Christmas tree time of year

There are many opinions within the church surrounding Christmas and what we should and shouldn’t do. Some believers think we should change the date because it is unlikely that His birth was in December. Others feel we shouldn’t have one day set aside to celebrate it. Whilst still others abhor anything related to the old pagan celebration of Yuletide. The Eastern Orthodox churches celebrate on different days to the Western churches.

Even Glenn and I have different preferences surrounding celebratory days such as Easter and Christmas. Glenn counts all days the same, where I love keeping special baking treats, music and decorations for certain times of the year. For me, it is a time of reflecting on certain aspects of the Gospel message; keeping these days as special pushes me into a special season with God. Glenn, on the other hand, does not speak to God in the same way and so the days are not made special for his faith.

So what is right, what is wrong, and does it matter?

This morning I reflected on our differences as I put on Christmas music and painted play-dough decorations with my toddler. During this time, I was reminded of Romans 14.

Who are you to pass judgment on the servant of another? It is before his own master that he stands or falls. And he will be upheld, for the Lord is able to make him stand. One person esteems one day as better than another, while another esteems all days alike. Each one should be fully convinced in his own mind. The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of the Lord. The one who eats, eats in honor of the Lord, since he gives thanks to God, while the one who abstains, abstains in honor of the Lord and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:4-6).

That makes it fairly clear, doesn’t it? We get to make the decision for ourselves and we aren’t to judge our fellow believers. The important thing, according to Paul, is that we seek to honour God. Please note that I am not talking about people celebrating in ways that contradict Scripture (drunkenness, orgies, pagan worship . . .)! I am talking about how we honour God, from believer to believer, can vary. For example, some of us find special days call us to reflection and remembrance, where others do not.

I highly recommend you read through the whole passage of Romans 14 this week and keep it in mind when you come across someone celebrating (or not celebrating) Christmas as you do. By all means, discuss your varying views with others, but only so far as it does not cause another believer to stumble. Let us walk in love, peace and mutual upbuilding. 

Therefore let us not pass judgment on one another any longer, but rather decide never to put a stumbling block or hindrance in the way of a brother (Romans 14:13).

So then let us pursue what makes for peace and for mutual upbuilding (Romans 14:19).

Christmas crafts

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Walking without sight

for we walk by faith, not by sight. (2 Cor 5:7)

This verse’s context is awaiting our eternity; until we die the first death, we must walk by faith and not sight.

This has been a theme for me as I have studied Deuteronomy again in preparation for teaching it this month. It is also a theme God has been stretching me in. But the good news, for those of us walking with God, is found in verse 5 of this passage:

He who has prepared us for this very thing is God, who has given us the Spirit as a guarantee. (2 Cor 5:5).

The Spirit is our guarantee of the life that is to come. He is also the One that enables us to walk without stumbling during this short season of blindness. It is His voice that must be our guide – even when it goes against all our natural instincts and human understanding.

The Spirit guides us along the path God has for us. God gives us some further helps as well, which are strongly reflected in the book of Deuteronomy. Here are a few of the gems He is giving me from Deuteronomy:

  • Trust in God’s character plays a large part in walking by faith. The Word of God is our guide to God’s character and then personal experience cements our understanding of His worthiness of our trust.
  • Understanding of God’s character leads us to love Him and it is from love that obedience flows most successfully. It is easy to obey a loving Father.
  • Remembrance of God’s past faithfulness also increases our faith in Him and breeds further trust and reliance on God.

This year God has stretched our faith in Him to provide on time. In fact, throughout my life walking by faith God has always perfectly matched provision to need. This past season He has deepened the lesson that we can afford to give hilariously (2 Cor 9:7 – cheerful can be rendered “hilarious”) where He leads us because it isn’t our money, but His, and He has plenty more in His storehouse for our needs! We have had several large provisional breakthroughs this year; all supernatural and all on the back of obeying His call to give in an extravagant manner (for our personal income and possessions) that had us laughing with incredulity!

He had also had us step out in faithful obedience to chase a ministry vision that is impossible without God’s input. Remembering Him doing the same in my life when calling me to co-found Redefined Ministries DRCongo and pioneer YWAMs Bible School in Rwanda is a good example of remembrance building future faith. I hold on to how these two ministries have grown since their birth when I am discouraged by lack of  (perceived) momentum in this current season. Again, Glenn and I are walking by faith and not sight in this area as we put money into converting our home into a mission hub, able to host visiting mission teams.

Walk by faith in God

It seems that God hasn’t finished with my lesson in this area yet. We fly out on a mission trip Thursday, but are still awaiting a passport to arrive. We both have peace not to change flights or make other plans, yet it is stretching us! Walking by sight would be allowing anxiety to creep in, change flights, or make alternative plans. Waking by faith means holding firm to the peace God has placed in our hearts that Thursday is our flying date. Again, remembering past lessons helps somewhat. I am racking up quite a few last minute miracle stories, but two memorable ones include:

  1. My first Rwandan visa coming through so last minute that I had taken a flight from Cape Town to Johannesburg without it and had to run to my gate with my check-in luggage on my person.
  2. My son’s visa for a trip last year coming 10 minutes after the close of business day on the last business day before we flew.

I hope this post is an encouragement to some of you who might be trusting God for things that seem impossible by the physics or understanding of this world. Let’s keep in step with the Spirit, walking by faith and not sight!

 

As an addition (02/10/2018):

God came through with the passport and we are all set to go.

Last night and this morning He challenged me with these questions: “What is your understanding of Me and My character? Am I the Living God? Am I a God who keeps His Word? Have I not promised you it will come? Will you trust in Me and My word?” Yes, I trust Him and His word.

It was no longer a question of whether or not I should go; God had spoken to me that I should go on this trip. It had become a question of trust and – I felt God saying that, because I had written the blog post – it had also become a matter of His faithfulness to His Word. It had become about His character, not whether I had heard Him correctly. And, as we see, He is a God who keeps His Word. He is the Living God! 

Learning from John

Truth and Love

A big movement has arisen that declares that we can walk in love and grace, but ignore truth. The “hyper-grace movement”, as it has been termed. Yes, we must walk in love and grace towards one another, but part of love is holding one another to the truth.

Enter John. John ended his life known as “the Apostle of Love“. It is a name that, today, might bring forth images of dope-smoking hippies, but such an image couldn’t be further from the truth. Jesus originally gave John, with his brother James, the name: “sons of thunder”. John was an emotive character and this didn’t simmer down as he aged. There is a tale of him jumping out of a public bath (streaking) when a known heretic entered it, because he would not share bath water with a false teacher. He remained passionate, but his passion became founded on the love of God.

John challenges me because he never compromised the truth to remain popular. He was known as the Apostle of Love by the body of Christ, but I wouldn’t have wanted to be caught in sin by him.  One only needs to read through 1 John to hear his fierce love for God’s people, and yet equal fire for the truth to remain unsoiled. I want to cut and paste the entire first epistle of John here, but I’ll content myself with a small passage with the hope that you will read through it yourself today (it’s only 5 chapters).

See what kind of love the Father has given to us, that we should be called children of God; and so we are. The reason why the world does not know us is that it did not know him.Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure. (1 John 3:1-3)

Everyone who makes a practice of sinning also practices lawlessness; sin is lawlessness.You know that he appeared in order to take away sins, and in him there is no sin. No one who abides in him keeps on sinning; no one who keeps on sinning has either seen him or known him. (1 John 3:4-6)

Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous. Whoever makes a practice of sinning is of the devil, for the devil has been sinning from the beginning. The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil.No one born of God makes a practice of sinning, for God’s seed abides in him, and he cannot keep on sinning because he has been born of God. By this it is evident who are the children of God, and who are the children of the devil: whoever does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor is the one who does not love his brother. (1 John 3:7-10)

Pursing His truth and love

The prayer on my heart these past few months is that I would be known for love. Yet I know that this will only come to pass if I am also known for standing on the truth. God’s love and truth go together. The love of God is not a soft, wishy-washy love. God’s love is a fierce, jealous, consuming fire. God cannot abide sin, and those in Him will also be unable to continue in wilful sin (we all sin, but those in Christ should not make a knowing habit of any sin).

Our love for one another must also be fierce and protective. If we love one another, we will help keep one another from stumbling. When we read the epistles of Scripture they are commanding and corrective. The apostles guarded their flocks with a fierce love that called believers constantly back to the truth that they learnt in Christ.

Today we see a hyper-grace movement taking over the church. It falls under the same title as the gnostics of Apostle John’s ministry – libertarianism (from the gnostic belief that the body was evil and the soul good, so what one did with the body didn’t matter). Many churches today says that grace covers a multitude of sin and we must just “love one another”, but they ignore the fact that those who are in Christ have been made dead to sin! The love that is of God abhors sin. Those in Christ cannot keep making a habit of sin.

I feel like Paul’s argument in Romans makes it one hundred percent clear how we are to live (read Romans, or at least Romans 6-8!):

What shall we say then? Are we to continue in sin that grace may abound? By no means! How can we who died to sin still live in it? Do you not know that all of us who have been baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? (Romans 6:1-3)

So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus. Let not sin therefore reign in your mortal body, to make you obey its passions. Do not present your members to sin as instruments for unrighteousness, but present yourselves to God as those who have been brought from death to life, and your members to God as instruments for righteousness. (Romans 6:11-13)

Grace is not an excuse to sin and those who preach such are not standing on the truth of the Gospel! The good news is that we have been set free! We are no longer compelled by our sinful flesh!

Are you dead or alive?

Christ was humble and meek, yet He intentionally took the time to sit and weave a whip of cords and then go clear the temple out of those who had turned the court of Gentiles (where the Gentiles who loved God were meant to be allowed to worship) into a place of trade.

And making a whip of cords, he drove them all out of the temple, with the sheep and oxen. And he poured out the coins of the money-changers and overturned their tables. (John 2:15)

Jesus never condoned sin in all His ministry. He loved those in sin, offered them healing and forgiveness, and then called them to leave their lives of sin.

Jesus stood up and said to her, “Woman, where are they? Has no one condemned you?”She said, “No one, Lord.” And Jesus said, “Neither do I condemn you; go, and from now on sin no more.” Again Jesus spoke to them, saying, “I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.” (John 8:10-12)

Those who are in Christ must turn away from the darkness and walk in the light – and who is the light? Jesus! He is the way, the truth and the life. Recently I was heard someone share that they were once told: “Stop being nicer than Jesus”. How appropriate. Jesus is love. Yet Jesus was direct and corrective. Remember His words to Peter?

From that time Jesus began to show his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things from the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised. And Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.” But he turned and said to Peter, “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.” (Matthew 16:21-23)

Walk in His light

The New Testament is full of passages that push us towards living out the truth in love and I’ll list just a few at the end of this post. Not one of these passages, however, allow us to compromise the way of God for the ways of the world! Yet the church has washed out the truth to make way for the world’s understanding of love.

God loves all people, but few of them are His. Those who are saved are those who accept Christ Jesus as Lord. Full stop. God will not save everyone, but only those who believe on Christ’s name. All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God; all need God’s salvation. When did the church stop preaching this foundational message? We are all sinners in need of God’s love, grace, mercy and forgiveness.If we tell people that they are “good people” and “God loves them”, but do not tell them of their desperate need for God’s healing mercy and forgiveness then we have failed in our God-given commission. Accepting Christ means dying to our old self that was enslaved to sin and being set free to live righteously! 

The Gospel message is offensive to the world. We are not meant to be loved by the world. The New Testament is overflowing with the promise of persecution; Jesus Himself promised it (John 15:20, John 16:33)! If you are a Christian offended by this post then I challenge you to open the New Testament and read it from start to finish. What do you see of Christ? Who is He? What is His attitude to sin and compromise? And if this doesn’t convince you, go and reread Revelation and soak in the two camps – we are either in God’s camp, or we are in the world’s camp. There is no middle ground. And Christ’s camp is righteousness. 

So let us challenge ourselves to walk in truth with love. Let us challenge ourselves and our faith communities to walk in step with the teachings of the Bible. Let us ask God to reveal the true expression of love to us. Let our hearts be transformed into the image of Christ. Let us love sinners, and disciple believers. Let us no longer be conformed to the image of this world, but be transformed by the Spirit into the glorious likeness of Christ.

Light or dark?

Here are those Scriptures I promised (that are very far from a complete list!):

“No one after lighting a lamp puts it in a cellar or under a basket, but on a stand, so that those who enter may see the light.Your eye is the lamp of your body. When your eye is healthy, your whole body is full of light, but when it is bad, your body is full of darkness.Therefore be careful lest the light in you be darkness. If then your whole body is full of light, having no part dark, it will be wholly bright, as when a lamp with its rays gives you light.” (Luke 11:33 36).

Do not be unequally yoked with unbelievers. For what partnership has righteousness with lawlessness? Or what fellowship has light with darkness?What accord has Christ with Belial? Or what portion does a believer share with an unbeliever?What agreement has the temple of God with idols? For we are the temple of the living God; as God said, “I will make my dwelling among them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.Therefore go out from their midst, and be separate from them, says the Lord, and touch no unclean thing; then I will welcome you,and I will be a father to you, and you shall be sons and daughters to me, says the Lord Almighty.” (2 Corinthians 6:14-18).

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children.And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.But sexual immorality and all impurity or covetousness must not even be named among you, as is proper among saints.Let there be no filthiness nor foolish talk nor crude joking, which are out of place, but instead let there be thanksgiving. For you may be sure of this, that everyone who is sexually immoral or impure, or who is covetous (that is, an idolater), has no inheritance in the kingdom of Christ and God. Let no one deceive you with empty words, for because of these things the wrath of God comes upon the sons of disobedience. (Ephesians 5:1-6)

This is the message we have heard from him and proclaim to you, that God is light, and in him is no darkness at all.If we say we have fellowship with him while we walk in darkness, we lie and do not practice the truth. But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin.If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.If we say we have not sinned, we make him a liar, and his word is not in us. (1 John 1:5-10)

As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct, since it is written, “You shall be holy, for I am holy.” . . . Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth for a sincere brotherly love, love one another earnestly from a pure heart, since you have been born again, not of perishable seed but of imperishable, through the living and abiding word of God; (1Pe 1:14 -16, 22-23).

Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love. Now this I say and testify in the Lord, that you must no longer walk as the Gentiles do, in the futility of their minds. . . But that is not the way you learned Christ!—assuming that you have heard about him and were taught in him, as the truth is in Jesus,to put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds,and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness. Therefore, having put away falsehood, let each one of you speak the truth with his neighbor, for we are members one of another. (Ephesians 4:15-17, 20-25)

Therefore, if anyone cleanses himself from what is dishonorable, he will be a vessel for honorable use, set apart as holy, useful to the master of the house, ready for every good work. So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart. (2 Timothy 2:21-22)

Famine in the land

My last two posts have been focused on digging into the Bible so I thought I may as well continue the theme. I still have vivid memories from childhood and adolescence of asking God to open His Word up to me. I was hungry to go beyond a surface level understanding, but didn’t know how to. I was also a shy child when it came to revealing a lack of knowledge – I didn’t want to appear stupid – so I avoided asking questions. God faithfully answered my prayers to understand His Word and continues to do so. He has also emboldened me to ask questions and not fear man’s judgement. He is a good Father!

Despite knowing a lot more of the Word than I did, I still feel like I know the Word to a fraction of the extent that I should know it. Yet, when I look around me, I see that I know the Word more than most believers. This saddens me, because I do not know much of it at all! The treasures of the Word are unending, and yet there is a clear famine of the Word of God amongst His people today.

Why is the church experiencing a Bible famine? I can’t say with one hundred percent certainty, but a couple of my thoughts are: (1) we don’t make time for Bible study, (2) pastors are more concerned about keeping their congregations happy than preaching the Word of God, (3) believers rely solely on their pastors and the latest hit Christian author for their knowledge, rather than seeking truth from the Word, (4) believers (including pastors) are afraid of persecution from the world if they stand on the truth, (5) we want to make people feel good, rather than challenge each other to grow in character, (6) the church has lost its awe of God – awe meaning: reverent fear and wonder.

How sad that we live in a world of Bible famine, for the Word is God. It is living and active; it is sharper than a two-edged sword; it is the bread that sustains; it is the truth that sets free!

In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made. In him was life, and the life was the light of men. (John 1:1-4)

Get into the Word of God and let Him transform your life! Ending Bible poverty has to start with our own knowledge. It has to start with our own hearts; we must be hungry for more knowledge of God, we must hunger to know Him.

A Psalm of David, when he was in the wilderness of Judah. O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water. So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory.  Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you.  So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands. My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,  when I remember you upon my bed, and meditate on you in the watches of the night;  for you have been my help, and in the shadow of your wings I will sing for joy.  My soul clings to you; your right hand upholds me. (Psalm 63:1-8)

This is my prayer. I long to hunger after God with my whole being. I long to crave Him as I do fine foods, rich desserts, and delectable drinks. I want to open my Bible and see Christ. I want to be transformed by His living Word. And I know that as I do, those around me will be drawn to it too.

Hungry, but not for food. Thirsty, but not for drink.

The tale of ten lepers

This event has been playing in my mind these past two weeks:

And as he entered a village, he was met by ten lepers, who stood at a distance and lifted up their voices, saying, “Jesus, Master, have mercy on us.” When he saw them he said to them, “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went they were cleansed.
Then one of them, when he saw that he was healed, turned back, praising God with a loud voice; and he fell on his face at Jesus’ feet, giving him thanks. Now he was a Samaritan. Then Jesus answered, “Were not ten cleansed? Where are the nine?Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”And he said to him, “Rise and go your way; your faith has made you well.” (Luke 17:12-19)

We are called to live a life of thanksgiving. But how often do we pause in our busyness to say “thank you”? I’m mainly referring to thanking God, but I think that a life of thankfulness will flow out to those around us, too.

I have seen God answer prayers my entire life. Sometimes the answer comes in an unexpected way or season, but it does come.

Revelation 8:3-4 tells us that the prayers of the saints rise before God as a fragrant offering! John 16:23-28 tells us that the Father will give us anything that we ask in the Son’s name.

We quote the above scriptures all the time when making requests of God. But how often do we return to Him and say thank you? Do we quickly forget that we made a request at all? We cry and rail at Him in our need, but once it’s met then we run ahead and forget.

Turn back and thank God

When you journal, do you take time to note down praise points? Do you have a record of testimonies to God’s faithfulness? Are you bold enough to share your thanks of what God has done in your life with family and friends? Do you remember His past faithfulness when coming before His throne with new requests?

Let’s be like the leper who turned back and praised the One who healed him!

Storehouses of treasure

And he said to them, “Take care, and be on your guard against all covetousness, for one’s life does not consist in the abundance of his possessions.”

And he told them a parable, saying, “The land of a rich man produced plentifully, and he thought to himself, ‘What shall I do, for I have nowhere to store my crops?’ And he said, ‘I will do this: I will tear down my barns and build larger ones, and there I will store all my grain and my goods. And I will say to my soul, “Soul, you have ample goods laid up for many years; relax, eat, drink, be merry.”‘ 

But God said to him, ‘Fool! This night your soul is required of you, and the things you have prepared, whose will they be?’

So is the one who lays up treasure for himself and is not rich toward God.” (Luke 12:15-21)

I am finding so much joy reading through the Gospel of Luke at the moment – the Gospel that focuses on the least in society. This is really where God is challenging me at the moment – to be His hands and feet to the poor. 

Glenn and I constantly reminded not to store up earthly treasure for ourselves. Whatever we have is His to be used in the Kingdom. For all you businessmen out there – keeping building wealth, but make sure you’re investing it back into His Kingdom!

But what about you and your family? What if you are faithful to be rich towards god? Read on dear one:

And do not seek what you are to eat and what you are to drink, nor be worried.For all the nations of the world seek after these things, and your Father knows that you need them. Instead, seek his kingdom, and these things will be added to you.

“Fear not, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give to the needy. Provide yourselves with moneybags that do not grow old, with a treasure in the heavens that does not fail, where no thief approaches and no moth destroys.  For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also. (Luke 12:29-34)

What a beautiful promise – we can give freely, knowing that we are storing up treasure bags in heaven! Surely our reward will be great. This leads to a removal of fear around giving to and working with the poor. We can go out and care for the least, just as Christ did, knowing that we are building eternal wealth.

Who do you know that is poor? Who do you minister to that is needy?

Operation Christmas Child is a great example of ministry to the least. I’ve been blessed to pack a box, and also see some distributed in Zambia.

Food for the year

Jesus answered them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.” (John 6:26-27)
The New Year period is typically a time of reflection and planning. Many of us pause to evaluate our lives and goals. Some of us had a hard year and others had a triumphant 2017. Some of us are excited by what 2018 will hold whilst some will look forward with trepidation. Regardless of what these reflections hold, let us be sure to cement our lives in Christ. He is our Daily Bread. He is the sustenance our bodies and spirits need.
In pursuing any of our physical, temporal goals this year, let us never loose our focus on the One who gives us eternal life and life in the fullest.
Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” (John 6:68-69)

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year