Wednesday, October 31, 2012

The wrong place, at the wrong time

“He was going down the street near her corner, walking along in the direction of her house at twilight, as the day was fading, as the dark of night set in.” Proverbs 7:8-9
In Proverbs 7 we see a word picture of a foolish young man who is enticed by a prostitute into sin. She uses her powers of persuasion to seduce him (Prov. 7:21), but the simple truth is that if he had not gone there at all, he would not have been tempted. He willingly went to the wrong place – the street where she lived – at the wrong time – in the evening, as night was falling. It was no wonder he fell into sin.
We all have certain things that we are more prone to be tempted about than others. For one person, it might be the temptation to get drunk; for another, pornography; for another, sexual sin. As Christians, we need to learn that there are places we should not go at certain times, because nothing good can come of it. We shouldn’t be in a red light district. We shouldn’t put ourselves in a situation where we might be easily tempted.
Joseph understood this well. He knew that Potiphar’s wife was trying to tempt him to sin, so he tried his hardest never to be in the same room as her (Gen. 39:10). It is foolishness to put ourselves in a position where we might be tempted by something. It is wise to remove ourselves from that situation.
Some will say, ‘But who is going to minister to the prostitutes, or the people in bars? We should go there so we can share the Gospel with them.’ But that is naive and foolish thinking. The Bible tells us not to give the devil a foothold (Eph. 4:27). We are told, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life” (Prov. 4:23). Don’t put yourself in a situation where you could be easily tempted. It’s not worth the risk.

Tuesday, October 30, 2012

The woman with the issue of blood

“Then the woman, seeing that she could not go unnoticed, came trembling and fell at His feet. In the presence of all the people, she told why she had touched Him and how she had been instantly healed.” Luke 8:47
The account of the woman with the issue of blood who touched Jesus’ cloak while He was on His way to raise Jairus’ daughter from the dead, is included in three of the four gospels (Matt. 9:18-22, Mark 5:21-34, Luke 8:41-48). There are a number of things to note about this woman. We are told about her condition – that she had been haemorrhaging for twelve years – and about her resolve to try and touch the hem of Jesus’ garment, believing that if she did, she would be healed. This was a very brave act on her part, and went against the Law. In Luke 8:48 Jesus calls her “Daughter”, which indicates that she was Jewish. As a Jewish woman, she would have known that the law rendered her ceremonially unclean because of her bleeding (Lev. 15:25-27). She should not have been in the crowd, because anyone she came into contact with would also then become ceremonially unclean. No wonder she was afraid when Jesus stopped and demanded to know who had touched Him. But Jesus did not rebuke her. He announced that she had been healed because of her faith, and told her to “go in peace” (Luke 8:48).
This is yet another example of how meeting a person’s need is more important than the keeping of ceremonial laws (see Matt. 12:1-12, which contains several examples). There is a question here for us too: are we more interested in seeing people’s needs met, or in seeing them conform to certain written or unwritten standards?

Monday, October 29, 2012

The parable of the sower (5)

“But the seed on good soil stands for those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word, retain it, and by persevering produce a crop.” Luke 8:15
The fourth and final soil in the parable of the sower is the kind of person that we should be desiring to be: the good soil that receives the seed, allows it to put down roots and grow, and ultimately produces a crop. Here in Luke’s account of the parable’s interpretation, Jesus says that the good soil represents “those with a noble and good heart, who hear the word [and] retain it” (Luke 8:15), in Matthew’s account, “the man who hears the word and understands it” (Matt. 13:23), in Mark’s, “[those who] hear the word [and] accept it” (Mark 4:20). Both Matthew and Mark include quantities of crops: thirty, sixty, or a hundred times what was sown. (There is no contradiction here; Jesus may well have repeated the parable on multiple occasions.)
Luke tells us here that we produce a crop by persevering. This is an important key in our Christian walk. It’s not about who produces the biggest fireworks at the beginning of their Christian walk, but who is still going strong in the Lord at the end. Also, there are many different kinds of crop that might be produced. Witnessing to other people and seeing them come to faith in Christ is one. Another might be teaching the Bible to others so that they grow in the Lord. Ultimately, the fruit of the Spirit is the developing of God’s characteristics in our lives: above all, love, followed by joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control (Gal. 5:22-23). Are you sticking with God through thick and thin? Are you producing a crop for Him?

Sunday, October 28, 2012

The parable of the sower (4)

“The seed that fell among thorns stands for those who hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by life’s worries, riches and pleasures, and they do not mature.” Luke 8:14
Here we come to the third kind of soil that the seed fell on in the parable of the sower: the thorny ground. Jesus tells us this soil represents those who receive God’s Word, and it starts growing in their lives, but before it matures it is choked by the pressures of life. These people were unable to let go of their problems and hand them over to God.
There is a very important lesson here for us. The more we focus on the cares of our physical life – our finances, job, food, provisions, status etc. – the more God’s Word will be choked out of our lives. The way to avoid this is to keep our focus on God. We aren’t to live in denial about our problems, saying that they don’t exist; rather we should acknowledge them, while also knowing that God is bigger than all our problems. He will provide. Who – or what – are you focusing on today? Are you maturing in your Christian walk, or are the cares of life choking you and making you unfruitful?

Saturday, October 27, 2012

The parable of the sower (3)

“Those on the rock are the ones who receive the word with joy when they hear it, but they have no root. They believe for a while, but in the time of testing they fall away.” Luke 8:13
The second kind of soil in the parable of the sower is the rocky soil. I enjoy hiking, and it’s amazing to see the places high up in the mountains where plants can grow. But the rockier the ground gets, the smaller and less attractive the plants are. Rocky ground is a hostile environment for a seed to grow. It’s difficult for the plant to take root, and as soon as a storm comes, or when the heat is on, they are unable to survive.
This is the picture of someone who accepts the gospel, but has no root. Sometimes this is because of naivety on the part of the person receiving it, but in many cases at least part of the fault lies with the way the gospel message was presented to them. We need to be very careful what we tell people. We are doing them a great disservice if we tell people that all their problems in life will be fixed if they become a Christian – because this is plainly not true. Rather, as Christians, when we face trouble, we can always depend on God to bring us through. Does your faith stand up in the time of testing? Or do you need to put your roots down deeper into God?

Friday, October 26, 2012

The parable of the sower (2)

“Those along the path are the ones who hear, and then the devil comes and takes away the word from their hearts, so that they may not believe and be saved.” Luke 8:12
The first kind of soil that the seed falls on in the parable of the sower, Jesus tells us, represents those who hear, but before the seed has a chance to take root in their life, the devil comes and steals it away (symbolised in the parable by birds coming and eating the seed). This soil is like a pathway: hard and compact. Nothing has grown here for many years, it has been walked all over and become hard. There are people just like this. They have hardened their heart against God, against God’s people, and against God’s Word. The devil has them right where he wants them. Whenever the Word of God comes into their life, they instantly dismiss it as ‘religious mumbo-jumbo’, and reject it. The birds eat it up; the Word has no chance to germinate and grow. They do not remember the words that are spoken, because they reject it so quickly.
We don’t know what kind of soil represents each person we are dealing with. It might sound like someone whose heart is like the path is a lost cause. But God can do miracles in a person’s life. For the person whose heart is hard, they must first be broken in order to be softened so they can receive the Word of God. If you know someone like this, don’t give up. Keep praying for them, that God would soften their heart so that His Word might take root in their lives, and produce fruit.

Thursday, October 25, 2012

The parable of the sower (1)

“This is the meaning of the parable: The seed is the word of God.” Luke 8:11
The parable of the sower is one of the best-known parables of Jesus. He tells the story of a sower who went out sowing seed, which fell on four different kinds of soil. We’ll discuss what happened to the seed on each of the different soils in the next few days. But for today, let’s look at the seed itself.
The meaning of the parable is easy to interpret, because Jesus Himself tells us what all the symbolism means. The seed is the word of God. In fact, in all the parables where seed is involved, the seed represents the word of God in some aspect (see also Matt. 13:24-30, 37-43 – the seed that was planted and seeds of poisonous weeds planted afterwards, where both grew together until they were ripe – representing the righteous and the unrighteous; Mark 4:26-29 – the seed planted which grows all by itself). So let’s ask the question: how is the word of God like a seed?
A seed is something small, which grows into something large and ultimately produces more of the same thing from which it came. So too with the word of God: it contains all that is needed to produce spiritual life in a person. But it doesn’t always come into that full potential, as we will see in the next few days. If the seed doesn’t grow, it is not the fault of the seed – it is because of the environment it finds itself in. The seed is the same; the soil is what determines how much it will grow. So it is with us. Is God’s Word growing in your heart today?

Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Watching what we say

“Put away perversity from your mouth; keep corrupt talk far from your lips.” Proverbs 4:24
There are several verses in the Bible that remind us to keep a guard on our mouth (Ps. 141:3), to not let any unwholesome talk come out of our mouths (Eph. 4:29), etc. Often when we read these we immediately think it refers to not using swear words in our vocabulary. While this is one aspect of watching what we say, there are other aspects of our speech as well that we need to refrain from doing as Christians. The terms in today’s verse are must broader than just using curse words in what we say. Here are some other things we need to stop from being a part of our conversations: coarse jokes, sexual innuendo – alluding to bad language or evil things without necessarily saying them; lying, boasting, and gossip – all things that God hates (Prov. 6:16-19). James tells us that if we are able to master our tongues, we are able to control our whole body (James 3:2-6). Jesus tells us that our words give an indication of what is in our hearts (Matt. 12:36-37). Our words are a great part of our Christian witness – not only the words we use when we are sharing the gospel with people, but the words we use day by day with our friends, family, colleagues, etc. Is what is coming out of our mouths consistent with what we say we believe? Do we use a different kind of language when talking with people at church and people in our workplaces? If you were aware of Jesus being with you wherever you are, would you talk differently?

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Walking in righteousness

“The path of the righteous is like the first gleam of dawn, shining ever brighter until the full light of day.” Proverbs 4:18
Throughout the Bible we see our lives as believers likened to a walk. It’s not a race; what matters is not how fast you go, but ensuring that you make it to the finish line. We are not defined by how many times we fall, but by our perseverence in getting up and keeping going. “For though a righteous man falls seven times, he rises again, but the wicked are brought down by calamity” (Prov. 24:16).
Often the Christian walk seems like a mystery to us. We look at people who are more mature in the faith than us, and wonder how they got there, how they have the faith that they have to endure the things they have faced or are facing. The key is here in this verse: it’s as we walk in righteousness that we will see more and more light. As we try to live a righteous and holy life, God will transform us and make us more righteous and holy. As we walk in His ways, we become attuned to the Holy Spirit. As we obey what He says, we are able to hear him more and more clearly. The more we respond to the light, the more light we will receive. Are you seeking to walk in righteousness today?

Monday, October 22, 2012

Being wise in your own eyes

“Do not be wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord and shun evil.” Proverbs 3:7
There are lots of people who are wise in their own eyes. They’re not necessarily in universities or governments, although many people in those kinds of places fit the bill. Anyone who thinks they know better than someone else, or thinks they know better than the law of the land (‘I can drive more than the speed limit along this road / fix this appliance / ignore this warning / etc. – I know what I’m doing’) – such a person is being wise in their own eyes.
Twice in the book of Judges we read “In those days Israel had no king; everyone did as he saw fit” (Judg. 17:6, 21:25). This might sound like a good idea – no police force to give you speeding tickets, no government to take taxes from you and impose laws that restrict you, no limitations on what you can or can’t do. But this attitude by society at large was exactly what led to the problems in the book of Judges – incidents like the Levite and his concubine (Judg. 19), which led to the tribe of Benjamin being wiped out except for 600 men (Judg. 20-21). It led to idolatry becoming rife in the land, which saw God give Israel over into the hands of their enemies. Everyone doing as they see fit will only result in anarchy. Man in his ‘natural’ state is not wise (1 Cor. 1:20). Man’s wisdom says, ‘Life is for enjoying yourself, never mind what that enjoyment does to other people’, to ‘Get all you can and can all you get’. But God’s wisdom is different. Godly wisdom is to fear God and shun evil, because by doing this we will receive an eternal reward. God’s wisdom is perfect; therefore, it doesn’t change.
So next time you are tempted to think that you know better than something or someone else, just take a moment and humble yourself. Don’t rely on your own wisdom, but on God’s. Seek His ways, put Him first, shun evil, and see the benefits.

Sunday, October 21, 2012

Doubting our salvation

“Jesus said to the woman, ‘Your faith has saved you; go in peace.’” Luke 7:50
These words of Jesus to the unnamed woman who wet His feet with her tears and dried them with her hair, while He was visiting a Pharisee’s house – a woman who the Pharisee looked down on in scorn as being a ‘sinner’ (Luke 7:39) – can be of great comfort to us today. She came to Jesus in great respect, seeking forgiveness. She knew she was a sinner, and she knew that He could save her (Luke 7:47-48).
We also come to Jesus with no merit of our own, seeking forgiveness that we don’t deserve, for the sins we have committed and the sins we will continue to commit because of our sin nature. That initial euphoria of receiving forgiveness from God, of being included in His family, of receiving salvation, can wear off over time. However, every Christian has times when they doubt their salvation. Those who grew up in a Christian home and have always known the Lord, can sometimes wonder if they really are saved, or if they just believe because that’s what they’ve been taught. Others, who may have come to Christ later in life and have a defining moment of being born again, may experience the same kind of doubts if they feel they have backslidden for a time. We all wonder if we have somehow lost our salvation, through neglect or being distracted with other things – like putting your keys somewhere and forgetting where you left them.
If that’s you today, listen to the words of Jesus: “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.” Do you still have faith in Jesus, that He has saved you from your sins? Then your faith has saved you. It’s a done deal. It’s not up to you to keep yourself saved – that’s the job of the Holy Spirit. And I’m glad it’s His job, and not mine. We don’t have to worry that we will lose our salvation. We can rest in God’s secure hands, and have peace.

Saturday, October 20, 2012

The cure for a downcast soul

“Why are you downcast, O my soul? Why so disturbed within me? Put your hope in God, for I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God.” Psalm 42:11
Depression is not something to be made light of, or to brush under the carpet, or to trot out a few uplifting Bible verses and hope it will go away. We all go through times of despair, times when our soul is downcast and disturbed about events going on around us, tragedies that are outside our control. If we keep dwelling on those thoughts of despair, it can lead to a downward spiral of depression. While the world sorrows as those who have no hope (1 Thess. 4:13), if we are children of God, there is a way out. No matter what happens to us, we have hope in God. He never changes, and He is in control of all things. He has the bigger picture in mind, and He is looking out for us. He reassures us that this is not the end – things will get better; if not in this life, then certainly in eternity, “for our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all” (2 Cor. 4:17).
It’s not easy to stop worrying about things. We can tell ourselves, ‘Stop worrying’, but if we do nothing to fill the void of what our mind is thinking about (the thing we are worrying about), the worry will come back again and again. So instead of worrying, or mulling over the despair, start praising God. You may not feel like doing it, but do it anyway. You might not be able to praise God for anything about the situation you are in, but you can certainly praise Him for who He is: His greatness, His love, His mercy, His grace shown to us in Christ. As you do this - as you praise Him, a wonderful thing will happen. The situation may not go away, but your despair will be lessened as the Holy Spirit shifts your focus from the problem to the One who has the solution. Praise is the cure for a downcast soul.

Friday, October 19, 2012

The hidden treasure of wisdom

“and if you look for it as for silver and search for it as hidden treasure...” Proverbs 2:4
When we think of things we might call a treasure, we think of things that are valuable, things that we really don’t want to lose. Riches, family heirlooms, children, precious memories – these can all be treasures. But one of the greatest treasures of all is godly wisdom.
Godly wisdom seems to be in short supply these days, as we look at people and nations around the world, and the sorts of things they are upholding as ‘good’ and worthwhile. Wisdom can be found by anyone who is searching for it – all we need to do is ask God, and believe (James 1:5).
How much time and effort are we willing to spend in earning money? When we have ‘enough’, do we stop? If you were told that there was something worth millions of dollars buried in your backyard, would do do nothing about it? Or would you dig up the whole lawn until you found it? That’s the kind of intensity we should be seeking God with. And if we do, He will grant us wisdom. “... then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom, and from His mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Prov. 2:5-6).

Thursday, October 18, 2012

Acknowledging our sinfulness

“When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’” Luke 5:8
In Luke 5 we see the calling of Peter by Jesus. Apparently Jesus had been there before, because Peter knew who He was. Peter was obliging to Him when Jesus asked if He could borrow Peter’s boat so that He could teach the crowd without them crowding Him (Luke 5:3). No doubt Peter had listened to what Jesus said to the people. But after that, Jesus wanted to show Peter something special, so He tells him to put out into deep water and let down the nets.
Initially Peter thinks it’s a bad idea. After all, he was a fisherman, and he knew that during the day the fish swim deeper than at night, so they are harder to catch. But once again he obliged Jesus – and he and those who were with him (namely Andrew, James, and John) were amazed. It is at this point that Peter seems to realise that there is something more to this man Jesus, because he falls down in worship, calling Him ‘Lord’.
Peter’s reaction is similar to many other people throughout the Bible. When Isaiah saw the glory of the Lord, he fell down, saying, “Woe to me! I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty” (Isa. 6:5). When we realise we are in the presence of God, the one thing that we notice more than anything else is our own sinfulness and inadequacy, in the light of His holiness and perfection. If we come away from an encounter with God feeling good about ourselves, then we have not really met with God. We bring nothing to the table; in fact, we don’t even deserve to be at the table. Recognising this is what will allow us to truly appreciate God’s goodness to us.

Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Satan's authority

“The devil led Him up to a high place and showed Him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. And he said to Him, ‘I will give You all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if You worship me, it will all be yours.’” Luke 4:5-7
For those who think Satan isn’t in control of this world, this passage might make you think again. This is the second of three temptations given in Luke: Satan shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world, and offers to give them to Him in exchange for worship.
This is not a temptation if the thing that’s being offered is impossible. For instance, if I offered to sell you the Empire State building, you would not be tempted to buy it, even for the smallest price. Why not? Because I don’t own it; I have no claim on it and no right to sell it to you. But notice what Jesus does here: He doesn’t dispute Satan’s claim. He doesn’t say, ‘Well, actually, you can’t give me those things, because you don’t own them yourself.’ Satan is indeed the prince and the power of this world (Dan. 10:20, John 12:31, John 14:30, John 16:11, Eph. 2:2). In the beginning, God gave Adam authority over the world, but when he sinned by giving in to Satan’s temptation, he forfeited that authority to Satan.
This was a very real temptation. Jesus knew that the pain and agony of the cross was awaiting Him – not merely the physical pain, but the pain of separation from His Father, and the agony of becoming sin, the very thing He hated the most. But He knew it was necessary in order to redeem the world. Here, Satan offered Him a shortcut. He was in effect saying, ‘Worship me, and You can have everything You’ve been promised without having to go to the cross.’
This doesn’t mean we should be afraid of Satan. Jesus has conquered sin and death and has broken Satan’s power over us, if we are in Christ. Satan’s days as the prince of this world are numbered. One day Jesus will return to reign as King of kings and Lord of lords. Is He your King and Lord?

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

God is never unfair

“It is unthinkable that God would do wrong, that the Almighty would pervert justice.” Job 34:12
I think it’s safe to say that all of us, at one time or another, and some people more than others, have accused God of being unfair. Whether it’s because He seems to have blessed someone else more than you, even though you think you have been more faithful, or because tragedy after tragedy has struck your life, it can feel like we are being unfairly treated. But there’s something we all need to know about God: no-one can accuse Him of being unfair. Justice – fairness – is a hallmark of His character. If God were not just and fair, He would not be God. Unfairness is wrong, and God does no wrong.
So why, if in fact God is not being unfair, does it feel like we are being unfairly treated? (Usually these feelings are when we think we are missing out – we seldom think, ‘It’s not fair that I got this promotion!’) This happens when we fail to look at the big picture. When we look at a miniscule snippet of time – which for us might be years or decades – we may see some sins that are never punished, and some faithfulness that is never rewarded. There may be violent criminals who are never brought to justice. There may be children who die of cancer, never knowing what it means to live a normal life. But in the light of eternity, all these situations will be rectified, and each person will receive what they deserve. What we have to do is remind ourselves that God is fair, in the long run, and refuse to entertain any thoughts of Him being unfair. God is God; we are not. He knows what He is doing, and it’s up to us to simply trust Him in that.

Monday, October 15, 2012

Your heritage doesn't matter to God

“Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not begin to say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ For I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.” Luke 3:8
There are many people who think that because their parents are Christians, or their granadparents were Christians, that that automatically makes them Christians. They might be able to trace their family tree back to a well-known preacher or evangelist. It was the same for the Jews who John the Baptist was speaking to here. They prided themselves in the fact that they had descended from Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. They thought because God had chosen their forefathers and made a covenant with them, that they were automatically God’s people. But as Paul said, “For not all who are descended from Israel are Israel” (Rom. 9:6). That is, not all who are descended from Israel – Jacob, their ancestor – are Israel (which means ‘governed by God’ or ‘prince with God’). Not all Jews are governed by God. We see this even today: most Israelis lead a life as secular as anyone else.
So, saying your parents are Christian or you have a Jewish heritage, counts for nothing. (Conversely, if your parents or grandparents were criminals, it doesn’t disqualify you from becoming a child of God.) What matters is whether our lives are producing the fruit of repentance. Are we seeking to turn from our sin, and do instead the things that please God? Are we thinking the best about people instead of assuming the worst? Are we displaying the fruit of the Spirit in our lives: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control? (Gal. 5:22-23).
Having a godly family heritage is a good thing - if you too have found the Lord. Otherwise, it counts for nothing.

Sunday, October 14, 2012

Age and wisdom

“I thought, ‘Age should speak; advanced years should teach wisdom.’ But it is the spirit in a man, the breath of the Almighty, that gives him understanding. It is not only the old who are wise, not only the aged who understand what is right.” Job 32:7-9
We generally think of older people as being wiser than younger people. Older people have more life experience behind them, they’ve (mostly) learned how to control their tongue and their temper, they (usually) aren’t as reckless and prone to taking risks. Young people can be naive, are more prone to being influenced by peer pressure, and still have a lot of things to learn. But these are generalisations that are not always true. There are older people who are ill-prepared and foolish. There are younger people who display wisdom beyond their years.
The Bible teaches us over and over again that wisdom does not come from human endeavours, but from God. Some of the most foolish people I know have PhD’s, while some of the wisest people I know have never set foot in a university. And because wisdom comes from God, He is impartial to a person’s age in bestowing that wisdom upon them. Jesus displayed this wisdom at the age of twelve (Luke 2:47). Jeremiah was called by God as a prophet when he was a young man (Jer. 1:6-7). Joseph was less than thirty years old when he was serving in Potiphar’s house and in the prison (Gen. 37-41). Paul wrote to Timothy, “Don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young, but set an example for the believers in speech, in life, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Tim. 4:12). God’s wisdom is available for anyone who will ask Him, regardless of their age. Have you asked Him to give you more wisdom?

Saturday, October 13, 2012

The good old days

“How I long for the months gone by, for the days when God watched over me, when His lamp shone upon my head and by His light I walked through darkness!” Job 29:2-3
We’ll all have times in our lives when, like Job, we encounter difficulties that seem to overwhelm us, and we look back fondly on ‘the good old days’. But stop and ask yourself: were ‘the good old days’ really that good? What makes them good, looking back, is that we can see how God brought us through, how our worst fears were unfounded, how the difficulties made us stronger, how God used them for good (Rom. 8:28).
Chris Rice wrote a song called ‘Eighth Grade’ which included these lyrics: “Why does the past always seem safer? Maybe because at least we know we made it. And why do we worry about the future? When every day will come just the way the Lord ordained it...” It’s been said that hindsight is always 20/20. When we look back, we can often see the bigger picture in how God was leading and guiding us, even though at the time we couldn’t see it. The key is to apply that to our present situation: knowing that even though we may not be able to make sense of it, God still has His hand upon us, working things out for our benefit. He has brought you through in the past, and He will bring you through in the future. There’s nothing wrong with looking back on the good old days, to remember God’s faithfulness – so long as you don’t stay there at the expense of living in the present.

Friday, October 12, 2012

The importance of forgiveness

“to give His people the knowledge of salvation through the forgiveness of their sins...” Luke 1:77
There are few things in life as importance as finding and receiving forgiveness from God. These prophetic words were uttered by Zechariah over his son John, whom we of course know as John the Baptist. John’s baptism was “a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins” (Luke 3:3). Without forgiveness, we cannot find salvation. It’s as simple as that.
The problem is our sin – both our sin nature, inherited from Adam, and the sinful acts that we have committed. Sin separates us from God: He is perfect, holy, and sinless, and anything sinful cannot enter His presence. We cannot come into a relationship with God until our sin has been removed through forgiveness.
John the Baptist was the forerunner of Jesus, as prophesied by Isaiah (Isa. 40:3-5) and Malachi (Mal. 4:5-6). He paved the way for Jesus to minister to the people, by offering a baptism of repentance. This is the same principle that we must go through: we must first repent of our sins and receive forgiveness from God, before we are truly saved. At conversion this is generally instantaneous rather than a drawn-out process, but each part is absolutely necessary.
We also need forgiveness on an ongoing basis. Just because we become a Christian doesn’t mean we never sin again. We do. But when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, all of them were yet future. He has paid for the sins you will commit tomorrow, and next week, and next year. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t try not to sin. But it means there is provision for forgiveness when we do slip up again. The Bible promises us, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9). Have you found this forgiveness from God today? If not, it’s very simple: confess your sins (acknowledge that they are wrong), repent (turn away from them), and ask for forgiveness.

Thursday, October 11, 2012

Mary's faith

“Blessed is she who has believed that what the Lord has said to her will be accomplished!” Luke 1:45
These words were said by Elizabeth to Mary, while Mary was visiting her during her pregnancy. It is one of several prophetic statements made about Mary concerning her motherhood to Jesus (see also the words of Simeon and Anna in Luke 2).
Mary was blessed to be chosen as the human mother of Jesus Christ. Giving birth to the Messiah was the desire of all Israelite women. Mary was a godly woman, and she was chosen because she had found favour with God (Luke 1:30). However, just like other people who have been blessed with various gifts and ministries by God, she is not to be worshipped or prayed to.
Elizabeth announced this blessing on Mary because she had believed that what God had said to her would come to pass. This same blessing can apply to us also: we are blessed if we believe God’s word to us, both in the Bible and the things He has spoken to us individually. This is not some strange, mystical blessing that sets Mary apart from the rest of mankind (or womankind). But it is the blessing that comes upon everyone who has faith in God’s word. Having faith in God’s word is a blessing to us because it enables us to endure difficult times. Certainly Mary faced these: the stigma of bearing a child out of wedlock, the pain at seeing her son tortured and dying on a cross. (See Luke 2:34-35.) It is thought that 2 John was written to her, encouraging her to continue living in love and not to pay attention to people who were teaching false things about the Lord. Mary needed encouragement too, just like us. And like us, she had faith in the Lord to bring her through.

Wednesday, October 10, 2012

The fountain of life

“For with You is the fountain of life; in Your light we see light.” Psalm 36:9
The phrase ‘fountain of life’ is found five times in the Old Testament: here, in Ps. 36:9, referring to God; in Prov. 10:11, likened to the mouth of the righteous (i.e. their words); in Prov. 13:14, likened to the teaching of the wise (as bringing good advice to help with life); in Prov. 14:27 the fear of the Lord; and in Prov. 16:22 understanding. There are similar phrases found in the New Testament. Jesus said in John 4:14, “but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” And then in John 7:38-39, “‘Whoever believes in Me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.’ By this He meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in Him were later to receive.” We also see the river of the water of life referred to in the new Jerusalem (Rev. 21:6, 22:1, 22:17) and called a free gift.
A fountain is a beautiful thing to look at. The water bubbles out and over, creating a refreshing spray. It is continually flowing and has its own energy. This is the picture of the Holy Spirit, given to us by God. He is the one who energises us from within, and flows out through our life to refresh others. God is the source of life, both physical and spiritual. Life and light are intimately tied together, especially in the gospel of John (e.g. John 1:4 – “In Him was life, and that life was the light of men.”). In the New Jerusalem, God will be the source of light for the entire city and the earth (Rev. 21:23). Have you ‘seen the light’? Have you received ‘the fountain of life’?

Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Wisdom and common sense

“But where can wisdom be found? Where does understanding dwell? Man does not comprehend its worth; it cannot be found in the land of the living.” Job 28:12-13
We can learn a lot about wisdom from the Bible. Wisdom begins by fearing God (Job 28:28, Prov. 1:7). Wisdom is not found by attending university, or reading self-help books. It isn’t inherited from your parents. It only comes from God. One aspect of wisdom is common sense. But as the saying goes, common sense is not that common. Common sense is the kind of thing that, if you have it, makes you think, ‘Why did that person do that? It makes no sense at all!’ (like, not taking a raincoat with them when the weather looks dubious, letting their alcohol consumption get out of hand, spending money frivolously and then not having enough for their grocery shopping, etc.) Common sense is prepared for things that might happen, and takes steps to avoid calamity if possible. But common sense can’t be taught. We can certainly remind others – especially our children – what they should be doing. But ultimately common sense is something that God causes to take root in a person.
Wisdom goes a step beyond common sense, in that where common sense is generally limited to how we live physically, wisdom extends to how we live spiritually. Wisdom knows that our physical life is temporary, and we should be striving for things that will endure in eternity. Wisdom knows that we need to have our priorities right: to put God first and foremost above everything else. If this is something you are falling short in today, simply pray and ask God to help you. “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Monday, October 8, 2012

Pleasing the crowd

“Wanting to satisfy the crowd, Pilate released Barabbas to them. He had Jesus flogged, and handed Him over to be crucified.” Mark 15:15
We all know how Jesus appeared on trial before Pontius Pilate (the last of six trials that He was subjected to on the night after the Last Supper). Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent (Luke 23:14-15). He knew that Jesus had only been brought before him by the Sanhedrin because of envy (Matt. 27:18). His wife had sent him a message, saying, “Don’t have anything to do with that innocent man, for I have suffered a great deal today in a dream because of Him” (Matt. 27:19). So why, if Pilate knew that Jesus was innocent, did he hand Him over to be crucified?
The answer is what is commonly known as mob mentality. The vocal majority threatened him, even though his initial judgement was right. Pilate was in a difficult situation. Despite washing his hands in front of the crowd, saying, ‘I am innocent of this Man’s blood’ (Matt. 27:24), Pilate was still responsible for making the decision to have Jesus crucififed. Apparently Pilate was on a short rope from his superiors in Rome, having previously brought disgrace upon the Empire. The riot that would have ensued if he had released Jesus, would have seen him demoted from his position as governor. So Pilate gave in to the crowd.
If we are trying to fit in with the crowd, to please people, to go along with others for fear of rocking the boat (or getting thrown out of the boat!), we will ultimately compromise and make wrong decisions. We need to make up our minds in advance what we will do when that time comes. It may not be as major as Pilate’s decision here, concerning life and death, but no matter what, our decisions should always be made in alignment with what the Word of God says.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

Doing what is good

“Turn from evil and do good; seek peace and pursue it.” Psalm 34:14
We know the difference between right and wrong, between good and evil. We know it from the Scriptures, which are God’s ‘instruction manual’ for life, and we also know it from our consciences. But whereas most religious systems (including Christian religious systems!) tell us what not to do, the Bible also tells us what to do instead. Turning from evil is only part of the transformation God wants to make in our lives. The other part is to actively seek out to do good.
People will notice when we do this. They’ll notice because although other people do good, they do it for some kind of reward, or out of guilt. But we do it not expecting anything in return; we do it not to please people; we do it because we love God.
Living this kind of life will bring peace in our hearts. God is the source of peace, and when we live in a way that pleases Him, that peace will abound more and more in our hearts. It’s a peace that does not depend on the circumstances we find ourselves in. It is a peace that passes all understanding, a peace that cannot be shaken.

Saturday, October 6, 2012

Striking the shepherd

“You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Mark 14:27-28
Jesus spoke these words to His disciples after the Last Supper. He knew He had merely hours before He would be arrested, put through a kangaroo court, falsely accused, beaten, whipped, scourged, mocked, and ultimately crucified.
The passage Jesus quotes is from Zech. 13:7. He is the Good Shepherd (John 10, Ps. 23). These words are also reminiscent of God’s words to Satan in the Garden of Eden: “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers; He will crush your head, and you will strike His heel” (Gen. 3:15). At the crucifixion, Satan struck Jesus’ heel – a crippling blow. But in the same act, Jesus crushed Satan’s head – a fatal blow, destroying his power over mankind.
Also note how Jesus tells the disciples about the resurrection. He had told the disciples on several previous occasions that He would be killed, and raised to life on the third day. Even here, when His death is imminent, He gives them instructions about what to do after His resurrection. Although it is only afterwards that they remembered His words (Luke 24:6-8), He never stopped reminding them. They had only ever focused on the first part – Jesus’ death. But Jesus always had the resurrection in mind.

Friday, October 5, 2012

A lesson from the fig tree

“Now learn this lesson from the fig tree: As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.” Mark 13:28-29
It’s a bit hard to learn a lesson from an analogy unless we understand the symbolism behind it. We come across fig trees in a few places in Scripture. In Luke 13:6-9 Jesus tells another parable about a man who had a fig tree that was not producing fruit. The man wanted to cut it down, but another man encouraged him to give it another couple of years. This was in response to a question He was asked about whether some people were worse sinners than others because they had died an ignoble death (Luke 13:1-5). He concludes, “But unless you repent, you too will all perish.” The fig tree that was not producing fruit was national Israel. God could choose to cut it off, but He decided to give them more time to repent.
The same symbolism is true here: the fig tree represents Israel. “As soon as its twigs get tender and its leaves come out, you know that summer is near.” We have started to see the twigs and leaves of Israel reappearing after nearly 2000 years of exile. Israel is a nation again, in their own land, governing themselves. “Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that it is near, right at the door.” The Greek can also be translated, “you know that he is near, right at the door.” This is a reference to Jesus’ second coming. We need to pay close attention to the times: everything is in place for Jesus to return. Are you ready? Are you waiting for Him?

Thursday, October 4, 2012

Responding to God

“When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, He said to him, ‘You are not far from the kingdom of God.’ And from then on no-one dared ask Him any more questions.” Mark 12:34
In the Scriptures, we see two kinds of people, with opposite reactions to Jesus. There are those who came asking questions only in order to catch Him out, attempting to discredit His ministry. Then there are those who came genuinely seeking answers. Here is a man who was a teacher of the law (Mark 12:28). But he was not like the other teachers, who only sought to trap Jesus, while questioning His qualifications (c.f. John 7:15). He was open to what Jesus had to see. He hadn’t made up his mind about Jesus before listening to what He had to say. Rather, he considered what Jesus had to say, and concluded that His words were “well said” (Mark 12:32).
This man was on the same wavelength as Jesus. He listened to Jesus’ words without prejudice, and was able to accept them. He realised that Jesus was saying that the commandments given in the Scriptures concern our heart attitude, not only our outward actions. His answer demonstrates that his heart was soft towards the things of God, and responding to Him. So Jesus replies, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” It was only a small step for this man to accept Jesus as Messiah, and enter the kingdom.
Even today, Jesus has a polarising effect among people. There isn’t anyone who simply doesn’t mind or doesn’t care – people either seek to discredit Jesus and Christianity, or they are open to the things of God and are on the path to accepting Jesus as their Saviour. I hope you are in the latter group!

Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Knowing the Scriptures and the power of God

“Jesus replied, ‘Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?’” Mark 12:24
In Mark 12 we read about a time when the Sadducees came to Jesus with a hypothetical situation, to test Him. They told a story about a man who married a woman and then died. According to Jewish law, the man’s brother was supposed to marry her, which he did, but then he also died. This happened to the next brother and the next, until seven brothers had been married to her and all died. Their next question was, “At the resurrection, whose wife will she be, since the seven were married to her?” (Mark 12:23). They were not asking this genuinely. You see, the Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, nor in spirits, angels, demons, and so forth. They were trying to use this example to demonstrate (in their eyes) the foolishness of the idea of a resurrection.
But Jesus turned it around, saying, “Are you not in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God?” If they had simply studied the Bible, they would know that the resurrection is a fact. Paul addressed a similar error that had infiltrated the church at Corinth: “But if it is preached that Christ has been raised from the dead, how can some of you say that there is no resurrection of the dead? If there is no resurrection of the dead, then not even Christ has been raised. And if Christ has not been raised, our preaching is useless and so is your faith” (1 Cor. 15:12-14). God demonstrated His power to create life out of nothing; He certainly has the power to bring about resurrection.
However, Jesus’ words can be applied even more generally. We have all kinds of strange doctrines floating around, which, when you boil them down, only demonstrates ignorance of the Scriptures on the part of the person saying it, and a lack of faith in God’s power. Take for example praying to Mary: nowhere in Scripture are we encouraged to do this; rather, we encounter the opposite (Luke 11:27-28, Rev. 19:10, etc.). Prayer is to be directed to God alone. He doesn’t need help from Mary, or anyone else, to give credence to our prayers. Another example is the ‘prosperity gospel’, that if you are rich and successful it means you’re on God’s good side, and if you’re not, then you’ve done something to fall out of favour. But in the Scriptures we see the opposite: many godly men and women suffered, through no fault of their own (see Heb. 11:35-40, and consider Joseph, Daniel, Job – even Jesus suffered!). Suffering actually brings us closer to God and causes our faith to be strengthened (James 1:2-4).
There are many more examples we could discuss, but the conclusion is this: we can keep our lives free from doctrinal error by simply knowing the Bible, and understanding the extent of the power of God.

Tuesday, October 2, 2012

Taking refuge in the Lord

“How great is Your goodness, which You have stored up for those who fear You, which You bestow in the sight of men on those who take refuge in You.” Psalm 31:19
Yesterday we learned about how our times are in God’s hands – the seasons of joy and despair, triumph and trouble. It goes without saying that in times of trouble the best thing we can do is stay close to the Lord. As believers, we have a refuge in Him. He will deliver us from fear and worry that can cripple us and reduce us to a trembling mess. It might not be straightaway, and we might not ‘feel’ anything, but we can rest assured that nothing is outside of His control.
As we take refuge in the Lord, He will show His goodness to us. It will be a witness to others. How can people not notice someone who still has inner peace when they’ve been made redundant, or told they have cancer? We don’t ignore those things, but we accept them as things that, although they may be outside of our control, God has allowed in order to accomplish His purpose in our lives. When we can have this perspective, we won’t be enslaved by worry and fear. We will be free. So, are you taking refuge in the Lord today?

Monday, October 1, 2012

Our times are in God's hands

“My times are in Your hands; deliver me from my enemies and from those who pursue me.” Psalm 31:15
The word translated ‘times’ here is used nearly 300 times in the Old Testament. In virtually every place it refers to an indeterminate, but specific period or season. It is used to refer to the ‘times’ of the last days; it is used in the famous passage of Eccl. 3 (‘a time to be born and a time to die’ etc.), it is used when speaking of the time of trouble, the time of life, the ‘signs of the times’ (1 Chr. 12:32), etc.
We all go through seasons in life. There are financial seasons, of plenty and of poverty. There are emotional seasons, of happiness and of heartache, of depression and determination. There are seasons when everything is going well for us, and seasons where nothing seems to go our way. There are seasons when we’re busy with all kinds of things, and seasons when we’re sitting on the sidelines. There are seasons when we are healthy and seasons when we are not. There are seasons when we are close to God, and seasons when we feel forgotten by Him.
But through it all, these seasons – or times – of our lives are all in God’s hands. If you think about it, that’s the safest place they can be! When we realise that, we are able to surrender ourselves completely to Him. He knows what tomorrow will bring for us. We don’t need to worry about it – not that worrying about it can change it, or do any good.
And just as the natural seasons – spring, summer, autumn, winter; rainy and dry; hot and cold – don’t last forever, neither do the seasons in our lives. If you’re struggling today in any area, take heart: this is a season, and is only for a time. Things will change. Just stay close to the Lord, and He will bring you through.