Christian life

The Warning of Moses’ life (Deuteronomy 32:44-52)

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Today’s reading is a solemn warning to us. How we live really does matter even for the one who is a follower of God. Moses is one of the hero’s of faith, he is in the list of great’s in Hebrews 11:23-29 and yet he still never entered into all that God had planned for him. He was saved out of Egypt, free from slavery, was God’s child, and yet still died outside the Promised Land as God swore he would because of his unbelief at Meribah!

Before you put God ‘on trial’ for whether that was fair or not, choose rather to learn from Moses’ mistake for if we do we can be warned, but if we just balk at God’s treatment of Moses we won’t be in a position to receive the warning we are meant to.

How we live does really matter, there are consequences to our faith and our following, and to our unbelief and going our own ways. Our God is gracious and slow to anger and abounding in love, we are in a new covenant era and yet God has not changed, nor can He.

May we desire to serve God all the days of our lives, may you and I be those who trust God and follow God obediently so as to enter into all the fullness that God has for us.  His intention, His plan is to bless us, we just need to follow, trust and obey Him.

Understanding Proverbs

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These guidelines below are based on chapter 12 from the book; “How to Read the Bible for all its worth” by Gordon Fee & Douglas Stuart.

  1. The Proverbs are often short pithy memorable statements of truth that do not state/teach everything there is to know about an issue but point towards the fuller truth regarding that thing. An example in English is the saying; “Look before you leap”.  That is easier to remember than “Before you commit yourself to a course of action you should always consider all the circumstances, consequences and options.  The second statement says it much more completely, the first points to the general idea/truth/teaching.
  2. Proverbs are not specific legal guarantees from God of cause and effect so avoid extreme literalistic interpretations but look for the meaning that applies in your life situation.  For example Proverbs 15:25 says; “The Lord tears down the house of the proud but maintains the widow’s boundaries”.  We would have no neighbourhoods left if this was a cause and effect specific statement, no the idea is that God is opposed to pride and the protector of the vulnerable. So, don’t be proud!
  3. Proverbs must be read as a collection that balance each other and in the context of the whole bible.
  4. Some Proverbs need to be “translated” to be appreciated.  Many of the proverbs express their truths according to practices of everyday life that no longer exist.  Therefore, unless you think of these proverbs in terms of their modern day equivalents they may seem irrelevant to your life.
  5. Proverbs are often figurative and or even exaggerated to make their point, they are also intensely practical statements that are not meant to be technically or theologically precise or complete.
  6. Used right, Proverbs will provide practical life-advise for how to live in such a way that pleases God and results in a life that is blessed.

By Gareth Bowley

Two tests

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There are two types of tests in life. We will all face them and yet they don’t come with any prior warning or instructions.

They are the test of adversity and the test of prosperity. And both have an inherent  default trajectory in terms our relationship with God.

The test of adversity’s trajectory is towards faith in God. Facing adversity, facing circumstances that are clearly beyond our resources our abilities or our understanding tends to lead us towards calling out to God for help, for wisdom and or for breakthrough. And so we see the promise of Romans 8:28 at work in the midst of adversity as we draw nearer to God and as we discover things about God we would never have learnt without these tests. We might not want trials but we do often end up treasuring what is formed in us through them.

The test of prosperity on the other hand has a default trajectory that is away from God.  Having the provision we need, having received the things we have prayed for ought to draw us deeper into relationship, faith and gratitude to God (who is the source of those blessings) but from my experience both personally and as a church leader the opposite is in fact often sadly the case.

I wish it were not so but I can confess that my prayer life has often felt more vital and central to my walk with Christ when I am going through adversity.

Just this week I was looking at a group of men from Oasis who meet every week to pray and I started thinking of the guys who were not in the room, guys who had in the past been in the room praying.  The pattern was clear, during adversity each one of these men were there regularly but one after another had drifted away from these times of prayer just as God answered prayers for marriages, kids, finances, for businesses, for jobs, for justice in the courtroom…

God knows these two tests and their default trajectories and so he speaks to His people in Deuteronomy 6:10-12 pleading with them warning them not to forget Him in the moment He fulfills the promises He made to them.  He warns them of the test of prosperity, the moment after prayers are answered…

“And when the Lord your God brings you into the land that he swore to your fathers, to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, to give you—with great and good cities that you did not build, 11 and houses full of all good things that you did not fill, and cisterns that you did not dig, and vineyards and olive trees that you did not plant—and when you eat and are full, 12 then take care lest you forget the Lord, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery.”

God speaks again through Moses in Deuteronomy 8:11-15 appealing to them.

Take care lest you forget the Lord your God by not keeping his commandments and his rules and his statutes, which I command you today, 12 lest, when you have eaten and are full and have built good houses and live in them, 13 and when your herds and flocks multiply and your silver and gold is multiplied and all that you have is multiplied, 14 then your heart be lifted up, and you forget the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery, 15 who led you through the great and terrifying wilderness”

Sadly we know the story, we know that God’s people did exactly what God has implored them not to do when they did enter into their Promised land.
Just this past week my Father answered some prayers I have been calling out to Him for.  I know that in this moment there is a test – will I allow these answers to overflow in gratitude and praise, will I allow them to fill me afresh with faith in my Father for other areas of life and ministry where huge questions still persist?

Gratitude to God is an amazing thing when it is expressedby us. It honours God as the source of all blessing in our lives and so simultaneously kills pride and the deceit of self-sufficiency and it fills our heart with love for our Father!

#grateful

By Gareth Bowley

So where has the romance gone?

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Reading the story of how Abraham sent out his servant to find a wife for his beloved son, Isaac, it seems that finding a marriage partner was a very calculated activity.  But it is in fact the opposite!

God knows the desires of our hearts, He knows our personalities and habits.  Only He can perfectly suit two people to each other.  And His choice for Isaac was perfect, because the two of them loved each other dearly.  And what a wise servant, to stay close to God in this pursuit (Gen 24:21)

“The man gazed at her in silence to learn whether the Lord had prospered his journey or not.”

I have experienced a very similar story recently when a dear friend of mine’s daughter got married.  And to illustrate how much God is involved in the choosing of a marriage partner even today (as much as, and even more than, He is involved in every part of our lives), let me briefly recap the story to you.

There was a young South African woman who dedicated her life to God and purposed to also trust Him to provide her with a husband.  She set out to get a clear picture in her own mind about the qualities a man should possess to make him a good husband.  She allowed herself to dream of her perfect man, and entrusted these dreams to her Father.

On the other side of the world was a young man who, amidst constant pressure to join the dating game, and constant ridicule for not doing so, trusted God to point out to him whom to marry.  He decided to keep himself pure until that day.

So the young woman went to the other side of the world for a short period of time, attending a course at the very insitution where this young man worked. And sure enough, God pointed out to him that this is the woman whom He has chosen for the young man.  And although the young woman recognised many of the attributes of a good husband in this young man, she had no idea of the conversation between him and God and in due course she returned to South Africa.

Almost despairing, the young man asked God for wisdom in ways to start courting the young woman.  Telling the story in detail astonishes everyone as to how God’s masterplan came together in ways no human being can conceive.

The two of them got to know each other through e-mail and a deep appreciation and love for each other grew in their hearts.  God opened the way for them to get engaged and then married, and they now have a beautiful little girl and another child on its way.

Their lives still speak of God’s miraculous dealings as they move forward in His plan for them.

Are they a unique couple?  Is God really interested in helping young men and women today, find their perfect life partner? YES!

It is not only the old, Biblical story of Isaac and Rebekah, or the recent, modern story of my two young friends above – it can be your story too!

You have entrusted God with your life when you answered “yes” to His call.  Won’t you trust Him and WAIT until He shows you the one He has chosen for you?

by Lise Oosthuizen

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

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

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

He did it again!

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A lot can be said about what praise is – what does it mean in our context of following God, to praise Him? One definition that makes a lot of sense to me is “to tell of all the wonderful things God has done”, to testify.  So praising God has an aspect of reminding the next generation of how great, powerful and faithful God is, and so encourage and strengthen their faith.

We learn more about the person of God each time we experience His living involvement in our lives – we get to know Him uniquely as Saviour, Provider, Friend, Father, Counsellor…  Some of those moments or glimpses of His care and love may fade or even go unnoticed, but nothing sticks in the mind like a miracle!

Psalm 66:5 – 7 is a song of praise – it says: “Look what God has done!”  So I had a look at the two parallel miracles that verse 6 speaks about:

“He turned the sea into dry land; they passed through the river on foot.”

Exodus 14 tells the story of how God did the amazing miracle of parting the Red sea so that the Israelites could escape the pursuing Egyptian army, trekking through the sea on dry land.

“Israel saw the great power that the Lord used against the Egyptians, so the people feared the Lord, and they believed in the Lord and his servant Moses” (v 30-31).

Exodus 15 records a song of praise by Moses and a praise dance and song by his sister Miriam.  These songs probably became part of the cultural heritage of the Jews, so that the generation who experienced the wonder, could inform and encourage their children.

Unfortunately this generation was destroyed during their 40 year wandering in the wilderness, and when the next generation is standing at the threshold of their inheritance – the promised land, God renews their faith by doing the miracle that probably immediately brought back their parents’ testimony – He dried up a path for them to cross the Jordan river!

At the Red sea God protected and saved them from the pursuing enemy.  At the Jordan river God promises to “without fail drive out from before you the (enemy)…” (Jos 3:10).  He affirms His protective involvement with His people.

These two miracles gave the nation of Israel an amazing testimony. But God’s work is never one-dimensional and for both Moses and Joshua these miracles were God’s confirmation to them and to the nation that God elected them to lead His people.

Let us hold on to the miracles God performs in our lives.  They may be little things that happen in answer to heartfelt prayer, they may be breathtaking and make us want to run out and tell everybody.  I make a point of sharing my big and small testimonies with my children, but I’m challenged to also record what God does in my own and my family’s lives, to be able to carry the testimony to the next generation.  Each testimony strengthens our faith in the living God we serve!

by Lise Oosthuizen

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.