Together, we serve
to know Christ
and to make Christ known
for the glory of God

14 November 2018

Revelation 3
Psalm 123

Revelation 3. This chapter deals with what John must write to 3 of the 7 churches (Revelation 1:11). It is easy reading and also fairly easy to understand. The churches in Sardis and in Laodicea receive a rebuke, but the church in Philadelphia does not.

These letters present to us a reality of church life – each and every church is different, with their own set of ‘good’ and their own set of ‘bad’. Each church is not necessarily painted with the same brush! But, the LORD of the Church is always the same. He is the JUDGE of the church and His judgment is always right, and He will always judge the bad! However, the individual believer need not lose heart because in every church, even one as bad as Laodicea, there is always a promise to ‘the one who overcomes’ (verses 5, 12 and 21)!

It’s worth noting what Christ holds against the churches, what He requires, what He commends, and what He promises those who overcome. Because, if He is the same ‘yesterday, today, and forever’ (Hebrews 13:8), then we can trust that these are still true for us, and will remain true as part of God’s character.

The church in Sardis have a ‘reputation for being alive, but actually being dead’ (verse 1) and therefore not able to complete God’s purpose for them (verse 2). The church in Laodicea is ‘lukewarm’ (verse 15) and seems to find purpose in material gain rather than in a life honouring to Christ (verse 17). God requires these churches to get back in line as followers of Christ by obeying His commands (verses 2-3) as well as discovering the true fulfilment of living a holy life in Christ (verse 18).

The church in Philadelphia is not rebuked – she is commended!

– ‘you have little strength, yet you have kept my word and not denied my name’ (verse 8)

– ‘you have kept my command to endure patiently’ (verse10)

– ‘hold on to what you have’ (verse 11)

It’s in reading these letters today, listening carefully to God’s Word as we read the Bible slowly, that we begin to see and hear what Christ finds pleasing and what He finds repulsive in His church. Therein lies the challenge for us – to examine our church and to change our ways where they fall into the realm of the things that Christ holds against the churches! If there are things that are held against the church, then it might be wise for us to avoid walking in the wrong direction and landing ourselves in a minefield.

And yet, at the same time, we can come away encouraged because we can be a church that pleases Him; encouraged because there is the hope of overcoming; encouraged by the promises God has at the end of each letter! And so let us walk together as the church in Tokai in a manner that pleases our Lord and have the hope of being declared overcomers!

Our Father in heaven, thank You for enabling us, despite our weakness, to keep Your word and not deny You. Please help us to continue to endure patiently as we battle with the world, our own flesh, and the devil. Help us to hold on to Christ and to keep trusting Him to bring us through these tests that come our way. Amen.

13 November 2018

Revelation 2
Psalm 122

Revelation 2. Revelation 1:5-8 reminded us that our Lord is on His throne:

‘and from Jesus Christ, who is the faithful witness, the firstborn from the dead, and the ruler of the kings of the earth. To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.

“Look, he is coming with the clouds,”
    and “every eye will see him,
even those who pierced him”;
    and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen.

“I am the Alpha and the Omega,” says the Lord God, “who is, and who was, and who is to come, the Almighty.”’

Chapter 2 and 3 of Revelation raises a question for us. How, in light of this knowledge, are we, His Church supposed to live?

These chapters contain Christ’s letters to His seven churches. Each of these letters contains both encouragements and/or rebukes, and warnings. In light of what we see in Revelation 1, the fearsome picture of our often “meek and mild” Jesus, means we should not take the contents of these letters lightly, even as His church today. We need to solemnly assess ourselves rightly. Are we doing what Jesus is commending in each of these letters? Are we failing in certain areas like these churches, and are we ignoring the serious consequences for our disobedience? However, it is also such an encouragement to see in these letters, Christ graciously giving us solutions to our failures and the beautiful promises for those who prove faithful.

As we read chapter 2, may we be challenged to not lose our first love, but remember Him, what He has done for us, and do what He calls us to. May we not tolerate false teaching or be guilty of lack of discernment, but hold fast to Him, His teaching and works till the end. So that at the end we will have the promises of eating from the tree of life in paradise, a crown of life and spared from judgement.  

 

12 November 2018

Revelation 1
Psalm 121

I lift up my eyes to the mountains—
    where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
    the Maker of heaven and earth.

Psalm 121:1-2

When the Psalmist looked to those hills and saw the altars and shrines to the man-made gods of his time, evidence of people’s frantic search for help and security, he knew his God was the only true and faithful source of help. A Helper who never sleeps, who knows your every movement, keeping us from evil, keeping our life. These well-known words of verse 1 have often reminded me of the peace and surety we have in our God, especially in times of trial and struggle.

There are many things that people seek to find their security and help in, which never seem to adequately look after us. We seek help and security in our ability to make money which we can by our means of security. Or we seek our help in relationships and people who inevitably let us down. What an awesome thing it is to know that our Lord God, maker of heaven and earth, has revealed Himself to us, and shown Himself to be the most faithful helper and keeper.

He doesn’t take away the suffering and struggle that life often brings, but promises to be our sure help and strength, to get us through. When we look at the world and people around us, and see their desperate search for security, peace and comfort, let us be like the psalmist who through it all can say that ‘My help comes from the Lord, who made heaven and earth’, and may we daily comprehend to privilege and blessing it is to know Him as our Helper and God.   

9 November 2018

Jude

 To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy— to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.

Jude 24-25

I must admit there is a lot in this short letter that I do not understand! So I’m not going to try to pretend I know everything that’s going on and attempt to explain it to you. If the details of this book interest you, I’d suggest asking Luke for a recommendation of a good commentary or inviting one of our resident Bible college lecturers over for tea and lemon creams! However, all of God’s Word is given to us for our learning, and if we don’t get distracted by the almost bizarre points that Jude raises, I think there is a simple yet profound lesson for us to grasp.

Similarly to John in the two letters before this, Jude wanted to write a letter of encouragement, but instead felt it was necessary to address the issue of false teachers who have slipped into the church unnoticed and have ‘pervert[ed] the grace of our God into a license for immorality and den[ied] Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord’. Obviously, this is a big deal and so Jude wants them to fight for the true Gospel (verses 3–4).

In verses 5–16, Jude describes these false teachers and compares them to a whole range of examples who have rejected God and His way. He also announces the judgement that they are bound to face one day. Then, from verse 17 onwards, Jude transitions away from the condemnation of false teachers to an encouragement of believers.

‘But you, dear friends, by building yourselves up in your most holy faith and praying in the Holy Spirit, keep yourselves in God’s love as you wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.’ (verses 20–21)

At that brings us to the verses quoted at the top of this devotion, the well-known doxology which is used by many churches (including ours) often at the close of the worship service. Perhaps the last time you heard them read at church you zoned out and mumbled an “amen” at the end because you’ve lost (or never fully got) the meaning of these words.

Let’s let the context of this letter shape our understanding of this doxology.

When Satan tries to sneak false teachers into the Church who pervert the grace of God, trying to lead us astray, let us cry out to God and trust in Him to keep us from stumbling. When the temptation to sin and the desire for the ungodly tugs at us, let us rejoice in Him who will present us before God’s glorious presence without fault and with great joy. When the world and even some churches preach a different message that says there are many ways to be saved, let us hold onto the truth that there is only one God our Saviour, and only one way to Him is through Jesus Christ our Lord.

Pray the words of this doxology to God in praise of His glorious grace!

’To him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you before his glorious presence without fault and with great joy—to the only God our Savior be glory, majesty, power and authority, through Jesus Christ our Lord, before all ages, now and forevermore! Amen.’

8 November 2018

3 John
Ecclesiastes 11

Dear friend, you are faithful in what you are doing for the brothers and sisters, even though they are strangers to you. They have told the church about your love. Please send them on their way in a manner that honors God. It was for the sake of the Name that they went out, receiving no help from the pagans. We ought therefore to show hospitality to such people so that we may work together for the truth.

3 John 5-8

At the end of both his 2nd and 3rd letters, John says that there was much he had to write to them, but instead of writing whatever it was he intended, he addresses a more pressing issue his recipients face. John wrote 2 John to warn a local church about false teachers who were coming to deceive them. He instructs them not to welcome these deceivers, not even to let them into their homes (2 John 10–11). He writes 3 John to instruct Gaius (presumably someone senior within another local church) to do exactly the opposite for true gospel workers. Unlike Diotrephes, who refuses to welcome them (3 John 9–10), Gaius ought to welcome and support true brothers and sisters in Christ (3 John 6, 8).

Specifically, John tells Gaius to show hospitality to ‘such people’ (verse 8) referring to those who ‘have gone out for the sake of the Name’ (verse 7, ESV). John’s talking about missionaries. He wants Gaius—and likewise, us, who should imitate what is good (verse 11)—to partner with missionaries by caring for them while they are with us (verse 8) and sending them on their way with the support they need as they continue on their missionary journey (verse 6). In so doing, we are joining with them in the work that they are doing for the truth—the proclamation of God’s Gospel.

For us in Cape Town, which isn’t really a layover stop as missionaries move from one place on to their final destination, we can do this by showing hospitality to our missionaries who have come home for a short while to rest and recuperate, and by supporting through prayer, encouragement, and finances those who have gone out for the sake of the Name to other countries all over the world. Our support for our gospel partners should not be half-hearted but a real labour of love in a ‘manner that honours God’ (verse 7).

Just in case it’s not obvious why we should support missionaries like this, John hints at a number of motivations for us. Firstly, it is a faithful thing to do for our brothers and sisters—even if they are strangers to us they are our family and we should treat them as such (verse 5). Secondly, it flows out of and testifies to our love (verse 6a). This is something we’ve seen is a common thread through 1, 2, and 3 John that marks us as genuine believers. Thirdly, these fellow workers are doing this for the sake (or glory) of God’s Name (verse 7). How could we not want to join in any efforts that bring glory to God! Finally (from this text anyway), missionaries don’t accept any help from the people they are taking the Gospel to (verse 7). This is a principle Paul wrote about in 2 Corinthians 11:7–9. He did not want to charge a fee for his preaching but instead shared this good news for free. But even Paul still depended on the generosity of other churches to support him financially; we should do likewise today.

‘Dear friend, do not imitate what is evil but what is good. Anyone who does what is good is from God.’ (verse 11)

Heavenly Father, thank You for those men and women whom You have called to the global mission field and who have responded eagerly to Your call. Thank You that they are proclaiming the message of Jesus Christ for the glory of Your Name. Thank You that we can partner in them with their mission. Help us to show hospitality to those who are at home with us. Help us to support those who have gone on their way in a manner worthy of You. Amen.

7 November 2018

2 John
Psalm 120

I call on the Lord in my distress,
    and he answers me.
Save me, Lord,
    from lying lips
    and from deceitful tongues.

Psalm 120:1-2

This psalmist is living in a land far from Jerusalem (verse 5) surrounded by people who hate peace (verse 6) and therefore, most likely, hate God and His people too.

We don’t really live in a country like that. Despite our difficulties and frustrations in South Africa, we are still far better off than many, many others. And as Christians, we should not take for granted the freedoms we have here to worship and proclaim Jesus Christ. May this be a reminder for us to pray for those who don’t have those same privileges and who live under constant threat because of what they believe.

Having said that, we can, and do, encounter people who wish to oppose us—whether it’s because we are a Christian and the message we preach is an offence to them, or because they just don’t like us for whatever reason. It might be a work colleague bad-mouthing you to your other colleagues and your boss with the goal of sabotaging your career, it might be an old friend spreading untrue and hurtful things about you to turn people away from you, or it might be a relative pulling your family apart by how they speak about you with the others. While not nearly on the same level as what Christians face in the Middle East or North Korea, these are real examples of suffering and persecution—and it can hurt.

We must respond in two ways.

Firstly, as we’ve seen in 1 John over the last few days, we must love them and show God’s love to them, even when it hurts. Jesus commands us to ‘love [our] enemies and pray for those who persecute [us]’ (Matthew 5:44). Paul instructs us to ‘not repay anyone evil for evil’ and to ‘not take revenge… but leave room for God’s wrath’ with the goal that we might ‘overcome evil with good’ (Romans 12:17, 19, 21).

But sometimes, try as we might, we just aren’t able to win them over with love. So, our other response is to call out to God like this psalmist and to ask Him for deliverance. The Psalms are full of prayers for judgment on God’s enemies (eg. Psalms 58, 69, 109). Our struggles with our colleagues and difficult family members are definitely not on the same scale as the enemies Israel faced or what some other Christians experience, nevertheless, we can trust that God will deal with all the injustice of this world against His people—if not now (which He may do), then certainly at Jesus return.

So, let’s pray for them that they might turn to God before it’s too late. Let’s pray that we will love even those who make life difficult for us. And let’s pray that God will deliver us from our distress and our fellow believers who face much harsher persecution.

6 November 2018

1 John 5
Psalm 119:145-176

Everyone who believes that Jesus is the Christ is born of God, and everyone who loves the father loves his child as well. This is how we know that we love the children of God: by loving God and carrying out his commands. In fact, this is love for God: to keep his commands. And his commands are not burdensome,for everyone born of God overcomes the world. This is the victory that has overcome the world, even our faith. Who is it that overcomes the world? Only the one who believes that Jesus is the Son of God.

1 John 5:1-5

Throughout this letter, John lays out three tests for professing Christians to examine themselves as to whether they live out what they claim to be. In this section, all three come together as John connects faith, love, and obedience with the fundamentals of what it means to be a Christian.

The logic of these verses goes something like this:
1. A Christian is someone who believes that Jesus is the Christ (verse 1)
2. They have been born of God (verse 1)
3. Christians love God (verse 1&2)
4. And they love other Christians too (verse 1&2)
5. We know that Christians love God when they obey Him (verse 3)
6. This isn’t burdensome for them (verse 3)
7. Because they have overcome the world (verse 4)
8. And they have overcome the world through faith—by believing that Jesus is the Son of God (verse 4&5)

Point #8 takes us back to point #1 in an almost circular fashion. I think that’s John’s point; faith, love, and obedience are so intertwined that they naturally lead into each other and foster the growth of each other. That’s why James can say ‘faith without works is dead’ (James 2:26) or why Paul can say ‘if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing’ (1 Corinthians 13:2).

These three things are the marks of a true Christian. So, test yourself…

Do you have faith? Do you believe as we saw yesterday that Jesus Christ has come as a propitiation for our sins? Do you believe that you are a sinner fully deserving of God’s judgment and that there is nothing you can do to rescue yourself—that you are ‘dead in your transgressions and sins’ (Ephesians 2:1)? Or do you, like many in our world today, believe that you’re ‘not too bad’—that if God ‘really were loving’, He wouldn’t send a ‘good person’ like you to Hell?

Do you love? Do you ‘love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind’ and do you ‘love your neighbour as yourself’ (Matthew 22:37–38)? Do you love sacrificially till hurts—like God loves us to the point of sending His Son to die for us? Is your love so obvious that it has become magnetic—drawing people in from outside the Church to see what love this is that could unite such a diverse group of people? Or, has your love for God grown cold (Matthew 24:12)? Have you become a lover of yourself, money, and pleasure, rather than a lover of God (2 Timothy 3:1–4)?

Do you obey? Do you keep God’s commands? Do you ‘impress them on your children, talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up’ (Deuteronomy 6:7)? Do you find them burdensome or is it a joy to please your Heavenly Father by obeying Him (1 John 3:22)? Can you say as the Psalmist has in our readings over the past few days, I have obeyed your laws, for I love them very much’ (Psalm 119:167 NLT)? Or, have you made God’s grace cheap and insulted the work of Jesus by continuing in your sin saying, ‘[I] go on sinning so that grace may increase’ (Romans 6:1) and ‘[I] sin because [I am] not under the law but under grace’ (Romans 6:15)?

Brothers and sisters, let us show that we have overcome the world by our faith, love, and obedience.

Heavenly Father, I am sorry for when my faith fails, when my love grows cold, and when my obedience falls short of Your commands. Help me in my unbelief to confess Jesus Christ as my Lord and Saviour. Help me to love You wholeheartedly and to love others even when it hurts. Help me to find joy in obeying You and strengthen me by Your Spirit to do Your will. Amen.

5 November 2018

1 John 4
Psalm 119:121-144

We love because he first loved us.

1 John 4:19

For those of you reading who were on the church camp two weekends ago, this passage will be familiar from Nils’ last talk on ‘Love Displayed’. He explained that the source of our love for each other is God’s love for us and therefore it is natural for us to love others. He also unpacked how our love must be sacrificial—it will cost us—and when we love well it is magnetic—it becomes an evangelistic tool as the world looks at the love of the Church. I don’t want to try to repeat what Nils said, so I am just going to focus today’s devotion on what it means that ‘he [God] first loved us.’

This idea of a loving God is one that our world is quite happy to accept. Unfortunately, what our world means about God’s ‘love’ can sometimes be quite far from what the Bible has to say about His love. Here’s a quote from a popular TV celebrity about how she understands God’s love:

“Today, I feel the fierce love of all that is God so deeply, so strongly and so purely in my heart that it lifts and carries me. Sometimes I actually feel weightless in the love that is God, because I feel it in all things.”

For her, God’s love is a feeling, an emotional experience she has. We’ll see how this view is quite different from the way this passage describes God’s love as first and foremost an action.

Sadly, even many professing Christians have completely misunderstood what God’s love means. Here is another quote but this time from an ‘evangelical’ megachurch pastor:

“No one can resist God’s pursuit forever because God’s love will eventually melt even the hardest hearts.”

He goes on to explain that in the end, God’s love will even overcome Hell and Hell will be no more as everyone eventually turns to God.

These are common views in our world today of what it means that God is love. But, we must not, and cannot let the world determine our theology of God, we must turn to what the Scriptures say as we try to understand who He is. This is how John describes God’s love in today’s passage:

‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins’ (verse 10).

The ESV uses the word ‘propitiation’ instead of ‘atoning sacrifice’, which means the turning away of God’s anger against our sin. This is the part of God which our world, and even many modern ‘Christians’, want to deny: God is angry at us because of our sin. They can’t believe that a loving God could ever be angry at sinners and send them to Hell.

If we deny the sacrifice of Jesus as God’s Son on the cross, John says that is the ‘spirit of the antichrist’ (verse 2–3). If we deny that God is angry at our sin, then we either deny that God is a holy God who cannot tolerate anything less than perfection, or we deny that we are sinful and rightly deserve punishment because of it. Well, we were reminded from the sermon on Sunday morning that God is holy and so He must punish sin. And we were reminded from the devotions last week that if we claim to be without sin we are both deceiving ourselves and making God out to be a liar (1 John 1:8 & 10).

However, when we rightly understand the seriousness of our sin and the magnitude of God’s wrath against it, we will truly understand the immensity of God’s love displayed on the cross—that He would send His one and only Son to be the propitiation for our sins. And only then will we begin to love as He first loved us.

I encourage you to go and listen to the song ‘How Deep the Father’s Love For Us’, to reflect on those words, to confess your sins that sent Jesus to the cross, and to rejoice in His great love for us.

 

2 November 2018

1 John 3

See what great love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! The reason the world does not know us is that it did not know him.

1 John 3:1

In 1 John 1 the author focused on the analogy that a believer no longer walks in darkness but now in light, having recognised that they are a sinner whose sins have been forgiven. In chapter 2, John explained in more detail what walking in the light looks like, namely calling us to obey God’s commands and love each other. He pointed out that if someone claims to be in the light but hates their brother, they still walk in darkness (verse 9). Chapter 3 circles back again to the message of the previous two chapters, but now goes into more depth.

John starts chapter 3 by declaring the great love the Father has for His children (verse 1) and reminds us that although we are still sinful people now, we will one day see Jesus for who He is and we will be like Him. After a reminder that anyone who continues to live in sin cannot truly know God, John spends the next 13 verses (verses 11-24) talking about what it means to love one another. He starts off with an obvious example: don’t be like Cain and murder your brother. We read this and smugly think, “no problem, I’ve never killed anyone.” But now we’re told that Cain’s real issue wasn’t just his actions, but his heart. He belonged to the evil one (verse 12) and his deeds reflected his heart’s allegiance. Do mine? Do yours? Verse 15 says that in God’s eyes, hating a fellow believer is murdering them. We have all been tempted to hate someone, whether in a fleeting moment when they’ve cut us off in traffic or over a period of time when we see a loved one hurt. Now we’re given the ultimate example of Jesus, who showed His love by giving his life for those who hated Him (verse 16). As we live out our faith practically, we can’t and won’t always get it right. In fact, we may start to doubt if we are believers at all. John offers encouragement in this area too: God is greater even than our hearts (verse 20) and He wants us to seek Him to meet all our needs, asking Him for help (verse 22).

In order to drive the point home, John leaves the punchline for last – we have help to obey God’s commands and love others. We don’t have to do it on our own, and in fact it is impossible for us to obey on our strength alone. God has given us the Holy Spirit, who works in and through us, producing fruit that proves Jesus lives in us (verse 24). Praise the Lord! May we go forward living out our true identity as children of God!

Dear Lord, thank You for not leaving us in the dark, but for calling us to the light. Help us to live out our identity in You by obeying Your commands and loving one another! Amen

1 November 2018

1 John 2
Ecclesiastes 10

Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person.

1 John 2:4

If you were on trial for being a Christian, would there be enough evidence to convict you?  This is a question believers in Jesus sometimes say to remind ourselves (and others) that if we claim to know God, it should show in how we live. In 1 John 1, the writer looked at our attitude towards sin as a test of whether or not we truly believe in God, using the contrast of light and darkness to bring his point home.

Now John adds a second question to test our claim of being a true believer in God. In 1 John 2:3 he tells the reader that if they are not sure if they are really saved, they can examine their lives to see if there has been any change in them. Proof of true faith will be seen not just in a change in behaviour (because anyone can change their behaviour for a time) but in a change in attitude. As verse 6 tells us, ‘whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.’ Jesus lived perfectly not to attain perfection, but because he is without sin. With verses like this, there is always the temptation to be concerned more with works than with grace. But we are not told here to obey God so that we can be saved, but because we have been saved.

The writer of 1 John will circle back to this again later in greater detail, but here he explains that walking in the light (as introduced in chapter 1) is not just a mental exercise, but it has hands and feet.

One example of the evidence of our faith is seen in our love for others. In verses 9 and 10, he clearly states that we cannot walk in light and hate those around us, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ. When the world looks at us, do they see someone who shows their love for God through how they love and treat others? This is a reminder, yet again, of the two greatest commandments of the Lord. To put it in simple terms: love God and love others. How we do the latter shows if we are have the former. Otherwise we make God out to be a liar. Why? Because if Jesus saved us from being slaves to sin, why would we still be living as if we are bound by its chains? ‘But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them’ (verse 5).

May that be so for us too, and may the verdict come back as ‘guilty’!

Dear Lord, please help us to hold to the truth of walking in the light, that we would be light to those still walking in darkness. Amen

31 October 2018

1 John 1
Psalm 119:97-120

If we claim to have fellowship with him and yet walk in the darkness, we lie and do not live out the truth … If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.

1 John 1:6, 9

I’m always puzzled when someone says they are a believer in Jesus Christ but they don’t feel the need to be in a church. Usually, this is due to some past bad experience when they have been deeply hurt by other believers, or where they have witnessed hypocrisy in the lives of Christians around them. They claim that they can follow God on their own. To me this seems, to use the author’s analogy of light and dark, a bit like walking in the dark with a torch on. They may have the light (fellowship with God), but they still walk in darkness.

In 1 John 1, the writer uses the comparison of light and darkness to encourage readers to seek reconciliation with God by asking forgiveness for sins. In verse 6, he blatantly says that those who have fellowship with God and yet do not live life any differently are not ‘living out the truth.’ This would mean they are living a lie. To use a medical analogy, it is like being cured of cancer but still having chemotherapy. Why act like you’re still sick when you’re now healthy?

Maybe considering what they have been saved from will help those who prefer not to fellowship with other believers. Verse 9 says that when we confess our sins, the Lord will forgive them. But being forgiven is only the start. Being forgiven for our sins takes us from an uncountable deficit balance before the Lord, and brings our balance to zero. Our sins are no longer counted against us. While it is a huge relief to no longer be in debt, it’s fundamentally more than that. The Lord also purifies us from all unrighteousness. He removes the on-going cause of our sin – our unrighteousness. He transforms us not just be clearing our debt but by clearing our hearts of the desire to pursue unrighteousness any longer. Like being cured from a disease, we now have a new lease on life.

But the change in us is gradual. While we immediately have the righteousness of Christ, we are still carrying the scars of our sin. We still hurt others and sin against God. Our focus must always stay on the Lord and on what He’s done for us, not on the actions of others around us. If you put fellow believers to the test, they will fail. But God never will. 

May we all have come to have this fellowship with the Father and with Jesus!

Dear Lord, help me to examine my life today and see if I am living in the dark or in the light. Please make me more like you. Amen

30 October 2018

2 Peter 3
Psalm 119:73-96

Your hands made me and formed me;
give me understanding to learn your commands.

Psalm 119:73

The Jews of Bible times not only followed God’s laws; they were surrounded by physical reminders of the word from the time they awoke to the time they went to bed. Whether in a box on their foreheads (a phylactery) or on their left arms, or written on the door frames and gates, God’s Word was everywhere. The writer of Psalm 119 speaks both humbly and with conviction; even as he declares his commitment to obey the law, he also sees his own weakness and spiritual struggle to do just that.

In this section of Psalm 119, the psalmist talks in length about and with great love for God’s word. Twenty times he refers to the word of God and his hope in it, whether calling it God’s commands, precepts, promise, laws, statutes, decrees or word. Even as the writer recognizes that God created him with His hands, he sees that he cannot understand and obey God’s commands without God’s help (verse 73). These verses are a ping pong match between praising God’s greatness as author of the word, and declaring his commitment to obeying the law, even as the evil of the day seems to be flourishing. The psalmist sees that even as he is “afflicted” and “wronged” (verse 75 and 78), he will still turn to God’s word for strength and comfort. He longs for God’s decrees to make his heart blameless (verse 80) even as his soul ‘faints with longing for salvation’ and he pleads with God to punish those who persecute him (verse 86). Even in the hours of suffering and not being rescued by his deliverer, he commits himself to meditating on, almost bathing himself in God’s decrees.

This is a man who has put God’s word to the test and found it trustworthy. Therefore he begs God to save him. Why? ‘I am yours,’ he reminds God. May we have a faith as strong as his!

Dear Lord, help me to run to Your word when I am surrounded by conflict, and even when in times of peace. Help me to long for Your word as the psalmist does! Amen

29 October 2018

2 Peter 2
Psalm 119:49-72

But there were also false prophets among the people, just as there will be false teachers among you. They will secretly introduce destructive heresies, even denying the sovereign Lord who bought them—bringing swift destruction on themselves. Many will follow their depraved conduct and will bring the way of truth into disrepute.

2 Peter 2:1-2

I will hasten and not delay
to obey your commands.
Though the wicked bind me with ropes,
I will not forget your law.

Psalm 119:60-61

It has been said that experts in recognising counterfeit money study real currency so intently that they recognise fake bills or coins upon seeing them. Peter could have said the same thing to the believers he addressed in 2 Peter 2. He warns the church that there will be false teachers among them, even those who ‘exploit’ them with ‘stories they have made up’ (2 Peter 2:3).

He goes on to reassure these saints that God is always in control and will condemn those who follow the ‘corrupt desire of the sinful nature.’ It may seem as if those who lead others astray are getting away with it, but Peter assures them (and us) that they will be paid back with ‘harm for the harm they have done’ (verse 13).

The words of the psalmist offer good counsel to believers to make sure they recognise false teaching when they hear it. The best way to know a false teacher is to know the truth of God’s Word so well that heresy sends up a red flag when heard.  While we cannot know everything in the Bible, we at least need to take the time to test what we hear by comparing it to Scripture. Peter’s audience did not have multiple copies of the Bible in different translations on their bookshelves. Yet those believers, and even those of the psalmist’s time, were commanded to obey God’s laws. How much more should we do the same when we have access to both the Bible and to resources designed to help us understand it.

When the psalmist writes that he will ‘hasten’ to follow God’s law, and even be taken prisoner for it, he communicates a passion for God’s Word that I admire and desire. Am I willing to suffer in order to obey God’s laws, even though false teachers ‘bringing the way of truth into disrepute’ seem to be getting away with spreading lies? Help me, Lord, to never forget Your law!

Dear Lord, help me to be faithful to obey Your Word, and to study it so that I recognise false teaching when I hear it. Please help me to never forget Your law! Amen

 

 

26 October 2018

2 Peter 1

His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness.

2 Peter 1:3

How would you answer the question of what it means to lead a godly life? Peter answers this question in the opening chapter of his second letter.  In verse 3 Peter makes a bold statement that God has given us everything we need to live a godly life. God’s power to live the godly life is through our knowledge of Him. This seems too simple and yet too complex at the same time. At a simple level just knowing who God is, is enough to live a godly life; this appears too easy. The complexity is how this can be true, and what it means to know God.

The study we are embarking on now on the attributes of God will definitely help us get to know God better as we explore God’s many characteristics. As we get to know Him better, we will get to love Him more.

We clearly get to know God through what we know of Jesus as described in the Bible. In John 14:7 Jesus says that if we know Him then we know God the Father. Jesus led the godliest life and so knowing Jesus and following His example is what we are called to do as Christians. Spending time in the gospels we get to know our Saviour, our Lord, our King, our Healer our Servant, our Suffering Servant, the author of our faith, the one who enables us to be children of God – and the list goes on. The rest of the New Testament gives us further insight into who Jesus is; amongst other things a humble servant; the ultimate judge; our interceder and the Creator of all.

We are dependent on the Bible to get to know God better, and Peter ends this chapter with a short defence of Scripture – that if we read the Bible, we are reading God’s holy Word. He states that even though Scripture was written down by men, the director of Scripture was God as men were guided by the Holy Spirit. Therefore the Bible is completely reliable and so we should pay very close attention to it. It is through His word that we find life; the way to live and who we live for.

So, as we know Jesus better and listen to His Word more clearly, so we will know God better … and then we will have all we need to live a godly life.

 

25 October 2018

1 Peter 5
Ecclesiastes 9

Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

1 Peter 5:7

There are a few familiar verses in 1 Peter 5. Peter gives a number of short and to the point sets of advice in this chapter.

  • Advice to elders/leaders that they serve out of a willingness to serve but should not do so for personal gain or their own glory but for the glory of God. Humility should be a key personality trait of elders, as well a characteristic of those who fall under the elders.
  • Our first place to go to when we are anxious or worried is to turn to God. (Paul highlights the same in Philippians 4 that when we are anxious we should turn to God in prayer). Our dependence is upon Him because God created us; God has a plan and purpose for our lives; God has shown His love for us in Jesus purchasing our salvation; God loves us more than we can ever imagine and, as Peter has indicated in previous chapters, our suffering should be expected. We should go through our suffering in the knowledge that God is with us and that as Jesus experienced personal suffering more than we can imagine, we should follow Jesus’ example.
  • We need to be aware of the devil’s schemes to trap and entice us into sin, and turn away from God. Satan is the deceiver who is actively looking for victims. Our defence is to trust in the Lord and stand firm in our faith, knowing that Jesus is already victorious. We should also remember that we are not alone and that many saints have experienced similar trials and temptations.
  • We have a great prize to look forward to, an eternity together with Christ. These words of restoration are familiar to the words that Jesus spoke to Peter, viz. that Satan will sift all of Peter the same way that wheat is sifted, but that Peter will be stronger after the trial.

24 October 2018

1 Peter 4
Psalm 119:25-48

Psalm 119: 25-48. 1 Peter 4 continues giving guidance on how we should live for God and how we should respond to sufferings because we are Christians. As a result we will look at Psalm 119 – well known as the longest Psalm – but that should also be known as the Psalm that rejoices in the Word of God. Probably my first exposure to the Psalm was as a result of reading Herman Charles Bosman at high school. In the story the dominee (minister) announces that the congregation will sing Psalm 119. Normally the number of verses that would be sung was announced but not on this occasion. The dominee fell into a trance like sleep and on waking when the Psalm ended, the dominee thought he was in the next service and announced the singing of Psalm 119 again. It was a humorous short story that put me off reading the psalm to my detriment, as I missed out on reading about the wonder and guidance that God’s word gives.

Christopher Ash has written a great book based on Psalm 119 entitled ‘Bible Delight’ and I would encourage anyone who is interested in growing deeper in God’s Word to read this book. Even more I would encourage a frequent reading of this Psalm. Yesterday’s verses refer to the blessings that we receive in being obedient to God’s Word, and how we can live pure lives by following God’s Word.

The psalmist shows that we find strength, perseverance and preservation as we spend time in God’s word and delight in it. We are encouraged to meditate on God’s Word and in so doing be willing to talk to others about God and His ways, enabled to praise and worship God in a more worthy manner.

As we study the attributes of God this term there is no better resource than God’s Word. Many of God’s attributes are referred to in this Psalm. While the Herman Charles Bosman story about Psalm 119 was humorous as a result of repeating the longest psalm, we will find great value and encouragement when we read this psalm regularly.

 

23 October 2018

1 Peter 3
Psalm 119:1-24

But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…

1 Peter 3:15

The opening seven verses of 1 Peter 3 give instructions to wives to live in a way that would draw their unbelieving husbands to Christ. Wives are to display an inner beauty as a result of their relationship with God. Wives are to show that their devotion to the Lord is beneficial to the marriage relationship, and to present Jesus as being so attractive that their husbands would seek to know more and hopefully come to a saving relationship. Similarly, husbands are to show consideration and respect to their wives, their relationship with their wives should be loving and kind. The marriage relationship should be strong so that both partners can encourage their primary relationship, i.e. their relationship with God.

Peter continues the chapter by reinforcing godly living despite the sufferings that we face. A verse that is often referred to in evangelism studies or training is verse 15. We looked at this verse in the recent Living Proof series. Our daily living should be loving, compassionate and humble, strong in the face of trials so that non-believers should be interested as to what motivates us to live as we do. The call is to be prepared when God gives us these opportunities of sharing our faith with enquirers. This preparedness should be that we are clear in our own minds what we believe as Christians, why we believe what we do and how we came to a saving faith in Jesus. This preparedness may mean that we write out a short testimony so that we have some idea of what we say when asked how we became a Christian.

When we are given the opportunity to share our faith we need to do so sensitively. We should not be arrogant or boastful but humbly talk about God’s work in our lives. As Christians, we are being watched and our actions and speech need to be consistent with God’s call upon our lives. We should be praying daily for strength to live righteously and as a result, that God will give us opportunities to present the gospel to non-believers.

 

22 October 2018

1 Peter 2
Psalm 118

But you are a chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you out of darkness into his wonderful light.

1 Peter 2:9

1 Peter 2:9 is very similar to two verses that are repeated in Deuteronomy vz Deut. 7:6 and 14:2. The context of the two verses in Deuteronomy was that the Israelites live very differently from the nations around them and not to fall into the sins of the people whose land God will give them. The context in 1 Peter is very similar as Peter gives instruction that Christians should be visibly different from the pagan world in which they live. Peter gives the ultimate example of how to live in a world that is against Christians by pointing to the example of Jesus.

A key difference between the Israelites of the exodus and Christians in Peter’s time and today is highlighted at the end of verse 9. As Christians we have moved from darkness into light because of Jesus. John’s gospel begins by referring to Jesus as the light that has overcome darkness, and that whoever believes in Jesus walks in the light and becomes children of God.

While the Israelites were the chosen people of God, they weren’t able to fulfil their calling to be different from the world and so succumbed to the sins of the nations they invaded. As Christians today we have the wonderful blessing of being able to experience the promises of the Old Testament that we can overcome the world and to truly be holy. Because of Jesus we are given new hearts and a new spirit (Ezekiel 36); we have the law written on our hearts (Jeremiah 31); we have been delivered from our sin (Isaiah 53).

Paul is clear that we should not conform to the ways of the world but that we should be transformed as we renew our minds. We renew our minds and are transformed as we spend time in the Bible, as we pray and spend time with God, as we seek to know God better, and as we seek to be obedient to His call upon our lives. We should seek the Holy Spirit’s help so that we can discern God’s will and walk in His light for God’s glory.

Just a short note on Psalm 118 – it is after all the shortest chapter in the Bible and before the longest. Verse 8 is the middle verse in the Bible and gives very worthy advice.

‘It is better to take refuge in the Lord than to trust in humans.’ (Psalm 118:8)

 

19 October 2018

1 Peter 1

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. This inheritance is kept in heaven for you..

1 Peter 1:3-4

In yesterday’s devotion from Mark 16, we spent time thanking God for saving us through Jesus and prayed for Him to help us tell someone else about Jesus.

Today, our reading from 1 Peter 1 exhorts us to do that all the more. Come to think of it, we can never thank the Lord enough for what He has done, and is doing in our lives can we? In the light of that, let’s reflect especially on verse 3-4.

Who does all our praise go to? To the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ – no one deserves praise and honour and glory and thanksgiving as He does – no-one!

What is the reason for such praise? His mercy. That is, not getting what we absolutely deserve. Note that it’s actually described as great mercy.

We have been given (not earned or merited or deserved) new birth – that is, we’ve been born again. A very different day between the day of our natural birth and the day of our spiritual birth – in one, we were born to death; in the other, we were born to life!

Birth into a hope that is not a dead hope, but a living hope. Alive today and for all eternity!

Oh dear Christian, stop and consider this great truth: that because Jesus did not remain dead but was raised to life, we, when we physically die one day, we will be so much more alive than we ever were. That is something worth praising God for!!

Because of the Son’s resurrection, because of the Father’s mercy, we have an inheritance that is kept in heaven for us and we are kept now for it. Because our inheritance is in heaven, it cannot perish, spoil, or fade. Isn’t that worth praising God for? All the stuff that we are and own here on earth perishes, spoils, and fades away. It ends up on the local dump! But not what God has gifted us! Not the riches that He has kept for us in heaven.

In the light of all these incredible blessings that are ours by the Lord’s incredible kindness, we pray that God, by His Spirit will help us to be holy, set apart, different, not conforming to evil human desire (verse 14-15). We pray that we too will be holy just as He who called us is holy.

And that He will enable us to obey the truth so that we have sincere love for our fellow brothers and sisters in Christ, and love one another deeply, from the heart.

For our praise … is not just to praise God with our lips, but with our lives given in gratitude and thanksgiving to Him as a holy offering!

Our Father in heaven, help us to understand all that is ours by faith in and through Jesus’ resurrection from the dead; and help us to overflow with praise and thanksgiving. Help us to understand all that we are by faith in and through Jesus’ resurrection, and help us to offer our lives as a holy offering to you. Amen

18 October 2018

Mark 16
Ecclesiastes 8

Mark 16. Last time to consider our three questions:

Who is Jesus? … He is the LORD –  Mark 1 verse 1 and Mark 8 verse 29

What did He do? … rose (was raised) from the dead – verse 6

How should we respond? … we should go and tell – verse 7

When you have witnessed a most remarkable event, what is the first thing that you do? You go and tell someone else – maybe a loved one or a friend. But whoever it is – you share the good news. Is that not so?

The three women came expecting Jesus to be dead – bringing spices to anoint His body in preparation for burial. They were wondering how they might gain access to the tomb. And then they encountered the most remarkable event. The tomb was open … the tomb was empty! Jesus has risen; He is not here! They were the first to discover that Jesus, who was dead a couple of days ago, was risen from the dead (just as, in fact, Jesus had said He would). ‘Trembling and bewildered’ (verse 8), they went off to tell others about this remarkable event.

He was dead … so many people witnessed it, they witnessed it!

He was buried … the disciples saw it, they saw it!

He is no longer dead … they were witnesses to it!

Everything that He said is true. Everything that was said about Him in the Scriptures is true. They saw it with their own eyes!

Jesus died for the sins of the world. He was raised for the justification of all believers. He is seated at the right hand on the throne of God. He is coming again!

Go, tell someone about this. Go, tell everyone. Today might be the day they see and believe too. Today, might be their day of salvation.

Take time now to thank the LORD for the person through whom the gospel came to you: perhaps a preacher, maybe a spouse, or a child or a parent, grand-parent, or another family member. Maybe even be a work colleague or friend.

Thank God for the Word through which you head about Jesus and were saved.

Thank God for being so gracious to you. Thank Him for helping you to believe in Him through Christ. And thank Him for His daily grace in your life.

Then, ask Him to enable you to do one of the most uncomfortable things that you have done in a long time … to go, tell someone about Jesus’ saving power – even today!

17 October 2018

Mark 15
Psalm 117

Mark 15. Let’s ask those familiar three questions again:

Who is Jesus?… the king of the Jews – verse 2

What did He do?…came to saved others from their sin – verse 31

How should we respond?…follow Him and not the crowd – verse 15

It’s so easy to follow the ways of the world – isn’t it? It’s our natural bias. Every day we are bombarded with so many attractions that pull us away from being Christian: pleasure seeking, materialism, popularity, achievements etc.

Things that make us forget who we are in Christ.

We have to ask therefore, and be honest, what it is that makes us want to, like Pilate, ‘please and satisfy the crowd’? What is it that makes us choose to go with the flow, instead of upstream? Why are we unwilling to side with, to stand with Jesus?

Are you ashamed of Him? Are you ashamed of what Jesus stands for? Are you ashamed of His gospel message? Are you ashamed of this powerful means by which your unbelieving family and friends can actually be saved? Or … is it a fear of being mocked and persecuted for living and speaking about Jesus and His saving power?

Is it just plain unbelief? You don’t really believe that God would have a plan such as this; don’t believe that His one and only Son would be crucified for the sins of the world?

Dear Christian, don’t be like Pilate! Don’t want to be in favour of the crowd and an enemy of God. Don’t fall into the trap of being one person at church with your Christian friends, and a completely different person at home, at work, or at play. Be who you are. Always!

Imagine how things might have turned out if Jesus, instead of Barabbas, was released on that day. What would have happened with us and with our massive problem of sin? Thankfully, this was all part of God’s plan to save men, women, and children from eternal hell and, in the end, He too was who He is – the gracious, Saviour of the world.

Consider this then and:

  1. Thank God for His plan of salvation in Christ
  2. Ask God for help in resisting the temptation to ‘follow the crowd’ and, instead, to stand firm and stand out by being different because you are in the world but not of the world.

16 October 2018

Mark 14
Psalm 116

Mark 14. Remember, from yesterday, the three questions Mark always wants us to ask:

Who is Jesus? …He is the Son of God – verse 36

What did He do? … He came to do the will of His Father – verse 36

What does it mean to follow Him?  … For us to watch and pray – verse 38

In this world of selfishness, self-sufficiency, ‘me, myself & I’ attitudes, this passage should be a massive rebuke to us. If we are honest (and we’d do well to stop and think about this), giving up our wills for others is not the first thing we do. We are too self-absorbed more often than not.

But Christian, if the Son of God gave Himself up to do His Father’s will … we, who claim to be His followers must surely then follow His example of humility and service – even to the point of death! Yet, like the first disciples, we fall asleep when we should be awake.

They had one job: ‘stay here and keep watch’  (verse 32, 34 and 38). They failed. And they failed again. And again! Our response as gospel readers today must be: ‘don’t be like the first disciples!’ Jesus warned them about falling into temptation and it is something we should take to heart as we are often prone to do exactly the same thing.

As a local church we are about knowing Christ and making Him known. We are, this year, about growing deep and loving deep.

These are no small things. They require great discipline. They require a deep commitment to be other-centred. It means that we must be awake and stay awake. We should always looking out for opportunities to do God’s will and, in the light of our mission (to make Christ known), to understand that without Christ, those we love dearly will end up in hell one day.

In the paragraph before and after this one we read how easy it can be to turn away. With the prediction that Peter will deny Jesus; so Jesus’ warning about falling into temptation is a real warning to us too. A warning that we must listen to and heed!

Our Father in heaven, forgive us for being so selfish sometimes. Please help us to understand Your will for our lives especially Lord, in terms of reaching others with the powerful Gospel of salvation. May Your will, Your purposes be fulfilled in our lives today and always. Amen.

15 October 2018

Mark 13
Psalm 115

Mark 13. My NIV Bible has 2 headings that help in getting an overview of this chapter.

The first is headed “signs of the end of the age,” but I would like to focus on the second one “the day and the hour unknown” verse 32-37.

Clearly it is a warning for the reader.

The authoritative commands (imperatives) that are soaked in this closing paragraph are worth meditating on:

‘Be on guard; be alert’ – verse 33

‘Keep watch‘ – verse 35

‘Watch!’ – verse 37

In a nutshell, we must be prepared for the day when the ‘Son of Man comes in the clouds with great power and glory’.

Whenever we read this Gospel, Mark, we should be asking and answering at least three questions from the text:

Who is Jesus? He is the Son of Man – verse 26

What did He do? He warned His disciples – verse 5 and verse 35

What does it mean to follow Him? Be ready verse 32-37

But, what does it mean to be ready? And how can we be ready today?

When I was a very young believer, someone told me about ‘the 5 minute rule’ which is to live now as if the LORD will return in 300 seconds’ time! Instead of speculating, instead of listening to false prophets, we should be waiting, trusting God who promised that His Son, our LORD Jesus will come back again as Judge – in 5 minutes’ time. Ready with our lives in order; ready with our houses in order – ready if He returned in the next 5 minutes! Are you ready?

As we wait, one way we show we’re ready is by proclaiming the gospel at any and every opportunity – warning others, as we have been warned, about Christ’s imminent return as Judge. Your task today, even now, is to not give up telling others about Jesus. But, before you do that, speak first to God about those on our hearts and our prayer lists who need to come to faith in Christ.

Our Father in heaven, please keep us alert. Help us to live as if, in the next five minutes, You will bring to an end this world as we know it. Help us to be urgent not only about our lifestyle, but also about those who need salvation in Christ. We name them before you now in Jesus’ Name. Amen.

12 October 2018

Mark 12

Jesus sat down opposite the place where the offerings were put and watched the crowd putting their money into the temple treasury. Many rich people threw in large amounts. But a poor widow came and put in two very small copper coins, worth only a few cents.

Calling his disciples to him, Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put more into the treasury than all the others. They all gave out of their wealth; but she, out of her poverty, put in everything—all she had to live on.”

Mark 12:41-44

How much do you give to God?…(pause and reflect on this question)

Most of us, I assume, think immediately of money. The passage above leads us to this too. But in the context of Mark 12 its way more than money. It’s the giving of ourselves in full. In the same chapter we hear, “Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.” (verse 29-30)

This account is about our money and what we give, but it’s also about so much more. It’s about what we give, surrender and devote to Him. Heart, Soul, Mind and Strength means everything we are and do. The modern life of faith often means we give sections of our lives, Sundays, bible studies and our kids’ youth groups. But what God requires, DESERVES, is way more. As our Creator, Sustainer, Saviour He deserves more glory and honour. He deserves more time…time in thought, word and action. How much of these things do we give to God?

Pause again…As you walk, talk, work, parent, friend, husband, wife, carer, do you do all for the love of God?

Prayer: Lord, help us. Lord, guide us. Lord, forgive us. Lord empower us by Your Holy Spirit to love and serve You with all our heart, soul, mind and strength. Amen.