Monday, 30 April 2012

This little light of mine

"You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden.  Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house.  Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven. - Matthew 5v14-16

I am sure that I may have memorised Bible verses when I was a child on occasional visits to Sunday School or Vacation Bible School (Holiday Bible Clubs, or what we call ‘Kids’ Klub Kamp’ here in Naas). The first verse I remember memorising though would have been before I was saved in about 1969. I was in an organisation called the Order of DeMolay. It is kind of like a junior masonic lodge. It is a youth organisation now called ‘DeMolay International’ whose purpose was to build character and do community service. Though not Christian and not really Bible based, as part of one of the rituals we had to memorise Matthew 5v16 – ‘Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works and glorify your Father which is in heaven.’

Though misapplied there to anyone try to please God by doing good works, the teaching did have an impact on my life. That, along with my dad’s instruction early on, taught me the importance of doing good for others.

That was a good lesson. I learned how to try and be good to people. I learned that good works benefited everyone practically, but it was a few more years before I realised that good works alone did nothing for my eternity.

Jesus came as the Light of the World. His light brings eternal life. It is not until we receive His gift of light that His light can shine through us. He is the fuel that keeps the light burning. He shines His light and His light is seen in our good works. Our good works don’t produce the light.

So what do we do with His light? Jesus gives two illustrations. A bright and shining city which is built on a hill is not hidden; it is there for everyone to see. When we buy a lamp and bring it home we don’t hide it under a bucket. Light is to be seen and enlighten the room where it is. ‘Brighten the corner where you are!’ is pretty good advice. If the light is there it will shine and it will shine in doing good works. Works is not the source of the light, but the result of it.

We teach kids the song ‘This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. This little light of mine, I’m going to let it shine. This little light of mine I’m going to let it shine, let it shine, let it shine, let it shine. Let it shine till Jesus comes…’ That is more than just a kid’s song. This verse is more than just a verse in a part of a ritual. It is life, and it is vital that we shine our lights in the midst of this ‘crooked and perverse generation.’

The darker our world and the fewer the lights where we are the more important it is that we shine.

Sunday, 29 April 2012


"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavour, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. – Matthew 5v13

‘You are the salt of the earth’ Jesus said. ‘But if salt loses its flavour it is worthless.’

Salt is one of those things that has a huge impact on the world. Wars have been fought over salt. It is the most basic of seasonings, but in days past it was vital as a preservative as well. People have been paid in salt. Our English word ‘salary’ even comes from the same Latin word as ‘salt.’

When Jesus called us the salt of the earth He was stressing our importance to the world. We are to be the seasoning and preserving presence that gives the world hope. One of our tasks is to simply ‘shake the salt’ of the gospel as we meet and deal with people and handle the various situations that we deal with.

But what happens when salt loses its saltiness? First of all, can that even happen? The salt that we use on our tables doesn’t ever lose its saltiness. Does that mean that Jesus’ illustration is flawed?

Well, the matter is pretty simple. In Jesus day when people thought about salt they did not think about the pure refined NaCl that we see on our tables. The salt they thought about would have been more like what we call ‘halite’ or ‘rock salt.’ It is not pure salt, but is still combined with various minerals. That’s why we don’t use rock salt as a table seasoning. The problem with rock salt is that through weathering and washing away the NaCl can be washed out leaving only the minerals that the sodium clung to. When that happened the ‘salt’ was worthless and no better than the dirt under people’s feet.

Jesus is telling us here that if we are not doing our job and when we have lost our saltiness we are spinning our wheels and wasting our time. We are like that rock salt with the NaCl washed out and is now just a bunch of dust.

It is important that we remember our role as the salt of the earth. It is vital that we don’t lose our saltiness and lose our effectiveness for Him.

Let’s go out and shake the salt today!

Saturday, 28 April 2012


Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. "Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.  Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you. – Matthew 5v10-12

Of all our beatitudes this is the one that would most cause us to stop and scratch our heads the most. ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted. Blessed are you when you are reviles and persecutes. Blessed are you when they say all kinds of evil lies about you. Rejoice, be exceeding glad!’

Huh? Rejoice about all that kind of stuff? That is NOT a popular message. Rejoice when we are being attacked and persecuted and lied about and reviled? Not only rejoice, but be ‘exceeding glad?’ Huh? Can that be right?

There it is though. In black and white (or red and white) the words are clear, blessed are the persecuted and reviled and lied about.

Because of the relative peace that the church in the west has enjoyed for the last couple of centuries we have become accustomed to peace and security. We not only expect freedom from persecution, but many in the western church expect the governments to support and favour them. We have grown to think that because we are God’s people we deserve some kind of special status and protection.

But we forget that for most of our history we have been the unpopular people. We have been reviled and attacked and persecuted and lied about. We forget that for a huge part of the church today persecution and lies and imprisonment and separation from family and harassment and physical punishment and death are the norm. We forget about places like Iran where the church is undercover and meeting in secret and where pastors are sentenced to death for not recounting their faith. We forget about places like Vietnam where Christians sneak through the night to meet in dirty cramped shacks to worship the Lord together.

Christians in the west, especially the 'Wealthy West', have no problems claiming God’s blessing. We claim blessing when we finish our fancy new church buildings or massive worship complexes. We claim God’s blessing when we install fancy new lighting fixtures or grand pianos or expensive organs. We claim God’s blessing for all kinds of material possessions. ‘Look how God is blessing us!’ we say on the day we that open a fancy new building that we may very well have gone into debt to build.

But nowhere in this passage do we read ‘Blessed are the rich, blessed are those who worship in fancy surroundings. Blessed are those who have a Starbucks in their family worship centre. Blessed are those whose choirs wear fancy robes and whose pastors wear expensive suits.’

I wonder which church is truly blessed. We say we are blessed when we have freedom to worship, when the government is on our side, when we have our fancy buildings, and when our bank accounts are full. God says the church is blessed when it is persecuted and lied about and reviled like our brothers and sisters in Christ in places like Iran and Vietnam.

I don’t know, I really don’t, but something seems askew here.

You will note that I left a key element out of the statement. ‘Blessed are the persecuted for righteousness sake…blessed are you when men lie about you for My sake.’ When persecution and lies and reviling do come we had better be sure that it is for righteousness sake and for the name of Christ. Let’s be sure that it doesn’t come just because we are jerks.

Friday, 27 April 2012

Blessed are the peacemakers

Blessed are the peacemakers: for they shall be called the children of God. – Matthew 5v9

Peacemaking can be the furthest thing from some people’s minds. We can get so busy ‘contending for the faith’ that we forget all about making peace. Our culture has, for a long time, honoured and exalted the violent. Our heroes tend to be the warriors and generals. We when we watch sport, not unlike the Romans, the stars are often the most violent players on the field. War is seen almost as a sport. The sad thing is that many Christians get caught in the same trap of extoling violence, combat, and fighting.

Sure, there are times when we must stand and there are times when we must fight. The word of God acknowledges that.

But this exalting and glorification of violence is not in line with God’s plan. God has a plan more based on peace. Jesus set the example when He said ‘My peace I leave to you.’ One of the qualifications of a pastor is that he is ‘not a brawler.’ We are instructed in the book of Hebrews to ‘seek peace with all men.’ I think it is obvious that seeking peace is God’s plan for us. In fact, this verse tells us that the children of God are indeed peacemakers.

How do you and I measure up as peacemakers? Do we seek peace first, or as a last resort?

Blessed are the peacemakers, for they are the children of God.

Thursday, 26 April 2012

Blessed are the pure in heart

Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God. – Matthew 5v8

It seems like all of the things that Jesus calls blessed are things that the world looks down on.

There is a word that none of us like. Though it had a noble start the word ‘prude’ has now become an insult. Nobody wants to be a prude. We all like to have a little bit of worldly wise-ness. Everyone wants to be just a little bit of a ‘bad girl’ or ‘bad boy’ and everyone seems to want to hang around them. Nobody likes being a ‘holier’ or a ‘prude’ or a ‘better than thou.’

Now, that might be true if a person is a hypocrite or judgemental or putting on a show that might indeed really be a problem.

But we need to realise that purity is not a virtue to be ashamed of. Purity honours God. True prudishness, in its original sense of ‘wisdom or prudence’ is a virtue, not something to be embarrassed about.

The verse says ‘blessed are the pure in heart.’ That purity, which allows us to see God, only comes at salvation when we receive the purity of Christ. There is no way to be truly pure on our own.

Our part comes in the practical outworking of that inner purity. If our hearts are pure our lives should reflect it. Outward purity should be our goal, not something we are ashamed of. If our heart is right and we are only seeking our own godly purity without feeing superior then we continue to pursue it. If our hearts our right eventually people will see that we are genuine.

When that happens they may begin to see Christ in us, and isn’t that our purpose after all?

Wednesday, 25 April 2012

Blessed are the merciful

Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy. – Matthew 5v7

I used to play a game with the kids and now I play it with the grandkids. You face your ‘opponent’ and grasp hands interlocking fingers. The goal is to put pressure on the others persons hands until they cry out for ‘mercy.’

Now, I have played this game when I was younger with people my size. Then it was a fair contest. Even though I was a little guy I had developed a really strong grip in my work as a sheet metal worker so I could beat most guys I played with.

The loser here always has to plead for mercy from the stronger opponent. Of course, when I play with the kids (for now at least) I always have to show mercy, even if they don’t ask for it.

Mercy is not receiving something that a stronger person has power and authority to mete out. For God and us it shows us how He has every right in the world to destroy us for our sin. We deserve the full wrath of God. But, only because of His mercy, He spares us through His son.

But we too can show mercy, though not near as dramatically. How do we respond when we are wronged? What happens when we are treated unfairly? Do we really have to ‘get back’ at the person? Do we really have to make sure that they ‘don’t get away with it?’

The reality is that God calls us to show mercy. Even when I have been wronged or offended or attacked I don’t have to retaliate in kind. I can choose to show mercy. Mercy means to show compassion and forbearance, especially when we have the power and ability to exact punishment or revenge. Only the stronger person can show mercy.

God blesses those who show mercy by His own mercy. May I strive to show mercy as it has been shown to me.

Tuesday, 24 April 2012

Blessed are those who hunger

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, For they shall be filled. – Matthew 5v5

Hunger and thirst are things I can really identify with – especially hunger. I enjoy eating. It doesn’t take much to get me to the table. To a lot of us not much takes priority over what we eat and what we drink. One of the first questions I ask every day is what we are having for dinner. I like to make sure that I get my share of the food. I even designate my own piece of Roger’s World Renown Five Cheese Lasagne.

And all of that without every really being hungry.

Real hunger drives people. Real thirst makes people obsessed with getting something to drink. When people are really, truly hungry and thirsty they will do anything to get their food and water.

That is the picture Jesus applies here to spiritual hunger and thirst. Hungering and thirsting can be used for any number of things. We can hunger and thirst for popularity or reputation or possessions or anything else, but those pursuits will always leave us empty. If that is what obsesses and processes us we will never be satisfied.

There is a way to be filled. Jesus said, ‘blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.’

What would it be like if those of us who love to eat pursued our spiritual needs with the same energy we pursue our physical needs? There is always filling when we pursue righteousness. It is a pursuit that will result in satisfaction.

Even better than that, Jesus tells us elsewhere that if we will pursue righteousness everything else will take care of itself because God knows what we need.

The next time we are physically hungry or thirsty might we be reminded of the blessing and promise of hungering and thirsting after God’s righteousness.

Monday, 23 April 2012

Blessed are the meek

 Blessed are the meek: for they shall inherit the earth. – Matthew 5v4

John Wycliffe was a 14th century believer. He was one of the brave pioneers who sought to give the Bible to the people in their own language. Not only that, he wanted to give them a Bible in their language that they could understand. Though rarely acknowledged his translation does, in many places, do a great job of translating in very clear English. His translation of Matthew 5v5 is like that - ‘Blessed are the mild men.’

I really like that. I think it nails the meaning of the phrase. It reminds us that our perception of who is great is not the same as God’s.  Remember ‘mild mannered Clark Kent?’ Clark was a nice guy, but really, would you want him in a crisis? No, we herofied Superman who was able to leap tall buildings in a single bound!

But here God send ‘blessed are those mild men, those meek men. The Bible speaks of meek men. Two of them sort of stand out from the rest. Moses, the great leader who led Israel out of Egypt and led them for forty years, is called the meekest man who ever lived. One of His qualities was meekness.

Meekness is not a trait that is commonly extoled apart from in scripture. I once hear meekness defined as ‘power under control.’ I like that. I like my ‘mild’ friends. The have a virtue that I long for. None of them could ever be accused of being weak (often mistaken for meekness) but that have that amazing quality of humility that puts others first.

You know what? Maybe Clark Kent is not such a bad picture after all. He had his superpowers, but he normally kept them under control for when he needed them.

One day meekness will reign on the earth. Maybe people like me should start practicing that trait.

Sunday, 22 April 2012

Blessed are the mourners

Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  – Matthew 5v4

This seems to be an impossible one. How can mourners be happy?

I think the answer can partly be found in the quote ‘There can be no comfort where there is no grief’

Most of the world runs around with apparently no regard to their soul. All that matters is living for the moment and getting the most out of life that they can. Because they never acknowledge that anything is wrong, they never take the time to sorrow and mourn over their sin. If they are not careful they will spin through life and never deal with God because it is just too uncomfortable.

However, those who take the time to stop and acknowledge their sin will surely mourn for who they are and what they have done. Their sin besets and bothers and eats at them. The guilt and its accompanying mourning has them at the point where they can find hope.

‘Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.’ Indeed, where there is no mourning there will never be any comfort.

But those who do mourn for their sin can find hope. Mourning brings man to the point where he knows there is nothing he can do about it. He knows that all of his efforts fall short. And the mourning deepens.

Still, there is comfort for the mourner. There is an answer.

Jesus can to turn sorrow into joy. He came to dry the tears. He came to provide rest both now and in eternity.

Truly the mourners are blessed when they find their comfort in the gift of eternal life that Jesus provided on the cross. Accepting His forgiveness frees us from the heaviness and guilt and mourning that weighs us now.

Comfort is waiting for those who mourn. Blessed are those who accept it.

Saturday, 21 April 2012

Blessed are the poor in Spirit

"Blessed are the poor in spirit, For theirs is the kingdom of heaven. – Matthew 5v3

Now we come to Matthew’s version of what is normally referred to as ‘The Beatitudes.’ There is a lot of theological debate about exactly who this is for and when it should be applied. Instead of going into all that I just want to apply the principles Jesus gave as He spoke to the multitudes on the hillside.

Jesus prefaces each statement with ‘blessed are.’ From what I understand of this word it refers to an ‘inner blessedness’ and the word ‘happy’ comes pretty close to accurately translating the word for our English today.

Jesus starts first with ‘blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.’

Who are these poor in spirit? James gives us a hint when he writes about the poor of this world who are rich in faith. The poor in spirit are people who are the opposite of those who are high and mighty and rich and powerful. They are the weak and foolish that Paul writes about in his letter to the church in Corinth.

Why are these people blessed? For one thing this is the people who make up the kingdom of heaven. Secondly. they have the blessedness that comes from knowing that our peace and contentment is there for us no matter what the circumstances.

True blessedness comes not from the stuff we have, but from the One we have.

Friday, 20 April 2012


And Jesus, walking by the Sea of Galilee, saw two brothers, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea; for they were fishermen. Then He said to them, "Follow Me, and I will make you fishers of men." They immediately left their nets and followed Him. – Matthew 4v18-20

I like the reality of the word of God. I like the insight into everyday living. I like to see how people like you and me responded when they met the Saviour.

Shortly after His baptism Jesus started gathering His team. He walked by the Sea of Galilee and saw to brothers who were fishermen. Simon Peter and Andrew were just casting their nets into the sea for another haul of fish. It was their livelihood. They would take the fish to market to sell them. This is how they fed and supported their families.

But then Jesus walked up to them. If they knew Him at all they would have just known Him as the carpenter in Nazareth. He was probably a stranger so it must have startled them when He told them ‘Follow Me and I will make you fishers of men.’

What in the world could He mean by that? Who was He to ask them? Why would He ask them to forsake their livelihood to fish for men?

If they had any of these questions in mind it certainly is not clear to us – ‘immediately, at once, straightaway they dropped their fishing nets and followed Him.’

So how do we do when Jesus calls us? Are we willing to immediately put away our various nets and follow Him or do we, like Elisha, think we have all kinds of things to sort out before we go?

Immediately, how many of us can say that we obey that way?

Thursday, 19 April 2012

Dealing with testing

Now when the tempter came to Him, he said, "If You are the Son of God, command that these stones become bread." But He answered and said, "It is written, Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceeds from the mouth of God.' " – Matthew 4v3-4

This is a very unusual setting. After spending forty days fasting in the desert Jesus was led out to meet Satan. The purpose was a great testing. It would show who Jesus was and who the opposition was. It would also determine the future, and it at the same time has a lesson for us.

Other than God’s leading I can’t imagine why Satan would try to tempt Christ. Maybe his pride was still there trying to achieve the goal he had been after since the early days. Who knows? But the truth is Satan came to test Jesus in the same areas that seem to always pop up in scripture – the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life.

Jesus gave us a clear pattern of how to deal with temptation. Over and over Satan threw out temptations, even abusing scripture in order to get his point across.

Jesus had the answer. He had the same answer that will serve us today. He simply answered with scripture. Why? Because scripture is the one thing to which Satan and evil have no answer.

Bread or lands or power or money or anything else is not what it is all about. They will all pass away eventually. The answer to every trial and every temptation is found in the eternal words of God.

No matter what we face today lets looks to God’s word to find out how to be victorious over it.

Wednesday, 18 April 2012

In whom I am well pleased

When He had been baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened to Him, and He saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting upon Him. And suddenly a voice came from heaven, saying, "This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased." – Matthew 3v16-17

As if to further demonstrate the importance of baptism God uses the occasion of Jesus baptism to show us the Trinity and to show His seal of approval on the ministry.

As Jesus came up out of the water the Holy Spirit descended in the form of a dove and landed on Him. God’s voice from heaven sounded out ‘This is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased.’

What a beautiful momentous event; the whole Trinity sharing in this vital event to kick off Jesus earthly ministry. Though I don’t know that I can build a theology around I think it is obvious that God is concerned about baptism and that He does please Him.

I have just a brief thought of application for us. We know that as Christ’s followers our goal and desire should be that we are Christ-like. Jesus’ love and ministry was, of course, perfectly pleasing to God. As I look at my own life, as one who professes Christ, I wonder if God can say of me ‘This is my son, in whom I am well pleased?’ Does my life please Him?

Tuesday, 17 April 2012

How important is baptism?

And John tried to prevent Him, saying, "I need to be baptized by You, and are You coming to me?" But Jesus answered and said to him, "Permit it to be so now, for thus it is fitting for us to fulfill all righteousness." Then he allowed Him. – Matthew 3v14-15

Baptism is one of those hard things to deal with. We know that it is not required for salvation. In fact we know that it plays no part in our salvation. We know that it symbolic of what has happened in our lives.

But we also know that over and over again in the New Testament believers are saved and then baptised. Baptism is a part of the Great Commission. We know that Christians are supposed to be baptised, and yet, many choose not to do so.

So how important is it? Is it really that big of a deal?

Well, it was big enough of a deal that it is the first thing we see Jesus do when His ministry goes public. Before He did anything else He submitted to baptism. When John protested that he was not worthy to baptise Jesus the response was clear, ‘Permit it to be so now, fir it is fitting for us to fulfil all righteousness.’ Then John baptised Jesus.

I don’t know all that Jesus’ words entail, but I do know that even Jesus Himself was baptised before He began His earthly service. I also know that it had nothing to do with Jesus being saved.

Surely, if it was important enough for Jesus to submit to it ought to be important to His followers as well.

Monday, 16 April 2012

Don’t give me that!

But when he [John] saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, "Brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Therefore bear fruits worthy of repentance, and do not think to say to yourselves, 'We have Abraham as our father.' For I say to you that God is able to raise up children to Abraham from these stones. – Matthew 3v7-9

Baptising John was quite a guy. He was one of that rare breed who was never slow to say what need to be said. While short on tact he was long on truth.

After more than 400 years Israel had a prophet sent by God. Divinely named John he took to the wilderness wearing the roughest of clothing and eating honey and locust beans. He certainly would not have been accepted into the religious circles. By this time the religious leaders had become comfortable in their religion. They were the doctors and reverends of religion today who had become the cream of the crop of religion. Everyone knew them. They were far above the crowd. They wore the most expensive robes and made sure that everyone treated them properly.

The first thing John did was to deal with them about their religious sins. ‘It’s time you proved yourself by bearing righteous fruit. Don’t say to yourselves ‘we have Abraham as our father so we are okay.’

John made it clear that their religion was nothing. They were a ‘brood of religious vipers’ who used their religion to cover up their need of God. Religion is always a convenient way out of really dealing with God.

The thing is that this still happens today. Doing all the religious stuff that is expected can replace fruits of righteousness in our lives as well. Are we showing the ‘fruits of righteousness’ or are we just being religious?

Sunday, 15 April 2012

They worshipped

When they saw the star, they rejoiced with exceedingly great joy. And when they had come into the house, they saw the young Child with Mary His mother, and fell down and worshiped Him. And when they had opened their treasures, they presented gifts to Him: gold, frankincense, and myrrh. – Matthew 2v10-11

This is an interesting and thought provoking image. In our best efforts to battle the awful corruption of the Christmas holiday season we can be tempted to downplay the importance of the event we remember. Even when we do celebrate Christmas we can be tempted to almost apologise by putting a disclaimer on it saying that while the birth is important, there are more important things to think about.

And in a sense this is right. The secular part of Christmas has nothing to do with the spiritual. The world has corrupted and perverted the holiday. Besides, everybody is born, and everyone dies, but only Jesus dies for our sins and rose again on the third day in victory over death. That does make Resurrection Sunday the highlight of our Christian year. We do need to be careful not to get caught up in all the external trappings of either the Christmas or Easter seasons.

But let us consider for a moment one of the events associated with the birth of Christ. About a year or so, maybe two years, after the birth wise men who had heard of the prophecy of Messiah’s birth were directed to Jesus’ home by a star. When they arrived at the house notice what they did. When they saw the baby and Mary they ‘fell down and worshipped Him.’ They worshipped the child Jesus.

Why did they worship Him? I am not sure. Did they know the full prophecy? Did they worship Him because they were some sort of mystics who did this think all the time? Like I said, I don’t know for sure, but I do know who put the star in place to draw them there.

If the child Jesus was worthy of worship from the wise men, is He worthy of our worship? Jesus was 'born to die' as the song goes, but He had to be born in order to die. On the Sunday morning, as we have just come through the Easter season, lets pause and give thanks for His incarnation.

Saturday, 14 April 2012


"Behold the virgin shall be with child, and bear a son, and the shall call his name Immanuel," which is translated, "God with us." – Matthew 1v22

‘God with us!’ What a marvellous name. We normally only think about this name at Christmas when we talk about the incarnation of Christ on earth. That is a shame because it is a concept that truly boggles the mind.

The whole idea that the perfect God would come to live among sinful men doesn’t make any sense in our human minds. Why would He do that? Why leave the splendour of heaven the live in man’s dirt and squalor and sin on earth?

Paul gives us a clue in the book of Philippians. Jesus did not consider His deity something that He had to hold on to. But He made Himself of no reputation, took on the form of a bond slave and appeared in man’s likeness. Then He became obedient to the point of death, even the death on the cross. So God exalted Him and gave Him the name above any other name.

‘God with us’ came so that He could die in our place. He came so that He could take the world’s sin debt on Himself for us. He submitted Himself to the limitations of the flesh in order to take our place on the cross.

Not only that, He gave a promise before He left – ‘I am with you always.’

Imagine that – Immanuel forever!

Friday, 13 April 2012


And she will bring forth a Son, and you shall call His name JESUS, for He will save His people from their sins." – Matthew 1v21

The names of Jesus are such a blessing. Here at the very introduction we have two of them in quick succession. The first name we are exposed to is one that we are accustomed to, but it is one we must never grow used to.

‘Mary will have a son, and you will call His name Jesus.’

Jesus was the same name as the Hebrew name Joshua. Some languages use the same name in translation. It was the same name as Joshua who delivered the people from their wilderness wanderings into Canaan, the Promised Land.

What does the name mean? I like the meanings of names. I like my name. It means ‘a mighty spearman.’ It is descended from the old Germanic name Hroogar. That name just sounds powerful. I like that.

So what does the name Jesus mean? I am glad you asked.

Joshua, or Jesus, means simply ‘to save.’

The angel spelled that out to Joseph – ‘You will call Him Jesus because He will save His people from their sins.’

While Joshua saved the people from wandering in the wilderness Jesus saves from the wilderness of sin. What a simple statement. What a profound statement. What an amazing statement.

He will save – what a great name and what a great place to put our trust.

Thursday, 12 April 2012

The faith of a young carpenter

And Jacob begot Joseph the husband of Mary, of whom was born Jesus who is called Christ…Now the birth of Jesus Christ was as follows: After His mother Mary was betrothed to Joseph, before they came together, she was found with child of the Holy Spirit. Then Joseph her husband, being a just man, and not wanting to make her a public example, was minded to put her away secretly.  But while he thought about these things, behold, an angel of the Lord appeared to him in a dream, saying, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to take to you Mary your wife, for that which is conceived in her is of the Holy Spirit.  – Matthew 1v16;18-20

The world had not heard from God for four hundred years. Surely, when God spoke again, it would be to another Isaiah, or Jeremiah, or Habakkuk, or Malachi, or someone like that.

But no, the next time the world hears from God it is the most miraculous of situations. Though the exact chronology is not always clear, it looks like the next time God speaks it is to a man named Zechariah, a humble priest, to tell him what to name the son his barren wife was about to bear, but more on that later.

The next working of God happens to a young betrothed couple in the middle of nowhere. God’s spokesman appears to a young carpenter named Joseph to tell him that the love of his life is pregnant. Not only that, her child was conceived by the Holy Spirit.

Imagine this challenge to this young man’s faith. He was supposed to believe that the woman he was about to marry was pregnant, but not because she was unfaithful to him. Her child belonged to God. He was called on to believe the impossible.

When the angel appeared Joseph had just decided to not shame her, but to privately end the betrothal. When the angle spoke to him he trusted God and carried on. His future was uncertain. He knew he would face ridicule for having a pregnant fiancé. As the world saw it either he had relations with Mary or she had been unfaithful. Either way was a shame.

But when the angel spoke he carried on his role as Mary’s husband. He became the surrogate father of the child.

How do we respond when we are called on to trust God in impossible situations? Isn’t that the real test of faith? If it were not impossible it would not require faith.

Oh God, give me the faith of this young carpenter to trust You with the impossible.

Wednesday, 11 April 2012

Sun Worship

But to you who fear My name The Sun of Righteousness shall arise With healing in His wings; And you shall go out and grow fat like stall-fed calves.  - Malachi 4v2

I love this verse. I love the way it translates into English. I don’t know if it read anything like this in Hebrew, but in English we read about the ‘Sun’ of Righteousness when we might think that we are going to read about the ‘Son’ of Righteousness. In fact, if you hear it without knowing it you might think it is the Son.

So why do we read about the Sun of Righteousness here?

As I sit here the sun is just peeking over the rooftops. (That would have been much more picturesque if I lived where I could say ‘the sun is just peeking over the eastern horizon :-) ). The night’s darkness is over. I am battling some unreasonable discouragement. I don’t even know why, but it was with me through the night. As the sun comes up and shatters the darkness I am reminded of the grace of our Sun of Righteousness Who rises with healing in His wings.

The Sun of Righteousness rises with the light that shatters spiritual darkness. He arises with warmth to break spiritual the darkness. His rays give life and cheer the soul. Our bodies need the sun. All life needs the sun. When we think about all of the benefits of the sun it is easy to see why so many who don’t know Christ choose to worship a sun-god.

All life needs the sun. When it comes to eternity all life also needs the Sun. Psalm 84 tells is that ‘For the LORD God is a sun and shield; The LORD will give grace and glory; No good thing will He withhold From those who walk uprightly.’

When I am cheered by the light of the sun may I turn my thoughts to the Light of the Sun and remember who He is and delight in His benefits.

Tuesday, 10 April 2012

God’s jewellery

Then those who feared the LORD spoke to one another, And the LORD listened and heard them; So a book of remembrance was written before Him For those who fear the LORD And who meditate on His name. "They shall be Mine," says the LORD of hosts, "On the day that I make them My jewels.  And I will spare them As a man spares his own son who serves him." – Malachi 3v16-17

We are quickly approaching the end of the Old Testament. We have here the last words of God for about 400 silent years. The people were used to hearing from their prophets and kings. Everything was about to change. The next time he speaks it will be through His own Son and then through His written word.

But God is preparing His people for the silence and in the process leaving us words of comfort as His people.

The people who feared the Lord spoke about Him. He heard them and as a result a ‘book of remembrance’ was written for all who truly fear God and meditate on Him. ‘These will be mine, I will make them my jewels, and I will spare them like a man spares his children.’

I love all of that, but especially like the concept that God refers to those who fear and meditate on Him as His jewellery. Jewellery is precious. It is special. It is treasured. All that, and yet amazingly God says that He will make His people His jewellery!

How can we allow ourselves to get down when God calls us His jewellery?

A friend reminded me of this great old hymn after I posted this morning -

When He cometh, when He cometh
To make up His jewels,
All His jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own.


Like the stars of the morning,
His brightness adorning,
They shall shine in their beauty,
Bright gems for His crown.

He will gather, He will gather
The gems for His kingdom;
All the pure ones, all the bright ones,
His loved and His own.


Little children, little children,
Who love their Redeemer,
Are the jewels, precious jewels,
His loved and His own.


Story here

Monday, 9 April 2012

Being harsh to God

Your words have been harsh against Me," Says the LORD, Yet you say, 'What have we spoken against You?' You have said, 'It is useless to serve God; What profit is it that we have kept His ordinance, And that we have walked as mourners Before the LORD of hosts? – Malachi 3v13-14

‘You have spoken harsh words against Me’ God said. ‘How have we done that?’ asked the people. ‘Because you have said ‘it is useless to serve God. What profit is there in serving God and we still have cause to mourn?’

These folks were feeling sorry for themselves. It seems like they felt that serving God should somehow ensure and easier life or some kind of benefit for themselves. You can almost sense a whiney voice when they say ‘Serving God is a waste. We do everything He wants and we get nothing out of it. We still shed tears even though we do it right.’

They were missing a key point. Life is tough. Life is not fair. ‘Life is pain… Anyone who says differently is selling something.’ Bad things happen to good people. God’s people get sick. God’s people die. God’s people have disappointments. That is just the way it is. Being a child of God does not mean we are going to escape pain and suffering.

This convoluted thinking is wrong. God calls these words ‘harsh words against Him.’ It comes from a messed up idea that our faith and our relationship to God is about us. We think that our getting saved or acting religious earns us some kind of hard time exemption.

That is harsh after all God has done for us. That is harsh considering that though we go through the tough times He has promised to be there with us. Let’s be careful about our harsh words and thoughts. How can we be harsh to the One who died for us?

Sunday, 8 April 2012

Trusting enough to give

Bring all the tithes into the storehouse, That there may be food in My house, And try Me now in this," Says the LORD of hosts, "If I will not open for you the windows of heaven And pour out for you such blessing That there will not be room enough to receive it. – Malachi 3v10

I am not about to get involved in the great tithe debate. I will leave that for great minds and more spiritual men. However, there is great teaching here on giving.

God had told the people that they were robbing Him. ‘How?’ they asked. ‘With your tithes and offerings’ God replied.

I know that there were laws about giving in the Old Testament. I know the early church gathered offerings to pay the teachers and to meet the needs of the poor. I know that God loves a cheerful giver. I know that certain believers in the New Testament gave even out of their poverty. So even though I don’t know all about whether the tithe is for today or not I do know that God expects His people to be givers.

I also know that giving takes faith. Here God challenges the faith of the people by saying ‘bring in your tithes and offerings and see is I don’t bless you more than you can imagine.’

I wonder sometimes if we believe God when He says things like this. Do we believe God enough to give and trust Him with the results? These are tough times to give, supposedly, but it seems like most of us are still able to buy many of the things we really want. Many of us live on tight budgets, but few of us in the world we are accustomed to are cold or starving. Sadly, our problem is that we often are not willing to take a chance on missing our wants, much less our needs.

Giving is a part of God’s plan. Do we trust Him enough to try and see whether or not He can take care of us?

Saturday, 7 April 2012

God's unchangeableness

"For I am the LORD, I do not change; Therefore you are not consumed, O sons of Jacob. – Malachi 3v6

We talk about ‘the more things change the more they stay the same’ but in practice things do change. Life is not the same as it was when I was a child. Fifty years ago life was dramatically different. This is not the time or place to debate the goods and the bads of that change. He have medicines we never could have imagined. Technology has made it possible to stay in touch with family and friends in ways we could never have imagined. Relatively low travel costs have made it possible to get together with people we might never have seen.

On the other hand we live in a generation when sin is more generally accepted. The idea of sanctity of marriage is passé for many. Immorality is no longer shameful but is even glorified. It is not as easy or acceptable to live for Christ as it once was.

So life is different. Governments and styles and mores all change. It is hard to know what we can depend on. Politicians fail us. Our spiritual leaders disappoint us. Friends turn on us. Even family can let us down.

But One never changes. ‘I am the Lord I do not change.’ The context here spoke of how even though they were in rebellion and must be judged He would never cast them off because they were His people and He was their God.

But the general statement is true – God never changes. Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. All things may change, but He stays the same. When we read His word we can take great comfort in the fact that the God we read about there is the God we serve today. We can can’t on Him. He is no less powerful, no less merciful, and no less knowing now than He was then.

Praise God for the comfort to be found in His unchangeableness!

Friday, 6 April 2012

Words that make God tired

You have wearied the LORD with your words; "Yet you say, "In what way have we wearied Him?" In that you say, "Everyone who does evil is good in the sight of the LORD, And He delights in them," Or, "Where is the God of justice? – Malachi 2v17

The questions and answers continue in Malachi.

‘You have wearied the Lord with your words’ Malachi said. ‘How have we done that?’ the people asked. ‘Because you say ‘everyone who does evil is good in God’s sight and He delights in them.’

I think it is interesting to note what kinds of words make God tired. You know the feeling yourself. Sometimes you just get tired of hearing the same old thing over and over again. You just don’t want to hear it again.

That is how this is. These people were so hardened to God that they thought they could just carry on and do what they wanted and God would not do anything about it because they were His people.

I mentioned a few weeks ago that this can be a danger for those of us who believe in the doctrine of eternal security. People can think that because I am saved for eternity I can do whatever I want because I am safe.

This kind of thinking still wearies God. We can take our sin lightly because we are secure. We think we can just carry on and God won’t do anything about it.

Sadly, if that is our attitude the truth is that we really don’t comprehend salvation. We have swallowed the line that a person can be saved with a ‘1-2-3 pray after me’ experience. God is wearied anytime those who profess to be His people take sin lightly.

The real issue is that God does not take sin lightly. Today is recognised as ‘Good Friday’ and remembers the day of crucifixion when Jesus took my sins to the cross and carried them to the point of death. No wonder taking sin lightly wearies God! Sin cost Him the life of His Son!

We can never ‘call evil good’ by taking a light view of sin. The Lord calls us to His Table to remember His death until He comes again. We can’t do that while thinking our sin doesn’t matter to God.

Thursday, 5 April 2012

Giving God the leftovers

You offer defiled food on My altar, But say, 'In what way have we defiled You?' By saying, 'The table of the LORD is contemptible.' And when you offer the blind as a sacrifice, Is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and sick, Is it not evil? Offer it then to your governor! Would he be pleased with you? Would he accept you favourably?" Says the LORD of hosts. – Malachi 1v7-8

Malachi wrote just before the 400 silent years. He wrote to a nation in its final years to God’s people who had forgotten their God. The whole books is a litany of complaints against the people who had left God out of their lives and were too think to understand what they had done.

God made several statements to which the people replied with questions. God then answered their questions. The passage here is one of those exchanges. God said ‘You offer defiled food on my altar.’ ‘How have we done that?’ the people replied. Honestly, they knew what they had done – they had just wandered so far from God that they didn’t even think about their actions.

God replied – ‘You offer the stuff you would not even feed your human governor. You bring the lame and weak and sick.’ In other words these people were bringing God second best. They gave God the leftovers.

Surely, God’s people today would not give God the leftovers, would they? Or would we? Who gets the best of our efforts? Who gets the best of our time? Who gets the best of our resources?

Are we happy enough to give God what is left over after taking care of us? Are we happy enough to please man before we worry about pleasing God? Do we ‘defile the Lord’s table’ by giving God the leftovers?

Wednesday, 4 April 2012

King Jesus

And the LORD shall be King over all the earth. In that day it shall be "The LORD is one," And His name one…Zechariah 14v9

I get so tired of dealing with government leaders sometimes. It seems like every single one of them is corrupt. As a citizen of two countries I get to see and follow two sets of politicians. Frankly I don’t see much hope for any of the parties in either of the countries. I am sure I am a bit cynical but it seems to be like all of our political leaders are corrupt, self-serving, and dishonest. I don’t who they are or what party they represent they seem to all be the same. Even a well-meaning person who gets elected seems to fall into corruption once they reach office.

Praise God that one day that will all be done. One day there is going to be a one world government. One day we will have the perfect benevolent monarch. One day we will live under the rule of the perfect king of Kings and lord of Lords. There will be no more elections or deceptions or political squabbles. King Jesus will not only be King of Heaven and King of my Heart, but He will be king over all the earth and we will be able to say with assurance ‘That’s my King!’ Oh what a day that will be!

Tuesday, 3 April 2012

Walk in the name of the Lord

"So I will strengthen them in the LORD, And they shall walk up and down in His name," Says the LORD. – Zechariah 10v12

Walking, of course, is synonymous with living. We talk about our ‘daily walk’ or our ‘Christian walk.’

The reason is because our walk is reflective of who we are. People tell me that I have a very unmistakeable walk. People who see me walking and know me know right away that it is me.

In real life to our walk reflects who we are. The Bible tells us to walk in several ways. Walk by faith not by sight. Walk circumspectly. Walk in wisdom. Walk in the light, and so on and so on.

As part of the final great victory one day God will strengthen us to always walk up and down the streets in full confidence of His name.  One day we will all walk up and down in His kingdom and in His name.

In the meantime we can still reflect the Lord’s name as we walk today. As we walk in love and in the light and in wisdom and by faith we reflect the Lord to those around us.

Let’s walk in such a way that everyone knows who we belong to.

Monday, 2 April 2012

Like a banner

The LORD their God will save them in that day, As the flock of His people. For they shall be like the jewels of a crown, Lifted like a banner over His land— For how great is its goodness And how great its beauty! Grain shall make the young men thrive, And new wine the young women. – Zechariah 9v16-17

Most of the context of Zechariah is prophecy about the coming time when Messiah is going to reign. Those who read these words would have thought that when Messiah came the first time He would come in might and power and that He would lift Israel from her suffering and oppression. He would deliver her from physical and spiritual oppression and they would walk in the joy of the Lord. His people would be lifted up like a victory banner as they knew the full measure of His beauty and goodness.

But that wasn’t God’s plan. Messiah did come and He did some as the victory banner in His beauty and goodness. He did come to save. He did come to make up the jewels in His crown.

But He did it a personal and spiritual way. He brought deliverance from the oppression and the curse of sin. He came to provide a new life in the midst of an unchanged wicked world. Praise God that in this world of sin and filth we are able to walk in His greatness and His beauty. Praise God that He lifts us like a banner above all that is going on around us.

But the wonderful thing is that the story is not over. One day He will return to literally reign on earth and His people will be lifted up with Him. All of the opposition and sin and filth and sickness and death and all of that stuff will be defeated.

Praise God we are part way there and praise Him that the victory is already won.

Sunday, 1 April 2012

Showing our faith

Thus says the LORD of hosts: 'Execute true justice, Show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or the fatherless, The alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother.' – Zechariah 7v9-10

In a follow on from yesterday’s though about whether our religion is for us or for God we have a measuring rod presented today. What is the test of our worship and why we do it.

Here is the obedience Zechariah talks about. If you are doing all you do for God here is the evidence. You will act justly. You will show mercy. You will be compassionate toward your brother. You will not oppress the widow or the fatherless, or the alien or the poor. You will not plan evil against your brother.

It is amazing how often the application of truly following God comes down to how we treat others. It reminds me of the verse in James that describes true religion. Sure, it says that we must ‘keep ourselves unspotted from the world,’ but it also says ‘to visit the fatherless and the widows in their affliction.’

I have to ask myself this morning some important questions. Do I act justly toward others? Am I merciful and compassionate? Am I aware of the needs to the fatherless and widows and the strangers and the poor? Do I allow evil thoughts toward others to dwell in my heart?

If I measure my worship by how I go to church and sing and praise it may reflect one thing. How do our lives reflect our worship if we measure them by how we treat others?