11 April 2024

Able to Admonish

"Now I myself am confident concerning you, my brethren, that you also are full of goodness, filled with all knowledge, able also to admonish one another."
Romans 15:14

Paul was confident fellow believers in Christ had godly character and lives filled with goodness and knowledge by the presence and power of the Holy Spirit.  God who causes light to shine in darkness and raises dead souls to new life by faith in Jesus Christ, He alone is able to bring this wonderful transformation to the hearts and minds of sinners.  Though we are guilty of sin, we rightly identify as saints saved by grace through faith in Jesus.  It is not that we are good or worthy in ourselves, but having been redeemed by Jesus who alone is good we have peace with God and unity with other Christians.

The apostle Paul had confidence in born again Christian believers they themselves may not have possessed:  the ability to admonish one another.  The realisation of our own failures and sins can prompt us to shrink from our necessary duty at times to gently instruct, warn or correct others.  Colossians 3:16 says to all believers, "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom, teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord."  A common complaint of Christians is hypocrisy, and while this accusation can be unfounded we make great effort for this to always be the case concerning us and hypocrisy.  Correcting others is not a claim of being perfect, and all God's children are to remain humble and meek regardless of our role in the body of Christ.

While all Christians are called to walk in obedience to Christ and admonish others at times, this responsibility is doubly given to those in church leadership.  1 Thessalonians 5:12-14 says, "And we urge you, brethren, to recognize those who labor among you, and are over you in the Lord and admonish you, 13 and to esteem them very highly in love for their work's sake. Be at peace among yourselves. 14 Now we exhort you, brethren, warn [same word translated "admonish" in verse 12] those who are unruly, comfort the fainthearted, uphold the weak, be patient with all." (emphasis mine)  Both pastors and parishioners are urged and exhorted to admonish one another to the end people would be at peace, comforted and upheld with patience.  Isn't this how we observe Jesus to be with His disciples and is with us as well?  Jesus is over us all as our Good Shepherd, and thus we are to heed His gracious and gentle example as He guided the sheep of His pasture.

While there is no consensus among experts what percentage of our interpersonal communication is conveyed through words, tone of voice, nonverbal cues or body language, it is without controversy words are only one part of the complex way humans communicate.  When we are prompted by God's word or our conscience to admonish others, it is important for us to examine our own attitudes and ensure we are already heeding advice we will be giving.  A believer ought to have peace himself in Christ as he aims to be at peace among other believers.  In esteeming God and others as more important than ourselves, humility governs us to walk in love towards all.  The picture of the ones in whom the word of God dwells richly, singing with grace in their hearts to the LORD, these are the ones who add the sweetness of God's grace to being admonished--which in itself can be a bitter pill to swallow.

10 April 2024

Anxious or Praying?

"Be anxious for nothing, but in everything by prayer and supplication, with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God; 7 and the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."
Philippians 4:6-7

Jesus urged His disciples not to worry about what food to eat, what to drink and what clothes to wear because life is more than these things.  He said we are to seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all of these things will be added unto us.  When we prioritise seeking God who gives us all things richly to enjoy, we will find all our temporal needs met in His time and marvellous way.  Our God is the one who caused manna to appear in the wilderness, and at His command water flowed from the rock.  During their 40-year pilgrimage through the desert, the clothes and sandals of the people did not wear out because God was with them, protected and provided for them by making fabrics and leather last.

In the same vein of His Saviour Jesus, Paul exhorted believers to be anxious for nothing.  There are many situations that are naturally troubling to our minds, and fiery trials can produce anxiety in hearts that are easily confused, overwhelmed and feel helpless.  Christians need not be at the mercy of our circumstances to experience the peace of God, for we can bring everything to God by prayer with thanksgiving.  All our requests and petitions are known by God before we say a word, and we can communicate our concerns to Him knowing He loves us, hears and will answer--though He bear long with us.  People will help a person simply because they are weary of being pestered, motivated by their own selfishness and not by the goodness of their hearts.  We can have all confidence God is good and will avenge His own children speedily.

There was a situation in the Old Testament that arose due to the slackness of the people assembled in Jerusalem who had not cleansed or purified themselves in preparation for the Passover.  For a long time the service of the temple had been neglected, but Hezekiah and the people rejoiced how quickly temple worship and sacrifices to God were re-established.  It marked a period of spiritual revival in Israel, for King Hezekiah invited people from the far reaches of the northern kingdom to assemble for the Passover.  Some of the people who travelled far were not ceremonially clean and thus could not consecrate their lambs to the LORD.  2 Chronicles 30:18-20 says, "For a multitude of the people, many from Ephraim, Manasseh, Issachar, and Zebulun, had not cleansed themselves, yet they ate the Passover contrary to what was written. But Hezekiah prayed for them, saying, "May the good LORD provide atonement for everyone 19 who prepares his heart to seek God, the LORD God of his fathers, though he is not cleansed according to the purification of the sanctuary." 20 And the LORD listened to Hezekiah and healed the people."  How good God is to hear and answer prayers of undeserving, unprepared, unworthy people!

The chapter concluded in 2 Chronicles 30:26-27:  "So there was great joy in Jerusalem, for since the time of Solomon the son of David, king of Israel, there had been nothing like this in Jerusalem. 27 Then the priests, the Levites, arose and blessed the people, and their voice was heard; and their prayer came up to His holy dwelling place, to heaven."  Great and awesome is the LORD, who hears the voices and prayers of His people and answers with "Amen!"  God brought great joy to His people, and the following chapter begins by describing how the people destroyed idols and high places throughout the land.  There are some who imply God will not hear people who are in sin; God will not hear our prayers until our idols are destroyed.  This is simply not true.  God hears the prayers of sinners and answers them because He is good.  While we should not presume upon the goodness of God by remaining in sin and idolatry, God's healing, forgiveness and atonement is all of grace.

Knowing God is good and hears our prayers, let us be those repent of our sin and walk in the righteous way that pleases God.  The question is not if God loves us, hear our prayers or will avenge us, for He assures us He will on the basis of us belonging to Him.  The question Jesus posed is the one we will answer with whether we fear God and pray to Him in Luke 18:8:  "Nevertheless, when the Son of Man comes, will He really find faith on the earth?"  Jesus is coming back, just as He said.  Will He find people who are anxious or those who in everything make their requests known to God in prayer with thanksgiving?  Before Jesus returns, now is the time to right our wrongs concerning the fear of man instead of God and justifying our anxiety rather than praying and thanking God.

09 April 2024

God and Priorities

It is important for believers to establish and maintain godly priorities through every season of life.  Whether it is the weekday, the weekend or we are on holiday, God always ought to have first priority in our lives.  This does not mean, however, that our actions must be reserved for only spiritual disciplines.  Doing our regular chores, work and even recreation can be undertaken in thanksgiving to God and having attitudes that please Him.  In fulfilling our roles in a family, society and at work, we can do all things as unto the LORD who sanctifies us with joy and thanksgiving.

It is encouraging to know that while God does not need us, He chooses to call us and use us as His servants as spouses, parents, neighbours and friends.  The calling to be God's ministers in our own families ought not to neglected because we are a minister of a church.  I like what Sanders wrote in his book Spiritual Leadership:  "If a man has not succeeded in exercising a benevolent and happy discipline in his own family, is there reason to expect that he will do better with the family of God?...The clear implication is that, while caring for the interests of the church or other spiritual activity, the leader will not neglect the economy of God, the discharge of one God-given duty or responsibility will never involve the neglect of another.  There is time for the full discharge of every legitimate duty." (Sanders, J. Oswald. Spiritual Leadership. Marshall Pickering, 1986. page 35)

Two observations I make from the quote of Sanders is the joyful manner in the discharge of familial duty, one where benevolence and happiness adorns our lives rather than fear or harshness.  Strict discipline does not rule out a fun and happy household when God's love is present.  There is a time for severity and gravity, but it ought to be the exception rather than the rule.  The second point is, God has given everyone time for the "full discharge of every legitimate duty."  If we find ourselves without time to do what must be done, then it suggests not everything that fills our time is legitimately from God.  We can be quite skilled at loading ourselves with duties and tasks based on the expectations or demands of others--or our own ambitious pursuits and desires--and begin to neglect what is most important.  Work or ministry demands can begin to encroach dangerously upon our calling as a spouse or parent, and by God's wisdom we can learn how to navigate this in a godly and healthy manner.

Often failure must be experienced before we learn to succeed.  The one who find success easily does not learn what the one who struggles and persists can.  The economy of God is wonderful because He can use years of experience leading sheep in a wilderness to leading a nation.  Jesus chose men disciplined by manual labour and business to be part of church leadership.  Jesus touched and healed people people who suffered illnesses, conditions and demon possession for years, and the vivid change Jesus brought to their lives was not only observed by others but felt by each individual.  God has given us all a unique personality and perspective, and He helps us learn how to prioritise our lives to acknowledge His rule, to seek Him, and to walk in His truth day by day.  When loving God and others becomes our priority, our lives are brought into a healthy balance.  Our duty never need crowd out the fun and joy it is to know God and to be known by Him.

07 April 2024

Free Indeed!

"Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, "If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. 32 And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free."
John 8:31-32

By faith in Jesus Christ, people are born again and freed from sin and death.  Unlike what some imagine, following Jesus does not fetter us with restrictions or prohibitions, for we are set free to love God and love others with the divine empowerment of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus said His true disciples would abide in His word, receiving and heeding it.  In knowing Jesus we know the truth, and Jesus sets us free from sin, the flesh, legalism and traditions of men.  Jesus rebuked the Pharisees for worshipping God in vain by teaching traditions of men as commands of God (Matt. 15:9), and they also rejected the commands of God to keep their traditions (Mark 7:9).

It is important to understand traditions are not a bad thing in themselves; traditions are not sin.  Traditions can be good because they are being followed for a sound biblical reason.  They can also become a snare when they are placed on the level of God's word, or we judge others for having a particular tradition or not observing what we see as proper and useful.  It is likely we religiously keep many traditions we have not recognised as such, and over time we adopt a view of them being the right way.  The most untraditional church by their regular practices begin to establish traditions of how things are commonly done, and it is important we continue to make God's word the standard by which we live.

The way we receive communion, how we conduct a baptism, and the format of our worship or teaching are patterns that form traditions we become accustomed to.  It is good when we restrain ourselves from negative judgments of others who are different in their service times, methods or style of conducting gatherings.  It is also good when we can differentiate between what are key, foundational doctrines and not allow our own traditions or preferences to be cobbled together with them.  Having believed Jesus, we are to heed His word, walk in freedom from sin ourselves, and extend grace to others to walk in the freedom as they are led by the Holy Spirit.  We are all in need of continual refinement, and praise the LORD He is patient with us as we learn to do the will of God consistently.

God frees us from bondage to sin, and Jesus frees us to make obedience to Him and being led by the Holy Spirit our traditional way of life.