Monthly Archives: September 2022

YOUR TURN IS COMING

YOUR TURN IS COMING

“‘Who would you rather be: the one who eats the dinner or the one who serves the dinner? You’d rather eat and be served, right? But I’ve taken my place among you as the one who serves. And you’ve stuck with me through thick and thin. Now I confer on you the royal authority my Father conferred on me so you can eat and drink at my table in my kingdom and be strengthened as you take up responsibilities among the congregation of God’s people.'” Luke 22:27-30 (The Message).

Of course we would rather sit down at the dinner table and be served than watch others eating while we serve! But once again, we belong to a kingdom where all the values are a reversal of this world’s values. In the present order of things, “sitting at the table” implies occupying an important position in society.

Serving is a menial job and is reserved for the “nobodies”. In the world’s eyes, Jesus is a “nobody”. In fact, even believers often treat Him as a nobody – it’s “Jesus, do this; Jesus, do that” as though we were the masters and He the servant.

Once again Jesus is teaching us to view this life as part of a bigger whole. Being a servant in the here and now is a necessary part of our apprenticeship for our task in God’s kingdom. It would be foolish to employ an untrained person to do a responsible job, especially one that handles people’s lives. No airline company would emply a rookie to pilot their passenger planes.

There are examples in Scripture of people who were placed in responsible positions without first being taught to be a servant. The most glaring would be King Saul, Israel’s first king. He had great potential but he was never put through his “servant” training before he became king. When the tests came, he failed dismally because he did not know how to submit to God’s authority.

He was disqualified and replaced by David, a shepherd boy who had learned to serve as the youngest son in a family of eight. His trust in God carried him through many  dangerous situations and equipped him to be a true leader of God’s people because he submitted to God’s authority and ruled wisely under God.

Having a servant heart is a necessary part of being a disciple. It teaches us how to live in submission and obedience to our Master and equips us to be imitators of Jesus. Without this training we would be liabilities to God in His kingdom just like Satan     

was, taking the bit between our teeth and causing chaos through disobedience and self-will.

There will be a time when we reap the reward of faithfully serving others through our obedience to God. Jesus assures us that, if we stick with Him, we will share the honour of a place at His table if we have passed the test of humility and self-sacrifice. Joseph spent thirteen years in slavery and imprisonment in preparation for his great task although he was not guilty of wrongdoing. God found him faithful and promoted him to a place of honour and authority where he could “sit at the table” because he had served well.

Our turn is coming. Our years of training may be long and tedious but they are intended

to prepare and test us for great responsibility and honour. If we stick with Jesus and serve others with humility, we shall also share in the reward of “a place at His table”, taking up our responsibilites among the congregation of God’s people.

Jesus is the perfect pattern God has given us to follow. “Although He was a son, He learned obedience from what He suffered and, once made perfect, He became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey Him and was designated by God to be a high priest in the order of Melchizedek.” Hebrews 5:8-10 (NIV).

A HEAP OF RUBBLE?

A HEAP OF RUBBLE?,

“One day people were standing around talking about the temple, remarking how beautiful is was, the splendour of its stonework and memorial gifts. Jesus said, ‘All this you’re admiring so much — the time is coming when every stone in that building will end up in a heap of rubble.’

“They asked Him, ‘Teacher, when is this going to happen? What clue will we get that it’s about to take place?'” Luke 21:5-7 (The Message).

Amazing, isn’t it, how things that seem so permanent and indestructible can disappear without warning in a moment! The Israelites had put such confidence in the durability of their temple that they could not believe that it would ever be destroyed.

Jeremiah warned them, centuries before, about putting false hope in their temple. “Hear the word of the Lord, all you people of Judah who come through these gates to worship the Lord. This is what the Lord Almighty, the God of Israel says: ‘Reform your ways and your actions, and I will let you live in this place. Do not trust in deceptive words and say, ‘This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!’ If you really change your ways and your actions and deal with each other justly, if you do not oppress the alien, the fatherless and the widow and do not shed innocent blood in this place, and if you do not follow other gods to your own harm, then I will let you live in this place, in the land I gave your forefathers for ever and ever. But look, you are trusting in deceptive words that are worthless.'” Jeremiah 7:2b-8 (NIV).

The Babylonians came and did exactly what Jesus predicted was about to happen again — they reduced their temple to rubble and plundered all its treasures. Perhaps the people who commented to Jesus on its beauty had forgotten its history. 

There are lessons for us to learn from this incident as well. God places no value on things if they do not serve the purpose of enhancing our relationship with Him and the fruit of that relationship. How many people foolishly put their confidence in inanimate things like crucifixes, St Christopher images or even a rabbit’s foot or family photograph to keep them safe instead of trusting in the living God! Even our money is not infallible!

Of course we have to remember that we live in a world where “stuff” happens. No one is immune from the problems and tragedies that affect all human beings. Jesus warned us that these things are inevitable (John 16:33), but He also promised that in Him we have a place of refuge – peace – that will protect us from the effects of these adversities.

Sometimes bad things happen just because we are part of an imperfect world; sometimes we are the victims of other people’s choices and sometimes we bear the consequences of our own poor choices. In this case, destruction was coming on Jersusalem because God’s people had rejected their Messiah and called down His blood on their own heads.

We may not escape the troubles that inevitably happen but we can have an eternal safeguard that carries us beyond the confines of this life. God’s promise to those who love Him is infallible: “And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.” Romans 8:28-29 (NIV).

We must never be caught up in foolish superstition that trusts in things and not in God. God and His word are reliable in a world that is fragile and transient. “The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever.”  1 John 2:17 (NIV). 

THE RULE OF FAITH

THE RULE OF FAITH

“May I never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world. Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation. Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to the Israel of God. From now on, let no one cause me trouble, for I bear in my body the marks of Jesus.

“The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit, brothers and sisters. Amen.” Galatians 6:14-18.

Despite the efforts of his opponents to discredit him and to rob him of his apostolic authority, the real Paul comes out in the final words of this letter. It’s not about circumcision – it’s about the cross. To his last breath Paul would fight to defend the efficacy of the death of Jesus. While the Judaizers might boast in their conquests over the souls of men, Paul will only boast in the power of Jesus’ death to save from sin through the grace of God and to recreate men and women in His image through faith in Him.

The cross of Jesus is, in the end, the great divide between sinner and saint, between those who insist on seeking God their own way and those who humbly submit to the way He chose to bring us back to Himself.

To the Jew, it was distasteful to think that a man who claimed to be God would choose to die, and to die in such an ignominious way at the hands of the Romans, to reconcile men and women to Himself. They preferred to dodge the writings of their own prophets rather than to believe that Jesus was their Messiah.

To the Gentiles, it was equally foolish to believe in just one of many thousands of “criminals” who had been executed by crucifixion. What could that do to bring peace to their conscience and change their lives? Their own gods could not save them. What could a dead Jew do to make the difference?

To Paul, however, the cross was not an object of shame to dodge but the very cut-off point between his old life of pointless self-effort and a new life of the forgiveness, freedom, and righteousness he did not have to earn. He bore in his body the marks of his commitment – the scars of human hatred which were mute testimony to his faith in Jesus so tenacious that nothing or no one could tear him away from loyalty to Him. Were the Judaizers willing to suffer for sake of circumcision?

With all the confidence in the world, he could pray a simple benediction over those who read his letter and believed the truth, be they of the first or twenty-first century and everyone in between; “Peace and mercy to all who follow this rule – to the Israel of God.” The true children of Israel, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, are not those who rigidly try to keep rules but those who adhere to one simple rule – the rule of faith. When faith rules, the heart is at peace in the full assurance of God’s mercy.

Everything that Paul needed to say had been said. It was now up to his readers to believe the truth or leave “The Way” and do their best to undo their sinful past by doing it their way. How tragic that throughout the ages people still disregard the revealed will of God and try to bypass the cross!

We may wear it as an ornament around our necks; we may decorate our churches inside and outside with every shape and size of cross; we may even mark the place where someone lies buried with a cross. In the end, however, if the invisible cross of Jesus has not been the instrument of death to us and our selfish ways, and the beginning of a new life in Christ, the cross will be as meaningless to us as it was to the Roman soldiers who routinely drove nails through the hands and feet of their helpless victims.

“In the cross of Christ I glory

Towering o’er the wrecks of time;

All the light of sacred story

Gathers round its head sublime…

“Bane and blessing, pain and pleasure

By the cross are sanctified;

Peace is there that knows no measure,

Joys that through all time abide…”

(John Bowring – 1825)

http://cyberhymnal.org/i/n/intcross.htm

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

THE REWARD OF FAITH

THE REWARD OF FAITH

“See what large letters I use as I write to you with my own hand! Those who want to impress people by means of the flesh are trying to compel you to be circumcised. The only reason they do this is to avoid being persecuted for the cross of Christ. Not even those who are circumcised keep the law, yet they boast about your circumcision in the flesh.” Galatians 6:11-13.

This issue was so urgent for Paul that he even wrote this letter himself instead of using a scribe as he usually did. Apparently he was short-sighted, or he had some other eye problem that affected his eyesight. Some commentators believe that he had an eye disease which made him look unsightly, hence his comment in chapter 4:13-15.

As he struggled to pen his thoughts, he turned again to the men who were undermining the faith of the Galatians, and persuading them to take on the burden of a yoke God’s own people were unable to bear. Paul had walked that road himself and he knew how burdensome it was, and how glorious it was to walk in the freedom of knowing Christ Jesus and His forgiveness and the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit.

These Judaizers, of course, had a hidden agenda. They knew the truth but they were dodging the offence of the cross. In Paul’s day, persecution came from two fronts. The Jews rejected Jesus as their Messiah and turned their hatred on the believers. As an ambassador for Christ and in the forefront of the battle, Paul was prime target for their anger. They hounded him from city to city as he moved across the Roman Empire, using every excuse to take him out.

The Roman government and their representatives had it in for the believers because they refused to bow to Caesar as Lord. Nero, the crazy emperor during Paul’s time, used Christians as the scapegoat for his madness and invented more and more cruel ways to dispose of them, even killing them for entertainment in the great amphitheatre in Rome.

Whereas, in the beginning, the new “cult” of Jesus-followers was identified with Judaism and tolerated by Rome, later on the Jews dissociated themselves from the people of “The Way”. Rome tolerated the Jews and allowed them to practise their monotheistic religion but they rejected the Christians’ insistence that Jesus, not Caesar, was Lord and the Prince of Peace and Saviour. Christians were outlawed and killed for treason against Rome.

Hence these Judaizers who were supposedly followers of Jesus, remained under the umbrella of Judaism to protect themselves from persecution. To come out boldly and openly on the side of Jesus was suicidal. To proselytise and get a following of Gentiles for themselves was a protection against the anger of the Jewish religious leaders.

To follow the teaching of the Judaizers was to renounce Jesus and escape the offence of the cross in this life but, at the same it meant forfeiting God’s grace and the hope of eternal life. They could not have it both ways.

Having explained the implications of their actions, Paul was now calling on them to make a choice. If they chose Jesus, they would put themselves in the firing line for persecution and possible execution, but that was par for the course in this life. The reward of faith far outweighed the price they would pay for following Jesus.

These antagonists, according to Paul, were no advert for the religion they professed to follow. No one, not even they, were able to obey the law perfectly, yet they were insisting that their way was the way to God. Why believe them when their way did not work and never had worked, as the history of God’s people revealed? In the end, it was not their zeal for the law that drove them to seek a following but their cowardly desire to dodge persecution. Not only did they follow a false way themselves, but they also tried to drag others with them.

The way of the cross is the way of suffering, but the promise of God stands above it all as a beacon of hope.

“Now if we are children of God, then we are heirs – heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ, if indeed we share in His sufferings in order that we may also share in His glory. I consider that our present sufferings are not worth comparing with the glory that will be revealed in us.” Romans 8:17, 18.

“Therefore we do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen, since what is seen is temporary but what is unseen is eternal.” 2 Corinthians 4:16-18.

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW

YOU REAP WHAT YOU SOW

“Nevertheless, the one who receives instruction in the word should share all good things with his instructor. Do not be deceived. God cannot be mocked. A man reaps what he sows. Whoever sows to please his flesh, from the flesh will reap destruction; whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit will reap eternal life. Let us not become weary in doing good for, at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up. Therefore, as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially those belonging to the family of believers.” Galatians 6:6-10.

Have you ever heard this saying? “A fool is a person who keeps on doing the same thing but expects a different outcome.” It’s the same as saying that a fool is someone who sows weeds and expects to reap wheat. Just as God has laws in the natural world that never alter, so the laws of the spiritual dimension are equally stable.

What was Paul talking about here? The law of the harvest applies at every level, but Paul had something particular in mind when he penned these words. In the Mosaic Covenant, God taught His people how to apportion their crops, not by fixed amounts but by percentage. Everything belongs to God. He had the right to tell His people how to use their resources. 

At the end of each harvest, wheat, barley and whatever else they grew, and the increase of their flocks and herds, they were to give away approximately 20% and keep 80% for their own use. They had a responsibility to care for others as well as themselves and their families; their high priest; the priests and Levites; their own future, and the poor, the widow, the orphan and the foreigner, out of the 20% they set aside for this purpose.

Although the New Testament does not repeat these instructions, the principles are still the same and still found in the new covenant. Our responsibilities to other people have not changed. Many believers argue that we are now under grace, not under the law. That may be so, but everyone, including those for whom we are responsible, still has to live. God has never improved on His economic policy because it’s not about law; it’s about wisdom.

Left to ourselves because we argue that we are no longer under the law, we usually give less and less because of our innate reluctance to part with our money. We argue that we are being led by the Spirit. But what spirit? The old greedy nature still lurks deep inside us. We think that what we earn and what we own is ours. No, it is not. We are stewards of God’s property which we have on loan. We are accountable to Him for how we use it. When we use it for ourselves instead of obeying Him, we must not be surprised if our resources run out. Why should God give us more when we are unfaithful to Him with what we have?

In this passage, Paul talked about money and possessions – as simple as that! The law of the harvest applies to our money as much as it does to anything else. He urged the Galatians to take care of those who taught them the word. They have as much right to financial remuneration as those who work to earn a living. Whatever they sowed, they would reap. Paul talked about “sowing to the flesh” in the context of money.

According the Eugene Peterson’s “The Message”, we cannot make a fool of God. He established the law of the harvest and it has never been changed. When we are selfish and greedy with the resources God has entrusted to us, we will reap destruction because that is the pre-determined harvest of the “flesh”. Conversely, if we sow generosity, we will reap eternal life which is the outcome of righteousness.

“Now He who supplies seed to the sower and bread for food will also supply and increase your store of seed and will enlarge the harvest of your righteousness. You will be enriched in every way so that you can be generous on every occasion, and through us your generosity will result in thanksgiving to God.” 12 Corinthians 9:10, 11.

There will always be a harvest of more of what you have sown because the law of the harvest never changes, Just as selfishness will multiply in your life if you are selfish, so generosity will break the cycle of greed in you and set you on the road to real prosperity – not just in financial sufficiency but in the growth of your character to become more like Jesus.

Like everything else in life, generosity is a partnership with God. He will ensure that we are never in need when we obey Him by taking care of the needs of others.

“So do not worry, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or “What shall we wear?’ For the pagans run after all these things, and your heavenly Father knows that you need them. But seek first His kingdom and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” Matthew 6:31-33.  

Scripture taken from THE HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION®, NIV® Copyright © 1973, 1978, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.