Month: September 2015

No new tricks

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 I often say to people I am walking with in this journey of following Jesus; “the devil doesn’t have any new tricks, because the old ones are still working!”

In Genesis 3 we read of that fateful day when Eve was tempted and ended up sinning with Adam and the whole course of human history was altered.  And in the Scripture’s account of that moment we can see the strategy of the devil, how he drew her off God’s good plan for her life and into his.  He has no new tricks so considering the old ones will help us avoid the same mistakes. I see five strategies in Genesis 3:1-6 from our enemy, may considering them make us more alert to them and enable us to take counter measures.

1) The devil plants seeds of unbelief & doubt (vs1)

We know from verse 2-3 that Eve’s problem was not a lack of knowledge regarding what God had said, her problem was not a lack of understanding.  Her problem started with the seeds of doubt, the questions that had been sown by the devil.  He posed questions about what God had actually said and calling into question God and God’s integrity; “God told you that!”

2) The devil lies and contradicts God’s word to us (vs4)

The devil is the deceiver (Revelation 12:9) and one of his main weapons is lies, misinformation that contradicts God’s words to us.  The devil deceived Eve by sowing thoughts contrary to what God had said.

3) The devil lies about God (vs5)

The devil is also known in Scripture as the accuser.  So he lies and calls into question God’s motives and integrity (vs5).  Is God really good and loving, are His commands for us good or restrictive and bad?

4) The devil makes false promises (vs5)

He makes false promises about being able to be like God or to know what God knows, to possess knowledge equal to God’s, even to usurp God and His rightful place in our lives (vs5).

5) He awakens ungodly desires (vs6)

The Genesis 2 picture depicts Adam and Eve as happy, content in the Garden of Eden, content in each other and in relationship with God – with God as loving and involved Creator and them as happy beings created by God.  Yet in vs5 the devil proposes an idea, a desire that must have never previously existed; ‘you can be like God, you can throw off your dependence on God, and be self-determining’!  That’s an ungodly desire, that’s the essence of sin, to replace God with ourselves, His desires with our desires.

In addition to that in vs6 we read that Eve desired the tree now in a way that she hadn’t desired it previously.  The tree held an appeal to her ‘it was a delight to her eyes’ and now ‘the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit’.

Eve didn’t desire this tree or its fruit previously, she might have been curious about it or appreciative of its beauty but now she desired it for what it would give her…

May your consideration today of these very old tricks help guard you and keep you from the enemies deception which is designed to rob from you and destroy your faith and ultimately your life.

By Gareth Bowley

The whole truth

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One of the strong oppositions to our complete trust in the Bible is the theory of evolution.  From an innocuous start as a theory, it has become the norm of thinking for many people on how the natural things around us (and ourselves as the human race), came into existence.  It heavily impacts the world view of Christians and non-Christians alike, and affects the way science, medicine, history and many other subjects are perceived, researched and taught.

As a child, I grew up with the idea that evolution has a strong standing, and I tried to consolidate it with the creation story of Genesis.  So, possibly, the days of creation were actually long periods of time.  Isn’t there a verse somewhere that says to God a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day?  And so, although I desperately wanted to believe the creation story of Genesis 1, there was always the confusion of the evolutionary process.  In the end, I decided it must not be that important.  I believe humans were created in God’s image, and for the rest – however that happened really has nothing to do with my faith.

Wrong!! I didn’t realise how much this point of view impacted the way I trusted the Bible to be (or not to be) the infallible Word of God.

A number of years ago a friend gave us a set of DVDs on various themes of this subject, from the view of Creation Science.  As a family we watched the whole series and I was set free!  The Word of God really was true in respect to the six days – yes, literal days! – of creation! And as my knowledge grew, I realised how many Christians were being led astray and confused by the religion of evolution.

There is in fact no evidence for evolution on such a grand scale as to allow one species to develop into a totally different one, as is taught in schools, and accepted as truth. Many people are being deceived by half truths and even open lies.  And what is promoted as a science, is in fact a philosophy of deception that many choose to believe, and work very hard (spending unbelievable amounts of money) to prove.  With every so-called discovery to prove evolution, the media goes into a frenzy, but when the half truth or lie of the “discovery” is later exposed, it is kept quiet.

Obviously, it will take more than a quick blog to explain the depth of deception of the evolution perspective.  The point I am trying to make is this:  it brings immense peace and freedom to be able to believe that the whole of the Bible is truth.

The truth of the creation account as set out in Genesis 1 confirms and underlines the truth of the rest of God’s Word. God is in fact the Creator, and He chose to tell us openly how He created.  Not over periods of millions of years (which incidently becomes millions and billions more with each new “discovery”), but in six days.  And on the seventh, He rested.

“And God saw everything that He made, and behold, it was very good.” (verse 31)

To accept the truth of God as the Creator God, impacts our faith in all aspects of God’s character as revealed in His Word and our experience.  If we can fully trust Him in one aspect, we can fully trust Him in all.  To me, it brought tremendous relief. Because, how can we as mere mortals judge and discern which passages of Scripture to believe and which not? We can’t! We can only rely on God – that He has given us His complete, infallible Word – the whole Truth!

by Lise Oosthuizen

The Cup

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One of the most moving stories for me is when Jesus was about to be arrested in the garden of Gethsemane. This account takes me apart every single time and it changes the way I worship.

Jesus knew that the time was coming for him to be arrested. He takes himself to a quiet place to pray and asks his disciples to pray and keep watch with him, but they kept falling asleep. I imagine in Jesus’ distress, he had never felt more alone.

It says in the Bible that Jesus was so overwhelmed by sorrow that he was at the point of death. Have you ever been so overwhelmed in distress and sadness that you felt like this?

Matthew 26:39 He prays to his Father three times saying;

“My father. If it is possible, may this cup be taken from me.

Yet

not as I will, but as you will”.

The desperation in Christ’s voice can be heard and felt through these pages.

And God does not respond.

Why?

I imagine that God was in so much pain as He watched His son in the garden that He couldn’t muster up the strength to answer; “No, my son. It has to be this way. I cannot let this cup pass from you”.

And so He turned his face away instead.

God needed Christ to drink the full cup of death so that WE could be reconciled to Him.

Jesus must have felt so incredibly alone that night. The dread he must have experienced as he waited for his betrayer to come for him. The distress he must have felt at having his friends fall asleep while he struggled alone through anxiety. The ache he must have felt when he cried out to his dad three times, “please, if there is any way please, take this cup from me” and got no response. This must have been a terrifying place to be.

We can see the sacrifice that both God and Christ made that night. God said it has to be this way – death. And Christ, having understood that the cup could not be taken away, took it with both hands and drank it. All of it.

He could have changed his mind and had angels surround him immediately to defend him, yet he says; “how then would the Scriptures be fulfilled that say it must happen this way?”

When I read this story, I feel a mix of incredible emotions. I feel so sad that I could cry. And I do. I feel like I can’t actually talk to God. I did this. I am the reason God had to have His son drink this cup.

But I also feel an easy garment of grace put upon my shoulders.

What a huge sacrifice was made for me.

The most touching of all is when Judas came to betray Jesus, Jesus quietly says to him;

“Friend, do what you came for”.

In this moment, Jesus calls his betrayer friend. He still views Judas as a friend and has no bitterness towards him. Judas is still accepted and loved even in this very moment.

This tells me there is peace between God and I.

Christ still sees me as friend.

By Samantha Schreiner

Forgive?

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I think it would be easy to forgive Puss in Boots for just about anything. With his eyes all big and glossy, your heart starts to melt and you feel all sorts of soft emotions. But what about the people who really hurt us in life? The ones who often don’t ask for our forgiveness and don’t even apologise?

If we wait for a Puss in Boots moment with people who have wronged us, we will be waiting for a very long time.

Forgiveness is a choice, not a feeling.

One of my worst qualities is that I am unforgiving. If I am honest, I don’t quite like the concept of forgiveness, yet I know this is something God has told us to do seventy-seven times. I seem to have an acute sense of what is fair and I tend to be quite spiteful at times. These are terrible qualities.

Because of this in me, you would understand then, why the Parable of the Unmerciful Servant drives me absolutely insane. Everything cries out within me; this is not fair!!

Matthew 18:21-35 tells the story of a servant who owed the king ten thousand talents. He was unable to settle his debt and the king wanted to put him in jail, but the man fell to his knees and begged for mercy. The king had compassion on the man and decided to cancel the debt entirely.

But as soon as the man left the king, he found one of his fellow servants who owed him one hundren denarii and demanded payment. The servant begged the man to be patient with him, but he had the servant thrown in jail until he could pay off the full debt.

The man went from having huge debt cancelled in an instant, to punishing a fellow servant for a small debt owed to him. But we get so caught up in what the man did to a fellow servant, overlooking that we are that same man! We do this to each other all the time. We punish each other for things done against us rather than forgive one another freely.

We have a wonderful example to follow. The King cancelled our debt instantly when we asked Him to forgive us. He didn’t weigh up all our wrongs to see if we deserved His forgiveness and He didn’t make us do something for Him first either. Yet we are still unforgiving in nature.

God does not half-heartedly forgive us and neither should we half-heartedly forgive others. We need to be asking God to give us perspective of the sins we have been forgiven for, in light of the sin that has been done against us.

Unforgiveness is something that needs to be dealt with aggressively.

God commanded us to love one another. When we are unforgiving and bitter towards someone, we are not loving that person the way God has called us to.

Joshua Harris points out that the cross is unassailable proof that we can be and are forgiven.

We need to see the cross not only as something done for us, but something that was done BY us.

If we can send Christ to the cross and still be reconciled to God, then we can forgive sin that has been committed against us. “Withholding forgiveness is a form of reverse pride that says ‘MY standards are higher than God’s’. This makes you the saviour”.

Psalm 103:10-12

He does not repay us as our sins deserve or repay us according to our inequities. For as high as the heavens are above the earth, so great is his love for those who fear him; as far as the east is from the west, so far has he removed our trangressions from us.

In closing, I’d like to add that choosing to forgive the people who have wronged us does not mean that God did not weep over the pain we felt. God is not detached and distant from what we feel. He will judge everyone accordingly one day, just as the king dealt with the servant in the parable. But we need to leave this judgement up to God.

Romans 12:19

Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath. For it is written: “it is mine to avenge: I will repay” says the Lord.

One of my best qualities is Jesus.

I will forgive.

By Samantha Schreiner

Loose it!

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When I thought about it, I realised that the word “forgive” has much of the abstract difficulty to explain as the word “love”.  So I decided to investigate.  One of the Oxford dictionaries explains it like this: “to stop feeling angry with somebody who has done something to harm, annoy or upset you.”  Simply controlling your emotions then…

The Afrikaans dictionary says: “nie toereken nie; oor die hoof sien; uitwis (sonde)”.  So here, the culpable person (the one who deserves blame) is exonerated, set free from his/her accountability…

Looking at it this way, it may not always be such an easy thing to do!  When we have been wronged or hurt, or even when someone we love has been wronged or hurt, our natural reaction is to want retribution.

According to the Tyndale Bible Dictionary, forgiveness is a uniquely Christian doctrine.  We forgive because God forgives us.

When we consider God’s example in dealing with the wayward nation of Israel in the Old Testament, His forgiveness meant to let go of the transgressions, to remove it – to wipe it away.  He never thought on it again, He did not remember it, He put it out of sight.

“The past acts and deeds of sin are not denied, but there is no longer any bondage.  Forgiveness brings freedom.”

Jesus’ parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:21-35) puts into perspective how much we have been forgiven, in comparison to the little we need to forgive others. The first servant owed what could be considered MILLIONS of rands to the king, while the second servant owed the first a mere couple of rand…

Some things are arguably easier to forgive than others.  Some things may be more easily considered “a mere couple of rands”.  I say this with great caution, being aware of how many terrible things are being perpetrated against people, but even the worst of offenses should still be considered small in relation to the fact that Jesus had to offer His completely sinless life as restitution to save ours – for ETERNITY!

If an eternal perspective doesn’t make forgiveness easier, consider the following, more immediate, benefits:

  1. It sets YOU free
  2. It sets the offender free (also for God to deal with him/her)
  3. It prevents the enemy from getting a destructive hold on your life
  4. It pleases the Father!

Considering everything else, the last reason would be my greatest motivation.

Yes, our emotions often take longer to catch up with our decision, but even in that we can trust God to help us.  Once we decide to forgive, we must resist the urge to dwell on the incident, the wrong that was committed.  We must make a conscious effort to put it behind us.  We learn, we gain wisdom, but we must continue to love.

Jesus ends this parable with a stern warning – God considers this an important matter!

“So also my heavenly Father will do to every one of you, if you do not forgive your brother from your heart.” (verse 35)

Let’s go back to Matt 18:18.  “Truly, I say to you, whatever you bind on earth shall be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth shall be loosed in heaven.”  Can we read this in relation to forgiveness?  To forgive someone is to release (loose) them of their culpability.  Is that not what love does?  Is that not the way of humility?

In both these instances, Jesus is specifically speaking of our responsibility towards our fellow Christians.  Why? Because in the way we act towards each other, the world should see the love of Jesus being portrayed in our lives.

Our interaction with each other should be a testimony to our being one body, connected to the head, who is Jesus Christ.

Yes, we make mistakes.  Yes, we hurt each other.  None of us are immune to our sinful nature and our human fallibility.  So, let’s also be quick to forgive.

by Lise Oosthuizen

The heart of the matter

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Do you know that Jesus loved the law?

He grew up a Jewish boy and was schooled in all aspects of the law.  He loved the law, because it was given by the perfect lawgiver – His Father.

Why did God give the law? His motivation was love – He wanted to show His children the best way to live.

All of the law, so specifically detailed in the Old Testament, is summed up in two parts: love God with all you are, and love your neighbour.

The thing that made Jesus angry was the way the Pharisees added to the law:

He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition?” (Matt 15:3)

The only negative thing about the law, is man’s interference: adding man-made rules and traditions to God’s perfect law, and enforcing these as a means of salvation.

The Pharisees did not love God or His law (verse 7-9).  They only wanted to control people by means of the law.  We have no place trying to control another person.  Each person will give an account of his/her own life before God.

Let our focus be to please God, not people.  Let us love God with all our hearts, our minds and our strength, and love our neighbour as ourselves.

by Lise Oosthuizen

To follow or not to follow…

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Our congregation has the vision to help people become followers of Jesus. This is not just a nice sentiment, but carries the weight of true conviction for those who turned their life around from out of the kingdom of darkness into God’s kingdom. It implies a change in lifestyle, however gradual.

Jesus said:

If anyone would come after Me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow Me. (Matt 16:24)

We have probably all read this verse many times – and scan over it as easily as we sing the songs proclaiming we will lay down everything for Jesus’ sake… Is it really that easy? Do we truly understand what it means?

I was startled this morning to read an Afrikaans translation where three options for the Greek word “aparnesastho” was given: “jouself verloen/afsweer/ontken”.  These are strong terms!  It can be translated with words like “renounce”, “disavow”, “contradict”. Denying yourself means to NOT do as you please, to NOT make your own wants/needs/dreams/desires the most important thing in life.

I don’t know about you, but to me it seems that the modern Christian mantra has become more and more focused on our own desires and working to make them reality, because that is what God wants for us… I don’t necessarily agree… And maybe I’m missing the point, but allow me to continue this train of thought, however unpopular.

Am I willing to lay down everything, even my own life, to follow Jesus? We live in a country where we still have a great amount of religious freedom.  We are not generally confronted with the choice between being killed for following Jesus, or staying alive by renouncing Him.  Losing our lives in the context of this passage, to us, has a more subtle meaning.

We live in a world inundated by media that urges us to believe we need very many things to be happy and fulfilled.  A nice house, nice care, nice clothes, the best in technology, phones, computers, entertainment media… Maybe you are strong enough to say, alright, I can give that up, and live with only what I need to survive…

But what if it comes to having a husband/wife, a family, a wonderful fulfilling career, the best education for myself or my children…  What if the cross we take up means a life devoid of those things that we feel makes us happy?  What if taking up my cross means allowing God to take me in a whole different direction than where I was wanting to go?

I am not saying we should all dive into an ascetic lifestyle! But what if all of that is taken away from you?  Will you still follow Jesus with your whole heart?  Will you still trust that the Father is working it all out for your benefit?

So, really, I’m inviting you to think it through with me, today.  I’ve had to think it through for myself many times.  And its hard to imagine what life would be like without all the stuff and people we love, without the hope of realising our dreams and desires, but maybe it is a good way to establish where your heart really is.

Our life on this earth is not a game played to gain as much as we can from it. It is an opportunity to live a life that acknowledges God’s sovereign rule, a life that pleases HIM, that gives His Word, His instruction, His direction first place.

It helps us correct our perspective when we set our minds on eternity.  I would offer up everything here, however painful I’m sure it must be, to know that my eternal reward is to sit at the feet of my Lord, and behold His beautiful face forever:

For the Son of Man is going to come with his angels in the glory of his Father and then He will repay each person according to what he has done. (verse 27)

by Lise Oosthuizen

Have you seen it?

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The magnitude of our response reveals the extent of our comprehension.

Jesus tells two parables in Matthew 13:44-46, that both have something of great worth which is hidden. The treasure was hidden in the field, the pearl is hidden within an oyster’s shell in the ocean.

In both parables the object of great worth is found, is discovered, is uncovered and it’s true revealed value then dictates what happens next…

The value of the discovery of the treasure/pearl is so great that it is worth selling everything in both instances!  More than this it is worthy of great joy even in the sale of everything in the case of the treasure in the field.

So, the two individuals who sell everything when they discover the item of great value are not being sacrificial they are being prudent and wise because they have truly comprehended the value of the item in question.

Imagine you somehow knew with absolute certainty that if you bought a certain numbered ticket in a very very prestigious competition in which the tickets cost R500 000 each but the prize was 5 Billion rands, you would not be unwise to sell your house to afford the ticket, you’d be unwise to not act on the certain information you had at your disposal.

Similarly, the magnitude of our response reveals the true extent of our comprehension regarding God and His kingdom.

Those who have not seen the infinite value of following Jesus wholeheartedly will not lay down all other things, will not prioritise the church and God’s mission, will not relinquish their own agendas in this present and temporary life so as to lay hold of God’s greater and eternal plan for their lives!

The degree to which we wholeheartedly unreservedly give our lives for the cause of Christ through His church reveals the degree to which we have truly seen or not seen the infinite value and treasure of Jesus and living for His kingdom and His will in and through our lives.

May I, may we, keep seeing with greater and greater clarity the inexpressible value of our relationship with Jesus Christ and may we therefore live lives that are worthy of what we have seen! Amen.

By Gareth Bowley

A question of faith

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Are we also a generation like the one Jesus encountered while ministering here on earth? In Matthew 11:16-17, the Master Storyteller paints one of the most interesting pictures to me, of children sitting in the market place, calling to their playmates:

“We played the flute for you, and you did not dance;

We sang a dirge, and you did not mourn.”

This generation sought every reason to disparage the signs of the coming Messiah.  They were comfortable in their current paradigm.  There was no space for a huge change as would be implied by the evidence of Jesus’ ministry.

Throughout Jesus’ ministry He was confronted by those who chose not to believe Him or in Him, but rather criticize what He was doing.  They needed to find a different explanation for the miracles He performed, for the lives He changed. And what was easier and more controversial than blaming His power on the work of the devil?

Today there are still many people who chase after miracles, as if that would bring them faith.  But I do not believe that miracles can create or sustain faith.  A miracle may spark in a searching heart, the reality of a living God, but true faith is only sustained by a relationship with the Faith-giver.

I have witnessed the craze of “miracle rushes” (like “gold rushes”), but the outcome was usually sensation and controversy – often with the character of the miracle working preacher exposed as bearing fruit contrary to the gospel.  And even in this, Jesus gives us a tool to discern when His Spirit, or the enemy, is at work – “Yet, wisdom is justified by her deeds.” (verse 19). A tree can be evaluated by the fruit that it bears – and so each ministry stands or falls by the fruit of its minister/s, no matter how many or spectacular the miracles/”miracles”.

Where does faith come from then?  Can we work up faith within ourselves like they proclaim in many movies: “if you only believe”…?

Faith originates with God.  He gives everyone a measure of faith.

So why do some people not believe the gospel message?  It comes back to God’s original design – that He gave man a free will, an ability to choose for himself.  Some choose to use their faith for the purpose it was given – to believe in God.  Some choose to deny this gift of faith and reject God, or use their faith to believe in something contrary to God (it is obvious, for example, that due to lack of evidence, evolution is a faith based competitor to Christianity).

It boils down to the choice we make.

By the grace of God, I chose to believe the gospel message of salvation through the completed work of Jesus on the cross.  I choose to believe in the Bible as the infallible Word of God.  And in my walk with God, there were times when I was confronted with arguments against this choice, and I had to examine my faith, and the reasons for it.  And still, every time, I choose to believe in the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

God is faithful in every way.  And when you choose to enter into a relationship with Him, He confirms your faith and allows it to grow as you come to know more and more of His awesome person.

Yes, He performs miracles! Yes, the way He shows His living involvement in our daily lives is an amazing encouragement that helps our faith to grow.

Let us seek His miracle-performing power for the reason of His glory, not as a crutch for our faith.

by Lise Oosthuizen

More holy than Jesus!

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Surely not.  That’s not possible.  And yet Jesus unashamedly motivated His hearers, motivates us to act in this life, with the prospect of future gain, future reward into eternity when He said;

“Don’t store up treasures here on earth, where moths eat them and rust destroys them, and where thieves break in and steal. 20 Store your treasures in heaven, where moths and rust cannot destroy, and thieves do not break in and steal. 21 Wherever your treasure is, there the desires of your heart will also be.” (Matthew 6:19-21 in NLT)

Jesus doesn’t tell people what we might think He’d say.  Jesus doesn’t discourage storing up for oneself at all.  What Jesus does do is changes the address!  Jesus changes the destination of our saving up, from this life to the next.  Jesus is motivating us by the prospect of future gain, future reward for us as a result of how we chose to live in this life.

“Scripture simply does not teach what most of us seem to assume – that heaven will transform each of us into equal beings with equal possessions and equal responsibilities and equal capacities.  It does not say that our previous lives will be of no eternal significance.  It says exactly the opposite.” Randy Alcorn 

But that’s not a “pure” motivation I hear you say; ‘because then I am only doing this thing because of what I will gain in the end!’  Admittedly, there are many motivations for godliness for living sacrificially serving others with all that God entrusts to us.  The greatest of which is surely the spontaneous response of love we have towards God that flows out of a heart that has seen the wonder, depth and majesty of God’s incredible love, grace and mercy.

But let’s not throw out what Jesus proposes as a motivation for how we should live in this life.  Let’s not try to be more holy than Jesus!  Or than Paul, or Moses for that matter.

Jesus is recorded mentioning rewards 15 times in the gospel’s as a motivation for living life now on this earth! (Matthew 5:12; 5:46; 6:1; 6:2; 6:4; 6:5; 6:6; 6:16; 6:18; 10:41; 10:42; 16:27; Mark 9:41; Luke 6:23; 6:35)

And Moses’ clearly was clearly motivated by reward:

“By faith Moses, when he had grown up, refused to be known as the son of Pharaoh’s daughter. 25 He chose to be mistreated along with the people of God rather than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a short time. 26 He regarded disgrace for the sake of Christ as of greater value than the treasures of Egypt, because he was looking ahead to his reward.” (Hebrews 11:24-26) 

Paul’s was clearly motivated by the prospect of a reward in heaven…

“Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. 25 Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last; but we do it to get a crown that will last forever. 26 Therefore I do not run like a man running aimlessly; I do not fight like a man beating the air. 27 No, I beat my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.” (1 Corinthians 9:24-27) 

If Jesus encouraged you to and godly men like Moses and Paul were motivated by rewards do you not think that you should be too?

Jesus’ words in Matthew 6:19-21 mean nothing if they are not meant to motivate us by causing us to consider the eternal reality of life after death and causing us to consider how this life impacts that life forever.  Jesus was urging His hearers to consider how their use of their money, time, relationships, possessions so as to have an eternal impact by opening their eyes to the possibility of rewards in heaven.

I live my life as a love response to God, who loved me first, I live my life to love and serve God’s people knowing that as I do God feels my love for Him (Hebrews 6:10), but I also live my life here on earth to hear the words “Well done” from my Father at the end of this age for the way I lived, for the choices I made and according to Scripture what awaits me after those two words are eternal rewards in heaven with Him.

What a motivation for godliness, for serving without grumbling, for living my life and your life for Him who died for us and who is coming back for us!

By Gareth Bowley

When suffering is not wrong…

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Concept of a stressed businessman under pressure

All too frequently I assume that if there is suffering or a trial of some sort in my life or the lives of those I love or in the lives of those I am responsible for as a church leader – I assume that something is wrong.

Are you ever like this too?

When we have to make a decision and then after that decision things don’t go as smoothly as we would like them to, we can find ourselves re-considering whether we made the right decision after-all.

We feel this because we think that if we made the right decision then why is this circumstance feeling so hard, why did I get sick, why did that accident happen, why, why….?

When God called Nadine and I to come and serve Him by serving Oasis Church in Amanzimtoti I needed to sell my stake in a business so that we could buy a house to live in.  We knew God had spoken, what had been a 15yr journey of working out my sense of call had become clear as we were called by Oasis Church and sent by Jubilee Community Church in 2003…

And then it happened!  I had sold my shares in a business to someone so as to pay for the house.  The agreement was signed and sealed and on that basis we bought our home…

However, then the trial started as the person I’d sold the stake in the business to began to delay proceedings and payment.  

Eventually after delaying and delaying he eventually reneged on the deal entirely and we had a house that we had moved into but didn’t have the money to pay for it and couldn’t afford to have a bond big enough to pay for it!
Why? Why Lord?  Did we make a mistake? We thought we had heard the Spirit’s leading in coming, in finding the house, in finding a buyer for my stake in the business….why this, and why now?

Today in my reading of Matthew 4:1 I was struck by these words;

“Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil.”

You don’t see that on Jesus t-shirts and bumper stickers and Pinterest posters!

We don’t like the idea that suffering can come from the hand of our loving Father through the agency of evil.  But read it again, Jesus was lead by the Holy Spirit into a place of temptation by the devil.

It reminds me of Jospeh’s declaration to his brothers at the end of his tumultuous and tragic journey from his dad’s house to the palace in Egypt- “You intended to harm me, but God intended it all for good.” (Genesis 50:20a in NLT)

Suffering and trials are never pleasant but they can produce incredible fruit that doesn’t grow under any other circumstances, fruit/character that our loving Heavenly Father wants for us and wants in our lives (Hebrews 12:7-11)

I remember that after struggling with our crisis for a number of months worrying and at times waving my fists at my Father, I had a moment where I stopped fighting the circumstance which actually I knew wasn’t ultimately the making of this man but actually under the sweet sovereignty of my loving Father and I came to appreciate that my Father had brought me to this place for His purposes in my life, to produce the type of fruit that only grows in contexts like this…

Remarkably, not long after that ‘aha moment’ another buyer emerged and the deal was cancelled with the first guy and another was concluded and the money was paid and we could move on.

Jesus was lead by the Spirit into a trial for something within the purposes of Father God, could it be possible that a trial you are in might be similar? Hebrews 12:11 makes it clear that the fruit that could come from enduring a trial only comes to those who have been ‘trained by it’.

Will you be trained by it if all you ever want is for the trial to stop, if all you could ever consider is that this hard thing is the work of the devil (which it may well be but still under the loving control of the sovereignty of Your Heavenly Father)?

We are suffering averse, I know I am!  But a truly biblical perspective can help us in our suffering and can alert us to possibilities that could transform the impact on us from something that is merely negative to something that God uses for incredible good.

By Gareth Bowley

The Problem with Law and Bacon

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Growing up and finding my footing with God, I often struggled with how to not live under law. I struggled merging the Old Testament rules with the New Testament and frequently found myself in debates around this.

Paul says in Galatians 5:3-4 “again I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law. You who are trying to be justified by law have been alienated from Christ; you have fallen away from grace” (my emphasis).

Two things stand out here for me; Grace is one. Law is the other.

I feel the message in this verse is “it’s all or nothing”.

However, choosing sides has been made easy for us; we were never actually meant to live according to law! Romans 3:20 “therefore no one will be declared righteous in his sight by observing the law; rather, through the law we become conscious of sin”.

My thoughts and debates around law often took the following shape:

“Tattoos are wrong because it says in Leviticus 19:28 ‘do not cut your bodies for the dead, or put tattoo marks on yourself””. Now, this isn’t an argument about tattoos, rather, it’s an argument that I have found us picking and choosing what parts of the Bible we want to live by. If we are going to go with the law about tattoos being wrong, then we need to go with all the others too (just like Paul says); and some of them are:

  • you can’t plant your fields with two different seeds
  • you can’t wear clothing woven of two different materials
  • you can’t cut your hair or shave your beard
  • you can’t sit near a woman who is menstruating

but worst of all, no bacon for you.

Unfortunately, we cannot pick which parts of the Bible we want to live by and which we don’t. But praise God that He sent Jesus to die, and in so doing, did away with law which means we can now freely eat bacon!!

We no longer need to strive to ensure we’re living up to a list of rules to satisfy God. He is satisfied with us because he is satisfied with Christ (Timothy Lane). If anything, the law was set up to show us just how sinful and flawed we are and how we would never actually succeed in obeying all the rules. Obedience to the law in its entirety was destined to fail.

However, with the law being done away with, this still does not mean we can live however we want. There is still a standard expected from us which Paul goes on to describe; “…live by the Spirit, and you will not gratify the desires of the sinful nature…if you are led by the Spirit, you are not under law”.

What we are expected to put aside are things like sexual immorality, idolarty, hatred, jealousy and selfish ambition.

Again, we must remember that this is not a new law-list to abide by. There is grace to make mistakes but our love for God drives us to not make the same mistakes over and over again. It is a daily renewing of the heart and mind where the Holy Spirit shapes and forms us, making us more and more like Him every day.

One of my favourite verses is 1 Corinthians 10:23; “Everything is permissible – but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible – but not everything is constructive”.

I love that I serve a God who allows me the freedom to make my own choices on a day to day basis, along with His Spirit as I figure out how I should or shouldn’t be living. There is no longer a list of rules to obey – I have the freedom to do what I want. But the precious thing is that I hold in my heart the Spirit – my helper, guiding me as I learn to understand what God wants for me; which choices are beneficial and constructive to me living a pure and righteous life.

Forget about law and rules. Shake it off you. Leave it behind you. Live in the Spirit and learn His voice. Walk closely with Him and you will not wander where He doesn’t want you.

By Samantha Schreiner