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

20 April 2018

Acts 15

Not a or b, but – making wise decisions (Acts 15)
​​
​Have you ever had to make a really difficult decision, but were just not sure which way to go? King Solomon faced a difficult decision early on in his reign (1 Kgs 3:16-28). He was called upon to adjudicate on a matter involving two prostitutes and their babies, one of whom had died. Who did the living baby belong to? There was conflicting testimony from the mothers.  At first glance, it appears that Solomon had to decide between the mothers – a or b? But Solomon discerns a third option – not a or b, but c, and he is commended for his wise decision; the living baby is reunited with his biological mother (3:24-28).
In our text today, Acts 15, the early church faced a difficult situation. In the historical context, the Apostle Paul had been preaching a law-free Gospel with God’s blessing. At this point in the narrative, we know that Paul is in the right. However, some unnamed believers from the party of the Pharisees oppose Paul’s message, arguing that you cannot be saved unless you are circumcised and observe the law of Moses (Acts 15:1, 5). Given the religious context of the day that gave prominence to the Law of Moses, their argument gains traction.
The church in Antioch discerns the significance of this issue: Not only the truth of the Gospel is at stake, but also the prospect of a divided Jew/Gentile church if the matter is not satisfactorily resolved. The issue is discussed at a council in Jerusalem involving the church, apostles and elders. Once again, it appears as though the leadership must simply decide between the opposing parties – a or b? But after receiving testimony from the relevant parties and consulting the Scriptures, a consensus is reached by the leadership – not a or b, but c:  Gentiles do not need to become Jews to be saved, but Gentile believers should be aware in their actions of Jewish sensitivities to the law of Moses (Acts 15:19-21). This was a wise decision that sought to preserve not only the truth of the Gospel, but also Jew-Gentile unity in the early church. When confronted again by a really difficult decision, biblical wisdom demands that you look for that third option – not a or b, but c. Such decision-making honours God and brings blessing to His people.

19 April 2018

Acts 14
Proverbs 13

Expect many hardships (Acts 13-14)
We continue with this theme of suffering, but return to the Book of Acts for a different perspective on the matter. Our reading today is Acts 14, but for the sake of completeness, we will also include Acts 13. This chapter represents an important turning point in the Acts’ narrative. The church at Antioch commissions Barnabas and Saul (i.e. Paul) to undertake a missionary journey to take the Gospel to the (Gentile) nations. This journey is commonly referred to as Paul’s ‘first missionary journey.’
Towards the end of this journey in Acts 14, Paul retraces some of his steps, returning to a number of cities he had already visited to strengthen the disciples there and encourage them to remain true to the faith. At this point, Paul makes the following statement: “We must go through many hardships to enter the kingdom of God” (Acts 14:22). In the context of Paul’s missionary journey, this statement is hardly a surprise. Paul has experienced intense persecution: some of the Jews opposed Paul’s ministry in Pisidian Antioch, stirring up persecution against him and Barnabas, and expelling them from the region (13:45, 50). At Iconium, they needed to flee for their lives to escape a plot to mistreat and stone them (14:5-7), and in Lystra, Paul is stoned and left for dead (14:19).  Many hardships, indeed!
But Paul speaks of “we…” In the historical context, he is addressing regular believers like you and me. So, while Paul and his ministry companions are included in the reference to “many hardships”, you and I are not exempt. Interestingly, Paul makes this declaration as a word of encouragement, that all disciples may remain true to the faith (14:22). Forewarned is forearmed! Are you experiencing hardships in your life and relationships right now as a Christian, because you’re a Christian? Paul would say to you, “I told you so! In fact, you can expect much more of the same.” So where’s the encouragement in that? Paul would add, “Don’t be surprised when the going gets tough; that’s the way it’s meant to be. We live and serve in a fallen world, opposed to God. But the good news is that these hardships will not deter you from entering the Kingdom of God, any more than the persecutions and opposition I encountered in my first missionary journey derailed the purposes and plans of God” (cf. Acts 13:48-52; 14:26-28).

 

18 April 2018

Acts 13
Psalm 39

Be honest with God (Psalm 39)
We will continue with the theme of prayer in today’s reading, but will change our focus to the Psalms, Psalm 39, to be specific. Many believers are drawn to the Psalms and regularly meditate of this part of the Bible for their daily devotions. The oft-quoted ACTS acronym regarding prayer – adoration, confession, thanksgiving and supplication – provides a helpful pattern for praying through this part of Scripture. However, Psalm 39 doesn’t neatly fit into any of these ACTS categories. It is labelled a psalm of lament. One commentator describes these psalms as follows: “The Lament Psalms are complaints to God, plain and simple. Even more than the “why” and “how long” psalms ….the Laments express to God the raw feelings that we sometimes experience when what we know about God (His love and mercy) just does not square with what we see happening to us in the real world. We see this pattern in Psalm 39:
“10 Remove your scourge from me; 
         I am overcome by the blow of your hand…
      13 Look away from me, that I may enjoy life again 
         before I depart and am no more.”
As a believer, you may balk at the thought of lamenting about God. After all, aren’t we meant to love and fear Him, no matter what? But clearly the Bible considers it permissible. In these laments, it is important to note that the believer is not complaining to others about God, but is rather in dialogue with God. As such, these laments portray a perspective of faith, not unbelief. Once again we can see this truth in Psalm 39:
“7 But now, Lord, what do I look for?
My hope is in you.
8 Save me from all my transgressions;
do not make me the scorn of fools…
12 Hear my prayer, LORD,
listen to my cry for help;
do not be deaf to my weeping.”
Are you struggling in your walk with God, bewildered by life’s events and perhaps disappointed with God? The temptation is to turn from Him. But these psalms of lament are a reminder that your experience is not unique amongst God’s people. They encourage you to be honest with God and to persist in your faith, even when nothing makes sense. And reflection on Jesus’ death and subsequent resurrection  will teach you that suffering and struggles will not have the last word in your life.

17 April 2018

Acts 12
Psalm 38

Pray…to the Lord (Acts 12)
How is your prayer-life going? Most of us need some encouragement in this area. Our text can help.
In Acts 12, King Herod, a local ruler, is persecuting leaders in the early church to gain favour with the Jews. He has the Apostle James put to death. He then proceeds to seize Peter, placing him in a well-guarded prison to await trial (12:1-4). Many in the church gather to pray earnestly to God for Peter. God miraculously delivers Peter at the 11th hour to the astonishment of both the church and Peter himself (12:5-17). No explicit connection is drawn in the text between the church’s prayers and Peter’s subsequent deliverance although the flow of the text seems to imply this. The text focuses on the details of Peter’s deliverance. In this regard, it is noteworthy that although the church prayed “to God” (12:5), Peter later testifies how “the Lord” [Italics added], rescued him from prison (12:11-12). This detail is important. The “Lord” is a title that signifies God’s presence and faithfulness to His covenant promises – promises to bless His people, and curse their enemies (cf. Gen.12:1-3; Ex. 3:14-15), truths evident in both Peter’s deliverance and Herod’s subsequent death (12:11, 21-23). Peter had experienced God’s presence and faithfulness firsthand, and had now come to recognise and confess this truth (12:17).
In this account, King Herod persecutes the church, and James dies. But lest the reader conclude that the Lord’s power, presence or promises had failed, the Lord goes to great lengths to deliver Peter miraculously despite Herod’s best efforts to secure his imprisonment for trial (12:4). Although the church did pray fervently for Peter, they were totally surprised by his deliverance (12:14-16). So the text makes the point that it is the Lord, rather than the faith of those who prayed, that was responsible for Peter’s deliverance.
But herein lies the encouragement to pray: The Lord hears and answers your prayers because of who He is, and not because of who you are. The Lord is always present with His people to hear their prayers, and faithful to His promises to answer them. So trust Him in all the ups and downs of your life, even where His deliverance is not forthcoming. The Lord can bring deliverance, but in His wisdom and purposes may choose not to. But He is still at work in your circumstances, and will not fail you.

16 April 2018

Acts 11
Psalm 37

“I am not a racist, but…!” (Acts 11)
Perhaps you have said these words, or heard someone else say them. Racism remains a prickly issue for many today, even in the church. We don’t like to talk about it because it can be contentious, so we avoid the topic. However, our text, Acts 11, raises the issue, and so if we are to be faithful to God’s Word, we need to reflect on what the Scriptures have to say on the matter.
In the historical context, God has exposed the Apostle Peter’s prejudice towards the Gentiles as a group. He prejudged them to be ‘unclean’ and, therefore, unacceptable to God and outside of His saving purposes (cf. Acts 10). Peter was not unique in this regard; he was simply reflecting the sentiments of his culture. You may recall the incident in the Gospels involving Jesus and a Syrophoenician/Canaanite woman seeking deliverance for her demon-possessed daughter (cf. Matt.15:21-28). Jesus’ disciples respond by asking him to “Send her away”. Jesus’ disciples were prejudiced (= she is not one of ‘us’; she is undeserving of your help). In this context, Jesus refers to the Gentiles as “dogs”, not because he shared those sentiments, but probably to expose the ugliness of prejudice. Jesus delivers the Canaanite’s daughter to reveal that the Gospel is also for the (Gentile) “dogs”.
This truth is the burden of Peter’s testimony in Acts 11, where the Apostle is back in Jerusalem and is confronted by a group of circumcised (Jewish) believers who criticise him for entering the house of uncircumcised (Gentile) men and eating with them (11:1-3). Once again prejudice rears its ugly head. Peter’s response? He testifies that as he was preaching to the Gentile Cornelius and his household, God gave the Holy Spirit to these Gentiles, just as He had done for the Jews who believed the Gospel at Pentecost, signifying their acceptance before God (cf. Acts 2)! When Peter’s critics realised that God had granted repentance that leads to life even to the Gentiles, their opposition subsided; they had no further objections (11:15-18). 
Here is a key to reversing prejudice in the church: If God accepts people from every nation who fear Him (cf. Acts 10:34-5), who am I to reject them or prejudge them as inferior in any way?

13 April 2018

Acts 10

Acts 10 has a cast of characters that includes Roman top brass, an extra-celestial, a top apostle, a tanner, and some unnamed extras that include a mix of Jews and Gentiles. It’s a racy, all-action drama with some comical moments and a happy ending. It’s also a story of surprises.

Scene 1: Meet Cornelius. He’s part of the colonialist occupation force, but unaccountably has abandoned Roman superstition and polytheism for worship of the Jewish God alone. He’s devout, prayerful and socially concerned. At 3pm one afternoon he’s having his siesta. Not. He’s having a vision. What on earth did he eat for lunch? Mushrooms?

“Cornelius meet the angel.” “Oh, wow. I’ve always wanted to meet one. Show him in.” Not a bit of it. ‘Cornelius stared at him in terror’ (vs 4). Shock treatment. A celestial knows more about me than Google! “Send some men to Joppa. They should ask for Simon.” That’s a little confusing. There are two Simons living in the house. One smells like a tanner, the other used to smell of fish. The leader apostle hasn’t booked himself into a 5-star hotel. Lesson there, is there, for itinerant evangelists?

Scene 2. Peter out flat. What’s happening? Simon–not the tanner–is flat out on the flat roof. He’s waiting for lunch. Maybe fell asleep as he tried to pray. That’s not so unusual, is it? Anyway, God interrupts him for an advanced lesson in theology and racial inclusiveness. It’s a 3 sheet show. There’s a stage voice. “Get up, Peter! It’s meal time.” “Oh, great. How did you know I was so hungry?” Not a bit of it. Peter says, “Eat that stuff? No, Lord!”

Oops! Last time Peter tried that “No way, lord!” (Mark 8:32f.), he got a serious rap over the knuckles from none other than Jesus himself. Not Peter’s finest moment. There were others like that still to come. Here in our story: ‘Peter was very perplexed… puzzling over the vision’ (vv.17, 19). Perplexed? This guy is head honcho apostle? Er, I’m afraid so. A work in progress, you know.

The Holy Spirit has things to say. One thing that Peter understands is: “Get up and go downstairs…” Straightforward enough. But Peter is in for another surprise. Three guys have come looking for him, and they’re not the Temple police.

Scene 3: Cornelius’ house. Another comical woops. ‘As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him’ (vs 25). “Oh dear. I thought you told me Cornelius was a devout monotheist?” “I did. I’m afraid this wasn’t Cornelius’ finest moment.” “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” says Peter, shocked. Indeed. I think we’ve grasped that, Peter, how human you are. But we find that quite encouraging.

Scene 4: Peter, meet the Gentiles. Enter Peter. Not “Hi guys!”, but… “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you…” (vs 28). Er, Peter, is that the most tactful first greeting you’ve ever made? Nevertheless, Cornelius and friends are agog. What will this man come out with next?

Scene 5: Peter tries a preach. “I see very clearly that God shows no favouritism.” That’s better, Peter. You getting it now. Took you a while. “There is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is lord of all… God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power…” (vs 36,38). Now you’re talking, Peter. Talking about Jesus. Yes, Peter is definitely warming up now, getting into his stride. “We apostles are witnesses of all he did… we eat and drank with him after he rose from the dead…(vs 39, 41b). Cool!

Scene 6: Peter interrupted. ‘Even as Peter was saying these things…’ (vs 44). Who interrupts the sermon? Oh, wow! It’s the Holy Spirit. Doesn’t wait for “Finally, and I finish with this…” as preachers sometimes say. ‘The Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message’. So the rest of Peter’s sermon is drowned out by his listeners bursting into tongues. It’s the turn of the Jewish extras who came along with Peter to be shocked to their roots. They’re ‘amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too’ (vs 45). I bet Luke enjoyed writing that line! And after that they all got wet, wet, wet with baptismal water.

The moral of the story for us Gentiles? Don’t get smug! We all need converting twice. Once to faith in Jesus. Then again to our fellow believers, the odd cultural ways they do things and other differences. We know all about racism and xenophobia in our neck of the woods. There are many other ungodly forms of prejudice.

Do we learn from the Spirit any faster than Peter and friends did? We should. We have their story open right in front of us.

12 April 2018

Acts 9
Proverbs 12

One can overdose on proverbs. So what’s the best way to read a chapter? Probably by taking one or two items to heart to ponder, those that jump out as specially meaningful in our context.

The Lord is mentioned explicitly in 4 out of the 56 lines of Proverbs 12. The majority 52 lines are based in observation and outcome, using the simple two-box contrast between those wanting to follow God’s way and those who are the hot-tempered, callous, cruel, deceitful, boastful and indolent.

  • Do I observe human behaviour and learn from it? [including my own]
  • Is this ancient two-liner stuff still relevant?

Well, consider that in South Africa as well as the so-called civilised UK, laws are needed on the books, and societies are formed against cruelty to animals—and that’s not just slaughtering our rhinos for their horns.

“The godly care for their animals

but the wicked are always cruel” (vs 10)

If care for animals is God’s way, how much more so care for children!

Take verse 22 and think of South African politics:

“The LORD detests lying lips,

but he delights in those who tell the truth.”

This is applicable in the home as well as in the public space—in our courts, in Parliamentary investigations and in judicial inquiries, whether that’s Eskom or Marikana or State capture or the deaths of mental patients. We need the truth.

A response is that we give thanks for and pray for those who speak out in South Africa and may receive death threats as a result. Thuli Madonsela was an inspiration.

A challenge is that we hold ourselves as equally accountable as we do the politicians—that is, that we be free of deceit, covering over our misconduct, and avoid misrepresentation in what we say about others. It starts at home and continues in our workplace.

  • Is this an issue for church life?

You bet! “Do not lie to one another!” That’s the apostle Paul writing applied theology to the Ephesian believers (Eph 4:25). Check out that paragraph.

And the positive take on words in contrast to lying words?

The power of words to affirm and encourage.

“Worry weighs a person down:

an encouraging word cheers a person up.” (vs 25)

Affirmation, appreciation, encouragement – it’s in our power to bless.

  • Who could I express this blessing towards today?

11 April 2018

Acts 8
Psalm 36

Lots of psalms appeal to God against enemies, and Psalm 36 kicks off by characterising those who have sold out to sinful attitudes that impact members of their community. Most of these threats arise from neighbours, criminals, rivals and political conspirators. Then there are invading armies.

Many in South Africa live in fear because of the violence that surrounds them. This violence erupts in the home against wives and children, in rapes, in xenophobic attacks, in shootings at taxi ranks, between gangs over drugs, and in political assassinations. Violence is a sickness that afflicts South Africa. Sin is real and reflected in every newspaper and TV cast. I drive past the Tokai forest fence where the coloured ribbons remind me of the eruption of rape and murder in our society even as I head for church.

The roots of all this violence can be analysed in sociological terms and generational patterns, sometimes very helpfully, but as Psalm 36 tells it, the fundamental root of human-on-human violence is sin starting with the sinful choice to disregard God himself.

“Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts

They have no fear of God at all ” (vs 1)

Those wanting to go God’s way, in the positive ‘fear of the LORD’, know that this is not being frightened of God, but rather is the feeling of respect and reverence for the Lord in the light of His steadfast love.

In fact, the focus of Psalm 36 is not on the threatening human beings so much as on the Lord and His steadfast commitment (see vs 5–10).

“Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens

your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.”  (vs 5)

“You are the fountain of life

the light by which we see.” (vs 9)

The story has moved on since the psalmist’s times but criminal violence is still with us. So the unfailing love of the Lord is what we need to hold onto at our core and onto Jesus’ promise of life and of raising us from the dead, based on His own suffering of violence and amazing resurrection.

And why?

Because—read Acts—the Lord may not protect us from the sinful behaviour of the violent, be they drunk drivers or armed robbers. But come what may, Jesus, and only Jesus, offers us life and His love, steadfastly, on-goingly, forever.

10 April 2018

Acts 7
Psalm 35

Acts 7. “Brothers and Fathers…” Stephen starts off politely. By the end of his preach, and it is a preach, his exposition has gone rock-shaped. Stephen is hurling insults at his listeners and they are hurling stones at him. 

I’m not sure if his sermon would get a pass from his homiletics tutor. Stephen begins in Mesopotamia and rambles through The History of Israel: 101. Abraham to Joseph, Moses and Aaron, the tabernacle, David. I’m thinking: “Where are you going with this? Your audience know all this. What’s your point? Get to your point, Stephen!” About 50 verses in, he finally does.

He runs a DNA scan over his listeners and finds that they have inherited some seriously defective spiritual genes. This emboldens him to insult both audience and ancestors in the same breath. He’s said ‘our ancestors’ (vs 39 & 44), but now he gets up close and personal with: You are uncircumcised and deaf!” (vs 51). He could scarcely have pulled a ruder comment from his vocabulary bag for this Jewish audience. That’s his point alright! Ouch!

Now he’s got rhetorical, there’s no stopping him. “Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute!… they killed…” (vs 52). Actually, Stephen, off the top of my head I could name 3 or 4. Yes, Moses had hassles with the Israelites, but he attained a ripe old age and finished with a mountain-top preview of the Promised Land [binoculars not included]. Samuel, prophet, priest and king-maker makes his retirement speech and totters offstage to a doddery end. David who is called a prophet goes shivery and as a unique frailcare intervention receives Miss Israel as bed-fellow and hot water bottle. Lucky David; maiden not so much. Or think Nathan who fingers David for theft, adultery and murder. He’s not decapitated by royal command. Elijah dodged the foreign Jezebel’s death threat and got a hot extraction to heavenElisha was called a baldy, but the taunting lads came off second. As for Hosea, Joel, Micah, Zeph, Haggai, Zech and Malachi… well, we don’t hear of them being mistreated like Jeremiah. Herod Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded, but your audience wouldn’t rate any Herod as their ancestor. So you see, Stephen, it’s best to avoid sweeping generalisations and accusations in the heat of the moment.

The Lord halts Stephen’s preach at this point by giving him a breath-taking visual aid, so he can’t help but make the main point the main point. “Stephen saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honour at God’s right hand” (vs 55). Join the dots. See Dan 7:13f. with Mark 14:61f.

“Look, I see the heavens opened…” Stephen is better at personal testimony and prayer than preaching. Contrast Peter’s preach in the Temple (Acts 3:12ff.). Peter is no less direct, but more conciliatory and positively offers repentance, hope and blessing from the Lord.

Stephen might fall short on sermon marks, but he ends on his knees in a prayer shaped by Jesus his Lord: “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” (7:60 and Lk 23:34 & 46) “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (7:59). We deeply need forgiveness and assurance to pray for and forgive others in turn.

If we share our testimony to Jesus crucified and exalted in Cape Town, we won’t be stoned. Fellow-believers in other countries are indeed being killed for Jesus. We might more likely end in a coma following dementia or losing a battle with cancer or stroke. We need Stephen’s vision of Jesus no less to end well. Or to continue on for years as Jesus’ loyal disciples.

9 April 2018

Acts 6
Psalm 34

When we read the exciting story of the growing church in Acts 6, the question pops up: What’s different, from back then to now?

Not human nature, for sure. Nor human need.

The new community of Jesus was made up of human beings and so…

“as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent” (vs 1)

Some people are easily discontented and critical. But… this situation is different. Some widows were being marginalised in a basic way—in their need for food. Oops!

In every society, there are going to be those who are not doing well, and who struggle because of discrimination. The Old Testament mentions widows, orphans, foreigners and the poor as needing special care. As followers of Jesus, we especially need to be aware of the vulnerable in our midst. That’s why Grief Share and Divorce Care reach out to the hurting, and why there’s a feeding scheme operating for those who lack nourishment. Others struggle with depression or disabilities.

The process of response to the neglect is noteworthy—it is practical, spiritual and consultative. All three combined.

The food program needed better management by reliable representatives. The job qualifications were ‘well respected’,’full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (vs 3). The solution commended itself—‘everyone liked this idea and they chose…’ (vs 5). Integrity, reliability, responsibility, wisdom…these are marks of the Spirit’s transforming work in us. We certainly need it! Of course, the apostles—the 11 plus replacement Matthias—needed to fulfil their calling to preach, teach, pray and lead (vs 2 and 4). They’d been with Jesus over three years as training and they must have realised what slow learners they’d been themselves.

Okay, that’s clear, then.  A take-away is this: There’s no true spirituality without practicality and no godly management systems without openness to the Spirit and to one another. Here in Acts 6, the leaders listen and confer. They do not dictate. While those who belong speak up and they discern who rightly takes responsibility for what. Serving at tables is honourable. The Spirit is at work through all.

But why only men for the food program? Is this gender factor prescriptive for who runs the Westlake feeding scheme? Is 7 a magic number?

At the Jerusalem start-up, choosing seven candidates, male only, seemed a good move and was an agreed one (vs 5). It was a cultural fit. We need solutions to our management issues that are wise and appropriate and perceived to be so both by our leadership team and our church community members.  Our church motto lines up with this: Together, we work to know Christ and make Christ known. It’s a lot to live up to. We too need the Spirit to fulfil this.

There’s a sequel (vs 8–15). Do you want a face like the face of an angel? It doesn’t come in a jar by the mirror. It seems that in-between serving meals, Stephen took time off to perform ‘amazing miracles and signs’ and to expound Jesus as the Messiah foretold by the Scriptures (vs 10) through the power of the Spirit.

For myself, given a choice, I’d opt for old age with wrinkles rather than being stoned to death. Which reminds us that some of our fellow-believers are being imprisoned and put to death for less than public debate, even as we sit in our favourite places at our services week by week.  

We have so much to give thanks for.

6 April 2018

Acts 5

‘What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’
Acts 5:4

The fear of God.

I remember reading ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins and shaking my head as I read his mocking and scorn of the Christian God. I recall thinking what a fearful day it will be for him when he meets the living God and has to swallow his words under the fearful judgment of the one he scorned. Acts 5 brings this reality to the forefront: you can’t mess with God.

Ironically, as a believer, I find it easy to recognise someone else’s lack of fear of God and yet I am slow to see my own. Ananias and Sapphira have the same problem. They think they can hide what they were doing from people and forget that God is all-seeing and serious about holiness. In lying they show that their view of God is small and don’t realise that they are in fact lying to God, and the consequences are fatal. The shocking thing is that this all takes place by and in the midst of God’s people. It’s something you would expect of the world, which thinks flippantly of God, but not of the Church. But here we have it: a flippancy towards holiness and the absence of a fear of God.

As I contemplate this reality my heart is unsettled as I think of how often my thoughts and actions reveal a low view of God. I shudder to think how often I have been flippant about the things of God or been unfased by God’s people doing the same. I fear that in our resounding theology of grace and God’s goodness we have overlooked the serious nature of holding a high view of God. Perhaps we have become too familiar with God, or perhaps we have taken on the flippant attitude of the world around us? What should we do?

Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” (vs 11) We must remember that the God we serve is holy, that He is ever-present by His Holy Spirit and that He is all-knowing. True fear of God is shown in our attitude, our words and in our actions as we live before a holy God. We should live our lives in the knowledge of His presence and seek to honour Him in everything we do. By doing this we reveal our fear of God.

5 April 2018

Acts 4
Proverbs 11

The Lord detests dishonest scales,
    but accurate weights find favour with him.

Proverbs 11:1

In New Testament times, the scale was used for most sales of goods. It would be relatively easy to slightly adjust the weights to your benefit and most purchasers would not have known. The seller would have been the only one to know and benefit from it.

One of the problems of money and riches is that people chase after them by any means possible. This verse clearly instructs us that cheating others to gain riches is not acceptable in God’s eyes. In an age that measures success by how much money you have, this is a great reminder to us that as Christians we are never to indulge in practices that cheat others out of their money.

But it isn’t just what we shouldn’t do that matters. This chapter gives us insights of what we should do. Verse 3 reminds us that we should be people of integrity, which the dictionary defines as “the quality of being honest”. In our dealings with others we therefore should always act honestly. That means we don’t try conceal the flaws in the house or car we are selling, we don’t make the terms and conditions in really fine print hoping that customer won’t read it, we don’t leave out information that we should really be disclosing. We act honestly in all our dealings.

It’s important for Christians to have a right view of money in relation to eternity. Verse 4 says, “Wealth is worthless in the day of wrath”.  Matthew 6:33 says, “But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness”. That is where our focus as Christians ought to be – seeking to be righteous – and not seeking after riches.  Proverbs 11 goes on to mention ‘righteousness’ numerous times. Verse 10 and 11 in particular show us that cities benefit from having righteous people living in them. Here is a massive challenge to us at TCC – what impact are we having on the city? Would people notice if TCC suddenly ceased to exist? Would the city be impacted?

It isn’t only about what we shouldn’t be doing; it is also about the positive impact we should be having on the city in which we live. We should be having a positive effect on the people we come into contact with. Let’s make our lives impact the city in which we live.

 

4 April 2018

Acts 3
Psalm 33

Sing joyfully to the Lord, you righteous;
    it is fitting for the upright to praise him.
Praise the Lord with the harp;
    make music to him on the ten-stringed lyre.
Sing to him a new song;
    play skillfully, and shout for joy.

Psalm 33:1-3

When we worship God we ought to do so with our whole being. We should be passionate in our worship. The Psalmist starts with “Sing joyfully to the Lord”. In the ESV it is translated “Shout for joy in the Lord”. There is nothing passive about that. You are also not left wondering about the Psalmist’s joy and his call for us to be joyful.

CS Lewis in his book ‘Reflections on the Psalms’ says “praise is inner health made audible”. Our praise should be a reflection of how we feel. That is a real challenge to each of us. Does our outward praise match our feelings inside? If we don’t feel the need to praise God that probably is saying something about our inward feelings to God.

Music helps to bring out our inner emotions and so it is an aid to worshipping God both corporately and privately. I like the way the Psalmist says “play skillfully” (vs 3).  While music is an aid to worship, good music is an even better aid! Whatever we do we should always do it to the best of our ability and that includes the music we use in our corporate worship.

The Psalmist goes on to remind us of some of the reasons why we should praise Him. They include His Word (vs 4); His love (vs 5); that He is the Creator (vs 6); that He is in control of the nations (vs 10) and that He watches over us, His children (vs 18-19).

We have so much to praise God for!  We should be praising Him corporately but we shouldn’t forget to praise Him privately too.

3 April 2018

Acts 2
Psalm 32

“Therefore let all Israel be assured of this: God has made this Jesus, whom you crucified, both Lord and Messiah.”

37 When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart and said to Peter and the other apostles, “Brothers, what shall we do?”

Acts 2:36-37

There is much happening in Acts 2 with lots of points for debate and discussion, no doubt. But for me, these are two verses that always warm (and challenge) my own heart.

Emboldened by the Holy Spirit, a simple fisherman addresses the crowd. With boldness and insight, Peter is able to both explain the events of the day and articulate exactly who Jesus is and what He came to do. It is one of the finest sermons in the New Testament and a great defence of the person and work of Jesus; culminating in the affirmations of verse 36. We may be assured that the Jesus that humanity crucified has been made Lord and Saviour. The cross was not an accident! God was using the sinful plans of mankind to fulfil His plans to save His people through the atoning sacrifice of Jesus. This is the great truth of the gospel that we proclaim.

A truth that cuts to the very heart of people! For this is God’s Word, coming with the power not of a simple fisherman but the power of the true and living God – able to pierce tough and proud exteriors, able to humble and move the hardest of people, able to cut through flesh and blood to stir us deeply in our core. This is the word that convicts us at our very core that we are in desperate need of this Lord and Saviour who died for us. And I hope that has been your experience of this gospel.

There is great power in proclaiming the simple truth of the gospel (Romans 1:16-17) and we must never be ashamed of speaking this truth!

Of course, any truth that changes our heart will always lead to outward action in keeping with that change. Having had their hearts convicted and their eyes opened, the crowd ask: “what shall we do?” How are they to express outwardly the inward change? Well, they are to stop doing the wrong things they’ve been doing, they must change direction (repent – v 38); and they must be included with Jesus’ disciples (be baptised – v 39) and this new community of faith. They are to be set apart with those redeemed and filled with the Spirit in newness of life.

These verses are a warm reminder to never forget who this Jesus really is and that following Him demands both inward conviction and outward conduct.

 

 

2 April 2018

Acts 1
Psalm 31

Reflections on Acts 1.

The disciples are confused and uncertain. To be fair, this was a unique time in all of history. Jesus had died before their eyes and now He has been raised to life. What next? It’s confusing and their confusion is revealed in their uncertainty about the future and how God’s kingdom will be played out in relationship to Israel (vs 6). They’re not sure what’s going to happen next.

But they can be sure of two very important, very life changing things … and Luke wants us to be sure of these too:

Firstly, that Jesus is very much alive. “After His suffering, He presented himself to them and gave many convincing proofs that He was alive” (vs 3). This is no figment of their imagination! Over a sustained period, in many different ways, to multiple people, Jesus showed that He is alive!  The One who died for sins has been raised to life again in victory. It’s what we celebrated yesterday on Resurrection Sunday – not as a wish, or a hope, or a dream; but as a life-changing reality for all eternity. While we may not be able to physically see Him today because of the ascension, we can still be sure that He was raised to life and is alive! And, in the words of that old Bill Gaither hymn:

Because He lives, I can face tomorrow,

Because He lives, all fear is gone;

Because I know He holds the future,

And life is worth the living,

Just because He lives!

And secondly, that His followers have a very clear purpose. Those who saw His resurrection and those who believe in His resurrection are to testify to Him being alive to the ends of the earth: “and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea & Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (vs 8). In this key verse in Acts, the purpose of Jesus’ followers is clear – testify about Him … bear witness to His death for sin and His resurrection to life. Starting right where we are, but with a concern that all people in all places hear; we are to live as witnesses of Jesus. Nothing has changed in nearly two thousand years. Those who believe in their hearts that Jesus was raised and confess Him as their Lord have not only the assurance of their salvation (Romans 10:9) but also a wonderful calling to be His witnesses wherever they are – to live lives that bear testimony to Jesus’ life-changing resurrection.

Amidst all the confusion of our modern world, are you convinced that Jesus is alive? And does that conviction shape the testimony of your life and witness? Pray that today you will be a faithful witness for the Saviour who lives.

 

30 March 2018

John 21

When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, “Simon son of John, do you love me more than these?”

“Yes, Lord,” he said, “you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my lambs.”

16 Again Jesus said, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

He answered, “Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Take care of my sheep.”

17 The third time he said to him, “Simon son of John, do you love me?”

Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, “Do you love me?” He said, “Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you.”

Jesus said, “Feed my sheep. 18 Very truly I tell you, when you were younger you dressed yourself and went where you wanted; but when you are old you will stretch out your hands, and someone else will dress you and lead you where you do not want to go.” 19 Jesus said this to indicate the kind of death by which Peter would glorify God. Then he said to him, “Follow me!”

John 21:15-19

When I was young and would go out with my friends over the weekends, I remember my mother always reminding my friends and I to drive safely. We would nod our heads or say yes, dismissively thinking that she was being over protective or pedantic. But then it happened, my mother’s worst nightmare and the furthest thing from my mind, we crashed our car one evening. The car rolled, and a few of us landed up in hospital.

By the grace of God, no one was seriously injured, but we no longer thought we were indispensable. The warning my mother gave us every time we left the house became a reality! If only, we remembered her warnings and took her words to heart rather than being dismissive.  

In this passage, Jesus asks Peter three times whether he loves Him. You get the feeling that Peter gets rather irritated or dismissive of the constant questioning. He doesn’t fully understand what Jesus is calling him to do. Of course, he loves Jesus, but does he fully understand what that means?

Jesus tells Peter that he needs to ‘Feed His lambs’, ‘Take care of His sheep’, ‘Feed His sheep’. You see, committing ourselves to the Lord means ‘action’. We cannot say we love and want to follow Him and then dismiss His instructions in the same way that my friends and I responded to my mother’s instructions. No, our response has eternal consequences for all of God’s people. Jesus wants us to look after and feed His people through proclaiming God’s Word to one another so that we can grow in our love and maturity in Him! You see, our love for Jesus needs to reflect in us by continuing the work He started. This is our purpose, mandate and ultimate demonstration of our love for Him.

And just like Peter, we can expect sacrifice. For Peter it was his life, for you it is the same too! It may means facing persecution or being ridicule for sharing the truth about Jesus. No matter what the consequences are, proclaiming the oracles of God brings glory to Him and continues the work that He has planned for us through Jesus Christ!

You go to church each Sunday, maybe even twice. You read your Bible and attend weekly Bible Studies. If asked, you would proudly declare that you love God. But if you ask yourself whether you are truly doing what He says, could you say with confidence that you are feeding God’s people with His word and looking after one another as a family? Let’s not be dismissive of God’s calling. Pray that God’s instructions are written on your heart and that your deepest desire would be to bring the Gospel to God’s people.

I was dismissive of my mother’s instruction. I took for granted that I was ‘safe’ and never considered that in order to carry out the instruction I needed to take action by wearing a seatbelt and making sure we’re driving the speed limit. Not taking action made those promises to my mom empty. So, let us not say that we love God and not show it in our actions and obedience to His instructions.

 

 

 

 

 

 

29 March 2018

John 20
Proverbs 10

The tongue of the righteous is choice silver,
    but the heart of the wicked is of little value.

21 The lips of the righteous nourish many,
    but fools die for lack of sense.

Proverbs 10:20-21

The tongue can be useful to build up and breakdown…encourage and discourage…love and hurt! And when we look around us, we can see this truth! Dave Branon wrote a helpful illustration to explain the effect of the human tongue….

What is the strongest muscle in the human body? Some say it’s the tongue, but it’s hard to determine which muscle is the most powerful one because muscles don’t work alone.

But what we do know is that the tongue is strong. For a small muscle, it can do a lot of good and a lot damage! This active little muscle that helps us eat, swallow, taste, and digest our food has a tendency to also assist us in saying things we shouldn’t. The tongue is guilty of flattery, cursing, lying, boasting, and harming others. And that’s just the short list.

It sounds like a pretty dangerous muscle, doesn’t it? But here’s the good thing: It doesn’t have to be that way.”

Now as Christians, we know that it doesn’t have to be this way because God’s word tells us that our lives are controlled by the Holy Spirit and the outcome of this is life changing. You see, at our conversion God has richly poured out His Spirit into our lives so that our heart, and our lives, will be changed in the following ways:

  • No longer are we seen as unrighteous before God but rather we have received God’s righteousness through faith in Jesus.
  • No longer are we ignoring and rejecting God but rather desiring to follow Him.
  • And no longer are we living in hostility and hatred with God and people, but rather we’re living in unity and love with Him and each other.

So, as a result of a changed heart through the work of the Holy Spirit, our lives, and especially tongues, can be used for great good.

The writer of Proverbs says in 10:20 that “The tongue of the righteous is choice silver”. You see, because we’ve been made righteous through the work of the Holy Spirt, what this means is that we’re able to speak in righteousness, truth, justice and love to one another. Imagine how God would be glorified if we use our tongues – which He made – in this way…by encouraging and building up the church, the body of Christ, through proclaiming God’s word to each other! This would have an enormous effect on our relationship with God and with one another. And it will also be a wonderful witness for the Gospel of Jesus!

So, with help of the Holy Spirit, let’s ask God, through prayer, to help us guard our tongue and use it for His glory that so we can build each other up with words of righteousness and truth that we find in Scripture.

 

28 March 2018

John 19
Psalm 30

Later, knowing that everything had now been finished, and so that Scripture would be fulfilled, Jesus said, “I am thirsty.” 29 A jar of wine vinegar was there, so they soaked a sponge in it, put the sponge on a stalk of the hyssop plant, and lifted it to Jesus’ lips. 30 When he had received the drink, Jesus said, “It is finished.” With that, he bowed his head and gave up his spirit.

John 19:28-30

One of the most epic and memorable war speeches comes from a 13th century Scottish warrior, William Wallace, who led the Scots in the First War of Scottish Independence against King Edward I of England. Wallace’s final battle cry was this “They may take away our lives, but they’ll never take our freedom!” Although losing the battle, this epic war speech from Wallace caused many people in Scotland to believe that they could win their freedom from England, and 1314 it had become their reality. Although this was an epic war speech, there is one cry even greater: the one on the rugged cross at Calvary!

Jesus ended His ministry, suffering and death on the cross when He cried out these final words “It is finished”.

Many who witnessed Jesus’ final hour on the cross would have probably thought that these were words of painful defeat but actually they were words of victory and completion because He had accomplished all that His Father sent Him to do. Jesus was declaring a fact, a truth so wonderful that Satan has been trying to stop and hide it from the minds of people for centuries – Jesus’ triumphant victory over sin and death!

When Jesus died, He shared in what all of us must experience, God’s righteous punishment for sins. But far beyond that, He did what none of us can do – He paid the price for our sins so that we can be forgiven and have eternal life through faith in Him.

“It is finished!” was Jesus’ cry of victory because now, through Him, we can escape the power of sin and death; we can live and be free. And it’s because of Jesus’ sacrifice for us that we call the day of His death, Good Friday.

27 March 2018

John 18
Psalm 29

Ascribe to the Lord, you heavenly beings,
    ascribe to the Lord glory and strength.
Ascribe to the Lord the glory due his name;
    worship the Lord in the splendour of his holiness.

The voice of the Lord is over the waters;
    the God of glory thunders,
    the Lord thunders over the mighty waters.
The voice of the Lord is powerful;
    the voice of the Lord is majestic.

Psalm 29:1-4

At times, we slip and think more highly of ourselves than we ought. And our realm of importance will extend to our family along with a few close friends. In one of Paul Tripp’s online articles he says, “…human beings are glory junkies. In other words, we’re all addicted to the pursuit of self-glory.”

When we read Psalm 29, we discover that our self-glory bubble that we live in explodes in an instant. David shows us that God is far more significant and superior than us mere mortals! And there is no comparison or distinction that can stand against this truth.

Now we can never over emphasise the glory, holiness, power and majesty of God because this is who He is and therefore it’s important that we stand in awe of Him. By possessing these attributes, it must challenge and encourage us to a BIG VIEW of God; seeing Him as more superior and greater than anything or anyone in all creation.

When we acknowledge and accept God in this way, we will desire to give Him the proper worship that He deserves in all areas of our lives – in our speech and actions. It will also affect our relationship with God and one another, and our life at home and in the workplace. And it will show people that God alone is the only true and living God, who made everything, and put everything in its place.

26 March 2018

John 17
Psalm 28

After Jesus said this, he looked toward heaven and prayed:

“Father, the hour has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you.For you granted him authority over all people that he might give eternal life to all those you have given him. Now this is eternal life: that they know you, the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom you have sent. I have brought you glory on earth by finishing the work you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory I had with you before the world began.

John 17:1-5

We love to be in control of every situation we find ourselves in – whether it’s in our home, work, finances, social life, etc. And the reason for this is because it makes us feel safe and secure! But, the BIG QUESTION is, “Can we be in control of our future after we die?”  

In John 17:1-5, Jesus’ prayer to His Father shows us that God is the only person who’s in control of our future after we die. Jesus says that God has given Him authority over all people (past, present and future) so that He can give eternal life to everyone God has given to Him.

In last week’s reading from John 14:9, we read that Jesus says “…Anyone who has seen me (Jesus) has seen the Father.”  What Jesus meant by this is that if we want to know who God is then all we have to do is to look to Him (Jesus).

So, the only way that we can know and experience eternal life after death is by knowing God through the person and work of Jesus. Because it’s only through Jesus’ suffering and death on the cross that God’s plan for eternal life has been made possible.

As we approach Easter, let us praise God wholeheartedly for His plan for eternal life through Jesus’ redemptive work on the Cross for our sins. And may we make the most of every opportunity to proclaim this ‘Good News’ to people who are in need of salvation from God’s righteous judgement because of their sins!     

23 March 2018

John 16

All this I have told you so that you will not fall away. They will put you out of the synagogue; in fact, the time is coming when anyone who kills you will think they are offering a service to God. They will do such things because they have not known the Father or me. I have told you this, so that when their time comes you will remember that I warned you about them. 

John 16:1-4

When I read passages like John 16:1-4 I am so grateful that God has blessed us at TCC with pastors who preach faithfully from the bible. The bible is God’s word to us and how He speaks to us in this day and age. It saddens me when I hear how scripture is quoted out of context or selected extracts are quoted to drive a particular agenda, such as the prosperity gospel.

This is what Jesus is referring to in John 16:2 – the Pharisees and synagogue leaders had added to the Old Testament scriptures and had turned them into a man-based set of rules which no longer glorified God. What is truly amazing is that even though the Jews had turned their backs on God yet again, He still loved them and us so much that He took the step to reconciliation and reached out to the world through His Son Jesus.

I had the privilege of attending a Sharelife breakfast recently at our denomination’s college, George Whitefield College, and I was encouraged to hear and see how young men and women are being trained up with a strong theological foundation to go out into South Africa, the rest of the continent and indeed the rest of the world to preach the true gospel.

It is only through knowledge that we can verify and ensure that our pastors are preaching the truth to us. Most of us will not have the privilege of a formal bible college education, but we can read our bibles slowly (as our pastor Denzil reminds us so often) to clearly understand scripture and also to question what we hear from the pulpit.

God loves speaking to us and we need to listen with our eyes, so as not to go astray, and read our bibles regularly and slowly.

As the weekend draws closer and the busyness of the week comes to an end and we have a chance to slow down and reflect; perhaps we should take a moment to reflect on the immense sacrifice Jesus made for us. Are we really thankful and filled with joy that we are heirs of God’s throne?  

22 March 2018

John 15
Proverbs 9

“I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.

John 15:5

Jesus is the strong vine who provides us with nourishment as long as we believe in Him.  This passage comforts me that as long as I remain bound to Jesus, His life blood from the trunk of the vine will flow through me, give me life and allow me to grow. This is a comfort when life becomes tough and we feel like wilting. Even though storms may come, we are attached to the vine of life who created the universe, who controls and sustains life, and who cannot be broken by the world.

Even though, as Christians we will still face trials and tribulations, these will prune us and make us stronger and more fruitful in service of our Lord.

What is amazing, is that Jesus, the God of the universe, calls His disciples His friends (vs 14), but even more amazing than that is that we are His adopted brothers and sisters through the grace and love of the Father.

The Bible speaks of God’s love in various ways, and John 15:9-11 reveals that there is one condition of receiving this love: obedience to God. Jesus urges the disciples to obey Him in exactly the same way that He has demonstrated His love for God (15:10). Even though we can never be perfect this side of heaven we should be striving to obey God and be more Christlike, and we do this through the Helper (15:26) whom the Father has sent us – the Holy Spirit.

21 March 2018

John 14
Psalm 27

15 “If you love me, keep my commands. 16 And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another advocate to help you and be with you forever— 17 the Spirit of truth. The world cannot accept him, because it neither sees him nor knows him. But you know him, for he lives with you and will be in you.

John 14:15-17

In a troubled world where we seem to be at the mercy of corrupt politicians and bad people seem to prosper, we draw comfort from the fact that Jesus is the only way to the Father, that He reveals the Truth and gives us eternal life. Jesus promises not to leave us as orphans (vs 18) and, in fact, we have the enormous privilege of being adopted into God’s family so we can call God our Father and Jesus our Brother.

In Psalm 27 David faces opposition but he knows that with the Lord’s help he has nothing to fear (Psalm 27:1).

We have nothing to fear from the world; God our Father has sent the Holy Spirit (John 14:16) to live with us and in us forever (John 14:16-17).  This means that all believers have God dwelling in them now, on this side of eternity, and for all eternity when we are in the new earth and restored universe.  What a responsibility to know that God dwells in us and that our actions are being watched by a sceptical world and to live in a way that glorifies God the Father. But we also look forward to – and long for – the day when we are in the new, perfect, restored earth and bound to all of God’s children and the Father and Son by the Spirit. But even though we live in a world which is far from perfect, and is groaning as though in childbirth (Rom 8:22), we can know the peace that Jesus has brought us, by bearing the penalty of our sins, and the promise that we will not face God’s judgment.

In the end, God is our “comforter” (14:16) – or helper – He will always be the strength that we require in every situation in this broken world. As Christians we have the ability, through the Holy Spirit, to recall Scripture and truths to assist us in every situation.

20 March 2018

John 13
Psalm 26

12 When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. 13 “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. 14 Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. 15 I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you.

John 13:12-15

I am always humbled when I read this account of Jesus washing the feet of His disciples. Here is the great King and Creator of the entire universe, the sustainer and giver of life, humbling Himself by doing one of the most menial tasks of the day. Is this something that we would do – would we be prepared to serve the church in this fashion and put aside our perceived status and truly serve our fellow believers?

This passage highlights Jesus’ love for humankind as He is prepared to serve even Judas Iscariot who He knows will betray Him. He served the disciples who He knows will turn their backs on Him when He is arrested. This act of serving others in the face of adversity serves as an example to the church. We should be motivated to serve, encourage, rebuke, console and build-up fellow believers with the same love that was shown to us.

We need to constantly examine ourselves to ensure that we are serving sacrificially, that we are building up the body and not serving to puff ourselves up or be looking for accolades.

We have been given a new commandment (13:31-35), which has love one another at its centre. How are you sacrificially loving your brothers and sisters in Christ this week?