Friday, November 30, 2012

Isaiah's vision

“The vision concerning Judah and Jerusalem that Isaiah son of Amoz saw during the reigns of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” Isaiah 1:1
This verse is one that we might normally skim over when reading a book, but it caught my attention. In particular, one word caught my attention: ‘vision’. It is ‘the vision’, singular; not ‘the visions’, plural. The book of Isaiah, with its 66 chapters, is one unified vision, even though it spanned many years, from Uzziah through to Hezekiah – at least 55 years.* It is the vision of God’s plan. In the book of Isaiah we see the first and second comings of Jesus Christ (Isa. 7:14, Isa. 66). We see His death and resurrection (Isa. 53). We see Israel’s unfaithfulness, and salvation being extended to the Gentiles (Isa. 49:22). This is all unified in God’s plan for history. (A similar truth applies to the book of Revelation. It is not ‘the book of Revelations’ as many say; it is the Revelation of Jesus Christ, coming in glory, one unified vision that John was given.)
In fact, one of the most astounding things about the Bible as a whole is the unity of every book and every chapter. Even though it was written over a period of 2000 years by more than forty different people, the consistency of its message is testament to God being its author. Let us never take the Bible for granted!

* Isaiah probably started ministering late in Uzziah’s reign (Isa. 6:1), Jotham and Ahaz reigned for 16 years each (2 Chr. 27:1, 2 Chr. 28:1), and he ministered right through Hezekiah’s reign (2 Kin. 20) until Hezekiah’s son Manasseh came into power (there is a tradition that Manasseh killed Isaiah by cutting him in half, which may be what Heb. 11:37 alludes to).

Thursday, November 29, 2012

Prophecy in the Psalms and the Law of Moses

“He said to them, ‘This is what I told you while I was still with you: Everything must be fulfilled that is written about Me in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms.’” Luke 24:44
These words were spoken by Jesus shortly before He ascended to heaven, after He had revealed Himself to the disciples in His resurrected body. This is an interesting statement, because He says that the things written about Him in the Law of Moses, the Prophets and the Psalms have now been fulfilled.
We understand that the prophetic books of the Old Testament speak about future events and contain many prophecies about the life, ministry, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But the Law of Moses and the Psalms? We don’t tend to think of those books as being prophetic, but they are. There are certain psalms that are recognised as being prophetic, such as Ps. 22, which portrays a graphic description of the events surrounding Jesus’ crucifixion, and Ps. 69, which describes His rejection by His own people. Ps. 24 is another prophetic psalm that looks forward to the return of Christ to establish His Kingdom. Ps. 118 contains the verses Jesus quoted of Himself at the Triumphal Entry (Ps. 118:22-24).
The Law of Moses – the books of Genesis, Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy – also contain many prophetic pictures of Jesus Christ. In Gen. 3 we see God promising a Saviour who would come from the human race, who would crush the serpent’s head. In Gen. 22 we see a picture of a father (Abraham) taking his son (Isaac) to the top of a hill for a sacrifice. In Gen. 37-50 we see the life of Joseph, ridiculed, thrown in prison, mistreated, and finally exalted. In Exodus we see the institution of the Passover, where a lamb was sacrificed so that death might ‘pass over’ all those who trusted in God to protect them. We see the provision of manna, bread from heaven (see John 6:48-51). In Leviticus we see the establishment of the various kinds of sacrifices, which all give us insights into the life of Christ. In Numbers we see Moses putting a serpent on a pole, so that the people might look to it and live (see John 3:14-15). In Deuteronomy we see the promise of another leader like Moses (Deut. 18:15).
Many Christians neglect to study the Old Testament, thinking that it only applies to the Jews. But there is much value to be found – simply ask, ‘What does this passage teach me about Jesus?’ – and you’ll be surprised what the Holy Spirit teaches you.

Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Facing ridicule

“For if men do these things when the tree is green, what will happen when it is dry?” Luke 23:31
Jesus spoke these words as He was being led out of the city to be crucified. We read how a crowd of people were following, some of them weeping. There is no doubt that ‘these things’ refer to His scourging and crucifixion, even though He had been declared innocent by Pilate, the Roman governor. He was in this situation, firstly because it had been prophesied, but also because of the jealousy of the priests and the Sanhedrin. ‘When the tree is green’ refers to this period of history when Jesus was walking around on the earth, God clothed in flesh. Trees are green in summer, a time of settled weather, long days where the light remains long into the evenings. This describes the period of time they were in; as John writes, “The true light that gives light to every man was coming into the world” (John 1:9). Isaiah had prophesied of a time when “the people walking in darkness have seen a great light; on those living in the land of the shadow of death a light has dawned” (Isa. 9:2, quoted in Matt. 4:16). But the religious leaders sought to put an end to that light, and it would seem at the crucifixion that they succeeded.
People rejected Jesus when He was walking around on this planet, when God’s presence was obvious – when the tree was green. Have you noticed how antagonistic people are about Jesus, now that He has not here? It sickens me sometimes to hear the ridicule that certain people spew out against God and against those who believe in Him. But this is simply one of the symptoms of a person who has rejected God and is living for themselves. It seems that man’s wickedness knows no bounds. It wasn’t enough for the Sanhedrin to disagree with Jesus; they campaigned for Him to be crucified. It isn’t enough for people to disagree with the Bible; they have to launch billboard campaigns and form lobby groups and shake their fists in the face of God and treat His followers with derision. This shouldn’t surprise us. Jesus told His disciples, “Remember the words I spoke to you: ‘No servant is greater than his master.’ If they persecuted Me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed My teaching, they will obey yours also” (John 15:20). Simply stand firm in the Lord. “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him” (James 1:12).

Tuesday, November 27, 2012


“He sends from heaven and saves me, rebuking those who hotly pursue me; Selah – God sends His love and His faithfulness.” Psalm 57:3
Hebrew poetry and song is not so much linked through rhyme and metre (rhythm) as western music is; rather, it is based on the connections and contrasts between thoughts or ideas. The word Selah appears many times in the Psalms. It indicates a break in the passage, time to meditate on what has been said, and also as a linkage to the next passage, thought, or idea.
The thought contained in the first passage is one of God’s deliverance from our enemies. The linkage to the second thought is through the word ‘sends’. In the first passage, David is being pursued by his enemies and calls to God to ‘send’ from heaven and save him. We would think that the answer to this prayer would be for God to send an angel to fight off the enemies, or to confuse them so that David could escape. But the Selah connects to the second thought: ‘God sends His love and His faithfulness’. God didn’t send an angel to deliver David physically, but He did send His love and faithfulness, letting David know in his heart that God would keep all the promises He had made to him.
If you think about it, the spiritual answer to prayer is more important and more valuable than the physical answer to prayer. Many times we ask for physical healing, which may leave us short-changed if God’s plan is to build us up to be spiritually strong. We may pray for our physical needs to be met, but if God were to answer these prayers and not meet our spiritual needs, we would only have temporary relief.

Monday, November 26, 2012

Ready for Jesus' return

“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you unexpectedly like a trap.” Luke 21:34
Here in Luke 21 Jesus gives His disciples some insights into how life will be like before the last days (Luke 21:12). We should take notice of these and apply them to our own lives.
As the months and years go by, it feels as if the world is spinning faster and faster. Technology is advancing at an ever-increasing rate. Global troubles seem to get bigger and bigger, and we can easily get caught up in these things, and lose our focus on the things of God.
The doctrine of the return of Christ is called a purifying doctrine (1 John 3:3). It is called ‘the blessed hope’ (Tit. 2:12-13). If we lose sight of this, we can fall prey to three things, which Jesus tells us are ‘dissipation, drunkenness and the anxieties of life’. These parallel the three ways in which we are tempted: the lusts of the eyes, the lusts of the flesh, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16). These were the three ways in which Eve was tempted (Gen. 3:6), and the three temptations offered to Jesus.
‘Dissipation’ (NIV) refers to overindulgence – a lust of the eyes. Drunkenness is a lust of the flesh, and anxiety about the world we are in is one of the prides of life. These things can weigh us down and shift our focus away from the Lord. We may be prone to forget that Jesus could return at any moment, and neglect to be ready. In Matt. 24:45-51 Jesus tells a parable about a servant who was left in charge by his master, who departed for a journey. The servant would be rewarded if things were in order when his master returned; however if the servant had misused his position and lived as if his master was not returning, he would receive punishment. Which are you today – are you ready for Jesus’ return, or has your heart become weighed down by the things of the world?

Sunday, November 25, 2012

The fig tree, and all the trees

“He told them this parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees. When they sprout leaves, you can see for yourselves and know that summer is near. Even so, when you see these things happening, you know that the kingdom of God is near.’” Luke 21:29-31
Recently we saw a similar verse to this in Mark’s gospel, in which, similarly to Matt. 24:32, Jesus only mentions the fig tree, referring to Israel. This discourse in Luke’s gospel, although similar in many respects, was actually given at a different time (at the temple, Luke 21:5, as opposed to on the Mount of Olives, Matt. 24:3, Mark 3:3). We know that Jesus repeated some of His statements and teaching to the disciples on multiple occasions. So here, He talks about “the fig tree and all the trees.” Israel, we know, is what the fig tree symbolises. So then, “all the trees” refers to all the other nations. Jesus is talking about the end times approaching; as we have seen, the nation Israel has been regathered in their own land. But the end times scenario doesn’t only involve Israel. It involves the whole world: certain nations aligned together in Ezekiel 38-39, a one-world government arising from the revived Roman empire. Today we see ‘all the trees’ sprouting leaves, moving into position for that final scenario. And so we know that the time is near when Jesus will return.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Facing the battles

“He ransoms me unharmed from the battle waged against me, even though many oppose me.” Psalm 55:18
The Bible promises us over and over again that if we are a child of God, we will face battles and difficulties while we are in this world. When we come to faith in Jesus Christ, we cease to be under Satan’s control (1 John 5:19) and are instead in the minority who oppose him. John wrote, “Do not be surprised, my brothers, if the world hates you” (1 John 3:13). Peter wrote, “Dear friends, do not be surprised at the painful trial you are suffering, as though something strange were happening to you” (1 Pet. 4:12). Paul wrote, “In fact, everyone who wants to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted (2 Tim. 3:12). Persecution and spiritual battles will be part of our lives until the day we go to be with the Lord.
But even though we may face persecution and intense spiritual battles, we are not overcome. God will deliver us if we trust in Him. It doesn’t matter who is opposing you – all that matters is that God is on our side, and He will bring about the victory. Listen to these verses: “No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him who loved us” (Rom. 8:37). “You, dear children, are from God and have overcome them, because the one who is in you is greater than the one who is in the world” (1 John 4:4). “For everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith” (1 John 5:4). “But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Cor. 15:57).

Friday, November 23, 2012

Being happy in our work

“Moreover, when God gives any man wealth and possessions, and enables him to enjoy them, to accept his lot and be happy in his work – this is a gift of God.” Ecclesiastes 5:19
I am very blessed (I initially wrote ‘fortunate’, but that conveys the idea of fate, luck, and chance) to have a job that I enjoy doing. Many people don’t have this, and work is a never-ending stream of drudgery, week in, week out. Sure, some days are better than others, but on the whole I am thankful for the independence and flexibility I have. During my student days I worked on the checkout at a local supermarket, which really opened my eyes to see how for some people, that is all they can ever aspire to. I remember one night one of the other girls getting really upset with both me and the supervisor because I had been asked to empty the rubbish bins – doing any little job that was different to scanning and packing food items was highly desirable just to break the monotony. I don’t remember what I said, but in hindsight I should have just said that she could do it – knowing that for me it was just a temporary, part time thing to earn a bit of money, while for her it was a big deal. I suppose even then I was trying to do the best job that I could, even for something as mundane as packing groceries.
It’s easy for us to look at others around us and envy their position or their salary. But we should not concern ourselves with other people. We should simply be thankful to God for what He has given us, and stop comparing ourselves with other people. Being content with our lives is indeed a gift of God, and one we can all be thankful for, if we have it. (If not, it’s not too late to learn to be content!)

Thursday, November 22, 2012

God is my help

“Surely God is my help; the Lord is the one who sustains me.” Psalm 54:4
The subscript (introductory text) to Psalm 54 explains to us that this psalm was written when the Ziphites were helping Saul to track David down, in 1 Sam. 26:1. David was on the run from Saul, with a few hundred men who had likewise fallen out of favour. They were not all righteous, like David; they did not all have the right motives in joining him. They would have been seen as a band of renegades, rebelling against the king. Saul was pursuing David incessantly, driven by an evil spirit, following him from city to city and through the wilderness areas. David thought he had found safety in the desert of Ziph, but then he was betrayed by the people he was hiding among. He could not stay there but had to go on the run again. No doubt he was tired – physically and emotionally. But instead of giving up, David reminded himself that although the whole world seemed to be against him, God was still on his side, helping him and sustaining him.
We all need to learn to depend completely on the Lord, however it’s only in these hard times that we are truly able to understand what that means. God uses these hard times to teach us to rely on Him, and when we come out the other side, we are able to see how much stronger our faith has become. So next time you feel like everything and everyone has turned against you, remind yourself, like David, that God is your help and the One who sustains you.

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Eternity in our hearts

“He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in the hearts of men; yet they cannot fathom what God has done from beginning to end.” Ecclesiastes 3:11
Despite the often depressive language of the book of Ecclesiastes, it does contain a few gems. One is given here, concerning how much greater God is than us, yet He has placed eternity in our hearts.
What does this phrase mean? It is a reference to our individual spirits. Man is a kind of ‘trinity’ – body, soul, and spirit. Having a spirit is what sets us apart from the animals: they have a body, and a soul (personality, willpower, animate life force) – but they do not have a spirit. And that spirit is eternal, for every person – whether they are saved or not.
It has been said that every person has a God-shaped hole in their heart. As we look at the things people pursue after in life, we realise that this pursuit is driven by a feeling that they are lacking something. They try to satisfy that lack with money, pleasure, fame, relationships, etc. But the reality is that only God can fill that void. This is why our highest purpose in life is to be reunited with Him. Knowing Jesus as our Saviour is what makes us complete as human beings, the way God intended us to be.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Life under the sun

“I have seen all the things that are done under the sun; all of them are meaningless, a chasing after the wind.” Ecclesiastes 1:14
First up, let me admit that Ecclesiastes is not my favourite book of the Bible. Sometimes we can wonder why it was included in the Scriptures. But if we are willing to read it, we can understand some important points about how unbelievers view life.
Here we come across a phrase that is repeated over and over through the book of Ecclesiastes: ‘under the sun’. Solomon writes concerning life here on earth, during the days that we are walking around in our physical bodies. He writes as if this is all there is, and discusses all the pursuits that a person could engage in – education, pleasure, work, money, etc. For each one he concludes that it is meaningless, because for every example of someone who worked hard, there is an example of someone who didn’t work at all and was better off in life. If this is the meaning of life, then what we do doesn’t really matter, because it seems that everything is down to fate.
But this phrase ‘under the sun’ is what separates believers from unbelievers. For the unbeliever, who is not aware of God or of eternity, this life is all they are focusing on. If this life is all that there is, then it is indeed pointless and meaningless, and we are each a random collection of molecules drifting randomly through random events. From this worldview, unbelievers can’t understand why Christians would deny themselves pleasure and don’t try to get ahead of everyone else. Paul wrote, “If only for this life we have hope in Christ, we are to be pitied more than all men” (1 Cor. 15:19).
But as believers, we know that life does not end when we die. In reality, these 70 or 80 years that we might spend on planet Earth are less than a blink in eternity. That’s where we are headed, and this life is simply preparation for it. Our lives are not meaningless, because we are living for eternity. Let us all remember that when we go through seasons of doubt and discouragement about the meaning of life.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Being content

“Keep falsehood and lies far from me; give me neither poverty nor riches, but give me only my daily bread. Otherwise, I may have too much and disown You and say, ‘Who is the Lord?’ Or I may become poor and steal, and so dishonour the name of my God.” Proverbs 30:8-9
There are a number of passages in the Bible that concern contentment, and this is one of them. It’s interesting to note that it was written by Solomon – at one time the richest man in the world. He knew what it meant to be rich, and all the pressures that come with having much wealth and many possessions. He knew full well the danger he was in of trusting in his wealth instead of trusting in the Lord. In the early part of his life it seems he managed to avoid falling into this trap, but towards the end of his life, after he had amassed many wives and done everything his heart desired, his relationship with God had suffered greatly. Riches themselves are not evil; they can be a great tool to enable ministry to happen. The problem is our attitude towards them.
But the converse is also true: poverty can also be a problem in our relationship with the Lord, if we seek to correct it through our own means (e.g. stealing) instead of trusting in God to provide for us. The best path, Solomon says, is to have enough for today. This is reminiscent of the Lord’s prayer (Matt. 6:11).
Paul also understood the value of being content with what we have: “I am not saying this because I am in need, for I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances. I know what it is to be in need, and I know what it is to have plenty. I have learned the secret of being content in any and every situation, whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:11-13). Being content is an attitude we can decide to have. Have you learned the secret of being content?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Being trustworthy

“Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much.” Luke 16:10
There’s a saying, ‘Take care of the pennies, and the pounds will take care of themselves.’ It’s referring to our attitude in dealing with small things, because if we have integrity with small things, we will also have integrity with big things. If we don’t steal pens from work because we know it’s wrong, we won’t cheat on our taxes. If we don’t flirt with our co-workers, we won’t be drawn into adultery.
This principle doesn’t just apply to money. It applies to secrets we might be asked to keep, ministries we might be given to do in church – the list is endless. We may desire to minister to thousands. But are we faithful in ministering to our own family at home?
Jesus told a couple of parables about some servants who were given large amounts of money and told to put it to work until their master returned (talents, Matt. 25:14ff, and minas, Luke 19:12ff). In the parable of the talents, although each servant received a different amount and gained a different amount through his work, all received the same commendation: “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt. 25:21, 23). With the minas, each one received the same amount, and gained different amounts, and received a reward in proportion to what they had gained (Luke 19:16-19).
There are rewards in heaven to be gained. They are gained in proportion to what we were given in the first place. Here Jesus tells us that money is one of the ‘little’ things (Luke 16:11). In the light of eternity, all our material possessions won’t add up to much. None of it will matter. But our attitude is demonstrated in how we treated those things. Have you proven yourself to be trustworthy in the little things?

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Take not Thy Holy Spirit from me

“Do not cast me from Your presence or take Your Holy Spirit from me.” Psalm 51:11
We all know that Psalm 51 is David’s prayer of repentance after the prophet Nathan confronted him over his sin with Bathsheba. It contains a line that was made into a popular worship song: ‘Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. Cast me not away from Thy presence, O Lord; And take not Thy Holy Spirit from me; Restore unto me the joy of Thy salvation; And renew a right spirit within me.’
For decades this song was sung in churches, and I wonder how many Christians started to worry because of it that the Holy Spirit might be taken from them because of some sin that they might commit. I know I certainly did, and although I tried to stay as close to God as possible, there was always that nagging doubt that one day I might try to act, and like Samson discover that God had left me and I wasn’t aware of it (see Judg. 16:20).
But the Bible tells us that these fears are unfounded. In the Old Testament, the presence of the Holy Spirit with someone was transient and dependent on their relationship with God. While they were obedient, He was happy to stay around; but if they fell into sin, He might depart – e.g. Samson (Judg. 16:20), Saul (1 Sam. 16:14), David (Ps. 51:11). But under the New covenant, the Holy Spirit is given to believers permanently as a seal upon their souls, a promise of salvation (2 Cor. 1:22, Eph. 1:13-14). We don’t have to worry about the Holy Spirit being taken from us, so in a way it is kind of pointless singing David’s words, ‘take not Thy Holy Spirit from me’ – it’s never going to happen. However we can grieve and quench the Holy Spirit by our sin (Eph. 4:30, 1 Thess. 5:19). He will not leave us, but He might withdraw to an inner room inside our hearts, waiting for us to notice that He is not working through us in the same way He used to before. In those situations, we need to repent. But we will never lose the Holy Spirit once we have been born again.

Friday, November 16, 2012

Iron sharpening iron

“As iron sharpens iron, so one man sharpens another.” Proverbs 27:17
This proverb has made its way into secular vernacular, so it’s good for us to look at it in a Biblical light. The image is of a knife or a sword being sharpened. Think about it: to sharpen a blade, it must be ground against the sharpening stone or tool. There is pressure applied to it and a grating noise comes out, sometimes even sparks. But when the process is finished, the blade is no longer blunted and dull, but is sharp and effectual.
This is the picture of our interaction with fellow believers. In my life, I’ve seen two ways this sharpening works. The first is with a friend who’s not afraid to confront you. They’ll point out your error, applying pressure. It might sting for a time, but if you acknowledge that they have a point and do something about it, your life will be the better for it. Then at some point in the future, the roles might be reversed. Having a good Christian friend like this is valuable indeed.
But there’s another way that sharpening works among believers, and this one is more difficult to talk about. We all have people in churches with whom we just don’t get along. We see things completely different from them, and they from us. We struggle to see how we can be brother and sister in Christ because we are just so different. We may even have run-ins with them from time to time. The sparks begin to fly, and a grating noise emerges. But if we can take a step back and look at the bigger picture - what God is doing in our lives – we can learn from the situation. If we allow it to, we will be sharpened. We will learn things such as humility and how to defuse a heated situation. We will learn forgiveness, and how to Biblically ‘agree to disagree’.
Note that to sharpen a blade, it needs to be placed at the correct angle to the sharpener. If you place it straight on, you will only succeed in dulling it even more. So when we face those people whom we find difficult, remember that. Soften your approach towards them, consider that they may have a valid point. You will find that you’ve been sharpened – and you may have also been sharpening them.

Thursday, November 15, 2012

Being reunited

“Or suppose a woman has ten silver coins and loses one. Does she not light a lamp, sweep the house and search carefully until she finds it? And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbours together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’ In the same way, I tell you, there is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” Luke 15:8-10
I have a very compact usb drive that is small enough to fit on my key ring without creating much extra bulk. I got it at a conference overseas about two years ago and have used it pretty much ever since. It’s just so handy and can fit a lot of data on it.
Earlier this year, I lost it somewhere at home. I had been showing photos of an overseas trip to my family, and somehow I had taken it out of the TV but not put it back on the key ring straight away. I searched high and low for it for several hours, racking my brain trying to think where it might have gone. I checked all around and under the TV, in the washing machine, everywhere I could possibly think it might be. But I didn’t find it, so eventually I stopped looking. I still hoped that it would turn up, but that hope was waning.
But then, several months later, I put on a jacket, put my hand in the pocket, and found it! It was a piece of clothing that I don’t wear too often, but I must have been wearing it that night and put the usb stick in the pocket to keep it safe. Although it is just a collection of plastic and metal, I had such a great sense of relief and a feeling of joy at being ‘reunited’ with it. That experience really brought this passage to light for me. If finding this inanimate object produces such joy, how much more joy must God feel about sinners being reunited with Him!

Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Envying unbelievers

“Do not let your heart envy sinners, but always be zealous for the fear of the Lord.” Proverbs 23:17
It’s easy to get discouraged sometimes when we see unbelievers prospering. We look at how they live their lives and think, they seem to be managing fine without God, while here I am struggling! If that’s you, you’re not the first person to think this way. The psalmist Asaph wrote about how he felt when he saw the wicked prospering: “Surely in vain have I kept my heart pure; in vain have I washed my hands in innocence” (Ps. 73:13). He went on to say, “When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me – until I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny” (Ps. 73:16-17).
As we read just a couple of days ago, life is not about amassing things, or about becoming famous, or about leaving a family legacy. The most important thing in life is to know Jesus as your Saviour, to be part of the family of God. This is what we should be focusing on, because this will endure forever, while everything material will pass away in an instant. The material world is what we see currently, and it can be hard to get our focus off it onto the things of God. But if we make God our first priority in life, serving Him in awe and reverence, He will reward us in due time.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Making excuses

“The sluggard says, ‘There is a lion outside!’ or, ‘I will be murdered in the streets!’” Proverbs 22:13
The book of Proverbs tells us many things about fools, but is also tells us many things about sluggards, that is, lazy people. Today’s proverb describes how lazy people make excuses. They don’t go to work because they might get attacked by a lion or murdered on the way there. (In our vernacular, they don’t leave the house because they might be run over by a bus.) The chance of being attacked by a lion, or murdered, or run over by a bus, is very small. Life is full of risk; some big, some small; some with a higher probability of happening than others. Wisdom helps us to mitigate risk.
Have you ever known someone who is always thinking about the worst thing that could happen? Such people become tiresome to be around. I think I am generally quite positive about things, looking for the good in a situation (something with the words, ‘It could always be worse’ – but the difference is, not expecting things to get worse). If we are always thinking about the worst that could happen, that fear will cripple us from doing anything.
So next time you hear a ridiculous excuse coming out of your mouth, stop for a minute and think: am I saying this because I'm being lazy?

Monday, November 12, 2012

The most important thing in life

“Like sheep they are destined for the grave, and death will feed on them. The upright will rule over them in the morning; their forms will decay in the grave, far from their princely mansions. But God will redeem my life from the grave; He will surely take me to Himself.” Psalm 49:14-15
The motto of our society seems to be, ‘Get all you can, and can all your get’, closely followed by ‘Look out for number one’. A person’s worth is frequently judged based on their assets – their bank balance and their possessions. But the Bible reminds us over and over that what we may amass in this life in terms of material possessions, will count for absolutely nothing. The old saying is still true: you can’t take it with you.
When you think about it, our lives here on earth are very, very short compared to eternity. Yet what we do in the 70 or so years that we are here, will impact the position we will have there. It is a certainty that we will all die at some point (barring the rapture of the church). At that time, it won’t matter how much of a fortune we had, or where we lived, or whether we gave to charity or did other good things. The only thing that will matter is where we stand with God.
The most important thing in life is not to make money, but to know Jesus as your Saviour. If you don’t know Him, may I encourage you today to reach out to Him. The Bible says that as we draw near to God, He will draw near to us (James 4:8). Acknowledge and repent of your sin, and believe that Jesus’ death on the cross paid for the punishment that your sins deserve. Receive forgiveness from God, and commit to following Him. Your life will never be the same!

Sunday, November 11, 2012

Maintaining standards

“Differing weights and differing measures – the Lord detests them both.” Proverbs 20:10
The story is told of a baker and butcher who used to do business with one another. As time went by, the baker noticed that the butcher was giving him smaller and smaller cuts of meat, for the same price. One day he challenged the butcher about it: ‘If I ask for a pound of meat, I expect to get a pound of meat.’ The butcher replied, ‘Well, all I do is take the pound of bread that you give me, and weigh out the same amount of meat to give to you.’
In the law of Moses, God stipulated that people should have one set of weights and measures to buy and sell with. “Do not have two differing weights in your bag – one heavy, one light. Do not have two differing measures in your house – one large, one small. You must have accurate and honest weights and measures, so that you may live long in the land the Lord your God is giving you. For the Lord your God detests anyone who does these things, anyone who deals dishonestly” (Deut. 25:13-16). By using a light set of measures to sell with, and a heavy set of measures to buy with, people were taking advantage of other people. While today we have measurement standards that largely take care of this, the principle still applies today: Be honest in your business dealings, and don’t try to rip other people off.
Another aspect that applies to all of us is in spiritual principles. Have you noticed how we seem to have one standard of morality that we apply to ourselves, and another standard – usually higher – that we apply to other people? Jesus tells us, “with the measure you use, it will be measured to you” (Matt. 7:2) – speaking of judging other people. It is good to have standards, but we must be sure that we are living up to them ourselves.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

Quality friendship

“A man of many companions may come to ruin, but there is a friend who sticks closer than a brother.” Proverbs 18:24
In today’s vernacular, this proverb might read, ‘Having a lot of ‘Facebook friends’ won’t help you in times of trouble; it is better to have one close friend who will be there with you through thick and thin.’ When it comes to friendship, it’s quality, not quantity, that matters. Do you have a close friend on whom you can completely rely? Or do you only have acquaintances?
It is also possible to have friends who are closer to us than family members. I’m blessed to be part of a Christian family, where my parents and both of my brothers are believers. But not everyone has this, and relationships can be strained for those who have unbelieving family members, because their priorities in life and their outlook on life are completely different. In many cases, we can feel a closer kinship with other believers than with our own families (this is certainly true for me when I think about my extended family – aunts, uncles, cousins).
The next question is, if I don’t have ‘a friend who sticks close then a brother’, how can I find someone like that? The key to having a friend like this, is to be a friend like this.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Having a good work ethic

“One who is slack in his work is brother to one who destroys.” Proverbs 18:9
Our workplace is one of our mission fields. While some people have the ability to talk to their workmates about their faith, we can all demonstrate that we are Christians by our work ethic. The simple fact is this: People are counting on you to do your job properly. If you do the bare minimum, or don’t finish a task in time, it makes a big problem for others. They may have to complete the task in a hurry; or worse, do the work all over again. In this sense today’s proverb is very true: someone who does a half-baked job may as well have not done anything. At least then other people know what needs to be done, rather than relying on you to do something, and then finding out at the last minute that you haven’t been doing it.
The Bible tells us to work as if we are working for God (Col. 3:23). If we do our work with that in mind, we will be noticed by our employer as being honest, trustworthy, and hard-working. We will stand out, and that will give us opportunity to share about why we act the way we do: because of God working in our lives.

Thursday, November 8, 2012

The importance of forgiveness

“He who covers over an offense promotes love, but whoever repeats the matter separates close friends.” Proverbs 17:9
Forgiveness is something that we as Christians must all learn to do. Our natural (sinful) instinct is to hold on to memories of being hurt by other people, to play the victim, to keep those who have hurt us at arm’s length, to try and get revenge. But the Bible tells us to forgive those who have hurt us, to let go of those past hurts. The person who often benefits most from offering forgiveness, is the one offering it, not the one receiving it! And, forgiveness is not a feeling: it’s a choice – a choice to leave the past in the past, and not let it affect your future relationship with that person.
The first part of this proverb is reminiscent of 1 Pet. 4:8 – “love covers over a multitude of sins”. The supreme example of this is God, who demonstrated His love for us by having His Son die on the cross. If we have God’s love working in our lives, we too will seek to cover the sins of others with forgiveness. This doesn’t mean to pretend as if those sins never happened, but to deal with them in a Biblical way: through acknowledgement of the sin, repentance, and forgiveness.
The second part of the proverb shows another aspect, and one we don’t often consider when we gripe and moan about someone else to our friends: Constantly bringing up your past hurst about someone to your friends will make them not like you. There are several reasons for this – firstly, they’ll get sick of hearing about it, and secondly, they’ll start wondering if you’ll talk to other people about them in the same way. So the lesson is clear: learn to forgive people. It will set you free.

Wednesday, November 7, 2012

Doing what we're told

“Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers, and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord.” Proverbs 16:20
We often think that ‘doing what you’re told’ only applies to children keeping commands that we give them: don’t run out on the road, tidy your room, eat your vegetables. But it applies to everyone: not just in the sense of keeping rules, but also if we are learning how to do something. When we are being taught something – for example how to drive a car, or how to play a musical instrument, or how to solve partial differential equations, the person teaching us by definition must know more about it than we do. It is wise then to submit to their superior knowledge and do what they tell us, and we will learn the correct way to do something. If we ignore their instruction, and try to do it our own way, we won’t get anywhere. We will eventually come back to what they told us to do, but we will have wasted time in the process.
It’s the same with God’s Word. He has given us much instruction in the Bible as to how we should live: how we should treat others, what our attitude should be towards Him and towards sin, the kinds of things we should think about. We ignore God’s instruction at our peril. But if we submit to Him, things will go well for us. God’s knowledge is infinitely superior to ours. It is foolish to ignore what He is trying to teach us!

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

Responding in gentleness

“A gentle answer turns away wrath, but a harsh word stirs up anger.” Proverbs 15:1
Proverbs is full of simple gems of what may appear to be common sense, but which we often fail to perform in our lives. Here is one that makes perfect sense, but which is often so hard to put into practice. When there is a heated situation, responding in kind can only make things worse. An argument can’t be sustained by one person ranting – it needs two people, throwing words back and forth at each other, to survive and grow. The trouble is, often times when we are arguing with someone, we do so in ‘the flesh’; that is, the sin nature that we all have. It takes great control and discipline to resist the temptation to respond harshly when someone is lashing out at us, and instead, to respond in gentleness. But if we do, it will have the effect of quenching that fire, and ultimately bringing healing and restoration. Responding harshly only stirs up anger and makes the situation worse.
The house where I lived in London was part of a terrace, and our neighbours on one side used to argue frequently. We could often hear every word that was said – at least by the husband. It seemed that he had a very quick temper, and he certainly could shout and swear the loudest of the two of them, but after some listening I couldn’t help but wonder if the wife was only making things worse, perhaps by goading him. Here in Proverbs the key to defusing a heated situation is to respond with a gentle answer. The other person won’t be expecting it, and it will take the wind out of their sails.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Having patience

“A patient man has great understanding, but a quick-tempered man displays folly.” Proverbs 14:29
We all know that patience is one of the fruit of the Holy Spirit (Gal. 5:22), and something that God wants us to have more of. Patience is more than just the ability to wait. It’s the ability to hold our tongue while we are waiting, to not get huffy or exasperated because things are taking a long time to happen, to see God’s plan in it and to be content to wait.
Today’s proverb tells us that to be quick-tempered is to display folly (foolishness). If we are quick-tempered, it is easy to get the wrong end of the stick about someone, or about something they said, and jump to wrong conclusions. That can have disastrous consequences, as friendships are severed needlessly and relationships are strained because someone thought someone else meant something which in fact they didn’t. It’s impossible to take hurtful words back once they have been said.
On the other hand, patience allows us to see the whole situation, without jumping in having heard only half of the story. If this is an area that you struggle with today, take some time to pray and ask God to help develop more patience in you.

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Rejecting Jesus

“He who listens to you listens to Me; he who rejects you rejects Me; but he who rejects Me rejects Him who sent Me.” Luke 10:16
It’s a wonderful thing to watch someone accept Jesus Christ as their Lord and Saviour for the first time. But the sad reality is, more often than not, people will choose to reject the gospel message. This is no reflection on our ability, because salvation is the work of the Holy Spirit in a person’s life. The most eloquent speaker cannot cause someone to be saved; on the contrary, the Holy Spirit can bring repentance in a person just from a few words (see for example Jonah 3:4-5).
The people I find hardest to deal with are those who say, ‘I believe in God, but I don’t believe in Jesus.’ Today’s verse clearly tells us that such a statement is false. If we truly believe in God, we will believe in Jesus because God tells us about Him. If we reject Jesus, we have rejected God. John also says the same thing: “No-one who denies the Son has the Father; whoever acknowledges the Son has the Father also” (1 John 2:23).
So what do these people actually believe, who say they believe in God but not in Jesus? They have fabricated a ‘God’ to suit themselves. They do not in fact believe in the true and living God of the Bible.

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Pride and humility

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace, but with humility comes wisdom.” Proverbs 11:2
Here is a principle that we see played out over and over again in the Bible, and it is still true today. When I first read this verse I immediately thought of Haman in the book of Esther: when he was invited to the banquet that Esther was preparing, because of his pride he thought it was because he was being lined up for a promotion. When the king called him in one night asking, ‘What should be done for the man whom the king delights to honour?’ he thought, ‘Who is there that the king would rather honour than me?’ (See Est. 6). Imagine Haman’s shame when, after making his suggestion that the man should be honoured by wearing a royal robe and being paraded around the streets on one of the king’s horses, the king turned to him and said, ‘That’s a great idea – now go and do it for Mordecai the Jew’ (whom Haman detested)!
The ultimate example of pride causing disgrace, however, is Satan. “How you have fallen from heaven, O morning star, son of the dawn! You have been cast down to the earth, you who once laid low the nations! You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven; I will raise my throne abouve the stars of God; I will sit enthroned on the mount of assembly, on the utmost heights of the sacred mountain. I will ascend above the tops of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’ But you are brought down to the grave, to the depths of the pit” (Isa. 14:12-15).
The supreme example of humility is Jesus. “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! Therefore God exalted Him to the highest place and gave Him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father” (Phil. 2:6-11).
It’s no secret that God hates pride, and He wants to see it eradicated from our life. Satan will try to stroke our ego, because he knows it’s a surefire way to get us to sin. But if our desire is to be like Jesus, we will seek to live in humility.

Friday, November 2, 2012

Time management

“He who gathers crops in summer is a wise son, but he who sleeps during harvest is a disgraceful son.” Proverbs 10:5
These days many people attend courses on time management. Solomon had some wise things to say about it, which we find in the book of Proverbs. He says it is wise to gather crops in summer, but disgraceful to sleep during harvest. For those of us who don’t work on a farm, this might sound irrelevant, but the principle is just as relevant today as it was when Solomon wrote it.
Crops are usually gathered in autumn. To gather them in summer would be to gather them ahead of time. On the other hand, if they still have not been harvested by winter, it’s bad news. Here are the lessons for us: Firstly, we need to plan to meet deadlines. It’s part of our integrity, showing that we are faithful to keep our promises by saying we’ll have something done by a certain date. Secondly, if we are able to do the work early, then we should do it. It’s human nature to think, ‘Oh, I don’t have to do that just yet, it can wait.’ But have you noticed how, if you take that attitude towards something, you’ll end up in a mass panic about it as the deadline looms? Other things that are more urgent or have a faster turnaround come up, and that thing that you had time to address earlier gets pushed into the background until it too becomes urgent.
I hope this proverb speaks to you like it did to me this week!

Thursday, November 1, 2012

'Lord, but...'

“Still another said, ‘I will follow You, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.’” Luke 9:61
There are many people today who have the same attitude towards following Jesus as this man did. They acknowledge that Jesus is worth following, but they feel they have more important things to do first. They say, ‘I want to live my life first, then when I’m older I’ll settle down and become a Christian.’ But we don’t know if we will still be here tomorrow. It doesn’t make a lot of sense to me to put off something as important as securing your eternal future. “For He says, ‘In the time of My favour I heard you, and in the day of salvation I helped you.’ I tell you, now is the time of God’s favour, now is the day of salvation” (2 Cor. 6:2).
To say, ‘Yes, Lord, but...’ is a contradiction. If He is Lord, then He is Lord. There’s no ‘but’ about it. Even as Christians, we can be guilty of saying or thinking this. We feel God is directing us to do something, and we try to persuade Him out of it. No wonder many of us feel as if we are struggling – we are limiting God from working in our lives. Is He truly the Lord of your life? Or are you saying, ‘Lord, but...’?