Sunday, September 30, 2012

Seeing the big picture

“He would crush me with a storm and multiply my wounds for no reason.” Job 9:17
Many people have a view of God as a cosmic tyrant, reluctant to forgive or bless us, but more than ready to strike us down for the slightest transgression. They think He is just waiting for any excuse to punish us. But this is not God’s character at all – in fact, He is the opposite: slow to anger and rich in love (Ps. 145:8).
God never does something ‘for no reason’. He doesn’t act to spite anyone. He knows all things, and He has a purpose for everything and everyone – both collectively and individually. He always has the big picture in mind when determining His will for each of us. Maybe He wants to use you to bring comfort to others. To do so, this requires us to experience the comfort of God – which doesn’t happen to the same extent when everything in life goes smoothly. Rather, through facing trials, we are made stronger and given a different perspective on them, so that we are able to comfort others. I am sure this happened for Job, eventually. Of course it is hard to see the bigger picture when we are in the middle of a difficult situation. That’s why the Bible encourages us to trust in the Lord, who does know all things and is in control of all things.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Job's comforters

“Do you mean to correct what I say, and treat the words of a despairing man as wind?” Job 6:26
Most of the book of Job consists of several rounds of dialogue between Job and his three friends, Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar. Job had been greatly afflicted by Satan (as allowed by God), and was voicing his despair: He had searched his heart and not found any known sin, and he wanted the opportunity to ask God why this was happening to him. Instead of bringing comfort, however, Job’s three friends started lecturing to him how righteousness in a person’s life brings blessing and wickedness brings trouble, therefore because Job was experiencing trouble, there must be some wickedness in him.
Job said, “A despairing man should have the devotion of his friends, even though he forsakes the fear of the Almighty. But my brothers are as undependable as intermittent streams, as the streams that overflow when darkened by thawing ice and swollen with melting snow, but that cease to flow in the dry season, and in the heat vanish from their channels” (Job 6:14-17). This is poetic language for saying, with his friends, it was all or nothing. A stream can provide relief through fresh water. A good friend is always there to comfort, no matter what. But these friends of Job were heavy-handed (overflowing, when it was not needed) or they were not there at all when the heat was on.
We need to be very careful not to do the same thing when our friends are hurting. For them, this isn’t a theological issue. They are suffering, and we need to stand by them. We don’t need to say anything at all to comfort them – just be there. We need to accept that many times we won’t understand ‘why’ something happens, until later, if at all. We don’t need to try and explain why things are the way they are – just to be there to help and comfort.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Rabbi, I want to see

“‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ Jesus asked him. The blind man said, ‘Rabbi, I want to see.’” Mark 10:51
Throughout the Gospels, we see Jesus healing people in all sorts of different ways. He healed several blind men: sometimes placing His hands on them, sometimes putting mud on their eyes, sometimes, as here, simply speaking to them.
At first, reading this account of how Jesus healed Bartimaeus, it seems strange to us that Jesus would ask him, ‘What do you want Me to do for you?’ We think, isn’t it obvious? Surely the one thing this blind man wanted more than anything else was to be able to see, so that he could function and participate fully in society, instead of being consigned to a life of begging? We might think this, but sadly it’s not always the case. Some people have turned down the offer of healing because they enjoy receiving pity from other people (and/or government benefits!).
Another aspect to think about is this: Jesus knew the man’s need, but He asked him to verbalise it. This gave the man opportunity to demonstrate his faith – and it was his faith that healed him (Mark 10:52). We might wish for something in our heart, but a lack of faith prevents us from verbalising it. Not so for this man. By saying, ‘Rabbi, I want to see,’ he was acknowledging that Jesus had the power to do this for him.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Running after Jesus

“As Jesus started on His way, a man ran up to Him and fell on his knees before Him. ‘Good teacher,’ he asked, ‘what must I do to inherit eternal life?’” Mark 10:17
The story of the rich young ruler who came to Jesus, asking what he had to do to inherit eternal life, is given in the three Synoptic Gospels (Matthew, Mark, and Luke). But Mark’s account gives us a few insights that Matthew and Luke do not, and it’s because of these that many people think the rich young ruler is actually Mark himself (see Mark 10:21 – how could Mark know that Jesus loved the man, unless he himself was the man?).
There’s a few words here that I never noticed before: he ran up to Jesus. Jesus was on his way, leaving the city. The man didn’t want to miss the chance to talk to Jesus about this issue that was bugging him. In those days, as today, rich people didn’t run. But this young man did. Finding out from Jesus what the key to eternal life was, was more important than keeping decorum and maintaining his image. He didn’t care what other people thought, he wanted to talk with Jesus.
Are we like this young man? Do we neglect to seek the Lord if it would mean that we embarrass ourselves in front of others? Or do we take every opportunity we have to talk with Him about what’s on our mind?

Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Jesus and the little children

“People were bringing little children to Jesus to have Him touch them, but the disciples rebuked them. When Jesus saw this, He was indignant. He said to them, ‘Let the little children come to Me, and do not hinder them, for the kingdom of God belongs to such as these.’” Mark 10:13-14
Here is one of the few places in the Gospel accounts where we see Jesus indignant at someone – and in this case, it’s at His own disciples! He was irritated because of what they were doing, in turning people away from bringing their children to see Jesus. Most of the other instances are against the Pharisees, who were likewise preventing others from coming to see Him, or hindering people from entering into the kingdom of God (Matt. 23:13).
The disciples viewed children as being unimportant. That was the way society worked. But Jesus saw things differently: children are often more receptive to spiritual things than adults, because their hearts are still soft to the things of God – they haven’t lived long enough to harden their hearts against Him. These children would grow up into the future leaders and parents of the next generation. The same is true today. Spending time with children, teaching them about the things of God, is never a waste of time. Let’s always remember this, and try to never hinder anyone from coming to the Lord.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012


“What I feared has come upon me; what I dreaded has happened to me.” Job 3:25
There’s been an idea floating around churches for some time now about ‘positive confessions’ and ‘negative confessions’. That is, that what we say, whether good or bad, will come to pass. If you are sick and keep claiming that you are healed, you will get better. If you express fear that you might lose your job, then you’ll lose it. But this is not how things work. It’s not a matter of cause and effect, that worrying about something makes it more likely to happen. But sometimes those things that we worry about do happen. For Job, it’s not clear what this was – whether it was losing his possessions, losing his children, losing his health, or having his wife turn against him.
There are all kinds of things we can worry about. Worry is fear of bad things happening in the future. It is the converse of regret: wishing bad things in the past hadn’t happened. Both of them will rob you of being able to enjoy life in the present. We can’t change the past, and we can’t control the future, so really there’s no point worrying about anything!
This is all very easy to say, but how do we stop worrying? Let’s see what Job did: he consoled himself that God was still sovereign. He acknowledged that his life was in God’s hands, to do with as He saw fit. The Bible tells us that God’s ultimate aim for each of us is good (Jer. 29:11). The path to get us to that goal might be difficult at times. But just stick close to the Lord, trust Him, and He will bring you through.

Monday, September 24, 2012

God gives and takes away

“Naked I came from my mother’s womb, and naked I will depart. The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away; may the name of the Lord be praised.” Job 1:21
These words might sound familiar to you, if not because you’ve read the book of Job before, but for the popular worship song ‘Blessed be Your name’ by Matt Redman. Here at the start of the book of Job we read how Satan accused Job of only being faithful to God because God was protecting him, so God allowed Satan to take away all his possessions. Job lost everything – his oxen, donkeys, sheep, camels, and servants (all indicative of his wealth), and even his sons and daughters. Job did mourn (Job 1:20), but he also acknowledged that he had come into the world with nothing, and everything he had, he only had because God had given it to him.
We would do well to realise the source of everything we have. If God gives us nothing else in life – or if He allows everything we have to be taken from us, He is still God and worthy to be praised. Living with this in mind allows us to have a loose hold on the things of the world, so that our faith is not shaken when troubles come our way. It allows us to say, “God, I might not understand why these things are happening, but I know that You are in control of it all, and I trust You in it.”

Sunday, September 23, 2012

Help my unbelief!

“Immediately the boy’s father exclaimed, ‘I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!’” Mark 9:24
Here is a cry that we all utter at some point in our Christian walk. Something huge is before us, and although we know in our heads that God can do it (because nothing is impossible for Him), we have difficulty believing it in our hearts. But there is comfort for us here.
Jesus spoke about faith, saying, “I tell you the truth, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you” (Matt. 17:20). Have you ever seen mustard seeds? They are tiny! We don’t need a lot of faith for God to use it and work through it. And like a seed, faith grows as we use it. It is like a muscle: if we want our physical muscles to be strong, we must put them under some strain, by running or lifting weights. We need to stretch them – and it is the same with our faith. Believe what you can, and leave the rest up to God to work. Start by confessing, “Lord, I know it says in Your Word that You have promised...” You might even admit, “I don’t know how You can fix this situation, but I know that You can do all things.”
This is the first step in building your faith. Overcoming unbelief is similar. Faith says, ‘God can do it.’ Unbelief says, ‘It can’t be done.’ So the first step to overcoming unbelief is to refrain from saying it can’t be done. Instead of focusing on the problem, focus on God who has all the answers to every problem. It won’t happen overnight, but if you keep working at it, it will happen.

Saturday, September 22, 2012


“Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, pre-eminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.” Esther 10:3
Mordecai is an interesting Bible character. He was Esther’s cousin, but clearly much older than her since he had raised her after her parents died (Est. 2:7). After she was chosen to be queen of the Persian empire, he did not seek an exalted position because he was her relative. As it happened, when Haman issued the decree for the Jews to be annihilated, Mordecai was one of the first to put on sackcloth and go around the city in mourning (Est. 4:1). He advised Esther to speak to the king about declaring a counter-decree. As we know, the turn of events conspired against Haman, who was executed, and the king issued another decree giving the Jews the right to defend themselves against any would-be attackers. It was only after all the dust settled from this, that the king exalted Mordecai to a position of prominence within the empire.
When trouble came, Mordecai didn’t seek to get into power in order to help the Jews. He simply went about helping them in the capacity that he had, and God was the one who exalted him in the end. The Bible tells us that if we are faithful in the small things, God will place us in charge of greater things (Matt. 25:21). The lesson for us is this: don’t try to run ahead of God. Just do what He has given you to do at the present time, and leave the future in His hands.

Friday, September 21, 2012

In exchange for our souls

“What good is it for a man to gain the whole world, yet forfeit his soul? Or what can a man give in exchange for his soul?” Mark 8:36-37
This is a rhetorical question that Jesus asks His disciples, and it must of course be answered, ‘Nothing.’ There is nothing we can give in exchange for our souls come judgement day. It’s quite simple: if we have believed on Jesus as our Saviour, we will enter into eternal life; if we have rejected Him, we will enter into eternal punishment. There is no in-between, and there is no annihilation. Every person’s soul will continue to live on after the death of their body. The question is, where will they live.
Many people think that if they do certain things they will gain an exemption from God. They think if they give money to charity, or volunteer their time to help others, or if their good deeds outweigh their bad deeds, God will accept them. But the Bible teaches that our acceptance before God is not based on what we do, but on whether we have believed in Jesus Christ. Even after that, once we have believed, we are accepted by God regardless of what we do. It’s all by His grace!
We must all remember that we are not the masters of our destiny. If we want to enter eternity, we need to give our soul (or life – the Greek word used can be translated either way) over to God.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

The faith of the Canaanite woman

“First let the children eat all they want,” He told her, “for it is not right to take the children’s bread and toss it to their dogs.” “Yes, Lord,” she replied, “but even the dogs under the table eat the children’s crumbs.” Mark 7:27-28
This is a passage of Scripture that many people find a little confusing. Is Jesus calling this woman a dog? And what is it about her reponse that demonstrates faith (Matt. 15:28)?
First of all, the word Jesus (and the woman) uses here is not the same as that in Phil. 3:2 and Rev. 22:15. There it describes an adult dog, vicious and dangerous. Here the word would be more properly translated ‘puppy’. It is a household pet dog, and thus used as a term of endearment, but still making the distinction (at that time) between the Jews, as the children of the father, and the Gentiles, as the household pets – not eligible for status in the home, but receiving blessings of being there nonetheless.
This woman had come to Jesus seeking healing for her daughter, who was afflicted by an evil spirit. Initially Jesus did not respond when she called to Him. He tells her, ‘First let the children eat all they want.’ His ministry was firstly to the Jews, but after they rejected Him, the door was then opened to the Gentiles. The woman realised that she did not have any claim to Jesus, but showed that she was content to settle for the crumbs – whatever He could give her, that the children had said ‘Pass’ on. She still believed there was provision for her. And she understood the allegory that Jesus was using, and responds using it. She was on the same wavelength. All of this demonstrated her faith, which was rewarded (Mark 7:29-30).

Wednesday, September 19, 2012

Wait for the Lord

“I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living. Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord.” Psalm 27:13-14
In the movie Minority Report, there’s a scene where John Anderton and Agatha are trying to escape detection from the Pre-Crime officers in a shopping mall. In the middle of the plaza, Agatha clings to him and says, ‘Wait... wait...!’ It’s all he can do to listen to her and not run, as the officers move into position on an upper floor. But when they arrive and look down in the plaza for him, a man with a big bunch of balloons has moved into exactly the right position in front of them so that they are hidden from the officers’ view.
Sometimes it feels like this for us. The Holy Spirit is telling us to wait, which sounds to us like the worst option to take – we think surely the circumstances will overwhelm and trap us, and it would be better to flee, or to go on the offensive and try to do something to stop those things from happening to us. But it’s when we wait on the Lord, that He provides protection and a way out for us. We can say with David, “I am still confident of this: I will see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living” (Ps. 27:13). For the Christian, things will get better. When things go from bad to worse, hang in there and wait on the Lord – He will come through for you, in His perfect time.

Tuesday, September 18, 2012

One thing

“One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life, to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord and to seek Him in His temple.” Psalm 27:4
Everyone has ‘one thing’ in life that they desire more than anything else. For some people it’s recognition, for others it’s money. For the Christian there can only be one ‘one thing’: God. Our number one priority in life is to know God and be known by Him. At the end of the day, when we step into eternity, that is the only thing that will matter. Jesus told us to “seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things [clothes, food, etc.] will be given to you as well” (Matt. 6:33). David writes here of his desire to dwell in God’s house all the days of his life. Elsewhere in the psalms we read, “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). While we don’t have a physical temple where God’s presence resides, we have something far better. The Holy Spirit is dwelling within us. We can be in His presence any time of day, because He is with us always. But how often do we neglect to commune with Him, to spend time in prayer and reverence of Him? Is seeking God your ‘one thing’ in life?

Monday, September 17, 2012

Familiarity breeds contempt

“Jesus said to them, ‘Only in his hometown, among his relatives and in his own house is a prophet without honour.’ He could not do any miracles there, except lay His hands on a few sick people and heal them. And He was amazed at their lack of faith.” Mark 6:4-6
In Mark 6 we see the response that Jesus received when He took His ministry to his hometown. Instead of the people celebrating and wanting to receive what He had to give, they criticised Him. They had seen Him grow up among them, and so to them He was nothing special. Their words are full of resentment (Mark 6:2-4). They were offended that He was trying to teach them spiritual things (Mark 6:4).
The saying, ‘familiarity breeds contempt’ is demonstrated here. You may have noticed this in your own life: the people you are closest to are often the hardest ones to reach with the gospel message, or with a warning from the Scriptures.
Just as we saw how Jesus was amazed at the faith of the centurion when he asked Jesus to just say a word to heal his servant (Matt. 8:5-13), here He is amazed at the lack of faith of the people in his hometown. Their familiarity with Him had blinded their eyes to the fact that He was indeed God incarnate, living and ministering among them.
We can also see this attitude in society as a whole. Many western nations, where Christianity was once strong, have now become so immunised to it that they now treat it with scorn. These ‘post-Christian’ nations are perhaps the hardest to reach with the gospel. “However, when the Son of Man comes, will He find faith on the earth?” (Luke 18:8).

Sunday, September 16, 2012

The way chosen for us

“Who, then, is the man that fears the Lord? He will instruct him in the way chosen for him.” Psalm 25:12
The Bible tells us about many benefits for those who fear the Lord. ‘Fearing the Lord’ doesn’t mean being frightened or afraid of Him, thinking that God is going to smack you with a big stick as soon as you step out of line. Fearing God is about giving Him the utmost respect and honour, as you would do for royalty – after all, He is the King of kings. And as we do this, living our lives out of respect for Him, He will instruct and guide us in the way chosen for us.
This is something that God has really been teaching me personally over the last month or so. There are opportunities that have arisen (taking on a leadership role in my job) that I wasn’t expecting and wouldn’t have sought for myself, but in any case the door is open and I know that it is God’s will for me to walk through it. Then on the other hand, there are things I want to do (certain ministries at church), where I am trying to bash down other doors that are closed for the time being. This only results in frustration and guilt at trying to force God’s hand. What I need to do is be content with what God has given me to do. This is the way He has chosen for me, and His way is always best. I know I have been greatly blessed in many areas in life. But isn’t it funny how we usually fail to see those things, and instead concentrate on the things we don’t have! We need to come back to this word:
Do what He has given you to do – don’t neglect it. And the corollary is: don’t try to do things He hasn’t given you to do.

Saturday, September 15, 2012

The Pharisees' plans backfired

“The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while He was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, His disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that He has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’” Matthew 27:62-63
Here we see the desperation of the Pharisees, even after the crucifixion of Jesus. They were still refusing to believe, despite seeing His conduct during His trial, and the sky darkened and the earthquake when He died. They go to Pilate, calling Jesus ‘that deceiver’, and ask him to provide a guard at the tomb to prevent the disciples from stealing the body.
The Pharisees give the disciples more credit here than they do Jesus. The disciples were in complete disarray. They had fled when Jesus was arrested (apart from Peter, but he too went and hid in shame after denying his Lord). They were not in any state to be making plans like this. It was not for several days after the resurrection, when Jesus appeared to them, that they remembered what He had told them over and over about rising from the dead. I find it very interesting that the disciples didn’t remember this, but the Pharisees did. It’s also ironic, that the Pharisees provided an official witness to the resurrection of Jesus Christ, by arranging for a Roman guard to protect the tomb. Rather than them preventing any story about the resurrection getting out, God used the guards as a testimony of the resurrection! (see Matt. 28:11-15).
The same is true today. There are some who refuse to believe in God despite the evidence, who will do everything in their power to stop the Gospel message getting out. But God is able to make their plans backfire, and even use their stubbornness for His glory in the lives of others.

Friday, September 14, 2012

Peter in his own strength

“Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken: ‘Before the rooster crows, you will disown Me three times.’ And he went outside and wept bitterly.” Matthew 26:75
We all know about how Peter denied the Lord. When we compare all the gospel accounts, he didn’t just deny Him three times, but at least seven times.
How did Peter, the one who was the first of the disciples to declare publicly that Jesus was the Christ (Matt. 16:16-17), fail so badly? The answer is this: he had tried to stand up for Jesus in his own strength. In his own strength he pledged his allegiance: “Even if all fall away on account of You, I never will... Even if I have to die with You, I will never disown You” (Matt. 26:33, 35). In his own strength he struck the high priest’s servant when Jesus was arrested in the Garden of Gethsemane (Matt. 26:51, c.f. John 18:10). In his own strength he followed Jesus into the courtyard, where he was not prepared to be challenged by the people there, and ended up denying Him (Matt. 26:69-75). The gospels make mention of how Peter and the rest of the disciples failed to pray, but instead fell asleep (Mattt. 26:40-41), although it is debatable whether this would have changed the situation, since prophecy had to be fulfilled (c.f. Matt. 26:31).
There’s a heavy lesson here for us. How often do we try to do things in our own strength, especially when we are trying to faithfully follow the Lord? That’s a sure recipe for disappointment and disaster. Instead, we need to acknowledge and accept our weakness, and trust completely on the One who makes us strong. Peter failed, but he was later restored. And the same is true for us today.

Thursday, September 13, 2012

Trusting in God

“Some trust in chariots and some in horses, but we trust in the name of the Lord our God.” Psalm 20:7
We all know that life can be very uncertain. Our job, our health, our family, our possessions – all things that we could lose in an instant through redundancy, accident, etc. So we need something – or someone – to depend on. We depend on our job to bring in the money to provide for our families. We depend on the police force to prevent people from breaking into our house or attacking us. The reference here to trusting in horses and chariots is to depending on military strength, which many nations do today.
But of course, for the Christian, there is only one thing or person we are to place our trust in: God. And there are several reasons why this is the best and most logical choice for us. He never changes, and He never fails. He is not impassive towards us, but takes an active interest in our welfare. He will always be there for us. And He not only knows the future – which would be encouragement enough for us – but He also controls it. What are you trusting in today?

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

Forgoing our rights

“But the earlier governors – those preceding me – placed a heavy burden on the people and took forty shekels of silver from them in addition to food and wine. Their assistants also lorded it over the people. But out of reverence for God I did not act like that.” Nehemiah 5:15
Nehemiah had many issues that needed reforming when he travelled from Persia to Jerusalem. In Persia he was the king’s cupbearer, and thus had proved himself to be trustworthy. The king had appointed him governor over Jerusalem, which came with it special rights and privileges. Apparently, Nehemiah could have required an allotment of food from the people, because of his position. But he did not (Neh. 5:18).
Nehemiah wasn’t in Jerusalem to satisfy his own ego. His concern was not being the leader over the people; his concern was about rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem so that the city would no longer be in disgrace (Neh. 1:17).
Nehemiah didn’t need any extra food. He had plenty already – as it was, he shared what he had with 150 others (Neh. 5:17). He also knew that the people from whom it would be taken were struggling to provide for themselves, since there was a famine (Neh. 5:3). Worst of all, if he had insisted on this, it would have tarnished his witness before the people. Nehemiah was a godly man, and he says, “out of reverence for God I did not act like that” (Neh. 5:15).
We read how the apostle Paul had the same attitude: “If we have sown spiritual seed among you, is it too much if we reap a material harvest from you? If others have this right of support from you, shouldn’t we have it all the more? But we did not use this right. On the contrary, we put up with anything rather than hinder the gospel of Christ” (1 Cor. 9:11-12).
What is our attitude towards this? Do we always insist on our rights, no matter if it creates difficulty for other people? Or do we have an attitude of reverence for God, which directs our decisions in these things, so that we are always seeking to please Him and to not cause anyone to stumble?

Tuesday, September 11, 2012

Pray, and take action

“But we prayed to our God and posted a guard day and night to meet this threat.” Nehemiah 4:9
In the book of Nehemiah we learn some interesting things about how we should live with respect to prayer. Nehemiah was a man of prayer. He spent several months praying that God would enable the city of Jerusalem to be rebuilt, and for the opportunity to be given for him to speak to the king about it and find favour with him. When that time came, Nehemiah shto up a quick, silent prayer, before presenting his request (Neh. 2:4-5). Throughout the building process, we see Nehemiah praying often. Here in ch. 4 we see the very real threat from the peoples around Jerusalem coming to attack them, led by Sanballat and Tobiah (Neh. 4:7-8). Nehemiah’s first response was to pray. But he didn’t stop there – he also took action.
Often we do one or the other. We pray for things, and then wait for God to do it. Or we try to fix the situation ourselves, without including God in our thought process at all. We need to be like Nehemiah, and strike a balance. For example, when we are sick: we should pray for healing, and we should also take medicine. At the end of the day God is the one who heals us: He might do it supernaturally, He might do it through medicine, or He might do it through the natural processes that He put in our bodies. Another example is seeking a job. We should pray, but we also need to send out letters and applications. There is nothing wrong with being practical, so long as we remember that God is the one who provides, through whatever means that provision comes.

Monday, September 10, 2012

Being willing to serve

“The next section was repaired by the men of Tekoa, but their nobles would not put their shoulders to the work under their supervisors.” Nehemiah 3:5
We are all called to serve other people (Matt. 20:26, Luke 17:10, 22:26, John 12:26, Gal. 5:13, Eph. 4:12, 6:7, 1 Pet. 2:16, 4:10, etc.). We are to work with all our heart, as if working for the Lord (Col. 3:23). But you will always come across people who are not willing to serve, or only willing to serve in certain ways – they think that certain tasks are beneath them. Here in Nehemiah 3 we have an extensive list of the people who helped rebuild the walls of Jerusalem. Reading through we find people who were priests, temple servants, rulers, goldsmiths, perfumers, merchants, etc. These people were all qualified for various important tasks, yet they all mucked in and helped with menial work, building the wall. But the nobles of Tekoa refused. Building walls was something for the common people, not for them.
If you have this same attitude today, consider how Jesus lived. Here He was, the Creator of the universe, who when He came to earth, did not have a place to call home (Luke 9:58). He submitted to those in authority (Luke 2:51, Matt. 17:27). He did not exalt Himself by becoming a synagogue ruler, or by walking into Herod’s palace and demanding that He be made king. He did the opposite of all these things – He became a servant (Mark 10:45, Phil. 2:7). And He calls us to do the same thing. “When He had finished washing their feet, He put on His clothes and returned to His place. ‘Do you understand what I have done for you?’ He asked them. ‘You call Me “Teacher” and “Lord”, and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you and example that you should do as I have done for you. I tell you the truth, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them’” (John 13:12-17). Washing the feet was the task given to the lowest servant in the household. Jesus is not calling us to specifically wash people’s feet (although there are some groups in the church that take this literally), but to have an attitude of being willing to serve in even the most menial way. Ask God to help you develop the right attitude, today.

Sunday, September 9, 2012

The benefits of keeping God's commands

“By them is Your servant warned; in keeping them there is great reward.” Psalm 19:11
When you talk to people about why we should keep God’s commands, they will often look at you in scorn. ‘Where’s the fun in that?’ they’ll say, when you talk to them about not stealing, lying, committing adultery, etc. But just as in a sporting match, where if one team plays by the rules and the other does not, and the team that does is the one to receive the penalty shots, so it is in life.
First of all, we don’t keep God’s commands to earn our salvation. That has already been paid for by Jesus at the cross. Nor do we keep God’s commands to earn His favour – we already have it, because we are in His Son. We keep God’s commands out of our love and devotion to Him.
Keeping God’s commands are beneficial for us. There are two aspects to this. Firstly, God has promised to bless those who are obedient to Him. Sometimes it’s hard to keep His commands, as it often requires us to go against the flow of the world. We might not make as much money by being honest and paying all the taxes that we are supposed to (while others try to look for loopholes). But God will bless us in our obedience. Secondly, they are beneficial because of the consequences. If we are honest and hard-working in our business, we will develop a good reputation among people, which is important for repeat business in the long run. If we refuse to gossip, we will be seen as a good friend and someone who can be trusted. The list goes on and on. Are you keeping God’s commands today?

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Prayer: anywhere, anytime

“The king said to me, ‘What is it you want?’ Then I prayed to the God of heaven, and I answered the king, ‘If it pleases the king and if your servant has found favour in his sight, let him send me to the city in Judah where my fathers are buried so that I can rebuild it.’” Nehemiah 2:4-5
We often think of prayer as something we have to take time with, or that we have to adopt a certain position or at least close our eyes, or that it has to be out loud. Here, when Nehemiah appeared before the king, he tells us that he prayed to God before answering the king. I’m pretty certain that Nehemiah didn’t kneel down, put his hands together, or close his eyes. He most likely didn’t pray out loud. Nor would his prayer have been very long. In fact I think he did it in such a way that the king didn’t know he was praying.
Yet Nehemiah had been praying about this situation extensively (see ch. 1, for example). He had laid the groundwork for this moment with prayer, having asked God to provide him with the opportunity to speak to the king about it, and for a favourable response (Neh. 1:11). Now, when the time came, Nehemiah uttered a quick prayer in his heart, and made his request. Most likely his prayer was something like, ‘Help me Lord!’
This is encouraging to us, because we can do the same thing today. Yes, we need to spend time in prayer, laying the groundwork. But in a moment of difficulty, or when a decision needs to be made quickly, we too can pray in our hearts, ‘Help me Lord’. He hears these prayers just as clearly as those prayed out loud that go on for half an hour. We can pray anywhere, anytime – God is listening.

Friday, September 7, 2012

Finding loopholes in God's law

“Woe to you, blind guides! You say, ‘If anyone swears by the temple, it means nothing; but if anyone swears by the gold of the temple, he is bound by his oath.’ You blind fools! Which is greater: the gold, or the temple that makes the gold sacred?” Matthew 23:16-17
The Pharisees were professional law-keepers. They knew the law inside-out and back-to-front. They added their own laws surrounding it, like a safety fence to keep them from even getting close to breaking God’s law. But all this knowledge led to them developing an attitude of superiority. And they started to nitpick over the law, so that if it wasn’t convenient for them to keep it, they could wheedle their way out. Jesus gives one example here. In Num. 30:2, God’s law says, “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to bind himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” Yet the Pharisees created a loophole. They said, if someone swore by the temple, they could break their oath, because they didn’t swear by the gold of the temple. Basically, it was the formula of the oath, not the intent, that was binding. They deliberately ignore the point of the law – that we must be honest at all times. Another example Jesus gives is in Matt. 15:5-6, where God’s law said that anyone who disrespects their father or mother was to be put to death, but the Pharisees came up with a trump card: a person did not have to obey their father and mother, by saying that the thing their parents were asking for was ‘Corban’ (a gift dedicated to God).
People do the same thing today. They will say things like, ‘The Bible doesn’t say anything against ... – so it must be ok.’ They might apply this to pornography, taking drugs, etc. Granted, the Bible might not saying anything specifically about that thing, but it does condemn something else that encompasses it. Pornography falls into the categories of lewdness (‘impurity’, Gal. 5:19, Eph. 5:3, Col. 3:5) and sexual immorality (Rom. 13:13, Gal. 5:19, Eph 5:3, Col. 3:5, 1 Thess. 4:3). Taking drugs is associated with the Greek word pharmakia, translated witchcraft or sorcery (Gal. 5:20). We shouldn’t be looking for loopholes in the Bible to permit some sin or other. We should be fleeing from sin, and seeking to do only what is pleasing to the Lord.

Thursday, September 6, 2012

God has prepared the way for us

“You broaden the path beneath me, so that my ankles do not turn.” Psalm 18:36
The Christian life is likened throughout the Bible to a long distance walk. “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Ps. 119:105). “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt. 7:13-14). Christianity was called ‘the Way’ by the early church (Acts 9:2, 19:9, 19:23, 24:14, 24:22). Our path through life takes many twists and turns, ups and downs, mountains and valleys, sunshine and rain. Some days we’re on top of the world, other days we struggle to find the motivation to get out of bed. But know this: God has prepared everything in advance for us. And yes, sometimes it is His will for us to go through difficult times – because ultimately these are the things that strengthen our faith.
We talk about ‘walking in faith’, which simply means to make decisions in life by faith, after praying and asking God to show you the way. You’ll sense by the Holy Spirit prompting you, which is the way to go. It might not make sense in human logic, but if it’s from God, He will prepare the way and open doors for you. The path to life is narrow, but keep going. It might look treacherous ahead, but just concentrate on taking one step at a time, and leave what’s ahead to God.

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

God stooped down

“You give me Your shield of victory, and Your right hand sustains me; You stoop down to make me great.” Psalm 18:35
Sometimes we can fall into the trap of thinking that we’ve deserved the things that we have – our house, our family, our job and its salary, our car, etc. But in reality, everything we have, including our life, we have because God has given it to us. If He had not given them to us, we wouldn’t have them – plain and simple. He is the one who protects us and gives us success. He is the one who provides for us, through our employer and through the opportunity to work. But the greatest thing of all that God has given us is salvation, through His Son. He stooped down to make us great.
Jesus, God Himself, stepped down into the depths of humanity. “Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made Himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, He humbled Himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross!” (Phil. 2:5-8). Jesus didn’t just come as a man, He came as a poor man. He was born to a family so poor they could not offer the lamb for sacrifice but instead a pair of doves (Luke 2:22-24, c.f. Lev. 12:6-8). He didn’t own a house; He didn’t have servants to wait on Him; He didn’t drive around in a Mercedes. When He died, it was the death of a criminal, alone and in complete humiliation. And He did all this so that He might raise us up to be with Him in glory. “God made Him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). “Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known. But we know that when He appears, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is” (1 John 3:2). We don’t deserve this. But out of His love, God has provided it for us – just as He has all the other blessings in our lives. “Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!” (2 Cor. 9:15).

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

God's way

“As for God, His way is perfect; the word of the Lord is flawless. He is a shield for all who take refuge in Him.” Psalm 18:30
Trusting God is something that takes us a lifetime to learn how to do completely. In particular, trusting God with our future can be a struggle. We like to know what is going to happen tomorrow, or next week, or next year. We like to be sure that we will still have a job, that our family will be healthy, that our house won’t be burgled or go up in flames. We like to be in control.
But one of the hardest lessons for us to learn is that of all the ways that we could go in life, it is God’s way that is the best for us. It might not seem the logical thing to do, in the flesh; but the reality is if God is leading you, there’s a reason. His plans and purposes for you are ultimately for your good and for His glory (Jer. 29:11). God is outside time as we experience it. He sees our present and our future all in one glance. And to get us to that place where He wants us to be, He may need to lead us through some difficult patches that might not make sense to us as we are going through them. But in all things, He is with us. He will protect us. He has promised to do so in His Word, and His Word is completely trustworthy.

Monday, September 3, 2012

Understanding spiritual things

“Jesus replied, ‘You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God.’” Matthew 22:29
Throughout history there have been people who claim to be Christians, but who demonstrate by their stance on various issues that they don’t know the Lord and they don’t know or understand the Word of God. Recently I had to marvel at the comments on a secular news site, which was discussing the issue of marijuana. There were a number of people who wrote something along the lines of ‘Well I’m a Christian and I smoke it, I don’t see anything wrong with it, after all God made it so it must be good for you’ etc. While it is true that the word ‘marijuana’ does not appear in the Bible, the Bible does speak against being under the influence of substances, which is encompassed in the word ‘pharmakia’ (from which we get the word pharmaceuticals) – translated ‘sorcery’ (e.g. Gal. 5:19-21, Rev. 9:21). On another forum, people were debating whether homosexual couples should be allowed to marry. Those in favour cite human rights and a progressive society as the reasons why they should. Those against cite the natural law of reproduction requiring a male and female, and the Bible – which is instantly shot down by those in favour, even those who say they are Christians. The comments that rile me the most are those who say, ‘Well Jesus loved everybody, it’s all about love, these people love each other so they should be allowed to marry’. The Bible makes no bones about homosexuality being a sin (Lev. 20:13, 1 Cor. 6:9-10). Another recent news article went along the lines of, over 90% of churches are opposed to homosexual marriage, but... and then the rest of the article quotes two extremely liberal ministers (one of them female) of churches that have had a reputation for supporting non-Biblical doctrine, and denying Biblical doctrine (for example the deity of Christ).
We should not be surprised. Jesus said to Nicodemus, “I tell you the truth, no one can see [perceive, understand] the kingdom of God unless he is born again” (John 3:3). Paul wrote, “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. 2:14). Understanding spiritual things requires a relationship with God.

Sunday, September 2, 2012

Being devoted to God's Word

“For Ezra had devoted himself to the study and observance of the Law of the Lord, and to teaching its decrees and laws in Israel.” Ezra 7:10
Here in the book of Ezra, we see what Ezra has to say about himself. He was a priest who could trace his lineage from Aaron (Ezra 7:1-5). He led the second cohort of Jews from Persia (which conquered the Babylonian empire) back to the land of Canaan. He was well-known as a teacher of the Law (Ezra 7:6), and came to Israel in order to teach God’s Word to the people.
Teaching God’s Word is a great privilege, with great responsibility (James 3:1). It requires diligence and discipline. We should all be studying God’s Word – delving deeper than merely just reading it, but investigating those passages that seem confusing. This can be done with the help of commentaries or Bible notes, or if you have the resources, to explore the meaning of the original Hebrew or Greek words and where they are used in other places in the Bible. However, if we are studying the Bible in this way, we shouldn’t let it end there. We should be sharing what we find with others. (This is actually the reason behind why I started this blog.) And finally, and most importantly, we, like Ezra, must be putting God’s Word into practise in our own lives. Ezra dedicated his life not only to study and teaching, but also observing God’s Law for himself. Without studying the Bible, we are ignorant. Without teaching the Bible, we are doing others a disservice by keeping its truths to ourselves. Without observing it, we are hypocrites.

Saturday, September 1, 2012

A den of robbers

“Jesus entered the temple area and drove out all who were buying and selling there. He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves. ‘It is written,’ He said to them, ‘“My house will be called a house of prayer,” but you are making it a “den of robbers.”’” Matthew 21:12-13
We usually think of Jesus as being someone who was always calm and would never hurt a fly. But there were a few times when He got angry, when He told people in black and white what He thought of them, and when He took drastic action to correct a situation.
The temple was to be a place where people would come to seek forgiveness from God, to worship Him and fellowship with Him. This involved bringing a sacrifice, which had to be without spot or blemish. However over the years, the priests’ love of money, power and status led to them setting up a system whereby people would be forced to buy, at an exorbitant mark-up, a ‘pre-approved’ animal to sacrifice. If they brought an animal of their own, it would be inspected until a flaw was found, which would render it ‘unacceptable’ so the person would have to buy one from the priest to offer. They had a similar scheme with the money people brought: Roman coins, it was said, were not acceptable to put in the treasury. However, people could exchange their Roman coins for temple shekels – again at exorbitant exchange rates. Coming to the temple became an exercise in getting ripped off, leaving the worshipper frustrated and angry rather than joyous and thankful to God. (As a side note, the tables that Jesus turned over were called the tables of Annas. No wonder Annas was keen to see the back of Jesus, John 18:24.)
Jesus got angry at how the priests, who were supposed to be God’s representatives, were ripping off the people in the name of God and destroying their view of Him. The same thing continues today, and we see it especially with televangelists who are only out to line their own pockets. They are ripping off the people of God, in His name, for their own personal gain.