Tuesday, 10 June 2014

Psalm 43, Jesus and The Gospel

I read Psalm 43 today as part of my bible reading and by God’s grace it occurred to me that Jesus is all through this Psalm – and it was so encouraging to see God’s faithfulness in completing his promises and to remember that he is sovereign and everything that happened in Jesus was his plan all along.
Verses 1-2
Vindicate me, O God, and defend my cause
    against an ungodly people,
from the deceitful and unjust man
    deliver me!
For you are the God in whom I take refuge;
    why have you rejected me?
Why do I go about mourning
    because of the oppression of the enemy?
These are words that David wrote about 1000 years about Jesus. And they are quite general – on one level they are simply David crying out to God for vindication and questioning why God seems absent from his sufferings.
Yet these are also words that the Holy Spirit inspired David to write (2 Peter 1:21), and thus we can trust that God had his perfect plan in them, and they point exactly to Jesus. Jesus was perfect and righteous, and therefore he alone deserved vindication from God (and that came when he rose again). He suffered and died at the hands of an unfaithful and rebellious nation – the Jews rejected him, their creator and God, preferring their self-righteousness and legalism. And likewise so did we, preferring our sin.
The words that specifically caught my attention are “Why have you forsaken me”, which are the same words Jesus cries out on the cross as he suffers the punishment that we deserved. When we put our faith in Jesus he takes our sins, and he takes God’s punishment for them, dying in our place when he died on the cross. He was rejected by God when it should have been us who were rejected by God (for we reject him and his way when we sin). He was forsaken by God so we could be adopted as God’s children. What a wonderful saviour!
Verses 3-4
Send out your light and your truth;
    let them lead me;
let them bring me to your holy hill
    and to your dwelling!
Then I will go to the altar of God,
    to God my exceeding joy,
and I will praise you with the lyre,
    O God, my God.
These are actually the verses that caught my attention first up. Who is David’s light? Who is the truth? Who is the ultimate fulfilment of both of those images? Jesus! He is the light of the world (John 8:12), and in fact he was the one who created light on day 1 (Genesis 1, John 1). Likewise he is the way, the truth and the life – the only way we can be made right with God. He is the only one who can save us from God’s wrath against sin – only by faith in him and repentance can we be forgiven. (So have you put your faith in him? – 1 John 1:8-9)
In John 1 we learn that Jesus is the word, and God’s word is truth. God also spoke to bring creation into existence. And in Psalm 119:105 we learn that God’s word is a “lamp to [our] feet and a light to [our] path”. This then links into the second line of v3 – Jesus alone can lead us. He alone can lead us to God’s holy hill – to heaven. Because of our sin we deserve hell, God’s wrath. Yet Jesus saves! He lights the way, he is the truth, and if we follow him we have access to God! We will go to heaven to be with him (2 Corinthians 4:16-18*, forgiven for our sins (Acts 2:38) and adopted as God’s children (Galatians 3:26, Romans 8)! What a glorious gospel!
And so we have a resolution to the issue of Psalm 42 and 43. Why are you downcast O my soul? There’s no reason to be for we are forgiven! For even if the whole world falls apart. Even if the mountains fall into the sea (Psalm 46), we are forgiven and nothing can separate us (Christians) from the love of God (Romans 8).
Why are you cast down, O my soul,
    and why are you in turmoil within me?
Hope in God; for I shall again praise him,
    my salvation and my God.

Soli Deo Gloria.
Nath.

First posted on my new blog, Rock and Refuge.

Monday, 2 June 2014

Voice of the Martyrs Prayer Watch


IRAN: Update on Dual-National Detained for his Christian Activities

Saeed Abedini has been detained since 26 September 2012. In mid-March 2014 he was transferred to a hospital where he received limited medical care but his family were able to feed him, enabling him to gain some weight and regain strength.
On the morning of 20 May a number of intelligence officials arrived unannounced at the hospital. They violently removed Saeed from the hospital, beating him and reportedly giving him an electric shock. He was returned to Rajai Shahr Prison.
This incident follows similar mistreatment of Christian and other detainees within Iran's prison system in recent weeks.
In 2009 Saeed had been warned about his involvement with house churches and so he had focused on humanitarian activities during subsequent visits to Iran. In 2012, while visiting his parents and conducting humanitarian aid, Saeed was detained and in January 2013 he was convicted on charges relating to anti-state activities (which were derived from his involvement with house fellowships) and sentenced to eight years' imprisonment. Saeed has joint Iranian-US citizenship; his wife Naghmeh and their two children are in the US.
Source: Middle East Concern

PRAYER POINTS

  • Pray that Saeed will know the close presence of Jesus each day and that he will experience His healing touch and will receive due medical care.
  • Pray the Lord will give Saeed, his wife and their two children courage, patience and the ability to rely on the Lord's good timing and perfect purposes.
  • Pray all officials involved will love mercy, act justly, learn about Jesus and choose to follow Him (Micah 6:8).

TANZANIA: Pray for Members of Area's Only Church

A church in the predominantly Muslim area of Mafia, Tanzania, was burned down on Friday 9 May, just hours before a scheduled prayer meeting. Radicals had threatened the pastor, Ombeni Omari, and the church for the past two years.
Pastor Omari, a Christian convert from Islam, escaped to Dar es Salaam with his wife and three children after learning of the attack. He had founded the almost 60-member church, the only Christian church in the area, and nearly all of its members were converts from Islam.
Although the church building was destroyed, Pastor Omari said he will return to the area because the work he was called to is not yet finished.
Source: Voice of the Martyrs USA

PRAYER POINTS

  • Thank the Lord for Pastor Omari's faithfulness and eternal priorities.
  • Pray the congregation will continue to meet together to worship the Lord, fellowship with one another and learn from Scripture.
  • Pray the Lord will have mercy on the perpetrators and other Muslims in the area so they too may be drawn to the one true God and worship Him.

KAZAKHSTAN: New Laws Threaten Religious Freedom

New laws with tougher restrictions on religious freedom are currently awaiting approval in Kazakhstan. The laws, which are currently being reviewed with the parliament's Senate, would usher in harsh new punishments that are raising concerns among human rights defenders and religious communities.
Restrictions include up to 60 days of imprisonment for leading religious meetings without state permission, or up to 45 days in jail for attending such an event. At present, these offences are only punishable with fines. It would also become illegal to build places of worship in prisons.
The reported deadline for adopting the new laws is 15 June, with the laws scheduled to come into force as of 1 January 2015.
Source: Forum 18 News Service

PRAYER POINTS

  • Pray that the authorities in Kazakhstan will seek to uphold and respect religious freedom for all, and that these proposed harsh restrictions will be overturned.
  • Ask God to grant wisdom to the church leaders at this time as they navigate these possible changes.
  • Pray the Lord will use these apparent hindrances to further His greater purposes for the church as a whole in Kazakhstan.

First posted on Rock and Refuge

Saturday, 31 May 2014

A Dilemma caused by Pride

I woke up this morning and got ready to go to our church’s prayer meeting. As I hopped in the car it occurred to me that my reasons for going were entirely wrong. I wanted to go to the prayer meeting to be noticed. I wanted to be seen as a young man who is trying to be godly – note the word Seen.
Obviously theres nothing wrong with being a young man and wanting to be godly. But the fact is that this wasn’t my desire. My desire was to be noticed. To be seen. To have people think “Oh, I love seeing Nat’s faith.” or “I love seeing how he comes to the prayer meetings every sunday morning”. In that moment I once again realised just how quickly and easily I let arrogance take root in my life. I don’t often notice it until it sprouts out and I take the time to look at my motives. But it’s there, and I need to battle it constantly.
And so immediately I had a dilemma. I wanted to go to the prayer meeting out of arrogance and self-centeredness – not out of a desire to glorify God, to pray to him and encourage his people. I had 3 options: I could go, put on my little facade of godliness and pretend like I hadn’t noticed my sinfulness and pride. I could not go, and then not have any chance of encouraging God’s people or spending that time in fellowship with them, or I could go and try to change my motives. 
It seemed to me that option 1 and 2 are both out of the question. If I am truly one of God’s people I can’t just ignore my sin. I need to throw it off and run the race with perseverance (Hebrews 12:1). And I can’t do option 2 because then my bad motives will prevent me from serving God (and I’ll undoubtedly get proud about being ‘humble’ and dealing with my pride in such an ‘effective’ way). The only option that was left then was to go and to deal with my pride.
So I went.
But my question was how can I change my motives? How can I effectively deal with my pride? What steps can I take to fight against it. And I’m almost constantly stumped by that question.
And in God’s gracious providence he reminded me during the sermon of a way to work on it. The sermon was on Matthew 18:1-5, where the disciples ask Jesus who will be the greatest. In God’s perfect timing it was the passage for today, and it touched on exactly what I’d been convicted of: Pride.
What I was reminded of is crucial to dealing with pride: realising our state before God. I am a sinner. A wretched sinner who can’t even change his own motives. I’m an arrogant and ignorant rebel who has rejected God. And yet in his mercy he saved me. Not because of anything good in me. Not because he needed to. Not because I was worth saving. Jesus died for me - not because I am amazing – but because he is amazing. Not because I am worthy of being saved, but because he is glorious and he alone is worthy of all praise, and he saw fit to redeem me from my sin so I could praise him.
With that in mind – theres no reason or excuse for pride. There’s nothing good in me that I can offer God. Nothing I could do to save myself.
The first crucial step in dealing with pride is honesty with yourself and seeing from God’s perspective. 
And from there our motives have to change – they need to be to honour God. We need to obey him out of love for him and thankfulness to him for all he’s done for us (which is a lot).
How are you going with pride? What motivates you to live a ‘godly’ life – is it a desire to be noticed by men, or a desire to honour God?
For the original post (and to check out my new blog) click here
God Bless!
Nathanael.

Wednesday, 12 March 2014

Standing Together: So we don't fear.

This post was first published on my new blog: Rock and Refuge.

Philippians 1:27-30
http://www.psdgraphics.com/file/paper-people-background.jpg
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
These verses bring us our second reason that we need to stand together as Christians: So we don't fear. (You can see the previous post here).
Paul is very honest about the fact that if we are Christians we will be persecuted. We will face opponents and we will face hardships because of our faith in Jesus as both saviour and Lord. And the truth is these hardships and this opposition can be demoralising. It can be scary. It can throw us off track and make us want to forsake Christ like Peter did in order to save ourselves.
But when we stand together with other Christians it becomes easier to persevere. Fellowship with other Christians who are also suffering should be like a safe haven to us. A place where we can just rest and recuperate. Where we are surrounded by people we trust. People who will support and love us, who will not throw stones at us like the world does, but who will help shield us and comfort us from the persecution that we face. People who will act like penguins in the cold - working together to shelter one another against the cold outside.
But the truth us that although Christian community should be like this, often it is now. Often we Christians don't care for each other as they should. We don't stop to make sure the other person is alright. We don't take the time to comfort those who are fearful. And as a result when one individual faces persecution, hardship or fear they can often feel at least as if there is no one to help them.
Isolation is one of the things Satan tries to convince us of and to destroy us with - and that's why Peter says in 1 Peter 5:8-9
Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him,firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world.
As Christians who suffer, we can trust that other Christians are also suffering. But on the flip-side of that, we need to be honest with one another so that we don't have to battle alone. Because battling alone is a sure way to fall into the trap of fear, and it is far easier to give up in hard times when it seems no one else is interested in helping you through it. As Christians, we need to stand together - working first to serve God, and because of that we need to love each other dearly, because we know that "perfect love drives out fear" (1 John 4:18).
So here's three questions for you: How are you going at standing together with other Christians? How are you going with loving one another and being honest with others about your struggles? How are you going at comforting those around you who are suffering for their faith? 
We will suffer for Christ. The question is, will we try to battle it out alone in the harsh and bitter cold? Or will we huddle together like penguins and comfort one another, pointing one another to the glorious promises of Christ, and to the marvellous fact that he has taken our sin and will return to bring us into glory?

Monday, 10 March 2014

Standing Together: To encourage each other to live godly lives.

Philippians 1:27-30
Only let your manner of life be worthy of the gospel of Christ, so that whether I come and see you or am absent, I may hear of you that you are standing firm in one spirit, with one mind striving side by side for the faith of the gospel, and not frightened in anything by your opponents. This is a clear sign to them of their destruction, but of your salvation, and that from God. For it has been granted to you that for the sake of Christ you should not only believe in him but also suffer for his sake, engaged in the same conflict that you saw I had and now hear that I still have.
Paul starts these verses by calling the Philippians to live a life worthy of the gospel. If they claim to be God's people they need to reflect that claim by living as his people. We are God's representation on earth. We are being watched, and what we do gives an impression (whether true or false) of who God is to those who see us.

One way to live rightly as one of God's people is to work with other Christians to do it. When we try to do something on our own, it's hard because we only have our own ideas and thoughts to go off. We have no one to keep us on the right track, no one to challenge our ideas, no one to show us when we are subtly justifying to ourselves something that is wrong.

That's one reason that we have to stand together as God's people: We need to stand together so we can help each other to live a life that reflects who our God and saviour is. We need help to be holy as God is holy. Now obviously it is only by God's grace and the work of the Holy Spirit that we can be saved and it is only by him that we can be learning to obey him better. And our 'good deeds' certainly don't make us more worthy of salvation. They are simply a response of love to his fantastic grace in saving us when we didn't deserve it.

It's much easier to obey God when you're doing it with other Christians - seeing their example and following it, encouraging each other to resist sin and being able to talk about particular temptations you have and pray for each other. Part of working together is being selfless and humble. We need to work with other Christians to help ourselves obey God, but we also need to work with them in order to benefit them. We can't be self-obsessed - that's something we're bad at in our western culture.

We weren't created to serve God alone. Even in the garden God gave Adam a partner - Eve. If Adam needed a companion when he was perfect, how much more do we need to help each other when it's a struggle to obey God?

So I have two questions for you: Firstly, How are you going at obeying God? And secondly, are you spending time with other Christians being real and honest with them? Are you looking to help them to live for God, while also humbly looking for their help in your own life?

This post was first posted on my new blog: Rock and Refuge

Thursday, 20 February 2014

One thing the Olympics have taught me.

Image source
I quiet enjoy watching sport, and I've really enjoyed turning on the TV and seeing the Sochi Winter Olympic games on. Watching people from different countries battle it out against one another in various different sports is pretty enjoyable. But one thing in particular has struck me as I've been watching the Winter Olympics this year: These people train for at least 4 years (probably far longer) just to compete for a few minutes. Some of them succeed, winning for themselves a brief moment of glory and a shiny piece of metal. Others are forgotten by the wayside within moments, left only with the hope of something different after four more years of training.
It occurred to me that while there is absolutely nothing wrong with sport or the Olympics, if this is all that these people live for then they are to be pitied. If all they can hope to attain in life is a few minutes of fame, if all that they set their eyes on is the glory of being the best in the world for a few years, then they aren't really living for anything that will last. The fact is that in a years time only a few people will remember who won medals and who competed well. In a few decades these athletes won't be remembered at all.
But it struck me that the same applies for everything in this world - doesn't it? We can chase after things that promise a lot, but can they ever truly deliver? Will we be happy with just one more promotion? Will making my first million dollars truly make me content and fulfilled in life? Even friends and families will disappoint us - and likewise we'll fail them. And even if these things could bring lasting contentedness, none of them can change the fact that we are sinful and need a saviour. None of them can save us from death.
In Ecclesiastes 7:2 Solomon says:
It is better to go to a house of mourning
than to go to a house of feasting,
for death is the destiny of everyone;
the living should take this to heart.

The truth is that whatever we achieve in this life, there is no purpose to it unless it is done for God. Whatever we accomplish will fade away. It will be forgotten and replaced. But if we repent of our sins and put our faith in Jesus as the only one who will save, then we have the promise that we will go to be in heaven with him for eternity. We won't take our achievements with us. In fact, it won't matter if we've achieved "greatness" by the world's standard. The only thing that will matter in the long run is if we have put our faith in Jesus and, as a result of that, have served God faithfully out of thankfulness and love.
What are you trying to achieve in life? What are your goals? Will they matter once you die? Will they matter in 200 years time?How long will it take for people to forget you?
The real question boils down to this: Are you living your life as a Christian who has turned to Jesus as the only one who can save, or are you rejecting him and living your own way?
1 Corinthians 9:24-25
 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one gets the prize? Run in such a way as to get the prize. Everyone who competes in the games goes into strict training. They do it to get a crown that will not last, but we do it to get a crown that will last forever.
Published first on my new blog: http://rockandrefuge.wordpress.com/ 
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Tuesday, 18 February 2014

Have you been crucified with Christ?

I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me. (Gal 2:20)
A lot of people know this verse. It's one of those common ones that we can pull out without too much thought. But that's the problem - have we actually considered the depths of what it means to be crucified with Christ?
It only hit me the other day what the implications of that statement are. If we were crucified with Jesus, that means we died with him. If we were dead we wouldn't be doing anything would we? We'd just be laying in the ground decaying. But Paul doesn't just say "I no longer live" - he says "but Christ lives in me".
If Christ lives in us, and we are dead, what does that mean for our sin and all the extra bits and pieces that we fill our lives with? If we are really dead to the world, and if it is really Christ who lives in us (which should be our aim), then there is absolutely no excuse to sin. There's no excuse for a "little white lie", or for doing something that dishonors God "just one last time".
But at the same time, if we are dead, what about the video games and movies that don't really have a purpose? The exercise done not to honour God with our bodies but just to honour ourselves? We all fill our lives with things that don't really matter (those were just two common examples for my age group).
But if we are dead, and it is Christ who lives in us, shouldn't our every action, word and thought be in line with his? Shouldn't we be always looking for ways to honour and glorify him and share the gospel? Shouldn't we be transformed, doing everything for his glory and out of love for those around us?
And yet, if we're honest none of us are like that. To be completely dead to anything except Christ is nearly impossible on this earth. And at the same time that should be our aim - we should be living as Christians constantly, always re-evaluating what we are doing in an attempt to make it more and more honouring to God. Here are two ideas:
  • Are there specific areas in your life that you are still sinning? The answer to that will be yes - because we are still sinful and won't be perfect until heaven. But are you repentant for those things and trying to give your life more fully to God?
  • Have a look at where you use your time. Are those things useful and good? Are they glorifying to God in any way? They may not be wrong to do, but do they tangle you up and stop you from doing things that are specifically good and right?
  • Have a think about where your thoughts are usually drawn to. Are you often thinking about how to honour God and how to serve him? Or about other things which might not be particularly bad, but just aren't as good? I find my attention is usually drawn to my friends - not in an effort to encourage and love them, but thinking about what they think of me and things like that.
I'm not at all saying that by doing things that aren't specifically godly or ungodly we aren't Christians. I'm just asking if we've really considered what this verse means - are we dead to ourselves and the things in this world and living only for Christ? What areas in my life do I need to be working on?
This was first posted on my new blog: http://rockandrefuge.wordpress.com/