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The Broken Mirror

Last updated on December 4th, 2016 at 05:38 am

 

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We love mirrors. We really do, but not always. On my good day, when I look ‘stunning’, I want to stare into the mirror over and over again. I love what I am looking at. I guess that goes for you too. The mirror in a sense gives us hope—that we still got ‘skin in the game’.

 

But there is another side to the mirror. This side we don’t like. It is the fact that the mirror does not lie. And why would it? I can’t think of any reason why the mirror would tell me what is not. Because there is always a side to us that we don’t like that much, we surely frown when it’s mirrored.

 

I can’t tell you how many times I have looked into the mirror and did not like what I saw. But that didn’t change a thing, did it?. Even if I stamped my feet on the ground in protest, the mirror will not be moved. It will still do its job—show me the truth.

 

There is a mirror God has given to us so that through it we will see who we are—the broken mirror—the mirror of God’s creation. But there is something about this mirror, we don’t like it.
Unlike the mirrors hanging on our bathroom walls, this one—we believe—has a lot of reasons to be conspiratorial.  But why? Someone once said that “We can’t handle the truth.” 

 

This broken mirror is in the bible and around us. We read about it and walk by it almost every day.

 

In Adam, his desire to be his own god and his desperate need to cover what he feels uncomfortable with about himself. In Cain, blaming his unworthy worship on someone else and later killing them for it. In Abraham, his desperate need to lie in order to save his skin. And what about looking for answers elsewhere apart from God—including in Hagar the Egyptian slave girl? In Jacob, the cunningness in taking what does not belong to him and then choosing who to give his love to and who to exclude from it. In Moses, taking matters into his own hands and then thinking not about the consequences of his actions. In Gideon, his fear, lack of faith and the need to see ‘proof’ amidst the proof of assurance from God that He is with him. In Samson, seeking pleasure outside his God-ordained confines. In David, wanting more at the cost of other people’s lives. In Peter, selling out when he should have known better. The story goes on and on.

 

All these characters and more are for us, not to idolize but see ourselves through them—specifically through their brokenness. We are Adam, Moses, Cain, Abraham, Jacob, Gideon and all of them. We are just as broken as they were—if not worse. Their story is our story. Their mess is our mess. Their idolatry is our idolatry. Their adultery is our adultery. Their self-salvation is our self-salvation. Because the sin which ravaged their day, is the same sin still breaking our backs to this day. 

 

They are not for us to draw great examples from but, first and foremost, for us to see and acknowledge our desperation and dire need of God’s inexhaustible grace. They are for us a mirror to see what God sees: “that the wickedness of man was great in the earth, and that every imagination of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually (Genesis. 6:5, KJV).” And that: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (Jeremiah. 17:9, KJV)”

 

This also goes for the people in our lives. Those we meet at the train station wishing that a puff of cigarette smoke will fade away their worries into obscurity; that single mother standing in the line inside a bank hall thinking about the last time her cheque bounced; that fifteen year old sitting across the column in the classroom contemplating what his life will be like after his parents’ divorce is finalized; that father in the church sitting in the cold pew wishing that he will once again talk to the mother of his children who has been on life support for the last 90 days; that teenage girl in a dark corner abusing drugs because the memory of her being sexually abused at the age of seven is still fresh her mind; that woman in front of a motel trying to sell herself to the highest bidder in order survive another day or quench a sex addiction; that corporate executive sitting in a dark corner of a bar, while trying to drink away all the besetting inadequacies of his actions.

 

All this, the broken mirror shows us. But it does more than show us the brokenness in and around us. Its mirroring goes deeper to influence us in a way so defiant than anything else can.

 

This broken mirror erases the dividing line of categorization. It wipes away the classifications of ‘us’ and ‘them’. It echoes in our ears the voice of God through his beloved but broken apostle saying, “For there is no distinction: for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God (Romans. 3: 22b-23, ESV).” This mirror, broken by sin, levels the playing field. In a sense, to say that: “There is no ‘us’ and ‘them’ but ‘us’ and ‘Him’—God.”

 

When we start to draw distinctions, we blind ourselves to what we really are—broken. And so grace extended to those who have acknowledged their brokenness becomes an offence to us.
The Pharisees closed the door of God’s free grace on themselves when they thought they were better than Zaccheaus, or the woman caught in adultery on the basis of their ‘moral standing’.
One time I had someone ask me why I went to visit a person she labeled ‘not a good example’ and went on to list her sins to me, one by one. When we do this, we quench the fire of desperation which would have drawn us to the table of grace but instead draws us away from it. We stop to believe what we see ourselves in the broken mirror. Jonah came to learn this the hard way when he wrote: “Those who cling to worthless idols forfeit the grace that could be theirs.” (Jonah 2:8, NIV)

 

There is another thing. The broken pieces of this mirror are not to be thrown away; they are to be embraced for they compel us. They compel us to love, accept, approve of people we may otherwise think of as not being like us. Because the dividing line is no more, grace has been ushered in. And so we love them because we are not any better (even when the world wants to make us believe otherwise). This mirror is God’s creation, a symbol of His love for a fallen people that is why it compels us. John, the apostle knows why: “We love him, because he first loved us (1 John 4:19).”

 

Amidst this brokenness, there is good news. God is committed to transforming this broken mirror into something good (2 Corinthians. 3:18) and one day there will be a new mirror (Revelation. 21:5). No more shall we have a broken mirror but a perfect one, with no spots of sin. Why? Listen to Paul:

 

For this cause we also, since the day we heard it, do not cease to pray for you, and to desire that ye might be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding. That ye might walk worthy of the Lord unto all pleasing, being fruitful in every good work, and increasing in the knowledge of God; Strengthened with all might, according to his glorious power, unto all patience and longsuffering with joyfulness; Giving thanks unto the Father, which hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light: Who hath delivered us from the power of darkness, and hath translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son: In whom we have redemption through his blood, even the forgiveness of sins: (Colossians 1: 9-14).

 

God’s whisper of our brokenness is not His last word but His first. His last word is that our brokenness is not the end. That through Him, and by Him alone, this brokenness has been overcome. He traded bondage for freedom at the expense of His beloved son. For you and for me so that we will now look at the brokenness not as a barrier but as a gateway to a life of scandalous joy and exceeding freedom, and even surprising faithfulness! Because everything we need has been freely deposited on our account, we go out not to take anything but to give everything.

 

It is finished.

 

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come. Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.” – Romans 8:38-39 (KJV).
(Image: Flickr/John Perivolaris)

 

 

 

Faith, What is It?

Last updated on November 14th, 2016 at 01:09 pm

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By Charles H Spurgeon
What is this faith concerning which it is said, “By grace are ye saved, through faith?” There are many descriptions of faith; but almost all the definitions I have met with have made me understand it less than I did before I saw them. The Negro said, when he read the chapter, that he would confound it; and it is very likely that he did so, though he meant to expound it. We may explain faith till nobody understands it. I hope I shall not be guilty of that fault. Faith is the simplest of all things, and perhaps because of its simplicity it is the more difficult to explain.
What is faith? It is made up of three things–knowledge, belief, and trust. Knowledge comes first. “How shall they believe in him of whom they have not heard?” I want to be informed of a fact before I can possibly believe it. “Faith cometh by hearing”; we must first hear, in order that we may know what is to be believed. “They that know thy name shall put their trust in thee.” A measure of knowledge is essential to faith; hence the importance of getting knowledge. “Incline your ear, and come unto me; hear, and your soul shall live.” Such was the word of the ancient prophet, and it is the word of the gospel still. Search the Scriptures and learn what the Holy Spirit teaches concerning Christ and His salvation. Seek to know God: “For he that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” May the Holy Spirit give you the spirit of knowledge, and of the fear of the Lord! Know the gospel: know what the good news is, how it talks of free forgiveness, and of change of heart, of adoption into the family of God, and of countless other blessings. Know especially Christ Jesus the Son of God, the Saviour of men, united to us by His human nature, and yet one with God; and thus able to act as Mediator between God and man, able to lay His hand upon both, and to be the connecting link between the sinner and the Judge of all the earth. Endeavour to know more and more of Christ Jesus. Endeavour especially to know the doctrine of the sacrifice of Christ; for the point upon which saving faith mainly fixes itself is this–“God was in Christ, reconciling the world unto himself, not imputing their trespasses unto them.” Know that Jesus was “made a curse for us, as it is written, Cursed is every one that hangeth on a tree.” Drink deep of the doctrine of the substitutionary work of Christ; for therein lies the sweetest possible comfort to the guilty sons of men, since the Lord “made him to be sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him.” Faith begins with knowledge.
The mind goes on to believe that these things are true. The soul believes that God is, and that He hears the cries of sincere hearts; that the gospel is from God; that justification by faith is the grand truth which God hath revealed in these last days by His Spirit more clearly than before. Then the heart believes that Jesus is verily and in truth our God and Saviour, the Redeemer of men, the Prophet, Priest, and King of His people. All this is accepted as sure truth, not to be called in question. I pray that you may at once come to this. Get firmly to believe that “the blood of Jesus Christ, God’s dear Son, cleanses us from all sin”; that His sacrifice is complete and fully accepted of God on man’s behalf, so that he that believes on Jesus is not condemned. Believe these truths as you believe any other statements; for the difference between common faith and saving faith lies mainly in the subjects upon which it is exercised. Believe the witness of God just as you believe the testimony of your own father or friend. “If we receive the witness of men, the witness of God is greater.”
So far you have made an advance toward faith; only one more ingredient is needed to complete it, which is trust. Commit yourself to the merciful God; rest your hope on the gracious gospel; trust your soul on the dying and living Saviour; wash away your sins in the atoning blood; accept His perfect righteousness, and all is well. Trust is the lifeblood of faith; there is no saving faith without it. The Puritans were accustomed to explain faith by the word “recumbency.” It meant leaning upon a thing. Lean with all your weight upon Christ. It would be a better illustration still if I said, fall at full length, and lie on the Rock of Ages. Cast yourself upon Jesus; rest in Him; commit yourself to Him. That done, you have exercised saving faith. Faith is not a blind thing; for faith begins with knowledge. It is not a speculative thing; for faith believes facts of which it is sure. It is not an unpractical, dreamy thing; for faith trusts, and stakes its destiny upon the truth of revelation. That is one way of describing what faith is.
Let me try again. Faith is believing that Christ is what He is said to be, and that He will do what He has promised to do, and then to expect this of Him. The Scriptures speak of Jesus Christ as being God, God is human flesh; as being perfect in His character; as being made of a sin-offering on our behalf; as bearing our sins in His own body on the tree. The Scripture speaks of Him as having finished transgression, made an end of sin, and brought in everlasting righteousness. The sacred records further tell us that He “rose again from the dead,” that He “ever liveth to make intercession for us,” that He has gone up into the glory, and has taken possession of Heaven on the behalf of His people, and that He will shortly come again “to judge the world in righteousness, and his people with equity.” We are most firmly to believe that it is even so; for this is the testimony of God the Father when He said, “This is my beloved Son; hear ye him.” This also is testified by God the Holy Spirit; for the Spirit has borne witness to Christ, both in the inspired Word and by divers miracles, and by His working in the hearts of men. We are to believe this testimony to be true.
Faith also believes that Christ will do what He has promised; that since He has promised to cast out none that come to Him, it is certain that He will not cast us out if we come to Him. Faith believes that since Jesus said, “The water that I shall give him shall be in him a well of water springing up into everlasting life, it must be true; and if we get this living Water from Christ it will abide in us, and will well up within us in streams of holy life. Whatever Christ has promised to do He will do, and we must believe this, so as to look for pardon, justification, preservation, and eternal glory from His hands, according as He has promised them to believers in Him.
Then comes the next necessary step. Jesus is what He is said to be, Jesus will do what He says He will do; therefore we must each one trust Him, saying, “He will be to me what He says He is, and He will do to me what He has promised to do; I leave myself in the hands of Him who is appointed to save, that He may save me. I rest upon His promise that He will do even as He has said.” This is a saving faith, and he that has it has everlasting life. Whatever his dangers and difficulties, whatever his darkness and depression, whatever his infirmities and sins, he that believes thus on Christ Jesus is not condemned, and shall never come into condemnation.
May that explanation be of some service! I trust it may be used by the Spirit of God to direct my reader into immediate peace. “Be not afraid; only believe.” Trust, and be at rest.
My fear is lest the reader should rest content with understanding what is to be done, and yet never do it. Better the poorest real faith actually at work, than the best ideal of it left in the region of speculation. The great matter is to believe on the Lord Jesus at once. Never mind distinctions and definitions. A hungry man eats though he does not understand the composition of his food, the anatomy of his mouth, or the process of digestion: he lives because he eats. Another far more clever person understands thoroughly the science of nutrition; but if he does not eat he will die, with all his knowledge. There are, no doubt, many at this hour in Hell who understood the doctrine of faith, but did not believe. On the other hand, not one who has trusted in the Lord Jesus has ever been cast out, though he may never have been able intelligently to define his faith. Oh dear reader, receive the Lord Jesus into your soul, and you shall live forever!
“HE THAT BELIEVETH IN HIM HATH EVERLASTING LIFE.”
*Excerpted from ‘All of Grace’ by Charles H. Spurgeon.

When the Devil Can’t Wait to Celebrate on Sunday Morning

Last updated on September 21st, 2017 at 09:41 am

This may sound bizarre, but it’s true: the Devil rejoices more than many Christians on Sunday mornings. Don’t get me wrong, the Devil is not a Christian. But he loves what most preachers do in the pulpits around the world.

If you have grown up in church or been around church-going Christians, you know that the focus is, first and foremost, the Christian and not The Christ.

You are familiar with statements like “What makes you a Christian?”, “Christians don’t do that”, “What have you done about it as a Christian?”, and there is one more that I dread: “Do God’s work, and he will do yours!” What all these statements have in common it is that they put the saved, not the Saviour at the centre of the Christian faith.

This ‘spiritual narcissism’ has its advocates behind pulpits. It’s preached Sunday after Sunday. Year in, year out. But this is just the surface stuff.

The real problem runs deeper: Moralism.

The mother of the Christian scourge is moralism in the pulpit. Sermons about behaviour and behaviour adjustment are way too common. The accuser has fooled us into thinking that if we come on Sunday morning and sit in our hardwood pews, lend our ears to a preacher and have him feed us on a moral to-do list, maybe we will change.

Maybe oh maybe we will do something about our condition.

Our culture loves obsessing over good behaviour and uprightness. I have met people who have convinced themselves that their calling is to tell people how to dress, places they should avoid and Television channels they should delete from their subscription plan.

The Church has way too many moral police officers and cultural warriors than it does broken preachers.

But moralism is deceptive. It’s not what it claims to be. Immorality is not the root cause of the human problem. It’s just a consequence. We can’t just be treating symptoms. Even in the practice of medicine, they treat the cause and not the symptom.

Why then do the Good News specialists obsess with eliminating symptoms and not deal with the real cause?

Paul in Romans chapter one, from verse twenty-six, helps us capture what is wrong with us:

For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature: And likewise also the men, leaving the natural use of the woman, burned in their lust one toward another; men with men working that which is unseemly, and receiving in themselves that recompence of their error which was meet.

And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient; Being filled with all unrighteousness, fornication, wickedness, covetousness, maliciousness; full of envy, murder, debate, deceit, malignity; whisperers, Backbiters, haters of God, despiteful, proud, boasters, inventors of evil things, disobedient to parents, Without understanding, covenant breakers, without natural affection, implacable, unmerciful:

Who knowing the judgment of God, that they which commit such things are worthy of death, not only do the same, but have pleasure in them that do them (Romans 1:26-31, KJV).

If you looked carefully, you would notice that all the matters Paul touches on here are moral in nature: malice, backbiting, pride, deceit, fornication, boasting, disobedience, homosexuality among others. But to him, they are not the root.

He opens verse twenty-six with these words: “For this cause…” Which cause? What is the root of all that wickedness? Why did God give them over to this immorality? What is that thing which bred all this immorality?

Paul tells us in verse twenty-one: “when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful; but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened.” This is the problem. “…they glorified him not as God…” This is unbelief. Unbelief is the mother of all sins, and it originated with the Devil in Genesis chapter three. This is what Paul is talking about here. The failure to see God as God but instead see ourselves as god is the root of all wickedness. It is also the fountain spring of immorality.

There are two major problems with a moralism that I can think of. One, it can never save us. In the 26 years, I have been alive, I have never heard of anyone who was saved from God’s wrath by behaving nice. Never! Paul tells us clearly where our salvation comes from in Ephesians chapter two, verse eight and nine: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” It is God, by His gift of grace, which we receive through faith that we are saved. In fact attaining salvation by trying to be good is to deny Jesus Himself by giving mental assent to the idea that you can save yourself by your works (good behaviour). In the verse above, Paul says, “and that not of yourselves…not of works…”

The other problem with moralism is that it casts the stage lights on the saved instead of on the Saviour; on our work for God instead of on God’s work for us.

Moralism hands us the tools so that we can improve ourselves. The cross of Christ is then transformed into a ladder to climb to God with our own sweat tears and blood or a pair of crutches so that we will not need the Saviour-carpenter who does it all for us.

Moralist preachers work on the assumption that if we can put our act together, then God will accept us. This is not the gospel; it’s karma at its best. And Devil knows that it doesn’t work.

Now, tell me why the Devil will not party hard on the Sabbath knowing that the preacher is playing a ‘fool’s game’ on himself and his congregation?

The now-dead German preacher Walter Luthi once wrote: “Humanity cannot be helped by humanity; our wretched condition cannot be approached from this side, far less from below; help can reach us only from above.” And he was right. Only God, not good behaviour, can get us out of this.

The Church is not called to reform our immoral culture but to announce One who came to buy us out of the slavery of moralism so that we will once again be called sons and daughters of God.

The preacher is called by God to know nothing “…save Jesus Christ, and him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).” This was Paul’s foundation. He knew that the ‘do more’, ‘try harder’ sermons don’t work. Only Jesus and Him crucified works.

The Devil is greatly troubled when one sermon about a God who imputes His righteousness to unworthy sinners and sufferers is preached than ten thousand lectures on morality and dress code.

Why?

Because the Gospel of grace in Jesus Christ alone “…is the power of God unto salvation to every one that believeth…” (Romans 1:16)

The solution to our wretchedness, therefore, is not that ‘three-pointer sermon’ on morality but Jesus Christ who died for our immorality. That alone, the Devil cannot handle.

“so now I say again: If anyone is preaching to you a gospel other  than the one you accepted, let him be eternally condemned!” –Galatians 1:9 (NIV)

You can’t Get Out

Last updated on November 14th, 2016 at 01:11 pm


As concerns the first two chapters of Genesis, one of the revealing things is that the ‘state of affairs’ is nice and dandy. It is the perfect Triune God speaking His creation into being, perfectly. Then the door opens on chapter three. The title its self is telling: ‘The Fall.’

Genesis 3 is the apex of the human problem. Man and his wife rebel against the one who made them and whom they owe not just their breath but also their being. On the surface, it’s just a simple act of disobedience. “God will understand”, some will say. But most times things are never what they look like. This is one of those times.

Eating from the tree of knowledge of good and evil does not give you the ‘knowledge of good and evil’. Ask Adam and Eve. And it doesn’t make one a god either, maybe a little ‘unhappy god’ who lacks even the dimmest of powers such as to conjure a smile to light up his ever frowned face.

The Old Testament theologian and author Alec Motyer has remarked that the knowledge of good and evil is not just knowing what is good or bad, but is to the best part deciding what is good or bad. This is where our problems begin. We all want to be right, yet we cannot because we have all developed little mental pictures of what right is based on dwarf ideas of religion, class, caste, tribe, political affiliation, profession and many other of those man-made ideas. 

We now have a man who, instead of depending on God, loves his independence as he loves himself. See how this came into play almost instantly:
And the man said, The woman whom thou gavest to be with me, she gave me of the tree, and I did eat. And the LORD God said unto the woman, what is this that thou hast done? And the woman said, The serpent beguiled me, and I did eat (Gen 3:12-13, KJV).

Adam is pushing the blame to his wife, and the wife does the same by also pushing the blame further towards the serpent. Doesn’t this describe all of us? We crave credit but at the same time dread blame. Rebellion has brought man this far from God and into himself. He is now the ‘center of it all’. What at first was ‘man in the image of God’ is now ‘god in the image of man.’ Man is now his own self-made god. According to one author, man is now ‘using God-created faculties in an anti-God mode.’

Paul, in Romans chapter three puts this problem into perspective:
As it is written, There is none righteous, no, not one:
There is none that understandeth, there is none that seeketh after God.
They are all gone out of the way, they are together become unprofitable; there is none that doeth good, no, not one.
Their throat is an open sepulchre; with their tongues they have used deceit; the poison of asps is under their lips:
Whose mouth is full of cursing and bitterness:
Their feet are swift to shed blood:
Destruction and misery are in their ways:
And the way of peace have they not known:
There is no fear of God before their eyes (Romans 3:10-18)

A story is told of a drunk who was staggering home late on a rainy night. As he was passing through the cemetery, he fell into a freshly dug grave. He tried to climb out but to no avail as the walls were slippery. Then another drunk who was taking the same route fell into the same grave. Now there are two drunken guys in one grave.

This second guy tried to get himself out as the guy who fell in first gave him some attention. He quickly opened his mouth and said: “You can’t get out man!” How is that for motivation?

This is where all of us find ourselves—in the middle of a freshly dug grave called sin. Getting out is impossible until someone will come and pull us out from the outside. But the truth is some of us still enjoy the grave, while others don’t know how they got into the grave in the first place.

Amidst judgment, there comes good news. “And I will put enmity between thee and the woman, and between thy seed and her seed; it shall bruise thy head […] (Genesis 3:15).” God’s rescue of sinners comes amidst judgment. God is so overflowing with love and compassion. He loves rebels even in their rebellion. “[Love her] as the Lord loves the Israelites, though they turn to other gods and love sacred raisin cakes (Hosea 3:1b, NIV).”

The Good News of the gospel is that God saves sinners—real sinners—not nominal ones. For a sinner out there, this is not just music to the ears but good music to the ears that have neglected their responsibility of hearing.

Isaiah in chapter sixty-one foretells the day of the Lord’s favour, when the Messiah promised in Genesis 3:15 will come and what He will do. He is coming to; Isaiah writes in verse one, “bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim liberty to the captives, and the opening of the prison to them that are bound.”
The salvation of the Lord comes from outside, for you and me. It’s a gift to everyone. And He surely accomplishes what He comes to do. “With men this is impossible; but with God all things are possible (Matt 19:26).”

This is why Christmas is such good news. It is not just a fulfillment of the promise by God but also the ushering in of liberty and redemption. Christmas is the Father’s “I love you” to our “we don’t need You.” God comes, climbs down into the grave and gets the drunks out without them doing anything to merit the rescue, or tip the rescuer. Christmas is God getting us out and winning us to Himself.


Religion You Wear Like a Coat

Last updated on March 10th, 2017 at 09:19 am

What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of men, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness (Mark 7:20-22).

Lip-worship is as common in our day as it was

when Jesus visited this world.

People not only respect the traditions of the past—

as they ought to—

but they ordinarily honor them

and desperately clutch at them

like a drowning man latching on to floating debris.

They wear their religion—put on their religion—

the way a person might put on a coat.

 

As the prophets persistently enunciated,

this is abominable to God.

Hymn-singing, the making of prayers,

the confessing of creeds

the symbols and rituals and religious exercises

that are an important part of our churches,

are valid and desirable—

and they are pleasing to God.

But He looks deeper into the heart of man and woman,

into his or her real desires and motivations,

into the honest beliefs and intentions

of His human creatures,

He looks for faith.

 

The spirit of God breaks through the visible

and the apparent, the words people say,

the motions they go through,

and the rituals they perform;

He sees and knows what is in the hearts

of His children.

If hatred is there,

recognized but unconfessed sin there,

disobedience or faithlessness there,

the spirit of God knows,

and the heart of God is displeased.

The hymns of praise, the verbal confessions and prayers,

and the religious ceremonies enacted do nothing

for those people who wear their religion like a coat.

 

People may impress their naïve and undiscerning friends

with their religious activity,

but God looks into the hearts of His creatures

and He knows what goes on there.

It is not what a person wears

that makes that person acceptable to God;

it is what he or she truly believes—

what he or she is truly committed to—

that determines the source and object

and quality of faith.

Mark 7:6-23.

Adopted from: ‘Jesus/Now’ by Lesile F. Brandt. You can get the Jesus/Now from Amazon here.

 

Can Future Obedience Make Up for Past Transgression?

Last updated on November 21st, 2016 at 05:58 am

The way to heaven by following the law given at Mount Sinai, is very steep and narrow, and it takes only one wrong step for a man to be dashed to pieces. Stand at the foot and look up at it if you dare.

On its brow of stone there is the black cloud, out of which lightening leaps and the blast of the trumpet sounds loud and long. Do you not see Moses tremble, and will you dare stand unabashed where Moses is fearful and afraid? Look upwards, and give up the thought of climbing those steep crags, for no one has ever striven to clamber up there in the hope of salvation without finding destruction among the terrors of the way! Be wise, give up that deceitful hope of salvation which your pride leads you to choose and your presumption would soon cause you to rue (to feel sorry for).

Suppose you could do some great thing, which I am sure you cannot, and it were possible that you could from now on be perfect, and never sin again in thought, or word, or deed; how would you be able to atone for your past delinquencies? Shall I call for a resurrection in that graveyard of your memory? Let your sin rise up for a moment, and pass in review before you. Ah, the sins of your youth may well frighten you; those midnight sins; those midday sins; those sins against light and knowledge; those sins of body; those sins of soul! You have forgotten them, you say, but God has not. Look at the file! They are all placed there, all registered in God’s daybook, not one forgotten—all to be read against you in the day of the last judgment.

How can future obedience make up for past transgression? The cliff has fallen and though the wave washes up ten thousand times, it cannot set the cliff up again. The day is bright but still there was a night, and the brightest day does not obliterate the fact that once it was dark. The self-righteous man knows that what he is doing cannot satisfy God, for it cannot satisfy himself; and though he may perhaps drug his conscience, there is generally enough left of the divine element within the man to make him feel and know that it is not satisfactory.

To believe what God says, to do what God commands, to take that salvation which God provides—this is man’s highest and best wisdom. Open your bible. It is the pilgrim’s guide, in which God describes the glory yet to be revealed. This is the one message of the Gospel, “believe and live.” Trust in the incarnate savior, whom God appointed to stand in the place of sinners. Trust in Him and you shall be saved.

Excepted from ‘Advice for Seekers‘ by Charles H. Spurgeon 

 

 

 

A God with Dirt under His Finger Nails.

Last updated on November 14th, 2016 at 01:15 pm


Scripture Reference: Hosea 2:1-23
In the Church I grew up in, there used to an old man who never missed on any opportunity to be a leader in Church. Since I was a kid, up to my University days, this guy always stuck

in there. And then when he spoke to the church congregation, he would ask questions like: “Are you in some way a leader in Church?”, “Are you helping out in Sunday school?”, “Do you tithe?”, and “What then are you doing for God?”


It was clear to all of us, and me in particular, that in order for God to love me, and eventually go to heaven, I needed to do something for God. And many other people in my church took up responsibilities because they were ‘working for heaven.’ We needed to do something that will catch God’s attention and then He would love us, approve of us and things like that.

This became the mark of the Christian life: “get your hands dirty and go to heaven.” I mean it does make whole lot of sense, doesn’t it? Do something for God and He will do something for you. Therefore the trick is simple: “only, and I mean only those with dirt under their finger nails go to heaven. You gotta work for this stuff, like am doing, man!”

The passage in Hosea tells us something different. We see God, through His prophet—Hosea—confronting the Children of Israel who had made it tradition to do what was detestable in the eyes of sovereign God by worshiping and offering sacrifices to a foreign god of Baal.
God promises to punish them by crashing their idols and taking away their joy (vv. 3, 6, 8, 9, 12). But the twist is in verse 14. He says: “Therefore, behold, I will allure her, and bring her into the wilderness, and speak comfortably unto her (KJV).” God promises to win Israel back by loving her. Notice that Israel is still evil, but God promises to come down to clean up their mess.

Therefore, God in the person of Jesus Christ comes to win the Baal-worshiping you and me for God. Not because of our work for Him, but because our work is filthy and we need the work of another, so perfect to pull it off for us.

And Jesus comes down into the dirt-ridden trenches of this world characterized with misery, shame, guilt, hate, conditionality, scorn, and all those things so that he will do for us what we cannot do—save ourselves. And so Paul writes: “For by grace are ye saved through faith; and that not of yourselves: it is the gift of God: Not of works, lest any man should boast (Ep. 2:8-9, KJV).”

The dirt under our finger nails, therefore, can never get God to love us. The positions in church, the volunteer program in Sunday school, and even tithe, these cannot settle our relationship with God. Dirt under His finger nails, on the other hand is our ticket to God and eternal life. The work of Jesus is our only hope. The dirt under the finger nails of Jesus is our only hope. Not what we do or can do, but what Jesus has done for train wrecks like you and me. That is our only hope.

Image: ebay.com


Jesus is My Hero—and Yours Too

Last updated on November 14th, 2016 at 01:15 pm


As I write this, my home country, Uganda is commemorating Heroes’ Day. For the best part of the day, medals will be awarded to our National heroes, both dead and alive. It is the same

energy on Facebook. Everyone, young and old; male and female; poor and rich, is letting the world know who their heroes are. The list goes like this: mom, dad, grandpa, grandma, uncle, auntie, sister, brother, class mate, the list is endless.


This got me thinking, “Who is my hero?” the only answer I could come up with was that there is only one hero—Jesus Christ. Not that I am trashing what role my national Heroes, friends and family played and continue to play in my life, no. its because Jesus redefines heroism itself.

The Oxford Advanced Learners’ Dictionary defines a hero as “someone, especially a man, who is admired by many people for doing something brave or good.” Today we are celebrating the ‘good and brave’ people in our lives, even those who have done so much to the point of losing their lives in the name of Nationalism.

There is a special hero. The One am going to talk about is more than a hero. First, read what Paul says:


For he has made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin; that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Corinthians 5:21, KJV).



I believe the most important words there are “for us”—that Jesus became sin for us. Now the one becoming sin, Paul says, “knew no sin.” Isn’t that amazing? Isn’t it humbling that God himself did come in the image of a baby to save us from our deeply entrenched slavery—sin—and all that comes along with it? Paul writes somewhere else:


Who, being in the form of God, thought it not robbery to be equal with God: But made himself of no reputation, and took upon him the form of a servant, and was made in the likeness of men: And being found in fashion as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. (Philippians 2:6-8, KJV).



He died on the cross to save us. He was beaten, spat on, mocked, wrongfully judged, laughed at, and so many things but kept calm because He had you and I at heart. Even when the heart was frail and fear setting in, the load too heavy just like Moses, yet He could only come to one conclusion, “nevertheless not as I will, but as thou wilt (Matt. 26:39b).” All that He said with you and me at heart. 

Unlike our earthly heroes who went as far as dying for our liberty, Jesus did something more: He lived for us. He was made in the likeness of man, living through the doom and gloom of this earthly life. He was tempted, betrayed, denied, hated, beaten, abused, and all those things which stress us every day. But because He had you and me at heart, He lived like a man, even when under no obligation to do so. He went ahead and did so for us.
Our heroes played (or continue to play) a part in our lives and at an appointed time, it will be us at the wheel. But look at Jesus—He did not just do something so that we will do the rest—He did EVERYTHING. Fastened to a cross with his arms stretched, he shouted: “It is finished (John 19:30).” Redemption, from that moment on, was ours. And we will forever be free. Jesus was aware that we, even if granted ten thousand lifetimes, could never workout our freedom, so He did it all. All of it!


Now you and I can say, “I am free, forever!” No need to guard the borders. No more do-it-yourself projects. With assurance we can then agree with Paul when he says: “For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, Nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord (Romans 8:38-39, KJV).” Friend, because of the work of Jesus, you are forever accepted and loved by God. You are clothed in an irremovable garment of righteousness (!). 

If you need a hero, I give you Jesus. Does He sound like a hero character to you? I think He is more than that. Jesus is our all in all. If He is indeed our hero, then every day should be Hero’s Day!

The Promise to End all Promises

Last updated on November 14th, 2016 at 01:16 pm


The Christian faith is one of promises fulfilled. This faith has under its coat some of the most ridiculous promises—ridiculous in a worldly sense—like one man living and dying to set over a billion captives free!

But again, it’s the Christian faith which carries the promise of life—one which defeats death—and reigns supreme, forever.

The most popular verse in the whole bible, which has found its way to billboards in some of the biggest metropolis of the world, bumper stickers, t-shirt prints and the like is John 3:16:


“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life(KJV)”. [Emphasis mine].


Another is by far the most popular Psalm in the bible, who can’t recite Psalm 23? Yet we so easily skip what David writes in the last verse of that Psalm:


“Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever (KJV)”.


These two popular verses carry a promise of life to be lived forever. Because while the world still wrestles with the idea of death, Christians are already sorted!
James H. Sammis (1840-1919) put it clearly in the hymn Trust and Obey:

           Then in fellowship sweet

We will sit at his feet,
Or will walk by his side in the way;
What he says we will do,
Where he sends we will go,
Never fear only trust and obey.
In a land beyond this life, we will be.
In a land without shame, we will be.
In a land without disease, we will be.
In a land without tribulation, we will be.
In a land without guilt, we will be.
In a land without temptation, we will be.
In a land without sin, we will be.
There we will be, at the feet of a loving father, walking side by side with Him in fellowship sweet. All because of Jesus.

This is good news—very good news—news of a new and strong Adam, and news of a powerless death.

Read the words of Sandford F. Bennet (1836-1898) in the hymn, The Sweet By and By:
To our bountiful father above,
We will offer the tribute of praise,
For the glorious gift of his love,
And the blessings that hollow our days.
Because Jesus walked through the valley of death and defeated it in its tracks. When He resurrected, we all resurrected with Him never to die again. By the finished work of Jesus, death has lost its sting.

What a joy to behold! The land that our God has prepared for us (Deut. 5:16; John 14:2) we will live forever because Jesus honored His father on our Behalf. Isn’t that huge?

Image: Doug Floyd/Flickr



In Christ Jesus, all our Needs have Already been Met

Last updated on November 14th, 2016 at 01:17 pm

Our attempts at self-gratification have always been primary in creating a rift between God and us. This is known to Jesus and its what He
preaches about in Matthew 6: 25-34.

We are by nature addicted to self-gratification, and these attempts always end in worrying.
We worry because we are not sure of what tomorrow will hold (vs. 34). Our worries point to our brokenness: that even when we attempt at self-gratification, we are not sure if the odds will be ‘for us.’ There is always a loud voice saying that the odds will be ‘against us.’ And we tend to listen to that last one more.

Worry is like a huge bill board that reads: ” welcome to the dwelling place of unbelief.” To see that we cannot even believe in ourselves reveals how the calls to ‘believe in ourselves’ are a false hope, which amount to nothing but more worrying.

But Jesus is aware of this. He has a cure for it in verse 33: “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.”
Jesus here is exposing our emptiness and pointing us to the wholeness of a loving God.

He is saying that our focus should change: from looking inside of ourselves for what can only be found outside of us–at the feet of Jesus.
In verse 32b, Jesus says: “your heavenly father knows that you need them.” But His statement that follows in verse 33 shows that these material things we crave are not primary. What is primary is to “seek first his kingdom and righteousness.”

When we come to the realization that God knows and will always meet our [material] needs, we are set free to glorify him alone.
The loud voice that shouts “the odds are against you” is displaced by a still small voice which assures us that “the odds are for you” because Jesus went through the valley of death and came out victorious.

By His perfect sacrifice, He has secured for us all we need and can ever long for. Our need to procure for ourselves what Christ has already procured for us is then overcome by our celebration as we accept the gift that is Jesus Christ and rest in what He has procured for us.. Because in Him alone we have all we can ever desire and long for.

Where are you looking?

Last updated on November 14th, 2016 at 01:17 pm

It is important not to mistake the gospel for anything. This, at the same time means we should also not misunderstand the gospel’s importance for anything else.


The very early morning of the first day of the week, the bible tells us, women prepared spices and set out for the tomb only to find the stone rolled away from the tomb. They ran right inside to see what happened. These are the women talked about in Luke 24.
What is astonishing is what the angels asked them: ”Why seek ye the living among the dead?” (Luke 24:5). 

This happens even to this day. So many people are looking for what God can give in dead stuff.
If our problem was political,
God would have sent a politician.
If our problem was medical,
God would have sent a doctor.
If our problem was emotional,
God would have sent a psychologist.
If our problem was motivational,
God would have sent a life coach.
But because our problem is sin,
God sent a savior.
A savior in the person of Jesus Christ was sent so that those who believe in Him will find rest. Jesus through the gospel announces that “it is finished!” (John 19:30). 

We have been conditioned to believe that the solution to our problem is within. If we get a life coach, a motivational book, money. Stuff like that. But this is a dead end. That is looking for a solution in the wrong place to cure a wrong problem.

Our problem is sin. That is our root problem. And the solution is not within us. The ‘try harder’, ‘do more’, ‘never give up on your dreams’ sermons will not help cure our problem, and neither will the motivational speeches, and the ‘expert advice’.

The cure is the gospel. The gospel is the only antidote to sin. As Paul puts it, “But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us.” (Romans 5:8 KJV).

Jesus didn’t just die for our sins; he dies for our burdens as well. We are now free to be ourselves, love our neighbor unconditionally, fail, celebrate others, and give without expecting anything in return, because someone in the person of Jesus Christ paid the price for our fakeness, hate, selfishness, jealousy when he died on the cross.

What the church needs is the grace, uncompromised, radical, undomesticated, and scandalous grace. It is more than enough to cover the darkest of our sins and it is the only thing that will set us free.

The Power of Prayer

Last updated on November 14th, 2016 at 01:18 pm


Note: This is a talk I gave during the Overnight Prayers on 31st December, 2014 at St. Stephen’s Church, Nansana, Kampala-Uganda. 

The assignment I have been given is ‘The Power of Prayer.’ But since I am not able to give you a ‘guide on how to have a powerful prayer’ (that is God’s dominion), I will instead help us position for a better prayer life.

What is Prayer?
“Prayer is a man’s heart lifted up to God.” I don’t remember who said that but it’s the best definition of prayer I have come across.
We have reduced prayer to just requests to God and trashed its real essence—togetherness with God.
Prayer is a relationship with God. A father-son relationship Paul talks about when he says, “For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received a spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, Abba, Father.” (Romans 8:15) [Emphasis mine].
Ingredients of Prayer
Faith: A study done some years back in USA showed that over 60% of the population prayed. A portion of these were Christian, others agnostics, atheists, Jews, Muslims among others. They all prayed, but what is the difference? 
Faith. Yes, faith not in the prayer but the mediator who intercedes for us and continues to do so.
All the above pray but a prayer is that prayed in faith through Christ Jesus and not through Mary, Muhammad or our ability to poetically piece together compelling-to-the-ear-words we call prayer.
Because through prayer, we seek to get to God but the key to God is Christ. Read what Jesus Himself says, “I am the way, the truth, and the life: no man cometh unto the Father, but by me.” (John 14:6).
To further stress this fact, I will draw you to the words of Martin Luther, “We cannot pray without faith in Christ, the Mediator.  Turks, Jews, and papists may repeat the words of prayer, but they cannot pray.”
We have to believe that Christ is the son of God and our only way to God—our only mediator to the father. This means shifting our attention from how we pray (the length, sweetness-to-the-ear prayers) to Who we pray to—God—our only reason of existence.
Prayer as persistence not an emergency: In Ephesians 6:18, Paul writes, “Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints;” (Emphasis added).
There are two reasons why we need to persist in prayer. One, we never stop sinning, witch craft, mischief, hate, jealousy have no public holiday. We in the light of this should persist in prayer, praying at all times without ceasing. Second, prayer has no due date. We don’t know when our prayers will be answered. There is no such thing as a ‘prayer to end all prayers’, for even after our prayers have been answered, we persist in prayer in thanksgiving.
Luther puts it this way, “Upright Christians pray without ceasing; though they pray not always with their mouths, yet their hearts pray continually, sleeping and waking; for the sigh of a true Christian is a prayer.”
In Exodus 32 we read that Moses was in the presence of God for weeks and weeks which led the children of Israel to think that maybe he would not return.
So our prayer life should be reflective of persistence not emergency. Prayer is not for ‘Emergency Use Only’ that when we are in trouble we get a hold of the ‘prayer hose’ to put out that problem.
We are not called to be the ‘Need teaches prayer’ people.
Prayer as a relationship not request
A baby is manipulative, when it needs something, a bottle, toy, care, attention etc, they cry. A teenager will call via cell phone if they need something. The relationship with their parents is hinged on how responsive the parents are at meeting the teenager’s needs. This is at most a cell phone relationship.
A mature person on the other hand values relationship. An adult will sit with their aging mother for hours sometimes without saying a word. But needing to be with them. Just that.
When we mature as Christians, our prayer life should not deteriorate but rather improve. Like Tullian Tchividjian says, Christian growth means that the older we grow the more we realize how weak we are and how Christ is and continues to be strong for us.
To Skip Heitzig, “The interest of prayer is personal not functional.”
I will conclude like this: The power in prayer lies in seeking a relationship with God by faith and persistently yearning to take hold of his free gift of amazing and abundant grace.
Image: Collided With God/Flickr