Friday, 20 May 2011

God's Good Plans for Us, a Devotional

 For I am the least of the apostles, unworthy to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God.
 But by the grace of God I am what I am, and his grace toward me was not in vain.
[1 Corinthians 15:9:10a]

I am sure we  all feel discouraged sometimes when we remember our past, the mistakes we made, the sins we committed, the people we hurt. We think  "god couldn't possibly use us to do his work. The enemy encourages this belief by whispering to us "Surely you didn't think that god could use you after all you've done? Surely you didn't expect that God would have a purpose for you?"

I want to encourage you today that no matter where you've been or what you have done, God still has a wonderful plan for your life and he has work for each of us to do.   As the bible says:
 For I know the plans I have for you,” says the Lord. “They are plans for good and not for disaster, to give you a future and a hope.
[Jeremiah 29:11 NLT]

you might ask "But what can I do for god?"he will show you in his good time.   God knows exactly what he wants us to do and he will help us to do it , empowering and enabling us to do the work he gives us. Our part is to obey him and he even helps us to do that.

In reality none of us are worthy that God should use us to do his work. We all fail him so often. if he was looking for those who were perfect to do his work he would use angels, and of course he does send out his angels to do his will, but the wonderful truth is that god  chooses to use us, weak, sinful human beings though we are.  Of course, we need to be saved first, that is a prerequisite.  We also need to be willing to obey him, even when he gives us work that is difficult and challenging. He won't tell us to do something that he wont give us the power and ability to do. Remember he knows us better than we know ourselves.

So how do I know that god can and will use anyone, no matter what they have done in the past, who is willing to follow him and do what he says?  Well  I know the story of a guy called Saul of Tarsus who called  himself  "The worst of sinners", the man who became known as the Apostle Paul.

He wasn't exaggerating when he called himself the worst of sinners, before he was saved he persecuted the Church. let's read about it:
But Saul was ravaging the church, and entering house after house,
he dragged off men and women and committed them to prison.
[Acts 8:3]

But Saul, still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord, went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues at
Damascus, so that if he found any belonging to the Way, men or women, he might bring them bound to Jerusalem.
][Acts 9]

Yet, once God revealed himself to him, he didn't look back. Almost at once he started preaching about Jesus with great boldness. Paul and his companions travelled around telling people about Jesus and were the first to take the message to the people of Europe. While in prison for his faith Paul wrote letters that have had an impact on lives even to this day.

 If God can use a man like Saul of Tarsus aka the apostle Paul, he can use a person like you or I. Jesus can use anyone to do his work who is willing to obey him . Let us seek God and ask him to show us what he wants us to do, trusting him to give us the power and ability to do all that he asks of us.

though doing the work God has for us is a big part of the Christian life, God has other plans for us too. The  most important thing about being a child of God is to develop a relationship with our loving heavenly father, who is always with us and delights to bless us with good things. Each new day is a gift from god full of promise. His mercy is new to us every morning and his  love for us is everlasting!

Prayer: thank you god for all that you do for us and have done for us. Thank you that you can use anyone, no matter what their past, to do your work here on earth. We know that you have a reward in heaven for those who faithfully obey you. Thank you Lord that you love us enough to accept us as we are but you love us too much to leave us that way. I give you praise in the name of Jesus, amen.

Monday, 16 May 2011


[All Scriptures, unless otherwise stated, are taken from
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version
 Copyright © 2001 by
Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.]


 There is a way that seems right to a man,
   but its end is the way to death.
[Proverbs 14:12]

 In those days there was no king in Israel. Everyone did what was right in his own eyes.
[Judges 17:6]

Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.
[Romans 6:14]
For you have been called to live in freedom, my brothers and sisters. But don't use your freedom to satisfy your sinful nature. Instead, use your freedom
to serve one another in love.
[Galatians 5:13]

What is freedom? Everyone wants it, people work to attain it but what is real freedom all about? Is it, as some people seem to think, the ability to cast off all restraint and do what they want when they want because they want, irregardless of the consequences? Any thinking person should be able to see that this would be disastrous. Can you imagine saying to your teen-age child "Ok you're 13 now so I'm going to let you live exactly as you want to.  I won't try to correct you, I won't tell you what to do, you're on your own."  can you imagine the results? the child wouldn't go to school, which would mean they wouldn't learn the skills that will help them later in life. What if they felt like trying drugs or alcohol and physical intimacies that a child that age shouldn't be engaging in? They wouldn't do their chores. Their bedroom would be a disaster area and soon enough it would spread to the rest of the house as they left dirty plates and things around, dirty clothes on the floor, books and papers scattered around. If it continued for long can you imagine what sort of state that child's life would be in? I'm not a parent but I couldn't stand by and  see any child of mine wreck their lives in such a way.

For another example, imagine the leader of your country  making an announcement over the media that they were dispensing with the law altogether. "We have discovered that the law is hindering people's freedom, so we're getting rid of it,"  he says.  can you imagine the disastrous results if that happened? People would feel free to do whatever they wanted including robbing other people's houses or mistreating animals or speeding on the roads and causing accidents. Could you imagine the crime figures? The country would descend into anarchy and life would be held very cheap.
Some people think that they can be free if they get rid of all religious beliefs, as the bible says:
Why do the nations gather together?
Why do their people devise useless plots?
 Kings take their stands.
   Rulers make plans together
      against the Lord and against his Messiah by saying,
       “Let’s break apart their chains
            and shake off their ropes.” 
The one enthroned in heaven laughs.
The Lord makes fun of them.
[Psalm 2:1-4 GWT]

So we can see that even in freedom there needs to be some sort of boundary to keep freedom safe and to keep us safe in freedom. 

But,you might say, how can freedom be freedom if there are restraints and boundaries? Isn't that something of an oxymoron? no, the boundaries make freedom truly free.  think of the biblical example of a shepherd and his sheep. The sheep are safe when they are with the shepherd. As long as they stay in the safe area near the shepherd they are free to wander around and find the best grass to graze on. of course, they may choose to wander away from the shepherd, but then they are not protected by  him and the lions and bears are free to kill them.

If you look in the bible you will see it is rich with commandments, things we should and shouldn't do. God tells his people to obey him not because he wants to restrict their freedom but because these commandments are the boundaries God sets for our freedom. As long as we stay in these boundaries we are truly free, our great shepherd protects us and lovingly watches over us. outside those boundaries is a roaring lion seeking whom he can devour, as the Bible says:
Control yourselves and be careful! The devil, your enemy, goes around like a roaring lion looking for someone to eat.
[1 Peter 5:8]

Let's continue to look at freedom from a Christian perspective. Jesus taught on this subject and we are going to look at a couple of passages that discuss this. The first one is in John chapter 8:

So Jesus said to the Jews who had believed in him, "If you abide in my word, you are truly my disciples, and you will know the truth, and the truth
will set you free." They answered him, "We are offspring of Abraham and have never been enslaved to anyone. How is it that you say, 'You will become

Jesus answered them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, everyone who commits sin is a slave to sin.  The slave does not remain in the house forever; the son
remains forever. So if the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed.
[John 8:31-36]

So we can see from this that we need to be set free from sin. But aren't our sins forgiven when we confess them and repent? yes indeed they are. we are fallen humanity, however, we can't even live a day without sin, not even an hour, or a minute without falling in some way. We will never be perfect this side of  heaven and god knows that.  We can be blameless however. Blameless in this context means not being captive to any persistent and wilful sin. For an example, if I'm talking to a friend and we begin to gossip about someone, then both of us have sinned and need to repent. however, if I, on a regular basis, gossip about people then that is a persistent sin and, if  I'm doing that, I am no longer blameless and need God's help to be free and blameless again. yes, Jesus gives us freedom from persistent sins, if we ask him. He forgives all our sins and helps us to live in a right way.

So Jesus again said to them, "Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did
not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and
kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. 
[John 10:7-10]

Remember before we talked about the sheep and the shepherd? Jesus is the shepherd and we are his sheep. The nearer we stay to the great shepherd, the safer and freer we will be. We also talked about the lion outside the sheepfold ready to devour the strays. The devil is the lion, he is also the thief in this passage. he wants to take away the freedom that we have in Jesus. He sets traps for us all along the way we walk, just waiting for us to fall into them. Jesus is our great shepherd, the closer we stay to  him the more we are likely to avoid those traps. if we fall into one Jesus will help us to get free and he will heal and strengthen us and set us back on the right road. All we have to do is ask him, it doesn't matter what trap we have fallen into or how terrible the things we have done, Jesus will forgive and heal us if we call out to him for help. If Jesus was able to free and heal Saul of Tarsus,a man who killed and tortured Christians, and afterwards use him in a mighty way to preach the Gospel  and write letters that have impacted millions of lives, then he is able to forgive and heal you and I, no matter what we have done. The man I am talking about of course is the Apostle Paul, the book of Acts tells his story. 

So what do we do now that we are free?

 1. We do not use our freedom to indulge in sinful practices that displease God. Remember that we need to be blameless.
Sin is no longer your master, for you no longer live under the requirements of the law. Instead, you live under the freedom of God’s grace.
[Romans 6:14]

2. We are given freedom so that we can develop Christlike character, we are not bound by what the world thinks of us, we are not bound to follow the attitudes and behaviour of people in the world. We are free to grow in maturity, to love God and others, to serve and, with god's help, to become more like Jesus all the time. We must  use our freedom for these godly purposes and any more that he brings to mind.
3. we are free to worship god and thank him for setting us free. He is worthy of all praise and adoration because he cared enough to send  his son to die for the lost an the captives, so that he could save us and set us free.
4. We are free to stay in god's word and it will help us to stay free from the traps and snares of the devil. Study gods word and live by what it teaches and ask god to help you stay free from the enemy's snares and traps. Remember that the devil is the father of lies and he will trap us into wrong thinking and wrong behaviour if he can but if we stay in the sheepfold close to the great shepherd our enemy has a harder time trapping us.

Before we conclude, I want to share with you a passage  from the book of Matthew:

And he came to Nazareth, where he had been brought up. And as was his custom, he went to the synagogue on the Sabbath day, and he stood up to read.
 And the scroll of the prophet Isaiah was given to him. He unrolled the scroll and found the place where it was written,

 "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
 to proclaim the year of the Lord's favor."

 And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him.
 And he began to say to them, "Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing."
[Matthew 4:16-21]

Wow, how generous our god is! Look at this closely and see all the things that god has provided. I may just do a message on these verses and the things god has given us and done for us that are mentioned in this passage. God has set us captives free; but more than that, we are in the time of the Lord's favour and he is so merciful to us. he is worthy of all praise and thanks!

So,in conclusion,  we have seen what freedom is not, and what it is. We have had a brief look at freedom from a Christian perspective. If we belong to god then Jesus has set us free so let us walk in that freedom, in the boundaries god has set, not being enslaved again to sin but using our freedom to grow in our faith and to do the things we know god wants us to do.

Here are a few questions you might want to think about, just between you and god.
1. how would you define freedom?
2. What do you think Jesus meant when he talked about freedom in John chapter 8 verses 31-36?
3. what are some of the ways the devil uses to trap god's people who are walking in freedom?
4. What are some of the things the devil has done to trap you?

Fear ... and fear

[All scriptures, unless otherwise stated, come from:
The Holy Bible, English Standard Version Copyright © 2001 by Crossway Bibles, a division of Good News Publishers.]

Whom did you dread and fear, so that you lied, and did not remember me, did not lay it to heart? Have I not held my peace, even for a long time, and you
do not fear me?

[Isaiah 57:11]

well that sure looks confusing to me, he asked them who it was they dreaded and feared,  then he says:\
 Have I not held my peace, even for a long time, and you
do not fear me?

So, let's talk about fear. Is it a good thing or a bad thing? I would say the answer depends on who we are fearing.   I think Jesus sums it up rather well when he said: 
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.   
Matthew 10:28

But let's get back to our Isaiah verse. The word "fear" is used twice in the English translation but in the original Hebrew there were 2 separate words. The first one is  "Yare'"  which means: to fear, revere, be afraid,   to stand in awe of, be awed, to fear, reverence, honour, respect 

 and the second word is "da'ag"  which means:
to fear, be anxious, be concerned, be afraid, be careful, to dread.  

[This information thanks to
The Old Testament Hebrew lexicon, Brown, Driver, Briggs, Gesenius Lexicon.]

Ok so what is the point of all that? There is a difference between fearing the Lord and fearing anyone else. the bible tells us that we are to fear God but we are not to fear other things or people, why is that? First of all because god is worthy to be feared, we will look at this later. secondly the fear of god is different from the fear of man. A lot of our fears are unreasoning and can cause panic when we are brought in contact with what we fear: a person who is afraid of spiders, for example, will keep as far away from spiders as possible and even if they just see one they will either run as fast as possible or be so afraid they can't move. If a person has a fear of god, however, it will cause them to keep as close to God as possible. The fear of God is  a reverent, worshipful awe and fear, that recognises god's sovereignty and holiness and doesn't want to displease god our heavenly father. Fear of God will help us stay on the straight and narrow road that leads to eternal life, where we will be with God and all his saints and angels forever and ever.

It is a good thing for us to cultivate the fear of the Lord in our lives.  Why is that? Because the safest place from the wrath of god is in the love of god. Have you ever been in the eye of a storm? It's raging all around your area but where you are it's quiet and safe, until the storm moves on that is. our sin makes God angry, actually it makes him furious. When we sin we are in essence saying that we prefer other things to him. That might not be in our minds but it is at the back of every sin. God is our creator and lord, the king above all kings and by rights he should always come first in our lives and we should always do what he wants, but you and I know it isn't like that. We fail to keep god's standard which is absolute perfection. We do and think and say  a lot of things he doesn't like and that deserve punishment. Fortunately for us, the Lord Jesus took all our sins on himself when he died for us. he also took the punishment for sin. all God's wrath at our rebellion and disobedience, all his anger at our preferring other things to him; the wrath and punishment for all that was put on Jesus,  who gave his life as a sacrifice to save those who believe.  If we accept the finished work of the cross, if we have faith in what God has done for us, then god puts us in the eye of the storm and keeps us there, unless we reject him and choose to walk away from him. Outside that place of safety is his wrath. he will pour it out on  those who reject him and refuse to believe. 

yes we do right to fear god, our creator and judge. When we die we will see him face to face. he will demand an accounting of us, and he knows us better than  we know ourselves. the bible says:
.... it is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment,
[hebrews 9:27]
 Our fear of god should encourage us to stay as close to him as possible. It shouldn't be an unreasoning fear and panic that will cause us to stay far from him, that wouldn't accomplish anything and would be detrimental to our faith.

 the right sort of fear of the Lord should affect the way we live now and the choices we make. For example, say there is someone in your life who hurt you badly and they come to you asking your forgiveness. your natural reaction is to say "no way!"  and to hold a grudge against them for what they did to you, but you know God says in his word that if we don't forgive we will not be forgiven, so you choose to forgive that person even though it's hard. You have just allowed the fear of God to affect your choices and this is what God wants. The bible teaches:
 The fear of the LORD is the beginning of knowledge;
   fools despise wisdom and instruction.
[Proverbs 1:7]
or, as the Amplified version renders it:
The reverent and worshipful fear of the Lord is the beginning and the principal and choice part of knowledge [its starting point and its essence]; but
fools despise skillful and godly Wisdom, instruction, and discipline.   

So how do we develop the fear of god in our lives?  May I make a few quick suggestions?

1. Ask god to help us cultivate the fear of him.
2. Search the scriptures for verses that talk about the fear of God and meditate on them. Remember we talked about meditation before? It involves taking some time to think over a verse or concept an ponder what it means and how we can apply it to our lives.

3. As we read the bible we can take notice of people who feared god and see how it affected their lives, for example, the fear of god kept Joseph from sleeping with his master's wife.

We have seen that it is important to fear God, but what about our other fears? Remember that Jesus says:
And do not fear those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather fear him who can destroy both soul and body in hell.   
Matthew 10:28
and  Isaiah 41:10 tells us:
fear not, for I am with you;
   be not dismayed, for I am your God;
I will strengthen you, I will help you,
   I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.
There are other verses in the Scripture too that tell us to "fear not".  We should take our fears to the Lord, talk to him about them and ask his help to deal with those things so that he is the only one we fear.

Of course there is sooo much more to be said on this subject but I hope I have given you something to think about.


Here are some questions to ponder. The answers should be kept between you and god and I hope they will help you to get a better understanding of the subject of fear.

1. What are some of the things you are afraid of?

2. Look at the definitions for the two Hebrew words that are translated as fear in English. Notice the similarities and the differences in the two types of fear.

3. why do you think god is worthy to be feared.

4. Is there anything else you think you can do to develop the fear of god in your life?

5. is there anything else you think you can do to deal with other fears in your life?