made the interesting observation that older people can tend to trust in riches, because they have been saving them for so long, for retirement, that they forget to trust in God first and foremost.
Most of us living in the western world are well above the global average in terms of our income and assets – even if we’re earning the minimum wage. In terms of averages, we are rich. Therefore, this verse applies to us. Where do we find our sense of security? Is it by looking at the balance of our bank account, or is it by looking to God? The harsh reality is, riches are uncertain. The value and stability of your house is uncertain. Having a job, is uncertain. But the good news is that God is forever, He is the Rock of Ages, and He will ensure that His children are provided for.

Wednesday, May 23, 2012

Fight the good fight

“Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.” 1 Timothy 6:12
Here’s a challenge for every one of us who are believers. Once you come to faith in Christ, you enter into the spiritual battle that won’t end until the day you depart this world and enter into glory. This is why Paul exhorts Timothy – and us – to ‘fight the good fight of the faith’. This is a fight for purity in our lives, a fight to uphold God’s goodness. This is why Paul goes on to say, ‘take hold of the eternal life to which you were called’. The Greek word is epilambanomai, meaning, to seize or take hold of for help or attainment, etc. It implies action – it is not merely accepting something passively, but deliberately reaching out and grasping onto it.
Paul also reminds Timothy of the ‘good confession’ that he made. The word ‘good’ here is the same as in the ‘good’ fight: it is the Greek kalos, meaning beautiful, valuable, virtuous, literally or morally good. What is this ‘good confession’? In the very next verse, Paul mentions Jesus having made ‘the good confession’ before Pilate, referring to His response when Pilate asked Him Who He was. Therefore, it is the public declaration that every believer makes when they come to Christ: that Jesus is God and the King over their lives.
Don’t give up in the battle. Take hold of the eternal life that is now yours, grasp it with both hands, and fight the good fight.

Tuesday, May 22, 2012

The Saviour of all men

“... we have put our hope in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.” 1 Timothy 4:10
This verse is one that is frequently misunderstood. At a first reading, it seems to imply that everyone will be saved. But there are two problems with this: firstly, it is not consistent with the rest of Scriptures, and secondly, what of the next part of the verse: ‘especially of those who believe’?
To understand this, we need to read an earlier verse in the same letter by Paul to Timothy: “[God] wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). God’s desire is that all people would come to salvation. Thus, He has provided sufficient atonement for all mankind, by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. However, we know that not all are saved. Through our own free will, we either accept or reject the provision God has made for us. God’s desire is that we will accept, but He does not force us to.
An analogy might be a ship that has enough lifeboats for everyone on board. During the voyage, the ship sinks. There were enough lifeboats for everyone to be saved, but some people chose not to use them, and drowned.
So, today’s verse can be understood to mean that God has provided salvation for all people, but only those who believe will actually see it manifested in their lives.

Monday, May 21, 2012

Ministry starts at home

“He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him with proper respect.” 1 Timothy 3:4
1 and 2 Timothy and Titus are called the ‘pastoral epistles’. They were written by Paul to his assistants Timothy and Titus, younger men whom he was training to be church-planters, apostles like himself. All three letters contain instructions concerning the appointing of elders in churches, and the qualities those people should have.
It may surprise you to be told that we are all in ministry, in some form or another. Sure, we may not be teaching a Bible study in any capacity in our local church, we may not receive any monetary payment for what we do, but that doesn’t mean we are not in ministry. In fact, the most important ministry of all, it could be argued, is in your own family.
There is nothing worse to see in a church leader than hypocrisy – someone who talks the talk, but doesn’t walk the walk. How can someone teach something from the Bible as the way a Christian should live, and expect others to do it, and not be doing it themselves? In terms of managing one’s family, it is a similar issue at stake with this quality. Paul goes on to say, “If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?” (1 Tim. 3:5).
I’m very blessed to be part of a church where the pastor’s children do respect him and his wife. It shows their lives are consistent with the Bible, that he has brought them up well (and thus knows how to lead a church well, to see people grow in the Lord), that he has disciplined them appropriately (and thus knows how to apply Biblical discipline in the church, should it be needed). I’m very blessed to have been given a solid Biblical grounding and a love for God from my own parents, that has set me on the right course for the rest of my life. And whatever ministry I take up, I seek to do it as transparently as possible.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

God’s protection

“But the Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one.” 2 Thessalonians 3:3
This is one of many comforting verses in the Bible reminding us about God’s protection. In those times when we feel threatened – physically, emotionally, financially – we can always call on God to help us and rescue us. In the psalms we read, “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). Elsewhere Jesus spoke of His longing to shelter the people of Israel like a mother hen gathering her chicks about her (Matt. 23:37).
God’s protection can take many forms. He protects us through warnings, given to us through the Holy Spirit prompting our conscience, and through His Word. He protects us supernaturally, in ways we often aren’t aware of.
This protection is the greatest when we are staying close to God. The house I grew up in was near a small stream, and every spring we would see lots of ducklings. Sometimes one mother duck would have as many as 15 or 16 ducklings, and there was a reason: many didn’t survive. They would stray too far and become prey for eels or cats. It was the ducklings that stayed close to their mother, that survived to grow into adults.
This is not a perfect analogy – Jesus has promised not to lose any of those who come to Him (John 6:37, John 10:28-29). But the closer we are to Him, the more attuned we are to His voice.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

The appearance of evil

“Avoid every kind of evil.” 1 Thessalonians 5:22
The NIV takes an unfortunate translation of this verse. The KJV and other translations render it as ‘Avoid every appearance of evil.’ The first key word is ‘evil’. The Greek here is poneros, meaning bad or evil in effect or influence (as distinct from the Greek kakos, meaning intrinsically evil in character). The second key words is ‘appearance’, which is eidos in the Greek, meaning form, shape or appearance, from eido meaning to see or perceive. Thus the verse means, avoid everything that has the form or appearance of being evil in effect or influence.
There are two spheres where this can be applied. In the preceding verse, Paul exhorted the Thessalonians to “Test everything; hold on to the good” (1 Thess. 5:21) – referring to how they should listen to teachers and prophets. In that context, we are to avoid every kind of teaching or intellectual input that could be considered as having an evil influence.
The other, much broader application is concerning our own actions and what we allow ourselves to do. One example might be spending a lot of time with a married person of the opposite sex who is not your spouse. It might be completely innocent, but (a) it doesn’t look good, and (b) it could open the door for temptation. Paul said elsewhere, “Do not allow what you consider good to be spoken of as evil” (Rom. 14:16). We should be living above reproach – neither indulging in sin, nor giving the appearance that we are living in sin. I once heard a youth preacher say, concerning purity: ‘Purity is not seeing how close you can get to the line without falling over it – it’s running as fast as you can in the opposite direction.’ We need to be like this with respect to every kind of sin. Live for God, but remember, other people are watching you too.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Being patient

“And we urge you, brothers, warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak, be patient with everyone.” 1 Thessalonians 5:14
At the end of most of his epistles, Paul gives a quick list of exhortations, things the church he is writing to should do more of. I’m not going to spend much time on the first three of these, because they are pretty straightforward: warn those who are idle, encourage the timid, help the weak.
The last one is the hardest for me: Be patient with everyone. How about you? Do you get exasperated with people easily? Is there someone who always seems to be pushing your buttons?
I don’t really have an answer for how to deal with this, because I’m not yet there myself. Isolating yourself, or distancing yourself from the person who annoys you, is not the answer – that doesn’t deal with the problem. The only thing I can suggest is to pray and ask God to develop more patience in you. Also, pray for that person. Praying for them – for their good, not that they would stop annoying you! – will change your heart toward them. If they aren’t a believer, pray especially for their salvation.
Above all, we need to remember this: God is patient and merciful with us! We do things that are completely abhorrent to Him, yet He is still patient. We have let Him down over and over again; we have misrepresented Him; we have betrayed Him. So just as God has shown patience and mercy to us, so we also need to show the same kind of patience and mercy towards other people.

Thursday, May 17, 2012

Solomon's wish

“So give Your servant a discerning heart to govern Your people and to distinguish between right and wrong. For who is able to govern this great people of Yours?” 1 Kings 3:9
Here in 1 Kings 3 we see Solomon at the beginning of his reign as king, being given a blank cheque from God, an open invitation to ask for anything he wanted. As we all know, Solomon asked God for wisdom, and God was pleased with his request (1 Kin. 3:10). He noted that Solomon could have asked for riches and honour, but he didn’t; so God promised to give him these also (1 Kin. 3:11-13).
However, we also know the tragic story of what happened to Solomon in his later years. Despite all this wisdom, he allowed his heart to be turned away from God by the many foreign wives that he took (1 Kin. 11:3-4).
Wisdom is an honourable thing to ask God for (James 1:5). But knowing God and having a heart that fears Him, is much more. When the prophet Elisha was in a similar situation, being asked by Elijah what he would like, his answer was, ‘Let me inherit a double portion of your spirit’ (2 Kin. 2:9). Imagine if Solomon had asked to have a heart that loved God like his father David did. We can only speculate, but I imagine God would have been even more pleased, and would have also given him the wisdom that he became so renown for, as well as wealth and honour and peace in the land.
Solomon assumed that he would not fall away from God, that his spiritual walk was safe. We can do the same thing. But if we aren’t careful, our heart can grow cold and start following after other things. Make a commitment in your heart today to seek after God, to love Him with all your heart and soul and mind and strength (Mark 12:30). “Above all eles, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23).

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Gaining insight

“I have more insight than all my teachers, for I meditate on Your statutes. I have more understanding than the elders, for I obey Your precepts.” Psalm 119:99-100
We can learn a lot from Bible teachers, both those teaching in our own churches and those in other churches and wider ministries. Especially today, we can access more and more teaching through mp3’s on the internet, live streaming of services, podcasts, Christian radio, etc. from around the world.
But it doesn’t stop there. We can learn even more – by meditating on God’s word for ourselves. Meditation in this sense isn’t reaching some trance-like, out-of-body state. In the Biblical sense of the word, it means ‘to re-think’ and carries a similar idea to that of a cow chewing the cud. The cow eats grass, and it enters the stomach. After a while, it regurgitates the food, chews it a bit more, and swallows it again. This continues until the food is completely digested. It’s the same with God’s word. We need to be reading the Bible, and digging into it, but we also need to be letting it sit inside our hearts, bringing it back to mind and thinking about all the different facets of meaning and how we can apply it in our lives.
Here’s the key. The Bible tells us that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom and knowledge (Prov. 1:7, 9:10). If we fear God, we will obey His commands. It’s all very well to read the Bible, but if we don’t put it into practice, we aren’t learning anything. It’s as we obey the Word, that it becomes part of us, and we gain insight and knowledge from God.

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

The peace that passes understanding

“And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 4:7
The peace of God is a fantastic thing to know. It’s one of those things that can be difficult to explain – I’m reluctant to talk about it as an ‘experience’ or a ‘feeling’, because to describe it in those terms makes it sound like something I’m invoking from within myself. That’s not how it works. Often God gives us His peace in times of turmoil. At a time when you think you’d be having a panic attack or freaking out about something, inside you, welling up from your spirit, is a peace that cannot be explained by the circumstances surrounding you. That’s the peace of God.
Paul tells us here that the peace of God guards our hearts and our minds. We can, and should, be led by the peace of God in making major life decisions. This is one of the major ways I’ve found that the Holy Spirit guides me. When you look at the options that you have, some may leave you with a sense of unease – a lack of peace about taking that particular route. There may be one in particular about which you have this peace. This was exactly what happened to me when I bought my house a few years ago: after looking at several different places, I had peace about one in particular as soon as I walked in the door. At first we came to a stalemate in the negotiations, but a week later all the paperwork was signed off, and the rest is history.
However, the peace of God can only guard us as long as we are attentive and obedient to it. The choice is ours. And if you have multiple choices, and none of them gives you peace, then the best course of action is to do nothing, but wait until you have God’s peace about what to do.

Monday, May 14, 2012

Winning the prize

“I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus.” Philippians 3:14
This verse follows hot on the heels of one of my favourite verses, Phil. 3:13 – “But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead...”. Here Paul uses a word picture that we find in several of his epistles: he likens the Christian life to a runner in a race. This isn’t to say that the Christian life is a race, that we are competing against one another. But our attitude towards life as a Christian should be like a runner preparing for a race: we should be dedicated, keep our eye on the finishing line, and not give up.
In today’s verse, Paul tells us something important. There is a prize to be won – and it’s not just a ‘certificate of participation’. The prize is not entry into heaven – that is already yours, if you have been born again. But there are different levels of rewards available to us (1 Cor. 3:12-15). The prize is worth something, and it is worth dedicating your life to achieving. We need to finish the race, and finish it well. Paul wrote elsewhere, “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize” (1 Cor. 9:24-27). Are you aiming to win the prize that God has called you heavenward in Christ Jesus to receive?

Sunday, May 13, 2012

David's relationship with God

“The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer; my God is my rock, in whom I take refuge, my shield and the horn of my salvation. He is my stronghold, my refuge and my saviour – from violent men You save me.” 2 Samuel 22:2-3
In 2 Samuel 22 (which is largely repeated in Psalm 18) we catch a glimpse of David’s relationship with God. Notice here how many times he uses the word ‘my’ – twelve, in the NIV. David’s relationship with God was personal. He knew God as ‘my rock’, ‘my fortress’, ‘my deliverer’, ‘in whom I take refuge’, ‘my shield’, ‘the horn of my salvation’, ‘my stronghold’, ‘my refuge’, ‘my saviour’.
All these words speak of God protecting David and rescuing him. How did David come to know God in this way? Through trials and difficulties. David’s life was not easy. He spent many years on the run – from Saul, from Absalom, etc. He entered many battles, not knowing if he would make it out the other side.
But here’s the lesson for us: Trials only make our faith deeper. They are how we come to know that God is our deliverer, fortress, etc. Otherwise, our faith is simply an intellectual assent that God could rescue us. Trials force us to take that step of faith that we would not otherwise take, if we had the choice, letting go of our own securities and completely trusting God to see us through.

Saturday, May 12, 2012

Our spiritual road map

“I have considered my ways and have turned my steps to Your statutes.” Psalm 119:59
This little verse tucked away in Psalm 119, the longest chapter in the Bible, contains an important commitment that we should adopt in our own lives. Every verse in Psalm 119, with the exception of three, mentions God’s law, statutes, promises, or word. The chapter is divided into 22 sections of 8 verses where each verse in each section begins with the same successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet. It is a magnificent declaration on the integrity and value of the word of God.
The Bible is not just a history book, or a poetry book, or a feel-good book. It’s an instruction manual, teaching us directly and also through historical episodes, about the character of God and His plan for sinful man. It’s a book that we should dedicate ourselves to as Christians, so that it becomes part of us. It is to be our road map for life.
What do we do then, if we are reading the Bible and find something in it that we don’t agree with, or something that is in conflict with something we are doing in our lives? Some people try to change the Bible, saying, ‘It doesn’t really mean that’, or ignore it, saying, ‘That part isn’t relevant for us today.’ But “Jesus Christ is the same yesterday and today and forever” (Heb. 13:8), and the words He has written are the same yesterday and today and forever. “Heaven and earth will pass away, but My words will never pass away” (Matt. 24:35).
No, what we must do instead – if we are serious about the integrity and applicability of God’s word – is to change ourselves, and turn our steps to follow His way. This is what we do when we are driving, following a physical road map. We don’t try to drive through someone’s back yard, making our own way to reach a street on the other side where we want to be. We don’t ignore the fact that we need to find the road leading to a bridge in order to cross a river. How much more important is it to follow our spiritual road map, the Bible!

Friday, May 11, 2012

Dealing with conflict

“David replied, ‘What do you and I have in common, you sons of Zeruiah? This day you have become my adversaries! Should anyone be put to death in Israel today? Do I not know that today I am king over Israel?’” 2 Samuel 19:22
At the time David fled from Jerusalem when he heard of Absalom’s coup, a man called Shimei hurled stones and dirt at David, cursing him, until he had left the city. Later, when David returned to Jerusalem, this man Shimei was there to greet him and plead for his life. Abishai, the brother of Joab, who was the commander of David’s army, offered to kill him because he had cursed David. But David refused. He didn’t need to order anyone to be executed to prove that he was the king. Instead he reprimands Abishai – and Joab – for this attitude.
This was not the first time that either of the two brothers had sought to resolve a conflict by killing the person. Abishai had offered to kill Saul (1 Sam. 26:7-11), Joab had killed Abner (2 Sam. 3:27), Abishai had offered to kill Shimei earlier (2 Sam. 16:9), Joab killed Absalom (2 Sam. 18:14) and Amasa (2 Sam. 20:9-10). It seemed that their first course of action whenever there was dissent was to put the person to death. David was not like this.
We should not be like this either. How do we handle conflict? Do we respond in like manner – lashing out, giving the person the same treatment they’ve given you? Or do we internalise it, and let anger fester under our skin? Or do we respond in a godly way, in love? This is one area in our lives where it’s good to ask, ‘What would Jesus do?’

Thursday, May 10, 2012

Every wind of doctrine

“Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of men in their deceitful scheming.” Ephesians 4:14
Have you noticed how many different ‘winds of doctrine’ are blowing through the church? There are books we are urged to read, programmes we are encouraged to join, and so on. We need to be careful to check everything out by Scripture, which is to be the final authority in the church and in our lives as Christians. For example, Rick Warren’s ‘Purpose driven xxx’ books and programmes contain many teachings that do not line up with the Scriptures. Sure, he quotes fragments of Scripture to support his arguments, but they are more often than not used completely out of context, or building doctrine on a single word in a single translation. Another example would be the book ‘The Shack’ – which was strongly pushed by many churches, but contains several erroneous views of God, the Trinity, the complete atoning work of Christ, and so forth.
Paul tells us here that those who are blown around by these winds of doctrine are spiritual infants. Often these things come with lots of hype behind them. Run this programme and see your church double in size! However, the important thing for a church is not how many people attend it, but that those who do attend are growing in the Lord. Read this book and find a new experience with God! We shouldn’t be chasing after spiritual goosebump experiences, we should be seeking God to form a deeper relationship with Him. We come to know Him through His Word.
But there is hope. While the spiritual infants may be caught up in these things, those who are mature in Christ are able to discern them. We must not criticise anyone for following after these things, if they don’t know any different. Instead, we need to disciple less mature believers so that they might gain the maturity and discernment that is needed.

Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Our salvation from God's perspective

“And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus...” Ephesians 2:6
This is an interesting verse to meditate upon. It talks about our future salvation – our glorification, the time when our fleshly bodies are transformed and we enter into eternity with Christ, free from sin and the curse it brings. But if you notice, it talks about all these things which we presently look forward to, as if they have already happened. They are written about in the same way as the things in Eph. 2:5 – “[God] made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions – it is by grace you have been saved. And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms...” (emphasis added).
The reason for this is that Paul is looking at things from God’s perspective. We see ourselves as having been justified, we are being sanctified, and we will be glorified. For some Christians, there’s an element of doubt in their minds that they will reach that final stage of glorification. But from God’s point of view, our entire salvation is complete. He sees us as already glorified, in heaven!
This should be of great comfort to us. If you know that you have been justified, saved by the blood of Jesus Christ, then you can rest assured that the future hope of being glorified is a certainty. Paul wrote elsewhere, “being confident of this, that He who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:6).

Tuesday, May 8, 2012


“So I advise you: Let all Israel, from Dan to Beersheba – as numerous as the sand on the seashore – be gathered to you, with you yourself leading them into battle.” 2 Samuel 17:11
Earlier we read about how Hushai was the answer to David’s prayer at the time that Absalom staged a coup against him. Absalom had called on Ahithophel, David’s leading counsellor, to support him. As David fled Jerusalem, he prayed to God that Ahithophel’s counsel would be frustrated. God answered this prayer in the form of Hushai, another of David’s advisers. Hushai went back to Jerusalem to pretend to be loyal to Absalom, with the intention being to give contradictory advice to Ahithophel.
Absalom asked the question, what should we do about David? Ahithophel’s answer was that he would lead an elite team to track David down quickly and kill him. Absalom asked Hushai the same question, and Hushai responded quite differently. Rather than Ahithophel leading a few good soldiers straightaway, he said, Absalom should muster all Israel and lead them himself to completely crush David and those who were with him.
What Hushai did here was very shrewd. He knew that Ahithophel held a grudge against David; he knew that Absalom’s ego would not allow Ahithophel to lead the soldiers into battle. But the primary reason for this suggestion was because it would buy David time. It would take several days for messengers to go throughout the land of Israel and muster all the fighting men together. In the meantime, Hushai could get word to David to prepare himself and his men. David could thus choose the terrain for the battle – which he does, choosing the forest of Ephraim, with narrow paths so that any soldiers entering the forest would have to pass through one at a time and could easily be struck down, even though David’s men were much smaller in number. It was Hushai’s advice to Absalom that led to him being defeated and David regaining the throne that was rightfully his.

Monday, May 7, 2012

Shimei's cursing

“As he cursed, Shimei said, ‘Get out, get out, you man of blood, you scoundrel! The Lord has repaid you for all the blood you shed in the household of Saul, in whose place you have reigned. The Lord has handed the kingdom over to your son Absalom. You have come to ruin because you are a man of blood!!’” 2 Samuel 16:7-8
Previously, we read about how Absalom staged a conspiracy against his father David, and called on Ahithophel to join him. Absalom went to Hebron to announce this, and soon word of the uprising came to David in Jerusalem. Upon hearing all of this, David fled the city with his elite soldiers. On his way over the Mount of Olives through the region of Bahurim, a man called Shimei met him.
Shimei was a Benjamite, from the same clan as Saul, the former king of Israel. This was probably part of the reason of his cursing David, but it was no excuse. Shimei accuses David of a number of things, none of which are true. Firstly, he accuses David of killing innocent people in Saul’s family. David had not killed anyone in Saul’s family – Saul and Jonathan died in battle. On the contrary, David had twice had the opportunity to kill Saul, but refused to. Next, he accuses David of taking Saul’s throne (‘in whose place you have reigned’). It was God who had anointed David to become king – David had not exalted himself to the position. Thirdly, Shimei announced that it was God who had given the kingdom over to Absalom. This was not true. God was still with David; Absalom had taken the kingdom by force and had no right to the throne. Finally, Shimei said, ‘You have come to ruin because you are a man of blood!’ While David being a warrior was the reason that God did not let him build the temple (1 Chr. 22:8), this was not the reason that these trials had come upon him at this time.
There’s a lesson here for us. Ultimately, Absalom was killed and David returned to Jerusalem. Shimei did not go unpunished for his cursing (see 1 Kin. 2:8-9, 36-46). It’s easy for us to point the finger at a leader when they fall. But if we don’t know the whole story, it’s best to keep our mouths shut.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Using our freedom

“You, my brothers, were called to be free. But do not use your freedom to indulge the sinful nature; rather, serve one another in love.” Galatians 5:13
We might not realise it at times, but the Christian life is a life of freedom. Before we were saved, we were not free to do what we want whenever we want – we were bound, slaves to sin (Rom. 6:17). But now, we have been set free from the bondage to sin, by the work of Jesus Christ. Now we have a choice how to live, and moreover, the ability (through the power of the Holy Spirit) to act upon that choice. One option is in fact to continue living in sin. We can choose to obey God or to disobey Him. But disobedience and continuing to live in the way we used to is not the best option: it is not pleasing to God.
We need to see sin the way God sees it. Too many Christians think that if they indulge their sin nature every now and then, they can keep it under control. But there are two problems with this: one, the sin nature cannot be pacified. It will only want more. We cannot control it; that’s why the Bible tells us to put it to death (Col. 3:5). Two, to deliberately engage in sin is to wilfully disobey God. It was one act of disobedience that saw mankind alienated from God in the beginning. God doesn’t take sin lightly, and neither should we.
As in every verse where Paul instructs his readers not to do something evil, he also gives us a positive alternative to do instead. Here, we are told to serve one another in love. If we are serving others, we’ll be too busy to be indulging ourselves. How are you choosing to use your freedom in Christ?

Saturday, May 5, 2012


“Now David had been told, ‘Ahithophel is among the conspirators with Absalom.’ So David prayed, ‘O Lord, turn Ahithophel’s counsel into foolishness.’” 2 Samuel 15:31
Yesterday we read about Absalom’s conspiracy, how he kissed up to the people of Israel, promising them justice that he implied his father David could not give them, and thus stole their hearts away. At the time he staged his coup against David, he specifically requested that Ahithophel come to him (2 Sam. 15:12). Ahithophel was considered to be very wise, and his advice was highly regarded (2 Sam. 16:23). In fact, David’s biggest concern was not Absalom, but Ahithophel.
Here David prays that God would negate the effect of Ahithophel’s counsel. In the very next verse we see God’s answer to this prayer, by sending Hushai (2 Sam. 15:32). As David was fleeing Jerusalem, he sent Hushai back to act as a counsellor to Absalom and contradict Absalom’s advice (2 Sam. 15:34). This was indeed what happened: the opportunity came for Hushai to offer contradictory advice, which Absalom took. It was the Lord who incited him to take Hushai’s advice rather than Ahithophel’s (2 Sam. 17:14). Ahithophel, either in disgust or in the realisation that Absalom’s course of action would result in failure, and that he himself would be executed for treason, took his own life (2 Sam. 17:23).
Ahithophel himself had a grudge against David. It’s not immediately obvious from the narrative, but by comparing various Scriptures (2 Sam. 11:3 and 2 Sam. 23:34), we find that Ahithophel was actually Bathsheba’s grandfather.

Friday, May 4, 2012

Absalom's conspiracy

“And Absalom would add, ‘If only I were appointed judge in the land! Then everyone who has a complaint or case could come to me and I would see that he gets justice.’” 2 Samuel 15:4
Absalom was David’s third son, born to his wife Maacah (2 Sam. 3:2-3). He had killed his older brother Amnon (born to David’s wife Ahinoam, 2 Sam. 3:2), after his indecent act with Absalom’s sister Tamar (2 Sam. 13). After this Absalom had fled into exile, until Joab convinced David to bring him back. But it would seem that their relationship was strained, and perhaps this gave rise to Absalom conspiring to take the throne away from his father by force.
Absalom began his conspiracy by undermining David’s authority. He implied that David was too busy to listen to the people and their problems – which was completely untrue; David had given court to a widow (2 Sam. 14:4-8), and listened to Nathan tell him about a poor man whose only lamb was forcibly taken from him (2 Sam. 12:1-6).
Absalom used his position as the king’s son to exalt himself. If he had not been the son of David, he would have had no standing among the people. And Absalom was not interested in providing justice for the people – he was only saying this to win their hearts away so that they would support him when he rose up to take the throne.
There are people today in churches who do the same thing. They don’t have any official position, but they’ll convince others seeking guidance from the church leadership to listen to themselves instead. They set themselves up as an counsellor – not to help, but to draw people away to themselves. We need to be mindful of this kind of thing – there is nothing new under the sun. People will be hungry for power and will use various methods to take it. But a true Christian leader will follow Jesus’ example and show by their lifestyle that they are willing to be the servant of all.

*Edited in response to anonymous comment

Thursday, May 3, 2012

Aim for perfection

“Finally, brothers, goodbye. Aim for perfection, listen to my appeal, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.” 2 Corinthians 13:11
We know that salvation has three tenses: justification, which is in the past, a singular event where we accept the sacrifice of Christ on our behalf and are saved; sanctification, which is in the present, an ongoing process whereby we are being conformed to the image of Christ; and glorification, which is a future event, the goal of every Christian, to be transformed into our new spiritual bodies and dwell in heaven with Christ forever.
This phrase ‘Aim for perfection’, relates to sanctification. The Greek word is katatizo, meaning to thorougly complete. It is used twelve times in the Scriptures: (a) in terms of repairing: of James and John ‘mending’ their fishing nets (Matt. 4:21, Mark 1:19); (b) in terms of preparing: of the world being created (Heb. 11:3), a body being prepared for Christ (Heb. 10:5, a quotation of Ps. 40:6), and the ungodly being prepared for destruction (Rom. 9:22); (c) in terms of being restored (Gal. 6:1); (d) in terms of something or someone being perfected (praise, Matt. 21:16; a student, Luke 6:40; believers being joined together, 1 Cor. 1:10; faith, 1 Thess. 3:10; good works, Heb. 13:21; a work done by God, 1 Pet. 5:10).
We cannot become sanctified through our own efforts, any more than we can be justified by our own efforts. This process of becoming perfected or completed, the process of sanctification, is something that God does in us (1 Pet. 5:10). However, we can imede His work. Are you striving for perfection today – allowing God to shape you and mould you into the image of Christ? Or are you holding onto some aspects of the old life that Christ saved you from?

Wednesday, May 2, 2012

This is the day

“The stone the builders rejected has become the capstone; the Lord has done this, and it is marvellous in our eyes. This is the day the Lord has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” Psalm 118:22-24
Here are some verses that are probably very familiar to us, however, we might never realise from reading the New Testament alone that they occur together in Psalm 118.
The second part (“this is the day the Lord has made”) was widely acknowledged to be concerning that special day when Messiah would come. It was probably sung by the people at the Triumphal Entry of Jesus into Jerusalem – certainly the following verses (“O Lord, save us” – which is the meaning of the word ‘Hosanna’ – “blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord”, Ps. 118:25-26) are quoted in Matt. 21:9, Mark 11:9, Luke 19:38, and John 12:13.
The first part (“the stone the builders rejected”) is quoted by Jesus in Matt. 21:42, Mark 12:10, Luke 20:17, and by Peter in Acts 4:11 and 1 Pet. 2:7. Jesus quoted it to the Pharisees as a rebuke that they had failed to recognise that He was the promised Messiah. They were criticising the crowd and accusing them of blasphemy, for singing this Messianic psalm about Jesus. The phrase comes from an incident that happened when Solomon’s temple was being built. All of the stones were cut to their perfect size and shape in the quarry, and then transported to the temple mount, so that no tools were heard at the site. The capstone – the last stone to be put in place – was sent to the building site ahead of schedule. The builders constructing the temple couldn’t figure out where it fitted, so they discarded it. Later, when they were ready to put the capstone in place, they were informed that the stone had already been sent. It was only then that they realised that this was the very stone they had rejected.
There is a yet future fulfilment of this Messianic psalm. The stone (Messiah) was rejected, but He will yet become the capstone – when He returns again. That is the day that creation is longing for (Rom. 8:19-22) – that special day that the Lord has made, the climax of all history.

Tuesday, May 1, 2012

The Jehovah titles

“The Lord is my strength and my song; He has become my salvation.” Psalm 118:14
The Hebrew name of God, Jehovah (or Yahweh), conveys the sense of God being Him who was, who is, and who is to come; God dwelling in the present tense, meaning that all things which are (in the present) and will be (in the future), are to Him as if they have already happened. God is unfathomable: for all of eternity we will be discovering more and more about Him. We cannot know God completely – nor can the angels, which is why they are continually praising Him (Rev. 4:8). The name Jehovah carries the sense of God ‘becoming’ to us – becoming what we need, in every situation.
There are nine so-called ‘Jehovah titles’ of God, as follows (taken from Appendix 4 of E. W. Bullinger’s Companion Bible):
1. Jehovah-Jireh = Jehovah will see, or provide
2. Jehovah-Ropheka = Jehovah will heal
3. Jehovah-Nissi = Jehovah my banner
4. Jehovah-Mekaddishkem = Jehovah who sanctifies
5. Jehovah-Shalom = Jehovah sends peace
6. Jehovah-Zeba’oth = Jehovah of hosts (heavenly armies)
7. Jehovah-Zidkenu = Jehovah our righteousness
8. Jehovah-Shammah = Jehovah is there
9. Jehovah-‘Elyon = Jehovah my shepherd
Whatever you need God to ‘become’ for you today, just ask Him!