The need for prayer

In as much as I really dislike it when people use prayer to somehow manipulate our reluctant Father in heaven into doing something positive for His children, it is equally troublesome if God’s people don’t pray because they think God’s knows it all already.
When Elijah was on Mt Carmel and the fire from heaven had burnt the sacrifice prepared, the rain did not fall on the land until Elijah had prayed, not once, but seven times.
Nothing in our relationship with God should ever be regarded as routine. Furthermore, although we live in the ‘age of grace’, it does not mean we should no longer pray. That doesn’t necessarily mean our prayers need to be long or eloquent, after all, the Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans words cannot express (Romans 8:27). Yet, every Christian should pray and we should be known as people of prayer.
Elijah’s servant was probably tired of running to the horizon to see whether Elijah’s prayers were being answered but that is exactly what he did, no less than seven times before he saw a cloud the size of a human fist (1 Kgs 18:42-44; cf. James 5:17-18).
James also reminds us that “you do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2c). The parable of the persistent widow and the unjust judge in Luke 18 reminds us that we need to be persistent in prayer, not because we need to badger God into submission, but because our Father in heaven loves to give good gifts to His children, ultimately for His glory and their eternal benefit.
So, prayer is the avenue through which we go to receive what God has promised. All of us must walk that avenue daily. Yes, our Father God can do all things, but His power often requires the prayers of His people. So, let us be people of prayer as we go into 2018. JZ.

Advent 2 – “The Saviour who came to deal with bitterness”

Animal behaviourists suggest that ‘elephants’ have long memories.  In the wild, an elephant’s memory is key to its survival, and the herd it is in.  When confronted with an unfamiliar elephant, they huddle together for protection. They are able to track up to thirty elephants at one time and will recognise other elephants as friendly even after being apart for several years.

Where am I going with this?  Elephants are not the only ones who have long memories, so do human beings.  Sometimes our memories are really good and wholesome but at other times, if we are not careful, some memories are gnawing at us like a cancer that will not let go of its victim.

Often, these ‘cancerous’ memories go back for years and are deeply rooted in bitterness.  In other words, we have been hurt in the past by a person’s abuse, whether it be physical, verbal or otherwise, and we have never come to the point of dealing with the hurt it has caused.  As a result, we tend to be unforgiving.  The writer to Hebrews reminds us that, “See to it that no one fails to obtain the grace of God; that no “root of bitterness” springs up and causes trouble, and by it many become defiled” (Hebrews 12:15).

Rev. Dr Albert Mohler in his exposition on Hebrews (Exalting Jesus in Hebrews), say that believers must be on their guard against the poison of bitterness.  I couldn’t agree more for I have seen it derail people’s lives.   Dr Mohler goes on to say, “bitterness is a deadly contagion and a sign of serious spiritual trouble. It’s an on-ramp to the way of sin, not to the way of righteousness…” (pg 203).  It’s no wonder that Paul also exhorts the Ephesian believers (Eph 4:31) “Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamour and slander be put away from you, along with all malice.”

Thankfully, bitterness doesn’t have to have the last word in our lives.  Jesus came into this world to deal also with the sin of bitterness and when confessed and given to Jesus to deal with, brings healing into one’s life.  It’s only when it remains unconfessed that it has the potential to do great harm.

Now that brings me back to having long memories.  I am not suggesting for a moment that we should forget the hurt that has happened to us or that the pain isn’t real.  Nor am I suggesting for a moment that it doesn’t have consequences.  You cannot expect victims to just forgive and forget!  In fact, in most cases that would be very unwise.  However, since we have been forgiven much, we also forgive one another so that we will not miss out on the grace of God in our own lives.  And if you have been the perpetrator, there is forgiveness that comes with godly sorrow and true repentance.  And sometimes, it is wise to seek the forgiveness of those you know you have hurt.  However, also be aware there are consequences to the pain and hurt we may have caused, which in turn may mean that it would be very unwise and irresponsible for the victim to forget.

Prayer: Thank you, Jesus, for coming to deal with our sin and restoring us by your grace into fellowship with Yourself and each other.  Amen.  JZ.

Same old, same old…not quite

When one looks at history one could be forgiven for thinking that history just keeps on repeating itself, same old, same old.   Over recent weeks we have seen ‘natural disasters’ occur which includes hurricanes and wide spread flooding.  As a result, people have lost their lives, some have lost their homes and their immediate livelihoods. The current and seemingly endless wars against terrorism, the ongoing tensions in the Middle East, Afghanistan, and some African nations and we dare not forget the rising tensions on the Korean peninsula, never seem to end.  Same old, same old.

However, when we look closer to home, it’s not the same old, same old anymore. As a nation and perhaps even more pointedly as Christians in this nation, the attacks are now being directed more at us than ever before.  There is a strong and consistent push by a very loud minority to attack the very foundational principles, God’s law and biblical values, on which this nation was built.

We have the deplorable marriage equality debate going on. That is a direct attack on God’s clear law about marriage and those who endeavour to uphold those laws.  Even though everything that was said in the first ‘No’ TV commercial against same-sex marriage was true, those participating have been called liars, dishonest, ridiculous and the opposition leader called it ‘Rubbish’ and those who participated are being actively vilified.  In Victoria, we have to deal with the immoral ‘Safe Schools Program’ which encourages students to do things which are completely in opposition to God’s law and hence also to the values we as Christians seek to uphold. In Victoria, we have to deal with the euthanasia question which is being promoted in our Parliament.  The question of when an abortion is still ‘legal’ continues to push the envelope.  Same old, same old?  Not quite, in fact. Not by a long way!   Our parents never had to deal with these sort of immoral issues, but parents today, both Christian and non-Christian are continually faced with these types of moral questions and attacks which in a large part come from the leftist academia.

In a world that seems to be spiralling out of control on many fronts, it is easy to forget who actually rules and is seated in a position of absolute authority.  It’s not Kim John Un. It’s not President Donald Trump, nor is it Malcolm Turnbull, or Premier Andrews, but none other than our victorious, resurrected, Saviour King (Eph 1:20ff).  And although we may be targeted as Christians the real target is our Saviour King.  Satan and those who do his bidding really only have one goal and that is to discredit, tear down, and rubbish Christians, so that their ultimate King is discredited.

Now sometimes we need to make our voice heard but we need to do it with integrity, especially when we realize our Saviour is being attacked.  We need to speak truthfully, graciously, and winsomely.  This takes much wisdom and since all Christians are ‘fair-game’ it may be prudent to ask the Lord for wisdom after all Scripture reminds us that God gives generously to those who ask (Jm 1:5) so that we can speak with integrity.

One thing that can help us in these discussions is to remember that our risen Saviour is King and is firmly seated at God’s right hand.  Nothing will happen that is outside of God’s control not even the attacks that are directed toward us. Those who wish to get rid of the ‘shackle’ of Christianity and any reference to the King, will do so at their own peril (Psa 2).  A second thing to remember is to “play the ball and not the person.” Our fight is not necessarily against flesh and blood (Eph 6:12ff).

Finally, why should we bother?  We bother because we wish to see the name of Christ exalted and we wish to see our neighbours won for Christ’s kingdom if that be His will.  We want them to ‘Kiss the Son now, lest He be angry with them forever and they perish in the way and never feel the blessing of those who take refuge in Him’ (Psalm 2:12 emphasis added) JZ. 

“Keep fighting the good fight of faith”

One of the struggles Christians face occasionally is to ‘keep fighting’ the fight of faith when things seem so cyclic and pointless.  Sometimes it is not only non-Christians who ask, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation” (2 Pet 3:4ff), occasionally Christians do as well, although probably not loud enough for anyone to hear.

The reason we continue the fight the good fight of faith is based squarely on the promises that are contained in God’s Word.   Just because things seem to just keep reoccurring does not mean that God does not exist.  Indeed, unbelief does not mean that God does not exist! Note Peter’s answer in 3v5, “People deliberately overlook the fact, that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God…” (cf Romans 1:18). Please note, Peter didn’t appeal to some scientific proof that God exists and created all things, he appeals to God’s Word, of if you will, to the Genesis account.

One of the great promises contained in God’s Word which is central to the continuing fight of faith is the completed work of Jesus Christ as God’s Son, for the forgiveness of sins and eternal life of all who would believe.   Ultimately, Jesus is the answer for without Him, we have every reason to be downcast.  Yes, we have a few years here on earth to enjoy each other’s company.  Yes, we have families that we love and love us.  Yes, we may even have a great job and career.  We may even be blessed to be part of a great church family.   But if that is all we can hope for in this life, although reason enough for thanks, it would leave us rather empty when our days come to an end on this earth.

Thankfully, God’s Word teaches that because of God’s great electing love to us in Jesus Christ and His completed work of salvation, this life is not the end.   The writer to the Hebrews reminds us that Jesus also, for the joy set before Him (to be seated at the right hand of His Father in heaven), endured the cross (Heb 12:2).  Likewise, we too, have a glorious future, but it can only be meaningful if we keep our eyes on Jesus and continue to hold fast to His infallible word.

But there are also other encouragements given in God’s word to keep us fighting the good fight of faith.  We have God’s Holy Spirit within us, reminding us of our secure position in Christ and with our heavenly Father (Rom 8).  We have the means of grace available to us, including the sacraments and prayer through which we can enter the throne room of grace (Heb 4:14ff).

And finally, we have the fellowship of the saints, such an important encouragement when one is inclined to stop fighting the good fight of faith.  Is it any wonder that the writer of Hebrews encourages the early Christians not to neglect meeting together, as was the habit of some, but even more as they see the Day drawing near (Heb 10:25)?  “He who testifies to these things says, “Surely I am coming soon.” Amen. Come, Lord Jesus! The grace of the Lord Jesus be with all. Amen” (Rev 22:20-21). JZ

“I will never, never drive them away” (2)

One of the most difficult things for Christians to get their heads around is that their faith in Jesus Christ as Saviour is all a work of grace.  The saying “there are no free lunches” is generally true for life as we know it, however, when it comes to our forgiveness and the gift of eternal life, it is all free for us to receive with thankfulness, for the ultimate cost was borne by our Saviour Jesus Christ.  We need to understand this fundamental teaching of Scripture for it is vital for our thankfulness and assurance.   Without it, everything else we believe the Bible teaches will be skewed.

Now it may surprise you, that many Christians cannot come to terms with this teaching and continue to put the ‘cart before the horse.’   Some continue to say that they chose to become a Christian at a given point in time.  Even this past week I read a message where the author states that it is only when we repent and show real sorrow for our sin and come to grips with it that Jesus will have compassion for you and will forgive you.

With respect to the author, Scripture teaches the opposite.  Dead people cannot show sorrow for their sin (Eph 2:1ff).   God did not send His Son into this world because we were so sorry for our sin but because He loved this world including us, despite our sin (Jn 3:16, cf Gen 3:15).  Paul tells the Roman Christians that Christ died for us while we were still sinners, more than that, while we were still his enemies (Rom 5:8ff).   Of course, this does not mean God loves our sin or that we are sinners, on the contrary, He hates sin and that is why He sent His Son to deal with the sin that separates us from Him, for He is Holy and cannot live with sin.

So, how do we come to have faith alone in Christ alone?  By the power of the Holy Spirit, sent from the Father and the Son, who quickens us to life or if you will, to regenerate us from dead people to being alive in Christ (Eph 2:4ff).  The gracious Holy Spirit does that work by making us aware of our sin and need for a Saviour.  The Holy Spirit’s work is not based on anything we have done or any commendable virtue in us nor anything foreseen in us.  The Holy Spirit’s is obeying the Father’s will to bring us from ‘dead people walking’ to being alive in Christ because, God in His love and mercy, chose us to be saved by Christ before time even began (Eph 1:4ff).  It’s only then we begin to repent and show godly sorrow for our sin, and not before!  “This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. … We love because He first loved us” (1 Jn 4:10, 19).

This understanding of our undeserved salvation is also the reason why we respond in thankfulness and now begin to do the works God has placed before us to do, for His glory.  And it is also the reason we can have the assurance of salvation, for as Jesus said, “All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never (never) drive away. For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me” (Jn 6:37-38).  Surely there is only one thing left to say, “Praise God for His wonderful, electing love to us.  To Him be all the glory!”  JZ

“I will never, never drive them away”

This Sunday, we have the privilege of having two young people profess their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.   Make no mistake, this is a real blessing, for a power has been working in the hearts of these two young people that no one can really fathom.

The Holy Spirit has convicted these two young people to profess their faith publicly before the Lord’s people that they trust in Jesus Christ alone for their salvation.  The Holy Spirit, using God’s Word, along with the witness of their parents and other family members, including the church family, has so moved their wills and changed their hearts that they have now reached a point of publicly acknowledging Jesus as Lord of their lives!   That is a great reason for rejoicing and for which to give thanks to the Lord.

Now someone may ask, “How do we know that their profession of faith is credible and genuine and not something that is done because the family or other influential person has brought pressure to bear on them?”  Well, other than the usual checks and balances we use, (i.e: elders examining them, their life and conduct, their love for the Lord and His word), we cannot be sure.  However, why would we even cast doubt on their profession?  In today’s western societies, the norm is not to profess one’s faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, but to walk away from it and the church.

No, if their profession of faith is genuine (and only the Lord can really know), then we can be assured, they have been saved in Christ from before time began (Eph 1:4ff).  Furthermore, we can be sure that God will complete the good work He has begun in them (Phil 1:6).  It is not possible for them to be lost to the devil!  Yes, there may be periods of time when their love for the Lord may wane a little.  There may even a season where it seems they have walked away from the Lord, being rather disobedient in life and conduct.  However, if their profession of faith is genuine, they cannot fall from God’s gracious hands and He will in His good time cause them to repent and turn back to Him.  We do not fall in and out of God’s gracious hands – that is not possible.  Once saved, forever safe!

So, what do we say to those who seemingly have walked away from the faith?  We keep praying for them!  We keep reminding them of the promises they made before the Lord and His people as the opportunity presents itself.  We lovingly appeal to them, even with tears if necessary, to return to the fold.

Today, we give thanks for the Lord’s gracious work in the hearts of these two young people.  May we as God’s family surround them with much love and encouragement and may the Lord use them and us for the glory of his name and the extension of His kingdom.  JZ

“The beauty of heeding the Lord’s call.”

One of the clear teachings of Scripture alone is that our coming to faith alone in Christ alone for our salvation is all by grace alone.  Yet it is this very teaching that causes some confusion in people’s minds about God’s sovereignty and our responsibility in the process of salvation.  Some are quick to say that God is unfair in choosing some to be saved in Christ and not others.  Others suggest that since it is all up to God’s choosing anyhow, why worry about it.   If there is nothing we can do, let’s just sit back and let God do his work, if He so wills.

Usually, when I teach on this difficult doctrine I try to highlight both God’s sovereignty and human responsibility by asking people to imagine a closed door through which we must enter.  Throughout Scripture we have this constant refrain, call, appeal if you will, for God’s people to choose life, not death (Deut 30:11-20), serve God, not idols (Josh 24:15), turn, repent and live and not die (Eze 33:10-11), repeated calls in the NT for repentance and belief in Jesus Christ; knock and it will be opened etc (Mat 7:7ff), choose rest in Christ rather than slavery (Mat 11:28ff), eternal life rather than eternal punishment (Jn 3:16), life rather than death (Jn 5:24), a call to reconciled unto God (2 Cor 5:20), to mention a few.  In all these texts, there is an implied responsibility for us to respond.

Now imagine all these texts and many more are on the one side of this closed door, graciously placed there by the Holy Spirit to call us through the door.  When we enter through the door and close it behind us, we see only one text, (Eph 1:4-6) “For the Father chose me, a sinner in Christ before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love, the Father predestined me to be adopted as his child through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will, to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves” [emphasis added].

Now some people feel a little uncomfortable with this analogy, for it seems that you are making the decision to go through the door.  In a way that is true but then again, you didn’t place those wonderful texts on the door, calling you to enter through.  That remains the gracious work of the Holy Spirit bringing God’s Word to bear on your heart.   And even if people do initially think they have had a part to play in entering through the door, does it really matter?  It may take such a person another five years or longer to realise that all of it was God’s wonderful grace working through the power of His word and Spirit, that brought them through the door, all to God’s glory alone.

And it is only after God has caused us to enter through the door that we can begin to experience the beauty of knowing Jesus Christ and our salvation in Him and not before.  And it is only because we know the beauty of Christ that we continue to implore people to embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour.   And it is only after we have been drawn through the door, we can sing with the saints, “I sought the Lord, and afterward I knew; He moved my soul, to seek Him, seeking me; it was not I that found, O Saviour true; no, I was found, was found by You. it was not I that found, O Saviour true; no, I was found, was found by You.”    JZ

 

The dangerous game of saying ‘no’ to God.”

Have you ever thought about the fact that it is only the pinnacle of God’s creation who can actually ‘no’ to God?  It is true that all creation groans under the weight of sin, but it is only human beings who can disobey and say ‘no’ to God.

It is a foolish thing to say ‘no’ to God as Jonah also experienced when he was asked to go to the city of Nineveh.  However, it is not only foolish, it is downright dangerous to say ‘no’ to God, for you may not be given too many opportunities to say ‘yes’ to God.  God’s patience with the wicked, although long-suffering, is not limitless as was experienced in the days of Noah.  Furthermore, there is evidence in Scripture to suggest that if you keep saying ‘no’ to God, He may withdraw His grace and allow your heart to be hardened against Him because of your disobedience.

In Exodus 7:3 we see God hardening Pharaoh’s heart and in Ch 8:15, 19, 32, Pharaoh hardening his own heart towards God.  When people continually reject God and His gracious offer to embrace His Son as Saviour and Lord, then there may come a time when the opportunity to obey and embrace the offer of salvation is withdrawn and people will no longer be able to accept and obey.

According to trained children workers, this hardening is similar to what happens to children who have been neglected by their parents.  Some parents have never taught their children the true meaning of ‘yes’ and ‘no’ or the way of obedience and hence some children do not know what they are or are not allowed to do.  As a result, they do not take authority seriously until the police insist that ‘no’ means ‘No’.  Sadly, trained children workers must often admit that such children are no longer teachable.  They are hardened.

People who continually refuse to obey God and embrace Jesus Christ as Saviour are playing a dangerous game.   While at the beginning they will not believe, in the end they may not be able to believe.  The writer to Hebrews regular appeals to his readers, “Today, if you hear His voice do not hardened your heart as you did in the rebellion.”  According to Scripture, there is a connection to unbelief, disobedience and a hardened heart.

Now before we become judge and executioner, it is only God who knows the process of hardening.  It is not up to us to declare that someone has reached the point of no return.  In fact, our responsibility is to continue to reach out to the lost with the gospel, even towards those whose membership of the church has lapsed through whatever means.  Our first step towards those who are outside of Christ’s kingdom is not condemnation, but a positive, loving, winsome approach with the good news of embracing Christ as Saviour.  While doing so, all the time praying that the Holy Spirit would soften their hearts and wills towards the gospel and that they would no longer keep playing the dangerous game of saying ‘no’ and disobeying the good offer of the gospel.  JZ

 

“The danger of neglect”

We live in a society that is increasingly becoming more ambivalent towards Christianity.  Yes, I realise there are some who are becoming hostile towards those who embrace Christianity, but generally, that is not the case. We still live in a society where we enjoy the freedom of religion and Christians have the freedom to gather together for worship.   We also live in a society where most people have heard about Christianity and what it teaches.  They may not know the details of the Christian faith, but most would know that Jesus is the central character around which Christianity revolves.

It’s precisely at this junction which leaves people in our society and in our families in danger of an eternity without Christ and hence without hope.  It’s not so much that these people reject Christ outright, which of course is terrible, but more so because they neglect Christ.

Hebrews 2:1-3, encourages the readers to pay much closer attention to what they have heard from the Apostles about the last Word Jesus Christ, and not to drift away from it.  In the OT, under God’s law, ever transgression or disobedience received a just retribution.  In the NT, with the coming of Christ, there is a far greater responsibility to be obedient and we will not escape retribution if we neglect such a great salvation.

Andrew Kuyvenhoven makes the following comment in his Daylight devotional, “The majority of those who are not saved will be lost ‘simply’ because they have not paid attention to the gospel of the Son of God. They have not openly rejected God’s last and loving word, but they have shamefully neglected it. More people perish by disregarding the gospel than by opposing God’s Word.”

It’s a rather scary thought that work colleagues and those perhaps we commute to work with every day, and even some loved ones will not be lost because they rejected the gospel, but simply because they have neglected it.  These people have heard the good news of Jesus Christ, perhaps even sat in churches hearing it explained in detail, but have neglected it.

Many modern cars have a warning bell when the fuel level becomes low.  Usually, drivers and those who don’t wish to push do not deliberately reject the warning bell, but many have ended up pushing because they have neglected the warning bell.   Jesus Christ is the last word to sinners that they need to repent and believe to be saved into the kingdom.  Sinners can choose to reject it but not many do for everyone wants to go to heaven.  However, many of those same people neglect the last word and they do so at their own peril.

Most analogies come unstuck if you push them too far and the car one is no different.  If we run out of fuel in our car due to our neglect, we could push or thumb a ride and get some fuel and tip it in and be on our way again.   Interestingly, neither the writer to Hebrews nor Scripture answers the question, “Who will escape if we neglect such a great salvation?”  Perhaps the answer is too horrifying.  So, let’s be in prayer that our neighbours, friends, family members will not continue to neglect the great salvation and even more as we see the Day drawing nearer.   JZ

“The work continues…”

Many years ago, someone asked me whether Christ has finished his work.  My short reply at the time was, “Yes. Of course, Christ has finished his work, after all, He said, “It is finished.”   In hindsight, I wish someone would ask me that question again, for the answer I gave then, although not incorrect, was not really a complete answer.

Paul in Romans 15:18 says he will not venture to speak of anything except that which Christ has worked in him to win people for Christ by preaching and life (emphasis added).  Paul when speaking about the work of Christ through Him to win others for Christ is referring to the sanctifying work of the Holy Spirit, the third person of the Trinity, sent out from the Father and the Son, to win people unto salvation.  So, in that sense, the Father’s work, nor the Son’s work, nor the Holy Spirit’s work is ever complete.

Notice also then that Christ’s work did not finish at His ascension but His work continues through us.  We are the tools, the instruments that He uses to reach the lost for Christ.  Yes, He uses His word, but even that needs to be proclaimed and explained by His willing instruments.  That is also how Paul brought the good news of Jesus Christ to the Gentiles.  And the tools He uses to win people into His kingdom are not just Pastors/ministers and elders, but all Christians, both male and female.

As much as I am reluctant to encourage ‘belly-button’ gazing, occasionally it is a worthwhile exercise.  The question is not whether the Father in heaven is still working.  He is.  The question is not whether Christ is alive.  He is.  The question is not whether He has completed His work of salvation.  He has! (Jn 19:28ff).  The question is whether we are available for His use?

Now I know we are all busy but I suggest our willingness to be used by our Saviour is where gospel missions begin.  Yes, God can use whatever means He wishes to win people for Himself into the Kingdom, but usually, He uses Christians.  And missions include all sorts of activities; assisting the needy, Christian politics, Christian education, Christian training seminars, Christian parenting, sending and supporting missionaries, translating the Scriptures and many more.  All of them, Christ working in us by His Spirit to the glory of the Father.

Finally, because it is the work of Christ by His Holy Spirit through us, no boasting is allowed, except that which Christ has accomplished through us, weak vessels that we are.  So, without any further fanfare, let’s just quietly get on with the ministry He has put before us, to His glory.  JZ