Category Archives: Pursuing holiness

Whose image?

Do you have an image that comes to your mind when you hear the words “holy” or “holiness”? I grew up in Brazil as a catholic. I wasn’t a very good one, but I was made to attend mass every week because the Nuns in my school would make us. The pictures around the school were all of “holy” people. They all had the same expression: sad eyes, pale faces (looking quite unhealthy), looking helpless and some had a halo above their heads. Those images pop into my mind when I hear these words, this is not very helpful to me.

Perhaps you don’t have an image but you might think of people pointing fingers at other people telling them they are getting it all wrong. The “holier than thou” kind of people. Sentences like “You are not good enough” or “You are worse than I thought” or “I am glad I am not like you” might be what you think of. To a certain extent we think of “holiness” as something we should be scared of and never able to attain.

We might think of people like Mother Theresa, the Apostle Paul, some of the Puritans, great preachers like Charles Spurgeon and most recently John Piper, Timothy Keller when we are challenged to be holy. Maybe we think of a dear friend in church, we see how they live and we wish we could be like them.

The big question is what does holiness look like? How would I know for sure I am leading a life of holiness or not? Why is it important to be holy? Pursuing holiness should be the priority of every Christian because it is God’s will for our lives. This pursuit is not simply a rule keeping exercise, a checklist we have and tick as we go along. It is important to note though that Jesus said:

“If you love me, keep my commands.” (John 14:15)

Obeying God’s commands is very important to every Christian (we will see that below) but not as a mechanical tick on a list. We must all be very careful to search our hearts and our motives. So if we stay away from drugs, sexual impurity, alcohol we might think we are good at this business of being “separated”, “set apart”, but we have not been humble, kind, shown compassion or helped anyone in the last day or so. Keeping rules for the sake of keeping rules is not pursuing holiness. Remember the Pharisees? They were excellent in keeping “rules” but their hearts were far from God.

Pursuing holiness is not being “spiritual” as the world understands it. People will say they are spiritual because they are open to “mysteries” and show an interest in prayer, healing and finding inner peace. Sitting under a tree with your legs crossed and eyes shut, listening to the birds singing is not going to make you holy. Believing all sorts of stories and fables are not going to make us more inclined to study God’s word. Buying books about self-help is not the answer either. What we learn from the Scriptures is that we are spiritual because we are being transformed by the Holy Spirit to be more like Christ each day.

Another thing holiness is not is being “true to oneself”. This is a very celebrated idea in our world today. Society will say that a truly good person is the one who is true to him/herself. Some believe that there isn’t a right or wrong way to do things. It will all be ok as long as you are true to yourself. This view causes all sorts of troubles. What if the way you see things is racist, violent, dishonest? If you are going to be true to yourself, many people along the way will be hurt and that will definitely not lead you to be holy, set apart, more like Jesus.

Pursuing holiness is not being friends with the world. By world I don’t mean the people around us but all who oppose the will of God. It is anything that makes sin look normal and righteousness look very out of place. The Bible tells us in 1 John 2:15:

“Do not love the world or anything in the world. If anyone loves the world, love for the Father is not in them.” (emphasis mine)

We must remember that pursuing holiness comes with a cost. When we decide to apply Romans 12:1-2:

“Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.”

We are swimming against the current all the time when it comes to the world’s view and expectation. If we save ourselves for marriage or decide to stay at home with our family instead of drinking ourselves silly on a Friday night, or if we decide to declare to the Inland Revenue all the things we own and earn in the year and pay the correct taxes, it is most likely people will distance themselves from us and think we are weird. The pattern of the world is not the path to holiness. This is what James tells us:

You adulterous people, don’t you know that friendship with the world means enmity against God? Therefore, anyone who chooses to be a friend of the world becomes an enemy of God. (James 4:4) (emphasis mine)

Pursuing holiness is having God’s image made new in us. We know that God created Adam and Eve in his image and when they disobeyed God that image was distorted/broken. Imagine rubbing mud with bits of sand on a mirror, when you wash the mirror you can still see yourself but there are places where the image is distorted because of the scratches the sand left on the mirror. That is how God’s image is in us at the moment because of sin. We are still image bearers and we strive to be holy because we want God’s image in us to be renewed each day. This process takes time and we must continue to trust God and His grace as we walk by faith being transformed with the help of the Holy Spirit in us. See what 2 Corinthians 3:18 says:

“And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.” (emphasis mine)

The process of holiness looks at our character because we are to imitate God’s character. It goes much deeper than what we say and do. We need to get acquainted with our great God and His character more. He is holy, holy, holy and here are some of the virtues that should mark the lives of those who follow God and want to live for Him and for His glory alone: loving, patient, kind, not envious, not boastful, not arrogant, not selfish, not rude, not irritable, not resentful, no joy in wrongdoing, rejoices with the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and endures all things. This list is not exhaustive. See 1 Corinthians 13:4-7. We get to know God and his character by studying his word deeply.

Obedience to God’s commands is another way pursuing holiness looks like for a Christian. We must remember that the Israelites were rescued from Egypt and then they were given the law to obey. They were not redeemed by observing/keeping the law, but they were redeemed so they might obey the law. In 1 John 2:3-6 we read:

“We know that we have come to know him if we keep his commands. Whoever says, “I know him,” but does not do what he commands is a liar, and the truth is not in that person. But if anyone obeys his word, love for God is truly made complete in them. This is how we know we are in him: Whoever claims to live in him must live as Jesus did.” (emphasis mine)

God gives us his commands as a means of grace so we might grow in godliness and show that we love Him.

Finally and most important of all holiness is to be Christ like. The goal of our salvation is that we should be conformed to the image of God’s Son. Jesus is our perfect example of holiness and obedience. He is the image of the invisible God “The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation.” (Colossians 1:15) and the exact imprint of God’s nature: “The Son is the radiance of God’s glory and the exact representation of his being, sustaining all things by his powerful word. After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven.” (Hebrews 1:3)

To use the mirror illustration again, hopefully, as we become more like Jesus those scratches disappear and all that will be left is a true reflection of the perfect image of our Saviour in us. Remember we have all we need in the Bible. We need to be excited about getting to Know more about who Jesus is and we must, with God’s help, follow His example. God’s grace is being poured on us lavishly. Let us be encouraged as we open our Bibles and learn to live in a way that is pleasing to Him. May His Holy Spirit strengthen us each day for His glory alone.

God bless.

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.

We need a broken heart

Have you ever been in a position where you know you have sinned, you have done something wrong and all you do is try to cover it up, or you blame it on your circumstances, or on other people? You know how bad it is but you try to live as if it is not there. Maybe you haven’t been in that position but you have come across people that have. If I am honest, completely honest with myself, there were plenty of times when I found myself in that place.

King David also found himself in that situation. You might be familiar with the story of David and Bathsheba (2 Samuel 11) and you know that David committed adultery, then to cover it up he had Uriah killed. The problem with sin is that it cannot be hidden from God. God sees the heart and God sent the prophet Nathan to confront David and although God took away David’s sin there were consequences for his sin. There are always consequences.

David knew he had sinned, but he also knew he had sinned against God. David wrote Psalm 51 after Nathan confronted him. This is what He says in verses 1 to 4:

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. (emphasis mine)

David didn’t come before God with excuses about his circumstances and he didn’t blame any of his servants or family members. No. He knew he had sinned against his God and he was broken before his King.

We can see that David knew what God desires:

You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. 17 My sacrifice, O God, is[b] a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise.(verses 16 and 17)

God wants us to come before him with a broken heart, not bringing sacrifices or making promises but in humility, recognising we need Him to help us. David desperately needed God’s mercy and pleads for it. He knew he needed God to clean his heart from his sin. He knew God’s love and compassion. David had experienced God’s love, compassion and protection many times in his life.

Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. (verses 1 and 2)

Until now, we have seen a man who knows what he has done is wrong and has offended God. He is not trying to get away from it, in fact he knows he needs God. He knows he cannot erase the past or the consequences of his choices, but he desperately wants his relationship with God restored. So he prays the famous verses:

10 Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.11 Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12 Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Picture the King here, broken, completely helpless, completely aware of his failure, fully prepared to give to God his life and trust in Him. David needed to bow before God in repentance, with nothing to offer except a broken and contrite heart, before he could ask God to create a new and pure heart within him. What a great example we have here of how we should act when we sin against God.

One of the greatest problems we have is that we do not think the bad choices we make, the sin we allow in our lives, are against God. We tell ourselves we are only hurting other people, or even worse, we say we are trying to protect ourselves against other people. No. Sin, no matter how big or how small is always against God. It always breaks our fellowship with our King and Lord.

In the case of King David, God sent Nathan, the message God had for David was pretty clear. There was no escape from the truth. David saw his sin exposed and he knew only God could help him.

We have the Holy Spirit living in us if we have given our lives to Jesus. This is one of the works of the Holy Spirit. Working in us to convince and convict us of sin in our hearts. He guides us and helps us to live in a way that is pleasing to God. When we sin, He convicts us. Puts that feeling in our hearts that we have done wrong. We must listen. We must repent and must come before God and confess our sin and cling on to the fact that God can and will create in us a pure heart if we are willing to submit to His rule over our lives.

In 1 John 1 verse 9 we read:

If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. 

We don’t need to find excuses. We know that on this side of Eden sin still afflicts us. We know we are in a battle of the flesh against the spirit, and, when we fall let us not make excuses and play blame games. God wants us to come before Him with a broken and humble heart. We need to say sorry (not the “say sorry” we teach our children sometimes). No. We need to feel remorse. To feel the sorrow that comes with acknowledging we have sinned against the most gracious, merciful, holy, God. The sorrow that robs us of sleep, taste, and all senses until all we can do is pour our hearts out before God, recognising we need His help. We must remember how much He loves us. He gave His Son to save us and redeem us. We are secure in His hands. So may we approach his throne as David did.

God bless.

Photo by Engin Akyurt

Fresh water!

Have you ever gone on a long hike and found a spring of water to drink from? There is nothing more refreshing than spring water! I remember when I was a teenager and part of our church youth group, our youth pastor used to organise hikes to “Pedra Grande” (which means big rock) in my hometown. Pedra Grande is 1,418m high and it used to take us 4 hours to hike to the top. We used to gather at someone’s house and play games and then leave in the middle of the night to get there just before sunrise! It was great to walk with our friends and enjoy the fun. Well, while it lasted. After a couple of hours of walking, on top of the fact that none of us had slept, it seemed pretty silly to have agreed to take part in this activity. One by one we would go quiet and just walk in a single file, heads low and muscles aching, eyes red and mind drifting to a semi-sleep walk state.

About half way up we would come to a spring, half hidden from the path by the lavish vegetation – what a moment, when we would hear our leader say, “We will rest here for a little bit and drink from the spring!”. Even now as I type these words I can remember the feeling of the cold fresh water on my face and the amazing taste! It was enough to brighten our spirits and spur us on the walk. There were 2 points on that trail with springs and we made good use of them, drinking and refilling our bottles, feeling encouraged we were almost at the end of our journey. Of course, at that point all we wanted was to get to the top and we weren’t even thinking about the journey back home. Once on the top of the rock we would just drop and wait for the sunrise! God never disappoints! He is such an artist and the amazing skies declare His majesty and glory. We would sit there eating the food we had packed and drinking the fresh water from the spring.

Eventually, the food ran out and so did the water. The tiredness would get the best of us and we would just lay there sleeping for a couple of hours and then have a Bible study before heading back down. During the day it was really different and sometimes scary to see where we had walked in the dark. The spring of water didn’t look much and one might think what the fuss was all about, until you tasted the water again. I do love a spring!

The Bible tells us that Jesus got tired after a journey and he felt thirsty (I love these moments in Scripture when we are reminded that Jesus was fully human and he knew what it is like to feel tired and thirsty). He came to a well where he spoke to a woman and asked her for some water. This woman was a Samaritan! Jews and Samaritans were not friends and did not associate with one another at all. You can read all about this wonderful encounter in John chapter 4. This is one of my favourite passages in the Gospels. He displays such love and compassion to this woman. He knew who she was and all that she had done and he was there offering her the greatest gift of all – salvation. She was really surprised he would talk to her and ask her to give him some water and this is what He says to her in verse 10:

“Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Imagine what it would be like to live in a very hot area of the world and have to fetch water in the middle of the day and now be faced with this option of having living water (running water). I think it is hard for us to imagine this situation as all we have to do is turn a tap and we have running water. But Jesus knew how hard it was in his time to get water from a well and as refreshing as it might have been to those tired, hot and thirsty, that water would only quench thirst for a short while and soon they would need to return to the well to get more. But the water Jesus was offering was very different than the water this woman or any of us are used to. This is what He says in verses 13 and 14:

“Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

Jesus is offering her salvation, a water that will never stop flowing and it will last for eternity. Of course at first, she thought Jesus was just talking about actual water, but when Jesus speaks to her about her life and He talks about the kingdom of God and who He is, she believes him and she goes and tells the whole town about Him. What a fantastic day that was! Many Samaritans received this wonderful gift. This offering of salvation of a living water, that will satisfy for eternity, is still available to all who will believe and follow Him. I have drunk water from many different springs through my life and I can say that spring water is the best water you can find. I can also say I have drunk from the water Jesus offers and I know that I have been saved and forgiven for all eternity! Now, that is a feeling that satisfies. No matter what happens, I am secure in Him.

All praise be to Him who is the fountain of all life and life eternal!

Photographs tell a story

I love looking at old photographs. I like picking them up and recalling the momentous occasions which caused us to stop and capture the moment. When I was little I remember going to visit my grandparents over the weekends and spending a long time listening to their stories as they proudly showed us their photographs. It was always very interesting to see how sometimes my grandma would be excited and cheerful about a particular photo, and sometimes she would pause, look deep into another with a longing for someone she had long lost. She would cry and she would sometimes laugh about the moments she treasured. Through the years, my sisters and I learnt the stories and we could recite them word for word, including the facial expressions and emotions.

As we walk through life we tend to mark moments in our history, don’t we? A birthday party, a first day or last day of school, a graduation ceremony, a group of close friends enjoying time together, a fun day at church camp or a dressing up contest set up by the youth leader. Our weddings, our children and their firsts. Other things we capture, a first car, a family pet, a treasured gift, a house we buy (sometimes, we take a photo of the house we wish we had). We tend to photograph the people who mean something to us in the hope we won’t forget them or how much we appreciate them. When visiting different places we click away trying to capture the place in the hope that when we look at them, we will remember the textures, the smells and sounds, the beauty and the impact the places had in our lives at that particular moment. As it happens, we capture happy moments but we also capture the sad ones. The broken leg, the stiches we had after a bad fall, the last photo with someone we love and we know will no longer be with us when we next visit. The photographs we take and the stories we tell are used to pass on to the next generation a bit of ourselves and our legacy.

In the Bible, we have the stories that God inspired men to write which tells us all about Him and His wonderful plan to rescue us. In the Old Testament we read the account of creation and a perfect place where God placed Adam and Eve and they were living in perfect harmony under His rule and enjoying His blessings. (Genesis 1) We see a sad day when sin entered the world when Adam and Even disobeyed God and creation was cursed and there was separation between God and humanity (Genesis 3). God so loved the world even then, he chose a people for Himself. God promised Abraham he would become a great nation and God would be their God and would be with them always. (Genesis 12:1-2) The accounts of Abraham and his descendants tell us how that story began. It is a fascinating story. An incredible demonstration of love and grace, time and time again.

Joseph’s story tells us of how much sin really is destructive and how it disregards life. His brothers sell him and lie to their father only because they were jealous of him. (Genesis 37)Through all his hardship Joseph trusts God and God performs an incredible rescue of his people from famine and they go to Egypt (Genesis 46). Many years later when they had been enslaved by the Egyptians God hears their cry and again He sends Moses to rescue them. To be a messenger, to point them to Him. (Exodus 3:1-10) They are rescued from Egypt and start their journey towards the promise land. The land God had promised to Abraham his descendants would enjoy.

At this point I have to apologise. These descriptions are more like faded black and white photographs – go read Genesis and Exodus. You will get all the colours, you will feel the emotions and will be placed in a much better place to understand these moments, you know why? Because God himself breathed it and used his chosen people to write it down. These are not just “old photographs”, they are the absolute truth.

After God rescued the Israelites from the Egyptians with mighty signs the people started to grumble and complain. Sin continued to corrupt the heart of men and they rebelled against their God. The people disobeyed God and were made to wander in judgement, through the wilderness, for 40 years until they are given the land God had promised (Numbers 14:26-35).

During this time God gives Moses the law, a set of principles and rules by which the people were to live. They were to be separated from the other nations, different, consecrated to God. They were to follow the rules carefully and they were to remember what God had done for them. At the end of his life Moses challenges the people to obey their God and remember what they had witnessed and pass it on to the future generations so they too would love and revere the Lord.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one.Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates. (Deuteronomy 6:4-9)

I learned these verses when I was a teenager and recently I have been very challenged by them. Have I been telling my children about the wonderful things God has done? Am I spending time looking at the “photographs”, those special moments God recorded for our benefit, and sharing them with them? The command was for all the people, not just the ones who are Bible teachers or are in charge of leading God’s people in their spiritual growth. Do I speak about God’s power and might enough that my children want to know Him? Do I share it with them in a way to spark their interest? I am not sure I do it to the extent the verses challenge me to. I want to, but I know I cannot do it in my own strength. I need God to help me. I need the Holy Spirit to change my own desires so I can be obedient.

What about my own “photographs” and stories of my journey of faith? Have I been sharing them with my children? I need to tell them how God changed my heart one day and I surrendered to Him instead of running away from Him. They need to hear that it wasn’t always easy being a teenager that went to church on Saturday evenings instead of going out drinking with friends. There were plenty of tears shed during my school years when I was “bullied” for being a follower of Jesus, God helped me see that He was my friend and He would never leave me. My children need to hear how God helped me through times when friendships were shaken, some lost and some renewed in His strength (I am so grateful for the friends God has kept in my life). I need to let them see that I have cried and wrestled with God many times but even when I didn’t understand, with his help, I still chose to obey. God was there when singleness seemed to be the only option. The struggle to let go of a dream and trust in Him completely. He is so gracious and good and He gave me a wonderful husband to share my life with. He was there when loved ones died, to sustain and strengthen us. God was so present comforting us when having children of our own seemed very unlikely. Through the tears and shattered hopes he was there. We chose to trust Him with everything and He heard our prayers and blessed us with two beautiful children. I need to share these “photos”, these glimpses, these moments that tell my story of faith to help shape and point them to Jesus. Most of all I need to look back and see how much God has done for me and how much He has changed me. I need to give Him the glory.

May our great God help us as we recount the wonderful moments He has recorded in his word for us and may he help us to share our own stories of faith with our children so they too can learn to trust in Him and live for Him.

By the way, there are more wonderful moments in the Bible, so, don’t stop in the Old Testament – read it all!

We were not made to know everything

If I could have a super power I would choose the ability to know everything instantly. Imagine being able to just pick my violin and instantly play a concerto by Vivaldi! How wonderful would it be to be able to hear a language or see it written and instantly be able to speak it and translate it? How satisfying would it be to know all there is to know about science without blinking an eye? It would be fantastic to pick up a book and know everything about it and its author! I would love to know everything there is to know about all the wonderful places around the world. That was me, day dreaming again.

I know that in order for someone to be able to play Vivaldi concertos, hours will be spent on practice and even then, there is no guarantee the performance will be flawless. I know it takes years to understand, speak and translate a language – believe me, I am still learning it. Scientists, even the ones who are ahead of their time, must spend their life learning and researching in order to be successful. The fastest readers need to set aside time to flick through pages and research all there is to know about authors. If one could travel around the entire world our short, finite life would not be enough to cover all the wonderful places God created on earth. But to know things is to have power. Whether we admit it or not, we all desire this power.

How about being able to know everything about the future? That would be amazing right? Things would be so much better if we could know the future and be certain that all will be well. Isn’t that why we spend so much time online these days browsing the internet, searching for all that knowledge we so desire? Maybe, for some of us those hours spent browsing, give us a sense of “I know it all now”. (By the way, it is worth mentioning, I am not against using the internet – that would defeat the purpose of writing this blog to share with you. The internet is also a useful tool in many ways.) We go on then thinking that we are now able to take charge of our lives, our decisions and our future because we are well informed. We think that by knowing all we can change all. Knowledge gives the sense of power, doesn’t it? We were not created to know everything. We were created to trust the One who does.

The Bible teaches us that God and only God knows all things. We call this attribute of God omniscience. God knowns everything intuitively – He has never been taught anything. God does not depend on anyone to teach Him or to counsel He simply knows all things. In Isaiah 40:13-14 we read:

“Who has measured the Spirit of the Lord, or what man shows him his counsel? Whom did he consult, and who made him understand? Who taught him the path of justice, and taught him knowledge, and showed him the way of understanding?”

The answer to the question in these verses is off course no one. God is the origin of all things and because He is infinite, eternal, outside time, His knowledge is eternal. He knows everything all the time and He knows it completely:

I make known the end from the beginning, from ancient times, what is still to come. I say, ‘My purpose will stand, and I will do all that I please.’ Isaiah 46:10

“Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world” Acts 15:18

God’s knowledge is also intimate and exhaustive – it penetrates the human heart. Nothing can escape his gaze, He searches the deepest secrets of our hearts.

You have searched me, Lord, and you know me. You know when I sit and when I rise; you perceive my thoughts from afar. You discern my going out and my lying down; you are familiar with all my ways. Before a word is on my tongue you, Lord, know it completely. Psalm 139:1-4

“From heaven the Lord looks down and sees all mankind;” Psalm 33:13

But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.” 1 Samuel 16:7 (emphasis mine)

When I stop for a minute to think about our God and the fact that He knows everything about all things and He knows everything about me, it is just incredible. He knows my deepest thoughts and my fears. He knows my needs and He knows my future too. He has been there already. He knows all the details, the ins and outs of each situation and He loves me. Wow!

Do you know what is even more cause for our hearts to be filled with joy and trust in our all knowing God? He shares some of his knowledge with us. Jesus said that if we believe in Him we have eternal life. God lets us know our future will be spent with Him when we put our trust in Him.

May our gaze be on him. May our day dreaming become of Him. May we trust in Him completely because He knows us completely.

All glory to Him!

Small words, big meaning

I like learning new words and their meanings. For someone like me who speaks different languages and enjoys learning them, words are fascinating. From my own language I love the word “saudade” /saʊˈdɑːdə/. There isn’t a word for that in English. People sometimes use the word “homesick” or “missing” to translate it. But it means so much more than just being homesick or missing something. When we use this word we want to express a feeling of longing for someone or something, a feeling of melancholy. The kind of feeling that makes your heart ache.  

In my Bible readings and exploration of the topic of holiness, I have seen the word “woe” many times. In fact, it is used about 96 times in the Bible and Jesus used it too. In the English dictionary the meaning for this word is: great sorrow or distress (often used hyperbolically). If you are reading that and have forgotten the many years learning language and the treasures of grammar, hyperbole is an exaggerated statement or claim not meant to be taken literally. This word was used, some believe, to convey to the listeners something important, it was almost like a cry to stop and listen. It was spoken before God’s judgement was announced to the people to convey disaster was coming, should they continue to walk away from their God.

In the book of Isaiah the word woe is used 23 times. Let’s consider one of them. The prophet Isaiah is given a vision of God’s throne and his glory:

In the year that King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him were seraphim, each with six wings: With two wings they covered their faces, with two they covered their feet, and with two they were flying. And they were calling to one another:

“Holy, holy, holy is the Lord Almighty;
    the whole earth is full of his glory.”

At the sound of their voices the doorposts and thresholds shook and the temple was filled with smoke.

This passage is a classic place in Scriptures to look at the attribute of God which permeates all the others, his Holiness. Repetition is used in the Bible to emphasise a point and holiness is the only attribute of God which is repeated 3 times in a sentence. Note the seraphim saying Holy, holy holy. God reveals his other attributes to us in the Bible but we never read anywhere “Love, love, love is the Lord Almighty”, or “Powerful, powerful, powerful is the Lord Almighty”. God’s holiness is so important that no one could see His glory. Isaiah new that and that is why he responds this way:

“Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord Almighty.”

Isaiah probably used this word woe to magnify the tragedy of his situation: I am ruined. He was fully expecting to die because he knew how unclean he was and he had seen the Lord Almighty. He new that because of all the sin in his life he could never stand before God. Isaiah knew he deserved death. The feeling of anguish, misery, desolation this little word carries to someone like him who recognises their condition of helplessness before a Holy God. Utter despair! In order to fully understand the meaning of the word woe in the context here one would have had to have gone through the same desperation when looking at ones heart.

We don’t see a lot of that these days. People have largely forgotten how Holy God is and how much He hates sin. They think of God as being just love, mercy, good, kind, friendly. But Holy does not come at the top of the list. People live their lives thinking they might be a bit naughty at times, but not sinful. NO, sin does not appear to be the worst thing in ones life anymore. Sure, we still hear in our churches the mention of God being holy and we sing along to famous words “Holy, holy, holy! Though the darkness hide thee, though the eye of sinfulness thy glory may not see, only thou art holy; there is none beside thee, perfect in pow’r, in love, and purity”, but are quick to concentrate on the second half of this verse than the first. It is because people have stopped focusing on God’s holiness it has become more difficult to see the filth they live in. It is only when we comprehend God’s holiness (if it is even possible to comprehend it) that we understand that we too should say “woe to me”. Like Isaiah, we too deserve to die because we are sinful. We cannot stand in the presence of a Holy God. Tragic indeed! A complete desolation!

But the passage does not stop there. It goes on to show how the Holy, holy, holy God provided the solution to cleanse Isaiah and to give us a picture of what was to come. It is pointing forward to when Jesus was going to come and die for us to make us clean and we too would have our sins atoned for.

Then one of the seraphim flew to me with a live coal in his hand, which he had taken with tongs from the altar. With it he touched my mouth and said, “See, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away and your sin atoned for.”

What an amazing gracious, holy God we have! Notice that God didn’t compromise on who He is at all. He didn’t change his character to make sure we could come to him. He didn’t get down from his throne to console Isaiah in his despair. No. God is still Holy, holy, holy, but because of his holy love and mercy he provided a way for Isaiah to be able to be cleansed and that is what the coal was used for. It took his sins away from him, so he could stand in God’s presence. God has provided a way for us to be made clean, righteous and therefore, not be destroyed because of our sin. He gave us His Son, Jesus. It is only when faced with God’s holiness that we can comprehend his grace, his love, his mercy, his justice, his power poured down on us through Jesus and His sacrifice on the cross for us.

16 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. 

If we believe that Jesus died for us, in our place, to forgive our sins and be made right before God, and that He rose again and Jesus is now reigning in Heaven, we are made holy. We move from a situation of total despair and desolation to being saved and made right with God. It is of utmost importance that we speak, teach and point to the holiness of our God and pray that in seeing how Holy God is people will experience their “woe to me” and understand how desperately they need Jesus. It is because of Jesus that we can stand in awe in the presence of our holy God!