Tuesday, July 31, 2012

Is Money your master?

“No one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” Matthew 6:24
Here’s a verse that is very applicable to us today. We have been so indoctrinated into the world’s mindset that everyone’s goal in life should be to amass as much money as possible, that for many Christians it has in fact become their master.
But Christians already have a master: God. Here Jesus tells us that it is impossible to have two masters. Both of them will demand your 100% devotion, so no matter how hard you try to split your devotion up, it will always end up falling to one or the other.
Money is actually a terrible master. Solomon, the richest man in the world, wrote: “Whoever loves money never has money enough; whoever loves wealth is never satisfied with his income. This too is meaningless” (Eccl. 5:10). Paul wrote, “For the love of money is a root of all kinds of evil. Some people, eager for money, have wandered from the faith and pierced themselves with many griefs” (1 Tim. 6:10). Note in both of these cases the problem arises not from having money, but from loving it. Money is a terrible master, because it is never satisfied, but always craves more. However, if used in the right way, it can be a wonderful tool to be used for the kingdom of God.
On the other hand, God is a wonderful master. Jesus said, “Come to Me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light” (Matt. 11:28-30). If we make God our master, we will find satisfaction in life.

Monday, July 30, 2012

Set apart

“Know that the Lord has set apart the godly for Himself; the Lord will hear when I call to Him.” Psalm 4:3
When we hear the word ‘holy’ we think of someone or something that is perfect and sinless, and think that we can’t possibly be that. But the word ‘holy’ simply means to be set apart for God’s use. That’s what today’s verse is about, and it’s something that we can be.
Being set apart for God’s use doesn’t mean that we can’t have secular jobs, or can’t be friends with non-Christians, or can’t play in a sports team. It doesn’t mean that we must spend every waking moment in prayer or doing something to serve our local church. Rather, we are to be used by God in those situations that we are in. Think of your workplace, for example. You may be the only Christian there, the only witness of God’s love to those people whom you work with. God may have placed you there specifically to be an example to them of His grace. Paul wrote, “Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for men, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving” (Col. 3:23-24). While others are working to better their own careers, you have a higher calling: you are working for God – not for yourself.

Sunday, July 29, 2012


“For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.” Matthew 5:20
The word righteousness means ‘right-standing before God’. Here Jesus gives His disciples what seems like an impossible task: to enter heaven, they must have a level of righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law.
We can read the Bible and think that the Pharisees were self-righteous hypocrites, but this was a secondary effect of how they lived. To be a Pharisee was to be a professional law-keeper. They were so obsessed with ensuring that they did not commit sin, that they went to what would seem to us like ridiculous lengths to even get close to those things. For example, when walking in a city through a crowd, they would gather their robes as tightly as possible around them to avoid touching anyone with any part of their garment, just in case that person was unclean because of touching a dead body or other unclean thing. Naturally in many Pharisees this led to an attitude of thinking they were better than other people, but their first motivation was towards keeping the law of God as they understood it. The Pharisees were the pinnacle of righteousness according to keeping the law, in that society (see Phil. 3:5-6).
But Jesus said that even the righteousness of the Pharisees was not enough to get them into heaven. We must then ask, “Who then can be saved?” This is the crux of the gospel: none of us are good enough to get to heaven by our own efforts. The Bible tells us, “All of us have become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous acts are like filthy rags; we all shrivel up like a leaf, and like the wind our sins sweep us away” (Isa. 64:6). But, the righteousness of Christ, who lived a perfect life as a man, without sin, can be imputed to us by faith. This is the righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees, and the righteousness which we must depend upon.

Saturday, July 28, 2012

Salt of the earth

“You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men.” Matthew 5:13
Here’s a verse that is well-known to many people, and the phrase ‘salt of the earth’ is even in common use in secular society. But what does Jesus mean when He says that we are the salt of the earth?
Salt had a number of important functions, particularly in those times. It was used as a preservative, to keep meat from rotting. It was used (and still is used today) as an additive to food to enhance the flavour. It can also be used as an antiseptic, and it has an additional effect of causing you to feel thirsty.
If you think about it, all of these aspects about salt are the effects that Christians should have in the world around them. We should bring the flavour of God into the relationships that we have with other people and the situations we find ourselves in. We should be causing people to thirst after the things of God. And we should also be the preserving agent in our society, working to prevent it from rotting and becoming infected.
How do we do this? By being salty. We won’t be effective at all if we become like the world in order to win people to the Lord. People will look at you and say, ‘They say they’re a Christian, but they’re no different to me. Why would I want to become a Christian? There’s nothing to gain.’ No, it’s only if you are different, that people will be interested. They’ll take notice because of the sting in their conscience that your presence causes them, and they’ll be interested because of the flavour that you bring. We must remain salty, living according to God’s Word – otherwise, as Jesus said, we are no longer good for anything in reaching people for the Kingdom.

Friday, July 27, 2012

Pleasing God through obedience

“As soon as Jesus was baptised, He went up out of the water. At that moment heaven was opened, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and lighting on Him. And a voice from heaven said, ‘This is My Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased.’” Matthew 3:16
Throughout Jesus’ life, He lived to please the Father (John 8:29). We see this in today’s verse, concerning Jesus’ baptism. Recall how John was baptising at the Jordan River, and when Jesus came to be baptised, John tried to dissuade Him, saying, “I need to be baptised by You, and do You come to me?” (Matt. 3:14). But Jesus insisted, saying, “It is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness” (Matt. 3:15). He was not baptised for repentance, as He had no sin to repent of; but He did it as an act of obedience to God, an act to validate John’s ministry, and an act for us to follow.
It was Jesus’ obedience to the Father that pleased God. It is the same with us today: nothing pleases God more than our obedience (see 1 Sam. 15:22). But note what happens next in Matthew’s gospel (and the other gospel accounts also): Jesus is led by the Holy Spirit into the wilderness and faces temptations from the devil. The same thing can happen in our lives. When you are pleasing God, watch out for the enemy’s attack. Satan primarily attacks those who are living lives of righteousness, pleasing to God – because they are the most effective in the onslaught on his kingdom. This is no reason to stop striving to live a life pleasing to God, but just an assurance: when you face those attacks, there is a reason for them, and it is not something strange that is happening to you, because Jesus experienced it also. Are you pleasing God today through your obedience to His Word?

Thursday, July 26, 2012


“In those days John the Baptist came, preaching in the Desert of Judea and saying, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near.’” Matthew 3:1-2
As we know, John the Baptist had a very special ministry – one that had been prophesied about in Isa. 40:3. He was the herald for the Messiah. It’s interesting to note that his message was not about baptism! – rather, it was about repentance.
Repentance is and always has been the first step to salvation. Without it, we cannot be saved. Repentance is more than just feeling sorry about our sin: it is a conscious decision to turn away from it. While none of us are able to completely turn away from sin, and never sin again, that decision to turn away from sin and turn towards God is the first step towards spiritual life, where our spirit, guided by the Holy Spirit, has the power to overcome sin. However, if we refuse to repent and turn from that sin in the first place, it will always be our master. God won’t violate your free will, so if you persist in it, He will leave you to it.
Repentance requires humility. Humility is required for us to come before God: when we realise just how unworthy and unrighteous we are according to God’s standards, and we need the righteousness of Christ to clothe us instead.
Repentance was also the first message that Jesus preached (Matt. 4:17). And it’s a message that is still as relevant for us today as it was back then. The way that we are to approach God has not changed. And even once we become a Christian, we need to repent of our sins on an ongoing basis. It’s not a one-time action, but a lifelong thing: a course correction, if you like. Is there anything you need to repent of today? I would encourage you to do so, and ensure that your life is on track with the Lord.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Magi

“After Jesus was born in Bethlehem in Judea, during the time of King Herod, Magi from the east came to Jerusalem and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews? We saw His star in the east and have come to worship Him.’” Matthew 2:1-2
Matthew’s gospel presents Jesus as the King, the Son of David, so it is fitting that it is only his gospel that mentions the coming of the Magi to the infant Jesus. (The Magi did not arrive on the night Jesus was born - in fact, Jesus was probably about two years old at this time: Herod killed the babies in Bethlehem from this age and under, after enquiring of the Magi when they first saw the star (Matt. 2:16). Mary and Joseph were no longer in a stable, but were living in a house (Matt. 2:11).)
So who were the Magi? They were not kings themselves, as commonly portrayed in Christmas carols, nor do we know their names – in fact, we don’t know how many of them came (people assume there were three because they presented three gifts to Jesus, but Scripture is silent. In fact, there were probably more, because everyone in Jerusalem heard about it, Matt. 2:3). The Magi were priests of an ancient Persian sect, who studied astronomy extensively. The word ‘mag’ means priest, and it is from this word that we obtain our English words ‘magician’ and ‘magistrate’. The Magi had a role as those who appointed kings. No wonder Herod was deeply troubled when they came and asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews’ – Herod himself had not been born a king, but had appointed himself to that position.
There is an interesting tradition that during Daniel’s time in Babylon, he received certain prophecies from God concerning signs that would accompany the coming of Messiah, which were passed on through the traditions of the Magi. Over time the details were corrupted, but the central message remained. Christ had come to earth, and He is worthy to be worshipped.

Tuesday, July 24, 2012


“Because Joseph [Mary’s] husband was a righteous man and did not want to expose her to public disgrace, he had in mind to divorce her quietly.” Matthew 1:19
We don’t know much about Joseph, the husband of Mary and legal father (although not the natural father) of Jesus Christ. We read about him in the early parts of the gospels, concerning the birth and childhood of Jesus, but it would seem that by the time Jesus’ ministry began, he had already passed away. So what do we know about Joseph, from the Scriptures?
Firstly, he was a righteous man. Not only does today’s verse tell us so, but we also see it in his actions. Society expected him to divorce Mary: she was found to be pregnant before they were married. In that culture, the espousal was much more binding than an engagement is today. An espoused couple could not simply call the wedding off, they had to arrange a legal divorce. In fact, for a girl to not be found as a virgin on her wedding day could be executed, according to the Law (Deut. 22:20-21). (Of course, in Mary’s case, she was indeed still a virgin, but other people did not know this.) However, instead of making a big deal, Joseph decided to keep it quiet, out of respect for her.
We also see Joseph’s obedience to God. Four times an angel appeared to him in a dream with a message from God, and each time he obeyed. (See Matt. 1:20, 2:13, 2:19, 2:22). He was in tune with God. These are attributes that we should be seeking to develop in our own lives today. If we aren’t obedient, God won’t use us – and He often stops speaking to us until we do the thing that He has told us to do. As we train ourselves to be obedient to God, our lives start to reflect Him and His righteousness.

Monday, July 23, 2012

Remaining loyal to God

“O Lord, God of our fathers Abraham, Isaac and Israel, keep this desire in the hearts of Your people forever, and keep their hearts loyal to You.” 1 Chronicles 29:18
There are few things that hurt us more than when people are disloyal to us. What do you do when a friend betrays you, or lets you down? Hopefully, they will repent – but it could be a while before you are able to trust them again like you did before. And it takes time for the hurt to dissipate.
But there is a greater form of disloyalty, and that is when a person fails to be loyal to God. We’ve all seen prominent leaders in the church, turn their backs on the faith. It is a great disservice to the body of Christ when this happens, as the church becomes a laughing-stock to the world. For some people it’s a sudden change, for others it’s more gradual. But we should make sure that neither of these happen to us. That’s why we too need to pray this prayer: that God would keep the desire for Him in our hearts, and that we will remain loyal to Him.
Jesus wrote to the church at Laodicea, whose hearts had slowly cooled: they were no longer hot, but were lukewarm. There are so many aspects about the church at Laodicea that describe the general state of the church in our times, but at the top of that list is apathy: towards God, towards His Word, towards evangelism and discipleship. How strong is your desire for the things of God, today? This is a challenge for all of us. Ask God to rekindle that fire within you, that desire for Him.

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Giving God praise

“Yours, O Lord, is the greatness and the power and the glory and the majesty and the splendour, for everything in heaven and earth is Yours. Yours, O Lord, is the kingdom; You are exalted as head over all.” 1 Chronicles 29:11
Sometimes it’s very easy for us to get so caught up in our own lives that we forget to take the time to reflect on God’s greatness. We can be so worried about what tomorrow holds for us, that we forget who is it that holds tomorrow in His hands. God is great in what He does: creating the world, providing for all our needs, etc. – but more than that: He is great for who He is. To Him belongs all power, glory, majesty and splendour.
In a similar vein we see the worship offered to God throughout the book of Revelation: “You are worthy, our Lord and God, to receive glory and honour and power...” (Rev. 4:11), “... power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise” (Rev. 5:12), “... praise and honour and glory and power, for ever and ever” (Rev. 5:13), “... praise and glory and wisdom and thanks and honour and power and strength be to our God forever and ever. Amen!” (Rev. 7:12).
So, next time you’re feeling overwhelmed by the circumstances you are in, or fear of what the future holds, take a moment to praise God from your heart for who He is, for His greatness, power and glory. It’ll change your perspective entirely!

Saturday, July 21, 2012

What we do and who we are

“Let him who does wrong continue to do wrong; let him who is vile continue to be vile; let him who does right continue to do right; and let him who is holy continue to be holy.” Revelation 22:11
Here at the end of the book of Revelation, we are reminded over and over again that these things will come soon, and once they start, they will proceed quickly. By the end of the Tribulation, the world will have been divided into those who follow Jesus and those who follow the Antichrist and Satan – no-one will be left sitting on the fence. It’s in that light that this verse should be read.
There’s also a pattern in the verse: ‘who does’... ‘who is’... ‘who does’... ‘who is’. What we do is related to what we are. We don’t become vile by doing wrong things: we do wrong things because we are vile. We don’t become holy by doing right things: we do right things because we are holy. Jesus referred to a similar thing when He said, “By their fruit you will recognise them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree cannot bear good fruit” (Matt. 7:16-17). It is the nature of the tree that determines what kind of fruit it produces.
This verse is also an encouragement to us. Yes the world is getting darker, and it is becoming more and more hostile towards those who believe in Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour. But this is no reason for us to stop doing right, and to stop pursuing holiness.

Friday, July 20, 2012

The destruction of Babylon

“Terrified at her torment, they will stand far off and cry: ‘Woe! Woe, O great city, O Babylon, city of power! In one hour your doom has come!’” Revelation 18:10
At the climax of the Great Tribulation, we see the destruction of a city called Babylon. This city will be the headquarters of the Antichrist’s one-world government. It will also be home to the one-world religion, led by the false prophet, Antichrist’s right hand man (see Rev. 17:5). Many theories have been put forward as to the identity of this city. Some have suggested Rome, others New York (because of Rev. 18:17-18), or another European city (because they believe the Antichrist will arise out of the European Union).
However, I personally believe – and you are welcome to disagree with me! – that the city here called Babylon is actually the literal city of Babylon, in Iraq. There are several reasons for this.
Most importantly, Jeremiah and other prophets prophesied about the complete and utter destruction of Babylon: no-one would inhabit her any more (Jer. 50:39, 51:37, 51:43), she would be destroyed by fire (Jer. 50:32), the waters dried up (Jer. 50:38, see Rev. 16:12), she would be overthrown by God like He did to Sodom and Gomorrah (Jer. 50:40), it would happen in the time of the Lord’s vengeance – a term frequently used of the Tribulation (Jer. 51:6), no-one would rebuild her (Jer. 51:26). It’s safe to say that none of these things have happened yet. Babylon still exists today, and people live there. Although Babylon was captured several times, it was never destroyed in the way that the Bible tells us it will be.
Secondly, Babylon was the original city of sin, built by Nimrod in defiance to God (Gen. 10:8-10). The Tribulation period is when God will judge the sin of the world, and God’s justice will not allow this city to go unpunished.
Thirdly, it is not that hard to imagine the Antichrist establishing Babylon as his headquarters. He will rise up appearing to be a man of peace, most likely he will be the person who solves the Middle East peace problems. It could be a sentiment of looking back to ancient times, that he chooses to establish Babylon as his capital – a city with no recent history and less politically-charged ties to a nation or people group than cities such as Baghdad or Jerusalem: a sort of ‘neutral ground’, if you will.
Anyway, this is my view on the subject.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Ready for the thief

"Behold, I come like a thief! Blessed is he who stays awake and keeps his clothes with him, so that he may not go naked and be shamefully exposed." Revelation 16:15
Here in Revelation, towards the end of the final judgements on earth - the bowl judgements, we come across this verse. In the midst of reading about the darkest time of man's history, there is a ray of light.
The simile about the Lord coming like a thief is a reference to the rapture of the church (1 Thess. 5:1-9). It does not mean that the Lord is a thief, or that He comes to rob you, but it is a reference to the suddenness of His coming, and the fact that no-one knows the day or the hour (Matt. 24:36). In Matthew 24, Jesus went on to explain how a thief does not announce to the owner of the house when he is coming (Matt. 24:43). But if the owner is prepared, he will be ready for the thief to come, even though he doesn't know when that will be.
So too with us, and the day that Jesus returns to collect us. Are we ready? Have we found salvation in Jesus Christ? Or have we heard the gospel, and said to ourselves, 'That sounds good, but I'll do something about it later'? For the former type of people, this verse is a reminder that we will be spared from enduring the horrific judgements of the Tribulation. But the latter type of people are those to whom this verse is especially speaking to. They are the ones who know the thief is coming, btu don't bother to get prepared. They are sleeping when they should be getting ready. And as a result, they are the ones who will be shamefully exposed when they have to endure God's wrath through the Tribulation.
I hope and pray today that you are not in that position. But if you are, I would strongly encourage you to sort things out between you and the Lord.

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

The Lord delights

“The Lord delights in those who fear Him, who put their hope in His unfailing love.” Psalm 147:11
Here’s a wonderful, amazing thing: did you know that there are things you can do that causes God to delight? But there’s a clinch: it’s not works that we do, that put a smile on His face, but rather it’s our choices and our attitude towards Him. Today’s verse tells us that God delights when we fear Him and put our hope in His unfailing love.
Fearing God is something we read about all through the Bible. We think of the word ‘fear’ as being a phobia, afraid of something. As Christians, we don’t need to be scared of God in the sense that if we step out of line just a little bit, we will be judged. The word fear also includes reverence, awe, and respect. Think about how we respect things that are more powerful than us. We don’t step out to cross the road right in front of a bus – not because we are scared of the bus, per se, but because we respect that in the case of a collision, the bus is always going to win. This is a poor analogy to how we are to fear God: on the one hand we love Him and know that He loves us, like a Father and child, but on the other we know that He is the all-knowing, all-powerful, Creator and King of the Universe.
Have you put your hope in His unfailing love? If so, then that is a decision that you made of your own free will. God doesn’t force anyone to love Him or trust in Him. Those things can’t be forced. Free will is one of the greatest things that God has given to mankind – and many people use their free will to shun God, the one who gave them life in the first place, and spend their entire life serving themselves. That’s why God delights when we use our free will to serve Him.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

David's humility

“Then King David went in and sat before the Lord, and he said: ‘Who am I, O Lord God, and what is my family, that You have brought me this far? And as if this were not enough in Your sight, O God, You have spoken about the future of the house of Your servant. You have looked on me as though I were the most exalted of men, O Lord God.’” 1 Chronicles 17:16-17
There are a few times in the Scriptures where we ‘overhear’ the prayers of various people. Listening to someone pray tells you a lot about their character. Here we have a prayer of David after he was told by the Lord that his dynasty would endure forever. We read how he sat before the Lord in amazement at this promise – it seems that he could hardly believe it.
David demonstrates great humility here. He never forgot where he had came from, the depths from which God raised him up: the youngest son of a man living in the hick town of Bethlehem, doing a menial job in tending sheep, spurned by his brothers, but having a simple faith in God. And God raised him up from there to be king over Israel. Yet even then, David did not see himself as being mighty or exalted or special – he calls himself God’s servant. Even as king, David lived a life of service in leading the people.
These are important lessons that we too should learn. When you stop and reflect on how great and awesome God is, and realise how insignificant you are in comparison, then you will be able to develop humility. When you realise that all you are is only because of what God has done for you, you’ll have the same attitude that David has here. If, like me, you’ve grown up in a Christian home and have always known the Lord, you can reflect on what your life might have become if you hadn’t known Him.

Monday, July 16, 2012

The accuser of the brethren

“Then I heard a loud voice in heaven say: ‘Now have come the salvation and the power and the kingdom of our God, and the authority of His Christ. For the accuser of our brothers, who accuses them before our God day and night, has been hurled down.’” Revelation 12:10
In Revelation 12 we see the battle of the ages taking place between Michael, leading the godly angels, and Satan, leading the fallen angels. When Satan fell, he drew one third of the angels with him (Rev. 12:4). Then he made it his mission to attack Israel (depicted here as the woman), to prevent her from producing the Messiah.
During the Tribulation there will be yet another angelic battle (Rev. 12:7). At the end of it, Satan will be permanently barred from entering heaven. At present, although he does not dwell in heaven, he has access (see Job 1:6-7, Rev. 12:10). In today’s verse we read that at present he accuses us day and night before God. In fact, ‘accuser’ is what the name Satan means. He accuses us before God of our sin, and our failings. But praise God that we have an intercessor in the person of Jesus Christ – who, after Satan is done, simply says to the Father, ‘This one’s with Me.’ Our sin was already paid for at the cross. The accusations may be true, but the payment has already been made.
Satan also accused God before Eve in the Garden of Eden. He made out that God was unfair, that He was withholding something good from her (Gen. 3:5). He still does this today, particularly in the hearts of unbelievers. This is where the questions, ‘If God is good, why does [x] happen?’ come from. When it all boils down, this is accusing God of being unfair.
Accusing the brethren – believers – is the hallmark of Satan’s work. We need to be diligent not to accuse other people, otherwise we are actually doing the work of Satan. We must not criticise other believers or accuse them. God does not condemn them. And the reality is, we are just as guilty as they are – and our sins are covered by the blood of Christ, just as theirs are. God hears enough accusations about people from Satan. We don’t need to add to it!

Sunday, July 15, 2012

The two witnesses

“And I will give power to My two witnesses, and they will prophesy for 1,260 days, clothed in sackcloth.” Revelation 11:3
There has been much speculation over the years as to the identity of the two witnesses in Revelation 11. They clearly have an important role during the Tribulation, and they have special divine protection. For 3 ½ years they prophesy, and anyone who tries to harm them is killed with fire that comes out of their mouths (Rev. 11:5).
Many people think that Elijah is one of the two witnesses. During his ministry, he caused fire to fall from heaven to devour his enemies (2 Kin. 1:10), and he also commanded that it not rain (James 5:17). The other has been surmised to be Enoch, because like Elijah he too was raptured and did not die; or Moses. I am inclined to go with Moses, for a number of reasons. Firstly, like the two unique characteristics of Elijah that the two witnesses have, they also have two unique characteristics of Moses: turning water into blood, and causing plagues to come upon the earth (Rev. 11:6). Perhaps this was the reason that the devil was disputing with Michael about the body of Moses (Jude 1:9)?
Many people suggest that Elijah and Enoch are the two witnesses, because of Heb. 9:27 (“Just as man is destined to die once, and after that face judgement”), saying that Elijah and Enoch are due to have a date with death. But this verse is a rebuttal against reincarnation – it is not a general rule. In fact, there were many people who died twice: Jairus’ daughter, the Shulammite woman’s son, Lazarus, et al. Also, the rapture of the church will have preceded this, which means that millions more people will have been translated to heaven without having died.
If they are instead Moses and Elijah, it is fitting: they prophesy in Jerusalem, primarily to Jews (as this is the focus of this ‘seventieth week’, Dan. 9:24). Moses represents the Law, and Elijah represents the Prophets – and we know that the Law and the Prophets all point to Jesus Christ (Matt. 5:17, Rom. 3:21).

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Tribulation saints

“Then one of the elders asked me, ‘These in white robes – who are they, and where did they come from?’ I answered, ‘Sir, you know.’ And he said, ‘These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.’” Revelation 7:13-14
Many people get confused about who the ‘saints’ referred to in Revelation are. There are many reason that these saints are a distinct group from the church:
1. The church, as represented by the 24 elders, is already in heaven before the Tribulation begins.
2. We see them being overpowered by the Antichrist (Rev. 13:7) – something that the church was expressly promised would not happen to them (Matt. 16:18).
3. John doesn’t recognise them (Rev. 7:13-14).
4. The church sits at the right hand of Jesus, ruling with Him (Rev. 3:21); the Tribulation saints stand before Him and serve Him (Rev. 7:15).
The Tribulation will be the time of God’s final judgement upon the earth. But it will also be a great time of evangelism – through the influence of the two witnesses, the 144,000, etc. However, the time to choose Jesus is now. If you’re in the position where you say, ‘I’m not convinced, but if the Rapture happens, then I’ll believe and follow Jesus.’ If you can’t believe and follow Him today, what makes you think that you’ll be able to follow Him then – when the penalty for doing so is death? “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).

Friday, July 13, 2012

Learning God's will

“Teach me to do Your will, for You are my God; may Your good Spirit lead me on level ground.” Psalm 143:10
We can often think of God’s will as some abstract concept, an unsolvable mystery, something God keeps hidden from us. But the Bible teaches otherwise. In fact, it even gives us some general statements about what the will of God - e.g. that we be sanctified (1 Thess. 4:3), that we do good works (1 Pet. 2:15), etc. God wants us to draw ever closer to Him, being conformed to the image of His Son. God also has a specific will for each of us. For Paul it was being an apostle (Eph. 1:1 etc.). For some people, it may be to endure suffering for His name (1 Pet. 4:19). For Jesus, it was pleasing the Father in all that He did (John 8:29).
The key to learning what God’s will is for us is two-fold. Firstly, we need to be reading the Bible, because this is the primary way that God reveals Himself to us. Secondly, we need to be mindful of the Holy Spirit leading and guiding us. He does this by tweaking our conscience. We might make a decision in one way, and have a pang in our heart that it is not the right decision. That’s the Holy Spirit convicting you. It takes a lifetime to learn this, but it’s something we can all aspire to.
Finally let’s close with these words from James: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5). It is very wise to seek out what God’s will is, both generally and specifically. All you need to do is ask Him – and obey.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

The role of gatekeepers

“But the four principal gatekeepers, who were Levites, were entrusted with the responsibility for the rooms and treasuries in the house of God. They would spend the night stationed around the house of God, because they had to guard it; and they had charge of the key for opening it each morning.” 1 Chronicles 9:26-27
It’s easy to skip over the first ten or so chapters of 1 Chronicles, because they mostly consist of genealogies, with many names that we don’t encounter in the rest of the Bible. However it’s worth spending the time, because you do find a few diamonds in the rough. In today’s verse we encounter the gatekeepers of the sanctuary who were assigned to their positions by David. There are parallels between their roles and ours as Christians.
David himself said, “Better is one day in Your courts than a thousand elsewhere; I would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of my God than dwell in the tents of the wicked” (Ps. 84:10). The reason David would rather be a doorkeeper in the sanctuary than a successful businessman, was primarily because they are always close to God’s presence. We too, can live in such a way that we are always close to God’s presence – always mindful of Him, being guided by the Spirit in our words, actions, and decisions.
Note that the gatekeepers had two responsibilities: firstly, they had to guard the sanctuary at night. Jesus tells us, “As long as it is day, we must do the work of Him who sent Me. Night is coming, when no one can work” (John 9:4). Paul wrote, “You are all sons of the light and sons of the day. We do not belong to the night or to the darkness. So then, let us not be like others, who are asleep, but let us be alert and self-controlled. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, get drunk at night” (1 Thess. 5:5-7). Night and darkness are symbolic of the realm of Satan; light and day are symbolic of the realm of God (see for example Rev. 22:5). Like the gatekeepers, we are to guard our faith against the enemy who might come by night. Secondly, they had the responsibility to open the sanctuary in the morning to allow people to come in to worship. We too should be encouraging our fellow believers to come in to fellowship with us and with each other. We should be opening and explaining the Word of God to anyone who wants to hear.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Hiding from God

“They called to the mountains and the rocks, ‘Fall on us and hide us from the face of Him who sits on the throne and from the wrath of the Lamb! For the great day of their wrath has come, and who can stand?’” Revelation 6:16-17
In Revelation 6 the judgement of God in the Tribulation begins, with the opening of the seals of the sealed scroll presented in ch. 5. The opening of the sixth seal results in a great earthquake, the sun turning black, the moon turning to blood, stars falling to earth, the sky rolling up, and the mountains and islands being shaken. This is a worldwide catastrophe that all the special effects teams of Hollywood could not anticipate.
And in the face of all this, what do people do? They hide in caves and bunkers and wish for death, so they could be hidden from God and escape any further judgement. But death is no escape from trouble, for those who are not saved. You can't hide from God!
It’s interesting to note that these people know that God is in control of these events. They know that this is the judgement of God, the day of His wrath. Yet as we see throughout the rest of the book of Revelation, they still choose to resist Him. But God will have the final word.
They also ask the question, ‘Who can stand?’ There is only one kind of person who can stand – those who are on God’s side.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Worthy to open the scroll

“I wept and wept because no one was found who was worthy to open the scroll or look inside.” Revelation 5:4
In Revelation 4-5, we have a glimpse into the throne room of heaven. We see God, seated on the throne; we see the four living cretaures singing, ‘Holy, Holy, Holy’; we see the twenty-four elders falling down in worship. Then we see God holding a scroll, and when John sees there is no one who is qualified to open it, he weeps uncontrollably. The question that naturally arises is, why? And what is written in the scroll anyway?
We are told that the scroll had writing on both sides and was sealed with seven seals (Rev. 5:1). It is a title deed: the writing on the inside is the deed, and the writing on the outside specifies who can open it and take possession of what is written inside. We see a similar description of a title deed that Jeremiah prepared when he bought a field, in Jer. 32:10-12.
Specifically, it is the title deed to the planet Earth. God initially gave guardianship to Adam, but when he sinned, he forfeited that guardianship to Satan. Most likely one of the requirements written on the scroll would have been that the person taking ownership must be a man without sin. Indeed, no one in heaven, or on earth, or under the earth could meet this requirement. Angels are ineligible, because they are not men; and all mankind has sinned (Rom. 3:23). John was weeping because it looked as though the earth could not be redeemed, which would mean it would belong to Satan forever, by default.
But John was told, “Do not weep! See, the Lion of the tribe of Judah, the Root of David, has triumphed. He is able to open the scroll and its seven seals” (Rev. 5:5). These terms refer to Jesus Christ. He became a man, and He was without sin. His death has paid for the redemption not only of us, but of the whole creation.

Monday, July 9, 2012

Receiving rebuke

“Let a righteous man strike me – it is a kindness; let him rebuke me – it is oil on my head. My head will not refuse it.” Psalm 141:5
It takes a strong person to be able to say that being struck (physically or metaphorically) is a kindness; that they will gladly receive rebuke and criticism. Our natural reaction to being rebuked is to retaliate, and ignore what is said – even if it’s a close friend who is trying to help us, and rebuking us is the only way to get our attention. But someone who is wise will listen to criticism when it comes from a trusted source.
Prov. 27:6 says, “Wounds from a friend can be trusted, but an enemy multiplies kisses.” We all need a good Christian friend in our lives who will give us that kick up the backside when we need it, to get us back on track. And if we have such a friend, we need to let them know how much we value them.
The NIV has an interesting footnote on this verse: it could also be translated, ‘Let the Righteous One strike me – it is a kindness’, etc. God doesn’t cause bad things to happen to us, but He allows them – so that He can use them to make us more mature. If we do face difficulties, we can have assurance that God is still in control, and that He is using them to accomplish His purposes in our lives. Peter wrote in his first epistle, “So then, those who suffer according to God’s will should commit themselves to their faithful Creator and continue to do good” (1 Pet. 4:19). Sometimes suffering is part of God’s will for us. But He is faithful; He only wants what is best for us in the long run.

Sunday, July 8, 2012

The rights of the firstborn

“The sons of Reuben the firstborn of Israel (he was the firstborn, but when he defiled his father’s marriage bed, his rights as firstborn were given to the sons of Joseph son of Israel; so he could not be listed in the genealogical record in accordance with his birthright, and though Judah was the strongest of his brothers and a ruler came from him, the rights of the firstborn belonged to Joseph)” 1 Chronicles 5:1-2
Throughout the Old Testament, we read about the rights of the firstborn. These were intended to be bestowed upon the eldest son of the family. In the case of Jacob’s children, Reuben was his firstborn, born to his wife Leah. The rights of the firstborn were three-fold. Firstly and most importantly, was the responsibility for the eldest son to be the leader of the family. Secondly, the firstborn received a double portion of the father’s inheritance, compared to his brothers. Thirdly, the firstborn was often given a special blessing by the father on his deathbed.
However, we do read in Scriptures of instances where the eldest son was passed over in terms of being given these rights as firstborn. Isaac is treated as the firstborn son of Abraham, although Ishmael was actually born first. Esau was the firstborn son of Isaac, yet both his rights and his blessing were given to Jacob instead.
Like Esau, Reuben forfeited his rights by his own actions. In Gen. 35:22 we read how Reuben engaged in sexual intercourse with Bilhah, his father’s concubine (and mother to two of his half-brothers, Dan and Naphtali). He was most likely following a local custom where a son seeking to usurp the father’s authority would sleep with his concubines. However, for Reuben it backfired. The double portion and the blessing that should have been his, passed to Joseph, Jacob’s firstborn by his wife Rachel. This is why we don’t read of the ‘tribe of Joseph’, because Joseph’s descendants were counted as two tribes: those of Ephraim and Manasseh (Joseph’s sons). Similarly, Reuben forfeited the right to lead the family: this passed to Judah, Jacob’s fourth son to Leah (passing over Simeon and Levi, who had taken vengeance into their own hands in defending their sister Dinah, see Gen. 34). Thus Judah had the promise of being the ruling tribe in Israel, realised through David and his dynasty.

Saturday, July 7, 2012

The Nicolaitans

“But you have this in your favour: You hate the practices of the Nicolaitans, which I also hate.” Revelation 2:6
There aren’t many things that Jesus says He hates, in the Scriptures. But here is one of them: the practices of the Nicolaitans.
The word ‘Nicolaitan’ is thought to come from two Greek words, ‘niko’ meaning victory (hence Nike), or ruling over; and ‘laitan’, the laity, regular Joe Bloggs people in the church. Thus the Nicolaitans are those who seek to rule over the laity.
This isn’t something that ceased in the first century church. It is very much alive and well in churches today – and not just the more traditional churches.
Why does Jesus hate this so much? We need to understand the reason why Jesus came to earth. He came to make a way for mankind to be reconciled to God. It is significant that the veil in the temple was torn apart at the moment of His death (Matt. 27:50-51). This veil symbolised the separation that existed between God and man. It was designed to protect sinful man from God’s justice, which demanded that no sin could enter His presence. But as such, it was a barrier, because no one is without sin. Now that our sin has been covered by the blood of Christ, we can come right into God’s presence.
However, what the Nicolaitans try to do is to insert themselves as a middle-man between people and God. They set themselves up as counsellors, saying you have to come to them to ask God something, and they will pray on your behalf. They are, in effect, sewing up the veil, by creating a barrier between people and God. This is why Jesus hates what they do (note – He doesn’t hate them), because it is undoing the work that He did for all of us.

Friday, July 6, 2012

Leaving your first love

“Yet I hold this against you: You have forsaken your first love.” Revelation 2:4
In Jesus’ letter to the church at Ephesus, He commends them for holding tightly to His Word, testing false apostles and dealing with them appropriately (Rev. 2:2). But He rebukes them for having forsaken their first love.
The Greek word here is ‘protos’. While it can mean first in a timeline, more often it means first in importance or priority. Many people interpret this verse to say something like, ‘Remember how much you loved God when you first got saved? But over time that love has dwindled.’ That is not what the verse is saying. Jesus told us that the greatest commandment of all is to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, soul, and strength (Matt. 22:37, Mark 12:30, Luke 10:27). Love is not a feeling, it’s a choice, and a commitment.
When I first heard the interpretation above preached, I struggled with it. I grew up in a Christian home and I can’t remember a time when I didn’t know the Lord; so I haven’t had a ‘conversion experience’ as such. There is no ‘before’ to compare things to. But I can still be found guilty of forsaking my first love: when other things get in the way and take my priority and my focus away from the Lord.
Note also that Jesus didn’t say ‘you have lost your first love.’ He said, ‘you have forsaken’, or in other translations, ‘you have left your first love’. Losing is something that happens through negligence. Leaving is something that is done deliberately.
This is a verse that applies not just to the church at Ephesus, but also to every believer today. We can all fall into this trap – like the seeds that were sown among weeds, which represent the cares of the world that stifle the believer in his or her effectiveness for God (Matt. 13:22). But it’s not to late to repent: to turn around, and make things right – to make God your number one priority in life.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

The First and the Last

“When I saw Him, I fell at His feet as though dead. Then He placed His right hand on me and said: ‘Do not be afraid. I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever! And I hold the keys of death and Hades.’” Revelation 1:17-18
This title, ‘the First and the Last’, is one that is ascribed throughout the Bible to God.
“Who has done this and carried it through, calling forth the generations from the beginning? I, the Lord [Jehovah] – the First and the Last – I am He” (Isa. 41:4)
“This is what the Lord [Jehovah] says – Israel’s King and Redeemer, the Lord Almighty [Jehovah Sabaoth]: I am the first and I am the last; apart from me there is no God” (Isa. 44:6)
The title ‘Alpha and Omega’ is also used of God (alpha being the first letter of the Greek alphabet and omega being the last):
“I am the Alpha and the Omega, the First and the Last, the Beginning and the End” (Rev. 22:13)
“I am the Alpha and the Omega,’ says the Lord God, ‘who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty” (Rev. 1:8).
Yet here we have proof that these titles, ‘the First and the Last’, and ‘the Alpha and the Omega’, refer to Jesus. “I am the First and the Last. I am the Living One; I was dead, and behold I am alive forever and ever” (Rev. 1:17-18). There is only one person who matches this description: someone who is God, who died, and now lives forever. God the Father did not die. It was His Son, Jesus Christ – who is not only the Son of God, but is also God the Son. Jehovah’s Witnesses deny this crucial point of Christian doctrine. Yet the Bible makes it very clear, that Jesus is part of the Trinity of Jehovah God.

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

The devil and Michael

“But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not dare to bring a slanderous accusation against him, but said, ‘The Lord rebuke you!’” Jude 1:9
The epistle to Jude contains several references to things that are not talked about at length in the rest of the Bible: ‘the angels that sinned’ (v6), the dispute between Michael and Satan (v9), and a prophecy from the book of Enoch (v14-15).
A wise man once said, ‘Where the Scriptures are silent, we must remain silent.’ Jude tells us that Michael and Satan disputed over the body of Moses – which is a mystery, since no-one knew where he was buried (Deut. 34:5-6). But he doesn’t tell us what the dispute was about, so it is pointless for us to speculate. The point Jude is making is comparing the actions of Michael with the actions of certain false teachers.
Michael is an archangel. He is mentioned five times in the Bible. He is the archangel who protects Israel (Dan. 10:13, Dan. 10:21, Dan. 12:1), and it seems he is constantly fighting against Satan (Jude 1:9, Rev. 12:7). It would seem that he is the most powerful angel there is, and the leader of the angelic army (Rev. 12:7). Here is Jude’s point: even the most powerful angel, Michael, does not accuse or rebuke Satan, but he leaves that to God. Yet these people, who are less powerful than any angel, don’t have a problem making fun of Satan (Jude 1:8). Christians can fall into this kind of behaviour too, through ignorance. Satan is real, and he is powerful. You don’t mess with him in your own strength. It is only through the power of Christ in us that we have victory over Satan (1 Cor. 15:57, 1 John 4:4). And so we would be wise to note what Michael does, and leave the rebuking and ‘binding’ of Satan up to God.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

The reason Jude wrote

“Dear friends, although I was very eager to write to you about the salvation we share, I felt I had to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to the saints.” Jude 1:3
Jude tells us that when he sat down to write his epistle, he was originally going to write a letter of encouragement concerning our common salvation. However, the Holy Spirit impressed upon his heart to write a very different kind of letter: exhorting us as believers to “contend for the faith”. In his letter he talks about false teachers: how to recognise them, and the future judgement that awaits them. He reminds us to persevere in the faith and go about the Lord’s business.
What does it mean to “contend for the faith”? The Greek word translated ‘contend’ is epagonizomai, from epi = over/upon, and agonizomai = to agonise, struggle, as when competing for a prize or fighting against an adversary. If you had obtained something very valuable, and someone was scheming to try and take it away from you, you would defend it and safeguard it, right? Our faith – the Christian gospel and the effect it has in our lives – is the most valuable thing we have. And we have an enemy who would love for it to be ineffective. He will send all kinds of attacks our way, both overt and covert. There will be those who engage aggressively against you, and there will be those who call themselves Christians who want you to adopt some weird doctrine of theirs. We are to uphold the faith, and defend it against false teaching. We don’t need to prove the Bible, because the Bible proves itself; we are to use it to counter false doctrine when it comes. To do this we need to know what the Bible says. Are you contending for the faith today?

Monday, July 2, 2012

New revelations

“Anyone who runs ahead and does not continue in the teaching of Christ does not have God; whoever continues in the teaching has both the Father and the Son.” 2 John 1:9
The Bible clearly tells us the hallmarks of a false teacher: one of them is given here, that they run ahead of the teaching of Christ. These are the people who hold other writings on par with the Bible (for example, the book of Mormon, or the Watchtower publications). They are also the people who say they used to be Christians but now they have been ‘enlightened’. I ran into a debate with some of these people once, who called themselves ‘post-Christian’, and boy did they think they were something special. Only last week I was listening to the radio where the host was interviewing someone who called himself a ‘Christian humanist’. Now there’s a contradiction if I ever heard one. It became quite clear that he had no right to call himself a Christian: he placed Jesus on the same level as Buddha and Mohammed, and said there were many ways to God. When he was challenged on this with John 14:6 – Jesus saying, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’ – he dismissed it, saying he didn’t believe the gospel of John.
As John wrote in his first epistle, “They went out from us, but they did not really belong to us. For if they had belonged to us, they would have remained with us; but their going showed that none of them belonged to us” (1 John 2:19). Anyone who claims to have a ‘new revelation’ from God, concerning some doctrinal truth that is not in the Bible, falls into this category. They are running ahead of the teaching of Christ, whereas true believers will continue to hold fast to what the Bible teaches.

Everywhere I go

“If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea, even there Your hand will guide me, Your right hand will hold me fast.” Psalm 139:9-10
My job involves more travel than most people’s. For example, in the last 5 years I have averaged 3 months per year outside my own country. So I can really identify with David’s words in this psalm, ‘If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea...’.
We can tend to compartmentalise God – that is, to think that there are places where God is, and places where He is not. Or, places where we can meet with Him – like at church – and places where we can’t – like in an airport gate lounge. I spent two-and-a-bit years living overseas in countries where they spoke the same language, but had very different cultures to mine. Yet I found God was right there, and He could and did still speak to me in the same way as when I was back home.
Since then, if anything, when I travel I’ve become even more aware of God’s presence. Even on the other side of the world, His hand guides me and holds me close to Him. This is such a comfort, especially when I go somewhere where the culture is very different, and I haven’t learnt the language. God is intimately involved in each and every believer’s life. Have you discovered this truth?