Good teaching

September 10th, 2014

We sometimes hear of people who attend a particular church because of its good teaching. Some even go so far as to comment that they don’t particularly appreciate the music, the building or the fellowship, but they go for the teaching. Which means teaching must be pretty important. Paul certainly thought so when he urged Titus to be a sound teacher.

Note that the teaching is to be very practical. It is sadly true that some of our so-called ‘teaching’ is mere distribution of learned information with little relevance to daily living. Facts which could just as easily be absorbed by reading a book at home. Titus is to teach in such a way that patterns of living are challenged and reformed.

A church teacher is not just sharing information but urging transformation. Not just displaying knowledge but imparting wisdom. A sermon is to be backed up by deep and thoughtful preparation, but it is a mistake to preach such preparation. Interesting facts do not change lives.

And good teaching occurs in a climate of pastoral care. If the teacher doesn’t care and express that care in forging relationships with those who hear, then the teaching will lack integrity. Teachers are fellow learners and need to master the art of teaching with both authority and humility.

By all means seek out good teaching. But make sure it is truly ‘good teaching’. Is it changing your life? Is it helping you live for Jesus day by day? If not, it might just be the sharing of orthodox information which stimulates the brain but never penetrates the heart and will.



August 15th, 2014

The Great Plague stretched across London like a thick, drab blanket. It came as a thief in the night . . . unannounced, treacherous, silent. The mortality rate was astounding. Someone came up with the foolish idea that polluted air brought on the plague. So people began to carry flower petals in their pockets, superstitiously thinking the fragrance would ward off the disease. Groups of victims, if they were able to walk, were taken outside the hospitals. Holding hands, they walked in circles around rose gardens, breathing in deeply the aroma of the blooming plants. As death came closer, another superstitious act was employed with sincerity. Many felt if the lungs could be freed from pollution, life could be sustained. So ashes were placed in a spoon and brought up near the nose, causing a hefty sneeze or two. But nothing retarded the raging death rate. Not until the real cause was discovered—the bite of fleas from diseased rats—was the plague brought in check.

The awful experience gave birth to a little song which innocent children still sing at play. It was first heard from the lips of a soiled old man pushing a cart in London, picking up bodies along an alley:

Ring around the roses,
A pocket full of posies;
Ashes, ashes, we all fall down.

Conceived in the mind by ignorance, superstition cultivates insecurity and sends a legion of structural cracks through our character. It feeds on exaggerated, self-made lies which grow so thick that the boughs hide common sense—and worse, God.

You find superstition in sports. Some basketball players testify they simply cannot play the game unless they go through their strange warm-up ritual. The manager of one American professional baseball team doesn’t dare step on a white baseline. Several NFL football running backs have superstitious “dances” that follow their touchdowns—and you’d better not try to stop them! The news media reported that one of Australia’s Olympic skiers stuck a four-leaf clover in her jacket pocket before she hit the slopes.

Superstition enslaves many an entertainer. You wouldn’t believe the mental contortions they go through before their performances. Students are superstitious about getting good grades. Mothers are superstitious about their babies at night. Men are superstitious about their success in sales or the future of their careers. Multiplied millions are superstitious about their astrological forecast.

The worst?

Superstition regarding the Lord God.

The Reformers were among the first to see it and call a spade a spade. They wrote of it, preached against it, publicly exposed it—and were martyred because of it. Religious superstition is ruthless.

Before you write this off as applying to anyone but yourself, take a long, hard look at your own life. The goal of superstition is bondage. Remember that. If anything in your Christianity has you in bondage, it is probable that superstition is the breeding ground. You see, our Savior came to give us the truth and set us free. Superstition, although prompted by sincerity, brings the plague of slavery. Sincerity doesn’t liberate; Christ does.

You may be sincere. As sincere as a pocketful of petals or a spoonful of ashes or a song in the alley. But what good is a song if it’s sung to a corpse?


GOD’s frequency

April 29th, 2014

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me.”(John 10:27, NIV)


Right now, there are hundreds of radio frequencies in the air, hundreds of television signals all around you. But, you don’t hear them all. The reason is that you’re not tuned in. If you tune a radio or television to one of those frequencies, then you would pick up the signal.

In the same way, God is constantly transmitting to us. He wants to lead us, guide us, protect us and give us insight. But too often, we’re not tuned to His frequency. You have to pay attention to Him and learn His voice. God doesn’t speak to us most of the time out loud. He speaks to us through subtle things. He leads us by peace inside.

The best way to “tune in to His frequency” is by reading and meditating on His Word. The more know His Word, the more you know His voice. It’s like when you constantly tune in to a radio station and learn that DJ’s voice, you’ll recognize that voice when you are in a restaurant or at the mall. It’s the same idea. Tune in to God’s Word, tune in to Him and let Him lead you and guide you into victory all the days of your life!


The Reality of Heaven

April 24th, 2014

Revelation 21:1-6

The same Bible that develops the subject of hell also reveals the truth about heaven. What is heaven like? Playing harps all day? Lounging around on Cloud Nine? Living in enormous mansions along solid gold streets? Does it mean we’ll all have long white robes with matching sandals, glowing halos, and big flapping wings? Hardly!

Heaven is an actual place. A prepared place, designed for God’s redeemed people, those who have accepted God’s free gift of His Son.

“Do not let your heart be troubled; believe in God, believe also in Me. In My Father’s house are many dwelling places; if it were not so, I would have told you; for I go to prepare a place for you. If I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and receive you to Myself, that where I am, there you may be also.” (John 14:1-3)

According to this and other New Testament verses, heaven will be a place of beauty, peace, constant health, and happiness, filled with people from all the earthly ages who have one thing in common: faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, the Lamb of God, who took away the sin of the world.

In heaven we’ll have a face-to-face, exclusive relationship with our Savior, gloriously enjoyed without interruption or heartache or grief or sin or the threat of death.  God promised that He would make all things new in heaven.

And I saw a new heaven and a new earth; for the first heaven and the first earth passed away, and there is no longer any sea. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, made ready as a bride adorned for her husband . . .Then He said to me, “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the beginning and the end. I will give to the one who thirsts from the spring of the water of life without cost. (Revelation 21:1-2, 6)

Heaven will be the destiny of those who take God at His Word, believing in His Son, Jesus Christ, and coming, by faith, to salvation . . . without cost.

Can something this good really be free? Even free of works? You decide after reading these Scripture verses.

For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, that no one may boast. (Ephesians 2:8-9)

Being justified as a gift by His grace through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus. (Romans 3:24)

Yes, salvation comes to us “free and clear” of any hidden charges or religious deeds or human effort. We come to God through Christ . . . lost, sinful, without hope, and deserving of hell. In grace, He sees us in Christ and in grace loves us, forgives us, accepts us into His family, and promises us an eternal home with Him in heaven, the ultimate destination of all His people.

Salvation is the single most important issue in all of life. Yet, if we are not careful, we’ll put it off until later; we’ll even put it completely out of our minds. Salvation is an urgent matter and is yours for the taking.

I ask you, will you do so today?


The Reality of Hell

April 24th, 2014

Luke 16:19-31

A particular story Jesus once told comes to my mind every time I think of life after death. Because it is descriptive and brief, we are able to get a fairly uncomplicated picture in our minds of this subject of hell.

“Now there was a rich man, and he habitually dressed in purple and fine linen, joyously living in splendor every day. And a poor man named Lazarus was laid at his gate, covered with sores, and longing to be fed with the crumbs which were falling from the rich man’s table; besides, even the dogs were coming and licking his sores. Now the poor man died and was carried away by the angels to Abraham’s bosom; and the rich man also died and was buried. In Hades he lifted up his eyes, being in torment, and saw Abraham far away and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried out and said, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus so that he may dip the tip of his finger in water and cool off my tongue, for I am in agony in this flame.’

But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your life you received your good things, and likewise Lazarus bad things; but now he is being comforted here, and you are in agony. And besides all this, between us and you there is a great chasm fixed, so that those who wish to come over from here to you will not be able, and that none may cross over from there to us.’

And he said, ‘Then I beg you, father, that you send him to my father’s house—for I have five brothers—in order that he may warn them, so that they will not also come to this place of torment.’

But Abraham said, ‘They have Moses and the Prophets; let them hear them.’

But he said, ‘No, father Abraham, but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent!’

But he said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the Prophets, they will not be persuaded even if someone rises from the dead.’” (Luke 16:19-31)

Much of what you just read needs no explanation. It is the story of two men. While alive, their status could hardly have been more different. And when they died, again a contrast. One found himself in heaven; the other, in hell. Our attention falls upon the rich man who is pleading for relief and removal from his torturous surroundings. The scene is unpleasant to imagine, but it is nevertheless real. Neither here nor elsewhere does Jesus suggest this was merely a fantasy.

The man in hell is in conscious torment. He is crying out for mercy. Being “far away” (v. 23) and permanently removed by “a great chasm” (v. 26), he is desperately alone, unable to escape from hell, as we read, “none may cross over” (v. 26). The horror is painfully literal, unlike the jokes often passed around regarding hell. Haunted with thoughts of other family members ultimately coming to the same place, the man begs for someone to go to his father’s house and warn his brothers “. . . so that they will not also come to this place of torment” (v. 28).

This is only one of many references to an eternal existence in hell. The New Testament, in fact, says more about hell than it does about heaven. Here are just a few characteristics of hell set forth in the New Testament:

  • It is a place of weeping and gnashing of teeth (Matthew8:12).
  • It is a place where people scream for mercy, have memories, are tormented, feel alone, cannot escape (Luke 16:23-31).
  • It is a place of unquenchable fire (Mark 9:48).
  • It is a place of darkness (Revelation 9:2).
  • It is a place of eternal damnation (Mark 3:29 KJV).
  • It is a place where God’s wrath is poured out (Revelation 14:10 KJV).
  • It is a place of everlasting destruction (2 Thessalonians 1:9).

The finality of all this is overwhelmingly depressing. We have little struggle believing that heaven will be forever, but for some reason we ignore that hell will be equally everlasting. To deny the permanence of hell is impossible without also removing the permanence of heaven. Each is a reality and each is ultimate finality.


Reaching out

April 24th, 2014

Read 1 Peter 2:11-12

11 Dear friends, I warn you as “temporary residents and foreigners” to keep away from worldly desires that wage war against your very souls. 12 Be careful to live properly among your unbelieving neighbours. Then even if they accuse you of doing wrong, they will see your honourable behaviour, and they will give honour to God when he judges the world. (NLT)

When we think of evangelism or outreach, we so often think of events. The church organises what it hopes to be an attractive event or series of events. Then the leaders urge members to invite contacts to these events—sometimes inducing unfortunate guilt. Which is not how the New Testament sees evangelism or outreach.

As Peter reminds us, living Jesus-like lives in our everyday sometimes hostile circumstances is the primary way we witness to the character of God. Not that events are wrong. It is just that unless they occur in the context of ongoing genuine relationships they will be fizzers. Many of our evangelistic events are rather ‘underwhelming’ in their results because they are about our pursuing our agenda to those we invite to them. It is a good agenda, but that is not the point.

We need to first listen to and get involved with those with whom we want to share the love of Jesus. If we are too busy constructing and organising events we may not have the time and energy to do just that. Our involvement in church may even prevent us forming relationships in the first place. If evangelism is seen as mostly about inviting people to a church event, then we have sadly missed the point of Christian witness.

We reach out to others where they are as our main theme. We focus on incarnating something of Jesus in the relationships we have. Then we may have the right and the responsibility to plan an event or two. Process precedes and shapes event.


Memories can be bittersweet

April 24th, 2014

Read Job 29:1-6

1-6 Job now resumed his response:

“Oh, how I long for the good old days,
when God took such very good care of me.
He always held a lamp before me
and I walked through the dark by its light.
Oh, how I miss those golden years
when God’s friendship graced my home,
When the Mighty One was still by my side
and my children were all around me,
When everything was going my way,
and nothing seemed too difficult.

Memories can be bittersweet. We can remember with fondness so many wonderful times and be thankful for them. Then again, like Job, we can remember some good times from a different perspective. Our yesterdays might be delightful compared to our todays. The memories of the good times only make these not-so-good times even harder to bear.

This is particularly so when God is brought into the picture. Isn’t God supposed to be the same yesterday, today, and forever? How come he has so richly blessed me in the past and now seems to have withdrawn his favour? The memories of the ‘good old days’ are a haunting reminder of what we once had but have now lost.

The past can never be entirely recaptured, the past is well and truly past. We dare not linger too long over these good old days, even though we rightly thank God for them. And given the constancy of God (despite appearances sometimes), we can look forward to more good times. Till then we endure this season saturated with memories of what has been. And we cling to trusting that God has not been left behind.

Our God is never a mere memory. He has not shut himself off in our past as some historical relic. He is with us to see us through all our days, not just the good old days.



April 20th, 2014

Read Habakkuk 3:17-19

17 Even though the fig trees have no blossoms,
and there are no grapes on the vines;
even though the olive crop fails,
and the fields lie empty and barren;
even though the flocks die in the fields,
and the cattle barns are empty,
18 yet I will rejoice in the LORD!
I will be joyful in the God of my salvation!

19 The Sovereign LORD is my strength!
He makes me as surefooted as a deer,
able to tread upon the heights. (NLT)

There are many people around who have given up on God because of all the suffering in the world.

Or because of all the suffering in their life.

Our first reaction might be one of considerable sympathy.

Shouldn’t a powerful and loving God be able to erase such suffering?

Why bother with a God who either doesn’t care enough to stop the pain or doesn’t have the capacity to stop it?

Very good questions which have preoccupied both the great and the not-so-great over the centuries.

Without ever really solving the problem!

But is the issue of unjust suffering enough to turn our backs on God? What good will it do us to give up on God? Does it make the pain go away or make suffering more tolerable?

The prophet Habakkuk figured it was better to cling to faith. Even though life was hard and things happened that defied reason and that were beyond understanding, he hung on to God. His God might not solve the problem of unfair pain, but he made him surefooted enough to go on living in spite of the mystery.

Faith does have its challenges, but faithlessness doesn’t make it better. Beware of jumping from the frying pan of faith into the fire of unbelief.


What is a Christian?

April 14th, 2014

Is it possible for a person to become a Christian and then cease to be one? Can we lose our salvation? Is it once saved always saved? Those arguing both sides can quote texts to support their case. At the risk of ‘wimping out’, let’s look at this another way.

Whatever the truth of this text, it is important to avoid making judgements on others’ salvation. Who says a person who attends church regularly is a Christian? Who says an individual who can articulate Christian truth is a Christian? Who says a person who is a lovely and kindly person is a Christian? None of these things automatically grants a person eternal life.

Then again, who says a person who has dropped out of church has stopped being a Christian? Who says a person who struggles unsuccessfully with destructive behaviours is not a Christian? Who says a person who disputes our own grasp of the faith has no such Christian faith themselves? None of these things automatically disqualifies a person from God’s family.

We can make no final judgements about other people: the most we can do is form some tentative and qualified opinions. We adopt a perspective of reverent and humble agnosticism. We simply do not know. Only God knows. And he isn’t telling.


Imaginary gods

March 19th, 2014

If we get our idea of God wrong, then everything else is wrong. Distort God and we distort faith itself. The ancient people addressed in this text lived in a world where many fashioned material images and proclaimed them as divine. Biblical faith reminds them and us that no such images or idols can replace the true and finally invisible God.

Nowadays we are more inclined to pursue false imaginings of God. Our childhood backgrounds, our many life experiences, our basic temperaments, all can shape our concept of God. And this applies even to those who faithfully read their Bibles. It is all too easy to pick and choose bits of the Bible to reinforce these pre-existent notions of God.

So we proclaim the stern moralistic God, the indulgent easy-going God, the hand-wringing wimpish God, the efficiency-expert God. And we may even back this up with Bible verses. When all the time we are simply projecting what is inside us and mixing it up with some partially grasped truths.

How many people have been turned off God by such distortions? How many, who seem to have turned their backs on the Christian faith, have actually rejected a misinterpretation of it? Getting God right is paramount. He made us in his image, we are not to make him in our own.