Who Is Your God?

Now on this subject we’re given the account of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego.

King Nebuchadnezzar had set up a golden image, probably of the chief Babylonian god Marduk. He ordered his government to come and worship the image. For the Jews, though, this was a big problem thanks to Commandments One and Two.

Exodus 20:3-5a “You must not have any other gods against my face. 4 You must not make for yourself a carved image or a form like anything that is in the heavens above or that is on the earth underneath or that is in the waters under the earth. 5 You must not bow down to them nor be induced to serve them, because I Jehovah your God am a God exacting exclusive devotion…”

This exclusive devotion made the Jews unique among the ancient nations in that they were the only ones who could not worship foreign gods. Babylonians had no problem giving worship to Jehovah in addition to their own gods but Jews could worship only Jehovah.

Unfortunately, the punishment for not worshipping Nebuchadnezzar’s image was death by fiery furnace. For the longest time, i.e., until I prepared this talk, I thought that Nebuchadnezzar had a special furnace just for throwing people into. As if he’d gone down B&Q: “Yes, I’d like a fiery furnace. No, a big one.” In reality, it was probably a furnace used for making bricks and horrific death was just a bonus feature. Anyway, we know how Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego responded:

Daniel 3:18 “…let it become known to you, O king, that your gods are not the ones we are serving, and the image of gold that you have set up we will not worship.” ”

But no-one will throw us in a fiery furnace for being a practising Christian. It’s not an immediate matter of life and death. If false worshippers don’t treat religion as all that important, will that apathy rub off on us?

In our increasingly secular society, the question ‘who is your god’ doesn’t really matter to many. Will that apathy rub off on us?

A religious commenter wrote: “The greatest development in modern religion is not a religion at all—it’s an attitude best described as ‘apatheism’ … a disinclination to care all that much about one’s own religion.” [1] Will that apathy, that apatheism, rub off on us?

It could, but I’m sure we don’t want it to.

Is apathy a quality you’d use to describe the response of the three Hebrews? Do you think there was any question in their mind when the issue of exclusive devotion came up? Do you think they wondered: “guys, where exactly do we stand on this?” No, because their lives were clearly centred on Jehovah. They must have kept him close in mind continually. They were spiritually minded and proud to be His servants. So when their faith was tested, they didn’t have to think. They knew: “the image of gold that you have set up we will not worship.”

Just like the apostles in Jerusalem: “We must obey God as ruler rather than men.” (Acts 5:29)

We too can fight apathy by being spiritually minded and proud of our identity. How do we do that? One religious magazine [2] listed the following:

  • Continually reaffirm your relationship with God
  • Prove Bible truth to yourself
  • Seek to please God, not man
  • Make your Christian identity known
  • Cherish your spiritual heritage
  • Immerse yourself in Christian activities

When we do these things, we will be able to respond definitely and without hesitation, like the three Hebrews would have, to the question ‘who is your god?’

  • [1]Let It Be” by Jonathan Rauch in The Atlantic May 2003
  • [2] The Watchtower 2005 2/15 Safeguarding Our Christian Identity p.17-21

Jesus’ Vital Role in God’s Purpose

You know the scripture that says “all things are possible with God”? (Matt. 10:27) I’ve found something that he couldn’t do and it clearly shows just how vital Jesus’ role in God’s purpose is.

Jesus has been intimately involved in God’s purpose since day one. Colossians 1:17 talks about this time:

“Also, he is before all [other] things and by means of him all [other] things were made to exist”

Jesus was deeply involved in the creative works. He is called a “master worker” (Prov. 8:30) and Jehovah is likely speaking to him during the Genesis account when he said “Let us make man in our image, according to our likeness.” (Gen. 1:26) So Jesus has always been very important in the outworking of his Father’s purpose but, of course, the rebellion in Eden occurred and that changed his role considerably. From that point on, Jesus became vital to the successful outworking of Jehovah’s purpose. How vital? Without Jesus, Jehovah could not accomplish his purpose; in fact, it would become impossible for Jehovah on his own to fulfil his purpose; that’s how vital.

Satan caused mankind to become alienated from God and slaves to sin and death from imperfection. To accomplish Jehovah’s purpose those things would need to be reversed and would require Jesus to do something that Jehovah could not. Mark 10:45 tells us what that was:

“For even the Son of man came, not to be ministered to, but to minister and to give his soul a ransom in exchange for many.”

Justice demanded that a ransom be paid to buy back what had been lost. But Jehovah couldn’t give his soul as a ransom; he is immortal and cannot die. It wasn’t possible for him to do this himself. Instead, Jesus willingly undertook this most selfless of tasks and so enabled Jehovah’s purpose to still come to fruition. And when we mention the death of Jesus, we remember that it was an awful, awful experience.

Jesus came to Earth knowing that when his end came, it would be painful and humiliating. He knew how criminals were executed. He knew they were flogged and nailed to something. Look at your hand. Look at your wrist. Imagine someone carefully placing a huge, blunt nail just there. Stare at it. Then, BAM! Jesus knew this, and did it anyway. Why? Because he wants to see God’s purpose fulfilled and because he loves us.

Jesus also knew that he would have to resist calling upon Jehovah for a rescue. He made a point of this, first telling his apostles that he could call legions of angels if he wanted to and later proclaiming on the torture stake that Jehovah had forsaken him; that he had no protection from above. It’s all very well going into something knowing that you’ve got superpowers and God on your side; it’s something entirely different going into something knowing that you can’t use those powers and God will not be stepping in to put a premature end to it.

Jesus knew this, and did it anyway. Why? Because he wants to see God’s purpose fulfilled and because he loves us.

Without Jesus, without this sacrifice, God’s purpose could not be fulfilled. With Jesus and his remarkable sacrifice, it could.

Scriptural proof? Remember that Satan caused mankind to become alienated from God? Note what Colossians 1:19,20 tells us about Jesus sacrifice:

“[God] saw good for all fullness to dwell in him, and through him to reconcile again to himself all [other] things by making peace through the blood [he shed] on the torture stake, no matter whether they are the things upon the earth or the things in the heavens.”

To reconcile means to re-establish a close relationship between. All things in heaven and earth were reconciled to God through Jesus’ death. Remember Jesus himself talked about this earlier: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” (John 14:6) Only by putting faith in Jesus can we have a close relationship with Jehovah. Having a close relationship with Jehovah is part of his purpose and Jesus’ role is vital.

What effect did the ransom sacrifice have with regard to sin and death? Yes, look at Hebrews 2:14, 15:

“Therefore, since the “young children” are sharers of blood and flesh, he also similarly partook of the same things, that through his death he might bring to nothing the one having the means to cause death, that is, the Devil; and [that] he might emancipate all those who for fear of death were subject to slavery all through their lives.”

Not only did Jesus sacrifice emancipate or liberate mankind from slavery to sin and death but he also provided the final nail in Satan’s coffin. After this point, Satan remains alive only to see the ultimate fulfilment of Jehovah’s purpose. Once His purpose has come to fruition, Satan will be destroyed.

What does freedom from slavery to sin and death mean? John 3:16

“For God loved the world so much that he gave his only-begotten Son, in order that everyone exercising faith in him might not be destroyed but have everlasting life.”

No sin means no death. No death means, obviously, everlasting life. Everlasting life for mankind is part of God’s purpose and Jesus’ role is vital.

It was impossible for Jehovah to send himself to Earth as a human and die because he cannot die. It was impossible for us to pay the ransom of a perfect human life. But God didn’t want this to be a Catch-22 and so he gave his Son and his Son willingly submitted. He could be sent to Earth and offer his perfect human life as a ransom sacrifice, once for all time.

This talk doesn’t begin to cover every role that Jesus has in God’s purpose. But when we remind ourselves of these things, even briefly, and meditate on them it should have an effect such as that described at 2 Corinthians 5:14, 15:

“For the love the Christ has compels us, because this is what we have judged, that one man died for all; so, then, all had died; and he died for all that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died for them and was raised up.”

To compel means to exert a strong, irresistible force on. When we think about Jesus, the love he showed for Jehovah and for us and his vital role in God’s purpose, it has a profound effect on our attitude, conduct and goals in life.

We want people to know that this is why we are Christians: to unitedly exercise faith in Jesus and tell people about the vital role he plays. This is why we are a worldwide brotherhood identified by love: because Jehovah and Jesus loved us. This is why we look forward to the future: because Jehovah has a purpose and because Jesus has made it possible for it to be fulfilled.

Do You Remember to Say Thank You?

lr chap. 18; Luke 17:11-17 The Ten Lepers


“And what do you say, Little Johnny?”

“Oh. Thank you, grandpa, for the Werther’s Originals. Can I eat them now?”

Do you recognize that? Now, here are two questions that sound the same but aren’t. Are you thankful? Do you remember to say thank you? Little Johnny was surely thankful to receive a nice toffee sweet from grandpa but he didn’t remember to say thank you.

With that in mind let’s see how our scriptural example fits in. It comes from a drive-by healing Jesus performed while on his way to Jerusalem one day and is related at Luke 17:11-17.

11 And while he was going to Jerusalem he was passing through the midst of Sa·mar′i·a and Gal′i·lee. 12 And as he was entering into a certain village ten leprous men met him, but they stood up afar off. 13 And they raised their voices and said: “Jesus, Instructor, have mercy on us!”

Now this tells us something about the ten lepers. They had congregated outside the village (for five-a-side, perhaps?) and stood away from the main road, so far that they had to shout to get Jesus’ attention. This was in obedience to the Law that told them that they had to be quarantined outside the village while they were contagious. So the ten lepers were obedient to God’s law.

14 And when he got sight of them he said to them: “Go and show yourselves to the priests.” Then as they were going off their cleansing occurred.

Notice the order of events. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests before he healed them. Would you have gone on your way? Or you would have said “Er, haven’t you forgotten something?” No, all ten lepers went on their way while still unclean. They showed obedience to Jesus and terrific faith and trust in him. So we have ten faithful, obedient men. What happens next?

15 One of them, when he saw he was healed, turned back, glorifying God with a loud voice. 16 And he fell upon his face at [Jesus’] feet, thanking him; furthermore, he was a Sa·mar′i·tan. 17 In reply Jesus said: “The ten were cleansed, were they not? Where, then, are the other nine?

Ten faithful, obedient men; ten men who received a miraculous cleansing. One man returned to Jesus; one man remembered to say thank you. Do you think it likely that the other nine lepers were ungrateful for being healed? “Oh, look, I have perfect skin. This is awful.” If Jesus had met up with them and said “And what do you say, you formerly leprous men, you?” do you think it likely that they would have said “Oh, yes. Thank you.” and meant it?

Were the ten lepers thankful? Almost certainly; Jesus had miraculously healed them. Did the ten lepers remember to say thank you? Only one took his gratitude and turned it into action; only one returned and said thank you.

People do things for us all the time. Perhaps they bring us to the meeting or take us in the ministry or offer an encouraging word or help with the shopping or make us a meal or hold the door open for us or give us a perfectly-formed hug or even do the washing and drying up and putting away.

Are we thankful? Of course we are. Do we remember to say thank you? …

In the congregation, the elders organize and deliver meetings for instruction and meetings for field service. They keep the congregation clean and are always available to provide spiritual guidance and comfort.

Are we thankful? Of course we are. Do we remember to say thank you? …

Then, of course, Jehovah himself has provided us with good things. He has revealed to us the truth and given us the brotherhood, the Bible and his own ear to help us endure through these “hard to deal with” times.

Are we thankful? Of course we are. Do we remember to say thank you? …

Now, after the meeting, please feel free to come and get a sweetie from me. And make sure you remember to say thank you.

Highlights from First and Second Peter

I read about a nurse who once found a confused patient in the bathroom brushing her dentures in the toilet while, the whole time, complaining about the sink being too low. The Apostle Peter also wrote about a low sink but this one isn’t quite so funny.

1 Peter 4:3,4 “For the time that has passed by is sufficient for YOU to have worked out the will of the nations when YOU proceeded in deeds of loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches, and illegal idolatries. 4 Because YOU do not continue running with them in this course to the same low sink of debauchery, they are puzzled and go on speaking abusively of YOU.”

Wouldn’t you agree that “low sink of debauchery” is the perfect description of modern Christmas for many? “Deeds of loose conduct, lusts, excesses with wine, revelries, drinking matches.” “And a partridge in a pear tree.”

And is it true to say that the world is puzzled by those of us who choose not to engage in such practices especially at this time of year? Yes. If you tell a worldly person that you’ve never been drunk or never had sex before marriage, they find it difficult to believe.

Yet most people, even those that practice them, would also agree that those things – loose conduct, drunkenness, bad behaviour and things like them – are not desirable. It’s obvious that a true Christian wouldn’t follow that course.

But what about the more subtle aspects of Christmas? Many people also recognise that Christmas had its roots in paganism and that Jesus wasn’t born on 25th December but they say that it doesn’t matter. It’s what it stands for now that is important. They are puzzled when we say that these elements mean we cannot be associated with the celebration at all.

Aren’t they right, though? Because Christmas is accepted as a valid celebration of Jesus’ birth by Christendom, surely its roots and inaccuracies don’t really matter anymore.

This is where the Judeans from 612 B.C.E. come in. Let’s see what they were up to at Ezekiel 8:16.

“So he brought me to the inner courtyard of the house of Jehovah, and, look! at the entrance of the temple of Jehovah, between the porch and the altar, there were about twenty-five men with their backs to the temple of Jehovah and their faces to the east, and they were bowing down to the east, to the sun.”

In 612 B.C.E., the Judeans introduced pagan worship of the sun into the temple in Jerusalem. Was such pagan worship sanctified by being carried on in Jehovah’s temple? If they did it for long enough, would it have become acceptable? Verse 17:

“And he went on to say to me: “Have you seen [this], O son of man? Is it such a light thing to the house of Judah to do the detestable things that they have done here, that they have to fill the land with violence and that they should offend me again, and here they are thrusting out the shoot to my nose?”

Yes, rather than being sanctified, that pagan form of worship put the whole temple in jeopardy. These practices permeated Judah and contributed to the prevalence of violence and moral degradation in that land. It is similar today with Christendom where practices rooted in paganism come to the fore and the behaviour described by Peter – loose conduct, drunkenness, bad behaviour and things like them – are tolerated. Just because it is accepted by Christendom and the world does not mean we should accept them.

Because we take a stand on this issue, even though many people acknowledge what we say, they are, as Peter said, puzzled at us. So, aside from not celebrating Christmas, what kinds of actions show that we are not in this “low sink of debauchery”? Peter continues at 1 Peter 4:7

“But the end of all things has drawn close. Be sound in mind, therefore, and be vigilant (lit. be sober) with a view to prayers. 8 Above all things, have intense love for one another, because love covers a multitude of sins. 9 Be hospitable to one another without grumbling. 10 In proportion as each one has received a gift, use it in ministering to one another as fine stewards of God’s undeserved kindness expressed in various ways. 11 If anyone speaks, [let him speak] as it were [the] sacred pronouncements of God; if anyone ministers, [let him minister] as dependent on the strength that God supplies; so that in all things God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. The glory and the might are his forever and ever. Amen.”

Amen, indeed, brothers.

How Forgiveness Promotes Unity

In my research for this talk, I came across lots of articles about forgiveness and they all said forgiveness promotes Christian unity. But they never said how. They just said it did. So what I thought we’d do is consider some of the standard scriptures about forgiveness and try and see how they promote unity. See if you agree.

So, we’ve offended somebody? How does Matthew 5:23, 24 help us to promote unity?

23 “If, then, you are bringing your gift to the altar and you there remember that your brother has something against you, 24 leave your gift there in front of the altar, and go away; first make your peace with your brother, and then, when you have come back, offer up your gift.”

This promotes unity because it reminds us that our worship will not be acceptable until we have made peace with our brother. It shows that Jehovah considers the peace and unity of our worship to be critically important, more important than the actual act of worship itself; “go away,” he says, “first make your peace.” If he considers it so important, so should we. If both parties to a problem consider the matter as Jehovah considers it, it is a uniting factor.

Luke 17:3,4 picks up this situation and adds some detail:

3 Pay attention to yourselves. If your brother commits a sin give him a rebuke, and if he repents forgive him. 4 Even if he sins seven times a day against you and he comes back to you seven times, saying, ‘I repent,’ you must forgive him.

“If he repents forgive him.” One article put it this way: “Forgiving an offender who has apologised is essential.” (w96 7/15 p.18 par.13). How does that promote unity? It shows that both parties want the same thing: to be united in worship and to have peace in the congregation. It shows that the offender still wants to serve Jehovah despite his error. It shows that the forgiver also wants the offender to serve Jehovah and is willing to serve alongside him despite his error.

And forgiving “seven times a day”? How does this promote unity? It unites us because we are following the example of Jehovah as highlighted at Colossians 3:13:

Continue putting up with one another and forgiving one another freely if anyone has a cause for complaint against another. Even as Jehovah freely forgave YOU, so do YOU also.

Jehovah freely forgives us all as many times as we make mistakes and repent. We are united when we all try to follow his example.

So what might it mean to forgive and promote unity? It means that we wouldn’t try to stop an offender from serving Jehovah. We wouldn’t make their position untenable. We wouldn’t make efforts to avoid them; we wouldn’t have the attitude that ‘if they come to the meeting I’m not going.’ We wouldn’t spread malicious gossip or untruth. We wouldn’t make barbed comments at meetings. We wouldn’t highlight their error. We wouldn’t try to embarrass them. We wouldn’t be happy to see them suffer when they reap what they sow.

We would recognise that we are all trying to worship Jehovah. We would admire the humility required to ask for forgiveness. We would understand the effort it takes to repent. And we would continually remind ourselves that Jehovah forgives all repentant ones and that he would forgive us in the same situation.

Truly forgiveness does promote unity.

Highlights from Luke 22-24: Cultivating a Christ-like View of Greatness

Sources: Luke 22-24, w04 8/1 Cultivating a Christ-like View of Greatness

“I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.” “I’m not the greatest; I’m the double greatest.” “When you’re as great as I am, it’s hard to be humble.” Who said those things? Muhammad Ali.

Luke 22:24 “However, there also arose a heated dispute among them over which one of them seemed to be greatest.”

Not for the first time, the apostles argued over who was the greatest. But do you think their argument sounded like those Muhammad Ali quotes? Did Peter say “When you’re as great as I am, it’s hard to be humble.”? Did John retort: “I am the greatest, I said that even before I knew I was.”? Did James spout: “I’m not the greatest; I’m the double greatest.”?

No, it is highly unlikely their argument took any form like that. It is more likely that they were arguing about something else but their true motive was to make themselves look better. So what were they arguing about? Well, we don’t know for sure but we can look at Jesus’ counsel to them on the topic.

Luke 22:25-27 “But he said to them: “The kings of the nations lord it over them, and those having authority over them are called Benefactors. 26 YOU, though, are not to be that way. But let him that is the greatest among YOU become as the youngest, and the one acting as chief as the one ministering. 27 For which one is greater, the one reclining at the table or the one ministering? Is it not the one reclining at the table? But I am in YOUR midst as the one ministering.”

Now it seems likely that Jesus was referring to his washing the feet of the apostles earlier in the evening. Perhaps the argument had started along the lines of “I can’t believe you let our Lord wash our feet, John. You should have done it. You got the room ready.” “What do you mean, I should have done it? Peter got the room ready as well. And, while I’m on that subject, what about Peter? He even asked our Lord to wash his hands and his head as well. I’m glad I’m not like that.” “What do you mean, I’m glad I’m not like that. No-one tries harder than me to do as instructed. Even if it meant going to prison, I’d do what Jesus says. I’d even die if necessary.”

And so on and so on. Perhaps you can picture the argument now. And recognize it.

I am sure that none of us have had an argument where we have said the words “I am the greatest, and you’re not.” But how many of us have expressed opinions, had arguments or acted in a manner where the underlying point was to make ourselves appear better?

So looking back at Jesus’ counsel to the apostles let’s briefly consider what it means for us in a practical sense.

‘The kings of the nations lord it over them. You, though are not to be that way.’ Jesus says here that the standard of worldly greatness, greatness before men, showy greatness, is not the standard of Christ-like greatness. In this world, a great man is one who controls and commands others and has his every whim catered to. But among Jesus’ followers, it is humble service that is the measure of greatness: “the one acting as chief as the one ministering.”

One clear group who need to keep this Christ-like view of greatness in mind is those who have and those who are reaching out for privileges in the congregation. Do we look for opportunities to serve others, see a need and fill it? Are we willing to put ourselves out to fulfill responsibilities? Are we willing to perform helpful tasks that are not readily noticed by others? For example, a young man might be willing to give talks on the platform but might hesitate to render help to the elderly. Do we seek the association of responsible men in the congregation yet be reluctant to share in the preaching work? Do we focus primarily on aspects of God’s service that bring recognition and praise? Seeking personal glory is not Christ-like. Jesus said he did not accept glory from men. (John 5:41)

Let’s conclude with a nice example of ‘an overseer who was inspecting the operations of one of the branch offices. In spite of a very busy schedule and a heavy load of responsibility, the overseer stopped to help a young brother who was struggling to adjust the settings on a stitching machine. “I could not believe it!” the brother recounted. “He told me that he operated the same type of machine when he was a young man, and he recalled how difficult it was to get just the right settings. He worked on that machine with me for some time even though he had so many other important things to do. That really impressed me.” That brother is now an overseer himself at one of the branch offices and he still remembers that act of humility.’

‘May we never feel that we are too lofty to do humble things or too important to do menial tasks.’ We will then show by all our actions and speech that we share Christ’s view of greatness and, hopefully, will not get ourselves into an argument over who is the greatest.

Is Having Material Riches Evidence of God’s Blessing

Sources: w01 9/15 Jehovah’s Blessing Makes Us Rich; study 38: Interest-arousing introduction; Forbes rich list

According to 2008 Forbes annual rich list, the richest person in Britain is Lakshmi Mittal whose steel businesses make him worth around £25 billion. He’s also Europe’s richest man. However, he’s only the fourth richest man in the world. Microsoft co-founder William Gates III, Bill Gates? Third richest with a £33 billion fortune. The richest is investment banker Warren Buffett who is worth around £35 billion.

Bearing that in mind, a question with an obvious answer comes from the scripture at Proverbs 10:22.

“The blessing of Jehovah—that is what makes rich, and he adds no pain with it.”

Is having material riches evidence of god’s blessing? Is Warren Buffett the most blessed man in the world, the greatest servant of Jehovah alive today, the most outstanding example of Christian living we have the privilege of sharing the planet with at this time whose every movement is accompanied by a heavenly choir of awestruck angels? No.

The reasoning is this: if having material riches was evidence of God’s blessing then being poor would be evidence of God’s – what’s the opposite of blessing? – disapproval. And that does not fit with his personality.

As we know, the Bible is here referring to spiritual riches. What do they include?

God’s Word the Bible, the gift of Holy Spirit, Christian love in our brotherhood, gifts in men with elders and mini-servants, the privilege of the Field Ministry, marriage and a happy family life. These are all blessings from Jehovah that make us rich despite our material circumstances.

We can often more deeply feel Jehovah’s blessing when we are in trying circumstances. Is the statement at Psalm 145:14 true?

“Jehovah is giving support to all who are falling, And is raising up all who are bowed down.”

And what was it that the Apostle Paul said? ‘When I am weak, then I am powerful.’ (2 Cor. 12:10) Have you ever felt “bowed down”? That phrase conveys the feeling that even air becomes too heavy to carry. It’s at times like these when we cannot rely on our own strength that we really feel God’s gift of Holy Spirit or really appreciate the thoughtfulness of a brother or sister who takes the time and effort to communicate with us.

Specifically in this regard, Jehovah blesses us with gifts in men whose effects are described at Isaiah 32:2

“And each one must prove to be like a hiding place from the wind and a place of concealment from the rainstorm, like streams of water in a waterless country, like the shadow of a heavy crag in an exhausted land.”

At any time, the elders are available to offer scriptural support and encouragement. While we generally just have to cope with our own problems, the elders obediently accept that they might have to perform scripturally-required duties caused by other people’s dramas even though this often brings them stress and unpleasantness. That they put scriptural things first, sometimes to the detriment of their own health and sanity, makes them a gift from Jehovah that we should never underestimate.

So, yeah, we might not have £35 billion but we do have each other and many other blessings from Jehovah that we never want to forget.