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

8 October 2018

Mark 8
Psalm 112

In Mark 8 we clearly see the compassion of Jesus for sinful people. His compassion moves him to feed the hungry (verse 2) and to heal the blind (verse 25). He is the compassionate King that has come in power to save His helpless people; and to save us also. It’s important, therefore, that we know who He is!

In verse 28 Jesus asks His disciples, ‘“Who do people say I am?” and they reply, “Some say John the Baptist; others say Elijah; and still others, one of the prophets.”’  They’d seen Jesus was more than just a regular bloke. He was on a par with the great prophets of the Old Testament. He’s worth thinking about!

Then Jesus asks a scorcher: ‘”But who do YOU say I am?”’ (verse 29). Now that’s a very different question to the one asked before. It doesn’t look different, but it is. Suddenly it becomes very personal! The answer tells me about YOU. That’s why this question in verse 29 is the hinge point in Mark’s Gospel. Mark is asking us: Who do you say Jesus is?

Peter answered, ‘“You are the Christ.”’ (Christ = Saviour-King) He finally had eyes to see who Jesus is! Do you?

Can you publicly confess that Jesus is both the Saviour-King and your Saviour-King and mean it? Do you live that way? What changes do you have to make to your lifestyle to bring all aspects of your world under Jesus’ rule?

We see that Jesus is worthy of our complete devotion when He predicts that He is going to die on the cross for our sins and then rise from the dead (verse 31-32). In the light of His sacrifice of Himself for us, He makes clear the absolute cost of following Him, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For whoever wants to save their life will lose it, but whoever loses their life for me and for the gospel will save it. What good is it for someone to gain the whole world, yet forfeit their soul?” (verse 34-36)

Do you love Jesus like this? Is there anyone else like Him or better than Him?

Heavenly Father, please help me to obey your Son Jesus with great love and thankfulness. May your Spirit give me courage to obey Jesus and proclaim the Good News, no matter what the cost. Amen.

5 October 2018

Mark 7

The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart!

So declares Jesus to the religious leaders in Mark 7:21. They were offended because the disciples ate without washing their hands (verse 2). This was not about personal hygiene! They’re upset because the disciples didn’t follow their rules and traditions (verses 3-5).

Jesus’ response is shocking! The problem, He says, doesn’t lie with the disciples and their dirty hands … but with the religious leaders and their dirty hearts: ‘they are hypocrites who honour [God] with their lips, but their hearts are far from [Him]’ (verse 6).

Firstly, they love Human TRADITIONS more than God’s TRUTH. They’ve set aside God’s Word in favour of their wants (verse 8-9). They bypassed God’s command to, ‘honour your parents’ through corban! Corban was to dedicate a resource to God now but only give it later … meanwhile, you continue benefitting from it … keep it for me and for my comfort until I no longer need it or want it, then give it to the church. Having dedicated it to God, when parents come for help, I simply say – sorry, I would have given it to you, but I’ve set it aside for God! It sounds noble – I’m being generous … it sounds spiritual – I’m pledging something to God … but in fact, I’m being dishonest and deceitful, selfish and shameful! They ‘nullify the word of God by [their] tradition’ (verse13). And, this is not an isolated issue (verse13).

Essentially, they stopped LISTENING to God. In putting their tradition ahead of God’s truth, they reveal their heart problem!

Secondly, they love Human RELIGION more than God’s RIGHTEOUSNESS. They wash their cups, pitchers and kettles and everything else religiously because they think if they’re clean outwardly God will accept them. Why they’re upset the disciples don’t wash … why they’re careful about what they eat … and with whom! They don’t want to be contaminated by the outside world.

Essentially, they stopped LOVING God. In making it about the outside, they’ve ignored the inside … their hands were clean, but their hearts were far from God!

But Jesus says they’ve made a fundamental error (verse 15). Dirt on your skin doesn’t make you unacceptable to God … nor does the food that goes in your mouth. What goes into your mouth goes into your stomach, not your heart (that’s Biology 101!) … and from your stomach it goes into the latrine (that’s what Jesus actually says in verse19!). Nothing from the outside – whether dirt, food, clothes or even company – can defile the inside! BUT, what comes out reveal what’s inside. And what’s inside reveals that we are already unclean, already defiled!

Evil prevails not because we’re not religious, but because we’re not righteous – don’t have a heart that loves God more than anything! Why we need God’s righteousness not human religion. God’s righteousness changes the inside … transforms hearts … gives us a heart that loves God and that loves our neighbour!

Remember, Jesus is talking to the religious elite, to the socially respectable, to the moral and the upright  – to people just like us? So Mark 7 is a reminder to examine our own lives and hearts:

– maybe our traditions have become sacred and untouchable … they reveal, despite our respectability, that we’re not really listening to God … need to repent and return to God in obedience to His Word.

– maybe we have an outward religion where our hands are clean, but our hearts are far from God … not righteous through Jesus … need to repent and return to God for a new heart.

Prayer: Gracious Father, help us to guard our hearts from loving our tradition more than your truth; from loving our human religion more than your glorious righteousness; from loving ourselves more than You and our neighbours. Thank you for the righteousness found in Jesus Christ by faith alone. Help us to live as those with transformed hearts and lives. Amen.

4 October 2018

Mark 6
Ecclesiastes 6

Mission is fundamental to our identity as disciples! ‘“Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will send you out to fish for people”’ (Mark 1:17).

In Mark 6:6-13, the time has come for the Twelve to go and continue His mission – proclaiming God’s Kingdom. It’s not optional … they can’t choose to volunteer depending on their schedules or their gifting … if they follow Him, they must go for Him. On this occasion, Jesus sends the 12; next He’ll send 72; eventually, He’ll tell all His followers to be on mission!

To be on mission is to do so under Jesus’ authority (verse 7). They go in His authority to call people to ‘repent’ (verse12). That is, that all people should turn from their sin and return to God in faith and obedience. Their authority is demonstrated the same way His is demonstrated – demons are cast out and the sick are healed (verse 13) … the same signs because it’s the same mission! [Of course, these signs won’t necessarily be seen today when we go because the King’s authority is established with power through the resurrection. Hence we are at a different stage within the unfolding plan of salvation.]

The signs might not be same today, but the mission is unchanged! We too, like every generation of believers are sent to announce the Kingdom of God, to proclaim the King and to call people to repent and believe. For some that will mean leaving families and homes to go to far off places and different cultures – as a good friend of mine is in the process of doing as she prepares to head off to Asia. But for most, it will happen right here where we are – living as Kingdom citizens and proclaiming Jesus to our family and friends. Whatever form, mission must be our reality! It’s one of the reasons that we spent the last term on the Living Proof Adventure so that we can be better equipped to participate in this mission with eternal ramifications. There is no greater calling … no greater privilege …  no greater delight!

To be on mission is to follow Jesus’ example (verses 8-9). Like Jesus, they were to go unencumbered by the things of this world. Jesus’ description is the description of the gospel runner familiar to them  … one who runs with the good news, who takes only what is necessary for the journey so as not to be weighed down, who trusts God to protect him and to provide for him while he runs with the good news. If they took a whole bunch of stuff with them, they’ll be slow and distracted (consider what it’s like to leave home with a toddler and all the stuff you need to take with you!). To travel light is a picture of urgency!

There is a great urgency to our mission today. The task can’t wait until you’ve accumulated all your stuff … stop putting it off, stop delaying! The challenge of discipleship is whether you will go on mission today … is it a priority today in terms of how you spend your time, talents and treasures? Will you heed Jesus’ authority, cast off the things of this world and run with the good news?  Being on mission must be our reality today … whether here or there … we must be on mission, everywhere!

Prayer: Gracious Father, help us to realise we can’t be a disciple without being on the mission to announce the Kingdom and proclaim the King. Help us to obey Jesus’ commission with both a sense of urgency and courage. Help us to be deliberate and intentional about sharing the good news with family and friends alike. Amen.

3 October 2018

Mark 5
Psalm 111

As I prepare this blog, a close family member is seriously ill. He’s battled cancer for the last two years and been in hospital fighting infection for the last two weeks. We received a message earlier today that they “are starting the process to put home based palliative care in motion” … that’s code for, “there’s nothing more we can do, the end is inevitable & near!”

It was a great sorrow to read those words and ponder this reality.

It was a great comfort to read the words of Mark 5:21-43.

Firstly, Jesus encounters a lady with a chronic condition – she has been ‘subject to bleeding for 12 years’ (verse 25). Her condition made her a ceremonial outcast; unclean and unacceptable in the worship structures of Israel. Her embarrassment made her a social outcast; unloved and fearful of rejection. She is, however, convinced that Jesus can heal her (verse 28). Afraid to approach Him, she snuck up behind and touched Him. ‘Immediately her bleeding stopped and she felt in her body that she was free from her suffering’ (verse 29). Twelve years of shame and suffering are resolved in a momentary touch of Jesus.

Jesus calls her out – not to be difficult; not to demand payment; but so that we can be clear how it is that she is healed. And it’s not because she touched Him … that would be to reduce healing to the realm of superstition. Rather it’s because she believed in Jesus: ‘Daughter, your faith has healed you’ (verse 34) … she believed in the One who has authority over sickness; who has authority to set her free from suffering.

That’s not to say every sick person who is a believer will necessarily be healed or the suffering will end … many aren’t. This account is here to point us to Jesus’ authority … to remind us that we can trust Him with our loved ones who are sick – because He has authority over disease!

Secondly, Jesus encounters a father with a desperate cry  – his little girl is sick, she’s dying … ‘please come and put your hands on her so that she will be healed and live’ (verse 23). Jesus agrees and they head off. But on the way, the news comes: ‘your daughter is dead’ (verse 35). Jesus says to Jairus: ‘”Don’t be afraid, just believe” (verse 36)! Jesus says she’s not ‘dead but asleep’ (verse 39), ‘but they laughed at him’ (verse 40) they knew death, they knew this was real, they knew she’s gone!

Jesus went inside anyway … took her hand & said: ‘get up’ (verse 41)! ‘Immediately the girl stood up and walked around (she was twelve years old). At this they were completely astonished’ (verse 42) … she was dead, now she’s alive! Jesus demonstrates that He can raise her from death as easily as we can raise someone from their sleep. Death doesn’t have power over Jesus; Jesus has power over death! Our greatest enemy; the thing so many fear more than anything else – death – is not a problem to Jesus. He who said, let there be light; also says, get up!

That’s not to say believers won’t die or even that the process of death won’t be scary. But it is to recognise that there is a greater power who overcomes death – Jesus is sovereign over life and death. So it is to experience a greater peace knowing that death is not the end – trusting a King who says: get up; who offers the hope of resurrection and the promise of glory.

What a comfort to know our family member trusts this Jesus … the One with authority over disease & sickness and who treats death as if we are simply sleeping!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, help us to recognise Jesus as the Lord with all authority in heaven and earth; authority over our storms, our sickness and our sorrows. Help us to trust Him with our loved ones who are sick and who have fallen asleep! Amen.

2 October 2018

Mark 4
Psalm 110

Mark 4 contains one of my favourite accounts in this gospel, of how Jesus calms the storm (verses 35-41).

Jesus and His disciples are on Lake Galilee when ‘a furious squall came up’ (verse 37). This isn’t a bit of wind and wave that knocks you off your paddleboard … it’s a whirlwind – the stuff tropical storms are made of! As the waves break over the boat, Peter and the others think: ‘We’re going to die!’ (verse 38). Tells you just how serious and scary it really was – hardened fishermen, who spend their lives on the lake, are terrified … it’s as bad as it gets – the boat was ‘nearly swamped ‘(verse 37)! This is when the delusion that we are in control gets completely destroyed.

You won’t pass your Skipper’s Ticket if you said the best course of action in a whirlwind is to call the carpenter … yet that’s what they do! Jesus was asleep [note the detail you are given about the stern and the cushion which serves to remind us that this account is being recorded by someone who was there – eye witness testimony]. They woke Him, shouting: ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’  (verse 38). I’m not sure what they were expecting Him to do – they surely didn’t expect Him to grab the helm and steer them out of danger? But, they had begun to see that this man was no ordinary man, even if they didn’t comprehend exactly who He is yet. In their fear, they cried out to the only One who could help!

‘He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down & it was completely calm’ (verse 39).

The sea normally takes days to calm down, but Jesus flattens the waves immediately. It’s impossible … but they saw Jesus do it … they saw that He has authority over the storm. The disciples knew from Psalm 89 that only God controls the wind and stills the waves … how is it that Jesus can do this too? Once terrified by the storm, they’re now terrified by the One who calmed the storm! ‘They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!”’ (verse 41).

In the flow of Mark’s gospel, we are meant to be asking the same question, who is this? … who is Jesus? While we must read on in Mark to find the answer [spoiler alert: He’s the King with authority – authority over darkness and demons, over disease, and even over death; He’s the Christ who heals the sick, who feeds the hungry, and who ransoms captives free], at this junction Mark simply wants us to ask who is this?

It’s a great question … one that becomes deeply personal: who do YOU say Jesus is (Mark 8:29).

Our answer will reveal whether we do, indeed, have someone to call upon in the midst of the storm. Confident that when we are at our most vulnerable and fearful; He has the authority to control the wind and still the waves, authority to calm the storm. Confident to take refuge and shelter in Jesus because He has authority over the storm.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, give us eyes to see who Jesus is, give us minds to comprehend that He alone has authority over our storms, give us boldness to turn to Him for our refuge and shelter, give us hope that He can and will calm the storm.  Amen.

1 October 2018

Mark 3
Psalm 109

Jesus came to bring change, to usher in a new world order. To turn things the right-way round so we can enjoy this life and find eternal life. He came to fix what was damaged and restore what was broken. But, to do that, He needed to change the old ways!

In Mark 3 we begin to get a glimpse of how things will be changed because of Jesus.

Religion will change. The Law, the old way, governed Israel’s religion. You were included based on what you did or didn’t do with reference to the Law. So, the Pharisees believed they were accepted by God on the basis of their efforts … their obedience … their religion was works based! The more religious you were; the more obedient you were to the more laws, especially laws regarding the Sabbath. So when Jesus’ disciples pick corn on the Sabbath (Mark 2:23), the conclusion is they aren’t religious. When Jesus heals on the Sabbath (verse 5), the conclusion is He’s a law-breaker – not religious! Ironically, healing someone on the Sabbath is perceived as sinful; but plotting to kill someone on the Sabbath seemed acceptable (verse 6). The old way must change!

So Jesus redefines religion … He says it’s all about grace! He shows that acceptance is not about your relationship to the Law but your relationship to the Law-giver. That it was never actually about how well you kept the Sabbath but whether you realised the Sabbath was given for good, not evil; to save life, not take life (verse 4). It was given to reflect and enjoy the One who gave it for their good. The truth is, you could ‘keep’ the Sabbath but still do evil if you failed to love and help someone in need on the Sabbath … because, if you love God, you’ll hold out His grace to people – even on the Sabbath! And that’s exactly what Jesus did (verse 5).

We must be careful not to reduce the gospel to a set of rules and regulations … it’s a gospel of grace that changes hearts, that transforms lives and relationships. We must be careful not to reduce the church to a place of law to which people can only belong if they behave how we want them to. No, people belong to God’s family by grace; because they believe and so have a relationship with the Saviour who heals not just hands, but our hearts. We belong because we believe in the One who came to bring change … life transforming change through the work of His grace. Of course, when we believe, when we belong to Him, we will change our behaviour accordingly to live a life pleasing the Law-giver, the Lord, our gracious Saviour. Because we’ll always, in every situation, seek to do God’s will and show ourselves to be part of Jesus’ new community of grace (verse 35).

Are you living under grace, under Jesus; or are you still enslaved to the old ways of legalism?

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you that Jesus came to move us from being under the Law to bing under grace. Thank you that He showed mercy and grace, even on the Sabbath. Thank you that He brought about real change, heart change, in the lives of His people. Help us to live as those under grace and help us to live our lives in a manner that reflects we’ve been changed by Jesus. Amen.

28 September 2018

Mark 2

The first century Jews were feeling secure in their many centuries of tradition when the King of God’s kingdom arrived, and then everything changed. Jesus started preaching, healing, casting out demons – and calling people to follow Him. In the first chapter of Mark’s gospel, He had called some fishermen, and they had immediately left their nets to follow Him. Now He calls a tax collector, who does the same. There must have been great authority in Jesus’ call for them to have left everything and to have followed Him without any question. He taught with the same authority (not like the scribes), and He exercised authority over the spirit world, and over sickness. All of this made Him popular, but Jesus made it clear where His priorities lay.

When four men, with ingenuity and persistence, brought their paralysed friend before Jesus for healing, His first response was to recognise their faith and forgive the paralytic. In Capernaum He had healed many, and crowds gathered as they brought the sick and the demon possessed to Him for healing. ‘But Jesus replied, “We must go on to other towns as well, and I will preach to them, too. That is why I came.”’ (Mark 1:38 | NLT) His first priority was to preach to sinners so that they would believe in Him as the Saviour, repent of their sins, and receive forgiveness. His healing was to demonstrate that ‘the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins’ (verse 10), it was not to amaze the ignorant. Jesus’ point was that we need spiritual healing far more than physical healing. We need forgiveness, and He has the authority to forgive. This was the purpose of His preaching, and this is why He called people to follow Him, to trust in Him, to believe in Him, to give up what the world considers important and to make Him their priority.

It is still His call to all people everywhere. If we have followed, if we have experienced Christ’s forgiveness, then there’s only one thing left for us to do – call others to follow him, tell them that salvation is here. Our compassion should go out to those weighed down by sin, lost, hopeless, helpless. To them we hold out the hope of forgiveness and peace with God. Responses will not all be the same. Some will respond to the call of Jesus, but some will reject Him. It is the work of the Holy Spirit to open the eyes of the spiritually blind, to warm the hearts of the self-righteous and the self-deceived who are cold and stubborn towards God’s grace.

Remember this, though. In all the ways Jesus could have described being a follower, He chose to say that we should be fishers. We should recognise that people’s greatest need is for salvation, and so we should be fishing. Is there anyone for whom you’re fishing, holding out the gospel, sowing live into their lives, caring for them, praying for them?

Heavenly Father, where our words fall short in proclaiming Your salvation, may our lives speak of the grace we’ve received in Christ our Saviour. Give us humility and gentleness in our conduct, truthfulness in all our conversations, kindness, tender-heartedness and a willingness to forgive when we’ve been wronged, and a sincere love for our family and our friends who have not yet turned to You in faith. We pray O Lord that Christ will be seen in us.

 

27 September 2018

Mark 1
Ecclesiastes 5

One month ago, the Sunday morning sermon was on Ecclesiastes 5, and it was entitled ‘Listen!’ So its probably worth hearing once again what the teacher says in this chapter!

Ecclesiastes 1-4 shows us that if we pursue God, the things of life that sometimes feel meaningless will become meaningful – our toil, our wealth and our relationships. These are all gifts from God, and the teacher warns us to be careful lest we end up pursuing the gift and not the giver. We cannot love them both, and as we reflect on this, he points to three aspects of our worship that show how much we love God:

  1. Do we listen carefully to God? We gather in worship primarily to listen, more than to speak and praise, and the Word of God must take priority over the words of the worshipper. How often we come lightly into God’s presence, either getting distracted or wanting to do all the talking. We forget that God is the infinite creator, and we are His finite creation. God is God and we are not, ‘so let your words be few’ (verse 2). God is more pleased with an attentive heart than with great performance and outward ceremony. Do we show our love for God by listening carefully to Him?
  2. Do we speak truthfully to God? We should be thoughtful and careful before we speak. God expects us to do what we say, and not to make excuses or to delay. The fool is marked by his many words that are empty and worthless, bargaining with God but never following through. This is contempt, not love. ‘God takes no pleasure in fools’ (verse 4), and for Him, yes is yes and no is no. God listens to us – do we show our love by being careful what we say and promise to Him?
  3. Do we live differently for God? The world stops at nothing for gain, it loves money but never has enough, and the more it has, the more worry it seems to bring, and the less sleep. At first this seems counter-intuitive because it’s often those with too little who worry about how they’ll make ends meet, but the teacher is advocating contentment on the basis that we can take nothing with us when we die. We may face financial hardship, but knowing God is eternal gain. Pursuing material things like they are everything is meaningless, because they have no eternal significance – ‘we can’t take our riches with us’ (verse 15). Do we love God enough to really believe this and live differently, pursuing the Giver, not the gift, and putting others ahead of self?

Father God, as we think about these things, help us to see our need for Jesus. How can we speak truth without the one is the Truth? How can we overcome our greedy and selfish heart without submitting to the one who can give us a new heart? Lord Jesus, fill us with Your Spirit so that our lives may become living proof that we are God’s children who listen carefully to Him, who speak truthfully to Him, and who live differently for Him. Amen.

 

26 September 2018

Hebrews 13
Psalm 108

Psalm 108 starts with David praising God for His unfailing love and His faithfulness, before he turns to Him in prayer. How often when we pray, our thoughts go directly to petitioning God for His help before we have stopped to praise and adore the God of all glory. However high the heavens, says David, His love is higher still, and just as the sky and the clouds are the fullness of all we can see, so it is with God’s all-encompassing faithfulness. As we come to our Heavenly Father in prayer this morning, let’s first praise him for His infinite glory and majestic holiness, for His love to us, His mercy and His faithfulness to do all that He has promised. 

As he turns to God in prayer, David remembers this. God has spoken in His holiness (in His holy word, or from His holy sanctuary, as different translations have it), and David is sure that what He has promised, He will do. Faith rejoices in what God has said, even though not yet done. With us, saying and doing are two different things, but with God they are one. So David takes comfort in what God has secured to him and settled upon him, even though not yet in the full possession of it. True, David had gained many victories, but he does not take as much satisfaction in these as he does in the word of God, which promises him not only the committed hearts of his own people, but in addition all that his enemies now possess, for his inheritance. In due time, David will be the exalted king, although now he still faces a divided nation and powerful enemies. 

This reminds us of what we read earlier in Hebrews, where the writer spoke of Christ’s exaltation, God putting everything in subjection under His feet, leaving nothing outside His control, even though the people to whom he was writing at the time did not yet see everything in subjection to Him. David comes to God’s promises in just the same way, in full assurance that in due time, his enemies shall be made his footstool. There can be no doubt that David and the leaders of his armies would have been discussing and strategising how to defeat Israel’s enemies, but he knows that ‘vain is the help of man’ (verse 12), so he brings these things before God, leaving them in His hands, and trusting in His promises. And he is not expressing doubt in God when he recognises that he may suffer setbacks: ‘Have you not rejected us, O God? You do not go out, O God, with our armies’ (verse 11). These adversities along the way will test the constancy of his faith and prayer. They will show him that he cannot rely on his chariots and horses and will affirm that he is truly undone without God’s help. When things don’t work out as he expects, this gives him all the more reason not to trust in his own wavering strength and fallible plans, but to depend entirely on the favour and grace of God, as He has revealed in His word, so that when the promise is fulfilled, God will have all the glory, not man.

Does our comfort come from our circumstances, when like David we have enjoyed a measure of success? Or does it come from the promise of God, received by faith? We remember that whatever good we have obtained is by God’s grace, and we thank Him for it, but greater still is the peace and contentment that come from trusting God, no matter how our circumstances may change, for the better or for the worse.

Heavenly Father, we worship you as our glorious and infinitely holy God. We praise You for unfailing love and Your faithfulness, and we pray O Lord that You will help us to trust in Your promises when as yet we don’t see them fulfilled. Whatever we are facing, and whatever the day may bring, let us remember above all that You have blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly realms because we are united with Christ Jesus. 

25 September 2018

Hebrews 12
Psalm 107

Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.

Hebrews 12:1-3 (ESV)

Faith responds in the face of difficulty by remembering what God has promised and believing it because of God’s character. The writer imagines a great cloud of witnesses, a massive number, all taking the stand to give evidence, and testifying that the best way to live life is to live by faith. Above all these witnesses is Jesus, the preeminent example of faith, who trusted so completely in the promises of his Father that He was willing to submit Himself even to the cross. Aside from the unimaginable pain, there was no more shameful death than crucifixion, a death intended to utterly degrade those who opposed Rome. But Jesus shamed the shame – He treated it as insignificant compared to the promises of God, and He endured it to come through to the place of exultation. So He became the perfect example of one who, by faith, endured suffering to obtain the promise.

As we run the race – a good metaphor for living life as Christians – we keep our eyes on Jesus, who has already run the race before us, and then we’ll be sure to stay on course. He is the one who can make us perfectly fitted for what God intends for us in this life, and He is able to present us faultless before God’s throne when finally we have left behind the struggles of this world. How do we keep our eyes fixed on Jesus? By reading the apostolic testimony contained in the scriptures – Now Jesus did many other signs in the presence of the disciples, which are not written in this book; but these are written so that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ (John 20:30-31 ESV). 

As we read the scriptures and look to Jesus, we’ll have the resolve not to give in to peer pressure. As we read and remember what He suffered to withstand sin, we’ll gain the strength to resist in those moments when we face powerful temptations. As we read and reflect on the sinless life of our Saviour, we’ll find the will to contend against those weaknesses that keep us from a holy life. And we do all of this not in our own strength, for indwelling sin is the lot of the children of Adam. The privilege of the children of God is to have the indwelling Spirit to fight and subdue our old sinful nature, and so we look to Jesus as our example and we trust in His Spirit to help us in our weakness.

There is no promise that it will be easy, and so the writer talks about discipline, how God disciplines those whom He loves as His own children. This is a training form of discipline, not a punishment for sin. It is the kind of training that helps us to become better, stronger, wiser, to do the right things, to live the right way. Even though the hardships we face bring us sorrow in the moment, we are encouraged to trust God for the joy we’ll experience when these difficulties bear fruit in our lives, when turmoil gives way to peace and a blessed assurance of our right standing with God.

24 September 2018

Hebrews 11
Psalm 106

Hebrews 11. The readers of this letter were Christian converts, probably in Rome, who were suffering persecution, hardship and discouragement – not the extreme and brutal persecution that was still to follow under Emperor Nero, but these early believers were still regarded with suspicion and distrust by the Roman state. Some had lost their jobs because they confessed belief in Christ. Secular people looked down on them, their status in society was greatly diminished, and even Roman slaves would have mocked them with impunity. Most of these converts were Jews, and they had been rejected and cast out by their families, who had remained committed to the old Mosaic traditions. They probably missed some of the old Jewish rituals and observances, and now looked on – from the outside.

In these circumstances, many were discouraged, wondering if Jesus really was in control, and whether it was worth continuing. Some had fallen away, others were barely holding on, and it was into this context that the author addressed his letter. It is written, as we’ve seen over the past few weeks, as a beautiful combination of exposition and exhortation – exposition to take the readers deeper into good, strong biblical theology so they could anchor their faith, giving them clarity about who Jesus is and what he has accomplished – and exhortation to persevere and hold onto this faith.

The exhortation in this passage recalls a host of people from the scriptures who had lived by faith and had been commended by God for their faithfulness. The examples given of these ‘people of old’ show that faith is trusting in what God has revealed to be true. Yes, it does involve trust, but not blind trust – we believe in the testimony of others, and it is a step into the light, the light of what God has revealed about Himself, and so we trust in the character of God as we have seen it and experienced it, and as we have seen Him work in the lives of others.

Two things stand out from this chapter. The first is that nothing has changed – believers today still face trials, difficulties, unanswered question and doubts, just as Christians did when his letter was written. We too need exhortation to hold on, to trust in God’s character, the one who is faithful and true, who knows the end from the beginning, whose is sovereign and almighty, and who never changes. Although set apart from us by His holiness, we have been reconciled to Him and brought near by His Son, our Saviour Jesus Christ. So when times are hard, when temptation crouches nearby, when the appeals of the world sound so plausible, when our faith is ridiculed or maybe just quietly sneered at, when things don’t seem to be working out the way we had expected, we hold onto this – we know who God is. In Him we can trust, in Him we can anchor our hope, and hHe will never disappoint us.

Something else also stands out from the passage – not all of the people listed were giants of the faith. Some were deeply flawed characters, like Samson and Jephthah (read Judges 11:31-35), and yet all were commended for their faith. We don’t have to be an Abraham or a Moses, God affirms and loves the faithful in the midst of their weakness and humanness. Let this be our encouragement today.

Heavenly Father, thank you that the scriptures so clearly show us who you are. Help us to grow deeper in knowing you so that our faith will not be shaken. Thank you for example of Godly people whose faith was tested and who persevered. Help us not to neglect meeting together with fellow believers, whose Godly example will keep encouraging us in our faith. Amen.

21 September 2018

Hebrews 10

And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.

Hebrews 10:10

Christ’s Effective Sacrifice, once for all. Hebrews 10 starts off underlining the fact that the old covenant with its priestly system was ineffective and merely a shadow and a painful reminder (verse 3) of the need to be made right with God. We are reminded that ‘the law is only a shadow’ (verse 1). But if it is a shadow (which is actually nothing at all), then there must be an ‘object’ that creates the shadow. This is what verse 1 refers to as ‘the good things that are coming’  The shadow was not able to ‘make perfect’ (verse 1), nor was it even remotely possible in any way for the shadow to ‘take away sins’ (verse 4).

Verse 5 begins with a glorious ‘Therefore’! For this reason, because of the ineffectiveness of the shadow, the effective reality ‘came into the world’. This is a profoundly encouraging truth. Not only did Christ come, but He gave His body as a pleasing sacrifice for sins (verse 12) – and this He did once for all (verses 10, 12). The effectiveness of this once for all sacrifice cannot be overstated. See the language of verse 10, ‘we have been made holy’ and verse 14, ‘he has made perfect forever’.

Dear friends, the author of Hebrews has been labouring this point over the last few chapters and now he underlines this truth again. In chapter 11 he is going to emphasise faith as believing something to be true even though we can’t see it. This is what he urges us to believe. Christ’s sacrifice is vastly more effective than the shadow of the old sacrificial system. Our sins ‘have been forgiven’ (verse 18), our sins will not be remembered (verse 17), we have been made perfect forever (verse 14), and ‘we have been made holy’ (verse 10).

Because of this, because Jesus accomplished this through His once-for-all sacrifice, because He entered the Most Holy Place for us (yesterday’s devotion, Hebrews 9:24), we can ‘have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus’. This is profoundly exhilarating! We can enter God’s presence with confidence! Oh how my soul leaps with ecstatic rejoicing at this wonderful privilege.

All these magnificently wonderful blessings and realities are only available to us if we believe it to be true. This is what verse 38 means when it says, ‘my righteous one will live by faith’. It is by faith that we will live; it is by faith that we gain these blessings; it is by faith that we are saved (verse 39). This faith brings full assurance (verse 22). ‘Let us hold unswervingly to…[this]…hope’ (verse 23). Remember, hope implies confidence (Monday’s devotion, Hebrews 6:18). And here in verse 23, we are encouraged to hold unswervingly to this hope because ‘he who promised is faithful’.

Do you believe? The author of Hebrews can confidently say of himself and of those he is writing to, ‘we…belong…to those who have faith and are saved’ (verse 39). Let us, like him, confidently say this of ourselves.

Prayer: Dear Heavenly Father, our hearts rejoice, almost bursting at the seams, as we consider the massive privilege and profound blessings that You have lavished on us. We believe to be true what Your Word has told us, and we rejoice. Thank You that Your Son Jesus came into this world, gave Himself as a sacrifice for our sins, has made us holy and perfect in Your sight, and opened for us the way into Your Most Holy Place. Amen.

20 September 2018

Hebrews 9
Ecclesiastes 4

 For Christ did not enter a sanctuary made with human hands that was only a copy of the true one; he entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God’s presence.

Hebrews 9:24

Jesus entered the Most Holy Place – for us. It is quite fascinating and immensely encouraging when we understand that the Old Testament tabernacle and temple was just a shadow and a practical illustration of what God was planning to do for all mankind in the true temple in heaven through Jesus Christ our great eternal high priest. Verse 8 tells us that the true way into the real Most Holy Place was not possible through the old temple, because it was merely an illustration (verse 9) pointing to the real thing.

But Christ is our high priest of a ‘greater and more perfect tabernacle…not part of this creation’ (verse 11). Let this profound truth sink into your soul.

The effectiveness of Christ’s eternal high-priesthood is immensely magnified and intensified because of the more authentic concrete reality of the true Temple in which He serves. This is not the ‘physical’ temple of the Old Testament where God merely promised to bring His presence – No, this is the real Temple where God dwells eternally in the magnificent and real Most Holy Place, where the Trinity has been dwelling for all eternity from before creation and even before time existed (verse 24). It is into this Most Holy Place that Jesus Christ, our great high priest, entered with His own blood as a sin offering to obtain for us ‘eternal redemption’ (verse 12).

It is for us that Christ as done this (verse 24). Christ entered into God’s presence in the true Most Holy Place in heaven itself for us. And He did this to do away with our sin through the sacrifice of Himself (verse 26). Sin is done away with!

Oh, dear believer, be encouraged today. Christ is at the right hand of God Almighty in the Most Holy Place interceding for us, He has obtained for us an eternal redemption, and He has done away with sin. Christ will come again to bring salvation to those who are waiting for Him (verse 28). What a magnificent truth and enticing promise. Are you waiting for Christ? Do you believe that Christ has done away with sin? Do you believe that Christ has redeemed you forever through His blood? Do you believe that Christ appears before God for you?

This is what Hebrews 9 urges us to believe. This is massively encouraging.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us a helpful illustration to help us believe that which we can’t see with our physical eyes. Thank You that Jesus has indeed appeared in Your presence in the Most Holy Place in heaven with His own blood as a sin offering for our sin to do away with sin and to redeem us forever. Help us to comprehend this vastly superior truth. Thank You that Jesus appears in heaven before You for us. Amen.

19 September 2018

Hebrews 8
Psalm 105

Jesus is high priest of a new and better covenant. The old covenant with its system of priests and the tabernacle was just a shadow (verse 5) of the new and better covenant, with Jesus as high priest in the true tabernacle in heaven. The focus of chapter 8 is on the fact that we have a new and better covenant; chapter 9 (tomorrow’s passage) expounds more on the idea that the earthly tabernacle was just a copy and shadow of the true tabernacle in heaven. We will look at that in more detail tomorrow.

However, an important point to note in this chapter is that Jesus is high priest in heaven and not on earth. Verses 4-5 make this quite clear. Jesus is not on earth (verse 4) because priests on the earth conduct their ministry in accordance with the old covenant. But Jesus is high priest in the true tabernacle in heaven and this introduces to us the new covenant. See verse 6, ‘he is mediator of a better covenant’ and ‘attained a more excellent ministry’.

When the old covenant was given, the law was given as a sign of the covenant. Now that the new covenant has been given, can we expect also a law to be given with it? Certainly we can. Look at verse 10, ‘I will put my laws in their minds and write them on their hearts’. This means that God changes our desires and our thinking – in other words He changes us from within. This is a fascinating phenomenon that takes place when we are born again, when we are born of the Spirit (John 3:3, 8).

There are two other exhilarating promises that we are given in this new covenant. Firstly, God will be our God, and we will be His people (verse 10). What an amazing privilege it is that we can be God’s people! That He cares for us, guards us, rules us, and we live under His blessing. We certainly don’t deserve this, but it is ours in the new covenant. This brings us to the second exhilarating promise, God will forgive our wickedness and will not even remember our sins (verse 12). This is immensely gracious and merciful of God to treat us in this way, and indeed it is very humbling. This is only possible because our great high priest, Jesus, sacrificed Himself for our sins once for all – not because of anything that we have done, but completely because of what He has done.

We ought to respond with great gratitude and love for God who has given to us this new and better covenant which is completely from Him. We don’t need to adhere to the demands of the old covenant and try to please God and win His favour through obedience. Rather, we should accept by faith, that God has promised to bless all nations and that He has indeed done so by giving to us a new and better covenant. Through this new covenant, our wickedness and sins are forgiven and forgotten and we are God’s people and He is our God.

What amazing grace!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for giving to us Jesus as our great high priest who is the mediator of a new and better covenant. Thank You that You are our God and that we can be Your people. Thank You that You forgive our sins and don’t remember them. We are truly grateful and we desire to do what pleases You. Thank You for changing our desires. Help us to live in a way that reflects the reality that we are Your people and have Your laws written on our hearts. Amen.

18 September 2018

Hebrews 7
Psalm 104

Hebrews 7. Jesus is an effective high priest – forever! We draw near to God through a better hope. (verse 19)

What an amazing privilege we have to be able to draw near to God! We who were once enemies of God because of our sin, deserving only of His wrath, are now able to draw near to God with confidence (Hebrews 7:19 cf. 4:16). This is possible for us through a better hope.

Yesterday we looked at the promise of God which gives us a hope which is like an anchor of the soul. This hope is Jesus our eternal effective high priest (Hebrews 6:20). This is a better hope than what Israel had. The Israelites had a hope of some sorts to approach God through their high priests, but this system of priests through which Israel could attempt to approach God was temporary (verse 23), weak and useless (verse 18), and imperfect (verse 19).

But now we have the introduction of a better hope (verse 19), Jesus as high priest who continues forever (verse 24), is effective in saving (verse 25), and who is perfect (verse 28). Jesus is the better hope who gives us confidence to draw near to God. Jesus is the guarantor of a better covenant (verse 22).

Just as the old covenant with its priestly system had to deal with the sin problem through perpetual sacrifices, so too the new covenant deals with sin. Sin is what separates mankind from God; sin is a barrier preventing us from drawing near to God. This problem of sin has been solved once for all (verse 27) through the self-sacrifice of Jesus our effective eternal high priest – He offered Himself as a sacrifice (verse 27).

This is why we now have a better hope to draw near to God with confidence. Jesus is our effective eternal high priest who has effectively and eternally dealt with our sin problem which was a barrier preventing us from drawing near to God. He is able to save completely those who draw near to God through Him (verse 25) and He intercedes for us eternally (verse 25).

Dear Christian, let us take hold of this better hope with confidence. Let us today draw near to God knowing that we have an effective and eternal high priest who intercedes for us and has done away with the sin barrier that separated us from God.

Let us not allow anything to prevent us from drawing near to God because we have a better hope in our high priest who is in heaven interceding for us.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for giving us Your Son Jesus as our eternal effective high priest. Thank you that Jesus is able to save us completely. Thank You that we have a better hope through whom we can draw near to You with confidence. Help us to take hold of this hope and to draw near to You today and always. Amen. 

17 September 2018

Hebrews 6
Psalm 103

Impossible for God to Lie

What a wonderful joy and promise we find here in Hebrews chapter 6 – the assurance of salvation!

God has made a powerful irrevocable promise and guaranteed it with an oath – ‘it is impossible for God to lie’ (verse 18)! This promise was made to Abraham with us in mind as the beneficiaries of the promise. The author (verse 14) quotes Genesis 22:17, ‘I will bless you…’. This promise continues: ‘all the nations of the earth will be blessed through your offspring’ (Genesis 22:18). Jesus Christ is this ‘offspring’, we have been blessed! Notice the emphasis on ‘promise’ in verses 12, 15, and 17. The promise is confirmed with an oath (verse 16) to show the unchangeableness of God’s resolve (verse 17).

This is a promise that God has made whereby it is impossible for God to lie. He has promised, and confirmed His promise with an oath. See verse 18, here we are shown the utter reliability of the promise. ‘Through two unchangeable things in which it is impossible for God to lie’! This gives us ‘powerful encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us’ (verse 18).

Here we are being encouraged to hold fast to the hope we have in Christ. This hope is described as an ‘anchor of the soul…entering into the inside of the curtain’ (verse 19). Our souls have an anchor; this anchor is based on God’s infinitely reliable promise.

Notice that the author is writing to those who ‘have fled for refuge’ (verse 18, ESV); the original word used here implies that the refuge has already been reached. Some translations say ‘have taken refuge’ (NASB, LEB). So the author is writing to those who have fled to and taken refuge in God’s promise fulfilled in Christ. This is in contrast to those mentioned in verses 4-6 who have merely ‘been enlightened’, ‘sharers’, and ‘tasted’ and who fall away. No, we are not like them, we ‘have fled for refuge’. That is why the author can confidently say ‘we are convinced of better things in your case – things that have to do with salvation’ (verse 9).

With such a sure promise and such a sure refuge to which we have fled and already arrived, we ‘may have powerful encouragement to hold fast to the hope set before us’ (verse 18). This word ‘hope’ implies confidence. The author describes it as ‘an anchor for the soul, firm and secure’ which ‘enters the inner sanctuary behind the curtain’ (6:19). The author here is using various descriptive methods to encourage his readers that the promise is true and reliable and that our hope is concrete.

Dear Christian, let us not waver or have doubts about God’s promise. It is impossible for God to lie, He has promised, He has confirmed His promise with an oath. We have a sure and confident hope. Let us be those who flee for refuge in God’s promise. Jesus is the fulfilment of this promise. Let us hold fast to our hope, our confidence, in Jesus.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for Your sure promise to bless all nations. Thank You that You have sent Your Son Jesus as the fulfilment of this promise. Thank you that we can flee for refuge in Him. Help us to trust that You will never let us go and that we who have fled for refuge in Christ are safe and secure forever. Help us to live in a way that reflects our security in You. Amen.

14 September 2018

Hebrews 5

There are two ways of doing the Incarnation. The Gospels of Luke and Matthew start with Mary and Joseph and Jesus’ conception.  An amazing story that blows our minds if we get beyond Xmas trees, food and presents.

Hebrews 4–5 does Incarnation differently, including telling his readers that he’s got a lot to say and explain but they are cloth-eared, dik-koppe (5:11ff.).

And why is Jesus is so significant? Well, think Jewish high-priest, for example. The high-priests who feature in the New Testament get a deservedly bad press, but Hebrews is thinking of the ideal incumbent who offers sacrifice and prayers to God on behalf of his people.

Now, speaking personally, I find the stories of the Gospels more straightforward than listening to elaborate analogies from Leviticus and elsewhere that work by drawing out similarities and contrasts, with various quotation snippets from the Old Testament in-between.

That said, I’m not Jewish or about to be imprisoned and slaughtered for attending TCC. The recipients of Hebrews were facing terrible persecution and needed courage not to return to Temple ways.

They might have buckled and slipped quietly back into being Jewish in a way that didn’t attract that hostile attention for following Jesus as the Messiah who replaced the high-priest and temple sacrifice. What’s the value of Jesus as High-priest? Not only was Jesus humanly tempted like us and so can sympathize with our weakness (Hebrews 4:15), but it hurt Him to do God’s will.

Hurt, because He was crucified? But also hurt because He suffered at Gethsemane: ‘While Jesus was here on earth, he offered prayers and pleadings, with a loud cry and tears, to the One who could rescue him from death, and God heard his prayers because of Jesus’ deep reverence for God.’

But God the Father, His Father, didn’t rescue Him! That’s the point. Jesus went through with it all despite being the Son of God.

This means Jesus will be there to welcome you into eternal life because He’s been there, done that obediently, and received much more than a Jewish high-priest T-shirt. Trust Him on this.”  

13 September 2018

Hebrews 4
Ecclesiastes 3

All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless.

Ecclesiastes 3:19b

Without warning, my seminary colleague and good friend over many years dropped dead at home from a heart attack last week, age 65. We are creatures in time, not exempt from the inevitable. And not always seeing it coming.

The wisdom writer wrestles with this paradox of our biology. We share death with the animals. What’s different?

The good, the bad and the ugly. Those with tails and horns and those driving around Cape Town. Those attending Tokai Community Church and those free ranging in Kruger Park. Our time runs out.

There’s a wonderful obviousness and irrefutability to this creatures-in-time thing, with us living between the poles of birth and death.

We were asked what song they were playing before the service started when Ecclesiastes 3 was scheduled for the reading and sermon. They said the Byrds ‘Turn, Turn, Turn’. Actually, the Byrds was just an arrangement of Pete Seeger’s original (1950s), his anti-war song where he’s hoping for …”a time for peace, I swear it’s not too late”. (Catch a version of Pete Seeger and Judy Collins on YouTube in Black & White TV—yes that long ago)

But Pete Seeger’s other three original words, not lifted from Ecclesiastes 3, were “Turn, turn, turn!”. That became the song’s title, perhaps alluding to the turning globe of Earth time, but also calling for a turn-around.

I like that. ‘Turn’ in Hebrew (šūb) is used as picture-word for the turning around of repentance. We drum “Say sorry to your sister for hurting her!” into our little boys. Mumble, mumble… “sorreee”. But we find the grown-up version, repentance, a lot harder. It’s not a word, it’s a whole behaviour pattern.

Animals do killing nothing like as well as human beings and they’re not candidates for repentance. We are deliberate sinners and really do need to turn around and say “Sorry!”, both to the Lord and to our neighbour. And that includes our spouse, colleagues, employees and teenagers, among others.

Moreover, “Sorry!” is not absurd or meaningless. Forgiveness and the Lord’s embrace awaits.

12 September 2018

Hebrews 3
Psalm 102

Psalm 102 seems like…

  • two poems stuck together—a despairing lament and a utopian vision for Zion
  • a combo of highly subjective feelings plus highly optimistic wishful thinking
  • all very removed from our situation
  • also the story of Zion moved on historically, politically, theologically from whatever it was then
  • and the rest about the rulers of the world trembling before God doesn’t look like happening any time soon.

The speaker escapes from his subjectivism by clinging to the bigger picture of his city and nation in the future when God does ‘arise’. All in God’s own time.

If you’ve never read Elie Wiesel’s account of his Holocaust sufferings as a sixteen year old in the brutality of the Nazi extermination camps, then you won’t be able to understand how true this psalm rings in that situation of horror. [E. Wiesel, Night, 2006 edition, translation by his wife]

Just think. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He wasn’t optimistic. He looked ahead to its siege and destruction by the Romans who crucified thousands of Jews around the city who tried to escape the siege. Jesus in Jerusalem changes everything for us.

He did ‘appear in his glory’ just as verse 16 hopes, but was rejected, falsely accused, humiliated and executed.

So thanks to that, we have no reason for deep spiritual despair but instead have assurance that nothing can separate us from His love. That’s not a cheap faith when things go wrong for us.

It wasn’t for Jesus either as He faced all that it cost Him.

11 September 2018

Hebrews 2
Psalm 101

(References from NLT version)

There’s something that surely jumps out at you as you scan the print of Psalm 101. Namely, a repeated ‘I will…’, about 10x in fewer verses. Embarrassingly, this psalm seems to be more I-centred than God-centred.

Why embarrassingly? Well, because surely we know ourselves only too well. And… Have you long forgotten your New Year resolutions? “I will…” is often followed up in review by “but I didn’t, I haven’t…”

There’s nothing wrong with a list of good intentions. The king’s list here is okay. Even admirable. The problem is implementation.

‘I will be careful to live a blameless life’ (verse 2a)

I will lead a life of integrity in my own home (verse 2b)

How did that go for David? Did he pen this before or after he noticed Bathsheba? Maybe his best line is verse 2b:when will you come to help me?’

By the end of his poem, he’s busy with his list again and sounding like a good man to testify before the Commission on State Capture.

My daily task will be to ferret out the wicked
    and free the city of the Lord from their grip.
(verse 8)

He’s certainly wanting to distance himself from the lowlife. Does he know himself?

* * * * *

Seems we have corruption, crooked dealing, conceit and pride, liars and deceit in the holy city of 10th century BC Jerusalem. The king holds himself responsible for doing something about this. That’s good. You’re talking the talk, David. What about the walk? How did it go?

This is where it gets a bit uncomfortable for us if we know ourselves.

‘I will sing of your love and justice, LORD’ (verse1)

That’s good too. But singing on Sunday isn’t where it’s at for the whole week, is it?

And since we don’t have a king, or that sort of responsibility ourselves we’d better remember to pray for Cyril and all those in authority while we’re thinking about it.

10 September 2018

Hebrews 1
Psalm 100

Shout with joy to the LORD, all the Earth

Psalm 100:1 NLT

Gladness, joy, thanksgiving, praise—it’s all happening in Psalm 100. For why? Because those gathered for worship know with assurance.

We are his people, the sheep of his pasture (verse 3b)

The LORD is good
His unfailing love continues forever (verse 5)

And we have even more reason for this sense of belonging than they did back then. In a word—it’s Jesus. All he is and all he’s done for us. His steadfast love is what we can count on, however up or down we are.

Yes, exuberance is a mood, and we don’t always feel on top of the world. That’s why there are psalms of Lament in the temple hymnbook too. (Look no further than Psalm 102 the day after tomorrow.)

Many people around us in the workplace don’t get it. They don’t get this assurance that we’re loved, that.

He made us, and we are his. (verse 3b)

Let alone wanting to join in a song and dance about it.

For them, God may be somewhere behind the Universe, but remote, not involved. Or, at least, they live that way. They lose out.

This psalm packs a punch above its 5 short verses. One truth it models is this—we do better together. ‘The sheep of his pasture’ are a flock. ‘His people’ flock together.

So be glad when you can’t find a parking at TCC, ‘cos it’s full!

7 September 2018

Philemon

Paul pleads with Philemon to consider Onesimus, the runaway slave, as a brother in Christ and he writes, ‘if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me’ (verse 17). As one writer says: ‘This was a revolutionary and scandalous idea for a wealthy slave owner in Colossae to be asked to welcome back his rebellious slave as a brother (verse 16).’  But this is what Paul asks … because such is the character of Christ, such is the work of Christ. This is the power of the gospel – to demand revolutionary and scandalous relationships. In Colossians [remember that Philemon lived in Colossae] it says, ‘Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all’ (Colossians 3:11).

In this letter, we see what Christian brotherly love looks like in practice. We are to do good to Christian brothers (verse 16) and partners (verse 17) on the basis of love (verse 9) not out of obligation but out of our own free will (verse 14) to those who share the participation (koinonia) in the faith for the glory of Christ (verse 6). Our common faith in Christ (verse 5) makes the church a true family that should care for one another – irrespective of the past or our current social standings. If we truly believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour, then it must affect our behaviour – especially the way we love and forgive our brothers and sisters for the sake of Christ.

Paul sounds like the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:35) when he says, ‘And if he has wronged you in any way, or owes you anything, charge that to my account.’  (verse 18). Paul intercedes for Philemon to be merciful to Onesimus the way Jesus intercedes with the Father to be merciful to us (Romans 8:34).

Heavenly Father, please grant us to have the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with our spirit so that we may have true brotherly love for our brothers and sisters even across cultural and social barriers. Amen.

6 September 2018

Titus 3
Ecclesiastes 2

At one time we too were foolish, disobedient, deceived and enslaved by all kinds of passions and pleasures. We lived in malice and envy, being hated and hating one another. But when the kindness and love of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that, having been justified by his grace, we might become heirs having the hope of eternal life.

Titus 3:3-7

In Titus 3 we have a plain explanation of the generous grace of God.

It starts with our hopeless situation. Verse 3 describes the sinful nature and the true lostness of all people i.e. foolish, enslaved, deceived; leading to malice, envy and hate. What a hopeless situation!

‘But …’ (verse 4)! Don’t you love that word? One word from God that gives hope when you are in a dark hole, too dark and deep to get out of by yourself.

‘But when the kindness and love of God our Saviour appeared [Jesus], he saved us, not because of righteous things we had done, but because of his mercy.’ (verse 4-5)

Are you entitled to mercy and grace from God? Never! God’s word makes that clear. The only thing we are legally entitled to from God is judgement.

God’s love is not logical. Maybe ‘good’ people could attract love, but not evil people. And there are no naturally good people. Yet God sets His generous love on you in Christ. That’s grace! Then, ‘… He saved us through the washing of rebirth and renewal by the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us generously through Jesus Christ our Saviour…’ (verse 5-6)

Do you understand, do you feel, the weight of this?

Spiritually dead people made alive. Evil people made holy and ‘justified by His grace’ (verse 7)! God views you as ‘not guilty’. And to crown it all we become, ‘… heirs of eternal life.’ (verse 7)

Do you believe this? Have you experienced this renewal?

If you have,  then thank God and devote yourself to Him.

Heavenly Father, thank You for Your undeserved grace and love to us in your Son, Jesus Christ. You are too magnificent and wonderful for words. Amen.

5 September 2018

Titus 2
Psalm 99

The Lord reigns,
    let the nations tremble;
he sits enthroned between the cherubim,
    let the earth shake.
Great is the Lord in Zion;
    he is exalted over all the nations.
Let them praise your great and awesome name—
    he is holy.

The King is mighty, he loves justice—
    you have established equity;
in Jacob you have done
    what is just and right.
Exalt the Lord our God
    and worship at his footstool;
    he is holy.

Moses and Aaron were among his priests,
    Samuel was among those who called on his name;
they called on the Lord
    and he answered them.
He spoke to them from the pillar of cloud;
    they kept his statutes and the decrees he gave them.

Lord our God,
    you answered them;
you were to Israel a forgiving God,
    though you punished their misdeeds.
Exalt the Lord our God
    and worship at his holy mountain,
    for the Lord our God is holy.

Psalm 99:1-9

How great and holy is God in reality?  Is that how you perceive Him?

The Lord reigns, let the nations tremble …’ (verse 1). God is the great king (verse 4) and the nations should tremble in awe and fear before Him. God is very holy (verse 3,5,9).

This IS who He is in reality – great, holy, just, enthroned.

Is this reality a comfort to you knowing this is who God is? Knowing that He rules and reigns over all things, over all people and all situations; including our messy families; the struggling economy and chaotic politics in South Africa.  What a comfort!

‘Great is the Lord in Zion; he is exalted over all the nations 
Let them praise your great and awesome name— he is holy’ (verse 2-3).

God’s greatness is a comfort to those who trust Him and ‘…call on the Lord’ (verse 6).

‘The King is mighty, he loves justice …’ (verse 4). Although God’s justice should be a concern to sinners, the next words are again a comfort. ‘Lord our God, you answered them; you were to Israel a forgiving God, though you punished their misdeeds’ (verse 8). God listens to our prayers as He did to Israel and He will forgive us as He did them through His Son Jesus Christ.

Oh Lord God, we exalt and worship You as our Holy God. You have revealed your supremacy and majesty through Your Son, Jesus Christ. Please comfort our anxious hearts with the truth of your word and the knowledge of Your authority over the world and the future. Amen.