Christian life

Life is hard!

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As I grow older I realise more and more that nothing on this earth has true security.  Time is constantly changing, money easily loses value, property prices are unpredictable and if the political situation in a country is perceived to be unstable, all the securities in terms of investment goes out the window.

Families often drift apart as siblings grow older – whether emotionally or, in the case of many South Africans, many people emigrate and then families are literally torn apart.  Friends can be a great source of comfort and encouragement, but even this can be lost through misunderstanding, conflict or a change in one or the other’s circumstances.

In this life we are constantly challenged to find a firm foundation, an immovable rock on which to stand. A place of security and rest.

How easily we become distracted from putting all of our hope and trust in God.  This one thought is like a repeated chorus in Psalm 62:

“For God alone, O my soul, wait in silence, for my hope is from Him.  He only is my rock and my salvation, my fortress, I shall not be shaken.”

David reminds himself and us, that there is only One who can fulfil that role.  There is only One who can give us hope, who can be a fortress of true safety in the midst of uncertainty, who can be our Refuge when the storms of life are raging all around us. God alone!

“Trust in Him at all times, O people; pour out your heart before Him; God is a refuge for us.”

by Lise Oosthuizen

Laying down the law

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It is probably inevitable that the idea of propriety is so strongly ingrained in the psyche of the Afrikaner.  We traditionally grow up in an environment where rules and obedience are made very important.

So I was wondering: do we really experience, or even acknowledge, true freedom in our walk with God? Of course, in his discourse in Galatians, Paul is referring to the Old Testament Law, but it seems that in today’s Christian life, any expectation can become a law, whether openly or subtly enforced.

The power of expectation and propriety can dishearten a Christ-follower who wants to please God: how to talk, how to behave, what to do and what not to do, etc.  Sometimes so many structures are put in place in the church community that it may hinder people from the joyful experience of freedom in serving and following God, in response to His overwhelming love.

Of course order is important, and without structure very little is accomplished.  But what is the motivation behind these rules or the structure – to enable, or to control? In the church family, maybe we should stop laying down the law, and start letting go of the law.

The law has its place, it is not void of meaning. It confirms to us that we are sinful, that we cannot save ourselves, and that we desperately need a Saviour (Gal 3:10-11).  “So then, the law was our guardian until Christ came, in order that we might be justified by faith” (Gal 3:24).

Each believer is at their own place of spiritual growth, becoming more and more like Jesus.  We are all on the same road, following God, and should love and encourage one another, not restrict and control each other. “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself” (Gal 5:14).

I am learning about this freedom.  “Kancane kancane” (little by little) I am starting to understand my own freedom in Christ bought with His precious blood, and it becomes easier to practice grace and love towards others.

Gal 5:1 “For freedom Christ has set us free; stand firm therefore, and do not submit again to a yoke of slavery”.

by Lise Oosthuizen

The power of promises…

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What are God’s ‘precious and very great promises’ Peter refers to in 2 Peter 1:1-4? After all they seem to contain incredible life transforming power as Peter says that “through them you might become partakers of the divine nature”!  So, what are the promises that Peter might have had in mind?

Maybe Peter was thinking of the promised outpouring of the Holy Spirit on all flesh, and of Jesus as the promised Messiah that he referenced in his sermon at Pentecost… (Acts 2)

That seems likely as it would also fit the textual context here in 2 Peter 1 as he has just said that God’s ‘divine power’, has given us ‘everything we need for life and godliness’ (NIV). God’s power is not some impersonal force in Scripture, rather Peter is in all likelihood referring to the person of the Holy Spirit whom John also describes as our “Helper” (See John 14-16 in ESV)!

So, with the precious and very great promise of new life through faith in Christ Jesus as Messiah, and with the precious and very great promise of divine enabling power by the Spirit who leads us not into sin but into Christliekness (Galatians 5:16-24) as we keep in step with Him and as we are enabled by His power in us…

…we as people CAN share in God’s excellency, in God’s divine nature and character – it’s possible when we are living out our new life in Christ (Galatians 2:20) enabled by and Helped by the Holy Spirit.

So let’s remember these precious and very great promises of new life in Christ and the empowering and guiding the Holy Spirit our Helper, let’s draw on His help and in so doing become more and more like our Father who is in heaven.

By Gareth Bowley

Activated

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When Christ followers activate the unique combination of gifts, passion, talent and perspective that God has blessed them with to serve others something remarkable happens… Peter says in 1 Peter 4:10-11

 “As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies—in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever. Amen.”

It’s worth noting that the clear teaching of Scripture is that EVERYONE has received a gift, an ability that when empowered by the Spirit and activated to serve God’s kingdom purposes can be considered a spiritual gift.  More than that Scripture teaches here that we are not owners of these unique God-given abilities but that we are in fact ‘stewards’, we are those who have been entrusted something that belongs to someone else – to God.  These abilities are God’s, not ours, they’re entrusted to us and we need to steward them well for God’s purposes. It’s also worth noting that, Scripture never gives an exhaustive list of such gifts, and the lists that are given are not meant to limit what abilities given by God and empowered by the Holy Spirit can be considered ‘spiritual gifts’.   The feel of this passage is that there is a whole host of varied gifts which all put on display the remarkable the glorious grace of God for all to see and experience as people use their gifts to be a blessing to others. So every child of God has been given unique abilities by God, for God’s purposes and the exhortation here is that each one is to ‘use it’ to serve others. For example, the person with the gift of encouragement who just thinks encouraging thoughts but never actually does something with those things is gifted but is not fulfilling the purpose for which that gift was given and so is short circuiting God’s intended purposes for them, for others and for Himself. When we activate the gifts God’s entrusted to us three amazing things happen: 1) Other people get blessed  Because the gifts/spirit-empowered abilities God’s entrusted to us are from God and enabled by the Spirit, when we use them other people get blessed by God.  They encounter God’s love, God’s grace, God’s help, perspective, generosity, wisdom… I can not think of a time when I have seen a spiritual gift activated under the enabling influence of the Holy Spirit (who Galatians 5:16-25 says doesn’t lead us to sin but to incredible godly fruit) which did not thoroughly bless the other person. I know when someone encourages me, is generous towards me, hospital, caring, brings a prophetic word etc – I always feel built up, I feel like Inhave be blessed by God and them, when that person is being motivated by the enabling work of the Spirit.   These gifts we have been entrusted with are ‘to serve one another’. 2) We (the one who activated their gift) get encouraged Something wonderful happens inside us when we know we have been used by God, when we have obeyed the Spirit’s promptings!  It is exhilarating to be used by God, tank-filling to see someone blessed by God with you as the instrument in His hands…  My experience is that when I step out, when I am a good steward of the the gifts God gave me, when I use them to bless others, I in turn feel like I get most-blessed. 3) God gets glorified Peter’s direct teaching from this passage is that when we are good stewards of the good and varied gifts of God has entrusted to us, God’s grace gets experienced, God’s incredible nature gets put on display to other people and God gets the glory! Do we need any other motivation to step out and use the God-given gifts God our Father has entrusted to us?  Who doesn’t want these three results in their lives and in the lives of others?  These three things ought to be enough motivation to overcome laziness, fear of people or anything else that might hinder us from using the gifts God has entrusted to us.

Jesus, You said what..?

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As you read the bible, there are many passages that are going to be perplexing or difficult to understand, and Luke 16:1-16 is one of those. So, how do you approach such a difficult passage, or approach any passage so as to allow your Father to speak to you from it?

Firstly, we need to begin by valuing all of Scripture, believing that ‘all of Scripture is breathed out by God and so is useful for teaching, correcting & training us in what following Him looks like.’ (My paraphrase of 2 Timothy 3:16-17).  I have learnt to not be put off by perplexing passages but rather drawn in by them.  So value all of Scripture, ask God to speak to you from it, don’t be quick to move on to more comfortable, less challenging or more easily understood passages.

Secondly, get into the habit of asking questions of the text.  Bombarding the text with questions is a great way of extracting the original meaning and so being able to understand what it means for you today.  Who said it? Why? To who was I said? Where was it said? What did they say? What does it mean for me? What should I do now?….. Apart from the who,why,what, how, to whom & what now type of questions I have learnt to ask the following questions as well:

What questions/mystery does this text address, ask or answer?

What tension does this text create or resolve?

What issues in life does this text address?

What does this text say about God, myself or others?

I urge you to not just read what others have gleaned from Scripture but to develop a hunger to hear God speak to you from all of Scripture, even from the challenging, difficult or perplexing passages. Your Father wants to speak with you, wants to guide, encourage, correct & inspire you as you seek to follow Him and His ways and mission for you life.

Lord?

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Who is following who?  Who serves who?  Our consumer culture is impacting our discipleship, our followership of Jesus…

You see, consumer’s are those who acquire goods and services for the sake of fulfilling their own needs, desires and objectives.  Like you I consume everyday, making choices based on a grid of that which suits my needs or my families needs best…

I just experienced this replacing a kitchen appliance for our family.  As the consumer I mulled over what I was willing to give in exchange for what benefit we will receive from the exchange.  We bought one item, but then stood on our consumer rights taking it back the next day as we changed our minds again..!

Consumer’s have rights, they get to choose, they get to be served, get to be right in some stores even, they get to take back what doesn’t suit their needs.
Sadly however, these same attitudes these lines of thinking easily slip into our faith, into our followership of Jesus and into our view of His church and what it is there for!

And yet Jesus said;

“Why do you call me ‘Lord, Lord,’ and not do what I tell you? ” (Luke 6:46)

One of my spiritual father’s, Simon Pettit, used to say; “you can’t say ‘no, Lord'”!  Jesus is saying the same here.  It is incompatible to call Jesus Lord (which means master) and yet disregard His commands, desires and instructions.

‘But isn’t our following Jesus all about love?  What’s all this about commands and obedience then?’ – some might be thinking.  And yet, we know that Jesus defined loving Him as obeying Him (John 14:15).

There are two things that matter in this regard; firstly it matters to at we do obey our Lord and secondly, it matter why we obey Him.  Tim Keller contrasts the Gospel and religion when he says;

‘I obey therefore I am accepted by God’ equals religion but ‘I am accepted by God because of Jesus, therefore I obey’ equals the Gospel.

When it comes to our faith, we are not consumers – we are beloved servants, sons and daughters of the most High God accepted by His glorious grace because of the finished work of the Son, Jesus on the cross for us.

But, that free grace doesn’t turn us into consumers but rather into grateful obedient sons and daughters who respond to this lavish love and grace by living to please Him who died for us, living out lives of obedience to Him because of the love in our hearts for Him who loved us first.

We are on shaky ground if we have slipped into thinking along the consumerist lines of; “what can the church do for me” or “is this church meeting MY needs/desires.

This is Jesus’ church, it’s His bride whom He is preparing and through whom He will fulfill His plans and purposes and in whom He will glory in that Great Day to come and in whom He will be glorified!

If Luke were recording the eyewitness account of this moment with Jesus today, he might have heard,

“Why do you call me Lord, Lord and yet expect to be served rather than serve me, serve my purposes in and through the church that bear’s my name?”

Or maybe; “Why do you call me Lord, Lord and yet you live in perpetual sexual sin and immorality, as if I didn’t care?”

In this age of consumers, may we be those who live out lives of radical obedience and radical servanthood inspired by verses like 2 Corinthians 5:15;

“He (Jesus) died for all, that those who live might no longer live for themselves but for him who for their sake died and was raised.”

Never satisfied…

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In the wisdom of Proverbs, there are two things that are never satisfied, two things that have an insatiable desire.

Sheol and Abaddon are never satisfied, and never satisfied are the eyes of man. (Proverbs 27:20)

I know Scripture is true, I believe in it’s infallibility 100% without need for proof.  And yet it is nice when you have something happen which confirms what Scripture says to be true.

I had this happen to me just the other night watching Apple’s WWDC’15 with my son Luke.  Luke and I were is amazement, drooling at all the ‘magical’ ‘revolutionary’ new software and hardware lined up by this company…  

Things we will be convinced we ‘need’ because what we have is simply not good enough any more.  Luke and I felt the force strongly that night!  


‘…never satisfied are the eyes of man’ came to mind and Luke and I got to talk about it.

Then just yesterday a similar thing happened.  On a messaging group of church leaders I am part of, this message appeared, followed just minutes later with the ‘apparently a scam’ message…

What happened next was funny and proved Proverbs 27:20 to be true once again and caused much laughter and some self reflection for a bunch of guys that might have erroneously thought they were above such things

       Four of the guys admitted to having followed the link and started entering to win their new device, the others were silent but I’d place a wager on a good few of them having also followed suit in the folly.

Why do silly things like this scam have any power of grabbing our attention?  – ‘…never satisfied are the eyes of man’

If you consider the Ten Commandments all of them are possible until you get to commandment no.10 the very commandment Luke and I were wrestling with and that which would have tripped up these ‘men of God’ yesterday.

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.” (Exodus 20:17)

When you put Exodus 20:17 together with Proverbs 27:20 you can be sure that you and I are doomed to fail!  We can’t keep the Law. No one lives a sinless life devoid of any covetous desire – it’s just not possible for us.

But that’s why Jesus came!  To live the sinless life you and I could not live, so that He could die in our place as the substitute sacrifice for our sin and rise again for our new and eternal life forever with Him.

The good news is that the problem as CS Lewis famously said; is not that our desires are too strong, it’s not that we should just try not covet, want or desire things – no the problem is that we are too easily satisfied with trivial things when we were made to be satisfied fully in God, in our relationship with Him and in worshipping His glory alone!

Nothing can, nothing will ever satisfy us except God Himself.

Children matter, as do lost people…

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Text: Matthew 18:10-14

Historical Context

This parable is placed just after Peter’s confession that Jesus is the Christ, the Messiah and then also just after the transfiguration of Jesus in the presence of Peter, James and John.

Literary Context

Jesus is speaking to the disciples (18:1), they have just asked Him the question; “Who is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?”  Jesus’ reply starts with an action; he invites a child to come and stand with Him…

Then Jesus answers their question by telling them they need to become like this child to enter the kingdom – you have to humble yourself.  Jesus also gives real value to this child saying that to receive a child is to receive Jesus and to lead a child to sin is grave danger before God…

Jesus then warns them of the seriousness of sin and the fearful judgement to come on sin, and so urges these disciples to take drastic action regarding dealing with sin.

Then we have Jesus parable of the lost sheep which comes back to the value in God’s eyes of each person, in each child even.

The compatibility principle (compare to other Scripture)

This parable is not the same as the one found in Luke 15 with a similar theme, the context is different.  This parable was told to the disciples, that one was directed at the Pharisees in the presence of tax collectors and sinners who were drawing near to Jesus.

Content (who, why, what, how, when, for what….?)

What questions does it address, ask or answer?

This parable speaks to the value of children

Jesus warns the disciples to not despise, to not think little of these children (vs10).  God does not discriminate on age, all people have equal value before God.  They had asked who’s the greatest and Jesus’ response is for the disciples to see the value (as God does) of these children that are so precious to Him.

Application: Lord please help me to “see” the children you have placed around me and to value them as you do!  Not just my own, but to value all children.

This parable answers the question; ‘Is there a heaven?’

Heaven is just spoken of as an accepted fact, Matthew as a gospel was evangelistic and aimed at fellow Jews, so heaven is not even argued for but assumed.  Jesus however does challenge any false idea that God was somehow like the royalty of the day who would have had little time for children and challenge any idea that God was somehow disinterested in sections of the population (those marginalised people like the sick, the outcast, the sinner, the women and children, the gentile, the slave…).

God is mindful of the lowly, of children who are ever before Him in that the angels ministering to them (Hebrews 1:14) are always before God.  Our God is accessible always to all who approach through His appointed mediator – Jesus (1 Timothy 2:5)

Angels!

In his commentary Michael Green mentions the fact that angelology was highly developed in that day with common belief that nations, churches, individuals had angels representing them before God.  At this point in his gospel Matthew does not teach against this belief but uses it to make a point about God – that he is attentive to the lives of children continuously.

From the perspective of the whole of Scripture there are two errors that can be made regarding our understanding of angels; to disregard them entirely or to give them too much attention.  Jesus is our one mediator and yet Scripture is clear that angels are ministering spirits serving those who are the elect.

Application:  Know that in addition to the continuous presence of the Holy Spirit (Hebrews 13:5) God has sent angels to minister to you if you have believed in Jesus.  Ask God to reveal to you (when you face danger or trial) His armies of angels that are with you (2 Kings 6:15-18) as Elisha prayed Ghazi would see.

This parable tells us something about God’s nature

God’s nature is to seek out the stray, to pursue the one who is lost.  God takes responsibility for keeping us in close proximity with Him and with the rest of the flock!

Application: How often do we not preach from the other perspective ignoring this clear teaching by Jesus that God personally is committed to finding us when we go astray.  What good news, what assurance flows from this knowledge that our lives are ever before God and if we stray He Himself goes out in search of us to bring us back into proximity with Him and the rest of the flock.

This parable tells us something of Jesus’ relationship with God

Jesus describes His relationship with God when He says; “my Father who is in heaven.”  The literary context informs us that this statement is after Peter’s revelation that Jesus is the Christ, the promised Messiah and after Peter, James and John’s experience at the transfiguration of Jesus.

Jesus – who is God, Messiah is also a son.  God the son has a relationship with God the Father who is in heaven.  This therefore is a partial trinitarian passage referring to two of the members of the Godhead and describing the relationship as a Father/Son relationship.

Jesus’ heart was the same as the heart of the Father expressed here in this parable when He said elsewhere to Zacchaeus; “For the Son of Man came to seek and save the lost” (Luke 19:10).  Just as the Father’s heart was for the lost, the stray – so too was this Jesus’ heart.

Application: Is my heart concerned about any who know God who have gone astray?  Is my heart concerned about children or anyone who have not come to faith in Jesus for their salvation?  Does it concern me like it concerns God?

This parable tells us something of what God’s will is that no children perish 

God’s will is that none (we are all children so it applies to children and beyond) should perish in hell (in hell is understood from the context of Matthew 18:9).  So God has made a way through faith in Jesus’s finished work and His offer of forgiveness for our sins and His perfect righteousness for those who are not perfect but decidedly flawed!

I have a, we have a responsibility to be like our heavenly Father and Jesus who’s passion was that all accept the offer of salvation He gives.