The Qualities of Scripture: Perfection


What makes the Bible the Word of God is the fact that God speaks in it. We can summarise this doctrine with a simple statement: What the Bible says is exactly what God says. Now if all this is true, then what God said and what God will say in the Bible it’s going to be very different from what we say to ourselves and what other people say in the culture around us.
The Word of God always tells us something fresh, something that we have never heard before. And what’s that? That God made us for his glory. This is why God makes himself heard in Scripture.
The Triune God says things in the Bible to change us and to prepare us for the perfection of glory, a condition of life which is free from sin, evil, suffering and imperfection. So in that sense the Bible is perfect. There’s nothing lacking in the Word of God for growing in holiness and developing a passion for the perfection of God. Psalm 19:7-8 says this about the Word of God:

The law of the Lord is perfect, refreshing the soul. The statutes of the Lord are trustworthy,
    making wise the simple.The precepts of the Lord are right, giving joy to the heart. The commands of the Lord are radiant, giving light to the eyes.

Here, the Hebrew poet tells us that God’s revelation is specific and is also perfect for the spiritual community. Since the Word of God is complete it would be a crime to add or to subtract anything from Scripture. In fact- we have strong warnings in Scripture against the practice of manipulating the content of divine revelation. In Deuteronomy 4:1-2 Moses said:

Now, Israel, hear the decrees and laws I am about to teach you. Follow them so that you may live and may go in and take possession of the land the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. Do not add to what I command you and do not subtract from it, but keep the commands of the Lord your God that I give you.



The first thing we see here is the connection between the Promised Land and the commandments of Yahweh. If Israel and the generations to come want to live on the land and enjoy physical wellbeing, they must be faithful to the words of the Lord. But something more important than the “land” is at stake here.
The verse implies that God will be their Lord as long as they don’t mess around with his commandments. So the thing that Moses wants the people to understand is that listening to words with inferior authority will make our commitments to God become weak or even neutral. The other text that forbids adding or subtracting to the Word of God is Revelation 22:18-19:

 I warn everyone who hears the words of the prophecy of this scroll: If anyone adds anything to them, God will add to that person the plagues described in this scroll.  And if anyone takes words away from this scroll of prophecy, God will take away from that person any share in the tree of life and in the Holy City, which are described in this scroll.


The warning is serious. And it shows us that God himself puts a tremendous importance on his words. God obviously wouldn’t be saying this if He didn’t think that his divine revelation wasn’t perfect. It seems to me that the church hasn’t fully appreciate the weight of this text. We’ve downplayed the seriousness of the warning by insisting that God doesn’t mean what he says or by deliberately adding things to the prophecy. We need to remember that God has a meaning for every word he says and that “all” his works and words are perfect.

Since the Bible is the basis of our faith and necessary for our salvation and perfection in glory we need to love Scripture. How do we do this? I have some suggestions for you:
First, people who want to live for the glory of God must interact with the Word of the Lord as if God himself is speaking to us though his mouth. In 1 Thessalonians 2:13 Paul tells us that the church should engaged the Scripture.

And we also thank God continually because, when you received the word of God, which you heard from us, you accepted it not as a human word, but as it actually is, the word of God, which is indeed at work in you who believe.

You see. The church in thessalonica received the message of the gospel as Word of God and God immediately began to work in their lives. I believe this also applies to how we listen to the preaching of the Bible. Some people listen to a sermon but they they say to themselves “there was nothing” in that sermon for me. This attitude is very often the outcome of pride or because we’re listening sermons with the anticipation of finding things to criticise. If we’re doing this we are telling God: Lord I’m not ready to let You say anything to me. What is needed here is repentance and humility.
The second reason for why we should love the Bible is because God is the author of it. Don’t forget: God is not an everyday person. He is the King of kings and Lord of Lords, Father-Son and Holy Spirit -the great and only immortal God.
If we love the literature produced by poets and theologians and philosophers and scientists, why we shouldn’t we love the writings of God, especially when all human writings are limited and imperfect. I love the way Psalm 12 describes the speech of God:

And the words of the Lord are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times.


Another reason for why we should love the Bible is because the Bible equips us to live with glorious purpose in life. Without the Bible we are dead to God and if we are dead to God life becomes tedious and exhausting. The Word of God helps us to experience the joy of living for God and the comfort of “being” loved by the God of the Bible. There are many more reasons to love the Word of God but I think we have enough to see that the Christian life must be interpreted, guided, conditioned and transformed by the Word of God.
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The Holy One of Israel: Psalm 78:41

In this text we find two properties of God put together in one verse: the transcendence and the immanence of God. The transcendence of God is defined in terms of the perfect Holiness of God "The Holy One." The immanence of God is immediately emphasised by the phrase "of Israel." The point: God comes near to us to make us holy.

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God Has Spoken: The Foundation of Glorious Living


The ability to live for the glory of God is not a behaviour that we are born with. This is something we get from God and it must be conditioned by God. And the Bible is the "only" frame of reference that helps us to live in the way God wants us to live. I don't know if you noticed my emphasis on the word "only". I want to emphasise this "word" because many Christians today speak of God's revelation as something that you can find in feelings, mystical experiences or in the private voice that speaks to us during the day.

This is not a good way of speaking about God's revelation. Why? Because it gives more credibility to our physical organs than the Word of God. For me it's difficult to believe that the God who speaks in Scripture would take us to anything else that is not already in the Bible for evidence of his speech. In the Christian church, we believe that "God has spoken" and this supernatural revelation of God has been communicated to the human writers of the Bible. The Bible is therefore the finished product of God's self-revelation.We should never put our trust in feelings, experience, logic or even "worship-songs" in the place of the Bible. I don't think it's an accident that Psalm 150, the last hymn in the Hebrew Psalter calling us to praise the Lord great enthusiasm is where it is. This Psalm is found at the end of the Psalter. But before we get to this Psalm we have go though Psalm 119 which is the longest in the Psalter. Here we find verse 176 telling us about the importance of the law, the testimonies, the ways, the commands and ordinances of the Lord. The sacred poet is showing us that our spiritual wellbeing and our faithfulness depends on our obedience to the Word of God. Okay. What I want us to do now is to see what Bible say about itself though the words of the authors of the Bible. A passage that we all know and is fundamental for understanding the supernatural character of the Bible is 2 Timothy 3:16-17:

All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The apostle Paul has been encouraging Timothy to a develop meticulous study of Scripture. And he gives him two reason for doing that. First, all Scripture is "breathed out" by God.Here, the word "all" means "any passage of Scripture" or the "every Scripture". This is a comprehensive statement. And even though Paul never calls his own writings Scripture, Peter clearly regarded them as Scripture. In 2 Peter 3:16 he says:

And count the patience of our Lord as salvation, just as our beloved brother Paul also wrote to you according to the wisdom given him, as he does in all his letters when he speaks in them of these matters. There are some things in them that are hard to understand, which the ignorant and unstable twist to their own destruction, as they do the other Scriptures.

Peter tells us that he regards the writings of Paul as "Scripture". So he puts them in the same level with the Old Testament. Now Paul also shows us the basis for encouraging Timothy to read Scripture. The Scripture is breathed out by God. 2 Peter 1:21 tells us what this means:

For no prophecy was ever produced by the will of man, but men spoke from God as they were carried along by the Holy Spirit.

The Bible is the Word of God. This doesn't mean that the sacred book fell from heaven. The Bible came to us through the ministry ofmen who spoke from God by the Holy Spirit.The biblical authors were the instruments of God and what they said was exactly what God wanted them to say and to write. The second reason for serious study of Scripture is the transformative power of the Bible.

The Scripture, says Paul is useful for:

teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

The Bible not only gives us information about spiritual things. The Bible changes us to become spiritual people, completely equipped to do what is good in all spheres of life: civil good, moral good and spiritual good. To read the Bible is to be transformed for righteousness.
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Living for God's Glory

A goal is a vision of the life that we want for ourselves. When we have a goal everything we do in life contributes to the objective we have in mind. Paul speaks about the power of personal goals in 1 Corinthians 9: 24-27:

 

 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. Therefore I do not run like someone running aimlessly; I do not fight like a boxer beating the air.  No, I strike a blow to my body and make it my slave so that after I have preached to others, I myself will not be disqualified for the prize.

 

Paul is using metaphors from the Roman world of athleticism. And he sees himself as a runner in the stadium. But then he says something really interesting. He tells us that the struggle to win the spiritual prize is not a competition against others. The struggle is with himself. That’s why he practices self-control. This is the kind discipline that gave him the focus to live a life of complete devotion to God. The apostle Paul was indifferent to the things that most people value today: social recognition, pleasure, beauty and possessions. From a non-christian perspective, Paul was not getting anything out life. But he shows us here that his life was pretty exciting, organised, and always moving in the right direction. What direction was that? What was Paul striving for? The prize! The eternal crown, which in Romans 5:2 means “the glory of God” - the never-ending joy of praising the beauty of God. That’s what Paul wanted in life. That what his goal. And that’s what God wants for us. He wants us to live for his glory. But what exactly does it mean to live for the glory of God? It means at least two things:

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Why should the Church obey Government Restrictions?

My answer is simple. Well, I hope it will be. Human communities face two types of demands. There are physical demands like the need for food, warmth and shelter. But there are also demands for cooperation in social activities. This cooperation is influenced by common sense, by the expectations of other community members, and by theological convictions in the Christian's life (Romans 13: 1-7). This means that we do not have unlimited freedom. We have to share the social space with others, and this often requires being willing to suffer personal limitations to help others. The new situation with the virus is doing just that. It's demanding a new attitude from society -an attitude of collaboration. Of course there is another alternative; indifference and civil disobedience. The substantial limitations that the Government is imposing on the Church, due to the rapid spread of the virus, should not be seen as a setback but as an opportunity to demonstrate love for the neighbour and cooperation among all members of society. Unfortunately, not everyone shares this vision of society. There are still people who refuse to give up their personal wishes or even show sympathy in these circumstances. So much so that the Government is being forced to crack down indifferent gatherings. All this to encourage the basic feeling of cooperation! In "normal" circumstances the principle of competition and self-centredness constantly gets in the way of the responsibility of cooperation. But in the circumstances that we have now we should expect a break from stereotyped routines that follow the same mechanical course of competiveness and selfishness. Thank God we are seeing that respite. But what will happen when things return to normal? I am afraid that society will relapse into prejudice, rage, panic, intolerance, greed, aggressiveness and lack of cooperation. It seems that it is only under emergency conditions that society can find a balance in life. As soon as things improve, the destructive side of human nature will inevitably re-emerge. That is why the whole world needs to hear the message of the Bible.The Bible not only shows the way of salvation through the sacrificial death of Jesus, but also provides power for civil duty and creates emotions of deep and genuine intensity for the vulnerable and pain-stricken in society. Over the centuries, the Hebrew prophets, the Son of God, and the Christian preachers of the New Testament have relentlessly emphasized the importance of life being conditioned by the words of God. Why? There must be a good reason for this. The reason is God's awesome purpose for the future of humanity. The apostle John, shows us this new condition of life in Revelation chapter 21:1-4:

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling place of God is with man. He will dwell with them, and they will be his people, and God himself will be with them as their God. He will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning, nor crying, nor pain anymore, for the former things have passed away.

What we expect from God, is not simply eternal life, but the complete transformation of our existing environment. This is not prophetic fancy. When people believe the Gospel, there is a natural disposition of obedience to the ruling authorities, which make progress and real cooperation in society possible. Belief in Neo-Darwinism does not work. We can only hope to see real changes in human nature by living our lives in the truth of God. So what should believers be doing under these conditions? First, we should be suppressing self-serving tendencies. In Philippians 2: 1-4 we have this practical exhortation:

So if there is any encouragement in Christ, any comfort from love, any participation in the Spirit, any affection and sympathy, complete my joy by being of the same mind, having the same love, being in full accord and of one mind. Do nothing from selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility count others more significant than yourselves. Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others (ESV).

That’s the right attitude of the followers of Jesus in society. That’s how we escape the restrictive control of the sinful nature. In addition to this, we should be mindful of our civil responsibilities. In Romans 13:1-3 Paul writes:

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Facing The Virus Crisis in the Awareness of God’s Eternity

If there is something that has clearly emerged from this pandemic, it’s that the question of social instability can no longer be evaded. True. When we look at the mountains and the stars, we see a pattern of stability and immutability. But this appearance of unchanging endurance is misleading. Nothing is permanent in nature. Nothing is permanent in human existence. We grow old. The Twelve Apostles collapsed. Viruses disturb human welfare. Things have their limit. Things change. We will never catch the world taking a holiday from this universal law of development, change and instability. From a human point of view, stability is thought of as desirable. But from God's perspective, stability is not always good. Why? Because a stable existence often forces us to return to modes of life that are undesirable. For instance, the excessive attachment to things believing that they will go on unchanged. Please don't get me wrong. I am not saying that the current outbreak of the covid-19 virus and the insecurity that is unfolding right now is desirable. It is not! The virus is unleashing confusion, and is affecting the lives of thousands of people around the world. The point I simply want to underline is that we should not seek security in this planet. To do so will require a fundamental shift in our theological conviction regarding the divine promises of eternity. In times like this, it’s good that we don’t forget the truth of Psalm 102:25-28:

 

Of old you laid the foundation of the earth, and the heavens are the work of your hands. They will perish, but you will remain; they will all wear out like a garment. You will change them like a robe, and they will pass away, but you are the same, and your years have no end. The children of your servants shall dwell secure; their offspring shall be established before you (ESV)

 

The Psalm begins with a prayer for help but in verses 25 to 28 the writer gives us a song of hope encouraged by the eternity of God. God created the world a long time ago and He continues to sustain the creation. Life as we know it, will change but God remains forever. This section in Psalm 102 is calling us to interpret this world of uncertainty and deadly viruses in a new way. It’s telling us to make a mental transition. From the deceptive idea of stability to renewed faith in the reality of God’s eternity. The moment we do this we begin to live life in the real sense of the word. We see therefore that our expectation of stability is not supported by evidence from nature and the Scriptures. So where does it come from? It comes from our persistent habit of regarding human existence as more important than the eternity of God. The Christian mind, however, can rise above the deceptive appearance of security by the spiritual insight that God alone is stable and unchanging. There is no reality that is more stable, more uplifting, and more comforting than the unchanging character of God.

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The Vicious Habit of Envy: Galatians 5:16-25

In this paragraph, Paul tells us how to move from the bondage of self-indulgence to the sphere of life in which human behaviour is totally controlled by spiritual love. The process is simple: "live by the Spirit and you will not satisfy the desires of the sinful nature" (verse 16). Following the apostolic mandate we find a graphic catalogue of behaviours that belong to the sinful nature (vv 19-21). The order is not significant, except that envy is underlined among these non-spiritual ways of life. What exactly is envy? Envy is a universal emotion. Everyone at some point feels envious under certain conditions. People sometimes envy good looks, a successful career, someone else's possessions, spiritual gifts, etc. However, for the person controlled by the sinful nature, envy has acquired an exaggerated dimension. The envious person seeks to devalue others to protect themselves from the internal pressure of their envy. This person despises others in order not to feel envious. Envy becomes for them a constant companion. Envy accompanies them to work, is present in social relationships and does not remain outside the place of worship. The envious person observes that another person knows more or does things better than he does, and feels a deep sense of anguish and jealousy. Envy poisons everyday life, prevents Christian love and hinders spiritual growth because the envious person is always concerned about what others do. Envy does not allow them to concentrate on the life of the Spirit. Let us be led by the Spirit and we will escape the compulsions of the sinful nature.  

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For Elder's Visitation

On my last pastoral visit I made a brief exposition of Philippians 3:12 -16. The purpose was to underscore the importance of moving toward God's future. I hope you find it useful for facilitating the  pastoral conversation.

Text: Phillipians 3:12 -16

Paul tells us that Christians must be people who are intolerant of their current situation (imperfection). The way to show our intolerance is to be people who do one thing only: 

I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus (Verse 14).

Why is it important to focus on the prize (final perfection). Because according to verse 13 it helps us to forget what is behind and enables us to strain toward what is ahead. This is interesting. Paul says that when Christian believers are moving in the right direction they forget the past. What past? Whatever we have achived already as Christians. Paul had been a Christian for many years but he never said: Yes! I've done it! I reached the goal. I don't need to do more. NO! Paul was a man with a growing passion for more of God and for more of his holiness. 

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For Session Meetings

Brothers, I share with you some biblical reflections that can be used at the beginning of elder's meetings.

1. Read Acts 6:1 -7. 1. This paragraph says that there are two things that should happen in the local congregation. One, the fellowship of Christians must create new ways of caring for people in need. Two, and this point is especially relevant for church leaders. No matter how important the work of helping others might be, the leaders in the congregation, must never allow this work to be a substitute for the activity of devoting ourselves to prayer and the ministry of the Word. Brothers, be careful that our genuine preoccupation with assisting people doesn't take away the focus from the responsability of doing all things in prayer.

2. Read 1 Corinthians 2:4-6. This text has a direct application to preaching elders. Here apostle Paul tells us that he thought carefully about two things in connection with his ministry. First, his own wisdom and the use of persuasive words. In verse 4 Paul said: "My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words". This is critical in preaching. Sometimes we can be so concerned with human eloquence and rhetoric and beauty of style that the impact of God's truth is lost. But why was Paul so afraid of using his own wisdom and persuasive words in telling the Gospel? Because Paul didn't want the faith of the Corinthian church to rest in his verbal skills, but on the "demonstration of the Spirit's power, so that your faith might not rest on men's wisdom, but God's power" (verses 4b, 5). Brothers, our task as preaching elders is simply to cooperate with God in weakness, in the awareness that not focusing too much on ourselves is the secret of preaching in the Spirit.

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Can You Make God Sad?

 

 

In Ephesians 4:30 Paul writes:

"And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, by whom you were sealed for the day of redemption".

This is one the most remarkable instances of anthropomorphism (attributing human qualities) in the New Testament. God the Spirit is described as experiencing sorrow. There is a sense in which God is never disturbed by anything. God is the ever-blessed God (1 Timothy 1:11). Yet God has chosen this particular word "grieve" to teach us something very important about the way God interacts with his people. Paul is telling us that it is possible for Spirit-filled believers to bring sorrow to the heart of God. Paul means what he says. We can't minimise the importance of the command “do not grieve the Holy Spirit”.  So what is Paul saying then? He's saying that God takes our relationship with Him so seriously that He allows himself to feel emotions under the reactions of his people. This is the wonder of the covenant of God with his people in Jesus. In the covenant of grace, God opens his heart to us and in doing so God opens himself to unpleasant attitudes coming from the covenant-community. But God is always the blessed God. He is never subject to unhappy emotions. How can this be? First, we need to remember that God’s emotional life is vastly different from ours. This means that we should never project our emotions on God. Take wrath for example. In the Being of God wrath is perfectly compatible with his blessedness. When God displays the fury of his wrath, He is displaying a righteous feeling against evil and wicked things. It follows then, that when God is angry he also feels within Himself the internal satisfaction of showing justice and righteousness. When Paul says that God the Spirit may be grieved, it does not mean that God is sad or overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. Paul simply means that God through the Spirit reacts to the inconsistencies spoken of in this context. In other words, God will withdraw the operations of the good Spirit in us.

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A Verb to Awaken the Forgetful: Psalm 77:11-12

   
"I will remember the deeds of the Lord;
    yes, I will remember your wonders of old.
 I will ponder all your work,
    and meditate on your mighty deeds".

For the psalm-singer it's not enough that Israel has experienced the redemptive acts of Yahweh in the past. The writer wants to rehearse and re-live them in his own life. So he  "remembers, calls to mind, considers thoughtfully" the mighty deeds of the Lord. This intellectual act of recollection immediately becomes the foundation of ravishing praise.  The point is clear: remembering the mighty deeds of God is a symptom of delight in the fame of God. Praise also includes mental reconstruction of the past. 

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The Problem of Ideologies

Ideologies and the Church

 

 

The purpose of this article is to show very superficially the nature of ideologies and their power to modify social behaviour. Although I have tried to avoid as much as possible the use of philosophical language, I believe the article is clear enough to be understood by the informed readership of our website.

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The Exquisite Doctrine of the Kingdom

In Matthew 6. 33 Jesus said: "But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well". Modern society has reversed the divine order. In the world people begin by wanting wealth to obtain even more wealth. This is a perversion of the correct order. The best order is to seek the kingdom and all human concerns will be met by God.

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On Job

Today I finished preaching on the book of Job. The book definitely enriched my theological thoughts. Let me give you a brief summary of what I learned from Job in 8 weeks. First, the appropriate behaviour in suffering is not to yield to powerless resignation but to find a way of talking to God. This means that God’s people have a right to express their perplexity and pain. At some point, the Christian will cry out, as Jesus did: “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? Second, the people of faith need to be critical of accepting easy, theological solutions that lack human compassion. We have seen that during the cycle of interactions between Job and his friends, he kept challenging the foundations of their theological method: Job, your suffering must be the evidence of sin! This approach not only produced frustration with human beings but also promotes a distorted understanding of God. The consequence of using a one-directional approach with the problem of suffering is illustrated in Job 16:2 –6: “I have heard many things like these; you are miserable comforters, all of you! Will your long-winded speeches never end? What ails you that you keep on arguing? I also could speak like you, if you were in my place; I could make fine speeches against you and shake my head at you. But my mouth would encourage you; comfort from my lips would bring you relief. Job’s friends are competent theologians. But made they’re making situation worse by insisting that Job must accept and apply what they say. You see! There’s no room in their theology for a different perspective. But Job refuses to believe that the actions of God are controlled by the conclusions of his friends. So, Job has learned to accept adversity even though in some sections of the book he feels that God is playing games with him. But despite all that he keeps hoping in God. Finally, Job knows that God knows what he’s done. In 23:10 He said: When he had tested me, I will come forth as gold. This text is important. Here Job is saying that God knows everything within us. He knows what we’ve done. He knows what we’re doing and God ultimately knows what we’ll be strongly inclined to do in the future. Job didn’t understand the purpose of his test. He didn’t know how the trial would end either. But he knew that he was going to emerge from it and pass the test with flying colours. This feeling was overwhelming for him: When he had tested me, I will come forth as gold. Job looks inside himself and he realises that inside him there’s a combination of metals –things that God needs to deal with. And if God is putting him through extraordinary pressures in life and if God is supporting him with his power, this could only mean one thing: God intents to draw out worlds of potential inside him. This is what Job finally understood. He interpreted all the experiences that he was going through as flames of fire, circumstances for testing gold, situations to bring into the open what is dormant inside. He saw God sitting as the Refiner, supervising the process that would finally bring him out as gold. It’s important to keep in mind that the fires of the refiner don’t burn the essential, but only the alloy; the unwanted things. What emerges from this process then is an enriched personality. And all this was the outcome of a fuller understanding of God (see Job 42:1-6)

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Why We Need Christianity

We all agree that among the many differences that separate animals and human beings is that animals are concerned with survival and reproduction, while human beings have motivational drives that go beyond survival and self-preservation. Out of all human desires, the love for power is one of those desires that is limited only by what the imagination allows as possible. Although many would find it difficult to admit it, the reality is that everyone would like to be God. This desire to be limitless , to take the place of God, is the impulse that makes social cooperation difficult and creates economic competition, political self-interest, greed, and periodic violence. That is why the world needs the Gospel and Christian morality in order to restrain anarchic self-assertion. We make the world a colosseum of gladiators when we allow untamed power to control the circumstances where living takes place. The Gospel is the power of God to restrain human power and to create the conditions required to give human life the splendour, freedom and joy which can only be achieved in glad submission to the Lordship of Christ.

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How to Protect Our Prayers from Distracting Thoughts?

First, find a quiet, secluded place. The only way that we’re going to experience the nearness of the Father is to stop doing something else. There are so many activities that keep us busy during the day but if we don’t actually stop doing them we can’t give God our attention. That’s why Jesus said: “But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen” (Matthew 6.6). Secondly, we need to shift the focus from ourselves to God. We are the people whom God has predestined in order that we might be for the praise of His glory (Ephesians 1.12). The best way to praise God in prayer is to use the celebrative language of thanksgiving songs in the Psalter, as in Psalm 103.

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On Psalm 81: 9 -10

This text tells us two things about God. First, the God of the Bible is the only God that can give us deliverance from oppressive situations. Second, God wants to give us more than what we have. This means that we should never think that we have enough from God. That is why God says to his people, “open wide your mouth and I will fill it” (v 10). God can do great things for us. He proved to Israel that he has power to do awesome things. What we need to do as his people is to believe God and ask for fullness. The Lord wants us to have large expectations of him because he is able to fill every want with plenty. The only limitation to the promise of God is our lack of faith. Our God is a God of overflowing grace, always ready to meet our need.
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Contribute to the Joy of Leadership

Hebrews 13 outlines the type of behaviours expected in the worshipping community. The first is the expression of mutual love. The second is the behaviour of the congregation toward the leaders of the local church. In this short article, I want to underline the importance of this second relationship. The writers says: Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you, as men who must give an account. Obey them so that their work will be joy, not a burden, for that would be of no advantage to you (v. 17). The text is specifically addressed to the congregation, and is based on the assumption that church leaders are attentive to what happens in the lives of those under their leadership. This diligence is in turn encouraged by their awareness that they will have to "give an account" to God. The main concern of the author, however, is that the congregation "obeys" and "submits" to the vigilant care of its leaders because this will help them to carry out their work with joy. To “obey” and “submit” is not a reaction of fear, or passive “surrendering”. It is a behaviour that comes from love and appreciation for the leaders appointed by God. Instruction to congregations regarding attitudes toward pastoral leaders emerges very early in the church (1 Corinthians 16:15 -18), but without this particular emphasis on contributing the pastor’s joy. One of the things that this text makes quite clear is that the congregation is largely responsible for maintaining the joy of its leaders.  Bringing Grief to the Ministry The pastoral ministry should be a joy, but often it is not. The question is why? Christian leadership is overwhelmed with daily rounds of things to do. If there is no adequate rest, the pastor will naturally suffer from mental fatigue. Could this be affecting the joy of the leaders? I don’t think so. This condition reduces energy but one recovers quickly when habits for maintaining health are improved. Exhaustion does not seem to be a problem in this context because in most cases it is precisely the joy of serving God that prompts leaders to take a break. I believe that the biggest challenge that the pastor faces for maintaining joy in ministry is criticism. I know what you are thinking. But, criticism is a necessary practice of the Christian community. I agree. Criticism is essential for preventing doctrinal aberrations (1 John 4: 1 –6), and for keeping deviant behaviours from the church (1 Corinthians 5). Most people, however, are unaware of the difference between judgement skills (in the NT sense), and a critical attitude that camouflages personal attacks, unjust criticism, and overly negative criticism with the disguise of legitimate criticism. The chronic critic wears out the pastor’s joy. The excessive critic looks at something that is accepted by others and yet tries very hard to find fault with some aspect of the leaders’ functioning. The critic will often seize on some small aspect of the leader’s ministry and then focuses on that only. What’s worse, they are very subtle and encourage others to do the same.  If you set out to criticise the leaders, of course, you will find something to criticise. The sermon is too long, too short, too simple, too boring, too difficult. If you don’t have anything to say about it you can always say it was “interesting” or it was “repetitive” or “there was nothing for me in this sermon”. Even when critics can’t perceive anything wrong with the leaders’ conduct and preaching, they will always find something to criticise, because no matter how good something is, there is always the possibility of doing it better!  No wonder the leaders of the church often experience a decrease in their joy. Anyone who is enduring the stress of repeated applications of unfair, unceasing criticism will feel discouraged. Why Do I Do What I Do? Why do I criticize? Criticism is emotionally seductive and satisfying. Criticizing what leaders say and do makes us feel superior to them. As they go down the critic automatically gains more superiority. This explains why people get pleasure from gossiping. Sometimes, criticism is a useful cover for jealousy. Believe or not, many people in the church find it difficult to recognize God's gifts in the leader's life. So, they criticise. Unfortunately, criticism is very easy and it doesn’t take a lot of effort to put someone down. The healthy Christian keeps this tendency under control, and aims to direct his or her efforts to increase the joy of the pastoral leader. The text of Hebrews 13:17 tells us that when we fail to take responsibility for my behaviour towards the leadership in the church, we are doing something wrong. We are making their work a burden. If we are going to help the leaders of the church to be joyful and effective in their ministry, we need to stop our obsession with criticism. Help Your Leaders Maintain Their Joy We have seen that Hebrew 13:17 rejects the idea that the pastor’s joy is simply a matter of intrinsic motivation and private devotion. The behaviour of people in the congregation has repercussions for the wellbeing of the pastor. They can contribute to his joy or become a burden on his mind. In fact, very little is required to make his work a burden. The more we criticise them the greater is the possibility of increasing their chances of becoming joyless servants. This, of course, leads to undesirable consequences for the church.  The writer of Hebrews is clear. He says at the end of verse 17, Obey them so that their work will be a joy, not a burden for that would be of no advantage to you. This is remarkable. The author is telling his readers to contribute to the joy of their pastors, because if you don’t, then you won’t have joy from their ministry. Their ministry will be no advantage to you. To put it differently, we are making a big mistake if we think that the joy of the congregation is independent of the pastor’s joy. Let me quote A. W. Pink on this matter, For the members of the church to so conduct themselves as to be a constant source of grief unto their minister is to despise their own mercies. It not only prevents their receiving his instruction into their hearts, which results in their spiritual barrenness, but it also saps his vigour, quenches his zeal, causing him to proceed with a heavy heart instead of with cheerfulness. What is still more solemn and serious, the Lord himself is highly displeased, and tokens of His favour are withdrawn, for He is sensitive of the mistreatment of his servants.  The conclusion from this is that sometimes the barrier that prevents a joyful ministry comes from the pew.  Church, the Christian pastor is not a selfish individual seeking his own joy. No! The pastoral worker works for the joy of his congregation.  The inspiration of everything he does is described in the familiar words of 1 Corinthians 1:23 -24: I call God as my witness that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for you joy. This passage shows us what the leaders of the church do. They are engaged in a battle for your joy. They work hard to help you maintain true joy in this world of unreliable joys. What the Hebrews passage is pleading for then, is for an enjoyable spiritual environment where the leaders are able to pursue their joy in God so that their work becomes a great advantage to the people of God.  Congregation, be prepare to say something positive to your leaders. Acknowledge their gifts with gratitude. If you struggle to encourage them in person, encourage them through prayer in private. Before you say something, check your motivation. Remember that very often the things that you want to criticise are relatively trivial and they are not worth the effort. But more importantly, find ways to contribute to their joy. Learn to grow with your leaders in the joy of knowing Jesus together. 

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Hallelujah & Vengeance in Revelation 19:1-8

In Revelation 19: 1-8 the Lord is praised by "a great multitude in heaven" for a very specific reason. The reason is underlined by the word "salvation" also found in 7:10 and 12:10. In the setting of the Apocalypse, salvation means that the will of God have come to earth to start something new. But this action of deliverance is connected with a terrible judgment -the condemnation of Babylon ( v. 2b). As in 16:7, God's judgements are welcomed and acknowledged as "true and just" (v. 2a). In verses 3 to 8 follows a response of joy, represented by celestial shouts of "Hallelujah", "Praise" and "Let us rejoice". If this is true, how can we rejoice in the will of God? How can we celebrate the Lord's salvation? In this text, John understands that God's salvific intervention is not complete until God executes his judgment on the Babylonian system that has "corrupted the earth by her adulteries", and until God has "avenged on her the blood of his servants". The longing of the angelic world is to see the earth under the rule of the Lord. The dilemma for Christian is how to connect the "Hallelujah" with the judgment of God. How do we do this? First, we should avoid the error of assuming that God's enemies must be treated as our enemies. The worshipping community is called to pray and to witness to God's enemies (Matthew 5:11 -12). Second, the text call us to recognise that God has a right to judge. Third, the church needs to remember that we are called to live in holiness, and this necessary implies opposing evil and the forces of evil that oppose God. Lastly, we need to remember that vengeance belongs to the Lord. He will do it righteously and perfectly. This is the motivation behind the “Amen” and “Hallelujah” of verse 4. We want to see all the earth under the rule of God. Christian communities, therefore, need to learn how to long for justice and the reign of God. The people of God are never interested in vengeance, or retaliation. Their concern is the full establishment of God’s kingdom.The NT categorically rejects the use of violence as a way of life. Lord, your kingdom come!

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Control vs Facilitation in Leadership

The fundamental difference is in the emotion under which one acts. In control one acts under the emotion of wanting things to happen that must correspond to what one expects. If what we expect to happen does not fit with what one wants, the controlling leader is strongly inclined to stop or reorient existing processes of organisation to impose personal expectations. In the action of facilitation, the leader operates under the emotion of cooperation. Leaders who are skilled at facilitating expect certain things to happen as well. But not according to what they want but according to what God wants. The leader who likes to control feels angry when a personal performance criterion is not satisfied. The controlling leader often produces tantrums to manipulate others. In the facilitation process, the reaction of leaders is curiosity and a genuine interest in providing guidance in order to achieve goals together. Controlling leadership creates resistance. Under the influence of excessive control people usually act to free themselves from it by moving out of range or finding ways to escape. A person under the influence of excessive control, may leave church, become a backslider, or avoid contact with the culture of control.

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