Saturday, June 30, 2012

God's testimony

“We accept man’s testimony, but God’s testimony is greater because it is the testimony of God, which He has given about His Son.” 1 John 5:9
In a human court, witnesses are called on to testify about things they have seen and heard. When multiple witness accounts agree, the justice system is satisfied that they are telling the truth.
If someone comes to you and tells you to get out of the building immediately because there is a fire and they’ve seen it, you would accept this information as fact and take appropriate action.
Why is it, then, that so many people hear what God has to say concerning His Son, written to us in the Bible, and refuse to believe it?
“And this is the testimony: God has given us eternal life, and this life is in His Son” (1 John 5:11). This is God’s testimony to us: that eternal life is available for all, through Jesus Christ. God’s testimony is greater than man’s, because God is completely incapable of lying. Therefore everything He says is true and trustworthy. John goes on to say, “Anyone who does not believe God has made Him out to be a liar, because he has not believed the testimony God has given about His own Son” (1 John 1:10). You don’t have to verbally call God a liar – if you refuse to believe in Christ for salvation, that’s what you are saying in your heart.

Friday, June 29, 2012

God's name and His word

“I will bow down toward Your holy temple and will praise Your name for Your love and faithfulness, for You have exalted above all things Your name and Your word.” Psalm 138:2
If we were to look to the Scriptures to find what God values more than anything else, we would arrive at this verse. God has exalted above all things His name and His word. In the Bible, a name was more than just what you called somebody. Names were chosen not for how they sounded, but for the significance of the meaning. Thus someone’s name reflects their character. We read in the Bible of several names of God; when Moses asked the question, “When I go to the Israelites, and they ask me, ‘What is Your name?’ – what should I tell them?” God replied, “I AM.” (See Ex. 3:13-14.) This is His character: He is everything we need. The name ‘Jesus’, which Joseph was instructed to name Him, means ‘Jehovah is salvation’ (see Matt. 1:20-21). He was also prophetically called ‘Immanuel’, meaning ‘God with us’ (Matt. 1:22-23).
Right up there with God’s name, is His word. God cannot lie, and He has given us His word, the Bible, which we can trust implicitly. The Word tells us about God’s plan and promise for mankind: from the predicament of sin, through the choosing of the nation Israel, to the coming of the Messiah, to the end of the age when God will set the record straight and reign in His rightful place as King.
Have you noticed how no-one ever uses the word ‘Buddha’ as a curse word? And nobody seeks to discredit the Koran. But they don’t think for one minute before they use the name ‘Jesus Christ’ to express their disgust at something, or get all fired up about something that is written in the Bible. The enemy knows that God’s Name and His Word are the most precious things. It’s no wonder, then, that he seeks to attack and defame them both.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

When our hearts condemn us

“This then is how we know that we belong to the truth, and how we set our hearts at rest in His presence whenever our hearts condemn us. For God is greater than our hearts, and He knows everything.” 1 John 3:19-20
Every Christian goes through periods in their lives where they doubt their salvation. It might be some big messy sin that you’ve become caught up in since becoming a believer, and you feel totally unworthy of God’s love and His gift of salvation. In those times we can think, ‘If I were God, I wouldn’t love me,’ or ‘I don’t know how God could love me again after what I’ve done.’
If that’s you today, then this verse is for you. God’s love for you is not based on anything you are or anything you’ve done. His love for you is based on His character, because He is the definition of love (1 John 4:16). Therefore, anything you do cannot change the fact that God still loves you.
How do we know that God loves us? This is important: it’s not about feeling loved. We can know for sure that God loves us, in spite of ourselves, because His Word tells us that He loves us. “This is how God showed His love among us: He sent His one and only Son into the world that we might live through Him. This is love: not that we loved God, btu that He loved us and sent His Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins” (1 John 4:9-10). “But God demonstrates His own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom. 5:8). Ask yourself this: when did Jesus die for your sins? It was before you were born! Therefore, He died not just for your past sins, but also for your present and future sins. They are all covered by His blood. None of us are worthy, nor will we ever be worthy of this gift of life provided through the death of God’s own Son. That’s a fact we need to accept, and stop beating ourselves up about – instead, we ought to be thankful, and press on in God.
We can set our hearts at rest by examining the fruit in our lives. Is our love for God increasing? Do we have joy and peace? Are we developing patience, kindness, and self-control?
One final word to close. Our hearts may well condemn us, but God does not condemn us if we are in Christ. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).

Wednesday, June 27, 2012

The mindset of the world

“For everything in the world – the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does – comes not from the Father but from the world.” 1 John 2:16
In today’s verse, John gives us three characteristics that describe the mindset of the world. In other translations, they are called ‘the lusts of the flesh, the lusts of the eyes, and the pride of life’. Think about the conversations you have with unsaved friends and workmates. They tend to focus around one or more of these topics. People can talk for hours about food and wine – because for them, the bodily needs are uppermost. They talk about how seeing beautiful things and beautiful people makes them feel. And they boast about what they have and what they have done – having a successful career, a fantastic holiday, etc.
However for the child of God, who has been born again by His Spirit and is no longer subject to serving their bodily needs, it is now the spirit that is uppermost in their life. We should not be living in this way, chasing after the things that the world chases after.
It’s interesting to note that Satan tempted Eve in these three ways also. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food [lust of the flesh] and pleasing to the eye [lust of the eyes], and also desirable for gaining wisdom [the pride of life], she took some and ate it” (Gen. 3:6). Satan’s tactics haven’t changed. He will still try to make you ineffective in your Christian walk by making you jealous of the people of this world who are ‘successful’, and get you chasing after those things instead of what you should be pursuing: God, His Kingdom and His righteousness – about which Jesus said, if we seek Him first, all the other things will be given to us as well (Matt. 6:33).

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Walking in the light

“If we claim to have fellowship with Him yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live by the truth. But if we walk in the light, as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, His Son, purifies us from all sin.” 1 John 1:6-7
A recurring theme through John’s gospel and his first epistle is that of light. Light was the first thing God created, and it befits His character. Light is what enables us to see where we are going. Spiritual light is the truth of God revealed to us, through Jesus Christ. If we are in spiritual darkness, it is because we have not yet come into the light of God’s truth.
Whether a person is in spiritual darkness or spiritual light will be reflected in how they live, what they say and do. Someone who is continuing to live in a sinful lifestyle and doesn’t have a problem with it, demonstrates by this fact that they have not come into spiritual light, because if they had, they would be seeking to change. Elsewhere, the apostle Paul said, “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realise that Christ Jesus is in you – unless, of course, you fail the test?” (2 Cor. 13:5)
John gives us four ways that we can test ourselves. The first is here, in 1 John 1:7 – we are walking in light, reading the Bible and doing what it says. The next is in 1 John 1:8, 10 – we don’t claim to be sinless. We recognise our sinfulness, and acknowledge that we are in need of a Saviour. The third is in 1 John 2:3-5 – we obey His commands, specifically the command to love God supremely. The fourth can be found in 1 John 2:9-11 – our love for other people is evident. How did you do on this test?

Monday, June 25, 2012

Reading the Bible over and over again

“So I will always remind you of these things, even though you know them and are firmly established in the truth you now have.” 2 Peter 1:12
I can’t remember how many times I have read through the entire Bible. The first time was when I was about 13, and after that I followed various types of Bible reading programmes (book by book, chronological, split OT/Psalms/NT, etc.), read through various translations, and so on. The total number of times I have read it through is probably somewhere between 10-15, and I’m still going. Now, reading the Bible doesn’t make you a Christian, nor does failing to read the Bible mean that you cease being a Christian. However, reading the Bible does make you a strong Christian, and that’s why it’s important. People estimate that only 10-30% of Christians have actually read the whole Bible.
The Bible is God’s primary means of communicating with us. It isn’t just words on a page – with the illumination of the Holy Spirit, it brings life to your spirit. This is why when atheists read the Bible, they can’t see past the blood and violence of the Old Testament, and come away saying it’s full of contradictions and fairy tales.
When George W. Bush mentioned that he reads the Bible every day, a comedian responded, ‘He’s 56 years old – finish the book!’ Indeed, many Christians think that once they’ve read the Bible through once, that’s enough. But reading it over and over is very, very beneficial to you. It’s as Peter says here, even though we know these things and are firmly established in the truth, it doesn’t hurt to be reminded of them again. Jesus also promised that the Holy Spirit would bring His words to our remembrance (John 14:26). You can’t be reminded of something you’ve never heard or read in the first place. So if you haven’t read through the whole Bible, my challenge to you is to start doing this. There are plenty of tools out there to help you, including here. And, if you’re in the 10-30% who have already read through the Bible, I hope you are continuing to read it, over and over. This is the way it becomes embedded in your heart, so that you will be “thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Sunday, June 24, 2012

God hears us when we humble ourselves

“Because your heart was responsive and you humbled yourself before the Lord when you heard what I have spoken against this place and its people, that they would become accursed and laid waste, and because you tore your robes and wept in My presence, I have heard you, declares the Lord.” 2 Kings 22:19
These comforting words from God were conveyed to King Josiah by the prophetess Huldah. Josiah was the son of Amon, a wicked king, and the grandson of Manasseh, an even more wicked king. Josiah, however, followed after God (2 Kin. 22:2).
We read that in the eighteenth year of Josiah’s reign (when he was 26 years old), he sought to have some things brought from the temple. At the time, it had probably fallen into disrepair, as for the preceding 57 years King Manasseh and King Amon had worshipped other gods, and the Israelites followed their example. So what happened next was a complete surprise: Hilkiah, the high priest, found a scroll containing the Law of Moses, which he brought to King Josiah.
As the scroll was read to Josiah, he tore his robes – a symbol of deep distress and mourning. No doubt he had heard the promises God gave to bless the people if they would follow Him, and the curses that would come if they turned away. He could see the state of the nation in his day, and was upset. No doubt he also knew of what Isaiah and the other prophets had been predicting concerning Israel’s downfall (tradition says that Isaiah was put to death by king Manasseh). And so, like the king of Nineveh, centuries earlier (Jon. 3:6-10), Josiah tore his robes and humbled himself before the Lord.
The same is still true today. Jesus told a parable about a Pharisee and a tax-collector who both went to the temple to pray. The Pharisee prayed in typical Pharisaical fashion, bragging to God about how wonderful he was because of all the good deeds he was doing. But the tax-collector bowed his head and simply said, “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said, “I tell you that this man [the tax-collector], rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted” (Luke 18:14). What is your response when you’re convicted about something that you read in the Bible? Do you seek to justify yourself, perhaps by your good works? Or do you come before God in humility, realising that you’re a sinner in need of Him as your Saviour?

Saturday, June 23, 2012

Is the Bible cruel?

“O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction, happy is he who repays you for what you have done to us – he who seizes your infants and dashes them against the rocks.” Psalm 137:8-9
A number of years ago I stumbled across an online Bible quiz. As I worked through the questions, it became immediately obvious that this was not a trivia game, but someone’s attempt to discredit the Bible by pulling out apparent contradictions, and verses suggesting that God is vicious and cruel. This was one of those verses, which inspired the question, ‘How should we feel about dashing babies’ heads against rocks?’ with the ‘correct’ answer being ‘happy’.
However, there is much more to be understood about this verse. The Babylonians had mistreated the Israelites and their women and children during the sieges which saw the vast majority of the people who survived led away into captivity. The psalmist was one of those taken captive, and is writing concerning his feelings for Jerusalem and his nation. Although he was mourning the loss of his homeland and his city, he consoled himself in the prophecies by Jeremiah et al. that Babylon would one day be destroyed herself. This Babylon, which treated the Israelites mercilessly, would one day receive the same treatment at the hands of her own conquerors. Those who carried this out would be in a special position as they were the ones through whom these prophecies would be fulfilled. They would be happy because of the victory; and although God does not approve of the violence, His plan for executing justice upon the Babylonians for their treatment of Israel would be fulfilled.

Friday, June 22, 2012

Hezekiah's mistake

“The prophet asked, ‘What did they see in your palace?’
“‘They saw everything in my palace,’ Hezekiah said, ‘There is nothing among my treasures that I did not show them.’” 2 Kings 20:15

Hezekiah was one of the southern kingdom of Judah’s notable godly kings. It was he who had held fast in faith to God in spite of the Assyrian army laying siege to Jerusalem, and as a result saw God bring about a great victory (2 Kin. 19:32-36). It was he who had further purified the worship practices of the Israelites, destroying the bronze snake that had survived from the time of the Moses and had become an idol for some of the people (2 Kin. 18:4). God was with him and gave him success in everything he did (2 Kin. 18:7).
Yet, as is so often the case, towards the end of his life, Hezekiah’s fervour for the Lord waned. He was recovering from an illness that would have brought about his death, had God not healed him (2 Kin. 20:1). It was at that time that some messengers came from Babylon bearing gifts.
At that time, Babylon was on the rise. It would be the empire that God used to discipline His people Israel and take them away into captivity for failing to keep His commands. They were a brutal people, yet Hezekiah welcomed the messengers into his palace as if they were friends. He let his guard down. Although the men came with good intentions, he should not have shown them around.
As Christians, there are certain parts of our life that we ought not to share with anyone who is not a believer. They may say they’re trying to help you, they may befriend you, but putting your trust in them instead of in the Lord is a big, big mistake. I’m not saying that we shouldn’t have non-Christian friends, but that we need to be careful how much we allow them to influence us.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

Being humble

“Humble yourselves, therefore, under God’s mighty hand, that He may lift you up in due time.” 1 Peter 5:6
Humility is one of the traits that the Bible often talks about, as something that believers should be developing. We read of how Jesus – God Himself – humbled Himself in coming to earth as a human and dying on the cross (the most humiliating form of death ever invented), see Phil. 2:5-8. So what is humility, and how do we develop it? And how do we avoid falling into the trap of developing false humility – being proud of how humble we are?
Being humble is not about what you have or don’t have, in terms of possessions or opportunities. Rather, being humble is the opposite of being proud. We read in Proverbs (quoted by James), “God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble” (Prov. 3:34, James 4:6). Humility means not blowing your own trumpet and bragging about how great you are. Those are outward things, however, and humility is a heart attitude. It’s possible to abase ourselves verbally, saying things like, ‘Well I’m not that great’ but inwardly thinking about how great we are for saying we’re not great. That’s false humility. Real humility – and this doesn’t develop overnight, but is a work of the Holy Spirit in us – is both not saying and not thinking that we are great.
One key step in developing a Biblical attitude of humility is to always remember where you came from, spiritually, and realise that you only are what you are because of what God has done. “For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast” (Eph. 2:8-9). Once we get rid of those prideful attitudes about ourselves, then God is able to raise us up and use us for His glory.

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The good life

“Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day He visits us.” 1 Peter 2:12
Let’s face it: if you’re a Christian, you’re in the minority. While certain countries may call themselves a ‘Christian nation’, the reality is that although those nations may have been founded on Christian principles, the majority of people live from day to day with no thought of God. Other things are taking His place in their lives – their family, their job, their bank balance, their house, their car, their possessions... We also live in a world where evil is spoken of as good, and good is spoken of as evil (Isa. 5:20) – where homosexuality is considered a ‘lifestyle choice’ and where abortion is ‘a woman’s right to choose’. To stand against these kinds of things, which the Bible clearly calls sin, will see you labelled as bigoted and intolerant. For some people, even your very presence, because they know you’re a Christian, can set them off – even if you don’t say anything.
But this is no reason to stop living for God. Sure, if someone specifically tells you, ‘I don’t want to hear any more from you about God, Jesus, or the Bible’ then the right attitude is to respect their wishes. But even without saying anything, our lives should be a witness to those around us.
Jesus told His disciples a similar thing: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven” (Matt. 5:14-16). He’s not talking about preaching at people, but living a life pleasing to God, a life of faith, evidenced by good deeds.
People may not praise God and glorify Him the way we as believers do, now, but one day they will: “at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:10-11).

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

What it means to be holy

“But just as He who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: ‘Be holy, because I am holy.’” 1 Peter 1:15
Many Christians don’t understand what the Bible means when it tells us to ‘be holy’. They think, ‘I don’t want to be too holy, because nobody likes people who are ‘holier-than-thou’.’ But there’s a big difference between being ‘holier-than-thou’, and being holy.
Being ‘holier than thou’ is akin to the attitude that the Pharisees had during the time of Jesus. While it is true that they were extremely diligent about keeping not only God’s Law, but also the laws of the rabbis (intended to help keep people from even getting close to breaking God’s Law), they developed an attitude of superiority because of their law-keeping. We see this reflected in Jesus’ parable about the Pharisee and the tax-collector, Luke 18:9-14. They knew they were obeying God, and they looked down on everyone else.
However, this is not what it means to be holy. The word means to be set apart for special use. “In a large house there are articles not only of gold and silver, but also of wood and clay; some are for noble purposes and some for ignoble. If a man cleanses himself from the latter, he will be an instrument for noble purposes, made holy, useful to the Master and prepared to do any good work” (2 Tim. 2:20-21). Now that we have been bought with the blood of Christ, we ought to be set apart for God’s special use. This doesn’t mean that we can’t go to work, or can’t play sport, etc. But in everything we do, we are to do it as if for the Lord (Col. 3:23).

Monday, June 18, 2012

Being a friend of the world

“You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world is hatred toward God? Anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God.” James 4:4
Over and over, the Bible warns us against becoming too friendly with the world. ‘The world’ in this context means the world system that is controlled by Satan (not the planet Earth). Why is it such a problem for us to be friends with the world? Because becoming friends means that you have something in common – common interests, or common values. This is where the problem lies: the values that the world holds in high regard – pushing yourself forward, pleasing yourself in everything, standing up for your rights, succeeding at all costs, anything goes if you can get away with it – are the complete opposite of the values that the Bible encourages us to develop as Christians: putting God first in our live, putting others’ needs ahead of our own, dying to our sin nature, being accountable to God, humbling ourselves, etc. When it all boils down, the world loves that which God hates – sin.
Just as in our human friendships, the same is true in the spiritual realm as well: whoever you spend the most time with, is what you will become like yourself. If we spend too much time around worldly people, we will become like them: selfish, obsessed with money and bodily desires, etc. But if we spend time with the Lord, we will become like Him. The choice is ours.

Sunday, June 17, 2012

Good king Amaziah

“[Amaziah] did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not as his father David had done. In everything he followed the example of his father Joash.” 2 Kings 14:3
Amaziah is one of a handful of godly kings of Judah (in contrast, the northern kingdom of Israel had no godly kings). David is held up as the figurehead king, an example of a man who stopped at nothing in his pursuit of God first and foremost in life. His life was an example to the nation of what God could do with a man who was dedicated to Him: raising him up from a little-known family in a backwater town, from tending sheep to leading the nation. David never forgot his roots, and it was this humility in his life that made him one of Israel’s greatest leaders.
However, David’s godly example did not extend to his children. Solomon, who succeeded him as king, started off well, but drifted away from the Lord through the influence of his many wives.
Today we read about Amaziah. In his own life he served God faithfully, but his influence did not permeate the nation to the same extent as David’s (see 2 Kin. 14:4 – the people continued to worship other gods). However, his godly influence did extend further in his own family than did David’s: both his son, Azariah, and his grandson, Jotham, were also godly kings (2 Kin. 15).
We all have a sphere of influence. Some people’s are bigger than others’. But no matter how big or small the extent of our influence, are we setting a godly example in it?

Saturday, June 16, 2012

What demons believe

“You believe that there is one God. Good! Even the demons believe that – and shudder.” James 2:19
Ask a number of people what they envisage demons to be like, and you might receive answers such as, little red imps with horns shaking their pitchforks in the face of God. But what does the Bible really tell us about them, and what they believe? Demons do not deny God’s existince, nor do they openly defy Him. Demons certainly believe in God (James 2:19). They also fear Him – which is more than can be said for most people walking around.
They also believe that Jesus is the Son of God. There are several instances in the Gospel accounts where Jesus cast out a demon, and when it shrieked, “You are the Son of God!” He told it to be quiet (see Mark 1:24-25, Mark 5:7, Luke 4:41, etc.). They believe in hell, as a place of eternal torment (see Matt. 8:28-29). In fact, hell was specifically created for the devil and his angels (Matt. 25:41). Satan himself knows the Bible and can quote Scripture (Matt. 4:5-6). Yet despite all these things, demons are not saved.
Believing that there is a God, or even believing in God, is not the same as having faith in God. Saving faith requires us to take action on that belief, and to entrust our lives to Him, knowing that as we do so, our sins are forgiven by the blood of Jesus Christ. Demons are unable to do this, having already sealed their eternal fate when they joined Satan in his rebellion against God in the beginning. Do you believe in God? Good. Have you put your trust in Him? Even better.

Friday, June 15, 2012

Faith and works

“In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead. But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by what I do.” James 2:17-18
The epistle of James can be difficult to understand, especially when we try to marry it up with Paul’s teaching concerning salvation by grace alone, and not by works at all. But James is not advocating salvation by works.
What he is pointing out is that good works will automatically follow true faith. A professed faith in Christ that does not produce good works, is not true faith in Christ. Martin Luther once said, “We are saved by faith alone, but the faith that saves is never alone.”
Good works are the natural result of our faith in and obedience to Christ. We have now been grafted into Him (Rom. 11:17), and the natural result should be that we begin to bear fruit (John 15:5). An apple tree is known by the apples it produces. But it doesn’t strive and strain to produce them – they happen as a natural result of the tree drawing up nutrients through the roots. But think about it: if an apple tree didn’t produce apples, how would you know that it was an apple tree? Similarly, how are people supposed to see the evidence of our faith in Christ, if we suppress the good works we should be doing?

Thursday, June 14, 2012

Breaking the Law

“For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.” James 2:10
This is the primary reason why it’s impossible for us to be saved through keeping the Law: we have to keep all of it, all the time. The Law is like a chain, made of many links. Imagine you’re suspended by that chain over a cliff. How many links need to be broken for you to fall? Only one. In fact, it doesn’t matter if two, or five, or ten, or a hundred links are broken – just one is the difference between life and death. The Law is God’s standard of perfection, and none of us can live up to it. (This is in fact the very purpose of the Law: to show us our own inability to reach God’s righteous standard, so that we would reach out in faith for the righteousness provided for us by Jesus Christ – see Rom. 3:20, Gal. 3:24). Paul points out in the epistle to the Romans that the fault lies not with the Law, but with our own sin nature.
The word translated ‘sin’ means ‘to miss the mark’. It’s as if we have a number of arrows, and are shooting them at a target. Whether you miss the target one time out of a hundred, or a hundred times out of a hundred, you are a ‘sinner’. It might not be deliberate, but that doesn’t matter. We have failed to keep God’s Law perfectly.
What this means is that we can’t pick and choose which commandments to keep, and hope to be saved by it (e.g. by our good deeds outweighing our bad). We have two choices: to keep the Law perfectly (which no-one is able to do), or to accept by faith the righteousness God has provided through His Son.

Wednesday, June 13, 2012


“When tempted, no-one should say, ‘God is tempting me.’ For God cannot be tempted by evil, nor does He tempt anyone; but each one is tempted when, by his own evil desire, he is dragged away and enticed.” James 1:13-14
Temptation is something that we will all face in life. The key as Christians is to recognise it, and refuse to give in to it, but unfortunately that doesn’t always happen. When it does, we must be very careful not to blame God for it.
God does not tempt us, but He does allow us to be tempted. It happened with Jesus at the beginning of His ministry (and also later, see Luke 4:13), and it happens to us. Temptation is the enticement into sin. It comes in many different guises. Often it comes in the form of promised pleasure. Or it may appeal to our pride. Eve was tempted by the opportunity to become more spiritual (Gen. 3:4-6).
When we fall into temptation, it is because our flesh – the sin nature, which we still have – has given in. As Jesus told His disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane, “Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak” (Matt. 26:41). Satan will tempt us through this weakness, to try and entice us into sin.
Yet there is hope after we have fallen. God knows that we are not perfect, that we are still having to contend with the sinful nature. Wiith every sin, we can find forgiveness from Him by confessing it to Him (1 John 1:9). But He has given us the Holy Spirit to help us in our weakness. Unlike when we were unbelievers, where we were unable to resist temptation, we now have the power to resist (Tit. 2:11-12).

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Joy in trials

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.” James 1:2-4
The epistle from James starts off with what sounds like an oxymoron. How can we think of trials in joyful terms?
Trials and difficulties in life seldom make us happy. But happiness is not at all the same thing as joy. Happiness is something that depends on our circumstances, and as those circumstances change, our level of happiness rises and falls. Joy is something that is spiritual, a fruit of the Holy Spirit working in our lives (Gal. 5:22), and not dependent on circumstances. It is what allows us to say, “Though the fig tree does not bud and there are no grapes on the vines, though the olive crop fails and the fields produce no food, though there are no sheep in the pen and no cattle in the stalls...” – we might say, though my bank balance is empty, and my house and car have been repossessed – “... yet I will rejoice in the Lord, I will be joyful in God my Saviour” (Hab. 3:17-18). Our joy is found in the Lord. If nothing else goes right for us in this life, we can still rejoice because He has saved us and He loves us. He has a purpose for us in all situations.
This is why we can have joy in trials, because God has a purpose for us in them. They are to prove to us that our faith is strong enough to persevere and stand through them. When a sailing ship was being built, a forest of trees on a hillside was all cut down except for one. For years and years, that lone tree would be left there to grow, resisting the winds and the storms. Then when it was ready, it would be felled to create the mast for the ship. The tree had withstood the storms and become strong enough to withstand the storms at sea, and keep the sailors safe.
Elsewhere, Paul wrote, “Therefore put on the full armour of God, so that when the day of evil comes, you may be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand” (Eph. 6:13). Jesus promised, “All men will hate you because of Me, but he who stands firm to the end will be saved” (Matt. 10:22). There is a prize for persevering: “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

Monday, June 11, 2012

How to do God's will

“[May... God]... equip you with everything good for doing His will, and may He work in us what is pleasing to Him, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory for ever and ever. Amen.” Hebrews 13:21
It’s a question all of us ask, some of us more frequently than others: “How can I do God’s will?” It’s something we know we should be doing, but something that is often so elusive. In general terms, God’s will is revealed to us through His Word. His will is that we would live in close fellowship with Him, in unity with each other. His will is that the unsaved would come to Him for salvation (something that we have the privilege of being involved in, through sharing the gospel and witnessing to people). His will is that we would be conformed more and more into the image of His Son – the process of sanctification.
So many times we try to do all this in our own strength, and fail miserably. Paul experienced this: “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 hte good I want to do; no, the evil I do not want to do – this I keep on doing” (Rom. 7:18-19). If that’s you today, then hopefully this verse will provide some encouragement. God doesn’t expect us to do His will in our own strength. That’s why He equips us, through the power of the Holy Spirit – without this, we can’t do anything. He gives us the resources, the abilities, and the opportunities to do His will. It is the Holy Spirt who works through us to accomplish God’s will (Phil. 2:13). All we need to do is be obedient.

Sunday, June 10, 2012

Finding security

“Keep your lives free from the love of money and be content with what you have, because God has said, ‘Never will I leave you; never will I forsake you.’” Hebrews 13:5
One of the most important lessons in life is to be content with what we have been given. This applies for our material possessions, our family situation, the opportunities we have to do certain things, etc. Many people struggle to do this particularly in the area of finances. We can all think of things we would do if we had a little bit more money – no matter how much we already have. Money is seen in society as our livelihood and security. But if we don’t watch out, it will become our master – and we need to remember Jesus’ words, “No-one can serve two masters... You cannot serve both God and Money” (Matt. 6:24, Luke 16:13).
Often we can think that those who are the most prone to loving money are those who are rich, because they have lots of it. Certainly rich people can love money, and can fall into the trap of measuring their own self-worth as a person by their bank balances and investment portfolios. But it’s not only the rich who can love money – poor people can be equally guilty. For example, people who buy lottery tickets every week in the hope of winning a fortune.
What’s the key to avoid falling into this trap, whether we are rich or poor? It’s given in this verse: Be content with what you have, and remember God’s promise to never leave you nor forsake you. Is your security in Him?

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Zeal for the Lord

“Jehu said, ‘Come with me and see my zeal for the Lord.’ Then he had [Jehonadab] ride along in his chariot.” 2 Kings 10:16
Jehu was a king of the northern kingdom of Israel who was responsible for killing Joram, his wicked predecessor. It was also he who put Jezebel to death, so that the prophecy of Elijah concerning her was fulfilled (1 Kin. 21:23, 2 Kin. 9:36-37). Here he declares that his zeal is for the Lord, and certainly Jehu was zealous in destroying the house of the wicked king Ahab. Jehu was not the only king of the northern kingdom whom God spoke to, but he is the only one whom God commended (2 Kin. 10:30).
Zeal takes on various forms. Jesus displayed His zeal for the Lord when He drove the money-changers out of the temple (see John 2:13-17). But Jehu’s zeal involved killing people left, right and centre. He had been instructed through a prophet to destroy Jezebel and the house of Ahab (2 Kin. 9:7-10). But he didn’t stop there: he also killed Ahaziah the king of Judah (2 Kin. 9:27) and all the priests of Baal (2 Kin. 10:25).
Paul told the Galatians, “It is fine to be zealous, provided the purpose is good, and to be so always and not just when I am with you” (Gal. 4:18). We may think we are being zealous for God, but we may be hurting people in the process. Our zeal for God should be to build others up, not tear them down. When we share a Scripture with someone, it should be to instruct and edify, not to cut them to pieces and condemn them.

Friday, June 8, 2012

Relating to the Old Testament saints

“These were all commended for their faith, yet none of them received what had been promised. God had planned something better for us so that only together with us would they be made perfect.” Hebrews 11:39-40
I find this verse really interesting, and well worth memorising. As was mentioned yesterday, Hebrews 11 is often called ‘the Hall of faith’. The author gives several examples of Old Testament people who displayed faith in God – Abel, Enoch, Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Joseph, Moses, Rahab, Gideon, Barak, Samson, Jephthah, David, Samuel, etc.
Sometimes it’s difficult to know, as Christians, how we relate to these people who lived in the Old Testament times. We can feel that we are separated from them because they lived under the old covenant and the law, while we live under the new covenant (Jer. 31:33-34, 1 Cor. 11:25, 2 Cor. 3:6, Heb. 9:15) and the new law associated with it (Heb. 7:12). We can think that we are different because they related to God more as the Father, while we relate more to Jesus, God the Son.
But the reality is quite different. It is we, who have faith in the past, finished work of Jesus Christ, who actually make the Old Testament saints complete. Both we and they are saved by faith in Christ. The only difference is that we look backward on what He did, while they looked forward (through the offering of sacrifices etc. which were symbols of what God would provide at some point which for them was yet future).
I don’t know about you, but I’m really looking forward to meeting these people in heaven and learning what it was like to live in their time in terms of how they related to God, and what they might think about how things are different for us. Just as we have learned from the examples of these Old Testament people, they too are only perfected in faith by us joining them.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Living by faith

“All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth.” Hebrews 11:13
Hebrews 11 is called the ‘Hall of faith’, because it in the author describes the lives of various people through the Old Testament who were examples of faith. He begins with Abel, Enoch, Noah, and Abraham. Then we read, “All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth” (Heb. 11:13).
Having faith sets us apart from the world. Faith is what changes our outlook on life so that we are yearning for the things of God, the things He has promised and told us will happen in the future. Ultimately, our faith is in our future resurrection and receiving glorified bodies to dwell with God for eternity. Like the Old Testament heroes and heroines of faith, although we may have a glimpse of things to come, our faith will not be fulfilled this side of eternity. Nor can it be fulfilled in the things of the world – we realise that we too are aliens and strangers on the earth.
Paul writes, “For in this hope we were saved. But hope that is seen is no hope at all. Who hopes for what he already has?” (Rom. 8:24). We haven’t reached the end of the story yet. We know that our life here on this world is only the beginning, and that eternity awaits us. This is what it means to live by faith: with our feet on the ground, but with our eyes on eternity.

Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Let us not give up meeting together

“Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another – and all the more as you see the Day approaching.” Hebrews 10:25
This is a verse that I believe is often misapplied. People – particularly if they’ve been going to church every week for decades, automatically think it is referring to Sunday church services. I know – I used to be one of those people. I struggled immensely to take someone seriously who said they were a Christian but didn’t go to church. Then, through some pretty sudden circumstances, I found that I was one of those people: a Christian who wasn’t going to church. I knew that my faith was just as strong as ever, but at the time (and indeed, for about 5 years) I did not have a ‘church home’. God taught me a lot through that period about what the Church is, and how the ‘big C’ Church is different to the ‘little c’ church. There are many churches (fellowship groups that gather together to worship and study the Bible), but one Church (the body of Christ, all true believers, all over the world, from Pentecost to the Rapture). And just as there are many people in a church who are not part of the Church, so too there are people in the Church who do not go to a church.
This verse does not say, ‘Let us not give up meeting together on Sundays.’ While I was in that out-of-church period, our family joined a house church network. Other people may have a home group that they go to regularly. So long as you have regular contact with other believers, there’s no problem.
It’s true, it is becoming more and more common for people professing to be Christians to stay at home, isolating themselves from everyone else in the body of Christ. They’ll say, ‘The church hurt me, so I don’t want to have anything to do with it,’ or ‘There aren’t any good churches around here worth going to,’ or ‘I can worship God just fine by myself.’ If you’re in that position today, my question to you is this: Not going to a church on Sunday morning is fine, that’s your choice, but do you have another time during the week where you make the effort to meet with other believers?
Meeting together is important. It’s where the Holy Spirit can move in ways that He can’t when you’re by yourself. You’ll share a Scripture that spoke to you with someone that will stir up their heart; and they might say something that challenges you also to press on in your walk with the Lord. This kind of mutual edification doesn’t happen when you isolate yourself.
Also, we mustn’t forget the last part of the verse: ‘but let us encourage one another’ – the author is referring to this mutual edification – ‘and all the more as you see the Day approaching’. The last days are certainly approaching thick and fast. Now is not the time to isolate yourself, but to seek the company of other believers, to encourage them and to be encouraged yourself, in these dark days we are living in.

Tuesday, June 5, 2012

Holding fast to hope

“Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:23
Here’s a great exhortation to all of us, to hold fast to hope. We learned how hope is not wishful thinking, but a confidence in things that haven’t happened yet. We read in Scripture about the ‘blessed hope’, which refers to the second coming of Jesus Christ (Tit. 2:13). As Christians, this is the ultimate hope that we profess: that the earth won’t continue its downward spiral forever, under the control of Satan, but that there will come a day when Christ will return to judge sin once for all and establish His kingdom in righteousness.
How do we know this, and how can we have absolute confidence that this really is going to happen? The answer is in the next clause: “for He who promised is faithful.” God is faithful, always, end of story. He made a promise to us in His Word, over and over again – and He cannot lie. When you stop and think about it, this aspect of God is astounding. It’s not that God ‘doesn’t lie’ – suggesting that maybe He has the capacity to, but He chooses not to. No, God is completely unable to lie. He sees the world from a perspective of eternity. He can see every event that has happened and will happen in the world. He sees Adam sinning in Eden, He sees Jesus dying on the cross, He sees you doing whatever you’re doing right now, and He sees Jesus sitting on His throne in His kingdom. God doesn’t make mistakes when He promises something. Are you holding fast to this truth, and this hope that God has promised? It will happen – Jesus will return!

Monday, June 4, 2012

Christians and the Old Testament law

“For when there is a change of the priesthood, there must also be a change of the law.” Hebrews 7:12
Many Christians are confused about the role of the Old Testament law in their lives. On one extreme, are those who think everything in the Old Testament is irrelevant to us. But what of Matt. 5:17-18, where Jesus said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfil them. I tell you the truth, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished”? Then, on the other extreme, are those Christians who think they are justified by grace but sanctified by keeping the Law. They observe the Feasts and keep the Sabbath day in the same way as Jews do.
The writer to the Hebrews gives us an interesting and logical statement that helps to unravel this confusing issue. The Old Testament Law was associated with the Aaronic priesthood. But Jesus is of the priesthood of Melchizedek (Heb. 6:20, etc.). Therefore, it is not associated with the Old Testament Law. But this does not mean that we are without any law at all. During His ministry, Jesus did reiterate several Old Testament commandments for His disciples to follow (see Matt. 19:16-19). This is why many Christians feel obliged to keep the Ten Commandments, because of the similarity. However, although Jesus repeated some of the commandments, it is not the same law. Rather, we now have an even stricter law to live by: the law of love (Rom. 13:8-10, Gal. 5:14).

Sunday, June 3, 2012

The Sabbath rest in Christ

“There remains, then, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God; for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work, just as God did from His.” Hebrews 4:9-10
The first mention in Scripture of the Sabbath is at the creation of the world. As we know, God created the world in six days and rested (ceased from His work) on the seventh day, the Sabbath. This was not because God was tired, but because He was setting a pattern for man to follow through the ages to follow (see Ex. 20:8-11).
So what place does the Sabbath have for the Christian today? Is it Saturday or Sunday? Let’s see what the Scriptures say: “One man considers one day more sacred than another; another man considers every day alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind” (Rom. 14:5). “Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ” (Col. 2:16-17).
Jesus kept the Law in its entirity. He fulfilled it all – and now, if we are in Him, we are counted as if we have kept the Law perfectly, as He did. The Sabbath day, like the sacrifices and the feasts, was a picture pointing towards the time once Christ had come. My point is this: now, our entire life in Christ is a Sabbath. This doesn’t mean that we can lie around in bed all day. But now we can rest in the finished work of Christ. Our salvation is provided through Him – we don’t (and can’t) obtain it by working for it.
How about you? Have you entered this rest, that God has provided for His people through Jesus Christ? Or are you still working, trying to please God through your own efforts? Today’s verse would encourage you to cease from your own works and enter God’s rest.

Saturday, June 2, 2012

The mountains of Jerusalem

“As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore.” Psalm 125:2
Jerusalem is an amazing place to visit. To see it with your own eyes makes the Bible come alive in so many different ways. The Old City is built, of course, on Mount Zion, with two steep valleys on either side: the Kidron Valley, across from which is the Mount of Olives, and the Hinnom Valley.

View from the Spring of Gihon across the Kidron Valley towards the Mount of Olives. The Hinnom Valley joins the Kidron Valley on the right.

In fact, in every direction that you look, from any point in Jerusalem, you see a hill. This brings a whole new light to the verse, “As the mountains surround Jerusalem, so the Lord surrounds His people both now and forevermore.” God surrounds us – His people – on all sides. He isn’t confined to one aspect of our life (for instance, our church activities). He knows, and cares, and provides for you in your job, your family, your sports team. He’s with you when you go shopping or to the cinema, when you travel abroad or when you’re waiting to catch a bus. And, like the hills around Jerusalem, He isn’t somewhere off in the distance. He is close by – only a prayer away.
The mountainous terrain around Jersualem helped to protect her from her enemies. God is our ultimate protection, our refuge and strength in times of trouble.
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” (Ps. 121:1-2).

Friday, June 1, 2012

Facing temptation

“Because He Himself suffered when He was tempted, He is able to help those who are being tempted.” Hebrews 2:18
We can read about how Satan tempted Jesus in the wilderness, and think, ‘That’s fine for Him – He was God. Of course He could resist temptation!’ But actually, this is not entirely true. We read elsewhere in the book of Hebrews, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathise with our weaknesses, but we have one who has been tempted in every way, just as we are – yet was without sin” (Heb. 4:15). In an earlier post on this verse, we saw how when Jesus became a man, He became fully man. He was subject to the same temptations that we face – and it didn’t stop with the three temptations we read about in the wilderness. Think about the things we are tempted with: to take the easy way out, to take revenge on someone, to take something that’s not ours. Then we think of sexual temptation – this verse would suggest that Jesus faced these kinds of things also – and overcame them as a man, by the power of God.
This should be of great comfort and encouragement to us. Whatever we are facing, Jesus knows what it is like – because He has been there. In resisting the temptations, He suffered. And because of this, He is able to help us face our temptations today.