Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Christian living

Continual Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a North American holiday celebrated in November. It’s a day of feasting, family and football that began as a day of giving thanks for a successful harvest. The Thanksgiving meal often includes seasonal dishes such as roast turkey with stuffing, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and pumpkin pie.

The healing of Namaan in 2 Kings 5 is an example of thanksgiving in the Bible. Namaan was a commander in the Syrian army who was healed of an incurable skin disease like leprosy when he followed instructions given by the prophet Elisha. It’s an illustration of the gospel (good news about Jesus). The disease is like sin (our main problem). The healing is like having one’s sin forgiven and peace with God. Namaan received God’s blessing even though he was a Gentile and not an Israelite. He changed from being an enemy of Israel to worshipping their God. The good news about Jesus is that sinners can have their sins forgiven and live forever with God.

It’s interesting to see Namaan’s response to being healed. The Bible says,
Then Naaman and all his attendants went back to the man of God [Elisha]. He stood before him and said, “Now I know that there is no God in all the world except in Israel. So please accept a gift from your servant” (2 Sam. 5:15NIV)

Namaan acknowledged the one true God. And offered Elisha a gift that he refuses. Elisha didn’t want to accept payment for what God had done. Also, it illustrates that salvation is free. Then Namaan asked for some soil from Israel that he could take back to Syria to use when he sacrificed to the God of Israel. In ancient times each nation had their own gods and maybe it was thought that a deity could be worshipped only on the soil of the nation to which it was bound. Or maybe the soil was used to make an earthen altar as the Israelites were commanded (Ex. 20:24). Anyhow, it showed his allegiance to the God of Israel.

After he was healed, Naaman changed from worshipping idols to worshipping the true God. He offered thanks and praise to the God who delivered him from a major problem. Namaan was grateful and thankful. Do we as believers regularly thank and praise God for delivering us from the penalty of our sin?

There are other examples in the New Testament of Gentiles (non-Jews) praising God. When Jesus healed ten lepers, one returned “praising God on a loud voice” (Lk. 17:15-16). He was a Samaritan. And Cornelius and his family praised God after they believed in Peter’s message about the forgiveness of sin through Christ’s death and resurrection (Acts 10:34-46).

Like Namaan’s sacrifices to the God of Israel, believers are to offer thanks and praise for all that God has done for them through Jesus Christ. The Bible says, “Through Jesus, therefore, let us [believers] continually offer to God a sacrifice of praise—the fruit of lips [words] that openly profess His name” (Heb. 13:15). And believers are to be “always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Eph. 5:20) and “give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:18). Do we praise God regularly, or only occasionally? It’s a personal sacrifice to praise God in difficult times. Paul and Silas praised God when they were imprisoned (Acts 16:23-25). Their praise wasn’t limited by their circumstances. Do we praise God when we don’t feel like praising Him?

Believers are commanded to praise God “continually”, “always”, “for everything” and “in all circumstances”. Not just once a year.  Have we praised God today?

Written, July 2019

Also see: A major problem


The best way to live

Applying the Bible to our lives

These days many of us get our sense of right and wrong from movies. Although some of our superheroes may act like a self-sacrificing Messiah in battles to save the world, the lessons in movies are usually determined by ungodly people who want to entertain us.

When I googled “How to live”, there were 20 billion results on the internet! If I took five seconds to read each one, it would take over 30 years of reading continuously! How can we know which is the best way to live our lives? These are all the subjective opinions of many people. We can save wasting a lot of time by following the objective opinions of the God who made the world and who knows all about us. And it doesn’t take years to find because He has communicated to us in the Bible. The Bible is often called “God’s word” or “the word” because it’s a message from God.

This blogpost, which is based on James 1:19-25, shows that the best way to live is to keep applying the Bible to our lives.

James says, “My dear brothers and sisters, take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry, because human anger does not produce the righteousness that God desires. Therefore, get rid of all moral filth and the evil that is so prevalent and humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you. Do not merely listen to the word, and so deceive yourselves. Do what it says. Anyone who listens to the word but does not do what it says is like someone who looks at his face in a mirror and, after looking at himself, goes away and immediately forgets what he looks like. But whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom, and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard, but doing it—they will be blessed in what they do” (Jas. 1:19-25NIV).

The goal for our lives

The book of James was written to confront the readers about their sinful behavior. Although they claimed to be Christians, their behavior was worldly (3:9-12; 4: 4). We read about anger, immorality and evil. It was disgraceful.

James urged them to change their ways. So he gave them a goal, an aim, a target. It was to be spiritually mature and wise. Perseverance through trials would make them “mature and complete, not lacking anything” (1:4). And they could pray for wisdom; “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God” (1:5). Wisdom is the ability to cope with major difficulties. A person with wisdom makes good decisions. They have biblical common sense and can apply scriptural principles to their life. They use biblical knowledge correctly.

Jesus told His disciples, “follow me” (Jn. 1:43) and Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). If we follow Paul and Jesus it will be best for us, best for our families, best for our friends and neighbors, and best for our churches.

And Paul said that the best way to live is a life that is spiritually fruitful, holy and pleases the Lord (Appendix A).

Rather than just following a list of rules, God wants us to be able to “find out what pleases the Lord” in all situations (Eph. 5:10). Inner guidance via the Holy Spirit is the chief means by which God guides His people today. And the chief external means by which He guides them is the Bible.

When I go hiking, I always take a GPS, a map and a compass. They help me to decide where to go and what to do. In a similar way, the Holy Spirit and the Bible can help us decide how to live our lives.

What’s our goal in life? Is it to please God, and be spiritually mature and wise like Paul and Jesus?

The steps towards the goal

The first step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Trust in the work of Jesus for our salvation.

There are two ways to live: with God or without God. Trusting that Christ’s death paid the penalty for our sin brings us near to God. Living with God is better because it’s the first step towards the best way to live. It means we have eternal spiritual life and are indwelt by the Holy Spirit who can empower us to go through the other steps. Without God’s help we are on our own and limited to human wisdom. Before the Ephesians trusted in Christ they were “without hope and without God in the world” (Eph. 2:12). It we don’t know the true God, then we have no hope because real hope is based on God’s promises. And we have no lasting purpose in our lives and no hope beyond this life.

If we haven’t taken the first step, we can’t get to the top of a ladder. If we haven’t trusted in Christ, we can’t find the best way to live.

There are also two ways to live as a Christian: with God or without God. It’s a contradiction to say that we trusted God once, but don’t have anything to do with Him now. And it’s not the best way to live.

Paul taught “the whole will of God” (Acts 20:27). He instructed people in not only the fundamentals of the gospel (the good news about Jesus), but in all that’s vital for godly living. And we will learn about this as we look at the other steps. The Bible has the most important message for us because it tells us about these steps (Appendix B).

The next step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Pray to God.

That’s how we communicate with God. We can ask God for power and wisdom to live how He wants us to (Jas. 1:5-6). James says, “If any of you lacks wisdom, you should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to you.” (Jas. 1:5).

Do you text message your boss at work? They say it’s more personal than email. Do you pray daily? It’s more personal than public prayers.

James also says to “listen to the word [Bible]” (Jas. 1:22). So the next step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Read the Bible.

The Bible says that “All Scripture is God-breathed” because its authors “were carried along by the Holy Spirit” (2 Cor. 2:13; 2 Tim. 3:16; 2 Pt. 1:21). What the authors wrote came from God. The words came from the Holy Spirit and not from human wisdom. That’s why all the words of scripture are useful in some way.

God communicates to us through the Bible. That’s how we can experience God personally. So we need to read it regularly. It takes about 70 hours to read the whole Bible. This could be done in a year by reading for about 12 minutes per day.

How long would it take to watch 70 hours of movies? If that was 35 movies and we watched one per week, it would take about 8 months. But if we watched two movies per week, it would take about 4 months. So most of us probably spend more time watching movies than reading the Bible.

This means that movies could be influencing us more that the Bible and hindering us from finding the best way to live. When do you read the Bible?

The next step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Understand the Bible.

We need to study the Bible in order to understand it (see more about this topic below).

James also says, “humbly accept the word planted in you, which can save you” (Jas. 1:21). So the next step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Accept the Bible as God’s word.

The Thessalonians “accepted it [the Bible] not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe” (1 Th. 2:13). The Bible has divine wisdom and it can help us live in a godly way that pleases God. It can save us from sinful living that displeases God.

Although it was written over a period of at least 1,500 years, the Bible has great unity and harmony. It addresses the biggest questions of life and its worldview explains reality like no other book. It’s historically reliable. It makes detailed prophecies that have been fulfilled. It has transformed people’s lives. It has withstood and outlasted all of its attackers. All we know about Jesus comes from the Bible. Jesus quoted constantly from the Old Testament. If Jesus accepted the Old Testament as God’s words, we can accept the Bible as God’s words. When we do this the Holy Spirit will give us a desire and a willingness to follow God’s guidance for us in the Bible. And we will willingly read the Bible in order to understand it. And we’ll memorize it and meditate on it. In this way it will be implanted in our lives (Jas. 1:21). How do you view the message in the Bible? Do you welcome it or are you skeptical about it?

James also says to “Do what it [the Bible] says” (Jas. 1:22). So the last step to find the best way to live is to:

  1. Apply the Bible to our lives.

Once we have trusted in Jesus as our Savior; prayed for God’s help; and read, understod and accepted God’s message in the Bible; then we need to obey what we have learnt. This means renewing our mind (Rom.12:2), stopping sinful actions and starting godly actions (see more about this topic below).

But how can we understand the ancient words of the Bible?

Understanding the Bible

God wants us to understand His message in the Bible and to use it for godly living. Because the Bible was written for common people like us, it’s not difficult to understand its main points. They are not hidden or secret.

Here is some information to help us find the main point of any passage in the Bible.

The Bible is a library

The Bible is the collection of 66 books comprising:
– The Hebrew scriptures (Genesis to Malachi), which are called the Old Testament.
– Jesus’ teaching and actions (Matthew to John), which are called the gospels, and
– The teaching and actions of those whom He delegated as apostles (Acts to Revelation).

The literary styles of the books of the Bible

The books of the Bible come in different literary styles. There is poetry and prose. Hebrew poetic books often have lines with repeated meanings (called parallelism) and may metaphors.

The Old Testament has books of history/narrative, poetry, and prophecy. Exodus to Deuteronomy are also Hebrew law. While the New Testament has history, letters and prophecy. Our passage in James is from a letter.

Many times a mixture of literary styles will be combined in one book.

Literary devices in the Bible

One of the most common literary devices in the Bible are figures of speech such as metaphors, similes, personification and hyperbole (exaggeration). These can occur in any book of the Bible, but they are more frequent in the poetic books.

Also, Jesus often used parables to teach a lesson.

There’ s a metaphor in our passage in James where God’s word (the Bible) is said to be planted like a seed in the believer. When we allow the Bible to grow (like a seed) in our lives, it replaces sinfulness and becomes part of our character. When it doesn’t grow, sinfulness is prevalent.

And there’s a simile in our passage in James where reading the Bible is likened to looking in a mirror, and obeying the Bible is likened to remembering what we look like; while not obeying the Bible is likened to forgetting what we look like. Obeying the Bible is beneficial, while not obeying it is useless and a waste of time.

The Bible is a progressive revelation

The Bible is a progressive revelation. Truth gets added as we move from the beginning to the end. The first slope in the diagram is the Old Testament and the second slope is the New Testament. We can read it as those who have the whole book and know God’s whole program of salvation.

Our passage in James is in one of the early books written in the New Testament, so it’s near where the line moves upwards after the 400 year gap between the two testaments (where the line is horizontal as there was no new revelation).

Next we will look at three kinds of context.

The historical context

Here we look at questions like: Who wrote it?  When was it written? And, who was it written to? This is summarized in a diagram where time increases from left to right. The Bible was written to others—but it speaks to us.

Christianity started on the day of Pentecost after Jesus died, rose back to life and ascended back to heaven. So Acts to Revelation (after the day of Pentecost) was written to Christians. This means that they usually can be applied directly to us except we don’t have apostles today (Acts 1: 21-22). This is the case for our passage in James. The Old Testament was written to Jews who lived under the laws of Moses (the Old Covenant), which don’t apply directly to us. For example, they were required to offer animal sacrifices. Instead these laws need to be interpreted though the New Testament. Some are repeated in the New Testament, like 9 of the 10 commandments. And others are not repeated in the New Testament, like the command to keep the Sabbath day and the commands to offer animal sacrifices. So be careful when applying the Old Testament to today. It has many good principles and provides the background to Christianity, but it wasn’t written to us. We need to be careful when interpreting verses BC (before the cross). Jesus lived under the laws of Moses and the gospels include His teachings to Jews. But much of His teaching carries over into Christianity (where it relates to the new covenant).

The cultural context

Life was different in ancient times. Housing, occupations, transport, religion, and governance were often radically different to ours.

James lived in the Roman Empire. Although their way of life was different to ours today, human nature hasn’t changed. We are still sinful and need reminding to obey God’s words in the Bible. Our passage addresses anger, immorality, evil, and hypocrisy, which are topics that are not foreign to us. But if it was about food sacrificed to idols, we would need to change it into a modern equivalent.

The Biblical context

The verses and passages in each book of the Bible are set out in an order determined by God. Don’t try to understand a verse or passage in isolation. Look at the message in the whole book. Look at the message in the same chapter, in the previous chapter and in the following chapter. What happened before and afterwards? What’s the situation? Context is king because it reduces the possible meanings of a text to its most probable meaning.

Read it like any other book; don’t just read here and there. Proverbs is the only book of the Bible where the verses aren’t always related to each other.

The purpose of the book of James is to confront the readers about their sinful behavior. Although they claimed to be Christians, their behavior was worldly (3:9-12; 4: 4). James emphasizes that true Christian faith is expressed in a life of godliness, not of sinfulness.

Now we will look at what can happen if we ignore the context.

Don’t cherry-pick

Cherry-picking is interpreting a verse or passage without taking the context and the rest of the Bible into account. It’s selective use of evidence. For example, “I can do all things through Him [Christ] who strengthens me” (Phil. 4:13ESV) was written by Paul while he was in prison because of his Christian faith. The main principle is that believers can learn to be content in difficult circumstances through Christ, who gives them strength. But it can be taken out of context to mean that with God’s help:
– I can do anything, or
– I can do miracles, or
– I will be successful, or
– My team will win the game, or
– I will win the contest

This gives people false hopes. That’s why the context is important. It gives the correct meaning, which is the one that the author intended.

Exegesis, not eisegesis

Exegesis is the process of discovering the meaning of a text from the context and the text itself. Exegesis means “to lead out of” – the meaning comes out of the text; out of the Bible. On the other hand, eisegesis occurs when a reader imposes their interpretation into the text. Eisegesis means “to lead into” – the meaning comes from the interpreter and is added into the text, into the Bible. Exegesis is objective, while eisegesis is subjective.

Last year, a theologian said in an article in the Sydney Morning Herald that the Bible “never condemns same-sex marriage, partly because it simply does not address the issue directly”. This is an example of eisegesis. Their interpretation of scripture was poor. When we exegete the same passages in the New Testament, we see that the statement is untrue and deceptive. It’s true that the Bible doesn’t specifically address “same-sex marriage”. But it does condemn homosexual sexual activity, which is a broader subject than same-sex marriage! Therefore, by simple logic, same-sex marriage was condemned as a lifestyle for the New Testament church.

Those who practice eisegesis often change the context of Bible passages, or change the meanings of words in the Bible, or base their case on a single verse and ignore others on the same topic.

Avoid legalism and liberalism

Another problem to avoid is adding to the Bible or subtracting from it (see Appendix C).

Is it a command, a model or a report?

The contents of the Bible can be divided into commands, models to follow and reports of events. A command is mandatory (not optional) and prescriptive (not descriptive). Commands are instructions to be followed. Our passage in James is made up of commands as it mentions things they should do and things they shouldn’t do.

A model to follow is a practice that’s described and is worth following today. It’s descriptive, but doesn’t use mandatory language, like the practice of Christians meeting together on the first day of the week. Biblical models are examples to follow. Paul said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1).

Whereas, a report is a description of events (like in the news media) that’s not worth following today. It includes sinful behavior that’s not being endorsed by the writer like David’s adultery (2 Sam. 11:1-17), Solomon’s polygamy (1 Ki. 11:1-3) and the fact that Judas hanged himself (Mt. 27:5). Reports are not examples for us to follow.

After looking at the text, the context, and the literary devices, we need to find the author’s main point.

The author’s main point

This is the meaning of the text for the original audience. It’s what the author wanted to communicate. The main point is then converted into a principle which is a general truth, applicable in a variety of situations.

The main point in our passage from James is that godliness comes from stopping sinful behavior and practicing (applying, obeying) scriptural principles instead.

What has changed since then?

Here we compare between then and now by considering the culture, situation, and time in history. Were God’s people living under a different covenant? Was their situation unique? We also take into account all the scriptures written after the passage because God’s revelation is progressive. And is the scriptural principle consistent with the rest of the Bible? Fortunately we see that God and people don’t change throughout history: He is always divine and people are always sinful. As James was written to Christians living under the new covenant, it still applies the same way today.

Now we know what’s changed since then, we can determine what it means today.

The main point today

The main point in our passage from James is that godliness comes from stopping sinful behavior and practicing (applying, obeying) scriptural principles instead (Appendix D). It’s the best way to live.

A Tyrannosaurus rex fossil found in Canada is largest-ever found. It probably weighed more than 8.8 tonnes and it took palaeontologists ten years to separate it from sandstone rock. Fortunately it doesn’t take that long to discover the meaning of ancient words in the Bible.

Each passage of the Bible has one meaning and one main point. But each main point can have many applications today according to the different situations people can be in.

Applying the Bible to our lives today

The Bible is a practical book. It’s “useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:16-17). It shows us the best way to live. But it only helps us if we put it into practice.

Jesus told His disciples, “If you love me, keep my commands”, “Whoever has my commands and keeps them is the one who loves me”, “Anyone who loves me will obey my teaching”, and “Anyone who does not love me will not obey my teaching”  (Jn. 14:15, 21, 23-24). So we show our love for Jesus by keeping His commandments. And God sent the Holy Spirit to be our Helper in this effort (Jn. 14:16–17). Knowledge of God’s principles for living in the Bible is not good enough, it should lead to action and change our thinking and character. How can we live out the meaning of the text in our lives? How should we apply these scriptural principles? What do we need to know, do, think and be?

This week a friend had to change the wheel of a car. He could have learnt how to do this from YouTube. The Bible is like the best YouTube video on how to live. But it doesn’t help unless we act on it. If there was no action, the tire (tyre) would still be flat.

Or you may want to learn to play the guitar from YouTube. There will be no progress unless you pick up the guitar and start practicing. Like playing the guitar, being able to apply the Bible to our lives takes practice. But don’t worry; there will be plenty of opportunities.

Here we look for a situation in our lives that parallels the biblical situation. It must contain all the key elements of the biblical situation. In James it involved:
– Christians (v.19).
– They were involved in sinful behavior (v.19-21).
– They went to church and heard from the Bible, but they lived like everyone else and not like a Christian. The Bible had little impact on their way of life.
– They were told that godliness comes from stopping sinful behavior and practicing (applying, obeying) scriptural principles instead.

Here’s an application. Roy is a Christian who has been cheating in his tax return. But when he realizes that the Bible teaches honesty towards the government, he decides to stop cheating (Mt. 22:21). So he seeks a Christian mentor to provide encouragement and to help him mange his finances. And he shares with a friend his decision to be more honest with his money.

Or, Anne is a Christian who has been living with her boyfriend because that’s what other people do. But when she realizes that the bible teaches that sexual relationships are for (heterosexual) marriage, she decides to stop living together until they get married. She prays for help because it will be difficult to tell her boyfriend. And she decides to read more about what the Bible says about being single and being married.

Or, Ray is a Christian who hasn’t been doing his share of work in the family. His wife is overloaded with going to work, looking after the household, looking after him, and looking after the children. But when he realizes that the bible teaches us to care for one another, he decides to be more considerate and less selfish. So he decides to listen to his wife in order to know how he can help her. And he remembers that the Bible says that love is not self-seeking; it isn’t always “me first’; it does not insist on its own way  (1 Cor. 13:5). And that Jesus came to serve and He “gave His life as a ransom for many” (Mk. 10:45). That’s sacrificial service.

James gives a promise for doing this, “whoever looks intently into the perfect law that gives freedom [the Bible], and continues in it—not forgetting what they have heard [or read], but doing it [applying it]—they will be blessed in what they do” (Jas. 1:25). But there’s a warning in the Bible about not implementing what we read there.

Warning against not applying the Bible to ourselves

Jesus told a parable, “everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house; yet it did not fall, because it had its foundation on the rock.
But everyone who hears these words of mine and does not put them into practice is like a foolish man who built his house on sand. The rain came down, the streams rose, and the winds blew and beat against that house, and it fell with a great crash.” (Mt. 7:24-27).

The first man’s work endured, while the other man’s work was destroyed. The house is like their life. It illustrates the importance of obedience. Jesus had just given the sermon on the mount. But it’s not enough to hear (or read) the message in Bible. Its truths must be put into practice. That’s the best way to endure the adversity of life. The second man is called foolish –  because of his disobedience, he can’t endure the difficulties of life.

Our way of life will be tested. Applying scriptural principles to our lives is the best way to live because it helps us survive the testing times. And in our passage in James it says that we can know the truth, but not implementing it is like forgetting what we saw in a mirror (Jas. 1:22-25).

Residents are angry about the lack of action to deal with radioactive waste in Nelson Parade, Hunters Hill in Sydney. The contamination from uranium processing is about 100 years old and residents were first alerted to the danger in 1965. Since then there have been many scientific surveys, a parliamentary enquiry and an Environmental Protection Authority order, which all say the waste must be removed. There were plans to dig it up and transfer it to a secure land fill, but this never happened. The latest plan is to bury it onsite within a concrete bunker. The State Government has known about this for decades, but has done nothing. Don’t be like them when reading the Bible. Instead, let’s put it into action in our lives.

Lessons for us

We have seen that the best way to live is a life of spiritual maturity and wisdom. It’s empowered by the Holy Spirit, is centered around the Bible, and results in God’s blessing. It begins with trusting in the work of Jesus for our salvation and continues with applying the Bible to our lives.

We need more than movie morals to guide us, because they lack the power of the Holy Spirit. Instead we need to be reading the Bible regularly. Are we reading it more than watching movies? When we read the Bible let’s look for the main point and work out what it means today and apply it in our lives.

After we hear the word of God at church, do we put it into practice like a wise person, or do we foolishly ignore it? Instructions and examples are useless unless we follow them. Let’s trust and obey and be known for our godly actions and living.

Appendix A: The goal for our lives according to Paul

After eleven chapters of doctrine, Paul told the Romans, “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” (Rom. 12:2). With God’s help, we will know how to live. And it won’t be in the pattern of our sinful world. But it will involve a new way of thinking.

Paul’s prayer for the Philippians was, “that your love may abound more and more in knowledge and depth of insight, so that you may be able to discern what is best and may be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ—to the glory and praise of God” (Phil. 1:9-10). The Christian life is more than love, it includes knowledge, insight and holiness. And the motive is to be living like this when Jesus returns to take us to heaven.

And his prayer for the Colossians was, “We continually ask God to fill you with the knowledge of His will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives, so that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and please Him in every way: bearing fruit in every good work, growing in the knowledge of God” (Col. 1:9-10). It’s living that’s spiritually fruitful and pleases the Lord. This is possible because it’s powered by the Holy Spirit.

So according to Paul the best way to live is a life that is spiritually fruitful, holy and pleases the Lord.

Appendix B: Why the Bible has the most important message for us

Not only does the Bible tell us the steps to peace with God, it also tells us the best way to live. When we trust in Jesus Christ’s death as the payment for our sin, the Bible says that we are given a new spiritual life. We are alive spiritually and dead to sin (Rom. 6:11; Eph. 4:22-24).

Paul’s final instruction to Timothy was, “continue in what you have learned and have become convinced of, because you know those from whom you learned it, and how from infancy you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the servant of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Tim. 3:14-17). The Bible is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so we can serve the Lord. It’s like God’s instruction manual for living our lives.

Paul justified quoting from the Old Testament by saying, “everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through the endurance taught in the Scriptures and the encouragement they provide we might have hope” (Rom. 15:4). The Bible as written for our instruction.

Paul said that the Old Testament has examples of what not to do, which are warnings for us: Now these things occurred as examples to keep us from setting our hearts on evil things as they did. Do not be idolaters, as some of them were; as it is written: “The people sat down to eat and drink and got up to indulge in revelry.” We should not commit sexual immorality, as some of them did—and in one day twenty-three thousand of them died. We should not test Christ as some of them did—and were killed by snakes. And do not grumble, as some of them did—and were killed by the destroying angel. These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the culmination of the ages has come” (1 Cor.10:6-11). Paul says, don’t repeat their mistakes.

Luke said that “the Berean Jews were of more noble character than those in Thessalonica, for they received the message with great eagerness and examined the Scriptures every day to see if what Paul said was true” (Acts 17:11). So the Bible is the standard for knowing what is right and what is wrong. We should check everything against the truth of the Bible.

Our thoughts affect our actions. “Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me—put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you” (Phil. 4:8-9). God wants us to be holy by putting into practice what we learn from the Bible.

Appendix C: The dangers of legalism and liberalism

Christians do not thrive outside God’s boundaries for living. Two ways of going off the road or out of bounds are to either add to or take away from what God has revealed to us in the Bible (Rev. 22:18-19). Legalism involves adding to the Bible and liberalism taking away from it. These are mindsets that come from the sinful nature; not from the Bible or the divine nature.

Legalism places rules and regulations between us and God and includes an effort to merit God’s favor. It involves salvation by good works and not Christ alone. It was a problem in the early church when some Jewish Christians insisted that Gentiles must follow Jewish laws if they wanted to become Christians. And it can become a problem today if Christian customs and traditions get confused with scriptural truths. Christians can avoid legalism by recognizing the freedoms inherent in God’s word.

Liberalism places the ideas and reasoning of humanism between us and the Bible. It makes people the authority instead of God. The risk of liberalism comes from our culture. We are exposed to news media, movies, the internet and advertisements that preach humanism, hedonism and materialism. Christians need to be relevant to the culture but not accept its values. Christians can avoid liberalism by recognizing the boundaries inherent in God’s word.

Appendix D: Application of James 1:19-25

The book of James was written in about AD 50 by James (the half-brother of Jesus and an elder in the church in Jerusalem) to Jewish Christians who had been scattered because of persecution (Acts 8:1; 11:19). As it was written to Christians, the message is still directly applicable to Christians today. The purpose of the letter is to confront the readers about their sinful behavior. Although they claimed to be Christians, their behavior was worldly (3:9-12; 4: 4). James emphasizes that true Christian faith is expressed in a life of godliness, not of sinfulness. After dealing with trials (1:2-12) and temptations (1:13-17), the topic of this passage is the Word of God (1:18-27).

There is a metaphor where the word (Bible) is said to be planted in the believer, “which can save you” (v.21). Did you know that God’s word is like a seed planted in your life? But is the plant fruitful or stunted? When we trust in Christ as our Savior, God uses biblical truths to save us from the penalty of sin. And if we continue to obey His words we can be saved from the power of sin today. This is an ongoing aspect to our salvation. When we allow the Bible to grow in our lives, it replaces sinfulness and becomes part of our character. When it doesn’t grow, sinfulness is prevalent.

There is a simile where reading the Bible is likened to looking in a mirror and obeying the Bible is likened to remembering what you look like, while not obeying the Bible is likened to forgetting what you look like (v.23-25). Remembering what you look like is beneficial, while forgetting is useless and a waste of time.

The main point of the passage is that in order to be godly (spiritually healthy) we need to be teachable (v.19), to deal with sin (v.21) and obey (or apply) the Bible in our lives (v.22). If we obey the Bible, our character develops and we are blessed (v.22, 25) and we have successful lives for Christ (v.21). But if we don’t obey the Bible, we deceive ourselves and we stay a spiritual baby. Obedience is beneficial, while disobedience is useless. In summary, applying the Bible to our lives (by obeying it) leads to godliness.

Written, April 2019

Also see: Understanding the Bible


Failure isn’t final

Our car 2 400pxA few years ago our car was involved in an accident and was written off by the insurance company. It wasn’t worth fixing and they refunded the agreed value of money so we could buy a new car. The old car had failed. It was no longer useful for us. Sometimes if we fail, we can think that we are useless to God. It’s feeling like we are written off.

Its been said that everyone makes mistakes and “the only one who never makes a mistake is the one who never does anything”. We all fail sometimes in life. We all have weaknesses. And these can lead to embarrassment, shame, guilt, disappointment, depression, giving up and wondering whether we will ever be forgiven. The important question is “How can we survive failure?”.

In this post we are going to answer this question by looking at the life of Peter in the Bible.

Context

Simon Peter was a fisherman who lived at Capernaum on the Sea of Galilee. He was one of Jesus’ early disciples. Peter was a leader amongst the disciples as he was a natural leader and was probably the oldest one. After he spent three years following Jesus, he was an apostle who taught the church and wrote some of the New Testament, and he was an elder in his local church.

Peter was impulsive and impetuous. He was usually the first to act and speak his mind. He was enthusiastic. A man of action. Because of this, he often failed. Here are seven examples of this:

  1. Peter rebukes Jesus

When Peter was at Caesarea Philippi (north of the Sea of Galilee), he said that Jesus was “the Messiah, the Son of the living God”. Soon after this we read that: From that time on Jesus began to explain to His disciples that He must go to Jerusalem and suffer many things at the hands of the elders, the chief priests and the teachers of the law, and that He must be killed and on the third day be raised to life. Peter took Him aside and began to rebuke Him. “Never, Lord!” he said. “This shall never happen to you!” Jesus turned and said to Peter, ‘Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me; you do not have in mind the concerns of God, but merely human concerns’” (Mt 16:21-23NIV).

When Jesus predicted His suffering and death, Peter rebuked Him saying “Never, Lord! This shall never happen to you!” Peter thought he knew better than Jesus. Peter thought the Messiah would be triumphant and victorious and not go through suffering, rejection, and death. But he was wrong. Jesus said that Peter was influenced by human concerns (like power and status), rather than the concerns of God who was to use what Jesus went through as a suffering servant to offer salvation to humanity.

So Jesus rebuked him, “Get behind me, Satan!”, which means “get away from me”. Peter protested against Christ’s death, but that was Jesus’ purpose in coming to earth. The cross is God’s plan for delivering humanity from their sin. Peter acted like Satan. He was influenced by Satan, and was talking like Satan. Satan tries to discourage people from obeying God. He tempts us to take the easy path.

This incident shows that the death of Christ for our sins is not an option, but a divine necessity. There’s no other way to get right with God.

So Peter failed when he rebuked Jesus and tried to get Jesus to avoid going to the cross. He was ignorant of God’s plan. It’s an example of his self-centred audacity.

  1. Peter treats Jesus like another prophet

About a week later, Peter was taken up a high mountain and was privileged to see a vision of what it will be like when Jesus comes to reign over the earth. Mark says that, Jesus took Peter, James and John with him and led them up a high mountain, where they were all alone. There He was transfigured before them. His clothes became dazzling white, whiter than anyone in the world could bleach them. And there appeared before them Elijah and Moses, who were talking with Jesus. Peter said to Jesus, “Rabbi, it is good for us to be here. Let us put up three shelters—one for you, one for Moses and one for Elijah.” (He did not know what to say, they were so frightened.) Then a cloud appeared and covered them, and a voice came from the cloud: ‘This is my Son, whom I love. Listen to Him!’” (Mk. 9:2-7).

He saw Jesus in dazzling white talking about His death with Moses and Elijah (Lk. 9:30). Peter suggested putting up three shelters, one for each of them. He put Jesus on the same level as Moses and Elijah. But by speaking from a cloud God rebuked Peter for comparing Jesus with Moses and Elijah. They aren’t equals, because Jesus is Lord over all. When Jesus reigns, He will be pre-eminent above everyone else.

The Bible says that Peter “did not know what to say, they were so frightened” and “He did not know what he was saying” (Lk. 9:33). So he rushed in and said the first thing that came into his mind!

This incident shows us that Jesus is the unique Son of God. He’s not just a human prophet like Moses and Elijah.

So Peter failed when he spoke before thinking. It’s called putting your foot in your mouth! Or shooting yourself in the foot. And he missed the bigger picture of seeing Christ’s glory.

  1. Peter didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet

In biblical times, the use of open sandals made it necessary to wash one’s feet frequently. A servant usually washed the feet of a host’s  guests. When Jesus celebrated His last Passover with His disciples, He began to wash the disciple’s feet. This shocked Peter. He thought it was wrong. So Peter said to Him, “Lord, are you going to wash my feet?” Jesus replied, “You do not realize now what I am doing, but later you will understand.” “No,” said Peter, “you shall never wash my feet.” Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” “Then, Lord,” Simon Peter replied, “not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (Jn. 13:6-9).

Peter didn’t stop to think about the spiritual significance of the foot washing. Because sin destroys our fellowship with the Lord, Peter needed spiritual cleansing. The external washing was a picture of cleansing from failure and sin. It symbolized Jesus washing away a person’s failure and sin. But Peter didn’t understand Jesus’ path to the cross.

This incident shows Jesus as a humble servant. It was before His greatest act of service.

So Peter failed when he resisted having Jesus wash his feet. He told Jesus not to do it. Fortunately he changed his mind soon after.

  1. Peter fell asleep when Jesus prayed

After the last supper, Jesus took Peter, James and John into the Garden of Gethsemane and told them to “Stay here and keep watch” and “pray that you will not fall into temptation”, while He prayed. He asked God the Father if there was any other way by which sinners could be saved other than by His death, burial and resurrection. But there was no other way. And Jesus wanted His followers to understand the importance of prayer during difficult times.

Then He returned to His disciples and found them sleeping. “Simon,” He said to Peter, “are you asleep? Couldn’t you keep watch for one hour? Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the flesh is weak” (Mk. 14:37-38). He came back and found them sleeping three times! They couldn’t stay awake when Jesus faced the thought of becoming a sin-offering for humanity. They slept when they should have been praying. They couldn’t stay awake.

This incident illustrates our human weakness.

So Peter failed to obey Jesus when he slept instead of keeping watch and praying. And later that night Peter did fall into temptation when he denied knowing Christ.

  1. Peter attacked the servant of the high priest

When Jesus was being arrested, Peter cut off the right ear of Malchus, the servant of the high priest (Lk. 22:50-51; Jn. 18:10-11). He was trying to stop Jesus being arrested. But Jesus told him to put his sword away and Jesus healed the man’s ear. At this time, Peter didn’t understand that Jesus came to die for our sins. Jesus was being arrested so He could be crucified. The time had come for Him to lay down His life. Jesus’ betrayal and death was in God’s eternal plan; it was no accident. It was predicted in the Old Testament, but Peter was acting against God’s plan and against God’s will. Peter failed. He didn’t understand that physical weapons are useless for spiritual warfare. Our weapons are prayer, the Bible and the Holy Spirit. Peter was on the wrong wavelength. He wasn’t on the same page as Jesus.

This incident illustrates that God’s battle is won by His power alone. The ultimate answer to our problems comes through faith in Christ, not faith in others, such as politicians.

So Peter failed when he used violence to try to stop the arrest of Jesus. He took matters into his own hands instead of bringing them to Jesus.

  1. Peter denied knowing Christ

Peter’s most famous failure is mentioned in each of the gospels (Mt. 26:69-75; Mk. 14:66-72; Lk. 22:55-62; Jn. 18:15-19, 25-27). This occurred when Jesus was being questioned by the high priest before His crucifixion. Three times Peter denied knowing Jesus.

Here’s how Luke described it: “Then seizing Him [Jesus], they led Him away and took Him into the house of the high priest. Peter followed at a distance. And when some there had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter sat down with them. A servant girl saw him seated there in the firelight. She looked closely at him and said, “This man was with Him [Jesus].”
But he denied it. “Woman, I don’t know Him,” he said.
A little later someone else saw him and said, “You also are one of them.”
“Man, I am not!” Peter replied.
About an hour later another asserted, “Certainly this fellow was with Him, for he is a Galilean.”
Peter replied, “Man, I don’t know what you’re talking about!” Just as he was speaking, the rooster crowed. The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter. Then Peter remembered the word the Lord had spoken to him: “Before the rooster crows today, you will disown me three times.” And he went outside and wept bitterly” (Lk. 22:54-62).

Peter had a Galilean accent that was conspicuous in Jerusalem (Mt. 27:73). And he was recognized by a relative of Malchus who had seen Peter cut off Malchus’ ear (Jn. 18:26). But he still denied knowing Jesus.

And this happened after Peter promised never to disown Jesus. After the last supper, “You will all fall away,” Jesus told them, “for it is written: “‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered.’ But after I have risen, I will go ahead of you into Galilee.” Peter declared, “Even if all fall away, I will not.” “Truly I tell you,” Jesus answered, “today—yes, tonight—before the rooster crows twice you yourself will disown me three times.” But Peter insisted emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” And all the others said the same (Mk. 14:27-31). And Peter said earlier, “I will lay down my life for you [Jesus]” (Jn. 3:37). But instead of being bold before the Jewish leaders in the Sanhedrin (like Jesus), he couldn’t even stand up for Jesus before a servant girl!

Peter wasn’t the only disciple that failed at this time. After Jesus was arrested, they all deserted Him and fled (Mk. 14:27, 50). John was the only other disciple at the trial and crucifixion (Jn. 18:15-16; 19:26-27). They were the only disciples who followed Jesus to the courtyard of the house of the high priest. And Peter wasn’t a coward, he tried to cut off the head of Malchus! Peter’s denial was when his faith faltered, but it didn’t completely fail – because Jesus had prayed that his “faith may not fail” (Lk. 22:32). But his faith was momentarily overshadowed by his tiredness (he had been up all night) and his doubts and fears (Jesus’ case looked hopeless). He was afraid and exhausted. He found it difficult to be the odd man out. And he was unprepared to be questioned by a servant girl.

This incident illustrates human weakness and the danger of self-confidence. Even mature believers are prone to failure. Especially when they face unexpected trials and temptations. And self-confidence can lead to humiliation.

So Peter failed when he denied knowing Jesus. He did what he said he would never do. He cracked under pressure, and in a crisis he lost his courage. They were moments of disloyalty.

  1. Peter discriminated against Gentiles

Peter was a Jew, and he was the first to bring salvation to the Gentiles when he visited Cornelius. However, later he was influenced by legalistic Jewish Christians to discriminate against Gentiles.

Paul said, When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray. When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, ‘You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?’” (Gal. 2:11-14). Paul’s argument continues to the end of Galatians 2. Paul emphasised that salvation was through faith in Christ and not through keeping some Jewish customs. And all believers are unified in Jesus Christ, and cultural or national differences shouldn’t affect their fellowship. Peter must have responded well to Paul’s rebuke because he referred to “our dear brother Paul” (2 Pt. 3:15) in one of his letters.

Peter contributed to racial divisions within the church. He had been mixing freely with Gentiles, but when some Jews arrived from Jerusalem who insisted that circumcision was required for believers in Christ, Peter began avoiding the uncircumcised Gentile believers. Paul called Peter a hypocrite for following the law of Moses. But because of Paul’s bold confrontation, the behavior was corrected and Peter went on to serve God in unity amongst all races and nations.

This incident shows us that even mature Christians can lapse into sinful behavior.

So Peter failed when he discriminated against Gentiles.

Peter’s failures

Peter was a follower of Jesus who failed big-time. He was corrected by God, Jesus, and Paul! We’ve looked at seven instances where Peter failed. It was a habit of his. He failed when he misunderstood Jesus. Peter failed when he sinned. His main sin was self-confidence. His failures and sins had painful consequences.

David Reynolds 1 400pxIn October David Reynolds led for most of the Bathurst 1000 car race. But when he spun the rear tyres at a pit stop, he was given a penalty that moved him to seventh place. This failure had a consequence.

When Paul reminded the Christians of when the Israelites failed in Old Testament times, he said, “So, if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall” (1 Cor. 10:12). He didn’t want them to repeat Israel’s mistakes. It’s a warning to the self-confident like Peter. A warning that spiritual pride often leads to a spiritual fall. A spiritual failure. It’s a warning to those who think they are spiritually strong. For example, Elijah had a great victory over the prophets of Baal, but soon after he was running away from queen Jezebel.

But Peter’s failure didn’t define him. Although it’s recorded in the Bible, it wasn’t the end of Peter. It didn’t stop him from being a leader in the early church. He was not rejected by Jesus.

But how did Peter survive failure?

Peter’s transformation

After Peter publicly denied knowing Jesus he repented and was restored to fellowship with the Lord. This restoration was recognized publicly after Christ’s resurrection. Three times Peter answered Jesus, “Lord, you know that I love you” (Jn. 21:15-19). Jesus accepts this declaration, restores him to fellowship and commissions him for service by saying “feed my sheep”. The three affirmations matched the three denials. Peter learnt to be humble; he said “Lord, you know all things” (Jn. 21:17). And he told others to “clothe yourselves with humility” (1 Pt. 5:5). Peter served as an apostle and a church elder (1 Pt. 5:1-4). Through Jesus, Peter learnt that failure isn’t final.

Peter was restored to service because of his repentance. God used him mightily in the early church. He preached the first sermon when the church began on the day of Pentecost and 3,000 people decided to follow Jesus. He was courageous; he was put in jail more than once for proclaiming that Jesus had risen from the dead.

Jesus chose Peter knowing that he would fail and knowing that he would be restored. God used Peter’s failure and sin to strengthen his faith and build him up for service in the early church. It cured him of his excessive self-confidence. Jesus can transform failures into followers. Like Peter we all fail and we all sin in some way. But like Peter we can be transformed from failure to following Jesus once again. Like him we can be former failures, and not final failures.

Billy Monger 6 400pxBilly Monger is a British car racing driver. In April 2017 he was involved in a high speed crash and had the lower part of both of his legs amputated. It seemed like that was the end of his career. But in 2018 he recommenced driving a Formula 3 car with hand controls. It was a great recovery.

Now that we’ve looked at how Peter survived failure, we need to consider “How can we survive failure?”. There’re two answers to this question. The first is to ensure our failures aren’t fatal. And the second is dealing with ongoing failures.

How to ensure our failures aren’t final

Judas Iscariot failed and sinned when he betrayed Jesus. But his failure was final and fatal. How can we escape this fate? The process is summarized in this diagram.
Failure not final 1– Failure and sin separates us from God and puts us under His judgment, and if we do nothing about this separation and judgment, it is final and hell is our ultimate destiny. Although failure is an event and not a destiny, in this case it leads to a destiny. To not trust on Christ is a fatal failure and a fatal sin.
– The first step to fix the problem is to be convicted of our failure and sin. It involves recognizing it. We may feel guilty or sorry. For example, after he was confronted, the man who had been sexually immoral at Corinth was very sorry about his behavior (2 Cor. 2:7).
– The next step is to confess our failure and sin to God. It means admitting that we are wrong.
For example, David confessed his adultery, deceit and murder (Ps. 32:5).
– The next step is repentance, which is a change of behavior where our change of attitude is shown in our actions. It’s like doing a U-turn in a car to go in the opposite direction. For example, the prodigal son stopped his wild living and travelled back to his father. He remembered that his father still loved him. We cannot become a follower of Jesus without conviction, confession and repentance. That’s the way to respond to failure and sin.
– Then God promises to forgive all our failures and sins, in the past, the present and the future. Peter preached, “Repent … and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). God is a judge of all those who have never trusted in Him. This judicial forgiveness removes the barrier to heaven. It is when an unbeliever comes to faith in Christ. If we acknowledge our sinfulness and believe that Jesus paid the penalty for us, then we are viewed as God’s children. Jesus died for all our failures, weaknesses, and sins. Have you experienced this kind of forgiveness? If not, why not start following the Lord by confessing your sins and trusting Christ as Savior?
– After our failures and sins have been dealt with, we have peace with God and are reconciled with God. And heaven is our ultimate destiny, where all our failures are forgotten.

Now we have ensured our failures aren’t fatal, how can we deal with ongoing failures?

Dealing with ongoing failures

James says that teachers “all stumble in many ways” (Jas. 3:2). This applies to us as well.
Note the words “all” and “many”. Everyone fails sometime. And there are many ways to fail. In this passage, James addresses failures caused by the words we speak. The principle of this verse is that a sense of failure and sinfulness is necessary for our spiritual health.

The Bible says that Christians cannot grow as followers of Jesus without regular conviction, confession and repentance of their failures and sins. For a Christian, all sin has been dealt with by the death of our Savior. Paul said, “There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus” (Rom. 8:1). But God allows us to fail so our faith can be strengthened. That’s what happened to Peter. He did more for Jesus Christ after his failures than he did before. His pride and self-confidence were replaced with humility and confidence in God and determination to serve Him.

The process for dealing with our ongoing failures is summarized in this diagram, which is similar to the previous one. Sin causes failures and spoils a believer’s relationship with God.Ongoing failures

Conviction. The first step is to admit our failures and sins instead of excusing them. Peter was convicted after he denied the Lord three times. The Bible says he wept bitterly (Mt. 26:75).

Confession. The next step is to confess our failure and sin (1 Jn. 1:9). David said, “I have sinned against the Lord” (12 Sam. 12:13). Christians need to do this regularly. It means admitting our failures and sins and confessing them so our relationships can be restored with each other and with God. If we examine ourselves and get right with God, we will not come under His discipline. That’s why the Christian life should be full of confession. So our fellowship with the Lord can be restored. The Christian life is full of restarts. Each of these involves conviction of sin, confession of sin, repentance to put things right, and then putting our failures behind us and moving ahead.

Repentance. The next step is to change direction and turn around to follow God once again. It involves completely changed attitudes and behavior. It is more than confessions or remorse. The Bible says it’s having a new heart and a new spirit (Ezek. 18:30-32). The churches in Revelation were urged to repent (Rev. 2:5, 16; 3:3, 19).

Forgiveness. After we are convicted and confess and repent, God offers forgiveness. He has great mercy. David was told “The Lord has taken away your sin” (2 Sam. 12:13). God is a Father of all those who have trusted in Him. This parental and family forgiveness restores a believer’s fellowship with God after it has been broken by failure and sin. The Bible says, “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1:9).

Restoration. Once we are forgiven, we are restored to following Christ once again.
This should be a time for celebration, like when the prodigal son returned home (Lk. 15:22-24).

Tiger Woods 4 400pxUp to 2013 golfer Tiger Woods won 79 titles. But then he struggled with personal problems and injuries. He was divorced in 2010 and his fourth back surgery was in April 2017. Many people had written him off. But in a great comeback he won the Atlanta title in September 2018.

The Bible says that Abraham, Moses, Elijah, David, and Peter all failed God at some time; but they recovered from this to serve God in mighty ways. For them, failure was an event, but not a destiny.

Lessons for us

We have seen that failure is a normal part of life. It’s not unusual. We should expect to fail from time to time. Failure is a fact of life.

Google+ 4 100pxEven Google has failures. In 2011, Google launched Google+, which was supposed to be the next big social network. I was thinking of posting on it with links to my blog, like I do on Twitter. But Google+ was a flop and it’s being closed down.

The ability to handle failure is a vital part of our spiritual life and a sign of maturity. Fear of failure shouldn’t dominate our mind. The Bible says we are all sinners and prone to failure, but in Christ we can become overcomers.

Failure doesn’t disqualify us, even if we’ve been following Jesus for some time. God gives us another chance.

Peter was very good at failing, but he was even better at not giving up. Through his failures, Peter refused to throw in the towel. He learned from his bad decisions and allowed God to shape and mould his character. So next time you’re feeling down about yourself, remember Peter. Take a deep breath and try again.

Let’s learn from our failures and mistakes. These teach us how much we need God and His mercy in our lives. God can use failure to do spiritual housecleaning. Peter laid down his pride and put on the Holy Spirit’s courage. Remember that God sees beyond our faults and failures. If we have failed, God can make us useful again. And he continues to call us to serve Him.

Parents, let your children fail. Just as God lets us fall flat on our faces so that we may become stronger, we must allow our children the privilege of failing, too. And when they do fail, be ready to forgive them as God forgives us. For that is God’s answer to human failure.

Conclusion

So, failure isn’t final. No matter how we feel, it’s not the end. If Peter can fail, we can fail. If Peter can be restored, we can be restored. There is hope for us all.

Remember our car that was written off? It was taken to the insurer’s yard of damaged vehicles. Then it was probably sold to someone who repaired it and it’s probably still driving around today. It was restored.

Capstone-CollegeThe students at Capstone College in Poatina in Tasmania struggled at high school. Because of negative experiences, they hated school and found excuses to do other things instead. Their attendance record was poor – they were absent more than present. They were failures as students. But this failure wasn’t final or permanent or set in stone. Things have changed. They are now happy to attend school at Capstone College. Because of Capstone College, their life has turned around.

And failure needn’t be final for us also. Through Jesus, our life can turn around. The gospel solution to surviving failure is that God offers us forgiveness and restoration, and now we must confess our failures and sins to Him. So because Jesus died to pay the cost of our failures, failure isn’t final. Because of Jesus, failure isn’t final. Through Jesus, failure isn’t final. That’s how to survive failure.

Written, December 2018


Making a difference

Making a difference 2 400pxLast week I assisted with “Made to make a difference”, a Holiday Camp for children with difficult family situations. The children were encouraged to reach beyond their situation to help others. To change the world! They were taught that they were to make a difference and that they have unique gifts and abilities that can be used to help others. That’s what God created them for. And they were encouraged to be all that God created them to be. Is this post we look at the vision and culture that set the tone of this Holiday Camp.

The vision

God says, “It’s in Christ that we find out who we are and what we are living for” (Eph. 1:11Message). Our vision is to see people eternally saved, free in Christ, and inspired and empowered to be all that God has created them to be. We want children to have a relationship with Jesus Christ and to realize that they are loved, believed in and created for a purpose. God has given them gifts, talents and abilities to change the world.

We want children to be able to declare: I am a nation changer! I have been designed and created to change the world. God is my wisdom, courage and strength. He has given me gifts, talents and abilities to use to glorify Him. I am loved. I am saved. I have a purpose. It’s in Jesus Christ that I find out who I am and what I am living for. I am a child of the most High King and it’s in Him that I find my worth. Because of this, I will aim to make good choices in life.

The culture

Those caring for the children at the Holiday Camp were encouraged to behave according to the following culture.

Can do attitude. I will be a part of the solution, never the problem. “I can do everything through Christ, who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13NLT).

This is not a job, it’s a calling. “For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope” (Jer. 29:11).

Serving the Lord with gladness. Not being ruled by our minimum, think answers not problems. “Always be joyful. Never stop praying. Be thankful in all circumstances, for this is God’s will for you who belong to Christ Jesus” (1 Th. 5:16-18).

Empowerment starts with me. Being uncomplicated, avoiding I don’t knows, pulling people up, not down. “And Nehemiah continued, ‘Go and celebrate with a feast of rich foods and sweet drinks, and share gifts of food with people who have nothing prepared. This is a sacred day before our Lord. Don’t be dejected and sad, for the joy of the Lord is your strength!’” (Neh. 8:10).

Gossip is ugly. Keep it light. “But the wisdom from above is first of all pure. It is also peace loving, gentle at all times, and willing to yield to others. It is full of mercy and the fruit of good deeds. It shows no favoritism and is always sincere. And those who are peacemakers will plant seeds of peace and reap a harvest of righteousness” (Jas. 3:17-28).

Bringing people around you on the journey. Bad reflections bite you in the butt, be careful where you dump. If you want to be honored, be honoring. “The tongue can bring death or life; those who love to talk will reap the consequences” (Prov. 18:21).

I am the culture. I am the atmosphere. We all affect the spiritual culture at Camp. “Work willingly at whatever you do, as though you were working for the Lord rather than for people” (Col. 3:23).

My tone of voice is not whiny. Not playing emotional games of silence, speaking words of life and encouragement. “Serve the Lord with gladness; Come before Him with joyful singing” (Ps. 100:2NASB).

I delegate but I don’t dump. Being aware of the real worlds that people work in. “Don’t be misled—you cannot mock the justice of God. You will always harvest what you plant. Those who live only to satisfy their own sinful nature will harvest decay and death from that sinful nature. But those who live to please the Spirit will harvest everlasting life from the Spirit. So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Gal. 6:7-9NLT).

My spirituality is attractive. Loving Jesus, sensitive to the Holy Spirit, forming a deliberate family. “Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor. 13:13).

I demonstrate Christ’s love in every situation. I love like Jesus. “Christ’s love controls us” (2 Cor. 5:14). “Dear children, let’s not merely say that we love each other; let us show the truth by our actions” (1 Jn. 3:18).

I welcome children. I affirm their worth, dignity and significance. “One day some parents brought their children to Jesus so He could touch and bless them. But the disciples scolded the parents for bothering Him. When Jesus saw what was happening, He was angry with His disciples. He said to them, “Let the children come to me. Don’t stop them! For the Kingdom of God belongs to those who are like these children. I tell you the truth, anyone who doesn’t receive the Kingdom of God like a child will never enter it.” Then He took the children in His arms and placed His hands on their heads and blessed them” (Mk. 10:13-16).

Summary

Although this vision and culture applied to a children’s Holiday Camp, it can apply elsewhere as well. We were all made to make a difference. So let’s practice our purpose by developing a relationship with Jesus Christ, realizing that we are loved, helping the needy, and encouraging others to do the same.

Acknowledgement: The content of this blogpost was sourced from Inspiring Hope, a humanitarian organization which exists to inspire the hope of Jesus to a hurting world.

Written, October 2018


Old age and dementia

Aged care 5 400pxThe Australian Government has announced a Royal Commission into the aged care sector. It will primarily look at the quality of care provided to senior Australians in residential-care (nursing homes) and in home-care (aging in own home). The Royal Commission was announced just before Four Corners aired a two-part investigation on TV into the treatment of the elderly in aged-care homes. This included disturbing accounts of overworked staff and neglected residents.

But what does the Bible say about old age and dementia?

Aging is a part of life 

The Bible treats aging as a normal process. Solomon said there is “a time to be born and a time to die” (Eccl. 3:2NIV). In Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 he poetically describes old age (v.1-5) and death (v.6-7). This is a stage in life when we become more dependent on others. If we live long enough, we all grow old and die. Life fades away.

Ecclesiastes 12:1-7 is one long sentence in Hebrew. It’s introduced by saying that old age is characterized by “trouble” (or difficult days) and lack of pleasure (v.1). Then it says that the arms and hands begin to tremble. The legs and knees begin to sag. Teeth are lost, and chewing is more difficult. The eyes are dimmed. Hearing diminishes. Sleep becomes more difficult and one is easily wakened. Singing and music are less appreciated. One becomes more fearful. The hair becomes white. The once active become weak. And the passions and desires of life weaken and wane.

It describes physical deterioration and loss of self-confidence (v.5a). Every part of the body is slowing down and declining—including the brain and the mind—until finally “the silver cord is severed”, “the golden bow is broken”, “the pitcher is shattered at the spring”, and “the wheel broken at the well” (v.6-7).

The elderly and those with dementia are valuable

Because they are made in the image of God, all people are important to God and should be important to us as well. This gives everyone, including  the elderly and those with dementia, dignity which demands our respect. The Bible says that because people are in the image of God, murder is wrong (Gen. 9:6). This implies that because people are in the image of God, euthanasia is also wrong.

All Christians are a child of God and indwelt by the Holy Spirit. This applies to the elderly and those with dementia. God is still with them. Nothing can separate them from the love of God (Rom. 8:35-39).

So the elderly and those with dementia should be valuable to us as well.

God is always good

The Bible says that God is good. No matter our circumstances, God’s character does not change.

When God described how He sustained the Jews He said, “Even to your old age and grey hairs
I [God] am He, I am He who will sustain you.
I have made you and I will carry you;
I will sustain you and I will rescue you” (Isa. 46:4).

So in old age and dementia, God is present and sustains people.

Ultimate healing

Old age and dementia are symptoms of our sinful world, that is characterized by decay. Nothing that is physical lasts for ever. The hope of all Christians is to live eternally in the presence of God where there will be no old age or dementia. No more difficult days. Instead, one day suffering and sickness will be no more (Rom. 8:18-25). God was with us in the past, he is with us in the present, and he will be with us in the future.

So we don’t need to freeze our body after we die in the hope it can be revived and reanimated in future. The only reliable hope for immortality is via the God who designed our bodies and who controls our destinies.

What should be our response to the aged and those with dementia?

Aged care 4 400pxCare and respect

The elderly and those with dementia deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. The Israelites were to respect the elderly like they respected God:
“Stand up in the presence of the aged,
show respect for the elderly
and revere your God. I am the Lord”
(Lev. 19:32). And Jesus showed love and respect to all people. The early church supported orphans and widows (Acts 6:1-6; Jas. 1:26). And the church at Ephesus supported widows without descendants (Eph. 5:3-10).

But what can we do for the elderly and those with dementia? We can show respect by providing for their physical, emotional, social and spiritual needs even though it may be difficult to understand what they are. Christians are urged, “as we have opportunity, let us do good to all people, especially to those who belong to the family of believers” (Gal. 6:9-10). And Jesus says, “whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine [who needed food, drink, hospitality and clothes] you did for me” (Mt. 25:40). This means always being kind and loving.

When supporting the elderly, we can focus on God’s comfort, forgiveness, and promises of love and eternal presence. Early memories are usually retained long into the dementia. If the person has a Christian background, reading the Bible, prayer and gospel songs can give them a sense of comfort and peace and help them feel loved. If we assist them to use all their senses—sight, sound, touch, and smell—spiritual memories will often be awakened. When we help a person feel God’s presence, even for only a moment, we have made a difference in their quality of life. Caregivers need support and respite as well.

What about us?

This reminds us that life is short and uncertain. We need to make the most of opportunities while we can. The time to receive Christ and serve the Lord is while we are still alive, in our right minds and can make a choice. Solomon says, “Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of trouble come … “ (Eccl. 12:1). We will not have the ability to enjoy the blessing of a godly old age and a life of service to God if earlier in life we do not trust in the historical fact that God sent Jesus to remove our barrier to heaven by dying for our sin.

What can we do to prepare for old age? We can ask what spiritual disciplines are regular enough for us that they will “stick” even during dementia? Are we reading, memorizing, and meditating on Scripture; praying to God; singing gospel songs; and serving others? Such practices train us in godliness (1 Tim. 4:7). If we do these regularly, then they will bring motivation and comfort when we are reminded of them in our old age.

Summary

Aging is a part of life. The elderly are valuable. God is always good. And all the ailments of old age and dementia will disappear in heaven.

Meanwhile, our time on earth is limited. Let’s use our abilities and opportunities while we can to respect and care of the elderly and those with dementia.

Written, September 2018


The journey and the destination

Journey 1 400pxRecently I travelled from Australia to Europe to spend time with some family members. It was good to see them after a trip of over 26 hours. The people at the destination made the tiring trip worthwhile.

Before leaving Australia, I attended a funeral where it was said that it’s not our destination that matters, but the journey along the way. This was probably a creative way to say that life is better than death. Or focusing on the present and enjoying the present instead of worrying about what will happen at the end of life.

Bible journeys

Abraham travelled from Mesopotamia to Canaan, a distance of about 1770 km (1100 miles). His descendants, the Israelites, travelled from Egypt to Canaan. This took 40 years and most of the adults died along the way. Later, after their exile in Babylon, the Jews travelled back to Judah. The purpose of these journeys was achieved when the people reached their destination.

Jesus travelled within Palestine preaching the good news about the kingdom of God. Then He travelled to Jerusalem to give up His life sacrificially. After the resurrection and ascension of Christ, Paul and the apostles took missionary journeys across the Roman Empire. For Paul, sometimes the journey was difficult (2 Cor. 11:23-33). Likewise, the purpose of these journeys was achieved at their destinations.

The journey of life

A journey is also a great metaphor for life. Life is a difficult journey and a time of testing, challenges and maybe persecution. Like Job we have many questions about life and its unfairness. But God steers His people through difficult times (Isa. 43:1-7). May God help us trust in Him for what we don’t understand (Job 42:3). And may we take up the opportunities to trust in God’s faithfulness over and over again.

But the busyness of life can distract us from the important things of life like being aware of God’s presence and His willingness to help in times of need. Life is a journey in history, with a past, present and future. As time goes by our present becomes past memories and our final destination comes closer. Death and life after death is our ultimate destination.

Lessons for us

Let’s face the reality of our journey of life. Few of us would think of taking a two-week vacation without any plans as to where we will go or what we will do. But we often forget to consider our personal destination.

Many opinions about this topic are available on the internet. But the best ones are in the Bible because God is the “author” (or “source”) of life (Acts 3:15). And Jesus is the “word of life” and the “bread of life” (Jn. 6:35, 48; 1 Jn. 1:1). These metaphors describe God’s role in physical and spiritual life.

Although the journey of life is better than death, it isn’t better than eternal life. Physical life ends, but spiritual life doesn’t end. And the purpose of life isn’t to enjoy ourselves or accumulate wealth or possessions. Instead our spiritual destination is more important than the journey. Is our future destination secure? At the end of our earthly life journey we will leave everything physical behind. So our enjoyment, wealth, and possessions provide no security for our future destination. But if we put God first instead of material things, we will be rewarded in heaven for the things we do that have eternal value (Mt. 6:19-24). Have we started on that spiritual journey? Do we focus on things of eternal consequence? Do we follow Jesus? Do we help other people to follow Jesus? Do we live by faith, and not by sight (2 Cor. 5:7)? Are we motivated by what lies at the end of the journey (Heb. 11:13-16)? Are we progressing spiritually (2 Cor. 3:18)? Are we becoming more Christ-like (Phil. 1:20-21)?

Written, August 2018


3 essentials of Christian leadership

Cardianl McCarrick 1 400pxPope Francis has accepted the resignation of Cardinal Theodore McCarrick, the former archbishop of Washington, DC following allegations of sexual abuse. This is the latest in a series of sex abuse scandals involving leaders in the Roman Catholic Church. So, what does the Bible say about the behavior of Christian leaders?

The letter of 1 Peter in the Bible shows us how God can help us get through hardship, trials and suffering. In chapter 5, it includes instructions to the elders of churches, which would apply to the leaders of any Christian ministry. This passage is written in the context of suffering. It is preceded by a passage on suffering for being a Christian (4:12-19) and is followed by a reminder to have an eternal viewpoint when they are suffering (5:10).

The passage says “To the elders among you, I appeal as a fellow elder and a witness of Christ’s sufferings who also will share in the glory to be revealed: Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be; not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve; not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock. And when the Chief Shepherd appears, you will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away” (1 Pt. 5:1-4NIV).

It’s a message to those living between the two advents of Christ. The first was when Christ suffered and the second is when He will come in great glory. We live in this time period.

When churches (and ministries) experience persecution and suffering, it is primarily the responsibility of the leaders to provide help, comfort, strength and guidance. Peter urges them to do this in view of the persecution they were enduring. He supports this by saying that he is also a Christian leader (elder). So he’s speaking from experience. He also saw Christ’s crucifixion at the first advent and he told others about it. And he knew that there will be no more suffering when Christ returns in great power and glory to rule over the earth at the second advent and he told others about it.

Main message

The main message was that they were to “be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them” (5:2). Here leaders are likened to shepherds and those they lead are likened to sheep. This is a common biblical metaphor. The shepherd is the dominant leadership metaphor in the Old Testament. As sheep need a shepherd, people need leaders. And Jesus was “the Good Shepherd” (Jn. 10:11).

Peter says to take care of and watch over those you lead like shepherds take care of and watch over their sheep. A shepherd’s care is physical, while a Christian leader’s care is spiritual. Leaders are “shepherds of God’s flock” who do this work for the Good Shepherd. Then he gives them three important characteristics of a Christian leader (or church elder). These are given as three negatives (“not because you must”; “not pursuing dishonest gain “; and “not lording it over those entrusted to you”), each of which is followed by a positive (“but because you are willing”; “but eager to serve”; and “but being examples to the flock”). So Christian leaders are to be:
– willing leaders
– eager leaders, and
– examples to follow.

  1. A willing leader

The Bible says, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them—not because you must, but because you are willing, as God wants you to be” (5:2). There’s a wrong way and a right way to lead. In this case, not reluctantly or under coercion or compulsion, but voluntarily. This is like Paul’s advice on giving, “Each of you should give what you have decided in your heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver” (2 Cor. 9:7). Our attitude is important to God. It’s wrong to lead because there seems to be no alternative or because of exerted pressure.

When Paul was in prison, he sent Onesimus back to his master rather than have Onesimus’ help without the approval of his master; “I did not want to do anything without your (Philemon’s) consent, so that any favor you do would not seem forced but would be voluntary” (Phile. 14). Paul sought the help of volunteers, not those who had no choice in the matter. Likewise, God wants those who lead Christian ministries to do this voluntarily, and not out of a feeling of obligation or a desire of recognition or status. It’s not just a job to do, but a calling from God.

Nehemiah led the project to restore the walls of Jerusalem after they had been ruined for 150 years. His team faced mockery, attacks, distraction and temptation to sin (Neh. 4:3, 8; 6:10-12). Nehemiah understood that God had appointed him to the task and his sense of purpose invigorated the people to follow his leadership despite incredible opposition. God equips Christian leaders to overcome the challenges and obstacles and complete the tasks He’s given them to do.

  1. An eager leader

The Bible also says, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them— … not pursuing dishonest gain, but eager to serve” (5:2). Not greedily looking for reward or recognition or some other benefit, but eager to serve others. They are “not a lover of money” (1 Ti. 3:3). 83% (5/6) of the warnings to the church about greed and the love of money are addressed to leaders (1 Tim. 3:3, 8; Tit. 1:7, 11; Heb. 13:5; 1 Pt. 5:2). They gladly serve without reward or recognition. They are outwardly focused, not self-focused. They desire to give, not get.

In this verse “eager” means ready, prepared, passionate and enthusiastically willing to lead. They anticipate the needs of the people and gladly initiate action to address these. They are eager to lead in a way that Paul was eager to preach the good news about Jesus to the Romans (Rom. 1:15). And in the way that the Christians in Corinth were eager to help needy believers in Jerusalem (2 Cor. 9:2).

  1. An example to follow

The Bible says, “Be shepherds of God’s flock that is under your care, watching over them— … not lording it over those entrusted to you, but being examples to the flock” (5:3). Not as a dictator, tyrant or bully with a desire for power and control. Not like a boss who commands, dominates, intimidates, manipulates and coerces his people. Not like the leaders of Israel who “ruled them harshly and brutally” (Ezek. 34:4). They were interested in themselves and not in the welfare of the people. And not like Diotrephes who loved prominence and expelled from the church those he disagreed with (3 Jn. 9-10). Christian leaders must not abuse their authority.

Recently Hun Sen was re-elected to lead Cambodia in a sham election. The leaders of Cambodia’s main opposition were jailed or exiled, and their party was dissolved and was banned from competing in the election. And independent media in Cambodia is largely silenced. So Cambodia is governed by a dictatorship, not a democracy. And its neighbors (Vietnam, Laos, Thailand and Myanmar) are also governed by repressive regimes.

Instead Christian leaders were to be a model or pattern to follow. Paul told young believers to “set an example for the believers in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith and in purity” (1 Ti. 4:12). And he told the Corinthians to “follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul’s example was not to lord it over others (2 Cor. 1:24). Christian leaders are not to drive God’s people, but to lead them by their examples of mature Christian character. The ancient shepherd walked in front of his sheep and called them to follow him. They showed the sheep which direction to walk.

Jesus told His disciples, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their high officials exercise authority over them. Not so with you. Instead, whoever wants to become great among you must be your servant, and whoever wants to be first must be your slave—just as the Son of Man [Jesus]did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life as a ransom for many” (Mt. 20:25-28). Christian leaders are to serve and give, not demand and get. It’s self-giving, not self-serving.

“Those entrusted to you” are the people that God has given the leader to lead. God specially assigns people to leaders. They are the leader’s sphere of service. The leader is to manage these people for Jesus Christ who is the Chief Shepherd (1 Pt. 5:4).

Lessons for us

If we are a Christian leader, let’s be willing and eager to care for people and be an example they can follow. This means not abusing others like Cardinal McCarrick is alleged to have done or any other form of abuse.

If we are under the authority of Christian leaders, let’s accept their leadership, accept their care, and follow their example (1 Pt. 5:5).

Written, July 2018

Also see:
Old Testament shepherds
New Testament shepherds
The Good Shepherd

The Good Shepherd is always near