Sabbath:

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A Reflection based on Exodus 31:12-17 & the times we live in.

The Lord said to Moses: 13 “Tell the Israelites: You must observe My Sabbaths, for it is a sign between Me and you throughout your generations, so that you will know that I am Yahweh who sets you apart.  14 Observe the Sabbath, for it is holy to you. Whoever profanes it must be put to death. If anyone does work on it, that person must be cut off from his people.  15 Work may be done for six days, but on the seventh day there must be a Sabbath of complete rest,  dedicated to the Lord. Anyone who does work on the Sabbath day must be put to death. 16 The Israelites must observe the Sabbath, celebrating it throughout their generations as a perpetual covenant. 17 It is a sign forever between Me and the Israelites, for in six days the Lord made the heavens and the earth, but on the seventh day He rested and was refreshed.” (Exodus 31:12-17 HCSB translation)

What is the Sabbath?  Why is it important?

The Sabbath is a command from God to His people – to work only 6days & then to rest for a day. It isn’t a suggestion for people to take or leave at their discretion – but rather a command with some severe consequences for those who disregard it (vs14-15)! So at its simplest, ‘sabbath’ is a day of rest commanded by God. It’s important because God is the One who commanded it even calling it; ‘my Sabbaths’ (vs12).

What makes Sabbath, a sabbath? 

Cessation from work or rest alone doesn’t capture the ancient tradition of sabbath for God’s people.  Too many Christ-followers these days treat Sunday’s or Sabbath rest simply as an opportunity to lie in, to shop, or for  their chosen recreation/sport or for socialising/having time with family or friends.

However, such a pattern fundamentally misses at least two of the main purposes God intended for us in commanding us to keep a rhythm of sabbath rest. So what are the essential components of the Sabbath?

  1. Cessation of work, complete rest (vs15)
  2. A day of rest that is ‘holy to you’ (vs14) & ‘holy to the LORD’ (ESV) or ‘dedicated to the LORD’ (HCSB) (vs15) 
  3. That will lead to to greater knowledge of God (vs13&17) & underline the covenant relationship we have with God (vs12&17)

Sabbath Component no.1: Complete Rest

For some the command to cease work is easy.  However for others the cessation of work isn’t easy at all.  Complete rest on a Sunday can be a real challenge;

  • Especially to those who are self-employed and who’s income generation spills over onto Sunday’s and so resting means a loss of income.  
  • Cessation of work on a Sunday is also tricky for those who do shift work or work in retail and potentially have no power to determine their days of work.  This is one of the reasons we have two meetings on a Sunday, to try to accommodate people who are working shifts they have no power over.
  • Or for those who serve God in paid church ministry when Sunday is the peak of their weekly activity.
  • Or for those who have been infected by the disease of our age, busy-sickness or busy-addiction!  Sunday’s in many cultures are no longer a day of rest but an opportunity for school meetings with parents, shopping…

God’s command for us to sabbath/rest is an expression of God’s love and wisdom.  Creator God knows how we were formed, He knows what’s best for us, what physically, emotionally, spiritually & relationally good for us.  A failure to obey God’s loving good command doesn’t just put us in the disobedient camp but also rejects God’s wisdom – any wonder we are such a medicated society drowning in stress?  In a society infected with busy-sickness we need to gratefully accept God’s command and wisdom and learn again how to rest.

Sabbath Component no.2: Holy to you & Holy to God

The cessation of work’s purpose is SO THAT we can ‘set ourselves apart for God’, or so that we can dedicate ourselves to God and His people. The purpose of this space in the week God commanded, was that we could set ourselves apart activity and busyness of the week to focus on God, together with the people of God (the church)- this is why churches in many cultures gather to meet on a Sunday.

A consistent life rhythm of dedication to meeting with God’s people on a Sunday is so important because it is the outworking of this command of God to rest so that you can dedicate yourself to the worship of God with God’s people. This time isn’t yours in that sense, but it is holy (set apart) to God and so should be holy (special and set apart) for you and for me.

The modern pattern amongst believers to come to church 1 in every 2-3 weeks is a flagrant disregard to this command of God. We are not treating God as holy since we are disregarding His command, and we are not treating God’s Sabbath as holy either then if we are filling this time God has commanded us to set-aside for other things. We need to reflect; we need to repent, we need to re-prioritise & re-schedule so that we can obey God and keep His Sabbath holy – dedicated to Him and His people (the church). I urge you to pray about this earnestly and to obey the Holy Spirit’s promptings.

Sabbath Component no.3: The Promise

Relationships require an investment of time! Here in Exodus 31, I sense a promise of God that obedience to make His Sabbath your consistent life rhythm will result in something being gained!  God’s commands are rooted in God’s love for us; it is not so much that God wants something FROM YOU BUT FOR YOU. God’s purpose in us making the time and space to rest from work so that we can dedicate time to meeting with Him and His people is SO THAT we would KNOW HIM BETTER (vs13)! Jesus said it like this; “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27).

Sabbath rest is God’s good plan to bless you and I as we dedicate time to worship Him with brothers and sisters, as we sit under His Word and listen to His voice – so I urge you to obey God & to anticipate God revealing more and more to you of who He is.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

God Encourages Paul in Corinth

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Acts 18:1-28

Sharing our faith is often not easy or without push-back. Despite the fact that many people were believing the Gospel message (vs8), there was also rising opposition in Corinth to God’s word (vs6). It is very easy to get discouraged from stepping out and serving God, sharing your faith, using your gifts!

God didn’t want Paul discouraged, didn’t want him to step back so God comes to him in the night in a vision/dream and says to Paul;

“DO NOT BE AFRAID, BUT GO ON SPEAKING AND DO NOT BE SILENT, 10 FOR I AM WITH YOU, AND NO ONE WILL ATTACK YOU TO HARM YOU, FOR I HAVE MANY IN THIS CITY WHO ARE MY PEOPLE.” (ACTS 18:9-10)

God essentially encourages Paul in three ways;

  1. I am with you!
  2. No one will attack you to harm you!
  3. I have chosen/elected many in this city for salvation so your work is not in vain!

Firstly, knowing God is with us is often all we need to keep going, to persevere. I identify with this. So often this is all I need to know, God saying I am with you Gareth keep going. Do you need to know that today? God promises us in Hebrews 13:5; “I will never leave you nor forsake you” – so be encouraged!

Secondly, Paul has shown already that he doesn’t value his safety above his call to preach the Gospel. He has already suffered for Jesus and been stoned etc, but God seems to know that he needs encouragement and so promises him that in Corinth he won’t be attacked and he isn’t attacked despite opposition. God knows we are fragile in our thinking, knows what we can handle and here he encourages Paul with a promise of safety in Corinth – carry on you will be safe and he is safe during those 18months there as he taught the Corinthians (vs11). God knows you and I, knows what we can handle and will not put us in a situation beyond what we can handle, how good to know that God knows our particular capacity for opposition/suffering and He cares for us in the midst of trials. God knows what we need to keep going serving Him!

Thirdly, God then encourages Paul by telling him that his preaching/teaching in Corinth will not be in vain but will bear fruit because God has already chosen/elected/predestined people in the city of Corinth that when they hear the Gospel – they will believe God. God says; ‘I have many in this city who are my people’ (vs10). These are elect people who are yet to hear the Gospel, but when they do they will respond to it and believe. This is a huge encouragement to Paul and so he stays there and preaches for 18months more having in vs6 wanted to throw in the towel and wash his hands of them. He stayed convinced that there would be ministry fruitfulness because God had gone before him as it were and that people would be saved and added to the church – the church would grow through people being saved. Do you need encouragement in sharing your faith? Sometimes we can be tempted to feel this person or that person won’t believe, but God is the ONE who saves people not us, we just need to play our part and share the Gospel – proclaiming it with our words and demonstrating it with our lives and God will save people.

May God encourage you today with these words. Amen

Written by Gareth Bowley

Contentment (Philippians 4:10-13)

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Contentment is like a rare jewel of great value. It is rare in part because of the sinful inclination in our hearts towards covetousness and our propensity to making comparisons to the lives of others.  

Contentment’s antithesis is discontentment which is sadly all too common. Discontentment is like an ugly mental cancer that spreads and ruins our lives.  

It robs us of our joy, causes us to lose sight of who we have & what we have right in front of us. Discontentment undervalues these people & these things we do have, making us feel that they are not enough or not good enough – how horrible!

Comparison is the thief of joy

– Theodore Roosevelt

More than this, discontentment erodes our gratitude, steals our joy and destroys our worship!  

After all, it is hard to be simultaneously discontent and joyful or grateful. In moments of discontentment, our vision becomes focused on what we don’t have, what we have to endure, and then so we lose sight of WHO Jesus is and what He has DONE for us, what He has GIVEN to us.

As I read these words penned by the apostle Paul in our passage, it is helpful to remember that Paul is writing from prison. If comparisons were justifiable, he would surely have had cause to compare and to grumble.  

Reading between the lines of his words to the Philippian church, it appears as though there were times when their lack of financial support to him meant that he had either very little or nothing at all for his needs in prison (vs10-11).

And yet, Paul had learned to be content ‘in whatever situation’ he finds himself. What Paul learned was a type of contentment that is not restrained by circumstances but rather was free of his circumstances.  

Sadly, my contentment is most often tied to my circumstances and not in spite of them like Paul’s was. Can you identify with this experience of mine?  

I feel humbled and then inspired by Paul’s example of contentment ‘in whatever situation’. His contentment is free from the constraints of the life circumstances he is in at any given time, and therefore his contentment is remarkable and inspiring!  

So what was such contentment’s well-spring or source?

In any and every circumstance, I have learned the secret of facing plenty and hunger, abundance and need. 13 I can do all things through him who strengthens me. (Philippians 4:12b-13)

So what is the ‘secret’, the key to such contentment that is possible in any and every circumstance? Paul is unequivocal, the secret the key is Jesus Christ. This is how he and we can have contentment in any and all circumstances.  

How does this work? I have considered how Jesus strenghtens us to be content in all circumstances and will just leave the following 5 headings which I think I will expand on this Sun as I’ve decided to preach from this passage on Sun so check it out this Sun on our Reconciliation Road Church YouTube Channel – https://www.youtube.com/channel/UC9sxrhg5kUd44yD6wu1byww  

  1. Worship & Gratitude
  2. New Life Mission
  3. Adjusted Life-Expectations
  4. An Eternal Perspective
  5. Divine Enabling Power

In closing, let’s return to two grace-giving phrases Paul writes; “I have learned in whatever situation” (vs11) & “I have learned the secret” (vs12). 

This is vital information he is sharing with you and I. The fact that learned this type of unrestrained contentment is a huge encouragement. Because he learned it, it wasn’t automatic, instant or necessarily easy. The fact that he learnt it implies that it was a process, a journey – it took time.  

And that breathes grace to you and to me who need to grow in contentment. This is a journey, it takes time, we are to make progress, but we also ought not to berate ourselves that we aren’t more content yet. Rather choose today to start the journey with Jesus towards a more godly and content life that glorifies God.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Obedience and Love (Philippians 2:8)

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Reading Philippians 2:5-11 has me in awe of Jesus and particularly has me musing about obedience. Scripture records of Jesus that;

And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. (Philippians 2:8)

Jesus was obedient to the point of death. Why? If you think about it most obedience has a limit to it. In fact how we react in situations requiring obedience is impacted by what is being asked of us and by whom it’s being asked.

We will gladly obey the command to come for supper where as; ‘take out the trash please’ might be more of the mental wrestling match.

So why do we obey? And is all obedience the same?

And if not how does the motivation for our obedience change it?

Obedience is compliance with an order or the command of someone else. However obedience is still a choice, we choose to obey or disobey. There is a point however, at which internal resistance to willing obedience kicks in causing one to then maybe defy or disobey the instruction or command.

On a social level civil disobedience occurs when a group of people or an individual no longer regard the authority of the state as being legitimate for some reason and that is the trigger for actions they display disobedience as a form of protest.

On an individual level the authority of the person or organization and the threat of potential consequences for disobedience both have some bearing on the decision to obey under compulsion or to do so willfully or to disobey.

So if some random person in the traffic gives you a command it is likely that one would feel little compulsion to obey. However, if you live in a totalitarian state with notoriously ruthless secret police you most likely will feel a greater compulsion to comply.

So there are clearly different types of obedience, willful obedience and obedience that despite still being a choice is a constrained choice. A choice out of fear or a consideration of the consequences disobedience might incur.

Willing obedience is most likely when your own desires align with the person giving the commandment – like in the call to my sons to come for supper! Because such a command aligns with the internal desire for supper, obedience is easy.

But there is another reason for willing obedience – wanting to demonstrate your love or respect for the person making the command. In such circumstances your willing obedience communicates something of your relationship to that person, it is the evidence of your love and or respect for them.

For all types of obedience an alignment with your own desires makes obedience easier but for all types of obedience the level of personal cost attached to your obedience is also a factor. Obedience that requires a sacrifice or huge effort or pain even if willing and motivated by love and respect is harder than obedience that doesn’t have much personal cost.

All of this musing was brought on by the words of Philippians 2:8 where it’s recorded that Jesus was obedient to the point of death. Jesus wasn’t under compulsion, Jesus was free and sovereign but He humbled Himself and when the Father asked Him to sacrifice Himself for our sin, He obeyed the will of the Father. And why? Why did Jesus willingly obey and was it willing?

Well we know it was willing, because Jesus Himself prayed in the garden of Gethsemane essentially; ‘Father not my will but Yours be done’. Jesus obeyed our of love for the Father – incredible! And Jesus’ obedience wasn’t just an alignment of desires but obedience at the highest cost imaginable – to the point of willing death. Jesus did all this out of love for the Father and then also out of love for you and I.

Jesus my amazing wonderful Saviour!

Teach Me Your Ways (Psalm 86)

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David prays asking God for 8 different things in 11 requests in this Psalm of prayer to God.

  • He asks that God would bend down to hear him praying (vs1,6)
  • He asks for God to save his life (vs2,16)
  • He asks that God would show him grace (vs3,6,16)
  • He asks for more joy in his life (vs4)
  • He prays that God would teach him His ways so that He could walk in them (vs11)
  • He asks for an undivided heart that would fear God tightly (vs11)
  • He prays for God to strengthen him (vs16)
  • He prays for God’s answer to these prayers to show his enemies that he is God’s and that God is his helper/saviour (vs17)

I identify with David’s 5th & 6th requests in particular. I love his prayer; “TEACH ME YOUR WAYS GOD”.

This is one of David’s prayers that encapsulates the prayer of my life.  Through all of life’s circumstances, situations we face and endure, what I want is to know more of WHO God is, WHAT pleases my God, knowing more of HOW God thinks about me and situations.  I see an echo in David’s prayer in the similar statement of the apostle Paul when he declares to the Philippians; “I want to know Christ”…

This is the passion in my heart, to God more and more and more.  To learn God’s ways, God’s heart and then to please God and to align my life to God’s ways – to be on God’s path not my own. 

These prayers and desires are even in the name of our church – Reconciliation Road Church. It’s the idea of the Christian’s life to be a WALK on God’s path; the ‘Jesus journey’. That’s the path I want always to be on and the path I want to inspire others to walk on too!

And David knows that to learn God’s ways, to stay on God’s path and not his own, he needed to pray that God would give him an undivided heart. A heart that reverently feared God kept God in His rightful place as Holy Father, Almighty God.

Reverence is in short supply in the Christian church these days; there is so much lukewarmness and familiarity in believers towards our Holy God. I pray for my life and our lives that we would love and revere God, never losing sight of WHO He is. That reverent awe and wonder keeps me from sin and inspires me to worship.

Teach me Your ways oh Lord. Amen

Wishful Thinking? (Philippians 1:18-30)

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These lines penned from prison reveal a world-view so foreign to the secular humanistic world-view the current-day media is saturated with. Paul’s musings regarding his imprisonment and the prospect of dying as a captive can help us navigate thoughts concerning healing and or life and death itself.

Paul rejoiced that the Philippians were praying for him. More than this, he was confident that their prayers for him and the help of the Holy Spirit would result in him being delivered (Philippians 1:18b-19). But was this a vain hope, just wishful thinking?

Biblical Christianity is nothing like wishful thinking!  

I love how another hero of the faith is described by Paul in his letter to the Roman believers. Abraham faced the fact that his and his wife’s bodies were as good as dead (being about 100yrs old) and therefore not able to conceive a child. But in the face of the biological facts before him, Abraham chose to believe what God had promised him (that they would have a son) because he was ‘fully convinced that God is able to do whatever He promises’ (Romans 4:21).

Abraham and Sarah didn’t have a son because of wishful thinking, or the power of positive words, they had a son because they believed God’s word to them in spite of what the circumstances around them were shouting.

Similarly, Paul’s confidence about his being delivered from his Roman prison wasn’t wishful thinking or positivity but was rooted in a biblical world-view. Paul was confident that he would be delivered/saved (same underlying Greek word) from prison either in this life or in the next life.

We know this from the context of the rest of the passage (Philippians 1:18-30). Paul had not tied all his hope to this present life. Paul didn’t know whether his deliverance would be in this life or the next but what he was confident about was that Jesus would deliver/save him ultimately.

So he muses about whether he would rather be delivered from prison in this life or whether he would rather be delivered from prison by going through death into eternal life with Christ (Philippians 1:19-23). If he is delivered in this present life, he will live his whole life for Christ (vs21) and if he is delivered through death into eternal life, he will gain for then he will be with Christ in eternity which is far better than the present life (vs21&23).

The biblical perspective on display here in Paul regarding life and death is so contrasted to the secular humanistic perspective! During a global pandemic, people are being forced at present to face up to their mortality and that of those they love.  

What we believe about life, death & eternity directly impacts how we live in the present. If you believe that life simply ends in death, you will have neither a concern about life after death/eternal consequences and you will cling on to this life since it is all there is.

What is striking in this passage is that the apostle Paul is not clinging on to this life at all. But why? He is not suicidal or depressed; he is confident! So what is he confident of?

He knows that life doesn’t end in death; death is not a termination but a transition to eternal life for the believer in Jesus. He is confident that death will be swallowed up by victory & immortality, the perishable will be raised imperishable (1 Corinthians 15:35-58).  

And so he is confident that even if his imprisonment ends in death not release back to freedom in this life, that death will be his deliverance since death can only transition him, promote him into eternal life with Jesus Christ! And that is not wishful thinking for the apostle Paul; it is so real that if he allowed himself to think selfishly, his preference would be to be delivered from the prison he is in into life after death rather than back to freedom in the present day.

So how does this relate to life and death for us?

God wants you and me who have believed in Jesus to live with a rock-solid assurance and peace even in the face of a global pandemic that comes from knowing two things;

  1. God knows the day and the hour that He will end this present earthly life of ours. The day of our death is an appointment we can not be early or late for and one we cannot reschedule or delay. No amount of anti-ageing cream or anti-oxidants or gym sessions will prolong our lives one minute longer. God alone gives life, sustains life and ultimately ends our earthly lives on a day He determines (Job 12:10, Job 14:5 & Psalm 139:16). And so that makes us immortal until the day Jesus returns or calls me home to be with him.
  2. Life doesn’t end in death; rather, death is swallowed up by life (2 Corinthians 5:4) for the believer in Jesus. And so, death is not a termination of life but a transition to eternal life for the believer in Jesus. This is not wishful thinking; it is confident hope in Christ Jesus!

And how does this all relate to healing or lack thereof?

Just like Paul was confident that he would be delivered by Jesus, so too, we can declare boldly that every single believer in Jesus who is sick will be healed. What we don’t know is whether that healing will be in this life, extending and improving it in the present day or whether it will be in death and resurrection to a new glorious body fit for eternity (1 Corinthians 15:35-58). We know that in the new heaven and the new earth there will be no more sickness, sadness, suffering, disease or death, no more tears and no more pain (Revelation 21:3-5) and so we know that ultimately every single believer in Jesus will be healed.

So although it is good to ask God for healing in the present, Jesus encouraged us to do so, and although God does heal people today (I have seen it), let’s be like Paul was regarding his deliverance from prison if it seems like God isn’t healing us or the person we have been praying for.

Paul’s biblical world-view produced such certainty and peace in him that from these lines penned from prison to the Philippians, he really didn’t seem bothered by whether his deliverance was in this life or in the next at the return of Jesus. What a liberating way to live, no fear of death, no wrestle with God over why God hasn’t done what we want him to do for us in delivering us from this or that…

Rather just settled confidence, peace and security that all flow from faith in Jesus which is immoveable (1 Corinthians 15:58). May you, may I navigate this present life and these perplexing and potentially worrisome times with the very same confidence and assurance we see in the apostle Paul in the lines of this letter penned from prison.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Life OS 1.0 (Philippians 1:12-20)

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It’s hard not to put ourselves at the centre of our lives. Our will, our desires, our plans, hopes, dreams, thoughts & emotions.

We go back to this fleshly sinful ‘default setting’ all too easily – don’t we? I know that I need to fill my vision with God continually, worship again, pray again, meditate on Scripture again to re-focus myself.

Jesus knew this was the default trajectory of our hearts and minds and so taught us to pray; “Your kingdom come, Your will be done” (Matthew 6:10) to our heavenly Father.

The Apostle Paul is such a striking example of someone who has clearly prayed that prayer of Jesus’ over and over again and so had a remarkable outlook on life.  

As we journey through the letter to the Philippian believers keep in mind where Paul is writing from – prison! What would your letters be about if you were in prison unjustly? If the self-centred default human setting for the mind and heart is ON, then you would be complaining about the circumstances you find yourself in, how you feel about the injustice and the hardships.

But not the apostle Paul! He is grateful while in prison because he has come to see that his imprisonment has allowed two things to happen.

  1. The Gospel has advanced to those guarding him, people who would maybe never have come to a church, God took the Gospel to through Paul being in prison. (vs12-13)
  2. Paul’s fellow-workers have been encouraged to share the Gospel more boldly because of Paul’s imprisonment!

Both of these perspectives are only possible because Paul had displaced himself from the centre of his life & installed Jesus Christ and His Gospel at the centre.

The lens through which he saw his hardship and his experiences as a Roman prisoner was God’s will for his life and God’s plan for humanity, God being glorified in all things (vs20). To the Roman believers, Paul wrote; “For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be glory forever. Amen.” (Romans 11:36)

This was Paul’s life’s operating system – God’s purposes, God’s glory! Not personal comfort, convenience, plans or safety – but God’s plans, God’s will.  

Paul is a wonderful example of a God-centred, gospel-centred believer. May I, may we keep disciplining our thinking and our emotions to follow his example and to be inspired by it.

What are you facing today? What hardship, what injustices. How might God use them to advance His Gospel through you? Fill your vision with Jesus again, our great Saviour who surrendered his will to the will of the Father for your sake and mine. So that in turn, we would live like Him and do the same and live no longer for ourselves but for Him who died for us (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Sweet Assurance (Philippians 1:6)

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Since this is the first Global Pandemic I have ever lived through, I can’t make sweeping generalisations. But, from my observations thus far, Pandemics have a way of polarising people if you were to categorise them according to their reactions.

  • You get the nonchalant type, who’s in denial or is just ignorant
  • The paranoid person petrified even to make a phone call for fear that 5G might transmit the virus
  • The conspiracy theorists who seem to abound right now
  • The well-read, and so the wisely cautious person
  • People looking to make a quick buck off the whole thing
  • And, then, of course, there is always the nutjob with a smartphone willing to record themselves to share their nutty ideas with the whole world …

You get the idea! Sadly in Christian circles, we see all of these varieties and then some. As a pastor, I have been inundated with videos/articles sent to me from all the types of people listed above.  

The sender typically wants my read on what’s contained in the piece. And, it is no exaggeration to say that they have ranged from the sublimely insightful to the utterly ridiculous.

World shaking events like COVID19 and the ramifications emanating from the unprecedented strategies implored by national governments to try to contain the virus and mitigate the risk of loss of lives have unsettled many people. And Christians are not exempt from this all.

All of this has gotten me thinking a lot about assurance, and the unshakeable faith and confident security; I believe Jesus wants us, believers, to experience even in times like these.

Just the other day we were reading Mark 13 – an unsettling passage about the end times with people being led astray (vs5), a forewarning of false Christs (vs6), wars, earthquakes, famines(vs7-8), persecution of believers, being hated for being Christ-followers(vs11-13), something called the abomination of desolation and great tribulation (vs14-24) and the call of Jesus’ to be on guard and awake (vs23 & 37)…

I was struck by one of Jesus’ commands; “Do not be alarmed” (vs7)! It stood out like the first flower pushing up in a field after the veld has been burnt, almost out of place in the surrounding desolation. 

Jesus wanted His disciples, Jesus wants you and I who have trusted in Him not to be alarmed by even tumultuous events and experiences. Jesus wants us to be assured, at peace, secure. Jesus wants us to trust Him who not only made everything but is the One who holds all things together (Colossians 1:16-17) 

John records similar last moments with Jesus and explodes this theme of what Jesus wanted the disciples to experience in greater detail in the first verses of chapter 14;

Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me. In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. (John 14:1-3)

Jesus didn’t want the events of the days that would follow to unsettle His followers. He wanted them to contend for peace in their hearts and minds. Jesus wanted them not to let their hearts go to the place of anxiety and stress that they would go to if not restrained by faith.  

Jesus wanted His disciples to believe, to trust Him, to trust the Father’s goodness and power. Jesus wanted them to see the final picture; these disciples could be assured that they would dwell with Him for eternity in His the Father’s house. That future hope was something to believe because it could not be seen. However believing it would produce something in the disciples – assurance, peace & security in spite of tumultuous days that would follow.

Assurance for the believer in Jesus is a strong theme in the New Testament, and it is found in our passage for today’s reading (we are reading Philippians + some Psalms in August for our Bible Reading Plan).

I am sure of this, that He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Jesus Christ. (Philippians 1:6)

Paul wanted the same thing for the Philippian believers that Jesus wanted for those first Christ-followers: assurance.

Yes, they might have faced tough circumstances, challenges to their faith, struggle and hardship, but God wanted them to be assured IN IT ALL.

That the God who initiated their faith would be the One who would bring it to completion as well, God doesn’t start our Jesus journey and then let us go to walk on our own like some parent teaching their child to walk hoping they will get the hang of it.  

No, rather God alone was both the author of their faith and would be the One to bring it to completion too (Hebrews 12:2). The confidence of these believers wasn’t to be in anything or anyone else other than their Saviour who both initiated and would complete their faith.

Friend if you know that have put your trust in Christ Jesus. If you know that you truly are saved by grace alone, through faith alone in Christ alone then you can be and should be, God wants you to be the most assured person on the planet. You and I are utterly secure, having believed in Jesus, He will save us completely (Hebrews 7:25).

You are immortal until the Day Jesus returns or the Day He calls you home to be with Him. You need not fret or worry, trying to discern the times and work out what not even Jesus knew when He walked on earth (Mark 13:32)!

So do not be alarmed even in the middle of a Global Pandemic, don’t stress yourself with worry when Jesus’ command to you is not to be alarmed and not to let your heart be troubled. Jesus wants you to sleep secure, live at peace knowing whom You have trusted your life to – and not just this life, but eternal life to.

Speak to Him now in prayer. If you have already believed in Jesus, simply ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to cast off fear with His perfect love and peace. Know this, Jesus wants you to experience the incredible peace that comes from knowing whom it is you have entrusted your present and future eternal life to – so live in the good of the assurance He purchased for you.  

But, if you haven’t yet believed in Jesus for the forgiveness of your sins and the salvation of your soul, don’t feel any assurance or peace until you have believed in Him. So, call out to Him right now! We really do not know whether any day is our last day, and so as Matthew Henry resolved; live every day as if it was your last day.

And if you know friends who have not yet put their faith in Jesus – don’t delay speak to them share the love of God with them, appeal to them in love to believe in Jesus while they still can.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Another Month, Another Adventure

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If you track with my blog by now you will have worked out that we encourage our church members to grow in personal devotion to Jesus amongst other things through a devotion to personal bible reading.

To help encourage this we have had a custom Bible Reading Plan since 2012 where each month we choose a book or selection of Scriptures that we then work through together as a church. This allows for ‘reading in community’!

Personal Bible Reading is quite a modern phenomenon in the scope of all of church history and their are real advantages to reading with other believers and being able to share and discuss and engage around Scripture.

The past two months we have been in the Gospel of Mark (go back and find some of the devotions written for Mark’s Gospel). Just yesterday I was thinking how much I loved knowing that a whole bunch of us from Reconciliation Road Church had taken two months to walk through this great Gospel and not for a minute did it feel drawn out or boring!

This month we dive into the NT Letter to the Philippians with some Psalms thrown into the mix – join us in this adventure in August to know more of God and to hear Him speak to us through the Scriptures!

The BRP for August is in the header of this blog post, save it and follow along with us.

Gareth

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

A Day Like No Other (Mark 15:1-32)

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From the time of Jesus’ instructions to the disciples to find a place to prepare for and then celebrate the Passover with a meal we now call ‘The Last Supper’ to Jesus death is a period of just 24hrs.

And yet, these 24hrs take-up 92 verses in Mark, 103 verses in Matthew, 74 in Luke 74 and a massive 225 in John’s gospel. The gospel’s all slow down at this focal point of our faith. So much happens in this one 24hr period of Jesus’ life;

  • Preparations for the Passover
  • The Last Supper
  • An agonising prayer in the garden
  • Jesus’ betrayal and arrest
  • Peter’s denial & the abandonment of all Jesus’ followers
  • An unjust trial before the Chief Priests utterly alone
  • A night of mocking and mistreatment by soldiers
  • A hearing before Pilate & the crowd
  • A hearing before Herod
  • Pilate’s capitulation to the blood-thirsty mob releasing Barabas and sentencing Jesus
  • Scourging Jesus by the whip
  • The walk to Golgotha through the streets
  • The crucifixion & death

So, what was the joy in the heart of Jesus that sustained Him through this most terrible 24hrs?

We know from Jesus’ prayer in the garden of Gethsemane that Jesus’ passion was to please Father God in all He did. Jesus desired to obey God the Father and fulfil the will of the Father. We know this because Jesus prayed; 

“Abba, Father, all things are possible for you. Remove this cup from me. Yet not what I will, but what you will.” (Mark 14:36) 

Therefore we can say that the greatest joy in the heart of Jesus, the joy that sustained Jesus was the joy of pleasing the Father, fulfilling the plan and the will of the Father.  

Jesus’ whole life, His coming to earth as an incarnate human being, His 24/7 life and obedience and His death was all fueled by this same passion. Jesus prayed in John 17:1-4 that the Father would glorify Him ‘so that the Son might glorify’ the Father and He prayed saying that He had ‘glorified the Father on earth, by accomplishing the work the Father had given Him to do.

In addition to this, we also know that Jesus endured all that happened in these 24hrs because He also had another joy in His heart. Hebrews 12:2 reveals to us that part of what sustained Jesus through these horrific 24hrs was His longing for you and me.  

“Because of the joy awaiting him, he endured the cross, disregarding its shame.” (Hebrews 12:2 in the NLT)  

Brothers and sisters, you and I were in Jesus mind’s eye when He endured all of this pain and suffering. The joy awaiting Jesus was us! It was our being reconciled back to a right relationship with Him, which was only possible because of what He was doing by suffering in our place for our sin.

This means that as we see, as we contemplate the ghastly ordeal Jesus endured in these 24hrs we should feel the love of Jesus in each injustice committed against Him, in every droplet of spit sliding down His face, in every strike of the whip tearing flesh from His back, in every agonising step being led like a lamb to the slaughter in silence (Isaiah 53:7-8), in every thunderbolt of pain from the nails in His wrists and the crushing suffocation of the crucifixion. This is love!  

“This is real love – not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as a sacrifice to take away our sins.” (1 John 4:10 in NLT)

Why don’t you pause now and pray? Contemplate these 24hrs Jesus endured, bring the details to mind and know this, He did this all out of love for you! Bask in that incredible love of Jesus’ for you! And then love Jesus back in this moment, love Him with your whole life, don’t give Him the left-overs give Him everything. What a Saviour!

Two T’s and a World Pandemic! (Mark 12:13-17 & 38-44)

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Taxes, Tithing and COVID19 – what a combo! We are living in unprecedented times of financial hardship. In South Africa, our statistics are that more than 3 million people have been retrenched in the last three months. So we can safely say that for the majority of people we’ve never faced a time like this. In addition to this, many have had salaries reduced, or people’s businesses are under severe strain. Unemployment and uncertainty are at all-time highs.

And then our bible reading plan comes to this little section in the gospel of Mark that seems to have a bit of a mini-focus on money from Jesus as a result of some of Jesus’ interactions. 

But is it insensitive to write about money at this time? No, I don’t believe it is, after-all in times of financial pressure or lack we need to speak more not less about money. 

Taxes & Tithes

In Mark 12:13-17 Jesus teaches us to be faithful in paying our taxes making our contribution to the governance and upkeep of the country in which we live and in the same moment Jesus teaches us that similarly, we ought to give ‘to God the things that are God’s’ – tithes (Mark 12:17).

Bear in mind that the Roman authority over the Jewish people of the time would have been seen as an oppressive authority by most Jews. This was not a government the Jewish people welcomed, agreed to or voted for! Yet referring to tax, Jesus says that we are to give to Caesar what is Caesar’s.

Now for most people, tax is normally a grudge expense! It is not common to find citizens who just can’t wait to pay their taxes. However, taxes are necessary for civil society to function and when taxes when are administered well they provide things like physical infrastructure, policing, a justice system, healthcare, education and social services for the poor and vulnerable.

Before you understandably interject about corruption in South Africa and you’d happily pay taxes if you knew they would be stewarded well – may I remind you of who Jesus was telling the Jews to pay their taxes to!  

The rule and authority of the Roman Empire was an authority that was not invited but imposed through military force. Yet Jesus tells His Jewish hearers to pay to that authority the tax it was imposing. 

Let’s be clear, corruption and mismanagement of public funds are sinful, corruption ought to be lamented over and exposed wherever possible. However, corruption does not release Christ-followers from paying our taxes.

Although I can’t claim to have ever been excited about paying tax. I have tried to shape my heart and my thoughts by thinking about two things;

  1. My taxes are my contribution to all the good things that taxes enable; it is nation-building.
  2. And reminding myself that if I’m paying tax, it means I have a job and an income and that is something I never want to take for granted!  

I’ve found that these things have helped me in paying tax with a good heart. Jesus doesn’t stop there but goes on in Make 12:17 saying that similarly just like Caesar is owed taxes, it is right for us to give to God, the ultimate authority, our tithes.

A Wonderful Example:

Jesus comes back to the issue of money when He does a remarkable thing. Jesus sits Himself down in the temple opposite the offering box and ‘watched the people putting money into the offering box’ (Mark 12:41).  

Since becoming a church leader, for the past 17yrs, I have always kept myself from knowing what people are or are not tithing, but Jesus did the exact opposite! Jesus sat there, watching. People are coming and placing their tithe offerings into the box in the temple, some tithes are large, and some are tiny in monetary terms (Mark 12:41-42).

Jesus watches one poor widow approach the tithe box. She doesn’t have much, that is obvious to see. She isn’t dressed in fancy apparel like the rich people and the scribes (Mark 12:38). 

We don’t know much about her other than that she was a widow and that she was poor (Mark 12:42). We do also know, however, that what she put into the offering box as her tithe impressed Jesus more than any of the other offerings given that day.

You see, in the maths of heaven, her two little coins (worth probably less than ten Rands) meant more to Jesus than the great sums of money given by others. 

Why is that? 

Well in the maths of heaven what makes your gift substantial is the heart with which it is given not the amount that is given. What matters is the wholeheartedness of the gift in relation to what that person has been entrusted with financially by God.

And so, it didn’t matter one iota to Jesus that she only had two coins to give! What mattered to Jesus was her heart of generosity with which those two coins were given. Giving is all about our hearts. Jesus taught that where our treasure is our hearts are too (Matthew 6:21), and I have found the reverse to be true as well – that where our hearts are there our money flows too.  

This poor widow teaches us that giving to God is not about affordability but is about our heart’s condition. Her offering was small, but it was large, relatively speaking when compared to what she had – so she had given much. Jesus knows this and so says to the disciples (I think in her presence to honour her);

“Truly, I say to you, this poor widow has put in more than all those who are contributing to the offering box. 44 For they all contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in everything she had, all she had to live on.” 

She had ‘put in more’ than all the others with their big monetary values! Because her heart of generosity and or love for God overcame her state of poverty. Her heart for God leads her into giving wholeheartedly in rich generosity with faith. We know that she gave in faith because having given she then needed to trust God for the rest of her needs (see vs44).

And because of her example, Jesus makes much of her and honours her above all those giving large monetary amounts but giving gifts that proportionately presumably weren’t generous or sacrificial at all.  

Were these others’ tipping’ God rather than tithing? 

It seems likely. They were all about appearances, but their hearts were not like hers, seemingly. I think to consider tithing as simply giving to God 10% of the income God has entrusted to you is a really helpful thing. 

It is helpful partly because the maths is so easy. It is also helpful because giving a percentage of your income in a church like ours where some people earn more than R100 000/month, and some people earn only R1000/month giving 10% honours everyone’s giving equally. 

What matters is not the Rand amount, but that you are willingly faithful with whatever amounts of income God has entrusted you with. And so, whatever your tithe’s monetary amount is it is valuable to Jesus!

We have an older single woman in our church, who actually reminds me of this widow. She is actually supported by our church every month and has been for some time. During the lockdown, she made more effort than anyone else I know to tithe on the money we had given her for her provision! She made a big effort each month to make contact and make arrangements for her small offering in monetary terms but big offering in proportion to be given to God! Amazing.

This is what matters that even amid COVID-19 we have hearts that are wholehearted like the poor widow in Mark 12, that we give from whatever it is God has entrusted to us financially even if that amount entrusted to us is less during this time. And, that we give the whole tithe, that we give with faith and with joy in Jesus. 

Jesus seems to like to watch what we are giving and wants to commend us for our wholehearted and faithful consistent giving to God in bringing in the whole tithe. Let’s not be like these rich people Jesus rebuked in Mark 12:38-44 who appear to have been tipping God not tithing and so got rebuked.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Genie? (Mark 12:28-34)

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Jesus had caused a stir in towns like Capernaum and Nazareth. His teachings and actions astounded and angered the religious establishment (Mark 3:6).  

But he was now having come to Jerusalem, riding in on a donkey in what felt something like the inauguration of a promised Messiah king (Zechariah 9:9/Mark 11:1-11).   

And having walked into the headquarters of Jewish religion, tearing up the place, effectively pronouncing judgement on the state of affairs at the Temple -Jesus had pulled the proverbial trigger that would lead ultimately to His death on the cross.  

His reputation had proceeded Him, but since arriving in Jerusalem at a high point in their religious calendar, His actions had enraged the Jewish religious leaders.

And so, Jesus had the full attention of all the various religious groups who came to Him in unrelenting waves trying to expose Him, or trap Him in the public space with their crafty questions and wanting to arrest Him (Mark 12:12).  

But one Scribe who most likely shared the angst of his fellow religious brothers was intrigued by Jesus’ handling of the various tricks and traps set by his associates.

Something about Jesus drew him towards Jesus. Mark records that he saw “that He answered them well” (Mark 12:28) and so he decided to risk asking Jesus a real question. One that wasn’t designed to lure Jesus into a trap but to learn; “Which commandment is the most important of all?” (Mark 12:28)

Often when Jesus was asked a question with a warped motive, He would answer in an obscure way or would tell a parable exposing the bad heart motive of those asking or even pronounce judgement on those asking. But this man’s question must have felt like a relief to Jesus after the barrage of tricks and traps.

He actually wanted to know Jesus’ answer. And so Jesus gives a succinct answer that helped not just him but helps you and me as Christ Followers to understand what matters most to God. Quoting Deuteronomy 6:4-5 Jesus replies;

The God of the Bible is the only One worthy of worship, adoration and praise. And so we are to;

  • Love God with all our HEART (our emotions/desires)
  • Love God with all our SOUL (our entire body & life)
  • Love God with all our MIND (our thoughts)
  • Love God with all our STRENGTH (our energy)

Almighty God is worthy of nothing less than our wholehearted worship. Every facet of our humanity (Heart, Soul, Mind & Strength) is to bow to God in loving worship that is to be expressed to fullest since facet of our lives is prefaced with the word “all” by Jesus.

There is a holy discontent in my heart, soul & mind. Brothers and sisters, we live in distracted days that seem so at odds with Jesus’ commandment here in Mark 12:31.  

Love for God, worship of God by even those who call themselves Christ-followers is so commonly lukewarm, so partial rather than wholehearted.  

For so many God is like a ‘Genie-in-a-bottle.’  God can stay in His corner of our lives ignored like the Genie concealed in its container until we need him.  

And yet when we have some desire or desperate need, we pick up the bottle and rub it in prayer summonsing God to answer us and act as we desire.  

Lockdown and a Global Pandemic, today again is an opportunity for us to hit the RESET button if we have slipped into such a form of spirituality.

Jesus’ answer to the Scribe reveals God’s desire for us all; it defines what true Christ-followers lives will look like. And it is radical; it is wholehearted. It is the only way to really live, and living this way will never result in regret.

Jesus wants all of YOU, all of ME. Are you distracted, are you lukewarm, are you acting like a consumer rather than a wholehearted worshiper of God?

This is the greatest commandment – love God with all your affections, love God with all your thoughts, make God the centre of your attention, love God with your whole being, your physical body and all the energy you have been given by Him.  

Don’t hold anything back, expend it all, don’t waste your time and energy and focus on anything or anyone else, expend it all on loving and worshipping God. You will never regret that decision!

So, do you need to hit the RESET button today? The Scribe knew that Jesus’ answer to him contained the truth. And that truth of Jesus’ answer is still powerful to transform your life in the present and your experience of life in eternity. It is still powerful to shape your life and to fill your life with that which is truly valuable.

Jesus continued in vs31 to add a second bonus answer to the Scribes question. He had asked for the ‘greatest commandment’ and Jesus answered him, but as a bonus Jesus went further to explain that obedience to the greatest commandment would lead to something else…

True and wholehearted love for God would result in another love – love for other people. You see, love for God transforms who we are and transforms how we treat all other people God made.  

It is utterly inconsistent, therefore to claim that you truly love God if you don’t love all people.  

And, therefore it is also utterly inconsistent for Christ-followers to be complicit or silent about things like racism or Gender-based violence or injustice since all of these evils are rooted not in love but in a lack of love for individuals God created in His image.

To love God fully & to love people sums up all the commandments. We can easily make following Jesus overly complicated, but Jesus makes God’s will exceedingly clear.

As the Westminster Shorter Catechism states; “Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.” 

This is our purpose, to love, to honour, to glorify God in all we do. And here in Mark 12, Jesus connects this with how we treat others. If we truly love God, our hearts will be soft toward God, and the Holy Spirit will lead us to love others as God has loved us. This is the whole message of Galatians 5:16-24.

Loving God leads to loving people, being compassionate, merciful, forgiving as we have been forgiven. That’s true godliness, true holiness, the Jesus journey! 

And the only way to get to a life that truly looks like that is to have a life that is overtaken with love for God. And the only way to love God more deeply is to see God more clearly, to see who He is and what He has done for us and to live out your whole life as a response.  #moreinawe

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Life Intersections (Mark 10:46-52)

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I love how in the Bible, we have a record of people just like you and me who encountered the living God. From these encounters, we can learn all sorts of things about God, faith and ourselves. In Mark 10:46-52, there is an encounter between Jesus and a man called Bartimeaus. 

Jesus and his band of followers, plus the usual crowd of onlookers arrive in Jericho. Jesus is on His way to Jerusalem with the events of the Passion ominously on the horizon.  

They stop in at Jericho, and as Jesus was leaving a man called Bartimaeus, a blind beggar, the son of Timaeus, was sitting by the roadside. 

47 And when he heard that it was Jesus of Nazareth, he began to cry out and say, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” 48 And many rebuked him, telling him to be silent. But he cried out all the more, “Son of David, have mercy on me!” 49 And Jesus stopped and said, “Call him.” And they called the blind man, saying to him, “Take heart. Get up; he is calling you.” 50 And throwing off his cloak, he sprang up and came to Jesus. 51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” 

And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. (Mark 10:46-52)

Two paths intersecting 

Here we have two people’s paths intersecting! This happens in life all the time – people on different life journey’s, who share a moment when their life-journey’s collide.

In this intersection we have Jesus, incarnate Son of God, the centre of a crowd for the past three years, famous or infamous depending on how well you knew Him, passing Jericho on his way to Jerusalem to die for the sins of all of humankind and rise again!

And we have Bartimaeus, a seemingly insignificant resident of Jericho. This man’s name is a shocker! Bartimaeus means; ‘son of unclean man’! Not exactly flattering is it – sounds like his dad didn’t have a good reputation. More than this, Bartimaeus is identified in Scripture simply as a “blind beggar”, sitting by the roadside – what a complicated, painful identity.

But on this day recorded in Mark’s Gospel, Jesus and Bartimaeus’ life-journey’s are about to intersect! Seemingly insignificant, helpless, hopeless Bartimaeus is about to have his best day in a long time if not ever!  

He is about to meet God.

What about your life journey and God?

  • Do you maybe identify a little with Bartimaeus?
  • Do you feel insignificant, like people and life are passing you by?
  • Do you feel any sense of shame or remorse, regret?

Each of us has our own story. But today might even be your unique moment where you and God – intersect in a remarkable moment! I think of all my friends who don’t yet know Jesus, a day like today could be THEIR DAY!

Moving from knowing to encountering

Bartimaeus had heard about Jesus; he knew of Jesus. He knew his name, some of His titles. But now all of a sudden, Jesus was actually there, right in front of him! There are moments in our lives like that aren’t there?  

Mine was at age 8 in my bedroom praying and giving my life to Jesus. Then again at age 12 on a youth camp, during worship being prayed for and being filled with the power of the Holy Spirit, and then many times since…  

Christ-followers are people who have all had a moment and then subsequent moments where knowing about Jesus became KNOWING HIM & ENCOUNTERING HIM personally. Knowing Jesus is right there with you, knowing you can call out to Him and that when you do He will answer you personally.

In a country like South Africa, there are many people who know about Jesus – much like Bartimaeus did. But, knowing about Jesus is never enough to save you from your sin. What’s needed is not just more knowledge but rather a personal encounter with Jesus.

If you are already a Christ-follower, call out to Jesus again today, you can know that He wants to encounter you again and again.

Bartimaeus calls out (vs47)

Bartimaeus believed something about Jesus. We know this because if he didn’t believe something about Jesus, then calling out to Jesus as he did would not have made any sense.

After all, it makes no sense appealing to someone to help you if you don’t believe they have the ability or power to help you.  

If I need help with woodwork I don’t call my friend Antony; I call Warren! I don’t call out to my friend Robert for medical advice – no, I call Wade or Nkanyiso two of the specialist doctors in my life…  

When we decide to call out to someone for help, intrinsically there is embedded in that call a hope or even more likely a belief that they can help us in our need or else it is pointless.

We don’t know precisely what Bartimaeus knew about Jesus, but what He knew was enough for Him to cry out, “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” vs47

‘Jesus’ is the name God told Joseph to give the child Mary miraculously carried from God. “She will bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus, for he will save his people from their sins.” (Matthew 1:21)

Jesus’ name is also His role, His mission; it’s what Jesus came to do. He will save people from their sins – that’s what His name means. When you call on Jesus, you are calling out to the Saviour of the world.

Bartimaeus also called out using the title, ‘Son of David’ – a title that points to the fact that Jesus was the long-awaited Messiah (deliverer) promised hundreds of years before.

By calling out to Jesus using these names and asking Jesus for ‘mercy’ reveals something of WHO Bartimaeus believed Jesus was.

Bartimaeus had a need, but he also knew that he didn’t deserve anything. So Bartimaeus appeals to Jesus for Mercy – undeserved favour.  

Like Bartimaeus, none of us can say that we deserve anything from God! Not even on our best days are we good enough to deserve anything. Our need unifies us, and what we all need is grace and mercy from God! 

The GOOD NEWS I have for you and I today is that as Jesus Himself said; that He didn’t come for those who thought they’d done well in life or those who thought they were ‘good with God’ because of their exceptional behaviour. No, Jesus came for those who knew they needed MERCY.

Christ-followers are those who have had an encounter with God and who know that God hasn’t accepted them because they are good enough, but rather that God has accepted us because we cried out to Jesus for MERCY!

So if you need help, firstly you need to call out to someone who CAN HELP, but secondly, you also need to be sure that they WANT TO HELP you. After all, no one wants to be left hanging, rejected in public.

Bartimaeus heard Jesus was close by, and He cried out to Jesus for mercy! He had heard enough about Jesus to make him believe that not only COULD Jesus help him but also that Jesus WOULD WANT to help him…

Maybe he had heard about the woman who reached out to touch him in the crowd or the centurion who wanted his servant healed or the dad who wanted his son set free…

He believed Jesus wouldn’t leave him hanging, leave him on the side of the road rejected. So Bartimaeus calls out to Jesus loudly!

But many rebuked him (vs48)

Those around him didn’t like Bartimaeus’ calling out to Jesus! He was told to “shut up” basically, shunned, frowned upon…  

You know, often for you to get to Jesus, you have to push through some opposition. This opposition can come from one of three sources:

  • Your own voice (doubts/fears/ungodly beliefs)
  • The voice of others (unbelievers, mocking, media, the age we live in…)
  • The voice of the deceiver and enemy of your soul

But Bartimaeus wasn’t having any of it – ‘But he cried out all the more’ it says. What about you? Will you press past the obstacles between you and Jesus? The opinions of others? Your own internal obstacles to faith in Jesus, the questions you have, your fears? Will you press past the Devil’s stumbling blocks designed to keep you from calling out to Jesus?

Be like Bartimaeus. Cry out to Jesus, don’t stop, press past the opposition, you won’t be disappointed.

Jesus stops (vs49)

I love this part of this God-encounter. Jesus stopped.  

He stopped, for the seemingly insignificant, blind beggar crying out to Him at the moment that their journey’s intersected.

51 And Jesus said to him, “What do you want me to do for you?” And the blind man said to him, “Rabbi, let me recover my sight.” 52 And Jesus said to him, “Go your way; your faith has made you well.” And immediately he recovered his sight and followed him on the way. 

Today you need to know that you matter to God. Jesus will stop if you call just out to Him. Those around you who don’t yet believe in Jesus need to know this about Jesus too! That if they just call out to Him, He will stop for them.

More than that, in His incredible gracious generosity, Jesus will not just stop, but He will ask you what He can do for you – what love and what authority! Jesus is not limited in any way He can offer to do whatever is needed.

Bartimaeus’ most apparent need was his blindness. We often have needs we are most aware of. For you maybe it is a job, finances, a true friend, a husband or a wife, or for someone you love to be healed.

And yet, Jesus knows our greatest need. Our sin & shame to be dealt with once and for all taken away

So that we can have a life-giving relationship with Him!

All He asks from us is for FAITH in Him. Not even’ lots of faith’ just faith… Even a little faith. Because it is not your faith that saves you, heals you, but WHO that faith is in!

Bartimaeus’ life journey intersected with Jesus in a moment. He called out with faith to Jesus, and Jesus stopped, and offered to meet His need and did exactly that in an instant.  

And so, Bartimaeus was healed physically but more than that He was also healed spiritually & so he became a Christ-follower from that day onwards. (vs52)

Every Christ-follower is a little like Bartimaeus. Each one has in their own unique way had an intersection moment with Jesus, has called out to Jesus, has put their faith in Jesus and has found Jesus stopped for them and answered their call. And Christ-followers don’t stop there but like Bartimaeus follow Jesus from that point onwards in their lives.

Today might well be a moment where your life journey and God intersect with each other either once again, or even for the very first time.

Will you call out to Him who will STOP & will MEET YOUR DEEPEST NEEDS?

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Lawful? (Mark 10:1-12)

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Is it lawful? 

Sometimes a question reveals a wrong motive that is underlying.

By way of illustration; If a young man asks me; “How far can I go physically with your daughter?” I know already that this guy’s not the guy for my daughter. 

He should be asking different questions like; “How can I glorify God? How can I honour your daughter’s integrity and purity? How can I respect her and keep her for her wedding day!”

That guy’s asking the wrong question! So I might even reply with a question of my own; “How much do you value your life dude?” And urge him to think twice before ever messaging my daughter again.

The Pharisees come to Jesus while He is teaching, with a question of interpretation regarding the Law and marriage, divorce and remarriage. Their intention was to ‘test/trap’ Jesus (Mark 10:2). It’s worth remembering that when seeking to understand this passage. 

“Is it lawful for a man to divorce his wife?” – wrong question! Just because something is lawful doesn’t mean it’s wise, never mind godly.  

Take Wing-suits as a silly example (check this link out if you’ve never seen this sort of thing – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RbcbjMhvjEs) It is lawful to throw yourself off a mountain, but it doesn’t make it wise?

Or think of smoking marijuana, it’s legal, but that doesn’t make it a wise or godly thing to participate in. Likewise, gambling is legal but not wise and is discouraged in Scripture.

So with just three examples, it is clear that something being legal is a poor indicator of whether or not it is wise or godly.

So with the Pharisees asking; “Is it lawful…” they were barking up the wrong proverbial tree and in so doing revealing their sinful hearts and the patriarchal culture of the day.

Jesus answers them, asking them what Moses said on the matter and knowing their Pentateuch they reply in effect that Moses allowed men to divorce their wives by giving them a ‘certificate of divorce’. The debate of theirs they were trying to trap Jesus in was probably over what constituted ‘indecency’ in the wife that made it legal for a husband to divorce his wife (see Deuteronomy 24:1-4).

Jesus’ response shows that the law given by Moses was meant to limit evil being committed against women not to give reasons for men to eject themselves out of their marriage vows! A ‘certificate of divorce’ was a way of limiting the evil being committed against women and was not God’s good plan for marriage from creation (Mark 10:6) but due to sin and hardness of heart of men and women (Mark 10:5).

Some Pharisees were teaching that men could divorce their wives for ‘any and every reason’! God never intended that there be any divorces, much less divorce for any and every little reason or because someone else was catching their attention. Their question reveals a sinful motive.

Jesus reaffirms God’s plan as found Genesis (Mark 10:6-9); In marriage, God intends for a man and a woman to leave mom and dad to be ‘glued to’ one another in such a remarkable way that those two people become one flesh, no longer two but one. (Genesis 2:24)

And so because of this remarkable one-flesh union that God creates when a man and a woman get married, human beings should not separate what God has joined together.

Jesus answers them, not with a legal answer but reaffirms that God intends marriage to be for life! That was God’s plan from the start of creation, Moses had to introduce a law because of sinful hearts, but God’s plan for men and women and marriage has not changed one iota. 

And so, in the house, Jesus explains further to his disciples that anyone who does divorce their spouse, separating what God has intended to not be separated is doing what God is not pleased with. 

So much so, that to go and marry another person is to ‘commit adultery’ meaning that God sees the first marriage as still being joined together (Mark 10:11-12)

I can hear you wanting to interject; ‘But….!’ 

Remember that Jesus is correcting a wrong, sinful attitude that is underlying the question; “Is it lawful…”. Jesus has answered that question emphatically – God’s plan for men and women is that when they marry it is for life, a covenant that holds through life’s storms, through the up’s and down’s of married life, that creates a context of love, vulnerability and commitment.

And that covenant is sacred to God. Our culture treats marriage like a ‘social contract’ that is only valid while the ‘parties’ are getting what they want from the marriage. 

Much like the social contract, one might have with your hairdresser – you really like your hairdresser, you always go to the same one, until they mess your hair up one day and then you are free to walk out and end the social contract. 

God doesn’t treat marriage in that way and nor should we. Jesus takes us back to something far more beautiful, more robust and more romantic – covenant love that endures through anything. Covenant love that if broken for any and every reason is a major problem in the eyes of God.

Application:

  1. If you are not yet married: Choose today to pursue God’s ideal for marriage and not the way of the world. God’s plan for marriage is beautiful, it’s not easy, but it is beautiful and will bless you richly if you do marriage God’s way with God at the centre of your married life. Pray for your future spouse now and pray that God would prepare you and keep you for each other and help you to find each other.
  2. And if you are already married: Remind yourself of those covenant promises you made to each other before God, your family and friends. Find them, pray through them together again, recommit yourselves to them! Those promises were not about romance but absolute statements of commitment and love that are what you’ll need in dark or difficult days to hold you together and see you through.
  3. And if on some issue in life you find you’ve been asking questions of legality, stop and ask yourself if that is really a question you ought to, or want to be asking? Is it a question you would want Jesus to answer?
  4. Lastly, in all things a great question to ask is; ‘Jesus show me your will in this thing, what will please you?’

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

The Cancer of Sin (Mark 9:42-50)

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With regard to sin, take drastic action! – Jesus  

When it comes to certain things in life, what is needed is decisive drastic action. Time wasted deliberating is counter-productive if not life-threatening.

A few years back, in quick succession, I had a lump on my back that my General Practitioner didn’t like the look of, and then one on my cheek that was reddish and would bleed with the slightest touch and didn’t respond to the non-invasive treatments prescribed.  

As you know, cancer is a horrible result of the curse that has devasted so many people’s lives and brought so much heartache. And because of this, cancer is not to be messed with and so in both instances with the advice from the Doctor’s involved it was easy to decide to undergo surgery to cut out what turned out to be cancerous tissue on both my back and face.  

Operations and surgery are not pleasant experiences, and my face and back will forever show the scars. But that is a small price to pay for a cancer-free body. No one in their right mind hearing that they had cancerous growth that can be removed surgically would say; ‘I’ll just see how it develops Doc…’

In my case, drastic action was necessary, temporarily painful invasive surgery was prescribed, but it was worth it 1000 times over. How many people have much more serious cancer in their body who would love to know that their cancer could be surgically removed.

In our passage today, Jesus is the great Surgeon. Jesus knows that sin is not something to be messed around with, not something to be treated lightly. Drastic intentional invasive action is needed for sin’s deadly progression to be halted.

Now let’s be clear, in Mark 9:42-50, Jesus is not advocating body mutilation as a solution for sin. Of all people, Jesus knows that the problem with sin is not external but rather a heart issue, a fallen humanity issue that can’t be fixed by us. Sin can’t be dealt with by removing external body parts!

Jesus knows this because, after all, this is why Jesus left heaven and came to earth. To do what we could not do ourselves, to take the drastic action that was needed to halt sin’s deadly progression in our lives.  

So what is Jesus teaching in Mark 9:42-50?

I think we can understand Jesus’ teaching on at least two levels.

  1. Jesus is teaching that sin is serious and that if one sees the seriousness of sin, then one will see that drastic action is entirely reasonable. Don’t play around with sin thinking you’ll be ok, thinking you’ll be the exception! So if you are a Christ-follower but you know of some sin or compromise that you have in your life right now – treat it like cancer.  Cut it out!  Delaying only worsens the prognosis and allows the sin to spread impacting more areas of your life and the lives of others. So where you know you have sin, take drastic action, stop, repent to God, change your life patterns, change your friends if you have to, change places you frequent, speak to a fellow Christ-follower and confess or speak to a leader in the church, but do it now, don’t delay.
  2. Know your limitations!  If you don’t know Jesus as your LORD and Saviour yet, know this – you can’t deal with sin on your own. That is why Jesus came, to live the life you and I could never hope to live and to die in our place for our sin and shame so that He could offer us forgiveness for our sins and redeem us from slavery to sin, Satan and ultimately death and hell. So put your trust in Jesus today, ask Him to forgive you of your sin and to exchange your shame and sin for His glorious love and forgiveness. In this passage, Jesus talks plainly, chillingly about hell. Hell is real, and hell is the only destination for those outside of true faith in Jesus Christ. Randy Alcorn said; “No man can get out of hell, but each man can keep out of it.” How? By acknowledging and repenting of the cancerous sin that is inside of us and asking Jesus to do what we could not do. Jesus took drastic action on our behalf; Jesus didn’t just have the cancer of sin cut out of Him; Jesus sacrificed His whole life to give you a sin-free eternal life. So put your trust in Him alone!

No one would turn to the Doctor who has just diagnosed them as having cancer and charge them of being unloving and harsh. With the terrible realities of a disease like cancer, honesty, facts & potential drastic solutions is the language of love.

Some would read this passage about the seriousness of sin and the reality of hell and baulk at Jesus’ words thinking; ‘I don’t like what Jesus said!’ But love speaks frankly about life-threatening situations, and this is what Jesus is doing here, loving us by speaking truthfully about the certainty of sins progression if left unchecked.

Thank You, Jesus, for loving us enough, to tell the truth about sin and hell and for loving us enough not just to diagnose our sin problem but to choose to take the drastic action you did to die in our place for our sin, for you to suffer so that we could be set free!

Amazing grace, how sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me. Thank you, Jesus.

Gareth is one of the elders at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.