Worship

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.

Reset Opportunity (Colossians 3:16-17)

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National Lockdowns and social distancing restrictions stopping churches from gathering for Sunday worship celebrations have the potential to expose & bring adjustment to some unbiblical patterns that have crept into the church of Jesus. Our passage for today says;  

Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him. (Colossians 3:16-17)

1. Corporate not Individual Faith

In our individualistic age, we need first to remember that these words were not written to individuals. “We are writing to God’s holy people in the city of Colosse, who are faithful brothers and sisters in Christ.” (Colossians 1:2 in NLT) Why is this important?

We live in a self-obsessed age. The ‘god’ of our age in the Western world at least – is SELF. Sadly, as believers in Jesus, we are not immune to the influence of our age.  

It is all too common to have individuals or families opting out of regular church gatherings be those physical or virtual due to lockdowns on a Sun or mid-week or for small group times of worship/prayer/God’s word/community/care.  

They do so, rationalising their choice to themselves or others even though they are in flagrant disregard to the command of Scripture not to stop meeting together as the church (Hebrews 10:25).

The problem is that the decision making GRID they are using is too individualistic and is not Biblical – ‘This doesn’t suit me, I don’t have time, I don’t need this…service/prayer meeting or small group.’  

But what is entirely missing is the biblical emphasis we see in our passage today – the very corporate nature of our faith! Biblically, we are a family, a body of believers. We are not individuals doing what serves us and suits us. We are to be those who think of others and their needs as more significant than ourselves (Philippians 2:3-4).  

In Colossians 2:19 & 3:12-17, we see radiating out of Paul’s letter his understanding of the church as a body. The church as a community of faith formed by the Gospel and deeply interconnected.  

Personal Application: 

  • How are you engaging with your local church?  
  • Are you acting like an individualistic, selfish consumer connected to your church in whatever ways you decide while it still serves your needs expectations and desires?  
  • Or are you truly there for the whole body, playing your unique part, totally committed for the sake of the whole body?  
  • I urge you even in these unique times of social distancing, to repent of self-centred thinking and to ask God to help you to make your unique contribution for the sake of those other people God’s put you into contact with through your local church community.  
  • Get into a Community Group and show up each week when it meets, spend yourself for others and watch what God will do in and through you! 
  • Show up for church mtgs, prayer times etc. and reach out to others daily.

 

2. Saturated with God’s Word (vs16)

“Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (vs16)

The Apostle Paul’s desire for this church in Colossae (and for all church communities) is that it be one that is saturated with the Word of God!  

As believers; we have an innate sense that reading the Bible would be good for us and would help us to grow spiritually. And although we might know that Colossians 3:16 urges us to let God’s Word dwell in us abundantly richly – the dangerous modern pattern is that we simply do not read the Bible enough!

Here are some thought-provoking statistics from LifeWay Research (@https://lifewayresearch.com):

  • 88% of Americans own a Bible, and 80% consider the Bible to be a sacred book, yet only 20% of Americans read the Bible regularly.
  • However, more than half of Americans have read little or none of the Bible
  • Less than a quarter of those who have ever read a Bible have a systematic plan for reading the Christian scriptures each day, and a third of Americans never pick it up on their own.
  • 57% read the Bible 4 times a year or less!

We are increasingly in a pattern in the Western church at large of wanting to be spoon-fed Scripture once a week by our pastor through the preaching.  

If God’s Word were equated to the physical food necessary for nourishment for health and growth – many believers would be on a habitual hunger strike! We would be we emaciated and weak due to our eating only once a week (assuming you come to church every week & that the sermons and worship are Scripture saturated, which is a big assumption)! Is it any surprise therefore that the Western church’s spirituality is so emaciated, weak & riddled with compromise?

I unashamedly want to inspire you to hit the reset button in your life and to inspire others around you in your church to do the same. Decide today to commit yourself to a personal habit, a personal devotion of reading, believing and applying God’s Word to your life and watch what God will do in you!

“When it comes to spiritual growth, nothing beats the Bible… Scripture reflection more than any other practice moves people forward in their love for God and love for others.” – Parkinson & Hawkins

Reflection on Scripture is the most potent spiritual practise you could give yourself to. Let the word of God dwell in you and in your church richly, abundantly, deeply. Make Scripture not just your daily pattern but make it central to your thought processes, decision making, your conversations with others.

Personal Application:

Eugene Petersen said of Bible reading that we should “read the Bible with our ears!”. By this, he meant that we need to read listening to the One who authored it – God Himself. The Bible is no ordinary book, so why not try reading, asking the following three questions as you read:

  1. What have I LEARNT about God/faith?
  2. What is God SAYING to me?  
  3. What am I going to DO now?

 

3. #Everyonehasacontributiontomake! (vs16)

As a church, when we all saturate our individual lives with God’s Word, things begin to change as a result in our community of faith.  

  • We all begin to teach and correct and counsel one another with all spiritual wisdom rooted in Scripture not the ideas of the world we live in or our opinions.  
  • We also lose our over-reliance on leadership to teach us once a week through the sermon, rather we start teaching one another from the treasures stored up in our hearts from our own Bible reading.

After all, God promised that we would all know Him (Jeremiah 31:33-34), that we would all be filled with the Holy Spirit (Joel 2:28-29) and Jesus said; ‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me’ (John 10:27).

  • And lastly from our passage, we all begin to overflow with lives of worship and thanksgiving and praise to God. We won’t have an over-reliance on the worship band to gather us to worship, we will initiate worship in whatever context we find ourselves in, we will break out in hymns and spiritual songs filled with thankfulness to God because we are overflowing with these things because we have filled our own life-tanks and so aren’t relying on someone else to fill us, but we bring our plenty and splash it on everyone we engage with.

Colossians 3:16-17 teaches us that in a biblical church, everyone has a contribution to make!  So, let’s all decide today to get into our Bible’s, to fill up our spiritual tank so that we have an overabundant supply to splash on to others in our church.

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What a compelling, inspirational picture of what is possible in your church and in your personal life, if only you and I will allow these lockdown moments to jolt us into a personal and church-wide RESET! Let’s respond to God’s Word to us today and see all that God will do as a result.

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

Magnificient! (Colossians 2:11-15)

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How do you express or explain the wonders of the miracle of our salvation? Paul, in these verses, draws on five distinct word pictures in an attempt to make real to us the wonder of our salvation.

1. Circumcision (vs11)

Male circumcision was the mark of the covenant God had established between Himself and His people (see Genesis 17:10-14). It was the physical sign that this person was set apart for God, was part of God’s people.

Paul takes that whole concept of circumcision and applies it to believers in Jesus. Having believed we are spiritually circumcised, ‘cut off’ from the body of sin (Romans 6:6) that was ‘in-Adam’, and are now correctly described as being ‘in-Christ’ and free from the dominion of sin.

The moment of salvation cuts us off from our old life, our old habits, our old slavery to sin and so we are now free from sin and able to walk in obedience and love for Jesus. We don’t have to try to cut ourselves off from the old life of sin, we have been cut off from it by the finished work of Jesus. His victory is our victory and freedom. We now ought to consider that freedom and victory to be ours and live accordingly (Romans 6:9-11).

We who believe in Jesus and worship Jesus by the Spirit are God’s chosen people now, God’s circumcised ones (Philippians 3:3).

2. Baptism (vs12)

Colossians 2:12 and Romans 6:3-6 both teach that when we believe in Jesus and are baptised as believers, we are united with Jesus in his death and resurrection!

The symbol of baptism in water isn’t just a symbol, but somehow spiritually we are united with Jesus through baptism.

Our going under the water represents our unification with Jesus and His death, and our dying to sin and our old self so that the ‘body of sin might be brought to nothing’ (Romans 6:6).

Our coming up from the water represents our unification with Jesus in His resurrection and our being raised to new life through faith in Jesus (Colossians 2:12-13 & Romans 6:8-11).

Jesus’ death & resurrection remind us of our death to the old life of sin, satan’s control and fear of death and our new life (Colossians 2:13) and hope and freedom that was obtained for us by Jesus on the cross.

[Application point]: If you have not yet been baptised in water as a believer, note how the Apostle Paul has a high view of baptism as having not just symbolic but spiritual significance. I urge you to speak to your pastor about getting baptised in water if you have believed in Jesus.

3. A Record of Debt Notice (vs14)

The third word picture Paul uses is what was known as a ‘cheirographon’ in the Greco-Roman world of the day. This was a legal written note of indebtedness that someone would be given if they had a debt that was as yet unpaid.

Paul uses this metaphor to make clear that when we put our faith in Jesus the legal and moral debt that we owed to God, the debt we carried around with us as a ‘cheirographon’ – that debt was set aside in full.

We were duty-bound to pay that debt, but God set it aside when Jesus stepped in our place and said in effect; ‘I’ll pay for that in full!’ on the cross. When Jesus cried out on the cross in the moment of His death; ‘it is finished!’ (John 19:30) we can understand this to mean that He had paid the price for our freedom from debt in full. And because the price was paid in full, the debt is set aside (Colossians 2:14), the ‘cheirographon’ is annulled, and we are free! No more debt before a Holy God, free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!

4. Crucifixion (vs14)

But what did God do with the ‘cheirographon’? In the time of Jesus and Paul, when someone was crucified, a note would be nailed to the cross to tell everyone what they were guilty of, being executed for.

We know that Pilate had a note nailed to Jesus’ cross that read; “This is Jesus, the King of the Jews.” (Matthew 27:37). This is ironic since this was both the charge against Jesus – that He claimed to be God, and also the truth about Jesus that He was God! This note above Jesus’ head as He is dying for us on the cross reminds Paul of the ‘cheirographon’ that God was setting aside through Jesus’ dying in our place for our sin.

Paul then says, God took that ‘cheirographon’ and nailed it to the cross, this is how God could set aside our debt, Jesus paid for it on the cross in full!

5. Victory! (vs14-15)

The death and resurrection of Jesus was the most glorious victory. In Jesus’ time when a military victory had been won, the defeated king or military officials and their soldiers would be paraded in humiliation and defeat behind the victorious king in a victory parade.

This is the picture in mind for Paul when thinking of the cross of Christ and its impact on our lives as believers. The devil and his devilish host have been utterly triumphed over by Jesus death & resurrection; they have been humiliated and defeated, put to shame openly by Jesus’ magnificent once and for all victory!

What good news this is for us who have believed in Jesus. We are on the winning side for eternity; the battle is won, we know how the story ends. His victory is our victory. So live in the good of His victory and never cower in defeat before satan, sin or death.

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

 

God’s Mystery! (Colossians 2:1-5)

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[Mystery]: something that is difficult or impossible to understand or explain…a religious belief based on divine revelation, especially one regarded as beyond human understanding. ‘Mystery’ is an important category for us who are so finite!

A few years ago, I resolved; ‘to be more in awe’. To be satisfied with being unable to explain everything and satisfied to embrace my limitations and the corresponding magnitude and magnificence of God and His ways.

There is a theme of mystery in the New Testament from the first to the last page. Need I to remind you of the incarnation, angelic visitations, a virgin birth, water into wine, dead people raised, people healed, demons banished, Jesus the God-man walking and talking to everyday people. The King of kings who came to die on a Roman cross as the atoning sacrifice & rise again three days later with a resurrection body and then ascending up into the clouds before His followers promising to send the Holy Spirit and one day return in glory! Mystery – embrace it, believer!

And then there is a mystery in the New Testament that has been revealed, the secret that has been finally told to everyone. God’s mystery, Jesus Christ! (Colossians 2:2)

Jesus is the mystery of God revealed. Paul is defending the church in Colossae from ‘mystery peddlers’, false teachers who were trying to peddle ‘secret teachings’, mysteries they claimed they had ‘special revelation’ about. Paul won’t have any of it. Jesus is God’s mystery revealed. Don’t waste your time with people who are more excited about some supposed new revelation, extra-knowledge they’ve gained that they want to share with you – Jesus Christ is God’s mystery revealed. In the past, God spoke in many ways, through many people & prophets but now;

“…in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son, whom he appointed the heir of all things, through whom also he created the world. 3 He is the radiance of the glory of God and the exact imprint of his nature, and he upholds the universe by the word of his power. After making purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, 4 having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.” (Hebrews 1:2-4)

And what is the mystery which is Christ?

1. The Gospel of Christ: that in Jesus God has revealed a righteousness of God apart from the law (Romans 3:21) that for all who will believe in Jesus (Romans 3:22), Jew and Gentile (Romans 3:29-30). That those who believe are justified by God as a gift of grace (Romans 3:24), declared righteous before the Holy God because of the redemption from the slavery of sin, Satan and death that was made possible by the saving work of Jesus on the cross (Romans 3:24). This happened so that God could be both just and the justifier of anyone who has faith in Jesus (Romans 3:26). Such people are therefore entirely free from sin and given new life in Christ, given the privilege of becoming the children of God (John 1:12) with the certain hope of an eternity in a loving relationship with God. What a glorious mystery revealed!

2. Christ is the King of all kings: The mystery of Jesus is that Jesus is not just the Messiah for the Jewish people. But that Jesus the promised Messiah came to save all types of people, to be King of all who would believe in Him. God’s chosen people had a history of thousands of years cherishing their chosen status, the honour of being God’s covenant people, awaiting a Messiah who was coming to reign and rule for them. The mystery of the New Testament is that God’s Messiah, Jesus came for Jews and Gentiles alike. In Jesus God has made;

“…known to us the mystery of his will, according to his purpose, which he set forth in Christ as a plan for the fullness of time, to unite all things in him, things in heaven and things on earth.” (Ephesians 1:9-10)

This mystery is that the Gentiles are fellow heirs, members of the same body, and partakers of the promise in Christ Jesus through the gospel.” (Ephesians 3:6)

Therefore through faith in Christ “you are all sons of God, through faith. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s offspring, heirs according to promise.” (Galatians 3:26-28)

Jesus is the long-awaited Messiah-King.  Who has come and conquered the great enemies that stood against us and proclaimed the freedom of His kingdom rule and reign. He will come again for ALL who will believe in Him and reign with them forever and ever in a new heaven and a new earth. Magnificient marvellous mystery revealed.

3. Christ in us the hope of glory: A miracle happens when we put our faith in Jesus. We die to sin & we are made alive to God in Christ Jesus (Romans 6:7-11), we are those who have been brought from death to life, but the life we now live is, in fact, the life of Christ in us (Galatians 2:20)! One of the most profound and prolific statements used in the New Testament is the phrase ‘in Christ’, which appears 90 times. The life of Jesus pulsating through every believer is the source of our new way of seeing the world, our new desires, identity, sense of belonging & purpose, our sanctification our assurance, our peace, our relationships and our hope for the future…

In Colossians, it says; “the mystery hidden for ages and generations but now revealed to his saints. To them God chose to make known how great among the Gentiles are the riches of the glory of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory.” (Colossians 1:26-27)

Do you want to grow as a believer? There is no secret knowledge you need to make progress. Because Jesus is God’s mystery revealed. The One; “in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Colossians 2:3)

So make much of Jesus! Meditate on Jesus, worship Jesus, spend time with Jesus, love Jesus…  Doing so will result in your encouragement, in your being knit together in love with others who love Jesus (the church), will result in you growing in assurance and confidence in your walk with God and will cause you to grow in your knowledge and understanding of God (Colossians 2:2).  So make much of Jesus, God’s mystery revealed.

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

Gospel Vignette (Ps 89:14)

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photo-illustration-drawing-pencil-strokes-black-religious-theme-crucified-christ-calvary-beige-background-vignette-144925712Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne, steadfast love and faithfulness go before you.” (Psalm 89:14)

Ethan the Ezrahite could not have been able to see the full revelation of the wonder of the Gospel yet but this one line in his psalm encapsulates so much of the Gospel!

God’s throne (‘your throne’) evokes thoughts about God’s rule, God’s kingdom.  God’s rule is characterised by, is founded on God’s character, His nature.  Who God is, defines His kingdom.

And as the Psalmist says, God is righteous.  This means God always does the right thing in every situation.  God is utterly pure in character and flawless in His actions.  God is perfect in all He does and is and there is no stain or shadow or turning in Him at all. God’s righteousness is the reason God is holy, totally ‘other than’ anything and anyone else because no one else is righteous.

God is just.  He has no favouritism in Him, no partiality that leads to injustice to some. God cannot be influenced so that evil or sin is allowed to prevail or go unchecked or unpunished.  God can’t ‘turn a blind eye’ to sin.

Jesus’ righteousness and His justice make Jesus the perfect King.  We reverently fear Him because of His righteous justice and yet we are also comforted that the injustices we see daily will be judged.

Because God is just and righteous, we sinners need a Saviour lest we perish in our sin under the righteous judgment of God’s justice.  God is righteous in administering His justice and so we need a Saviour.

Steadfast love and Faithfulness announce God’s presence or His coming.  Like a praise singer walking out in front of God.  Yet the God He announces is characterised by steadfast love and faithfulness so how ought we to approach this righteous, just, Holy, loving, faithful King?

Here is the paradox that is the Gospel.  God is holy, righteous & just and we are not!  Yet as our Creator, God loves the unlovely and so in love He chose to give Himself for us on the cross to satisfy His righteous justice and to simultaneously express His love.  When Jesus died in our place for our sin the righteous One became unrighteous so that we the unrighteous could be made righteous so that we could be reconciled to God in love!

And because Jesus did this, God is faithful to Jesus (1 John 1:9) to forgive the sin of anyone who approaches Him as their King and asks Him to forgive them of all their sins.

Amazing God, awesome Saviour!

The Re-Mix (Psalm 98)

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[Firstly, thanks so much to Tom and Donrich who wrote devotions for me in December on 1 & 2 Timothy! Such good content, thanks guys.]

Psalm 98 is a song, that was sung for a thousand years with a particular meaning and significance to God’s people.

But since the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus as our Messiah King, it now carries an even greater significance than the original composer could never have contemplated.

The composer sings of God’s deliverance of Israel from its enemies (vs1-3) how God is worthy of new songs, songs that express gratitude in new ways, fresh melodies and rhythms (vs1).

But for the believer in Jesus, this Psalm about salvation now carries even more profound meaning. God has now revealed His plan for salvation for His people, in fact, for all people through Jesus Christ (vs2).

The whole Old Testament pointed to the time when Jesus would come; however, those events could only be seen dimly to all those believers in the Old Testament.

But then Jesus did come (as we have just celebrated at Christmas) and God’s plan for salvation was revealed (Ephesians 3:9 & Colossians 1:24-29) in all its glory and wonder to the apostles and the early church.

God’s salvation story is no longer a mystery, but a mystery revealed to the praise of His glorious grace (Ephesians 1:3-10)!

So, ‘sing to the LORD and new song, for He has done marvellous things!’ (vs1)

For, God has worked salvation for us in a way that no one could ever have imagined. God became flesh and gave Himself for us to save us from Himself so that we could be with Him forever. Sing a new song about that – marvel at that!

God did this before all the nations. The great empire of Rome heard about it, ancient Greece. God made known His salvation not just to Israel but to every nation, to all people (vs2-3). So much so that every person on planet earth has their history and their calendars hinged around Jesus’ birth date! The good news of salvation through Jesus; ‘will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come’ (Matthew 24:14).

What was once Israel’s song, is not a song for anyone who will believe in King Jesus and bow their knee in glorious good surrender.

So, let the whole earth worship God for Jesus is the King of all kings. Jesus is worthy of majestic, beautiful worship with diverse instruments and melodies (vs4-6).

Let the whole of creation join in and worship King Jesus for he has come not just to redeem humankind but to redeem all things (Romans 8:19-23) and one day to declare; ‘Behold, I am making all things new!’ (Revelation 21:5)

Psalm 98 is an old song revitalised by new revelation, transforming it into an eternally relevant song about King Jesus. Worship Jesus today, sing your own new song, use your own worship let worship bubble up and out of you, He is worthy of all praise forever.

Future Song (Psalm 30)

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I find it fascinating to think that according to the title of the Psalm – David composed Psalm 30 for the dedication of the temple.

And yet, David was not alive for the dedication of the temple since it happened after he had died, during the time of his son Solomon’s reign.

But in faith, David wrote a song to be sung at some time in the future. A future he would not see with his eyes, but one which by faith he could see – and so prepared a song for it.

Psalm 30 itself is a Psalm of thanksgiving to God. David thanks God for deliverance (vs1), for healing (vs2-3) and the restoration of joy and thankfulness (vs11-12).

It is so important to stop and to thank God. After all, when we express our thanks publicly at least six things happen;

1. God gets glorified as the Giver, Protector, Provider, Source, Comforter, Guide, Sustainer, Forgiver, Redeemer, the ONE who answers prayers, who heals & as our loving Father.

2. We get right-sized (humility); we get the right perspective. Because by thanking God for something we are acknowledging that we did not do this thing, it was not our power or ability or cleverness.

3. We have our faith strengthened for the future – seeing past grace is the foundation for future faith!

4. Others get encouraged – if God did that for you, then others are stirred to keep trusting God themselves.

5. God’s nature & character get displayed – God stories help all who experienced them and those who heard of them to grow in their understanding of God. More than this, those who are on a journey towards faith can hear about what God is really like, not from a book but from real-life stories!

6. The Devil is defeated – Revelation 12:11 tells us that it’s by the blood of the Lamb & the Word of our testimony that the Devil will ultimately be conquered. The more we honour God, the more glorious His praise, the more defeated is the enemy.

Through his life, David had experienced God in such amazing ways that He had faith that God would do what He had promised to do – to bless David’s line and to allow His son Solomon to build God a temple (1 Chronicles 22:6-19)!

And so David in faith wrote this Psalm of thanks for the future. What have you experienced of God? What can you thank God for, and how can that become a testimony to others and a foundation of hope for the future?

Compromise & Judgement (Hosea 8-9)

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Israel’s sin of idolatry is described in detail in Hosea 8-9, while enemies are waiting like a vulture readying itself to descend upon Israel in judgement (Hosea 8:1). Why?

Because these people cry; ‘My God…we know you’ (Hosea 8:2) However, the truth is that they had continually spurned the one true God (Hosea 8:3) and so they will be pursued by the enemy and taken off into exile in the nations.

Israel had appointed kings without asking for God’s guidance, appointed princes without God’s approval (Hosea 8:4 in NLT). They were worldly, no different from the nations around them, they lived and led as though God was not on His throne and as though God had no authority in their lives.

To make matters worse, Israel had made idols for themselves from their silver and gold. And because of this, they had brought about their own destruction (Hosea 8:4).

When the kingdom of Israel was divided (see 1 Kings 12) Jeroboam sinfully built altars for sacrifices in Bethel & Dan and had two golden calves built for these places of false worship. “And he said to the people, ‘You have gone up to Jerusalem long enough. Behold your gods, O Israel, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.'” (1 Kings 12:28)

In Hosea 8, God expresses His righteous anger at this sinful offensive act and how it had been perpetuated in Samaria for nearly 200yrs – ‘I have spurned your calf, O Samaria. My anger burns against them…the calf of Samaria shall be broken to pieces.’ (Hosea 8:5-6)

The beginning of the Ten Commandments reads;

“I am the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery. You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself a carved image, or any likeness of anything that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or serve them, for I the LORD your God am a jealous God…” (Exodus 20:1-5)

This idolatry with the golden calves was outright rebellion against God, and it was going to be punished by Him.  

The ‘worship’ and sacrifices in Samaria mimicked the worship God had ordained for the temple in Jerusalem. There were similarities, therefore. But God refused to accept the syncretistic compromised worship of the northern Tribes at their self-made temples with their golden calves – ‘but the LORD does not accept them.’ (Hosea 8:13).

So their external ‘religious’ actions had no effect; their sins were not going to be forgiven; rather, their sins would be remembered by God and punished by God (Hosea 8:13).

‘Israel has forgotten his Maker’ – (Hosea 8:14). A chilling echo of this passage is found in Romans 1:18-32 where also there is judgement coming because of the willful decision to exchange; ‘the truth about God for a lie and worshipped and served the creature rather than the Creator’ (Romans 1:25).

Because of Israel’s idolatry, they will be exiled to Assyria and Egypt for; ‘the days of punishment have come; the days of recompense have come.’ (Hosea 9:7) ‘Woe to them when I depart from them!’ (Hosea 9:12) ‘My God will reject them because they have not listened to Him; they shall be wanders among the nations.’ (Hosea 9:17)

These are sad chapters. There is no good news in them, no ray of hope as in earlier chapters.

So what does this mean for us?

  • Warnings are important to take heed of! In life, we ignore warnings at our peril.
  • I thank God for passages like this. Although you don’t find them on Christian bumper stickers or the like, they are essential.
  • Passages like this contain solemn warnings. May we not be like these people who willfully disobeyed God’s clear commands, who compromised and mixed true worship of God with idolatry.
  • Is there any way in which you are ignoring a clear command of Scripture?
  • Is there any way in which you are dabbling in trusting in anything or anyone other than Almighty God?
  • If you are, repent now, don’t delay even a minute.
  • “Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind” (Luke 10:27)

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.

Eat the Fish and Spit Out the Bones (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21)

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Do not stifle the Holy Spirit. 20 Do not scoff at prophecies, 21 but test everything that is said. Hold on to what is good. 22 Stay away from every kind of evil (1 Thessalonians 5:19-22 in the NLT Translation)

Paul’s instruction here to the believers is rooted in his desire that they and we too, do not inadvertently stifle the activity of the Holy Spirit in our lives and in church when it is gathered.

The fact that he has to warn them and us means that it is possible to do, so we should take heed of this warning.

Paul goes on to explain HOW we might stifle the work of the Spirit – by ‘scoffing at prophecies’ (vs20), treating them as nothing important.

Prophecy in the NT era is most simply hearing from God for someone else. Someone who brings a prophecy is allowing God to use them to bless, build-up, correct, direct or encourage people as they hear God’s voice through their actions and words.

Prophecy can be corporate or personal in nature and prophecy can take different forms such as a word for someone, a picture or an impression or a Scripture.

For Paul, prophecy was an essential part of biblical church life and community and so was not to be scoffed at, stifled or quenched.

The balance here is that every prophetic utterance is to be ‘tested’ or examined. We need to ask whether what has been shared lines up with Scripture? (vs21) We also need to remember that this side of heaven, all prophesy is ‘in-part’ (1 Corinthians 13:12), meaning that all prophetic contributions will be fallible to some degree.

So, don’t stifle prophecy & don’t blindly accept everything that is spoken in the name of God. Rather, eagerly desire prophecy in your life and in the life of the church (1 Corinthians 14:1) but test all prophetic utterances against the plumbline of Scripture. So, eat the fish and spit out the bones!

 

Dynamite Comes in Small Packages (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

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Rejoice always, pray without ceasing, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

A two-word verse followed by a three-word verse followed by a slightly longer one. Such short verses with such challenge!

In vs16, it’s the ‘always’ that ramps up the challenge factor! Who would have a problem with rejoicing in good things? Our problem is rejoicing in all things, in those hard situations and or rejoicing still when things have not gone the way we would like them to go.

And yet this is God’s will for us, so it is possible to do. But how can it be possible to rejoice always or in all circumstances?

I believe that this is possible for the Christ Follower when we consider Jesus, who He is, and what He has done for us. We can always thank God for Jesus, for loving us when we were unlovely when we were His enemies.

No matter what is happening in our lives, if we have put our faith in Jesus, we have been forgiven of our sin, set free from the wrath of God’s righteous judgement and have been granted eternal life with God. We have been given the privilege of being called the children of God! As believers we know that whatever we might be facing is going to be swallowed up by the glory to come for us; “For this light momentary affliction is preparing for us an eternal weight of glory beyond all comparison” (2 Corinthians 4:17).

So, we can always rejoice. I am not saying this is easy to do, but it is God’s will for us, according to vs18. And so it is possible, and it is for our very best.

Pray without ceasing (vs17). One more word than the previous verse and yet no less challenging. Praying without ceasing is the opposite of living a worldly life, living life as though God doesn’t exist.

To pray in this way is to practice God’s presence amid your everyday life. To pray in this way is to master the art of always being in two places at once. Being wherever you find yourself at any given moment and being with God, aware of His presence in that place or situation.

How amazing it would be to be in continual conversation with God, accessing His Help and wisdom, knowing His love, affirmation & His guidance! This is not some onerous command; this is an invitation to live a life on a whole new level.

Lastly, ‘give thanks in all circumstances’ (vs18) is not an instruction to give thanks for all circumstances. Rather, it is to be aware of God in everything and to be mindful of what you can thank your Father for. Growing in gratitude cultivates a heart of worship and breathes life-giving perspective into all of life.

Walk in a manner worthy of God (1 Thessalonians 2:11-12)

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shutterstock_774641692_1078_375_s_c1“For you know how, like a father with his children, 12 we exhorted each one of you and encouraged you and charged you to walk in a manner worthy of God, who calls you into his own kingdom and glory.”

Spend time contemplating this phrase; ‘walk in a manner worthy of God’. The Christian life is a journey; it’s a road we walk. And according to this passage, how we walk really matters.

So spend some time now and ask God whether there is anything in the way you’re walking, in how you’re living that is not honouring to God. David used to do this by praying these words; 

“Search me, O God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 Point out anything in me that offends you, and lead me along the path of everlasting life.” (Psalms 139:23-24 in NLT)

Why not spend some time reflecting and praying that prayer and if God shows you anything in your walk that is not worthy of God, then just repent of it, turn away from it, stop it and ask God to forgive you and to cleanse you from all unrighteousness (1 John 1:9) and then walk free, and keep walking to honour God with your whole life.

Authentic Faith (1 Thessalonians 1:6-10)

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Paul and his companions were convinced that the Thessalonians were true believers because:

  1. The Gospel proclamation was accompanied by signs and wonders & by the power of the Holy Spirit displayed (vs5).
  2. The Thessalonian believers received the good news about Jesus with full conviction. They weren’t uncertain about what they had heard & believed (vs5).
  3. These believers also began to imitate the faith and the life-example of Paul and his ministry companions; they learnt his ways and changed theirs (vs6).
  4. So much so, that they became an example to other believers elsewhere as the testimony of their faith spread (vs7-9).

True believers in Jesus, turn from worshipping anything else to worshipping and serving the one true God. More than this, they live then with eager expectation for the return of Jesus Christ the Son. The one whom God raised from the dead, the one who alone can deliver those who believe in Him from the wrath to come (vs9-10).

The Gospel doesn’t just change our eternal address it transforms our lives, our thinking, our speech, our lifestyles, our rhythms, our habits, our community…

What an amazing clear testimony these believers in Jesus had. The evidence of their changed lives testified loudly to the authenticity of their faith. People were speaking about the changes that had occurred in them.

When we truly make God the centre of our lives, everything begins to revolve around Him and find it’s proper perspective or orientation to Him.  

Is your faith crystal clear like that of the Thessalonians? Is it evident to others that you have forsaken any other “gods”? And that in their place you are passionately focussed on, worshipping and serving God with your whole life?

This is the only “reasonable response” (see the NIV or ESV footnote of Romans 12:1) if you have grasped the wonder of who Jesus is and what He has done for you.  

May you, may we live lives that are radically focussed on Jesus, worshipping and serving Him for His glory, while we wait for His glorious return!

God the Centre (Numbers 9-10)

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In Numbers 9, the people of God have been out of Egypt for just over a year camped at the base of Mount Sinai. At this moment, just before they set out into the Wilderness on their journey to the Promised Land, God establishes a rhythm of worship and God provides an observable fulfilment of His promise to Moses.

Exodus 33:15-16 records how God promised that His presence would always be with His people, and how Moses implored God to make His manifest presence always known amongst His people;

And he said to him, “”If your presence will not go with me, do not bring us up from here. 16 For how shall it be known that I have found favor in your sight, I and your people? Is it not in your going with us, so that we are distinct, I and your people, from every other people on the face of the earth?”” (Exodus 33:15-16)

Accordingly, God’s people were then neatly arranged in an orderly fashion. They had assigned roles & responsibilities. God had given specific instructions on the details of worship centred around the tabernacle, and in Numbers 9, we read of two pillars that were God’s answer to Moses’ request recorded in Exodus 33:15.

The pillars of cloud and fire hovering over the tabernacle signified God’s presence in the midst of His people. God’s presence was right there at the centre of the elaborate arrangement of the twelve tribes, the focal point. God was quite literally at the centre of their lives! Worship of God was central to their lives, God’s presence being with them was central, it was paramount to them.

Also in Numbers 9-10 we read about a rhythm of worship and remembrance (Passover and other feasts like the Day of Atonement) all established by God. These rhythms continuously reminded God’s people of their need of Him, of how God had delivered them & provided a way for them to be forgiven.

Now, we don’t live in tents arranged around a tabernacle in a desert, and we don’t have pillars of cloud and fire. However, just as they were arranged with God at the centre of everything. Just as their lives had a rhythm that God established, ensuring that He was not just physically but mentally at the centre of their lives. We too are wise, when we arrange our lives around God. We are wise when we arrange our lives around regular corporate rhythms of worship. Gathering together as the people of God (the church), drawing near to Him together, in repentance forgiveness and worship.

We live in an age of impossible busyness, where the habit and the rhythm of gathering on a Sunday every week is being pushed out to the periphery for many! In South Africa, small towns used to have church buildings at the centre. Church buildings are right there on the main street or in the centre square of the town. The assembly of God’s people for worship was central to the rhythm of life, and this centrality even had a physical manifestation. Today, the church building has been replaced by the mall, the soccer stadium, the TV…

Moses’ plea that God be at the centre, that His presence never leaves us – seems forgotten. It is commonplace for people to treat gathering as a church for worship on a Sunday as an occasional thing.

For many believers, if their lives were a camp, the tabernacle/Sunday worship would no longer be at the centre! Gathering for church on a Sunday is just no longer central to their lives, their thinking or their regular rhythms! Corporate worship as God’s people has slipped on the list of priorities for many so that it is now lower on the list of priorities than family, recreation, rest…

But this is not how God meant it to be! This is not what Moses pleaded for in Exodus 33. God is meant to be at the centre of our personal lives, our families, and gathering for corporate worship as a whole church is God’s way and wisdom.

The writer to the Hebrews urges us as believers to not give up the habit, the rhythm of meeting together as the church, because that rhythm puts God at the centre of our lives, it demonstrates what we believe (Hebrews 10:24-25).

I urge you to consider your life, your choices, your regular rhythms & your priorities. If your life were a camp, would it be obvious that God & the gathering with His people for worship was the centre of your life? Is your life arranged around the gathering of the saints or is Sunday worship or Small Group something you occasionally do when there isn’t anything else more pressing? We can not replace the gathering of the saints for corporate worship, the word of God & fellowship with private times of worship and PODCAST or VODCAST sermons.

God’s people have always for millennia arranged their lives around the rhythm of their gathering for worship together, God’s presence has always been central to the life of the believer – is it yours?

Don’t do this because you feel you HAVE TO, but because YOU WANT TO, or if you can’t say at present you want to make it your regular rhythm to gather with the church for worship then at least acknowledge that it is the WISDOM OF GOD and a command of Scripture (Hebrews 10:25) and so re-prioritise your life, your weeks and weekends and put God at the centre again and your heart will be melted in His presence so that in time it will once again become what you want to do.

Fearfully & Wonderfully Made (Numbers 4)

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Reading Numbers 1-4, it is clear that God is specific and detailed. The camp was set up in an evident ordered pattern with the Tabernacle, the symbol of God’s presence in the middle of it all.

Numbers 4 details the roles of various of the Levite clans who served beside the priests in the Tabernacle. God was specific and detailed; individuals and groups had specifically designated roles.

Eleazar (Aaron’s son) had a specific role concerning the oil and incense and other items used in the worship in the Tabernacle. God chose him specifically. Aaron and his sons were to “appoint them each to his task and to his burden” (Numbers 4:19), “according to the commandment of the LORD through Moses they were listed, each one with his task of serving or carrying.” (Numbers 4:49)

So what! I hear you say. How does this have any impact in my life? We can always ask of any passage the following questions;
1. What can I/we learn about God?
2. What can I/we learn about people or faith?
3. What can I/we learn about myself?
4. And what is God asking me TO DO as a result?

What can I/we learn about God?

God is specific and ordered. God cares about details. We see this in the intricate design of creation and the human body. We also learn that God is holy, and the worship of him must be filled with reverence and awe, the sons of Kohath needed to work with special care to not touch the ‘holy things’ lest they die!

What can I/we learn about people or faith?

God gifts people, equips people uniquely and diversely for a myriad of specific God-given roles. We live in an age which esteems ‘freedom’ as the notion that one can choose to do and be whatever one wants to, self-determination is enshrined. But God as our creator, is purposeful in how He has made us in all our diversity of race, gender, personality & gifting. Ephesians 2:10 declares; “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.” Specificity, God-ordained purpose! Maybe freedom is more about discovering through Scripture and by the leading of the Holy Spirit what God has intended for us than it is about us self-determining who we are!

What can I learn about myself?

A prayer… “Lord, you commanded all these people with specific roles in ministering to You. How can I best live for Your glory and not my fulfilment? How can I better know Your design for me and the ‘good-works’ You have planned for me? Lead me, Lord, speak to me and help me to humbly embrace Your design as my loving LORD, Father & Creator.”

And what is God asking me TO DO as a result?

Spend time thinking about this prayerfully and then responding in whatever way God directs.