Heart matters

Turning Point! (Mark 8:31-38)

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Mountain tops and valleys! One moment Peter is exclaiming; “Messiah!” (Mark 8:29), the next Jesus is bursting Peter’s messianic bubble, saying that He “must suffer many things…and be killed!” (Mark 8:31)

Keller writes in his excellent book (King’s Cross) how from Peter’s earliest memories learning from his parents would have been hearing that the Messiah would come and defeat evil and injustice.  

Now the Messiah was telling Peter; “Yes, I’m the Messiah, the King, but I came not to live but to die. I’m not here to take power but to lose it; I’m here not to rule but to serve. And that’s how I’m going to defeat evil and put everything right.” (Kings Cross pp95)

Bewildering! What is remarkable is that Jesus while referring to Himself says; “the Son of Man (a divine title from Daniel 7) must suffer…and be killed”

Why MUST Jesus the Messiah suffer and be killed?  

Well, in one sense He doesn’t have to at all. He is not obliged in the slightest. After all, He has never sinned, and so deserves no wrath against sin or punishment. He is God, and so His will is not constrained in any way.   

But because of His love for You and I – He must suffer and be killed. Because there was no other way for our sin, guilt and shame to be dealt with and the wrath of God propitiated.  

I am reminded of Jesus in the Garden of Gethsemane in agonizing prayer asking the Father if there was any other way (Mark 14:36), and the Father said nothing because nothing could be said because there was no other way but the cross and calvary.

Jesus had to die; the Messiah must die if our sin was to be atoned for, and if we were to be ransomed and reconciled back to a right relationship with God. What love, what sacrifice for you and me!

This is the turning point of the whole Gospel, WHO Jesus is has been the main idea, now Jesus has just introduced the focus of the second half – WHAT Jesus came to do for you and for me!  

This is the lamb of God who came to take away, to atone for the sins of the world by dying as our substitute sacrifice – John recalls in his Gospel (John 1:29)

Peter is horrified and rebukes Jesus (the same word for Jesus’ treatment of demons) but ends up being the one rebuked as Jesus refuses to be tempted into believing there is an easier way. Jesus presses through the resistance with clear conviction and begins again to teach those gathered around.

“If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 35 For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake and the gospel’s will save it. 36 For what does it profit a man to gain the whole world and forfeit his soul? 37 For what can a man give in return for his soul? 38 For whoever is ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation, of him will the Son of Man also be ashamed when he comes in the glory of his Father with the holy angels.” (Mark 8:34-38)

Jesus’ teaching makes sense since it follows what He has just revealed about His own purpose (Mark 8:31). Since the Messiah is going to lay His life down, those who choose to follow Him are called to do the same. Jesus’ purpose shapes our purpose.

Jesus literally dies. Most Christ-followers don’t necessarily have to die literally, but we are all called by King Jesus to die to our old way of living. We die to a life that has ME, MYSELF & I at the centre of it all.

Who is really at the centre of your life? Who is the focus of your attention? Is it yourself or is it King Jesus?

We are to fix our eyes on Jesus, the One who died for us, and in response decide to live the rest of our lives no longer for ourselves but rather for Him who for our sake died (2 Corinthians 5:14-15).

We live like this, believing that what Jesus said is true! We live believing that this is really the only way to live. We believe Jesus when He warns us that spending ourselves collecting things and experiences in this present life trying to satisfy ourselves will only leave us empty.  

We believe Jesus who urged us to live our whole lives as a whole-life response to His love for us. Making pleasing Him and sharing His Gospel our whole life’s purpose, believing Him that living like this will result in us enjoying life that’s truly worth having, having satisfaction that is immeasurable and eternal!

You will never regret believing Jesus’ advice on how to live your life. At no point will you look back and think, ‘I really wish I hadn’t trusted Jesus’ advice!’ The Psalmist declares of the ancients of the faith; “They cried to you and were saved; in you they trusted and were not disappointed. ” (Psalm 22:5 in the NIV)

Since Mark 8 records the turning point in this Gospel that is so focused on WHO Jesus is and WHAT Jesus came to do, I pray that it would be something of a turning point for you too. Meditate on Jesus’ words captured here to you in Mark 8:34-38, don’t gloss over them let their eternal wisdom go deep into your soul and begin to produce a life wholly pleasing to King Jesus. The One who went before You and lovingly laid down His life for you and rose again victorious (Mark 8:31).

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

Choosing Peace (Psalm 131)

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Psalm 131 is a little Psalm with a big message for us on day 60 of our national lockdown due to COVID-19.

Peace is an active choice; it is not a state of being that is arbitrarily obtained. This Psalm reveals how peace is the result of choices we make. In this Psalm, David makes four active choices that together result in peace and calm in the midst of trying circumstances.

vs1: O Lord, my heart is not lifted up; 

The first thing David chooses is to reign in his heart. David won’t let his heart get proud. Humility and peace are interconnected. Pride leads to lofty thoughts about your ability or ideas, your grasp on a situation. And so pride multiples agitation and frustration – the absence of peace.  

When our hearts are proud we bemoan; ‘Why isn’t what I think should happen, happening?’ Pride gifts one with opinions, and strong opinions don’t tend to lead to peace, especially in the face of an unprecedented national and world crises!

Every time we hear; “My fellow South Africans…” the state of our hearts is tested. The humble heart will see a man, a group of leaders and experts doing their very best, might think; “Phew that must be a hard job!” and won’t just complain and moan & criticise.

Do you need to reign in your heart?

vs1: my eyes are not raised too high;

The second choice David has to make is to curb ambition. Ambition, like pride, doesn’t lead to a peaceful state of being. Proud or ambitious eyes that look up to selfish & ambitious future plans that are being frustrated by the present circumstances are agitated ones – not peaceful ones.  

In contrast, humble eyes don’t think too highly of oneself but rather submit to the Almighty hand of our sovereign God who holds all things together by just the words of His mouth. Humble people say things like; “If the LORD wills, we will do this or that.” (James 4:15)

Humble eyes see clearly, understand who God is and who they are in relation to God. Humble eyes rest in the sure knowledge of the goodness of God. They rest in God’s everlasting love for His children and the sovereign omnipotence of God. We can only rest in humble peace when we know that God is good and loving and in control of all things for us who believe in Jesus.

vs1: I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. 

Anyone who has studied something, in particular, will probably know the paradoxical feeling; that the more you know about anything, the more you realise how little you know!  

As human beings created in the image of God, we have this incredible God-given ability to advance knowledge and understanding. But even with all that data and insight, we are finite & limited. God’s ways aren’t ours; God’s ways and thoughts are infinitely higher than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9).  

If I am honest, I don’t even know how my toaster works just that it does what I want it to the bread I put in it. I can use this computer, but I honestly don’t know how the computer is transforming touches from my fingers into characters and streaming data to the internet that can be read by yourself..!

David’s third choice that leads to a peaceful and calm life is that he has embraced his limits. He knows that there is much in life that is honestly beyond his ability to comprehend, and so he has chosen not to fret and occupy his thoughts with that which is beyond his grasp.  

I don’t believe that this is laziness on the part of David but wisdom. It is wise to know your limits, and wise to trust God where your comprehension is outstripped by circumstances. In bewildering moments we can fathom or control we can either choose to fret and worry, or we can trust our omniscient, omnipotent Father in heaven.

vs 2: But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a weaned child with its mother; like a weaned child is my soul within me. 

David’s fourth choice is his active decision to calm and quieten his soul (his whole body) satisfied to be in God’s presence. David is like a weaned child nestled into the bosom of God, drawing comfort and security from just being there in a relationship, intimate and close to the one who loves him.

In contrast to a weaned child nestling with their mom, a breastfeeding child in that position and posture close to their mother’s breasts will often have their desire for food awakened – they will not be content to just nestle there safe and secure but will want to be fed.

This is a picture of our relationship with God. Are we like a breastfeeding child coming to God looking for something from God, or a weaned child coming close to God simply for that, to be close to God?  

In times of personal, community, national and world-wide crises, we can easily be those who are coming to God always asking for something. David challenges us to come to God in a different way, to come close to God not because we want or need something but simply because we love God, and we know God loves us! Come to God contented like a weaned child, come to God not to always ask for something but simply because you get to come into God’s presence because of Jesus!

Think through your prayers, your devotion times. How much of them are just nestling into the bosom of God because you belong there because He loves you and you love Him? Ask God to forgive you of coming just to ask for something else…

vs3: O Israel, hope in the Lord from this time forth and forevermore.

The Psalm closes with an exhortation; ‘Hope in Yahweh!’ Put your hope in God alone. Do this now in this global pandemic, do this today and do it for the rest of this life God’s given you. Hope in God for eternity to come. Hope in Yahweh alone, and you will truly be at peace.

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

Yahweh! (Psalm 16)

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1 Preserve me, O God, for in you I take refuge. 

This Psalm starts with a request that is so relevant to our lives today. God, would you please protect or preserve me! Do this God please because I take refuge in You alone because I have made You my security!

The request reveals some underlying beliefs;

  • David believes that God is able to preserve him
  • David believes that God knows him personally
  • David believes that God is a refuge worthy of trust
  • David believes that God rewards & responds to personal faith 

What we pray reveals what we believe. Prayer is not some cosmic game of darts or insurance scheme. Prayer is personal; prayer is powerful because God is personal, and God is omnipotent.

2 I say to the Lord, “You are my Lord; I have no good apart from you.” 

The HCSB translation translates vs2 in the following way; “I said to Yahweh, “You are my Lord; I have nothing good besides You.”  David uses Israel’s name for God and appeals to the personal, covenantal relationship God has established as the foundation for his appeal in prayer. He says essentially, ‘Yahweh; You are my LORD! And all the good in my life I attribute to You!’

Yahweh is the source of every good thing in our lives because He is good and because He established a gracious, loving covenant with us who believe in Him.

David declares that there is, in fact, NOTHING GOOD that is in his life that did not come from God. Or said another way, there is no good outside of God.  

This declaration takes us back to the original sin. Adam and Eve believed the enemy when He tempted them with the insidious thought that God was not good – tempting them into thinking that there was something good, something better for their lives in disobedience rather than in obedience to God’s spoken word. 

Brothers and sisters, there is never any good outside of our God. Sin promised good to Adam and Eve outside of God; sin always promises some good, some fulfilment but Scripture declares here that there is no good outside of God.

Personal reflection: 

Is there any way in which at the moment the enemy is tempting me with something which might feel or look ‘good’ but is, in fact, just you looking for good outside of God and God’s will? See it for what it is, a lie and a trap. Declare today with David that there is no good outside of God and His will for your life.

4 The sorrows of those who run after another god shall multiply; their drink offerings of blood I will not pour out or take their names on my lips. 

Since there is no good outside of God, for anyone to ‘run after’ anything other than Yahweh is futile.  

No other ‘gods’ or people or created things can deliver as they promise, can satiate our longings or be the sanctuary and refuge we need.

But note that sin isn’t just the absence of God. No sin is active; sin multiplies sorrow, and sadness! Sin results in multiplied sorrow since the good God had for you is forfeited plus, the path you chose outside of God and His revealed will for your life has no good in it anyway either (vs2). So to choose a lifestyle of sin and compromise only multiplies your sorrow and loss!

As a pastor for nearly 20yrs, I have seen the truth of this verse over and over and over again. Sin multiplies sorrow, don’t believe for a minute that you’ll be the exception.

5 The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot. 6 The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance. 

The better way to live is to resolve that God is our portion – He is enough for us. God ‘You hold my future’ the HCSB translation says.  

In His sovereignty and His love, God has determined the details of our lives, where we live, the arrangements of our lives (work, family, job, timing…) and contentment with that which God has ordained is good for us!

This Psalm doesn’t bluntly declare that all circumstances we encounter and endure are good or pleasant. Rather it expresses faith (‘inheritance’ is in the future), for when good can’t be seen or isn’t being experienced, God is all we need. More than that, trust is expressed here that God has our good in mind somehow in whatever we are facing in the present.

7 I bless the Lord who gives me counsel; in the night also my heart instructs me. 8 I have set the Lord always before me; because he is at my right hand, I shall not be shaken. 

David knows what it’s like to need counsel in the night, to awake disturbed by worry but then to have God draw alongside us and settle us in our innermost being with His presence. Because God is our God, our everpresent Help in trouble, because God is always at our right hand, we can go back to sleep knowing; “I will not be shaken”!

Our fortitude is not in some stoic stand but founded on the firm foundation that God is with us always.

9 Therefore my heart is glad, and my whole being rejoices; my flesh also dwells secure. 10 For you will not abandon my soul to Sheol, or let your holy one see corruption. 11 You make known to me the path of life; in your presence there is fullness of joy; at your right hand are pleasures forevermore. 

Exultation! Everything inside of us rejoices, peace comes upon us, because we know God is with us. We will never be abandoned even if we die. For even when we do die, God will resurrect us who have believed in Jesus to new and eternal life in God’s presence forever and ever – joy indescribable.

Personal Prayer:

Thank God that because you have believed in Jesus your eternal future is secure, that even in death you can be secure because you know that death is not a termination but a transition to eternal life with God forever and ever!

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Pour out your heart (Psalm 142)

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Sometimes we feel trapped in situations and powerless to change them like David felt when writing this Psalm (vs 7). In moments like this, it’s hard to know what our next step should be. It can be overwhelming. Perhaps you remember being in a situation like that or you might find yourself feeling like that today.

I cry out to the Lord;
I plead for the Lord’s mercy.
2 I pour out my complaints before him
and tell him all my troubles.
3 When I am overwhelmed,
you alone know the way I should turn.

Like David, telling Jesus how you’re feeling is a step in the right direction. He already knows what’s in your heart and the struggles you’re experiencing, but when we pour out our hearts to him, we are inviting him to walk with us and do it together rather than alone. It’s crucial that we acknowledge him and the fact that he knows what the way forward is. By acknowledging God we are showing him that we trust him. We are also helping ourselves by speaking truth to our troubled hearts.

5 Then I pray to you, O Lord.
I say, “You are my place of refuge.
You are all I really want in life.

Putting Christ at the centre of our lives is the best decision we could make. It’s about coming to a place where we genuinely want his input above any other in our lives. He should be the only thing that we put our hope in and the biggest desire in our life. He is the best thing for us and should be the longing of our hearts.

6 Hear my cry,
for I am very low.
Rescue me from my persecutors,
for they are too strong for me.

Once we’ve acknowledged him and invited him into our place of need and trouble, we can confidently ask him to help us and rescue us from this place where we feel stuck. He wants us to ask him. He is our Father, and he loves us with unfailing love. He also happens to be the Lord of Heaven’s armies and is powerful and able!

7 Bring me out of prison
so I can thank you.
The godly will crowd around me,
for you are good to me.”

In this Psalm, David asks God to free him from this trapped and powerless place, so that he can thank him. Let’s not forget to thank our Father when he does show us a way forward and lead us out of difficult situations. When we focus on being thankful for what he has done for us, it helps us to see life in a different light.

Lamenting before him and sharing what’s in our hearts is an important thing to do; however, we can become stuck in this mode if we don’t focus our eyes on Jesus and allow him to help us out of that place. If we are intentional about thanking him, our hearts become more focused on the wonders and goodness of knowing Jesus in our lives.

So let’s turn to him, acknowledge him, ask him and be thankful for all the goodness he brings into our lives.

[All references are from the NLT translation]

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Power cords & Love (Colossians 3:14)

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Paul has been writing and exhorting the believers with many instructions to do & not do (see Colossians 1:1-13). But all get brought together by one exhortation – to love!

“And over all these virtues put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” (Colossians 3:14 in NIV)

This makes me think of a piece of power cord transmitting power from some power generation plant thousands of kilometres away to my laptop via a wall plug and this power cord – allowing me to write to you.

That short power cord is made of multiple thin strands of copper wire that on their own would be of no use to me. Because on their own, none of them would be sufficient to transmit the electrical power current needed to run this laptop. More than that, if they were on their own trying to transmit electrical power, they would be more unsafe than helpful putting my household at risk of electrocution and or fire.

But when bound tightly together and ensheathed in a protective outer layer of insulating plastic, they are not only able to transmit the power needed but also are enabled to do so safely!

Similarly, Paul seems to be saying that in all these diverse exhortations he is making for godly living (Colossians 3:1-14), there is one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) that binds them all together.

And that one exhortation (to be loving towards one another) makes all the other exhortations work together, enabling them to transmit something greater and to do so safely!

‘Single issue Christians’ are like exposed copper wires in a power cord without the necessary insulating covering. Have you ever met one of these people? They are fixated on one issue or command or instruction in Scripture and seem almost always to be lacking the protective binding of love for other people!

Take, for example, the very clear command in this passage for believers in Jesus to ‘put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality’ (Colossians 3:5). This is like one copper strand of the power cord of this whole passage.

Now a single issue Christian would be 100% right that God’s will is abundantly clear all through Scripture that sexual sin is serious and that it is ungodly and unbefitting for God’s children to engage in ANY sexually immoral behaviour. That strand on its own can transmit the full force and power of that command.

What the Bible teaches in terms of sexuality is not hard to understand – i.e. no sex before or beyond sex with the man or woman you are married to as a believer. Despite the fact that modern sensibilities have changed, God’s commands have not changed one iota and God’s commands need no updating and never will!

Therefore someone who makes much of this one strand of teaching is 100% right, but as Dallas Willard famously said; “It is possible to be right and to be unlike Christ”  This single strand of teaching on its own can hurt and damage people if not encased in God’s love!

In this fallen world, living amongst people who are messed up and have messed up and are still messing up, this Scriptural exhortation ought not to be watered down even 0.5%. It is still relevant and still needs to be applied to peoples lives, however, it ought to be done so with the insulating protective cover of God’s love.

So the command of God to remain sexually pure, exclusively faithful to and having sex only with your spouse, and waiting until they are your spouse before you do so – is still to be taught and obeyed.

But it is done best when this teaching is intertwined with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience, forbearance, forgiveness and then encased in God’s incredible love. When that command is in that biblical power cord, the full power of the command can be at work without fear of fire or electrocution – harm being caused to anyone.

Don’t for a minute think I’m advocating some lax sexual ethic! After all, it is not loving to affirm someone in their lifestyle or behaviour when you know that their actions are in direct defiance of our Holy God and Father.

Many times in life, the most loving action is to stand up to someone, to risk offence and to tell them the truth but to so with all the imperatives in Colossians 3:12-17 tightly bound together and all of them encased, bound together in the insulating protective cover of love.

Brothers and sisters let us love one another not with the weak soppy ungodly modern idea that love = affirmation but with the transforming power of God’s word & God’s love.

To Consider:

  • Who do you know you might need to challenge about one of the lifestyle sins described in this passage (or elsewhere in Scripture)?
  • Pray now and ask God to tightly wrap all the head/heart/attitude directing imperatives around the strand of rebuke you know is needed from Scripture
  • Then pray that God would encase everything in God’s love before you speak or act.

No regrets (Colossians 3:1-10)

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I find it such a comfort knowing that we have heaven to look forward to after this life. When I feel harassed and don’t have time for things I love to do, I think that I’ll have all of eternity to do those things. When I miss people who have passed on or friends who live far away, I am comforted to know I’ll see them again, and we will have eternity together. When I get frustrated at things in life that are difficult, I know I have eternity to look forward to without those things.

But, we still have to live and get through tough times and the daily struggles we all face. Our most significant comfort and encouragement of all is knowing that Jesus has given us a new identity. He has saved us from our sinful nature and given us a new nature. It’s like he took the old, dirty clothes we were wearing, and he has given us fresh clothes that are clean and new. The change, however, is on the inside. It’s our hearts that he has transformed.

So, in light of this, Paul encourages the Colossians to set their thinking on heavenly things. That is to put Him first in your life and to live a life worthy of his name.

When I think of putting Jesus first in my life, I imagine all areas of my life revolving around him. My thoughts, my priorities, my choices, my actions; I want them all to reflect that he is the one that everything is centred around. I don’t want to make any decisions or do anything without first assessing, “will this please Jesus?”. I don’t want to say Jesus is important to me, but there is no evidence of that in my time spent, my speech and the way I live.

I think it’s essential to look at your priorities and thoughts and ask yourself if they reflect someone whose focus is on things that are important to Jesus or things that the world says are important. They are very different.

You have been given a new life in Jesus. You, with the help of the Holy Spirit, now get to live in a new way. Your Father is the King of Kings, are you living a life worthy of him? In his letter to the Colossians, Paul lists several things that could be lurking in our lives. He is very definite about what to do about them; put them to death, get rid of them, have nothing to do with them.

This side of heaven, we will never be perfect, and we daily have to rely on the grace of Jesus. However, we are being transformed into his likeness as we spend time with him.

When you meet someone who is a Christian, you expect certain things to be true of them. People rub off on us as we spend time together. If we’re spending time with people who are into bad things, it rubs off on us. As we spend time with Jesus, he naturally influences us. We don’t have to try and be more like him; it will just start happening.

There is no better person to emulate. He is everything good. So, take Paul’s advice. Get rid of sin in your life, fix your eyes on Jesus and all that is important to him. It’s a choice you will never regret!

Nadine is one of the elder’s wives at Reconciliation Road Church in Amanzimtoti, South Africa – click the link to get more information about our church.

Pay It Forward (Philemon 8-21)

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You know, one person’s redemption can become another’s challenge. No sin is unredeemable; no sin trumps God’s lavish grace (Romans 5:20). All sin can be repented of, and all sin will be forgiven if we truly repent (1 John 1:9).

Incredibly good news. But our good news can become another’s challenge!

Years ago in our church, we had a courageous person share about how they had committed adultery and one day God brought them to their knees in repentance so that they confessed their sin and received forgiveness from God.

But this confession of sin, this reaching out for God’s redeeming grace became a challenge for their spouse who now faced a new challenge – the problem of forgiving. 

One person’s redemption can become another’s challenge!

I was in court once supporting a minor who had been sexually abused. The man who had perpetrated the abuse was there near to me. Looking smug, his lawyer was there too… I’m glad I didn’t own a gun that day because I wanted to dish out some instant justice as the sense of righteous indignation pulsed through me.

And then it struck me!

I felt the Holy Spirit prompt me to consider; ‘What if this man calls out to God and asks God to forgive him of all his sin? What then? What will be required of me and of those I was supporting? Would Jesus forgive Him if he repented? And how would we have to change our feelings towards him if he approached us having repented?”

I knew the answers to my questions.  

I knew if he repented and called on God for forgiveness, God would forgive him, and in that instant, he would become my brother in Christ. What he had done would not be changed in the slightest, and yet the way I related to him would be challenged in a whole new way…

And this is something like what Philemon faced with Onesimus. Paul wrote to Philemon challenging him to re-think, to forgive & to reconcile with Onesimus.  

For this perhaps is why he was parted from you for a while, that you might have him back forever, 16 no longer as a bondservant but more than a bondservant, as a beloved brother—especially to me, but how much more to you, both in the flesh and in the Lord. 17 So if you consider me your partner, receive him as you would receive me. (Philemon 15-17)

Paul wanted Philemon to receive him back not as a slave or an employee or as the scum of the earth but to receive him back as a brother in Christ (vs16), loved and honoured because Onesimus had accepted Jesus as his LORD & Saviour (vs17). 

Onesimus had stolen from Philemon (vs18), so Philemon’s sense of having been wronged was understandable and yet the now the strong exhortation of the apostle Paul’s to him was – forgive & reconcile(vs15-18)!

Forgiveness is hard because forgiveness is unfair; it isn’t a response to deserved behaviour but undeserved behaviour. Forgiveness is hard because forgiveness is only necessary when there has been hurt, pain or a wrong committed. Forgiveness is not earned; it’s given.

What a challenge! So how can we grow in forgiveness?

Remind yourself of what you’ve been forgiven:

Unless we see the extent of the grace and mercy of God that has extended to us, we will be unable to extend grace and mercy to others in forgiveness.

Sitting in that court, looking at that man, I realised that without minimising his sin at all, my sin was just as bad as his, different but just as bad. 

Like him, I was rotten to the core, and yet God had saved me! Not because of anything I had done or managed to not do, but purely because of His infinite grace and mercy. I sat there realising that God had justified me – the ungodly (see Romans 4:5). God did not justify me because I deserved it but purely because of His goodness and grace.  I was no different from that man; I needed grace as much as he did.

And that realisation is the foundation on which forgiveness is built. We are to forgive others’ just as in Christ God forgave you’ (Ephesians 4:32). 

Paul wanted Philemon to recognise God’s gracious work of redemption in Philemon’s life SO THAT he would see that extending grace and forgiveness to Onesimus was what God required from him now.

Paul writes to him; 

“If he has wronged you at all, or owes you anything, charge that to my account. 19 I, Paul, write this with my own hand: I will repay it—to say nothing of your owing me even your own self.” (Philemon 18-19)

Philemon is reminded that he owes God (and Paul) everything. So before he demands pay-back or withholds forgiveness from Onesimus, Philemon should pause and consider how God has treated him.

In Matthew 6:14-15, Jesus connects our being forgiven by God with our forgiving of others! And in Matthew 18:21-35, Jesus similarly taught through a story of how serious unforgiveness on our part is when we have been forgiven by God! I believe Philemon knew the weight with which Paul was writing when He urged Philemon to forgive and to be reconciled to Onesimus.

Brothers and sisters, when we see the grace of God extended to us, it fills our ‘grace/mercy tank’ enabling us to then pay it forward and share the grace of God we have received with others, SO THAT we can be restored in our relationships with one another.

Application:

  • Who’s your Onesimus?
  • Ask the Holy Spirit to freshly reveal to you the depth and depravity of your own sin which God has forgiven you for.
  • Now, prayerfully move towards forgiving your Onesimus as God in Christ forgave you.

Two Ways (1 John 2:15-17)

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As Christ Followers, what should our relationship to the world be? Such an important question for every Christ Follower to consider.

Over the centuries, there have been many varying responses to this question. Some believing that they are at risk of being contaminated have tried to remove themselves from contact with the world. Others have reached out to the world and so immersed themselves in it that they have risked accommodating themselves to it.

Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. (1 John 2:15)

Reading 1 John 2:15 & John 3:16 side by side, one can get easily confused. Which is it? Are we to love the world or not?

To unravel this, we need to consider the variations of meaning Scripture has for the Greek word ‘kosmos’ -translated as ‘world’ in English.

‘Kosmos’ can mean;

  1. All that is created and sustained by God, or 
  2. All of humankind (the apex of God’s creation) or 
  3. The ‘organized system of human civilization and activity which is opposed to God and alienated from him. It represents everything that prevents man from loving, and therefore obeying, his creator.’ (David Jackman)

John has been using stark contrasts so far in the letter, light and darkness (1 John 1:5&2:9), truth and lies (1 John 1:6&2:4), love for God and love for the ways of the world (1 John 2:15).  

In vs15 John is forcibly urging Christ-followers to see that love for God and love for the world’s ways are mutually exclusive. They are like light and darkness.

But, in what way is the system of the world anti-God or dangerous for us? John goes on to elaborate;

‘For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride of life—is not from the Father but is from the world.’ 

John highlights three aspects of the fallen worldly system and correspondingly the devil’s strategy against us;

  1. The desires of the flesh.  Physical appetites themselves are not evil since many like thirst are God-given and essential for human life. However, our natural desires have been distorted and exaggerated in fallen humankind so that we crave a level of self-indulgent satisfaction that can lead us to ignore God’s commandments and wander into uncontrolled excess. Unrestrained desires have an insatiable appetite that can lead someone off-course from the path of following God. Desires are natural, are God-given, but we are not to be lead slavishly by our desires. ‘John is concerned that we should realize that we cannot love the Father and live that way.’ (David Jackman)
  2. The desires of the eyes. Desire often starts with seeing something desirable. This reminds me of the original sin in the garden… ‘When Eve saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise’ (Genesis 3:6) Much of the world’s marketing runs on this operating system – selling us a desirable image and enticing action. John knows that our eyes can and do get us into trouble.
  3. Pride in our achievements and possessions (NLT). This worldliness can easily slip into our lifestyles and thinking under the radar, undetected. The world we live in loves to celebrate achievements! From ticker-tape parades for rugby world champions to endless prize-givings at every education institution. The problem is not in the achievement or possession itself – but rather in what a person hopes these things will do for them. To look to our achievements or possessions as things that define who we are or to hope that they will open doors of acceptance or feeling like we belong – is worldly and does not come from the Father. Our identity, belonging, and purpose are ultimately only found in a relationship with Jesus alone, which leads John to the final thought in our passage for today.

The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (vs17)

John concludes, reminding us that not only are the world’s attractions, not God’s way for us, they ultimately fail to satisfy us, and they are fleeting.

We need to be more eternally minded; we are wise if we think long and not short! The person who focuses on God and God’s ways, God’s commandments not the ways of the world ends up fulfilling the will of God which is good for us for eternity and will bless us not just in the short term but bless us eternally.

Although following God’s ways and doing God’s will sometimes involve saying ‘NO’ to some desirable thing, in light of eternity it is not Scripture’s view to see such as a sacrifice but rather a wise investment.

So John challenges us to make Godly decisions about the way we are living today. Do not love the world and its ways, love the Father. We face these little decisions daily, but John challenges us to keep loving the Father and to follow His ways, not the way of the world in all things. ‘For the world and those who live for it will pass away, but the Father and his obedient children will live forever.’ (David Jackman)

So what is our relationship with the world to be?  

We are to love people, as God loved people going to extreme lengths to share His love with them (John 3:16).  

However, we are also to be extremely careful of the tempting and corrupting influence of the world’s ways, wisdom and systems which are anti-God and dangerous for us from the perspective of eternity (1 John 2:15-17).

For consideration:

  1. Look through the three aspects of the world’s ways that John highlights and ask God the Holy Spirit to speak to you about any of these which you need to address
  2. ‘Love for God is the ultimate antidote for sin’ – how does loving God more fortify you against sin?
  3. Are you truly living with an eternal perspective?  How would having a clearer eternal perspective help you in daily decisions?

The Danger of Closed Ears (Hosea 5:1-15)

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Hosea Chapter 5 reads like a charge sheet or the pronouncement of the judge of the misdemeanours committed in a court proceeding against Israel/Ephraim (the Northern Kingdom).

The priests, the royal family & the leaders of Israel have led Israel into a snare/trap with their idol worship and their ‘deep slaughter’ (vs2 in ESV might refer to child sacrifice see 2 Kings 17:17).

Israel was so thoroughly gone, so far from God that reconciliation at that point seemed impossible; “Your deeds won’t let you return to your God. You are a prostitute through and through, and you do not know the Lord” (vs4 in NLT).

They might go and seek God to make sacrifices with their livestock, but they will not find God for ‘he has withdrawn from them’ (vs6). Nothing is more terrifying than this! That God removes Himself from us, that He won’t reply any more to our calls. That is the very definition of hell – existence without God, without the possibility of God, listening, without God willing to respond to our cries for mercy, grace or help. Hell, CS Lewis said was a monument to human freedom – people want nothing to do with God and so that is what God eventually gives them.

The leaders of Israel are full of dishonesty, corruption & injustice like those who move their neighbour’s landmarks (stealing land from people) (vs10 in ESV).

And because of all of this the day of judgment is coming, war is coming, and Israel will be reduced to a pile of rubble (vs 9 in NLT), ‘The people of Israel will be crushed and broken by my judgment because they are determined to worship idols.’ (vs11 in NLT). 

When Israel realised the terrible moth-eaten state of her clothes, when they saw that destructive rot had set in to eat away their wooden things (vs12) – they called out for help.

But they did not call out in repentance to God the only One who could truly help them. Rather they sought political & military alliances with surrounding nations to secure protection. They paid money to Assyria (2 Kings 15:19) to buy protection – but these nations, these men can’t help Israel (vs13)! 

We are like this sometimes aren’t we? We have made some mess of our lives, wandered from God, and when we realise our predicament we don’t repent and turn back to God the only One who can truly help us, we make a plan, seek wisdom, solace or solutions from those around us. And yet we know, God is the One we need. Christ Follower, don’t be like Israel was.

Foreign nations will not be able to stop what God has determined. Israel and even later Judah too are going to be punished by God (vs14). God is going to ‘tear them to pieces’ and ‘carry them off’ like a lion does it’s prey (vs15). Israel will be judged, punished and taken off into exile for God has finally declared; ‘enough!’ (see 2 Kings 17). 

And yet even this terrible day that awaits Israel is not the end of the story;

Then I will return to my place until they admit their guilt and turn to me. For as soon as trouble comes, they will earnestly search for me.” (vs15 in NLT)

God is anticipating that judgement will produce repentance in the future and a change of heart and a longing for God again. There is a flicker of hope still as God vs15 hints at God’s desire for this to be restorative justice that will re-unite His people to Him in the future.

What does this mean for you and I today?

  • Remember that God is slow to anger and abounding in mercy. This judgement of God on Israel was a long time in coming (approximately 200yrs and the reign of 13 kings).
  • God had spoken over and over and over again to Israel through the prophets (2 Kings 17:13-14); however, they would not listen but rather were stubborn in their idolatry and unbelief.
  • Decide today not to be like Israel was! Decide today to listen to the soft inner promptings of the Holy Spirit, the whispers of God through your own Bible reading and listening to Bible-based preaching, listen and repent, turn back to God when He whispers to you. Because if you don’t listen to the private whispers, God will eventually raise the volume and what was private will become more and more public.
  • What’s God been trying to whisper to you about that you’ve maybe been shutting your ears too? Speak to God now, repent now, return to Him the only One who can truly help.

The Pain of Unfaithfulness (Hosea 2:1-13)

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[All Scripture references today are from the NLT translation]

Hosea’s painful ordeal as a spouse who’s marriage partner is openly unfaithful represents another pain – God’s sorrow over Israel’s idolatry & unfaithfulness toward God.

Hosea, the husband, stumbles through conflicting thoughts and emotions towards his unfaithful wife.

One moment he wants nothing more to do with her or her children; ‘for she is no longer my wife, and I am no longer her husband’ (vs2); ‘for their mother is a shameless prostitute and became pregnant in a shameful way.’ (vs5)

The next moment he wants her shame to be exposed and wants his anger vindicated (vs3) for she has longed after her lovers and the perceived material benefits she has gained from loving them (vs5).

Then he wants to build a hedge around her, to keep her from them, to stop her path to these lovers, so that she won’t be able to catch them anymore and will lose her way to them (vs6-7).

He does this because he thinks, maybe then she will come to her senses and think; ‘I might as well return to my husband, for I was better off with him than I am now.’ (vs7)

Hosea is still hoping, still willing to forgive her and take her back and begin to rebuild their marriage – if only she would come back to him!

But his hurt is deep, she thinks these lovers of hers provided for her, but it was he, Hosea her husband all along but she took all the gifts he provided her, and she sacrificed them to Baal! (vs8)

God had provided for Israel his people had provided for them even when they were chasing after other gods, and yet Israel took the very provision God lovingly gave them and sacrificed these things to Baal. What a tragedy! What pain. What an offence.

Hosea cycles back into thinking – enough! I will remove that which I provided for her; I will strip her naked, I will put an end to her celebrations and parties. I will remove from her the material things she thinks came from her lovers (vs9-12).

I will punish her for all those times she loved others. God is speaking through Hosea’s experience about Israel who he has eventually decided He will punish for all her Baal worship and the fact that she; “‘forgot all about me,’ says the LORD.” (vs13)

Can you feel the terrible confusing pain of Hosea, the whole range of emotions and thoughts experienced? The anger, the desire to still be reconciled and to protect and yet the tiredness that’s come from repeated rejection.

What does this mean for us today?

  • Not all jealousy is wrong. God is rightfully jealous for our exclusive love and worship, just as married people are rightfully jealous over the exclusive love of their spouse.
  • God’s command to His people was; “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might” (Deuteronomy 6:5). This Jesus said was the first and the greatest commandment.
  • So, is your love and devotion exclusively for your God? Anything less than everything is a painful sinful rejection of God. Don’t be like Gomer or the Israelites towards your God. Love Him, adore Him, live for Him only.

Salesperson? (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

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In this section of the letter (1 Thessalonians 2), Paul is reminding these believers how he and his team acted amongst them. He is building the platform from which he will later give some instruction to these believers.  

What he writes describes brilliantly what Godly leadership ought to be like and is well worth deep consideration.  

However, for today’s devotion, I want to focus on just one aspect of Paul’s life and leadership that has life application for all believers.

“We speak, not to please man, but God who tests our hearts.” (1 Thessalonians 2:4)

What motivates your actions & words?  

We live in a self-conscious age. We are constantly attempting to manage the perceived perception of others regarding ourselves.

And so we do things, say things, post things because of what we believe that will portray to others about us. It is all too easy to get sucked into living for affirmation, likes, followers. We are salespeople!

Paul, however, could declare that he was free from such pressure. He lived and spoke with his eyes, not on the opinion of others but rather firmly fixed on pleasing God alone.

Our age loves the notion of freedom, and yet we so readily enslave ourselves to the fickle opinions of others, or even worse, our perception of what the opinion of others might be!

I believe that the apostle Paul was genuinely free. He lived for the audience & the approval of ONE – God the Father in Heaven. He lived to please God in all he did and said. This was the motivation in his heart, the guidance for his life.

Paul knew that it was futile to try to do a sales job on the all-knowing, all-seeing God. After-all it is God alone who can test our hearts and truly know the motivation for all our actions.

So, Paul knew the glorious freedom, confidence and security that flowed from knowing that He was loved and accepted by God because He had believed the good news about Jesus. Therefore, he proclaimed the gospel fearlessly in spite of great danger and also lead courageously.

What a relief! There is no need to be a salesperson anymore. If you KNOW that you are loved and accepted by God because of your faith in Jesus, then you can live truly free from the endless tyranny of the opinions of others.  

Live your whole life for the audience of the ONE who loved you enough to save you for Himself. And when you live for Him and not yourself (2 Corinthians 5:14-15) – you will end up glorifying Him with your life.  

9:1 (Luke 17:11-19)

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Ten people all in a desperate situation.  All outcasts excluded from society, from relationships and normal interactions.  Everyone of them with their lives on hold because of a circumstance brought on by a physical condition.  They all needed God.    

One day none other than Jesus walks on to the horizon of their lives.  Can you imagine the conversations bouncing around this motley gathering of people, united by misery?  

“Is that Jesus of Nazareth?”  “Isn’t he the man they say raised the young girl back to life?”  “I heard he healed a man born blind” “Isn’t he the one they say calmed the storm on the lake with one command from his mouth?”… 

It’s not hard to imagine the conversation excitedly ramping up then to something like; 

“Guys this is our moment!  If the stories about him are true maybe he will perform a miracle and heal us!”  And so they cry out; “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us” (Luke 17:13)

Testimonies, God-stories about others encountering God can have an effect on our own faith.  There is no evidence that this band of 10 believed at all in Jesus prior to this moment.  But when Jesus was present, the testimonies of others primed their own faith causing them to believe that Jesus could have mercy on them and free them from their painful circumstances.

Jesus sees them.  Jesus acknowledged these people who were outcasts and untouchables in that society.  Jesus gives them dignity by responding to their cry for help.  Jesus stops his journey to speak with them, Jesus is not too busy, not too self-important to stop for them.  Jesus is amazing!

Just the other night I was convicted by the Holy Spirit of being totally unlike Jesus was here in this encounter.  I had taken my wife out for a date and we had just had a nice meal.  A man I had not seen before appeared out of the shadows near our car as we tried to get into it (as often happens in South Africa).  He was looking for some money, which I was going to give, but then as we got really close he started suddenly pleading urgently and awkwardly and I baulked, got in the car and drove off – I am sad to say.  In the moments that followed my sense of having not been like Jesus increased and so I repented and asked for God’s forgiveness.  Now one could make arguments against giving in certain settings, but that’s not the point – the point is Jesus stopped and still stops for people and I want to be more like Jesus!

Jesus tells these 10, to go and show themselves to the priests which in our day equates to Jesus saying, “Go, get checked out by the Doctor and you’ll find you’ve been healed and can re-enter normal life!” (see vs14)  They must have looked down at their various sores and lesions which Scripture did not say were healed instantly, rather it says; “And as they went they were cleansed.” (vs14)

It appears as though the healing required a second step of faith.  Step 1 was believe Jesus can heal you and cry out to Him.  Step 2 seems to have been for them believe Jesus that you won’t be wasting your time getting checked out to see if you’re healed because I am going to heal you.  Step 3 “and as they went” they were healed.  They had to take a step of obedient faith and then they were healed.

All 10 are healed as they go on their way and it seems 9 of the 10 just keep going and never come back to thank Jesus.  

Sadly I have seen this pattern repeat itself over and over again over many years.  We have prayed for countless unemployed people, or people wanting a better job, or marriages that are in need….and then when God breaks into people’s lives, in the moment that they should be thanking God, telling the God-story for God’s glory and then continuing to live for God – they disappear.  God warned Israel of doing this to Him in Deuteronomy 8:11-20 saying; “take care lest you forget the Lord your God” (vs11) when God answers your prayers for a Promised Land, “beware lest you say in your heart, my power and the might of my hand have gotten me this” (vs17).

But one of the men did return to Jesus, fell on his face before Jesus’ feet and gave thanks worshipping Jesus for the miraculous and instant healing he had received.  May we be like this guy!  May we be those who honour God as the source of all good gifts to us.

Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. (James 1:17)

May we be those who don’t only remember God when we feel like we need Him, but who remember God when we need to praise, honour, worship and thank Him.  After all God is worthy of praise always, everyday, for giving us Jesus who died on the cross for our sins and healed us not of some disease but delivered us from sin and sin’s punishment to come.  Live your whole life as a response of love to Him.

See, Love, Act (Acts 3:1-10)

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After the rousing sermon that followed the remarkable prayer meeting and the incredibly deep fellowship of the early church all recorded in Acts 2, Acts 3 has an air of normality about it as it starts.

Peter and John are about to enter the Temple complex at around 3pm in the afternoon which was the time of prayer.  The earliest believers had been raised all their lives up to the present of Jews, and the earliest church assimilated it’s new revelations about Jesus with their habitual rhythms (like daily prayer here in the Temple complex).

At an the entrance was a man who was lame, who had been unable to walk since birth.  He was seated at the gate asking people for money considering his state.  

What do Christ Followers do when faced with human needs like; this man’s physical, emotional, financial & spiritual need?

They SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  

Like Jesus with Bartimaeus (see Mark 10:46-52) who stopped for Bartimaeus, Peter and John stop for this crippled man.  They SEE him, they LOVE him enough to acknowledge his presence and this action of SEEING and STOPPING must have communicated value to him. 

They didn’t just toss some coins in the dust although he would probably have been happy with that.  Rather they stopped and looked at him saying; “Look at us… Peter said, “I have no silver and gold, but what I do have I give to you. In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk!”

They loved him enough to stop and to see him, to recognise him as a person but then they met a deeper need than even the need he would have identified as his need.  He was asking for money, they saw past that need and saw how being crippled would never allow him to do anything except beg for money and so they reached out and acted with faith speaking life, healing & health into his body all in the name of Jesus!

Having spoken with faith, Peter then reached out in faith with his hands to lift the man up and as he did Dr Luke records that the man’s feet and ankles were immediately made strong.  Peter and John, SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith when confronted with this man’s need.

The way Dr Luke records this miracle and the sequence of events, I can’t help be wonder whether the man would not have been healed unless Peter had had the faith to pray believing God would heal, and then also having the faith to stretch out his hand to lift him up so as to take his first steps ever as a person born cripple.

What life transforming things are passing us by every day?

What would God have you do, small or large that can transform someone else’s life?

Are your ears and eyes open to the leading of the Holy Spirit?

Dr Luke knows this condition was congenital, knows it had lasted 40yrs (Acts 4:22),  and so he records the medical evidence of this wonderful instant healing in response to Peter and John’s faith and their stepping out in faith.  Dr Luke tells us three times that this man was now walking, in fact more than that he was walking and leaping!

Thomas Walker comments, ‘the power was Christ’s, but the hand was Peter’s’.  Peter and John saw, loved and acted on their faith in Jesus and this man’s life was transformed!

What does God want to do through you in the life of others?

May we be those who SEE, LOVE & ACT in faith.  Amen.

A new Era! (Acts 2:14-41)

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The Holy Spirit has been poured out on those disciples who were waiting and praying as Jesus had commanded them to (Acts 2:1-13), the resultant worship and joy has drawn a crowd of people some of whom are in amazement and some are mocking…

Someone needs to say something! Peter, full of the Holy Spirit stands up and impromptu preaches the first message in the history of the church of Jesus Christ.

He addresses those present, addresses their questions coming from what they have observed (vs15 & 22-24), he draws on OT biblical texts (vs17-21, 25-28 & 34-35) to teach and to convict of sin (vs23) and to motivate them to respond, giving them hope of what God’s response will be (vs38-39).

Many in the crowd are ‘cut to the heart’ (vs37) by listening to Peter’s preaching and as a result they want to respond and so exclaim; “what shall we do then”? (vs37)

38 And Peter said to them, “Repent and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins, and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. 39 For the promise is for you and for your children and for all who are far off, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to himself.” 40 And with many other words he bore witness and continued to exhort them, saying, “Save yourselves from this crooked generation.” 41 So those who received his word were baptized, and there were added that day about three thousand souls.

They asked; “what shall we do?” and Peter’s response is that they should;

  • Repent (be contrite & acknowledge your sin before God & then turn from it)
  • Receive forgiveness (ask Jesus to forgive you of your sin and then receive His forgiveness)
  • Receive the Holy Spirit (having been cleansed of sin, be filled with the Holy Spirit and His new life)
  • Be baptised in water (make an outward demonstration of the inward step of faith you’ve made)

And then those who did these 4 things, get added to the local church community. The Gospel saves individuals but joins them to a family of faith! There is no such thing as Christianity outside of local church community.

Questions for application

  • Have you responded with faith in Jesus to the good news of the Gospel?
  • Have you truly received forgiveness and received the in-filling of the Holy Spirit as a believer?
  • Have you been baptised in water yet or do you need to still take that step declaring your faith?
  • Have you added yourself, joined a local church community as a committed member?  What’s stopping you?

 

Look up! (Colossians 3:1-4)

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The letter to these believers in Colossae (and now to you and I) is about to take a turn towards exhortations on how we should live out our response to the risen LORD Jesus. In these verses 3:1-4 the apostle is changing gear as it were, setting up what he is about to exhort us to do, the godly practical life instruction he is about to give…

But before any life instructions are given, Paul calls us to look upwards again, to consider our great and glorious Jesus again.

May Jesus fill my vision, fill your vision. May who He is and what He has done for us captivate us and motivate us to live our lives in a life response that is fully pleasing to Him and is worship to Him (Colossians 1:10).

What is happening or has happened in your life that is filling your vision, your thoughts?
What can you do practically today to fix your eyes again on Jesus, to look up and not down, to worship not worry?

In all the imperatives to godly living that are about to follow in the letter, need something IF they are avoid just becoming like the rule-keeping rituals & regulations of the false teachers that Paul has warned us of in Chapter 2.

You see it is not just what we do, but why we do what we do that matters!

The motivation behind all the instructions for godly living needs to be our love for Jesus. Otherwise these things will become just another religious list like that of the false teachers.

But when we continually contemplate, meditate on Jesus Christ and His finished work on the cross, then we are filled with the desire to please Him and when we are filled with the desire to please Him with all of our lives then moral instruction like we have in this letter will not shut down the life of God in us but will stimulate & instruct us on how to live in a manner that is fully pleasing to God – the very thing we want to do.

So, set your mind on Jesus, worship Jesus, love Him more and more and you will want to live the life He wants you to live.