“The prisoner cannot free himself”

“The prisoner cannot free himself”

Have you ever experienced it easier to hear God for others, but when it comes to your own life it seems really hard to know God’s will?

Or do you feel like your prayers for others are answered, but your own prayers for your needs seem to go unanswered?

In their Torah studies, the rabbis have uncovered a principle that they call ‘the prisoner cannot free himself’.

In other words, God has ordained that we need each others prayers. More often than not, if we want to experience full freedom, if we want to fully know the voice of God and be fully healed, we will need to humbly receive the prayers of others in order to receive the full blessing.

The book of James concurs, saying “Therefore, confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed. The prayer of a righteous person has great power as it is working.” James 5:16

While confessing our sins to each other, or simply admitting our weaknesses and challenges, may be hard; it is worth it for the sake of experiencing full healing as well as for the deeper relationships and trust it develops between us as believers.

Why does God withdraw His presence?

Why does God withdraw His presence?

God was always present in the Garden of Eden, yet Adam and Eve only sensed His presence walking in the garden with them at certain times.

In His presence, it is both easy and compelling to choose Him and His ways.

His withdrawn presence was what gave them the true freedom of choice. It’s truly only when we doesn’t feel His presence, that we have the freedom to choose between Him and the seductive ways of sin.

Unfortunately, Adam and Eve forgot God and chose the madness of sin, setting a pattern that so many of us have followed since.

Yet God is calling us today to a higher way of living. One where we choose to obey Him and follow His ways, regardless of whether we feel Him or not. And as we choose Him today, the reward of His presence will follow.

Dear God, help me to choose you this day even in the moments when I am not aware of your presence. Thank you that you are always with me, and I want to live my life always in a way that honours you. In Jesus Name, Amen

The 9th of Av Turn Around

The 9th of Av Turn Around

The 9th of Av is one of the saddest annual events on the Jewish calendar. On this day, the Jewish people mourn the destruction of Solomon’s Temple, the burning of Herod’s Temple, the crushing of the final Jewish rebellion against Rome, the expulsions of the Jews from England in 1290, Spain in 1492 as well as Israel’s disengagement from Gaza in 2005 (which led to years of cross-border rocket attacks from Hamas). All these calamities have one disturbing feature in common, and that is that they all ‘happened’ to occur on the 9th of Av.

It is as if the 9th of Av has been cursed in Jewish history. To understand this phenomenon better,  let us take a closer look at the ministry of Jeremiah the prophet and the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in his day.

The Destruction of Solomon’s Temple

At the time of Jeremiah, the kingdoms of Israel and Judah had consistently and stubbornly refused to listen to divine warnings of judgment.

We read in 2 Chr. 36:15-17 that God did not want judgment to come on His people, and ‘rising early’ He sent warnings  – but the people mocked and despised the call to repentance. They persisted in their way until ‘there was no remedy’ and judgment came as foretold by Jeremiah and the other prophets – on the 9th of Av.

Looking back at the devastation of Jerusalem, Jeremiah records that God “has called an assembly against me to crush my young men;” (Lam 1:15). The word for ‘assembly’ here is ‘moed’ in Hebrew, meaning an appointed time.
Perhaps this explains how the 9th of Av became an appointed day of a curse which has followed the Jewish people down through history.


The time of Rejoicing is Coming

While much evil has happened on this day, the Scriptures foretell in Zec. 8:19 that the 9th of Av – known here as the fast of the 5th month – will one day be turned into a day of great rejoicing. How can this cursed day become a time of great joy?

The Jewish sages suggest that something truly amazing must be destined to happen on this day, perhaps even the coming of the Messiah Himself. The Messiah’s return will indeed mark a period of ‘restoration of all things’ (acts 3:21) including Him bringing in the final regathering of the scattered Jewish people, and the Messiah Himself reigning upon the restored throne of David in Israel (Luk 1:32). All the promises of God to the Jewish people will in that day be fulfilled, including her finally inheriting the complete land promised to Abraham.

But the greatest among all restorations that is coming, will happen as the nation of Israel will look on ‘Him whom they have pierced’ (Zec 12:10), will mourn in repentance and in that day ‘all of Israel will be saved’ (Rom 11:26). Then He will comfort those who mourn in Zion (Is. 61:3) and turn their sorrow into joy. What a day it will be!


Making it Personal

Whether or not the Messiah actually returns on the 9th of Av, we know that one day God Himself will turn the great loss, sorrow and suffering of the Jewish people to joy. And where the nation of Israel has fallen into sin and departed from God’s ways, we know that God has not abandoned His people, and that He will one day lead them to repentance and restore them fully to Himself.

The message of the 9th of Av also brings hope to you and I as gentile believers. Some of us have endured great loss, yet the message of the 9 of Av is we believe in a God of restoration and hope. Others of us may have fallen into sin and are living life under a cloud of condemnation and shame. Yet the God who has not given up on Israel despite her many mistakes, has not given up on you and I either. And as we turn to him and repent, He is truly faithful to restore us to Himself and to give us a new beginning. And in this way, our own personal ‘9 of Av’ moments can be turned around for into a day of great rejoicing.

The Lesson of the Two Pentecosts

The Lesson of the Two Pentecosts

Many Christians trace the beginning of the Church to the outpouring of the Holy Spirit on the Day of Pentecost in Acts chapter 2. However, few understand the significance of the Feast of Pentecost nor are they aware of the Jewish legends concerning an earlier Pentecost occurring almost 1500 years earlier.

Pentecost in the New Testament

“When the Day of Pentecost had fully come… ” Acts 2:1 NKJV

This is the very first mention of the ‘day of Pentecost’ in the New Testament, and it appears in the dramatic context of the Holy Spirit being poured out on the early believers. Given that the Feast of Pentecost had by this stage been around for close to 1500 years, the writer of Acts takes no to explain its context or significance. For the benefit of us modern readers, let us take a moment to review the origins of this feast.

The Divine Appointments

When God revealed Himself to Moses at Mt Sinai, He gave him a calendar of seven annual feasts for the Jewish people. These divinely ordained feasts are much more than mere cultural celebrations. The Hebrew word for feast (‘moed’) can best be translated as an ‘appointed time or season’, and a careful study of each of these ‘appointments’ reveals how they prophetically and sequentially foreshadow Jesus’ 1st and 2nd Comings. As they were performed year after year, it was as if they were prophetic dress rehearsals preparing God’s people for their future fulfilment. No wonder God calls them “my feasts” (Lev. 23:1-2).

Among these seven feasts, the Feast of Pentecost stands out as being the only feast that has no specific date given for it. Instead, the Israelites are commanded to literally count their way to this day from the Feast of First Fruits (Lev 23:15-16). They are to count 7 sabbaths, and then on the day after the last sabbath celebrate Pentecost. This rather unique aspect of the feast lead to it being given the name Pentecost (meaning ‘50’) in Greek and Shavuot (meaning ‘weeks’) in Hebrew.

The Timeline of Acts

Having watched Jesus ascend into heaven, the disciples were commanded to wait in Jerusalem ‘for the promise of the Holy Spirit’. The annual 50 day countdown to Pentecost was to take on new meaning this year as the disciples – as well as the entire nation – counted the days until this great outpouring.

As the days drew closer, we can imagine the disciples peering out the windows of the upper room where they gathered. Outside they could see and hear Jews from all over the world gathering in the city of Jerusalem for the upcoming feast (as commanded in Deut 16:16, also see Acts 2:5). The stage was truly being set for what was about to take place.

But before we go any further, we need to first examine the Jewish understanding and traditions surrounding the first Pentecost.

The First Pentecost

According to Jewish tradition, the very first Pentecost was when Israel received the Law of God at Mount Sinai (Exodus 19-20).

On that day, the Bible records how God Himself came down in fire, thunder and lightning on top of the mountain. At the base of Mt. Sinai stood the increasingly terrified congregation of Israel. Before their very eyes the entire mountain literally began to shake as smoke and fire covered its peaks. Then a loud trumpet began to sound and it kept blowing louder and louder. Next Moses lifted His voice to speak and from the mountain the Israelites heard God Himself answer in an audible voice. What an awesome sight this would have been!

Most English Bible versions translate Exodus 20:18 as the people seeing ‘the thunder and the lightning’. But the rabbis point out that in the Hebrew it literally says ‘they saw the voices and the torches’. How does one see a voice?  Furthermore, the book of Deuteronomy repeatedly refers to God’s voice speaking to them at Mt. Sinai from ‘out of the fire’ (Deut. 4:15, 4:33, 5:24).

Basing itself on this unusual description of God’s voice being seen in the fire, one ancient Jewish legend asserts that God’s voice actually split into multiple sparks of fire which travelled around the camp coming to each Jew individually. Furthermore, it is believed that as God spoke the commandments, they went forth in all the world’s languages at once. (Shabbat 88b, Shemot Rabbah 5:9).

The Jewish traditions concerning this awe-inspiring encounter would have been familiar to Jesus’ disciples as well as their fellow first-century Jews. In an amazing parallel of that first Pentecost, the book of Acts records the events of this second great Pentecost. A sound came from heaven and the Holy Spirit personally came upon the disciples like individual flames of fire, resulting in the disciples supernaturally praising God in many foreign languages. No wonder the Jewish onlookers present were left completely stunned by what they were witnessing.

Rebellion vs Revival

We have seen the amazing parallels between the original Pentecost and the second Pentecost and how they both brought powerful supernatural manifestations of God. Yet, the greatest difference between the two events is found in their immediate aftermath. At Mt. Sinai, God’s people very quickly seemed to forget all that they had just seen and experienced and turned to worship a man-made idol. In the ensuing judgment, 3’000 men of Israel fell. This stands in sharp contrast to the book of Acts were Pentecost resulted in 3’000 men repenting and being baptised (Acts 2:41).

What went wrong at Mt. Sinai that went right in the Upper Room of Acts?

The key could well be found in the days leading up to the Feast of Pentecost. Just 50 days prior to the original Pentecost, the Israelite nation had been set free from slavery to Egypt. They had praised God jubilantly as they witnessed the final destruction of Pharoah’s armies at the Red Sea. Yet, only a few days later, their attitude of praise turned sour as bitter complaints rose about their lack of water and food. Rather than being a journey of praise and thanksgiving, the Israelites 50 day trek to Mt. Sinai became a tirade of persistent complaints against God and Moses.

By contrast, the disciples in the book of Acts used this same time period well by gathering daily in one accord to seek God. Perhaps the poor spiritual preparation of the ancient Israelites was why they fell at Mt Sinai, whereas the disciples by contrast were found ready for their encounter with God’s Spirit.

Are you waiting well?

Many Bible scholars believe the next event on God’s timetable is nothing less than the return of His Son. This is pre-figured in the next feast to be fulfilled on the calendar – the Feast of Trumpets.

As we look at the world around us, we can increasingly see signs telling us that His return is very near. Are we heading the message of these signs? Are we using our time well – like the disciples – getting ready for the next major event on God’s prophetic calendar? Or are we spending our time – like the ancient Israelites – consumed with the matters of life, complaining and murmuring?

Throughout his teaching ministry parables, Jesus repeated again and again the importance of being found ready at His coming – will we listen and learn the listen of the two Pentecosts?

Purim: How a suffering orphan saved a nation

Purim: How a suffering orphan saved a nation

The feast of Purim, remembering how God save the people of Israel from certain destruction.
On a personal level, Esther had a far from ideal start to her life being an orphan in a foreign land, yet as she looked to God He not only turned her personal situation around, but used her for powerfully the good of her nation.
Her story has a lot in common with another young man who had his fair share of suffering – Joseph.
  • Both were orphans in a foreign land
  • Both were raised with good biblical foundation
  • Both were beautiful to look at
  • Both overcame the challenges they faced and had the right attitude
  • Both had God’s favour on their lives opening doors
  • Both stood strong for God and maintained their faith in Him among people who did not believe
  • Both attained to 2nd in command positions
  • And both were used to save the Jewish people from annihaliation as well as to bless the Gentile nations where they rose to power.
While both Esther and Joseph had reason to feel that life had treated them unfairly, I believe they both learnt to see God’s hand in their circumstances and they both allowed God to turn their situation around for His glory and His purpose. And God will do the same for you and I today. Happy Purim!
The Lord is with me through my helpers

The Lord is with me through my helpers

In my devotion today, I noticed a portion of Ps 118:
V. 6 The Lord is with me, I will not fear, what can man do to me,
V. 7 The Lord is with me through my helpers, and I will face those who hate me (my translation from the Hebrew)

In times of trouble we rightfully should look to God for help, but sometimes we fail to realise how He helps.
Often His help comes in the form of the people – people whom He raises up around us. His hand of love is stretched out to us in the form of those who come alongside us to lighten our load, to encourage us when we feel down and pray for us when we are sick.

In the past month, I’ve been humbled by several people approaching us to assist in our ministry. Now I see them through a different light – now I understand that these volunteers are actually an expression of God’s love and care for us in the ministry.

On a personal level, I see God’s care expressed throughout my life through the people He has brought into my life along life’s journey. How grateful I am for those people and the many who have been a blessing in my life – where would I have been without them?

The Lord is truly with me through my helpers – and He is with you too through those He sends to support and strengthen you!