Monthly Archives: March 2021

Set apart!

I have been preparing a talk for the ladies in my church coming up after Easter and the topic is pursuing holiness. It has been very challenging so far. Mainly because it has highlighted to me how much I still have to learn and how little I really rely on God’s grace in my day-to-day life.

It has been interesting to see how churches have changed their approach to “preaching the Gospel”. There would appear to be a desire to align with the world view in many cases. Importance being given to individuals feeling comfortable and feeling good about themselves. In many ways pastors, preachers and Bible teachers have become motivational speakers, sticking to some truth but trying to make the listener go home with a warm fuzzy feeling. There is a reluctance to challenge the “normal”. Difficult topics have been avoided or glossed over from the pulpit, Watering down important topics such as sin in all its sinfulness. A fear of losing members of the congregation has resulted in a lack of boldness in spurring each other on in their faith. For some, the entertainment, social activity and interaction seems to be the centre of every event including worship. As long as it is fun they will come back is a common view. At what cost!!!

What to say about the sermon? Many believe and demand it should be more like a thought for the day… no more than 5 minutes. The excuse for this seems to be, the lack of ability to concentrate. How so? The same people that demand the sermons are as short as possible are the same ones spending hours watching sports on TV or going to the cinema to see the latest blockbuster which is 3 hours long. Maybe not at the moment due to the pandemic, but this will soon return.

There are no more Sunday Schools like I remember… the teaching of doctrines has been abandoned and many Christians go to church all their lives and are fed milk. Their faith and walk with the Lord has become shallow and they are blown here and there following the best speaker and trusting wrong teaching, unable to discern truth, or question what is being taught for themselves.

What to make of a sentence like this: “If the Bible calls it sin, your opinion doesn’t matter.” I saw that on Facebook and it made me stop and think. If this sentence makes us feel outraged, there is a problem. We have started to think like the world thinks.

Of course it is not all doom and gloom. There are good churches out there fighting against the modern view of the Gospel, where all goes and we don’t tell people they are sinful and rebels. There are many Christians who are seeking to live holy lives because they understand we serve a holy God and that is His will for our lives that we are more like Christ.

As I read about the puritans, who were actually called that because they sought to follow God closely and live separated from the world in order to please God, I asked myself if people see in my life that kind of zeal for God’s truths and for how I serve him.

Are people attracted to our churches because they are just like any other place they go to or do they see something so different and beautiful that they want to find out more? Do people befriend me because they see Jesus in me or because I am just like each one of them? Are they impacted by the way I talk, dress myself, conduct myself? Are they intrigued and slightly uncomfortable by what I stand for and believe?

Easter is in a few days time and as I think about what Jesus endured on that cross in my place, what pain, what cost he paid, I can but wonder about this grace which I will never fully understand. Grace is underserved favour. I don’t deserve it. No one does. No one can live perfectly obeying God’s commands. We are all rebels and we all want to rule our own lives, our own way. It does not help that society, schools, businesses all tell us the same: “be the person you want to be”, “be diverse and inclusive”, “write your own destiny” they say, “you deserve to be happy”. It is much better to hear that, than to hear:

for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans 3:23, emphasis mine) or 23 For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in[b] Christ Jesus our Lord. (Romans 6:23, emphasis mine)

There is a problem called sin that has infected our hearts and broken the relationship between man and God and there is nothing we can do that will make it right. That is why God devised the most perfect rescue plan that could ever be conceived. He sent His only Son to live the perfect life (without sin, and perfect obedience) that we could never live and die the perfect death (which would appease His wrath and pay the penalty in full) that we deserve. This is what the Bible tells us in John 3:

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life. 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. 18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. (verses 16-18)

Jesus died for us and he conquered death. He rose again. His resurrection has brought us hope of eternal life and a glorious future.

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade. 

Here we should all be saying a big AMEN. What glorious truths to know and believe in. The Gospel that brings life and freedom from slavery to sin. We are forgiven and we stand righteous before God our Father not because we deserve, but because Christ died for us and rose again.

Job done. We can all go now, right? I believe in Jesus, I gave my life to Him and I recognise I need Him to be saved. I can go on living my life the way I want because Jesus loves me, yes I know, for the Bible tells me so… goes the song. We need to pursue holiness because that is God’s will for our lives.

As obedient children, do not conform to the evil desires you had when you lived in ignorance. 15 But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; 16 for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy.” (1 Peter 14-16)

Most of the New Testament is written with instructions on how to live lives that will be pleasing to God. We are supposed to be a holy people, set apart and different from the world. Made holy by God for God. We hear people talking about revival and the old days when crowds were drawn to stadiums and many heard the Gospel and turned to Christ. What we need is to preach more of the same in greater depth. We need to study the Bible with enthusiasm and passion. We need to study the easy bit of the Bible and the harder parts. We need to remind ourselves of important doctrines which will help us feel equipped to fight the heresies and false teaching which are creeping into our churches and home. We need more of Christ and the Gospel because we are still sinners. Yes and God loves us and He wants us to bring glory to His name and reflect His image, not ours. It is about his glory, not ours.

As we think about Jesus and the cross and all its significance for us as Christians, may God help us understand through his Holy Spirit the words of the old hymn:

Love so amazing, so divine,
Demands my soul, my life, my all. ( When I Survey The Wondrous Cross. Isaac Watts)

God bless.

Wash your mouth out with soap!

I remember my parents threatening to wash my mouth out with soap when I was young because I used a bad word in my anger when I was speaking to one of my sisters. My dad took me to the sink and told me to look at all the dirty dishes and asked me what was needed to make them clean. “Soap” I said. “That is right”. I will wash your mouth out with soap if you ever use bad words again. My dad is a loving man, but he is very serious. If he said he would do something, you had to pay attention because he would do it. That was enough to make me stop every time a bad word was about to slip out of my lips, at least, when my dad was in the house.

Some people today, might think how barbaric, that a parent would even consider washing their child’s mouth out with soap, but my parents were concerned with the state of my heart more than they were with the words that made my mouth dirty. My mouth was using bad language because my heart is full of sin.

Jesus said in Matthew 15 verse 11:

“What goes into someone’s mouth does not defile them, but what comes out of their mouth, that is what defiles them.”

This was his teaching to the crowd after the Pharisees questioned him about his disciples and the fact they were not obeying certain traditions and were “defiling” things. Jesus points out to them that their problem is with their hearts. That is true of each one of us too. When we use rotten language, bad words, we are just showing what is coming out of our hearts.

Sin is a serious business. We have become so used to hearing unwholesome talk that it does not offend us anymore. It has become a normal thing. Something that everybody does and it has crept into our homes and churches too. Maybe not in the formal gatherings for worship on Sundays, but when we meet socially and informally.

When teaching the Ephesians to live their lives in a Christian way, pursuing holiness the apostle Paul wrote:

29 Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. 30 And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. (NIV)

The RSV translates it as “Let no evil talk come out of your mouths”, the ESV translates it as “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths”. It seems very clear to me that there is no room in the instructions given for getting used to the kind of language we hear in our day to day lives. It is all around us, at work, on TV, on the radio and in all the social media platforms. It is so common that it has become acceptable. There is no filter anymore. Well, at least that is what we think.

If we go back to Ephesians 4 and read verses 22 to 24 we see we need to put off the old self and put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness.

We must live each day of our lives using the filter of God’s word. Sin has no dominion over us anymore. When Jesus redeemed us, by His blood shed on the cross, He freed us from the bondage of sin and death. He gave us the Holy Spirit to help us as we journey through life, bearing God’s image and becoming more like Jesus. How can we forget so easily that our choices and our actions grieve the Holy Spirit? We must stop using the excuse that this is just the way it is.

It is extremely important that we do not take God’s name in vain. We shouldn’t say  “God!” or “My God!” or “God Almighty!” or “Christ!” or “Jesus!” just because we are surprised, amazed or even angry. More so than not using this language, we shouldn’t tolerate it either. We hear it all the time. We might feel uncomfortable about it but we seldom challenge the people taking God’s name in vain. Sadly our silence might appear to others as if we don’t mind it. We should also avoid saying things like “What the hell” or “Hell, no!” or “Go to hell!” or “Damn it!” or “Damn right!” or “Holy cow!” or “Holy Mary and Joseph!”. We might ask ourselves, what is the harm in saying these things? Well, the tragic reality of hell and damnation should not be trivialized and what to say of using the word holy… Our mighty God is said to be holy, holy, holy. We should not misuse the word. Of course we should not use any kind of language that is mean and designed to hurt others. We should not use excuses such as “I was joking”, “I didn’t mean it that way”, or “I wasn’t thinking!”. We are not to let anything bad, evil, poisonous come out of our lips.

If this was the end of my post it would be quite discouraging, wouldn’t it? I want to finish by looking back at verse 29. Let’s shift our focus to the second half of Paul’s instructions to the church in Ephesus: “Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen.” Our language, what comes out of our mouths, what comes out of our hearts needs to be an instrument of grace, used to help and build others. It should meet the need of others.  How extraordinary that this is the way we should speak! We are to reflect God’s character. We are image bearers. A friend once told me she uses a traffic light system: red light – stop and think “is what I am about to say helpful? Is it edifying? “Is it going to meet the needs of others?. Yellow – search the depths of our hearts, ask the Holy Spirit to change our attitude, take time to let Him work in us. Green – only say what will be helpful and ultimately bring glory to God. This might seem like a child like exercise but I thought it was a good suggestion.

We must live our lives in a way that will show those around us that we are different, separated by God and for God. Looking after the way we speak to one another is important. Searching what is in our hearts with the help of the Holy Spirit should be a daily exercise. Let us put on our new selves each day by God’s grace and for His glory.

God bless.

Sleep deeply and soundly

Last week was one of the most tiring weeks I can remember in a very long time. Work was incredibly busy with all the students returning to school after another lockdown. The normal things that happen around my house every week just seemed to require extra time and effort and by Wednesday it felt like Friday would never come. My mind wondered and worried about many different things and I found I could not sleep very well. I felt quite grumpy and short tempered. The worst thing about that is that it affects those I love the most.

As I stopped to think about what the week was like I remembered a verse from a Psalm, which I learned when I was a teenager:

“In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety” Psalm 4:8

At first I thought it was quite strange that this particular verse would pop into my mind. I am not in any peril. David was facing a rebellion when he wrote this Psalm. I ignored it a bit and thought maybe it was just one of those days when you remember odd things. Who am I kidding? God uses the Holy Spirit to point us to His word that which He wants to teach us. So, I got my Bible out and went straight to Psalm 4 and I am glad I did.

David was praying to his God in full confidence. He calls to God to answer him. He is troubled and angry at the people who are turning away from God to follow the false gods of the nations that surrounded them. (See verses 1-2) David knew his God and he knew God had set those in covenant with him (the godly) apart. They were secure. (v 3)

When I read verses 4 and 5 I knew I needed to listen to God closely.

Be angry,[b] and do not sin; ponder in your own hearts on your beds, and be silent. Selah Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord.

In the case of David, he was right to be angry because of the men who had turned their backs on God and had abandoned the teaching and the law to follow lies. But he says do not sin. David knew his heart and he knew he could very easily fall into the trap sin sets for all of us. That we stop focusing on God and focus on ourselves and our situations. I like the verb “ponder” translated in the ESV version used above. The NIV uses “search”. The idea is to consider deeply what is in our hearts. What is making me lose sleep and be so grumpy? Is it just the fact I am physically tired or is there more to it? What is taking the place of God in my heart? The verse carries on and says “be silent”. What? How can I be silent when I have so much to say? That is normally my first response to these words. So, I checked the NIV in the hope it would say something different, but no. “Be silent” it is. But what does it mean? When we are considering the depths of our hearts we need to be silent so we can hear God speaking to us. Stop the excuses and complaints. Listen to God’s voice. It was interesting as well to think about the time this was to happen: on your bed, as you lay your heads on your pillows (that is how it is translated in Portuguese). As I read that I thought of a verse in Ephesians 4 which says “do not let the sun go down on your anger”. Ponder, search your heart today. Be silent today. Do not wait until tomorrow. Approach the throne of grace with confidence at the end of the day. Do it today so that you will not sin.

Verse 5 then makes perfect sense, once you have done that “Offer right sacrifices, and put your trust in the Lord”. Since Christ was the perfect sacrifice for us, an atonement for our sins once and for all, we don’t need to offer sacrifices as David did. We do not need to slaughter an animal to be forgiven. Christ has forgiven our sins because he took ours upon himself. So, what do we make of verse 5 then? We offer our hearts to God again, even as they are (we may not like what we find after we looked and searched our hearts), so He can be seated on the throne of our lives. That is God’s rightful place. We can come before Him in worship knowing that we need his grace each day to be transformed more into His likeness. We need to put our trust in God. Not on the other things or people that are around us.

At this point I had to really look back at the week and ponder and search for what was really in my heart. It was true that I was physically tired and needed to slow down a bit and have some rest but what is the meaning of rest? The dictionary presents us with these definitions: 1.cease work or movement in order to relax, sleep, or recover strength. based on; depend on (be grounded in, be founded on, be dependent on, rely on). So yes, I needed the sleep and relaxation, but I also needed to depend on and be grounded in God. I needed to trust HIM. There were moments in my week when I lost sight of the cross. My gaze had moved away from Jesus and landed on myself.

Going back to David, he called to God to shine his light on him because that is what brought joy to his heart (v6 and 7). Knowing God and having a relationship with Him is what should fill our hearts with joy. We have so much to be thankful for. God had poured blessing upon blessing on His people and on David himself and He was aware of that. God has given us His Son and He has brought salvation to us through his blood. We are forgiven and have Jesus’s righteousness. We are safe. We are more than safe, we are secure.

God is truly amazing. Here it is a Psalm that doesn’t speak of “rest” per say, but speaks of pondering, searching, placing the correct anger in the correct place and not sinning. It speaks of presenting the correct sacrifice to God and trusting in HIM. A Psalm that calls God to shine his face upon us (See Numbers 6:25-26).

I finally came to the verse that prompted me to look at the entire Psalm: In peace I will both lie down and sleep; for you alone, O Lord, make me dwell in safety. It is no surprise David said these words so boldly. He really did know God, but he also knew himself. David could literally lay down at night and fall asleep, even though he was facing a rebellion in his kingdom because he was secure in his God, he was safe in His arms. In the Portuguese version I learnt many years ago, the verb used is “you bring me rest” instead of “make me dwell” and that might be why I thought about it when I was so tired and feeling troubled. No. God really wanted me to be reminded that it is true. I can lay my head on the pillow, after I have pondered and considered the depths of my heart and presented it to HIM, after I reminded myself of His goodness and fall asleep deeply and soundly. In other words, I can find rest in Him today and forever because I am safe and secure in Him.

God bless.

Verses were from The Standard English Version (ESV)

Photo by Gregory Pappas

If you are going to hate, hate sin

Last week, when I was driving home from work, I was thinking about the word “hate” and how many times we say it during our day. We might open the curtains in the morning and see the gray skies and the rain pouring down and we say “I hate this weather”. Or we might be talking to a friend who loves sea food and we say “I hate sea food”. We hear people saying things like: “I hate the way he/she speaks to me” or, “I hate his/her voice”, maybe something like: “I hate my job” or “I hate my life” or even “I hate you”. I could think of many more “I hates” but I think you get the idea. The problem is that I don’t think we actually know what hate means or perhaps we don’t understand the weight it carries. This is what the good old dictionary says: hate – loathe, detest, dislike greatly, abhor, abominate, despise, execrate. These words are not very good ones are they? And, if you try to substitute hate in the sentences above by any of these words, we would definitely not say them, well, at least most of them. Hate like many other words has lost its impact on the day-to-day life. People don’t even blink when they hear it coming out of mouths. It is just something people say.

I then started to think about the impact of hate in my day-to-day life. Can a Christian actually hate? Is that something I should be concerned about? Does that impact my testimony?

There is a verse in Proverbs that says:

To fear the Lord is to hate evil; I hate pride and arrogance, evil behaviour and perverse speech. (Proverbs 8:13)

At this point some people might be shocked as most of us only like to hear about love, which is displayed from the very beginning of the Bible, to the very end. We don’t like talking about words like hate and wrath. But if we look back at the verse and read it this way: “to fear the Lord is to detest, abhor, abominate, despise evil; I detest, abhor, abominate, despise pride and arrogance, evil behaviour and perverse speech”, then it is right for the Christian to hate. In fact these are things that we should hate.

You must be familiar with Psalm 139, if you are not, you might want to read it. In this Psalm we have a wonderful display from David of pure devotion to His God. Something worth paying attention to. He spends the first 18 verses of the Psalm declaring that God is infinite, incomprehensible, self-existent, self-sufficient, eternal, unchanging, omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent and sovereign. These are all the wonderful attributes that only God has. Then, there is a change in the tone and theme of David’s Psalm. This is what he says:

If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!
20 They speak of you with evil intent; your adversaries misuse your name. 21 Do I not hate those who hate you, Lord, and abhor those who are in rebellion against you?
22 I have nothing but hatred for them
; I count them my enemies. (emphasis mine)

This reaction might seem strange, too harsh even, not very Christian like, but this reaction is coming from a man who feared God. David knows God and understands who God is and who he is and he knows that it is utterly impossible to love, like or show any kind of affection for sin. We cannot fear the Lord and love sin. No. We must hate sin.

David was fighting wars and there was a lot of bloodshed (literally) and he did have many enemies to fight. One might think we don’t need to think or say the same thing because we are in a different time. We are still at war though, our war is a Spiritual war. The flesh fighting against the Spirit. (Galatians 5:16-18)

There is more we can learn from David. This is how he ends his Psalm – David is concerned with the sin that was in his heart.

Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. 24 See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.

It is important for us to read Proverbs 8:13 and see that to fear the Lord is to hate sin starting with my own. Looking at my own heart as David did. That is what he asked God to do. We are not to hate the people who sin, but sin itself.

You might be asking but what does it mean to fear the Lord? It is to know who He is. To show reverence and to understand how majestic, awesome, mighty, loving and gracious He is. It is to understand all that David understood in the Psalm he wrote. It is also to understand how small we are in comparison. How do I even start to fear the Lord? A starting point might be when I know that I don’t know; when I understand that I don’t understand and when I know that I am a creature and God is the Creator. To see His greatness and power and to surrender to Him completely. When we do that we will hate sin. We will detest, abhor, dislike, sin. We also need to understand how serious sin is. What it cost. When we fear the Lord and trust him, he will help us make better choices which will help us to focus on living a life that pleases God and Him alone.

Do not be discouraged. We can ask God to search our hearts and help us in this fight we have. He has saved us and has given us His Spirit to help us each day.

God bless.