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Devotions

Daily devotions are compiled by Past.Richard Baird from Brighton Rd Baptist Church.  If you want to sign up and receive these devotions by email you are welcome to contact Richard at:  shepherdledlife@gmail.com  

21 Aug 2013 - Red Sea Rule 8

Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided.  And the people of Israel went into the midst of the sea on dry ground, the waters being a wall to them on their right hand and on their left. Exodus 14:21-22

The great moment has arrived! And what a way to deliver!  Who would have thought that deliverance was going to come through waters being supernaturally divided?  

The next rule/lesson is this: Trust God to deliver in His own unique way. That’s what He does! Check out the following: Deut 23:14...Psalm 34:19; Job 5:19; 2 Peter 2:9; Gal 1:4; Ps 50:15; 2 Tim 4:18

The question naturally arises: does God still deliver? Does He deliver from financial hardships, or marital difficulty, or emotional confusion, or harm and danger, or self-destructive habits, or disease?

Yes.  But there is a catch: you need to have God’s perspective on deliverance, because He does not always see things the way we do – God explains it as follows in Isaiah 55:8:

For my thoughts are not  your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways, declares the Lord.

Deliverance must not be defined by emotional reflex, human standards or even common sense: but by biblical truth.  God will deliver His children from every evil work, every peril or problem, tribulation – even death, but ...as Robert puts it: there are no cookie cutters in heaven.  God does not have standardized, same-fits-all solutions to our various problems.  Every situation is unique!

How blessed we are to have a God who delivers!

20 Aug 2013 - Red Sea Rule 7 Continue

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them, coming between the host of Egypt and the host of Israel. Exodus 14:19&20

Yesterday we considered two suggestions to help us envision God's enveloping presence.  Here are another two suggested by the author Robert Morgan of The Red Sea Rules:

Access God's nearness through prayer.  James 4:8 promises us that if we draw near to God, He will draw near to us. God is actually not far away!  I also just love Deut 4:7:

For what great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon Him?

We may not feel the presence, but we can know it by faith, which is a far more secure foundation! 

The next suggestion (actually, these suggestions are really Biblical injunctions/commands!): Reflect His Presence in your demeanour.  There was a man born in France (not his fault:-) ) in 1605 named Nicholas, who was seriously wounded in the Thirty Years War, and the result was that he walked with great difficulty.  He gave his life to the Lord at 18 and became an assistant for a local official in the French Treasury.  Years passed by and at age 50 he wanted a deeper spiritual walk - so he joined a monastery.  The task he got assigned was the kitchen, a task he felt was insulting and humbling, and for several years did his chores out of duty but grudgingly.

Fortunately a change came about.  He changed his thinking and realized that even the most menial and boring tasks, if undertaken for God's glory, are holy - and that wherever the Christian is standing, even a hot thankless kitchen, is holy ground, for the Lord is there too.  His countenance and demeanour gradually changed, and others wanted to know the reason for his radiance.  Christian leaders started to seek him out, and the Abbot of Beaufort was so impressed they met four times to discuss Nicholas's walk with the Lord - and he also made notes of their conversations and preserved the letters.

Those letters and notes can be read today in a gem of a book called The Practice of the Presence of God by Brother Lawrence, which was his monastery name.

Remember: you are not facing your difficulty alone, because the presence of Christ is even closer than the cloud - it's within you through the Holy Spirit!  Envision His Presence!

19 Aug 2013 - Red Sea Rules Continue

Then the angel of God who was going before the host of Israel moved and went behind them, and the pillar of cloud moved from before them and stood behind them - Exodus 14:19

We started to look at Red Sea Rule 7 which is to envision God's enveloping presence - this is so important because God is with us.  His name is Immanuel!

At the Red Sea, God put His people in a position where His presence had never been so real to them.  By using difficulty, He cultivated a greater appreciation for Himself.  As one person put it:  God’s presence in the trial is much better than exemption from the trial.  “The Lord’s presence is never so sweet as in moments of appalling difficulty”  I’m going to quote directly from the book here:

“ When you find yourself between sword and sea, remember that difficult times can sensitize us to God’s nearness.  He’s never so close as when we’re shipwrecked on omnipotence and driven by despair into His chambers where we find Him “a very present help in trouble”

Do you need to learn to say “I will fear no evil, for You are with me?”

Here are two suggestions to help you with envisioning that presence:

Firstly, affirm His nearness in your heart – like the psalmist did in 139:5-6.  We see this reality affirmed by God in Scripture – do yourself a favour and memorize these Scriptures while you still can!  Phil 4:5-6...; Isaiah 41:10...Gen 28:15...;  Acts 18:9-10...; Hebrews 13:5

Keep reminding yourself of this truth!

Secondly: visualize it in your mind.  No - I'm not going all New-Agey on you:-)  In my office I have two chairs, and I often like to imagine that our Lord is sitting opposite me – but it’s not imagining – He is with me.  The Biblical writers used images to help them imagine God being with them: David calling God a shepherd; or a refuge.  Isaiah spoke about being carried on wings as eagles – and Paul clearly knew the Lord was with him in court when he wrote 2 Tim 4:16-17...

Doing this has two spinoffs: it provides comfort, but it also restrains sin.  If you know God is with you all the time, you’re going to be slow to swear or watch the wrong stuff or whatever!  Not that it applies to you...:-)

16 Aug 2013 - More on the Red Sea

Then the angel of God, who had been travelling in front of Israel's army, withdrew and went behind them.  The pillar of cloud also moved from in front and stood behind them, coming between the armies of Egypt and Israel .  Throughout the night the cloud brought darkness to the one side and light to the other side; so neither went near the other all night long.  Exodus 14:19&20

Who was this angel?  On the basis of Exodus 13:21, we believe it represents a Christophany: an OT appearance of Christ.  The language used to describe the angel in other references (eg 

3:2) suggests that he is more than an angel, and in fact closely identified with God.

But why use the term angel to describe Christ?  Angel simply means messenger, and is that not an apt title of what Jesus came to do: the Word who became flesh - who revealed to us the message of salvation - who is the message of salvation?  The One who revealed God to us (see Hebrews 1:1-4)

In fact, in v20 we further see it described in a way which strengthens the case - we see the double nature of the glory of God in salvation so clearly presented:  He gives light to those who trust in Him, and darkness to those who reject Him: a saviour to one, and a judge to the other.  

Why is understanding this so important? Because here is the simple truth: God is with us.  His name is Immanuel! So Red Sea Rule 7 is this: Envision God's Enveloping Presence.

As the psalmist declared in Psalm 139:5-6...

You hem me in - behind and before; you have laid your hand upon me.  Such knowledge is too wonderful for me, too lofty for me to attain.

15 Aug 2013 - Sanctified Common Sense

Then the Lord said to Moses, " Why are you crying out to me?  Tell the Israelites to move on" Exodus 14:15

It's amazing how we can miss the obvious sometimes!  As we saw yesterday, we can sometimes get caught up in the paralysis of analysis of trying to figure out God's will that we end up doing nothing.  

The Israelites understandably did not know what to do: they were trapped, and they did not know what awaited them. And yet the advice of God to them was "Don't stand there - do something!" 

Sometimes, as Robert Morgan puts it, its simply about plodding rather than plotting - it's about moving forward having trusted in the promise of God for wisdom.

God has promised to guide us, but it is easier to guide someone who is moving than keeping still.  I was challenged by a message a few years that also challenged the notion of not moving until we hear from God - and he shared Scriptural examples of people who did not expect to hear from God until they've moved.  Also check out Proverbs 3:5-7

If unsure - pray and do the next logical thing based on sanctified common sense!

14 Aug 2013 - More on the Red Sea

Then the Lord said to Moses, " Why are you crying out to me?  Tell the Israelites to move on. " Exodus 14:15

Rule 5 taught us to remain calm and confident and give God room to work.  But does that mean we sit and do nothing?  Not at all, but it does mean that before we do anything, we've done our prayer!

I'm sure you've been there...not knowing what to do, and seeking to be spiritual and not do anything until you have sought God's face and heard from Him...and while you try to figure out what it is you must do, you get caught up in the analysis of paralysis, and successfully end up doing nothing.  This next rule challenges the notion of not doing anything until we have heard from God - look at the verse above again...God in effect says "Why do you cry to me? God forward!"

The lesson?  When you're unsure, just take the next logical step by faith, after all, as we see in James 1, has the Lord not promised wisdom to those who ask?

12 Aug 2013 - Red Sea Rule 7

Then the Lord said to Moses, " Why are you crying out to me?  Tell the Israelites to move on.  Raise your staff and stretch out your hand over the sea to divide the water so that the Israelites can go through the sea on dry ground." Exodus 14;13&14

It's normal to react with panic when you're in a stressful situation, such as being trapped between the desert and the sea with the enemy after you!  In such situations we tend to react emotionally with a form of fight or flight.

But children of God have been called to a deeper, more mature response instead of a reaction.  We are called to respond with faith.The Israelites had very good reason for terror and panic, but they had even better reason to be confident.

They had God: He who had sent the plagues and revealing His presence as a pillar of cloud and fire.  God was literally saying " Come on guys! Get a grip! Reel in those runaway emotions - walk from fear to faith - trust Me - I AM going to fight for you!"

Do yourself a favour and check out Deut 1:29-31; 3:22; 31;6 and also 1 Sam 17:47 and Romans 8:31 to the end.

What predicament are you in?  You know you don't have the power to do what needs to be done - but you can get on your knees and cry out to your HEavenly Father, and then stand and see what He can do: being calm and confident and allow God to do His work...

8 Aug 2013 - Red Sea Rule 6

And Moses said to the people, " Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the LORD, which He will work for you today - Exodus 14:13

The next Red Sea Rule which we started to look at yesterday is this: stay calm and confident, and give God time to work: make room for God.  After all, if we are to leave room for God's wrath (see Romans 12:19), can we not, when facing other challenges, also leave room for His other attributes?  For His power? His grace? His intervention?

The truth is we know we cannot solve every problem, or cure every hurt, or avoid every fear that comes our way...but we can leave room for God.

We don't have the answer to every dilemma we face, but we can leave room for God.

We cannot do the impossible, but we can leave room for God, who, in the words of Eph 3:20, is able to do abundantly more than what we can ask or imagine...

This is what the Bible means when it speaks about "waiting on the Lord" - it's about commiting our own Red Sea situations to Him in prayer, trusting Him and waiting for Him to work.

The only difficulty with that is that it runs counter to our sense of responsibility and the need to be proactive, but to be honest, the Bible does show us how to spare ourselves from many a migraine: look up Psalm 37:7-8... 

And perhaps you find yourself in a difficult situation over which you have no control...do you perhaps think the Lord Almighty is calling you to entrust it to Him?  After all, and I like the way the author expresses this: He alone can storm the impregnable, devise the improbable, and perform the impossible.  He alone can part the waters.

What a mighty God we serve! Leave room for God!

7 Aug 2013 - Red Sea Rule 5

And Moses said to the people, " Fear not, stand firm, and see the salvation of the Lord, which He will work for you today.  For the Egyptians whom you see today, you shall never see again.  The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to be silent." Exodus 14:13&14

We've  been looking at the Red Sea Rules (book by Robert Morgan), which are strategies to live by in the context of adversity.  Just to recap, the rules so far have been:

1. Realize that God means for you to be where you are

2. Be more concerned for God's glory than for your relief

3. Acknowledge your enemy, but keep your eyes on the Lord

4. Pray!

You may have noticed, but we live in a stress-saturated age.  For all the technology that we have which is supposed to make life easier, it's had the adverse affect of making us even more rushed and trying to do even more in a day.  Of course we also find ourselves under stress from a variety of other sources, from family to finances to fear!  And of course, fear is usually the source of our stress, and personally I tend to feel stress when I sense I'm not in control or expectations have not been met (a recipe for a miserable life by the way - far better to submit to God and be content!).  But for most of us, stress is experienced when we cannot perceive a way out.

In looking at the next rule, I need to share a brief story from the author.  In his book he recounts a time when he was worried sick over something, and four words sitting quietly in his Bible hit him like a sling shot.  They were words he had seen many times before, and they were these: leave room for God.  The context is Romans 12:19 in his NIV version, and it actually speaks of leaving room for God's wrath when someone wrongs you - don't get even, get God!

He was pondering these words and came to the conclusion that if we can leave room for God's wrath, can we not leave room for God's other attributes in the situations we face?  Room for His power, His grace, His intervention?

To that I shout a hearty "Amen!"  We cannot solve every problem or cure every hurt - but we can leave room  for God.

And that's rule 5:-)

5 Aug 2013 - Anguish

...and the children of Israel cried out to the Lord - Exodus 14:10

We've been looking at Red Sea Rules, and we started looking at number 4 which is simple: pray!

The Scriptures teach us that there are many types of prayer, but there is one type in particular that I want to hone in on this morning:  the prayer birthed in anguish...

You know: that gut wrenching cry because what you see or hear is literally hurting you - like Nehemiah weeping over the broken walls of Jerusalem, or our Lord in Gesthemane...and the disciples chastised because they couldn't even pray for an hour!

What a challenge!  When last did you cry before God?  I believe that when we cry, we scratch the surface of the depths of God's heart for us and His world...and His glory.  A pastor friend of mine from Kimberly shared a devotion on how we cry out "why?" to God in prayer - and why does God bring us to this point?  He took his lesson from 2 Cor 1:3-7 and he brought out some important lessons - such as the privilege of being able to minister to others - of being able to be a witness unto salvation to others - and then he asked the question of why must we have many people praying - does God only hear if it is more than one - because we know that cannot be the case because we know that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective -

The answer lies in the realisation that the more people who pray, the more God is glorified when He answers...

Have you been brought to a place this morning where you have to cry out to God?  Then you are in a sacred place...

Are you in a place this morning where you want to be used mightily of God?  Then you must be prepared to have a baptism of anguish - to allow God to share His heart with you - to see the world as God sees it and that will drive you to your knees to pray...

May I encourage you to explore this further (if you have youtube, do a search on " A call to anguish - David Wilkerson" and also please order The 18 Inch Principle by Mike Burnard from www.incontext.webs.com

Interesting thing about anguish - it's tied up with true joy...

2 Aug 2013 - Red Sea Rule 4

When Pharaoh drew near, the people of Israel lifted up their eyes, and behold, the Egyptians were marching after them, and they fear greatly.  And the people of Israel cried out to the Lord.  Exodus 14:10

We've been looking at the Red Sea Rules, which are rules to live by, especially in the context of adversity.  So far we have seen:

1) Realize that God means for you to be where you are

2) Be more concerned for God's glory than for your relief

3) Acknowledge your enemy, but keep your eyes on the Lord

You'll never guess what the next rule is....you got it: PRAY!

If you're trapped between the desert and the sea, with an army chasing you, panicking is a logical reaction.  Here's a call to rather respond with faith-filled prayer!  It's a wonderful alternative to panic.  To quote Cameron Thompson (from a booklet Master Secrets of Prayer, quoted in the Red Sea Rules by Morgan):

There comes a time, in spite of our soft, modern ways, when we must be desperate in prayer, when we must wrestle, when we must be outspoken, shameless and importunate.  Many of the prayers recorded in Scripture are "cries,"  and the Hebrew and Greek words are very strong.  Despite opinions to the contrary, the Bible recognizes such a thing as storming heaven - "praying through."  The fervent prayer of a righteous man is mighty in its working.

Indeed I have seen this in my own life: prayers birthed in desperation have a knack for touching heaven...

Turn your  cries into prayers!

1 Aug 2013 - Red Sea Rule 3

When the king of Egypt was told that the people had fled, the mind of Pharaoh and his servants was changed toward the people, and they said, "what is this we have done, that we have let Israel go from serving us?" So he made ready his chariot and took his army with him....And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of Egypt, and he pursued the people of Israel while the people of Israel were going out defiantly...Exodus 14:5, 6 & 8 (see 5-9)

Ever been in the presence of evil?  Ever felt like you were under attack?

Pharaoh, when realising what had been done, decides to change his tune.  He is angry - there is no more workforce, and where the slaves stayed are now ghost towns - and you can just imagine him screaming with anger to get the troops together and go get the Israelites back.  He's basically saying "over my dead body are these guys leaving" - which, as we shall see, was arranged...

And off they go, but all the kings horses and all the kings men, could not bring the Israelites back again.  But the Israelites don't know that yet.  All they are aware of is the fact that they are trapped between desert and sea, and the enemy is pursuing them.  What to do?  Here's the next rule: Acknowledge your enemy, but keep your eyes on the Lord.

There are some parallels between Pharaoh and Satan.  Both are unyielding enemies, both wanting the power of God for themselves, both plundered by God Almighty and both enraged and angry like you cannot imagine - both have armies geared towards destroying God's people - and neither want to acknowledge their utter defeat before God.

For obvious reasons, the Bible has nothing positive to say about Satan, and we would be foolish to not acknowledge his existence.  He does want to attack you, and we need to understand that we do not live on a sports or playing field, but a battlefield.  The apostle Paul often discerned the hand of Satan at work in ministry, but whilst he acknowledged the enemy, his focus was the Lord.  I do think that Christians are too quick sometimes to say "the devil is attacking me" as if we were so important.  I do also think we need to give more credit to Christ to guide, protect and lead than to the devil to deceive.  Interestingly, according to Morgan (author of Red Sea Rules which we're utilising here), in Paul's writings, the word Jesus occurs in 219 verses, the word Lord in 272 verses, and the word Christ in 389 verses.  By contrast, Satan only occurs in 10 verses, and devil in six.

Let us acknowledge our enemy, resist him, and keep our eyes on Jesus!

31 July 2013 - Red Sea Rule 2

For Pharaoh will say of the people of Israel, "They are wandering in the land; the wilderness has shut them in.  And I will harden Pharaoh's heart, and he will pursue them, and I will get glory over Pharaoh and all his host, and the Egyptians shall know that I am the Lord.  And they did so.  Exodus 14:3&4

An extremely long time before my time , 1946 to be precise, author Gertrude Stein felt very tired and ill during a car journery.  She was taken to hospital and unfortunately diagnosed with an advanced state of cancer.  Surgery was done but it was too late and she passed away.  But her last words baffled those around her.  She apparently asked "What is the answer?"  When nobody replied, she laughed to herself and said "In that case, what is the question?"

Sometimes we cannot find the answers to our situations and dilemmas because we're asking the wrong questions.  Whatever the difficult scenario we may find ourselves in, we are normally prone to ask the questions such as "How did I get into this mess?  How can I get out?"

Legitimate questions for sure - but perhaps the wrong ones for your situation?  Here's an alternative question to ask:  How can God  be glorified in this situation?  It's an entirely new way of looking at life, but it is God's way: and when we live God's way, we get God's enabling grace.  I often like to think of Paul when he asked the Lord to take away that thorn, and Jesus said "no."  Instead he got the thorn and grace.

And in the verses above, we see God deliberately orchestrating events as an occasion to demonstrate His power and reveal His glory.  And that represents Red Sea Rule 2: be more concerned for the glory of God than for your comfort

Will you ask yourself that question? 

30 July 2013 - Red Sea Rule 1

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Tell the people of Israel to turn back and encamp in front of Pi-hahiroth, between Migdol and the sea...Exodus 14:1-2a

In times of distress, it's difficult to not worry.  But we can derive tremendous comfort from knowing that God knows where we are.

Red Sea Rule 1 (taken from The Red Sea Rules by Robert J Morgan) teaches us that we are where we are because God has allowed or placed us where we are.  God took full responsibility for leading the Israelites to a place where they would be trapped: between the desert and the sea, and pretty soon with the Egyptian army after them, and no route of escape.

Of course we should not be surprised by finding ourselves in difficulty, and that God would even lead us into difficulty (eg 1 Peter 4:12 or Psalm 37:23-24) - but it makes all the difference when we become aware that God is in this.  Pastor Andrew Murray, when facing a crisis in his own life, wrote the following in his journal (paraphrased!):

1.  I'm here because God wants me here - He brought me to this difficult place, and I will rest in that knowledge.

2.  He will keep me here in His love and give me grace to behave as His child

3.  God will make the trial a blessing, teaching me lessons He wants me to learn as His child

4.  God brought me in, and in His time He can take me out.

But what if you are in your situation because of your own poor choices?  There's a little big thing called repentance.  God can bring us back even when we have gone wrong - but it is important to forgive  yourself as well otherwise it will be a tool in our enemy's hand to keep us trapped instead of free.  When the brothers of Joseph realised what they had done, they went and asked for forgiveness.  The response of Joseph is instructive (see Gen 45:5 & 50:19-20):  he told them to stop beating themselves up over it, because what they intended for harm, God intended for good. Why could Joseph say that?  He knew God was in charge.

Do you know that?

29 July 2013 - Red Sea Rule 1

Then the Lord said to Moses, "Tell the Israelites to turn back and encamp near Pi Hariroth, between Migdol and the sea.  They are to encamp by the sea, directly opposite Baal Zephon.  Exodus 14:1-2

We're going to spend a bit of time in chapter 14, with lessons from a real gem of a book that I got blessed with (thanks Mahendra!) called The Red Sea Rules by Robert J Morgan.  It deals with 10 strategies for living in difficult times, and I love the way the lessons have been derived from this chapter - so if you can source it somewhere, it's worth it!  At the very least you will be able to receive the lessons through these devotionals.

All of us have experienced prolonged periods of pain and pressure - we can all share stories of this.  Those times when we find ourselves trapped by seemingly impossible circumstances, with just something small to push us over the edge.  We then find ourselves in the somewhat overpopulated world called worry.  Personally, I've seen the effects of worry, and it's not a pretty sight.  It's been quite cleverly defined as a small trickle of fear that meanders through our mind, making a channel through which all the other thoughts flow into.  Bishop Fulton J Sheen calls it a form of atheism as it betrays a lack of trust in God.

Truth be told: for many of us worrying is as natural as breathing.  There's a reason the Bible calls us sheep: you can give sheep absolute security, but heaven help them if a bunny hops across unexpectedly...

But when you're in a situation, how can you not worry?  

In the opening verses above, take note of who told the Israelites to camp and where.  God told them, and it was in a place where they can get trapped: between the desert and the sea.  Red Sea Rule 1 teaches us that we are where we are because God has either placed us there or allowed us to be there - and the reason will be for His glory.  Is this a one off truth for the Israelites, or a consistent pattern of Scripture?  Consider some evidence:

Hagar the single mom forced into the desert with her son to die of thirst

Joseph, with a divine dream and sold as a slave and ends up in foreign jail

Moses who had to choose between the splendour of royalty and the Hebrew slaves

David, who even though annointed as king, was nonetheless pursued by Saul and his soldiers

Elijah after an amazing Carmel experience running for his life from Jezebel

Disciples of Jesus deliberately being led into a storm

The apostles and disciples who experienced tortuer

Two thousand years of Christian persecution and martyrdom

We'll explore this further!  But certainly it pays to look up! After all, He's got the whole world in His hands.

26 July 2013 - GPS

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night.  Exodus 13:21

What a beautiful statement - the Lord went before them!  It was the shekinah glory of God, which in John 1 we are told became flesh and made His dwelling among us.

In 1 Cor 10:2 we are further taught that this cloud represented a baptism, a picture of the baptism into Christ that children of God would one day experience.

It turns out that it was actually okay to be in the wilderness: after all, God was there.

Is that not what we need to understand too?  Even though the ways of God are not our ways, and even though He leads us on a different path from what we expect ( a result of the condition of our heart as well as His mercy), its actually quite okay because He is with us - and has gone before us.

The Israelites did not have a modern GPS.  They had better - and so do we - a GPS of a different sort: Guiding Personal Shepherd (see Psalm 23)

Can you trust the Shepherd?  You'll know if you trusting the Shepherd by what comes out of your mouth: the heart at peace is the heart that sings.

24 July 2013 - Bones of Faith

Moses took the bones of Joseph with him because Joseph had made the sons of Israel swear an oath.  He had said, "God will surely come to your aid, and then you must carry my bones up with you from this place." Exodus 13:17

What an interesting comment to insert into this narrative!  It reflects the request of Joseph seen in Genesis 50:24-25, and is described by the writer to the Hebrews as an act of faith on Joseph's behalf in Hebrews 11:16.

It affirms that God is a promise keeping God - as we read earlier in Exodus, God made the covenant promise: I will bring you out...I will deliver you...I will redeem you.

Our salvation is not because of us.

What a wonderful God!

23 July 2013 - Prepared through Mercy

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them on the road through the Philistine country, though that was shorter.  For God said, "If they face war, they might change their minds and return to Egypt." 

Exodus 13:17

We saw yesterday that sometimes God really does lead us down the desert path as opposed to the garden one which we naturally prefer.  The truth in such circumstances to embrace is that God really does know best and can be trusted, even if His ways are not our ways.

But we see above another reason why God lead the Israelites on a different road.  God knew that in encountering the Philistines, their hearts would weaken and would not be able to fight.  We must remember that the Israelites had been using trowels and not swords for 400 years!  They were not ready to fight yet.  A day was coming when they would be, but for now God would start them off small by practicing on the Amelikites later.  

Preparation was needed.  This was what the desert was going to be all about: consolidating them from broken slaves into a nation under God.

God knew that these people would turn back - he knew their hearts and their limitations, so the decision of God to lead them another way was in fact rooted in His mercy - and we often think it's God who is slow!

How wonderful to have a God who leads us in mercy, so when we do not understand what He is doing, we can understand He is operating from a place of mercy, and does not put us into anything that we cannot handle with His grace (see 1 Cor 10:13).

So - let God lead and prepare you in His mercy!

22 July 2013 - Garden or Desert?

When Pharaoh let the people go, God did not lead them by way of the land of the Philistines, although that was near.  Exodus 13:17

And so the people get moving - what a sight it must have been.  Looking at footage of the recent protests in Cairo can give us an idea of the number of people, but imagine if you would a whole lot of families getting ready to go: grannies and grandads, moms and dads, little children, along with all their livestock!  

It's a lot of people (commentators estimate about 2 million), a people with a history of slavery and oppression, now suddenly finding themselves in a context of freedom, heading towards the Promised Land - I'm sure they wanted to get going!

The quickest way to get there was to follow the coastline (let's call it the Garden Route - what is referred to as the Way of the Philistines in v17 above).

But God has a different route - He says they're going to go the long way round - through the desert!  He's not leading them down the garden path, but the desert one.

Why?

One reason would be integrity.  The request given to Pharoah was for permission to go and worship in the desert.  Going a different route would give Pharaoh reason to say he had been deceived and tricked.  

A small reminder that God keeps His Word - and a big reminder to us to do the same!  Let our yes be yes, and our no, no.  

It's also a reminder, which is now axiomatic, that God's ways are not our ways.  God's ways certainly do not always seem to be the best at the time, but they always are.  I unfortunately have a knack for questioning the ways of God when my comfort gets disrupted!

This does not make me a very wise or discerning man, because in Hosea 14:9 ( the last verse of the book) we read:

Whoever is wise, let him understand these things; whoever is discerning, let him know them: for the ways of the Lord are right, and the upright walk in them, but trangressors stumble in them.

Let's give thanks to God that He is always right, keeps His Word and can ALWAYS be trusted as a result!

18 July 2013 - Forget Me  Not!

Then Moses said to the people," Remember this day in which you came out of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, for by a strong hand the Lord brought you out from this place - Exodus 13:3

We saw yesterday that God gave the instruction to consecrate their firstborn, and how that serves as an image of worship for our own lives.

The second instruction is in v3: remember:

 

The Israelites were instructed to remember what it was that God had done for them, and the Passover was to be an annual festival.  Whenever God dealt with His people in the OT, He had to remind them of their story - of what God had done for them, because they had a tendency to forget - a tendency to live their own lives and prostitute themselves onto false religions.  

 

In much the same way, when we come around the Lord's Table, we remember what Christ has done for us - the price He paid for us - and not because we were anything special that Christ had to save us, but rather because He is special and nonetheless finds joy in us being restored to Him.  In speaking to the church at Corinth who had a tendency to pride, Paul reminds them that their roots were actually quite humble - see 1 Cor 2:26-31...

 

Have you ever stopped to remember or commemorate what God has done for you?  Every child of God has a story to share of God's grace in their life.  If you are His child, you have a story to share - you are a trophy of His grace!  But perhaps you have forgotten that? I hope you haven't, but just in case you have - you're being reminded now:-)

 

The temptation is always there to take God's grace for granted- why not lift up a prayer now to your Father and thank Him?

17 July 2013 - Consecrated Lord to Thee

The Lord said to Moses, " Consecrate to me all the firstborn." Exodus 13:1-2a

We saw yesterday that there is always a danger in any relationship to take the other person for granted.  God knows this about us too - and as we go into the Exodus story, we are going to see a people who very quickly forget their roots, and their God.  To help prevent that, God gives two instructions...

The first one is in verse 2 above: Consecrate yourselves

In other words, the firstborn was to be set apart for the Lord (the principle gets explained in practice in v12-13)

To be set apart for the Lord...what would that look like today?  We know that as children of God, that is the calling placed upon our lives: to be set apart for Him.

Here is a challenging question: in terms of your social and work circle, is the only thing that differs between you and the others is that you rock up at church on Sunday when it suits you?  Or is there something deeper? Is there evidence from your lifestyle that you are consecrated to Christ?  Can others say that  you live by a different code?  

I look at Islam and its followers: they have such a clear agenda and purpose.  Those who are serious about the religion of Islam cannot be mistaken - they have set their lives apart from other people in the pursuit of their goal.

The Bible teaches us that God has also set apart a people for Himself.  1 Peter 2 teaches us, amongst other passages of Scripture, that God is building us up into a spiritual house - a consecrated house - a holy house - for the purpose of declaring His praise, and in the light of this, we need to be careful how we live!  There needs to be more than a Sunday service that distinguishes us.  I always get challenged by the quote that the only thing worse than a radical Muslim is a passive Christian!

May God help us to live a  life that reveals we are consecrated to Him.

16 July 2013 - Don't Forget!

The Lord said to Moses, “Consecrate to me all the firstborn. Whatever is the first to open the womb among the people of Israel, both of man and of beast, is mine.”  Exodus 13:1-2

I don't know if you noticed, but since chapter 11 there has been a lot of focus on the sacrificial lamb.  As Wiersbe points out, we see a lamb that was needed, a lamb that was chosen, chosen before it was slain, and had to be tested to make sure it was appropriate - it had to be spotless, it had to be killed, it had to be eaten - it had to be trusted - there are so many lessons in this: the gospel is being taught early on in Scripture!

And as we enter chapter 13 of Exodus, we see something else: the lamb is being honored.  The lamb died for the firstborn, and now we see that the firstborn would belong to God.  It is about expressing our gratitude through honouring the Rescuer. 

To be rescued is a beautiful thing.  I have sometimes seen a program called " I shouldn't be alive" - and it is amazing to encounter the capacity of the human spirit to survive against all odds.  One thing the stories have in common is how incredibly grateful they are when they finally get the help they need - when they are rescued - and when one is rescued in such circumstances, one wants to honour the person that did the rescuing.

We are going to see two important instructions given in chapter 13, each with a reason to obey.  The instructions are important because God clearly knows the capacity of the human heart to forget...and we don't want to forget to honour our Lord!

In any relationship, especially in marriage, there is a danger point that can be reached if one is not careful: you can take your spouse for granted.  You can quickly forget why you got married in the first place - those qualities which first endeared you to him or her soon become not the source of appreciation, but rather the source of expectation.  You take the love for granted, and you continue to live life on your terms...

And how quickly that happens in our walk with God.  We give our lives to Christ, we have our fire insurance, and we then happily live life on our terms, and we take the grace of God for granted.  The only downside to that is while we live life on our terms, we're actually not living at the level of life that God would desire of us.  Here's the deal: God does not want you to forget Him.

May we never take our salvation for granted!

15 July 2013 - Exclusive Community

And the  Lord said to Moses and Aaron, " This is the statute of the Passover: no foreigner shall eat of it, but every slave that is bought for money may eat of it after you have circumcised him - Exodus 12:43 (see context 43-51)

We have seen how because of who God is (as revealed through His attributes), He rescued the Israelites from slavery.  It is a picture of salvation - that because of His grace, we are rescued from darkness.  The question can then be posed that in the light of what God did for these Israelites, was there any expectation from God as to what He expected of His children?  Verses 43-51 reveals the answer:

What we see is a mixed crowd setting out from Egypt.  It's not only the Hebrew slaves that left; there were others as well.  Perhaps they were other people groups that had also suffered and were looking for an opportunity to escape - and there were some who had no doubt realised that God was the true God and wanted to be a part of the people of Israel .  Knowing human nature, there were probably some who were just plain curious and were keen on a bit of adventure...

But what is significant is that we see at the beginning God instituting boundaries.  The Passover is to be observed, but no foreigners can participate - it appears exclusive.  But you read a bit more and you realise that it isn't - anyone can participate, but there is a condition of circumcision.  In other words, you have to join the people of God to experience the benefits of being the people of God.

The celebration of the Passover was also to be a family thing - something done in unity as a family.  It was not just for anyone.

In other words, a clear commitment to and identification with the community is required.  I understand the parallel to be that there needs to be a clear commitment and identification with the local church as the local expression of the universal body of Christ.  Membership is an important part of our walk with God, and should not be taken lightly.  There must be agreement with the tenets of faith expressed, and a willingness to submit to processes.  

As a pastor I unfortunately get to see abuses of community.  In today's consumer and rights saturated culture , many have the funny idea that it is their right to get things from the church without contributing anything to community, when in reality the only right we have is the judgement of God.  There are then also certain aspects of church life that require a commitment to community before serving (such as being a deacon or elder).  Every house must have rules for order to exist.

Instead of our rights, we need to be gripped by the understanding that it is a privilege to serve - and how wonderful that because of God's generosity we even get rewarded simply for doing what is right and what we should have done anyway!

12 July 2013 - Love Divine

At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt.  It was a night of watching by the Lord - Exodus 12:41

This is quite a story of redemption!  There is so much we learn about God in this story, especially in terms of His attributes...

We see that God is a God of purpose.  The purposes of God always centre on the glory of God.  It is to point people to Himself.  God told Abraham 400 years before that this would happen...and it did.  

We also see God as a God of promise.  He promised He would get the people out - He promised the plagues - He promised deliverance - and all is being fulfilled.  

God's Word is full of promises applicable to His children: promises of hardship for following Him, and promises of forgiveness after repentance, and promise of eternity with Him.

We also see God as a God of provision.  This is going to become even clearer as we get further into this story.  But the people were leaving Egypt armed with only what they could carry, and the promise of provision.  These attributes of God: the God who has a plan and purpose, the God who makes promises and keeps them, the God who provides - these attributes are only of benefit to the child of God...because the default position of every single human being is one of being under God's judgement.  God's general grace is revealed to all, but it is ignored at your peril...

How wonderful that God would even bother would the likes of rebellious people like you and me.  How wonderful that these attributes of God represent His heart towards us.  Because of who He is, we have hope.

11 July 2013 - Let's get moving!

And the people of Israel journeyed...Exodus 12:37

And so the people get moving – a lot of people.  This is no pathetic little protest march down some city street.  This is a crowd of approximately 2 million (more in line with the latest protests in Cairo - equivalent to nearly all of Durban's population) according to some - that's along  with their herds!  That’s quite a lot of descendants from Joseph and his family!

And when do they move? V40&41 tells us:

The time that the people of Israel lived in Egypt was 430 years. At the end of 430 years, on that very day, all the hosts of the Lord went out from the land of Egypt...

The significance? Gen 15:13&14 tells us:

Then the Lord said to Abram, "Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years.  But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions...

The timing is God’s.  The plan is God’s. The purpose is God’s.  We can be sure that there were many crying out to God during those 400 years for deliverance – we are told in chapter 2 that that is exactly what they did – and we get this description in 2:24: God heard...remembered...saw...knew.

It’s easy to think that God is not watching over us or has ignored us sometimes.  But that is not the case: rather God is operating to a different timetable – a kairos timetable (a season timetable), not a chronos (as in clock) timetable – and not one defined by your comfort, but by His glory.  Furthermore, deliverance is not always escape from the trial, but preservation through it – what you call thorny grace! (2 Cor 12) And the multiplication of the Israelites in the context of slavery is a testament to the hand of God upon them.

Truly our God is bigger than we can conceive, and truly all things are in the palm of His marvelous hand - He can be trusted!  Let's just make sure we're ready to move with Him!

10 July 2013 - Open Heart Surgery

The Egyptians urged the people to hurry and leave the country...The Lord had made the Egyptians favourably disposed toward the people, and they gave them what they asked for; so they plundered the Egyptians.  Exodus 12:33&36

It's not only the Pharaoh that wanted to see the Hebrew slaves gone - it was the Egyptian people as well!

And the Israelites I'm sure could not believe what was happening.  And so they leave - their dough is unleavened, and they have their kneading troughs (see v34) - which I guess is pretty much like taking the kitchen with them - but that is not all they take...

These former slaves are now leaving with gold and silver too, which they plundered from willing Egyptians. There's a type of poetic justice about this, as if it were compensation for years of labour, but these are also the articles that will be used for worship as they later get donated to the tabernacle.

There's been a shift in heart from the Egyptians: from a heart that was geared towards taking from the slaves, we now have hearts willing to give.  Why and how?  Because God changed the heart (see also 11:2&3).  God has both the authority and the power to do just that - change the heart of an enemy to a friend; a heart of stone to a heart of flesh; a heart that has no time for God to one that seeks after and loves God.

Do you have someone in your life who needs heart surgery?  Speak to The Surgeon!  God alone can change hearts, so bring that person before the Lord, and be willing to have your heart changed too!

9 July 2013 - Escapers Anonomys?

At midnight the Lord struck down all the firstborn in Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh, who sat on the throne, to the firstborn of the prisoner, who was in the dungeon...

...and there was loud wailing  in Egypt, for there was not a house without someone dead...

During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, " Up!  Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go! Worship the Lord as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me. Exodus 12:29-31

Egypt must have sounded absolutely awful - judgement is not a pretty sound for those on the receiving end.  No one was exempt because before the judgement seat of God, there is no distinction between rich and poor, and there was no comfort, because all were experiencing judgement.  It is truly a horrible thing to fall into the judgement of God - the Bible uses words such as dreadful and fearful to describe the Day of the Lord. 

The thing about judgement is that it comes too late, and after experiencing judgement, Pharaoh desperately asks for a blessing!  But it takes this final blow to make him let the people go.

In fact he doesn't only say " you guys can go" - he insists with absolute urgency that they do go!  And it's a tragic but true reality that obedience to God sometimes only gets borne out of desperation.  How many testimonies have you not heard of people who reached rock bottom before they turned to God?  Our Father knows the human heart all too well - did Jesus not express this truth in the parable of the two sons (which should rather be called the parable of the extravagant love of our Father)?

Children of God need not fear the condemnation of God.  But discipline is something we will still encounter if we are stubborn in our ways - and certainly our obedience should not be birthed in desperation, but gratitude!

And  one way of expressing that gratitude is to let others know that they need not stand condemned.

8 July 2013 - Fungal Infection

For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast.  On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel - Exodus 12:15

 

What's wrong with a little yeast?  Can it really get in the way of our relationship with God? 

 

Yes it can if God forbids the use of it at a specific time, as He told the Israelites.  Through this simple instruction, we see that our God is a God who takes obedience seriously, who teaches us that a little sin, like yeast, goes a long way, and who requires that we relinquish the power of sin in our lives to move forward with Him.  Paul re-iterates this point of not having sin as part of our lives when he has to deal with the issue of church discipline over sexual immorality in 1 Cor 5:6-8:

 

Your boasting is not good.  Don't you know that a little yeast works through the whole batch of dough?  Get rid of the old yeast that you may be a new batch without yeast - as you really are.  For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed.  Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old yeast, the yeast of malice and wickedness, but with bread without yeast, the bread of sincerity and truth.

 

Under this wonderful covenant of Grace, God still takes sin seriously, and expects us to do the same.  How wonderful that although sin is so destructive and goes a long way, the grace of God goes further still (see Romans 5:12-20).

 

In closing, the image of yeast is not only used negatively in Scripture.  Jesus uses it in a positive way in Luke 13:20-21, in speaking about the yeast of the kingdom.  The question boils down to this: who is going to have the greater influence in your walk with God - the yeast of sin or the yeast of the kingdom?

5 July 2013 - Move it!

For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast.  On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel - Exodus 12:15

To cut a person off from a nation because he ate yeast during the seven days does seem to be a bit extreme, but God does not give instruction without good reason.

What we have seen so far is that God takes obedience seriously, and that a little sin goes a long way.  Both of these truths are testified to by Scripture and indeed our own experience.  Just one bite from the fruit of the knowledge of good and evil and here we are today: the whole of creation was affected!  You may think your sin is private, but it has a communal effect.

One other reason why I believe God told these Israelites not to eat any yeast during this Passover time as they got ready to leave Egypt was this: moving forward with God requires a relinquishing of the past.  I'm not talking about denying the past, but letting it go - especially when it comes to sin.  God does not desire sin to be a part of our lives - and neither should we.

How interesting that at the beginning of their new journey with God, the Hebrews needed to understand a basic foundation to their walk with God: God requires obedience.

Do you require the same for yourself in your walk with Him?

3 July 2013 - The Destroyer

For seven days you are to eat bread made without yeast.  On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel - Exodus 12:15

We started to look at this verse yesterday, and it seemed to be a rather extreme measure from God over a little bit of yeast - so what is going on?  One lesson that comes through is that God takes obedience seriously.  

I believe there is a second reason why God took this so seriously: we need to understand that like yeast, a little sin goes a long way.

The nature of sin is that its effect is not isolated – it corrupts and multiplies.  A lie is never just a lie: it normally has to become more and more elaborate!  Or what about an addiction? Addiction never affects just the person addicted: it has a destroying ripple effect into relationships around you as well!

What about harbouring a little bitterness? Have you noticed how it clouds your whole outlook on life?

The Bible teaches us that the first sin didn't just affect Adam and Eve – that bite affected us here today, and it affected the whole of creation. Just one little bite...truly a "little sin" goes a long way!

May we each be found wanting wholeness and not giving footholds to sin.

2 July 2013 - Naughty Mushroom?

For seven days you are to eat bread without yeast.  On the first day remove the yeast from your houses, for whoever eats anything with yeast in it from the first day through the seventh must be cut off from Israel - Exodus 12:15

We head back into Exodus again...

We left Exodus at the point where God told the Israelites to be ready to eat in haste and leave, which is a powerful picture for our own lives: that we be ready for the Lord no matter what...

In the above verse, we see God giving very specific instructions regarding their Passover meal, both for the immediate present as they get themselves ready, but also for future remembrances of this great deliverance event.  And one thing in particular is very interesting: They were to get rid of any leaven: in other words any bread or dough with yeast in.  Wild yeast is fungi,(what do you call a happy mushroom? Fun-gi! J ) and if you mix flour and water and leave it for a while, it will attract yeast and rise.  To help speed up your next baking episode, you would retain a bit of dough and stick it in the next baking of bread (check out Gen18:6 – how is that done quickly? That’s just over 20l of flour!)– and so the process would repeat itself week after week.  Do that for a year and the dough starts to get a bit sour from waste products...so certainly there is a very practical aspect to this - it’s time for a clean out!  In the Passover meal, this part is a part that the children get to enjoy as they search the house and have to throw out any form of leaven - it is a family celebration.

But why such extreme measures over a bit of fungi?  Why be cut off from the people?

There are a few reasons that come to mind...

Firstly, it reveals to us that God takes obedience seriously.  And obedience begins in the small stuff: with faithfulness in the small tasks.  Remember how Jesus taught from the parable of the talents that we get rewarded with more responsibility when we prove ourselves faithful with what we have.  Children of God often like to dream of how they want to do great things for God, but God is far more interested in obedience in the small things of life than in our grand intentions.  This lesson is so clearly taught to us from the life of Saul: he went and saved animals to make sacrifices, when the instruction was to destroy everything – it’s worth recounting the story (see 1 Samuel 15:1-22).  Saul acted on his own opinion instead of obeying the Word of God...

But I cannot be too harsh on Saul - because I know my own failings.  How easily we compromise our faith and walk with God! We want the best of the world and we want the best of God, and we’re willing to compromise our walk with God to get the best of the world, but we’re somehow more reluctant to compromise the best of the world to get the best of our walk with God!  In other words, we do not do what we say...and that is called hypocrisy: something about which Jesus was particularly scathing about – see Luke 12:1-3...

 

Truly to obey is better than sacrifice!

28 June 2013 - It all adds up

His divine power has given us everything we need for life and godliness through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness...for this reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge, and to knowledge, self-control, and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, brotherly kindness; and to brotherly kindness, love.  For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ - 2 Peter 1:3,5-8

I must confess...I read the above and I go "Is there a pass mark- preferably a mark that would qualify as a pass in South Africa?"

In a grace-message-saturated-church culture, it's hard to imagine that Jesus would actually make any demands of His disciples - but take note of those three little words inserted above: make every effort

It turns out we are called to actively participate with God in our spiritual transformation - what my friend Mike Burnard (see his book 18 Inch Principle) calls the acquisition of virtue (which comes after the amputation of sin by the way...)

Everyday I face choices in the circumstances I find myself in: to be sarcastic or kind to the person who rightfully shakes his or her head at me...to reach out to or reject those whom are very different to me...to grow in my knowledge of God's Word and also the world around me or to stagnate...to press on even if I'm not seeing the kind of results I want to see and maybe the grass is greener on the other side (although I didn't see any green grass in Kimberly- sorry mates!)

One thing is certain - there is no character without Christ, and may our desire be to grow deeper and deeper into Him, so that we can be effective in the calling that He has placed upon each and every one of our lives.

27 June 2013 - Unified Anguish

How good and pleasant it is when God’s people live together in unity!  Psalm 133:1

I could not agree with the Psalmist more - clearly he also experienced the pains of disunity within the community.

It has been my incredible privilege to work together with people from across the denominational spectrum, and where there is a kingdom focus, there is unity and a palpable sense of the presence of God and indeed an expectation of God doing His work.

I'm experiencing it here in the context of the local church which I am privileged to pastor.  We are being led into new territory, and it is wonderful to see the people developing a kingdom perspective and wanting to move forward with God - so your prayers for us would be coveted as it also brings resistance from the enemy (which is to be expected - we just want to be able to remain steadfast in our love for Jesus and persevere through).

I for one am not against the fact that there are many denominations in the body of Christ - I think it reminds us of the fact that none of us can actually claim to fully comprehend the ways of God  (although naturally Baptists do come the closest ).  What I am against is a refusal to work together within the context of agreeing on the basics.  Rather than a unified denomination, multiple denominations working together gives a powerful testimony to the world of how unity is not found in being the same, but in having the same focus: the person of Jesus Christ and His mission.

May God help us to be focused on Him through our lives - may we allow Him to develop in our hearts a passion for His Name and His work.  This will require courage as to have the same heart as Christ means that we allow our hearts to be broken like His heart was (and is) for the lost - what David Wilkerson calls a baptism of anguish...

26 June 2013 - Powerfully weak

As he passed by, he saw a man blind from birth.  And his disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"  Jesus answered, " It was not that this man sinned, or his parents, but that the works of God might be displayed in him" John 9:1-3

My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness - 2 Cor 12:9

Last week I had the privilege of attending a conference where we had David Aikman come and share with us.  David was a Times journalist for 23 years or so, and covered many of our major historical events, as well as interviewing key figures of our recent history (ranging from Mandela to Mother Teresa and Billy Graham to Gorbachev to Yeltsin!).  One would imagine such a person to have at least some measure of arrogance...

Nip - not a trace.  The opposite in fact - he felt humbled that he had such opportunities.  But what really blessed me was the sufficient grace of Christ manifested through him.  David has Multiple Sclerosis, and had to be "pushed around" in a wheelchair and share from a seated position.

I am blessed to have in my circle of friends and colleagues people who have a disability of some form.  A young man in my congregation is in a wheelchair because of his degenerative condition.  Another sister in Christ also has MS, and yet another sister stutters in her speech (you should hear her tell stuttering jokes!).

In the passage above, Jesus puts to rest any notion that all illness is a result of personal sin.  Imagine how it must have been for that man to grow up with the attitude of people around him believing that his blindness was his own fault or his parents fault!  Jesus instead offers a different perspective: this blindness was to be to the glory of God (through the healing of Christ).

What I appreciate about these brothers and sisters in Christ that I have mentioned is this: energies are not wasted on the "why" 

question, but rather on the "how" question: How can I live to the glory of God?

May our weaknesses also be opportunities for the manifestation of God's grace!

14 June 2013 - What time is it?

Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky.  How is it that you don't know how to interpret this present time? Luke 12v56

Strong words from a strong God-man!  We need to listen...

Jesus often spoke about the need to understand the times we are living in, and for 2000 years our interpretative framework has been governed by whether or not we are in the last days.  One of the struggles of the early church was why the parousia or Second Coming had not yet taken place.  Generation after generation since then has proclaimed and prophesied that 'this was it - Jesus is coming soon' 

And certainly we're closer now than we were 2000 years ago.  Forgive me for not jumping onto the Last Days Conspiracy bandwagon, but I do believe Jesus had a deeper purpose than getting us to try and predict stuff.  I think He wanted us to understand the necessity of living with a paradigm of faithfulness and hope no matter what the season - to understand what is happening around us and then say to the world "Look - it does not have to be this way - this path will only lead to destruction - but in Christ we can have hope and even better: we can have forgiveness and redemption"

But the starting point is to believe it ourselves.  It's hard not to despair when one looks at the world - and it's even harder to not despair when one looks at certain sectors of the church!  But the church is the body of Christ, bought by Christ with His blood and loved by Him, and I agree with Bill Hybels when he says "the local church is the hope of the world" - he was of course simply pointing out what Jesus taught.

And because of Jesus, no matter what the season or time (as in kairos time), the church, and the world, still has hope - but only if we live it and give reason to accept it.

12 June 2013 - Taste!

Taste and see that the Lord is good - Psalm 34:8

What a beautiful invitation!  

But don't you get the impression that sometimes people want to know and experience the goodness of God without turning from their lifestyles?  It's as if they want to enjoy the taste of something sweet without taking a bite!

God wants us to experience and know His goodness - not only as some intellectual knowledge of His attributes, but with our being: taste and see are very sensory terms!  

So how do we taste?  The psalm this comes from actually tells us: to fear God and turn from evil.  It encourages us to place our whole trust in Him.  We call this faith.  Only faith can enable us to experience God, and His Word is what feeds our faith (and living by faith grows it!).

Let us feast on the Father!

11 June 2013 - Call Me!

Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver you, and you shall glorify me.  Psalm 50:15

God loves to deliver people.  I imagine that few things bring greater joy to Him than to see His children delivered and His children grateful for it!  It's as if He just loves to display His grace and glory through broken vessels like you and me, and transform us into living trophies of His grace.

Not many would agree probably, but I do believe that God deliberately leads His children into difficulty (we shall see this when we get back into Exodus) purely for the purpose of displaying His glory when He delivers them!

Of course we must remember that deliverance is not only about escape from the hardship - although that is certainly my favourite, but it is also about preservation through it - like Paul getting the thorn and grace!

But here's the clincher: God not only can deliver, He wants to deliver, and so our faith can be rooted in the beautiful character of God who does not change.  He wants you to call on Him - He loves the opportunity to display His power and grace!

10 June 2013 - Whatever

Finally brothers, whatever is true, whatever is honourable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, think about these things. Phil 4:8

It seems to me that we can replace the "whatever" and "anything" with "whoever" and answer it with our Lord Jesus Christ!  May we be found meditating upon Him today in and through all we do.

 7 June 2013 - Guard Duty

Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life. Prov 4:23

If you have ever been at the source of a river in the mountains, you will know how beautiful and clean the water is to drink.  I've been at the source of the Tugela River which is at the top of the Drakensberg mountains, and it amazes me how a big river has such a humble beginning- and a clean beginning too.

Unfortunately, the water does not stay clean as it meanders its way through the countryside to the sea - it's a very different colour when it enters the sea!

As we walk this road of faith, it's not easy to keep the source clean - we have a knack for picking things up along the way, and soon what is in our heart gets revealed.  Perhaps a desire for revenge, or bitterness, or coveting, or lust  - any number of things which we can all identify.  But how wonderful that when it is revealed and exposed, we can hand it over to God for cleansing through what Christ has done on Calvary.

But there is also another way to guard our heart: thankful prayer - listen to what God says through Paul in Philipians 4:6

Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your heart and mind in Christ Jesus.

There must be something about worry and anxiety which pollutes the heart!  Let us protect and cherish this beautiful gift of God, and bring everything before Him, so that He can so graciously protect our hearts for us too.

6 June 2013 - Get Wise!

The beginning of wisdom is this: Get wisdom, and whatever you get, get insight - Prov 4:7

Don't you just love the book of Proverbs?  It's jam packed with practical insights for living, and some have such descriptive pictures that go with it too, such as "like a ring in a pig's snout is a beautiful woman that shows no discretion" :-)

In today's age, the considered path is not a path that gets much consideration.  We pretty much like to live in terms of our comfort, convenience and expediency.  But God urges us to use Him!  We have access to the wisdom of God because we have free access to God.  We have access to Christ, who is our wisdom (1 Cor 1:30).

God places a high premium on the display of wisdom in our lives, because when we do so, we reveal Him. Wisdom and insight are so much needed in today's world, and how wonderful that we can choose to walk in this path, that God genuinely desires to help us bring glory to Him.

So here's an encouragement to pursue wisdom and insight with at least the same passion, if not more, than that which we pursue other things we like and want!

5 June 2013 - For Goodness Sake!

And Paul went in, as was  his custom, and on three Sabbath days he reasoned with them from the Scriptures, explaining and proving that it was necessary for the Christ to suffer and to rise from the dead, and saying, "This Jesus, whom I proclaim to you, is the Christ" Acts 17:2&3

The above excerpt is from Paul's visit to Thessalonica, and his proclaiming Christ as Lord resulted in a riot in the city.  I share the lament of a minister who once observed: " Everywhere Paul went there was either revival or revolution - wherever I go there's a cup of tea...

It's so easy to proclaim that Jesus is Lord on Sunday in church - it's a different matter entirely on a Monday in the marketplace.  Even in the west, associated with so-called democratic freedom, we see a very clear antagonism to the Christian faith: politicians do not want to hear about values, academia wants nothing to do with claims of absolute truth, and taking a stand for moral values or even something simple like not working on a Sunday because its called the Lord's Day for a reason is not likely to win you any favour either.  

The Church in the West needs help!  I don't know how to wake a sleeping giant, but perhaps it begins with a simple decision within each of us to practice the Lordship of Christ in our own lives, even if it makes us unpopular - that is, after all, what we signed up for when we chose to give our lives to Christ.

For the world's sake we need to live for God's sake...

4 June 2013 - Words of Life

For by grace you have been saved through faith.  And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of works, so that no one may boast.  For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.  Eph 2:8-10

Isn't this just an absolutely beautiful piece of Scripture? 

Read it again...

And again...

3 June 2013 - Familiar Jesus?

And Jesus said to them, " A prophet is not without honour, except in his hometown and among his relatives and in his own household" Mark 6:4

This is the response of Jesus to those who got offended at him from his home town (see Mark 6:1-6).  We were discussing this passage last night at our Bible study, and some interesting things were observed, and some challenging lessons too!  For starters, we see how fully human Jesus was, in that those who knew him saw nothing particularly divine about him - it's not like Jesus walked around with a different aura or halo that clearly identified him from a physical point of view as being divine.  His full humanity is a source of comfort to us because Jesus knows what it is to be human, a point that the writer to the Hebrews makes very clear!

But in this expression that Jesus used, he was basically saying that familiarity breeds contempt.  Now it's easy to even judge the people of the day for not recognising Jesus and not giving Jesus his due, but I must confess I had to look at my own heart.

I have been truly blessed to walk with God for many years - most of my life.  But there is a danger that we can grow used to or accustomed to having someone love us.  It seems strange I know, after all, this is Jesus we're dealing with who as we get to know more we want to grow even closer to!  But let's observe our behaviours - does it reflect that intimacy with Christ and worship of Him is really that important to us?  Are many of the behaviours we do just borne out of habit (even the good ones?)

May we never take for granted God's grace extended to us, even though we are secure in it!

29 May 2013 - Faithful Stand

If you do not stand firm in your faith, you will not stand at all - Isaiah 7:9b

This statement is so simple, so obvious, yet we need to be told.  In its context (do look it up!), we see the king of Judah and his small nation in fear because of impending attack - but God has a different perspective!  He encourages King Ahaz to trust Him and tells him that what he fears will not happen...

The challenge for us is that even if our fears do come to pass, we will not lose faith.  Because God is sovereign over all, He can be trusted.  Nowadays there are plenty of challenges to our faith, and most are rooted in fear...

Fear of losing a job...

Fear of not having enough money...

Fear of not having a place to stay...

Fear of being misunderstood...

Fear of losing someone we love...

Fear of contracting a serious illness...

Fear of something precious being lost or broken...

We even take out insurance to cover ourselves should anything happen - the insurance industry will never go out of business because people will always fear: and new fears can also be thought up!

But how interesting that when faith abounds, fear dissipates, and when fear abounds, faith dissipates too!

May we remain rooted in Christ so that we can stand firm in our faith no matter what!

28 May 2013 - Shine your light!

Do not neglect your gift...1 Tim 4:14

For this reason I remind you to fan into flame the gift of God...2 Tim 1:6

I wonder why in two separate letters, written a few years apart, Paul had to tell Timothy not to neglect his gift, but to rather nurture it.  We know that Timothy was quite young to be a church leader by the standards of the day, because Paul also tells him not to let anyone look down on him because of his age (in 1 Tim 4:12).

Perhaps Timothy had, to use that all-encompassing modern term, issues?  I remember when I started in ministry as a pastor, being a pastor to folk who knew me as a child!  Is that the type of thing Timothy faced?

Whatever it was, the solution lay not in Timothy himself, but what was inside Timothy: the gift by and person of the Holy Spirit.  And since being in a cold dungeon chained like a common criminal must have a way of focussing your thoughts onto what is really important, these words from Paul in his second letter I'm sure must have touched Paul.  Perhaps Paul could have done with some torch light where he was, and was reminded again of how important it is that we are witnesses - revealing light to people who are in darkness.

All children of God have God's Spirit within them, and with this Spirit a capacity to serve in kingdom purposes through the local church in a particular way.  Whether its creativity or administration, helpfulness or generosity, the challenge to each of us is to nurture and grow in the gifting we have been granted - lest it be taken away and granted to someone else (see parable of the talents).

So - let your light shine - brighter and brighter!

27 May 2013 - Choices

...then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve...Joshua 24:15

It seems inconceivable that the Israelites would ever be tempted to serve anyone other than God, especially after experiencing the amazing victories that they did after crossing the Jordan.  However, Scripture shows us that they did...

And as we enter a new week, with new opportunities, it is good for us to remind ourselves too as to whom or what we choose to serve.  For example, have you noticed how there are people who are, with increasing frequency both in numbers and intensity, choosing to serve Allah?  

Their zeal, whilst seriously misplaced, is to be commended.

Then of course there are many who have chosen to serve other gods.  Hinduism has over 2 million to choose from.  There are a plethora of belief systems to choose from in todays world.

What would be the primary competitor to Christianity?  The logical answer would be Islam, but I'm not so sure.  I think the primary competitor to true Christianity are Christians themselves: we each run the danger of having a divided heart.  In Matthew 6:19-24 Jesus issues the challenge of choosing whom we will serve in a different way: God or money.

It's easy to be quick to judge those who are in the workplace earning a living, and seeking to do well financially.  But being in the ministry I can say that those in "full time service" also face the danger of a divided heart in a very real way: we are also prone to stress about where the money is going to come from!

As we go into this week, no matter where God has planted us, let us make the decision that it is Christ we are choosing to serve, and that everything we do is to be done in such a way that it represents worship of Him.  Instead of having a divided heart, let's ask God to multiply our love!

24 May 2013 - What's your viewpoint?

Wait for the Lord and keep his way.  He will exalt you to inherit the land; when the wicked are cut off, you will see it. 

I have seen a wicked and ruthless man flourishing like a green tree in its native soil, but he soon passed away and was no more; though I looked for him, he could not be found.

Consider the blameless, observe the upright; there is a future for the man of peace.  But all sinners will be destroyed; the future of the wicked will be cut off. 

The salvation of the righteous comes from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble.

The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in Him.

Psalm 37:34-40

What a psalm this has been!  It is a wonderful source of encouragement when we cannot understand what is going on around us.

This psalm has taught us that the way of the wicked will ultimately end in their destruction, and if we are to live in this world of evil, then we need to

1.  Place our hope in the Lord

2.  Loyally obey Him

3.  Have faith in the justice of God

All these themes are wrapped up in the closing verses above.  How wonderful that it is God who has the final say, and He can be trusted. 

Don't ever take a temporal view - but an eternal one!

23 May 2013 - Powerless evil

The wicked lie in wait for the righteous, seeking their very lives; but the Lord will not leave them in their power or let them be condemned when brought to trial - Psalm 37:32&33

Verses like this sound awesome and very "namey and clamey-ish" (i.e. name it and claim it!).  Church and political history also shows that there are many cases where evil rule eventually got brought down - think of Nazi Germany, or Romania, and think of what is currently being witnessed in the world where regimes have been toppled...In the Bible, think of the three men in the fiery furnace (Shradrack & Co) - or think of Daniel...

But what about the truth that there are righteous people who do get condemned by evil men?  Is this a false promise? Is this just David being idealistic?  I'm not a great fan of spiritual dissonance, where my observation of reality differs from what I see in Scripture.

Or do we need to look beyond the seen (2 Cor 4:18)?  Is this more a case of who gets to have the last word?  The righteous may get condemned on earth, but it's eternity they enter and evil loses yet again.  In the light of the message of this psalm of learning to take the long range view, we need to take the same view on the attempts of evil to succeed: it cannot.  Furthermore, our retrospective view assures us that

the power and authority of evil was destroyed at Calvary, by the innocent Son of God who had evil men in the form of the religious establishmnent lie in wait for Him, and He was indeed condemned when brought to trial.

Because of that, I need not fear condemnation at the greatest trial awaiting humanity...

22 May 2013 - Watch your mouth!

The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks what is just.  The law of his God is in his heart; his feet do not slip.  Psalm 37:30&31

I'm probably a bit strange - I just love  "quotable quotes!"  The very good quotable quotes distill wisdom into a memorable phrase (and if you quote it in public it has the added benefit of making you look clever - not that any of us care about that:-) )

But where does true wisdom come from?  The Bible teaches us that wisdom is not a function of cleverness, but a fruit of fear - specifically the fear of God (a theme found througout Proverbs).  It is not the IQ of the brain that is required, but an attitude of the heart.  We see in the verse above that when God's law is in a man's heart, then wisdom and justice is what comes out.

This has been seen throughout the history of Christendom, and one of my favourite examples is William Wilberforce, who tirelessly worked to abolish the slave trade.  

But our prime example is Jesus Himself.  No man has ever been able to match His teaching - even his contemporaries recognised that the teaching of Jesus was out of this world, in that He taught with authority.  Jesus made it clear that His purpose in coming was to fulfil the work of His Father, whom He feared (He shows us what the fear of God must look like!) - don't you find it disturbing that some Christians are comfortable addressing God with a greater familiarity than was displayed by Jesus?

May we too have as our desire to obey the Spirit whom He has implanted within us, through whom we can understand God's Word and live by its precepts and promises.

21 May 2013 - Do-gooders!

Turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever.  For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones.  They will be protected forever, but the offspring of the wicked will be cut off;  the righteous will inherit the land and dwell in it forever.  Psalm 37:27-29

We return to Psalm 37, which is a psalm encouraging us not to despair at the apparent success of the wicked, but to rather pursue the path of righteousness.

After giving wise counsel on the perspective that children of God should have, we are futher encouraged to persevere in walking the right way: not only for the benefit of ourselves, but even for the sake of our descendants!  I remember someone sharing about a study which compared two citizens: that of famous preacher Jonathan Edwards and that of a criminal - and how the criminal and all his descendants cost the state (and obviously citizens through taxes) a lot of money because of trial costs and prison costs, and how Edwards and his descendants were of benefit to the state, with descendants being highly respected people of integrity holding key posts!

But what is the basis of any blessing we receive? Purely the love of God, and how wonderful to know, as we read in Romans 8:38-39, that absolutely nothing can separate us from His love.

Let's return the love by being a people who turn from evil and do good, even if everyone around us wants to live differently.

20 May 2013 - Joyfully Possessed?

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law - Gal 5:23

There was a time in my life many years ago when I encountered first hand the teaching that I wasn't quite "there" as a Christian because I did not speak in tongues - how else were these believers to know if I had the Spirit?  I remember one person being genuinely baffled - saying how it was clear I loved the Lord - " and yet"  to quote her direct words!

I smile now in retrospect, but I did find the experience a tad surreal and odd.  When I think of believers that I have been privileged to know, there are some that stand out in particular - I think of a pastor whose ministry I sat under, and who was a mentor to many highly respected ministers: his name was Donald Macpherson - one of the most Spirit-filled men I knew, and never spoke a single tongue (other than Afrikaans :-) )

The above verse teaches us the true litmus test of being Spirit filled - am I a loving person, a joyful person? Am I characterised by peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control? Is there a pass mark for this?

I pray by God's grace that these qualities are there - and I'm encouraged by the image of fruit, which tells me it is not instant, but that the tree has to grow to maturity - but certainly I can assist in creating conditions for growth!

May we all have the courage to open our hearts to God's Spirit!

17 May 2013 - Seriously Possessed

So I say, live by the Spirit and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature - Galatians 5:16

Boy did Paul have to deal with a lot!  There were people in his day, just like today, who insisted that the law of Moses must still be kept (and then of course there are others who go to the other extreme and say you don't have to obey anything at all!).  

Paul makes it clear that Christ alone is our righteousness, and he makes it clear that we need to obey the truth.  And in the above verse it is really summed up beautifully: walk or live by the Spirit, and sin won't win.

In this Pentecost week, it would be appropriate that we would examine ourselves to test our hearing: are we sensitive to the voice of God's Spirit?  Do we walk as men possessed by the Holy Spirit?  What does our fruit reveal about our roots?

We are so blessed to have been given the person of the Holy Spirit, to lead us into truth and away from sin that just destroys.  May we grow in intimacy with Him!

15 May 2013 - Possessed?

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place.  Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting.  They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.  Acts 2:1-4

Do not get drunk on wine, which leads to debauchery.  Instead be filled with the Spirit - Eph 5:18

According to my diary, today marks the beginning of Shavuot or the Feast of Pentecost, also known as the Feast of Weeks, Feast of Harvest and the day of firstfruit.  It represents the time when God launched the next part of His redemption plan: the Church.  How wonderful that we have been invited to participate in bringing in the harvest!

On the day of Pentecost, the disciples were gathered together in one place - why?  We can safely assume they had gathered together to worship and pray, and it is highly significant how prayer and a move of God's Spirit is so closely entwined.  When God's people pray, God's Spirit moves, and when God's Spirit moves, God's people pray.

On the day of Pentecost, when God's Spirit was poured out, we read of many detractors who laughed and mocked and said the disciples were drunk.  Peter quickly put that interpretation to rest by pointing that these disciples were under a very different influence (Acts 2:15).

The influence of the Holy Spirit is the influence under whom we are to remain, with the present tense imperative (I think that's the fancy correct term:-) ) in Ephesians commanding us to keep on being filled with God's Spirit.  Does this mean we're perpetually talking in tongues (there's a difference between anointed and annoying)? I somehow don't think so - and normally the best time I discover exactly how filled I am is when I am under pressure.

May God help us through His Spirit to be empty of self!

14 May 2013 - Blessed are the hungry

I was young and now am old, yet I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging bread.  They are always generous and lend freely; their children will be blessed.  Psalm 37:25&26

This psalm has been a comparison between the godly and the wicked, encouraging us not to despair over the wicked and their apparent success.  One of the things that David now turns his attention to is to highlight the blessings of the godly.  Yesterday we saw that God's hand is upon the godly.

In the above verse we see how God is faithful to the godly too, in that He provides for His people.  Children of God are not exempt from tough times, but neither are they exempt from the presence of God.  David recalls his own experiences over life, and observes that God has always provided: Biblical prosperity is promised to those who follow Him.  Jesus re-iterated this in telling us not to worry about food and clothing, but to rather seek first the Kingdom of God (Matt 6).

Of course this verse raises some tough questions, because hunger amongst children of God is a reality.  Does this mean that God is going back on His Word?  Perhaps the answer lies in the principle behind what a pastor once said to his congregation: "The good news is that we have enough money for our building project...the bad news is that it is sitting in your pockets"

If we look at the church in the West, according to info I read not so long ago, the reality is that if every child of God did tithe, world hunger would be eradicated...a sobering thought indeed. 

Let us live by the mantra of blessed to be a blessing and may the only hunger we experience be one for righteousness.

13 May 2013 - Delight-filled Hearts

If the Lord delights in a man's way, he makes his steps firm; though he stumble, he will not fall, for the Lord upholds him with his hand.  Psalm 37:23&24

How wonderful to have God's hand upon us (see Psalm 139:5) - a hand that will lead us and preserve us, even through and in the midst of difficulty.  I have been incredibly privileged to know God's hand in my own life, and have seen how He has worked in the lives of many others, preserving them and indeed ensuring they come through when others were against them - both in ministry and the workplace (the real mission field in my book!). But that is God for you - full of preserving grace and mercy despite us:-)

However, we can be instrumental in the Lord delighting in our way when we choose to walk the path that He has established for us (Eph 2:10).  And how wonderful that God is not ignorant of our foibles - He knows full well that we will stumble, but He has promised to uphold us.

How easy we can soon forget our God in the midst of myriad distractions - out of sight and out of mind comes too quickly to many of us!  I am so glad that God does not have the same approach.

It boils down to the way you will choose: whose way will you live for?  Will you lift your heart to heaven today? And everyday?

8 May 2013 - what do you hate?

But the wicked will perish: The Lord's enemies will be like the beauty of the fields, they will vanish - vanish like smoke.  The wicked borrow and do not repay, but the righteous give generously; those the Lord blesses will inherit the land, but those he curses will be cut off - Psalm 37:20-22

We have seen that this psalm is a call to walk in the ways of God (called wisdom) and encourages children of God to remain faithful and contrasts God's way with the way of the wicked.

The destiny of the wicked is to be a source of encouragement to us, in that it shows us that wicked people will not have the final say.  It perhaps sound a bit odd in this grace-saturated era to be glad about where the wicked are going - because we know God does not delight in the loss of sinners: He would far rather they be restored to Him.  However, perhaps we do need to ask ourselves whether we hate what God hates?

And this little verse gives us a challenge to take to heart: money is a spiritual issue.  Those who borrow and do not repay are described as wicked, but those who give generously are described as righteous.  I think of Zacchaeus the tax-collector, who was well known for cheating people, who after encountering Jesus who came to dine with him, said the following (see Luke 19:1-10):

Look, Lord! Here and now I give half of my possessions to the poor, and if I have cheated anybody out of anything, I will pay back four times the amount...

And the response of Jesus?

Today salvation has come to this house...

Have you cheated anyone out of anything? Have you cheated God out of anything?

May God help us to walk with integrity before Him in the area of our finances - because God hates it when we do otherwise!

7 May 2013 - Watchful God

The days of the blameless are known to the Lord, and their inheritance will endure forever.  In times of disaster they will not wither; in days of famine they will enjoy plenty - Psalm 37:18&19

Please don't let the prosperity teachers discover this verse! :-)

What a beautiful statement: the days of the blameless are known to the Lord.  God is subjectively involved with His children.  It is not a distant objective knowledge where God knows of or what of His children, but rather is the knowledge borne out of personal engagement with us.  What is more, our inheritance which we will one day receive will never run out.

And in days of disaster, God's preserving hand is still upon us - and in days of famine children of God are still satisfied (the meaning of plenty above).  Paul expressed the same sentiment in the following way:

We are afflicted in every way, but not crushed; perplexed, but not driven to despair; persecuted, but not forsaken; struck down, but not destroyed

The challenge for many of us is to match our understanding with what the Bible teaches.  We so easily place our interpretation or expectation of what it means to know the hand of God upon our lives that we soon go down the slippery slope of false expectations, assuming things that the Bible never taught, such as guaranteed financial prosperity, or perpetual experience of divine intimacy.  

May God help us walk this road of what we call faith, by faith, without which it is impossible to please God, instead of demanding the experience that we want to soothe our fragile egos.  

God is watching - the question is: are you?

6 May 2013 - True wealth

Better the little that the righteous have than the wealth of many wicked; for the power of the wicked will be broken, but the Lord upholds the righteous.  Psalm 37:16&17

It's amazing how quickly we can lose perspective.  Our world is saturated with advertising to convince us that we need specific products which will enhance the quality of our lives - from blenders to mowers to vacuum cleaners!  Even in the "Christian" sphere there is an abundance of marketing preying (unfortunately not praying) on insecure Christians to enhance their faith or experience of God's presence through some conference, music cd or book.  It's a tad ironic that Christians are trying to create a perspective of greener pastures to experience when God's Word tells us that He already makes us lie down in green pastures (Psalm 23)!

But what really counts in life is not the amount of stuff we have, but the amount of God.  How much of you does God have?  Is it all of you, or have you made room for yourself as well?  Truly the above verse speaks volumes of wisdom: it is far better to have a little stuff and lots of God than lot's of stuff  and none of God (this verse is not teaching that it is impossible to be wealthy and godly - it's rather teaching a perspective!).  Children of God have God as their provider, which is true wealth, and the wicked will soon experience their end.

I like the way Proverbs 15:16-17 also puts it:

Better a little with the fear of the Lord than great wealth with turmoil.  Better a meal of vegetables where there is love than a fattened calf with hatred.

May our focus be spiritual wealth (which can accumulate) which comes with God's peace rather than money which has a knack for disappearing and comes with much anxiety!

3 May - A living death

The wicked draw the sword and bend the bow to bring down the poor and needy, to slay those whose ways are upright.  But their swords will pierce their own hearts, and their bows will be broken.  Psalm 37:14&15

I've always been astounded and disturbed by the capacity for evil people display to one another - whether it be spiteful things done, or criminal activities ranging from assault to torture to murder.  When all of this gets combined into a state-sanctioned reign of terror, it is doubly disturbing.  The ability to be totally void of compassion and to deny people the basics, and indeed to target the defenceless, is mind-boggling indeed.

But tyrants don't stay around forever - and most encounter a death that characterised their life to others: it's what we call reaping what you sow (which is different from the Hindu concept of what goes around comes around!).  Except for Jesus that is: He was and is no tyrant, and His death was the total opposite of His life.  And yet His death was appropriate for someone who became sin - not through force but choice.  He could have blamed us, but He chose to take the blame.

It's because of that death that swords will pierce the hearts of the users and bows broken, because true power does not lie in the abuse of strength, but in the relinquishing of control to the One who judges justly.  Resurrection can only take place when a man dies.

2 May 2013 - Embracing Evil...

The wicked plot against the righteous and gnash their teeth at them; but the Lord laughs at the wicked, for he knows their day is coming - Psalm 37:12&13

From the workplace to the governments of nations, we see this verse enacted out.  People who take a stand for what is right are not popular, and will often find themselves on the receiving end of plots against them.  Think of Daniel for example, whose fellow advisors wanted him gone and they plotted a way to make sure he would be removed permanently...But God must have indeed laughed at the silly futile attempts of pathetic humanity to kill one of His own - and in a sense being thrown into a den of lions was nothing new for Daniel, but God preserved him.

God's children often experience deliverance this side of eternity from the plots of evil men, but sometimes the deliverance comes in the form of martyrdom.  Often the deliverance is not escape either, but preservation.  The key is to again take the eternal perspective: evil will not have the final say, because Jesus is coming again - and evil men will experience the disastrous consequences of their actions.

However, in the meantime, let us pray for those who are evil and bless those who persecute us - perhaps through our example we can be a signpost to life in Christ.

1 May 2013 - Meekness Rules

A little while, and the wicked will be no more; though you look for them, they will not be found.  But the meek will inherit the land and enjoy great peace. Psalm 37:10&11

It's wonderful that evil will not have the final say...

God is committed to His children...and He alone can offer what we look for: peace.  The peace of God is a beautiful Shalom that surpasses understanding and encompasses a multitude of blessings - but it is the presence of God which is the ultimate blessing.

And in this world of evil, it's not the headstrong who are going to inherit the land, but the meek.  It's counter-intuitive, but we're the ones who are upside down, not God.  Jesus expanded inheriting the land to inheriting the earth (Matt 5:5).

We can enjoy peace on earth, even in the midst of adversity and war - because the peace that God promises has nothing to do with circumstances, and everything to do with knowing we can trust Him.  This we will no doubt firmly see when our perspective gets somewhat widened in eternity!

May meekness rule in our lives!

30 April 2013 - Fretless Faithfulness

Refrain from anger and turn from wrath; do not fret - it leads only to evil.  For evil men will be cut off, but those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land - Psalm 37:8&9

As we have seen, this psalm is all about gaining perspective: it compares the apparent success of the wicked with the suffering of the righteous and encourages us to take an eternal perspective on these issues.

We need to trust that God knows and has all things in the palm of His hand.  He is not ignorant of what His children go through, and will be faithful to His promise.  Wisdom begins, as we saw yesterday, with spending time with God.  Wisdom is also manifested through refraining from anger and fretfulness (as we see above), because this can only lead to evil.  So we are taught to deal with our negative emotions, otherwise we may ( or rather will!) find ourselves sinning against God, against others and even against ourselves.  How many relationships have been destroyed because of harbouring instead of releasing bitterness!

We are further promised that those who hope in the Lord will inherit the land, and how wonderful that day will be when one day we experience the ultimate inheritance: being with Christ in glory, where there is no more death, sorrow, anger, pain, bitterness and all those other things that have a knack for reminding us of the human condition.  The acts of the sinful nature lead to death, but how glorious that we have Calvary (see Gal 5:19-26)!

Instead of fretting, let's rather keep in step with the Spirit!  Here's to fretless faithfulness!

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