Observations on life; particularly spiritual

Posts tagged “Jesus

The benefits of forgiveness

Most of us avoid forgiveness like the plague because we do not want to look at our wounds. Wounds are scary, they are nasty, they are icky, it is why most of us look away when we donate blood. It is way easier to take all of that emotion and channel it into rage at another person.

In a stunning example of forgiveness, the Muslim father of one of two eight-year-old boys killed when a car crashed into a school in Sydney in November 2017 publicly forgave the woman who killed his son. He said, “We have a special message here for the lady that was involved in the accident. We want to sit with her and talk with her and tell her ‘we forgive you’. No retaliation is coming from the family of the boy, they have forgiven”. The boy’s family also disapproved of any harassment of the driver involved in the accident that killed the boys.

This blogpost is a summary of a presentation on Forgiveness by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan. It’s not an easy topic because we live in a broken guilt-driven community. But it shows the benefits of living a forgiven life – forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing.

Forgiveness is a readiness to pardon offenses, to overlook personal wrongs against oneself, and to harbor no desire for retaliation. It implies reconciliation, peace, tolerance and considering others.

According to the Bible, forgiveness brings many blessings. It speaks about God’s act of individual and corporate forgiveness. God gives us the opportunity to ask for forgiveness and to forgive others. Groups and communities can also come to forgiveness. The New Testament also puts a very special emphasis on believer’s mutual forgiveness. God forgives us and asks us to forgive others.

The Bible says to believers, “Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you” (Eph. 4:32NIV). It says:
– God forgives, while believers receive God’s forgiveness. Their guilt is removed and they can live well in this world and in the world to come.
– Believers are commanded to forgive others as God forgave them in Christ Jesus. This is the standard of a forgiven life.

Christian forgiveness is like a coin; it has two sides. One side of the coin is accepting God’s gift of forgiveness. The other side is extending that gift of forgiveness coming from the Lord to others wherever we are. So forgiveness is both a divine gift and a task involving our relationship with others.

Forgiveness is a gift

Forgiveness is a gift from God. The Old Testament uses the following Hebrew words for forgiveness in relation to salvation.

Kapar means “God covering human sins by offering a sacrifice as a substitute for the life of a sinner”. It’s not accepting a sin and saying “that’s alright”, or “let’s forget about it”. It’s an act of God taking everything seriously. Saying sin offends. Sin brings chaos and calamity. Sin has consequences. In the Old Testament, the whole idea of atonement is based on sacrifice; the shedding of blood for the remission of sins. This means that sin is a serious offence. Forgiveness is a serious virtue which God is providing. The greatest example of this is when Jesus died for our sins and we can accept that offer and be free from the guilt and penalty of our sin.

Nasa means “guilt being taken away from the sinner. It’s removal of the burden of guilt when we accept God’s gift. While sala means the “function of forgiveness”.

Maha expresses God “wiping away” sins and kasa conveys the idea of “covering or concealing the person”. When God judges sin, He protects forgiven sinners.

The New Testament uses the following terms of forgiveness.

Apolyo expresses the analogy of sin as debt and it means “God removing the debt and releasing the sinner from it”. It involves sacrifice, payment and freedom. That’s what we see on the cross of Calvary.

Paresis means God “passing over” sin. God doesn’t consider the days of ignorance, but passes over them. When we come to Jesus, His death, covers everything that we have done. While aphesis conveys God “putting away sin completely and unreservedly”. Forgiveness brings us to an unconditional standing with God, including the privileges of God’s kingdom, the privileges of God’s promises, and the privileges of God’s children.

Charizomai expresses “the graciousness of God’s pardon” and God’s “act of blotting out sin” and granting the sinner freedom. God isn’t going to recall our sin; “as far as the east is from the west, so far has He [God] removed our transgressions from us” (Ps. 103:12). Do not live in guilt. If you trust in Jesus Christ, you have peace, reconciliation, and restoration with God. And you can celebrate your life in Christ Jesus. Relax in the presence of God.

So Christian forgiveness is the once-for-all pardon that we receive when we accept God’s promise in Christ Jesus. It’s as simple as that. And it’s also the way to maintain a close living fellowship with our Lord and His people. You forgive yourself and you forgive others and you accept the forgiveness of God. God’s act of forgiveness is a gift of grace that displays God’s love, freedom, deliverance, care, perfection, cleansing and restoration. Forgiveness involves everything that we need to live as children of God.

One of the greatest passages on forgiveness as a gift is, “When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; He has taken it away, nailing it to the cross. And having disarmed the powers and authorities, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them by the cross.” (Col. 2:13-15). This is a summary of the salvation experience. As God has taken away our sin and brokenness, we are called to live for His glory. We not only receive God’s forgiveness, but we must give that forgiveness to others. Then our relationships can be heaven-like. An unforgiving spirit is a weakness.

Karl Bath exclaimed, Christians “live by forgiveness” and every Christian should begin a day with a confession: “I believe in the forgiveness of sins”. At death, one has nothing to confess but “God’s gracious act of forgiveness”. Hence a genuine Christian life is lived in full awareness of forgiveness, accepting that God sees me anew and adopts me anew in His light. Bath recognized that believers are also commanded and enabled by God to be merciful to forgive their debtors, to comfort others, and to outshine the light of forgiveness.

Forgiveness is a task

Giving forgiveness is a command that brings to others what believers have received from God. Christian forgiveness is a gift that commands practice. So it is a task that should be a way of life. Forgiveness frees us from bitterness and replaces bitterness with joy. Forgiving someone brings joy. Christians are commanded, called and enabled to enjoy forgiveness and live daily with its benefits.

Jesus taught that forgiveness is a duty of the forgiven. No limit can be set on the extent of forgiveness and it must be granted without reserve.   Jesus said, “If your brother or sister sins against you, rebuke them; and if they repent, forgive them. Even if they sin against you seven times in a day and seven times come back to you saying ‘I repent,’ you must forgive them” (Lk. 17:3-4). It’s hard isn’t it? But it’s more than this.

In another passage “Peter came to Jesus and asked, ‘Lord, how many times shall I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Up to seven times?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you, not seven times, but seventy-seven times’” (Mt. 18:21-22). Jesus increases it to 77 times a day! That’s a pattern of life.

And Paul wrote, “Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you” (Col. 3:13). The standard that we are to forgive others is the forgiveness of the Lord to us. How many times does the Lord forgive us in one hour? That’s how many times we are to forgive our spouse, our brothers, our sisters, our friends, our neighbors, and those we fellowship with in church. Showing forgiveness is like bringing heaven down to earth.

The condition of forgiveness is repentance and confession on behalf of the offender. But Jesus says that if the offender fails to repent, the offended is not released from the task of forgiving. Jesus said, “This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother or sister from your heart” (Mt. 18:35). Whether someone is repenting or not, we are obliged to forgive them. It’s very difficult.

Jesus said, “if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift” (Mt. 5:23-24). Forgiveness isn’t only when you have done something wrong. It’s also for when someone else has wronged you. That’s what we are commanded to do.

Michael Bird says, “this form of forgiveness does not mean that I do not continue to feel the hurt from someone’s sin. But I forfeit my right to show my hurt at someone’s painful actions”. It’s a choice that we make. At the cross Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing” (Lk. 23:34). That’s love and mercy rather than resentment, anger and a desire for the punishment of His persecuters. Jesus was a model for His followers by willingly forgiving those who persecuted Him.

That’s what Mrs Gladys Staines did after her husband Graham and two sons were burnt to death in India in 1999. She made a choice to forgive them. It’s the choice of the strongest, not the weakest.

Forgiveness is a destiny

Forgiveness is the destiny for human life. The forgiven life that we have been given is going to continue. Believers are going to become like Jesus Christ. The purpose of God’s gift of forgiveness to fallen humans is to create a new being; “to be like God in true righteousness and holiness” (Eph. 4:24). This is Christ-likeness. So forgiveness has implications for this life and the life to come. God’s work of salvation saves sinners from the guilt, penalty, power and the presence of sin to the presence of God. It starts here and takes us to eternity. It’s the same with forgiveness; the healing begins here and brings restoration and freedom and it takes us to eternity to be like Christ in perfection. Forgiveness is a gift given and a task practiced to bring an amazing outcome of wellbeing and wholeness to human existence. This is the ultimate destination of salvation and God’s gift of forgiveness.

The greatest problem in extending forgiveness today is an unforgiving spirit. This can show in many ways. And it can control us. It’s part of our fallen nature. Jesus said, “if you forgive other people when they sin against you, your heavenly Father will also forgive you. But if you do not forgive others their sins, your Father will not forgive your sins” (Mt. 6:14-15). Refusing to forgive doesn’t grant us power. Instead it enslaves us to further sin like bitterness, greed, and discouragement.

Mahatma Ghandi said, “The weak can never forgive. Forgiveness is an attribute of the strong”. For example, God is all powerful and He is happy to forgive us.

And Frederic Luskin of Stanford University exclaims, the spirit of unforgiving is a spirit of timidity. He argues, why are we afraid to let go of our grievances when forgiving can bring healing and wellbeing? He says, unforgiveness is like being trapped in a jail cell of bitterness, serving time for what someone else committed. Forgiveness is something we do for ourselves as well. We are freeing ourselves of burdens by taking power over situations and managing them well to “become a hero rather than a victim”. Otherwise we will feel unnecessarily victimized. Forgiveness makes us heroes, while unforgiveness makes us victims.

The benefits of forgiveness

Many psychological studies have been done on the benefit of forgiveness of others. Luskin calls forgiveness a “trainable skill of the strong”, not the weak. Moreover, he claims that forgiveness “reduced anger, hurt, depression, and stress while increasing feelings of optimism, hope, compassion, physical vitality, self-sufficiency (power), and confidence”. Forgiveness also improves physical and mental health, reducing hypertension.

The IDEA Fitness Journal stated that “people who are forgiving tend to have not only less stress but also better relationships, fewer general health problems and lower incidences of the most serious illness, including depression, heart disease, stroke and cancer”. So forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing.

Lisa Firestone concludes, “forgiveness is the final act of love” and “the greatest gift you can give yourself and someone else in psychology today”. Yes, forgiveness is the most beautiful form of divine-human love that reflects a person’s greatness, goodness, inner wellbeing, soundness, confidence, and wholeness.

So extending forgiveness has tremendous benefits to the self. There are benefits in the forgiven life. Forgiveness is worth it. This is where Christianity excels.

Conclusion

Forgiveness is a gift that God freely lavished on us when we were sinners. And forgiveness is a task that God commanded us to practice in our relationships with others. Forgiveness is an act of love and strength that leads to wellbeing. Finally, forgiveness is the believer’s destiny. God wants them to live well here and in eternity in Christ-likeness. They are being transformed every day into Christ-likeness.

If you have forgiveness, give it! If you don’t have it, you can’t give it! But you can seek the gift of forgiveness which is available through Jesus Christ.

However, if this post doesn’t work for you, you can follow the advice of Oscar Wilde, “Always forgive your enemies. Nothing annoys them so much”!

Acknowledgement: This blogpost was sourced from a presentation by Dr. Xavier Lakshmanan on this topic. Dr. Lakshmanan is Head of Theology in the Australian College of Christian Studies.

Posted, August 2019


Why go to church?

If I chose to sleep in, or to watch church online, or listen to a podcast of the sermon, or to catch up on lectures in the Bible College course I’m doing, or to catch up on some other jobs, or was away for the weekend, or to look after visitors, or to go shopping, I wouldn’t have been at church yesterday. But as I didn’t do any of these things, I was able to share this message on the topic of “Why go to church?”.

We will see that going to church on Sunday is a good habit that has many benefits. After all, what’s more important than worshipping God or spending time with God’s people?

Aspects of life

We can picture parts of our lives as a series of widening circles. First there is our individual life, then our family life, followed by our life in the local church and then our life in the rest of our world. We can have relationships in each of these spheres of life, such as a personal relationship with God, relationships with people in our family, in our church, and in the rest of the world. This post addresses the local church and why it’s good for us to go to church.

What is a church?

The first instance of the word “church” in the Bible is when Jesus said, “I will build my church, and the gates of Hades will not overcome it” (Mt. 16:18NIV). As this happened after Peter said that Jesus was the promised Jewish Messiah, it means that the church was built on the fact that Jesus is the Son of God. The New Testament uses the Greek word for “church” (ekklesia) 114 times, primarily of the local church, but this passage refers to the whole church rather than the local church.

God is building a global church of believers, which is only visible as local churches. The local/universal and visible/invisible aspects of the church are shown in the schematic diagrams:
– The visible part of a local church is comprised of believers and unbelievers. It’s all who attend the local church. Although the majority should be believers, this includes some unbelievers as well.
– Christendom is a collection of visible local churches.
–  The invisible part of the universal church is comprised of all believers in the world, who will be visible when Jesus Christ returns to reign over the earth. The topic of the universal church is outside the scope of this post.

The Bible says that a “local church” is a gathering of people who believe that Jesus is the Son of God and who worship Jesus Christ; who hear the Scriptures together; and who encourage one another in the Christian faith. It’s not the building they meet in. And it’s not a denomination. So the gathered people are the local church. Gathering together is part of what it means to be a Christian.

The Christian life was never meant to be solitary. Many of the biblical metaphors for a church indicate a plurality, such as: a body (comprised of parts and organs), a flock, (comprised of sheep) a house (comprised of living stones), a household (comprised of family members), and a holy nation (comprised of people). The church is a collective group, not an individual person. In the  context of church discipline, Jesus said, “For where two or three gather in my name, there am I with them” (Mt. 18:20). One person can’t be a church! To gather together in the name of Jesus means gathering together to publicly worship Jesus, to serve Jesus, and to help others love Jesus.

The local church is like a spiritual family. The Bible says that God is our Father and other Christians are our brothers and sisters. So the congregation of a local church are spiritual siblings. An extended spiritual family.

Physical children are raised to maturity in a physical family. Likewise, spiritual children of God (believers) should grow to maturity in a spiritual family (the local church). After they are mature they can be mentors in the spiritual family, which is like being a parent.

The beginning and destiny of the church

Before Jesus ascended into heaven, He told the apostles, “you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth” (Acts 1:8). Ten days later, on a Sunday, the Holy Spirit came on the believers who were “all together in one place” (Acts 2:1). We will see that it’s good for believers to be all together in one place on Sunday. Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem until they received the gift of the Holy Spirit. And they obeyed.

This was the beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost, 50 days after the resurrection. After this, the apostles were evangelists that spread the good news about Jesus beginning in Jerusalem and spreading out across the Roman Empire. When there was a group of believers in a town or city, the apostles established a church that met in someone’s house. There were no church buildings in those days. A local church was a gathering of believers.

When they came together, the first church at Jerusalem was devoted to (Acts 2:42-47):
– the apostles teaching, which we now have as doctrine in the New Testament.
– Fellowship, a partnership which included eating together and sharing their possessions. It says, “all the believers were together” (Acts 2:44). Fellowship is being together.
– The Lord’s Supper, which is remembrance of Christ’s death.
– Collective prayer, when they brought their needs to God.
– Praising God, for their salvation.
– Evangelism, as people were being saved and added to the local church.

The church exists on earth from the day of Pentecost (in about AD 33) until the Rapture when all true believers are resurrected, transformed, and transported to heaven. Then the church will be united with Jesus Christ, like a wife and husband at a wedding and the church returns to rule over the earth with Him and share His glory forever (Rev. 19:6-9; 14). That’s why the church has been referred to as the bride of Christ (who is the bridegroom). So the church has a glorious future.

Let’s follow the good examples of the local church in the Bible and make it a priority to be together as a church at least once a week. Remember that church is a collective activity.

Old Testament gatherings

In Old Testament times the Israelites were God’s people. They celebrated three annual festivals when the people gathered (or assembled or met) together (Ex. 23:14-19; 34:23-24; Dt 16:16; 2 Chr. 8:12-13). These were the festival of Unleaven bread (after the Passover), the festival of Weeks (Harvest, Pentecost), and the festival of Tabernacles (Ingathering, Booths). All the men were to attend these occasions. And their families often accompanied them (1 Sam. 1). Distance may have prevented many from attending all three, but most Jews tried to attend at least one festival each year. For example, “Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When He [Jesus] was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom” (Lk. 2:41-42).

Did Jesus go to church?

The Bible says that Jesus is an example for us to follow (Appendix A). And we have seen that He attended Jewish festivals which were national gatherings required by the law of Moses. And Jesus also usually attended the Jewish synagogue on Saturdays (Lk. 4:16). But He didn’t go to church on Sundays because the church didn’t begin until after He ascended back to heaven in about AD 33.

If Jesus didn’t go to church, then what about Paul?

Did Paul go to church?

After Paul became a Christian, he became an evangelist who established new churches. So Paul revealed the truth about the church and he attended and taught at many local churches.

On Paul’s third missionary journey it seems that he stayed at Troas (which is now in Turkey) for seven days in order to attend the local church on Sunday evening (Acts 20:6-7). Apparently, the public meeting of the local church was very important for Paul and the early Christians. Paul taught them until midnight, Eutychus died when he fell from a third story open window, and they celebrated the Lord’s Supper and shared a meal (Acts 20: 7-12). Why did Paul go to church in Troas? It was:
– To celebrate the Lord’s Supper.
– To build up believers by teaching them what a Christian should know and how they should behave.
– To fellowship with and encourage the believers.

Eutychus was a young man who was asleep while God was at work. He was physically present, but spiritually absent. Are we spiritually awake or spiritually asleep? Are we away when God is at work in the local church? Eutychus shows us that it can be dangerous to miss God’s work in the local church.

Reasons for going to church

God said so

The local church belongs to God. It’s “the church of the living God” (1 Tim. 3:15). Through the Bible, God tells believers not to give up meeting together – “let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds, not giving up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but encouraging one another—and all the more as you see the Day approaching” (Heb. 10:24-25). Christians should never stop meeting together. Particularly as we approach the rapture of believers to be with the Lord. In this case they were reverting to Judaism, which is apostacy. So there is a biblical basis for corporate assembling together as Christians.

It’s significant that the recipients of this letter were under the threat of persecution. Public church attendance could open them up to abuse. The command indicates that the benefits of attendance outweigh any possible threat.

Furthermore, every letter in the New Testament assumes Christians are members of local churches. And because believers are part of the universal church, if it is possible, they should be part of a local church. After all, in the Bible the same Greek word ekklesia is used for both the universal church and the local church, with the meaning being determined by the context. Believers go to church because they are part of God’s invisible church.

Why don’t we obey this command? Are we too busy, or too tired? Would we rather sleep in?
Do we have guests visiting?

So we go to church because God said so.

To praise and worship God

The Bible says that Spirit-filled believers speak “to one another with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit” (Eph. 5:19). And with psalms, hymns, and songs from the Spirit believers should sing to God with gratitude in their hearts (Col. 3:16). If Paul and Silas sang hymns to God in a prison, they would have sung them in the local church as well (Acts 16:25).

The gathering of the church to praise and worship God is a foretaste of our worship in heaven. In eternity, believers will worship with all of God’s people before the Lord.

So we go to church to praise and worship God.

To remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper

With regard to the Lord’s Supper, Jesus said “do this in remembrance of me” (1 Cor. 11:24-25). Obeying this commandment helps us remember our Savior’s supreme sacrifice for our sins on the cross. It makes us examine ourselves to make sure that we have confessed all of our sins against the Lord and against one another.

The Lord’s Supper also helps us look at the big picture of Gods’ plan of salvation. What God has done in the past and what He will do in the future.

So we go to church to remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper.

To strengthen our Christian faith

Just as Jesus and Paul taught people what they needed to know and do, teaching from the Bible does the same for us. Church attendance builds us up. Paul said, “Everything must be done so that the church may be built up” (1 Cor. 14:26). At church, Christians help other Christians who struggle with their faith.

The Bible says that church attendance helps us to stir  one another up to love and good deeds (Heb. 10:24–25). Love is a motive and deeds are actions.

Church attendance also helps prevent backsliding and apostasy. Without regular participation in corporate worship, one tends to drift spiritually. The fellowship and encouragement experienced at the local church help to vaccinate us against backsliding and apostasy.

Church attendance also reduces exposure to false teaching which is prevalent on the internet. We can trust our teachers in church because the elders keep watch over them. And the local church is “the pillar and foundation of the truth” of the gospel (1 Tim. 3:15). But there’s no quality control on the internet!

And church attendance gives us a sense of purpose. It shapes our vision of the future and gives us hope.

So we go to church to strengthen our Christian faith.

To participate and serve

The Bible says, “Each of you should use whatever gift you have received to serve others, as faithful stewards of God’s grace in its various forms” (1 Pt. 4:10). We are to “Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not people” (Eph. 6:7). And to “serve one another humbly in love” (Gal. 5:13).

The Bible also teaches that each member of the local church has a different gift, just like a body is comprised of different parts (Rom. 12:4-8). Everyone has a purpose in the local church. In fact, the strengths and weaknesses of the members of the local church are intentional, even complementary. Everyone has something that the others don’t have, and we are stronger together than we are apart – that’s called synergy.

.Just like every part of a body has a function, so every believer has a function in the church (Rom. 12:4-8). If you are not there it’s like missing a part of a body. The body suffers and doesn’t operate as well as it should if you aren’t in attendance. It’s like missing a part of a team.

Church is also like a sports team. Missing church is like missing the weekly game. Sports teams struggle when they don’t know who will be there to play. For example, the English cricket team missed James Anderson (because he was injured) when they played and were beaten by Australia last week.

Christ gave you a gift that the church needs. Are you using it?

So we go to church to participate and serve.

To give and receive encouragement

We have been designed to need other Christians to help us keep going in the faith, and we can be an encouragement to others. Paul told the believers in Rome, “I long to see you so that … you and I may be mutually encouraged by each other’s faith” (Rom. 1:11-12).

One of the purposes of gathering together is to “encourage one another” (Heb. 10:24-25). We all need encouragement and going to church can provide that.

So we go to church to give and receive encouragement.

To give and receive prayer

“On their release [from prison], Peter and John went back to their own people [the local church] and reported all that the [Jewish] chief priests and the elders had said to them. When they heard this, they raised their voices together in prayer to God” (Acts 4:23-24). They prayed that Peter and John would continue to speak God’s word “with great boldness” (Acts 4:29). This is example of prayer in a local church.

The local church also enables us to pray for others and others to pray for us. It helps us to consider others and not just focus on ourselves. So it broadens the content of our prayers and our prayers are multiplied as more people are praying than just us.

So we go to church to give and receive prayer.

To share in Christian fellowship

In the book of Acts, we’re told that those who came to faith in the early days “devoted themselves … to  fellowship” (2:42). But we can’t fellowship by ourselves! Instead, we need a Christian community.

As we spend time with one another, we become aware of each other’s needs. This gives us opportunities to help each other. We are to share with believers who are in need (Rom. 12:13).
For example, those in the early church “shared everything they had” so that people’s needs were met (Acts 4:32-35). They donated money to believers in churches where there was poverty (Rom. 15:26; 2 Cor. 8:1-15). Paul encouraged such generosity (2 Cor. 9:6-15). Church is the best place to learn about generosity and to practice generosity.

Everyone is looking for acceptance and a place to belong. Church is a community where we can socialize and support each other. You can make friends, feel a sense of belonging, and build a support network that you can rely on. The church community helps us to “Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn” (Rom. 12:15). And to “Carry each other’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2). If you go to church there will be some “who will show genuine concern for your welfare” (Phil. 2:20). Also, we can practice hospitality by inviting people to a meal after church.

If you’re just watching church or preaching on a screen at home, you miss living in close fellowship with real people. You miss the unity and diversity of a church gathering.

So we go to church to share in Christian fellowship.

To become more Christlike

Church attendance helps our sanctification — our progressive growth in being conformed to the image of Jesus (Rom. 8:29). It is for our general “strengthening, encouragement and comfort” (1 Cor. 14:3), but also in beholding Jesus together: “we all . . . are being transformed into His [Christ’s] image with ever-increasing glory” (2 Cor. 3:18). God loves to change our minds and our hearts. Going to church encourages godly living in an ungodly society.

Church attendance also helps us express the fruit of the Spirit (Gal.5:22-23). It’s easier to show love, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, or gentleness to someone if you see them often.

Church attendance also helps us imitate Christ’s humility (Phil.2:3-8). It’s easier to put the welfare of others above yours if you see them often.

So we go to church to become more Christlike.

To show our love for God and His people

Regular church attendance shows that we love God and love His people (the church). If we say we love the Lord, but neglect fellow Christians (who are called the body of Christ), we are a hypocrite – our actions don’t match our words.

It also shows that we have eternal life. John said, “We know that we [believers] have passed from death to life, because we love each other” (1 Jn. 3:13). It’s a declaration and witness to others that you’re a Christian. When they ask, “What did you do on the weekend?”, you can say “I went to church”. And it’s a great example to your spouse and children (Lk. 6:40).

So we go to church to show our love for God and for His people.

To be involved in spreading the gospel

As the gospel is the foundation and the message of the church, by going to church we can support and be involved in spreading the good news about Jesus.

This can range from a local church ministry to the support of overseas missionaries. And it can be with children, youth or adults. Personal witnessing is also important. If someone is a new or immature Christian it’s good to encourage them to attend a church for their spiritual growth and fellowship.

So we go to church to be involved in spreading the gospel.

Look at all the reasons for going to church: God said so, Praise and worship, Remember Jesus in the Lord’s Supper, Strengthen our faith, Participate and serve, Encouragement, Prayer, Fellowship, Become more Christlike, Show our love for God and His people, and the Gospel. These good reasons are better than the bad ones listed in Appendix B.

Scott Morrison 1 400pxWhen Scott Morrison was asked by the media after his incredible election win in May 2019, ‘what are you going to do tomorrow?’, he answered, ‘I will go to church as usual’. So the Prime Minister of Australia went to church on Sunday after a late Saturday night. And he is a busy man. Can we block out Sunday mornings (or whenever our local church meets) in our calendars to go to church? And don’t let Saturday night keep you away from church.

Excuses for not going to church

It’s clear that the Bible teaches that regular church attendance is a normal part of following Jesus. The Bible also gives examples of some who gave an excuse instead of following Jesus (Lk. 9:57-62).

57 As they were walking along the road, a man said to Him [Jesus], “I will follow you wherever you go.” 58 Jesus replied, “Foxes have dens and birds have nests, but the Son of Man [Jesus] has no place to lay His head.”

59 He said to another man, “Follow me.” But he replied, “Lord, first let me go and bury my father.” 60 Jesus said to him, “Let the dead bury their own dead, but you go and proclaim the kingdom of God.”

61 Still another said, “I will follow you, Lord; but first let me go back and say goodbye to my family.” 62 Jesus replied, “No one who puts a hand to the plow and looks back is fit for service in the kingdom of God.”

The excuses used by these three men were:
– Lack of security (one man didn’t want to adopt an itinerant lifestyle).
– Put it off (one man wanted to wait until after their father’s death and burial). This was a delaying tactic.
– Family commitments (one man wanted to go back and say goodbye to his family, which could also be a  delaying tactic, or could cause him to change his mind about following Jesus).

They were like a man plowing a crooked furrow with oxen. As they didn’t have GPS in those days, to dig a straight furrow they needed to keep aiming for a distant target. But if they looked in another direction, the plough would turn and deviate from the straight line.

And Jesus told a parable to some Jewish religious leaders about an invitation to a banquet (Lk. 14:16-20):

16 Jesus replied: “A certain man was preparing a great banquet and invited many guests. 17 At the time of the banquet he sent his servant to tell those who had been invited, ‘Come, for everything is now ready.’

18 “But they all alike began to make excuses. The first said, ‘I have just bought a field, and I must go and see it. Please excuse me.’

19 “Another said, ‘I have just bought five yoke of oxen, and I’m on my way to try them out. Please excuse me.’

20 “Still another said, ‘I just got married, so I can’t come.’

The excuses used by these three men were:
– Possessions (one man wanted to visit a new field).
– Work (one man wanted to try out five new yoke of oxen).
– Family (one man was married recently).

Similar excuses can be given for not going to church.

Christianity is not a choose-your-own path religion. The people we are to associate with have already been chosen for us. We have a ready-made extended spiritual family in the local church.

Discussion

Is church just something to do on Sunday morning when there is nothing else going on? If church is optional, we set up our family to backslide and fail in the Christian life.

If you haven’t trusted in Jesus yet, then you don’t have God’s help in your individual life, in your family life, or in your relationships with the rest of the world. What excuses are you using for not looking into following Jesus? Don’t put it off any longer, but talk to someone about it today.

When you become a follower of Jesus, you also can have the extended family of the local church to help you in all these aspects of life.

A survey on why Americans go to church found that the top three answers were: so that they will be closer to God; so their children will follow God; and so they will become more like God. In another survey, sermons; programs for children and teenagers; and community outreach and volunteer opportunities were the top reasons for attending church. And it’s been said that the three highlights of a Christian’s life should be:
– Sharing the Lord’s Supper.
– Listening to the message from God in the Bible.
– Exercising their spiritual gifts in service for Christ.
These are done best in the local church.

Disciples are those who are committed to following Jesus in the Christian faith. Marriage is another commitment. But marriages don’t always last.
In Australia about 36% of marriages end in divorce and in the US it’s about 45%. The average marriage in Australia lasts for about 12 years. Going to church can help us remain faithful to the Lord.

Don’t come occasionally to church. Don’t just come when you feel like it. Make weekly church attendance your first priority and let it be a good habit that becomes a part of who you are.

On Sunday mornings you can either make a bad habit of being lazy and doing things that have nothing to do with God. Or you can make a good habit of waking up and participating in a godly church even when you don’t feel like it.

Of course, church is not just a place to go, rather it is a living body where God wants you to become a part–for your good and for His glory. Christ is committed to the church like a husband is committed to his wife. The church is called the bride of Christ. What’s our commitment to the local church? Is it like being married, or are we just dating?

Conclusion

Attending church with God’s people was top priority for the apostle Paul. It should be likewise for us. If we are often absent from church, what’s getting our attention instead? Is it family, or education, or work, or hobbies, or recreation, or something else? These can be idols when they take us away from being at church.

On Sunday, let’s go to church. Going to church on Sunday is a good habit that has many benefits. After all, what’s more important than worshipping God or spending time with God’s people?

Appendix A: The examples of Jesus and Paul

Instead of being selfish, Paul put the welfare of others first because he didn’t want to hinder their spiritual growth. He said, “Follow my example, as I follow the example of Christ” (1 Cor. 11:1). Paul and Jesus are examples of people who put others first.

Appendix B: Some bad reasons for going to church

Here are some bad reasons for going to church:
Out of duty/obligation
To get my needs met
To feel good; get inspired
To perform
To find a boy/girl friend or spouse
For what I can get out of it
To find clients for my business
To be entertained
For my social life
To justify my sin
To get right with the Lord
Because the preacher is popular
So God will bless my finances
So God will bless my health
To maintain family relationships
They have lots of programs
They have a school
The number of people who attend
Because everyone else does
To make God happy
The building and facilities

Written, August 2019


How to overcome fear

Jesus calms a storm

Fear is a response to a perceived threat or danger. Some common fears are of spiders, snakes, heights, flying, dogs, thunder and lightning, injections, public speaking, being alone, darkness, death, failure, rejection, the future, terrorist attacks, nuclear war and germs.

This post looks at when Jesus’ disciples were afraid of drowning in a storm, which is described in the Bible. We will see that because everything is under God’s control, Christians can trust in God no matter how bad the circumstances instead of suffering from fear and anxiety.

Text

This event is described in Mark 4:35-5:1 (NIV):

35 That day when evening came, He [Jesus] said to His disciples, “Let us go over to the other side [of the lake].” 36 Leaving the crowd behind, they took Him along, just as He was, in the boat. There were also other boats with Him. 37 A furious squall came up, and the waves broke over the boat, so that it was nearly swamped. 38 Jesus was in the stern, sleeping on a cushion. The disciples woke Him and said to Him, “Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?”

39 He got up, rebuked the wind and said to the waves, “Quiet! Be still!” Then the wind died down and it was completely calm.

40 He said to His disciples, “Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?”

41 They were terrified and asked each other, “Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!”

1 They went across the lake to the region of the Gerasenes.

Other versions of this event are given in Matthew 8:18, 23-27 and Like 8:22-25.

Context

Author: John Mark was a close associate of Peter. The book of Mark is Mark’s version of what Peter preached about Jesus (Acts 10:37).

Audience: The book of Mark was written to Gentile believers.

Content: Mark is an account of the life of Jesus Christ. These events occurred before the beginning of the church on the day of Pentecost.

When written (complied): The book was written by 60AD, but it describes events that occurred about AD 30.

What happened before? – Before the incident, Jesus taught a crowd of people near the Sea of Galilee using four parables.

What happened afterwards? – After this incident, Jesus healed a demon-possessed man.

Sea of Galilee: A lake in northeast Israel that is 13 km (8 miles) wide and 21 km (13 miles) long with an area of 167 km2 (64 square miles).

How did God communicate to people in those days? In AD 30 it was via Jesus, the Son of God. And in AD 60 it was via the apostles.

What happened?

When they were with Jesus in a boat crossing the Sea of Galilee, the disciples were afraid of drowning because huge waves were breaking over the boat. So they woke Jesus from His sleep and pleaded for His help. Then Jesus calmed the storm by commanding it to stop. He also rebuked the disciples for their lack of trust in Him. The disciples were amazed of Jesus’ power over the forces of nature.

What did it mean then?

What is the main point?

Jesus replaced their fear with peace and amazement. The solution came from the God who created nature, including humanity. It came from a divine source, not a human one.

What other things did we notice?

Jesus allowed them to experience a fearful situation and then removed the source of the fear.

The incident also showed Christ’s humanity (He slept in the stern of the boat) and deity (He calmed the storm).

The storm (of wind and waves) stopped suddenly and completely. It was a miracle showing Christ’s power over nature (1 of 9 in the gospels, see Appendix A). It proved that Jesus was the Son of God (Mk. 1:1). Only God can calm a storm (Ps. 107:23-30).

Jesus’ authority over creation raised a question for the disciples about who He was exactly (“Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey Him!”). This verse shows that the disciples followed Jesus even though they did not know all about Him yet.

What does it mean now?

What has changed since when Jesus lived?

How has the Bible changed? We now have the New Testament. And since then Jesus has returned to heaven and sent the Holy Spirit to indwell all believers. Although they had the physical presence of Jesus, we have the spiritual presence of the Holy Spirit. And although Jesus taught about the new covenant, He lived under the old covenant.

Who are God’s people today? Believers in Jesus Christ. They are called Christians, or the church. They can be from any nation – Jews have no special privileges, and Gentiles have no special barriers. They live under the new covenant and not under the old one.

What is the main point?

Like the disciples, we can be afraid or anxious sometimes about things like the unknown or a challenging situation. But instead of fear and anxiety, believers should trust in God’s promises for them in the Bible. Through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful – “For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid (fearful), but gives us power, love and self-discipline” (2 Tim. 1:7). This power is greater than we can imagine – “Now to Him [God] who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power [the Holy Spirit] that is at work within us” (Eph. 3:20).

Prayer is helpful in overcoming all types of fear:
– “Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus” (Phil. 4:6-7).
– “Cast all your anxiety on Him [God] because He cares for you” (1 Pt. 5:7).

Lessons for us

What is the application to unbelievers?

The first step to an anxiety-free mind is to give your life to Jesus Christ. Then you can trust in God’s promises.

What is the application to believers?

Jesus is all-powerful. He has power over all creation (nature). God cares for His followers. He is preparing a place for them in heaven (Jn. 14:2-3). Meanwhile, they should trust in God no matter how bad the circumstances. He has power to help us. Paul said, “I can do all this [endure difficulties] through Him [Jesus Christ] who gives me strength” (Phil. 4:13). The challenge is to face our fears by trusting the Lord through it all.

Conclusion

God has awesome power because He controls all the forces of nature. Other demonstrations of God’s power are His creation of the universe, Jesus’ miracles and Christ’s resurrection from the dead. It’s comforting to know that everything is under God’s control. Because of this Christians can trust in God to help them no matter how bad the circumstances, instead of suffering from fear and anxiety.

Appendix A: Miracles showing Christ’s power over nature

Calming the storm (Mk. 4:37 – 5:1)
Walking on water (Mk. 6:48-51)
Feeding the 5,000 (Mt. 4:15-21)
Feeding the 4,000 (Mt. 15:32-38)
Coin in fish’s mouth (Mt. 17:24-17)
Fig tree withered (Mt.21:18-22)
Large catch of fish (Lk. 5:4-11)
Water turned into wine (Jn. 2:1-11)
Another large catch of fish (Jn. 21:1-11)

Appendix B: What the Bible says about fear

There are three types of fear: protective, chronic (anxiety), and respectful.

These passages are from the books of the Bible written to the early church; Acts to Revelation inclusive.

Courage is the opposite of fear; it’s the ability to face danger without fear.

Christians are commanded to be courageous against dangers and difficulties
– 1 Corinthians 16:13 Be on your guard; stand firm in the faith; be courageous; be strong.

Through the Holy Spirit, Christians can be courageous when others are fearful
– 2 Timothy 1:7 For the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid (fearful), but gives us power, love and self-discipline.

Christians don’t fear God’s judgment because Jesus has paid the penalty
– 1 John 4:18 There is no fear in love. But perfect love drives out fear, because fear has to do with punishment. The one who fears is not made perfect in love.

If you do what’s right, then there is no need to fear those who are in authority
– Romans 13:3 For rulers hold no terror for those who do right, but for those who do wrong. Do you want to be free from fear of the one in authority? Then do what is right and you will be commended.

Prayer is helpful in overcoming all types of fear
– Philippians 4:6-7 Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
-1 Peter 5:7 Cast all your anxiety on Him because He cares for you.

Christians don’t fear death because it brings them closer their Savior. In fact, Jesus frees believers from the fear of death
– Hebrews 2:14-15 Since the children have flesh and blood, He too shared in their humanity so that by His death He might break the power of him who holds the power of death—that is, the devil—and free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death.

Believers are commanded to revere and respect God
-1 Peter 2:17 Show proper respect to everyone, love the family of believers, fear God, honor the emperor.
– Hebrews 12:28 Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and awe.

Paul respected the Lord as He is the one to whom Christians are accountable when they are rewarded at the judgement seat of Christ
– 2 Cor. 5:11 Since, then, we know what it is to fear the Lord, we try to persuade others.

Let’s bring all our fears to the Lord in prayer so we can exercise protective fear when we are aware of danger and not lapse into chronic fear based on assumed dangers. Although we shouldn’t be afraid, healthy fears help us live godly lives. And most important of all, let’s be aware of God and Christ so we can practice respectful fear until it is part of our character.

Written, July 2019

Also see: Three types of fear


Nineveh experienced God’s mercy and justice

The ancient city of Nineveh was located on the east bank of the Tigris River near the site of the modern city of Mosul in northern Iraq. Nineveh was an important junction for commercial routes crossing the Tigris on the great highway between the Mediterranean Sea and the Indian Ocean, thus uniting the East and the West. It received wealth from many sources, so that it became one of the greatest of all the region’s ancient cities, and the capital of the Assyrian Empire.

According to the Bible, Nineveh was established in about 2000 BC (a round number) by Nimrod, a great-grandson of Noah (Gen. 10:11). It or Assyria are mentioned in the Bible books of Psalms 83 (~980BC), Jonah (~750BC), Hosea (~720BC), 2 Kings 19 (~700BC), Isaiah (~700BC), Micah (~700BC), Zephaniah (~630BC) and Nahum (~620BC). The Assyrian kings mentioned in the Bible reigned between 745BC and 627BC.

As Assyria is only mentioned in a list of nine enemies, it seems that it wasn’t a major threat to Israel in the 10th century BC (Ps. 83:5-8). But from 900 to 600 BC the Assyrian Empire expanded, conquered and ruled the Middle East, including Mesopotamia, Egypt, the eastern coast of the Mediterranean, and parts of today’s Turkey, Iran and Iraq. They were famous for their cruelty and fighting prowess and they used war chariots and iron weapons, which were superior to bronze weapons.

Assyria is not known to have come in contact with Israel until the reign of Jehu, who paid tribute to Shalmaneser II in 842BC. But Assyria was a major enemy of Israel and Judah in the 8th century BC. According to the Bible, the Assyrians threatened and attacked the kingdoms of Israel and Judah from ~790BC (2 Ki. 15:19) to ~710BC (2 Ki. 20:6) and to ~690BC (2 Chron. 33:11).

The Assyrians invaded the kingdom of Israel and after the fall of Samaria in 722BC, they brought people from Mesopotamia and Aram (Syria) to settle in Samaria (Ezra 4:2). God used the Assyrians to capture the kingdom of Israel.

Sennacherib nearly captured Jerusalem in 700BC but “the angel of the Lord went out and put to death 185,000 in the Assyrian camp” (2 Ki. 19:35) followed by the assassination of Sennacherib (2 Ki. 18:13 – 19:37; Isa. 36-37).

But in 612BC Nineveh was destroyed  by the Babylonians (Ezek. 32:22-23). And the Assyrian empire then came to an end by 605 BC when they were defeated by the Babylonians in the battle of Carchemish.

As the word “Nineveh” occurs most frequently in the books of Jonah (7 times ) and Nahum (9 times), we will now look at their messages.

Jonah’s warning

In about 750BC, God sent Jonah to Nineveh to warn it of the imminent danger of divine judgment. Jonah was commanded, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has come up before me” (Jon. 1:1NIV). Nineveh was called a “great city” because it was the largest city if its day, having more than 120,00 inhabitants (Jon. 4:11). But Jonah went in the opposite direction and went through a bad experience! After God got his attention, he was told again, “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you” (Jon. 3:2). This time he obeyed and went to Nineveh and proclaimed “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown” (Jon. 3:4). Then all the people, including the king repented of their wicked ways (see Appendix). After this God “relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened” (Jon. 3:10). This shows that God’s mercy can extend to all people. The repentance of wicked Gentiles was an example for the Israelites to follow.

Jonah was angry that God showed compassion to the Assyrians who lived in Nineveh. But later God told Judah, “I take no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but rather that they turn from their ways and live” (Ezek. 33:11).

We know from history that Nineveh continued for about 140 years before it was destroyed by the Babylonians. So, God’s mercy was shown for 140 years before justice prevailed.

Nahum’s warning

But a while after Jonah’s warning, the people of Nineveh returned to their wicked ways of idolatry, cruelty and pride. The sins of Nineveh included plotting evil against the Lord, cruelty and plundering in war, prostitution, witchcraft, and commercial exploitation (Nah. 1:11; 2:12-13; 3:1, 4, 16, 19).

The book of Nahum, written in about 620BC, is comprised of detailed predictions of the destruction of Nineveh. It says, that God “will not leave the guilty [Assyria] unpunished” (Nah. 1:3). The book ends with the destruction of the city for her oppression, cruelty, idolatry and wickedness. Nahum predicted that the city would never be rebuilt, “Nothing can heal you [Nineveh]; your wound is fatal” (Nah. 3:19). Nineveh was destroyed in 612BC and never rebuilt and within a few centuries it was covered with wind-blown sand. Zephaniah also predicted the Babylonian invasion of Assyria “leaving Nineveh utterly desolate and dry as the desert” (Zeph. 2:13-15). Even the site of Nineveh was lost until it was found by archaeologists in 1845.

Prior to Jonah and Nahum, in about 740-680BC, Isaiah also predicted the demise of Assyria.

Isaiah’s warning

Isaiah said that God would use the Assyrians to devastate the land of Judah as punishment for their sinfulness (Isa. 7:17-25; 10:5-6). And Aram (Syria) and Israel would be invaded as well (Isa. 8:6-10). And that’s what happened in the late 8th century BC.

But God promised to destroy the Assyrians because of their arrogance (Isa. 10:5-34; 14:24-27; 30:27-33; 31:8-9; 37:36-38). And that’s what happened in about 610BC.

Archaeology of Nineveh

In about 700 BC, Sennacherib made Nineveh a truly magnificent city. At this time, the total area of Nineveh comprised about 7 square kilometres (1,730 acres), and fifteen great gates penetrated its walls. An elaborate system of eighteen canals brought water from the hills to Nineveh, and several sections of a magnificently constructed aqueduct were discovered at Jerwan, about 65 km (40 miles) distant. Sennacherib also built a magnificent palace with 80 rooms and incredible sculptured walls. Assyrian rulers celebrated their military victories by having representations of these carved into the walls of their palaces.

The ruins of Nineveh are surrounded by the remains of a massive stone and mudbrick wall dating from about 700 BC. About 12 km in length, the wall system consisted of an ashlar (squared building stones) stone retaining wall about 6 m (20 ft) high surmounted by a mudbrick wall about 10 m (33 ft) high and 15 m (49 ft) thick. The stone retaining wall had projecting stone towers spaced about every 18 m (59 ft). The stone wall and towers were topped by three-step merlons (upright sections of a battlement). There were 15 monumental gateways in the city wall.

Archaeologists unearthed the library of Ashurbanipal in Nineveh with its 22,000 cuneiform inscribed clay tablets in the Akkadian and Sumerian languages and Sennacherib’s annals, which were written on clay hexagonal tablets.

The Bible says that Sennacherib  king of Assyria “attacked all the fortified cities of Judah and captured them” (2 Ki. 18:13). This included Lachish, the second largest city in Judah. The Bible also says that Sennacherib’s forces besieged Jerusalem, but didn’t capture it. Instead “he withdrew to his own land in disgrace” (2 Chron. 32:21). This was confirmed by the records in Sennacherib’s annals, which mention his victories, but not his defeats. The historical records of Assyrian kings and their conquests matched the biblical account. These archaeological discoveries showed that the historical accounts in the Bible were about real kingdoms and real historical figures.

Jesus’s warning

When Jesus rebuked the Jewish religious leaders in about AD 30 He said, “The men of Nineveh will stand up at the judgment with this generation [the Jewish religious leaders] and condemn it; for they repented at the preaching of Jonah, and now something greater than Jonah is here [Jesus]” (Mt. 12:41; Lk. 11:32). After Jonah preached, the Ninevites repented (Jon.3:5-10). But the Jewish leaders criticized Jesus rather than accepting what He said. Because of this at the coming day of judgment the Ninevites will condemn these Jewish leaders for failing to receive someone who was greater than Jonah. As Jesus and His ministry were “greater than Jonah”, they were more worthy of acceptance.

Discussion

In Jonah’s time, the people of Nineveh experienced God’s mercy when they repented of their sins. But a later generation experienced God’s judgment because they failed to repent of their sins.

Peter preached to Jews saying, “Repent, and turn to God, so that your sins may be wiped out” (Acts 3:19). Repentance is a change of mind arising from sorrow for sin and leading to transformation of life. It is the right response to Christ’s death and resurrection and leads to forgiveness of sins (Lk. 24:46-47).

A children’s song says,

Repent, and turn to God,
Repent, and turn to God,
Repent, and turn to God,
And your sins will be wiped out.

Doesn’t matter how many,
Doesn’t matter how bad,
Doesn’t matter how often,
Doesn’t matter how sad,
If you turn to God with a heart that’s true,
This is what He says to you.

Repent, and turn to God,
Repent, and turn to God,
Repent, and turn to God,
And your sins will be wiped out.

Today we all have the choice to either experience God’s mercy (salvation and heaven) through Jesus or God’s judgment (punishment and hell) through ignoring or rejecting Jesus. Meanwhile, God is patient, “The Lord is not slow in keeping His promise [to judge the ungodly], as some understand slowness. Instead He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance” (2 Pt. 3:9). God is delaying this judgment to give people more time to repent of their sinfulness. The judgment of God is inescapable unless we repent and are forgiven (Rom. 2:3). But this judgment can be delayed (Rom. 2:4). It’s wise to accept God’s mercy through Jesus, but dangerous to ignore or reject it.

Here we see two contrasting aspects of God’s character, “Consider therefore the kindness and sternness of God” (Rom. 11:22). God’s mercy, patience and salvation is an example of His kindness. And God’s justice and judgment is an example of His sternness.

Lessons for us

How would people respond today if someone like Jonah urged them to repent and turn to God? That is what Israel Folau did, and he was criticized, rejected and banished. That’s how the Jewish religious leaders treated Jesus.

Who are we like, the Ninevites or the Jewish religious leaders? The repentance of the Ninevites is an example for us to follow. It also shows that God’s mercy through Jesus extends to everyone. But it’s only available to us while we are alive! Let’s access God’s mercy through Jesus today and avoid God’s coming judgment.

Appendix: When the Ninevites repented (Jonah 3)

1Then the word of the Lord came to Jonah a second time: “Go to the great city of Nineveh and proclaim to it the message I give you.”

Jonah obeyed the word of the Lord and went to Nineveh. Now Nineveh was a very large city; it took three days to go through it. Jonah began by going a day’s journey into the city, proclaiming, “Forty more days and Nineveh will be overthrown.” The Ninevites believed God. A fast was proclaimed, and all of them, from the greatest to the least, put on sackcloth.

When Jonah’s warning reached the king of Nineveh, he rose from his throne, took off his royal robes, covered himself with sackcloth and sat down in the dust. This is the proclamation he issued in Nineveh:

“By the decree of the king and his nobles:

Do not let people or animals, herds or flocks, taste anything; do not let them eat or drink. But let people and animals be covered with sackcloth. Let everyone call urgently on God. Let them give up their evil ways and their violence. Who knows? God may yet relent and with compassion turn from His fierce anger so that we will not perish.”

10 When God saw what they did and how they turned from their evil ways [repented], He relented and did not bring on them the destruction He had threatened.

Written, July 2019

Also see other articles on places in the Bible:
Bethlehem, God’s solution to our crises
Gehenna – Where’s hell?
Where’s Zion?
Babylon, center of humanism and materialism
Lessons from Egypt
Lessons from Sodom
Massacres and miracles in Jericho

Rebellion and deception at Samaria


Jesus gives life to the full

There are so many wonderful things in life. The joy of love, family, satisfaction in hard work, the thrill of the race, or the game, admiring the astonishing beauty of nature, the prospect of a new adventure. It is truly a remarkable world.

Yet in all of these things, there’s always a blemish. And the blemish lies in us and in each thing we experience. For example our own cynicism and doubts prevent us properly enjoying goodness in love and work and family. And, as for the objects of our joy and desire – they always let us down in some measure. So, families fracture and fall out. Children forget their parents and live selfish lives. We chase a project with all our energy only to find it wasn’t worth the chasing.

In every part of life there’s always dissatisfaction. Any number of things can intervene to undermine success… from accidents, to mismanagement, to petty politics, injustice, corruption… even our own boredom, or doubts, or distractions.

The greatest enemy to fulfillment in this life is the knowledge that death awaits. It means that whatever we pursue is futile. Nothing can escape it… even the material universe. Everything must pass away.

If only there were a thread of hope dangling down for us from eternity. In the song, ‘Into my arms’, Nick Cave, the Australian songwriter, speaks of an, ‘interventionist God’ who might prevent his beloved from being harmed. Yet he can’t bring himself to believe that such a good God might exist.

But such a good God does exist and the Bible describes His character and ‘interventions’ in human history in great detail. As creator of the world He made us so that we might relate to Him closely. But since creation we’ve resisted this purpose. Yet no matter how hard we resist, He still loves us and wants us to be with Him. The Bible says that God has ‘planted eternity in the human heart’ (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Clearly, He meant us to spend it with Him.

When our purpose is eternity with God. How did we ever think we could find it in movies or architecture or holidays or skin cream? Whatever we do apart from God is doomed and destined for disgruntlement.

So give way. Give yourself to God’s ambassador, Jesus Christ, whose mighty intervention on your behalf at the cross means you can have life with God forever. Accept Jesus and the immortal words He offers all people.

I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.  

Prayer: Dear God, I pray that I may have life to the full with You through Jesus.

Bible verse: John 10:10 Jesus: “I have come that they may have life and have it to the full“.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted July 2019


Three reasons to praise God

Psalm 65

Telling somebody in public they are doing a good job when in fact they are doing a bad job is worse than saying nothing at all. Other blunders are to offer praise for something that’s unimportant and praising the wrong person. These are all wrong reasons to praise someone.

When do you praise of God? What reminds you of Him? When David was the king of Israel in about 1,000BC, the nation depended on agricultural production for food and many resources. So David praised God for lush pastures, flocks of sheep and bountiful harvests.

In this post we see that David had three main reasons to praise God. But did you know that these reasons have now been superseded?

Psalm 65 has been categorized as a nature psalm. These psalms praise the Lord as the creator and sustainer of the physical universe. God is separate from nature because He created it. This made Jewish beliefs different to the common beliefs of ancient times that various objects in nature are divine. Just think about the gods of Egypt, Canaan, Greece and Rome. The theological description is that God is “transcendent”, which means He is independent of the creation. But the creation (nature) is also sustained by His mighty power; He sustains “all things by His powerful word” (Heb. 1:3NIV). And the creation (nature) declares (shows) God’s greatness (Ps. 19:1). Psalm 65 says,

1 Praise awaits you, our [Israel’s] God, in Zion [Jerusalem];
to you our vows will be fulfilled.
You who answer prayer,
to you all people will come.
When we were overwhelmed by sins,
you forgave our transgressions.
Blessed are those you choose
and bring near to live in your courts!
We are filled with the good things of your house,
of your holy temple.

You answer us [Israel] with awesome and righteous deeds,
God our Savior,
the hope of all the ends of the earth [or land]
and of the farthest seas,
who formed the mountains by your power,
having armed yourself with strength,
who stilled the roaring of the seas,
the roaring of their waves,
and the turmoil of the nations.
The whole earth [or land] is filled with awe at your wonders;
where morning dawns, where evening fades,
you call forth songs of joy.

You care for the land and water it;
you enrich it abundantly.
The streams of God are filled with water
to provide the people with grain,
for so you have ordained it.
10 You drench its furrows and level its ridges;
you soften it with showers and bless its crops.
11 You crown the year with your bounty,
and your carts overflow with abundance.
12 The grasslands of the wilderness overflow;
the hills are clothed with gladness.
13 The meadows are covered with flocks
and the valleys are mantled with grain;
they shout for joy and sing.

The psalm begins with God being praised and ends with creation (nature) being joyful. In fact, the songs of joy are widespread – extending from the east to the west (v.8).

The key words in the psalm are “you” (14 times) and “your” (7 times). It’s all about God.

Context

This harvest song may have been sung during a harvest festival like the Festival of Tabernacles. It gives three main reasons to praise God, which can all be related to a harvest. The Israelites are gathered near the tabernacle or the temple (v.1, 4). All the men of Israel were to attend three festivals a year in Jerusalem (Ex. 23:17; Dt. 16:16-17).

What about us? When do we gather together to praise God corporately with other Christians?

The three reasons for the Israelites to praise God are.

God answers prayer – v.1-4

David says that God answers prayer (v.2, 5). But what did they pray for? Maybe for a good harvest (v.9-13). And for forgiveness of their sins (v.3).

What about us? Do we have confidence that God will answer our prayers when they are in accordance with His will?

God’s power over creation – v.5-8

David acknowledges God’s role in forming the large-scale landscape of the earth. Mountains are massive examples of God’s power. As most of these mountains are composed of sedimentary rock, they were uplifted by huge tectonic forces in the recessive stage of Noah’s flood. Then the huge volume of flood runoff sculpted the earth’s topography.

The evidence of mountain ranges and large-scale erosion is visible across the globe. Last month I visited central Australia where the mountains are mainly comprised of sedimentary rock layers that have been severely deformed and eroded.

What about us? Do we recognize God’s power, strength and wisdom in designing and creating the universe? Or do we say it made itself via a big bang and evolution?

God’s care of creation – v.9-13

David says that at this time the earth was well-watered (v.9-10) and they had good harvests (9-13). He calls this an act of God. So God didn’t create the world at the beginning of time and then leave it to its own devices. Instead He continued to sustain it.

What about us? Do we thank God when we experience the benefits of a harvest? Do we thank Him for the food we eat (Mt. 15:36; Acts 27:35)?

Discussion

Israel didn’t always have bountiful harvests like those described in Psalm 65. For example, when they followed false prophets and idols instead of the true God the harvest was feeble because of drought and famine (Jer. 23:9-15). This punishment for disobedience was promised in the law given to Moses (Dt. 28:22-24).

What has changed since David wrote Psalm 65? Since then Jesus has come and fulfilled the promises in the Old Testament of a Messiah. And we have the New Testament. So believers have some new reasons to praise God. Now they can praise God the Father, Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit because of all they have done (Eph. 1:3-14). And they can praise God because of His mercy in sending Jesus to be their Savior (Heb. 1:1; 1 Pt. 2:9-10). They can praise God because eternal life through Jesus is secure (Heb. 12:28). And believers can praise God for the “living hope”, an eternal inheritance in heaven, they have through Christ’s resurrection (1 Pt. 1:3-7). So the main reason to praise God today is to express our gratitude and thanks for all He has done through Jesus (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16).

Christ’s sacrificial vicarious death is the main reason for praise in heaven (Rev. 5:6-12). And at the end of time, everyone will praise Jesus for being “obedient to death” (Rom. 14:11; Phil. 2:5-11). But God will still be praised in heaven because He created all things at the beginning of time (Rev. 4:11).

Conclusion

The Israelites praised God for three main reasons – because He answered their prayers, because His power was shown in the universe He created, and because His care was shown in how He continued to sustain them and the creation. And today God answers a believer’s prayer, and is still a great Creator (Rom. 1:20) and a great Sustainer of creation (Col. 1:17; Heb. 1:3). So we can still praise God for these same reasons.

But the main reason to praise God today is to express our gratitude and thanks for all He has done through Jesus Christ (Eph. 5:19-20; Col. 3:16). And this will also be the main reason to praise God at the end of time and in eternity.

Written, June 2019


Don’t let Christians put you off Jesus

Suppose there’s a man in a town with a history of shady business practices and fraudulent dealings. He also happens to be a regular church-goer.

Many people where he lives know the man to be shonky and would say they’ve been ‘ripped off’ as would people in other towns. What’s terrible is that some people where the man lives say, ‘If that man is a Christian, then I don’t want any part of Christianity’. And, at one level, their reaction is understandable.

The story raises questions about what it means to be a genuine Christian and what churches and other Christians should do when people say they are Christian but their actions clearly aren’t. You can imagine that the answers aren’t always easy.

Certainly the Bible says that those people whose lives are grossly hypocritical and who refuse to change ought to be excluded from church. But what if they keep calling themselves Christian in the community? Or they just move to another church and start again?

Or what if a church or a whole movement of people begin to do things in the name of Jesus that are just plainly at odds with the Bible? History is full of appalling things done in the name of Jesus. Some are well known: the Spanish Inquisition, the Crusades, people burning each other at stakes. Thankfully, it’s simply not possible to justify these kinds of things from the Bible.

So where does the problem lie? Not with God. The very reason Jesus came to earth was because we’ve got a major issue. It’s called sin. And sin is in every person. We all think, say and do things that we should rightly be ashamed of.

Jesus said this about His coming into the world: God’s light [Jesus] came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil (John 3:19).

What we mustn’t do is use the bad example of some ‘Christians’ as an excuse for not worshipping Jesus and coming into the light ourselves. That’s because the only people who can join the Christian movement are sinners willing to repent. So any person in church will always be a moral failure. Including you!

So yes, Christians should be people who try to live changed lives full of joy and good deeds. All of them will struggle in doing this. And yes, occasionally you’ll find some that seem to be really just pretending. But don’t let Christians put you off Jesus.

Bible verse: John 3:19 “God’s light [Jesus] came into the world, but people loved the darkness more than the light, for their actions were evil.”

Prayer: Dear God, please help me to leave behind evil works and worship you in the light.

Acknowledgement: This article was sourced from Outreach Media, Sydney, Australia.
Images and text © Outreach Media 2019

Posted, May 2019