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Oh How He Loves Us

“If I ascend to heaven, you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there” (Psalm 139:8)!

God is full of love and compassion towards us. He created us to love us and when we sinned against him and our sins separated us from him, he sent his son to die for our sins, in order to redeem us to himself. We don’t have to work for the love of God or be good enough to qualify for a place in his heart. “Behold, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands; your walls are continually before me” (Isaiah 49:16). This statement from Isaiah reminds me of when a person gets a loved ones name tattooed on their arm. I am not encouraging anyone to get a tattoo, neither am I saying that anyone who has one is unsaved. I am referring to the emotion which God shows towards us. His love towards you is so deep, that he carved your name in his palm.

That thought made me smile and reminds me of how God keeps us as the apple of his eye (Deuteronomy 32:10). This statement refers to someone or something that a person cherishes above anything or anyone else. God chose you before the foundations of the world and he has placed his purpose and destiny within you. “Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you” (Jeremiah 1:5). You are not an accident but the divinely orchestrated plan of God, created for honour and good works which God ordained before time. Nothing that we have done or will ever do catches God by surprise and none of it changes his mind about us.

“I have loved you with an everlasting love; therefore I have continued my faithfulness to you” (Jeremiah 31:3). God is with us when we are hurting and David said that he is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit (Psalm 34:18). God longs to comfort and restore you and he wants to heal you where it hurts. It is religion and man made philosophies that cause us to think that God wants to punish us. Even when a child makes a mistake, a parent lovingly corrects, but their love does not change towards their child.

Remember that God loves you and he cares for you. He hurts when you are hurting and he has compassion for your pain and discomfort. Rest in his grace and assurance knowing that he loves you too much to leave you alone. Absolutely nothing can change the way God feels about you.

A.P.-Y.

Strength to Love

“And he said to him, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37).

In Matthew 22 and 23, Jesus continued his lament towards the religious leaders (Pharisees, Sadducees and the Scribes). They continued to question Jesus in order to test his knowledge of the law and scriptures. Each time they posed a question, hoping to catch him in an error, he answered and often outwitted them. He silenced the Sadducees when they tried to question him about the resurrection of the dead. The Pharisees decided to test him on the commandments and asked him which commandment was the greatest. His response was, that loving God with all our heart, soul and mind is the greatest commandment.

“And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments depend all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:39-40). What Jesus was saying to the religious leaders, was that without love, their religion was useless. “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness” (Matthew 23:27).

Jesus was angry that the Pharisees maintained an outward appearance of holiness, but inwardly they did not care about the needs of people. Paul also spoke on the subject of love to the Corinthians. “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal” (1 Corinthians 13:1). Paul’s view was that no amount of prophecy, understanding of mysteries, great faith for miracles or charity can replace the need for love. The characteristics of love are patience, kindness, humility and tolerance.

Some people are truly hard to love and it is difficult to love someone who continues to hurt your feelings. This is where the grace of God comes in and enables us to do what is difficult. Love does not mean that you have to be close to everyone and setting boundaries to protect yourself is sensible. Love is being able to pray sincerely, for the person who hurt your feelings. When Jesus was hanging on the cross, he prayed for his persecutors and asked God to forgive them.

This was while they were in the very act of crucifying him. If love was easy, then God would not have made it a commandment. Pray for the strength to love, because it is impossible to harbour bitterness and resentment, towards someone who you are praying for. “Beloved, let us love one another, for love is from God, and whoever loves has been born of God and knows God” (1 John 4:7).

A.P.-Y.

Jesus’s Challenge

“Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts” (Luke 20:46).

Not only was Jesus not associated with the religious leaders of his time, but he stood in direct opposition to them. In Luke 20, the Scribes and Pharisees questioned Jesus’s authority. “and said to him, “Tell us by what authority you do these things, or who it is that gave you this authority”” (Luke 20:2). They spent years studying the Torah and had risen to the ranks of religious leadership. In their minds, Jesus was a common person from among the Jews, who had sprung up to religious leadership. Large crowds followed Jesus and he healed the sick, worked miracles and taught the gospel with boldness and authority.

Jesus would have confused and upset the religious order of his time. One of the main challenge was that, he demonstrated how their religious interpretations of the law, kept people in bondage. Many people did not find the religious doctrines accessible. “And he said, “Woe to you lawyers also! For you load people with burdens hard to bear, and you yourselves do not touch the burdens with one of your fingers” (Luke 11:46). In this instance, Jesus was invited to a meal with a Pharisee. The Pharisee was concerned that Jesus did not wash his hands before sitting to eat.

In Jewish culture, ceremonial washing called netilat yadayim is observed, which is the washing of the hands with a cup. This washing was more about a religious ritual for the Jews, than it was about cleansing and hygiene. As such, a person who did not wash would be judged as ungodly or going against the laws of the Torah. “And the Lord said to him, “Now you Pharisees cleanse the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness” (Luke 11:39). Jesus was angry at the Pharisees’ and Scribes’ sense of importance, without a love for the things of God.

Jesus’s life and entry was not traditional or contemporary and he poked holes in a lot of religious ideas. It is easy for the church to sway into religious ideology and lose sight of the mandate to win souls for God. This happens when we strain over rules and regulations, over and above our love for people. We cannot burden people with dogma and lord our standards of holiness over them. Once we teach people the word and lead them to experience the love of God, a transformation will take place. We cannot take the place of God in people’s lives and our love for God should be more important than enforcing rules and personal judgement.

A.P.-Y.

Using Simple Things

“Then Moses stretched out his hand over the sea, and the Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night and made the sea dry land, and the waters were divided” (Exodus 14:21).

God sent Moses to lead his children out of Egypt. When God appeared to Moses in a burning bush, in Exodus 3, Moses was not convinced that he had anything significant. Moses did not consider himself skilled enough to face Pharaoh. He thought it was a difficult task to ask Pharaoh to let God’s people go. God outlined for Moses what he wanted him to do and what he should say to Pharaoh and the people. Even after God answered most of his questions, Moses was still doubtful. “So the Lord said to him, “What is that in your hand?” He said, “A rod”” (Exodus 4:2).

God instructed Moses to throw his rod on the ground, and it became a snake and Moses ran away. God told Moses to take the snake by it’s tail. Moses held the snake and it transformed back into his rod. There was nothing significant about the rod. This was the thing that Moses had available at the time, so God used it. Moses and Aaron used the rods to demonstrate God’s power to Pharoah. The magicians and sorcerers also threw down their rods which became serpents. The difference was that Aaron’s rod swallowed up their rods.

Moses’s rod was featured again significantly at the crossing of the Red Sea. God instructed Moses to stretch out his hand over the Red Sea, which parted and allowed the Israelites to cross over safely. Most people assume that Moses used the hand in which he carried the rod. Either way, this rod which Moses used was a piece of wood which shepherds used to guide sheep. It became significant because God used it. We see similar accounts with Elijah’s mantle in the hand of Elisha (2 Kings 2:14). The five fish and two loaves was used to fed five thousand people (John 6:1-14).

There were other accounts in the New Testament, where Jesus used saliva and mud to restore sight to the blind. The handkerchiefs and aprons of the disciples were used to administer healing. My parents once boiled the pages of a Christian magazine and made tea for my brother who was sick. This was after his hospital appointments and medication didn’t work. These magazine pages became a feature in our house because my brother received healing from the tea. It was the faith of my parents and the impartation from the Holy Spirit that created the remedy for healing.

God will use whatever you have that you are willing to surrender to him. You don’t have to feel qualified and fully equipped for God to use you. What God needs is a heart surrendered to him and a will that is submitted to his purpose. God is all powerful, all knowing, omnipotent and omnipresent. He made everything and nothing exists without Him. If God could make mankind from dirt, what is beyond his scope to do? Don’t limit God to what you can wrap your mind around. Trust Him and let him use what you have.

A.P.-Y.

Why Jesus Came

“I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance” (Luke 5:32).

Jesus’s life on earth was extremely unconventional and he upset the religious order of the day. He regularly spent time with sinners, prostitutes, tax collectors and some of the outcasts of society. On one occasion in Luke 5, he was spending some time with a group of tax collectors. The Pharisees and Scribes were extremely annoyed. They questioned Jesus’s disciples about their choice of associates. “And Jesus answered them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Luke 5:31). I imagine that the religious leaders would have considered it more acceptable, if Jesus spent more time with them.

Why wouldn’t a true prophet, not want to spend time around other men of God, praying and sharing scriptures? Jesus addressed this same criticism with a parable in Luke 15. “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it” (Luke 15:4)? Jesus stated that the shepherd would leave the ninety-nine sheep that are safe and go in search of the lost sheep. When he finds the lost sheep, he takes him home and celebrates with his friends, having found the sheep. Jesus compared this to finding lost souls.

“Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance” (Luke 15:7). Jesus spoke several times in scripture about his assignment being to the lost sheep of the house of Israel (Matthew 15:24). His commission to the disciples was also to minister to the lost sheep of Israel (Matthew 10:6). Jesus knew that the gospel would eventually spread to the Greeks and Gentiles. He was sent to his own people in order to lead them back to God.

The highlight for me in the passages, was that Jesus went beyond convention. He demonstrated for us that our mission goes beyond the church. I appreciate that we need the relationship of other believers to strengthen our faith. We also have an obligation to those who are lost and dying. Who will be a light in the darkness and who will go to bring the message of salvation? Turning our nose up at sinners and ostracising people who aren’t saved isn’t pleasing to God. I am not saying that we should conform to the world. However, we win people out of relationships and genuine love and acceptance.

A.P.-Y.

Do Not Faint

“And say to him, ‘Be careful, be quiet, do not fear, and do not let your heart be faint because of these two smoldering stumps of firebrands, at the fierce anger of Rezin and Syria and the son of Remaliah” (Isaiah 7:4).

In Isaiah 7, Ahaz was King of Judah and the Kings of Syria and Jerusalem came up to wage war against him. When the people learnt about the possible attacks against their country, they were terribly afraid. The bible says that their hearts shook like leaves in a forest. The Lord spoke to Isaiah and gave him a comforting word for King Ahaz. The word from the Lord was, ‘be careful, be quiet, do not fear and do not let to your heart faint.’ God revealed to Ahaz what the plot was against Judah and the plans that the Kings had. “thus says the Lord God: “‘It shall not stand, and it shall not come to pass” (Isaiah 7:7). During King Ahaz’s reign, Judah was never invaded by the Assyrians.

God also spoke through Isaiah to Ahaz, about what would come of the cities within sixty five years. Ahaz was also told that if he was not firm in faith, then he would not be firm at all. It was also during this time, when the Lord revealed to Isaiah, about the coming Messiah. God wanted his people to know, what would eventually happen in the future. Isaiah also prophesied about the coming Assyrian invasion of Isreal. Despite Isaiah’s many prophecies, about the exile and captivity of the Jews, he had the most accurate accounts of the life of Jesus Christ.

“For to us a child is born, to us a son is given; and the government shall be upon his shoulder, and his name shall be called Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God, Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace” (Isaiah 9:6). Perhaps the connection between Isaiah’s prophecies, regarding the Jewish captivity and the eventual life of Jesus, was to assure the people of God’s plans for redemption. Many times God’s people had fallen out of favour with him, due to their sin and rebellion. The yearly sacrifices of animals for the redemption of sin, was not sustainable for mankind.

God had a plan for ultimate redemption and restoration. Despite the disappointment which the children of Israel caused throughout the years, God had a plan to redeem his people back to himself. As such, the promise was that they would not see total destruction. There is a lot happening in our world currently that can cause us to lose heart. Our word of encouragement is, ‘be careful, be quiet, don’t fear and don’t faint.’ Christ himself is our redemption and one day soon he will come again to redeem us unto himself.

A.P.-Y.

Predestined for Purpose

“Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations” (Jeremiah 1:5).

Jeremiah knew what it felt like to be called by God to be a prophet to the nations. What if I told you that every single person that is born on this planet has a calling on their lives. Within the context of Christianity, a calling refers to a divine purpose and destiny. It outlines the different gifts, talents and abilities that a person possess. When these gifts are surrendered to God and used for his service, then we are walking in our calling. Most people consider Pastors, Prophets, Bishops and Evangelists to be called of God. The concept of being called for most people signals a call to the pulpit to preach sermons.

My friends, contrary to our conventional views of calling, many people are called to the market place. Some people are called to stewardship and traditional jobs like a Nurse, Doctor or a Teacher demonstrates a calling. Have you considered that God wants you to use your gift of teaching to advance his kingdom? Your Monday to Friday job can be used to demonstrate the love to Jesus Christ to those whom you come in contact with. “In the same way, let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 5:16).

We are called to shine the light of Jesus Christ in whatever sphere of influence we find ourselves. Do not allow anyone to undermine your gifts and abilities or cause you to feel like you cannot use them for God. Our worship goes beyond the walls of the church. When we use our gifts and abilities with a spirit of excellence, to be a blessing to others, this gives glory to God. The customer service agent who is pleasant and treats people with respect is a testament of God’s grace. You are a person of value and your presence should affect the atmosphere where you live and work.

“For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them” (Ephesians 2:10).

A.P.-Y.

There is Nothing to Fear

Moses had been told by God that he would not enter the promised land with the Israelites. The people had become accustomed to following Moses’s lead and he wanted to encourage them that it was God who would guide them into the promise. Even with a change of leadership, it was God who would guide the people and not Moses. This would renew the people’s trust in the Lord, rather than to put their confidence in Moses.

God is a constant friend who is near to us. He has promised time and time again in his word to never leave us nor forsake us. His promise is to shelter and protect us and to direct our footsteps. When we trust, lean and depend on him, he directs our path. We have to learn how to rely on and trust in Jesus to help and defend us. There are some situations that we have to surrender totally to him and trust his leading. Then our steps will be ordered by the Lord: and he will delight in our ways (Psalm 37:23).

We cannot allow ourselves to be distressed by the trouble that surrounds us. It does not matter what happens in the world, when we know that God transcends this world. “Therefore we will not fear though the earth gives way, though the mountains be moved into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam, though the mountains tremble at its swelling” (Psalms 46:1-3).

Let us continue to trust in the Lord and do not rely on your own understanding. We do not need to fear if the Lord goes before us to guide our footsteps. God knows what we need before we need it. He knows our thoughts and he understand what we are worried about. We need to pray about the things that cause us anxiety. Whenever I feel anxious about something, I generally pray until I feel at peace about it. The anxiety is often an indication that I haven’t surrendered that issue completely to God. Either that or it’s a stronghold that the devil is using to cause me distress. Either way, if it’s worth worrying about, then it is worth talking to God about. He will not abandon us so we have absolutely nothing to fear.

“You shall not be afraid of the terror by night, Nor of the arrow that flies by day, Nor of the pestilence that walks in darkness, Nor of the destruction that lays waste at noonday. A thousand may fall at your side, And ten thousand at your right hand; But it shall not come near you” (Psalms‬ ‭91:5-7‬).

A.P.-Y.

Prayer and Fasting

“However, this kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting” (Matthew 17:21).

There is a story in Matthew 17, where a man brought his son to Jesus’s disciples for healing. Jesus had travelled with Peter, James and John to a mountain for his transfiguration. Upon his return, the man met him at the foot of the mountain. “Lord, have mercy on my son. He has seizures and suffers terribly. He often falls into the fire or into the water” (Matthew 17:15). The man’s complaint was that he took his son to the disciples, but they could not heal him. Jesus was annoyed and called them faithless and corrupt. His question was; How long must I be with you and put up with you?

Jesus rebuked the demon and the boy was well from then onward. The disciples were perplexed about what happened. “Then the disciples came to Jesus privately and said, “Why could we not cast it out”” (Matthew 17:19)? Jesus’s response was that they had unbelief. He said that they needed faith, as small as a mustard seed and this could remove even a mountain. His further response was that the situation that they encountered, required fasting and prayer to see results.

I learnt a few things from the story above. Disciples are expected to model their leader and should be able to do similar works. “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who believes in Me, the works that I do he will do also; and greater works than these he will do, because I go to My Father” (John 14:12). This scripture states clearly that we have been equipped to do the things that Jesus did and even greater things. These works include; praying for the sick to be healed, restoration of sight to the blind and commanding evil spirits to depart from them who are bound.

Many false teachings have crept into the church, which suggests that it is our spiritual bodies that will receive healing. God is not the author of confusion and the bible does not contradict itself. We can have whatever we say, if we have the faith to believe. Jesus was angry with his disciples because they lacked the faith for healing. He demonstrated miracles for them to follow his example. Jesus’s entire life on this earth, was to set an example for us to follow. We need to desire the gifts of the spirit, stay in faith and manifest the works of God. Fasting and prayer are powerful tools to sharpen and strengthen our spiritual muscles.

“Is this not the fast that I have chosen: To loose the bonds of wickedness, To undo the heavy burdens, To let the oppressed go free, And that you break every yoke” (Isaiah 58:6)?

A.P.-Y.