Archive for August, 2012

Fire

Thursday, August 30th, 2012

Can a man hold fire against his chest without burning his clothes?
Can a man walk on hot coals without scorching his feet?
So it is with the one who has sex with his neighbour’s wife;
No one who touches her will escape punishment.
Proverbs 6:27-29

Two things stand out to me about this verse:Review Android Smartphone

The power of fire
The bible likens toying with adultery to playing with fire. Not the good benefits of fire, but the destruction caused by fire. The questions are obviously rhetorical – your clothes will get burned and your feet will be scorched. And that is the problem with adultery, it always starts simple, small and seemingly innocent. But fire is deceptive, you might think you have it under control, until it suddenly starts devouring. It is in it’s nature to devour.

The surety of punishment
Some are tempted to think that adultery is harmless and punishment only comes when the affair comes to light, no one might ever find out and the parties could evade any form of punishment. But God has other ideas; the devouring and destruction might not come immediately, but here is the promise – it will surely come. Whether it comes in the form of eternal separation from God or it is paid for by the blood of Christ, punishment comes.

So what is the solution?

Drink water from your own cistern
and running water from your own well.
Should your springs be dispersed outside,
your streams of water in the wide plazas?
Let them be for yourself alone,
and not for strangers with you.
May your fountain be blessed,
and may you rejoice in your young wife-
a loving doe, a graceful deer;
may her breasts satisfy you at all times,
may you be captivated by her love always.
Proverbs 5:15-19

Peace time mentality

Wednesday, August 29th, 2012

“The word of the Lord came to me: “Take note, son of man, the house of Israel is saying, ‘The vision that he sees is for distant days; he is prophesying about the far future.’ Therefore say to them, “This is what the sovereign Lord says: None of my words will be delayed any longer! The word I speak will come to pass, declares the sovereign Lord.’”
Ezekiel 12:26-28

“This is because they have led my people astray saying, “All is well,” when things are not well. When anyone builds a wall without mortar, they coat it with whitewash. Tell the ones who coat it with whitewash that it will fall. When there is a deluge of rain, hailstones will fall and a violent wind will break out. When the wall has collapsed, people will ask you, “Where is the whitewash you coated it with?”
Ezekiel 13:10-12

The Israelites lived in a time of peace and prosperity. No war, no famine, no drought to worry about. They built houses, had children, farmed the land and bred their life stock. They did all the normal things that one would do in life. But all this time the Word of the Lord had been forgotten and pushed aside. They were pre-occupied with the good and comfortable life.

Ezekiel comes to the scene and prophesies their exile and destruction, yet they thought that it was the far future and didn’t concern them. They turned to the prophets who declared “all is well”; after all, who can deny that all is well? It certainly looks well. Anyone who thought otherwise was weird. Ezekiel was certainly weird, what in the word was he doing digging holes in the walls and packing up his stuff (Ezekiel 12:3-11)? Yet their doom was looming. What God had promised in the Law (Deuteronomy 30:15-20), He was sure to deliver.

This comfortable, peace-time mentality seeps in unknowingly. Our life is good, our needs are met, everything is at peace. There is a war going on in our backyard, right at our door step, yet we do not see. When someone brings it to our attention, we turn away and dismiss them. We find prophets, teachers and preacher who tell us that “all is well” and “Christ is coming, but not in our generation” (2 Peter 3:1-13)! The worst part of it all is that we lose the sense of urgency and gravity in God’s commands. We water His words down to our level of comfort and our pace of life.

Let’s rewrite the Great Commission and see what it looks like:
“All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. If you have the time and money go and make disciples of the people in your backyard, bringing them to church in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit and teaching them to choose bits and pieces of Christianity that sound positive, fits the current culture and is tolerable from what I have given you options for. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age to give you great things like a big house, a nice car, a club membership and a rewarding career.”

Time to wake up, the world is at war and we stand at the frontline.

The need of the hour is global wartime mentality. I say “wartime” because life is war (1 Timothy 6:12; Ephesians 6:10ff; 2 Corinthians 10:3-5). I say “global” because “the field is the world” (Matthew 13:38).
John Piper

A fact

Monday, August 27th, 2012

I have long taken the view that salvation is not a single point in time, it is a fact. Yes, the point in time when we come to Christ marks a move from the death to life, but God’s work of salvation in our life certainly did not start there, nor does His work of salvation end there. He doesn’t just forgive our sins from then on; salvation reaches back in time to forgive all our previous sin. Salvation is not a stage in our Christian life or merely the beginning; it is the continual work of Christ and the whole of our Christian life. It is not continual in a circular sense that Jesus dies again every minute, but continual in a factual sense – it is, has been and will be.

John Piper puts it this way:

Salvation is a big biblical term that describes all God’s saving work for us past, present and future. We “have been saved” (Ephesians 2:8), “are being saved” (1 Corinthians 1:18) and “will be saved” (Romans 5:9; 1 Peter 1:9). Salvation is not one stage in the Christian life. It is the Christian life. And sanctification is one essential part of it.

This is important for our Christian life, what we believe will determine how we live. Let me suggest three ways this affects our Christian life:

  • Because we “have been saved”, we can be sure of our salvation. We don’t need to continually earn our salvation. We have full assurance of faith that we are already saved. It is a fact, not dependent on time or process but on God.
  • Because we “are being saved” (Acts 2:47), we can be sure of our sanctification and discipleship. We don’t need to strive to make ourselves righteous. We have full assurance in the outworking of the fact of salvation that we have stepped into – that we are increasingly made righteous (even though we already are). If salvation is the work of God, then our sanctification is the work of God as well!
  • Because we “will be saved”, we can hope for glorification. When things look gloomy, we can always look toward His promises. We have full assurance that the future is bright and wonderful; that Christ will be our very great reward!

Obedience and faith

Wednesday, August 22nd, 2012

Me: “His (God’s) commands are only as hard to obey as His promises are hard to believe.” John Piper

Friend: Do you struggle to believe God’s promises?

Me: Wow, mighty personal question to ask on a public forum! Anyway, I’d say yes and I’m not the only one. I think we all have some trouble believing His promises – whether it’s for providence, healing, stepping out, parenting, etc. We have our reservations that need conquering.

Friend: So is it doubt that makes obedience to commands difficult? And when does reservation or doubt become deliberate disobedience? And what is the solution?

Me: I think, yes! Doubt hinders obedience, although that might not be the only thing that hinders obedience. If God commands that our obedience comes with His promises of life for our good (Deut 6:24, 30:19-20) then the refusal/doubt/hesitation to obey is a refusal to trust that His promises are true and better than what we can attain for ourselves. Then our faith is misplaced on something other than God, since obedience (the practical out working) is the result of faith (Hebrews 11:8; James 2:17). Faith and obedience go hand in hand.

Hmmm does it matter if our disobedience is wilful or no, knowing or unknowing? Is God not able to forgive both? Perhaps it is better to stress on the obedience to His call (John 14:6). Disobedience to this call, deliberate or not excludes anyone from forgiveness. It amazes me that the obedience to this call is faith in Christ. Obedience and faith interact in a sort of loop – obedience comes from faith in Christ, obedience is to have faith in Christ.

Christ is the solution! He births faith and obedience in us through Christ (Ezekiel 36:25-27, God says “You will obey… “). He initiates and continually pours out saving and sanctifying faith and obedience. We can act to savor Him more, to meditate on His promises every day, but all those come from Him (Phil 2:12-13).

I sure hope I haven’t said anything heretical! ;P

Friend: Well said my non-heretical friend! Particularly love the loop – “obedience comes from faith in Christ, obedience is to have faith in Christ.” So peaceful to know that God has everything in hand. That His grace covers our reservations until He convicts us, to then forgive us in His same amazing grace! The loop to maturity!

Atonement and suffering

Tuesday, August 21st, 2012

This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe. There is no difference between Jew and Gentile, for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and all are justified freely by his grace through the redemption that came by Christ Jesus. God presented Christ as a sacrifice of atonement, through the shedding of his blood —to be received by faith. He did this to demonstrate his righteousness, because in his forbearance he had left the sins committed beforehand unpunished — he did it to demonstrate his righteousness at the present time, so as to be just and the one who justifies those who have faith in Jesus.
Romans 3:22-26

Atonement (Leviticus 16:15-16; 1 Peter 3:18) is the reality that Christ has taken our place and received the suffering and punishment for our sins so that we don’t have to. Atonement is necessary for our redemption. Christ isn’t the example or model for us to follow to atone for our own sin, He is the atonement once and for all. Our sinful lives can never atone for our own sin, only Christ can. John Piper puts it this way, “The death of Christ is in our place, not for our inspiration.”

But what about the suffering for Christ that the Bible often mentions? If it isn’t for atonement of sins, why do we suffer? I want to look at a few of the times when suffering is mentioned to see if any of these is for our sins:

  • Take up our cross daily (Mark 8:34-38, Luke 9:23-26): Self-denial and taking up the cross daily is opposed to saving his own life and gaining the world. What Jesus is denouncing and discouraging in these verses is self-protection (saving his own life, Luke 9:22) and self-provision (gaining the whole world).  Notice that denying oneself and taking up his cross comes before following Christ; we need to pay these things before coming to Christ. If “our cross” is interpreted as atoning for our own sin, absolutely no one would be able to come to Christ. Instead, if denying oneself from self-protection and self-provision means denying oneself from atoning from his own sin and denying oneself from providing his own atonement that makes the Gospel truly good news.
  • Suffering for our allegiance to Christ in doing good (1 Peter 2:18-25): It says in that “Christ also suffered for you, leaving an example for you to follow in his steps.” (v21) So Christ suffering is a model for our suffering. However, the reason for this suffering is not our atonement; it is for our allegiance to Christ and our allegiance to our earthly masters (in a slave-master relationship). The explanation is that even though Christ did what was good – he suffered for our sake so that we may “cease from sinning and live for righteousness” (v24). In that way, we should do good and endure suffering for doing good, if we have to (v20). God favours the good done and the suffering endured through it (v19-20).
  • Suffering granted on behalf of Christ (Philippians 1:27-30): The church was under persecution and Paul was imprisoned and speaking about the hesitation, hope and joy of His own possible death or release, belief is put alongside suffering. To believe is to suffer. Does that mean that belief in Christ requires suffering to atone for our sin? Philippians 1:10-11 gives us a clue of Paul’s frame of mind when he writes the introduction to his letter, it says “So that you… may be pure and blameless until the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ”. Paul acknowledges that righteousness comes through Christ, not through our own atonement. What’s more, this suffering is persecution due to external opposition to the truth that righteousness comes from Christ (v28)!
  • Enduring hostility (Hebrews 12:1-13): Here suffering is from allegiance to the Gospel and from external opposition (Hebrews 10:32-34, 11:36-38) and is seen as God’s rod of discipline. And this discipline produces the “fruit of peace and righteousness” (v11). Does that mean that our suffering can produce righteousness? That suffering is then atonement, isn’t it? Not quite. This passage is seen in the light of the entire Hebrews. Particularly Hebrews 10:17 where God says He doesn’t even count our sins anymore and is therefore no more offering or atonement required for sin. Hebrews 12 cannot then be talking about suffering to atone for our sin, then what is it? Verse 7-9 says that suffering for Christ is evidence of our sonship. Our faith in Christ is increased in spite of suffering, because suffering confirms more and more our sonship; suffering thus trains us to trust in Him and His promise – that is the mechanics behind suffering producing “the fruit of peace and righteousness”.
  • Present suffering (Romans 8:15-18): The “present suffering” spoken about here is the bondage of sin and its effects (Romans 8:20-22), not suffering to atone for our sin. That is pretty obvious once the context if taken into account.
  • A chosen vessel to suffer for Christ (Acts 9:14-16): Paul is Christ chosen vessel to carry the gospel to the Gentiles, this includes suffering for being God’s vessel. Does that mean that Paul is atoning for His sins (Acts 9:13)? Absolutely not. 2 Corinthians 12:23 – 13:10 gives us as clue of what this suffering is and what it attains. His conclusion is that his suffering allows him to boast about his weaknesses, thereby exalting the strength of Christ. It doesn’t exalt his ability to atone for his own sin, instead it magnifies Christ!  

To label Christ’s suffering for our atonement as an inspiration for us to follow for our own atonement belittles Christ and the cross. It distorts the gospel and makes it bad news. The gospel is only good news if the only boasting we can ever do is on the Lord. We must acknowledge that we, as unrighteous sinners, can never atone for our own sin and righteousness comes at no other cost than Christ and

God chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things—and the things that are not —to nullify the things that are, so that no one may boast before him. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let the one who boasts boast in the Lord.”
1 Corinthians 1:28-31

For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God.
Ephesians 2:8

Quiet and loud

Friday, August 17th, 2012

The LORD your God is in your midst,
A victorious warrior.
He will exult over you with joy,
He will be quiet in His love,
He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.
Zephaniah 3:17 NASB

God isn’t just ok or lukewarm towards me. There is no way that anyone can read that verse and think that God tolerates me or permits me to live. No. God rejoices over me. The joy He feels overflows. There is a huge party going on in heaven because what was once lost is now redeemed by the work of Christ. This is truly undeserved grace.

It says that He is quiet in His love and rejoices with shouts of joy. He is both quiet and shouting with joy. Who can rejoice with shouts of joy and savour joy with quietness at the exact same time? Who else but God. He can, simply because He is God.

This week has been very trying. I was told that I might not have a job at the end of the month. Hurtful words were said to me. Yet when I come to God with all my troubles, I know that God is good and that He rejoices in me. When I am defeated and down, the words “victorious warrior” stand out to me. He isn’t a defeated warrior or once-was-great retired veteran, he is the victorious warrior. This warrior rejoices in me. Wow.

It is Friday. TGIF. I’ve been carried through this week by His word. Here are a few that carried me through.

You are good, and you do good;
Psalm 119:68

When the fig tree does not bud,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
when the olive trees do not produce,
and the fields yield no crops;
when the sheep disappear from the pen,
and there are no cattle in the stalls,
I will rejoice because of the Lord;
I will be happy because of the God who delivers me!
Habakkuk 3:17-18

Joy beyond measure

Wednesday, August 15th, 2012

So he got up and went to his father. But while he was still a long way from home his father saw him, and his heart went out to him; he ran and hugged his son and kissed him.
Luke 15:20

Now picture this with me: a composed, rich, dignified old man dressed in the finest, most lavish clothes money can buy. He sits comfortably in his front yard. Suddenly, his eyes spot someone in the horizon. Someone he thinks he knows – his lost son. He blinks a couple of times just to be sure. He is not mistaken. His eyes are fixed; he gets up and starts walking toward the horizon More Info. Quickly, he speeds up to a jog, a run, a sprint. He dashes towards a mud covered, pig smelling, humiliated and unworthy young man. And tears streaming down the Father’s aged face, he embraces his son, who has now come home.

Somehow not quite the scene one would normally expect but it depicts perfectly the joy (Luke 15:7,10) of the Father in redeeming people to Himself. He has no patience and no composure when it comes to receiving His sons and daughters back. It says that the father’s “heart went out to him”. That is the same deep, explosive expression of love and joy that God feels; that drives Christ upon the cross.

If there was a defining moment in this story, a climax, this would be it. The father, filled with joy, tosses aside his composure and throws off his outer robe as he runs toward his son. Just how far did the father run? Just how undignified did he get when he embraced his pig mud covered son? Romans 5:8 says it all.

But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:8

Jesus’ meta-model for leadership

Monday, August 13th, 2012

It was just before the Passover Festival. Jesus knew that the hour had come for him to leave this world and go to the Father. Having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.

The evening meal was in progress, and the devil had already prompted Judas, the son of Simon Iscariot, to betray Jesus. Jesus knew that the Father had put all things under his power, and that he had come from God and was returning to God; so he got up from the meal, took off his outer clothing, and wrapped a towel around his waist. After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.

He came to Simon Peter, who said to him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?”

Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.”

“No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.”

Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

“Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!”

Jesus answered, “Those who have had a bath need only to wash their feet; their whole body is clean. And you are clean, though not every one of you.” For he knew who was going to betray him, and that was why he said not every one was clean.

When he had finished washing their feet, he put on his clothes and returned to his place. “Do you understand what I have done for you?” he asked them. “You call me ‘Teacher’ and ‘Lord,’ and rightly so, for that is what I am. Now that I, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also should wash one another’s feet. I have set you an example that you should do as I have done for you. Very truly I tell you, no servant is greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. Now that you know these things, you will be blessed if you do them.
John 13:1-17

Everyone knows this story of Jesus washing the disciple’s feet but do we catch the intricate details of what it means for leaders?

  • He was into His last days of authority as one who stood physically on earth, yet He was not stingy with His authority. He didn’t grip on to it or try to maximise it to the end. This was evident right from the beginning (Matthew 10:1; Mark 6:7) and is evident now. He held authority loosely.
  • He loved them to the end. The disciples weren’t just his colleagues, his staff or underlings. He had an emotional attachment to them. He cared for their well being and helped them to grow and mature.
  • Jesus was secure in His authority (v3, 13). He didn’t have to assert His authority, parade it or lord it over others. He knew the source of authority (Romans 13:1).
  • He got priorities right. Eating was important but not urgent, serving was more important and urgent. He got up from his meal to wash their feet, it seems evident that his meal was not finished (v4). His meal could wait just 10 minutes go right here. The best time to wash the disciples feet was while their bodies were reclined toward the table eating. They were stationary, pre-occupied and their feet were accessible… perfect.
  • He wasn’t afraid to get down and dirty (v4-5). Even though it was a servant’s job to wash feet, but it wasn’t below Him. His authority didn’t get in the way of His humility.
  • He served those He knew would hurt Him (v2, 11). He didn’t mince His words toward Judas (v10) but He didn’t abuse His authority over him. Judas was there reclining and eating with them (v27-29) and Jesus knew full well that Judas would betray him. Yet He served and washed even Judas.
  • He communicated. He ensured that the values and principles were not lost. He spoke of why he did what he did, the principles behind it and what it meant for them (v10, 12, 16-17). He was clear about His expectations of them (v14-15).

What stands out in this story is a picture of absolute authority shining though humble servanthood. Not for a moment did the disciples question who the leader truly was (v6-8). In fact, it affirmed more than anything Jesus’ authority (v13). The model that Jesus exemplified for His disciples that their relationship to Him was important but also their relationship toward each other (v14-15). What He did for them, they do for each other, and we in turn do for one another.

Sandals

Friday, August 10th, 2012

“Do not come any closer,” God said. “Take off your sandals, for the place where you are standing is holy ground.” Then he said, “I am the God of your father, the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob.” At this, Moses hid his face, because he was afraid to look at God.
Exodus 3:5-6

The burning bush is one of the most iconic Christian scenes, right up there with the crucifixion. Here in verses 5-6, God endows a piece of earth with His presence such that it becomes holy. That piece of earth for that short period of time enjoyed the same nature of God – holiness. Imagine that! Wherever God is, He makes holy. Thats why Israel was deemed holy (Deuteronomy 23:14; Leviticus 19:2) and thats why we are holy (sanctified by the Spirit, 1 John 1:7-9; 1 Corinthians 6:11).

But more than that, He tells Moses to remove his sandals. This tells me a few things:

  • Come with respect and humility: The removal of footwear denotes the loss of dignify because honestly, who wants to show someone else their grubby dirty feet? In the Middle East, the removal of foot wear has long been held as a sign of humility and respect.
  • Come without your dirt: The sandals were the dirtiest thing on a person’s body. In the days of Moses, they didn’t have concrete or tarmac like ours, it was sand, gravel and mud that he walked on and the occasional animal poop.
  • Come without your baggage: The sandals collected all the dirt from all these various places where Moses has been in it’s soles. Each little bit of dirt represented a place that Moses has been to, a story with every step. God says “take off” that baggage.
  • Come be organic: Footwear is what separated Moses from the holy ground. God didn’t want Moses to be deprived of experiencing His holiness, He wanted Moses to have that experience without dying. Hence God says, “Dont come any closer” to preserve Moses’ life and “take off your sandals” for that organic feet in the ground holiness experience.

God calls us to do the same. We might not have been drawn to “turn aside” to a strange thing like a burning bush, but when we “turn aside” to follow Christ, he wants us to remove out sandals and come with respect and humility, come without our dirt, come without our baggage and come be organic.

Whatever, anyone and every way

Wednesday, August 8th, 2012

So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God. Do not cause anyone to stumble, whether Jews, Greeks or the church of God – even as I try to please everyone in every way. For I am not seeking my own good but the good of many, so that they may be saved. Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ.
1 Corinthians 10:31-11:1

This is the summary of Paul’s teaching about a believer’s freedoms (rights) and constraints. Although the issues pertain to food sacrificed to idols, idol feasts and food in general, the principles remain the same.

  • Everything that we do, no matter how neutral the action is, needs to glorify God. Food in itself is neutral, it doesn’t bring us closer or further from Him (1 Corinthians 8:8), but if eating it causes a weaker brother/sister to stumble, then it isn’t glorifying to God (1 Corinthians 8:9, 12-13).
  • In Christ, we have freedom. That means we no longer live under the Law, instead we enjoy living in grace. Whatever is neutral (not sin by commission or omission) is open to our enjoyment. Yet, we do not indulge in this right to enjoy our freedom. Instead, we position ourselves as servants of others (1 Corinthians 9:19), giving up even the most basic of our rights so that others might be saved (1 Corinthians 9:12). Who are the “others”? It’s simply every and any one – Jews, Gentiles, weaker brothers/sisters and even the church of Christ (1 Corinthians 9:20-22, 10:32; our witness is strong in unity, John 17:20-23). And we endure this, Paul make no illusions that this is a painful process (1 Corinthians 9:27). This doesn’t mean that we commit sin to reach out of course, but in times when we are placed in difficult positions, God is with us (1 Corinthians 10:8-9, 13-22).
  • How far do we go to seek the good of others? How far do we go to serve them? As far as their freedom will take them (1 Corinthians 10:28-29) if they are involved. No freedom or right of ours stands before the conscience of others (1 Corinthians 10:24). Yet God is gracious, the concession for us is that we are free to indulge where others are not involved (1 Corinthians 10:25-27, 30).

These words cast a wide net on the things we do, the people we consider and the lengths we go in our daily walk with God. It seems like an impossible task, but still Paul says “follow”.

This task is important because brings salvation, the ultimate benefit for any man. It is our witness for Christ. Just as it was Christ’s witness and Apostle Paul’s witness, it is our witness. By doing so, we make ourselves walking and living pieces of evidence that Christ is real.