Pastor’s Thoughts

Friday 5 June 2020

Being a Blessing to Others

 Philippians 4:1-9
Setting the Stage:
Ardice’s Story

I never had been one to take casseroles or cookies and I saw no reason to start. Let Maggie do it, I said to myself, her antenna’s been twirling ever since the “For Rent” sign went down.

“Don’t you want to meet them, Ardice? Aren’t you just the least bit curious?”

Never could abide a gossip.

All I wanted was a little peace and quiet. What did I get? Boys, that’s what. Hooligans for sure, or I missed my guess.

Sure enough, the minute we got a scrap of sun they were at it; whoopin’ and hollerin’ and tearing up the yard. Didn’t their mother know children should be napping that time of day?

I thought I’d seen the worst of it when they kicked that football over the fence and it landed in the garden. Broke the heads off my broccoli. Two minutes later, there goes the doorbell.

“Hi, lady. Can we please have our ball?”

One chance, I thought. “You keep it to yourself, now. Next time it’s mine.”

Two weeks later I’d kept the ball three times, ignoring the front bell and tossing it over the fence after they’d gone to bed at night. I’m not a thief, but someone had to teach those kids some manners.

Then they got the dog. An insatiable beast—half lion, half gopher. When he wasn’t barking loud enough to wake the neighborhood, he was digging holes under the fence. He obviously preferred my yard to theirs. Not that I blamed him, but dogs and I didn’t mix. Never could abide the horrid creatures. The day he dug up three tomato plants and my Dainty Bess rose, was the day I’d had enough.

Jenny answered the phone. “I want you to know,” I said with as much civility as I could muster, “that I have called the pound to come pick up that animal of yours. And another thing, if your children throw that ball over my fence one more time, I cannot be responsible for its return.”

She mumbled an apology, but that wouldn’t restore my garden. The dog took off—over the gate this time and down the street. Good riddance, I said to myself.

I could hear the children crying. Maggie called to say she’d seen animal control pick up the Campbell’s dog and Jack Campbell’s Chevy drive by. Did I know what was going on?

I told her to mind her own business.

The neighbourhood was quiet for the first time in weeks. I decided to take a nap, but for some reason, I couldn’t sleep. I kept hearing those children cry, and picturing Jenny’s tired eyes.

When the doorbell rang at nine o’clock the next morning, I was in no mood for company.

Jenny Campbell stood on my porch, a plate of cookies in one hand, a Dainty Bess rose bush in the other. The boys each held a tomato plant in grubby little fists.

I couldn’t say a word, but Jenny did. “Ardice, the boys and I want you to know how sorry we are about your plants. And we found another home for Bear. Our yard is just too small for a dog his size.”

“He’s on a farm,” the oldest boy piped up, “and we get to visit him any time we want.”

Then the little one pushed forward. “Mamma says if you let us we can help you fix your garden. I can dig real good.”

Jenny and I canned a dozen jars of salsa in September. I took some along when Maggie invited me for tea. She said she could hear me singing all the way up the street and could I tell her what was going on? I smiled and handed her a slip from my Dainty Bess.

“Danny’s a good digger,” I said, “He can plant it for you in the spring.”

  • What did Jenny communicate in her sensitivity to Ardice?
  • What makes this kind of response to anger difficult?

 God’s Word for Us

Read Philippians 4:1-9.

  • What do you discover about Paul’s relationship with the Philippians from these verses?
  • What is your reaction to the way Paul addresses the believers at Phillipi in Phil. 4:1?
  • In your own words, list the behaviours that Paul encourages in the believers in Phil. 4:2-5.
  • If you were to follow these instructions, how might each of these behaviours result in others experiencing you as a blessing (as one who cares for them)?
  • Which of these behaviours is especially difficult for you?
  • What might help you to grow in your ability to behave in this way?
  • In Phil. 4:6-9 Paul instructs the readers on “the way of peace.” What behaviours lead to being at peace, according to this text?
  • How might being at peace increase the likelihood of being a blessing to others?
  • What person or situation do you know of that needs someone to offer the peace of Christ?

 Now or Later

Reread Phil. 4:6-8. Take some time to follow Paul’s instructions.

Notice the things that are making you anxious. Talk to God about them. Tell God what you need.

Thank God for the ways he has and continues to care and provide for you.

Allow God’s peace to flow into your heart and mind.

Reflect on the adjectives: true, noble, right, pure, lovely, admirable. What comes to mind? Let yourself spend some time thinking about things that fit this description.

Spend some time listening to God. Ask God to bring people to mind that you might be a blessing to. Ask him what it is you might do for them. Ask him for the courage and strength to follow his will.

Read and reflect on Hebrews 13:1-3.

Wednesday 3 June 2020

WOMEN OF CHARACTER

Lesson 3

Receiving Blessing from God’s Family

Ephesians 4:1-16

Setting the Stage:

Alicia’s Story

Cracked crab and beer around a campfire at Agate Beach; a company tradition held sacred by employer and employees alike. Most of them, anyway. A few of us go only because it’s expected—like working overtime or chipping in for a bottle on the boss’s birthday. I always offer to buy the card instead.

It was pitch black away from the fire. A mini-gale threw fist-fulls of sand into our faces as Carol and I picked our way across the shell-littered beach toward the Seaward Gift Shop and Restaurant in search of diet soda.

“I wouldn’t mind a hotdog either,” I yelled in Carol’s ear.

She grabbed my arm and pulled me toward the lighted window. “Or a sit-down dinner . . .”

I followed her pointing finger. So that’s where they went. The new guy Jack Campbell, his wife, Jenny, and their two little boys were seated in a corner booth eating hamburgers and potato salad. Jack looked glum and Jenny stared down at her plate.

“Too good for us, Alicia,” Carol whispered as we searched the freezer for our choice of drink.

I shook my head. “Maybe they don’t like crab.”

“So? I don’t either, but at least I sit with the others.”

I let the remark pass. But Monday at work she was at it again. “Jack’s friendly enough. In fact he’s kind of cute. But she didn’t say boo the entire night. I say she’s stuck on herself.

I remembered Jenny’s warm hello when we were introduced, her tentative smile when someone looked her way, and instantly felt ashamed. “You know, none of us exactly went out of our way to make her welcome. I think she’s just shy. And lonely too, I’ll bet. They’ve only been here two weeks.”

Carol laughed. “Okay, Ms. Welcome Wagon. Why don’t you invite her to one of those Bible wingdings of yours? The one you’re always trying to con me into.”

“What a great idea! I’ll call her tonight.”

Carol rolled her eyes. “Oh brother. Bet you a hot fudge sundae she doesn’t go.”

I grinned. “You’re on. But make it two. Jenny joins us if I win.”

The phone call was harder to make than I’d thought. My first-grader had the flu. The washing machine broke down and I had to rinse out underwear by hand. By Sunday it was all I could do to drag myself to church. It wasn’t until they announced the topic of Monday evening’s study that I remembered Jenny. I’ll call as soon as I get home.

I tried three times before I got through. “We call our folks on Sunday afternoons.” I could tell she’d been crying.

“Uh, maybe this isn’t a good time?”

“Oh, no. It’s fine. Jack’s watching the ballgame and the kids are taking naps. It’s nice to have someone to talk to.”

An hour later I’d discovered we shared a love for gardening, mystery novels and family camping trips. “But I don’t think we’ll try the beach again,” she confided. “The wind makes Danny’s asthma act up and I’m allergic to crab.”

“We’ll have to take you to the high lakes in August. In the meantime would you settle for a Bible study on Monday night?”

“Oh, Alicia, I would love that. I . . . I’ve been praying for Christian friends.”

All right! I stifled a triumphant laugh. “I’ll pick you up at 6:30. And if it’s all right with you, we’ll be going out for ice cream afterwards. Carol’s treat.

  1. What blessing was Jenny needing from God’s family

What specific blessings did Alicia give to Jenny by reaching out to her?

God’s Word for Us

Read Ephesians 4:1-16.

  1. Sometimes God’s blessing (care and provision) comes to us through other members of God’s family. List the characteristics Paul encourages in believers in Ephes. 4:2.

How might these qualities lead to a person being a blessing to others?

  1. The passage goes on to talk about the importance of unity and a sense of connection with others in the community of faith (Ephes. 4:3-6). In what ways is a sense of connection with other Christians helpful to you?
  2. How are you hurt when that sense of connection is lacking
  3. Paul explains (Ephes. 4:7-13) that the reason we have been gifted to minister to each other is in order to use our gifts to bless each other with increased faith, knowledge and spiritual growth. How has the ministry of other Christians (preaching, teaching, writing, praying, counselling) impacted your life? Give one or two specific examples
  4. In Ephes. 4:14-16 Paul uses metaphors to describe our need for each other as Christians and the outcome of the blessing we can have in each other’s lives. How does Paul describe our need
  5. How does he describe the benefits, or blessing, we can have in each other’s lives
  6. The passage tells us that our growth, spiritually, is a direct result of being loved. How are these two realities related in your experience
  7. What blessing (care and provision) do you need from God’s family at this time?

 

Now or Later

  • Make a list of thank-you notes you might write, to express your gratitude to those who have blessed your life.
  • What might help you to receive greater blessing from God’s family?
  • Make a plan to do what you can to put yourself in a place of receiving blessing from others in God’s family.
  • Read and reflect on James 5:13-16.

Tuesday 2 June 2020

Second lesson in this series of Women of Blessing

Receiving Blessing from God

 Psalm 84
SETTING THE STAGE:

Joyce’s Story

“Oh, Joyce, I told myself I wasn’t going to cry.”

I squeezed Irene’s shoulder and handed her the box of Kleenex. “You might as well tell a mosquito not to bite. It’ll ignore you every time.”

She tried a laugh. It sounded like someone had stepped on a frog. “You’re so funny. I know I shouldn’t carry on like this, but it’s hard. I can’t believe they’re gone.”

“Well, they are.” I reached for the last tissue in the box, picked up my cup of lukewarm Sanka then pushed it away. “What’s worse; they took our grandsons with them . . . how do you drink this stuff?”

I could have kicked myself.

“Oh, dear, has the jar gone bad? I keep it for company. I can only have hot water and herb tea—one dunk.”

Jenny’s mother is the closest thing to a saint I’ll ever meet. We have nothing in common except for our children’s marriage and our God. It makes for a wonderful friendship.

I remember little else about that day. Just our conversation and the sight of my son’s powder blue Camero disappearing around the corner. I tried convincing myself it wouldn’t be so bad. “We can take turns visiting at Christmas,” I told Irene, “And think of the summer vacations we’ll have.” It wasn’t working for either of us.

Jenny wrote faithfully every week. Her letters to her mother were full of news: The boys and I picked blackberries today. Tommy loves his new two wheeler. It stays light here until almost ten o’clock! But most of the ones addressed to me had an I’m-so-lonely-I-can’t-handle-this theme.

At first it hurt my feelings. Then I realized I should be grateful that Jenny trusted me enough to be honest. She obviously didn’t want to worry her mother. My shoulders were broader—in every sense of the word.

One thing for sure, her letters drove me to my knees. I knew God had a plan for them, I just didn’t know the what’s, when’s and why’s. Why did they have to move so far away? Are we a part of the plan?

You are.

The message, wherever it came from was loud and clear. So was the idea that jolted me from sleep at 3:00 a.m.

I pawed through the junk drawer and came up with an unopened package of 3 × 5’s and several coloured pens, three of which actually produced ink. By the time Howard’s Drugstore opened at 9:00, I had a stack of neatly printed cards.

The only tin boxes I could find were covered with butterflies or frilly flowers. Ugh. But I was too excited to try another store. I chose the flowers and a package of stickers to match—overkill, but if it worked . . .

The final product didn’t turn out half bad. I printed the label in neon orange—FIVE MINUTE BLESSINGS—placed the cards inside, then wrote a short note. JENNY, CHOOSE ONE EACH DAY—SATISFACTION GUARANTEED.

Scan the room; thank God for everything you see. Take a picture of the sunset. Climb a hill. Close your eyes and feel the wind. Eat an ice cream cone. Count the stars. See how high you can go in Danny’s swing. Ride Tommy’s bike. Pick dandelions, and put them in a jar. Stand in the rain. Bake cookies for a neighbour. Sing “Amazing Grace.”

I included lots of hymns—there were a lot of cards to fill. Three-hundred-sixty-five exercises in happiness. I wasn’t sure if they’d help Jenny, but I hadn’t felt so good in years.

  • As we will see in this psalm, an important aspect of receiving blessing from God is to heighten our awareness of his presence in our lives. How might Joyce’s gift to Jenny help Jenny receive God’s blessings?
  God’s Word for Us

Read Psalm 84.

  • According to Psalm 84:1-4, the psalmist experiences God’s presence in an especially powerful way in the temple, the place of worship. How does he describe it?

Where do you experience God’s presence?

  • According to Psalm 84:1-2, what does the writer experience of being away from God’s presence?
  • Psalm 84:4-7 promises a blessing for those whose “strength is in [God]” and for those “who set their hearts on a pilgrimage.” What do you see as the meaning of each of these metaphors?
  • What blessings are promised (Psalm 84:6-7)?

How would you restate these promises in your own words?

  • The writer then asks for God’s attention and blessing (Psalm 84:8-9). Rewrite this as a prayer for God’s attention and blessing in your own life, making it as specific as you like.
  • How does the writer describe God in Psalm 84:10-12?
  • The final phrase makes a direct link between trusting God and receiving God’s blessing. How would you describe the relationship between trusting God and receiving God’s blessing from your own experience?
Now or Later
  • Make a list of the blessings you receive when you are in God’s presence.
  • What might you do this week to experience God’s presence and to receive his blessing?
  • What activities help you to grow in your trust of God? Make a plan to participate in one such activity this week.
  • Read and reflect on Psalm 103

 

Monday 1 June 2020

The continuing spiritual development of a young man called Samuel

Heaven and Hell

What’s the Point?

What happens in the end matters now.

Recap

In our last chapter we discussed the need for holiness and endurance in our walk with Jesus. Both of those things require us to work, even as we depend on God’s help to help us grow and persevere. Now let’s turn our attention to what awaits all of humanity at the end of their lives: either heaven or hell.

Samuel

After he became involved in crime, Samuel would often worry that he was going to wind up going to hell. One of his friends in the gang used to say, ‘We’re going to hell, but we’ll have the best stories to tell.’ Samuel never laughed, because to him hell seemed terrifying. Now that he was a Christian, he no longer worried about being damned. But if he was honest, he wasn’t really looking forward to heaven. He didn’t really understand what made heaven so great or what it would be like to be there.

Judgment

Back in our first chapter, we briefly discussed the fact that God is our holy judge. The Bible teaches that after we die—or after Jesus returns, whichever comes first—we’ll face God’s judgment. Here are a few places where we see this taught:

  • The Apostle Paul spoke to the people of Athens and told them: ‘The times of ignorance God overlooked, but now he commands all people everywhere to repent, because he has fixed a day on which he will judge the world in righteousness by a man whom he has appointed; and of this he has given assurance to all by raising him from the dead’ (Acts 17:30–31).
  • The author of Hebrews writes: ‘It is appointed for man to die once, and after that comes judgment’ ( 9:27).
  • And in 2 Corinthians, Paul tells the church: ‘For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, so that each one may receive what is due for what he has done in the body, whether good or evil’ (2 Cor. 5:10).

God’s judgment is completely fair and just because God alone has access to every thought, deed, and attitude. Unlike human judges, God is unbiased and never makes a mistake. He sees everything with perfect clarity, and so His judgment is always just (Rev. 19:2).

  • For God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil’ ( 12:14).
  • And no creature is hidden from his sight, but all are naked and exposed to the eyes of him to whom we must give account’ ( 4:13).
  • For his eyes are on the ways of a man, and he sees all his steps’ (Job 34:21).
  • The eyes of the Lord are in every place, keeping watch on the evil and the good’ ( 15:3).

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”…. Then he will say to those on his left, “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels”…. And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life’ (Matt. 25:31–34, 41, 46).

It’s hard to miss the point Jesus is making here: on the Day of Judgment, there will be a final separation of all humanity. Some people will be called those ‘who are blessed by my Father.’ They will be welcomed into eternal life in heaven. Others are ‘cursed’ and will go into eternal punishment in hell. There are no other options. Unbelievers are judged for their rebellion against God, while God’s people are rewarded for their faithful service because their sins have been paid for at the cross of Christ.

Let’s ask some questions in order to understand this important subject:

What Is Heaven?

Heaven is the place where God is particularly present in His love and holiness. Of course God is present in all places everywhere, but heaven is His special dwelling place (1 Kings 8:43, Isa. 66:1). This is why Jesus teaches us to pray to our Father ‘in heaven’ (Matt. 6:9). After His resurrection, Jesus went up into heaven (Heb. 9:24) and He is there even now, waiting for the day when He returns to the earth.

Heaven is a place where God is worshipped and delighted in (Rev. 4, Heb. 12:22–24). When a Christian dies, his or her spirit goes to be with Jesus in heaven (Phil. 1:21–23), where God has prepared a place for them to live in eternal happiness (Heb. 11:13–16). Heaven is a place of joy and blessing, where every temptation, tear, and trial is wiped away by God Himself (Rev. 21:4). No wonder Jesus calls it ‘paradise’ (Luke 23:43)! Living with God in heaven is the greatest thing we have to look forward to.

What Is Hell?

Hell is a place of eternal punishment for those who refused to put their faith in Jesus and have therefore died in their sins (Eph. 5:3–6). In Revelation, John gives a terrifying vision of what happens to those who oppose the Lord:

‘He also will drink the wine of God’s wrath, poured full strength into the cup of his anger, and he will be tormented with fire and sulphur in the presence of the holy angels and in the presence of the Lamb. And the smoke of their torment goes up forever and ever, and they have no rest, day or night’ (Rev. 14:10–11).

In short, hell is the worst fate we could ever imagine.

What Does Hell Teach Us?

Hell is a terrible reality, which is why some Christians have tried to water down the Bible’s teaching to make it seem less awful.

  • Some have taught that hell is not a real place, but a metaphor for the ways we ruin our lives through sin
  • Others have taught that hell is not eternal, but a place where God puts sinners out of their misery by destroying them.
  • Some church traditions have invented other options for humans after death—like ‘purgatory,’ where our sins are cleansed and we’re slowly prepared for heaven.
  • Still others say hell is where God is absent and sinners are left to their own ways. They’re in hell because of their own free choice.

The main problem with these views is that they don’t reflect what the Bible teaches. There may be elements of truth (for example, the consequences of our sin now are a taste of what hell will be like), but the Bible is clear that those who live in rebellion against God will experience unending suffering. In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus called hell ‘the unquenchable fire’ and the place where ‘the worm does not die and the fire is not quenched’ (Mark 9:44 and 9:48). It’s hard to understand what this means if not that the sufferings of hell go on forever.

This makes sense, too, for how could sin against an eternal God not be punished in an eternal way? If sin is treason committed by people with eternal souls against a perfectly holy God who exists in every place for all eternity, at what point in the future would we imagine that God’s holy anger against sin will be finished?

We shouldn’t act as if God’s reputation and character need to be saved from the reality of hell. In fact, hell teaches us some important things—namely, that God is very holy and sin against Him is very terrible. If the things that the Bible teaches about hell seem unfair or unjust, it’s probably because we don’t take God’s glory and holiness seriously enough. If we did, we wouldn’t even think to suggest that God is somehow unjust to punish sin the way He does. In fact, it would be wrong for God not to punish sins the way He does.

Stop

Many people don’t believe in a final judgment or in hell. What reasons might people have not to believe in these things?

What Difference Do Heaven and Hell Make in My Life Now?

Jesus spoke often about hell, not because He enjoyed scaring people but because He knew we ought to live in light of this terrible reality. We should be more concerned to avoid hell than to avoid suffering here on earth.

  • If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to sin, cut it off and throw it away. For it is better that you lose one of your members than that your whole body go into hell’ ( 5:29–30).
  • 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.’ ( 10:28).

Thankfully, the opposite is also true. If the reality of hell should keep us from sin, then the promise of heaven should encourage us toward holiness and obedience.

  • Pursuing purity might be tiresome and difficult, but there’s an amazing reward waiting for us in heaven: ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’ ( 5:8).
  • The author of Hebrews tells us that Moses said ‘no’ to the sinful pleasures of Egypt in order to obtain a reward in heaven: ‘By faith Moses, when he was grown up, refused to be called the son of Pharaoh’s daughter, choosing rather to be mistreated with the people of God than to enjoy the fleeting pleasures of sin. He considered the reproach of Christ greater wealth than the treasures of Egypt, for he was looking to the reward’ ( 11:24–26).
Illustration

Knowing the consequences of certain behaviours helps us make good decisions. People used to smoke cigarettes like crazy. Now that we know they cause lung cancer, far fewer people are willing to smoke. The cost is simply too high. People choose not to break laws simply because they don’t want to go to jail. Knowing that hell awaits for those who live in rebellion against God should motivate us to say ‘no’ to sin and to be reconciled to God through faith in Jesus.

Similarly, most people are willing to experience some kind of short-term difficulty in order to gain something better in the future. People go to work, lift weights, eat healthy foods, stay in school, and save money not because those are the most enjoyable things in the moment, but because they bring long-term rewards that are worth the short-term sacrifices. Heaven is like that; it’s our long-term reward. We bypass sinful pleasures because we know it’s far better to have heaven than to have the fleeting enjoyment of sin.

The Bible is very realistic; it never says that sin brings no pleasure. After all, there are reasons people do sinful things!

Getting high feels good in the moment.

Stealing money enables you to buy things you’ll enjoy.

Sexual sin brings physical pleasure.

We don’t need to deny this truth in order to avoid sin.

But here’s the problem with sin: its pleasures are too small and too temporary. Whatever moment of happiness we get can never make hell worth it; they can’t compare to the eternal joys of being in God’s presence forever.

Samuel

At first, the idea of eternal punishment made Samuel uncomfortable. But as he thought about it, the world he knew was filled with injustice. The strong always took advantage of the weak, men preyed on women, adults used children, and the wicked took advantage of the good. In this light, it became easier to see the goodness in God’s just judgment.

Memory Verse

‘These all died in faith, not having received the things promised, but having seen them and greeted them from afar, and having acknowledged that they were strangers and exiles on the earth. For people who speak thus make it clear that they are seeking a homeland. If they had been thinking of that land from which they had gone out, they would have had opportunity to return. But as it is, they desire a better country, that is, a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared for them a city’ (Heb. 11:13–16).

Summary

Because we were made by God in His image, every human being is ultimately accountable to Him. God has promised to punish sins for all eternity in hell, but has also promised to give eternal life in paradise to everyone who turns to Him through faith in Christ. Those truths should motivate us to say ‘no’ to sin and to look forward to being with God in heaven.

 

Saturday 30 May 2020

Occult

“Do You Believe in Magic?”

The Lovin’ Spoonful

Do you believe in magic, in a young girl’s heart,
How the music can free her whenever it starts?

John Sebastian was a folk artist and sometimes-jug-band member who performed at various Greenwich Village coffeehouses. In 1964, he was invited to Cass Elliot’s home to watch the Beatles’ U.S. television premiere on the Ed Sullivan Show. That night he met a Canadian folk singer, Zal Yanovsky, and they decided to form a rock group. Eventually adding drummer Joe Butler and bassist Steve Boone, they chose their name—The Lovin’ Spoonful—from a lyric in the song “Coffee Blues” by Mississippi John Hurt.

After playing in Greenwich Village clubs, developing a good-timey pop sound, they landed a recording contract with Buddah Records. Their very first single release was the 1965 smash hit “Do You Believe in Magic,” which made it to number 9 and spawned a hit album of the same name. They eventually landed eleven tunes on the charts between 1965 and 1967. “You Didn’t Have to Be So Nice” entered the Top 10. “Daydream,” a laid-back summer song, hit number 2, selling a million copies. Their biggest hit, “Summer in the City,” reached number 1.

The group broke up in 1968 after Yanovsky and Sebastian both departed. John Sebastian later sang the theme song he wrote for the seventies TV series Welcome Back, Kotter. Joe Butler went to Broadway, appearing in Hair, and Boone left the music business entirely.

Riff

John Sebastian’s friendly voice employed a metaphor often used in romantic songs: magic. Being in love gives us such good feelings that we tend to attribute it to something supernatural. We can’t explain what happens, but we know there’s a power at work. It’s easy to call it magic.

The dictionary defines magic as “The use of means (as charms or spells) believed to have supernatural power over natural forces.” Throughout history, people have dabbled with various attempts to harness supernatural powers. Usually it’s the dabblers who get harnessed.

We find a curious detail in the famous story of the Israelites’ Exodus from Egypt. At the burning bush, Moses was called to lead his people out of slavery. This meant confronting the pharaoh and demanding their release in God’s name. The Lord gave Moses certain “signs”—we might call them magic tricks—to demonstrate divine power. For instance, he threw down his staff, and it became a snake. The problem was, “Pharaoh called in his own wise men and sorcerers, and these Egyptian magicians did the same thing with their magic” (Exodus 7:11). Then Moses’ snake swallowed up the other snakes.

This story suggests that some practitioners of magic actually do tap into supernatural power in an attempt to copy God’s power, something I witnessed in ministry while in Pembrokeshire, but as I said then, I say again, if the power isn’t attributed to God then it is another power and it inevitably leads people astray.

God’s power is infinitely superior. You see, God didn’t stop with changing the staff into a snake. He sent terrible plagues to convince Pharaoh to release the Israelites, and he ultimately parted a sea to provide an escape route.

The Bible consistently warns us not to dabble in the “secret arts” of magic. There is dangerous power there and it is on the rise in Wales again. But we are also assured that we can trust in the superior power of our God.

Harmonies
Exodus 7:11 Psalm 46:1 1 John 4:4
Deuteronomy 18:9-14 Acts 19:11-20 Revelation 21:8

 

 

Thursday 28 May 2020

Let’s Get Physical: The Anatomy Lesson

Here is a big grab bag of questions about (you guessed it) the human body. Some of the questions deal with the numerous sins that all parts of the body can commit. Others deal with various sins and crimes committed against the body. Get the idea? Have fun, and don’t strain your brain—which, by the way, is an organ that is not mentioned in the Bible, because the ancients believed that thoughts originated in the heart, not the mind.

  1. What happened to the children who made fun of Elisha’s bald head?
  2. Which Epistle says that blessing and cursing should not come out of the same mouth?
  3. Which son of Saul was murdered by two servants who stabbed him in the belly and carried his severed head to David?
  4. Which king executed John the Baptist after his stepdaughter asked for John’s head on a platter?
  5. Who cut off the ear of Malchus, the high priest’s servant?
  6. What rebel against David was beheaded, with his head thrown over the city wall?
  7. Which king received 70 human heads in baskets?
  8. According to Jesus, what bodily organ should you pluck out if it causes you to sin?
  9. What evil queen “painted her face” before meeting with the rebellious King Jehu?
  10. What blind father recognized Jacob’s voice but was deceived by his glove-covered hands?
  11. Which Old Testament book says that anyone who scorns his parents will have his eyes pecked out by ravens?
  12. What gruesome object did the Philistines fasten in the temple of Dagon?
  13. Which wife of King David gave him a tongue-lashing for dancing in the streets?
  14. Whose teeth were set on edge when the fathers ate sour grapes?
  15. In what place will sinners “gnash their teeth”?
  16. Which king had a “jealous eye”?
  17. Which prophet mentions a lustful woman infatuated with men’s privates?
  18. What sort of lips does the Lord detest?
  19. Which prophet lamented that he was a man of “unclean lips”?
  20. How did God deal with this prophet’s unclean lips?
  21. According to Jesus, what should we do when someone strikes us on the right cheek?
  22. Who were promised that their “eyes would be opened” if they would disobey God?
  23. What book of the Old Testament contains the “eye for an eye” rule?
  24. According to Jesus, what people loaded heavy burdens onto men’s shoulders, but would not help carry them?
  25. Which Christian’s preaching caused the Jews to gnash their teeth in rage?
  26. For what crime could a man have his shoe taken off and his face spit in?
  27. What part of the body are we supposed to cut off if it causes us to sin?

Let’s Get Physical: The Anatomy Lesson (Answers)

  1. They were torn apart by two bears (2 Kings 2:23-24).
  2. James (3:10)
  3. Ish-bosheth, slain by Rechab and Baanah (2 Samuel 4:5-8)
  4. Herod (Mark 6:14-28). He was so entranced by the girl’s dance that he offered to give her anything she asked for.
  5. Peter (John 18:10), who was zealous to keep Jesus from being arrested. Jesus then healed the man’s ear.
  6. Sheba (2 Samuel 20:21-22)
  7. Jehu (2 Kings 10:1-7). They were the heads of evil King Ahab’s family members, a dynasty that Jehu effectively eliminated.
  8. Your eye (Mark 9:47)
  9. Jezebel, widow of evil King Ahab (2 Kings 9:30)
  10. Isaac, who was deceived by his wily son Jacob (Genesis 27:22). The gloves were intended to make Isaac believe that he was touching the hands of Jacob’s hairy-bodied brother, Esau.
  11. Proverbs (30:17)
  12. The head of Israel’s King Saul, whom they had defeated in battle (1 Chronicles 10:10)
  13. Michal (2 Samuel 6). David replied that he was dancing spontaneously and joyously because the Ark of the Covenant had been returned to the Israelites.
  14. The children’s (Ezekiel 18:2). The meaning is that the punishment for sin is passed on to the next generation. Ezekiel makes this statement as if it were a common proverb among the people—then goes on to say that it is no longer true.
  15. Hell (Matthew 8:12; 13:42; 24:51). “Gnashing of teeth” is an indication of anguish and rage.
  16. Saul, who kept his “jealous eye” on his rival, David (1 Samuel 18:9)
  17. Ezekiel, who is speaking figuratively. The “woman” is actually Jerusalem, which spiritually speaking has left her true husband (God) and has become promiscuous (worshipping false gods) (Ezekiel 23:20).
  18. Lying lips (Proverbs 12:22)
  19. Isaiah (Isaiah 6:5), who also stated that his whole nation had unclean lips
  20. An angel touched Isaiah’s lips with a coal from the Temple’s altar (Isaiah 6:6-7). This is a vision, not an actual burning of flesh.
  21. Turn the left cheek toward the person (Matthew 5:39). The idea is that we don’t repay evil with evil.
  22. Adam and Eve, who believed the serpent’s lie (Genesis 3:5-7)
  23. Exodus (21:24)
  24. The Pharisees. He was speaking figuratively—not actual physical burdens, but rules and regulations that were too difficult to live by (Matthew 23:4).
  25. Stephen’s (Acts 7:54)
  26. Refusing to marry the widow of his deceased brother (Deuteronomy 25:9)
  27. The hand, according to Jesus (Matthew 5:30)

Wednesday 27 May 2020

It’s Tempting..

The great tempter in the Bible is the original bad guy, Satan. There are also plenty of human tempters, people who enjoy leading the innocent astray—or trapping them in a difficult situation. John Newton the writer of Amazing Grace was once one himself.

But in the grand scheme of things, tempters show just what people are made of, whether they have the inner strength that is needed in an immoral world. Although the tempters are usually bad guys, temptation also is a way of showing that sometimes the “good” people aren’t as good as they thought.

  1. Who tempted Abraham by asking him to sacrifice his son Isaac?
  2. Who tempted Jesus with the question, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife”?
  3. How many days was Jesus tempted by Satan? (Hint: The temptation took much longer than the Gospels seem to indicate.)
  4. Who advised husbands and wives not to go overboard on sexual abstinence, because it might lead to temptation?
  5. According to James, what does the man who endures temptation receive?
  6. “Lead us not into temptation” is from what famous Bible passage?
  7. Who tempted Jesus by asking him to show a sign from heaven?
  8. To whom did Jesus say, “Thou shalt not tempt the Lord thy God”?
  9. According to the Epistle of James, we are not tempted by God but by what?
  10. Which New Testament letter mentions that Jesus was like all human beings in that he was subject to temptation?
  11. Which letter claims that God will always make a way to escape temptation?
  12. What couple died after they tempted the Spirit of the Lord?

It’s Tempting… (Answers)

  1. God did (Genesis 22:1-2). Apparently the word tempt here means “test,” as it often does in the Bible. Abraham passed the test admirably.
  2. The Pharisees (Mark 10:2)
  3. Forty (Mark 1:13; Luke 4:1-13)
  4. Paul (1 Corinthians 7:5)
  5. The crown of life (James 1:12)
  6. The Lord’s Prayer (Matthew 6:13)
  7. The Pharisees and the Sadducees (Matthew 16:1)
  8. Satan (Luke 4:6, 12)
  9. Our own lusts (James 1:13-14). No mention of Satan!
  10. Hebrews (2:9, 18)
  11. 1 Corinthians (10:13)
  12. Ananias and Sapphira, who had lied to the apostles (Acts 5)

Sunday 24 May 2020 – 6:00 pm Prayer Time

What Does Job 4:6 Mean? 

After meditating and praying about it please read  below and again please pray.

“Is not your fear of God your confidence, And the integrity of your ways your hope?
Job 4:6

Verse Thoughts

Job was a righteous man. He was a man of integrity. He was a pillar in the community who gave assistance to many people. He helped to strengthen the weak hands. He enabled the tottering to stand, and he supported those with feeble knees. But following Satan’s severe attack on his home, his children, and his wealth, Job’s position in society quickly deteriorated, and his body became covered with painful sores – from the soles of his feet to the top of his head. Job’s misfortunes caused him to open his mouth and lament loudly, in front of his three friends – Eliphaz the Temanite, Bildad the Shuhite and Zophar the Naamathite.

While he never cursed God for the terrible suffering he was facing, Job cursed the day of his birth. He longed to be set free from his afflictions through death and the grave. And after a whole week of sitting in aghast silence, due to the terrible misfortune that had rained down on him with such fury, Job complained that what he feared the most had befallen him. He bewailed that he had no peace of mind, no quiet repose, no rest in his soul, and had to endure nothing but pain and anguish.

It was at this point that Eliphaz, one of his three, silent friends, felt compelled to respond to Job’s long, defensive, soliloquy of self-pity about his suffering. Eliphaz was a man who was proud of his knowledge and wisdom. However, despite his more than candid counsel, we realise that the advice Job received from each of his three friends was deeply flawed. Eliphaz pointed out boldly, that despite Job’s apparently, impeccable character, the reason for his shocking downfall and the suffering he was going through, was his own lack of integrity – Eliphaz concluded that Job must have sin and was being punished for his sin.

While couching his accusation in flowery language, Eliphaz was basically telling Job that the reason for his downfall was due to unconfessed sin in his life. “Is not your fear of God your confidence,” was his sharp accusation. And haven’t you based your hope on your own integrity?”  he asked. Aren’t you trying to justify your sinful actions, by harping on about your personal integrity… was the accusation Eliphaz was making.

While the unconfessed sin of a believer will always break fellowship with the Lord and all sin has consequences, it should never be assumed that a man’s sin is the cause for the trials he is facing. Although this is often taught in churches, and is, in general what sinners and saints believe – it is not scriptural. Trials are not necessarily linked with personal sin, which is why the Lord Jesus warned us not to judge others. Judgement is the singular responsibility of the Lord.

Eliphaz argued that Job would not make such a detailed defence of himself if he were innocent of sin. He was suggesting that it was a guilty conscience that was causing Job to plead his innocence so vehemently. Whether directly or indirectly, Eliphaz accused Job of being guilty of sin, and he believed that God was punishing his sinfulness. But accusing Job of being punished for sin was an indirect accusation against GOD’s goodness!

He reasoned that Job would not complain in this way unless he was in some way guilty of some sin; that his guilty conscience was the root of his suffering. As it turned out, this was a false assumption. In reality, Eliphaz was blaspheming God’s holy character with his accusation. He was saying that the Lord inflicts evil in the lives of man, but this is not true. He was saying God was sending evil on Job, but it was Satan, not God, who caused the terrible events in Job’s life. Satan’s wager was that Job would curse God if evil befell him, but Job blessed the Lord.

Job did not sin against God. In fact, he absolved the Lord of Satan’s accusation! But Eliphaz had failed to understand that God is good and that only good and perfect things come from Him – not evil. Neither Job nor his three friends were aware that it was Satan, not God who inflicted the many misfortunes in his life. Job refused to blaspheme God’s name and the other three individuals passed an incorrect judgement on him – and in so doing accused God of being the author of evil that befell their friend.

Although Job complained bitterly of his misfortunes he NEVER cursed God. “Naked I came from my mother’s womb, And naked I shall return there. The Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord,” was his response. However, Eliphaz and his friend, believed that God only sent evil to the wicked – and only gave blessings to the good – a complete distortion of God’s character.

God does NOT send evil on anyone. God may PERMIT evil to happen, but Satan instigates evil. Eliphaz and his friend lacked understanding and linking Job’s misfortune to his sin was a slur against the Lord, Who sends the warming sunshine and the refreshing rain on both the wicked and the saved – while Satan, alone is the instigator of all that is evil that befalls all men.

How easy it is for us to judge others falsely, like Job’s three friends falsely accused him, How quickly we can make assumptions about other believers rather than leaving God to be the judge of the man’s inner heart and men’s outer actions. May we abstain from any destructive criticism of our fellow men and leave God to work His perfect work in the lives of all – without OUR attempt to judge or correct. We have no right to point a finger of accusation at anyone and pass judgement on the circumstances of their lives. May the words of our mouth, the actions of our lives, the meditation of our heart, and the motives behind all we do and be acceptable to the Lord – our rock and my Redeemer.

Prayer

Heavenly Father, I realise how easy it is to pass false judgements on others and confess that I am too ready to accuse others of wrong-doing, when someone’s words and actions do not line up with my own moral code and of my limited understanding. Keep me from any critical thoughts of others and I pray that the words of my mouth, the actions of my life, the meditation of my heart, and the motives behind all I am is acceptable to You – this I ask in Jesus’ name, AMEN.

Saturday 23 May 2020

“Blowin’ in the Wind”

Peter, Paul & Mary
The 60’s music revisited with a Christian application.

How many times must the cannon balls fly
Before they’re forever banned?
The answer, my friend, is blowin’ in the wind
The answer is blowin’ in the wind

Backbeat

Peter Yarrow, Paul Stookey, and Mary Travers were all struggling performers in New York’s Greenwich Village when they met in 1961. Peter had sung at the 1960 Newport Folk Festival, Paul was doing stand-up comedy, and Mary had just appeared in a play that flopped. After deciding to form a folk trio, they debuted at the Bitter End coffeehouse in 1961.

Eventually signed to Warner Brothers Records in 1962, their first release, “Lemon Tree,” reached the Top 40. They began playing at more established folk venues such as the Gate of Horn in Chicago and the Hungry i in San Francisco. Their first self-titled album was an instant classic and contained their second single, a tune embraced as a civil rights anthem, “If I Had a Hammer.” Their other hits included “Puff the Magic Dragon” and “Don’t Think Twice, It’s Alright.”

Before they disbanded in 1970, Peter, Paul and Mary had racked up eight gold singles and five million-selling albums. Each then embarked on successful solo careers, but they reunited in 1978.

Paul Stookey became a Christian in the late seventies and has recorded Christian music albums and singles. Their 25th Anniversary Concert has become one of PBS’s most popular specials.

The Bob Dylan song “Blowin’ in the Wind” became a number 2 best seller in 1963 for the trio, and it helped introduce Bob Dylan’s work to the world.

Riff

“War is hell,” growled one general. He wasn’t trying to make a theological statement about the afterlife, but he came pretty close. Hell is certainly about destruction, and so is war. There may be times when it’s a necessary evil, but it’s certainly not the ideal.

“Blowin’ in the Wind” became a peace anthem during the Vietnam conflict. It was a contentious time in America, with many fervently opposing the war and many loyally supporting it.

As in many protest songs, this one asks questions but gives no definitive answer. How long will this world fight wars? When will we all realise how senseless it is?

The Bible has an answer to those questions, but it may not be what Dylan was looking for. Human beings are bathed in sin and incapable of keeping peace for very long. “No one cares about being fair and honest…,” the prophet Isaiah complained. “They hatch deadly snakes and weave spiders’ webs. Whoever falls into their webs will die, and there’s danger even in getting near them…. Violence is their trademark…. They think only about sinning. Misery and destruction always follow them. They don’t know where to find peace” (Isaiah 59:4-8).

Jesus predicted that the days before his return would see “wars and rumours of wars” (Matthew 24:6, kjv). The book of Revelation shows the nations of earth going to war against Jesus himself. Riding on a white horse, with the warrior name of Faithful and True, he finally defeats his foes and ends war forever (see Revelation 19:11-16).

Only the Prince of Peace can usher in that era, when “[nations] will hammer their swords into ploughshares and their spears into pruning hooks. Nation will no longer fight against nation, nor train for war anymore” (Isaiah 2:4).

Harmonies

Psalm 120:6-7           Isaiah 65:20-25            Matthew 24:6, kjv*
Isaiah 2:4*                     Hosea 2:18                    Romans 3:10-18
Isaiah 59:4-8*             Habakkuk 1:2               Revelation 19:11-16

 

Friday 22 May 2020

The Lord’s Grace to Paul – 1 Timothy 1:12-20

The Lord’s Grace to Paul – 1 Timothy 1:12-20
  1. Who are some people you know whose lives were dramatically changed at some point? How?
  2. What sort of people try your patience the most?

Explore It

  1. Why did Paul thank Jesus? (1:12)
  2.  What did Paul say he once was? (1:13)
  3. Why was Paul shown mercy? (1:13)
  4. What was poured out on Paul? (1:14)
  5. Why did Jesus come into the world? (1:15)
  6. How was Paul “the worst”? (1:15)
  7. Why was Paul shown mercy? (1:16)
  8. How does a person receive eternal life? (1:16)
  9. What qualities did Paul ascribe to God? (1:17)
  10. Why did Paul give Timothy his instructions? (1:18)
  11. What did Paul say some have done with their faith? (1:19)
  12. Why did Paul hand Hymenaeus and Alexander over to Satan? (1:20)

Get It

  1. To what service has God appointed you?
  2. How and when has God shown you mercy?
  3. In what way has God used you as an example so that others might believe?
  4. How do God’s attributes of being eternal, immortal, and invisible encourage you?
  5. In what way is God the King of your life?
  6. What does it mean to fight the good fight?
  7. What do you fight in your life as a Christian?
  8. How and why do people shipwreck their faith?
  9. What distractions draw Christians away from their proper course?

Apply It

  1. What steps can you take today to ensure that your faith is on the proper course and not in danger of being shipwrecked?
  2. For what grace and mercy that God has shown you do you want to thank Him today?

Thursday 21 May 2020

Warning Against False Teachers of the Law

1 Timothy 1:1-11
  1. Which would you rather receive from a good friend: a letter, e-mail, text or a phone call? Why?
  2. What are some laws that you benefit from directly?

Explore It

  1. Who wrote this letter? (1:1)
  2. To whom was this letter written? (1:2)
  3. Why did Paul want Timothy to stay in Ephesus? (1:3-4)
  4. What did Paul say about myths and genealogies? (1:4)
  5. What was the goal of the command Paul urged Timothy to enforce? (1:5)
  6. In what way had some believers been misguided? (1:6)
  7. How did Paul assess those who wanted to be teachers of the law? (1:7)
  8. When is the Law good? (1:8)
  9. For whom was the Law made? (1:9-11)
  10. What did God entrust to Paul? (1:11)

Get It

  1. When was the last time you wrote someone a letter of encouragement or received such a letter?
  2. With whom do you have a relationship of mutual discipleship?
  3. What false doctrines still plague many churches today?
  4. What sort of doctrines promote controversy in the church?
  5. What goals motivate the leaders you respect in your church?
  6. What goals motivate your service in the church?
  7. In what way should we use God’s law today?
  8. What impact does or should God’s law have on your life?
  9. How should we determine what is and isn’t sound doctrine?
  10. With what unique task has God entrusted you?

Apply It

  1. Who is someone to whom you can write a letter of encouragement this week?
  2. What steps can you take to make sure your motives are from a pure heart, a good conscience, and a sincere faith?

Wednesday 20 May 2020

WEDNESDAY/ NEW STUDY/ CALLED TO BE BLESSED

 Cast of Characters

Setting the Stage

Each introduction takes the perspective of a different character in a continuing story to introduce the theme of each study. Below are the voices behind each introduction.

Jenny Campbell—wife and mother in the process of a major move
Joyce—Jenny’s mother-in-law
Alicia—Coworker of Jenny’s spouse, Jack
Ardice—Jenny’s next door neighbour
Karen—Jenny’s best friend
Irene—Jenny’s mother

Other characters

Jack Campbell—Jenny’s spouse
Carol—co-worker of Jack’s and friend of Alicia
Joe—Karen’s spouse
Danny and Tommy—Jenny’s children
Maggie—Jenny’s neighbour and friend of Ardice

WEEK 1: WEDNESDAY

Called to Be Blessed and to Be a Blessing

Setting the Stage:

Jenny’s Story

June 15—circled on the calendar in red. A year ago today, I had clutched the iron railing on the observatory platform peering down to where the city should have been. Smog had settled in thick brown wads around Hyatt Towers cutting off the Tri-met building at the fortieth floor, completely obliterating the web of freeway below. Even as I inhaled warm mountain breeze, I could taste the noxious fumes.

When we were young, we’d breathed flower-scented air: jasmine in the summer, lilac in the spring. By the time we got married and had children of our own, even the suburban skies were clogged with pollution. Still, that city had always been our home.

I shivered, remembering the phone call. It had come right at Danny’s bedtime with the bathtub overflowing and abandoned toys strewn across the kitchen floor.

“Two weeks?” I don’t remember screeching, at least not out loud, but the telephone line went silent. I know now he was trying to digest my hysteria, deciding how to respond.

“What’s wrong? I thought you’d be glad to get out of that apartment. You can breathe here, Jenny. You should see the trees.” His voice grew louder, drowning out my sobs. “I got the job in a day! They liked my work so much they hired me on the spot. Found a house too.

It’s the Ritz compared to Steel Street, and half the rent. We can get the kids a dog.”

A dog? Did he think a dog could take the place of family and lifelong friends?

“It’s the chance of a lifetime.” I can still hear his voice thick with disappointment. “I thought you’d be happy for me.”

I flicked a flake of chipped brown paint off the rail and thought of hot cement and cool grass beneath bare feet. Huge maple trees, roots buckling the sidewalk, that sheltered Kool-Aid stands and sunburnt skin. Neighbourhood games of hide and seek. Thick green pop bottles buried under slivered ice. Spitting watermelon seeds, then later watching Daddy dig the shoots out of the grass.

I thought of gully-washer rains that overflowed the gutters while cement rivers channelled muddy water to the sea. Running two blocks from the school bus stop. Mama waiting at the door with a towel and a worried frown. “You’ll catch pneumonia.” Chocolate chip cookies melting on my tongue while a pan of cocoa simmered on the stove.

In a few hours we would leave it all behind.

I stepped back as people spilled from the Planetarium onto the observatory platform. The second show was over and my family would be waiting in the car, still wondering, I’m sure, why I’d insisted we come.

How can he do this so easily? He grew up here too. Mom and Daddy, Karen and Joe. His own parents for Pete’s sake. Inside my chest, fear and anger wrestled for first prize. New job or no, a thousand miles was just too far.

Somehow cupboards had been emptied, boxes filled. The children excited and cranky by turns as strangers carted away the washing machine, Tommy’s high chair, Danny’s crib. “You’re a big boy now. We’ll get you a real bed.”

So little time to say goodbye.
“We’ll see you soon.”
“Wild horses couldn’t keep us away.”
“Can we pitch a tent in your backyard?” Forced laughter, awkward hugs.

I rubbed the damp from underneath my eyes. Great. Now I have mascara all over my face. He’ll know I’ve been crying.

A year ago today.

I wish I could have seen into the future—caught a glimpse of the joy. Maybe it wouldn’t have been so hard. Then again, I think that nothing would have helped. It had simply been my time for tears.

  1. God certainly had many rich blessings in store for Jenny and her family in the move they faced. But first Jenny needed to grieve and let go in order to be open to receive those blessings. Why is this often an important first step in receiving blessing from God.

When have you experienced a time of grieving and letting go which prepared you to be open to receive God’s blessings for you?

God’s Word for Us

Read Genesis 12:1-5.

2. What promises does God make to Abram (later called Abraham) in this text?  How would you restate these promises in your own words?

3. We receive much of God’s blessing in our lives simply because it is given to us. Sometimes, however, we are asked by God to be active participants            in receiving his blessing. What does God ask Abram to do in order to receive what God has for him.

4. List several ways in which God has blessed you by simply giving to you.

5.  Think of a time when God asked you to actively participate in receiving a blessing he had for you. What happened?

6.  What factors would have made Abram’s journey complicated (Genesis 12:4-5)?

7.  Despite the difficulties, what benefits come to us when we are active participants in receiving God’s blessing?

8.  God tells Abram not only that he wants to bless him but that he wants to make him a blessing to others. List some of the ways all the peoples of the earth have been blessed through Abram.

9.  How would you describe the relationship between being blessed by God and being a blessing to others?

10.  How have you seen this relationship between being blessed and being a blessing work in your own life?

Now or Later

 Ideas to close your group meeting or personal study or for continued daily reflection.

Spend some time reflecting and praying about the following questions:

We are not all called to the same task, or even blessed in the same ways. What are some of the ways God has been blessing you?

What do you think God is saying to you about how he wants to continue to bless you?

What do you think God is saying to you about the ways he wants to make you a blessing to others?

How is God asking you to participate in receiving the blessings he has for you and in being a blessing to others?

Write a prayer asking for wisdom and strength to be willing to participate in God’s plan to continue to bless you and to make you a blessing to others.

Write a prayer asking for wisdom and strength to be willing to participate in God’s plan to continue to bless you and to make you a blessing to others.

Read and reflect on 2 Cor.5:18-19.

Women of Character Bible Studies.

 

Monday 18 May 2020

CONTINUED STORY OF A YOUNG MAN CALLED SAMUEL (not the prophet)

Sanctification and Perseverance

What’s the Point?

With GOD’s help, we must deal with our sins.

Recap

In our last chapter, we looked at what God has done for us in Christ. When we were still trapped in our sins and guilt, God sent His Son to save us. Jesus lived a life of perfect obedience to His heavenly Father, took our punishment on the cross, and rose from the dead in victory over sin and death. The Holy Spirit grants new spiritual life to everyone chosen by the Father, giving us the gift of repentance and faith in Jesus.

Simply put, it couldn’t be clearer that salvation is God’s work, not ours. But that doesn’t mean there’s nothing for us to do as we live as Christians.

Samuel

Once Samuel trusted in Christ, he noticed some immediate changes in his life. He found himself thinking about how to please Jesus with his life. He wasn’t losing his temper as much and he showed more patience with his family. When he saw someone in need, he now felt a newfound desire to help. But there were also some things he was trying to change that didn’t seem to change quickly. He felt guilty about how often he lied in order to cover up the wrong things he did. But stopping was difficult. There were also times he found it really hard to turn down opportunities to hook up with girls. If he’s honest, he’s a bit disappointed God hasn’t taken away some of these struggles with sin.

You Must Be Holy

Christians should be holy. They should strive to please God with their thoughts, attitudes, emotions, and actions. Now, the word ‘holy’ might sound a bit old-fashioned, but holiness is a very real, very practical, and very important issue for people who would be followers of Jesus.

Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord’ (Heb. 12:14).

The author of Hebrews is clear: without holiness, we have no hope of seeing God in heaven. A Christian’s holiness clarifies the difference between people who still belong to the devil and people who have been adopted into God’s family through Christ (1 John 3:10).

You Have Been Made Good

Now, that might sound scary to you. After all, we’ve seen pretty clearly that none of us can be good enough to please God. We might be able to keep our external actions under control, but none of us can claim to have holy attitudes, thoughts, and emotions.

So, if we must have holiness in order to see God, are we all hopeless?

Not at all! As we’ve seen, when we come to Jesus we receive His righteousness as a free gift. So anyone who is in Christ has all of the holiness he or she needs in order to be admitted into heaven. This is why the authors of the New Testament write to normal Christians and call them ‘saints’ (a word that means ‘holy ones’). For example, at the beginning of his 1 Corinthians, Paul greets the Christians:

To the church of God that is in Corinth, to those sanctified in Christ Jesus, called to be saints together with all those who in every place call upon the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, both their Lord and ours’ (1 Cor. 1:2).

Now, as the rest of the letter makes clear, these Christians had serious issues. They were fighting with each other, taking each other to court, getting drunk at the Lord’s Supper, and tolerating some nasty sexual immorality. They weren’t perfect, but because they were united to Christ by faith they—and you!—have His perfect holiness credited to them. They were ‘sanctified in Christ Jesus.’

All Christians are holy before the Lord because of the work of Jesus.

Now, Be Good

So all Christians are counted as righteous in Christ. But that’s not the end of the story. Jesus didn’t die only to forgive us for our sins; He also died so that we could be freed from sin’s power over us. It’s as if God is saying to His people: ‘In Jesus, you’ve been made holy. Now go out into the world and be what you already are!’

The holiness of Jesus should increasingly be visible in our actions, attitudes, words, decisions, and thoughts. We must never think our growth in goodness makes God love us. Instead, because we know God does love us, we should expect to see real growth in godliness as we continue to walk with Christ.

‘For this is the will of God, your sanctification: that you abstain from sexual immorality; that each one of you know how to control his own body in holiness and honour, not in the passion of lust like the Gentiles who do not know God…. For God has not called us for impurity, but in holiness’ (1 Thess. 4:3–5, 7).

You might wonder about God’s plan for your life. Well, according to Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians, it has less to do with where you live and what kind of work you do and more to do with ‘your sanctification.’ Obviously, none of us will ever be perfect until we are with Jesus in heaven. We’ll always need to depend on God’s forgiveness when we sin (1 John 1:8–10), but our lives should be characterised by increased Christ-likeness and freedom from sin.

Illustration

Holiness can seem like the ‘bad news’ of Christianity. Yeah, it’s great that you get to go to heaven, but you have to give up all of the things that make life really fun and exciting. When God calls His people to be holy, it might seem like He’s putting a container of delicious cookies on the top shelf, out of their reach.

But we misunderstand how terrible sin really is. Sin prevents us from being with God in heaven, but it also makes life in this world terrible. Of course, there are short-term pleasures that come with sin. But in the long run the payout is awful—addictions, meaninglessness, broken families, hopelessness, violence, oppression, and a host of other evils. Sin is like a sugar-coated poison pill; it tastes sweet in the moment, but it will kill you.

When God calls us to be holy, He isn’t keeping us from rich tea biscuits. He’s keeping us from poison.

Stop

What would you think if someone said he was a follower of Jesus but he hadn’t even tried to turn away from the sinful things in his life

God’s Work and Ours

If holiness is so important, how do we get it? Well, our growth in holiness is different from our justification (how we are made right with God through Jesus). We don’t contribute anything to our justification; from beginning to end, it’s all God’s work. He elected us, sent His Son, gave us new life by His Spirit, and gave us faith as a free gift. We brought nothing to that process except the sin that caused our condemnation.

But our growth in holiness is different. Consider these verses.

Therefore, my beloved, as you have always obeyed, so now, not only as in my presence but much more in my absence, work out your own salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you, both to will and to work for his good pleasure’ (Phil. 2:12–13).

This passage tells us that God is at work in us, helping us to be holy. Because of God, we want to be holy (‘to will’) and we actually put effort into trying to do what pleases Him (‘work for his good pleasure’). But the ways God is at work in our lives doesn’t mean there’s nothing for us to do. We are to ‘work out our salvation’ humbly and respectfully; we’re supposed to flesh out in our lives the salvation that Jesus has given us. Because God is at work to change us, we work hard both to do the things God calls us to do and to avoid the things He forbids.

There’s no magical formula for this, but with the Holy Spirit’s help we can do some of the following things:

Pray – one of the best things we can do is go to God and ask Him for the help we need to grow in holiness. That’s a prayer He is always happy to answer!

Read the Bible – the Word of God is food for our souls. You will need to eat a good ‘meal’ if you want to fight this battle with endurance.

Confess sin – sin flourishes in the darkness. By being open with other Christians about our struggles, we shine a bright light on our sin and fight it head-on.

Be in fellowship – we’re not meant to follow Jesus alone. God has given us other believers in the church to teach us, help us to say no to sin, and give us opportunities to serve and to love.

Flee temptation – as long as we’re alive, we’ll have to battle against the sinful desires within us. That battle will be easier if we learn to avoid the people and situations that tempt us.

Pursue godliness – we don’t want to fall into the trap of merely trying to avoid sinful activities. We also want to grow in the things that please the Lord—things like love, service, self-control, and humility.

Keep Going!

You will follow Jesus for the rest of your life. The author of Hebrews warns us to continue on in the faith and not ‘fall away’:

Take care, brothers, lest there be in any of you an evil, unbelieving heart, leading you to fall away from the living God. But exhort one another every day, as long as it is called “today,” that none of you may be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin. For we have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original confidence firm to the end’ (Heb. 3:12–14).

It’s clear from this passage that we’re not supposed to merely follow Jesus at one point in our life. Instead, we must continue on in the faith ‘to the end’ and not ‘fall away.’ To be sure, there will be many obstacles in our path (see Luke 8:5–15), but a true follower of Christ will keep on walking with Jesus.

If we walk away from Jesus and never come back, that’s simply evidence to prove our faith was never real in the first place (1 John 2:19).

That might sound scary, as if we could lose our salvation. And it’s true these warnings in Scripture are meant to grab our attention so that we’ll not go back to our old lives before Christ. But no true follower of Jesus can ever finally fall away from Him. Like our growth in holiness, our perseverance in the faith is both our work and God’s. And God promises to make sure that we make it all the way to the end.

Hear the words of Jesus:

‘My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand’ (John 10:27–29).

Samuel

Despite everything, there are times when Samuel feels tempted to go back to his old way of life. It felt comfortable and familiar, and following Jesus sometimes makes him feel alone and foolish. What would you tell him if he asked you what he should do?

Memory Verses

‘Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God’ (Heb. 12:1–2).

Summary

True Christians will grow in holiness and persevere in their faith. That requires discipline and effort from us. But ultimately, we depend on God to strengthen us for the work.

Sunday 17 May 2020 – 6:00pm Prayer Time

What Are the Psalms in the Bible?

The psalms are a collection of poems, or songs. Our modern word “Psalms” comes from the Greek “psalmoi,” meaning “songs of praise.”

Each of the psalms is an individual song or poem, much like a hymn. They were written by multiple authors, including Moses, Solomon, and David. These were used to worship God, with different kinds of psalms for all different situations. There are 150 psalms in the BIBLE

Reasons to Turn to the Psalms for Peace

The psalms are prayers to God. One way the psalms can bring us peace is to see that others have also faced what we are facing, and the Lord rescued them.

When we’re praying for peace, it can be difficult to express what we’re feeling or thinking to God. However, the psalms are there to guide us. This doesn’t mean we have to follow the psalms exactly, but they can help us pray and put our thoughts and concerns into words.

Finally, the psalms are part of the Bible, the inspired Word of God. They contain messages that God wants us to receive.

WITH THIS IN MIND LET US FOCUS ON WHAT PSALM 34:1-10

 

Saturday 16 May 2020

TIME TO RELAX AND HAVE A CUP OF TEA AND A QUIET THOUGHTFUL READ

Discernment

Beauty Is Only Skin Deep

The Temptations

sad as can be, ’cause a pretty face got the best of me

… ‘Cause I know that beauty’s only skin deep

Motown Records found some of its earliest success with a stylish supergroup known as the Temptations. Noted for smooth soul harmonies and precision choreography, this quintet had dozens of pop and R&B hits starting in the early 1960s. Though they have experienced numerous personnel changes, the Temptations have survived through decades of changing musical styles.

Like many groups of that era, the Temptations were influenced by gospel music. In one of the great might-have-been stories of the rock era, their producer wanted the group in the studio to cut a special tune he had written for them—but he couldn’t locate them. Since the studio and musicians were at the ready, another group, the Contours, stepped in to record “Do You Love Me,” which became a giant, number 1 smash. And where were the missing Temptations? Attending a church concert.

The Temptations would have their day, however. Their first number 1 was the classic “My Girl,” followed in quick succession by “Get Ready,” “Ain’t Too Proud to Beg,” and many others. In 1966, they scored with the memorable “Beauty Is Only Skin Deep,” which made it to the number 3 spot on the pop chart.

That’s a lesson many of us learn the hard way. We are attracted to outward appearance rather than inward substance, only to be sorely disappointed. Whether it’s romance, a job, buying a new car, or simply taking in a movie, our shallow vision can lead to serious consequences. The cherry convertible may break down in the first mile. The latest Hollywood blockbuster probably lacks a coherent plot. And the breathtaking hottie you’re lucky enough to date could turn out to be a coldhearted snake

You are looking only on the surface of things,” Paul told the Corinthians (2 Corinthians 10:7, niv). He acknowledged that people commonly do that in the world, but as Christians we should be different.

Peter seconded that motion in his advice to Christian women: “Don’t be concerned about the outward beauty of fancy hairstyles, expensive jewellery, or beautiful clothes. You should clothe yourselves instead with the beauty that comes from within, the unfading beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is so precious to God” (1 Peter 3:3-4). Try to get past the fact that a fisherman is offering fashion tips.

This is an important spiritual lesson for Christian men and women alike. In a world that’s all about flashy videos, sexy billboards, and air-brushed magazine covers, will we dare to believe that beauty is, in fact, only skin deep? There’s a much more powerful reality within us, where “the Spirit himself testifies with our spirit that we are God’s children” (Romans 8:16, niv).

Harmonies
Genesis 12:10-20              Matthew 23:25-26             1 Timothy 2:9
Proverbs 6:20, 23-29        Romans 8:16. niv*            1 Peter 3:3-4*
Isaiah 11:3                         2 Corinthians 10:7, niv

Friday 15 May 2020

Duckpool Road extravaganza

Order In The Court!

Trials fascinate us, as evidenced by the many court shows on television. They have fascinated humans throughout history; and no wonder, because we hope that justice will be done (though so often it isn’t). For instance, where is the justice when a murderer may be paroled even though that murderer refuses to say where they have disposed of the body, and thereby the family of the deceased can’t even have the comfort of burying their loved one.

Judges and juries are human and are a fallible —and on occasions, witnesses have been known to be bribed. Yet sometimes courts can simply be misguided. Sadly, the Bible is full of stories of innocent people being dragged before courts and councils where the real bad guys were the ones doing the judging. People of faith must set their hope on the ultimate Judge who will render a true verdict.

  1. When Jesus was brought before the Jews’ council, how many false witnesses were brought in to accuse him?
  2. Who suggested to Moses that he appoint judges so that he would not have to judge all cases himself?
  3. According to the Law, how many witnesses were necessary before a man could be tried and put to death?
  4. What cynical king asked Jesus questions and then allowed him to be mocked?
  5. According to Jesus, when his followers were dragged into court, they would not need to worry about their defence because someone else would speak through them. Who?
  6. What stinging accusation of the Jews finally convinced Pilate to allow Jesus to be executed?
  7. What person’s presence at the trial of Peter and John kept the rulers and priests from punishing the two apostles?
  8. When Stephen was brought to trial, what was the charge laid against him? 47
  9. In what city were Paul and Silas tried, flogged, and jailed after they cast a demon out of a fortune-teller?
  10. When Paul was mobbed in the Temple, who rescued him?
  11. What Roman official gave Paul a centurion as a guard and told the centurion to allow Paul freedom to see whomever he wished?
  12. What three rulers, hearing Paul defend himself in Caesarea, agreed that he deserved no punishment?

Order In The Court! (Answers)

  1. Two (Matthew 26:57-66)
  2. His father-in-law, Jethro (Exodus 18)
  3. At least two (Deuteronomy 17:6)
  4. Herod (Luke 23:8-11)
  5. The Spirit (Matthew 10:16-20)
  6. They claimed that Pilate was no friend of Caesar (John 19:12).
  7. The lame man whom Peter and John had healed (Acts 4:13-14)
  8. That he taught that Jesus had aimed to change the customs taught by Moses (Acts 6:11-14)
  9. Philippi (Acts 16:12, 16-24)
  10. The chief Roman captain (Acts 22:27-30; 23:1-10)
  11. Felix (Acts 24:22-23)
  12. Festus, Agrippa, and Bernice (Acts 25:23-26:32)

Thursday 14 May 2020

ISAIAH’S MESSIANIC PROPHECIES

  1. History Of Christ
  • Birth – Isa 7:14
  • Family – Isa 11:1
  • Anointing – Isa 11:2
  1. Mission of Christ
  • Illuminator – Isa 9:2
  • Judge – Isa 11:3-5
  • Reprover – Isa 11:4
  • Law-Giver – Isa 42:4
  • Liberator – Isa 42:7
  • Burden-Bearer – Isa 53:4
  • Suffering Saviour – Isa 53:5
  • Sin-Bearer – Isa 53:6
  • Intercessor – Isa 53:12
  1. Titles of Christ
  • Immanuel – Isa 7:14
  • Mighty God – Isa 9:6
  • Everlasting Father – Isa 9:6
  • Prince of Peace – Isa 9:6
  • Righteous King – Isa 32:1
  • Divine Servant – Isa 42:1
  • Arm of the Lord – Isa 53:1
  • Anointed Preacher – Isa 61:1
  • Mighty Saviour – Isa 63:1
  1. Characteristics of Christ
  • Radiance – Isa 9:2 Isa 42:6
  • Wisdom – Isa 11:2
  • Spiritual Discernment – Isa 11:3
  • Justice – Isa 11:4
  • Righteousness – Isa 11:5
  • Silence – Isa 42:2    Isa 53:7
  • Gentleness – Isa 42:3
  • Perseverance – Isa 42:4
  • Vicarious Suffering – Isa 52:14  Isa 53:10
  • Compassion – Isa 53:4
  • Meekness – Isa 53:7
  • Sinlessness – Isa 53:9
  • Saving Power – Isa 53:11
  • Greatness – Isa 53:12

Tuesday 12 May 2020

ANTIPAS the Faithful Witness
Turkey • ca. 68, honoured April 11

When Jesus dictated his evaluations of the seven churches of Asia Minor to the apostle John, he sent this message to the church at Pergamum (now Bergama in Turkey): “I know that you live in the city where that great throne of Satan is 18 located, and yet you have remained loyal to me. And you refused to deny me even when Antipas, my faithful witness, was martyred among you by Satan’s followers. And yet I have a few complaints against you. You tolerate . . some Nicolaitans among you. . . . Repent, or I will come to you suddenly and fight against them with the sword of my mouth” (Revelation 2:13-16). 1

There is no other mention of Antipas in the Bible or by ancient historians, but church tradition—along with known history of Pergamum— provides considerable detail.

Antipas is said to have been an accomplished dentist, who continued practicing medicine—along with faith healing—after becoming a Christian. His faith and compassion were sufficient for the apostle John (traditionally recognised as the overseer of the Asian churches) to install him as bishop in Pergamum.

Pergamum was regally situated on a lofty hill about sixteen miles inland from the Aegean Sea. Even though it was not on a major trade route, Pergamum was one of the most well-planned Greek cities of its time, with a theatre, a temple dedicated to Athena, an amphitheater, a racetrack, and one of the finest libraries in the world. On the hillside was an awesome, forty-foot-high altar to Zeus that looked like a great throne surrounded by an impressive frieze depicting the epic world of heroes and gods (still visible today). All day this altar smoked with perpetual sacrifices to Zeus.

Pergamum considered itself the custodian of ancient Greek religion. Possibly this is why Christ said it was “where that great throne of Satan is located.” In any case, church tradition tells us that the demons that the citizens of Pergamum worshipped had appeared to them and told them that they could no longer make Pergamum their home (or throne?) or accept the people’s sacrifices because the power of Antipas was casting them out.

Antipas was therefore arrested and delivered to the governor, who tried to convince Antipas to toss just a pinch of incense into the huge, red-hot brass idol of an ox used for continual sacrifices. “After all,” he argued, “the old ways are better than your new religion.” Antipas refused, which angered the governor so much that he had Antipas cast into the oven himself. While the door was still open, Antipas could be heard praying to God, glorifying his great power, and thanking him for being worthy to suffer.

There is some controversy as to when all this occurred. Some sources say Antipas died under Nero’s persecution, possibly about A.D. 68. Others say he wasn’t martyred until about 95, during the reign of Emperor Domitian, who was the first emperor to officially title himself “God the Lord,” certainly a satanic claim. However, John probably wrote his Revelation by 96, making it hard to imagine that the Pergamum church had gone so far off track as to tolerate the Nicolaitan heresy in only one year.

The Scriptures identify Antipas as “faithful,” so we know he had no part in the heresy. And the Scriptures also imply that he inspired the rest of the church not to “deny” Christ under persecution, demonstrating his influence. Therefore, it seems more likely that Antipas was martyred on the earlier date, which would have given some twenty-eight years for error to creep in.

ABOVE ALL ELSE, GUARD YOUR HEART, FOR IT AFFECTS EVERYTHING YOU DO. PROVERBS 4:23

Monday 11 May 2020

SAMUEL 6

Atonement and Election

What’s the Point?
THIS IS ESSENTIAL MEAT OF SAVING FAITH
Jesus’ death on the cross is an amazing gift
Recap

The Bible teaches us that God made all humans in His image. As a result, all people have dignity and the capacity for love, beauty, and creativity. But because of sin, we’re all separated from God and spiritually dead. How can we possibly reconcile ourselves to God if we have made ourselves His enemies? How can spiritually dead people come back to life?

Samuel

All his life, Samuel has been surrounded by images of Jesus’ cross. Huge wooden crosses loomed over him from the tops of churches in his hometown. Priests wore crosses with Jesus hanging on them around their necks. Gang members had large crosses tattooed on their backs. Elderly aunts were always crossing themselves with their hands whenever something important was happening. But he never understood the meaning of the cross and why it was that Jesus had to die that way.

How Jesus’ Death Saves Us

We cannot fix our sin situation because we’re the problem, not the solution! If things are ever going to be made right, God is going to have to be the one who does it. Thankfully, that’s exactly what He did for us by sending His Son.

For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith. This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins. It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus’ (Rom. 3:23–26).

The first time you read it, this passage from the Apostle Paul might seem hard to understand. After all, it’s full of words we don’t use very often. But if we pull it apart, we see that it tells us exactly how Jesus’ death saves us:

Paul reminds us that all of us have sinned. We thought about that a lot in the last chapter. This is the problem we need God to solve for us.

Though we have sinned, we can be justified. To be justified is to be accepted as someone who is righteous. And yet, it’s more than just being found ‘not guilty’; it’s being declared to be good.

The only way for us to be justified is by God’s grace as a gift. We cannot make ourselves righteous because even if we stopped sinning right now (which isn’t going to happen!), we still have committed plenty of sins in the past. We need God to be gracious, to give sinners a right standing before God as a gift we do not deserve.

This gift comes to us through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. That is to say, it’s only through Jesus that God delivers us from our sin problem.

The way God did this was by putting Jesus forward as a propitiation. That’s a complicated (but important) way of saying ‘something that satisfies wrath.’ God was rightly angry at our sin, but Jesus made it so that we were reconciled to God. Now, because of Jesus’ perfect sacrifice, God is pleased with us.

The way Jesus did this was by His blood. Here, Paul is talking about Jesus’ death on the cross. On the cross, Jesus satisfied the anger of God against all the sins of everyone who would ever trust in Him. God poured out His righteous justice on Jesus, so now there is nothing but love and grace left for us.

We receive this amazing gift through faith. It’s obvious that we cannot add anything to what Jesus has done. All we can do is accept God’s gift by trusting in Jesus for our salvation.

In this way, God shows He is just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. He is just because He didn’t just wave a magic wand and pretend that our sins went away. If God did that, He wouldn’t be a just God; after all, what kind of judge lets guilty people go free? In order to set us free, He had to do something about our guilt. And so instead of simply ignoring our sin, God sent His Son to satisfy the demands of justice against our sins by dying on the cross. By punishing Jesus for our sins, God demonstrates that He is just. He is also our justifier because He set in motion this entire plan to provide for our forgiveness and restoration through Jesus.

Jesus’ death on the cross wasn’t simply a magnificent gesture of love. It wasn’t just a way to show us how we ought to sacrifice for each other. When Jesus died on the cross, He actually accomplished something. He atoned for (that is, He made up for) our sins by stepping into our place, taking our punishment, and then rising from the dead in victory.

Stop

Lots of people think the different religions of the world offer equally valid ways for people to be right with God. Does the death of Jesus change how we think about that idea? If there were other ways for people to be saved from their sins, why would Jesus choose to die like that? If there was another way to be saved, would Jesus have died at all?
What is your response?

A Great Exchange

For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God
(2 Cor. 5:21).

A right relationship with God requires us not only to be free from sin. We also must have righteousness. To put it simply: it’s not enough for us just to be ‘not bad’; we also need to be good. As a result, sinful people have two basic problems: a sin problem and a righteousness problem.

Our sin problem is that we are guilty of doing, thinking, and loving all kinds of bad things.

Our righteousness problem is that we lack moral goodness; we haven’t lived holy and blameless lives.

Jesus had neither of those problems, which means He is able to save us. Because He had no sin of His own, Jesus did not deserve to die. As He gave up His life on the cross, He did not experience the anger of God at His sins (because He did not have any). Instead, He was able to take our sin on Himself. As Paul says in 2 Corinthians 5:21, Jesus was ‘made to be sin’ for our sake. And because He was perfectly obedient to His heavenly Father, He can give us His righteousness as a gift.

Let me state this as simply as I can: whenever you come to Jesus in faith, God the Father counts Jesus’ holiness as yours. His righteousness is credited to you as if it were yours. In this way, we ‘become the righteousness of God,’ but only because of Jesus.

Illustration

Imagine that you’re taking an important test in school, but you’re not a very good student. You know that passing the exam means more than just not getting questions wrong—you need to answer the questions correctly! Unfortunately, when the results come back, you find that you missed almost every question.

But wait: imagine now that the smartest kid in your class offers to take your bad grade (and the consequences that come with it) and the teacher agrees to give you his perfect score. It’s not a perfect comparison, but this gives us some sense of what Jesus did for us. Despite our failure, Jesus’ perfection is credited to us through faith in Him.

Chosen in Love

With everything we’ve seen so far, there are some questions we have to ask:

  1. If every human being is the same in terms of being spiritually dead in their sins, why is it that some people become followers of Jesus but most people don’t?
  2. Why does someone like Samuel find salvation and deliverance from his life of sin, while so many of his friends and family don’t?
  3. Is there something special about Samuel?
  4. Was he less spiritually dead than others?
  5. Was he smarter or more spiritually sensitive?

The Bible answers these questions. It explains why it is that people become followers of Jesus, and it has nothing to do with anything good in us.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing in the heavenly places, even as he chose us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and blameless before him. In love he predestined us for adoption to himself as sons through Jesus Christ, according to the purpose of his will…. In him we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to the purpose of him who works all things according to the counsel of his will.’ (Eph. 1:3–5, 11).

In these verses Paul tells us that God chose each one of His people for salvation ‘before the foundation of the world.’ This choice by God regarding who will be saved is referred to as ‘election.’ In electing (or choosing) His people, God sets His love on them and draws them to believe in Jesus and be saved (John 6:44).

So, when we ask why some people believe in Jesus and some people don’t, the most important answer is that the only way people are able to believe in Jesus is if God the Father has already chosen them to believe.

The Bible teaches us that God’s election is unconditional. In other words, God doesn’t choose people based on anything good He saw in them. This is important to understand—and Paul makes a big deal about it in Romans 9:10–13—because it means our salvation highlights God’s kindness and not our worthiness.

God’s election is also free, because the choice is His alone. God told Moses that He was free to show mercy and compassion to anyone He wanted (Exod. 33:19). Similarly, Paul tells us that God is free to harden the heart of anyone He wishes to (Rom. 9:18). No one made God elect people for salvation, and in fact Paul tells us that He did it for His own reasons (‘according to the counsel of his will’) and for His own glory (Rom. 9:23).

Election also means we cannot lose our salvation. If God chose us (instead of our choosing Him), who can possibly undo His choice (see John 10:27–29)? Anyone who is truly a follower of Jesus will be kept by God’s incredible love until the end.

We might be tempted to think election is unfair. How can God hold people accountable for the fact that He didn’t choose them? But we must remember that we have all freely rebelled against God and earned our condemnation. There’s no one who longs to believe in Jesus and wants to be reconciled to God who is being kept from doing so. Whether we reject God or embrace His salvation through Jesus, we all do the things we genuinely want to do. When Paul answers this objection, he reminds us that in the end we don’t have the right to question God’s ways (Rom. 9:19–24).

The big take-away here is that God has freely chosen a group of people to be the recipients of His special, saving love. These people receive God’s great mercy through Christ. We cannot understand why God chooses some people and not others; we can only be certain that God is always good and right in all that He does.

Memory Verse

‘What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare his own Son but gave him up for us all, how will he not also with him graciously give us all things? Who shall bring any charge against God’s elect? It is God who justifies’ (Rom. 8:31–33).

Summary

In love, God chose some hopeless sinners to receive His amazing love. Jesus took the guilt and condemnation of all these people on Himself when He hung on the cross; Jesus’ triumph became clear when God raised Jesus from the dead. Now, everyone who trusts in Jesus receives His righteousness as a gift and is considered by God the Father to be completely righteous

Saturday 9 May 2020

The Rolling Stones

I can’t get no satisfaction

Marketed as the antithesis of the clean-cut Beatles, the Rolling Stones were the bad boys of British rock. In an era when musical groups dressed identically, they were among the first to wear different clothing onstage. If the Beatles took American rock ‘n’ roll and put it into a new package, then the Rolling Stones did the same thing with American blues/R&B. If the Monkees were far to the right of the Beatles, then the Rolling Stones were on the far left. As someone once stated, “The Beatles want to hold your hand, but the Stones want to burn your town.”

The original group was formed in London around Mick Jagger, Keith Richards, and Brian Jones (with others who later left), deriving their name from 40 Muddy Waters’ bawdy 1950 tune, “Rolling Stone.” Once they hit American shores in 1964, Bill Wyman and Charlie Watts rounded out the quintet. Most of their early U.S. chart entries were remakes of previous American songs, like Buddy Holly’s classic, “Not Fade Away.” In 1965 the Stones had their first number 1 tune, “Satisfaction,” a Jagger-Richards composition. From then on, they have had a long stream of hit records and concert tours. Among their biggest hits were “Get Off My Cloud,” “Paint It Black,” “Ruby Tuesday,” “Honky Tonk Women,” “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” and “Brown Sugar.”

Perhaps no song better defines the bad-boy image of the Rolling Stones. Sheer lust prances around that stage as Jagger sings the refrain. These performers are gods of rock music. Certainly they can have just about anything (and anybody) they want. That’s why it’s so stunning that their theme song is such a whiny complaint. They try and try and try and try, but the life they’ve chosen is not enough.

From a biblical perspective, that’s not surprising. “Just as Death and Destruction are never satisfied,” a sage writes, “so human desire is never satisfied” (Proverbs 27:20). Lust is a kind of bottomless pit.

I Can’t Get No Satisfaction
The Rolling Stones
I can’t get no satisfaction
I can’t get no girl with action
’cause I try and I try and I try and I try.
I can’t get no, I can’t get no,
I can’t get no satisfaction

Desire always desires more

“The arrogant are never at rest. They open their mouths as wide as the grave, and like death, they are never satisfied” (Habakkuk 2:5). Yes, that sounds like a review of a Stones concert, but it’s actually an Old Testament prophet’s description of the proud folks who trust in themselves rather than in God. By contrast, the prophet says, “the righteous will live by their faithfulness to God” (Habakkuk 2:4).

Those who dare to trust in God, who commit themselves to pleasing him rather than pursuing their own desires, will find that elusive satisfaction. “The Lord is close to all who call on him,” the psalmist sings, “yes, to all who call on him in truth. He grants the desires of those who fear him; he hears their cries for help and rescues them” (145:18-19). Psalm 63 begins with a great thirst for fulfilment, but within a few verses we read, “You satisfy me more than the richest feast” (63:5).

If you want true satisfaction, stop trying so hard to quench your own desires. Let the Lord supply what you really need.

Job 20:4-21   Proverbs 27:20*       Habakkuk 2:5*
Psalm 37:4    Ecclesiastes 2:1-3    Haggai 1:6
Psalm 63:5*   Habakkuk 2:4*          2 Peter 2:13-14
Psalm 145:18-19*

 

Friday 8 May 2020

CELEBRATION OF VE DAY- 75 YEAR

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

Germany • April 9, 1945

I have mentioned Dietrich Bonhoeffer many times in sermons over the years, and as we celebrate Victory in Europe, and the great sacrifice that was made in defeating Fascism by our parents and grandparents; spare a thought for people like Bonhoeffer who fought fascism from within the Fascist state.

Bonhoeffer was German and at the age of fourteen he said, “I want to be a theologian.” This surprised his family. His father, Karl, was a famous psychiatrist and neurologist in Berlin, and although the family often was Lutheran, they rarely went to church. But Dietrich was quite serious and pursued theological studies at the University of Berlin, and later at Union Theological Seminary in New York.

While studying in New York in 1931, Dietrich asked Frank Fisher, a fellow student and committed black Christian from Alabama, if he could visit his church, the Abyssinian Baptist Church of Harlem. “I’ve never been to a black church before,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer admitted. Frank shrugged, wondering how long this blond-haired, ruddy-faced seminarian with a thick German accent would last when he saw the real Harlem. But Dietrich came back week after week, volunteering to teach Sunday school and visiting in various homes around Harlem.

Friendship grew between the black American and the white German until one day when they went with some other seminarians to eat in a restaurant. The waiter took orders from the white men but ignored Frank. After realising what was happening, Dietrich stood up. “If Frank cannot get service here, none of us will eat here.” And he led the group out of the restaurant in protest.

Years later, back in Germany, Dietrich still held his friendship with Frank and his experiences in Harlem in high regard. He had recorded some of the music he’d learned at Abyssinian Baptist Church and played this music for his students and talked about the racial injustice he had seen in America, even among believers who worshipped the same Jesus. “Racism,” he predicted, “will become one of the most critical future problems for the white church.”

As Bonhoeffer watched the rise of Nazism under Hitler, he realized the danger of its racist philosophy. Saddened by how the German people—even many Christians—unquestioningly embraced Nazism, he helped form the Confessing Church. It proclaimed that Jesus alone is Lord and allegiance to Hitler was idolatry. Along with six thousand other pastors, he refused to accept the Aryan Clause that discriminated against anyone of Jewish descent.

Ultimately, he became involved in a resistance movement to overthrow Hitler. His activities led to his arrest by the Gestapo in 1943 for involvement in Operation Seven, a rescue mission helping a group of Jews over the German border and into Switzerland.

One Sunday, as Bonhoeffer had just finished conducting a worship service where he was held in Schoenberg Prison, two soldiers came in and pronounced the fateful words for condemned prisoners: “Prisoner Bonhoeffer, make ready and come with us.” Bonhoeffer turned to a fellow prisoner and said, “This is the end—but for me, the beginning of life.” He was hanged along with several other resisters the next day, April 9, 1945, just a month before Hitler committed suicide and Germany surrendered.

VOICE OF THE HERO

To do and dare—not what you would, but what is right. Never to hesitate over what is within your power, but boldly to grasp what lies before you. Not in the flight of fancy, but only in the deed there is freedom. Away with timidity and reluctance! Out into the storm of event, sustained only by the commandment of God and your faith, and freedom will receive your spirit with exultation. – DIETRICH BONHOEFFER, 1944, “ACTION” IN “STATIONS ON THE ROAD TO FREEDOM” FROM LETTERS AND PAPERS FROM PRISON

[GOD SAID TO JOSHUA,] “HAVE I NOT COMMANDED YOU? BE STRONG AND OF GOOD COURAGE; DO NOT BE AFRAID, NOR BE DISMAYED, FOR THE LORD YOUR GOD IS WITH YOU WHEREVER YOU GO.” JOSHUA 1:9 (NKJV)

Wednesday 6 May 2020

As Christians we value prayer, and I am sure that during this coronavirus that many other people HAVE RECONNECTED with the LORD of all grace through praying perhaps for the first time in many years and we can all thank God for that. Therefore, please share this with others who may benefit from this study of six kinds of prayer.

Week 1:

Discipleship Helps

Six Kinds of Prayer

1. Confession Responding to … God’s holiness
2. Praise Responding to … God’s attributes
3. Worship Responding to … God’s glory
4. Thanksgiving Responding to … God’s riches
5. Petition Asking that is led by … Your Heavenly Father
6. Intercession Asking that is led by … Your Master

Confession means agreeing with God. Confession includes agreeing with God about the nature of your sin, after which you seek God’s cleansing and restoration to intimate fellowship. Confession is a good beginning place for prayer, preparing you to enter the presence of Holy God.

Praise is lifting up the attributes of God. You have a tendency to become like what you value or praise. By lifting up God’s attributes in praise, you respond to Him by becoming more like Him. Through praise you elevate Him in the eyes and ears of others.

Worship: When God reveals His Person and His glory, you love Him and long to be with Him. You respond to God’s glory through prayers of worship. You worship by expressing your awe, reverence, honour, love, and adoration for God.

Thanksgiving is responding to God’s riches bestowed through His blessings. Thanksgiving is not just an act or a statement. It is an attitude of gratitude. Prayers of thanksgiving reveal a relationship between the Giver and the receiver.

Petition: God is your Heavenly Father. He wants you to show the world what a child of God looks like. Therefore, He will guide your petitions to help you become more like Him.

Intercession: God is Master, and you are His Servant. God has chosen you to labor with Him through prayers of intercession. Intercessory prayers are for God’s kingdom purposes to be completed in the lives of others. Your Master will lead you to pray for His purposes.

Prayers of Confession
When you enter God’s presence, you become aware of His holiness. In the presence of God’s holiness you become aware of your sinfulness. Sin hinders your prayer relationship with God. Confession means agreeing with God. Confession includes agreeing with God about the nature of your sin, after which you seek God’s cleansing and restoration to intimate fellowship.

Confession is a good beginning place for prayer, preparing you to enter the presence of Holy God.
Confession is also agreeing with God about the truth. You can confess who God is. You can agree with Him about who you are in relationship to Him. You can agree with Him about the truth of your circumstances or your need.

Examples of Confession of Sin

“[David] said to the Lord, ‘I have sinned greatly in what I’ve done. Now, Lord, because I’ve been very foolish, please take away your servant’s guilt'” (2 Samuel 24:10).
“Our iniquities are higher than our heads and our guilt is as high as the heavens. Our guilt has been terrible from the days of our fathers until the present. Now, our God, what can we say in light of this? For we have abandoned the commandments you gave through Your servants the prophets. Lord God of Israel, You are righteous. … Here we are before You with our guilt, though no one can stand in Your presence because of this” (Ezra 9:6-7, 10-11, 15).

“Be gracious to me, God,
according to Your faithful love;
according to Your abundant compassion,
blot out my rebellion.
Wash away my guilt,
and cleanse me from my sin.
For I am conscious of my rebellion,
and my sin is always before me.
Against You—You alone—I have sinned
and done this evil in Your sight.
So, You are right when You pass sentence;
You are blameless when You judge.

Purify me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones You have crushed rejoice.
Turn Your face away from my sins
and blot out all my guilt.
God, create a clean heart for me
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not banish me from Your presence
or take Your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore the joy of Your salvation to me,
and give me a willing spirit.
Then I will teach the rebellious Your ways,
and sinners will return to You”
(Psalm 51:1-4, 7-13).

“Though our guilt testifies against us,
Lord, act for Your name’s sake.
Indeed, our rebellions are many;
we have sinned against You” (Jeremiah 14:7).

“Forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).

Group Confession
“Those of Israelite descent separated themselves from all foreigners, and they stood and confessed their sins and the guilt of their fathers. While they stood in their places, they read from the book of the law of the Lord their God for a fourth of the day and spent another fourth of the day in confession and worship of the Lord their God” (Nehemiah 9:2-3).

Promise for Confession
“If we confess our sins, He is faithful and righteous to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness” (1 John 1:9).

Examples of Confession of Truth
“Simon Peter answered, ‘You are the Messiah, the Son of the living God!'” (Matthew 16:16).

“Master, You are the One who made the heaven, the earth, and the sea, and everything in them” (Acts 4:24).

Sample Prayers of the Confession of Truth
Sin no longer has dominion over me.
You have dressed me in robes of Your righteousness.
You are Lord and Master; I am Your servant.
You are my Father; I am Your child.
You are Sovereign; my answer is yes.
You are Truth; You are my Way and Life.
I walk in victory with Christ.
Greater is He who is in me than he who is in the world.

Tuesday 5 May 2020

SAMUEL 5

Creation and Fall

What’s the Point?

The Bible helps us understand what has gone wrong in the world.

Recap

So far we’ve focused on things that are largely invisible to us: the Trinity, angels, and demons. We can’t touch or taste or see these things, but they’re very real and they have a very real impact on our world.

Samuel

If you looked at the story of Samuel’s life, it would be hard to understand. How can he be a basically nice, caring, and generous person… but also capable of doing terrible things, especially in his past? Samuel has long wondered about his friends from the gang. In most circumstances, they were loyal and loving, but they also did terrible things to people. To varying degrees, this moral contrast is true of everyone. We all seem to be a mix of good and bad, kindness and selfishness. Even the best people have faults; even the worst people usually have some decent qualities. How do we explain this reality?

Who Made All of This?

If we want to understand the world we live in, it’s best to start at the beginning. And so it’s not surprising the very first thing the Bible addresses is the question of where we come from.

‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth’(Gen. 1:1).

That might seem like a simple statement, but there’s important information packed in there:

  • We see the world has a beginning. That is to say, it hasn’t always been. There was a time when there were no heavens and no earth.
  • But we also see that before the beginning, God was already there. God has no beginning; He has always been.
  • Finally, we see it was God who made the heavens and the earth. Things didn’t come into existence through purely natural forces; nothing ‘just happened.’ God made an entire universe simply by speaking things into existence. Genesis 1:3 tells us: ‘God said, “Let there be light,” and there was light.’

If our world ‘just happened,’ if it created itself through a massive explosion or a slow development over time, then it’s hard to see how it has any purpose or meaning.

What does it mean to say things are ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ if everything that exists is just an accident?

How can we say something is ‘good’ or ‘bad’ if we’re nothing more than the product of chemicals and energy?

But that’s not the world we live in. The God who created this world is personal; He knows us and can be known by us. Because He made everything (including us!) He has authority over everything (including us!). He gets to say what’s right and wrong. ‘Authority’ is the right to make the rules, and God the Creator makes the rules for His universe. He tells us how to live. He tells us what is good and what is bad, and He doesn’t need our advice or input. Furthermore, we don’t get to question the decisions God makes or argue with Him about His actions. For example, look at the tongue-lashing Job gets in Job 38–41 when he tries to demand that God explain Himself!

The fact that God created the world also means everything tells us important things about the One who made them. Just like a painting or a sculpture reveals something of the creativity and vision of the artist, so the world God made shows us something of what He is like. The Apostle Paul tells us that every human being is aware of God’s existence, because He has shown Himself to us in the things He has made:

‘For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For his invisible attributes, namely, his eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse’ (Rom. 1:19–20).

And King David writes in the Psalms:

‘The heavens declare the glory of God, and the sky above proclaims his handiwork’ (Ps. 19:1).

Just by looking at the world God has made, we can understand all sorts of things about His ‘divine nature.’ His

glory,
power,
beauty,
creativity,
justice, and
strength

are all on display in His creation.

Stop

Does the fact that God created everything mean the world has a purpose? If everything just began to exist on its own, would it be possible for the world to have ultimate meaning and purpose?

In the Image

The book of Genesis tells us that God made the world over the course of six days (He rested from His work of creation on the seventh day). On each day, of creation, God made something new. For example, on the third day He made all sorts of plants and trees, and on the sixth day God made the first human beings: Adam (the first man) and Eve (the first woman). Together, they were the high point of God’s work.

‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them. And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth”’ (Gen. 1:26–28).

Notice what we learn about human beings from these verses:

  • Human beings were made male and female. Gender was God’s idea from the beginning.
  • Human beings were given ‘dominion’ over the world. In other words, they are supposed to act as God’s agents on the earth. They do this as they fill the earth with more humans, all of whom would care for and rule over the animals, plants, and the rest of creation.
  • Human beings were made in God’s image. More than any other part of creation, men and women are designed to demonstrate what God is like. People are capable of having rational thoughts, forming personal relationships, creating works of beauty, and making moral decisions. In these ways (and others), they reflect something of God’s goodness and character.

Stop

Every human being you’ve ever met or ever will meet has been created in God’s image. How does this shape the way you think about the value of human life? How should this change the way you treat others on a day-to-day basis?

‘No human being can tame the tongue. It is a restless evil, full of deadly poison. With it we bless our Lord and Father, and with it we curse people who are made in the likeness of God’ (James 3:8–9).

A Devastating Fall

After creating Adam and Eve, God declared all that He had made ‘very good’ (Gen. 1:31). But it wasn’t long before things went from good to bad. You see, God had told Adam and Eve they were free to eat anything they wanted in the world that God had created—with one exception. They were not to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil. As long as they obeyed God’s commandment, they’d live forever in perfect happiness. But if they disobeyed God and ate from that tree, they would ‘surely die’ (Gen. 2:17).

You probably know how the rest of the story goes. The devil shows up in the Garden in the form of a serpent, and he tempts Eve. The results are disastrous:

‘He said to the woman, “Did God actually say, ‘You shall not eat of any tree in the garden’?” And the woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden, but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the midst of the garden, neither shall you touch it, lest you die.’” But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not surely die. For God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, and that it was a delight to the eyes, and that the tree was to be desired to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate, and she also gave some to her husband who was with her, and he ate’ (Gen. 3:1–6).

Did you notice what lay at the heart of the devil’s temptation? He questioned whether or not Adam and Eve ought to believe and obey the words of God. He suggests that God didn’t really mean what He said, and if He did, they shouldn’t believe Him. Eve (and Adam after her) decided not to believe and not to obey God—and so sin entered into the world. Sometimes, Christians refer to this as ‘the Fall’ because when Adam and Eve sinned, mankind ‘fell’ from perfection into a state of sinfulness.

Samuel

It seems like there are a million different voices in Samuel’s ear. The people around him all have opinions about how he should live his life. His old friends seem happy with their lives full of drinking and drugs and sleeping around. His family seems to live for nothing other than financial security. And then God’s Word has a completely different vision of how he should live. How does he know whose ‘voice’ to trust? As we will see, all of our problems began when someone listened to a voice other than God’s.

Consequences

Adam and Eve’s sin had dire consequences, not just for themselves but for all of humanity that followed after them. A few of them include:

  • Sin – all of Adam’s descendants (that’s you and me and everyone else) are born with an inherited sinful nature. We all sin because we’re all sinners; the sinful things we do arise out of our sinful hearts.
  • Death – God promised that disobedience would bring death, and that’s exactly what happened. When Adam and Eve sinned, physical death entered the world. But even more than that, ‘spiritual death’ became a reality. We’re spiritually dead ( 2:1) and deserve eternal punishment for our rebellion against God.
  • Curse – because of sin, all of creation has been placed under a curse ( 3:16–19, Rom. 8:20–22). The world doesn’t work the way that it should. Natural disasters, famine, futility, suffering, and pain are all a result of sin.

Illustration

Have you ever seen a funhouse mirror? If you look into a mirror that’s been curved inward, you’ll see your reflection but it will seem comically short and fat. If you look in a mirror that has been curved outward, it will still be your reflection, but it will be ridiculously tall and thin. Maybe that’s a helpful way to think about what it means for people to be ‘fallen’ but still made in God’s image. We still reflect what God is like, but instead of being clear and sharp the image is badly distorted. This is why the same person can be capable of love and hatred, kindness and cruelty.

Memory Verse

‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23).

Summary

God is the creator of everything, and as a result He has authority over the world and everyone who lives in it. He created Adam and Eve to reflect His image as they cared for the world, but they weren’t content to believe His word and obey His commands. So they disbelieved and disobeyed God. As a result, all people are sinners, estranged from God and under His righteous judgment.

Saturday 2 May 2020

Thanksgiving for the Thessalonians’ Faith – 1 Thessalonians 1:1-10

  1. Who in your opinion are the best role models for young people.
  2. What would it take for someone to make a lasting impression on you?
  3. What causes a person to really change his or her attitudes and behaviour?

Explore it

  1. Who wrote this letter? (1:1)
  2. To whom was this letter written? (1:1)
  3. What did Paul remember about the Thessalonians? (1:2-3)
  4. What made Paul believe God had chosen the Thessalonian believers? (1:4-10)
  5. How had Paul presented the gospel to this audience? (1:5-6)
  6. How had the Thessalonians responded to the gospel message? (1:6-7)
  7. For what kind of faith were the Thessalonians known? (1:6)
  8. Whom did the Thessalonians imitate? (1:6)
  9. How had the Thessalonians’ lives been a model for others? (1:7-10)
  10. What changes did the Thessalonians make in their lives when they heard the gospel? (1:9)
  11. What were the Thessalonians anticipating? (1:10)

Get It

  1. How was the Thessalonians’ hope visible for others to see?
  2. What characteristics in a person would convince you that he or she was a genuine Christian chosen by God?
  3. What convinces people Christianity is true?
  4. What is the difference between presenting the gospel with power and deep conviction, and presenting the gospel without it?
  5. How are the Thessalonians examples for our daily living?
  6. What persecution and suffering can Christians expect when they publicly declare their faith?
  7. In what ways do we need to imitate Jesus Christ and other Christians we know?
  8. In what visible ways have you been changed by turning away from sin and turning toward God?
  9. How can actively waiting for Jesus’ return affect our daily attitudes and actions?

Apply It

  1. How can you be more of a model to other believers this coming week?
  2. In what way can you present the gospel with power and conviction the next time you share it?

 

Friday 1 May 2020

FRIDAY: BIBLE STUDY FOR OUR LADIES DURING LOCKDOWN

THE BEAUTY OF GOD’S HEALING

READING : Isaiah 61:1-3

Setting the Stage: American English

Sharlene’s Story

My own mam always say, “It never rains, but it pours.” We don’t get much rain in Wylie Junction, but it sure enough poured the day my Jazz come home—inside and out.  Never mind the leaking roof. We fixed that with a dishpan and some rags. But nothin fix the rain pouring out of that girl’s heart.  She stays with my sister, Cecily. There’s nothin’ I can do. She got the same trouble her mam’s had more times than I care to count.

Not a day goes by but what I don’t curse them men. Deserie and Jasmine’s pap for dying; the other ones for runnin’ out on me. All except Buck, and most times I wish he’d run too.  I tell Buck, “You come around when Jasmine’s home you better hope to die.” He say, “Who needs you ol’ fool?” And I say, “My babies do.”

Cecily tells it, “That girl’s gonna be alright. She’s got a tender heart, but she’s got grit, and except for those bruises, she’s sound. So’s the child.” Cecily been a midwife practically all her life, so she should know. She helped birth all of mine.

One day’s rain and we got mud to our shins for a week. Suck the sandals right off your feet. By the time she walks here from her Aunt Cee’s, Jasmine look like she been rollin’ in a pig-wallow. She come though, everyday, loaded down with a slab of bacon, or a basket of Cecily’s hen-eggs.

Where’s your book, Mam?” she asks, “The one your friend Constance give us?” Right where you left it.”  She shucks her shoes and stockings, and pads over to the apple crate where I keep the babies’ diadies. Buck’d never look in there.  “Should I read out loud?”  I say, “Yes.” What with the mud, and Buck not comin’, and most the tourists holed up in their cush hotels, I got nothin’ much to do of an afternoon, so why not listen to Jasmine read? I like what I’m hearin’. The words ring true, and Jasmine’s voice is soothin’ as a cricket’s song.

Just listen, Mam. Don’t it make you feel all shivery and light? Free as air.”  It feels just fine ’til we come to the part about forgiveness. Oh, I don’t deny the Lord got cause to forgive me, ‘tho I don’t see why he ever should. But it also say I got to forgive anyone I hold a grudge to.  “How’m I suppose’ to do that? Your pap is dead, and for all I know, the others too.”

 Jasmine point her finger to her chest. “You do it here, Mam, inside where God sees.” Then she reach across the table and take my hand. “Buck too,” she say. “If I forgivin’ my man, you can forgive Buck Wylie. Deserie has.”  She never!”  Jazz about nod her head off. “She told me so. Told me I wouldn’t have no peace ’til I did too. Said it don’t matter about her eye. She’s happier than she ever been.”

Deserie. I miss her somethin’ fierce.  Jasmine ’bout seven months gone when she catch a ride on the school bus goin’ into town. “It’s gonna be alright, Mam.” She say when she get back. “Someone wants this babe. They gonna love it and give it everything I can’t.”  Cecily says, “It’s for the best. That child needs a mamma and a daddy if it’s gonna have a chance.”  Jasmine’s mouth be smilin’, but the shine in her eyes is tears. I feelin’ her hurt just like it’s my own.

  1. This story puts us in touch with the love of a mother for her child.

How has the love of a mother-figure brought you healing in a time of need?

God’s Word for Us

Read Isaiah 61:1-3

The Year of the Lord’s Favour

a The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor.e He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,

b to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favour and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn,

c and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour

  1. In Isaiah 61:1-2, the writer uses several metaphors for God’s healing activity. Make a list of the recipients of God’s healing activity as described in these verses.  Which of these images of human need most closely describes your need at this time?
  2. Make a list of the healing activities as described by these metaphors, then restate each of these activities in your own words
  3. What thoughts and feelings do you have in response to these metaphors?
  4. In the first half of Isaiah 61:3, the writer uses three metaphors of exchange. List the three things that God promises to remove. Picture yourself experiencing these three realities. What reactions do you have to this image?
  5. List the three gifts God promises in exchange. Picture yourself experiencing these three realities. Picture the beauty of the image they create together. What reactions do you have to seeing yourself in this image of beauty?
  6. In the last half of Isaiah 61:3, the author uses an entirely different metaphor. What strikes you about this metaphor?
  7. According to the final phrase of this text, God’s healing in our lives is one of the ways God displays his beauty. How have you seen this to be true in the life of someone you know?
  8. Think about how this has been true in your own life. What has your experience been of receiving the beauty of God’s healing?

Now or Later

Choose one of the following ways to express the contrasting images in the first half of Isaiah 61:3.

  1. Make a collage of the images, using words and pictures from magazines and newspapers.
  2. Draw a picture of each of the contrasting images.
  3. Write a short description of yourself in each of these images

Spend a few minutes in quiet, reflecting on the healing you need at this time (whether it is physical, emotional, spiritual or relational). Write a prayer, expressing your need for healing to God.

Read Luke 4:14-22.

Thursday 30 April 2020

Rest for the Weary – Matthew 11:25-30

If you had a one week HOLIDAY to recharge your physical and emotional batteries from Coronavirus, (Lockdown isn’t a holiday) , where would you go to rest, relax, and get rejuvenated?
What sorts of activities absolutely drain the life out of you?
Why are many Christians frazzled and burned out?

Explore It

After pronouncing woe on several unrepentant cities, what did Jesus do? (11:25)
When did Jesus pray? (11:25)
How did Jesus address God? (11:25)
Why did Jesus say He was praising God? (11:25)
What did Jesus say God had entrusted or committed to Him? (11:27)
Who alone did Jesus say knew Him? (11:27)
Besides himself, who did Jesus say could know God? (11:27)
Who claimed to reveal God to the world? (11:27)
What general invitation did Christ make at this time? (11:28)
What kind of people was Jesus addressing? (11:28)
What promise did Jesus make to those who would accept His offer? (11:28)
What farming imagery did Jesus use to encourage people to come to Him? (11:29)
How did Jesus describe Himself? (11:29)
How is walking with Christ described? (11:30)

Get It

In your eyes, what about Christ seems so obvious that everyone ought to be able to see it?
Why do you think God hides certain truths from “the wise”?
In what ways do you feel weary and burdened right now?
What aspects of the Christian life do you find especially taxing or burdensome?
What is it like to experience the promised “rest” of Christ?
How would you describe your walk with Christ right now?

Apply It

What are two specific ways you can work with Christ tomorrow instead of going in your own direction?
Besides praying, what are some ways you can get to know your Father in heaven more intimately this week?
What burdens will you entrust to Christ today?

Tuesday 28 April 2020

It’s late in the day, Tuesday to be precise, and therefore there can’t be a better time to share today’s word of inspiration with the musical appreciation society in the church.

Midnight Train to Georgia

Gladys Knight & the Pips

The term soul music was coined in the sixties to describe a blending of R&B, blues, and pop with a foundation of gospel. Gladys Knight is considered, along with Aretha Franklin, one of the greatest female soul singers of all time. Most early soul artists started with roots in the church, and Knight is no exception. In the early fifties in Atlanta, Gladys and her brothers began singing together as children, harmonising gospel songs so impressively that they became well-known to local churchgoers.

At age four, Gladys won first place on Ted Mack’s Amateur Hour three times in a row and received many recording offers, but her mother insisted that she complete her education. Still, various family members kept singing together in a group they called the Pips. For over forty-three years, the same four constituted the group—Gladys singing lead, backed by her brother Merald and cousins William Guest and, until his death in 2005, Edward Patten.

In 1961, their first hit single, “Every Beat of My Heart,” showcased their exceptional talent, climbing to number 6 on the pop charts. With perfectly blended backup voices and choreography and highlighted by Gladys’s strong, emotional, and pleading voice, the Pips continued scoring hits for Motown’s Soul label, including “I Heard It through the Grapevine” and “If I Were Your Woman.”

Midnight Train to Georgia” rose to the top spot on the charts in 1973, thanks to powerful lyrics of commitment and a powerful musical package.

L.A. proved too much for the man
So he’s leavin’ the life he’s come to know
He’s leaving,
On that midnight train to Georgia,
I’d rather live in his world
Than live without him in mine

This is the stuff of romance novels and sentimental movies. Two people are in love, but one has to move away. What will the other do? In today’s highly mobile society, it’s often more truth than fiction. Job transfers make this a tough reality for many couples, testing their commitment. In this song, Gladys Knight’s character makes a major sacrifice, giving up her West Coast connections and heading off to the faraway land of Georgia. Why? For love. Her man is more important than her world.

A unique biblical example of loving devotion comes from the woman named Ruth who decided to stay with her mother-in-law, Naomi. They were living in Ruth’s homeland of Moab, but Naomi was an Israelite. After the husbands of both these women died, Naomi decided to go home. You might say that Moab “proved too much” for this woman, so she was leaving on the midnight train to Israel. But there was something special in the relationship between Ruth and Naomi, something spiritual. Ruth said to Naomi, “Don’t ask me to leave you and turn back. Wherever you go, I will go; wherever you live, I will live. Your people will be my people, and your God will be my God” (Ruth 1:16).

In a friendship, a family bond, or a marriage, that sense of loyalty is a valuable quality. How do you express loyalty to those who are most important to you?

Joshua 2               1 Samuel 19:1-7                Romans 16:3-4
Joshua 6:16-23     2 Samuel 9:7                     Philippians 2:19-30
Ruth 1:16*

 

Sunday 26 April 2020

SAMUEL WEEK 2

Who Is God the Son?

Jesus, GOD’s son, is both GOD and man.

In the previous chapter, we began to talk about God. We said all kinds of important and true things about Him. But all of the things that we said about God so far are things a Muslim or a Mormon or a Jewish person would likely be able to affirm. We’ve not yet talked about perhaps the most important thing there is to say about God: He is triune (that is to say, He is ‘three in one’). The Bible teaches that the one God who created everything exists in three persons: the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.

Now, I’m going to be honest with you. When we talk about the Trinity (a name we give to God because He is three and one), we’re swimming in the deep end of the pool. There are certain things about God that are difficult for us to understand, but that doesn’t mean they’re untrue or unimportant. And so our goal when we talk about the Trinity is to grasp those things we are able to grasp, and simply trust God for the rest.

Here’s the Bible’s teaching about the Trinity, summed up in three ideas:

  • God is three distinct persons. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are not forces or powers or energies; they are persons. Furthermore, they’re distinct persons: the Father is not the Son, the Son is not the Spirit, the Spirit is not the Father, etc. Got it?
  • Each one of the three persons is fully God. The Father, Son, and Spirit are each fully God. No one of the three persons is greater or lesser than the others. That’s important; each one is as much God as the others.
  • There is only one God. Christians don’t worship three separate and distinct gods; we worship only one God. The three persons of the Trinity all have the same nature or essence; there are no rivalries or jealousy between them. The three persons are one. As somebody once put it, God is three ‘who’ and one ‘what.’

Samuel

Samuel lives in a multi-cultural area. In school, he had classmates from all sorts of other different religions. There was a lot of talk about how we all worship the same God just in different ways. How should the doctrine of the Trinity help Samuel think through this common idea? If his Muslim and Jewish neighbours don’t recognize that the one God exists in three persons, are they really worshipping the same God?

Illustration

Maybe you’ve heard people try to illustrate the Trinity using an

  • egg (shell, yolk, white),
  • or water (ice, liquid, steam),
  • or a shamrock (three petals, one plant),
  • My favourite: A Triangles: It has three angles but it is one triangle

but each illustration fails to represent the entire truth. In fact, there are no illustrations that adequately represent the Trinity because there is nothing quite like Him in all the universe. But just because something is hard to understand doesn’t mean it’s impossible or untrue.

‘And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased”’ (Matt. 3:16–17).

At Jesus’ baptism, we see all three persons of the Trinity: God the Father speaks about His delight in the Son on whom the Spirit has come to rest. Later, we’ll see how each person in the Trinity has a critical role to play in our salvation: the Father sends the Son to die for us (John 3:16), the Son gives up His life for us as a sacrifice on the cross (Gal. 2:20), and the Spirit applies that salvation to all of God’s people (John 3:3–7).

In the first lesson we considered the nature and character of God the Father (even though you may not have realized it!). There we saw that He is the creator of all things, both an all-powerful judge and an all-loving Father. With the rest of this chapter, we’re going to look at a few things that we need to know about God the Son.

Jesus Is Fully Human

If you read the accounts of Jesus’ birth, it’s clear to everyone around that this was no ordinary pregnancy and no ordinary child. Jesus was conceived in the womb of His mother Mary, a virgin at the time, by the power of the Holy Spirit (Luke 1:26–38). We’re not told exactly how this happened; only that it did. Because Jesus was conceived in this unusual way, He could be born as a human, yet without sin (Heb. 4:15, 1 John 3:5).

Though Jesus didn’t have a typical conception, the Bible is clear that He was completely and truly a human being with a real human nature.
He grew in His mother’s womb and was born as an infant.
He grew in size and maturity like other children; He wasn’t some kind of wizard child with spooky magical powers.
He became weary and tired like any other man; He couldn’t kick a football any farther than at best the fittest young person of a comparable age
He was thirsty and hungry; He had friends and went to dinner parties.
He felt sadness and anger and happiness.

There’s nothing to indicate that if you’d seen Him walking down the street you would have noticed anything unusual about Him.

‘By this you know the Spirit of God: every spirit that confesses that Jesus Christ has come in the flesh is from God, and every spirit that does not confess Jesus is not from God’ (1 John 4:2–3).

In the early days of the Christian church, some people began to teach that the Son of God hadn’t really become a man. Instead, they taught that He only seemed to be a human, but in reality He was some kind of spirit being. They taught this because they thought all physical things were inferior to spiritual things. They reasoned that God could never become a real human being.

But the Apostle John wants us to be very clear: that kind of teaching doesn’t come from God. The truth is that Jesus has come in the flesh; He was a real, true, full human being.

Jesus Is Fully God

Samuel

A lot of people in Samuel’s life believe something about Jesus. His uncle goes to church on the weekends and keeps a picture of Jesus in his car for good luck. Some of the guys in the gang wear a crucifix for protection. Some of the old ladies in the neighbourhood pray to Jesus for healing and blessings. So he often wondered: ‘Is Jesus more than just a man who was a healer, a teacher, and a dispenser of blessings?’

According to the Bible, Jesus was far greater than that. He’s God the Son who became a man. He’s a complete and genuine human being—and yet He is also fully God. The authors of the Bible demonstrate this clearly by showing Jesus’ characteristics and attributes that the Bible had previously shown to belong to God alone:

  • He is all-powerful. When He calmed a raging storm, Jesus’ disciples wondered, ‘Who then is this, that he commands even winds and water, and they obey him?’ (Luke 8:25). The unspoken answer hangs out there: He is God himself! Only God can control the forces of nature ( 135:6-7).
  • He is eternal. Jesus once told His opponents that, ‘Before Abraham was, I am’ (John 8:58). That sounds kind of strange, but his hearers knew what He meant. Abraham had died more than 2,000 years earlier, but Jesus was saying that He had been around before Abraham’s day.
  • He is all-know Jesus knew people’s thoughts (Mark 2:8) and the state of their hearts (John 6:64). The people who spent the most time with Jesus put it this way: ‘Now we know that you know all things…’ (John 16:30). This can only be said about God Himself (Ps. 139:1-4).
  • He has all authority. In the Old Testament, God’s prophets would speak God’s words, saying, ‘Thus says the Lord.’ But Jesus didn’t speak like that; instead, He would say things like, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you’ ( 5:26). He didn’t appeal to a higher authority because no higher authority exists. Jesus spoke as God Himself.
  • He is worthy of worship. If you read the Bible, you’ll see nothing that gets condemned more than people who worship something other than God. But the Bible is clear: worshipping Jesus is a good idea ( 28:9, Heb. 1:6, Rev. 19:10)! The only conclusion that makes any sense is that this is okay because Jesus is Himself the true God!

The New Testament doesn’t hesitate to speak of Jesus as God.   A few examples:

  • To them belong the patriarchs, and from their race, according to the flesh, is the Christ, who is God over all, blessed forever. Amen’ ( 9:5).
  • …waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ’ (Titus 2:13).
  • But of the Son he says, “Your throne, O God, is forever and ever, the sceptre of uprightness is the sceptre of your kingdom”’ ( 1:8).

Why Both?

The teaching of the Bible is that Jesus is fully God and fully human. He is not half-man and half-God. He’s not the Spirit of God controlling the body of a man. Instead, He’s 100% God and 100% man. Those two natures are distinct; they don’t meld into some kind of superhuman alien being. But those two natures are also united; Jesus is not a split personality where His divine nature does one thing and His human nature does another.

This is important for us to believe because if it were not so, Jesus wouldn’t be able to save sinners. Jesus has to be fully human in order to save human beings. As we’ll see in a future chapter, Jesus saves us both by obeying God in our place and also by taking the punishment that we deserve for our sins on Himself. Jesus took our punishment and gives us His obedience as a gift. He can only accomplish this if He is one of us. He has to be fully human in order to take humanity’s punishment and give humanity His righteousness.

Jesus has to be fully God in order to reconcile us to God. If Jesus weren’t God, He couldn’t take on Himself our punishment. Only an infinite person could bear infinite guilt and sin and yet live. We need Jesus, the Son of God in human flesh, to stand like a bridge between the eternal God and sinful humanity. Jesus is that bridge; the biblical word is ‘mediator.’ If Jesus isn’t God, then He cannot bring us to God. A Jesus who is less than fully divine would be unable to save us. No wonder the Bible keeps reminding us that we cannot save ourselves; salvation comes from God alone!

Samuel

Because Jesus is fully God and fully man, He is precisely the saviour that Samuel needs. Samuel was well aware that he had done terrible things; he knew that no ordinary man could solve his sin problem. But he also longed to be known by someone who could understand what his life had been like. As someone who is truly a man, Jesus can sympathize with Samuel’s troubles and represent him before God the Father. As someone who is truly God, Jesus is able to take away all his sin.

Memory Verse

‘For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all, which is the testimony given at the proper time’ (1 Tim. 2:5–6).

Summary

People have all kinds of foolish ideas about Jesus. But the Bible’s teaching is clear (even if it can be hard to understand at times):

  • Jesus has two natures, a divine and a human nature.
  • Each one of those natures is complete. He is 100% God and 100% man.
  • Those two natures are distinct. He’s not some kind of hybrid being who’s a mixture of God and man. Instead, He’s fully God and fully man.
  • Though He has two natures, Jesus is only one person. All of the things that are true of His human nature are true of Jesus and all of the things that are true of His divine nature are true of Jesus.

Friday 24 April 2020

The Holy Spirit Comes at Pentecost – Acts 2:1-13

What everyday expressions can you say in another language? How did you learn them?
If you could speak another language fluently, which one would you choose? Why?

Explore It
1. What was celebrated on the day of Pentecost? (2:1)
2. What group of people was gathered together? (2:1)
3. Where did a violent wind come from? (2:2)
4. What did the followers of Christ hear and see? (2:2-3)
5. What was the importance of the wind and fire? (2:2-4)
6. When the Holy Spirit filled the believers, what did they do? (2:4)
7. Who was staying in Jerusalem? (2:5)
8. How did the God-fearing Jews visiting Jerusalem react when they heard Christians speaking their languages? (2:6-11)
9. What languages were the Jews from Galilee speaking? (2:9-11)
10. What was the topic of conversation among the crowds? (2:11)
11. Besides being amazed, how did the crowd react to the unusual happening they witnessed? (2:12-13)

Get It
I. If you saw the coming of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost, how do you think you would have responded? Why?
II. Why is the coming of the Spirit associated with wind, fire, and different languages?
III. What does it mean to be filled with the Holy Spirit?
IV. How does God use us to witness to others?
V. When has God enabled you to do something that you didn’t think you could do?
VI. How could your church benefit from greater sensitivity to the Holy Spirit?
VII. What areas of unbelief must you deal with in order to become more open to the movement of God in your life?
VIII. How can we cultivate sensitivity to the Holy Spirit?

Apply It
How can you be more open to seeing, hearing, and feeling the presence of the Holy Spirit in your prayer and Bible reading?
What can you do each day to invite the Holy Spirit to use you?
What steps can you take this coming week to be better prepared for God’s use?

 

Thursday 23 April 2020

Psalms (Ps. 40 and Ps. 41) are called messianic psalms because they are so quoted in the New Testament, which makes them especially important.
I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry [Ps. 40:1].

This is a proper psalm to follow Psalm 39. All of these psalms go together; that is, you will note a continuity. There are those who feel that this psalm expresses the experience of David in his flight from Absalom, and that is accurate to a point.

But this psalm is quoted in the Epistle to the Hebrews in a most remarkable way. In this psalm the One who celebrates in praise and thanksgiving the Resurrection, the triumph and Ascension is the Lord Jesus Himself. This is truly a messianic psalm. It reveals that the death of Christ was not a defeat at all. It was a great victory. When He says, “I waited patiently for the Lord; and he inclined unto me, and heard my cry,” He is referring to His cry from the cross.

 

Wednesday 22 April 2020

“The Lord opens the eyes of the blind: the Lord raises them that are bowed down.”

Psalm 146:8 

Are you bowed down? Then let me urge this word of grace before the Lord. It is His way, His custom, His promise, His delight, to raise up them that are bowed down. Is it a sense of sin, and a consequent depression of spirit, which now distresses me? Then the work of Jesus is, in this case, made and provided to raise me up into rest. O Lord, raise me, for thy mercy’s sake!

Is it the lock down; is it a sad bereavement or the memory of a sad bereavement. Is it anxiety about the future when we do come out of the lock down, or of a change  in circumstances? Here again the Comforter has undertaken to console. Thank God that he offers us great mercy in the Person of the Comforter! This is a glorious work  of his grace as God has made it His peculiar care to meet us at our point of need.

Some are so bowed down that only Jesus can free them from their anxiety, but He can, and He will, do it. He can raise us up to health, to hope, to happiness agin . Remember how He has often done so under former trials, and He is the SAME Saviour, and will repeat His deeds of lovingkindness. We who are today bowed down and sorrowful, shall yet be set on high, and those who now  ask “where is their God” and snigger at our closed chapel doors will inevitable hang their heads in shame.

Yes! It is worth while to be occasionally bowed down for then we can experience His upraising power once again. Yes! It is an honour to be raised up by the Lord, for we remain the apple of his eyes!

 

Tuesday 21 April 2020

A REMINDER FOR US ALL

Lean on Me

Bill Withers

Lean on me, when you’re not strong
And I’ll be your friend, I’ll help you carry on

Born in the coal-mining community of Slab Fork, West Virginia, Bill Withers was the youngest of six children. His mother and grandmother raised him after his father died. After a nine-year navy stint, he moved to Los Angeles, worked at Boeing during the day, and cut demo records at night. After coming to the attention of executives at Sussex Records, he was signed to that label.

In 1971, his first recording, “Ain’t No Sunshine,” sold a million copies. He soon had two other million sellers to his credit, “Use Me” and “Lean on Me,” which hit number 1 on both the pop and R&B charts in 1972. As a songwriter, singer, and guitarist, Bill Withers was a triple threat. His plaintive voice, once described as “crystalline,” contains elements of soul, blues, and gospel. And his honest and sensitive songwriting quickly established him as one of the all-time greats; others continue to record his material.

In most of his songs, Withers displays an exceptional ability to mirror the hearts of people with his lyrics. In “Lean on Me,” he weds deep-felt emotional support with a chord structure borrowed from hymns he heard in church as a youngster. In fact, the entire tune has the feel of a hymn.

For this inspiring song, Withers mined some childhood experiences from his coal-mining town. People in the community would have their ups and downs, physically, emotionally, or financially, but it seemed that everyone would pitch in to help those in need. That made a deep impression on young Bill.

Christians know what that’s about. We serve a Saviour who said, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28). At various times we have found ourselves weighed down with burdens of emotional pain, of addiction, of brutal guilt, of a punishing desire to prove ourselves. The struggle to get through each day can leave our souls weary. But Jesus says we can lean on him. As the Lord told Israel, “I will strengthen you and help you. I will hold you up with my victorious right hand” (Isaiah 41:10).

And God asks us to do for others what he does for us. We become his ambassadors, showing his love, joy, and peace in our world. Burden bearing is therefore a task that we can share. “Carry each other’s burdens,” Paul wrote, “and in this way you will fulfil the law of Christ” (Galatians 6:2, niv). So “Lean on Me” becomes our song as well as God’s song. When we encounter people who are struggling with different types of burdens—physical, emotional, financial, or spiritual—we are called to pitch in and help.

Exodus 18:17-23          Isaiah 41:10*      Galatians 6:2, niv*
Psalm 40:1-2      Matthew 11:28* Colossians 3:12-14<
Ecclesiastes 4:9-10      Romans 14:13

Sunday 19 April 2020

SAMUEL: WEEK 1

1.Who Is God?

What’s the Point?
GOD is holy and more loving than we can imagine.

Samuel

Now Samuel is out of school and trying to work a ‘straight’ job. He’s trying to grow as a Christian. At the same time, his old gang from back home has a growing presence among the Salvadorans in his new hometown. Some have reached out to him to make it clear they’re not happy he left. Normally, the only way out of the gang is in a pine box; nobody just quits. His old friends mock him and his attempt to earn money doing honest work. Some gang leaders have been making veiled threats, and Samuel is beginning to wonder if any of this is worth it. He’s even thought about taking his own life just to make everything stop.

Stop

What do you think could make Samuel’s situation better? Why might it be tempting to go back to his old way of life?

Illustration

Like the boy in the illustration I was bullied as a child but unlike this boy, I didn’t have anyone to stop it. Here is the other boys story. He said: “When I was a teenager, there was a time when a local bully was making my life difficult. The kid was big and mean, and I didn’t know what to do about it. But then my older brother came home on his holiday leave from the military. He was trained to be part of a Special Forces unit, and you could tell just by looking at him that he was not someone to mess with. When that bully got a look at my brother, he didn’t bother me again. I didn’t have to worry, because the toughest guy I knew was on my side.

In the same way, what Samuel needs to know is that even though these gang members seem tough and powerful, God is the one who is ultimately in control of everything.

The Only God

‘For thus says the Lord, who created the heavens (he is God!), who formed the earth and made it (he established it; he did not create it empty, he formed it to be inhabited!): “I am the Lord, and there is no other”’ (Isa. 45:18).

‘Our God is in the heavens; he does all that he pleases’ (Ps. 115:3).

We see some very important things about God in these two verses:

  • He is a God who speaks (‘thus says the Lord’). In other words, God can be known. We don’t have to guess what He’s like or what He wants from us. It doesn’t really matter what we feel or what we want God to be like; what matters is what He says about Himself.
  • He is the creator. We’ll see more about this in a later chapter, but for now we need to see that God is the one who made the heavens, the earth and everything that lives in them. As the creator, He has the authority to tell everyone and everything how to act.
  • He is the only God. God is not the best among a group of rivals; He is God and there is no other. We do not have to figure out which God to go to for help; there’s only one true option.
  • He is in control. He does whatever He wants to do and no one can stop Him. Everyone has had the experience of being opposed or frustrated, but God is not like that. He has the power to accomplish every one of His desires.

Illustration

When our family is invited over to someone’s home for dinner, we always have to remind our children that while they’re in our friends’ home, they must abide by their rules: take your shoes off at the door, no throwing a ball in the house, don’t light anything on fire. Well, this whole world is God’s ‘house’; it all belongs to Him! As a result, we’re all obligated to live according to His rules.

Stop

For Samuel, the problems in his life seem massive. How might he feel differently if he began to understand that God is in control of everything and everyone?

God Is the Holy Judge

‘For I am the Lord your God. Consecrate yourselves therefore, and be holy, for I am holy’ (Lev. 11:44).

When the Lord speaks to His people, He reminds them that He is their God. He also tells them to consider themselves as set apart and different from the surrounding nations (that’s the idea behind that word ‘consecrate’). Other people do whatever seems right to them, but God’s people are supposed to be holy. Why? Because God Himself is holy.

When we say that God is ‘holy,’ we mean He is morally pure. You and I may be inclined to do things that are wrong, but God is not. He hates evil, sin, and immorality. He is pure and always does the right thing in every situation. As a result, God’s people are supposed to be like Him. Just like children resemble their parents, so we are supposed to resemble our Father in heaven. He is holy, so His children (that’s us!) should be holy, too; there’s a family resemblance. Sin is supposed to be normal to the world around us but foreign to God’s people. For somebody in Samuel’s position, this means he cannot go back to his old way of life.

This even explains why his old friends from the gang have been giving him such a hard time. In the book of 1 Peter we read:

‘For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles want to do, living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties, and lawless idolatry. With respect to this they are surprised when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you; but they will give account to him who is ready to judge the living and the dead’ (1 Pet. 4:3–5).

You can see the situation Peter was addressing—new believers were struggling with their old buddies and their old way of life. Back in the day, before they became followers of Jesus, life was all drinking parties and orgies. But Peter says the time for that is past. Since they’re now God’s people, they’re supposed to be holy; they no longer join in and live that way.

And as a result, their friends were giving them a hard time. Isn’t it amazing how little has changed in 2,000 years since Peter wrote this? There’s a feeling of safety in a crowd. When everyone is getting drunk and sleeping around, it makes such behaviour seem acceptable, even normal. As long as no one says anything, people do what they want without feeling guilty or having their conscience flare up. But now these new Christians were refusing to do the things that they used to do, and as a result their old ‘friends’ were talking smack about them (Peter uses the word ‘maligning’).

Notice what Peter tells these believers. The one thing they need to understand is that everyone in the world will ultimately give an account to this holy God for how they’ve lived. He is the one who judges the living and the dead. That has a way of putting everything in perspective, doesn’t it?

Samuel

It might seem like becoming a Christian has created a bunch of problems for Samuel, but in reality it’s his old friends who have the biggest problem of all. They’re going to face a holy, all-powerful God as their judge!

Stop

How should knowing that God is a holy judge help Samuel resist the temptation to go back to his old way of life? How should it help him tell his old friends why he no longer lives like they do?

God Is Love

But you, O Lord, are a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness’ (Ps. 86:15).

Is God a powerful and holy judge, or is He a loving Father? The answer, according to the Bible, is both. The good news for us is that the God who created us and who judges us is also kind and loving toward His people. If God used His power like a bully, it would be hard to see how the Bible could claim to be good news. But the truth is, God always exercises His power with love and kindness towards His people.

In Psalm 86 the psalmist tells us wonderful things about God’s character:

  • He is merciful. He shows kindness to those in need.
  • He is gracious. He forgives and blesses those unworthy of His care.
  • He is slow to anger. God is holy, but He is also patient. He is angry at sin and injustice, but it’s not an out-of-control, hair-trigger anger. In fact, God restrains His anger in order to allow people time to repent and seek His grace.
  • He abounds in steadfast love. God overflows with an unshakeable love for His people. God’s love is so great that in one of the Apostle John’s letters, he says that ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16).
  • He abounds in faithfulness. God never fails to deliver on His promises. His love for His people is unshakeable and unbreakable. Other people might betray us or fade out of our lives, but the Lord is always faithful.

It may seem strange to our modern minds, but the authors of the Bible do not really seem to struggle with the idea that God is powerful, holy, and just. His righteous anger against mankind’s sinfulness makes sense. What astounds them, however, is God’s love. Why would someone so great, so infinite, and so holy stoop to love insignificant and messed-up people like us (see Ps. 8:3–4, Rom. 3:23–26)? Time and time again, God affirms His love for His people is not rooted in anything wonderful about them, but in His own loving character (Deut. 7:7–8, Jer. 31:3, Hosea 11:1). God loves the unlovely because He is love.

We’ll see more in coming chapters about God’s love for His people, especially as it is shown to us in the gift of His Son, but for now just notice that the God of the Bible is even better than any version of Him that we could imagine or create in our minds. He is a beautiful combination of every good thing: holy and forgiving, powerful and tender, majestic and loving.

Stop

When you think about God, what aspects of His character are harder for you to accept and believe? Which are easier?

Memory Verse

‘Have you not known? Have you not heard? The Lord is the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth. He does not faint or grow weary; his understanding is unsearchable. He gives power to the faint, and to him who has no might he increases strength.’ (Isa. 40:28–29)

Summary

What Samuel needs more than anything else is to understand who God is. His problems seem very big, and so he needs to know there is One who is bigger. The Lord is the only God, eternal and limitless. He does whatever He pleases. Since He is the One who created everything, He is our holy judge and the only One who has the right to determine how we should live. And here’s the good news: this holy God is more loving than we can imagine. So we can be sure He will always show kindness to His people in their time of need.

First Steps – Believe – What Should I Know?.

Sunday 19 April 2020

Meet Samuel

Samuel was born in a world of violence. On the streets of his San Salvador neighbourhood only the toughest survived to see adulthood. He never knew his father, and almost every other boy he knew had joined a gang in order to find both protection and a sense of belonging. By the time he was a teenager, he was selling drugs and shaking down local merchants. In the course of business, he’d killed several people and even been shot once himself.

And yet, despite everything, gang life never felt like a good fit to Samuel. He hated the way he felt after taking drugs. The faces of the people he’d killed haunted him when he slept. He knew that he was going to be damned by God for the things that he had done, but he didn’t know what else to do.

When his aunt sent him to the United States to live with an uncle, Samuel wanted a fresh start. Not long after he arrived, one of his teachers invited him to come to her church’s youth Bible study. Reluctantly, he agreed, and it was there he heard the good news that Jesus had died to take away the guilt and punishment of anyone who trusted in Him. It was hard for him to imagine that God could forgive him for the terrible things he’d done, but after about a year he became a follower of Jesus.

First Steps – Believe – What Should I Know?.

HOLD ONTO THIS TRUE STORY AND I WILL SHARE THE LESSON NEXT WEEK

 

Saturday 18 April 2020

FOR THE FORMER ROCKERS IN THE CHURCH

“Rock Around the Clock”

Bill Haley & His Comets

 When the clock strikes twelve we’ll cool off then
Start rockin’ around the clock again
We’re gonna rock around the clock tonight

Born in Michigan in 1925, William Clifton Haley grew up in Pennsylvania. His mother was a church organist, and his father played banjo. Both encouraged him to play the guitar. At twenty-one, he joined a country band, the Down Homers, cut a few “Cowboy” records, and worked as a DJ while touring. Dressing the part by wearing a cowboy hat and western outfit, he formed Bill Haley & the Saddlemen around 1950.

Eventually modifying their style, the group recorded a cover version of the R&B number “Rocket 88” for Essex, making what many claim was the first “rock ‘n’ roll” record way back in 1951. (Many also give him credit for coining the term rock ‘n’ roll.) Shedding the cowboy garb, in 1952 the Saddlemen became the Comets. The next year they recorded “Crazy Man Crazy” expressly for the teen market. It became history’s first national rock ‘n’ roll hit.

With Haley now sporting his trademark spit curl, the group signed with Decca to produce “Rock Around the Clock,” which sold only 75,000 copies in 1954. Their second Decca release became rock ‘n’ roll’s first Top 10 song, a sanitized cover version of Joe Turner’s “Shake, Rattle, and Roll.”

In 1955, the phenomenon exploded. “Rock Around the Clock” was played over the opening credits of the Glenn Ford film Blackboard Jungle. Young moviegoers identified deeply with the characters in the film, and the song made a lasting impression. The youth of America now had a music all their own. The record was rereleased, this time to multimillion sales in what is now considered the dawn of the rock ‘n’ roll era. It hit the number 1 spot on the charts, selling more than 25 million copies over the next two-and-a-half decades.

The song is an exercise in youthful energy, perpetual motion, and nonstop excitement. And isn’t that a core value of the rock ‘n’ roll world? Keep it going all night, every night, “Around the clock.”

In the New Testament we find some similar challenges to keep moving, except here the activity isn’t dancing but doing God’s work. “Preach the word of God,” the apostle Paul told a youthful minister. “Be prepared, whether the time is favourable or not” (2 Timothy 4:2).

“Make the most of every opportunity in these evil days,” Paul wrote (Ephesians 5:16). “So let’s not get tired of doing what is good. At just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9).

Jesus spoke with the disciples of the urgency of the harvest of souls (see Matthew 9:37-38). As any farmer knows, harvesters sometimes have to work around the clock to bring in the crops when the time is right. In the same way, Christians should be active in drawing others to faith in Jesus.

That sense of lateness pervades the New Testament. Judgment Day will be 60 here before you know it. “This is all the more urgent,” Paul wrote, “for you know how late it is; time is running out. Wake up, for our salvation is nearer now than when we first believed. The night is almost gone; the day of salvation will soon be here” (Romans 13:11-12).

The clock will “strike twelve,” and that’s when our work will turn to worship. The Bible describes a heavenly songfest where “day after day and night after night” we offer praises to God (Revelation 4:8). Now that will be truly rockin’.

Matthew 9:37-38         Galatians 6:9*    1 Peter 3:15-16
Matthew 28:19-20       Ephesians 5:16* 2 Peter 3:2-14
Romans 13:11-12*      Colossians 4:5     Revelation 4:8*
1 Corinthians 15:58     2 Timothy 4:2* 

Wednesday 15 April 2020

Wednesday Time of Prayer and Study

Jesus and the Miraculous Catch of Fish – John 21:1-14

What are some of your hobbies or favourite pastimes?
Why do people enjoy eating together?
What kind of foods do you like to prepare when you have people over for dinner?
With whom have you recently shared a meal?

Explore It

When did Jesus appear to His disciples? (21:1)
What familiar activity did several of Jesus’ disciples do together? (21:2-3)
Who had gone out to fish? (21:2-3)
How successful had Peter and the others been at fishing that night? (21:3)
What did Jesus ask His disciples? (21:5)
What did Jesus tell His disciples to do? (21:6)
What happened when the disciples did what Jesus had told them to do? (21:6)
What did Peter do when he realised that it was the Lord who was talking? (21:7)
What did Jesus ask His disciples to do once they were on shore? (21:8-10)
Why didn’t the disciples ask Jesus who He was? (21:12)
What did Jesus do with the bread and fish? (21:13)
How many times had Jesus appeared to His disciples? (21:14)

Get It

Why do you think several of Jesus’ disciples went fishing?
How has God brought you together with other Christians?
When have you been so glad to see someone that you just had to run out to meet that person?
Why is it hard for us to see God working in our lives?
Through what ordinary events in life have you encountered Jesus?
When has God miraculously and abundantly provided for your needs?
When do you experience fellowship with Jesus?

Apply It

What steps can you take to have fellowship with God today?
For what specific need that God has met in your life will you thank Him today?

 

Tuesday 14 April 2020

Let us remember that putting ones faith in Jesus isn’t always immediate. For many it is a slow journey to faith, and as the strongest timber comes from a slow growing tree, faith is often the same, and we should not carry any guilt in being like that. Let us finish our Easter celebration in looking at one apostle who was slow to believe.

Thomas Didymus – John 20:24-31

Why do people write books?
What book (besides the Bible) have you enjoyed most?
When have you doubted a story from a reliable source?

Explore It

What disciple was not with the others when Jesus appeared to them? (20:24)
What had the other disciples told Thomas? (20:24)
What did Thomas say he needed in order to believe that Jesus was raised from the dead? (20:25)
How did Jesus restore Thomas’s faith? (20:26)
What did Jesus say to Thomas? (20:27)
What did Thomas say in response to Jesus’ words? (20:28)
What did Jesus say about seeing and believing? (20:29)
What did John leave out of his Gospel? (20:30)
Why was the book of John written? (20:31)
What results from believing that Jesus is the Son of God? (20:31)

Get It
When have you had doubts about your faith in Christ?
How should we deal with our doubts about Christianity?
*Why is it difficult to believe in Christ?
In what ways do we need to trust Christ?
On what evidence do you rely for your belief that Jesus rose from the dead?*What sort of evidence for the truth of Christianity has John given us?

Apply It

What doubts concerning your faith in Christ do you want to discuss with a knowledgeable believer?
Now next time you meet a person that may be able to help you then take the opportunity and discuss it.

Monday 13 April 2020

PASSOVER

Easter Monday is generally considered to be a holiday even if it isn’t considered a Holy day by many, and having celebrated the wonderful news that Jesus is alive it may be a good time to reflect on the background of Easter in the Jewish Passover a little more. I have shared with you some information, and I know that I am often sharing what you know, but hopefully it helps to jog our minds and gladden our hearts in perusing it.

Holiday Also Known As                 Hebrew Date Observed.              Scripture Basis

Passover              Pesach                  14 Nisan (March or April)              Leviticus 23:4-5; Exodus 12:1-4

Passover: Commemorates God’s Deliverance of Israel Out of Egypt

Pesach (PAY-sahk) means to “pass over.”

The Passover meal, seder (SAY der), commemorates the Israelites’ deliverance from slavery in Egypt.

The Lord sent Moses to lead the children of Israel from Egypt to the Promised Land. When first confronted by Moses, Pharaoh refused to let the people go. After sending nine plagues, the Lord said the firstborn males of every house would die unless the doorframe of that house was covered with the blood of a perfect lamb. That night, the Lord “passed over” the homes with blood on the doorframes. The tenth plague brought death to the firstborn sons of Egypt, even taking the life of Pharaoh’s own son. Finally, Pharaoh let the children of Israel go. Passover was to be a lasting ordinance for generations to come.

Yeshua (Jesus)

Jesus ate the Passover with his disciples, saying that he had eagerly desired to eat this Passover with them before he suffered and that he would not eat it again until the kingdom of God comes (Luke 22:7-16). After the Passover meal, they sang a hymn and went to the Mount of Olives (Matt. 26:30).

The hymn sung during Passover is the Hallel which includes Psalm 118:22: “The stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.” Jesus is the cornerstone that the builders rejected (Matt. 21:42; 1 Peter 2:7). Jesus was crucified as the “Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). The Lord’s Supper is a remembrance of his sacrifice as the perfect Passover Lamb and the fulfilment of the new covenant between God and man (Luke 22:20; 1 Cor. 5:7; Eph. 2:11-13).

Prophecy of this sacrifice is found in Psalm 22. The Hebrew prophet Isaiah also spoke of the sufferings and sacrifice of the Messiah (Isa. 53).

Fascinating Facts

Jesus’ parents travelled to Jerusalem yearly to celebrate Passover.

At age 12, Jesus went with them (Luke 2:41-50).The Passover lamb must be a perfect male with no blemish (Ex. 12:5).

The cup of the Lord’s Supper is the third cup of the Passover Seder, the Cup of Redemption.

The bread of the Lord’s Supper is the Afikomen. It is the matzah that is broken, hidden, found, bought for a price, and then eaten to end the meal. Afikomen means “I came” in Greek.

Passover in the Hebrew Scriptures: Ex. 12; Num. 9; 28:16-25; 2 Chron. 35:1-19; Ezra 6:19; Ezek. 45:21

Passover in the New Testament: Matt. 26; Mark 14; Luke 22; John 6:4; 11; 13; 19; 1 Cor. 5:7

Saturday 11 April 2020

It took Jesus some six hours to die as he was crucified at about 9.00 AM and He died at around 3.00 PM that afternoon. In my Good Friday message I had stated that he was half dead by the time he was nailed to that Cross, and that indicates the method in the madness of the Roman soldiers; as someone who was not half dead could without the assistance of the soldiers live for as much as four days on the Cross, and of course those soldiers had made sure that he was already half dead before the nails were driven through his hands and feet. As for the two criminals who were crucified alongside him the soldiers helped to dispatch them by breaking their legs; in order that the weight of their bodies would stop them breathing.

Yes! The Romans were like that. They were very methodical, very organised and in that they shared the characteristics of the religionists. Alas, by the close of that Friday Jesus body was placed in his tomb and the tomb was sealed, and so the end of a perfect life came to a close, on what was the most horrendous day.

Yet there is something Infinitely worse than what took place, and that is; you and I would have no hope but for what took place on that momentous day. On that day, he bought you and me. He paid the price

Yes! With the hymnist let us say:

At the Cross I bow the knees
where Your blood was shed for me,
there is no greater love than this.

We can say that with conviction, as the darkest night is before the break of the dawn, and Sunday is yet to come

 

Maundy Thursday 9 April 2020

John 13:1-17

Irrespective of our political views I am sure that you are one with me in having a deep respect for the Queen as she has shown throughout her long reign a commitment to duty that shines as a beacon to us all, and I am sure that as Christians we ask God to bless her, and keep her for another season; not least because we also know where she stands on matters of faith. She for one stands on the rock that is Christ.

In our reading we have a demonstration of duty and Royal service by another king. He is the King of Kings and Lord of Lords Jesus Christ himself.

Today as I speak to you we are coming to the close soon of another week of Lockdown and hopefully we are spending it in the comfort of our own homes. Christ lockdown wasn’t spent in a palace, but in an Upper Room and most importantly, with his friends.

As you know, it took place at the time of the Passover whereby the Jewish people would come from near and far to remember, and celebrate, how the angel of death passed over those homes where the lintels and pilasters of the doors were brushed with the blood of a lamb when they were slaves in Egypt.

At the temple Jesus was recognised by Simeon as the consolation of Israel. Simeon for one celebrated Passover every year, but by now Simeon had long departed this world, and this Passover some thirty three years later was to be very different to any that had come before.

This Passover wasn’t a historical re-enactment of past events . This wasn’t a celebration but a culmination of why he came into the world.

His was a purpose driven life, he for one knew that this was the culmination of why he came into the world.

Indeed, the Messianic secret of who he is, and why he came into the world, started to be revealed in the world with his immaculate conception.

It continued with his presentation before wise-men and shepherds alike, and it was a part of his human consciousness as a child and we have a glimpse of that reality when he attended another Passover he rebuked his earthly parents when they went searching for him and on finding him he said: “Why did you seek Me? Did you not know that I must be about My Father’s work?”

Yes! His life was a purpose driven life and one who recognised this was John the Baptist who on seeing him declared : Behold, the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.

Jerusalem the city of Zion, of significance to the three Great monotheistic faiths. Yet only one recognised God with us who in a little while would walk the winding 600 metres of the Via Delarosa from the Antonia fortress to Calvary, marked today with nine of the 14 stations of the Cross.

Yes! Jesus knew that his hour had come . This Passover was to be the fulfilment, the apex of every Passover that had been before, and yet our reading makes it clear to us that the coming events did not change the way Jesus lived.

He still lived a surrendered life; a life surrendered to his Fathers will. He did not look inward to his own needs, rather, verse 1 shows us that he continued to look outward to the needs of his followers, for we are told that he loved his followers to the very end.

There in that Upper Room with its closed door he met with his disciples for one more time.

My friends, through coronavirus we have been encouraged to stay behind closed doors, in order that we do not transmit this horrible pandemic to others, and in turn that we do not succumb to the virus ourselves, but in Christ’s lock in with his disciples in that Upper room, I would ask you to note that he allowed Judas to enter in.

In some respects this is a picture of the church. It is a church of sinners and not of saints. Yet it is different in that we are sinners seeking to be saints.

However for Judas, he had his own agenda, he was no longer in his spirit walking with the Lord as we are told that the devil had already prompted Judas to betray him.

No one knows his enemies better than Christ, yet he still doesn’t stop them coming to him, and it is always with the same desire, that they will repent and enter into his service.

With Prince Harry departing for an extended holiday firstly in Canada and now in California we are hearing once again of the great honour of holding the title HRH.

After the abdication of Edward 8th, Wallace Simpson wife of the now Duke of Windsor wanted HRH but never received it.

Diana Princess of Wales had HRH but lost it

Then Harry and Meghan retain HRH but cannot use it!

My friends, the honours bestowed by earthly crowns are mere bobbles, but the honour bestowed by Christ are eternal and there is no greater honour than to be called to his Royal service.

And in verses 3-5 we are given a display of it by the King himself.

Jesus knew that his Father had put all power into his hand because He knew from where he came; and to where he was going.

My friends we rightly emphasise the resurrection of Christ more than his physical death because we do not venerate a dead prophet as some do, but a Risen LORD of all who believe.

Yet lets be honest! I am sure that many of his disciples today like those disciples of old would rather have had the resurrected Christ remain with them in the flesh than for him to ascend into heaven.  Indeed I believe that we sometimes fail to appreciate the significance of the ascension. We brush over it as so often we have been guilty of brushing over the ministry of the Holy Spirit.  However, as the resurrection is the stamp of Gods approval on Christ’s life and ministry, the ascension is the Royal seal that our faith is not in vain.

You see it proves that

  1. God Is  Luke tells us that Jesus was “carried up into heaven” (Luke 24:51) Only God could do such a thing.
  2. Paul tells that in God receiving Him into heaven it proves that Christ is God’s Son.  (Romans 1:3-4; Phil. 2:5-11).
  3. Yes our faith isn’t in vain as the ascension also gives us the comfort and hope that death is not the end as heaven is a real place. (Phil. 3:20-21).
  4. Fourthly, the ascension tells us that we can trust the Gospel, and yet it challenges us to take sin and death seriously, for without repentance a future separation from God is Inevitable. Yet the ascension gives us the hope that sinners can be saved by the cross of Christ
  5. The ascension should also prompt us to take the Great Commission seriously. He expects us to serve him as the ascended LORD.
  6. Yet the ascension also assures us that the power of the Holy Spirit is available to all believers in order that the Great Commission may come to fruition.
  7. Finally the ascension assures us that this Jesus who laid aside his glory has taken it up again! Yet he still identifies with our needs. Hebrews says that He is One who is “touched with the feeling of our infirmities, [the One who was] in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin” (Hebrews 4:15).

My friends as we come to Good Friday and Easter Sunday let us not miss the significance of the coming Ascension 40 days later, and as we reflect on the unfolding events, let us give thanks for what took place in that Upper Room on that Maundy Thursday.

There, we see his power displayed in his humility of Royal service in washing the disciples feet.

Let us show such humility in service ourselves, and in seeing Peter’s initial resistance to have his feet washed, let us remember that it takes humility to come to Christ for salvation.

Then in seeking to have his whole body washed let us see the completeness and the permanency of salvation.

Once saved always saved but washing with water does not accomplish that. It requires a total surrender to Christ. It isn’t automatic nor by association but praise the LORD when it takes place it is permanent.

You are a royal priesthood. Royally called by the King of Kings, called to Royal service Amen

Thursday 9 April 2020

The Disciples’ Grief Will Turn to Joy – John 16:17-33

When might you use a figure of speech to explain something? Why?
What painful experiences in your life have resulted in joy?
When have you enthusiastically anticipated someone’s return or arrival?

Explore It

How did the disciples react to Jesus’ “in a little while” statement? (16:17-18)
What did Jesus tell His disciples would happen to them? (16:19-20)
To what did Jesus compare His disciples’ response to His departure and return? (16:21-22)
What did Jesus tell His disciples they would do when they saw Him again? (16:23)
What hadn’t the disciples done up until this point? (16:24)
What kind of language did Jesus use to speak to His disciples? (16:25)
Why did the Father love the disciples? (16:26-27)
From where did Jesus come and to where was He going? (16:28)
Why did the disciples say that they believed Jesus had come from God? (16:29-30)
What did Jesus predict the disciples would do? (16:31-32)
What did Jesus want for His disciples? (16:33)
Why did Jesus tell the disciples to take heart? (16:33)

Get It

How would you have responded to Jesus’ words had you been there with His disciples?
What grief or sorrow in your life has God turned to joy?
For what can we ask the Father?
How has God made your joy complete?
How does the knowledge of Jesus’ return make you joyful?
What figures of speech have helped you better understand spiritual truths?
What relationship do we have with the Father today?
What trouble do we have in the world as followers of Christ?
How does the fact that Jesus has overcome the world encourage you?

Apply It

In the midst of trouble, on what encouraging truth from this passage will you rely?
Because of your restored relationship with the Father, what can you ask Him to give to you in Jesus’ name?
What grief or sorrow do you need to entrust to God?

Wednesday 8 April 2020

DISCIPLESHIP HELPS FOR WEEK 

Profile of a Servant Lifestyle

Day 1: Watch a Bridge Builder

God’s Word for Today

“If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation; old things have passed away, and look, new things have come. 18Now everything is from God, who reconciled us to Himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: 19that is, in Christ, God was reconciling the world to Himself, not counting their trespasses against them, and He has committed the message of reconciliation to us. 20Therefore, we are ambassadors for Christ; certain that God is appealing through us, we plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God.’ 21He made the One who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”— 2 Corinthian 5:17-21

Read and meditate on “God’s Word for Today” above , and spend a moment in prayer as you begin today’s lesson.

Individuals who have put their trust in Jesus Christ face an obstacle in relating to lost people, because a great divide exists between believers and unbelievers. Christians who want to be bridge builders understand that separation, as well as the process required for lost persons to come to faith in Jesus Christ. Bridge building involves changing an individual’s receptivity to the gospel and developing the individual’s ability to trust.

Receptivity grows as the lost person observes the impact of the gospel in the life of someone he or she trusts.

It’s all about a relationship. Receptivity grows as the lost person observes the impact of the gospel in the life of someone he or she trusts. Every believer in Christ has an assignment to pass this trust on to others. The Bible calls that assignment the ministry of reconciliation. The love of Christ, demonstrated in word and deed, is never complete without the introduction of the gospel. No act of serving is complete until a Christian servant connects his intentional acts of kindness with the gospel.

One of the greatest challenges every follower of Jesus Christ faces is moving ministry actions, conversations, and relationships to a spiritual level to introduce the person’s need for Christ. In his second letter to the church in Corinth, Paul tried to communicate to a group of new Christians, who were living in a highly immoral culture, the assignment that was theirs because of their relationship with Jesus Christ.

① Review “God’s Word for Today” above. What did Paul say is our ministry of reconciliation (see v. 18)?

What is our message of reconciliation (see v. 19)?

Paul said we have both the ministry of reconciliation and the message of reconciliation. As a result (“therefore,” v. 20), Jesus Christ changes our conversation; and He pleads with our family, friends, and acquaintances through what we say.

② Who does Paul say has been given the ministry of reconciliation?

Paul said he was “certain that God is appealing through us” (v. 20).

③ In your opinion, how might a believer come to the certainty Paul had?

Because of his certainty, Paul said, “We plead on Christ’s behalf, ‘Be reconciled to God'” (v. 20).

④ Have you ever pleaded with someone? What was the reason for your intense effort to persuade?

You no doubt pleaded with someone because of the urgency and importance of a particular situation. Can there be a need more urgent and important than being reconciled with God?

⑤ This week you will be asked to observe people who are ministering to others. Each day suggests a number of actions you can choose from. Don’t feel that you have to do them all. Choose several over the course of the week that are best suited to your schedule and your interests.

Today make plans to observe someone who is introducing another person to Jesus Christ. Use “My Observation Journal” below to record what you learned, felt, and decided to do as result of your experience. Choose one or more of the following actions.

Ask a close friend, a Bible study leader, or a pastor in your church to let you join them when visiting a person to whom they will extend the message of reconciliation.

Visit the Web site www.mostimportantthing.org and read the testimony of an individual committed to reconciling others.

Watch a television program in which a pastor preaches the gospel and extends an invitation to be reconciled to God through Jesus Christ.

⑥ Begin memorising this week’s memory verse, 1 Peter 4:10.

 

Monday 6 April 2020

Monday Breakfast reading

Gladys Aylward

China January 3, 1970
Gladys Aylward, who had been born in London to a working-class family in 1902, could not give up the conviction that God had called her to China, not even when the China Inland Mission said she was unqualified. So when she heard that an elderly missionary in China wanted an assistant, Gladys saved the money she had earned as a parlor maid and bought a one-way train ticket. She arrived in Yangcheng, China, in November 1932.

The seventy-three-year-old missionary, Jennie Lawson, managed the Inn of Eight Happinesses for muleteers driving mule trains across the mountains. It offered not only food and a place to sleep but also Bible stories told by the two “foreign devils.” Jennie Lawson, however, died a few months after Gladys’ arrival, and she had to continue the work alone.

Prison Riot
About two years later, the mandarin of Yangcheng sent for Gladys. “Thank goodness you have come!” said the mandarin who was standing outside the local prison with the warden. From inside came bloodcurdling screams. Confused, the small Englishwoman bowed respectfully.

Wringing his hands, the warden said, “You must go in and stop the riot!”   “Me, why don’t you send in your soldiers?”  “Impossible!” the man cried. “They would all be killed!”  “But,” Gladys protested, “if I went in there, they would kill me.”   “Oh no,” injected the mandarin. “You tell our people that God lives inside you. If what you say is true, surely he will protect you when you go inside the prison.”

Gladys stared at the two men and swallowed hard. “All right, open the gate.” Inside the prison courtyard, prisoners were chasing each other with knives, screaming like madmen. Dead and wounded prisoners were lying everywhere. And running straight toward her was a huge man swinging a bloody axe over his head!

Gladys was so terrified she couldn’t move. But when the man was only a few feet away, he suddenly stopped. One by one the other prisoners stopped yelling and running and just looked at her. Who was this short, little woman? What was she doing here?  Suddenly, Gladys got mad. “Give me that axe” she demanded, holding out her hand.

Wordlessly, the man handed her the bloody axe. Gladys looked at the prisoners. They were dressed in dirty rags. They were so thin their ribs showed. They looked cold and miserable. Suddenly, instead of being afraid of them, she felt sorry for them. “I have been sent by the warden to find out why you are fighting.”

After several tense moments, a young prisoner stepped forward. “We don’t know why we are fighting… but we are hungry and have nothing to do day after day.”  Gladys frowned. “If you will promise to stop fighting and will bury the dead and take care of the wounded, I will speak to the warden on your behalf.”

The prisoners agreed. As Gladys stepped outside, the city officials bowed to her with respect. She told the warden that the men must have work to do so they could earn money, buy food, and have self-respect—and she would return to inspect every day!

Flight of the Orphans
In 1938, the Japanese bombed Yangcheng. Already Gladys had adopted several orphans; now there were many more orphans who came to live at the Inn of Eight Happinesses.  But the Japanese suspected that she was a spy, and it was no longer safe in Yangcheng. So in March 1940, Gladys fled over the mountains to the next province with a hundred children.  A month later, she arrived safely without losing one child!

But Gladys was weak and ill. In 1942 an American friend helped her go back to England to see her family. Meanwhile, the Communists closed China to all foreigners.  In 1957, Gladys once again sailed for China, this time to Formosa. She started the Gladys Aylward Orphanage and soon had a hundred children. There, this small “unqualified” missionary served until her death on January 3, 1970.

SPEAK, AND EXHORT, AND REBUKE WITH ALL AUTHORITY. LET NO MAN DESPISE THEE.  TITUS 2:15 (KJV)

Palm Sunday 5 April 2020

Matthew 21:1-23
Christ’s Triumphal entry

God despises the proud. In other words God hates the proud and you only need to look at the life of Jesus to see that this was true.  He didn’t have anything good to say about them and most of his caustic comments were those proud people called the Pharisees who were supposedly the people of God.

In his seven woes he says:

They taught about God but did not love God – they did not enter the kingdom of heaven themselves, nor did they let others enter.  They preached God but converted people to dead religion, thus making those converts twice as much sons of hell as they themselves were.  They taught that an oath sworn by the temple or altar was not binding, but that if sworn by the gold ornamentation of the temple, or by a sacrificial gift on the altar, it was binding. The gold and gifts, however, were not sacred in themselves as the temple and altar were, but derived a measure of lesser sacredness by being connected to the temple or altar. The teachers and Pharisees worshiped at the temple and offered sacrifices at the altar because they knew that the temple and altar were sacred. How then could they deny oath-binding value to what was truly sacred and accord it to objects of trivial and derived sacredness?

They taught the law but did not practice some of the most important parts of the law – justice, mercy, faithfulness to God. They obeyed the minutiae of the law such as tithing spices but not the weightier matters of the law.  They presented an appearance of being ‘clean’ (self-restrained, not involved in carnal matters), yet they were dirty inside: they seethed with hidden worldly desires, carnality. They were full of greed and self-indulgence.  They exhibited themselves as righteous on account of being scrupulous keepers of the law, but were in fact not righteous: their mask of righteousness hid a secret inner world of ungodly thoughts and feelings. They were full of wickedness. They were like whitewashed tombs, beautiful on the outside, but full of dead men’s bones.  They professed a high regard for the dead prophets of old, and claimed that they would never have persecuted and murdered prophets, when in fact they were cut from the same cloth as the persecutors and murderers: they too had murderous blood in their veins.

That is the sum lot of what he thought of the religious leaders of his day, and stand as a warning to us as religious leaders today.

On the other hand he loved the humble ordinary people. People just like you! In fact He was in his element in the company of people just like you. People who didn’t have any airs and graces. People who weren’t puffed up with their own importance.

In fact one of my former church secretaries summed it up as to what she thought of one proud minister who preached in one of my former chapels in West Wales when she said: “His chest was striking out so far with pride that when he went up the stairs to the pulpit, she thought he was going to fall head over heels with pride”. That is the sort of caustic statement that Jesus would have made.

Jesus wasn’t soft. He was strong, and he fired from the hip when he was in the company of the proud! But with people, like you, people who realised that they were people in need of forgiveness; people who saw that they had no hope without the love of God he was full of compassion and grace. To you he said:

“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted.  Blessed are the gentle, for they shall inherit the earth.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.  Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.  Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.  Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.  Blessed are those who have been persecuted for the sake of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when men cast insults at you, and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely, on account of Me.  Rejoice, and be glad, for your reward in heaven is great, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you”.  (Matthew 5 v 3-12)

He didn’t say that to the proud and the haughty. He didn’t say that to those who were full of their own importance. He didn’t say that to the high and mighty. He didn’t say that to the religious leaders. He said that to people like you.  He loved everything that was humble!  He loved everywhere that was simple.

Not for him to travel around in a chariot like Ben hur. He choose a donkey! A donkey carried him when he was in his mothers womb. A donkey carried him when he escaped to Egypt, when King Herod had all the little boys under the age of three killed in Bethlehem, and now once again he choose a donkey for his so called triumphal journey, to be made King for a day, into Jerusalem.

But he didn’t only love humble people and lowly beasts of the fields. What could be more humble than being born in a stable in an unimportant village called Bethlehem.  He once said: “The foxes have holes and the birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has nowhere to lay His head.”
He choose the simple things in life. It was there that he truly felt at peace and that is why I believe he stayed at Bethpage on the slopes of the Mt of Olives to stay before he entered into Jerusalem.

There in Bethpage, Jesus said to two of his disciples:
“…..‘Go into the village opposite you and immediately you will find a donkey tied and a colt with her. Loose them and bring them to me”!

Oh how the prophesy of the prophet Zechariah was coming to pass. Zechariah had said:
“Tell the daughter of Zion,
Behold, your King is coming to you,
Lowly, and sitting on a donkey,
A colt, the foal of a donkey”.

Matthew did not recite Zechariah’s prophesy in full because Jesus will not come with justice and salvation until the second coming when he returns in glory….

Yet that is to come in the future, but here at Bethpage, he came riding upon a humble donkey once again.  As for the people who met him on his journey into Jerusalem, many of them knew their Scriptures.  They shouted out “Hosana to the Son of David!  Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the Highest!

Yet as many minister has said : “One day a tin God and the next a tin can to be kicked”.

So it was with Jesus. In a few days these men and women of so called faith would unmercifully seek with an unbridled hatred to kick him all the way to the Cross, where he would die for the sins of the world.

Unlike the soldiers who drove the nails into his hand and feet and the spear into his side who did not know any better, the religionist did know better. These are the people who use him as an old tin can to kick down the road and it’s shame on them as they need to repent because Jesus weeps over them as much as he wept over Jerusalem two thousand years ago!

In verse 12 –14 we are told of the second time that he had cleansed the temple.

The temple in Jerusalem the people had stopped being a Holy priesthood, rather, they had become peddlers of merchandise and money lenders!….Jesus called them a den of thieves!  My friends!….Jesus later said: “See your House is left to you desolate…” and that is a warning to us all!…..Indeed you only need to look around us to see desolate places of worship, and once this endemic comes to a close; in the providence of God, many more will be become desolate unless their people become a people of prayer, a people of living stones and a royal priesthood again.

Oh! How the mighty have fallen!….Jesus says to our people in this city as He said to Jerusalem of old: “……….how often I have longed to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing.  My friends that is how Jesus is looking at Wales today!……..He longs for us to turn back to him as a people of prayer, for his desire is to gather us under the safety of his wings!

There is only so much any man of God can take in one day, and so it was with Jesus for we are told in verse 17 that he went out of the city to Bethany and he lodged there until the morning!  There on the way back to the city we are told that Jesus felt hungry, and on seeing a fig tree by the road, he went to it but found no figs only leaves so he destroyed it!  In destroying the fig tree Jesus sends out two clear messages today.

The first is this: There is no place in his kingdom for unfruitful Christians

We have been born again, in order that we may produce fruit, and if we don’t, then we are showing that we are no more than empty words, an empty profession, unfulfilled in purpose, and deceivers of the worst sort. That’s the symbolism of the fig tree that did not bear fruit!

My friends, we can say all the right words, but God will spew them all out unless they are supported by living faith!

Yet that fig tree also symbolises those in the church who were putting him second, rather than putting Him first, and as such it is warning to us all because in his vision to John, he held it against the church at Ephesus that they had lost their first love!….

Jesus is not willing to come second! Why? Because our God says he is a jealous God.

Yes! We have been blessed and therefore we are expected to bear fruit…..Freely he has nurtured us, freely he has given us opportunities from one season to another, but there comes a time when he says enough!…..A tree that bears no fruit is of no worth!….He shall cut it down!

But secondly, the tree is a picture of our God who has absolute power!

It was Tuesday, just three days before Jesus was to be killed by unfruitful men so Jesus had to do all He could to prepare His disciples for the crushing effect that his death would have on them, and also for building them up in order that they would stand firm through the coming years of their own ministry, so there wasn’t any time to waste.  So, he used the fig tree to demonstrate his absolute power.  The fig tree was green but be sure of this, even his disciples knew that there would not be any fruit on the tree because it was too soon in the season, and of course Jesus went to the tree in full knowledge that it did not have any fruit!  It is as simple as that. In having no fruit, this fig tree was the perfect symbol of his life, and in killing the tree, Jesus was giving them a perfect symbol of his death. For he was young and in the fullness of health but soon he too would be cut down and be dead.

To those religionist, those Pharisees; Jesus would produce no more fruit than that dead fig tree, and especially after his death, but Jesus was going to show them, and more importantly his disciples, that it was in his power to lay down his life and to take it up again, and because he lives, there is hope for this church today!  Yes out of his atoning death, came forth life!…..Out of his atoning death he brought forth good fruit!

What an object lesson from one tree!…. I do not know from what timber the carpenter fashioned Christ’s cross but in the glory of heaven I would not be surprised if at least one piece of the cross came from this knarred, crocked and dead fig tree that produced no fruit….

It was symbolic of Christ who had authority to lay down his life and to take it up again, and out of death, to become fruitful in drawing men and women to himself, for we who were once dead in our trespasses and sins are now alive, and have a purpose, and the purpose is to grow this church, that my friends is bearing good fruit.

Amen.

Sunday 5 April 2020

A Light in Dark Days

Main Scripture Text: Matthew 5:14-16

They say that too many cooks spoil the broth and for 50 years I have done a rather good job at not spoiling the broth as I generally keep out of the kitchen when Elaine is cooking. However, as we say in Welsh: ‘Rwyn Hoffi ychydyg o flas yn y cawl’. I like a bit of flavour in the broth, and for me that means a healthy measure of salt! Indeed, the value of salt was legendary in Roman times, and it was quite common for Roman soldiers to get their wages partially with a food bank parcel of salt, and their universal credit was paid in denarii. Salt flavoured their food, and it cleansed their wounds. Yet I am not a cook, and neither am I an electrician but hitting your head on a very hard beam in the darkness is a great means of valuing a humble light bulb, and lest I forget that, the dents in my thick skull are there to remind me.

Theologically, Salt speaks of Godly character; cleaning, pure, something to be tasted, valued, and to be embraced. In turn Light speaks of a Godly testimony, whereby we are SEEN to be what we purport to be in Christ by word and by deed, called to illuminate his inner light in us in a sinful and dysfunctional world. This is at the heart of Jesus saying: “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.

In part we are all privileged in tasting this salt, and in seeing this light in how more and more people are offering to help this nation beat this pandemic of Corona Virus or if you want to be posh Covid 19; with our NHS and other emergency services, manning the barricades when we who are more vulnerable are called to remain in comparative safety at home, and of course, some of us have children on the front line working as doctors and nurses, carers and cleaners alike, and Elaine and the church share in each other’s concerns.

Indeed, whenever we see love in action and self sacrifice for the good of others, we have a glimpse of the sacrificial love of Christ, although I hasten to add that many of these kind gestures are undertaken by people who have little knowledge of the Gospel, and certainly do not acknowledge Christ as LORD and Saviour in their lives. Indeed, many of them are tired out, stressed out and fearful as so many of these key workers are not accustomed to seeing death in the numbers we now see with this insipid, highly contagious yet unseen and deadly disease. For certain our grandparents were more accustomed to death than we are today, as they lived through the Spanish flu endemic at the close of the First World War 1 where more people died than in the war itself, and as for the bubonic plague in the Middle Ages, well I am just not going there.

What has this to do with us on this Sunday, the third Sunday in which the doors of the church have been closed?

Well to paraphrase Mordecai of old told to his niece Queen Esther: you are here for such times as these. In essence, Jesus is saying that the world needs your Christ like character and testimony today, tomorrow and in the coming weeks and months for you are the salt and light of the world. So, take time to pray for our people who are in the front-line services working our behalf. Pray for those men and women who will hopefully get on top of this current virus, and when this is over, your work is to continue outside our current closed doors.

Indeed, this pandemic, which has followed the Ebola that ravaged a number of different nations in Africa in recent years, and as I speak; the measles outbreak which is blighting the lives of thousands of little children in leaving them blind in the Congo, and a plague of locusts in East Africa which is stripping the vegetation bare are just a few examples of how more and more people are feeling less confident in themselves, and their leaders, than they once were. They are less confident because they see a shorter span of time between one disaster and the next than they have ever seen before. They see the doom day clock is ticking, and they see that as clever as we are, we haven’t got all the answers to humanities needs, and like new born babes they are beginning to say more and more there has to be better than this?

Into this Jesus Is reminding you: You are the light of the world…. let your light shine before men.

Society has grown weary of the grand initiatives of our politicians and leading academic minds who conjured up the New Deal; the Fair Deal; the great Society; Camelot, Camp David, Détente and Glasnost to name just a few. We have seen these initiatives come and go, and there is only one thing that is constant through them all, and that is a great man-made hole, that we continue to dig, and it’s all because we have substituted Godly wisdom for the wisdom of the world. Yet God didn’t call mankind to be disillusioned hole diggers without any hope, he called mankind to embrace the fullness and the joy of life through the living hope that is Jesus Christ.

My friends, I just hope that some non believers, perhaps within our own families will hear this message, as they need to hear it as much individuals and families needed to be hear it 2000 years ago. The message is that it does not need to be like this for Jesus came to give us life and to give it to us more abundantly. Yes, some may still laugh at the message. They may say it insults their intelligence, but remember that Jesus said: I’ve hidden these things from the wise and the prudent and I have revealed them to babes.

You cannot do anything about those who refuse to accept the message except pray for them, but you can do something about being salt and light. Let your light shine.

Yes YOU. I am talking to YOU. LET YOUR LIGHT SHINE.

Yet in shining through you, Jesus is calling others to his banner.

General Kitchener in the First World War comes to mind. With my minds eye I can see him now pointing his finger at would be recruits and saying YOU Jesus is calling non believers today. And he is calling them through you and if in the providential will of God anyone listening to this message today who is a non believer then make no mistake that Jesus is calling YOU. In fact, it is so personal that Greek scholars tell us that the word, YOU is emphatic. It means YOU and nobody else. Then if you; and here again I am talking as if to someone who has not made their peace with God through the blood of Christ should by grace accept his invitation be LORD and Saviour in your life then he is calling you to the ranks. He is calling you to lift up his banner and be with us salt and light in the world.

One of the pleasures of being at home during this pandemic Is seeing some pictures on facebook of churches in Newport marching with their banners flowing at Easter many moons ago. I saw Dot as a little girl. I saw Graham and Pam as young parents, and I saw Cynthia marching as one of the army of God in our streets. The street was full of Christian soldiers on the march and it was glorious!

What happened?

Why aren’t our people marching now?

I am afraid that we have been seduced by the wisdom of the age to be respectable rather than radical. Yet if I know anything about the Baptist Church, first and foremost we were called to be Radical believers.  Non conformist out of step with society and out of step with formal religionists, but today we have become placid conformist.  We have laid aside our radical beliefs, while retaining our radical politics in fighting against inequality and injustice. Yet in matters of faith we have often embraced conservatism’s with a small C!

Today, we are little different to the established church. We have even in many nonconformist churches adopted a liturgy of the established church, the responsive readings and prayers of the established church and I have even seen some ministers wearing vestments and stalls! Our forefathers would turn in their graves, and I ask where is the freedom of the spirit that we once knew?

In contrast one of our young men in church told me a few months ago. We only have three. Matthew, James and myself, and this young man who shall remain nameless although it wasn’t James told me that when he was working in London that the Muslims would pour out of the mosque in Finchley Park and place their prayer mats on the streets and pray, and in the process they brought all the traffic to a standstill and the police did nothing!

My friends, we need to reclaim our streets again!  We need to patch up our banners, dust them down and march again because as we are, we have become sanitised!

Radical believers have become respectable.

We have turned our ploughs into combine harvesters, but the problem is that the fields are still to be ploughed and planted.

Something to think about.

Have you considered that the closure of our church doors has been a part of the will of God? At the very least they have closed through his permissible will.

My friends! I think God is seeking to teach us something here! I think he is saying that we need to shake ourselves free of that seducing spirit that says that only so-called professionals are called to be actively engaged in ministry.  I think he is saying when this is over, open the doors of the church and go out yourselves because you are the salt, you are the light of the world, and we are not showing much light when we are stuck in doors.

My friends, these are some of the truths that I perceive in this current pandemic.

I see that people are disillusioned and I also see that the global powers are all of a sudden seeing that they are not as clever as they thought, for God lays to waste mens best laid plans, but his plans will never be thwarted and that he is still seeking to fulfil those plans through Christians like you and me for it pleased God by the foolish of preaching to save them that believe.

I see anew how through the foolishness of preaching the cross even a little child can know the heart of God.  Now the world doesn’t understand this, but through this calamity It may be waking up to this truth!  So, this calamity is turned into an opportunity.  Isn’t this another example of how God so often chooses to work. He brings blessings out of disasters if we let him!

Indeed, as the most important light in our house isn’t the beautiful candelabra in the lounge and dining room, but the single light that stops us breaking our neck as we descend the stairs. He chooses to bring his blessings through single people like you and me doing his will.

Yet we are a community of believers. As you in your small corner and I in mine are called to shine. Let us also shine as a community of believers at the end of this crisis

Indeed, we have heard of a 100-year flood and a 100-year pandemic. Well it is 116 years since we have seen a national revival.

Perhaps those people out there who have tried Dead religion, and have tried turning over a new leaf by living a better life, but have never ever bowed the knee at the feet of Jesus. Perhaps through this crisis, they may be being primed by the Holy Spirit to do so now.

I am telling you my dear friend, that this is a once in a 100-year opportunity as they need Jesus as never before, in order that He may meet the hunger in their heart.  When our doors open again at Duckpool Road, as they will, then take this new opportunity to tell them that Jesus will save them today if they will trust Him.  He alone is the light of the world, and by grace they will see his light shining in you, and that they will receive Christs light and become lamp lighters themselves. Amen.

Saturday 4 April 2020

SATURDAY

“I Need You”
America
I need you
Like the winter needs the spring
You know I need you

Backbeat

Few took notice when Gerry Beckley, Dan Peek, and Dewey Bunnell met in 1969. Sons of U.S. Air Force officers stationed in England, they formed an acoustic guitar trio, Daze, in 1970. The next year, they renamed their group America, borrowing the name from a jukebox brand. After opening for established acts such as the Who and Elton John, they landed a recording contract with Warner Brothers.

Though acoustic guitar folk-rock trios were rarities in the early seventies era of electric country rock, they hit it big with their first release, “A Horse with No Name” (and they fiercely denied that the song was a pro-drug anthem). In the spring of 1972, America’s second hit, “I Need You,” reached the number 9 spot on the charts. With an appealing clarity, this song spoke of a deep need for love.

America received the Grammy Award for Best New Artist in 1972 and registered five more Top 10 hits in the following years, including “Ventura Highway,” “Tin Man,” and “Sister Golden Hair.” In 1976, Dan Peek became a Christian and left the group to pursue contemporary gospel music.

Riff

You can say many things about romantic love, but America boiled it down to the basics. With simple repetition they made their point: “I need you.” That’s what love feels like, a hole in your heart that only your beloved can fill.

The Bible often compares romantic love with our love for God, and we find this sense of longing for a relationship with him. “O God, you are my God,” David wrote. “I earnestly search for you. My soul thirsts for you; my whole body longs for you.” At the time, David was a fugitive, scampering through the Judean desert. He felt pangs of hunger and thirst, but he knew he needed God even more. “Your unfailing love is better than life itself,” he added. “You satisfy me more than the richest feast” (Psalm 63:1-5).

It was surely in happier times that David wrote his well-known Shepherd Psalm. We can imagine him as a teenager leading a flock through the grassy foothills, but the same idea inspired him even then. “The Lord is my shepherd; I have all that I need” (Psalm 23:1). It wasn’t that the Lord just provided green pastures and still waters, but the Lord offered himself. Even in perilous times, the psalmist said of God, “you are close beside me” (Psalm 23:4).

It’s lovely to witness the romantic yearning of someone saying to a sweetheart, “I need you.” But that’s also a picture of the basic human longing for our Creator.

One philosopher wrote about a “God-shaped vacuum” in the human heart, and another said that our hearts are “restless” until they rest in God. We were made to know him, and so, like the winter needs the spring, we need him.

Harmonies
Job 34:14-15 Psalm 42:1 Acts 17:25, 28
Psalm 23:1* Psalm 63:1-5* Revelation 4:11
Psalm 23:4* Psalm 84:2