Friday, August 31, 2012

Our attitude towards money

“...who lends his money without usury and does not accept a bribe against the innocent. He who does these things will never be shaken.” Psalm 15:5
Today we reach the end of Psalm 15, and the last of a series of characteristics that should be developing in our lives as Christians. Here we have two aspects, both relating to money. Firstly, to lend without usury. In some translations it is rendered ‘interest’, in others, ‘excessive interest’. We’ve all seen stories in the news – or possibly experienced it ourselves – about loan sharks who advertise what souns like a low interest rate on a personal loan, only for people to take one out and find that the rate was a weekly instead of an annual rate, and that the repayments quickly spiralled out of control. We are encouraged to be generous with our money, using it to help others and thus laying up for ourselves treasures in heaven (Matt. 19:21, Rom. 12:8, 2 Cor. 9:6-7, 1 Tim. 6:18, Prov. 11:25, 22:9).
The second is like it: to not accept bribes. God tells us, “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous” (Deut. 16:19). Solomon wrote, “Extortion turns a wise man into a fool and a bribe corrupts the heart” (Eccl. 7:7). Accepting a bribe carries with it the expectation that you will act in favour of the one who gave it to you, instead of treating everyone fairly. Think about it – would Jesus accept a bribe?
Both of these issues stem from our attitude towards money. If we are greedy for money or attached to it, we will find it hard to let go, and always be on the lookout for how we can make that little bit more. Money starts to rule our life, and ultimately it can take the place of God (Matt. 6:24). “People who want to get rich fall into temptation and a trap and into many foolish and harmful desires that plunge men into ruin and destruction. 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. 6:9-10).
Money itself is neither good nor bad – it’s how we use it. Money is not something that we should see as keeping for ourself. On the one hand, we need to provide for ourselves and our family, both in the present and in the future. But on the other, it is a tool that we have been given by God to use (Deut. 8:18). Therefore we should use it for His glory.

Thursday, August 30, 2012

Friendships and loyalty

“... who despises a vile man but honours those who fear the Lord, who keeps his oath even when it hurts...” Psalm 15:4
Continuing in Psalm 15, we come across the next characteristic of what a Christian – someone who has been clothed in the righteousness of Christ and is thus able to enter God’s presence – should be like. It concerns our friendships and our loyalty.
It is a natural thing to become like those people witih whom you hang out with most often. You’ll start to pick up their mannerisms, and before long you will also start to pick up the way that they think about things. Therefore it is important to make sure that we are spending time with people who edify and strengthen us, people who are on the same moral and spiritual wavelength – people, like us, who fear the Lord. That’s not to say that we can’t have non-Christian friends, but we do need to balance the time that we spend with them.
Christians should be known for their loyalty. Have you ever made a promise and then not kept it, for whatever reason? Maybe you arranged to meet up with someone, and then on the day decided not to because of the weather. Maybe you agreed to help someone with something at work, and then didn’t follow through. God didn’t do that with us. He promised to send the Messiah to die for our sins. When Jesus came, He could have used His divine power to get out of the situation. But He kept His promise, even though it hurt Him dearly. So then, we too should keep our promises. We should be men and women of our word.

Wednesday, August 29, 2012

How we treat others

“...and has no slander on his tongue, who does his neighbour no wrong and casts no slur on his fellowman...” Psalm 15:3
Psalm 15 gives us the characteristics of someone who is able to dwell in God’s presence. Since we as Christians are clothed with Christ’s righteousness and have a new nature by the Holy Spirit indwelling us, we are able to enter God’s presence. These characteristics should be being developed in our lives – if they are not, we need to take a good hard look at ourselves.
In today’s verse we see three more characteristics, which are to do with how we treat other people, especially with how we talk about them. We might not physically attack or kill anybody, but we can all be guilting of character-assassination by spreading gossip and saying hurtful things about them when they are not there to defend themselves. Gossip and slander should not be things that we are guilty of doing. These are wrong, and we should be doing our neighbour – meaning anyone – any wrong. Instead, we should be going out of our way to do good to other people. Jesus tells us, “But I tell you that hear Me: Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you” (Luke 6:27). “So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you, for this sums up the Law and the Prophets” (Matt. 7:12). “The entire law is summed up in a single command: Love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal. 5:14). Treating others as you would like to be treated, and loving others as you love yourself – and let’s face it, one of the problems we have in society is that people already love themselves – goes above and beyond the world’s version of the golden rule, which is ‘Don’t do to others what you don’t want them to do to you.’ It’s easy to live by this rule – you can do it by living alone and not leaving the house. But it’s much harder to actively show love to people, especially those who don’t appreciate it, or those we don’t get along with. Even so, Jesus calls us to do it, and as we obey, we become more like Him.

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Blameless, righteous, truthful

“He whose walk is blameless and who does what is righteous, who speaks the truth from his heart...” Psalm 15:2
This week we are working through Psalm 15, which teaches us the characteristics of those who can come into God’s presence. As we learned yesterday, only those without sin, or those whose sin has been covered by the blood of Jesus Christ, can come into God’s presence. When we become a Christian, there is a fundamental change that happens inside us. We receive a new nature, a nature that desires to please God. These, then, are the characteristics of that new nature.
Firstly, they are blameless. This doesn’t mean that Christians are sinless, but it means they are without blame. Their sin has been totally forgiven. “Therefore, there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1).
Secondly, they are righteous. This means they are right in God’s sight. This isn’t a righteousness that comes from us doing good works, but it is the righteousness of Christ, which clothes us. We now have right standing before God. “But now a righteousness from God, apart from law, has been made known, to which the Law and the Prophets testify. This righteousness from God comes through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Rom. 3:21-22).
Finally, they speak the truth. Have you noticed that when you tell a lie, there is a pang in your spirit? That’s the Holy Spirit convicting you that what you are doing is wrong. Lying is one of Satan’s characteristics: “When he lies, he speaks his native language, for he is a liar and the father of lies” (John 8:44). Lying is one of the things that God says He hates (Prov. 6:16-19). We are to be people of honesty and integrity. We are not to lie about things, situations, or people. We are not to exaggerate or bend the truth to fit our side of the story.
Has your sin been forgiven by the blood of Christ? Are you standing in His righteousness? Do you speak the truth from your heart?

Monday, August 27, 2012

Who can come into God's presence?

“Lord, who may dwell in Your sanctuary? Who may live on Your holy hill?” Psalm 15:1
This week, we’re going to take a close look at Psalm 15. The psalm opens with a question: who can come into God’s presence? The sanctuary: the tabernacle, and later, the temple, was the place where God had promised to dwell among His people. The dwelling-place of God was in the Holy of Holies, which was separated from the Holy Place by a curtain, and the Holy Place itself was closed off within a courtyard. Only the priests were allowed into the Holy Place, and only the high priest was allowed to enter the Holy of Holies – and that only once a year, on the Day of Atonement, and after great ceremonial preparation to cleanse him of his sin.
Sometimes we can feel as if we are restricted from entering God’s presence. It is true that not everyone can enter His presence. As we learn in the picture of the high priest entering the Holy of Holies, anything sinful cannot come into God’s presence. But if we are in Christ, then we are clothed with His righteousness, and His sinless life is what God sees when He looks at us. Jesus is our great high priest, without sin, and we can enter God’s presence in Him. This does not mean that we can continue to commit sin without consequence. Our lives should be being conformed to the life of Christ. The more we live in righteousness, the more in tune we will be to God, and the better we will come to know Him.

Sunday, August 26, 2012

The glory of the former temple

“But many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid, while many others shouted for joy.” Ezra 3:12
The book of Ezra tells us the history of Israel at the return from captivity in Babylon. Although millions of people had been taken away, only a few tens of thousands came back. One of the first things they sought to do was to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. On the day the foundation was laid, the people came together and celebrated – for the most part. We read how many of the older men, who most likely had seen Solomon’s temple as children, wept when they saw the new temple. But these were not tears of joy, because the text makes a distinction between their weeping and the rejoicing of the rest of the people. These were tears of mourning – most likely because they remembered the grandness of Solomon’s temple, and this temple seemed pathetic and small in comparison.
The prophet Haggai ministered during this time, and addressed this attitude: “[Ask them], ‘Who of you is left who saw this house in its former glory? How does it look to you now? Does it now seem to you like nothing? But now be strong, O Zerubbabel,’ declares the Lord. ‘Be strong, O Joshua son of Jehozadak, the high priest. Be strong, all you people of the land,’ declares the Lord, ‘and work. For I am with you,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Hab. 2:3-4). Then God gave a promise: “‘The glory of this present house will be greater than the glory of the former house,’ says the Lord Almighty. ‘And in this place I will grant peace,’ declares the Lord Almighty” (Hab. 3:9). While physically this temple was unimpressive compared to Solomon’s, it would be greater, because the Messiah Himself would enter it.
There’s a lesson here for us today. Sometimes when we are involved in a great ministry somewhere, and then move on to another place, we can feel like our talent is being wasted because outwardly the ministry we are doing is not as big. A prime example is if you are involved in the worship or Sunday school ministry in a large church, and then moving to a smaller church – we can think that because we are ministering to fewer people, the ministry is not as valuable. But that’s where we’re wrong. All of our ministry – whether it’s to two, twenty, or two thousand people – should be done to God and for His glory. Outwardly the ‘temple’ might not look impressive, but if God is in it, then that is what makes it great.

Saturday, August 25, 2012

If a brother sins against you

“If your brother sins against you, go and show him his fault, just between the two of you. If he listens to you, you have won your brother over.” Matthew 18:15
We’ve all been in situations where another believer has said or done something that offended us. Usually (I hope!) the offence is unintentional, but even so it creates a rift between you. Often the other person may not realise that they have caused hurt. Jesus tells us what to do in this situation. The first step is not to talk to the pastor, or your friends, or their friends, about the issue. Instead, Jesus makes it very clear that if we have an issue with someone we should take it to them, privately, first. If it was unintentional, then the other person will usually have no problem in apologising to you. However, if you begin by spreading gossip about them and complaining to other people, then you are intentionally sinning against them, which only makes things worse.
However, if they refuse to listen to you when you talk to them privately, then there is a process to follow. “But if he will not listen, take one or two others along, so that ‘every matter may be established by the testimony of two or three witnesses.’ If he refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if he refuses to listen even to the church, treat him as you would a pagan or a tax collector” (Matt. 18:16-17).
There are a few points to note here. Step 2, taking two or three witnesses: these are not to be people on your ‘side’, but people without bias towards one person or the other. Step 3, telling the church, refers to the church leadership, not the general congregation. Step 4, treating him as a pagan or tax collector, does not mean to shun the person, as is commonly taught, but to reach out to them in love, so that their hard heart might be broken. The ultimate goal contained within each step is that of restoration of fellowship.

Friday, August 24, 2012

The point of no return

“The Lord, the God of their fathers, sent word to them through His messengers again and again, because He had pity on His people and on His dwelling place. But they mocked God’s messengers, despised His words and scoffed at His prophets until the wrath of the Lord was aroused against His people and there was no remedy.” 2 Chronicles 36:15-16
Here in the very last chapter of 2 Chronicles, the very last chapter of Israel’s history before they went into captivity in Babylon, we see the reason for the exile. Basically, God’s patience had reached the point of no return. For 400 years during the time of the monarchy, the Israelites had ignored God, failed to keep His Word, and persecuted those prophets and other people who sought to bring them back. There were some godly kings along the way, but the general moral trend was downwards.
Paul wrote to the Corinthians, “These things happened to them [Israel] as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfilment of the ages has come” (1 Cor. 10:11). Today’s society is showing an ever-increasing moral decline. More Christians are being persecuted and martyred all over the world than ever before.
It is important to remember that God does not delight in bringing wrath (Ezek. 33:11). The Bible calls it His “strange work” (Isa. 28:21). He is slow to anger and quick to forgive (Ps. 103:8, Mic. 7:18). His desire is not to judge people, but that they would repent (1 Tim. 2:3-4, 2 Pet. 3:9). But a day of judgement is coming, which has been prophesied about in the Bible – the Great Tribulation. One day, God’s patience with mankind as a whole is going to run out. There will be no option left but for Him to bring judgement upon them. The world will reach a point of no return.

Thursday, August 23, 2012

Get behind me, Satan

“Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind Me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to Me; you do not have in mind the things of God, but the things of men.’” Matthew 16:23
These seem like very harsh words from Jesus – and they are – but they are the truth. Was Jesus calling Peter Satan? No. Was Jesus saying that Peter was possessed by Satan? Can Christians, who are indwelt by the Holy Spirit, having made a confession of faith – as Peter did – be possessed by demons as well? No. So what’s going on?
In one breath, Peter declares to Jesus, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt. 16:16). Jesus in reply tells him that “this was not revealed to you by man, but by My Father in heaven” (Matt. 16:17). But then in the very next breath, when Jesus started to tell the disciples about His coming crucifixion and subsequent resurrection, Peter began to rebuke Him, saying, “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to You!” (Matt. 16:22).
Throughout the Bible we can see Satan’s attempts to prevent God from providing redemption for mankind. Once he had successfully caused Adam and Eve to fall into sin, he made it his primary mission to try to thwart God’s plan to rectify the situation. When God announced that Abraham would be the one through whom the Saviour would come, Satan focused his attack on Abraham and his family. In Egypt, he incited Pharaoh to kill the baby boys of the Israelites, and later to pursue them as they were leaving the country. Later, when God announced that it would be through David that Messiah would come, Satan incited Saul to try to kill him, and in later years there were several occasions where all of the king’s sons except for one were killed (see for example 2 Chr. 22:10-12). When Jesus was born, Herod was incited to kill all the baby boys in Bethlehem (Matt. 2:16-18). Later, the people tried to throw Him off a cliff (Luke 4:28-30). Here, Satan was doing all he could to try to keep Jesus from going to the cross. He didn’t possess Peter, but he did make suggestions to him. Peter expressed those thoughts out of his loyalty for Jesus. But Jesus recognised the true source of those words.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

On this rock I will build My Church

“And I tell you that you are Peter, and on this rock I will build My church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it.” Matthew 16:18
The Roman Catholic church has built an entire doctrine on this verse: that in saying what He says here, Jesus established Peter as the foundation of the church, being the first pope. But this is not at all what this verse is saying.
Jesus uses two related but different Greek words here: Petros (Peter), and petra (rock). Petros is a small pebble. Petra is a rock, like that which the wise man built his house on in the parable (Matt. 7:24). If it’s not Peter himself that Jesus is building His church upon, what is the petra in view here? The answer is quite simple: it is Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Messiah. The church is built on this statement of faith. Thus Peter, and everyone like him who confesses that Jesus is the Messiah, the Christ, the Son of God, God Himself come in the flesh to die for sin, is part of the Church that Jesus is building. The Church is not those who have founded themselves on Peter. Nor is it a building, or even a group of people who get together and talk about Jesus. The Church is the collection of true believers, all over the world, from the Resurrection to the Rapture, who have confessed that Jesus is the Christ and the Lord of their lives. I call this the ‘big C’ Church, in contrast to a local congregation, which is a ‘small c’ church. There are many people who are part of a church who are not part of the Church. Conversely, there are also many people who, for whatever reason, are part of the Church who are not part of a church. Where do you stand today? Are you part of the ‘big C’ Church, through a confession of faith in Jesus Christ?

Tuesday, August 21, 2012

The sign of Jonah

“‘A wicked and adulterous generation looks for a miraculous sign, but none will be given it except the sign of Jonah.’ Jesus then left them and went away.” Matthew 16:4
On a couple of occasions in the gospels, Jesus refers to the sign of the prophet Jonah as proof to the Pharisees that He is the Messiah (Matt. 12:39-40, Matt. 16:4, Luke 11:29-30). In particular, the ‘sign of Jonah’ refers to the three days and nights that Jesus would spend in the tomb before rising again. “For as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of a huge fish, so the Son of Man will be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth” (Matt. 12:40).
It is kind of ironic that when Jesus did perform miraculous signs, the Pharisees did not believe He was the Messiah. Scripture had prophesied that He would heal the sick, make the blind see, cause the lame to walk, and so forth. There was one miracle that the rabbis taught only Messiah could do: casting out a demon that was mute. The reason for this was that the Jewish method of exorcism began with asking the demon its name. But if the person possessed by the demon was unable to speak, then the demon could not be cast out. Yet when Jesus did cast out a mute demon, the Pharisees criticised Him, saying that He must be casting out demons by the power of Satan (Matt. 12:22-24). And then they have the nerve to ask Him for a miraculous sign!
Sadly, there are people today seeking the same thing. They want to see miraculous healings, and millions of dollars miraculously appear in their bank accounts. ‘If God does this for me, then I’ll believe in Him,’ they say. But even if they see those things, they’ll still find a reason not to believe. The sign that Jesus is the Messiah is still the same for us today as it was for the people back then: Jesus died, and three days later rose again. We don’t need any more proof than that.

Monday, August 20, 2012

When the blind lead the blind

“Leave them; they are blind guides. If a blind man leads a blind man, both will fall into a pit.” Matthew 15:14
This is a vivid picture that Jesus paints: a blind man leading another blind man. How can someone possibly lead someone else, if they themselves can’t see where to go? Yet that is what the Pharisees were doing in a spiritual sense, and unfortunately, it’s what many people are doing today, both inside and outside of the church.
Lately the talkback host on my local Christian radio station has been inviting some dubious guests on his show, in order to create discussion between one guest who holds fast to what the Bible says, and another who has a more liberal theology. It is plain to me that most of these people, despite saying they are Christians, or even having been ordained as ministers in their particular denomination, do not actually know the Lord. If they did, they would not be saying things like, ‘Jesus would support gay marriage,’ and ‘Well the Bible was written for those people who were less educated, but now we know better.’ For discerning Christians, it is easy to see that these people are at best, misguided, and at worst, wolves in sheep’s clothing. But my concern is for the many undiscerning Christians out there, listening to these people on Christian radio.
No wonder James wrote, “Not many of you should presume to be teachers, my brothers, because you know that we who teach will be judged more strictly” (James 3:1). And Jesus said, “But if anyone causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him to have a large millstone hung around his neck and to be drowned in the depths of the sea” (Matt. 18:6). To be able to lead someone in the things of God, you yourself must be able to see the way. Similarly, if you are following someone, make sure that you know they can see! Otherwise, you run the risk of falling into the same ditch that they are heading towards, blissfully unaware of.

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Having a spiritual cleanout

“When all this had ended, the Israelites who were there went out to the towns of Judah, smashed the sacred stones and cut down the Asherah poles. They destroyed the high places and the altars throughout Judah and Benjamin and in Epharim and Manasseh. After they had destroyed all of them, the Israelites returned to their own towns and to their own property.” 2 Chronicles 31:1
The events described here happened during the time of Hezekiah, one of the godly kings of Judah. He called the nation together to celebrate the Passover – something that had not been done since the time of Joshua. The people came and celebrated, and their celebrations continued for a further week after the time specified. We read, “There was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the days of Solomon son of David king of Israel there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. The priests and the Levites stood to bless the people, and God heard them, for their prayer reached heaven, His holy dwelling place” (2 Chr. 30:26-27).
As a result of this spiritual revival, the people then went out and destroyed all the idols and altars and everything associated with the worship of false gods, throughout the land. This is an important thing we must do if we are serious about serving the Lord, and serving Him only. Is there anything in your life that is taking His place today, or warping your view of Him? It might not be something that is intrinsically sinful, but for you it could be an idol. About ten or twelve years ago I really got into Star Trek books. I enjoyed reading them and must have had about fifty or sixty. In and of themselves they were not sinful, but over time I started to view Jesus as having the personality traits of Spock. I knew this was wrong, and for several months I put the books to one side. Slowly this view started to fade, but as soon as I thought I had mastered it and started reading again, it quickly came back. There was only one thing to do – I had to get rid of these books and everything associated with them. So I did. Ever since then, I haven’t gone back. In order for me to serve the Lord, I know that I can’t get involved with that again, even though other Christians may be able to. And that’s fine. Paul wrote, “Everything is permissible for me – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me – but I will not be mastered by anything” (1 Cor. 6:12). It’s good to have a spiritual cleanout, to really take stock and get rid of everything in our lives that is idolatrous or not expedient to our walk with the Lord. Is there anything like this that you need to deal with today?

Saturday, August 18, 2012

Meeting Jesus in the storm

“But Jesus immediately said to them: ‘Take courage! It is I. Don’t be afraid.’” Matthew 14:27
We will all face storms in life. It won’t always be smooth sailing. Sometimes, like the disciples in Matt. 14:22, Jesus sends us on ahead, promising to meet up with us on the other side. They had already seen Him calm the storm on an occasion when He was in the boat with them (Matt. 8:23-27); this was merely the next step up.
But what happened next was something they had not been expecting. Jesus walked out to meet them on the water. When they saw Him, they thought He was a ghost, and freaked out. I imagine I would have, too. But Jesus immediately called out to reassure them, “Don’t be afraid.”
In the storms that we face in life, sometimes God can turn up in very unexpected ways. You might be struggling in your job, and a new opportunity comes from out of the blue that will mean some serious, and perhaps terrifying, changes for you and your family. A new ministry area might present itself to you. But if we know that God is behind it, we have no reason to be afraid. God is unpredictable in the way that He works – that is, He won’t always follow the same pattern with every person, or with every situation that you face. But He is with us, even if He is working in an unexpected way.

Friday, August 17, 2012

Alone time

“John’s disciples came and took his body and buried it. Then they went and told Jesus.
“When Jesus heard what had happened, He withdrew by boat privately to a solitary place. Hearing of this, the crowds followed Him on foot from the towns. When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, He had compassion on them and healed their sick.” Matthew 14:12-14

In Matthew 14 we see the circumstances that led to John the Baptist’s death: Herod’s wife pressured him into beheading him. We might wonder why John’s disciples would go and tell Jesus; the reason is because Jesus and John shared a special bond. They were relatives, and they also had complementary ministries: Jesus as the Messiah, and John as the Messiah’s herald. It was natural for Jesus to desire some ‘alone time’ with His disciples, so He sought to distance Himself from the crowds for a time. But when the people heard where He was going, they followed Him.
It would have been easy for Jesus to get back in the boat and go somewhere else, or to tell them to go back home and leave Him alone. But He didn’t do any of those things. He saw their needs, and He set aside His own pain for a time to show compassion to them. Out of Jesus’ pain and grief, He fed the 5,000. After that, He did dismiss the crowds, send the disciples away, and sought out a solitary place in the mountains to pray.
We all have times when we just need to be alone, to pray and seek God without anyone watching, listening, or distracting us. The key is to know when it is more important for us to meet the needs of others, when we ought to defer that ‘alone time’.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Why Jesus used parables

“The disciples came to Him and asked, ‘Why do You speak to the people in parables?’ He replied, ‘The knowledge of the secrets of the kingdom of heaven has been given to you, but not to them. Whoever has will be given more, and he will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what he has will be taken from him.’” Matthew 13:10-12
In Matthew 13 we see a sudden shift in Jesus’ ministry. Before this He spoke freely to the people, such as at the Sermon on the Mount (which was directed at the disciples, but others listened in also). After this, when He spoke in public, it was primarily using parables. The reason for this was in Matthew 12, the Pharisees showed that they had completely hardened their hearts against Him, accusing Him of healing people by the power of Satan (Matt. 12:22-24).
Not only was it prophesied that Jesus would teach in parables (Ps. 78:2), but they also served a double purpose, which Jesus explains in today’s verse. On the one hand, for those who had come to know God and had received spiritual understanding from Him, parables serve as an illustrative tool, teaching spiritual truths using physical analogies. On the other hand, for those who are spiritually blind, the parables served to keep that truth from them. The reason for this is not malicious, rather it is gracious: they would be judged less severely, because they were ignorant of the truths being taught. If Jesus had spoken plainly, and they had rejected it, their judgement would be more severe.
The Bible is still the same today. To someone who is not born again, it is merely a collection of religious writings. But to someone who is born again, who has the Holy Spirit indwelling them, it is powerful and alive. “This is what we speak, not in words taught us by human wisdom but in words taught by the Spirit, expressing spiritual truths in spiritual words. The man without the Spirit does not accept the things that come from the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him, and he cannot understand them, because they are spiritually discerned” (1 Cor. 2:12-13).

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

When God doesn't judge straightaway

“He says to himself, ‘God has forgotten; He covers His face and never sees.’” Psalm 10:11
Often when people engage in some sin, they don’t get caught straight away. A person can have an extra-marital affair that lasts for months or even years, and over time they start convincing themselves that it’s the right thing to do. Someone might make a living from burglary or prostitution. The ultimate judge of all people is of course God, and it’s astounding how many people continue in sin as a knowledgeable act of defiance against Him. They say, ‘If God was really there, He’d strike me down for doing this. But the fact that He hasn’t means either (a) that He doesn’t exist at all, or (b) that He is powerless to stop me, or (c) that He doesn’t notice what I am doing, or (d) that He doesn’t care what I do, or (e) that He approves of what I do.’ But they miss the real reason why God has withheld His judgement from them: “He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pet. 3:9).
God does exist, He does have the power to judge, He does notice what you are doing, He does care, and He does not approve. But He is also patient – He is giving you time to respond to the Holy Spirit tickling your conscience, and repent of that sin. One day judgement will come, if you have not repented. But until then, there is always time for you to turn around.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Watch what you say

“But I tell you that men will have to give an account on the day of judgement for every careless word they have spoken. For by your words you will be acquitted, and by your words you will be condemned.” Matthew 12:36-37
I remember a school project we were given once, where we had to keep a log of every conversation we had through a single day. We had to record the time it began and ended, who it was with, and what the topic was. The first day I seemed to manage ok, talking to my family in the morning, my teachers and classmates at school, family again when I got home. But in the evening when I went to Air Cadets, within ten minutes I’d completely lost track of who I’d been talking to or what I’d been talking about. Keeping a track of everything you say is a lot harder to do than it sounds!
Some people find it creepy that God not only hears everything we say, but He remembers it all. But we should look at it on the other hand: He takes this level of interest in us because He loves us. Even so, I suspect most of us will be somewhat embarrased when we get to heaven and see the volume of careless words we have spoken throughout our lives. It’s not the deliberate, carefully chosen words that demonstrate what is in our heart, but the words that come out of our mouths spontaneously, when the heat is on. If someone cuts you off in traffic, is your first instinct to curse them, or to ask God for patience? At the sight of a beautiful sunset, is your first response to praise God, or to bemoan at how the day is over and you didn’t get everything done that you wanted to? It’s these kinds of moments that show to us what is really in our hearts. “For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him” (Matt. 12:34-35).

Monday, August 13, 2012

What is lawful on the Sabbath

“How much more valuable is a man than a sheep! Therefore it is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.” Matthew 12:12
Time and time again Jesus came into conflict with the Pharisees over what they perceived to be Him breaking the Sabbath law. In the Torah, there were several things listed that you could not do on the Sabbath: work (Ex. 20:10, 31:14-15, Lev. 23:3, Deut. 5:14), lighting fires (Ex. 35:3). However the rabbis in their zeal to not be found guilty of breaking these commands, instituted extra layers of commands concerning the Sabbath day. You could not cut your hair on the Sabbath, because that was considered work. You could not wear false teeth on the Sabbath, because that constituted bearing a burden, which was considered work. You could not spit on the ground on the Sabbath, because that would irrigate the soil, which was considered work. If you were a doctor, and a patient was brought to you on the Sabbath, you could prevent the person from dying, but you could not do anything to aid the healing process, because that was considered work. It is this latter point that the Pharisees tested Jesus on by bringing him a man with a withered hand, to see if He would heal him on the Sabbath.
But Jesus would have none of this. He pointed out their hypocrisy: they would rescue a sheep of theirs on the Sabbath if it fell into a pit. But they would judge Him for healing a man on the Sabbath. Their attitude placed the comfort of a sheep above the welfare of a human being. To answer their question, ‘Is it lawful to heal on the Sabbath?’ Jesus answered, ‘It is lawful to do good on the Sabbath.’ This was not an issue only about healing, because earlier in the same chapter He had defended His disciples who had been caught ‘working’, by picking grain, rubbing it in their hands (thus, ‘harvesting’ and ‘threshing’) and eating it. Jesus’ point was this: human need is more important than ceremonial regulations.

Sunday, August 12, 2012

When you don't know what to do

“O our God, will You not judge them? For we have no power to face this vast army that is attacking us. We do not know what to do, but our eyes are upon You.” 2 Chronicles 20:12
There are times when life is overwhelming and we can’t see how we are going to get through. It might be financial difficulties, health problems, or family break-ups. Today’s verse ends the prayer of Jehoshaphat when the Moabites and Ammonites were coming to wage war on him and the people of Judah. Their army was vastly larger in number than Jehoshaphat’s; in the natural, defeat was inevitable.
Jehoshaphat was alarmed, but he still had one option left to pursue: he waited on the Lord. His prayer is one of surrender to God, acknowledging that although the problem was too big for him, he knew that God as greater than it. God had promised to deliver His people, and Jehoshaphat was now calling on that promise.
Sometimes we, like Jehoshaphat, are facing something where we don’t know what to do. In those times, we can pray and tell God exactly this: that we don’t know what to do, but we do know that God holds the present and future in His hands. He is in control, and He has promised to protect and deliver you. Keep your eyes on Him! God brought about a supernatural victory for Jehoshaphat, and He will do the same for you, if you will just stay close to Him and trust Him.

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Building an empire

“Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.” Matthew 10:39
Today’s verse is all about having the right priorities in life. What are you living for? Are you living to please yourself, or are you living to please God? It’s easy to get caught up in the fast pace of the world’s mindset, striving to get ahead, to earn more money, to climb the corporate ladder and have more and more people working underneath you. We can get pulled into this mindset, where life is a contest to see how big an empire you can build for yourself.
But for the Christian, we should not be building our own empire. We should be building the kingdom of God. And this happens through service, and sacrifice. In Jesus’ words here, it is giving up your life – what you could achieve for yourself, through your own strength – in favour of serving God through the power of the Holy Spirit. That doesn’t mean we should give up our secular jobs, but rather we should use them in their proper perspective: working as if working for the Lord, so as to be a witness to the people around us. Whatever empire we build for ourselves will ultimately be destroyed. At the end of the day, no amount of money you make or people working for you, can be payment for your eternal soul. All that matters is what you have done for the Lord. “Do not store up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust destroy, and where thieves break in and steal. But store up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where moth and rust do not destroy, and where thieves do not break in and steal. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” (Matt. 6:19-21).

Friday, August 10, 2012

Judge carefully

“He told them, ‘Consider carefully what you do, because you are not judging for man but for the Lord, who is with you whenever you give a verdict. Now let the fear of the Lord be upon you. Judge carefully, for with the Lord our God there is no injustice or partiality or bribery.’” 2 Chronicles 19:6-7
There are times when we may be called upon to judge between two people. It might be settling a squabble between your children, or it may be in a legal court. Whatever the case, we must always be careful to give the best judgement that we possibly can. The reason? Judgement ultimately belongs to the Lord, and so when we judge, we are acting as His representative. To make a judgement that is right in the eyes of God, we need wisdom. We also need to know Him, through His Word. We need to bear in mind that one day He will judge us, and there are certain things that we do that will be given closer scrutiny. Teaching is one (James 3:1), and judging is another (Matt. 7:2).
We must make our judgement on what God says is right, not what man says is right. What man says is right is continually changing, as the morals of society decline. What God says is right never changes, because God never changes. One of God’s primary characteristics is that He is just. His judgements are always completely fair. He does not show partiality or favouritism. He pays no attention to those who would try to entice Him to lessen their sentence, pointing to their good works. So next time you have to make a judgement call, remember this; ask the Lord for wisdom and to show you what He would judge in the situation.

Thursday, August 9, 2012

Random events

“But someone drew his bow at random and hit the king of Israel between the sections of his armour. The king told the chariot driver, ‘Wheel around and get me out of the fighting. I’ve been wounded.’” 2 Chronicles 18:33
There are many things that happen to us that seem like they have happened at random. In today’s verse we see what happened when Ahab, the king of Israel, and Jehoshaphat, the king of Judah, went into battle together against the king of Aram. Ahab convinced Jehoshaphat to wear his royal robes, while he disguised himself as an ordinary soldier. However, even though he was in disguise and even though the king of Aram had instructed his men not to fight with anyone except the king, Ahab was struck in the battle and died from his wounds. Why? Because God had decreed for Ahab to die in battle. What might seem to us to be random events, or coincidence, is actually God pulling the strings behind the scenes.
It’s hard to comfort someone who has been injured in a freak accident, or lost a loved one through no fault of their own. But in these times we can remember that God is still in control, and that He has promised to somehow work all things together for good ultimately (Rom. 8:28). He has a purpose in these things. Nothing happens ‘by chance’ with God. He is not surprised, like we are. So we can rest assured knowing that whatever happens to us, God knew all along, and He allowed it so that we might come to know Him better through it.

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Harvest workers

“Then [Jesus] said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.’” Matthew 9:37-38
We all know that Christians are in the minority in society today. We can look at that as something intimidating, or we can look at it as Jesus pointed out to His disciples 2,000 years ago: it’s a great opportunity. Although people all have an opinion about God, Christians, and the church, many of them have never heard the gospel message. The gospel is not about social reform, being pro-life, or anything like that. Rather, it is very simple. 1: All have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). 2: Jesus came to bear our sins and take our punishment on the cross. 3: He died, was buried, and rose again after three days. 4: By believing on Him – i.e. that His work was sufficient for us, and trusting in Him for salvation – we can be saved: from the eternity of punishment that we deserve, to spend eternity in heaven with God, restored to fellowship with Him.
The gospel is not difficult to learn. We can all share it with other people. Jesus didn’t tell the disciples to ask for more education. We don’t need to be more educated – we need to have more compassion for those people around us who have never heard the gospel message. Do you have a heart for the lost?
Finally, note the very last words of Jesus here: ‘to send our workers into His harvest field’ (emph. added). The harvest field – the world, in many of Jesus’ parables – belongs to God. He is the one who owns it, and the one who gives us the opportunity to work in it. It is unfortunate that many people will reject the gospel, but at the end of the day, all we have to do is work: it is the Holy Spirit, not us, who draws people to salvation. Are you willing to be a harvest worker today?

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Relying on our own strength

“At that time Hanani the seer came to Asa king of Judah and said to him: ‘Because you relied on the king of Aram and not on the Lord your God, the army of the king of Aram has escaped from your hand.’” 2 Chronicles 16:7
Over and over through the Old Testament we see examples of people who realised they did not have strength on their own, and saw miraculous things happen because they relied on God. We also have examples of people who could have relied on God to help them, but instead relied on their own strength – and failed because of it. In today’s verse we see king Asa falling into this trap. Asa was one of the godly kings of Judah, reforming the nation’s worship by calling an assembly of the people and removing the idols and high places from the land. However, when it came to facing Baasha king of Israel, who was moving to besiege some of Judah’s cities, Asa turned to Ben-Hadad the king of Aram for help, rather than turning to the Lord. He took silver and gold from the temple treasuries and sent them to Ben-Hadad to seal the agreement. But God had had better plans. He knew that the alliance would not last, and that Asa would one day be facing the king of Aram in battle.
We can easily be tempted to do the same thing. While we might not be setting strategies in war, we are facing financial pressures, time pressures, etc. When faced with the choice between taking the easy way out, and doing the right and honest thing... we know what we should be doing, but is it what we do? Are you relying on the Lord, or relying on your own strength? The lesson from today’s verse is that if we will rely on God today, He will help us out when we need Him tomorrow as well.

Monday, August 6, 2012

The centurion's faith

“The centurion replied, ‘Lord, I do not deserve to have You come under my roof. But just say the word, and my servant will be healed. For I myself am a man under authority, with soldiers under me. I tell this one, “Go,” and he goes; and that one, “Come,” and he comes. I say to my servant, “Do this,” and he does it.’” Matthew 8:8-9
Here we have the account of Jesus healing the centurion’s servant. Centurions were respected men in the Roman army, the leaders of nominally 100 men. They are always presented in a positive light in the Scriptures. They were, of course, Gentiles.
This centurion demonstrates faith in Jesus. He knows that his servant will be healed if Jesus would just say the word. He recognised that Jesus had authority over sickness. He understood authority: he was under the authority of his superiors and ultimately Caesar, and he had authority over the soldiers he was leading. He reasoned that in the same way he told his soldiers and servants to come and go and do things for him, Jesus could also command sickness to go and blessing to come. His faith was based on logic: principles that apply in the physical world mirror those greater principles that apply in the spiritual world.
It’s also interesting to note Jesus’ response: “When Jesus heard this, He was astonished and said to those following Him, ‘I tell you the truth, I have not found anyone in Israel with such faith’” (Matt. 8:10). This is one of only two times in the Gospels that Jesus was surprised: the other is in Mark 6:6 where He was amazed at the lack of faith of the Israelites in his own home town. Here was a centurion with the faith that would be expected of an Israelite.
Do you have faith today like this centurion? Are you satisfied, knowing what the Word of God says about something, or is your faith weak, such that you need more proof? Have you come to realise the extent of Jesus’ authority over your life and everything that happens?

Sunday, August 5, 2012

God's favour

“For surely, O Lord, You bless the righteous; You surround them with Your favour as with a shield.” Psalm 5:12
Do you know that you’re surrounded with God’s favour? It might not feel like it, if your bank balance is lean and you’re having health problems, but nevertheless, you are surrounded with God’s favour and blessing. Too often we look at our physical situation and our material possessions, and think that those are the primary areas in which God blesses us. But although God can and does bless us physically, that’s not His highest priority. All those things will one day pass away and be destroyed – our money, our possessions, even our bodies. That’s why God places much more value on spiritual things – things which will never be destroyed or taken away.
When I think of God’s favour, I automatically think of the salvation He has freely given to me. If I receive nothing else from Him in this life, just knowing He has saved me from an eternity of torment is enough for me. I have found my security in Him. Whenever troubles come, I know that He is always there to turn to for help – He won’t reject me. He has promised in His Word to protect me from the evil one (Matt. 6:13, 1 John 5:18). Can you see God’s favour at work in your life today?

Saturday, August 4, 2012

Ten lost tribes?

“Those from every tribe of Israel who set their hearts on seeking the Lord, the God of Israel, followed the Levites to Jerusalem to offer sacrifices to the Lord, the God of their fathers.” 2 Chronicles 11:16
There is a popular idea floating around in various Christian circles about the so-called ‘ten lost tribes of Israel’. So the theory goes, after the kingdom split in the times of Jeroboam and Rehoboam into the ten tribes of Israel in the north, and the two tribes of Judah and Benjamin in the south, when the Assyrians conquered the northern kingdom and took the people captive, never to be regathered, the ten tribes of the northern kingdom were supposedly lost. People who hold to this view then try to find linkages to these ten lost tribes in various European royal families etc., and/or spiritualise the list of the tribes of Israel given in the book of Revelation (Rev. 7:4-8).
In the Old Testament, the tribal names were used of both the people and the land that was originally allocated to each tribe by Joshua. But on several occasions, we see migrations of people within the nation (e.g. 2 Chr. 11:16, 2 Chr. 15:9). In actual fact, there were four tribes represented in the southern kingdom: Judah, Benjamin, Levi, and Simeon (who received territory within Judah’s territory). After the Babylonian exile, when some of the people of the southern kingdom returned to the land of Israel, the people are called ‘Israel’, implying that there were representatives of all the tribes present. In addition, we read in the New Testament about how Paul was desccended from the tribe of Benjamin (Rom. 11:1) and how Anna was descended from the tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36).
The truth is that there are no ‘lost tribes’. God knows who they are – and He does not lose anyone!

Friday, August 3, 2012

The foundation of your life

“Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” Matthew 7:24
Here, at the end of Jesus’ ‘Sermon on the Mount’, He gives a short parable to conclude what He has just been teaching His disciples. He speaks about two men who built houses: one whose house was built on sand, and one whose house was built on the rock. Although both houses were identical in every other respect, when the storm came, only one survived – the one built on the rock.
The lesson is one about having the right foundation. If our foundation is inadequate, it doesn’t matter how much time, effort, or resources we put into what we build on it. This is true in the physical realm, and it is equally true in the spiritual realm. There are many things that people use as the foundation on which they build their lives. But foundations like the pursuit of fame or money, are just as reliable in the long run as a foundation of sand. The only foundation that we should be building on is Jesus Christ and the Word of God.
But to build on this foundation means more than just knowing the words of Jesus – we must put them into practice. This, Jesus says, is what a wise person does. We demonstrate that we trust God’s Word when we do it. And it’s as we do it, every day, that we are building the ‘house’ that is our life. Can you say, with David, “I have set the Lord always before me. Because He is at my right hand, I will not be shaken” (Ps. 16:8)?

Thursday, August 2, 2012

Specks and planks

“You hypocrite, first take the plank out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s eye.” Matthew 7:5
Hypocrisy is a word stemming from Greek theatre, where an actor would wear a mask with two faces on it. A hypocrite is someone who is two-faced: they say one thing, and do something different. Here Jesus talks about someone with a proverbial plank in their eye, trying to take a speck (or piece of sawdust) out of someone else’s. The meaning is, if we have a major fault in our lives, we shouldn’t be trying to sort out someone who has a minor version of that fault. For example, someone who is engaging in adultery should not be counselling a couple who are going through a rough spot in their marriage.
Ideally, our lives should be becoming more and more sin-free. Those areas where we are able to have mastery over sin, are the areas where we can start to help others overcome sin in their lives. Jesus didn’t say that we have to be completely sinless before we start trying to help others, but we do need to inspect our own lives first. Remember, we are always more attuned to notice others’ sin, if that sin is something that we are still harbouring in our own hearts.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Getting our priorities right

“But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:33
Here’s a great verse that is worth memorising, because if we live it out in our lives, we will find peace and satisfaction that comes from nowhere else. We can all fall into the trap of worrying about things that happen in life: what if we lose our job, what if we can’t pay the bills, what will we eat and what will we wear. Jesus says, “For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them” (Matt. 6:32). These material things are what unsaved people are obsessed with having. They look to those things as being their security for a future that is uncertain at the best of times. But God is looking out for us, and He knows our needs just as well – in fact, better – than we do. Our first priority in life should not be earning money to pay for necessities (although this is important), but seeking God’s kingdom and His righteousness. Put God first in your life, and everything else will fall into place.