Pastor’s Thoughts

4 – 10 January 2021

The Temple and the Land – Ezekiel 47:1-48:35

Open It

  1. What sorts of conflicts have you seen, or would expect to see, surrounding the division of an inheritance?
  2. What particular recollections, positive or negative, do you have regarding rivers?

Explore It

  1. At the end of his tour of the restored temple of God, what did Ezekiel see coming out of the temple? (47:1-2)
  2. What happened to the stream of water as it got farther away from the temple? (47:3-6)
  3. What good effects did the river in Ezekiel’s vision have along its route? (47:7-12)
  4. What were God’s instructions for the division of the land among the tribes? (47:13-21)
  5. How did God instruct His people to regard aliens who had settled among them for legal purposes? (47:22-23)
  6. How specific were God’s instructions about which tribe was to receive which piece of land? (48:1-7, 23-29)
  7. For what purposes did God set aside the “special gift” of land at the center of the country? (48:8-22)
  8. What different groups were specifically provided for within the special sector of land? (48:8-22)
  9. How were the gates of the city of Jerusalem to be named? (48:30-34)
  10. How did the name of the city reflect its reason for being? (48:35)

Get It

  1. What do you think the river that flowed out of the temple in Ezekiel’s vision might represent?
  2. How does this passage show us that God’s blessings are not for a single ethnic group only?
  3. Why is it important for us to set aside portions of the blessings God gives to us?
  4. What conclusions can we draw from the characterization of the new Israel about the fairness and holiness of God?
  5. What do you think is the greatest privilege of any nation, city, or individual?

Apply It

  1. How can you set aside something from the material blessings God has given you in order to honour and thank Him?
  2. What source of help, inspiration, and power from God is available to prosper your daily life, and how can you take advantage of it?

 

 

4 – 10 January 2021

The Temptation of Jesus – Matthew 4:1-11

  1. What are some common food cravings?
  2. Why are some temptations harder to resist than others?
  3. Why do different people struggle with different types of temptations?

Explore It

  1. Who led Jesus into the wilderness? Why? (4:1)
  2. Where was Jesus led? By whom? (4:1)
  3. For what purpose was Jesus led into the desert? (4:1)
  4. What made Jesus weak at this time? (4:2)
  5. What three names are given to Jesus’ adversary in the desert? (4:3, 5, 10)
  6. What was the first temptation presented to Jesus? (4:3)
  7. How did Jesus respond to the first temptation? (4:4)
  8. Where did the devil take Jesus for the second temptation? (4:5)
  9. What tempting offer was made to Christ at the highest point of the temple? (4:6)
  10. How did Jesus answer the second temptation? (4:7)
  11. To what final destination did Satan take Christ? (4:8)
  12. What did the devil show Jesus from a very high mountain? (4:8)
  13. What did the devil promise Jesus in exchange for worship? (4:9)
  14. How did Jesus react to the third temptation? (4:10)
  15. What happened after Jesus had resisted Satan three times? (4:11)
  16. Who came and ministered to Jesus when all was said and done? (4:11)

Get It

  1. How would you define temptation?
  2. Besides physical appetite, what are some other sins of the flesh?
  3. What would have been appealing to Christ about the devil’s second temptation?
  4. What would have been appealing to Christ about the offer of all the kingdoms of the world?
  5. How can memorizing Scripture help us combat temptation?
  6. What role does the Word of God play in resisting temptation?
  7. What happens when a Christian consistently resists temptation?
  8. What situations make us especially vulnerable to temptation?
  9. In what ways can we make temptation more difficult to resist?
  10. What can we do to make temptation more manageable?
  11. What temptations are inevitable for most people?
  12. What temptations are inevitable for you?

Apply It

  1. In what specific area of your life is temptation the strongest these days?
  2. What steps can you take this week to resist the temptations you are facing now?

 

 

 

28 December 2020 – 3 January 2021

Rules Concerning the Temple and Worship – Ezekiel 44:1-46:24

Open It

  1. Would you prefer a world where faithfulness and hard work are rewarded or a world where good fortune is dispensed at random? Why?
  2. Why do you think society dictates that we dress up for certain occasions and not others?

Explore It

  1. What special instructions did the guide in Ezekiel’s vision have for the east gate to the sanctuary? (44:1-3)
  2. How did Ezekiel react when he saw the glory of the Lord? (44:4)
  3. To what instructions did God tell Ezekiel to pay particular attention, in order to correct God’s people? (44:5-6)
  4. What practice would God not tolerate in the restored temple? (44:7-9)
  5. Why were the Levites to be limited only to certain duties within the temple? (44:10-14)
  6. What group did God designate to serve as priests in the inner court? (44:15-16)
  7. What were some ways in which the priests were expected to maintain a greater degree of purity in their life than were the common people? (44:17-27)
  8. What provisions did God make for the sustenance of the priests? (44:28-31)
  9. How did God redraw the map of Jerusalem to provide for the temple, the priests, and the prince in an equitable way? (45:1-8)
  10. What abuses of power by prior rulers did God want to eliminate in the restored kingdom? (45:9-12)
  11. What sorts of offerings did God specify for special days on the Jewish calendar? (45:13-25)
  12. How was the opening and closing of certain gates to be a part of the temple ceremonies? (46:1-12)
  13. What were the required daily offerings? (46:13-15)
  14. How did God’s laws on inheritance insure separateness for His people and justice among them? (46:16-18)
  15. What practical provision was made in the temple since most of the sacrifices were followed by feasts? (46:19-24)

Get It

  1. What indications do you see in these three chapters of God’s expectations of those in leadership?
  2. Where in these chapters do you see God’s concern for the “little person”?
  3. How does God’s concern for accurate units of measure demonstrate His concern about our life?
  4. Why is it significant that the land set aside for worship was to be at the center of the restored city?
  5. Why do you think that purity is so often stressed in situations where human beings approach God?
  6. How did the temple rituals help the people understand what was important in life?
  7. How was everyday life brought into the worship of God in the temple?
  8. For whom do you think the feasts were designed primarily?
  9. How should believers conduct themselves with regard to some of the questionable practices of commerce or society?

Apply It

  1. What “weights and measures” or “rules and regulations” of daily life should you resolve before God to observe with greater faithfulness?
  2. How can you give worship more of a central place

 

28 December 2020 – 3 January 2021

The Baptism of Jesus – Matthew 3:13-17

Open It

  1. What are some initiation rites or affiliation procedures that organizations make new members go through?
  2. Why are transfers of power in some governments fragile?
  3. How would you feel if the world’s leading, most renowned expert in your field publicly solicited your help?

Explore It

  1. Where did Jesus come from? Why? (3:13)
  2. Why did Jesus leave Galilee and travel to the Jordan River? (3:13)
  3. How did John react to Jesus’ request? (3:14)
  4. What exactly did John say to Jesus? (3:14)
  5. How did Jesus respond to John’s reluctance? (3:15)
  6. Why was it important for John to comply with Jesus’ request? (3:15)
  7. What change took place in heaven after the baptism of Jesus? (3:16)
  8. How did the Spirit of God play a role in the baptism of Jesus? (3:16)
  9. What was the Spirit’s appearance? (3:16)
  10. What kind of voice was heard at the baptism of Jesus? (3:17)
  11. What was the relationship between Jesus and the Father? (3:17)
  12. What did God the Father say about Jesus? (3:17)

Get It

  1. Why do you think John felt awkward about baptizing Jesus?
  2. In what ways are many Christians concerned about “proper” behavior and striving for righteousness?
  3. What does this passage show about God’s triune nature?
  4. What do we tell the world by being baptized?
  5. If God spoke in an audible voice about you today, what might He say?
  6. What pleases God?
  7. How are you able to please God?

Apply It

  1. What could you do today for Christ out of obedience and respect for Him?
  2. What needs to change this week in order for you to see the Spirit of God work in and through your life?

21 – 27 December 2020 (Christmas bonus)

HAPPY CHRISTMAS TO YOU ALL AND WHATEVER OTHER NEWS YOU HAVE, PLEASE REMEMBER THAT UNTO US CHRIST IS BORN AND HE REMAINS ON HIS THRONE

EZEKIEL

The Glory Returns to the Temple – Ezekiel 43:1-27

Open It

  1. What kinds of places do you find most conducive to worship? Why?
  2. What do you think is the deepest, commonest human desire?
  3. Judging from your own observations, what does our society consider holy?

Explore It

  1. What did the man of bronze show to Ezekiel after he had toured the whole restored temple area? (43:1-2)
  2. How did Ezekiel describe the return of the glory of God to the temple? (43:3-4)
  3. Where was Ezekiel transported after his initial vision of the glory of God approaching from the east? (43:5)
  4. What did the voice from within the temple say? (43:6-7)
  5. How had Israel angered God and brought on their own destruction? (43:8-9)
  6. What response did God hope to produce in the people when Ezekiel related his vision of the temple? (43:10-11)
  7. How was Ezekiel instructed to preserve the details and dimensions of the temple God showed him? (43:11)
  8. How much ground was to be dedicated as holy ground? (43:12)
  9. How was the altar in the new temple to be constructed? (43:13-17)
  10. What specific instructions were given for a week-long dedication of the altar? (43:18-26)
  11. How did God promise to respond after the eighth day of sacrifices and offerings? (43:27)

Get It

  1. Why was the return of the Lord’s presence (described in Ezekiel 43) critical to the overall restoration of God’s people?
  2. What emotions do you suppose Ezekiel experienced as he watched the glory of the Lord return to the temple?
  3. When does a beautiful worship space help us worship, and when is it a distraction?
  4. Why were Ezekiel’s previous visions helpful to him when God showed him other things?
  5. How could the temple in its symmetry, beauty, and greatness cause the people to be ashamed of their sins?
  6. How can the beauty and perfection of the heavenly worship, communicated to us in the Bible, be an encouragement to us in our present trials?

Apply It

  1. Knowing that you are accepted by God, how can you reach out this week in His name to a person who may not feel acceptable?
  2. Where can you go for a brief retreat to remember God’s greatness and glory compared to your difficulties?

21 – 27 December 2020

CHRISTMAS IS HERE AGAIN, AND THERE IS PLENTY STILL TO DO; BUT TAKE THE TIME TO SIT AND CONTEMPLATE, AS TO WHAT GOD IS SAYING TO YOU.

John the Baptist Prepares the Way – Matthew 3:1-12

Open It

  1. What phrases, words, or images spring to mind when you hear the term “preacher”?
  2. What preacher has influenced you most?
  3. Why are many people uncomfortable with “fire and brimstone”-type preaching?

Explore It

  1. What famous preacher is described in this passage? (3:1)
  2. Where was John the Baptist’s “sanctuary” or “pulpit”? (3:1)
  3. What was John’s message? (3:2)
  4. Why was John’s ministry significant? (3:3)
  5. What did John look like? (3:4)
  6. What kind of unusual diet did John follow? (3:4)
  7. How did people receive John’s message? (3:5)
  8. Besides strong preaching, what went on at John’s “desert revival meetings”? (3:6)
  9. Where did John perform his baptisms? Who came? (3:5-6)
  10. What kinds of religious leaders came to listen to John? (3:7)
  11. What harsh name did John call the religious leaders? Why? (3:7-10)
  12. What was John’s message to the local “men of the cloth”? (3:7-10)
  13. What was the purpose of John’s water baptism? (3:11)
  14. How did John compare himself to the one who would come after him? (3:11)
  15. How did John describe the type of baptism Jesus would bring? (3:11)
  16. With what images did John describe Jesus? (3:12)

Get It

  1. Why is it that coming from a religious family doesn’t guarantee spiritual security?
  2. What does it mean to repent?
  3. Why do you think John lived such an eccentric life?
  4. Why was John the Baptist so harsh with the religious leaders of his day?
  5. What is the significance of the images “winnowing fork,” “gathering His wheat,” and “burning up the chaff”?
  6. What was John trying to communicate by using the word “fire” three times in this passage?
  7. What is the difference between God’s discipline and God’s punishment?
  8. What kind of “fruit” or character do repentant people produce?

Apply It

  1. What could you do this week to encourage your pastor or preacher?
  2. What first step could you take toward obeying God better today?
  3. What particular sin(s) do you need to repent of today?

Daily Reading 21 December 2020

Expenses

Jeremiah 39:1–41:18; Romans 9:13–29; Proverbs 24:1–22

It’s important to pause occasionally to reflect on the cost of sin. If we don’t, we can find ourselves living in it without thought of the ramifications. Few passages illustrate the cost of sin more vividly than the fall of Jerusalem recorded in Jer 39. The fall of Jerusalem is brutal, depressing, and sadistic, but we can learn from Jeremiah’s account of the event.

We could view Jeremiah’s depictions as merely historical, or we could recognize the theological lessons they offer: Sin is expensive. Sin will destroy you. Sin will bring a nation to its knees. Sin will leave you begging for mercy. Sin is death. That’s what God’s people learned from this event: Disobeying Yahweh is a costly action. It’s not that God wants His people to endure this pain, but pain is a natural consequence of their decisions. He cannot defend people who refuse to live as beacons of light—of goodness, beauty, and blessing—to the world. If they aren’t willing to live in His image, then He is not willing to be their defender. If Yahweh did not allow for Nebuchadnezzar to destroy Jerusalem, the people would never learn. And the exile that comes in this moment is also a natural result of their sin.

When we’re faced with the horror of the destruction of Jerusalem, we’re given a choice: Will we listen to the prophets of our age and respond accordingly? Will we hear God when He calls us back to obedience? Or will we continue to live in sin and suffer the consequences?

As a side effect of the grace that God has given us in Jesus, many people assume that sin is somehow okay—that it’s okay to allow it to exist. God’s response is the opposite. The grace is unmerited, and we must respond with the only merited response: complete dedication and obedience to Him. We must see the death of sin and deny it.

What sin is currently present in your life? What do you need to repent from? Have you asked God to direct you in this?

 

19 December 2020

EZEKIEL

SATURDAY SPECIAL

A Prophecy against Gog – Ezekiel 38:1-39:29

Open It

  1. What character, historical or fictional, is the personification of evil in your mind?
  2. What is your favourite story of the triumph of an underdog?

Explore It

  1. To whom was Ezekiel told to address his next prophecy? (38:1-3)
  2. What gathering of the enemies of Israel would be accomplished by God “pulling them together”? (38:4-6)
  3. What great invasion would be plotted by Gog? (38:7-9)
  4. For what purpose would the various nations arrive at an evil scheme? (38:10-13)
  5. Why was God going to allow a great assault on Israel? (38:14-16)
  6. For what response would God be poised when Gog threatened Israel? (38:18-23)
  7. What did God intend to do to the homeland of the aggressors while they fell in battle on the mountains of Israel? (39:1-6)
  8. What is God prepared to defend in the great battle of the nations? (39:7-8)
  9. After God’s intervention in their behalf, what unusual provisions would Israel have for years to come? (39:9-10)
  10. How does Ezekiel describe the magnitude of the death and destruction wrought against the forces of Gog? (39:11-16)
  11. What gory “sacrifice” would the birds and wild beasts have set before them? (39:17-20)
  12. In this demonstration of His glory, what would the nations see and what would Israel understand? (39:21-22)
  13. Why did God want the rest of the nations to be clear on His reasons for turning against Israel in the past? (39:23-24)
  14. What are the various ways in which God will show compassion on His people in the future? (39:25-29)

Get It

  1. Where should the people of God turn for help in times of trouble?
  2. Of what nations of the earth is God the Lord?
  3. In what way is God the Lord of every nation on earth?
  4. What comfort can God’s people take in knowing how God will use evil for His purposes?
  5. How should we react if the enemies of God rise up to challenge blessings that He has given to us?
  6. Why would the land need to be cleansed after the great battle in which Gog is defeated?
  7. In your opinion, of all the blessings promised to God’s people in this prophecy, which is the greatest? Why?

Apply It

  1. How can you tell at least one other person this week of the Lord’s gracious blessings in your life?
  2. What frightening evil power in your life or in your world can remind you throughout the week to praise God for His omnipotence?

 

Adult Questions for LESSONMaker.

The Architecture of the New Temple – Ezekiel 40:1-42:20

Topics:  Details, Holiness, Listening, Prophecy, Separation, Temple, Vision

Open It

  1. What are some of the more impressive examples of architecture that you have seen?
  2. How difficult would it be for you to find your way around your home blindfolded?

Explore It

  1. What was the specific time of Ezekiel’s vision of the temple? (40:1)
  2. Whom did Ezekiel meet when God transported him to Jerusalem in a vision? (40:2-3)
  3. What instructions did the man have for Ezekiel before they set out on their exploration? (40:4)
  4. What was impressive about the wall that surrounded the temple Ezekiel saw? (40:5)
  5. What are some examples of how detailed Ezekiel’s description of the east gate area becomes? (40:6-16)
  6. What did the man do each time he stopped at the outer court, the north gate, and the south gate? (40:17-27)
  7. What sorts of rooms did Ezekiel see before he actually came into the temple? (40:28-47)
  8. What was at the center of the temple structure? (40:48-41:15)
  9. How were the internal parts of the temple decorated? (41:16-26)
  10. What important activity was to take place in the side rooms around the temple? (42:1-13)
  11. What specific regulations were given with regard to the priests’ garments inside and outside the temple? (42:14)
  12. How was the whole temple area kept distinct from the “common” parts of the city? (42:15-20)

Get It

  1. Why do you think the exiles to whom Ezekiel spoke might have “eaten up” every detail of his description of the temple?
  2. What point did the temple buildings and worship practices make by separating the holy from the common?
  3. In what respect was Ezekiel a “servant” of the exiled people of Israel?
  4. If someone could bring you a blueprint of heaven, what details would you want it to include?
  5. How would you describe heaven to someone unfamiliar with the Bible?

Apply It

  1. How could you express your gratitude for the care that has gone into the planning and maintenance of your place of worship?
  2. How can the prospect of a new heaven and a new earth inspire you in a specific problem you are presently facing?

Daily Reading 18 December 2020

Into the Family

Jeremiah 33:1–34:22; Romans 8:1–17; Proverbs 22:1–16

As people once bound to sin and destined for death, our ability to approach God personally—to call Him our Father—should astound us. Yet we sometimes forget to pray. We can take it for granted that He looks out for our every need.

The concept of approaching God as Father would have been a radical concept for the Roman community. In his letter to the church there, Paul discusses how our former lives without God were nothing but slavery to sin and death, the wages of sin. Christ’s work has set us free from this trajectory: “For you have not received a spirit of slavery leading to fear again, but you have received the Spirit of adoption, by whom we cry out, ‘Abba! Father!’ The Spirit himself confirms to our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, also heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, if indeed we suffer together with him so that we may also be glorified together with him” (Rom 8:15–17).

Paul’s audience would have used the term “Abba! Father!” only within immediate family relationships. To call God “our Father” would have been a shocking paradigm shift—especially for Jewish believers. However, Christ’s sacrifice made this relationship possible. He paid our debt and repaired the rift. Because of His work, and because we share in His Spirit, we also share in His relationship with the Father. We can call out to God, just as Jesus did. And the Father cares for us, just as He cares for His Son.

We may forget our intimate relationship with God, yet the Spirit continues to work within us to bring our lives into accordance with this relationship with the Father. Pray for insight and gratitude for your new position because of Christ. When you call on God, relate to Him as a child would to a loving father—bringing all to Him and knowing He understands you and knows what is best for you.

Do you neglect prayer? Pray that the Spirit would work to bring you a childlike faith and trust in God.

Rebecca Van Noord

17 – 18 December 2020

John the Baptist Prepares the Way – Matthew 3:1-12

Open It

  1. What phrases, words, or images spring to mind when you hear the term “preacher”?
  2. What preacher has influenced you most?
  3. Why are many people uncomfortable with “fire and brimstone”-type preaching?

Explore It

  1. What famous preacher is described in this passage? (3:1)
  2. Where was John the Baptist’s “sanctuary” or “pulpit”? (3:1)
  3. What was John’s message? (3:2)
  4. Why was John’s ministry significant? (3:3)
  5. What did John look like? (3:4)
  6. What kind of unusual diet did John follow? (3:4)
  7. How did people receive John’s message? (3:5)
  8. Besides strong preaching, what went on at John’s “desert revival meetings”? (3:6)
  9. Where did John perform his baptisms? Who came? (3:5-6)
  10. What kinds of religious leaders came to listen to John? (3:7)
  11. What harsh name did John call the religious leaders? Why? (3:7-10)
  12. What was John’s message to the local “men of the cloth”? (3:7-10)
  13. What was the purpose of John’s water baptism? (3:11)
  14. How did John compare himself to the one who would come after him? (3:11)
  15. How did John describe the type of baptism Jesus would bring? (3:11)
  16. With what images did John describe Jesus? (3:12)

Get It

  1. Why is it that coming from a religious family doesn’t guarantee spiritual security?
  2. What does it mean to repent?
  3. Why do you think John lived such an eccentric life?
  4. Why was John the Baptist so harsh with the religious leaders of his day?
  5. What is the significance of the images “winnowing fork,” “gathering His wheat,” and “burning up the chaff”?
  6. What was John trying to communicate by using the word “fire” three times in this passage?
  7. What is the difference between God’s discipline and God’s punishment?
  8. What kind of “fruit” or character do repentant people produce?

Apply It

  1. What could you do this week to encourage your pastor or preacher?
  2. What first step could you take toward obeying God better today?
  3. What particular sin(s) do you need to repent of today?

Daily Reading 17 December 2020

Land and Deeds

Jeremiah 32:1–44; Romans 7:7–25; Proverbs 21:13–31

Those of us who have purchased a home know the frightening feeling of closing day—“Am I signing my life away? Am I binding myself to this building forever?” Imagine, on top of those feelings, knowing that the place you’re buying is about to be overrun by a foreign nation and may no longer belong to you. That’s what the prophet Jeremiah experienced.

Yahweh tells Jeremiah that his cousin will arrive with an offer to purchase a field. So when Jeremiah’s cousin shows up, Jeremiah views it as Yahweh’s will that he purchase the land, and he does (Jer 32:1–12). Meanwhile, Jeremiah knows that the Babylonians are coming and that they will overrun the land of God’s people, including the land that he has just purchased. This is not a reckless act; this is a moment of faith. Jeremiah seizes the opportunity to proclaim Yahweh’s faithfulness.

Turning to his assistant, Baruch, Jeremiah remarks in front of everyone witnessing the purchase, “Thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel, ‘Take these deeds, this deed of the purchase, the sealed one, and this opened deed, and you must put them in an earthenware jar so that they may be kept preserved many days.’ For thus says Yahweh of hosts, the God of Israel: ‘Houses and fields and vineyards will again be bought in this land’ ” (Jer 32:14–15).

Each of us has moments when we must do what no one else will do—and that includes saying what others are not willing to say. What “land” is God asking you to buy, and what is He asking you to proclaim about it?

What deed is God asking you to do today? What are you to say about Yahweh’s faithfulness, and how are you to act upon it?

John D. Barry

Daily Reading 16 December 2020

Freedom

Jeremiah 31:1–40; Romans 6:15–7:6; Proverbs 21:1–12

We like to think of ourselves as autonomous. Our modern culture champions freedom and the right to pursue happiness. But if we apply the concept of rights when we think about faith, following Christ can feel like religion, dogma, rules—a type of bondage that requires us to think and behave in ways that make our autonomous selves bridle.

Paul looks at the issue differently: “Do you not know that to whomever you present yourselves as slaves for obedience, you are slaves to whomever you obey, whether sin, leading to death, or obedience, leading to righteousness?” (Rom 6:16). He uses another analogy in his letter to the church in Rome—one that draws on the practice of the slavery within his own culture—to highlight the opposite view. If we live without God, he says, we have a debt that binds us. We are a slave to sin, and it’s the type of bondage that leads to death.

Yet, there is hope. Although we were slaves to sin, we can be redeemed from that slavery. Christ has paid the debt we incurred. He has set us free and brought us into a new bondage—not one that binds to death, but one that binds us to Him in life. If we believe this is true and put our trust in Him, we are no longer slaves.

As redeemed people, we’re called to a new life. While we once charted our own independent path—one that led to death—we can turn and follow a path that leads to sanctification and eternal life, a path that God charts just for us. While our path required a toll—death—Christ has paid that toll so we can walk in new life: “the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” (Rom 6:23).

How have your old habits and patterns of behaviour changed now that you’ve been set free? What still needs to change to reflect your new loyalty to Christ?

Rebecca Van Noord

 

Daily Reading 15 December 2020

After the Storm

Jeremiah 29:1–30:24; Romans 6:1–14; Proverbs 20:13–30

As we blink and squint in the light that emerges after a storm, we marvel that the sun was there all along and we just couldn’t see it. The same is true during times of difficulty. When we’re in pain or worried, it seems impossible to find God, but in retrospect, it always seems obvious: God was there all along.

Jeremiah prophesied to God’s people about their unraveling. The people heard words from Jeremiah’s mouth that must have seemed hopeless and full of despair. But in Jeremiah 29, we catch a glimpse of the light that comes after: “Build houses and live in them, and plant gardens and eat their fruit. Take wives and father sons and daughters … and multiply there, and you must not be few” (Jer 29:5–6).

Even in exile, God will continue to guide His people. Because of their sins, they have endured (and lost) war and have been driven away from the land that God gave them; but God remains with them nonetheless. They may need to experience the pain of exile to understand the consequences of turning away from God, but God still plans to be good to them. He will provide for them.

We witness a parallel picture in Rom 6. After describing the death that sin brings into the world and the current sad state of humanity, Paul presents a full vision of living without sin—of conquering the very problem that drove God’s people into exile: “What therefore shall we say? Shall we continue in sin, in order that grace may increase? May it never be! How can we who died to sin still live in it?” (Rom 6:1–2).

Even with the grace God has offered us, Paul encourages us to live the vision God has created through Jesus—one that strives to be sinless. Likewise, Jeremiah does not offer empty words without the command that God’s people follow Him with their entire beings (Jer 29:8–14).

We have all made mistakes. We’ve all lost ourselves in the storms—in storms we caused and storms that came upon us for no apparent reason. But what’s certain in both instances is that God is with us and desires for us to be one with Him.

What storm are you currently in, coming out of, or anticipating? What is God teaching you through it? What is He asking of you?

14 – 16 December 2020

The Return to Nazareth – Matthew 2:19-23

Open It

  1. To what sources do people often look for guidance?
  2. What do you like most and least about your hometown?
  3. Why is it so difficult to move to another place?

Explore It

  1. What happened when Herod died? (2:19)
  2. In what manner did God communicate with Joseph? (2:19)
  3. Where were Joseph, Mary, and Jesus at the time? (2:19)
  4. What did the angel tell Joseph to do? (2:20)
  5. What was the reason behind the angel’s command? (2:20)
  6. How did Joseph respond to the angel’s instructions? (2:21)
  7. Who was reigning in Herod’s place when Joseph, Mary, and Jesus left Egypt? (2:22)
  8. Why was it significant to Joseph that Archelaus was ruling in Judah? (2:22)
  9. What was Joseph’s emotional response when he heard about Archelaus? (2:22)
  10. What did Joseph do when he heard the news of Archelaus’s reign? (2:22)
  11. To what town did Joseph, Mary, and Jesus go? Why? (2:23)
  12. Why was it significant that Jesus’ family settled in Nazareth? (2:23)

Get It

  1. What modern-day forces threaten the institution of the family?
  2. How has your hometown influenced who you are?
  3. Why might God lead you to live in a certain area?
  4. How is your present location affecting your children?
  5. How can families reduce the stress and upheaval caused by a move or relocation?
  6. Which would you choose: a high-paying job in a big city that required long hours, or a lower-paying job in a smaller town that enabled you to spend more time with your family? Why?

Apply It

  1. What specific act of kindness can you do this week for a new family in your neighborhood?
  2. As you look back over your life and see how God has guided you, how can you show your appreciation?

 

 

Daily Reading 13 December 2020

Sage Advice

Jeremiah 25:1–26:24; Romans 4:1–24; Proverbs 19:1–29

Proverbs is full of sage advice, and some examples deserve special attention. No words could better describe the concept expressed here: “Better a poor person walking in integrity than one who is perverse in his speech and is a fool” (Prov 19:1).

When times get tough—especially when money runs out—integrity is often the first thing we sacrifice. Yet only those who have truly lived in poverty understand the trials it brings. We can’t begin to know how we would act if we had nothing. For this reason, we should mentally prepare for times of want. In doing so, we might better gauge whether we’re conducting ourselves appropriately in times of plenty.

I heard of a man who chose to live as a homeless person so that he could understand their plight. It’s easy for the rich person to call such an act foolish, but how much did that man learn as he was challenged to maintain his integrity during hard times? Does the rich person own that wisdom?

Proverbs 19:2 seems to hint at this idea: “A life without knowledge is not good, and he who moves quickly with his feet misses the mark.” Some people move so quickly in and out of circumstances that they don’t learn from their experiences. It’s better to move a little slower than normal and pay attention to our actions and their ramifications than to make a mistake and not learn from it. Likewise, we must have knowledge about our work and what we’re doing, or we inevitably fail.

Let’s learn from people with integrity. And let’s learn from our mistakes, both in hypothetical situations and real ones. Let’s take the time to notice what went wrong and what went right.

What situation is God using to teach you? Where should you slow down?

John D. Barry

 

Daily Reading 12 December 2020

Forgiven and Forgiving

Jeremiah 23:1–24:10; Romans 3:21–31; Proverbs 18:1–24

Idioms are often unhelpful because their overuse has robbed them of meaning. But the idiom “putting up walls” has a twist in Proverbs: “A brother who is offended is worse than a city of strength, and quarrels are like the bars of a fortification” (Prov 18:19).

The writer of this proverb gives us imagery that helps us understand how people react to offenses. Regardless of whether we intend to, we can raise a great structure, like a “city of strength,” in the gulf between ourselves and others. Such barriers make it difficult to reach those we have offended, which may suit us perfectly. But we’re called to live differently.

None of us can live perfectly in this life, so conflict is inevitable. If we have the insight to see that “we all fall short of the glory of God”—and more specifically, how we have fallen—we’ll see we have no right to hold a grudge (Rom 3:23). When rifts develop in relationships, we need to own our sin and bring it to God. His forgiveness and His reconciling work make it possible for us to be vulnerable with others and seek their forgiveness—even if they have also offended us.

When we choose to humbly admit our failings, we break down “the bars of a fortification” and create space for reconciliation. We might be spurned, or we might be forgiven. The other person may take responsibility for their fault, or they may not. But either way, we rest secure in God’s forgiveness.

Have you offended someone? Have you neglected to confess your sin and seek forgiveness? Reconciliation is a picture of what God has done for us—He has returned us to Himself. Be like the peacemaker: Seek and offer forgiveness.

Have you offended someone without asking forgiveness? If so, how can you step forward to confess your offense to God and the offended person?

Rebecca Van Noord

Daily Reading 11 December 2020

Faithful Decision-Making

Jeremiah 21:1–22:30; Romans 3:1–20; Proverbs 17:1–28

“I asked God, and He didn’t answer me.” When I hear people say this, I’m often tempted to reply, “Haven’t you read the prophets?” Because sometimes what people are really saying is, “I asked God to do something for me, and He didn’t answer in the way I expected, so He must not be listening or He must not care.” Yet the prophets repeatedly tell us the opposite. God is not human, so He does not make decisions like a human. Instead, He sees all possible outcomes and knows the best route. We simply struggle to understand the wisdom of His decisions.

One particular event in the book of Jeremiah illustrates this point. When King Zedekiah (the last king of Judah) asks Jeremiah to intercede with Yahweh on behalf of Jerusalem against King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon, Jeremiah gives an unexpected reply: Yahweh has refused to do so. He will not intercede for His own people. Rather, He will make Nebuchadnezzar’s task easier (Jer 21:1–7).

Before we view Yahweh as harsh and unforgiving, let’s recall that this occurs after God’s people have been rebelling against Him for hundreds of years. Even so, in Jer 21:8–10, God’s people are given a choice: They can remain in Jerusalem and die—for Yahweh has deemed that the city must fall—or they can enter what appears to be death but is actually life. Yahweh sets up a faith choice for them: “He who goes out and goes over to the Chaldeans who are laying siege to you will live, and his life will be to him as booty” (Jer 21:9).

Even in the midst of unbearable circumstances, Yahweh offers a way of grace. Even when everything seems to fail, we can decide to choose faith. This story mirrors what we experience on our deathbed. It also mirrors the decision we face every day of our lives: Will we listen to the voices of the world, or will we listen to the prophets who proclaim honest indignation and faithful decision-making? Will we stay in the city, or will we go where God calls us—no matter how difficult it may seem or how improbable?

Where is God calling you? What must you walk away from? What faith decision is before you?

John D. Barry

Daily Reading 10 December 2020

Constructing Lives by the Law

Jeremiah 18:1–18; Romans 2:12–29; Proverbs 16:12–33

Dispensing good, helpful advice gets the benevolent juices flowing. As easy as it is to give advice, though, it often hits me with the irony of a cartoon anvil when I end up tripping over my own counsel. When this happens, I’m convicted to examine my motives for advice-giving.

In his letter to the Romans, Paul challenges the superior mindset that was common among some Jewish people at the time: “But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast in God and know his will and approve the things that are superior, because you are instructed by the law, and are confident that you yourself are a guide of the blind, a light to those in darkness, and instructor of the foolish, a teacher of the immature, having the embodiment of knowledge and of the truth in the law. Therefore, the one who teaches someone else, do you not teach yourself?” (Rom 2:17–21).

Paul is explaining why looking to the ot law for righteousness is futile. No person could perfectly keep the law. By holding to it, they were in fact condemning themselves. Paul even points out that some Jews thought they had attained a higher moral standing because of their knowledge of the law—and believed they were in a position to teach others. Yet they were still breaking the law.

It’s easy for us to discard this as an early church issue. Yet we still sometimes take comfort in “keeping the law” today. If we cling to our own good behavior rather than the righteousness we have in Christ, we commit the same sin. We can attempt to live like a saint—we can cultivate a reputation for goodness and dishing out wisdom—but we’ll set ourselves up for imminent failure because we can never keep up the pretense of godly behavior on our own.

However, if our “circumcision is of the heart”—if we trust in Christ’s sacrifice for our righteousness and the Spirit is working in us—then our hearts will be in the right place. That place is where we know we are great sinners, and where we are receptive to His transforming work to bring us into complete loyalty to Him. Then we will seek God’s favor, not the favor and superiority we crave from others.

If our lives are truly changed, we will be motivated to love others out of the love God shows us. That will give us the right perspective for seeing the transformation that God is working in their hearts. And it will free us to give the best advice of all: Seek God in everything.

What are your motives for giving advice?

Rebecca Van Noord

9 December 2020

ADVENT 4 THURSDAY-FRIDAY
Adult Questions for LESSONMaker

The Escape to Egypt – Matthew 2:13-18

Open It

  1. What are the pros and cons of fierce competition and rivalry?
  2. Why does the death of a child seem especially tragic?
  3. What was your most frightening brush with death?

Explore It

  1. What happened after the Magi left the home of Mary, Joseph, and Jesus? (2:13)
  2. How did God communicate with Joseph? (2:13)
  3. Where did the angel tell Joseph to go? Why? (2:13)
  4. How long was Joseph to keep his family in hiding? (2:13)
  5. Why was it necessary for Joseph to take his family and flee? (2:13)
  6. How did Joseph respond to the warning he received? (2:13)
  7. What event allowed Joseph to depart from Egypt with his family? (2:15)
  8. Why was the “escape to Egypt” significant in the life of Christ? (2:15)
  9. What was King Herod’s emotional state when he realized the Magi had tricked him? (2:16)
  10. What orders did King Herod give in an attempt to eliminate his competition? (2:16)
  11. Who prophesied the horrible episode of infanticide in Bethlehem? When? (2:17)
  12. What was the response to Herod’s mass execution of children? (2:18)

Get It

  1. How might our lives be different if Herod’s death plot against Christ had succeeded?
  2. What happens when people try to thwart God’s plan?
  3. Why is it important to listen to God?
  4. Why is it important to obey God immediately?
  5. What are some wise ways to handle anger?
  6. What is it about competition that makes us feel so threatened?
  7. What is the best response to “rivals” or “opponents”?
  8. How can Christians serve those who are the victims of senseless violence?

Apply It

  1. In what area of your life do you need to trust God more instead of being driven by competition?
  2. What action could you take today to minister to someone who is in mourning?

 

EZEKIEL 34

Shepherds and Sheep – Ezekiel 34:1-31

Open It

  1. What have you noticed about the changes in people’s lives when they add the responsibility of a child?
  2. Why do you think it is common for powerful politicians to live a substantially more comfortable life than the people they govern?

Explore It

  1. Why was God angry with the “shepherds” of Israel? (34:1-2)
  2. What comforts and privileges were the rulers taking for themselves? (34:3)
  3. What needs of the common people were being overlooked by their leaders? (34:4)
  4. In what condition did God find “His sheep” at this point in Israel’s history? (34:5-6)
  5. What did God promise to do on behalf of the helpless sheep? (34:7-10)
  6. How does God describe His care for the flock (that is, His people)? (34:11-16)
  7. Why did God find it necessary to judge some of the sheep? (34:17-19)
  8. How would the weak and strong sheep fare under God’s one shepherd? (34:20-24)
  9. What are the various forms of deliverance and blessing promised to God’s people? (34:25-29)
  10. What undeniable conclusion would Israel draw from God’s activity on their behalf? (34:30)
  11. How did God describe His relationship to Israel? (34:31)

Get It

  1. What responsibilities go along with the privileges of leadership?
  2. How do you think church leaders should demonstrate concern for the problems of the less fortunate in the community of faith?
  3. How does God view selfishness and inconsiderateness among His people?
  4. Why do you think God emphasizes that He will take ultimate responsibility for the weak and helpless?
  5. What will become of selfish and irresponsible leaders?
  6. What is appealing about the kind of care God gives His sheep?

Apply It

  1. Which practical needs in your immediate circle of influence might God want to use you to meet?
  2. What safeguard would you suggest to help Christian leaders remember the least of God’s sheep?

Daily Reading 9 December 2020

Self-Evident Hope

Jeremiah 16:1–17:27; Romans 1:18–2:11; Proverbs 16:1–11

“For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all impiety and unrighteousness of people, who suppress the truth in unrighteousness, because what can be known about God is evident among them, for God made it clear to them” (Rom 1:18–19). A statement like this could easily be taken out of context if we leave off everything after “people.” But when we contextualize this message, we find hope instead of hopelessness.

Paul goes on to tell us that creation itself reveals God and His goodness to humanity, so there is no excuse for failing to understand God and the salvation He offers: “For from the creation of the world, his invisible attributes, both his eternal power and deity, are discerned clearly, being understood in the things created, so that they are without excuse” (Rom 1:20).

We have all heard people who are concerned that salvation seems unfair: What about the people who won’t ever hear about Jesus? Yet Paul argues that everyone has an opportunity to witness Christ at work in creation itself. In Colossians he remarks that it’s in the “Son [Jesus] … whom we have the redemption, the forgiveness of sins, who is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation, because all things in the heavens and on the earth were created by him, things visible and things invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers, all things were created through him and for him” (Col 1:13–16).

All people have an opportunity to know God. No one has an excuse. God’s justice reigns in creation; it reigns in Christ; and it reigns in the lives of those who choose Christ. Christ is everywhere, in all things. The world is not condemned unfairly by a God of unreasonable wrath; instead, it’s ruled by a God of joy and empathy who is love.

What misperceptions do you have of God? How can you correct them and work in the lives of others to do the same? How can you spread the empathy God wants you to display?

John D. Barry

Daily Reading 8 December 2020

The Gospel for Barbarians and Fools

Jeremiah 14:1–15:21; Romans 1:1–17; Proverbs 15:1–33

It’s dangerous when we feel entitled. We may come to believe our communities are righteous while all those outside are not. This can even take place inside our faith communities—popularity or various achievements can create subtle feelings of superiority. We begin to believe it’s something we’ve done that brings us favour.

As he writes to the church in Rome, Paul explains that it’s not anything we do, anything we are, or anything we obtain that makes us right with God. His calling verifies this: “I am under obligation both to Greeks and to barbarians, both to the wise and to the foolish. Thus I am eager to proclaim the gospel also to you who are in Rome” (Rom 1:14).

Ethnicity was a big obstacle for the early church to overcome, as the church was now made up of both Jewish and Gentile believers. God promised Abraham that through him “all the peoples on earth will be blessed” (Gen 12:3). Christ’s redemptive work had finally made this blessing a reality. God’s favor was no longer reserved for those who might be educated or wise. Paul emphasizes that God can redeem those who—to us—might seem unlikely recipients of redemption.

But most important, our standing before God is not based on our goodness. Paul is eager to proclaim the gospel in Rome because it is belief in Jesus, the fulfilment of the promise, that makes believers righteous before God—“the gospel … is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes” (Rom 1:16). Christ’s righteousness has become our righteousness.

If anything, this fact should eliminate any sense of entitlement we might harbour and prompt us to walk in humility with believers and non-believers alike. Our relationship with God is intimately tied to how deeply we understand our need for God. The gospel frees us of any need to attain or achieve. For this, we should be incredibly thankful to God and live with humility for Him.

Do you put stock in the things you think make you a “favoured” Christian?

Rebecca Van Noord

 

Daily Reading 7 December 2020

Relationship Will Change Us

Jeremiah 12:1–13:27; Philemon 1:8–25; Proverbs 14:15–35

Although God has granted us complete access to Him through Christ, we struggle at times to live this reality (John 17:15–17). The stale or frightening depictions of God in stained glass and Renaissance paintings have convinced us that He is distant, quick to anger, or disinterested. Nothing could be further from the truth; the Psalms remind us that He is caring, close, and listening (e.g., Pss 22; 23; 26), and He yearns for a relationship with us.

Sometimes it helps to hear the words of others who have struggled with the same thing. Jeremiah provides us with such an example. He remarks, “You will be in the right, O Yahweh, when I complain to you. Even so, let me speak my claims with you. Why does the way of the wicked succeed? All those who deal treacherously with treachery are at ease” (Jer 12:1). Jeremiah knows that Yahweh is right in all He does, but this does not prevent him from freely expressing his concerns.

If we really look into our hearts, we may find that fear is preventing us from entering into an intimate relationship with Him. We’re afraid of what He will say; we’re concerned that He may rebuke us. Indeed, this is what He does when Jeremiah speaks to Him: “If you run with foot soldiers and they have made you weary, then how will you compete with horses? If you have fallen in a peaceful land, then how will you do in the thickets of the Jordan? For even your relatives, and the house of your father, even they have dealt treacherously with you, even they call loudly after you. You must not trust in them, though they speak kindly to you” (Jer 12:5–6). Yet within this rebuke, we also find advice—and the advice is comforting. By openly communicating his concerns to God, Jeremiah now knows what he must do. He knows how he must act.

There is joy to be found in knowing that we have a God who listens—a God who is not offended when we speak to Him but is eager for our company. What are we afraid of? After all, He already knows what’s on our minds. We need to grasp the idea that God is all about relationship.

What would change about your life if you went deeper into your relationship with Christ? What should you be asking God right now?

John D. Barry

 

7 December 2020

ADULT QUESTIONS FOR LESSON MAKER
ADVENT 3 MONDAY-WEDNESDAY

The Visit of the Magi – Matthew 2:1-12

Open It

  1. Why do we give gifts at Christmas?
  2. If you could give any gift to anyone, what would you give, to whom, and why?
  3. What prompts people to make great sacrifices for others?

Explore It

  1. Where was Jesus born? (2:1)
  2. During whose reign was Jesus born? (2:1)
  3. Who came to visit the young Jesus? (2:1)
  4. What external and internal factors prompted the Magi to search for Jesus? (2:2)
  5. What title did the Magi give to Jesus? (2:2)
  6. How did King Herod react to the visit of the Magi? (2:3-4)
  7. Why was a powerful king disturbed by the presence of a helpless baby? (2:3-6)
  8. Why is it significant that Christ was born in Bethlehem? (2:5-6)
  9. What were King Herod’s instructions to the Magi? (2:8)
  10. How were the Magi led to Christ? (2:9-10)
  11. What was the Magi’s reaction when they realized they had found the Christ? (2:10)
  12. Where was Jesus when the Magi found Him? (2:11)
  13. How did the Magi react upon seeing Jesus? (2:11)
  14. What gifts did the Magi bring to Jesus? (2:11)
  15. Why didn’t the Magi report back to Herod as he had requested? (2:12)

Get It

  1. How would you define worship?
  2. What sort of activities does worship involve?
  3. What are some various “presents” we might give to Christ?
  4. How does it feel to have a rival—to feel as though you are being overlooked or replaced?
  5. How can a competitive, prideful, or insecure spirit alter a person’s behavior?
  6. Why are many people reluctant to donate money to religious causes?
  7. What are some specific ways Christians can serve as “stars” and lead others to Christ?

Apply It

  1. What starlike, shining deed can you do today to point a non-Christian friend to Christ?
  2. What sacrifice do you need to make for Christ this week?
  3. What gift of time, effort, or money would demonstrate your love for Jesus this week?

 

Daily Reading 6 December 2020

The Easy Way

Jeremiah 10:1–11:23; Philemon 1:1–7; Proverbs 14:1–14

There is a certain amount of freedom in being foolish. Foolish people don’t stop to reflect on their actions. Characteristically unimaginative, foolish people don’t stop to consider how their words and actions affect others. The scary effect of foolishness is that it’s contagious: “Leave the presence of a foolish man, for you will not come to know words of knowledge. The wisdom of the clever is understanding his ways, but the folly of fools is deceit” (Prov 14:7).

There is an ease in self-deception because it’s our natural state. “There is a way that seems upright to a man, but its end is the way of death” (Prov 14:12). But the right way is not simply a more reflective, thoughtful life. We need a new way of life that can only be brought about in Christ—the one who reversed the power of death. Following the right way doesn’t mean relying on our own ability to be righteous through thoughtful actions. Rather, it means understanding our need for His righteousness. It’s God’s work in us, recreating us. It’s His Spirit, directing our ways and making us new in Him.

The fool does have influence, but a life transformed has far-reaching influence because it’s not our own work—it’s God’s. This is the calling of which Paul reminds Philemon. Paul tells Philemon that he has “great joy and encouragement” because of Philemon’s love. Because of his love, “the hearts of the saints have been refreshed through you brother” (Phlm 7). For this reason, Paul also holds Philemon to a high standard. Because of his great influence, he needs to be intentional about how he treats Onesimus, the redeemed slave who had wronged him.

Pray for a transformed life, and pray for the work of the Spirit in your life, dividing the light from the darkness and the foolish, deceitful parts from the wise. He will help you understand His ways if you ask Him. He will make the darkness evident, and He will show you the way of wisdom—a life that reflects Christ.

How are you praying for the Spirit’s ongoing work in your life, dividing the foolish ways from the wise?

Rebecca Van Noord

Daily Reading 4 December 2020

Put Off, Put On

Jeremiah 6:1–7:29; Colossians 3:1–17; Proverbs 12:1–28

We often hear that being a good Christian means not doing bad stuff. This statement is true—but not exhaustive. In Colossians 3, Paul says, “Therefore put to death what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, uncleanness, lustful passion, evil desire, and greediness, which is idolatry” (Col 3:5). He then lists other inappropriate behaviors: “anger, rage, wickedness, slander, abusive language” (Col 3:8). And he also lists new behaviors we need to “put on,” like “affection, compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience” (Col 3:12).

From this we can gather that, as Christians, our lives should look different. But is there more to this command than certain behaviors?

We’re not supposed to put on new behaviors simply so that we can have polished, admirable lives. Colossians 3 opens with a statement: “Therefore, if you have been raised together with Christ, seek the things above, where Christ is” (Col 3:1). Believers identify with Christ—just like we’ve died with Him, we’ve also been raised with Him. He is life for us. And one day, we will be reunited with Him, and we’ll reflect Him perfectly.

All of Paul’s teaching rests on this truth. And all of our actions should reflect this new life we have in Christ. We shouldn’t continue in the old behaviors that used to be common to us (Col 3:7). We are changing into His likeness. “You have taken off the old man together with his deeds, and have put on the new man that is being renewed in knowledge according to the image of the one who created him” (Col 3:9–10).

Avoiding certain behaviors is part of being a Christian, but it’s hardly just that. It’s about a new life built completely on the foundation of Christ’s life-giving work. We should forgive one another because He forgave us (Col 3:13). We should love each other and strive for unity because He loved us and united us to Him (Col 3:14). We should strive for peace with one another because Christ has conquered chaos (Col 3:15). The message of Christ and our new life in Him should help us encourage and challenge each other as believers (Col 3:16).

Does your life reflect this new life? How can you turn from simply avoiding bad behavior to seeking new life in Him?

Rebecca Van Noord

 

3 December 2020

ADVENT 2: THURSDAY to SATURDAY

The Birth of Jesus Christ – Matthew 1:18-25

Open It

  1. What are the tabloid headlines this week?
  2. Why is our society so drawn to gossip and scandal?
  3. How do people typically react when facing embarrassing situations?

Explore It

  1. What happened to Mary while she and Joseph were engaged? (1:18)
  2. What do you think Joseph initially thought upon hearing this news about his bride-to-be? (1:18-19)
  3. What positive character qualities did Joseph possess? (1:19)
  4. How did Joseph plan to handle this delicate situation? (1:19)
  5. How was Joseph’s ancestry significant? (1:20)
  6. Why did Joseph change his plans to divorce Mary? (1:20)
  7. If Joseph wasn’t the actual father of Christ, who was? (1:18, 20)
  8. What did the angel command Joseph to name the child and why? (1:21)
  9. What significant mission in life would Mary’s child have? (1:21)
  10. Why is Mary’s virginal conception of Christ significant? (1:22-23)
  11. What does Immanuel mean? (1:23)
  12. How did Joseph respond to the angelic message? (1:24)

Get It

  1. How might you have responded in Mary’s situation?
  2. What would have been your reaction had you been in Joseph’s situation?
  3. How do you think a typical church might have handled Mary’s pre-marriage pregnancy?
  4. How do you imagine the “grapevine” treated the Mary-Joseph situation?
  5. How does it feel to be the victim of unsubstantiated rumors and gossip?
  6. How does it feel to know that you are innocent and yet have people attacking your character and whispering behind your back?
  7. How does our desire for approval or acceptance keep us from doing the right thing?

Apply It

  1. What difficult, hard-to-swallow command of God do you need to obey today?
  2. How will you respond the next time someone begins to tell you a juicy bit of gossip?

 

Daily Reading 3 December 2020

Facing the Storms on the Horizon

Jeremiah 4:19–5:31; Colossians 2:6–23; Proverbs 11:13–31

Having knowledge or insight into a situation and feeling helpless to act upon that information is one of the most frightening feelings we can experience. It makes us anxious, even pained.

Jeremiah 4 describes an experience like this: “My heart is restless within me, I cannot keep silent, for I hear in my inner self the sound of a horn, the alarm of war. Destruction on destruction is proclaimed, for all of the land is devastated.… How long must I see the banner, and hear the sound of a horn? ‘For my people are foolish, they have not known me. They are foolish children, and they do not have insight. They are skillful at doing evil, and they do not know how to do good’ ” (Jer 4:19–22).

How should we react in moments like these? How should we operate? There are no simple answers to these questions. But what is certain is that we must depend on God and His provision over our lives. We must look at the coming storms in our lives and the lives of others and recognize that Yahweh will be at work—regardless of the difficulties we encounter in the process.

Like Jeremiah, we must speak up, but we must root ourselves in Christ as we do so. As Paul writes, “As you have received Christ Jesus the Lord, live in him, firmly rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding with thankfulness” (Col 2:6–7). We must thank Christ for His work in us and live as He has asked us to live. If we are called to tell others about the ramifications of their actions, we must always be motivated by Christ’s love. For as the book of Proverbs tell us, “A gossip walks about telling a secret, but the trustworthy in spirit keeps the matter. Where there is no guidance, a nation shall fall, but there is safety in an abundance of counsel” (Prov 11:13–14).

Let our counsel be godly counsel. Let our words be truthful. Let us see that God will guide us in the events we can change and those that we can’t. And let our actions proceed from thankfulness and love.

What storm are you anxious about? How can you depend on God in that storm?

John D. Barry

Daily Reading 2 December 2020

The Mystery of God

Jeremiah 3:1–4:18; Colossians 1:15–2:5; Proverbs 11:1–12

“God wanted to make known what is the glorious wealth of this mystery among the Gentiles, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Col 1:27).

Paul’s use of the word “mystery” in this passage may strike us as a bit strange. How is the person and work of Christ shrouded in secrecy? And why would Paul present Christ as a mystery if his point is that God wanted to make Christ known?

The answer is found in the culture of early Colossae, a city known for its infatuation with magic and the occult. Among the Gentile cults, “mystery” was often associated with a secret ritual that people must perform to create a relationship with a god. False teachers in the community at Colossae were promoting alternative ways to get to God—secret rituals that would lead to special knowledge for a select few.

Paul contextualizes the gospel for the Colossians. He adopts this “mystery” language to show that Christ is the only way to God. The mystical path presented to the Colossians was a farce—a shell of what the Colossian believers had in Christ. It’s in Him that “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge are hidden” (Col 2:3).

Paul wisely draws on language and tradition familiar to his audience to make the “mystery” of Christ known to all—not just a select few. Paul says he proclaims Christ so that “by admonishing every person and teaching every person with all wisdom … we may present every person mature in Christ” (Col 1:28).

Because he was familiar with the culture of Colossae, Paul was able to acknowledge the challenges the believers faced, and then present the gospel as they needed to hear it: Christ is the only way. How are you resting in Christ as the only way to God? How are you thoughtfully revealing this “mystery” to those in your church and community?

Do you look for other ways to get to God, like your own goodness or your own ability to earn favor?

Rebecca Van Noord

 

1 December 2020

Ezekiel and the Fall of Jerusalem – Ezekiel 33:1-33

Open It

  1. How much interest do you sense in the people around you in talking about God, heaven, and hell?
  2. The last time you were one of the only Christians in a social, academic, or work setting, what expectations did people have of you because of that role?

Explore It

  1. In the event of a threat to a city, what is the responsibility of the watchman and the people? (33:1-6)
  2. What title and picture of his duties did God give to Ezekiel? (33:7-9)
  3. What result did God want from the warnings given by His “watchman”? (33:10-11)
  4. How did God say He would judge a righteous person who turns and does evil? (33:12-13)
  5. What concrete steps might a wicked person take to demonstrate true repentance? (33:14-16)
  6. What “argument” did God have with the exiles regarding justice? (33:17-20)
  7. At what point in his exile did Ezekiel receive confirmation of the fall of Jerusalem? (33:21)
  8. What restriction on the prophet was lifted at about the time of the fall of Jerusalem? (33:22)
  9. What assumption was made by those who were left in Judah after the first deportation from Jerusalem? (33:23-24)
  10. Why did God say that the remaining Jews did not deserve to possess the land? (33:25-26)
  11. What judgment did God pronounce on the remnant who had stayed in Jerusalem? (33:27-29)
  12. What did God inform Ezekiel that the people were saying about him? (33:30)
  13. What was the difference between what the people heard and what they did? (33:31-32)
  14. What did God say would vindicate Ezekiel in the eyes of his fellow exiles? (33:33)

Get It

  1. In what sense are Christians appointed “watchmen” for our world?
  2. Why does God focus on the current condition of our heart rather than on the good or evil we have done in the past?
  3. Who does God say is in control of each individual’s choice of spiritual life or death?
  4. What does God expect of every person who hears His Word?
  5. What indications do you see that our society likes to hear religious thoughts but does not want to put them into practice?
  6. In what way is God more interested in what we do in our daily life than in what we say we believe?
  7. What conflicting emotions do you imagine Ezekiel felt when the fall of Jerusalem, which he had predicted for so long, finally took place?

Apply It

  1. What creative way could you find to “sound the trumpet” of God’s coming judgment to nonbelievers around you who might not otherwise listen?
  2. What steps could you take to help insure that you don’t just hear God’s Word, but you also put it into practice?

 

Daily Reading 1 December 2020

‘My Lord and my God!’

Now Thomas, called the Twin, one of the twelve, was not with them when Jesus came. The other disciples therefore said to him, “We have seen the Lord.” So he said to them, “Unless I see in His hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and put my hand into His side, I will not believe.” And after eight days His disciples were again inside, and Thomas with them. Jesus came, the doors being shut, and stood in the midst, and said, “Peace to you!” Then He said to Thomas, “Reach your finger here, and look at My hands; and reach your hand here, and put it into My side. Do not be unbelieving, but believing.” And Thomas answered and said to Him, “My Lord and my God!” Jesus said to him, “Thomas, because you have seen Me, you have believed. Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.”

John 20:24–29, nkjv

Lord, in this blest and hallowed hour
Reveal Thy presence and Thy power;
Show to my faith Thy hands and side,
My Lord and God, the Crucified!

Josiah Conder, 1789–1855

30 November 2020

ADVENT 1:  MONDAY to WEDNESDAY 2020

The Genealogy of Jesus – Matthew 1:1-17

Open It

  1. Why do you think genealogical research is such a growing and popular hobby?
  2. If you have ever researched your family tree, what can you tell the group about your heritage or about any especially interesting or famous ancestors?

Explore It

  1. Whose genealogy is Matthew tracing? (1:1)
  2. What prominent ancestors of Christ are mentioned? (1:1)
  3. Who is listed first in the various sections? (1:2, 6, 12)
  4. What significant women were ancestors of Christ? (1:5-6, 16)
  5. Who is the only person in the record who is listed with his title? (1:6)
  6. How does Solomon figure into the genealogy? (1:6)
  7. The genealogical record is divided into what three periods? (1:17)
  8. What span of time does the genealogical record cover? (1:17)
  9. What important event and three people are used as a basis for marking the generations? (1:17)
  10. How many generations are cited in all? (1:17)

Get It

  1. Why do you think the Bible includes long genealogical lists like this?
  2. Why do you think Matthew traces Christ’s ancestors back only to Abraham and not all the way back to Adam?
  3. If God works sovereignly and graciously even when we sin and make poor choices, why should we make the effort to live righteously? (1:6)
  4. Why do you think God waited so many generations to send Christ?
  5. How do ancestors and family histories affect who we are?
  6. How might this passage encourage those who suffer from a dubious family history?
  7. What can you do to minimize your family’s past mistakes and maximize your family’s potential in the future?
  8. How important is family heritage to you?

Apply It

  1. What actions do you need to take (or choices do you need to make) this week so that your descendants look back on your life as something to live up to and not something to live down?
  2. How can you encourage a friend who is struggling in relationships with parents and/or children?

 

 

Daily Reading for 30 November 2020

Do Not Turn to Folly

2 Kings 23:28–25:30; Ephesians 6:1–24; Proverbs 9:13–18

I have a problem with criticism. Being one of the youngest in a large, opinionated family, I quickly learned how to stand up for myself and get my way as a young child. I learned to deflect teasing. I also learned I had a knack for ignoring reprimands—punishment free (there are certain, inalienable rights that shouldn’t be bestowed on the youngest). The louder I projected my voice, the better; the more stubborn my stance, the more respect I earned. I wish I could say it was a phase that I quickly grew out of.

When we’re challenged by others, we often interpret the wisdom offered as criticism instead. We defensively deflect feedback like beams of light, hoping they’ll land in their rightful place (our neighbor’s darkness, and not our own). This type of reaction can become second nature to us. Soon, even messages in church are meant for others: “I wish [insert person who is currently annoying us] was here. He or she really needs to hear this.”

Proverbs tells us that we don’t just deflect criticism to the detriment of others. Although we might shock people with our strong reactions, or scandalize them with our biting comments, we ignore their advice to our own detriment: “If you are wise, you are wise for yourself, and if you scoff, alone you shall bear it” (Prov 9:12).

Wisdom offered and received is part of God’s intention for community. It’s a means through which God builds us up—a theme found throughout the book of Ephesians. We don’t grow as individuals—the helpful conflict provided by community (the truth in love) helps us know ourselves better. But when we deflect criticism, we rush headlong into the peril we’ve created for ourselves. Proverbs has startling words for this type of peril. When the young man chooses to listen to the words of Folly personified, his fate is sealed: “Whoever is simple, may he turn here!” (Prov 9:16) she cries. “But he does not know that the dead are there, in the depths of Sheol are her guests” (Prov 9:18).

The next time someone offers you criticism and you’re tempted to react, choose to examine your heart and motives. Ask God for the wisdom you need to respond to criticism offered in love.

Think back to the last time you received criticism. How did you react? How should you react?

Rebecca Van Noord

 

Daily Reading for 29 November 2020

Revitalization: Moving Beyond the Catch Word

2 Kings 22:1–23:27; Ephesians 5:1–33; Proverbs 9:1–12

Ideally, spiritual renewal wouldn’t be necessary—we would continually grow closer to God. But that’s not the case. There are ups and downs in our walk with Yahweh. We experience times of intimacy and times of distance. We lose focus, energy, or the desire to obey. These highs and lows could be the result of our fallen world or our taking God for granted, but whatever the reason, we need renewal. Spiritual revitalization is essential. We can always grow closer to God.

During his reign, King Josiah launches a reformation—a revitalization of the way God’s people think and act. He even changes the people’s understanding of God Himself. After finding a scroll (likely of Deuteronomy), Josiah tears his clothes in remorse and repentance and instructs the priests to inquire of Yahweh on behalf of the people (2 Kgs 22:8–13). Yahweh is aware of their misdeeds. Then Josiah immediately does what needs to be done: He reforms the land (2 Kgs 23:1–20).

Josiah makes the difficult choice to do what God requires. He ignites God’s work among His people again. He restores obedience. The work is challenging and exhausting—it means changing the way people live.

If we were faced with an opportunity like this, would we have the strength and dedication to take it? Would we be willing to change what must be changed? Would we be willing to proclaim the word of Yahweh to people who are not ready to hear it—who may resist the change? Would we carry out Yahweh’s work despite its unpopularity? These are issues we face every day.

The time of hypothetical speculation must end, and the time of igniting real renewal and real reform must begin. It starts with us, and it doesn’t end until all the lives around us are renewed, changed, and transformed.

In what area is God asking you to lead change?

John D. Barry

28 November 2020

Ezekiel 29

Prophecies against Egypt – Ezekiel 29:1-32:32

Open It

  1. What is one of the most grandiose and self-important statements you’ve heard anyone make?
  2. What are the various traumatic events of life that we can buy insurance to try to soften?

Explore It

  1. What attitude or belief on the part of Pharaoh king of Egypt brought him under God’s judgment? (29:3)
  2. What figure of speech is used to describe the power and extent of God’s judgment on Egypt? (29:4-5)
  3. How had Egypt hurt God’s people Israel most recently? (29:6-7)
  4. Over what crucial resource did God want to demonstrate that He had power? (29:10)
  5. How long was the devastation of the land going to last? (29:11-12)
  6. Following the initial punishment, what would be the fate of the kingdom of Egypt? (29:13-15)
  7. What false promise of assistance did God want to eliminate for Israel? (29:16)
  8. About what foreign war did God inform Ezekiel because of its bearing on Egypt? (29:17-20)
  9. What did Ezekiel prophesy about the greatness and wealth of Egypt? (30:1-4)
  10. What great cites, along with their idols, were doomed to destruction? (30:13-19)
  11. In the third word to Ezekiel concerning Egypt, what physical image was used to illustrate how unreliable she was to become as an ally for Israel? (30:20-26)
  12. What formerly great nation is described as a comparison for Egypt? (31:1-9)
  13. Why was Assyria judged like a huge tree that is cut down and abandoned? (31:10-13)
  14. According to the allegory, how did the smaller nations fare who had allied themselves with Assyria? (31:15-17)
  15. To what powerful animals did Ezekiel liken Egypt in his lament? (32:1-8)
  16. What reaction to Egypt’s downfall was predicted for other peoples and nations? (32:9-10)
  17. What was the consistent complaint against the nations God had already consigned to “the pit”? (32:22-30)

Get It

  1. Why would it be a temptation for Israel to be drawn to Egypt as a source of protection?
  2. Why would Pharaoh want to claim that he owned (indeed had made) the Nile River?
  3. In what ways do we tend to take credit for things that only God can do?
  4. What do Ezekiel’s prophecies make clear about the rise of Babylon as a conquering power?
  5. How might the exiled Jews, who hoped to be rescued by Egypt, have responded to Ezekiel’s lament for Egypt?
  6. How does God feel about great civilizations that are brought low by pride?
  7. Why didn’t God want His people to rely on Egypt as their salvation from the Babylonian threat?
  8. How should God’s sweeping judgments of nations in the Old Testament shape our responses to Him today?

Apply It

  1. In what great person, idea, tradition, etc., might you be placing too much of your hope, rather than relying solely on the Lord?
  2. For what accomplishment or role do you want to give God credit and glory today?

 

 

Daily Reading for 28 November 2020

The Unity of Believers

2 Kings 20:1–21:26; Ephesians 4:1–32; Proverbs 8:27–36

It’s easy to sort believers in a community based on the quantity of their service. Most of us could roll out the masking tape and divide those who contribute their time and efforts from those who don’t. If we’re honest, the topic itself easily divides us—it makes us feel used, overtasked, and resentful. But that’s not the picture of unity of purpose that Paul presents in Ephesians. He describes the church as a body—one in which “each single part” is needed for the growth of the whole.

“But speaking the truth in love, we are to grow into him with reference to all things, who is the head, Christ, from whom the whole body, joined together and held together by every supporting ligament, according to the working by measure of each single part, the growth of the body makes for the building up of itself in love” (Eph 4:15–16).

We are each given unique abilities for the growth of the body, and “each single part” is necessary to grow the body of Christ. God gives gifts to each supporting ligament—each person—in order to build up the community. But it is Christ who joins and holds the church together.

Because of Christ’s unifying role, a key aspect of growth as a community and as individuals includes speaking the truth in love—helping others grow to spiritual maturity in the truth of the gospel. Instead of chiding, we can remind others of God’s goodness to them through Christ. Instead of further ostracizing them, we can invite them in by speaking the truth with love, realizing that God has blessed them with special abilities that will soon be realized.

How can you use your gifts to serve your community? How can you lovingly help others recognize theirs?

Rebecca Van Noord

Daily Reading for 27 November 2020

When Hezekiah Gave Away the Farm

2 Kings 18:13–19:37; Ephesians 2:1–3:21; Proverbs 8:19–26

After the announcement that Hezekiah “did right in the eyes of Yahweh,” the next description comes as a surprise: “At that time, Hezekiah cut off the doors of the temple of Yahweh and the doorposts which Hezekiah king of Judah had overlaid, and he gave them to the king of Assyria” (2 Kgs 18:3, 16).

For a moment Hezekiah was a strong king over Israel—he abolished idolatry and refused to obey the king of Assyria (2 Kgs 18:4, 7). As 2 Kings 18:6 describes, “He held on to Yahweh; he did not depart from following him, and he kept his commands that Yahweh had commanded Moses.” But Hezekiah did not possess fortitude (see 2 Kgs 18:13–18). In an attempt to gain peace, he gave away not only treasures, but even pieces of Yahweh’s temple itself (2 Kgs 18:15–16).

We’ve all been in situations where it’s tempting to do anything for peace. Perhaps we’ve even compromised our ethics or values in these moments. But no matter the situation, giving away the farm like Hezekiah did is never the answer.

Politicians often talk about “peace at all costs,” but our world is full of dilemmas that don’t allow for that option. When desperate situations arise, we must have fortitude. We must seek solace in God and His will instead of giving in. If we make a decision based on the circumstances, it will be the wrong one. If we make our decisions based on prayer, we will make the correct moves.

Hezekiah could have relied on God when Sennacherib came knocking on his door and knocking down the cities of Judah, but he didn’t. He paid a high price for his decision; the cost was his relationship with Yahweh. Even death is preferable to that.

Sometimes our decisions are more important than we realize because they may involve our relationship with God. We must let that relationship drive our decision-making. Rather than being distracted by fear, anxiety, pressure, or even concern for anyone else, we must focus on God and His will; He alone will look out for us and others. We must give Him the opportunity to act.

What decisions do you need God’s intercession for?

John D. Barry

 

 

Daily Reading for 26 November 2020

A Moment to Reflect

2 Kings 17:6–18:12; Ephesians 1:1–23; Proverbs 8:9–18

Anyone will admit that wisdom is more than just knowledge. We think of wisdom as thoughtful insight acquired with life experience. However, Paul and the author of Proverbs tell us that it is not something we gain with a little age and some good direction. Wisdom is inseparable from the fear of God.

The author of Proverbs tells us wisdom is “knowledge and discretion”; it’s associated with the desire to fear God, and it is a reward to those who seek it out. “I love those who love me,” says Wisdom personified. “Those who seek me diligently shall find me” (Prov 8:17). Paul speaks of wisdom in light of understanding the grand story of salvation we’re part of. When writing to the Ephesians, Paul prays that they will receive a certain type of spirit so they can grow in faith—“that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him (the eyes of your hearts having been enlightened), so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what are the riches of the glory of his inheritance among the saints, and what is the surpassing greatness of his power toward us who believe” (Eph 1:17–19).

The Ephesian believers were brought into this family of faith through the work of Christ as part of God’s plan (Eph 1:3–14). Paul prays for them to understand what it means for them to live as a hope-filled community that has been adopted—a treasured inheritance in God’s great plan of salvation. The Ephesians will receive this type of wisdom and revelation as it is given by God, not on their own accord. Understanding their place in this story will, in turn, shape their entire existence.

Both Paul and the author of Proverbs note this need to seek out wisdom, which God will give if we ask. Stop to consider your place in God’s redemptive work on your behalf. Pray for a spirit of wisdom to understand His work in your life.

Do you pray for wisdom? What type of response do you offer because of God’s work on your behalf?

Rebecca Van Noord

Daily Reading for 25 November 2020

You Have to Mean It

2 Kings 15:1–17:5; Galatians 5:1–6:18; Proverbs 8:1–8

Wisdom really isn’t all that difficult to find. We think of this attribute as hidden or fleeting, but the book of Proverbs portrays Wisdom calling out to us: “Does not wisdom call, and understanding raise its voice? Atop the heights beside the road, at the crossroads she stands. Beside gates, before towns, at the entrance of doors” (Prov 8:1–3). When we seek Wisdom, she shows up. She’s everywhere. She’s waiting—not to be found, but to be embraced.

The intelligence of Wisdom, the prudence she teaches, is at our fingertips. In Proverbs 8:3–5, Wisdom cries out, “To you, O people, I call, and my cry is to the children of humankind. Learn prudence, O simple ones; fools, learn intelligence.” Maybe the real problem is that few of us are wise enough to be what Wisdom requires us to be. The folly of humankind may not be in a lack of seeking, but a lack of doing. If we really want something, we work for it. Wisdom requires sacrificing what we want for what she desires.

And the key to knowing what Wisdom desires—identifying the wise decision—is right in front of us as well. As Wisdom says in Proverbs, “My mouth will utter truth, and wickedness is an abomination to my lips. All sayings of my mouth are in righteousness; none of them are twisted and crooked” (Prov 8:7–8). The wise decision is the opposite of what’s “twisted” and “crooked.” If it feels wrong, it is wrong. If our conscience is aligned with God’s, we will know what’s right. The rest will seem like an “abomination.” If we want Wisdom, she’s ours for the having—ours for the living (Jas 1:5–8).

For what decision do you need wisdom? How should you be seeking it?

John D. Barry

Daily Reading for 24 November 2020

The Ties that Bind

2 Kings 13:1–14:29; Galatians 4:1–31; Proverbs 7:21–27

We don’t often consider our former lives as enslavement. We characterize our lives before Christ by bad decisions and sinful patterns, but not bondage. We like to think of ourselves as neutral beings. But Paul paints another picture. The things or people we once put our trust in were the things that enslaved us. Paul asks the Galatians why they would ever want to return to bondage.

“But at that time when you did not know God, you were enslaved to the things which by nature are not gods. But now, because you have come to know God, or rather have come to be known by God, how can you turn back again to the weak and miserable elemental spirits? Do you want to be enslaved to them all over again?” (Gal 4:8–9).

Paul tells the Galatians that turning back to the things they trusted formerly—whether the law for the Jews or spiritual beings for the Gentiles—is choosing enslavement. For us, it could be anything from thought patterns, greed, habits, people—anything we used to find value, comfort, or worth that is not God.

Before, we were subject to these things, which ruthlessly dictated our fate. Yet God didn’t leave us in this state. Paul says we “have come to know God, or rather have come to be known by God” (Gal 4:9). While we were still sinners, He broke into our spiritual bondage and broke the chains, giving us freedom and life in Christ.

We are no longer slaves with no freedom to make decisions; we are adopted as sons and daughters—we are heirs (Gal 4:7). By making this association, Paul shows the Galatians that Christ has paid the price. He also pushes them to grow up. They can’t just continue on in spiritual immaturity. Rather than trusting in the former things, they must continue in faith by being transformed by the Spirit.

What things from your life before Christ tempt you to return to spiritual bondage?

Rebecca Van Noord

Daily Reading for 23 November 2020

The Games We Play

2 Kings 11:1–12:21; Galatians 3:1–29; Proverbs 7:10–20

We live in the age of online résumés, with pages dedicated to us and our faces. We can broadcast our thoughts in seconds and republish ideas that make us look smart by association. And we do it all in an effort to earn recognition or acceptance. We want to be heard in the midst of the noise—to earn a spot in the spotlight. The works of the law that drove Judaism in the first century ad weren’t much different; they were pitched as a way to obtain God’s favour as well as the favour of others.

Paul responds to the ideals of his age: “Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as having been crucified? I want only to learn this from you: Did you receive the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?” (Gal 3:1–2). Paul’s questions are rhetorical. We’re not saved by works, but by the graciousness of God. It is not through works that the Spirit dwells among us, but through God’s goodness shown in sending His Son to earth to die for humanity and then rise again.

We struggle to admit that we’re looking for recognition—both from God and others. We know we can’t earn our way into heaven, but that doesn’t stop us from trying. We still think that if we can be good enough, smart enough, or successful enough, God and others will accept us. It’s a game we play that is for naught—we cannot earn what God offers.

What are you fooling yourself into thinking is important?

John D. Barry

Saturday 21 November 2020

Prophecies against Tyre and Sidon – Ezekiel 27:1-28:26

Open It

  1. For what era in the past do you feel nostalgic? Why?
  2. What do you consider the most beautiful city you have ever visited?
  3. What do you consider to be an ideal relationship with your neighbours?

Explore It

  1. For what city outside of Israel did God instruct Ezekiel to “take up a lament”? (27:1-2)
  2. With what riches and skills was Tyre generously endowed? (27:3-9)
  3. From what countries did some of Tyre’s soldiers hail? (27:10-11)
  4. What were some of the exotic products that were traded through Tyre? (27:12-24)
  5. What disaster did Ezekiel predict would bring an end to Tyre? (27:25-36)
  6. To whom was Ezekiel instructed to speak God’s Word? (28:1-2)
  7. What chain of events brought the ruler of Tyre to his current estimation of himself? (28:2-5)
  8. What judgment did God declare for the ruler who thought of himself as a god? (28:6-10)
  9. What were some of the glories of Tyre for which people would mourn? (28:11-14)
  10. What “before” and “after” pictures are presented of the character of the king of Tyre? (28:15-19)
  11. What other trading kingdom besides Tyre was to come under God’s judgment? (28:20-24)
  12. What reversal of fortunes would eventually take place between Israel and her neighbours? (28:25-26)

Get It

  1. How would you characterize a person with the description Ezekiel gives of Tyre’s former “model” state?
  2. What do you suppose is meant by the title of “guardian cherub” used to describe Tyre?
  3. In what ways can God’s punishment of an individual or society influence the attitudes and actions of those who observe?
  4. What choice do we have about how we view our prosperity?
  5. In what way does pride separate us from God?

Apply It

  1. What test can you devise to determine whether the good gifts God has given you are being used to His glory?
  2. What blessing might become a temptation to seek security outside of God alone?

Daily Reading for 21 November 2020

Walk Like the Shunammite

2 Kings 8:1–9:29; Mark 16:1–20; Proverbs 6:28–35

Trust is a fickle matter. What does it take for us to trust another person—especially with our livelihood? Our decision to trust someone can usually be determined by whether we see God in that person.

When the Shunammite woman must decide whether to trust Elisha, it is a simple choice. God has already worked in her life through Elisha—giving her a son and then resurrecting him—so she understands that what he says is from Yahweh. When Elisha says to her, “Get up and go, you and your household, and dwell as an alien wherever you can, for Yahweh has called for a famine, and it will come to the land for seven years,” she trusts him (2 Kgs 8:1). She goes to Philistia (2 Kgs 8:2).

Would we do the same—leave everything and go to a foreign land at one godly person’s word? What does it take for us to trust someone with our lives? What does it take for us to trust God with our lives?

We will probably never encounter the decision the Shunammite woman had to make, but contemplating our answer reveals where we stand with God and others. It’s tempting to answer with a quick, “Of course,” but that would be to ignore the magnitude of her decision, and thus deny the seriousness of what God really asks of us—complete obedience, no matter what, to any degree necessary. Think about that for a moment: any degree necessary (compare Mark 8:34–38).

Are we really willing to acknowledge the gravity of what Jesus did in His death and resurrection (Mark 16:1–10)? Are we willing to live our lives as He intends? Are we willing to go to any place, to trust the word of God completely, to allow God to speak to us directly and through others, and to live passionately for Christ despite the cost?

Are you willing to go wherever God calls you?

John D. Barry

 

 

 

Friday 20 November 2020

An Interesting Dinner Twist

Read Esther 7:1-10

Lesson 3

  1. The king had to ask Esther again about her petition. How did Esther finally tell the king?

We need to be aware of the historical timing of these events. The book of Esther is written as a story; however, these events all had dates and times. It is important to understand the development of the relationships with the timing of the events. Carefully look at the dates involved:

486 BC Ahasuerus becomes king
483 BC Vashti is removed from the throne
479 BC Esther becomes queen
475 BC Haman becomes Prime Minister
474 BC Haman’s plot is planned to destroy the Jewish people
473 BC The First Feast of Purim

    1. According to the timeline above, answer the following questions:
      • How many years was King Ahasuerus with Queen Vashti? _____
      • How many years was King Ahasuerus without a queen? _____
      • How long was Esther the queen before Haman’s promotion? _____
      • How long was Haman in the position of Prime Minister before deciding to kill the Jews?

3. King Ahasuerus took Esther’s side instead of his trusted prime minister, Haman. This is a change for the king as he had valued the opinions of his counselors over Queen Vashti. When considering the timeline, why do you think the king immediately sided with Esther instead of Haman?

God’s timing is perfect and His ways work powerfully in the events. God is on an eternal clock so we tend to become impatient that His timing is not ours, thus, He works in ways that seem late to us. Trust Him. He is worthy of our trust and He is always faithful.

  1. After considering the patience and self control portrayed in Esther accompanied with the perfect timing of God’s intervention, what hope has this section of Scripture given you?
  2. Use the back of this page to write a prayer to the Lord about something that is distressing you. Cast your casts on the Lord in your writing. Be honest. Be humble before Him. Be willing to listen to the thoughts that come to your mind after you have expressed your thoughts to Him.

Morning Reading for 20 November 2020

Rejected and Despised by Men

2 Kings 6:1–7:20; Mark 15:16–47; Proverbs 6:20–27

In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus’ crucifixion and death occur in stages of mockery and humiliation. The story is propelled by those who scorn—the soldiers, the chief priests and scribes, and even those who pass by. Jesus is spat on, stripped of His clothing, and mockingly forced to wear a purple robe with a crown of thorns. Throughout, He silently receives His undue punishment.

It’s not until Jesus nears death that Mark slows the narrative: “And at the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice,Eloi, Eloi, lema sabachthani?’ (which is translated, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’)” (Mark 15:34).

These words have been spoken before, and this pain and humiliation has previously been told. In Psalm 22, the psalmist cries out to God in the midst of being mocked and scorned by his enemies. The song of lament relates the bitter anguish the psalmist experiences at the hands of enemies. “He trusts Yahweh,” the psalmist’s enemies jeer, “Let him deliver him because he delights in him” (Psa 22:8). The psalmist says he is “poured out like water” in his weakened state (Psa 22:14). His clothing is divided and given out by casting lots (Psa 22:18).

The psalm doesn’t end here, though. It ends with the psalmist proclaiming God’s deliverance to all the nations and to future generations: “Descendants will serve him. Regarding the Lord, it will be told to the next generation. They will come and tell his saving deeds to a people yet to be born, that he has done it” (Psa 22:30–31).

Jesus’ words reveal Him to be the ultimate sufferer. It wasn’t until His death that He was acknowledged for who He was. The Roman centurion proclaims it: “Truly this man was God’s Son!” (Mark 15:39). The Servant who obediently came to die has delivered us. He has done it.

In what ways do you feel forsaken by God? What difference does it make to know that Jesus also cried out in His god forsakenness?

Rebecca Van Noord

 

 

Thursday 19 November 2020

A Sleepless Night

Read Esther 6:1-14

Lesson 3

  1. What did the king discover as a result of his sleepless night?

It had been five years since Esther informed King Ahasuerus in Mordecai’s name about the death threat. The king must have forgotten to thank Mordecai. Of course, God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose. (Romans 8:28)

  1. Who does Haman think the king wants to honor?
  2. Look up the following verses on pride and what advice do they give to us today?

4. What would you be thinking and feeling if you were

  • the king?
  • Haman?
  • Mordecai?

There is no mention of Esther in this chapter. For some reason, she requested that the king and Mordecai come back to a second banquet. This chapter represents Esther’s ability to wait on and trust in God.

    1. What do the following verses teach on waiting upon the Lord?
    1. 6.  How well do you wait on the Lord?

Pray about it: Oh Lord, I pray for the self control to hold my tongue when I am with others and to be patient before You. I ask that I may also be as wise, patient and self controlled like Esther. I want You to be able to trust me to do a good work for You at such a time as this.

 

Morning Reading for 19 November 2020

Avoid foolish questions.”

—Titus 3:9

Our days are few, and are far better spent in doing good, than in disputing over matters which are, at best, of minor importance. The old schoolmen did a world of mischief by their incessant discussion of subjects of no practical importance; and our Churches suffer much from petty wars over abstruse points and unimportant questions. After everything has been said that can be said, neither party is any the wiser, and therefore the discussion no more promotes knowledge than love, and it is foolish to sow in so barren a field. Questions upon points wherein Scripture is silent; upon mysteries which belong to God alone; upon prophecies of doubtful interpretation; and upon mere modes of observing human ceremonials, are all foolish, and wise men avoid them. Our business is neither to ask nor answer foolish questions, but to avoid them altogether; and if we observe the apostle’s precept (Titus 3:8) to be careful to maintain good works, we shall find ourselves far too much occupied with profitable business to take much interest in unworthy, contentious, and needless strivings.

There are, however, some questions which are the reverse of foolish, which we must not avoid, but fairly and honestly meet, such as these: Do I believe in the Lord Jesus Christ? Am I renewed in the spirit of my mind? Am I walking not after the flesh, but after the Spirit? Am I growing in grace? Does my conversation adorn the doctrine of God my Saviour? Am I looking for the coming of the Lord, and watching as a servant should do who expects his master? What more can I do for Jesus? Such enquiries as these urgently demand our attention; and if we have been at all given to cavilling, let us now turn our critical abilities to a service so much more profitable. Let us be peace-makers, and endeavour to lead others both by our precept and example, to “avoid foolish questions.”

Evening Reading for 19 November 2020

O that I knew where I might find him!”

—Job 23:3

In Job’s uttermost extremity he cried after the Lord. The longing desire of an afflicted child of God is once more to see his Father’s face. His first prayer is not “O that I might be healed of the disease which now festers in every part of my body!” nor even “O that I might see my children restored from the jaws of the grave, and my property once more brought from the hand of the spoiler!” but the first and uppermost cry is, “O that I knew where I might find Him, who is my God! that I might come even to his seat!” God’s children run home when the storm comes on. It is the heaven-born instinct of a gracious soul to seek shelter from all ills beneath the wings of Jehovah. “He that hath made his refuge God,” might serve as the title of a true believer. A hypocrite, when afflicted by God, resents the infliction, and, like a slave, would run from the Master who has scourged him; but not so the true heir of heaven, he kisses the hand which smote him, and seeks shelter from the rod in the bosom of the God who frowned upon him. Job’s desire to commune with God was intensified by the failure of all other sources of consolation. The patriarch turned away from his sorry friends, and looked up to the celestial throne, just as a traveller turns from his empty skin bottle, and betakes himself with all speed to the well. He bids farewell to earth-born hopes, and cries, “O that I knew where I might find my God!” Nothing teaches us so much the preciousness of the Creator, as when we learn the emptiness of all besides. Turning away with bitter scorn from earth’s hives, where we find no honey, but many sharp stings, we rejoice in him whose faithful word is sweeter than honey or the honeycomb. In every trouble we should first seek to realize God’s presence with us. Only let us enjoy his smile, and we can bear our daily cross with a willing heart for his dear sake.

 

Wednesday 18 November 2020

Living above the Circumstances

Devotional

Lesson 3

For he who sows to his flesh will of the flesh reap corruption, but he who sows to the Spirit will of the Spirit reap everlasting life. And let us not grow weary while doing good, for in due season we shall reap if we do not lose heart. Galatians 6:8-9

Esther continued to remain consistent in action despite her fears and her circumstances. To bear fruit in horrific circumstances takes the ability to separate ourselves from those circumstances. We have to learn to pull ourselves out of the situation and to see it from God’s perspective, instead of our own. It takes discipline and self-control to live for the Lord despite the situations and events in our lives. Many times I have had to say, “Ok, God is powerful and has the ability to change these circumstances if needed. God is wise and has the ability to give me the wisdom to deal with these circumstances if needed. God is loving and knows what I need better than I do.” When I can apply these three attributes of God: powerful, wise and loving, to my circumstances, I am able to trust God in all situations and events and thus, able to bear fruit in spite of them.

The same thing is true for our emotions. The way we feel can hinder us from doing the will of God and bearing fruit. Our emotions can clearly impact our actions. Here are some examples:

  • If we do not feel like cleaning the house, we will not do it even if it needs to be done.
  • If we do not feel like being nice or kind today, we will not be nice even though the consequences will linger beyond the day.
  • If we do not feel like holding our tongue, we will say whatever we feel.

If we are led by our emotions, we will do or not do what we feel like doing. But in order to bear fruit and stay in the will of God, we need to be able to separate ourselves from our feelings and do what God has called us to do in spite of our selves. To pull ourselves out from the circumstances, we can remind ourselves of the attributes of God. To pull ourselves out from our emotions, we need to be in the Word of God. We have to claim verses as promises to keep us focused on doing things that please Him, even if it does not please our emotions at the time. It is in praying for self-control to maintain a steadfast life that brings Him glory. Every day and every decision counts. Choices we make today matter forever. Keep sowing those seeds of righteousness and in time, you will reap a healthy harvest.

Morning Reading for 18 November 2020

“A spring shut up, a fountain sealed.”

—Song of Solomon 4:12

In this metaphor, which has reference to the inner life of a believer, we have very plainly the idea of secrecy. It is a spring shut up: just as there were springs in the East, over which an edifice was built, so that none could reach them save those who knew the secret entrance; so is the heart of a believer when it is renewed by grace: there is a mysterious life within which no human skill can touch. It is a secret which no other man knoweth; nay, which the very man who is the possessor of it cannot tell to his neighbour. The text includes not only secrecy, but separation. It is not the common spring, of which every passer-by may drink, it is one kept and preserved from all others; it is a fountain bearing a particular mark—a king’s royal seal, so that all can perceive that it is not a common fountain, but a fountain owned by a proprietor, and placed specially by itself alone. So is it with the spiritual life. The chosen of God were separated in the eternal decree; they were separated by God in the day of redemption; and they are separated by the possession of a life which others have not; and it is impossible for them to feel at home with the world, or to delight in its pleasures. There is also the idea of sacredness. The spring shut up is preserved for the use of some special person: and such is the Christian’s heart. It is a spring kept for Jesus. Every Christian should feel that he has God’s seal upon him—and he should be able to say with Paul, “From henceforth let no man trouble me, for I bear in my body the marks of the Lord Jesus.” Another idea is prominent—it is that of security. Oh! how sure and safe is the inner life of the believer! If all the powers of earth and hell could combine against it, that immortal principle must still exist, for he who gave it pledged his life for its preservation. And who “is he that shall harm you,” when God is your protector?

 

Evening Reading for 18 November 2020

Thou art from everlasting.”

—Psalm 93:2

Christ is Everlasting. Of him we may sing with David, “Thy throne, O God, is for ever and ever.” Rejoice, believer, in Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, to-day, and for ever. Jesus always was. The Babe born in Bethlehem was united to the Word, which was in the beginning, by whom all things were made. The title by which Christ revealed himself to John in Patmos was, “Him which is, and which was, and which is to come.” If he were not God from everlasting, we could not so devoutly love him; we could not feel that he had any share in the eternal love which is the fountain of all covenant blessings; but since he was from all eternity with the Father, we trace the stream of divine love to himself equally with his Father and the blessed Spirit. As our Lord always was, so also he is for evermore. Jesus is not dead; “He ever liveth to make intercession for us.” Resort to him in all your times of need, for he is waiting to bless you still. Moreover, Jesus our Lord ever shall be. If God should spare your life to fulfil your full day of threescore years and ten, you will find that his cleansing fountain is still opened, and his precious blood has not lost its power; you shall find that the Priest who filled the healing fount with his own blood, lives to purge you from all iniquity. When only your last battle remains to be fought, you shall find that the hand of your conquering Captain has not grown feeble—the living Saviour shall cheer the dying saint. When you enter heaven you shall find him there bearing the dew of his youth; and through eternity the Lord Jesus shall still remain the perennial spring of joy, and life, and glory to his people. Living waters may you draw from this sacred well! Jesus always was, he always is, he always shall be. He is eternal in all his attributes, in all his offices, in all his might, and willingness to bless, comfort, guard, and crown his chosen people.

 

 

Tuesday 17 November 2020

Honoring God

Read Esther 5:2, 8

Lesson 3

Throughout this book, two phrases are mentioned repeatedly: to please the king and to have found favor in his (the king’s) sight. Both of these statements are important to the people that are in direct contact with the earthly king. The people want the king to be pleased and the people understand the significance of finding his favor.

  1. Write out Proverbs 16:14-15, which were written by King Solomon. Why do you think it takes wisdom to be in close association to a king?
  2. Esther has shown remarkable patience and self control throughout this process. She is a wise woman. What do the following verses teach about seeking the Lord’s wisdom?
  1. The Lord describes Himself as a “great King.” (Malachi 1:14)
  • What does Jesus say about honoring God versus man? (See Luke 12:4-5)
  • In what ways should you (or do you) honor Him daily as the King whom you desire to please and find His favor?

Because of the atoning work of Jesus Christ, we have entered into a new covenant of grace. Now we find God’s unmerited favor as we can come to Him in prayer and He has come to us through the filling of the Holy Spirit. Jesus told His disciples that the Holy Spirit will be in them. After His death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit was released to make His home in our hearts until we are home with Jesus. Anywhere you go, the Spirit of God goes with you. Any time you pray, your prayers reach the Throne Room of God. By believing in Jesus Christ (which means to rely on, cling to, depend upon), we receive undeserved favor because of His amazing grace. Keep your heart seeking for Jesus and your eyes towards heaven. We are just passing through earth, so live with an eternal perspective, pleasing the Lord.

  1. Write a prayer of thanksgiving.

The king’s wrath is like the roaring of a lion, but his favor is like dew on the grass. Proverbs 19:12

Daily Reading for 17 November 2020

When in Need

 2 Kings 1:1–2:5; Mark 13:24–14:21; Proverbs 6:1–5

When we encounter trouble, we tend to look wherever we can for help: We turn in whatever direction seems most promising at the moment. In doing so, we may unwittingly walk away from Yahweh. Should practicality or convenience stand between God and us?

 

When King Ahaziah falls through a lattice and is injured, he seeks help from a foreign god rather than Yahweh—likely because it seems natural or right. He thinks the god of Ekron, Baal-Zebub, can provide the healing he needs. But what Ahaziah sees as a desperate situation is actually an opportunity for Yahweh to act; Yahweh plans to use this situation for His glory.

 

When Ahaziah sends messengers to Ekron, Yahweh intercedes. Elijah approaches them bearing a word from Yahweh that had been spoken to him by an angel: “Is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going to inquire of Baal-Zebub, the god of Ekron?” (2 Kgs 1:3).

 

When we experience physical or spiritual pain, do we first recognize Yahweh’s power and seek Him, or do we turn to other sources? Does our turning to other places demonstrate a lack of faith? What do we really believe in when we seek people, ideas, or things rather than God in our time of need?

 

The consequences of turning away from Yahweh can be tragic. Elijah goes on to declare: “The bed upon which you have gone, you will not come down from it, but you shall surely die” (2 Kgs 1:4). Let us turn to God before it comes to this. Let us choose Yahweh.

Whom are you turning to right now in your time of need?

John D. Barry

 

Monday 16 November 2020

To Be Prepared

Read Esther 5:1-14

LESSON 3

  1. How did Esther prepare herself to approach the king?
  2. Why do you think the preparatory process was necessary to receive a favourable response from the king?
  3. When have you found yourself in a bad situation because you were not prepared?
  4. As a Christian, we are called to be prepared or to be ready. Look up the following verses and write out what we are to be ready for.
  5. Matthew 24:44
  6. 2 Timothy 4:2
  7. Titus 3:1
  8. 1 Peter 3:15
  9. In what area do you sense that you are not ready?
  10. How can you become prepared in that (or those) area(s)?
  11. What did the king offer Esther?
  12. How is the suspense in the story building from this chapter with…
  13. Esther?
  14. the king?
  15. Haman?
  16. Mordecai?
  17. Think about how Esther is handling this situation. What do you admire about her?

Monday 16 November 2020

Jude verse 8,

 “In the very same way, on the strength of their dreams these ungodly people pollute their own bodies, reject authority and heap abuse on celestial beings.

The 19th century spawned many godly Christian leaders and William Booth was one. He established the Christian Mission which we all know today as the Salvation Army.

General Booth was a visionary and he voiced a concern that we have seen come to fruition in our own life.

His concern was that a time would come in the future when we in the UK would have:

Religion without Christ.

Forgiveness without repentance.

Salvation without regeneration.

Politics without God.

Heaven without hell.

Such are the days in which we live, and yet Jude a half  brother to Jesus Christ and a full brother of James who was the leader of the church in Jerusalem had the same  sort of concerns in the early church some 1900 years before.

He said in verse 4: For certain individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago have secretly slipped in among you. They are ungodly people, who pervert the grace of our God into a license for immorality and deny Jesus Christ our only Sovereign and Lord.

Recently in seeing a video of a huge rat actually squeezing through the drainage grid at the side of a road in New York; was the first time that I had actually seen it take place. My friends, Jude was voicing his concern about certain individuals who slip into the church easier than the huge rat.

In fact, they have the ability to slip in as easy as Covid 19 and then they peddle their devastating liberal theology with devastating effect on the church.  They are the proverbial wolves in sheep clothing, and that is why it is incumbent for the church to protect the pulpit.

However, these people should not be confused with none believers outside the church .

Nonbelievers never believed, but individuals whose condemnation was written about long ago once received the Truth.

In the words of Paul they still retain a form of godliness but denying its power.

This is the consequence of not reaching Christian maturity in the faith thereby attaining to the whole measure of the fulness of Christ.

 

My friends! When you are fed on the truth, the momentum is to go forward to spiritual maturity. The one thing you cannot do is stay STILL for long.

If you stay still for long, then backsliding is more likely than going forward to spiritual maturity, and the spiritual void left through backsliding can  and is so often filled with erroneous teaching.

Like those in the cults of Jehovah’s Witnesses, the Unitarian church and the Mormon church, apostates once had the truth, but because they did not go forward in the faith they like some in the church at Ephesus were tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes.”

Consequently they have added to the Gospel, and in so doing they have brought many to destruction in their wake.

Yet in one key elements, Apostates who remain in the church are different those in the cults. They have chosen to undermine the Truth from their position of privilege by remaining in the church.

Like the former bishop of  Durham David Jenkins they ridicule the absolutes of Scripture. Three days after his consecration as bishop on 6 July 1984, York Minster was struck by lightning, resulting in a disastrous fire which some interpreted as a sign of divine wrath at Jenkins’s appointment.

David Jenkins referred to the resurrection as a “conjuring trick with bones.” And that Christians are not obliged to believe that Jesus was divine and what was more.

This man was not an eloquent atheist like Robert Ingersoll who ridiculed the faith from outside. This was a silver haired loveable and intelligent character who ostensibly was a Christian.

He held High Office in the church and what made it worse was that he was defended in his views by the then archbishop of Canterbury, Robert Runsey, who stated , that Anglicans enjoy intellectual freedom and independence.

Yet before we think that we are immune to such attack, I would remind you that such beliefs loom large in Baptist circles as apostacy hides behind the banner of being called a broad church.

That is a key reason why the Holy Spirit does not work. We need revival in the church before we will ever see regeneration in the community, and this is why Jude says: “I wanted to preach a Gospel sermon, but the Holy Spirit wouldn’t let me. The Holy Spirit told me that I should earnestly exhort you, that you should earnestly contend, agonize, for the faith that was once for all delivered unto the saints.”

Indeed, when I was in university, we would have churches phone up seeking to book us as students and one church secretary complained to the then principal : what are you doing in turning out all these evangelicals. My friends, the reality was that the college wasn’t turning out evangelicals, their theology was established by the Holy Spirit before their entered the college, and in spite of erroneous teaching most remained true to their reformed theological roots !

As for the apostates. verse 8, says that ungodly people pollute their own body with their dreams.

In the King James version of the Bible apostates are described in italics as “filthy dreams.” As filthy eloquently describes their state as they have replaced divine revelation with their own ideas and philosophy.

In Deuteronomy 13 God says:

If a prophet, or one who foretells by dreams, appears among you and announces to you a miraculous sign or wonder, 2  and if the sign or wonder of which he has spoken takes place, and he says, “Let us follow other gods” (gods you have not known) “and let us worship them,” 3  you must not listen to the words of that prophet or dreamer. ….. It is the LORD your God you must follow, and him you must revere. Keep his commands and obey him; serve him and hold fast to him.

In other words, dreamer of dreams have deceived people into following them through false signs and miracles, and I found that inevitably it led them from God’s inspired, inerrant, and infallible Word on which the church was founded.

Jude says that these dreamers “Defile the flesh.”

Time and time again we find that Siamese twin of Apostates is sexual sin. Being adept at deception they can fool all the saints for some of the time but inevitably they leave down their guard and sexual smut and inuendoes will creep into their conversations and sexual promiscuity and adultery often come I  their wake. I might add in the name of love it also extends to what Jude calls in verse 7 “perversion,”.

These dreamers have lost his moral compass, because they have lost the anchor to their soul. The Word of God has been jettisoned, and now they have believed in fables of their own imagination; hence the Bible tells us that He’s worse off than if he’d never heard the Gospel. His latter end is worse than his first.

The Second mark of an apostate is that in their heart they Despise God.

As the devil rebelled against the authority of God, they too are rebels at heart. They hate the absolutes of Scripture. They hate authority. Like Johnny who was told by his weary teacher, “Johnny for the 5th time please take your seat.” Johnny replied, “I’ll sit, but in my heart, I’m still standing! “

Apostates, like their master Satan  despise the authority of God and His Word. They  don’t want anybody to say “this is the Word of God. In their intellectual pride and condescending manner, they agree with Robert Runsey, in saying  we enjoy intellectual freedom and independence.

These libetarians are all things to all people, and you will find that the only thing that makes their blood boil is evangelical preaching which stands for the inerrancy of Gods Word.

Why? Because in their heart they despise God.

Thirdly they disgrace the faithful.

There is nothing too glorious, there is nothing too holy that they will not ridicule.  Yet in the beginning the apostate received the Truth.

In New York City there is a church built in honour of one my great heroes of the faith. He was the great missionary to Burma, Adoniram Judson.

Yet by today apostasy has destroyed that church. The Shekinah of God has departed, and from what goes on there, it has no right to be called a church at all.

A number of years ago the police had to close its doors as it held an exhibition that was so depraved that some people complained.

In their desire for modernity they removed the pews and the pulpit for a presentation of Winnie the Pooh and a dance floor where during one Sunday service a nude couple. In the words of Jill, You couldn’t make it up if you tried. My friends that church is so deep in the apostasy that one minister said that it would have to reach up to touch bottom.

What has that church done. First, they rejected the Truth,  and secondly they have actively put all their energy into ridiculing the Truth through defiling the sacred things of God.

Like Bishop David Jenkins they have a perversion in speaking evil of glorious things, and there’s nothing too sacred or too holy for him to revile and ridicule, and they do it all from within the church. Indeed they do more damage from within than anyone has ever done in attacking the church from without.

In verse 9 Jude says: “But even the archangel Michael, when he was disputing with the devil about the body of Moses, did not himself dare to condemn him for slander but said, “The Lord rebuke you!”

This is arguably the  most remarkable verse of Scripture.

Satan is a fallen creature, and an avowed enemy of God, yet Michael, when contending about the body of Moses, would not bring a sentence that would impugn the dignity of Satan.

Clement, one of the early church fathers, quotes from an apocryphal writing dealing with the funeral of Moses.

There he says when Michael was commissioned to bury Moses, Satan opposed it on the grounds that, since he was the master of the material and matter, the body belonged to him.

Michael’s only answer was, “The Lord [that is, the Creator] rebuke you.

Satan also brought the charge of murder against Moses. Also it is suggested that Satan wanted to hinder the later appearance of Moses at the Mount of Transfiguration.

For certain Satan remembers all our sins whereas on repentance God chooses to bury them for ever.

Satan was a creation of God and apparently the highest creature that God created. And then evil was found in him in that he put his will against the will of God.

Through pride, he wanted to become independent of God.

He actually thought he could dethrone God — at least from part of His universe. As far as this world is concerned, God has permitted him to carry on this rebellion, and God has a high and holy purpose in it. But this creature still believes he will be able to take a segment of God’s created universe and be the ruler over it.  “Yet Michael does not accuse him rather he  said, The Lord rebuke you”.

Michael showed greater respect to the devil than many people show to God.

Indeed even some believers have not learned to bow even to God.

Do we respect His authority?

Do we respect His person?

In that day when men must give an account, the Lord Jesus Christ is going to say, “You said, ‘Lord, Lord,’ but you didn’t do the things I commanded. Each one went his own way and did that which was right in his own eyes.”

This is the picture of an apostate in the church .

Jude says:

But these people blaspheme all that they do not understand, and they are destroyed by all that they, like unreasoning animals, understand instinctively. [Jude 1:10].

Note that Jude uses the word understand twice. To understand is to know.  Like doubting Thomas, an apostate only understands what they can see!

Of having faith in anything, their faith is in science. In what can be put in a test tube or on a slide under a microscope.

Yet can  faith be placed in a test tube or under a microscope? No! We know faith, we know love, we know music without any proof from the laboratory. Like the work of the Holy Spirit in our life we know them because we have experienced them.

“But these people”. In other words, these apostates blaspheme all that they do not understand, that is what they do not know.

Like David Jenkins who thought he was very clever in calling the resurrection a conjuring trick with bones all he showed was that there are many things he didn’t know, and in so doing he showed himself to be more like an unreasoning animal who acts instinctively than a man of faith.

Yes, these dreamers are a corrosive influence, but in being students of Scripture we by grace can identify them, for by their deeds and their words they shall be known.

Amen

Monday 16 November 2020

(Titus 3:4).

GRACE

It has been said that you should be able to sum up a sermons contents with one sentence at the end of the message. Well this sermon can be summed up in one word, I wonder if you can identify it in these two hymns I was listening to in my workshop a few days ago.

If I could keep a tune I would sings them to you, but as you know, I can’t , so why don’t you sing them as I share my message as I am sure that they will bring joy into your heart, and encourage you during these difficult months.

The first hymn says:

Only by grace can we enter
Only by grace can we stand
Not by our human endeavour
But by the blood of the Lamb

Into Your presence You call us
You call us to come
Into Your presence You draw us
And now by Your grace we come
Now by Your grace we come

Lord, if You marked our transgressions, who would stand?
Thanks to Your grace we are cleansed by the blood of the Lamb.

The second hymn I listened to says:

I Am a New Creation,
No more in Condemnation,
Here in the Grace of God I stand.

My Heart is Overflowing,
My Love just keeps on Growing,
Here in the Grace of God I stand.

And I will Praise You, Lord,
yes I will Praise You, Lord,
and I will Sing of all that You have done.

A Joy that knows no limit,
a Lightness in My Spirit
Here in the Grace of God I stand.

Hopefully, by now you have identified that one word which encapsulates this message. It is the word which has such a huge meaning. It is a beautiful word. It is a word full of hope; it is an uplifting hymns. It is a word of confirmation, and a word that leads us to know the heart of God found in the person of Jesus Christ. It is the word GRACE.

IT- IS -ALL – BY-  GRACE.

I have quoted Donald Barnhouse and Harry Ironside many times before, and as always, it is a privileged in being able to quote from these Christian giants again,  and Donald Barnhouse gives us a wonderful acronym for GRACE:  He said:

  • G=God’s
  • R=Righteousness
  • A=At
  • C=Christ’s
  • E=Expense

and Harry Ironside explained Grace as being the very opposite of merit… He said: Grace is not only undeserved favour, but it is favour, shown to the one who has deserved the very opposite.

Our two hymns and the two quotations speak of  saving grace, which is offered to the world, and received by those who put their trust in Jesus for the remission of their sins, whereas Common grace is an expression of Gods eternal goodness which established God’s creation and sustains all life and in so doing man has time to turn to Christ and be saved.

Yes! We thank God that as long as there is life; with air entering our lungs and blood running in our veins and the faculty to think there is even in the 11th hour  of our mortal existence; hope for the lost. That is grace.

I am not sure of how long Harry Ironside’s father was a Christian, but when he lay dying, the descending sheet which Peter saw in a vision was dominant in his mind. Over and over he mumbled, “A great sheet and wild beasts, and… and… and.” Seemingly he could not recall the next words and would start over again.

A friend whispered, “John, it says, ‘creeping things.’ ” “Oh, yes, that is how I got in! Just a poor, good-for-nothing creeping thing! But I got in—saved by grace!


However,  there is much more to saving grace than the glory that is before us in Christ. It is EMPOWERING GRACE to meet the challenges of his life.

Empowering grace is that grace which led the Apostle Paul to say: I can do all things through [a]Christ who strengthens me.

It was Empowering grace that lead led William Carrey to expect great things from God; attempt great things for God, and hopefully you know the encouragement it offers in these difficult circumstances in which we as Christians are seeking to serve God today in order that we do not become disappointed and give up .

You see, empowering grace is Gods given gift that is ours over and beyond eternal life that is established in us as Christians.

It means that we are empowered by God to serve and bring him glory in such times as these. It is a supernatural power, it is the power of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.

My friends, it is only when we function in God’s abundant empowering grace – that we are truly set free; that we are fully alive, to see the fullness of heaven flowing in and through our lives. That is why the the Apostle Paul says to the church at Corinth of Jesus coming to him and saying:

“My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.”  Paul then goes on to say: Therefore I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.

Before Paul was saved Paul knew of God, but in that statement he show again that he had grown beyond a knowledge of God to having a living vibrant relationship with God like the psalmist who wrote:

My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.

Yes! Through his grace given empowering power, others see Christ in the world. They see the light beyond the darkest hour, and  hope beyond fear.

Yes! My friend, I thank God for his grip of grace, and we can say: Here in the Grace of God I stand.

Yet the river of blessing which is grace does not end even with empowering grace that enables us to seek and to do great things for God as it is also protecting grace.

We have a glimpse of it in the Book of Job.  We are told that the devil had access to God and God asked him had he considered his servant Job  as the devil then as today had been roaming  the earth.

The devil replied: “Have you not put a hedge around him and his household and everything he has? You have blessed the work of his hands, so that his flocks and herds are spread throughout the land. 11 But now stretch out your hand and strike everything he has, and he will surely curse you to your face.”

Protecting grace is a hedge, that is what a hedge does. It protects and I hold from Scripture that there is a hedge about every believer today, and I do not think that Satan can touch us unless it falls within God permissible will, and if God permits it, you can be sure that like Lazarus’s death it will be for His purpose and His glory.

All those years ago in the story about Job we learn that sometimes God permits Satan to take away from us the crutches that we are inclined to lean on in this life, in order that our faith becomes stronger; not weaker, but Satan cannot touch the eternal things . How? Because that hedge that is protecting grace is more than a hedge to protect us from the temporal things. God said to Satan: on the man himself do not lay a finger.” 

Now we know that God wasn’t referring to Jobs body as Satan afflicted Job with what commentators think was a form of leprosy. No! Man is more than flesh and blood. Man is an image bearer of God. He has a soul. He has a spirit and it is eternal. The only question is where will it eternally live. Heaven or hell. Job was a saved man, that is why God said: on the man himself do not lay a finger.”

In other words, Once saved always saved. That is the fullness of protecting grace.

Yet Exodus 13:18 tells us that there is the Pathway of Grace. ” But God led the people about, through the way of the wilderness of the Red sea:

My friends , if we stumble on that pathway it is always because we take our eyes away from our God. He led the children of Israel by By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way, and by night in a pillar of fire. Today He leads us by His Spirit and if the Bible tells us that if we search for him we will find him. Yet it is by grace even then that He is found.

The 19th century preacher J. Wilbur Chapman once told of a remarkable encounter he once had in a service when  a man arose to give the following remarkable testimony: “I got off at the Pennsylvania depot as a tramp, and for a year I begged on the streets for a living. One day I touched a man on the shoulder and said, ‘Mister, please give me a dime.’

“As soon as I saw his face, I recognised my father. ‘Father. don’t you know me?’ I asked. Throwing his arms around me, he cried, ‘I have found you; all I have is yours.’

Men, think of it, that I, a tramp, stood begging my father for ten cents, when for eighteen years he had been looking for me to give me all he was worth!”

My friends, the pathway of grace is a pathway to receive the unsearchable riches that are found only in Christ

Moody Monthly

  1. Finally my friends I want to speak about Aim of Grace.

We are told in Acts 10:38 that Jesus “Went about doing good” (Acts 10:38).

Yet many people make a mistake when it comes to us as Christians doing good. They put the cart before the horse and  confuse this with salvation through works.

Two decades after the 1904 revival, a gentleman approached Dr. D. M. Stearns with a criticism. “I don’t like your way of preaching,” he said. “I do not care for all this talk about Christ dying for the lost. Instead of preaching the death of Christ on the cross, it’s better to be up-to-date. Preach Jesus, the teacher and example.”

“Would you then be willing to follow Him if I preach Christ as the great example?” asked Dr. Stearns, “I would,” said the gentleman, “I will follow in His steps.”

“Then,” said Dr. Stearns, “let us take the first step. ‘Who did no sin,’ as we read in 1 Peter 2:22. Can you take this step?” The critic seemed confused. “No,” he said, “I do sin, I must admit.”

“Well, then,” said Dr. Stearns, “your first need of Christ is not as an example but as a Saviour.” But when you are saved you fulfil the aim of grace in going about doing good.

“Not by works of righteousness which we have done.” Verse 3 gave us a picture of how we were before we came to know Christ. It is important to understand that becoming a Christian doesn’t mean just turning over a new leaf — you will find yourself writing on the new leaf the same things that you wrote on the old leaf. Making New Year’s resolutions and promising to do better doesn’t make you a Christian. Nor are you saved on the basis of works of righteousness, good deeds, which you have done.

“But according to his mercy he saved us.” Because Christ died for us and paid the penalty for our sins, God is prepared to extend mercy to us; it is according to His mercy that He saved us. And He is rich in mercy, which means He has plenty of it. Whoever you are, He can save you today because Christ died for you. He paid the penalty and makes over to you His righteousness!

“By the washing of regeneration.” “Washing” means laver — it is the laver of regeneration. In the Old Testament the laver, which stood in the court of the tabernacle and later the temple, represented this.

This washing of regeneration is what the Lord was speaking about in the third chapter of John: “…Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God” (John 3:5). The water represents the Word of God — the Bible will wash you. It has a sanctifying power, a cleansing power. We are cleansed by the Word of God. The Holy Spirit uses the Word of God — “born of water and of the Spirit.” That is the way we are born again.

“And renewing of the Holy Ghost” — He regenerates us.

Which he shed on us abundantly through Jesus Christ our Saviour [Titus 3:6].

Have you noticed that in everything God does there is a surplus? He is able to do exceeding abundantly above all that we ask or think.

That being justified by his grace, we should be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life [Titus 3:7].

“The hope of eternal life” is again pointing to the great hope of the believer, the coming of Christ for His church.

 

Monday 16 November 2020

Uzziah King of Judah

2 Chronicles 26:1-16

16 But after Uzziah became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God, and entered the temple of the Lord to burn incense on the altar of incense.

I would imagine that one of the most distasteful events that the queen has to contend with has to be reading all the leaks that come from Prince Charles minions as to what he proposes to do when he takes up the reigns to be King.

To outsiders like ourselves it seems that he and his advisors have taken it for granted that it is inevitable that he will outlive his mother. Yet I would counsel him that there is many a slip between the cup and the lip.

Yet in having such a long apprenticeship to be King , one would expect that at some 72 years of age he has been well schooled to be King. In contrast, we find from Scripture that Uzziah, came to the throne of Judah when he was only sixteen years old.

However, Uzziah also , had an excellent apprenticeship howbeit infinitely shorter than that of Prince Charles. Uzziah had his godly father at his side father until he was 16, and for the first few years as King he was also heavily influenced by Zechariah the prophet, and consequently we are told that he: did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, according to all that his father Amaziah had done.

In our own history, David Lloyd George although a philanderer was generally seen to be a great prime minister both as a war time leaders and a peace time leader, whereas Winston Churchill was seen to be great prime minister at war, and a failure as a peace time leader, and as our current prime minister Boris Johnson has already found out, it is immensely difficulty to be considered a great leader in his war against Covid 19 or at peace in getting  Brexit done and as with David Lloyd George we may deplore his past philandering  and his current politics, but as Christians it is incumbent upon us to  pray for him as his government as his decisions will one way or another affect us all.

As for Uzziah, he was seen to be a great King both at war and at peace and he was respected by mighty Egypt.

Militarily Uzziah strengthened Jerusalem in building defensive battlements, and like many a leader to day, he was very innovative in strengthening his army with the development of new weapons, which helped him in defeating his enemies including the Philistines.

Yet at heart he was also  like Prince Charles in being a gentleman farmer as he built water reservoirs and employed farmers and vinedressers to bring once arid ground to be fertile, for we’re told that he loved the soil, and generally the lot of his people was good.

Indeed, I am sure that we would be happy to have such a leader as Uzziah ourselves today in these uncertain times. Yet, we find that Scripture tells us that there was the three lettered word BUT placed against his name. You’ll find it in verse 16.

My friends, I suggest that many of us when we leave terra-firmer will have people reminisce about us for a few days after our departure. I would imagine that as people recount their positive memories of my life, someone or other will say “Yes he, was a good sort, BUT!”

However, more importantly than the BUT added to our name in this world  will be the BUT placed against our name in heaven as the lingering recollection of how we so often failed to do the things we ought to have done,  and that we so often did the things that we should not have done come again into our regenerated minds.

I think that this is at the heart of the BUT placed against Uzziah’s name. Yes! He was a good king. However, that BUT tells us that he had a spiritual weakness – and it is that spiritual weakness that stopped him being GREAT.

Pride was Uzziah’s downfall.

Listen again to Verse 16 tells: But when he was strong, his heart was lifted up to his destruction: for he transgressed against the Lord his God, and went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense [2Chron. 26:16].

One commentator describes pride’s DNA well. He writes “the essence of pride arises in our hearts when we shift confidence from God to self, and this basic attitude of pride is manifested in insolence, scoffing, presumption, stubbornness, wilfulness, and hardness of heart.” And he continues “as a result, a person does not seek God, becomes quarrelsome, and his or her life ends in loneliness and isolation.”

As for Uzziah, we read that he went into the temple of the Lord to burn incense upon the altar of incense.

They say one volunteer is better than ten pressed men, and of course we love having volunteers in the church, but let’s be honest, we don’t always show spiritual discernment in their appointment.

For instance, I was sharing with one of our deacons that when an organist died in a certain church the secretary announced they needed a volunteer to play the organ and as in incentive he said: if anyone is willing to play the organ we will make you a deacon too.

My friends. It is better to have no deacons than to have a deacon that wasn’t ordained by God to the office.

Therein was how Uzziah’s sin manifested itself in his reign. Yes he was the King, but he was not a priest. He was not an heir of Aaron, and only the priests of the line of Aaron could enter into the holy place.

At this time in his reign he had stepped away from the influence of his godly mentor Zechariah the prophet. Perhaps Zechariah was now dead, but irrespective of that, now there was no restraint on the King and as has been said: Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.

What was the outcome? Instead of repenting, verse 19 tells us: He became angry with Azariah and the other priests who rebuked him.

Yes ! he was a good king but this why it cannot be said that he was great

Here I am going to place another BUT, This time it relates to God. The Lord spared his Uzziah’s life, BUT God is a righteous God.  He God rebukes and disciplines those he loves, and undoubtedly he loved Uzziah but his punishment nevertheless fell upon him. He was struck with leprosy and eventually his son Jotham had to take over the affairs of state.

Uzziah’s sin was the sin of so many people today. He had tried to come to God in his own way. My friends, there is only one way to God and Jesus is the only way. Anyone who tries to come to him by another way is no more than a thief.

Yet Uzziah was God’s man in spite of his sin, and although he as one suffered loss; I hold from Scripture that but he was saved, yet so as through fire.

I imagine Jotham had mixed emotions at the funeral of his dad. Sadness as losing him, and yet peace in knowing that his Father as a saved man would be released at last from his infirmities and be at peace in the arms of God.

Isn’t that a picture of the victory that is ours when we too bury a loved one who has died in the Lord? Of course it is

What are the lessons that we should seek to learn from this? Well I have already alluded in part to  a few.

First, we need to pray for our leaders. As I have said, we may not agree with their politics and we may find their personalities as being distasteful. However, we should learn from Brother Yun otherwise called The Heavenly Man from Hanan in China. He  suffered prolonged torture and imprisonment for his faith but  Instead of focusing on the many miracles or experiences of suffering, he preferred to emphasise the character and beauty of Jesus and he has never asked God for the overthrow of the government. Rather he continuously prays for them.

Also, we need to pray for our spiritual leaders. We, pastors, deacons alike are ordinary people. Not a day goes by without me asking Lord why did you call me to this office? I and the deacons need your prayers for  we are not better than Uzziah.

Indeed, if the churches prayed more for their spiritual leaders then by grace  they will grow to be more like Christ rather than prove to be stumbling blocks who when they fail so often cause immense and sometimes irreparable damage to the churches where they were called to serve.

In like manner, if we prayed more for our political leaders then by grace  our country would not be in the mess that it currently find itself in. Indeed, this pandemic isn’t so much a catastrophe brought to our door by God, but it is a catastrophe by which God is hopefully capturing our attention  as Christians to pray more.

Indeed,  the apostle Paul tells us as he told Timothy 1 Timothy 2. “First of all then I urge that supplications, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for all people, for kings and all who are in high positions, that we may lead a peaceful and quiet life, godly and dignified in every way. This is good and it’s pleasing in the sight of God our saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to knowledge of the truth.”

By my friends, praying for our leaders is not natural to us, is it? Yet we need to remember that praying for our leaders please the Lord.

Secondly we need to  become knowing in relation to pride.

It is the mother of all sin and we all succumb to it at times. By grace we can learn humility, but pride is natural. It belongs to our fallen state and it manifests itself in our behaviour.

Jesus said: For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come—sexual immorality, theft, murder,22 adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. 23 All these evils come from inside and defile a person.”

This is one occasion when familiarity is a good thing. We need to become familiar with our hearts and do fight the old nature that comes from within and our weapons are the Word of God and prayer and other means of grace.

One helpful step would be make yourself accountable to another person as Uzziah wisely did with Zechariah in his earlier days.

Another would be to intentionally cultivate a heart of gratitude and thanksgiving towards God that remembers His acts of kindness and grace. A grateful heart leaves little room for pride.

Third, this passage reminds us that we never outgrow our need for the Gospel.

Uzziah was 58 or thereabouts when he allowed his pride to conquer him. I suppose that was old in his day, but remember that there is no fool like an old fool. No, as long as we are alive, we require the life long learning that only comes through the Bible , prayer and the guidance of the Holy Spirit.

Finally, there is a lesson here about finishing well and in Christ, there always remains the opportunity to finish well. Praise God. The power of repentance and forgiveness that Christ offers can restore a man or a woman so profoundly that their sins, that their sins that may have spelled ruin can be redeemed.

Isn’t that the lesson we learn from King David and Bathsheba’s life? Of course it is and that is why David isn’t primarily remembered as an adulterer or a murderer but as a man after God’s own heart.

Again what about Peter? He denied Christ publicly three times in the crucial hours of Christ’s suffering and death. His was the ultimate treacherous act. Yet Christ restored Peter, and he still became the servant of the LORD that the LORD knew he would be.

Then look at the thief on the Cross. His life was a calamity of bad decisions. He was a wastrel of the worse kind and yet, He finished well. He put his trust in Christ.

And yes what applied to those men also applies to us. We too can finish well. Just like King David, Just like Peter, just like the thief on the cross and yes just like Uzziah who had a BUT placed against his name. Christ has made it possible for us to finish well.

If you have wandered away. If you have fallen into sin. He calls you to return to Him, confess your sins, and be forgiven. Amen

Saturday 14 November 2020

Prophecies against the Nations – Ezekiel 25:1-26:21

Open It
  1. When have you experienced a setback and known that someone who disliked you was glad to see it?
  2. What violent people of whom you’re aware have met a violent end in recent years?
Explore It
  1. What was the first foreign nation against which Ezekiel was instructed to prophesy? (25:1-2)
  2. What attitude did God hold against the people of Ammon? (25:3)
  3. To what group did Ezekiel prophesy that Ammon would fall victim? (25:4-5)
  4. How did Ezekiel describe the reaction of the Ammonites to the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple of God? (25:6)
  5. What point did God desire to make by the destruction of Ammon? (25:7)
  6. What blasphemy was uttered by Moab and Seir? (25:8)
  7. Who was God’s instrument to punish Moab? (25:9-11)
  8. What was the source of Edom’s guilt before God? (25:12)
  9. What people did God intend to use to express His vengeance against Edom? (25:14)
  10. How did God feel about the long-standing hostility of the Philistines against Judah? (25:15-17)
  11. What bad news about Jerusalem did the people of Tyre assume to be good news for them? (26:1-2)
  12. What sorts of destruction did God decree for Tyre? (26:3-6)
  13. What king is named as the final destroyer of Tyre? (26:7-11)
  14. What specific components of the wealth of Tyre were slated for destruction? (26:12-13)
  15. How lasting was the judgment against Tyre? (26:14)
  16. What reaction of foreign princes would underline the extent of the destruction in Tyre? (26:15-18)
  17. In what way was the end of the kingdom of Tyre going to be the worst of those described? (26:19-21)
Get It
  1. How did God defend His name and the distinctiveness of His people even as He punished Israel?
  2. Ultimately, which of the peoples of the earth are uniquely accountable to the Lord?
  3. Why are violent people more likely than peace-loving people to meet a violent end?
  4. How would you describe the ways in which God is expressing His wrath toward His enemies in modern society?
  5. Why does it matter to God what conclusions unbelievers draw about His nature from His interactions with His people?
  6. What do you think is God’s opinion of human arrogance?
  7. Why do you suppose we can be “horrified” by extreme human misfortune, even if the sufferers deserve punishment?
  8. What would be a godly reaction to the downfall of a wicked person?

 

Apply It
  1. How can you ask God to prepare your heart for the next time you hear of the downfall of a fellow Christian?
  2. What can be your response if you feel that the name of God is being maligned?

Friday 13 November 2020

If I Perish, I Perish

Read Esther 4:16

Lesson 2

Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!” Esther 4:16

We often hear the verse quoted, “for such a time as this”, referring to Esther’s position as queen and her role in saving the Jewish race from destruction. This section of scripture is applicable to our lives today because the Lord definitely places us in positions to be used for His purposes. However, if not careful, we might miss the deeper context of this scripture. Esther was willing to lay down her life “for such a time as this.” She recognized the seriousness of the situation and the calling upon her life.

The Lord is looking for those who are willing to take a stand for Him, for His Word and for His kingdom. For those of us who shout, “Send me Lord!” there is great accountability and responsibility attached to such a proclamation. We will be tested and tried. We will endure severe trials, designed to grow our faith. We will be faced with the questions such as, “Will you still praise Me in the storm?” The Lord takes our vow of commitment seriously and He is more than willing to prepare us to be used for His purpose and His glory. But, rest assured, our motives will be challenged and our true intentions revealed. When we are willing to forsake it all, then “for such a time as this” becomes our reality.

Today’s verses give us some hints as to what to do in preparation. We need to gather together with other believers, pray together, and fast together, focusing on the main issue at hand. We must seek the Lord’s wisdom through His Word in how to go forward and have assurance in His guidance, even if it seems contrary to the “law.” Then, step out in faith, with an attitude of abandonment. Let it all go. This message should be sobering to all of us who sincerely pray to be used in a powerful way by the Lord. The stakes might be higher than we realize. Are we ready?

 

Thursday 12 November 2020

For Such a Time as This

Read Esther 4:9-17

Lesson 2

One of the most widely quoted scriptures of our day is Esther 4:14, but do we really understand the cost that she was willing to pay? Are we ready to step out and put everything we have on the line, not knowing if we will win or lose? This message is one of absolute surrender to God’s will. If called, will we follow at all costs?

  1. After Esther received Mordecai’s message, what was her initial response?
  2. How would you describe Esther’s concerns?
  3. Describe Mordecai’s response to Esther’s message. How do Mordecai’s words reflect God’s sovereignty in this situation?
  4. Why do you think Esther changed her position and decided to take a stand, knowing her own life would be in danger?
  5. Explain the spiritual significance of what Esther did to prepare herself for the next step.
  6. Write a prayer from your heart to the Lord and ask Him to reveal to you your next steps to take. What does this message mean to your personally?

 

Wednesday 11 November 2020

Indescribable Anguish

Read Esther 4:1-8

Lesson 2
  1. Describe Mordecai’s response to the king’s edict.

Mordecai’s Jewish background was well-known to those in the city, which magnified his public outcry against the plan of annihilation for his people. He lay at the gate in sackcloth, making his emotional state clear to everyone. He was in great anguish.

  1. How did the other Jews respond to this news from the king?
  2. What did Esther do once she heard about Mordecai?
  3. What inside information did Mordecai have concerning Haman’s plot to destroy the Jews? Why was that information significant?

Mordecai used his information about Haman to let Esther know how serious the situation was for the Jews and to make sure she knew the truth of who was plotting their destruction.

  1. What did Mordecai want Esther to do with this information?
  2. Have you ever faced a situation where you felt utterly helpless to change it? How did you handle it? Did your trust in the Lord grow as a result?

Pray about it: Help me Lord to trust You when I do not understand why things are happening in my life that bring fear and hopelessness. Teach me to walk in Your ways in wisdom through these trials. In Jesus name, Amen.

 

Tuesday 10 November 2020

The Document of Destruction

Read Esther 3:7-15

Lesson 2
  1. Describe Haman’s method of determining the date for his attack on the Jews. How did the Lord use this type of secular activity to achieve His purpose?

By casting lots, Haman decided that the massacre should take place in the twelfth month of the year. Casting lots was a routine practice in the Old Testament for making certain types of decisions. This ancient ritual in the Persian kingdom was called Pur. When reading Acts 1:23-2:4, we understand that the disciples sought the Lord’s will through this method prior to the coming of the Holy Spirit.After the coming of the Holy Spirit in Acts chapter two, the casting of lots is no longer documented as a means in interpreting God’s will for God’s people.

Haman cast the lot in the first month and the twelfth month that was chosen to carry out Haman’s plan. An entire year would need to pass under this judgment against the Jews. Ahasuerus apparently signed the decree without even realizing precisely what racial group he had agreed to exterminate. Haman claimed that his desire to kill the Jews arose from his concern regarding their insubordination (as seen from Mordecai). He rationalized that the Jewish people, as a whole, were a security threat for the empire.

  1. How did Haman persuade the king to accept his plan and what did he offer that made his deal with the king even more appealing?
  2. How did King Ahasuerus respond to Haman’s plan?
  3. It appears that the king was more than willing to support this extreme act of destruction and devastation that would eliminate an entire race of people. Why do you think the king was willing to support this edict of destruction?
  4. What do you think causes a person (people) to behave with such disregard for life?

Pray about it: Dear Lord, help me to be discerning of the authorities in this world in how to pray and how to make decisions that are in line with Your will. Give me wisdom to know the position I am to take as Your witness.

Monday 9 November 2020

Daily Disciples topical Bible studies  LESSON 2

Haman’s Promotion: Mordecai’s Refusal

Read Esther 3:1-6

After he was promoted by the king, Haman demanded that all other officials bow down to him. Mordecai refused to do so. When Haman was confronted with the obvious rebellion of Mordecai, he also learned that Mordecai was a Jew. Haman became furious and asked the king to exterminate all Jews in the kingdom. All they needed was a date and the king’s approval.

  1. Describe from verse one all that the king did for Haman.
  2. Describe in your own words how Haman must have felt after such a promotion.

For the king to establish such a reverence for someone besides himself was not consistent with tradition.

  1. What was the root of Haman’s decision to kill the Jews?
  2. Why did Mordecai refuse to bow down to Haman?

Interesting note: Haman was an “Agagite,” which may help explain his deep hatred for the Jews. Many scholars believe this means he was an Amalekite descended from King Agag, who was spared by Saul and then killed by Samuel (1 Samuel 15). The Amalekites were bitter enemies of Israel, having attacked them while they journeyed through the desert with Moses. Through Samuel the prophet, the Lord was the One who instructed Saul to destroy them. Though the relationship between Haman and the Amalekites is possible, it is not proven as an historical fact.

  1. Is Mordecai’s disobedience to authority justified in this situation?
  2. What were Haman’s main sins? Look up 1 John 2:16 and describe what happens when we follow the world’s temptations.

Pray about it: Dear Lord, there are times when I know the struggle with pride is stronger than I can handle. Please help me by the power of Your Spirit to remain humble and submitted to Your will. Make me aware of my sinful desires and protect me from falling into temptation. In Jesus, name. Amen.

Monday 9 November 2020

EZEKIEL 24

The Cooking Pot and Ezekiel’s Wife – Ezekiel 24:1-27

Open It
  1. What was it that dirtied the most difficult pot or pan you’ve ever had to scrub clean?
  2. What do you consider the most difficult aspect of the death of a loved one?
Explore It
  1. Of what cataclysmic event did God inform Ezekiel on the very day it was taking place far away? (24:1-2)
  2. What procedures of a normal sacrificial meal did God detail at the beginning of the cooking pot prophecy? (24:3-5)
  3. What did God call the city of Jerusalem in Ezekiel’s day? (24:6)
  4. According to the prophecy, what was wrong with the “cooking pot” of Judah? (24:6-8)
  5. Why did God intend to take the “cooking” far beyond the point where it would give pleasure to the people? (24:9-12)
  6. What would be necessary in order for Judah to be “clean” once again? (24:13)
  7. What would be the basis of God’s judgment against Judah? (24:14)
  8. What unusual command did the Lord give Ezekiel along with a disturbing prediction? (24:15-17)
  9. What did Ezekiel do when his wife died as God had predicted? (24:18)
  10. What question did the exiles ask Ezekiel about his unusual behavior? (24:19)
  11. What intention did God declare to the exiles? (24:20-21)
  12. What attitude had the exiles had toward the city of Jerusalem and its leaders who remained there? (24:21)
  13. What did God predict that the exiles would do in response to the news about Jerusalem? (24:22-24)
  14. When would Ezekiel be released from the command to remain silent except when he had a word from the Lord? (24:25-27)
Get It
  1. What might the people have thought when Ezekiel named an exact day for the Babylonian siege of Jerusalem?
  2. How did Ezekiel’s prophecy put a different slant on the assumption of the people left in Jerusalem that they were somehow favored over the exiles?
  3. What did God mean when He said that the cooking pot had “frustrated all efforts” to cleanse it?
  4. What are some examples from your experience of God’s efforts to purify an individual short of destroying him or her?
  5. When Ezekiel took some sort of unusual action (or inaction), what had the people come to know about the significance of it?
  6. Which of your relationships would be the most difficult for you to disrupt in order to be obedient to God?
  7. Why was the arrival of a fugitive from Jerusalem to confirm the news of its downfall going to be a turning point in Ezekiel’s ministry?
Apply It
  1. What relationships do you want to subjugate to God’s commands with a prayer now?
  2. In what practical way could you cooperate with God’s efforts to cleanse your life in the coming days?

Friday 6 November 2020

LESSON 1

Obtaining Grace and Favour

Read Esther 2:12-23

Lesson 1

  1. Describe the preparation process for a woman to meet the king.
  2. What did Esther do when it was her turn to go to the king?
  3. How did Esther become queen?

It is amazing to think of the effort it took for hundreds of women to approach one man, the king. Over and over, the Scriptures instruct us to honour and revere the Lord above all others. Are we preparing our hearts daily for our King? Do our words, decisions and actions reflect that we live to please the Lord? The Lord is always extending His grace and favour towards us. We are called the Bride of Christ, the child of the King, sons and daughter of the Heavenly Father. Are we living like we believe it? Are we concerned with His desires and will over our own?

  1. What did Mordecai discover while sitting at the king’s gate?

Queen Esther informed the king in Mordecai’s name about the death plot. God’s hand of providence is all over this book. The Jewish religious leaders are known to quote the saying that “Coincidence is not a kosher word.”

  1. Explain a time in your life that God’s providence was so evident to you.

Pray about it: Lord, You see all and You know all. Please give me a reverence for You in all that I say and do. I want to live my life in a way that reflects that I am seeking Your approval only. In and for Jesus only. Amen

 

Thursday 5 November 2020

Daily Disciples Topical Bible Studies Series

 Regrets and Relationships

Read Esther 2:1-15

Lesson 1

Chapter two opens in crises as the king has no queen. King Ahasuerus is now sober and saddened as his wrath has subsided. The king’s servants made another suggestion to appease the king. It is interesting to note that a “pleased” king was top priority. The phrase to “please” or “pleased the king” are quoted frequently in these two chapters. The word means “to make well, happy or right.” The emotional state of the king affected the entire kingdom.

  1. As the king remembered the incident with Vashti, what did his attendants propose?

Persian kings were known to have harems of the most beautiful young women; however, one of the women would rise to be queen. Beautiful women from all cultures made up the harem. The Jewish people were exiled to Babylon years earlier by King Nebuchadnezzar. Although the Jews were freed from Babylon by the Persians and allowed to return to Jerusalem, many Jewish people stayed in Persia.

  1. Describe Esther and her family’s background.
  2. What kind of relationship did Esther have with:
  • Hegai?
  • Uncle Mordecai?

4. From this section of Scripture, answer the following:

  • What impact did power and wealth have on Esther?
  • How is Esther a good role model for men and women today?
  • What is the proper attitude towards wealth and prestige?
  • How do your priorities towards money and status influence your choices every day?

Pray about it: Lord, You value our love for You and other people more than anything else on earth. Develop our character in such a way that brings You glory.

 

Wednesday 4 November 2020

Daily Disciples topical Bible studies
DAY 3

The King’s Command

Read Esther 1:19-22

Lesson 1

The seven princes that were actively involved with the decisions of the king were chosen from the seven most prominent families of Persia and Media. These men had free access to the king and from their families; the king was to choose a wife.

  1. What counsel was given to the king and how did he respond?
  2. What was the desired response for all the men in the king’s province by making this kind of decree?
  3. Do you see similar tactics of fear being used in the world today? How?

When a decree or edict was written according to Medo-Persian laws it could not be repealed or altered, even by the king who issued it.

  1. We see in verse 19 that the king’s decree could not be altered. And according to verses 20 and 22 all wives were to honor their husbands. What do you think happens in relationships when one person is forced to “honor” the other?

The last sentence of this chapter states, “that each man should be master in his own house, and speak in the language of his own people.” This means that it was no longer lawful for a woman to speak in her native language at home. The man’s ways, commands and opinions were the only ones that mattered.

  1. From this chapter, what caught your attention or impacted you the most?

Pray about it: Lord, I thank You that Your ways matter most. Thank You that you called a woman to be one flesh with a man and asked them to honour each other. I pray that You direct me in the ways that I need to be with people. Help me to honor You above anything else.

 

Tuesday 3 November 2020

Daily Disciples topical Bible studies
Day 2

Kingdom Counsel

Read Esther 1:13-18

Lesson 1

  1. From verses 13-14, answer the following:
  • Describe the men who advised the king.
  • How many men came and what position did they hold?

2.  What was the dilemma in the kingdom? (Verse 15)

3.  According to Memucan, what was the primary problem with Vashti’s refusal to obey the king’s command?

4. When a difficult situation or crises occurs in your life, whose counsel do you seek?

5. Look up the following verses:

Meditate on these verses and make it your prayer today…

Blessed is the man who walks not in the counsel of the ungodly, nor stands in the path of sinners, nor sits in the seat of the scornful; But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and in His law he meditates day and night. He shall be like a tree planted by the rivers of water, that brings forth its fruit in its season, whose leaf also shall not wither; and whatever he does shall prosper. Psalms 1:1-3

 

Monday 2 November 2020

Daily disciples topical Bible studies

A King & his Kingdom Crises

Read Esther 1:1-12

Lesson 1

The book of Esther tells of God’s divine guidance and protection of His people. Although God is not mentioned, His power and His sovereignty are proclaimed throughout the book.

  1. From verses 1-9, describe King Ahasuerus’ feasts or parties.
  2. Two full verses (7-8) are given to describe how the wine was served, its amount and its consumption at the feast. Look up the following verses that describe the excess of alcohol:

3. From verse 10, answer the following:

  • Describe the condition of the king when he “commanded” the queen’s appearance.
  • How many men did he call to carry out his command and what position did they hold?

4. Considering the setting, why do you think the queen’s answer brought such a strong reaction from the king?

To command means “to declare, to demand or to determine.” The Scriptures state that “the king was furious and his anger burned within him.” Proverbs 20:1-2 has an interesting correlation when it comes to this section of the book of Esther. These verses say, “Wine is a mocker, strong drink is a brawler, and whoever is led astray by it is not wise. The wrath of a king is like the roaring of a lion; whoever provokes him to anger sins against his own life.” Queen Vashti seems to be caught in a net. “The heart of the king was merry with wine” but he has commanded her to come to him.

  1. Queen Vashti knew that her refusal could mean that she would lose her position at the least, but more likely to lose to her life. Describe a time when you refused to do something that you were “commanded” or strongly encouraged to do and share the results (or fruits) of your action?

 

Saturday 31 October 2020

 

1ST STEPS
CHARACTER

 

  1. Love Makes Faithfulness Easy, Right?

What’s the Point?

Christians should grow in faithfulness.

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law’ (Gal. 5:22-23).

In December 2015 Karam and Katari Chand from Bradford celebrated their 90th wedding anniversary. They were officially the world’s longest married couple until Karam died the following year. How amazing is that? They were faithful to one another for ninety years – that’s nearly a century. This kind of fidelity, loyalty and faithfulness is rare nowadays. Every day there are stories splashed all over the tabloids and magazines with sensational headlines of cheaters caught red-handed. We all know tales of families that have being torn apart and destroyed by unfaithfulness. This might make for sensational reading in the papers, but the truth behind these headlines will no doubt be devastatingly painful. Sadly, divorce rates are climbing through the roof as promises to remain true made on wedding days become a long-forgotten memory. Faithfulness seems like an optional extra when people are on their second or third marriage.

The Bible calls us as Christians to grow in faithfulness. So what does faithfulness actually mean? Faithfulness means to be completely reliable and true to our word. Most of us have a best friend, someone who has been with you through thick and thin. You know they are completely loyal and keep their word. You can and have trusted them with your deepest darkest secret, and you’re absolutely certain they haven’t breathed a single word to anyone. In fact, we know that they would keep their word even if it were costly to them because they have done it in the past. They’re a proper diamond! This is the faithfulness I’m talking about, faithfulness that is motivated by our affections and is 100 per cent loyal in heart and mind.

This is what we are called to in our relationship with God. We are called to be 100 per cent faithful to Him as He is faithful to us.

‘Know therefore that the Lord your God is God; he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments’ (Deut. 7:9).

God is completely and utterly faithful. He is always reliable, totally trustworthy, never changes, absolutely true to His word, and completely loyal. You see, it is in God’s very nature to be faithful – it’s who He is.

Deuteronomy 32:4 says, ‘The Rock, his work is perfect, for all his ways are justice. A God of faithfulness and without iniquity, just and upright is he.’ (esv)

Out of God’s faithfulness to Himself, God is faithful to His people. Moses says in Deuteronomy 7:9 (esv) that God ‘keeps covenant and steadfast love with those who love him.’ This covenant is a binding agreement between two people, like a contract but weightier. It’s also more personal, like you would find in marriage vows. But there is one major difference when God makes a covenant promise. Unlike the contract or marriage vows, this covenant is an agreement made between two unequal parties. After all, He is GOD. When God makes a covenant He sets the agenda, He makes the rules, it’s non-negotiable, and unlike us He always keeps His promise. His Word is as solid as it comes.

The same can’t be said for us, as I’ve no doubt we will all be able to testify. It can be pretty common to break or go back on a promise. To be honest, we behave sometimes like it’s no big deal. We make promises all the time. We promise to visit our granny, we promise to take the kids out, we promise to do the dishes and we promise ourselves that this is the last cigarette.

We often break promises.

Stop

When was the last time you promised to do something? Did you do it?

When God makes a covenant with His people He always keeps it. He is completely dependable and keeps His Word.

God doesn’t change His mind and never breaks a promise.

Jackie

How can I trust that’s true?

‘God is not man, that he should lie, or a son of man, that he should change his mind. Has he said, and will he not do it? Or has he spoken, and will he not fulfil it?’ (Num. 23:19, esv)

God made a covenant with Abraham (Gen. 12), promising that He would make his seed into a great nation and bless them, promising to give them their own land for a home. God kept that promise. But Abraham must have wondered if God was going to be faithful, because it took decades for God to make good on His Word. Abraham didn’t have his son Isaac until he was 100 years old. One kid’s not a nation, though, is it? If we draw the family tree from Isaac, adding his children and then his grandchildren, eventually if we keep going you will find this little family became the nation of Israel. God was absolutely faithful to His promise to Abraham. Time and time again through the Bible we see God being faithful to His promise.

‘God spoke to Moses and said to him, “I am the Lord. I appeared to Abraham, to Isaac, and to Jacob, as God Almighty, but by my name the Lord I did not make myself known to them. I also established my covenant with them to give them the land of Canaan, the land in which they lived as sojourners. Moreover, I have heard the groaning of the people of Israel whom the Egyptians hold as slaves, and I have remembered my covenant. Say therefore to the people of Israel: I am the Lord, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians, and I will deliver you from slavery to them, and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgement.”’ (Exod. 6:2-6, esv)

Generations after their ancestors Abraham and Isaac, Israel must have thought God was unfaithful. They were suffering, held captive as slaves in Egypt. They must have asked themselves if God had broken His Word to bless them and give them a home. But as we see from Exodus 6:2-6, God made a promise and He is going to keep it.

You might be thinking, ‘OK, Sharon, nice history lesson and much shorter than the Prince of Egypt version, but what’s that got to do with me today?’ It has loads to do with us today, because as Christians we are now part of the same covenant promise God made to Abraham, through the blood of Jesus. We are His people. He’s rescued us and promised us a Christian homeland, heaven! God always keeps His promises.

He will be faithful to us, and thankfully His faithfulness isn’t dependent on us; He is faithful despite our

sin,
weaknesses
and failures.

Although we are unfaithful to Him, He remains faithful to us.

That’s not an excuse to whoop it up and live however we want, embracing every sin we can think of! But it’s a promise that even if we fail and let Him down, He will be true and faithful concerning His promises to us. He doesn’t change. He is dependable. We can trust in Him. He is faithful. So I’m going to bang that same drum, asking how this applies to our lives. God is faithful to His people and we must display His faithfulness in our lives. We need to understand that when we became Christians, we entered into one of these covenants with God that we talked about earlier. We are in a relationship with Him and called as His children to be faithful and true to Him.

We are to be a faithful people.

Stop

What do you think that looks like?

Being true and faithful to God means we need to put Him first. That’s easy to say but hard to do. We chase after things, making them more important to us than God. The Bible calls these idols. We say we are 100 per cent committed to God and then when the next good-looking guy, chance to get some extra cash, or opportunity to have some fun or pleasure comes along, we put God aside. We tell ourselves it’s just for a moment and we lie to ourselves and ultimately forsake Him. The Bible uses words we might think harsh, but it calls us prostitutes, saying we go whoring after other things.

We cheat on God left, right and centre.

Strong words but the harsh reality!

Jackie

After Frank left her, Jackie’s mum was helpful but it wasn’t really the same; life was tough being a single mum. Jackie really struggled, but no matter how much she wanted to make their relationship work, he refused – he just couldn’t forgive her. Things had been slowly falling apart before the court case, but now she’s a Christian he’s become even more hostile. She knows what she did was wrong, but nothing she says or does seems to fix it. She’s said sorry a million times but he’ll never forgive her … the truth was hard for her to face. In the end she simply had no choice but to accept the reality. But she was lonely and she missed him.

Illustration

Jackie was spending more and more time on social media. She was back in touch with an old school pal who, on finding out Jackie was single again, suggested she try online dating. Jackie was hesitant at first and did question whether, as a Christian, this was right. ‘What are the rules now?’ She spent a while weighing it up in her mind – well, five minutes to be honest. Would God be happy with this?

The more Jackie thought about it the more she started to tell herself, ‘What have I got to lose?’ So she signed up. At first it was just the odd message to a guy. She hadn’t really spent much time on her profile, but the more she got chatting to blokes by private message, the more time she was spending online instead of with her kids. Soon it became the first thing she did in the morning, every spare second she got, and last thing at night. Things were getting so bad that Jackie beefed up her phone package so she could check her messages all the time. Jackie hadn’t yet agreed to go on a date, she just liked the chat. ‘Good to have the male side of the conversation,’ she told herself. If she was being honest she enjoyed flirting. The conversations had occasionally become a bit sexual, with suggestive comments. Jackie didn’t really see this as an issue; it wasn’t like she was actually having sex, after all. She said to herself, ‘It’s just make-believe.’ When the girls from church tried to meet up with her, she was far too busy. She’d even missed the odd Sunday. She’d been up late into the night messaging and was just too tired to get up.

Stop

Who or what has become more important to Jackie than God?

We don’t wake up one morning ten miles from God, and drifting away doesn’t happen overnight. As we read in Jackie’s story, the drift happened a little bit at a time. She gave over her affection to something and someone else. Where once God was important to her, the pleasure of being loved by a guy took over – it became what drove her actions. We are called to be faithful in our affections towards God and love Him first. We shouldn’t chase after idols but be wholly obedient to God – 100 percent commitment is what He wants.

Jackie

After being really challenged by a sermon one day, Jackie realised she’d been a complete idiot, and when it was all quiet she prayed and asked God to forgive her. When she was talking it through with her friend Miriam later, she admitted how much she was really missing Frank and how lonely she was. ‘I know God’s more important to me than any man. I just find it hard to remember that.’

Stop

Who or what has become more important to you than God?Are you handing over your affection to something or someone else?

Jesus says we are to love God with all our hearts, all our minds and all our strength (Mark 12:30). That’s everything we’ve got. God is not just to be a little bit on the side, something we pick up on a Sunday morning and Wednesday evening, like a part-time relationship. No, He wants the whole of your life.

‘And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength’ (Mark 12:30, esv).

Not only are we to be faithful to God, but also faithful to one another. We ought to be true to our word even when it costs us big time and hurts. In the big things and the small things. Luke 16:10 (esv) says: ‘One who is faithful in a very little is also faithful in much, and one who is dishonest in a very little is also dishonest in much.’

Faithfulness is born in the small things of life as we keep plodding on; it’s what we do when no one is looking.

It’s how we manage the small amounts of money we’ve got, how, no matter what little cash there is, we still give to God’s work, how we tell the truth even in the seemingly incidental things of life, how we squelch that little unhelpful thought before it becomes massive…. God honours this kind of faithfulness.

‘And if you faithfully obey the voice of the Lord your God, being careful to do all his commandments that I command you today, the Lord your God will set you high above all the nations of the earth’ (Deut. 28:1, esv).

Stop

What do you think is going on when you don’t feel the blessings of the Lord in your life?

When we disobey and are unfaithful there are consequences – we have to pay the piper, as my mum would say. We don’t like to think of consequences in the heat of the moment, when our minds are weighing up wisdom versus folly, or when we want to chase after sinful things.

But we can’t expect to move forward in our Christian lives while we are being disobedient to God.

It just doesn’t work like that.

Think about it: if a guy cheated on his wife again and again, would we really expect them to have a healthy relationship? Do we think she would trust him? Would they be communicating well? Not a chance! It’s exactly the same in our relationship with God. When we are in persistent sin and disobedience, our relationships with God can’t be healthy, we won’t be trusted, our communication will be down the pan. We might be looking at our lives thinking we should be further on in our Christian walk. Maybe, even though we’ve been persistently praying, we don’t feel close to God. The reason may be that we’re unfaithful. We need to stop running after other things.

‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9, esv).

Key Point

We are unfaithful to God when we chase and lust after the desires of our hearts. We must repent, confess and return in faithfulness to God.

Memory Verse

‘Let us hold fast the confession of our hope without wavering, for he who promised is faithful’ (Heb. 10:23, esv).

We are an unfaithful people but Christ will hold us fast. And so let us in response faithfully worship Him with all that we have! Let us hold fast our confession. Let us adore Him. Let us love Him more than anything else. Let us worship Him with all that we have – because He is worthy!

Summary

Many of us simply wouldn’t think of being unfaithful to someone we loved yet we are unfaithful to God all too often. God is completely and utterly faithful. He is always reliable, totally trustworthy, never changes, absolutely true to His Word, and unflinchingly loyal to His people. In our weakness, on account of His faithfulness, Christ forgives us. What an encouragement. He will hold us fast until the end because He is faithful. He cannot deny Himself (2 Tim. 2:13).

 

Friday 30 October 2020

BEAUTIFUL THOUGHTS FOR NOVEMBER

 

Beautiful thoughts for the coming month of November. Keep them at the bedside, and read the thought of the day as you awake in order that you are refreshed, and read it again as you go to bed to sleep.

November 1

All around us Christians are wearing themselves out in trying to be better. The amount of spiritual longing in the world—in the hearts of unnumbered thousands of men and women in whom we should never suspect it; among the wise and thoughtful; among the young and gay, who seldom assuage and never betray their thirst—this is one of the most wonderful and touching facts of life. It is not more heat that is needed, but more light; not more force, but a wiser direction to be given to very real energies already there.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 14.

November 2

Men sigh for the wings of a dove, that they may fly away and be at Rest. But flying away will not help us. “The Kingdom of God is within you.” We aspire to the top to look for Rest; it lies at the bottom. Water rests only when it gets to the lowest place. So do men. Hence, be lowly.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 30.

November 3

The kingdom of God is righteousness, peace, joy. Righteousness, of course, is just doing what is right. Any boy who does what is right has the kingdom of God within him. Any boy who, instead of being quarrelsome, lives at peace with the other boys, has the kingdom of God within him. Any boy whose heart is filled with joy because he does what is right has the kingdom of God within him. The kingdom of God is not going to religious meetings, and hearing strange religious experiences: the kingdom of God is doing what is right—living at peace with all men, being filled with joy in the Holy Ghost.

First, p. 11.

November 4

The man who has no opinion of himself at all can never be hurt if others do not acknowledge him. Hence, be meek. He who is without expectation cannot fret if nothing comes to him. It is self-evident that these things are so. The lowly man and the meek man are really above all other men, above all other things.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 30.

November 5

Keep religion in its place, and it will take you straight through life, and straight to your Father in heaven when life is over. But if you do not put it in its place, you may just as well have nothing to do with it. Religion out of its place in human life is the most miserable thing in the world. There is nothing that requires so much to be kept in its place as religion, and its place is what? second? third? “First.” Boys, carry that home with you today—first the kingdom of God. Make it so that it will be natural to you to think about that the very first thing.

First, pp. 15-16.

November 6

The change we have been striving after is not to be produced by any more striving after. It is to be wrought upon us by the moulding of hands beyond our own. As the branch ascends, and the bud bursts and the fruit reddens under the cooperation of influences from the outside air, so man rises to the higher stature under invisible pressures from without.

The Changed Life, p. 21.

November 7

Every man’s character remains as it is, or continues in the direction in which it is going until it is compelled by impressed forces to change that state. Our failure has been the failure to put ourselves in the way of the impressed forces. There is clay, and there is a Potter; we have tried to get the clay to mould the clay.

The Changed Life, p. 21.

November 8

Character is a unity, and all the virtues must advance together to make the perfect man. This method of sanctification, nevertheless, is in the true direction. It is only in the details of execution that it fails.

The Changed Life, p. 14.

November 9

We all reflecting as a mirror the character of Christ are transformed into the same Image from character to character—from a poor character to a better one, from a better one to one a little better still, from that to one still more complete, until by slow degrees the Perfect Image is attained. Here the solution to the problem of sanctification is compressed into a sentence: Reflect the character of Christ, and you will become like Christ.

The Changed Life, p. 24.

November 10

There are some men and some women in whose company we are always at our best. While with them we cannot think mean thoughts or speak ungenerous words. Their mere presence is elevation, purification, sanctity. All the best stops in our nature are drawn out by their intercourse, and we find music in our souls that was never there before.

The Changed Life, p. 33.

November 11

Take such a sentence as this: African explorers are subject to fevers which cause restlessness and delirium. Note the expression, “cause restlessness.” restlessness has a cause. Clearly, then, any one who wished to get rid of restlessness would proceed at once to deal with the cause.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 20.

November 12

What Christian experience wants is a thread, a vertebral column, method. It is impossible to believe that there is no remedy for its unevenness and dishevelment, or that the remedy is a secret. The idea, also, that some few men, by happy chance or happier temperament, have been given the secret—as if there were some sort of knack or trick of it—is wholly incredible. Religion must ripen fruit for every temperament, and the way even into its highest heights must be by a gateway through which the peoples of the world may pass.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 15.

November 13

Nothing that happens in the world happens by chance. God is a God of order. Everything is arranged upon definite principles, and never at random. The world, even the religious world, is governed by law. Character is governed by law. Happiness is governed by law. The Christian experiences are governed by law.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 17.

November 14

We are changed, as the Old Version has it—we do not change ourselves. No man can change himself. Throughout the New Testament, you will find that wherever these moral and spiritual transformations are described the verbs are in the passive. Presently it will be pointed out that there is a rationale in this, but meantime do not toss these words aside as if this passivity denied all human effort or ignored intelligible law. What is implied for the soul here is no more than is everywhere claimed for the body?

The Changed Life, p. 19.

November 15

Rain and snow do drop from the air, but not without a long previous history. They are the mature effects of former causes. Equally so are Rest, and Peace, and Joy. They, too, have each a previous history. Storms and winds and calms are not accidents but are brought about by antecedent circumstances. Rest and Peace are but calms in man’s inward nature, and arise through causes as definite and as inevitable.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 18.

November 16

Few men know how to live. We grow up at random, carrying into mature life the merely animal methods and motives which we had as little children. And it does not occur to us that all this must be changed; that much of it must be reversed; that life is the finest of the Fine Arts; that it has to be learned with life-long patience, and that the years of our pilgrimage are all too short to master it triumphantly.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 31.

November 17

Christ’s life outwardly was one of the most troubled lives that was ever lived: Tempest and tumult, tumult and tempest, the waves breaking over it all the time till the worn body was laid in the grave. But the inner life was a sea of glass. The great calm was always there. At any moment you might have gone to Him and found Rest.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 35.

November 18

The creation of a new heart, the renewing of a right spirit is an omnipotent work of God. Leave it to the Creator. “He which hath begun a good work in you will perfect it unto that day.”

The Changed Life, p. 57.

November 19

To become like Christ is the only thing in the world worth caring for, the thing before which every ambition of man is folly, and all lower achievement vain. Those only who make this quest the supreme desire and passion of their lives can even begin to hope to reach it.

The Changed Life, p. 57.

November 20

A religion of effortless adoration may be a religion for an angel but never for a man. Not in the contemplative, but in the active, lies true hope; not in rapture, but in reality, lies true life; not in the realm of ideals, but among tangible things, is man’s sanctification wrought.

The Changed Life, p. 58.

November 21

Nothing ever for a moment broke the serenity of Christ’s life on earth. Misfortune could not reach Him; He had no fortune. Food, raiment, money—fountain-heads of half the world’s weariness—He simply did not care for; they played no part in His life; He “took no thought” for them. It was impossible to affect Him by lowering His reputation; He had already made Himself of no reputation. He was dumb before insult. When He was reviled, He reviled not again. In fact, there was nothing that the world could do to Him that could ruffle the surface of His spirit.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 36.

November 22

Life is the cradle of eternity. As the man is to the animal in the slowness of his evolution, so is the spiritual man to the natural man. Foundations that have to bear the weight of an eternal life must be surely laid. Character is to wear forever; who will wonder or grudge that it cannot be developed in a day?

The Changed Life, p. 55.

November 23

To await the growth of a soul is an almost Divine act of faith. How pardonable, surely, the impatience of deformity with itself, of a consciously despicable character standing before Christ, wondering, yearning, hungering to be like that? Yet must one trust the process fearlessly, and without misgiving. “The Lord the Spirit” will do His part. The tempting expedient is, in haste for abrupt or visible progress, to try some method less spiritual, or to defeat the end by watching for effects instead of keeping the eye on the Cause.

The Changed Life, p. 56.

November 24

The Image of Christ that is forming within us—that is life’s one charge. Let every project stand aside for that. “Till Christ be formed,” no man’s work is finished, no religion crowned, no life has fulfilled its end. Is the infinite task begun? When, how, are we to be different? Time cannot change men. Death cannot change men. Christ can. Wherefore put on Christ.

The Changed Life, p. 62.

November 25

Christ saw that men took life painfully. To some, it was a weariness, to others a failure, to many a tragedy, to all a struggle and a pain. How to carry this burden of life had been the whole world’s problem. It is still the whole world’s problem. And here is Christ’s solution. “Carry it as I do. Take life as I take it. Look at it from My point of view. Interpret it upon My principles. Take My yoke and learn of Me, and you will find it easy. For My yoke is easy, works easily, sits right upon the shoulders, and therefore My burden is light.”

Pax Vobiscum, p. 44.

November 26

There is a disease called “touchiness”—a disease which, in spite of its innocent name, is one of the gravest sources of restlessness in the world. Touchiness, when it becomes chronic, is a morbid condition of the inward disposition. It is self-love inflamed to the acute point… The cure is to shift the yoke to some other place; to let men and things touch us through some new and perhaps as yet unused part of our nature; to become meek and lowly in heart while the old nature is becoming numb from want of use.

Pax Vobiscum, pp. 45-46.

November 27

Christ’s yoke is simply His secret for the alleviation of human life, His prescription for the best and happiest method of living. Men harness themselves to the work and stress of the world in clumsy and unnatural ways. The harness they put on is antiquated. A rough, ill-fitted collar at the best, they make its strain and friction past enduring, by placing it where the neck is most sensitive; and by mere continuous irritation, this sensitiveness increases until the whole nature is quick and sore.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 45.

November 28

No one can get Joy by merely asking for it. It is one of the ripest fruits of the Christian life, and, like all fruits, must be grown.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 50.

November 29

Christ is the source of Joy to men in the sense in which He is the source of Rest. His people share His life, and therefore share its consequences, and one of these is Joy. His method of living is one that in the nature of things produces Joy. When He spoke of His Joy remaining with us He meant in part that the causes which produced it should continue to act. His followers, that is to say, by repeating His life would experience its accompaniments. His Joy, His kind of Joy, would remain with them.

Pax Vobiscum, p. 54.

November 30

Think of it, the past is not only focused there, in a man’s soul, it is there. How could it be reflected from there if it were not there? All things that he has ever seen, known, felt, believed of the surrounding world are now within him, have become part of him, in part are him—he has been changed into their image. He may deny it, he may resent it, but they are there. They do not adhere to him, they are transfused through him. He cannot alter or rub them out. They are not in his memory, they are in him. His soul is as they have filled it, made it, left it.

 

Thursday 29 October 2020

Ezekiel 23

Two Adulterous Sisters – Ezekiel 23:1-49

Open It

  1. In what ways are you and your siblings alike or different?
  2. In your opinion how difficult is it to change patterns of behaviour that are developed during your youth?

Explore It

  1. Who was represented by the two sisters in Ezekiel’s parable? (23:1-4)
  2. Where were the two sisters first guilty of unfaithfulness and prostitution? (23:3)
  3. After what nation’s warriors did the first sister, representing Samaria, lust? (23:5-8)
  4. What other sin followed along with “prostitution”? (23:7)
  5. To what judgment did God hand over Oholah, the first sister? (23:9-10)
  6. How did the one woman behave when she saw what happened to her sister? (23:11-13)
  7. *In what way did Oholibah (Judah) go farther than Oholah in her sin? (23:14-21)
  8. What did God promise would happen to Oholibah? (23:22-24)
  9. Whose standards of punishment would be applied against Judah? (23:24-26)
  10. What words are used to describe what would be Judah’s condition after she was judged? (23:28-34)
  11. What attitude toward God compelled Him to allow Judah’s suffering? (23:35)
  12. What sins did the Lord list that He held against Israel and Judah? (23:36-41)
  13. To whom did even the children of prostitutes belong? (23:37)
  14. How would the two sisters be treated by evil men and righteous men, respectively? (23:42-45)
  15. How did God intend to put an end to the prostitution of His people? (23:46-48)

Get It

  1. How might the people of Judah have felt about being told they were worse than Israel, which had already suffered God’s judgment?
  2. When have you wanted something that, once attained, ultimately disappointed you?
  3. How can we expect to be treated by others if we treat ourselves with contempt?
  4. Why, once we have given into one sin, does it become easier to go on to something worse?
  5. How does God feel about little ones, regardless of the circumstances of their conception or birth?
  6. In what sense was the Babylonian invasion and exile an instance of God’s people bearing the consequences of their own actions?

Apply It

  1. What negative pattern from your childhood or youth do you need to “unlearn” with God’s help?
  2. When you feel the lure of power, wealth, or inordinate pleasure, how can you counteract it and remain faithful to God?

 

Wednesday 28 October 2020

Crisis worship 6
  1. Desiring the Dramatic

Hannah—Can we worship in bitterness of soul?

I Samuel 1:1-28

1Now there was a certain man of Ramathaimzophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite:
2And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
3And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there.
4And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions:
   5But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up her womb.
6And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.
7And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat.
 8Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?
9So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the Lord.
10And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.
11And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.
12And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth.
13Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.
14And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.
15And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord.
16Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.
17Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.
18And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.
19And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the Lord, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the Lord remembered her.
20Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord.
21And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and his vow.
22But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever.
23And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the Lord establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him.
24And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young.
25And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli.
26And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord.
27For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him:
28Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.

The story before us is one that is vivid and has a plot that is touching. As we consider the life of Hannah, many of the readers can feel her pain. The story of Hannah has a human element that people can identify with even in these modern times. In reading this story many of us can humanize her dilemma. Most of us know someone in the same situation. The journey will conclude with Hannah maintaining her faith in her God though she was barren, broken, and had bitterness in her soul. Crisis worship gets past the hurt, the heartache, and the heaviness of the situation.

The Godly Family that is Mentioned

The story opens up telling us about the partner of Hannah, her husbands name was Elkanah. He was a good husband to Hannah, he loved her more than words could express. Elkanah was also a Godly man of faith; he loyally traveled to the house of his God to worship. In the opening passage we also read of the problem of Hannah. The bible reveals her inward pain; this pain was due to her barrenness. As she lived from day to day this barrenness haunted her, it cried out with a loud voice that could never be silenced. The voiced cried so loud in the silence of each night; that the perplexity of Hannah seemed to be an impossible case.

The Gloomy Future that is Manifested

How many of us face odds that seem to have no resolution, no remedy, and seemingly no recourse for a good outcome? We can identify with her sorrow, the sorrow that no doctor could cure. The problem was a barren womb, no hope of children. This would weigh so heavy on her mentally, emotionally, and could eventually affect her physically. The days turned into months, and then the years begin to pass by; no help ever came her way. This produced a broken woman, a woman of much weeping and mighty wants.

The Glaring Foe that is mobilized

It is bad enough to have problems that stand in our path, but it is even worse when the enemy tries to bully us around. We now see the woman that taunted Hannah; she was also the wife of Elkanah. The name of this woman was Peninnah; she was very mean and malicious woman. We need to hear the words that troubled Hannah; pointed words of that brought pain. The husband gave portions of his wealth to Peninnah and her children every year, but he gave a greater portion to Hannah. He loved her more than he could ever love his wife Peninnah. In spite of all of this we see the womb that tormented Hannah; no amount of love could ease the pain of her barren womb.

The Gallant Fortitude that is Maintained

In situation after situation I have found Christians that maintained their faith in spite of the circumstances. It is so refreshing to hear the stories of Gods little loved ones displaying faith and fortitude in the midst of crisis. Hannah goes to the house of God and the bitterness of her soul is revealed. In spite of having a bitter soul, her pain was inward; but her faith was upward.

In her prayer request she identifies the bigness of her situation. A big situation should require a big God; and a big request. As she prays, Hannah does the unthinkable, look at the boldness of her supplication. In praying she declares that if God would bless her with a man child, she would give him back to serve in the Lords house. This is such an awesome prayer of bright hope and bold faith.

The Great Fuss that is Mistaken

The priest is in the Lords house and watches Hannah. He finds her actions displeasing and makes mention of his displeasure; he has considered her to be drunk. I see the misguided accusation of Eli, in his haste he ignorantly accused of her of wrongdoing. I dare say that many of us jump the gun in equating the sorrows of our fellow man for some type of sin. We need to use caution before we accuse someone of something. How many times have we seen other people in crisis and let words of untruth flow from our lips?

This barren, broken and bitter woman declares to Eli that he is wrong. The woman is not drunk, but she was to the point of so much grief that her lips were moving but no audible words could be heard. This type of praying is probably the best type of praying. If we ever pray this type of prayer the Holy Spirit will make groaning and utterances on our behalf. We see the marvelous answer of Hannah, she was not drunk; but devoted. The woman had placed all of her trust in her God and in him only would she trust.

The Good Fortune that is Mandated

The priest was amazed at the faith of this feeble yet fantastic woman and the prayer of Hannah is heard. In hearing her prayer, we also find that the problem of Hannah is healed; she had to be so excited. I dare say that as she entered into the house of God that day it must have been so gloomy, but as she exits the house of God it must have been so bright. In leaving the pain of Hannah is halted, no more barrenness, no more brokenness, and no more bitterness. It had to be the brightest day of worship that she had ever experienced. The lord had heard her praying and would gloriously answer her feeble prayer.

The Glorious Faith that is Magnified

The days swiftly passed by and Hannah gives birth to a precious baby boy, his name is Samuel. Hannah has a special request concerning her boy. She wants to nurse him until he is weaned; then she will take him to the Lords house and there he will stay for the rest of his life. The request is granted by her husband and Hannah finds much to be thankful for as she raises this boy. Hannah had enough faith to desire the dramatic and God dramatically granted her desires.

The time came for Hannah to take Samuel to the Lords house, how would she respond? We should consider her somber resolve, she would honor her vow. This woman would be pleasing to God. The Lord expects us to follow through with every vow that we make. It is better to never make a vow; than to vow unto God and never honor it!

Hannah teaches us that it is possible to worship God in bitterness of soul. It can be accomplished; it is attainable for God’s children to reach this level of worship. In spite of our circumstances, no matter how difficult our dilemma; crisis worship is possible. The great thing about this story is that crisis worship is expected of each person that declares the name of God. We must desire the dramatic, our God can help us.

 

Tuesday 27 October 2020

WOMEN OF CHARACTER / WOMEN OF REST 6 FINAL

Resting in God’s Purpose

Luke 2:21-40

Setting the Stage:

Melissa, Bridesmaid

Who says a wedding has to be in church? If you ask me, I don’t think God cares. Anyway, this whole wedding thing has been so weird. I told them Doug would come home sooner or later. So why the big time stress? It’s not like he can help it or anything. The Air Force is his job.

Angie said she knew that. She knew she’d have to get used to it too, if she was going to marry him. But she cried all the time anyway, and I thought, “Geesh, maybe I’ll just stay single.”

With Mom sick, and Nana busy cancelling everything, I figured it was up to me to finish my dress. It was, like, no big deal. The machine was all set up, and I’d been sewing t-shirts and stuff since the seventh grade. I just said a prayer and followed the pattern.

Was I right? Doug called Angie on July first and I made her tell me word for word. “We just got in,” he said. “I’ll be home in two days. Do you still want to marry me?”

You’d think he’d been gone a year. Angie cried because he was coming home, Moms cried because she was still suppose to stay in bed, and Nana flew into cyberspace. “Melissa, you’ll just have to do the flowers. I’ve got two days and we are going to have this wedding!”

I said, “Cool!”

Angie helped. We picked some sprigs of lilac from the bush next to the porch, and Mom said to cut every rose that was anything close to a bud. We wrapped them in bunches with wet paper towels, then set them on newspaper in the back of Angie’s car.

When we got to Nana’s, the vases were scrubbed and ready. Nana sounded like a drill sergeant. “Angela, the bakery called. The cake is ready, and don’t forget the petit fours. Melissa, you can help in the kitchen.”

Boy, did the ladies from church come through with the goodies! Nuts and mints in silver dishes and little sandwiches shaped like hearts. I made cran-raspberry punch, and poured it in the good crystal punch bowl.

Some men set up the folding chairs. Then they rolled a bolt of white material down the stairs, across the carpet to the fireplace where Pastor and the rest of us would stand.

The living room smelled like a garden. Moms said, “I’ve rested enough,” and set bouquets of lilacs and roses everywhere.

I got dressed in Angie’s room and helped her fix her veil. Doug wasn’t supposed to see her, but I went down and snapped his picture with my Instamatic. He gave me a hug and a kiss on the cheek. “Whoa,” I thought, “I hope I find someone like him to marry.”

Everything was cool until the photographer called. His car broke down or something. Anyway he couldn’t make it till four and the ceremony was set for noon. I thought Nana would loose it for sure, but she just bowed her head a minute then smiled and said, “Didn’t I see Melissa with a camera?”

All the pictures turned out neat. Here’s one of Aunt Angie and me standing by the fountain in Nana’s back yard. Nana said, “Melissa, you look like a Sterling rosebud in that dress,” and Moms said, “It’s okay, Missy, she means well,” and I said, “What a cool wedding. Hey, you guys, think about it. In a few years we’ll be doing this for me!”

  1. How did God teach Melissa about his purposes through Angie’s wedding?
  2. When has God revealed his purposes to you through a seemingly strange set of circumstances?
God’s Word for Us

Read Luke 2:21-40.

  1. Describe the setting of this story.
  2. What do you learn about Simeon (Luke 2:22-25)?

about Anna (Luke 2:36-38)?

  1. What do you think is Simeon’s view of and/or relationship with God?

What is Anna’s?

  1. How did their perception of God and his purpose seem to affect their daily lives?
  2. To what degree do you think God has a purpose for you?
  3. What hope do Simeon and Anna offer the family?
  4. How do Simeon and Anna also offer the family a mixed blessing?
  5. How do you see a mixture of hope and barriers to hope in your own life?
  6. How do Mary and Joseph move forward in the purpose God has for them (Luke 2:39-40)?
  7. How have you been affected by others who have rested in God and his purpose for them?
  8. What have you learned from Simeon and Anna that will help you to rest in God and his purposes?
 Now or Later

Journal on the following: What is it like for me to have to wait for something important?

Reflect on the following passages:

“He gives strength to the weary and increases the power of the weak. Even youths grow tired and weary, and young men stumble and fall; but those who hope in the LORD will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint.” (Isaiah 40:29-31)

“I will stand at my watch and station myself on the ramparts; I will look to see what he will say to me, and what answer I am to give to this complaint.” (Habakkuk 2:1)

Wait before the Lord, quietly, to hear whatever he has to say to you. Write down what he says.

 

 

Monday 26 October 2020

Prayer week 6

Week 6: Intercession

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful.”

James 5:16

OVERVIEW OF WEEK 6

Day 1: Asking for Others
Day 2: Examples of Intercession
Day 3: Following Your Master’s Leading
Day 4: Praying for Others
Day 5: Praying Together in God’s Work

VERSE TO MEMORIZE

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful” (James 5:16).

DISCIPLESHIP HELPS FOR WEEK 6

“Prayers of Intercession” (pp. 102-3)

PREVIEW OF WEEK 6

Intercession is asking for others that is led by your Master. This week you will—

  • understand your relationship as a servant to God, your Master;
  • learn how to join God’s work by seeking and praying for His desires;
  • understand why intercession is the greater kind of asking and why a call to intercession is one of God’s highest callings for a person’s life;
  • follow biblical models of intercession to pray more effectively for others;
  • understand how God works through united prayer to reveal His will and purposes to a church or a group;
  • discuss what your group will do after this study has ended.

Day 1: Asking for Others

Today’s Prayer Promise

“The Spirit also joins to help in our weakness, because we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself intercedes for us with unspoken groanings. And He who searches the hearts knows the Spirit’s mindset, because He intercedes for the saints according to the will of God” (Romans 8:26-27).

Petition is asking for yourself, your family, your church, or your group. Petition is led by your Heavenly Father. A second kind of asking prayer is intercession. Intercession is asking for others that is led by your Master.

What is the second kind of asking prayer?

  1. Petition
  2. ________

God is your Master. You are His servant. God is working to reconcile a lost world to Himself through Christ. He is carrying out His kingdom purposes and has chosen you to be His servant to labor with Him in the kingdom. One way to work with God is through prayers of intercession—praying for others and praying for kingdom purposes to be completed in their lives. God, as your Master, will lead your prayers according to His purposes.

Who leads prayers of intercession? My _____________________

AN EXAMPLE OF JESUS’ INTERCESSION

Intercessory prayer reaches its highest potential when it is intended to further the kingdom of God and to accomplish His will.

Jesus prayed for His disciples. At the Last Supper Jesus told Simon Peter that Satan had asked permission to sift him like wheat. Jesus then told Simon, “I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. And you, when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers” (Luke 22:32). After Jesus’ resurrection and ascension, this prayer made possible Peter’s great courage before the Sanhedrin: “When they [the Sanhedrin] observed the boldness of Peter and John and realized that they were uneducated and untrained men, they were amazed and knew that they had been with Jesus” (Acts 4:13; also see vv. 8-12). Intercessory prayer reaches its highest potential when it is intended to further the kingdom of God and to accomplish His will.

THE GREATER KIND OF ASKING

Years ago I (T. W.) began to study all of the prayers of the Bible, especially the asking prayers that were answered with a yes. Eighty of the answered asking prayers in the Bible were personal petition. One hundred thirty-one were intercession. Intercession is the more important kind of asking.

All of God’s servants are called to be intercessors.

All of God’s servants are called to be intercessors. Some seem to receive a more specific calling to intense intercession. We often call these persons prayer warriors —persons who wage spiritual battles in intercessory prayer. The calling to be an intercessor is a high calling.

Have you ever sensed God’s calling to a deeper-than-usual role of intercessory prayer?

Yes
No

If you answered yes, briefly describe your sense of calling and how you have responded.

Read today’s prayer promise, Romans 8:26-27, as well as Romans 8:34 and Hebrews 7:25 below. Which two persons of the Trinity intercede for you?

“Christ Jesus … is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us.”—Romans 8:34

“He [Jesus] is always able to save those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to intercede for them.”—Hebrews 7:25

____________________________ and __________________________

Jesus and the Holy Spirit are intercessors for you. When God calls you to be an intercessor, you join Jesus and the Holy Spirit in their work. That is a high calling indeed!

How would you rate the importance of being an intercessor?

a. Not very important. Other work is far more important.
b. It may be important but only in a crisis.
c. Very important—it is also the job of Jesus and the Holy Spirit.

Intercession is God’s basic method for accomplishing His will among people.

The biblical pattern is that God often did His work through the prayers of great intercessors. When God wanted to deliver the children of Israel from bondage, He raised up Moses to pray for them. When He wanted to deliver them from the murderous plot of Haman, He raised up Esther to fast for them. To rebuild the Jerusalem wall and to renew the covenant, God used the prayers of Nehemiah and Ezra. He started the missionary movement through the prayers of the church in Antioch. The biblical pattern tells us that God does not usually work by Himself. He prefers to work through the prayers of His saints. Intercession is God’s basic method for accomplishing His will among people.

Ask God to train you to be an intercessor. Offer your life to Him for any job of intercession to which He may call you.

Day 2: Examples of Intercession

Today’s Prayer Promise

“[If] My people who are called by My name humble themselves, pray and seek My face, and turn from their evil ways, then I will hear from heaven, forgive their sin, and heal their land” (2 Chronicles 7:14).

Intercessory prayer is so important that it can make the difference between life and death. During the early days of the church, King Herod put James to death. Because this pleased the Jews, Herod arrested Peter with the plan to kill him also. “Peter was kept in prison, but prayer was being made earnestly to God for him by the church” (Acts 12:5). In the night an angel of the Lord delivered Peter from prison. Peter immediately went to the house of Mary and John Mark, “where many had assembled and were praying” (Acts 12:12). God worked through the prayers of the early church to spare Peter’s life for further service. Your prayers and the prayers of your group could have similar importance in God’s kingdom.

Turn to pages 1023 and read other examples of intercession.

  1. Who prayed all night? _____________________
  2. Who wrestled in prayer for God’s people? _____________________
  3. Who prayed for God to forgive those who were killing him? _____________________
  4. What are some of the things Paul prayed for churches? _____________________

Paul’s Prayers for Churches

  • Knowledge of God’s will, spiritual wisdom, and understanding
  • Worthy living that would please the Lord
  • Spiritual fruit bearing
  • Growth in the knowledge of God
  • Strength and power
  • Endurance, patience, and joy
  • Faith, love, and spiritual fullness

Jesus, Epaphras, and Stephen were intercessors. Paul was also a great intercessor who earnestly prayed for churches. Some of the things for which He prayed are listed above.

Stop and pray some of the following requests for your church or for another church with which you are familiar. Include some of Paul’s prayers for the churches. Which request is your greatest burden for God to grant? Circle it.

  • Knowledge of God’s will, spiritual wisdom, and understanding
  • Worthy living that would please the Lord
  • Spiritual fruit bearing
  • Growth in the knowledge of God
  • Strength and power
  • Endurance, patience, and joy
  • Faith, love, and spiritual fullness

The Bible has many examples of intercessory prayer. You can learn from these examples. Let’s examine Jesus’ great intercessory prayer in John 17. Concerned about His followers, Jesus prayed for His disciples’ spiritual needs. He prayed for them because these would be the leaders in promoting the kingdom of God. For His disciples Jesus requested unity, protection and deliverance, and sanctification or holiness.

Read the verses from John 17 below. On the lines write the verse numbers that relate to each prayer request.

11 “Holy Father, protect them by Your name that You have given Me, so that they may be one as We are one. 12 While I was with them, I was protecting them by Your name that You have given Me. 15 I am not praying that You take them out of the world but that You protect them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them by the truth; Your word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, I also have sent them into the world. 19 I sanctify Myself for them, so they also may be sanctified by the truth. 20 I pray not only for these, but also for those who believe in Me through their message. 21 May they all be one, as You, Father, are in Me and I am in You. May they also be one in Us, so the world may believe You sent Me. 22 I have given them the glory You have given Me. May they be one as We are one. 23 I am in them and You are in Me. May they be made completely one, so the world may know You have sent Me and have loved them as You have loved Me.”—John 17:11-12, 15-23

Unity: _____________________

Protection and deliverance: _____________________

Sanctification or holiness: _____________________

Jesus prayed that His disciples might be one. The great unity He wanted had been disturbed by a quarrel among the disciples about who would be the greatest (see Luke 22:24-27). Jesus asked for that unity four times from four perspectives. He and the disciples had the same power (v. 11), relationship to the Father (v. 21), witness to the world (v. 23), and name (vv. 11-12).Because unity was so significant to Jesus, it ought to be part of your prayers too. Pray for unity not just for one local congregation or one denomination but for all who belong to God through faith in His Son, Jesus.

Jesus also prayed for the disciples’ protection, deliverance (vv. 11, 15), and sanctification (v. 17). Sanctified means made holy, and holy means set apart. No impurity from the world should be allowed into the hearts of God’s people, who have been set apart for His work.

Pray these prayers for your church: for unity, protection, deliverance, and sanctification (being set apart, holy, pure).

Day 3: Following Your Master’s Leading

Scripture-Memory Verse

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful” (James 5:16).

When Jesus began His earthly ministry, He preached this message: “Repent, because the kingdom of heaven has come near!” (Matthew 4:17). Jesus is the King of this kingdom. The kingdom Jesus spoke of is His rule in the hearts of His people. He is the King, and we are His subjects. He is the Master, and we are His servants (see 1 Corinthians 7:22-23 below). When you trusted Christ as your Savior, He also became Lord (Master) of your life. As a servant of God, you have tasks to complete that represent His work.

“He who is called by the Lord as a slave is the Lord’s freedman. Likewise he who is called as a free man is Christ’s slave. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of men.”—1 Corinthians 7:22-23

Beside each word indicate whether the role belongs to Christ or to you. Write either a C for Christ or an M for me.

servant
master
subject
king
lord

Jesus is King, Master, and Lord. You are a servant and a subject. A servant never tells the Master what to do. The Master decides what is important. As God’s servant, you join Him in the work He is doing. This was Jesus’ approach in knowing and doing His Father’s will (see John 5:17, 19-20 below). When you pray as a servant, the emphasis is on God’s work. Your objects in prayer are to know the mind and heart of your Master and to pray for His kingdom to come and His will to be done.

“My Father is still working, and I am working also. I assure you: The Son is not able to do anything on His own, but only what He sees the Father doing. For whatever the Father does, the Son also does these things in the same way. For the Father loves the Son and shows Him everything He is doing.”—John 5:17, 19-20

Where should your prayer requests originate as you pray for God’s kingdom to come and His will to be done?

a. I do my best thinking and decide what to ask God to do.
b. I seek God’s direction for my prayer requests.

Intercession begins and ends in God.

As your Master, God will lead your intercession. As you pray for others or for Kingdom purposes, seek God’s direction for your prayer requests. This may seem strange to you if you have not experienced God’s directing your prayers. God is able to give you direction if you are willing to seek it and to wait on Him for an answer.

Servanthood secures God’s interest in your prayers for His work. Through the power and authority of the prayers He leads you to pray, God accomplishes His work. Intercession begins and ends in God.

When you pray, you may call Jesus your Master. This will help you keep in mind that He is the One who directs the work of intercession. On the Lord’s behalf, pray for the spread of His kingdom and for right relationships with other servants. Pray that His blessings and works will demonstrate His lordship and righteousness.

Your Master will guide your praying according to His will. He has revealed in His Word some of the topics for which He wants you to pray.

Read the verses below. Below each Scripture write the name of someone for whom you can pray.

“Pray to the Lord of the harvest to send out workers into His harvest” (Matthew 9:38).

“With every prayer and request, pray at all times in the Spirit, and stay alert in this, with all perseverance and intercession for all the saints” (Ephesians 6:18).

“I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity” (1 Timothy 2:1-2).

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful” (James 5:16).

“Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” (Matthew 5:44).

The Bible also describes your Master’s concerns. As you read and study the Scriptures, you will learn subjects about which to pray. When you read, “The Lord … is patient with you, not wanting any to perish, but all to come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9), you can pray for God’s continued patience and for the salvation of the lost. Micah 6:8 says, “He has told you men what is good and what it is the Lord requires of you: Only to act justly, to love faithfulness, and to walk humbly with your God.” Thus, you can pray for justice, faithfulness, and humility. In Isaiah 58:6-7 God reveals actions that please Him:

Isn’t the fast I choose:

To break the chains of wickedness, to untie the ropes of the yoke, to set the oppressed free, and to tear off every yoke?

Is it not to share your bread with the hungry, to bring the poor and homeless into your house, to clothe the naked when you see him, and to not ignore your own flesh and blood?

Approach your Master in prayer. Ask Him to reveal His purposes and to guide your intercession for others. Pray for the persons and concerns you identified above. Work together with Him as you pray for His kingdom to come and His will to be done on earth as it is in heaven.

Day 4: Praying for Others

Today’s Prayer Promise

“Now to Him who is able to do above and beyond all that we ask or think—according to the power that works in you—to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus to all generations, forever and ever. Amen” (Ephesians 3:20-21).

Instead of learning more about prayer today, you will spend time praying for others. As you learned in week 4, you can use prayer lists to help you remember to pray for specific persons and concerns.

Prepare lists of persons for whom you need to pray, using the following categories to stimulate your thinking. Ask God to bring to mind persons for whom He wants you to intercede.

Your family members:
Members of your church family:
Your pastor and other church leaders:
Your coworkers:
Relatives, friends, and acquaintances:
Other churches and denominations:
Missionaries (domestic and international):
Ministry leaders:
Civil authorities (local, regional, and national):
Your city, state, province, and nation:
Needy or poor persons:
Oppressed, abused, or victimized persons:
Hungry and homeless persons:
Widows, orphans, and prisoners:
Sick and homebound persons:
Your enemies—those who persecute you:

Take time to pray for some or all persons on your lists. Emphasize spiritual concerns in your prayers. You will find items you may want to request of the Lord. below Try to be specific in your prayers. Take as much time in prayer as possible.

Possible Requests

  • assurance
  • bold witnessing
  • calling of Christian workers
  • Christian fruit
  • Christian unity
  • conviction of sin
  • deliverance
  • endurance
  • faith
  • faithfulness
  • filling of the Holy Spirit
  • forgiveness
  • generosity
  • guidance, God’s will
  • healing—spiritual, emotional, physical
  • holiness
  • hope
  • humility
  • integrity
  • joy
  • judgment
  • justice
  • knowledge
  • love
  • loyalty
  • mercy
  • obedience
  • patience
  • peace
  • preservation
  • provision of needs
  • purity
  • reconciliation of broken relationships
  • repentance and revival among God’s people
  • right conduct
  • right motives
  • spirit of servanthood
  • spiritual awakening and conversion of the lost
  • spiritual cleansing
  • spiritual growth
  • stewardship
  • surrender and submission to Christ
  • understanding
  • wisdom

Day 5: Praying Together in God’s Work

Today’s Prayer Promise

“I urge that petitions, prayers, intercessions, and thanksgivings be made for everyone, for kings and all those who are in authority, so that we may lead a tranquil and quiet life in all godliness and dignity. This is good, and it pleases God our Savior, who wants everyone to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Timothy 2:1-4).

Your church is the body of Christ. Christ is its Head, and every believer is a member of the body. Each member has a function in the body. Think about your physical body for a moment. What would you miss if you had no sight, hearing, smell, touch, or taste? Missing any one of your senses would prevent your body from knowing all it can of the physical world.

In a similar way, all of the members of the body are needed to function where God put them in your church body. If some members are not functioning, your church body is limited in knowing all it can of the spiritual world. As you pray about God’s will and purposes, you cannot know God’s will for the body without the participation of the other members of your spiritual body. Every contribution adds to your understanding of God’s will and of how to pray accordingly.

Look back at diagram 6 on page 57. Study the circle in the center. When you pray together with others, you are seeking to understand God’s desires. Then you pray in agreement with His will.

Think of God’s will for your church as a puzzle. God gives each member one or more pieces. By themselves your pieces may not make sense. But as each piece is shared with the body and put into its place, a beautiful picture begins to become clear. This is why your church needs times to share together and pray together. This would apply as well to committees and the church staff as they seek the Lord’s directions for their work.

Think about your pieces of a puzzle which represent God’s work for your church. List things you sense God may want to do in or through your church below. Before you start writing, let us caution you: this is not a brainstorming session for you to list your ideas. Rather, you need to identify what God has been saying to you. If something comes to mind as you pray through this activity, write it down. As you share these ideas with others, God will either confirm them or not confirm them. Trust that He can and will. Thank Him either way and don’t feel offended if an item is not confirmed. All you want is to know your Master’s will. Now pray; then consider the following questions as you make your list.

My Understanding of God’s Will/Purposes

My Prayer Group’s Understanding of God’s Will/Purposes

My Church’s Understanding of God’s Will/Purposes

  • What burdens has God given you as you have prayed about His will and about your place in His will for your church?
  • What needs in your community have you felt a God-given burden to meet?
  • What activity in and around your church may indicate an invitation for you to join God’s work?
  • What scriptural command has God used to convict you about an area your church needs to address (for example, ministry to the poor, needy, oppressed, widows, and orphans or ministries of tithing, loving, witnessing, teaching, and disciple making)?
  • Might the kinds of members God has been adding to your body indicate God’s preparation for an assignment (for example, medical personnel for medical-missions work, ethnic persons for starting a new church, or construction personnel for building churches in missions areas)?

Have you listed things that you sense God may want to do through your church or prayer group? This may be your part of the message God wants to reveal to your church or group about His will. In your prayer session this week you will have an opportunity to share items on your list. Others will share their lists. Then together you will seek God’s perspective on areas He may want you to pray about more completely. This may be a very exciting time as you pray together about God’s work in and through your church or group. You may find that God will speak clearly during the prayer time about something special of which He is calling you to be a part.

The early church in the New Testament prayed together about many concerns related to God’s will and purposes. They prayed for boldness in witnessing, Christian fruit, the filling of the Spirit, conduct worthy of the Lord, spiritual enlightenment and understanding, deliverance from evil or preservation, the sick, church leaders, missionaries, and persons in authority.

Begin praying now for your group prayer time. Ask God to guide your praying according to His will and purposes. Ask Him to speak clearly to your prayer group and to your church about His will and purposes. Don’t forget to pray for the larger body of Christ—other churches, denominations, missionaries, and believers in other states, provinces, or countries—that God’s kingdom will come and His will be done on earth as it is in heaven. The lines below are for taking notes during your prayer time with your group.

 

Saturday 24 October 2020

1ST STEPS
CHARACTER 6
  1. We Are Made for Goodness

What’s the Point?

Christians should grow in goodness.

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law’ (Gal. 5:22-23).

Jackie

What is goodness? Is it just someone who is being good?

We use the word good all the time.

The movie was good
carrots are good for your eyes
I feel good about myself
she’s good at football
he’s a good cook

We say it loads, but what does it mean? And haven’t we just talked about it in the last chapter? What’s the difference between kindness and goodness? Aren’t they just the same thing? If they are the same thing, then why does Paul list them as separate fruit in Galatians 5:22? There has to be some difference or he wouldn’t have bothered. Or, is kindness just the acting out of being good?

Is there a difference between kindness and goodness? This was my question of the day yesterday; by this point my head was hurting so I decided to enlist some help. I asked a few people but to no avail: ‘Oh, I’d have to think about that’ was pretty much the standard answer from everyone – even the smart ones. Then our associate minister helpfully said to try googling Tim Keller as he has a definition of each fruit. Genius!

Agathosune [the Greek word used in the New Testament; it was originally written in Greek] = goodness, integrity; being the same person in every situation, rather than a phony or a hypocrite. This is not the same as being always truthful but not always loving; getting things off your chest just to make yourself feel or look better.

Having ‘integrity’ means being an honest person with strong moral principles who isn’t two-faced or a fake. Now that’s an old-fashioned word we don’t hear used on a regular basis these days. Nowadays, it seems everyone squishes and smudges the truth to suit themselves. It’s become so normal to lie that we may not even realise we are doing it, and actual honesty seems a distant memory. In fact, it seems that being honest sometimes sets us at a disadvantage. It can appear that every sphere of life is built on a lie in some way:

the super exciting Facebook status,
the truth that is stretched on our résumé or C.V. to get the job we’re not quite qualified for,
ripping off the social by claiming benefits as a single parent when your man lives with you or claiming housing benefit for the flat you’re sub-letting,
claiming our phone was stolen when we sold it at cash convertors for £200,
even swearing on our granny’s grave when she is alive and kicking.

To be honest the list is endless and that’s the sad fact.

As I write this chapter one of the two top news stories talks about a human rights lawyer who brought false claims of torture and murder against British troops. He has admitted his misconduct to the tribunal, admitted to nine allegations of acting without integrity and recklessness – and yet he has denied dishonesty. How can that be possible? The other story is the Russian athlete doping scandal, suggesting a conspiracy that goes all the way to the top of the Russian government.

James 5:12 (esv) says ‘But above all, my brothers, do not swear, either by heaven or by earth or by any other oath, but let your “yes” be yes and your “no” be no, so that you may not fall under condemnation.’

Too often people pretend to have virtues, morals and principles that they don’t actually possess. We fake it, but our actions deny our profession of faith. Even as Christians we aren’t that honest. ‘My word is my bond’ is a motto that’s been in use for centuries but, for us Christians, many of us simply can’t be trusted to keep our word – our word is worthless, never mind our bond.

Stop

Are you living out your faith every day or faking it well? What does your life say about the goodness of the Lord?

Illustration

Jackie comes to see you one Monday morning after school drop-off. ‘I’m freaking out. I got a letter from the social this morning and they want to make me go back to work. I’m not fit! They know I’ve got depression and a bad back. How can they expect me to work when I can’t even get through the day? What if they sanction my money? What am I going to do?’ Jackie shows you a letter which states she has a back-to-work assessment next week. She’s a little more relaxed after you offer to come with her to the appointment.

The appointment date comes and as you pull up at Jackie’s she gives you a wave from the window. As she leaves the house you notice she is not only looking very smart but is sporting a hospital-style crutch round her left arm and limping. She looks like she is having some real trouble walking. As she plonks herself in the front seat she looks at you and rolls her eyes. ‘Look, before you even say anything to me, I’ve been talking to a few people and they told me I have to really emphasise my illness to get them to see it. It’s not like I’m outright lying, I’m just exaggerating it a little so they can see how bad it really gets for me. I’m actually helping them assess me better. I knew you were gonna be all judgmental and I should have just got a taxi. It’s easy for you – you’ve got a job. You don’t know how hard it is for me.’

Stop

As a Christian what should Jackie be doing? How would you respond if it were you in the car?

Jackie

Jackie actually listened to what you had to say in the car that day and decided to be honest. ‘I’m still a bit scared, though – trusting God is hard.’ The crutch stayed with you in the car park when she went in for her assessment.

God’s goodness shows us exactly who He is and what He is like; this should be displayed in our lives. His goodness is made up of righteousness, justice, mercy and forgiveness.

His works are good,
His commands are good,
His Word is good,
His gifts are good,
His ways are good,
He is upstanding and lacks nothing.
Everything He does is good.

‘“Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments”’ (Matt. 19:17).

So, is it possible for us to display God’s goodness in our lives when it is so exceptional and extraordinary? No matter how much we try, how much effort we put in, we simply can’t be that good, can we? This time, surely, God is expecting the impossible of us.

‘But when the goodness and loving kindness of God our Savior appeared, he saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior, so that being justified by his grace we might become heirs according to the hope of eternal life.’ (Titus 3:4-7, esv)

Stop

Why is it possible for us to practise doing good in our lives?

The gospel makes it possible for us to display God’s goodness in our lives as we express it through our faith in action. Thankfully, we don’t have to do that in our own strength – let’s face it, we’d be useless anyway. Most of us have the willpower of a gnat. Ephesians 2:8-9 tells us that God’s the one who does this work in our lives, so we can’t boast about our own strength of will or ability. Paul writes, ‘For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith – and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.’

God’s the one who transforms us and makes this possible. That doesn’t mean we just sit back, feet up, and do nothing. Heart change really comes from God. He is the one who transforms us, but He expects us to put that change into practice.

‘Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you’ (Phil. 4:8-9).

In his book The Fruitful Life the author Jerry Bridges says,

Remember that most opportunities for doing good come across the ordinary path of our day. Don’t look for the spectacular; few people ever have the opportunity to pull a victim from the wreckage of a flaming automobile. All of us have opportunity to administer the kind or encouraging word – to do a little, perhaps unseen, deed that makes life more pleasant for someone else.

Jerry Bridges reminds us that it’s not just in the extraordinary or even special moments of life that we need to show God’s goodness, but in the everyday, humdrum, boring, ordinary moments. The truth is we probably find it easier to remember to engage our brain and think about practising goodness when we are at church, but at home it may be different. In those little everyday moments when we are just strolling through life with our family, our brains are often in neutral; we forget and all thoughts of goodness go out the window.

But the little things matter.

Stop

Who are you struggling to show goodness to and why?

It’s in these moments, when we are struggling for whatever reason to practise God’s goodness, that we need to pause and have a wee reality check. We forget far too easily who we are and what we have done. God knows our deepest darkest thoughts; He knows the real us, even the bits we can’t admit to ourselves, and yet, still He shows us His goodness through the gospel. That’s an amazing gift – that’s grace, and because of that we must make every effort to practise that goodness, even to those we are struggling to love.

Key Point

Everything God does is good.God’s goodness is made up of His righteousness, justice, mercy and forgiveness. His works are good, His commands are good, His Word is good, His gifts are good, His ways are good – He is upstanding and lacks nothing.

Memory Verse

‘Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’ (Ps. 23:6, esv)

Summary

Even though we use the word good all the time we struggle to really pin down what it means. As Christians we are called to grow in goodness which means live with integrity, being honest, not being two-faced or being a phoney. Everything God does is good. His goodness shows exactly who He is and what He is like – righteous, just, merciful and forgiving. This is the goodness

 

Friday 23 October 2020

Bible Mysteries 16

PART 16: AND SOME TASTY LEFTOVERS

CURSE YOU!

Today we think of cursing as referring to profanity. This wasn’t the case in Bible times, for people put a great deal of stock in curses: Words spoken against a person or thing had (so people believed) real power. A curse, like a blessing, would “stick.” In some cases, the curses really did have power, for it was God himself who pronounced the curse.

  1. Who cursed a fig tree for not bearing fruit?
  2. Who was sent by the king of Moab to put a curse on Israel?
  3. Which grandson of Noah was cursed for his father’s sins?
  4. What was the only animal to be cursed by God?
  5. Who put a curse on Cain and made him a wanderer?
  6. Which son of Josiah was cursed by God?
  7. In what story did Jesus place a curse on the unrighteous?
  8. According to Paul, what was put under a curse because of man’s sin?
  9. What nation did God say would have its towns and fields cursed because of disobedience?
  10. What happened to the ground as a result of God’s curse?
  11. Who received a promise from God that all persons who cursed him would be cursed themselves?
  12. According to Galatians, what people remain under a curse?
  13. Who said that people who taught a false gospel would be cursed?
  14. According to Paul, who was made a curse for our sins?
  15. According to the Law, what sort of handicapped people should we not curse?
  16. Who was told by his wife to curse God and die?
  17. Which prophet ended his book with God’s threat to come and strike the land with a curse?
  18. Which Epistle says that blessing and cursing should not come out of the same mouth?
  19. Who had enemies that bound themselves under a curse because they were so determined to kill him?
  20. Who told God that Job would curse him to his face?
  21. What book of the Bible says that kings should not be cursed, for little birds will tell on the cursing person?

 

CURSE YOU! (ANSWERS)

  1. Jesus (Mark 11:21)
  2. Balaam (Numbers 22:1-6)
  3. Canaan (Genesis 9:18-27)
  4. The serpent in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:14-15)
  5. God (Genesis 4:11)
  6. Jehoiakim (Jeremiah 22:18; 36:30)
  7. The story of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-41)
  8. Nature (Romans 8:19-22)
  9. Israel (Deuteronomy 28:15-16)
  10. It brought forth thorns and weeds (Genesis 3:17-18)
  11. Abraham (Genesis 12:3)
  12. Those who attempt to remain under the Law (Galatians 3:10)
  13. Paul (Galatians 1:8)
  14. Christ (Galatians 3:13)
  15. The blind and the deaf (Leviticus 19:14)
  16. Job (2:9)
  17. Malachi (4:6)
  18. James (3:10)
  19. Paul (Acts 23:12)
  20. Satan (Job 1:11; 2:5)
  21. Ecclesiastes (10:20)

 

Thursday 22 October 2020

EZEKIEL 22

Jerusalem’s Sins – Ezekiel 22:1-31

Open It

  1. In your opinion what are the conditions that contribute to the moral decline of a nation?
  2. How would you describe the way you feel about the suffering of the innocent versus the suffering of the guilty?

Explore It

  1. What, according to Ezekiel, had made Jerusalem guilty and defiled? (22:1-4)
  2. What consequences had Jerusalem brought upon herself by her sin? (22:4-5)
  3. What accusation did Ezekiel bring against the princes of Israel? (22:6)
  4. What direct contradictions of God’s laws were taking place in Jerusalem? (22:7-12)
  5. What was the chief thing Israel had “forgotten”? (22:12)
  6. What did God predict about the courage and strength of Judah in the face of His judgments? (22:13-16)
  7. What image did God use to illustrate how He would purify Israel? (22:17-22)
  8. What particular sins did God hold against the civil and religious leaders of the people? (22:23-29)
  9. Before He decreed the destruction of Jerusalem, for whom did God look? (22:30)
  10. Whom did God hold responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem? (22:31)

Get It

  1. What are the potential benefits and potential dangers of the presence of believers in morally dark places?
  2. Why would someone claim that God had said something He didn’t say?
  3. If God had found a person to “stand in the gap,” what do you think that person would have done about the rampant sin of the people?
  4. How do Christians sometimes rationalize behavior contrary to God’s commands?
  5. Why is injustice to our fellow human beings contrary to proper worship of the living God?

Apply It

  1. How might you be a light in a morally dark place not far from you?
  2. How can you speak up for oppressed groups who might not be able to speak for themselves?

 

 

 

Wednesday 21 October 2020

CRISIS WORSHIP 6
  1. Desiring the Dramatic

Hannah—Can we worship in bitterness of soul?

I Samuel 1:1-28

1Now there was a certain man of Ramathaimzophim, of mount Ephraim, and his name was Elkanah, the son of Jeroham, the son of Elihu, the son of Tohu, the son of Zuph, an Ephrathite:
2And he had two wives; the name of the one was Hannah, and the name of the other Peninnah: and Peninnah had children, but Hannah had no children.
3And this man went up out of his city yearly to worship and to sacrifice unto the Lord of hosts in Shiloh. And the two sons of Eli, Hophni and Phinehas, the priests of the Lord, were there.
4And when the time was that Elkanah offered, he gave to Peninnah his wife, and to all her sons and her daughters, portions:
5But unto Hannah he gave a worthy portion; for he loved Hannah: but the Lord had shut up her womb.
6And her adversary also provoked her sore, for to make her fret, because the Lord had shut up her womb.
7And as he did so year by year, when she went up to the house of the Lord, so she provoked her; therefore she wept, and did not eat.
8Then said Elkanah her husband to her, Hannah, why weepest thou? and why eatest thou not? and why is thy heart grieved? am not I better to thee than ten sons?
9So Hannah rose up after they had eaten in Shiloh, and after they had drunk. Now Eli the priest sat upon a seat by a post of the temple of the Lord.
10And she was in bitterness of soul, and prayed unto the Lord, and wept sore.
11And she vowed a vow, and said, O Lord of hosts, if thou wilt indeed look on the affliction of thine handmaid, and remember me, and not forget thine handmaid, but wilt give unto thine handmaid a man child, then I will give him unto the Lord all the days of his life, and there shall no razor come upon his head.
12And it came to pass, as she continued praying before the Lord, that Eli marked her mouth.
13Now Hannah, she spake in her heart; only her lips moved, but her voice was not heard: therefore Eli thought she had been drunken.
14And Eli said unto her, How long wilt thou be drunken? put away thy wine from thee.
15And Hannah answered and said, No, my lord, I am a woman of a sorrowful spirit: I have drunk neither wine nor strong drink, but have poured out my soul before the Lord.
16Count not thine handmaid for a daughter of Belial: for out of the abundance of my complaint and grief have I spoken hitherto.
17Then Eli answered and said, Go in peace: and the God of Israel grant thee thy petition that thou hast asked of him.
18And she said, Let thine handmaid find grace in thy sight. So the woman went her way, and did eat, and her countenance was no more sad.
19And they rose up in the morning early, and worshipped before the Lord, and returned, and came to their house to Ramah: and Elkanah knew Hannah his wife; and the Lord remembered her.
20Wherefore it came to pass, when the time was come about after Hannah had conceived, that she bare a son, and called his name Samuel, saying, Because I have asked him of the Lord.
21And the man Elkanah, and all his house, went up to offer unto the Lord the yearly sacrifice, and his vow.
22But Hannah went not up; for she said unto her husband, I will not go up until the child be weaned, and then I will bring him, that he may appear before the Lord, and there abide for ever.
23And Elkanah her husband said unto her, Do what seemeth thee good; tarry until thou have weaned him; only the Lord establish his word. So the woman abode, and gave her son suck until she weaned him.
24And when she had weaned him, she took him up with her, with three bullocks, and one ephah of flour, and a bottle of wine, and brought him unto the house of the Lord in Shiloh: and the child was young.
25And they slew a bullock, and brought the child to Eli.
26And she said, Oh my lord, as thy soul liveth, my lord, I am the woman that stood by thee here, praying unto the Lord.
27For this child I prayed; and the Lord hath given me my petition which I asked of him:
28Therefore also I have lent him to the Lord; as long as he liveth he shall be lent to the Lord. And he worshipped the Lord there.

The story before us is one that is vivid and has a plot that is touching. As we consider the life of Hannah, many of the readers can feel her pain. The story of Hannah has a human element that people can identify with even in these modern times. In reading this story many of us can humanize her dilemma. Most of us know someone in the same situation. The journey will conclude with Hannah maintaining her faith in her God though she was barren, broken, and had bitterness in her soul. Crisis worship gets past the hurt, the heartache, and the heaviness of the situation.

The Godly Family that is Mentioned

The story opens up telling us about the partner of Hannah, her husbands name was Elkanah. He was a good husband to Hannah, he loved her more than words could express. Elkanah was also a Godly man of faith; he loyally traveled to the house of his God to worship. In the opening passage we also read of the problem of Hannah. The bible reveals her inward pain; this pain was due to her barrenness. As she lived from day to day this barrenness haunted her, it cried out with a loud voice that could never be silenced. The voiced cried so loud in the silence of each night; that the perplexity of Hannah seemed to be an impossible case.

The Gloomy Future that is Manifested

How many of us face odds that seem to have no resolution, no remedy, and seemingly no recourse for a good outcome? We can identify with her sorrow, the sorrow that no doctor could cure. The problem was a barren womb, no hope of children. This would weigh so heavy on her mentally, emotionally, and could eventually affect her physically. The days turned into months, and then the years begin to pass by; no help ever came her way. This produced a broken woman, a woman of much weeping and mighty wants.

The Glaring Foe that is mobilized

It is bad enough to have problems that stand in our path, but it is even worse when the enemy tries to bully us around. We now see the woman that taunted Hannah; she was also the wife of Elkanah. The name of this woman was Peninnah; she was very mean and malicious woman. We need to hear the words that troubled Hannah; pointed words of that brought pain. The husband gave portions of his wealth to Peninnah and her children every year, but he gave a greater portion to Hannah. He loved her more than he could ever love his wife Peninnah. In spite of all of this we see the womb that tormented Hannah; no amount of love could ease the pain of her barren womb.

The Gallant Fortitude that is Maintained

In situation after situation I have found Christians that maintained their faith in spite of the circumstances. It is so refreshing to hear the stories of Gods little loved ones displaying faith and fortitude in the midst of crisis. Hannah goes to the house of God and the bitterness of her soul is revealed. In spite of having a bitter soul, her pain was inward; but her faith was upward.

In her prayer request she identifies the bigness of her situation. A big situation should require a big God; and a big request. As she prays, Hannah does the unthinkable, look at the boldness of her supplication. In praying she declares that if God would bless her with a man child, she would give him back to serve in the Lords house. This is such an awesome prayer of bright hope and bold faith.

The Great Fuss that is Mistaken

The priest is in the Lords house and watches Hannah. He finds her actions displeasing and makes mention of his displeasure; he has considered her to be drunk. I see the misguided accusation of Eli, in his haste he ignorantly accused of her of wrongdoing. I dare say that many of us jump the gun in equating the sorrows of our fellow man for some type of sin. We need to use caution before we accuse someone of something. How many times have we seen other people in crisis and let words of untruth flow from our lips?

This barren, broken and bitter woman declares to Eli that he is wrong. The woman is not drunk, but she was to the point of so much grief that her lips were moving but no audible words could be heard. This type of praying is probably the best type of praying. If we ever pray this type of prayer the Holy Spirit will make groaning and utterances on our behalf. We see the marvelous answer of Hannah, she was not drunk; but devoted. The woman had placed all of her trust in her God and in him only would she trust.

The Good Fortune that is Mandated

The priest was amazed at the faith of this feeble yet fantastic woman and the prayer of Hannah is heard. In hearing her prayer, we also find that the problem of Hannah is healed; she had to be so excited. I dare say that as she entered into the house of God that day it must have been so gloomy, but as she exits the house of God it must have been so bright. In leaving the pain of Hannah is halted, no more barrenness, no more brokenness, and no more bitterness. It had to be the brightest day of worship that she had ever experienced. The lord had heard her praying and would gloriously answer her feeble prayer.

The Glorious Faith that is Magnified

The days swiftly passed by and Hannah gives birth to a precious baby boy, his name is Samuel. Hannah has a special request concerning her boy. She wants to nurse him until he is weaned; then she will take him to the Lords house and there he will stay for the rest of his life. The request is granted by her husband and Hannah finds much to be thankful for as she raises this boy. Hannah had enough faith to desire the dramatic and God dramatically granted her desires.

The time came for Hannah to take Samuel to the Lords house, how would she respond? We should consider her somber resolve, she would honor her vow. This woman would be pleasing to God. The Lord expects us to follow through with every vow that we make. It is better to never make a vow; than to vow unto God and never honor it!

Hannah teaches us that it is possible to worship God in bitterness of soul. It can be accomplished; it is attainable for God’s children to reach this level of worship. In spite of our circumstances, no matter how difficult our dilemma; crisis worship is possible. The great thing about this story is that crisis worship is expected of each person that declares the name of God. We must desire the dramatic, our God can help us.

Crisis Worship—Is It Possible?.

 

 

Tuesday 20 October 2020

WOMEN OF CHARACTER

WOMEN OF REST 5

Resting in Belief in God

Hebrews 3:1-4:11

 

Setting the Stage:

Barbara, Mother of the Bride

It amazes me how quickly we fall back into old habits. A few days later, I settled Hope between her own flowered sheets, stocked her freezer with casseroles and instructed Melissa how to heat them.

“Either Angela or I will check in every day,” I promised Hope. “I’ll sew Melissa’s dress while the girls tie birdseed into those squares of lavender netting. You can help with that. I found some tiny white satin ribbon, and I thought we could tuck a sprig of baby’s breath into each bow.”

The phone call came the next afternoon. Angela took it in her room, but came downstairs only a few minutes later, her eyes wild, her face bloodless with shock. She looked at me and whispered, “Mamma . . . ?”

She hadn’t called me Mamma since she was two.

I knew something was terribly wrong, but I didn’t have the breath to ask. I just took her in my arms and held her, both of us trembling, until she quit sobbing long enough to say, “Doug’s squad is leaving on a mission. He won’t be back in time for the wedding.”

His destination was secret, and most likely dangerous, or they would not have sent him off so fast. We had no way of knowing if or when he would come home. I knew Angela’s every thought was sharpened by fear.

Those first few hours, I felt like a robot encased in human skin. I cancelled the church and the flowers, wrapped candles in tissue paper and organized a telephone chain to inform 200 people, “The wedding has been postponed.” I refused to allow anyone to use the word cancelled.

I thawed a container of homemade soup and took half of it to Hope’s. We shed fresh tears, then Melissa assured me, “Moms and I will be, like, fine.”

I had to smile. Capable Melissa. I hadn’t realized she was so grown up.

Back home, the mingled scents of chicken broth and sun-warmed roses accompanied me up the stairs to Angela’s open bedroom door. My poor baby. She lay across her bed, wet lashes drooping over swollen, red-rimmed eyes. Her skin looked flushed, her cheeks felt warm against my cool palm. She didn’t stir and I tiptoed away. Sleep, like laughter, brings healing.

Midnight. The ticking of my glass-domed anniversary clock reminded me that life goes on, even when it feels as if the world has toppled down around your ears.

I sat in the darkness for a while, praying for Douglas and both of my girls. When my mind wandered back to the chaos of the last few months, I couldn’t help but moan, “All that wasted time!”

But was it wasted, really? Douglas would return eventually and the wedding could go on as planned. The church was out, of course. They’d been kind enough to say they’d hold that Monday night, but I knew in my bones it wouldn’t be that soon.

There had to be another way, but I was too exhausted to figure it out.

I lifted my Bible from the bedside table. A thin black ribbon marked the place where I’d left off. I couldn’t begin to remember how long ago.

The passage marked was John 14, with John 14:27 underlined in red.

“Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. . . . Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Jesus was speaking, and I closed my tired eyes to listen.

  1. As Barbara’s story continues, at last we see her resting in Jesus’ presence. What did it take to get her there?

What do you think this was like for her?

 

God’s Word for Us

Read Hebrews 3:1-4:11.

  1. What kinds of rest are spoken of in this passage?
  2. What similarities between the Israelites entering the Promised Land and Christians entering God’s rest do you see throughout this passage?
  3. According to Hebrews 3:1-6, why were the Jewish Christians to fix their thoughts on Jesus?
  4. List all that is said about Jesus in Hebrews 3:1-6.

How do these facts encourage you to rest in him?

  1. What do you think the writer meant when he spoke of being hardened by sin’s deceitfulness (Hebrews 3:12-15)?

Why do you think encouraging one another prevents this hardening?

  1. According to Hebrews 4:1-3, like the Israelites, we have the gospel preached to us with the invitation to enter God’s rest. What kind of rest is described in these verses?
  2. Why is it significant that “rest” is the name the writer gives to entering into a relationship with God?
  3. What strong warnings and admonitions are given in Hebrews 4:1-7 concerning this relationship?
  4. Hebrews 4:9 says that there remains, that there is still left or left to come, a Sabbath-rest for the people of God. How does anticipation of that final day of rest affect you right now?
  5. What is the place of the Word of God in our lives as we seek to rest in belief?
  6. It says in Hebrews 4:10 “for anyone who enters God’s rest also rests from his own work.” In looking back over this whole passage which type of rest from God do you find to be a challenge for you?

 

Now or Later

Read Mark 9:17-26. If you were this father what would you be feeling?

How does the father deal with his own unbelief?

How is this a model for you as you desire to rest in belief?

Journal on the following: How is my freedom to rest affected by my believing or not believing God?
How is my freedom to rest affected by obeying or not obeying God

“I long for the final comsummation of the Sabbath, when God’s kingdom will reign supreme and alone. When the final day of this world comes, all our attempts to be God will be ended in the Joy of his triumphant presence.” —Marva Dawn

Someone has said that “not believing God” is the basis of all sin. Reflect on the sin of disbelief. Ask God to reveal specific ways in which you sin against him by not believing him. Wait quietly before him and write down what the Holy Spirit brings to mind. Talk to God about each area. Confess your sin and receive his forgiveness.

 

Monday 19 October 2020

Growing disciples

Prayer 5
Week 5: Petition

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you”—Matthew 7:7

OVERVIEW OF WEEK 5

Day 1: Asking for Yourself
Day 2: A Model for Petition
Day 3: Following Your Father’s Leading
Day 4: Praying for Yourself
Day 5: Asking Others to Pray for You

VERSE TO MEMORIZE

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

DISCIPLESHIP HELPS FOR WEEK 5

“Prayers of Petition” (pp. 100-101)

PREVIEW OF WEEK 5

Petition is asking for yourself, your family, your group, or your church. Your Heavenly Father leads your personal petition to mold you into the person He wants you to be. This week you will—

  • learn that God invites personal petition;
  • use biblical examples to identify the kinds of petition that God invites, hears, and answers;
  • understand God’s purpose in helping you become the kind of person He desires;
  • realize the importance of asking others to pray for you;
  • learn ways to be specific in praying for others.

Day 1: Asking for Yourself

Today’s Prayer Promise

“We do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tested in every way as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time” (Hebrews 4:15-16).

During these final two weeks you will study the asking prayers in more detail. This week’s lessons will focus on petition; next week’s, on intercession. Before we begin a detailed look at petition, review last week’s lessons.

On page 47 read again the Scriptures under “God Invites Asking.”

On pages 4849 read the eight reasons God answers prayer. Which two are most encouraging, meaningful, or helpful in your own praying? Write them below.

Name four reasons God doesn’t answer prayer. Review pages 5051 if you need help.

On pages 5253 read the 10 principles for asking. In which principle do you most need improvement for the sake of your prayer life?

Of the following areas, on which one do you most need to work to improve your praying in agreement with God? Check one.

a. Getting into agreement with God
b. Getting into agreement with others
c. Understanding God’s desires for a particular request
d. Praying with others long enough to agree together

Petition is asking for yourself, your family, your church, or your group. You might think that the great prayer warriors of the Bible did not emphasize personal petition. Yet many of them made personal petitions. In Genesis 15:2 Abram (later Abraham) asked God for a son. In 1 Samuel 1:10-11 Hannah prayed for a son. King Hezekiah was dying and prayed to live (see 2 Kings 20:1-3). Zechariah and Elizabeth prayed for a child (see Luke 1:13). God heard and answered all of these personal petitions.

Abram

“Abram said, ‘Lord God, what can You give me, since I am childless and the heir of my house is Eliezer of Damascus?'” (Genesis 15:2).

Hannah

“Deeply hurt, Hannah prayed to the Lord and wept with many tears. Making a vow, she pleaded, ‘Lord of Hosts, if You will take notice of Your servant’s affliction, remember and not forget me, and give Your servant a son, I will give him to the Lord all the days of his life'” (1 Samuel 1:10-11).

Hezekiah

“In those days Hezekiah became terminally ill. The prophet Isaiah son of Amoz came and said to him, ‘This is what the Lord says: “Put your affairs in order, for you are about to die; you will not recover.”‘ Then Hezekiah turned his face to the wall and prayed to the Lord, ‘Please Lord, remember how I have walked before You faithfully and wholeheartedly and have done what is good in Your sight.’ And Hezekiah wept bitterly” (2 Kings 20:1-3).

Zechariah

“The angel said to him: Do not be afraid, Zechariah, because your prayer has been heard. Your wife Elizabeth will bear you a son, and you will name him John” (Luke 1:13).

Based on these biblical examples, which of the following is true?

a. Personal petition is selfish. God doesn’t want us to pray for personal concerns.
b. Personal petition is acceptable to the Lord since He answers and even encourages these personal requests.

The examples in the Bible indicate that God is pleased to hear your personal requests. God’s purpose in encouraging petition is to mold you into a certain kind of person. In each example above, the person praying was in the process of becoming a more godly person. Abraham didn’t just receive a son; God gave him a nation. Hannah was becoming a certain kind of person when she prayed for a son, for motherhood changes the character of a woman of God. Hezekiah became one of Israel’s greatest kings.

What is a primary purpose in God’s encouraging personal petition?

In each case of personal petition above, not only the person but also God’s work and kingdom benefited. Abraham’s prayer resulted in the chosen race that would prepare the way for Christ. Hannah’s prayer gave to Israel Samuel, a great judge and the first prophet. Because he did not die as soon as predicted, Hezekiah lived to father Manasseh. In so doing, he preserved the messianic line of David that led to the birth of Jesus. God shapes your character and uses you to join His kingdom work.

Close today’s study by thanking your Father for specific ways He has helped you become the person He wants you to be. Ask Him to continue showing you direction for your life. Begin to fix your thoughts on Jesus—your perfect example of godly living.

Day 2: A Model for Petition

Today’s Prayer Promise

“When he calls out to Me, I will answer him;
I will be with him in trouble.
I will rescue him and give him honor” (Psalm 91:15).

Petition God for your personal needs. Jesus taught this practice to His disciples. In the Model Prayer, after the prayer for God’s honor and kingdom, Jesus authorized a series of personal requests.

Read the Model Prayer below. Underline the three personal requests in verses 11-13.

9 Our Father in heaven,
Your name be honored as holy.
10 Your kingdom come.
Your will be done
on earth as it is in heaven.
11 Give us today our daily bread.
12 And forgive us our debts,
as we also have forgiven our debtors.
13 And do not bring us into temptation,
but deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:9-13).

Jesus taught us to pray for daily food, forgiveness of sins, and deliverance from temptation and the evil one. These represent three general areas in which God is interested:

  • Your physical needs
  • Restored fellowship with Him if you have broken it
  • Protection from forces beyond your control

Jesus wants you to pray for physical needs. But you are not encouraged to pray for every want or fleshly desire. In fact, too much material wealth can lead you away from God (see Proverbs 30:7-9 below) if you are not very careful. God knows your needs and considers your motives (see James 4:3 below). He makes no promises for selfish or greedy requests.

“Two things I ask of You; don’t deny them to me before I die: Keep falsehood and deceitful words far from me. Give me neither poverty nor wealth; feed me with the food I need. Otherwise, I might have too much and deny You, saying, ‘Who is the Lord?’ or I might have nothing and steal, profaning the name of my God.”—Proverbs 30:7-9

“You ask and don’t receive because you ask wrongly, so that you may spend it on your desires for pleasure.”—James 4:3

God wants to have intimate fellowship with you. When you sin, the fellowship is broken. Confession of the sin begins the process of restoring this fellowship. You must also seek His forgiveness and turn away from your sin.

Temptation (see Matthew 6:13) can refer to an enticement to sin or to a trial or testing. God promises that He will not allow you to be tested beyond what you can endure (see 1 Corinthians 10:13 below). He will offer you a way out. You can and should ask God for that deliverance.

“No temptation has overtaken you except what is common to humanity. God is faithful and He will not allow you to be tempted beyond what you are able, but with the temptation He will also provide a way of escape, so that you are able to bear it.”—1 Corinthians 10:13

Pause and pray these three requests for yourself: physical needs, restored fellowship with God, and protection from evil and temptation.

Read the sample prayers of petition below. Underline the petitions that would be meaningful for you to pray for yourself or for your group. Write one of your own petitions below.

Sample Prayers of Petition

    • Heavenly Father, I am Your child.
    • Father, I want to be like You. I want to be like Jesus. Teach me to be [name desired characteristics].
    • Fill me with Your Holy Spirit.
    • Bring glory to Yourself in my body and in my spirit.
    • Guide me to know the way I am to go.
    • Lord, give me a spirit of wisdom, understanding, knowledge, and reverence for You.

Ask for guidance. Jesus Himself practiced the principle of praying for personal needs. Jesus often prayed for guidance. The night before He chose the twelve disciples, Jesus spent the entire night in prayer (see Luke 6:12-13). When the time came to expand His ministry, Jesus arose early in the morning and prayed in “a deserted place” (Mark 1:35). Jesus’ prayers demonstrate that divine guidance is available through prayer.

Do you have a specific need for God’s guidance in an area of your life or work? Describe your need. Then pray for God’s guidance.

Ask for wisdom. Another personal petition often found in Scripture is for wisdom. Asking for wisdom is appropriate: “If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

Ask that His will be done. Personal requests should grow from a personal relationship with the Lord. Consider the way God views your personal requests. Think of two personal requests you have made recently or could make today. Prayerfully trace what would happen in the Kingdom or for God’s honor if those requests were granted. Learn to say, “Thy Kingdom come in the granting of [specific personal request].” Be alert to ways your Father wants you to become a more godly person.

Close today’s lesson with a time of personal petition.

My Petition

Day 3: Following Your Father’s Leading

Scripture-Memory Verse

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you” (Matthew 7:7).

You may not respond to a stranger who delivers a telephone sales pitch. But if you are a parent and the voice in the receiver calls out, “Dad” or “Mom,” you will probably make time, even if your schedule is tight. Similarly, God answers prayer because of who you are in relation to Him.

After His resurrection Jesus told Mary Magdalene, “I am ascending to My Father and your Father—to My God and your God” (John 20:17). Can you imagine Mary’s feelings when Jesus included her in His family relationship with the Father? In the Model Prayer Jesus also commanded you to pray to God as Father (see Matthew 6:9). You are included too! This relationship between you as a child and your Heavenly Father ought to influence the way you pray. You make your requests of a giving Father.

Read James 1:17 and Matthew 7:7-11 below. What kind of gifts come down from the Father of heaven?

“Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of lights.”—James 1:17

“Keep asking, and it will be given to you. Keep searching, and you will find. Keep knocking, and the door will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and the one who searches finds, and to the one who knocks, the door will be opened. What man among you, if his son asks him for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good things to those who ask Him!”—Matthew 7:7-11

Which of the following describes the kind of gifts God gives?

a. God gives things that I don’t ask for and that will harm me or fail to meet my needs.
b. God gives good gifts that will meet my needs. He gives what I ask according to His will.

God is your Heavenly Father, who wants you to develop according to the plans He has for you. He cares what you become. He encourages personal petition to help you become the person He wants you to be. One day you will reign with Christ (see Revelation 5:10 below). God does not want you to be petty or immature. You are royalty and nobility! Your personal petitions should be directed by the Holy Spirit as He reveals the kind of person you are to become—a witness, a Kingdom worker, a giver, a godly parent or spouse, or one who offers praise to Him in prayer.

“You made them a kingdom and priests to our God, and they will reign on the earth.”—Revelation 5:10

When you pray as a child to the Heavenly Father, you should emphasize growing spiritually. You may call Him Father as you talk to Him. Pray to become like Him and like Jesus. Pray for a life that represents the Father well. For His sake pray about maintaining your Father’s reputation. Pray for ways to maintain the honor of the family name—Christian—and for characteristics God will develop in you.

Read James 3:17 below and underline the character traits (virtues) of godly wisdom. Read Galatians 5:22-23 below and underline the fruit of the Spirit. Read Matthew 5:3-11 below and underline attitudes the Lord blesses.

“The wisdom from above is first pure, then peace-loving, gentle, compliant, full of mercy and good fruits, without favoritism and hypocrisy.”—James 3:17

“The fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faith, gentleness, self-control. Against such things there is no law.”—Galatians 5:22-23

“Blessed are the poor in spirit. …
Blessed are those who mourn. …
Blessed are the gentle. …
Blessed are those who hunger
and thirst for righteousness. …
Blessed are the merciful. …
Blessed are the pure in heart. …
Blessed are the peacemakers. …
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness.”—Matthew 5:3-11

Here are some virtues God wants to develop in your life and attitudes He blesses. Regularly pray for these traits.

Christlike Virtues (James 3:17)

pure
peace-loving
considerate
submissive
merciful
fruitful
impartial
sincere

Fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23)

love
joy
peace
patience
kindness
goodness
faithfulness
gentleness
self-control

Blessed Attitudes (Matthew 5:3-11)

poor in spirit—dependent on God
merciful—forgiving, caring
mourn—need the Comforter
pure in heart—holy, clean
meek—humble
peacemaker—reconciler
hunger for righteousness
persecuted because of righteousness

Trust, a vital component of a family relationship, is a basis for prayer. On one occasion when some of the Israelites were facing an enemy in battle, “They received help against these enemies, … because they cried out to God in battle. He granted their request because they trusted in Him” (1 Chronicles 5:20, emphasis added). You can trust your Father’s leading. What He leads you to become will always be best.

Pause and pray through the lists of virtues and attitudes you studied today. Ask God to work in you to develop these characteristics. Allow Him to do whatever is necessary to make you the person He wants you to be. The result will always be worth the cost!

Day 4: Praying for Yourself

Today’s Prayer Promise

“All the things you pray and ask for—believe that you have received them, and you will have them” (Mark 11:24).

As you learned last week, you can use prayer lists to help you remember to pray for specific concerns. Today you will prepare lists for personal petition.

Ask your Heavenly Father to guide your requests according to His will and purposes.

Prepare lists of personal needs or concerns for which you wish to pray. Use the following categories to stimulate your thinking. Ask your Heavenly Father to guide your requests according to His will and purposes for His kingdom and your life.

Virtues or attitudes God wants to develop in me:

Spiritual needs to be restored to fellowship with my Heavenly Father:

Spiritual needs to be reconciled with fellow Christians:

Spiritual growth and maturity:

Being a godly family member:

Being a faithful church member:

Guidance for family, work, church, and ministry:

Strength to overcome temptations:

Deliverance or protection from

Enabling for spiritual ministry:

Power and boldness for witness to

Emotional needs or concerns:

Material or financial needs:

Health-and-fitness needs:

Work concerns:

Others:

List other personal needs or concerns for which you wish to pray here.

Now take time to pray for some of these requests. Emphasize spiritual concerns in your prayers. If you first seek God’s kingdom, many of your needs will also be met. Don’t hesitate, however, to pray for your human needs. Your Heavenly Father also cares about them.

Day 5: Asking Others to Pray for You

Today’s Prayer Promise

“If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives to all generously and without criticizing, and it will be given to him” (James 1:5).

You might ask, Why should I ask someone else to pray for me? Doesn’t God hear my prayers? God wants you to ask others to pray for you, and we have biblical reasons to do so. Paul, for example, was convinced that the prayers of other Christians would strengthen his own prayers. Paul asked the churches of his time to pray with him and for him.

Read the Scriptures below. Underline subjects for which Paul wanted others to pray on his behalf.

“I implore you, brothers, through the Lord Jesus Christ and through the love of the Spirit, to agonize together with me in your prayers to God on my behalf.”—Romans 15:30

“Pray also for me, that the message may be given to me when I open my mouth to make known with boldness the mystery of the gospel.”—Ephesians 6:19

“Pray for us.”—1 Thessalonians 5:25

“Pray for us, brothers, that the Lord’s message may spread rapidly and be honored, just as it was with you.”—2 Thessalonians 3:1

Read the following reasons to ask others to pray for you. Draw stars beside the ones that seem most meaningful to you. Ask God to show you why you need the prayers of others.

ASKING OTHERS TO PRAY FOR YOU

      1. Shows your dependence on God. God will do some things only in answer to prayer. This way you know that God is the One who provided or acted, and He receives the glory for His actions.
      2. Demonstrates lowliness before God and humility before others. Pride keeps you from asking others to pray for you. (See 1 Peter 5:5-7 below.)

“Clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Humble yourselves therefore under the mighty hand of God, so that He may exalt you in due time, casting all your care upon Him, because He cares about you.”—1 Peter 5:5-7

      1. Brings greater authority to prayer. God grants greater authority to united prayers of agreement: “If two of you on earth agree about any matter that you pray for, it will be done for you by My Father in heaven” (Matthew 18:19).
      2. Increases the amount of praying in your behalf. The more persons who pray, the more intercession is made in your behalf.
      3. Broadens the understanding of how to pray for your need. Others may know exactly how to pray for you even when you don’t. They may have been through the same experience. Their specific prayers may secure God’s answer for your need.
      4. Blesses those who have the privilege of praying for you. When people pray for you, they receive a blessing. It is multiplied when they learn that God has answered their prayers. Be sure to give reports of answered prayer to those who are enlisted to pray.
      5. Strengthens the bond of love between you and those who pray for you. When a person begins to pray intently for another, a bond of love is created or strengthened.
      6. Secures strength for an area of personal weakness or failure.

 

WHEN YOU PRAY FOR OTHERS

Put yourself in the place of the one for whom you are praying.

One need in praying together is praying specific and meaningful prayers. To help focus your prayers, put yourself in the place of the one for whom you are praying so that you can “feel” what she feels. What feelings is she dealing with? Think of problems, conflicts, or pressures the person may face.

If you pray for a person who is grieving over the loss of a spouse, for example, think about the issues the person must deal with. You might pray for the funeral arrangements, the family’s travel arrangements, financial needs, loneliness, anger, resentment, bitterness, or a broken heart. You might continue praying about changes the grieving person might confront, reentry into life’s routine, or facing holidays. As you mentally place yourself in the circumstances a person faces, you can pray much more specifically, especially if you have faced similar circumstances.

Think about the members of your prayer group and personal concerns they have shared in past weeks. Does one person stand out as someone for whom God wants you to pray? Choose one and write his or her name here: ________________________

Try to put yourself in this person’s place. List concerns for which you can pray on this person’s behalf below.

You may want to pay attention to specific ways you can be part of the answer to your prayers. As you pray, God may give you a burden to help meet a need. Listen for directions God may give you for meeting the person’s needs. These impressions often come only during prayer.

Close your study today by praying for the person you have chosen. Pray specifically for the needs or concerns you have listed. Ask the Holy Spirit to guide your praying in areas you may not have considered.

SUGGESTIONS FOR PRAYING TOGETHER THIS WEEK

As you pray together, carefully listen for opportunities to respond to others’ prayers. If a person makes a personal petition, you might intercede for that need or concern. If a person prays for forgiveness, you might ask the Lord for forgiveness, cleansing, and restoration. If a person asks the Lord a question, be sensitive to the fact that God may speak the answer through you.

 

Saturday 17 October 2020

1st  Steps
Character 5

 

We Catch More Flies with Honey

What’s the Point?

Christians should grow in kindness.

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law’ (Gal. 5:22-23).

By now you will probably realise that I love movies. I feel like I’ve started what could easily become a habit of always having at least one movie quote in a chapter, but I know that will too easily distract me and divert my focus as I search my memory banks for any useful scene. When I think of kindness, though, there is one movie that just pops into my brain – etched there as a classic. Pay it Forward. I challenge anyone to watch that movie without weeping. A young boy called Trevor attempts to make the world a better place after his teacher gives his class an assignment. The assignment is to think of something that can change the world and then put it into action. Trevor comes up with the idea of paying a favour forward – to think up three ‘significant’ good deeds to do for people (strangers) and then actually put them into practice. Then the person receiving the deed needs to ‘pay it forward’ and do three significant deeds for others. Trevor’s efforts to make good on his idea trigger a revolution not only in his own life but also for his alcoholic grandmother, the emotionally scarred teacher, and eventually a whole nation as ‘Pay it Forward’ becomes big news and he ends up being interviewed by the media. People just love a good story!

But it’s not just in the movies we see random acts of kindness. Google ‘random acts of kindness’ and there are over 1,580,000 results; in fact, there is even a ‘random acts of kindness day’ to celebrate on the 17th February. There is everything from dogs being rescued by strangers to people having their restaurant bill paid for them, pages and pages of teary-eyed stories of real-life acts of kindness from strangers. I loved the one about an old woman who left her waiter a huge tip, alongside a handwritten note. It read, ‘Luke, the tip for you was given because you reminded me of my son, Devon, who died fifteen years ago. Maybe you look a little like him, but it is your kind, gentle, conscientious mannerly spirit that makes the connection. Thanks for the bittersweet memory. God bless you, dear!’

Jackie

Wee Doris is eighty-two and has lived in the flat under Jackie for years. Every time Jackie makes a pot of soup she sends one of the kids down with a tub full for Doris. Even now Frank still gets her bread on a Saturday morning when he’s getting his papers and leaves them hanging on her door handle. Wee Doris is a doll and everyone knows her.

One thing that struck me about all the stories and quotes is simply that most, if not all, acts of kindness, provoke gratitude. The waiter was so happy not only with the sweet note but with the massive tip; the dog owner was thrilled and hugged the man who dived into the ocean to save her dog; and the homeless lady who got her meal paid for showed her gratitude by buying a meal for someone else when she got her life sorted.

But imagine how the guy would have felt after he stripped to his waist and jumped in the freezing water to rescue the dog if, after this act of heroism, the owner gave him nothing but cheek and anger or didn’t even acknowledge him. He’d be a bit irritated, right? I mean, we get annoyed when we give way to another car and the driver doesn’t acknowledge our kindness. No wave, no flashing hazard lights – nothing. We are irritated, right? We expect there to be gratitude after a kindness shown and we are thrilled if they gush!

Stop

How do you feel if you do something kind for someone and they don’t say thanks?

However, God’s kindness is different. His kindness is unaffected by the gratitude or ingratitude of those to whom it’s shown. God’s kindness isn’t influenced by the outcome or the response of the recipient. We see that in Luke 6:35.

‘But love your enemies, and do good, and lend, expecting nothing in return, and your reward will be great, and you will be sons of the Most High, for he is kind to the ungrateful and the evil’ (Luke 6:35 esv).

This is a freaky thought, right?! We have heard over and over that we are to be Christ-like and display His characteristics in our lives. Yet here we see God showing mercy and kindness to His enemies, to the ungrateful and evil! Thinking about being kind to people we like is easy for us to get our heads around. Being kind to the ungrateful is annoying, but even though we might struggle with that, I don’t think many of us would actually stop being kind because of it. But being kind to our enemies and to the evil?! No way, surely that’s a step too far.

Illustration

The Christian Corrie ten Boom and her sister Betsie were arrested for concealing Jews in their home during the Nazi occupation of Holland. They were sent to a concentration camp. Corrie wrote her story in her autobiography, The Hiding Place.

She describes the day she meets her former guard, the enemy, after the war. It happened after she had finished giving a talk at a church in Munich about God’s forgiveness. She writes,

And that’s when I saw him …. It came back with a rush: the huge room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking naked past this man. I could see my sister’s frail form ahead of me, ribs sharp beneath the parchment skin … this man had been a guard at Ravensbrück concentration camp where we were sent.

Now he was in front of me, hand thrust out: ‘A fine message, fräulein! How good it is to know that, as you say, all our sins are at the bottom of the sea!’

And I, who had spoken so glibly of forgiveness, fumbled in my pocketbook rather than take that hand. He would not remember me, of course – how could he remember one prisoner among those thousands of women?

But I remembered him and the leather crop swinging from his belt. It was the first time since my release that I had been face to face with one of my captors and my blood seemed to freeze.

‘You mentioned Ravensbrück in your talk,’ he was saying. ‘I was a guard in there.’ No, he did not remember me.

‘But since that time,’ he went on, ‘I have become a Christian. I know that God has forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well. Fräulein’– again the hand came out – ‘will you forgive me?’

Stop

What would you do in that moment?

Illustration

Corrie continues …

And I stood there – I whose sins had every day to be forgiven – and could not. Betsie had died in that place – could he erase her slow terrible death simply for the asking?

It could not have been many seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed hours as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I had ever had to do.

For I had to do it – I knew that. The message that God forgives has a prior condition: that we forgive those who have injured us. ‘If you do not forgive men their trespasses,’ Jesus says, ‘neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.’

God was asking Corrie to act out her faith and forgive, something easier said than done. She had seen with her own eyes people crippled with bitterness unable to rebuild their lives. She had also seen those who had forgiven their enemy rebuilding their lives despite the physical scars. In that moment as she wrestled with what to do, all the memories and familiar feelings must have come rushing back.

‘Jesus, help me!’ I prayed silently. ‘I can lift my hand. I can do that much. You supply the feeling.’ And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes. ‘I forgive you, brother!’ I cried. ‘With all my heart!’

I realise that Corrie’s story mostly shows the forgiveness of her enemy, now a brother in Christ, but kindness, compassion and forgiveness are so closely interwoven that it’s hard to separate one from the other. Her forgiveness, her shaking his hand, was a real act of kindness. She had to ask God to help her to do it, she struggled, but she did nonetheless show kindness to what was her enemy. It’s fairly painless to be kind to someone we love, a friend or just a nice wee old granny needing her shopping carried up the stairs, but showing kindness to our enemies seems like an impossible task. And yet, what we see in Corrie is an example of the Lord doing the impossible by changing the hearts of His people. It may seem completely unrealistic, but with God all things are possible and thankfully, as we see in Corrie’s story, we don’t have to do it alone; God is with us, helping us.

Kindness is defined in God’s character, displayed in person by Jesus through His life and work on earth and produced in the life of the believer by the Holy Spirit. Kindness must be displayed in the life of the believer.

Stop

How are you displaying kindness to those around you?

Alas, as with all things, we can take something that is beautiful, a characteristic of God, and warp and twist it. We can twist even kindness.

‘Be careful not to practice your righteousness in front of others to be seen by them. If you do, you will have no reward from your Father in heaven. So when you give to the needy, do not announce it with trumpets, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and on the streets, to be honored by others. Truly I tell you, they have received their reward in full. But when you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you’ (Matt. 6:1-4).

We see in Matthew a warning not to practise our righteousness for the wrong reasons, for selfish glory: being kind so that we can look good in front of other people, to get that pat on the back, be praised and noticed by them. That’s not real kindness. That’s about us and what we are getting out of it. 1 Corinthians 10:31 (esv) says ‘Whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God’. So, whatever you do, when you are being kind, do it for God’s glory and not your own glory.

Stop

How much of your kindness is done for personal glory? What are you getting out of it? What are you going to do about that?

Jackie

If I’m being totally honest I like it when all the church folk think I’m being all helpful – it makes me feel good about myself. But I know I’m changing because now I would do it even if no one was looking.

There will be times when kindness is easy and we do it without even thinking, but God calls us to more than that. He calls us to the costly, difficult and seemingly impossible acts of kindness. Thankfully, He sends the Holy Spirit to produce this in our lives. So He not only asks us to display this, He also gives us all that we need to actually achieve it. If there is an act of kindness God is asking us to do that we simply find impossible, it’s just too hard, then ask God for help. As we learned from Corrie’s story, you can ask God to help us, change us, soften our hearts and give us the strength to do the impossible. He will help.

Key Point

We experience God’s kindness through our salvation in Christ as He died a cruel death for us. This kindness should, by faith, be displayed in our lives as we look for ways to help people in need, no matter who they are and how much gratitude they show us.

Memory Verse

‘But when the kindness of God our Savior and His love for mankind appeared, He saved us, not on the basis of deeds which we have done in righteousness, but according to His mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewing by the Holy Spirit, whom He poured out upon us richly through Jesus Christ our Savior’ (Titus 3:4-6, nasb).

Summary

Kindness is something we all understand but don’t always show. When we do show kindness we expect people to be grateful. God’s kindness to us is different; it isn’t affected by how grateful we are. His kindness is defined by His character. This is something we see in the life of Jesus and experience for ourselves through salvation in Him. God even shows kindness to His enemies – something we wouldn’t even consider. This is the type of kindness that must be displayed in our lives.

 

Friday 16 October 2020

Bible mysteries

Walking in faith 15 part 2

 

BORN AGAIN, START ANEW

Thanks to advertising, we are all too familiar with the phrase “new and improved.” Actually, the idea is very old, rooted in the Bible, where people are constantly advised to improve themselves spiritually. But improvement isn’t enough, frankly, so we need something more radical: to be “born again,” as Jesus himself phrased it. The first time he used that phrase, it puzzled the man who heard it, and it still puzzles people today. If you’ve ever seen how someone’s life has been miraculously changed by God, it seems even more mysterious and amazing.

      1. To whom did Jesus say the words “You must be born again”?
      2. Which prophet quoted the Lord as saying, “Though your sins be as scarlet, they shall be white as snow”?
      3. Complete this verse from Paul: “If any man be in Christ, he is a new ________.”
      4. In which book of the Bible does Christ say, “Behold, I make all things new”?
      5. According to 1 John, how do we know we have “passed from death to life”?
      6. Who prophesied a future when God would write his law on humans’ hearts?
      7. Who told people to “bring forth fruit in keeping with repentance”?
      8. Complete this verse: “Be not conformed to this world, but be ____________ by the renewing of your mind.”
      9. According to Jesus, we have to become like what in order to enter heaven?
      10. Who prophesied a time when God would give a “new heart” and “new spirit” to people?
      11. Which Epistle says that believers have born “not of perishable seed, but imperishable”?
      12. What former persecutor of believers said that “I have been crucified with Christ”?
      13. What tax collector of Jericho was one of the most dramatic “born again” stories in the Bible?
      14. Which apostle urged people to be converted “so that times of refreshing may come from the Lord”?
      15. Complete this verse: “As in Adam all die, even so in _____ shall all be made alive.”
      16. In which book of the Bible would you find these words: “Those whom I love I rebuke and discipline. So be earnest, and repent”?
      17. According to James, if we humble ourselves before God, he will do what?
      18. Who claimed that he came to call not the righteous, but sinners?
      19. Which prophet promised that God would “abundantly pardon” sinners?
      20. What is the only book of the Bible to use the actual term “new birth”?

 

BORN AGAIN, START ANEW (ANSWERS)

 

Thursday 15 October 2020

Ezekiel 20

Babylon, God’s Sword of Judgment – Ezekiel 20:45-21:32

Open It

      1. Do you consider yourself a pessimist or an optimist? Why?
      2. From what calamities that confront other people do you consider yourself basically immune?

Explore It

      1. Where did God tell Ezekiel to direct his prophecy? (20:45-46)
      2. What image of natural disaster did God use to illustrate what was about to happen to Judah? (20:46-48)
      3. What did Ezekiel tell God that the people were likely to say about his prophecy? (20:49)
      4. What new image did God use to describe the destruction to come? (21:3)
      5. Which of the people were to be “cut off” from the land of Judah and Jerusalem? (21:3-4)
      6. What did God intend for the people to understand through the immensity of disaster? (21:5)
      7. What sign was Ezekiel to give through his behavior? (21:6-7)
      8. How would the scepter of Judah (symbol of nationhood) stand up to the sharpened sword of God’s judgment? (21:8-10)
      9. What emotion was Ezekiel portraying by wailing and beating his breast? (21:11-12)
      10. According to the prophecy, what was going to become of the scepter of Judah? (21:13-17)
      11. What did God reveal in advance that the king of Babylon would decide to do, guided by pagan divination? (21:18-22)
      12. Since the people felt they were safe, how would they respond to the approach of the army of Babylon? (21:23)
      13. Why were the people of Jerusalem going to be taken captive? (21:24)
      14. What did Ezekiel say it would take to restore the throne of Judah? (21:27)
      15. How would the Ammonites be judged for their insulting delight in the destruction of Judah? (21:28-32)

Get It

      1. Why did the prophecies contain images of total destruction?
      2. With what reasoning did the people who heard Ezekiel tend to minimize or explain away his words?
      3. What nation was represented in the prophecy as the sharpened sword?
      4. Why did God conquer Israel’s enemies, even when Israel was in need of discipline?
      5. What gloomy predictions do you tend to minimize? Why?
      6. What can you deduce about Ezekiel’s popularity among the exiles from the messages that he delivered?
      7. How would you describe God’s wrath, once kindled?

Apply It

      1. In what relationships do you need to ask God to strengthen you to be unpopular (if necessary) for His sake?
      2. How can you reduce the security you feel in your circumstances and increase your dependence upon God?

 

Wednesday 14 October 2020

CRISIS WORSHIP 5

IS IT POSSIBLE?

      1. Defending the Denial

David—Can we worship when God denies our prayers?

II Samuel 12:1-23

1And the Lord sent Nathan unto David. And he came unto him, and said unto him, There were two men in one city; the one rich, and the other poor.
2The rich man had exceeding many flocks and herds:
3But the poor man had nothing, save one little ewe lamb, which he had bought and nourished up: and it grew up together with him, and with his children; it did eat of his own meat, and drank of his own cup, and lay in his bosom, and was unto him as a daughter.
4And there came a traveller unto the rich man, and he spared to take of his own flock and of his own herd, to dress for the wayfaring man that was come unto him; but took the poor man’s lamb, and dressed it for the man that was come to him.
5And David’s anger was greatly kindled against the man; and he said to Nathan, As the Lord liveth, the man that hath done this thing shall surely die:
6And he shall restore the lamb fourfold, because he did this thing, and because he had no pity.
7And Nathan said to David, Thou art the man. Thus saith the Lord God of Israel, I anointed thee king over Israel, and I delivered thee out of the hand of Saul;
8And I gave thee thy master’s house, and thy master’s wives into thy bosom, and gave thee the house of Israel and of Judah; and if that had been too little, I would moreover have given unto thee such and such things.
9Wherefore hast thou despised the commandment of the Lord, to do evil in his sight? thou hast killed Uriah the Hittite with the sword, and hast taken his wife to be thy wife, and hast slain him with the sword of the children of Ammon.
10Now therefore the sword shall never depart from thine house; because thou hast despised me, and hast taken the wife of Uriah the Hittite to be thy wife.
11Thus saith the Lord, Behold, I will raise up evil against thee out of thine own house, and I will take thy wives before thine eyes, and give them unto thy neighbour, and he shall lie with thy wives in the sight of this sun.
12For thou didst it secretly: but I will do this thing before all Israel, and before the sun.
13And David said unto Nathan, I have sinned against the Lord. And Nathan said unto David, The Lord also hath put away thy sin; thou shalt not die.
14Howbeit, because by this deed thou hast given great occasion to the enemies of the Lord to blaspheme, the child also that is born unto thee shall surely die.
15And Nathan departed unto his house. And the Lord struck the child that Uriah’s wife bare unto David, and it was very sick.
16David therefore besought God for the child; and David fasted, and went in, and lay all night upon the earth.
17And the elders of his house arose, and went to him, to raise him up from the earth: but he would not, neither did he eat bread with them.
18And it came to pass on the seventh day, that the child died. And the servants of David feared to tell him that the child was dead: for they said, Behold, while the child was yet alive, we spake unto him, and he would not hearken unto our voice: how will he then vex himself, if we tell him that the child is dead?
19But when David saw that his servants whispered, David perceived that the child was dead: therefore David said unto his servants, Is the child dead? And they said, He is dead.
20Then David arose from the earth, and washed, and anointed himself, and changed his apparel, and came into the house of the Lord, and worshipped: then he came to his own house; and when he required, they set bread before him, and he did eat.
21Then said his servants unto him, What thing is this that thou hast done? thou didst fast and weep for the child, while it was alive; but when the child was dead, thou didst rise and eat bread.
22And he said, While the child was yet alive, I fasted and wept: for I said, Who can tell whether GOD will be gracious to me, that the child may live?
23But now he is dead, wherefore should I fast? can I bring him back again? I shall go to him, but he shall not return to me.

The story before us depicts one of the bibles greatest characters in a very dark setting. We will find that King David will create his own crisis as many of us have often done. It may help us survive the crisis that we have inflicted upon ourselves. In committing this gross and horrible sin, we find that David is seven days from a broken heart.

The man that is depicted as a person after the very heart of God, lapses into sexual misconduct. This misconduct will bring grief and heartache upon his family for many years to come. I could not tell you how many people I have known over the years that have abandoned God due to personal misconduct.

The Tainted Consequences of This Story

The shepherd boy had now become the King of Israel. We will start at the beginning of this story so we can full understand why God chose to take David’s son before his very eyes. We see the disobedience of a man that should have been leading his army in battle. The king chose to remain at home and apparently he had too much time on his hands. Idleness is the snare of Satan and he will use this weapon to destroy those that allow him to use it.

The King is upon the rooftop looking over his kingdom, we see the disgrace of a moment as David looks across the rooftops and notices a woman bathing. This look turned into a lust and would eventually turn into a lurid lasting affair, which would bring much grief upon the King. It only takes a moment for someone to destroy their testimony. This little look birthed a large loss that would haunt the royal family for years.

We also see the delay of a message as we watch the unfolding of this story. The last verse of II Samuel 11 tells us that what David had done displeased the Lord. God chose to allow some time to pass before calling David on the carpet. The paycheck for sin is not always cashed on Friday afternoon; sometimes it comes swiftly, sometimes slowly; but always surely. I wonder how many times we have willfully sinned and hoped that God would ignore this sin. The King had gone for one whole year and had not experienced any repercussions for his vile sin. David had not only committed this sexual sin, but Bathsheba was also married; now adultery was involved. The great cover up came into play as David eventually killed Uriah the husband of Bathsheba. In all of this the voice of God had remained silent.

One day the King looked and he saw the prophet of God coming his way as he often had done. This day was different; we see the disgust of a minister. The aged old prophet shares a parable with the King that would lead to his demise and death was coming to the King’s house. Nathan pointedly and precisely declares chastisement upon David for his hideous sin.

The Terrible Consequences of This Sin

As the verdict is pronounced David admits his sin and realizes that there is no such thing as hidden sin. The price of low living has a high price and the King was about to find this out. The prophet tells David that God was going to spare his life, but the life of his new born son would be taken. In hearing this declaration I can only imagine the harsh pain that sprang up in his heart. It had to be a sad day around the palace on this horrible day. We find that David has inflicted a crisis upon himself like nothing he had ever experienced. How could he justify the hurt people because of his sin?

The Truthful Confession of This Sin

As the crisis comes his way David could have became angry at God, but he realized that God was not the problem. We see his guilty admission and statement; he would take full responsibility for his damaging decision. God can only forgive those that admit their sin. I can almost feel his gloomy anguish and sorrow. It had to be a sad day as David heard of the impending death of his newborn son. In reading this story we find his Godly atonement and support. God had not abandoned his servant, but lovingly forgave him.

The Towering Crisis of This Saga

Those that read the bible fully know that God does not lie and he always does what he says in every situation. I see the supernatural illness of a son, not just any son; but the King’s son. The prophet went on his way and David may have tearfully shared his words with his new wife. As the tears burned upon his cheeks, the baby became deathly sick. How would David react to this sickness? The crisis was here and it was painful, in seven day’s his heart would be ripped out. He was seven day’s from a broken heart.

As this unfolds, we read of the strategic intercession of a dad; a dad that longed for his son to live. David would not go down without asking God to heal his boy. He had heard the words with his own ears, but prayer could change the outcome. We also see the sought involvement of a God, the God of David. The King would beg his God to heal his boy. He would spend all of his time in prayer and fasting. It is never too late for God’s children to pray.

The Tragic Catastrophe of This Scene

David had been praying and fasting for seven days, but the time of opportunity had presided. The end had come, the boy would die, and God would not confirm his prayer. Can we handle this type of crisis? A type of crisis that has a bad ending, can we handle this? The seven day’s had now passed, the tears of oppression had prevailed; it was over. I dare say that David cried until he ran out of tears. The thought of opposition had passed; David would accept the plan of God. In every crisis we have a choice to accept it or we can get mad at God. David chose to go with God; he dared not make false and fraudulent accusations.

The Transforming Courage of This Saint

As the saga unfolds, David realizes that something is going on within the palace. He has been spending all of his time in prayer and fasting. The noticed something, the loud silence was recognized within the palace. The King notices that nobody is talking, why? The people were afraid to let David know the boy was dead. All were afraid of how he would respond, how would he react? He inquired about the boy and the lost son was revealed unto the King. It was now over, the boy was gone. David accepts their answer, the long struggle was relinquished, now what? The King does a strange thing; the lowly saint was reenergized, wow!

The Timeless Concepts of This Situation

The entire palace is watching the King and his coming response to the boy’s death. We watch the beautiful actions of David as he hears of the boy’s death. Those standing in the background get to see a wonderful sight. The sight of someone experiencing a self inflicted crisis, but meekly maintain their faith.

The King does eight things: 1) I see him rising—he gets up, sometimes you just have to get up and move on. 2) I see him washing—he wanted a clean start. 3) I see him anointing—he wanted a fresh start. 4) I see him changing—he would get over it and go with God. 5) I see him traveling—he would go down to the house of his God, wow. 6) I see him worshipping—he would maintain his faith and he would willingly worship.

7) I see him eating—His life would continue, he could not change what had happened. 8) I see him defending—He would not allow any criticism concerning how God had chastised his actions.

If we follow David down to the sanctuary we see that he goes down there to worship. In this we see the breath taking adoration of a man that loved his God. Those that worship God do it willingly. The King’s worship equals acceptance, one that accepts the hand of God in his life. It also engulfs assurance; we understand that God knows what is best for our life. This type of worship embraces assistance; David could only make it through the mighty hand of his God. His worship exalts accordance with the will of God.

The servants could not understand how the King could respond in this fashion. David helped them to discern the denial of his prayer. This crisis was self inflicted and God was not to be faulted. As long as the boy was alive there was a chance of God healing the boy. The moment he died, the King accepted the actions of his God and would go on with his life. Did David forget about his son, not a chance? The boy would forever be on his mind and in his heart. The boy could not come back to the King, but one day the King could go to be with the boy. He had discerned the denial!

 

Tuesday 13 October 2020

Women of character

Women of Rest 4

Resting in God’s Presence

Exodus 33:1-17

Setting the Stage:

Angela, the Bride

I like quiet times and simple things. I like strolling on the beach at sunrise, feeding pigeons in the square and exactly what I’m doing now—sipping iced coffee at a sidewalk cafe while I wait for Doug to come and walk me back to our hotel. At least this time I’m not afraid.

I spent too many nights waiting when the fear was real. I’d pray awhile, then watch the moon cast tree-branch shadows across Mother’s manicured lawn. I’d close my eyes and dream that Doug was waiting too, in the darkness underneath my window, to sweep me up and carry me away.

Fairytale stuff. But we’d talked about it so often. When he was at the base, he called every night before he went on duty. “Why can’t we just elope?” I’d moan, especially after a day when Mother had been difficult, or there’d been another change in her wedding plans.

“I guess we should have,” Doug would agree, “but it’s too late now. Both of our mothers would have our heads.” Then his voice would grow soft and soothing. “Just a little longer, Angie. Wait for me? I’ll make it up to you, I promise.”

We’d murmur goodnight, blow kisses into the phone, and I’d ask the Lord to help me make it through another lonely night.

I don’t have Hope’s patience, or Mother’s tenacity. I wanted a simple wedding, something that could be accomplished without a lot of fuss. As usual, Mother had other ideas. I resented her interfering, but I knew from experience it was easier to just give in. I told Doug, “At least with Mom in charge, every detail will be perfect.”

It’s not that she didn’t try. If things hadn’t happened the way they did, my wedding would have been the social event of the century.

I remember Gran saying, “Sometimes our striving is like screaming against the wind; when it gets too rough, it’s best to just be quiet and listen.” Some of us should have taken her advice!

I guess I’ll never understand why God allows some things to happen. When Hope passed out, I felt awful. She’d been working too hard, doing extra things for Mom and me. It did make me realize how much my big sister loved me.

The Sunday we brought her home from the hospital, Doug called at the usual time, so when I heard his voice again at one o’clock on Monday afternoon, I knew something was wrong. “My squadron leaves tonight,” he whispered. “They won’t say for how long, and I can’t tell you where we’re going. I’m so sorry, Angie. I love you.”

It sounded so final. Just remembering makes me cry.

“Why, God?” I must have asked a thousand times. “Why does he have to go now?” I tried not to think about where he was, or why, but I knew he was in danger and the waiting hurt worse than any other kind of pain.

I take a sip of frothy mocha, lift my face and let the warm wind dry my cheeks. Doug will be here soon and I don’t want him to see me cry. So I relax and call up happy memories instead: Candles flickering on the mantle. Lavender rose buds on the cake. The baby’s breath grandma tucked in my bouquet.

I think about the way I feel when he holds me: like being wrapped in an eiderdown quilt, or waking up to birdsong after a bad dream. Like leaping from the shadows into light.

      1. How is Angela’s life during her engagement different from what she expected?
      2. When have you felt a strong need for God’s presence with you?

 

 God’s Word for Us

Read Exodus 33:1-11.

      1. In study two we looked at the Israelites at the beginning of their journey in the wildnerness. This passage looks at the other end of that journey. They are about to enter the Promised Land. Describe in your own words all that is happening between God and Moses and the Israelites (Exodus 33:1-6).
      2. What happened at the tent of meeting (Exodus 33:7-11)?
      3. What is significant about the fact that God provided a tent of meeting for his people?
      4. Think about your relationship with God. In what ways do you identify with the Israelites?

Read Exodus 33:12-17.

      1. Moses carries on a direct and honest conversation with God. What are Moses’ concerns (Exodus 33:12-17)?
      2. How do your concerns in life compare and contrast with those of Moses?
      3. How are you affected by the fact that God knows you by name (Exodus 33:12, 17)?
      4. God promised Moses that his presence would go with him and that he would give him rest as a result of this. What do you think this rest means?
      5. In what ways does God’s presence with you distinguish you and your Christian community (Exodus 33:16)?
      6. As you reflect on this passage, what does it mean to you to rest in God’s presence?
Now or Later

Read Psalm 91. Reflect on this passage. What are the benefits of being so close to the Lord that you are under his shadow?

Journal on the following: Describe what it is like to be in the presence of one you dearly love and with whom you feel totally safe. How does this compare and/or contrast with how you feel about being in God’s presence?

Jesus kept a demanding schedule but regularly took time to be with his Father. He recognized his dependence on his Father and his need for renewal. How would you compare and contrast your dependence on the Father and your need for renewal?

Write a prayer to the Father. Tell him of your need for him or your desire to know your need for him. Talk about difficulty that you have in getting time with him and what you need to do about it. Confess to him your lack of desire to rest in his presence. Ask him to renew your hunger for him and to help you to seek your rest in him.

 

 

Monday 12 October 2020

THE MEANING OF PRAYER
      1. Prayer and the Goodness of God

Daily Readings

First Day, Fourth Week

And there came near unto him James and John, the sons of Zebedee, saying unto him. Teacher, we would that thou shouldest do for us whatsoever we shall ask of thee. And he said unto them. What would ye that I should do for you? And they said unto him. Grant unto us that we may sit, one on thy right hand and one on thy left hand, in thy glory. But Jesus said unto them, Ye know not what ye ask. Are ye able to drink the cup that I drink? or to be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with? —Mark 10:35-38.

Of all misconceptions of prayer, none is more common than the idea that it is a way of getting God to do our will. Note the request which James and John made of our Lord: they wanted him to put himself at their disposal; they wished their will for themselves to be in absolute control, with the Master as aider and abettor of it. Prayer to God, so conceived, is simply self-will, expecting the Almighty to back it up and give it right-of-way. Consider how often our praying is thus our demand on God that he shall do exactly what we want; and then in contrast, note this real prayer of D. L. Moody:

Use me then, my Savior, for whatever purpose, and in whatever way, Thou mayest require. Here is my poor heart, an empty vessel; fill it with Thy grace. Here is my sinful and troubled soul; quicken it and refresh it with Thy love. Take my heart for Thine abode; my mouth to spread abroad the glory of Thy name; my love and all my powers, for the advancement of Thy believing people; and never suffer the steadfastness and confidence of my faith to abate that so at all times I may be enabled from the heart to say, “Jesus needs me, and I Him.”—D. L. Moody.

Second Day, Fourth Week

The trouble with many folk is that they believe in only a part of God. They believe in his love, and thinking of that alone they are led into entreating him as though he might be coaxed and wheedled into giving them what they want. They argue that because he is benign and kindly he will give in to a child’s entreaty and do what the child happens to desire. They do not really believe in God’s wisdom his knowledge of what is best for all of us, and in his will his plan for the character and the career of each of us. When anyone believes in the whole of God, is sure that he has a wise and a good purpose for every child of his, and for all the world, prayer inevitably becomes not the endeavor to get God to do our will, but the endeavor to open our lives to God so that God can do in us what he wants to do. Consider, in the light of this truth, the prayer of the Master in Gethsemane:

Then cometh Jesus with them unto a place called Gethsemane, and saith unto his disciples, Sit ye here, while I go yonder and pray. And he took with him Peter and the two sons of Zebedee, and began to be sorrowful and sore troubled. Then saith he unto them, My soul is exceeding sorrowful, even unto death: abide ye here, and watch with me. And he went forward a little, and fell on his face, and prayed, saying, My Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass away from me: nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt. And he cometh unto the disciples, and findeth them sleeping, and saith unto Peter, What, could ye not watch with me one hour? Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak. Again a second time he went away, and prayed, saying, My Father, if this cannot pass away, except I drink it, thy will be done. And he came again and found them sleeping, for their eyes were heavy. And he left them again, and went away, and prayed a third time, saying again the same words.—Matthew 26:36-44.

O Lord, Thou knowest what is best for us, let this or that be done, as Thou shalt please. Give what Thou wilt, and how much Thou wilt, and when Thou wilt. Deal with me as Thou thinkest good, and as best pleaseth Thee. Set me where Thou wilt, and deal with me in all things just as Thou wilt. Behold, I am Thy servant, prepared for all things; for I desire not to live unto myself, but unto Thee; and Oh, that I could do it worthily and perfectly! Amen.—Thomas a Kempis (1379-1471).

Third Day, Fourth Week

Let us this week consider particularly the ways in which the practice of prayer opens our lives to God so that his will can be done in and through us. For one thing, prayer, as we now are thinking of it, involves solitude, where the voice of God has a chance to be heard.

And when ye pray, ye shall not be as the hypocrites: for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, They have received their reward. But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thine inner chamber, and having shut thy door, pray to thy Father who is in secret, and thy Father who seeth in secret shall recompense thee.—Matthew 6:5-6.

Consider the testimony of different sorts of men to the value of occasional solitude in the midst of a busy life. Says Walter Savage Landor, the poet, “Solitude is the ante-chamber of God; only one step more, and you can be in his immediate presence.” Goethe says, “No one can produce anything important unless he isolates himself.” “Chinese” Gordon writes to his sister, “Getting quiet does one good—it is impossible to hear God’s voice in a whirl of visits—you must be more or less in the ‘desert’ to use the scales of the sanctuary, to see and weigh the true value of things and sayings.” And an anonymous epigram hits off the important truth, “He is a wonderful man who can thread a needle while at cudgels in a crowd.” How much time, away from the distraction of business, and the strife of tongues, are we giving to the enriching use of solitude?

O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light riseth up in darkness for the godly; grant us, in all our doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask what Thou wouldest have us to do; that the spirit of Wisdom may save us from all false choices, and that in Thy light we may see light, and in Thy straight path may not stumble, through Jesus Christ our Lord, Amen.—William Bright.

Fourth Day, Fourth Week

Prayer opens our lives to the guidance of God because by its very nature it encourages the receptive mood. The dominant mood today is active; but some things never come into life until a man is receptive. That a boy should run many errands for his father and should be faithful and energetic in doing it is of great importance; but the most far-reaching con-sequences in that boy’s life are likely to come from some quiet hour, when he sits with his father, and has his eyes opened to a new idea of life, which the father never could give him in his more active moods. God’s trouble to get people to listen is set forth in the eighty-first Psalm:

Hear, O my people, and I will testify unto thee:
But my people hearkened not to my voice;
And Israel would none of me.
So I let them go after the stubbornness of their heart.
That they might walk in their own counsels.

Oh that my people would hearken unto me.—Psalm 81:8, 11-13.

Lord, I know not what I ought to ask of Thee; Thou only knowest what I need; Thou lovest me better than I know how to love myself. O Father! give to Thy child that which he himself knows not how to ask, I dare not ask either for crosses or consolations: I simply present myself before Thee, I open my heart to Thee, Behold my needs which I know not myself; see and do according to Thy tender mercy. Smite, or heal; depress me, or raise me up: I adore all Thy purposes without knowing them; I am silent; I offer myself in sacrifice: I yield myself to Thee; I would have no other desire than to accomplish Thy will. Teach me to pray. Pray Thyself in me. Amen.—Francois de la Mothe Fenelon (1651-1715).

Fifth Day, Fourth Week

Jesus therefore answered them, and said. My teaching is not mine, but his that sent me. If any man willeth to do his will, he shall know of the teaching, whether it is of God, or whether I speak from myself. He that speaketh from himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh the glory of him that sent me, the same is true and no unrighteousness is in him.—John 7:16-18.

Prayer opens our lives to God so that his will can be done in and through us, because in true prayer we habitually put ourselves into the attitude of willingness to do whatever God wills. If a young man says, “I am willing to be a lawyer, but not a business man; I am willing to be a physician, but not a medical missionary,” he will never discover what God really wants him to be. He must hand God a carte blanche to be filled in as God wills, and there must be no provisos and reservations to limit the guidance of God. If a man of whose wisdom and motives we are suspicious asks us to do what he is about to demand, we may well say, “Tell me what you expect and I will tell you whether or not I will do it.” But we may not take that attitude toward God; we may not distrust his wisdom, or his love, or his power to see us through what he demands. We must be willing to do whatever he wills. True prayer is deliberately putting ourselves at God’s disposal.

O Lord, let me not henceforth desire health, or life, except to spend them for Thee, with Thee, and in Thee, Thou alone knowest what is good for me; do, therefore, what seemeth Thee best. Give to me, or take from me; conform my will to Thine; and grant that, with humble and perfect submission, and in holy confidence, I may receive the orders of Thine eternal Providence; and may equally adore all that comes to me from Thee; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.—Blaise Pascal (1623-1662).

Sixth Day, Fourth Week

And Jehovah spake unto Moses face to face, as a man speaketh unto his friend.—Exodus 33:11.

And the scripture was fulfilled which saith, And Abraham believed God, and it was reckoned unto him for righteousness; and he was called the friend of God.—James 2:23.

The most transforming influences in life are personal friendships. Everyone who meets us influences us, but friendship opens the heart to the ideas, ideals, and spiritual quality of another life, until we are susceptible to everything that the friend is and sensitive to everything that he thinks. Desdemona describes the natural effect of close friendship:

“My heart’s subdued
Even to the very quality of my lord.”

Consider then what persistent fellowship with God will mean in changing life’s quality and tone. Henry Drummond said, “Ten minutes spent in Christ’s society every day; aye, two minutes, if it be face to face and heart to heart,—will make the whole life different.” In how many people is the fine quality which all feel and none can describe, the result of this inner fellowship! Some things cannot be bought or earned or achieved; they must be caught, they are transmitted by contact as fragrance is. Perhaps the greatest consequence of prayer is just this atmosphere which the life carries away with it, as Moses came with shining face from the communion of his heart with God. True prayer is habitually putting oneself under God’s influence.

We rejoice that in all time men have found a refuge in Thee, and that prayer is the voice of love, the voice of pleading, and the voice of thanksgiving. Our souls overflow toward Thee like a cup when full; nor can we forbear; nor shall we search to see if our prayers have been registered, or whether of the things asked we have received much, or more, or anything. That we have had permission to feel ourselves in Thy presence, to take upon ourselves something of the light of Thy countenance, to have a consciousness that Thy thoughts are upon us, to experience the inspiration of the Holy Spirit in any measure—this is an answer to prayer transcending all things that we can think of. We are glad that we can glorify Thee, that we can rejoice Thee, that it does make a difference to Thee what we do, and that Thou dost enfold us in a consciousness of Thy sympathy with us, of how much Thou art to us, and of what we are to Thee.—Henry Ward Beecher.

Seventh Day, Fourth Week

Yet thou hast not called upon me, O Jacob; but thou hast been weary of me, O Israel.—Isaiah 43:22.

And there is none that calleth upon thy name, that stirreth up himself to take hold of thee; for thou hast hid thy face from us, and hast consumed us by means of our iniquities.—Isaiah 64:7.

Consider the reasonableness of the prophet’s vehement condemnation of prayerlessness, in view of this week’s truth. Take out of life solitude where God’s voice can be heard, the receptive mood that welcomes guidance, the willingness to do whatever God wills that puts itself habitually at God’s disposal, and the fellowship that gives God’s secret influence its opportunity; and what can God do with any life? Two very young girls were discussing prayer. Said one: “I am not going to pray again for two weeks.” After an interval of shocked silence, the other exclaimed: “Poor God!” Does not this exclamation reveal a true philosophy of prayer? Think of the things God wants to give to and do through our lives, and consider how the prayerless, unreceptive heart blockades his will.

Almighty God, and most merciful Father, give us, we beseech Thee, that grace that we may duly examine the inmost of our hearts, and our most secret thoughts, how we stand before Thee; and that we may henceforward never be drawn to do anything that may dishonor Thy name: but may persevere in all good purposes, and in Thy Holy service, unto our life’s end; and grant that we may now this present day, seeing it is as good as nothing that we have done hitherto, perfectly begin to walk before Thee, as becometh those that are called to an inheritance of light in Christ. Amen.—George Hickes (1642-1715).

Comment for the Week

I.

Strangely enough, when we have convinced ourselves of the individual love and care of God, we do not so much evade difficulty as encounter it; for we find ourselves running straight into the arms of one of the commonest perplexities concerning prayer. God is all wise and all good; why should we urge on him our erring and ignorant desires? He knows what we need; why tell him? His love purposes the best for us; why beseech him? Why should we, weak and fallible mortals, urge the good God to work good in the world? Is not Rousseau speaking sound sense when he says: “I bless God, but I pray not. Why should I ask of him that he would change for me the course of things?—I who ought to love, above all, the order established by his wisdom and maintained by his Providence, shall I wish that order to be dissolved on my account?

This objection to prayer is the stronger because reverence and humility before God seem to be involved in it. “We will take whatever God sends,” says the objector, “we will pray for nothing. We trust him perfectly. Can we in our ignorance suggest to him any excellent thing of which has not thought or which he has forgotten, or can we in our weakness cajole him to do something which he has purposed otherwise? Rather ‘Let him do what seemeth him good!’” This sort of speech has the ring of sincere faith. It comes from a strong and glad belief in the providence of God. The man shrinks from prayer because it seems silly and pre-sumptuous for ignorance to instruct perfect wisdom, for human evil to attempt the persuasion of perfect love to do good.

It is interesting, then, to discover that the Master’s life of urgent prayer was founded on these very ideas which now are used as arguments against prayer. No one, before or since, has believed quite so strongly as he did in the wisdom and love of God. Did they seem to him, then, reasons for abandoning prayer? On the contrary, the love and wisdom of God were the foundations of his prayer. In God’s goodness he saw a solid reason for praying: “If ye then, being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father… give good things to them that ask him?” (Matthew 7:11). In God’s wisdom he found assuring confidence, when he prayed. “Your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him” (Matthew 6:8). Just because of God’s perfect knowledge and love, the Master seems to say, pray with confidence. Do not think that you can add to God’s information about your need or can inspire in him an increased good-will by your petition.

You cannot. He knows your need in advance and is more willing to give than you are to take. But one thing you can do. You can open the way for God to do what he wants to do. Prayer cannot change God’s purpose, but prayer can release it. God cannot do for the man with the closed heart what he can do for the man with the open heart. You can give God a chance to work his will in and for and through you. Prayer is simply giving the wise and good God an opportunity to do what his wisdom and love want done.

II.

This point of view is the distinguishing element in the Christian conception of prayer, and to understand it, is of the utmost importance.

The argument that because God is infinitely good and wise, prayer is a superfluity, rests on two fallacies. The first is the idea that praying is an attempt to secure from God by begging, something which God had not at all intended, or had intended otherwise. But Christian prayer is never that. The African savage beats his fetish when a petition is unanswered. He endeavors to make his god his slave. His one idea is to get what he wants. Christian prayer is giving God an opportunity to do what he wants, what he has been trying in vain, perhaps for years, to do in our lives, hindered by our unreadiness, our lack of receptivity, our closed hearts and unresponsive minds. God stands over many lives, like the Master over Jerusalem, saying, “How oft would I and ye would not” (Matthew 23:37). True prayer changes that. It opens the door to the will of God. It does not change God’s plan, but it does give God’s plan gang-way. It is not begging from God; it is cooperation with God. In the luminous words of Archbishop Trench: “We must not conceive of prayer as an overcoming of God’s reluctance, but as a laying hold of his highest willingness.”

The other fallacy underlying the thought that the wisdom and love of God make praying superfluous is the idea that God can do all he wills without any help from us. But he cannot. The experience of the race is clear that some things God never can do until he finds a man who prays. Indeed, Meister Eckhart, the mystic, puts the truth with extreme boldness: “God can as little do without us, as we without him.” If at first this seems a wild statement, we may well consider in how many ways God’s will depends on man’s cooperation. God himself cannot do some things unless men think. He never blazons his truth on the sky that men may find it without seeking. Only when men gird the loins of their minds and undiscourageably give themselves to intellectual toil, will God reveal to them the truth, even about the physical world. And God himself cannot do some things unless men work. Will a man say that when God wants bridges and tunnels, wants the lightnings harnessed and cathedrals built, he will do the work himself? That is an absurd and idle fatalism. God stores the hills with marble, but he never built a Parthenon; he fills the mountains with ore, but he never made a needle or a locomotive. Only when men work can some things be done. Recall the words of Stradivarius, maker of violins, as George Eliot interprets him:

“When any master holds
‘Twixt chin and hand a violin of mine,
He will be glad that Stradivari lived,
Made violins, and made them of the best.
For while God gives them skill
I give them instruments to play upon,
God choosing me to help Him…
If my hand slacked
I should rob God—since He is fullest good
Leaving a blank instead of violins.
He could not take Antonio Stradivari’s violins Without Antonio.”

Now if God has left some things contingent on man’s thinking and working why may he not have left some things contingent on man’s praying? The testimony of the great souls is a clear affirmative to this: some things never without thinking; some things never without working; some things never without praying! Prayer is one of the three forms of man’s co-operation with God.

The fact, therefore, that God is all-wise and all-good, is no more reason for abandoning prayer than for abandoning thought and work. At their best, none of them is an endeavor to get anything against the will of God, and all of them alike are necessary to make the will of God dominant in human life. Who would dream of saying, God is all wise, he knows best; he is all good and will give the best; why, therefore, should I either think or work? But that is just as sensible as to say, If God is good, why should I pray? We pray for the same reason that we work and think, because only so can the wise and good God get some things done which he wants done.

Indeed, there is a deal of nonsense talked about resignation to God’s will as the only attitude in prayer. Not resignation to God’s will, but cooperation with God’s will is the truer expression of a Christian attitude. We are not resigned anywhere else. We find an arid desert and, so far from being resigned, we irrigate it until it blossoms like a garden. We find a thorny cactus, and commission Luther Burbank as speedily as possible to make of it a thornless plant for food. We find social evils like slavery, and from Moses to Lincoln all that are best among us are willing to surrender life rather than rest content with wrong. Resignation in the presence of things evil or imperfect is sin; and all the heroes of the race have been so far discontented and unresigned that Blake’s challenge has been kindred to their resolution,

“I will not cease from mental fight,
Nor shall my sword sleep in my hand,
Till we have built Jerusalem
In England’s green and pleasant land.”

This unresigned attitude, inseparable from nobility of character, is not rebellion against God but cooperation with God. Men act on the assumption that the present situation may be temporarily God’s will, but that he has put them in it so that they may fight their way out to a situation that is ultimately his will. To this end they think and work and pray. Resignation is in all three only in the sense that by all three men are endeavoring to open doors for the free passage of God’s hindered will. They do not submit to God’s purpose; they assert it.

Prayer, like the other two, when it is at its best, never says, Thy will be changed, but it says tremendously, Thy will be done!

III.

That we may dearly perceive God’s inability to accomplish his will until men cooperate in prayer, we may note, for one thing, that unless men pray there are some things which God cannot say to them. One of our strongest misconceptions concerning prayer is that it consists chiefly in our talking to God, whereas the best part of prayer is our listening to God. Sometimes in the Scripture a prayer of urgent and definite petition rises, “Oh that I might have my request; And that God would grant me the thing that I long for!” (Job 6:8); but another sort of prayer is very frequently indicated: “Speak; for thy servant heareth” (1 Samuel 3:10); “My soul, wait thou in silence for God only; For my expectation is from him” (Psalm 62:5); “I will hear what God Jehovah will speak” (Psalm 85:8); or in Luther’s version of Psalm 37:7, “Be silent to God and let him mold thee.” Without such openheartedness to God, some things which he wills never can be done.

Madame de Stael, after a two hours’ visit in which she had talked continuously, is said to have remarked at parting, “What a delightful conversation we have had!” Too many prayers are conducted on that plan. The ironical remark of Savonarola that the saints of his day were “so busy talking to God that they could not hearken to him,” is applicable to us at least to this extent: we seldom listen. We hammer so busily that the architect cannot discuss the plans with us. We are so preoccupied with the activities of sailing, that we do not take our bearings from the sky. When the Spirit stands at the door and knocks, the bustle of the household tasks drowns the sound of his knocking. God has a hard time even to get in a word edgewise; and in lives so conducted, there are some things which God himself, with all his wisdom and good-will, cannot do. Even a casual study of the effective servants of the world reveals how much of their vision and stimulus came in quiet and receptive hours. Prayer gave God his opportunity to speak, for prayer is the listening ear.

IV.

The dependence of God’s will upon the cooperation of man’s prayer may be further seen in the fact that until men pray there are some things which God cannot give to them. One of the most disconcerting verses in Scripture tells us that God is more willing to give to us than fathers are to give to their children (Matthew 7:11). To some this seems mere sentiment, an exaggerated statement, made in a poetic hour. To others, who have cried in vain for things that appeared certainly good, it seems mockery. If God is willing to give, why doesn’t he? What hinders him? How can he be willing to give, when, being omnipotent, he still withholds? Even a superficial observation of human life, however, could supply the answer. Giving is not a simple matter. It is always a dual transaction in which the recipient is as important a factor as the giver.

No suffering on earth is more tragic than great love hindered in its desire to bestow. If a father wishes to give his son an education, why doesn’t he? If he sees the need, has the means, is willing, even anxious to bestow, what hinders him? In how many cases is the answer clear: the boy has no genuine desire, no earnest prayer for the blessing which the father would give. The father is helpless. He must wait, his love pent, his willingness checkmated, until a prayer, however faint, rises in the boy’s heart. The finest gifts cannot be dropped into another’s life like stones in a basket. They must be taken or else they cannot be given, Jesus was thinking of the two factors involved when he said to the Samaritan woman, “If thou knewest the gift of God, thou wouldest have asked” (John 4:10). The receptive heart is the absolute pre-requisite of all great gifts, and God himself cannot bestow his best on men unless they pray.

Whenever, therefore, we pray intent chiefly on what we want, we are likely to be disappointed. But when we pray, intent chiefly on what God wants to give us—perhaps fortitude to bear the trouble which we wish to evade, or patience to wait for the blessing which we demand now, or leadership down a road of service from which we are asking release—we need never be disappointed. Men who come to God not to dictate but to receive have approached prayer from the right angle. They have seen that prayer is giving God an opportunity to bestow what he is more willing to give than we are to welcome. Prayer is the taking hand. As a sixteenth century mystic said, “Prayer is not to ask what we wish of God, but what God wishes of us.”

V.

The dependence of God on the cooperation of men’s prayer may be further seen in the fact that until men pray there are some things which God cannot do through them. Many today, in spite of the busyness, wealth, and efficient organization of our Christian work, bemoan the lack of real power. “What is the matter?” says the practical man. “Have we not taken our time, money, talents and given them in many consecrated and unselfish ways to the service of God? Why, with so many working for God, is not more done?” The answer is written plainly in history. The souls who have ushered in new eras of spiritual life have never been content with working for God. They have made it their ideal to let God work through them. A scientist has figured that the farmer’s toil is five per cent of the energy expended in producing a crop of wheat. The other ninety-five per cent is the universe taking advantage of the chance which the farmer gave it. So these greater servants of God have not thought chiefly of what they could do for God, but of what God could do through them if they gave him opportunity. To be pliable in the hands of God was their first aim. Never to be unresponsive to his will for them was their supreme concern. They said, therefore, with Thomas Hooker, “Prayer is my chief work, and it is by means of it that I carry on the rest.”

No one can walk through the pages of Scripture, or of Christian biography, with these greater servants of the Kingdom without feeling their power. They are God-possessed. Their characteristic quality is found in Jesus: not my words, my Father’s; not my deeds, his; he that believeth on me, believeth not on me but on him that sent me (John 14:24; 9:4; 5:24). The secret of their lives is like the secret of the Nile: they are the channel of unseen resources. The ideal of such living is deeper than working for God. To release the Eternal Purpose through their lives into the world; to be made a vehicle for power which they do not create but can transmit this is their ideal. They pray because theirs is the sublime ambition of the German mystic, “I would fain be to the Eternal Goodness what his own hand is to a man.” Only through men who take this attitude can God do his choicest work. A life that utterly lacks this attitude, wants the elements of power. When, therefore, a man prays, intent, chiefly on what he wishes done, his prayer is a failure; but when he prays in order that he may release through his life what God wishes done, he has discovered the great secret. Through him, habitually praying, God can do what else would be impossible. He is one of God’s open doors into the world.

VI.

We have, then, two fundamentally opposed ideas of prayer: one, that by begging we may change the will of God and curry favor or win gifts by coaxing; the other, that prayer is offering God the opportunity to say to us, give to us, and do through us what he wills. Only the second is Christian. At once we see that the second, no less than the first, and in a way far truer, makes prayer not a form but a force. Prayer really does things. It cannot change God’s intention, but it does change God’s action. God had long intended Isaiah to be his prophet. When Isaiah said, “Here am I, send me,” he did not alter in the least the divine purpose, but he did release it. God could do then what before he could not. God had long intended that Africa should be evangelized. When Livingstone cried, “O God, help me to paint this dark continent white,” he did not alter God’s intention, but he did alter God’s action. Power broke loose that before had been pent; the cooperation of a man’s prayer, backed by his life, opened a way for the divine purpose. There was an invasion by the world by God through Livingstone. No one can set clear limits to this release of divine power which the effectual prayer of a righteous man can accomplish. Pentecost is typical: “When they had prayed, the place was shaken wherein they were gathered together; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit, and they spake the word of God with boldness” (Acts 4:31).

Suggestions for Thought and Discussion

      • If God is all-wise and all-good, what is the use of praying?
      • Can prayer change God’s plans? If not, what is the use of praying?
      • How far are God’s plans dependent upon individuals?
      • Can God’s purpose be stopped by the failure of an individual to cooperate?
      • If God is in any way dependent upon the cooperation of individuals, is this inconsistent with his sovereign power and wisdom?
      • What light do the experiences recorded in the Bible throw upon the problem of prayer and the goodness of God?
      • In what respect did the request of James and John differ from true prayer?
      • Why did his belief in the goodness of God give Jesus confidence to pray?
      • What is the difference in emphasis between the prayer recorded in the eighty-first Psalm and Jesus’ comment on the prayer of the hypocrites on the street corners?
      • In his Gethsemane prayer, what was Jesus’ attitude to the will of God?
      • What place has prayer in the life of every PERSON in finding and doing God’s will?

 

Sunday 11 October 2020

John 3:1-8

Some people are born with the proverbial silver spoon in their mouth. The Apostle Paul was one. A Pharisee of the Pharisees and a Roman citizen to boot! That was like being up half the rungs of the greasy ladder of success even when he was still a first year student under Gamaliel.

Nicodemus was another . Like Paul he was born into Gods chosen race, and like Paul, he was a a Pharisee and although he wasn’t a Roman citizen,  he was a member of the Sanhedrin, one of  71 judges  of the Jewish High court.

He was a religious man, an academic; a thoughtful man and we would say a good man in every way, although Jesus within the messianic secret of his deity told a man who called him good that only God is good, therefore Nicodemus needed to be born again.

Yet you know many of us in Duckpool road Baptist Church have also been born with a silver spoon in our mouth if we were raised in a Christian home by at least one parent who was a Christian, and who were nurtured in the Christian environment of Sunday school by godly teachers and adults who proved to be good role models to us growing up and yet, like Paul and Nicodemus it isn’t enough, we too like the whole of humanity need to be born again.

You see, being born with the proverbial silver spoon in your mouth does not carry any weight with God but it does carry great responsibility as we have no excuse before the judgment seat of God and that applies for princes and paupers alike as Jesus reminds us :“That which is born of the flesh is flesh…”

In other words, our DNA was corrupted as much by The Fall as anyone else.

100’s of years before Nicodemus, King David as per usual, eloquently puts it like this: I was shaped in iniquity, in sin my mother conceived me.”

Sin has consequences and the Apostle Paul  bluntly states the consequences of sin, in calling un regenerated mankind as the children of wrath.”

My friends, I am sure that you like myself have experienced how in at least the depth of our mind that we conveniently equate our sin with someone else’s, and inevitable we gain a false sense of security in generally seeing our sin as being smaller and even insignificant compared to others.

Yet I remind you that it is not the amount of sin that condemns us, it is sin itself that condemns. Look at it like this, more people drown in three feet of water than drown in the Mariana trench which is over 36,000 feet deep.

If Nicodemus had realised that it wasn’t the amount of sin but sin itself  that was a barrier between him and God he would not have asked how can a man be born again. However, he like Elisha’ the prophet’s servant at Dothan who was also a religious man, was also spiritually blind and that applies to many religious people today  as well as the worldly people alike. They can live by the highest moral and ethical standards, They can be so law abiding that they could serve as a judge but it isn’t enough.

As has been said: A sculptor may take a piece of rough marble and work from it the figure of a Madonna; but it is still nothing but marble, and lifeless. A carver may take a piece of wood and work out of it a scene of feasting; but it is still wood, and insensible. A watch-cleaner may take a watch, the main-spring of which is broken; he may clean every wheel, cog, pin, hand, face and the cases; but, the main-spring not rectified, it will be as useless for going and time-telling as before. A poor man may clothe himself in the garb of a monarch; but he is still a poor man. A leper may cover all his spots with his garment; but he is still a leper. So the sinner may reform in all the externals of his life so that he shall attain the moral finery of Saul of Tarsus, or Nicodemus, a master in Israel, but, except he be BORN AGAIN, he can not see the kingdom of God.

They need their eyes opened to their fallen state and they need to flee towards Jesus at the mercy seat of God . In  other words they need to be born again.

Education is not going to get them into heaven. The key to door is transformation.

In visiting Jesus at night we have a sad but vivid picture of man fallen state as it is always night for those who are not born again in Christ.

Paul reminds us in his  2nd letter to the church at Corinth 4:3, 4: says:  And even if our gospel is veiled, it is veiled to those who are perishing. The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see the light of the gospel that displays the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.

To be saved; to be born again, God needs to open their blinded eyes to the Saving power of Jesus Christ. He needs to draw them by irresistible grace; sufficient to say NO ONE enters heaven through their  natural birth.

In contrast I want you to see the relevance of the virgin birth.

My pastor who conducted our wedding service did not believe in the virgin birth. Having said that he dismissed all the miracles as well. So much for his MA BD degrees

My friends, we dismiss the virgin birth at our eternal peril. Listen again to  John 3: 6, as it is crucial to salvation: For God so loved the world, that he gave His only begotten Son,

monogenēs, his only begotten Son…”

Here the plan that was spawned in the heart of God was fulfilled, for in the Virgin birth God identifies with our humanity and we see the doctrine of penal substitution  that Jesus came as the Son Man to suffer the penalty for mankind’s sins.

The unblemished Lamb of God had to be born to humanity  and begotten in glory to pay for the penalty of man’s sin.

Yes! As sin entered the world through the First Adam, the Second Adan Jesus Christ became the substitute and paid the price of all our sins.

Yet, the devil has blinded the minds of mankind. Like Nicodemus they are blind. That isn’t my thinking, that is the Word of God as

Verses 19-20 says: This is the verdict: Light has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil.20 Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed

My friends, as many children hate the dark,  many a grown up today, many a celebrity today, many a politician today, many a prince today and many a wolf in many a church today would love legislation to be passed that their foul deeds may be kept in the dark.

Like Jeffry Epstein, they hate their sins being revealed in the light of the day, but Jesus came with a ministry of revelation that the blind might see and seek redemption through being washed by his blood.

So thank God for the virgin birth, for in the virgin birth the divine choose to become our substitution on the Cross,

He didn’t die to save good people as there are none in gods sight. He died to save sinners like you and me, and without the virgin birth there is no salvation.

Indeed, when we accept that we find that there is sufficiency in  the new birth.

Jesus said in John 3:5: “… Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.

In the Bible water is a symbol of the Word of God and Paul in his letter to the church in Ephesus chapter 5, speaks of the “… washing of water by the word.”  It is the Word of God that captures the mind, heart and soul so that a birth takes place.

Yet most people only think of salvation in the context of going to heaven but being saved is not just getting man into heaven; it is allowing the only begotten Son of God who left heaven to enter man.

Jesus put it this way in John 10:10, “I’ve come that you might have life, and have it abundantly.” You can’t have that unless you allow him into your heart. In a vision he said to John: Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.

Letting him in is a transforming experience. Before being born again we were all the genetic offspring of Adam and Eve. Mitochondrial Eve in the most base sense, but when  we are born again, Peter tells us that we are partakers of the divine nature . In other words, through sanctification by the person of the Holy Spirit we begin to mirror the characteristics of God as children of God.

Verse 6 puts it this way: “That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit (verse 6).”

The Holy Spirit makes bears witness to us that we belong to Christ. We are the children of God.”

What is the witness of the Spirit? It is much more than emotions. It is this awareness that you are no longer under condemnation. It is this desire for holiness. That desire wasn’t there before, but after salvation you’re going to want to be holy because the nature of God is holy.

That doesn’t mean that you’ll never sin, but it does mean that when you do sin you will grieve over that sin like you never did before because you know in your spirit that you have hurt God and you will have a desire not to do that sin again.

Before salvation it was so very easy to run towards sin, but now your desire is to flee from sin. Before, the Bible was nothing more than a boring old book but now in being born again it is alive because you love the Lord Jesus and want to know him more. Indeed, Scripture says”… we love Him because He first loved us.”

And what is the culmination of all this? You have a growing desire to see others being saved . Not every Christian is called to be a preacher but as one minister said: every Christian is called to be a reacher.

No one is born twice physically; and no one is born twice spiritually. Once  saved always saved.

My friends, I cannot imagine that many people if any have plummeted the 36,000 feet to the bottom of the Mariana trench but for sure, at the bottom of that trench; countless peoples sins have been metaphorically buried by God. That’s a powerful message to the unsaved!

We are new creatures, and that is why Paul tells us:  . And who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? If we stumble and fall, we can be cleansed and forgiven, but that sin will never be placed in our name.

People sometimes speak of a second blessing, but in reality the second blessing is discovering what you got in the first blessing.

That’s a part of the process of sanctification. The blessings of the new birth go on and on, as you grow in Him, and He in you.

Physically I am getting shorter with age, but by grace I thank God that there is a momentum to grow spiritually even if on occasions the old nature rises his sinful head to make me stumble and stop. However, I stand by Pauls words to the church at Philippi of : being confident of this, that he who began a good work in me and YOU will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.

Yes I thank God for being born again. I thank God that though I sought to flee from God, the rope by which he held me was only so long before this old religionist was pulled in and my eyes opened to see Jesus and embrace him as Lord and Saviour in my life. In a moment of time I was born again. It was all of grace.

Some of you may have had an epiphany moment and others may have come to embrace Jesus ever so gradually that you cannot even recollect when you were saved.

What matters is illustrated  beautifully by Charles Spurgeon when he recounted the story of a Welsh minister, a man of God. Beginning his sermon, he leaned over the pulpit and said with a solemn air: “Friends, I have a question to ask. I cannot answer it. You cannot answer it. If an angel from heaven were here, he could not answer it. If a devil from hell were here, he could not answer it.” Death-like silence reigned. Every eye was fixed on the speaker. He proceeded: “The question is this, How shall we escape if we neglect so great salvation?

Praise God for everyone who has not neglected this so great salvation and pray for those who as yet haven’t. Amen

Saturday 10 October 2020

CHARACTER 4

Don’t Put the Cart Before the Horse: PATIENCE

What’s the Point?

Christians should grow in patience.

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law’ (Gal. 5:22-23).

When I was a kid we had a prime minister called Maggie Thatcher. Anyone in the UK who’s older than eighteen will know who she is. She was beloved by the suburbanites and loathed by the working class. Thatcher was like Marmite, you either loved her or hated her; there was no middle ground. So this is a first for me, and I know for sure it’s going to be the last, but I want to quote the Iron Lady herself. ‘I am extraordinarily patient, provided I get my own way in the end.’

Stop

What do you think she was actually saying?

The trouble is, Thatcher hit the nail on the head. Many of us define patience as just waiting until we get what we want – but that’s not really being patient, is it? That’s just being stubborn, immovable or showing an iron will. Sadly, we can take this kind of thinking into our relationship with God. We ask God for something and then just wait for Him to deliver the goods like He’s Amazon. In fact, we want Him to deliver like Amazon Prime (now or next day)! Then when we don’t get what we want, the way that we want it, we have a crisis in our faith, a meltdown, a tantrum! We might even question if God really loves us. After all, if He really loved us He would have given us what we wanted in the first place, right?! We grumble and moan about the situation and ultimately we start grumbling and moaning about the Lord.

Patience is not just about waiting for something or even waiting ‘well’ for the coveted thing; it’s so much more. To understand the depth of the word patience, we need to first think about the patience that God shows us. We need to think about patience as a characteristic of God, how He models patience to us, and what that means for us as Christians.

Biblical patience is God exercising restraint because of His love and mercy for sinful man. As sinners we are fully deserving of His wrath, but He holds it back, for a time. He shows restraint. He exercises patience with us so that we may repent and be restored to Him. That’s a bit different to what we’ve been thinking, isn’t it? More than just us waiting until we get our Amazon wish list, isn’t it?

We see examples of God’s patience all over the Bible, but here are a couple of examples:

‘For many years you were patient with them. By your Spirit you warned them through your prophets. Yet they paid no attention, so you gave them into the hands of the neighbouring peoples’ (Neh. 9:30).

‘What if God, although choosing to show his wrath and make his power known, bore with great patience the objects of his wrath – prepared for destruction? What if he did this to make the riches of his glory known to the objects of his mercy, whom he prepared in advance for glory – even us, whom he also called, not only from the Jews but also from the Gentiles?’ (Rom. 9:22-24).

God’s patience is long but it’s not infinite; it will come to an end.

He has already appointed a day in which He will judge the world. That day will mark the end of God striving in patience with us. So basically, He’s patient now, but it’s not going to last forever. It’s going to end and we need to be ready for what’s to come.

God holding back judgment day so we can all hear the gospel isn’t the only way He shows us His patience. God shows His patience with us as we change and grow.

I feel like a broken record because I keep saying the same thing over and over again. Having Christ in our life should impact our lives, and we should start to display His characteristics – characteristics like patience. I am not naturally the most patient person in the world, and I’ve struggled writing this because the truth has been hard to escape. But patience isn’t optional for the Christian. We’d like to think it is because it’s difficult, but it isn’t. God is patient and we are commanded to be patient also.

Jackie

When I watch the church women on Sunday it’s like they are Mary Poppins. Their kids never seem to kick off like my kids. It’s easier for them to be patient with their kids than me with mine. No matter what I do, they just won’t do what I say, but I’m really trying. It’s not easy.

Stop

How do you react when someone has annoyed you or upset you? Do you hold back when you’re angry or upset, or do you let it rip?

‘Put on then, as God’s chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, bearing with one another …’ (Col. 3:12-13, esv).

Stop

How do you display the same patience that God shows you? What does that look like for you?

We actually have to apply this to our day-to-day lives and be patient with one another. Knowing that we need patience and actually displaying it are two different things.

I know that’s when we become unstuck.

When we are under pressure, what comes to the surface is the real us. You know what I mean: the ‘real you’, that side of you that you’ve been reining in or hiding in case anyone sees. The you that appears in those moments when you’re tired and stressed at the kids as they get on your last nerve. Our patience wears thin and our irritation levels go through the roof. When the pressure comes fast and furious, the first thing that goes out the window is our patience. In fact, many of us don’t even need that much to set us off because we’ve all got those little things, our pet hates, the things that rile us up and send us over the edge quicker than usual. For those things we don’t even need the excuse of pressure to see the irritation levels rise and our patience dissipate.

For me it’s checkout queues. I’m seriously impatient at the checkout and it’s worse when the assistant is being a complete idiot, taking ages to do the simplest of tasks, and has to ring the bell for help every three minutes. BUT, no matter how big the queue, how late I’m running, how clueless the assistant is, there is no excuse for me losing my rag and being impatient. Now, I don’t actually lose my rag these days, but I know I can be fairly formidable when I’m annoyed, and if I leave that unchecked I can be intimidating.

Stop

What makes you mad and sends you over the edge?

Illustration

Hanging out with Jackie one day, we nipped into the supermarket for a few quick things when I saw a sign saying ‘Keys cut in two minutes’. We needed keys cut and thought ‘Perfect, two birds with one stone.’ I stood in the queue and told the assistant I wanted three copies of the same key cut. What proceeded was twenty minutes of the assistant making constant mistakes, rebooting the machine, and staring at the screen saying ‘Ermmm, I don’t know what to do.’ She asked two people and started the key-cutting process five times. With every ounce of my being I stood there trying to remain calm, struggling to find the patience to stand and wait. So much time had passed that I actually started to assess whether I should stay or just go. But by then I knew I was invested: I had to hang it out, and Jackie was watching.

Eventually another assistant came and took over and I got my three keys five minutes later. ‘I’m sorry,’ the new assistant said, at which point Jackie chipped in: ‘I hope you’re better than that blooming idiot. I’m growing old waiting for her to stop messing about!’ The assistant looked a bit red and said, ‘I’m so sorry, I don’t know what she did to the machine.’ Me neither! I might have pulled off looking patient, I may have looked all serene and muttered something trite like ‘no worries’, but I wasn’t. I was feeling exactly like Jackie; inside I was seriously raging.

Stop

Is there really any difference between my behaviour and Jackie’s?

We all like to think we are masters at concealing our feelings, but no matter how hard we try, impatience and frustration will have tell-tale signs. We will in some way give ourselves away – every nerve will be itching to say ‘I’m getting seriously angry.’ Here’s the problem: we are impatient. Far too often grace can go quickly out the window in those everyday moments. Like when our son’s lost his school shoe for the second time that week and it’s always just the one, when that crazy dude cuts us up on the bypass and just waves as he passes, when we go to the fridge and someone has used the last of the milk and put the empty bottle back in the fridge … we say in frustration, ‘really?!’ In these moments we too easily forget the grace that we have been shown and get frustrated, irritated and impatient.

We are frustrated with people instead of gracious.

Impatient instead of patient.

In these moments we overlook the fact that they are our Christian family and rarely think about our witness to those who don’t know Christ – we turn people into targets for our frustration. No matter how hard we try, our impatience is hard to hide.

‘But I received mercy for this reason, that in me, as the foremost, Jesus Christ might display his perfect patience as an example to those who were to believe in him for eternal life’ (1 Tim. 1:16 esv).

I remember saying to my son when he was little, ‘How many times do I have to tell you?’ and he, taking my question literally, said without any sass intended, ‘I don’t know, seven?’ That made me laugh for ages and reminds me that God says the same thing to me regularly: ‘Sharon, how many times do I have to tell you?’ We can become all self-righteous and forget how many times we’ve messed up. How many times have we got things wrong? How many times has God had to teach us something again and again? And yet God shows us His immeasurable patience and kindness. This is more than we deserve and definitely more than we show others.

People aren’t all we can get impatient with. There are times when we can be impatient with God and His timing. As Christians we use the term ‘to wait well’. What we mean by this is that we are sure of God’s will and we are waiting well on His perfect timing. But we are the McDonald’s generation – not only do we not like waiting, we also don’t like to hear ‘no’ – we want it and we want it now.

There is a perfect example of what we are like in the movie Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory (the original of course). The character Veruca Salt sings the song ‘I want it now! … I don’t care how, I want it now!’ This pretty much sums it up for many of us. ‘I don’t care how, I want it now.’ When we don’t get what we want when we want it, we somehow make it happen. We force the issue and we get ourselves in a right mess. We’re too impatient to wait on God’s perfect timing.

I’ve seen this with single men and women who are desperate for a relationship. Don’t get me wrong, the desire to be married is good, a gift from God. But I have spoken to many women who simply aren’t ready to wait or are tired of waiting. They don’t trust God or His timing. They can easily get depressed and upset because it feels like everyone is in a couple except for them. They feel incomplete, discontent, left on the shelf and anxious. Having a relationship has become an idol (it’s more important to them than God is). Their loneliness and desperation for a husband fuels their decisions and they start to make bad choices. People can easily rush into a relationship and even allow themselves to get sexual very quickly, crossing lines they never would have contemplated before. Perhaps they even choose someone who really isn’t a mature Christian, or make that choice to go out with a non-Christian (date to save!). They tell themselves the lie that obviously dating a Christian will force their boyfriend to see their desperate need for salvation (Aye, right!). All of this can lead to children out of wedlock, women considering abortions, painful breakups, struggling marriages or even Christians walking away from the Lord.

We forget that God is wise. We forget that God is faithful. We forget that God actually knows what He is doing. We forget to wait and trust. We forget to be patient.

Stop

What are you constantly asking God for or always talking to Him about? How would you feel if God said no?

I remember once as a young Christian praying for something and being reminded by someone that God uses the waiting to change us. I never really appreciated that at the time; I just thought it was too hard and unrealistic to patiently wait. When we are struggling to be patient we need to remember the grace that Jesus has shown us and patiently wait upon His promises. We need to look to Him, rely on Him and ask Him to help us as we struggle to show patience. Thankfully Christ is infinitely patient with us.

Key Point

God has patience but it’s not infinite. His patience will come to an end. He’s appointed a day when He will judge the world, marking the endpoint of God striving in patience with us. We are called to be patient – it isn’t optional for us – but it’s hard! Thankfully we have a Saviour who gives us all that we need, even patience.

Memory Verse

‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you …’ (1 Pet. 1:3-4 esv).

Summary

Many of us are impatient, we want something and we want it now. Patience isn’t just about us waiting for something or showing restraint. Patience is an alien concept for us but, not for God. God patiently holds back His judgment so that we can repent and return to Him, restored. But we must remember His patience isn’t infinite; at some point it will come to an end. For the Christian patience isn’t an optional extra. We are to bear with one another, growing in and showing patience, following the example set before us by God.

 

Friday 9 October 2020

PART 15: WALKING IN FAITH

WE AREN’T THE WORLD

In Genesis 1, God uses the word good several times to describe his newly created world. Alas, the world didn’t stay good, thanks to Adam and Eve’s disobedience (not to mention all the mischief done by Satan and his demons). So, as you browse through the Bible, you get the distinct impression that “the world”—marred by human sin and the work of Satan—is a not-so-nice place. In fact, the saints are very unworldly people, taking their marching orders from God, not from sinful human beings. You can’t read far in the New Testament without realizing that “the world” is very much opposed to God and his people. The theme song of believers might be “We Aren’t the World.”

      1. Who stated that “we brought nothing into the world, and we can take nothing out of it”?
      2. The devil tempted Jesus by taking him to a high mountain and showing him all the _____ of the world.
      3. Complete this saying of Jesus: “If the world ______ you, keep in mind that it _____ me first.”
      4. John the Baptist announced that Jesus was “the ___________ of God, who takes away the sins of the world.”
      5. According to Revelation, who is it that leads the whole world astray?
      6. In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus refers to people of faith as the ___________ of the world.
      7. Which apostle wrote that believers are “strangers and aliens” in this world?
      8. Which of the Gospels says that “the true light that enlightens every man was coming into the world”?
      9. According to 1 John, what sort of person “overcomes the world”?
      10. Paul stated that believers “have not received the __________ of the world but the _____ who is from God.”
      11. John stated that though “the world and its desires pass away,” a certain type of person lives forever. What type?
      12. Who stated that “friendship with the world is hatred toward God”?
      13. What people is the Letter to the Hebrews referring to when it says “the world was not worthy of them”?
      14. According to Galatians, unsaved people are enslaved to the basic _____ of the world.
      15. Which Epistle states that “greater is he that is in you than he who is in the world”?

WE AREN’T THE WORLD (ANSWERS)

 

Thursday 8 October 2020

EZEKIEL 19

Judgment and Restoration for Israel – Ezekiel 19:1-20:44

Open It

      1. What do you think determines whether a person will learn from his or her mistakes?
      2. When would a fresh start have been very timely for you? Why?

Explore It

      1. What picture did Ezekiel use to portray Judah’s princes in his lament? (19:1-9)
      2. How did Ezekiel use the image of a vine to sketch a “before and after” picture of Judah? (19:10-14)
      3. What was God’s reaction to the elders’ request? (20:2-3)
      4. What was the first instance of His love and favor with which God confronted the elders of Israel? (20:4-7)
      5. How did Israel respond when God delivered them out of Egypt? (20:8)
      6. How did God bless Israel in spite of their unfaithfulness? (20:9-12)
      7. Even after they had been delivered from Egypt, how did Israel treat God and His law? (20:13)
      8. What was God’s concern for His name? (20:14)
      9. What punishment did the generation of the Exodus suffer for their sin? (20:15-16)
      10. How did God show His pity to the elder generation and offer a new start to the younger generation? (20:17-20)
      11. What was to be the punishment for the second generation’s rebellion? (20:23)
      12. To what pagan practice did God “give them over”? (20:25-26)
      13. Once they had taken possession of the Promised Land, how did Israel continue to rebel against God? (20:27-29)
      14. What practices of the current generation led God to swear that He would not allow their elders to inquire of Him? (20:30-31)
      15. Why did God say that they would never worship “wood and stone” as they seemed to desire? (20:32-38)
      16. What would be different about the Israel that God would gather from their exile in the future? (20:39-42)
      17. What would Israel realize about God and about themselves when He accomplished His final deliverance? (20:43-44)

Get It

      1. What events in the recent history of Judah were portrayed in Ezekiel’s lament of the lioness?
      2. According to the lament of the vine, what was left of Israel following God’s judgment?
      3. Why did the elders who came to Ezekiel need a history lesson?
      4. How often did Israel get everything she deserved in terms of punishment?
      5. Why did God not allow Israel to go her own way in the long run, serving gods of wood and stone?
      6. Like Israel, what do we need in order to assess rightly our condition before God and to obey Him?

Apply It

      1. When in the next week or two can you take an hour for a historical overview of your life and God’s working in it?
      2. What spiritual issues should you always take care of before you come to God asking for favours or insight?

 

Wednesday 7 October 2020

CRISIS WORSHIP 4

4. Diagnosing the Damage

Job—Can we worship empty handed?

Job 1:1-22

1There was a man in the land of Uz, whose name was Job; and that man was perfect and upright, and one that feared God, and eschewed evil.
2And there were born unto him seven sons and three daughters.
3His substance also was seven thousand sheep, and three thousand camels, and five hundred yoke of oxen, and five hundred she asses, and a very great household; so that this man was the greatest of all the men of the east.
4And his sons went and feasted in their houses, every one his day; and sent and called for their three sisters to eat and to drink with them.
5And it was so, when the days of their feasting were gone about, that Job sent and sanctified them, and rose up early in the morning, and offered burnt offerings according to the number of them all: for Job said, It may be that my sons have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts. Thus did Job continually.
6Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the Lord, and Satan came also among them.
7And the Lord said unto Satan, Whence comest thou? Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, From going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.
8And the Lord said unto Satan, Hast thou considered my servant Job, that there is none like him in the earth, a perfect and an upright man, one that feareth God, and escheweth evil?
9Then Satan answered the Lord, and said, Doth Job fear God for nought?
10Hast not thou made an hedge about him, and about his house, and

about all that he hath on every side? thou hast blessed the work of his hands, and his substance is increased in the land.
11But put forth thine hand now, and touch all that he hath, and he will curse thee to thy face.
12And the Lord said unto Satan, Behold, all that he hath is in thy power; only upon himself put not forth thine hand. So Satan went forth from the presence of the Lord.
13And there was a day when his sons and his daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house:
14And there came a messenger unto Job, and said, The oxen were plowing, and the asses feeding beside them:
15And the Sabeans fell upon them, and took them away; yea, they have slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
16While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The fire of God is fallen from heaven, and hath burned up the sheep, and the servants, and consumed them; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
17While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, The Chaldeans made out three bands, and fell upon the camels, and have carried them away, yea, and slain the servants with the edge of the sword; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
18While he was yet speaking, there came also another, and said, Thy sons and thy daughters were eating and drinking wine in their eldest brother’s house:
19And, behold, there came a great wind from the wilderness, and smote the four corners of the house, and it fell upon the young men, and they are dead; and I only am escaped alone to tell thee.
20Then Job arose, and rent his mantle, and shaved his head, and fell down upon the ground, and worshipped,
21And said, Naked came I out of my mother’s womb, and naked shall I return thither: the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away; blessed be the name of the Lord.
22In all this Job sinned not, nor charged God foolishly.

We have looked at one of the most inspiring stories in the history of mankind. The conclusion of the matter was simple but supreme, Abraham assured us that crisis worship is possible; and he was able to defeat the darkness in his life. Now we will peek into the life of Job and see how he responds to the devastating damage that has wrecked havoc upon his very being.

It would be fair to assume that most everyone that has been placed in a state of crisis has considered the story of Job. If ever there was a man that flourished in the fiery flames of destruction, it would be God’s servant Job. As we consider the life of this great man, we will also consider the loss of this great man. As we peek into his life we will find out if it is possible for a man to worship God empty handed.

The question may be proposed to every reader, can you worship God empty handed. Satan refused to believe that Job could worship God empty handed. I would say he even has less confidence in many of us living today. It is one thing to serve and stand for God when all is well, when the cupboard is full; but what if in a matter of minutes we were to lose it all? The reality of life is many of us will be faced with this very dilemma, and we will find out if empty handed worship is possible.

Consider the Godly Fear of Job

The scriptures portray this man as someone to be admired for his faith and his fear in God. This meek yet mighty servant was one that could be mimicked in his walk for God. It is not everyday that we find Godly men that have become wealthy by the proper means. It could be said of Job that he was a wise man, a wealthy man, a wonderful man that never hedged on his service of God.

Consider the Great Family of Job

Job was blessed with a wonderful family, a family of ten children. Now this would be quiet a sight to behold, all of the love, all of the life, all of the loyalty that exuberated from their interaction. If one were to visit with this family in the land of Uz, it would have been a wonderful experience. The atmosphere had to be bustling as the entire family situated itself around the dinner table. Job watched over his family with great concern and caution. In this story we find a father that prayed for his family, he pulled for them, he wanted to see that they were continually under the hedge of protection. The greatest need in this world is for fathers that will seek the spiritual well being for his family.

Consider the Great Fortune of Job

This man Job was exceedingly rich and wealthy during his time. If one were to tour his estate, it would have been a grand tour. The pastures filled with sheep, donkeys, camels, goats and other various means of income. Job would have stood beside the owners of today’s fortune 500 companies. The validity and the value of his wealth were there for the entire world to view.

Consider the Grand Fame of Job

The fame of Job had spread to the four corners of his known region. The fame was one that a man should be proud to behold concerning his testimony. This fame involved his wonderful faith, his fortune, and his family. It is the testimony of a Godly man that puts forth the reputation that everything is on the up and up. All that this mighty man had was at the expense of his God.

Consider the Godless Foe of Job

As Job was living his everyday normal life, some strange occurrences were happening behind the scenes. The old serpent himself was standing before God with hasty accusations concerning the evils of the world. In hearing the slander that flowed from the lips of Satan, God himself challenged the serpent’s lies.

The Lord asked Satan to consider his servant Job, in that this man should be considered just and true. We find that Satan did not agree with this statement. He emphasized that Job had good reason to follow God, due to the hedge that was placed about him. The Lord had prospered his servant; he had protected his servant, and now he had promoted his servant. This would be more than Satan could have handled, the slander and the slurs rolled off of his tongue in dripping poisonous venom towards this man Job.

The challenge was now out in the open; Satan disputed the entire holy character of God. The accusation was that no man was willing to serve God empty handed. Satan challenged God to remove the hedge from about his servant and Job would curse God in his face. If this proved to be true, then only those that God abundantly blessed were willing to serve him.

Consider the Guarded Flesh of Job

The creator of this universe looked into the heart of his servant and valiantly accepted this hideous challenge. The battle for respect and reverence would be fought down in the land of Uz, unbeknownst to the champion. God told Satan to give it his best shot, but he could not touch Job. The gauntlet was now laid down; the bell was about to ring and the fight of the ages was about to commence. Satan had the full authority and the flaming audacity to destroy God’s servant. Job was laid out in the open like a helpless lamb seeking safety among vibrant venomous starving wolves. The enemy was about to embark an assault upon Job, withstanding his flesh. The flesh of Job was off limits.

Consider the Grievous Fall of Job

The supreme battle of the ages was implemented without the approval or the knowledge of one of its prime participants. The famous Job was about to fall and in falling let us observe the picture of it. The children had all gathered together for a day of feasting, this would be a good day. As we all know life never goes as planned, this day of feasting would turn into a day of falling, and this would be a gloomy day.

The surviving servants of Job were about to pronounce words of misery and heartache concerning all that Job owned and loved. We must observe the pain of it suddenly tearing away all that Job cherished. The first servant comes and tells Job that his asses and his oxen have been taken away by bandits. As this servant lies on the ground panting in agony, Job looks up and here comes the second servant. This man tells Job that a fire had fallen from heaven and killed all of Job’s sheep. He had now lost over half of his estate, could it get any worse.

The second servant has now fallen on the ground seemingly near death himself. Job hears a faint cry in the distance and here is the third servant with weary words of woe and despair. This servant tells Job that bandits have hit him from another side; he now has lost all of his camels. The mighty Job had just been reduced from a prince to a pauper in a matter of moments.

I can almost hear the muttering and the mumbling coming from the lips of Job, can it get any worse? If we were close enough to hear his feeble reply to his own question, this might be the answer. At least Job still had his family. Satan may have robbed Job of every monetary substance; at least he still had his family.

The unthinkable is about to happen, Job looks in the distance and sees a feeble figure coming his way. The fourth servant is about to proclaim the harshest words that a father could ever hear uttered. This fourth servant tells Job that a mighty wilderness wind had blown in and it had destroyed the house where his children were feasting. The only living survivor of this tragedy was the servant himself. The answer to the question is yes it can always get worse. We now need to consider the potential of it, how would this affect Job?

As we consider the potential of this great trial in the life of Job. We will find out what type of man he really is now that Satan has stripped him of all of his props and all of his pomp. It was now just plain Job, the common man consumed with doom and despair. We need to propose three questions concerning this crisis. How sturdy is his foundation, will it hold up? How solid is his faith, can it hold up? How sincere was his focus, could it hold up?

The consequences of this epic crisis had heavenly implications; all of heaven was standing looking over the banisters of glory to see the outcome. In one corner we see Satan himself beckoning Job to angrily shake his fist in the face of God and curse his very existence. In the other corner, we find the Creator of this universe, standing patiently for the response of his fallen servant.

The outcome of this crisis would be documented for the entire world to consider. The potential was great and forthcoming; Job was thrust onto center stage. Job, can a man worship God empty handed, stripped of everything that he had loved and lived for; is this type of loyalty possible? Job will have to step back and diagnose the damage from this horrible day. He would have to gather himself mentally and emotionally, in doing this he would rationalize his response. Satan may have taken all that he cherished, but he could not dictate Job’s response.

Consider the Glorious Faith of Job

As Job diagnosed the damage from this day, his response was one to be watched tenderly and with utter reverence. The day had just delivered him one of the greatest economic downfalls that a man could face. When all was said and the dust had settled, he would head down to the graveyard and bury not just a child, but all ten of his children.

A holy hush was about to overtake all of those within watching distance of this broken man. Job stands up, rips his mantle, shaves his head and we see his willful worship. Is this possible, can a man worship God empty handed? This great servant of God may have lost everything that could be seen, the things that are without. He could display empty handed worship because he had eternal minded worship. Eternal minded worship comes from within and he still possessed many unseen things.

We not only see his willful worship, we see his wise words. Job diagnosed the damage and realized that he had come into this world with nothing and he would leave this world with nothing. He refused to make harsh, hateful, and horrific accusations against God. The challenge had been met with great honor and nobility. The slander of Satan had been proven to be a mere lie, man could willingly worship God empty handed.

Consider the Gallant Find of Job

In concluding this wonderful story of a man that had just faced the most trying times, what have we learned? I suppose that we get past the hero aspect of this story and realize that what happened to Job is still happening today. We rub elbows with people that are in crisis each and everyday, people full of hurt and pain. The truth of this statement may provoke us to ask, how do they survive? How can a person, a family survive these times of tragedy? How does one maintain their faith in the face of doubt, doom, and despair?

The Lord has provided each of his precious children a comforter, one to walk along with them. This comforter will provide a supernatural strength that will rise up during the darkest hour. As Job stood on the verge of defeat, an inner flame begins to burn within his soul. The norm would have been for Job to withdraw from God, but the supernatural allowed him too meekly; but mightily worship.

The silence must have been loud on this most notable day. We truly have learned that one can worship God when the world around him seems to have crumbled. At that very moment when the flood gates of hell seem to be about to drown us in sorrow and suffering, we can find that inner strength and source to

 

Tuesday 6 October 2020

Women of Character  / WOMEN OF REST 3

Resting in God’s Power

Psalm 127Setting the Stage:

Barbara, Mother of the Bride

I study my own face in the gilt frame mirror hanging on the dining room wall. A gift from the Augsbergs, “For hosting the wedding, my dear. No one else could have pulled it off.”

The lines around my own eyes, carved by something deeper than age, have yet to disappear. I would have thought a few full nights of sleep would have at least caused them to fade.

It’s not like I’ve never planned a wedding. A thousand little details, yes, but they should have all fallen into place, each step following the other, like pages on a calandar. Organization—that’s what gets the job done.

How could I have missed the most important part?

“You mean this June?” the secretary at Westside Baptist sounded as incredulous as I’d felt when Angela insisted on that date.

“I’m sorry, dear, there’s graduation, you know, a fiftieth anniversary and three other weddings. I’m afraid there’s not a weekend to be had.”

Hope told me once, “Mother, if persistence was a virtue, you’d be a candidate for sainthood!” She was being facetious, of course, but I’m afraid she was right.

“We’re founding members of that church,” I reminded the woman. “Surely you can do something.”

“Oh, well then,” she finally gave in, “what about a Monday night?”

Not ideal, but it would have to do.

Then there were the little disappointments. I pictured candles at the end of every pew. But the fire marshall would not allow it. Angela asked for a popular music piece and you’d have thought we wanted to hire a hard rock band.

Ms. Augsburg must have changed her guest list fifty times and then insisted on champagne and dancing at the reception, which meant we couldn’t hold it at the church.

Angela grew more distant with every change of plans, and none of us was sleeping well. I’d creep up the stairs at two a.m. and find light seeping from the crack beneath her bedroom door.

She and Hope assured me they were almost finished with her dress. “I’ll give a nice luncheon,” I told them, “just the women in the family. We’ll discuss the final details, then Angela and Melissa will put on a fashion show.”

All those carefully laid plans.

The day Hope fainted, I rushed to the hospital, my heart racing like a caged wild bird. She lay so white and still, fragile as an eggshell, stretched out on hospital sheets. A fire-red gash closed with ugly black stitches tracked across her brow. I stepped aside as a nurse wrapped half a roll of gauze around the wound.

Hope had cut her foot on broken glass when she was six, and sprained her wrist playing volleyball in junior high, but she had never been unconscious before. Thirty-one hours. It seemed like a lifetime.

The doctors were optimistic. The diagnosis—hypertension caused by stress. “She has a concussion,” they said. “And we have to get her blood pressure down. When she wakes up, she’ll need medication and several weeks of bed rest.”

Two weeks from Monday was Angela’s wedding day.

We took turns at Hope’s bedside, holding her hand and praying. Wedding plans were pushed aside until her eyes finally fluttered open and she said, “Mother, I’m not feeling well, you’ll have to finish Melissa’s dress.”

I laughed until I cried.

      1. In what ways do you identify with Barbara’s growing feelings of pressure and anxiety?

 

God’s Word for Us

Read Psalm 127.

      1. What warning is given about labor?
      2. In your own words describe the anxiety spoken of in Psalm 127:2.
      3. How is this kind of anxiety a description of your work and life?
      4. Do you think that this psalm is suggesting that God is doing everything so we should sit back and do nothing? Explain.
      5. How does taking God seriously help us to reach the balance between frantic activity and passivity?
      6. The psalmist seems to abruptly move from the topic of labor to the topic of children. What does he say about children?
      7. How is building a house (Psalm 127:1) like building a family (Psalm 127:3-5)?
      8. What have you learned from this study which will help you to rest in God’s work?
      9. According to Psalm 127:2, it is the Lord who gives those he loves sleep. What do you need in order to receive this gift of deep rest from him?

 

Now or Later

Read John 17:1-5. This is Jesus’ prayer at the end of his earthly life as he faces the cross. What seems to be the condition of his spirit?
What are Jesus’ requests in this first paragraph?

What is life?

How has Jesus brought glory to the Father?

How do you respond to the confident statement of Jesus, “I have finished the work that you gave me to do”?

Reflect on the following statements and journal on your impressions.
Hilary of Tours diagnosed our desperate busyness as, “a blasphemous anxiety to do God’s work for him.”

“We are going about trying desperately for our presence to make a difference.”—Henri Nouwen

“Our work should be just as enjoyable as having children.”—Eugene Peterson

“The first great fact which emerges from our civilization is that today everything has become ‘means.’ There is no longer an ‘end’; we do not know whither we are going. We have forgotten our collective ends, and we possess great means: we get huge machines in motion in order to arrive nowhere.”—Jacques Ellul

Write a prayer to Jesus acknowledging your need for him to build the house and guard the city. Talk about your tendency to attempt to work alone, apart from him. Thank him for the sleep that he gives—pure and deep sleep.

Women of Character Bible Studies.

 

Monday 5 October 2020

GROWING DISCIPLES

PRAYER WEEK 3
Week 3: Responding Prayers

“Through Him [Jesus] let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name.”—Hebrews 13:15

OVERVIEW OF WEEK 3

Day 1: Confession: Responding to God’s Holiness
Day 2: Praise: Responding to God’s Attributes
Day 3: Worship: Responding to God’s Glory
Day 4: Thanksgiving: Responding to God’s Riches
Day 5: Responding Together

VERSE TO MEMORIZE

“Through Him [Jesus] let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name” (Hebrews 13:15)

PREVIEW OF WEEK 3

This week you will—

      • identify aspects God has revealed about Himself: His holiness, His attributes, His glory, and His riches;
      • learn how to respond in prayer to God’s aspects;
      • understand that the purpose of responding prayers is to help you become the person God has planned for you to be;
      • become more like God as you begin to respond to Him in confession, praise, worship, and thanksgiving;
      • study in detail the four types of responding prayers.
        • Confession: responding to God’s holiness
        • Praise: responding to God’s attributes
        • Worship: responding to God’s glory
        • Thanksgiving: responding to God’s riches

Day 1: Confession: Responding to God’s Holiness

Scripture-Memory Verse

“Through Him [Jesus] let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His name” (Hebrews 13:15).

God is holy. He is separate, pure, and righteous. God reveals His holiness because He wants you to be holy as He is holy: “It is written, ‘Be holy, because I am holy'” (1 Peter 1:16). Yet we cannot be holy apart from God’s work in us. When God revealed Himself to persons in biblical accounts, one of the first qualities they recognized was His holiness.

Turn in your Bible and read Isaiah 6:1-7. Which of the following describes Isaiah’s response to God’s holiness?

a. He realized his sin in the presence of God’s holiness and cried out.
b. He was proud to be in God’s presence and boasted of his own goodness and righteousness.

How did God (through the seraphs) respond to Isaiah’s cry?

a. God killed Isaiah in His anger.
b. God cleansed and forgave Isaiah in His love and mercy.

Confronted with God’s holiness, Isaiah cried out because of his sin (1-a). He agreed with what God already knew to be true. Isaiah had no reason to feel pride. God responded in love and mercy by taking away Isaiah’s sin. Isaiah was cleansed and forgiven (2-b). Then he could be useful to God (see Isaiah 6:8-13).

Confession

The Greek word for confess means speak the same thing or agree with. In one way all prayer is agreeing with God. Confession is agreeing with the truth. When you sin, God feels sadness or grief. You tend to feel guilty because of your sin. Satan, as “the accuser of our brothers” (Revelation 12:10), reminds you of your sin so that you will feel guilty. Your guilt may cause you to run away or hide from God, as Adam and Eve did in the garden of Eden.

God is more interested in your agreeing with Him and returning to a love relationship with Him. He prefers that you feel the grief that He feels. When you have a broken heart over your sin, you will want to do something about it: “Godly grief produces a repentance not to be regretted and leading to salvation” (2 Corinthians 7:10). Confession is agreeing with God about the real you and responding to God’s holiness. Prayers of confession include seeking God’s cleansing and forgiveness.

What emotion does God want you to feel about your sin?

In Proverbs 28:13 and 1 John 1:9 below, underline God’s promises if we confess our sins.

“The one who conceals his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and renounces them will find mercy.”—Proverbs 28:13

“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

Read Hebrews 4:16 below. How should we approach God to receive His mercy and grace?

“Let us approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help us at the proper time.”—Hebrews 4:16

The New Testament uses the word forgiveness in two ways. One is the legal sense of forgiveness. Jesus’ death on the cross takes care of every sin a believer ever commits: past, present, and future. His sacrifice was all-sufficient. When you sin, you know it is already forgiven from a legal standpoint.

Sin in your life, however, stops the process of becoming like God. Sin breaks your fellowship and intimacy with God. First John 1:9 speaks of the relational sense of forgiveness. When you respond to God’s holiness by agreeing with Him about your sin, He promises to give mercy, forgiveness, and cleansing. He restores the relationship of intimacy. Hebrews 4:16 encourages you to seek this mercy with boldness and confidence. Hebrews 10:19-22 describes the way you can enter God’s presence:

Since we have boldness to enter the sanctuary through the blood of Jesus, by the new and living way that He has inaugurated for us, through the curtain (that is, His flesh); and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed in pure water.

Because of Jesus you can enter God’s presence with boldness and assurance. Develop the habit of agreeing with God so that when you sin, you are grieved and you immediately agree with Him about your sin and seek His forgiveness and restoration of fellowship.

Pray, asking God to reveal sin in your life that hinders your relationship with Him. Use the sample prayer of confession below to agree with God about your sin. Be specific. Seek God’s cleansing and restoration. Ask Him to make you holy, as He is holy. Also see biblical examples of confession on pages 9293.

Sample Prayer of Confession

Lord, I don’t feel what You feel, but I would like to. Help me feel the divine grief that You feel about my sin. Father, what I have done is not like You. And it is not like the real me that I am becoming in You. I want to agree with You about my sin and to become more like the real me, the eternal me that You want me to become. Cleanse me and restore me. Continue Your work in me. Make me holy, as You are holy. Amen.

Day 2: Praise: Responding to God’s Attributes

Today’s Prayer Promise

“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)

According to yesterday’s lesson, what is one kind of responding prayer that helps prepare you to enter God’s presence?

One way to prepare to enter the throne room of heaven in prayer is confession. Through confession you receive cleansing and are restored to a right relationship with God. Confession is agreeing with God about the real you. You may object, “You don’t know the real me. I don’t want to be like the real me.” Just one minute! The world tells you that you are a product of your past. If you agree with the world, that is the limit of the kind of person you will be—and that may not be very good. Christianity, however, teaches that you are a product of your future—what you are becoming. God is molding you into the image of His Son, Jesus Christ. As a Christian, you are becoming like Him. You are growing toward what you will be in eternity. Think of yourself in terms of eternity. This is the self about whom you want to agree with God in prayer.

Pause to pray. Fix in your mind an image of what Jesus is like—pure, loving, kind, holy, wise, patient, humble, and gentle. Spend time in confession. Agree with God that the person you are becoming is more like Jesus in these ways.

A second kind of responding prayer is praise. In many different ways God reveals to you what He is like. His character traits are called His attributes. Praise is lifting up the attributes of God. You tend to become like what you value or praise. By lifting up God’s attributes in praise, you respond to God by becoming more like Him.

Read below the examples of praise. Pray them as you read. Circle or underline God’s attributes.

Examples of Praise

“I will thank the Lord for His righteousness” (Psalm 7:17).

“Be exalted, Lord, in Your strength; we will sing and praise Your might” (Psalm 21:13).

“I trust in God’s faithful love forever and ever. I will praise You forever for what You have done. In the presence of Your faithful people, I will put my hope in Your name, for it is good” (Psalm 52:8-9).

“My lips will glorify You because Your faithful love is better than life. So I will praise You as long as I live” (Psalm 63:3-4).

“Lord, the heavens praise Your wonders—Your faithfulness also” (Psalm 89:5).

Do you see that praise focuses on who God is or what He is like? He is righteous, most high, strong and mighty, merciful, good, loving, wonderful, and faithful. These are just a few of God’s attributes.

Read the list of God’s attributes below. Circle the ones that are particularly meaningful to you.

Attributes of God

      • able
      • almighty
      • attentive
      • awesome
      • beautiful
      • blameless
      • blessed
      • enthroned
      • eternal
      • exalted
      • faithful
      • first
      • flawless
      • forgiving
      • gentle
      • glorious
      • good
      • gracious
      • healing
      • holy
      • invisible
      • jealous
      • just
      • kind
      • last
      • light
      • living
      • majestic
      • merciful
      • mighty
      • patient
      • peaceful
      • perfect
      • protective
      • pure
      • radiant
      • righteous
      • spirit
      • strong
      • supreme
      • sure
      • tender
      • true
      • unique
      • wise
      • wonderful
      • abounding in love
      • all-knowing
      • all-powerful
      • compassionate
      • ever present
      • has authority
      • has integrity
      • indescribable
      • slow to anger
      • understanding
      • unfailing love
      • worthy of praise

Fill in the blanks to describe a second kind of responding prayer.

P ____________ is responding to God’s a _______________________.

Which is the purpose of responding prayers like praise?

a. I identify with God by working with Him in His kingdom.
b. I identify with God by becoming like Him.

When you pray, take time to offer praise to God. Respond to God’s attributes by lifting them up. God wants you to become like Him. As you praise Him, ask Him to help you become more like Him. Allow God to remove every characteristic that is not like Him.

Praise is not just for the good times in your life. The writer of Hebrews said, “Through Him [Jesus] let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise” (Hebrews 13:15). Praising God for who He is and for what He is like should be an attitude of your heart. You can praise Him continually.

Praise is insisting on the truth.

Paul and Silas, for example, were beaten and thrown into jail for taking a stand for Jesus Christ. Would you praise God at a time like that? Read what they did: “About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the prisoners were listening to them” (Acts 16:25). Praise is insisting on the truth of God’s nature regardless of the circumstances. God never changes. He is always worthy of our praise.

You will find that prayers of praise and worship are closely related. Praise focuses on His attributes. Worship focuses on the evidence of His attributes—His glory. Praise and worship prayers blend together as you pray.

Using the attributes listed in this lesson and the biblical examples on pages 9495, spend a few minutes praising God. You may want to use some of the biblical words for praise and worship below.

Biblical Words for Praise and Worship

praise
hallelujah
alleluia
hosanna
magnify
exalt
rejoice
exult
ascribe
bless
laud
worship
adore
honor
glorify

Day 3: Worship: Responding to God’s Glory

Today’s Prayer Promise

“Open your mouth wide, and I will fill it” (Psalm 81:10).

A third kind of responding prayer is worship. In the New Testament the Greek word for worship derives from root words meaning to kiss toward. It is an act of obeisance, homage, reverence, or love.

List the first three kinds of responding prayers.

      1. C ______________________________________________________
      2. P ______________________________________________________
      3. W _____________________________________________________
      4. Thanksgiving

God is not like any other. He reveals to us His beauty, brightness, and splendor—His glory—as He shows His attributes. God’s actions reveal His glory. The Bible indicates that the heavens and the earth declare God’s glory. Creation is the evidence of God’s great creative power, His beauty, His wisdom, and much more.

You respond to God’s glory through prayers of worship.

When God reveals His glory, you recognize His worth—His surpassing value. You want to fall down and worship Him, love Him, and adore Him. You long to be with Him. You respond to God’s glory through prayers of worship. You worship by expressing your reverence, honor, love, and adoration for God.

Read on pages 9697 some prayers of worship from the Bible. Pray them as you read them. Think of God’s beauty and majesty as you pray.

Write your own one-sentence prayer of worship.

Prayers of worship and praise go together. As you pray, you will find yourself focusing on God’s attributes and praising Him. When you reflect on who God is and how He has revealed Himself, you will worship and adore Him. Worship begins with reverence for God.

Expressing Prayers of Worship

      1. Describe your reverence for God.
      2. Magnify the Lord.
      3. Exalt the Lord.
      4. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due Him.
      5. Bless the Lord.
      6. Glorify the Lord.

Here are some ways you can express prayers of worship.

      1. Describe your holy reverence for God. Acknowledge and honor His presence. Do not treat God’s presence casually or lightly.
      2. Magnify the Lord. Make Him bigger. The word magnify indicates perspective. You cannot make God bigger than He is. However, when you decrease yourself and magnify Him, He increases. That is what Mary did when she prayed: “My soul doth magnify the Lord. For he hath regarded the low estate of his handmaiden” (Luke 1:46, 48, KJV). Focus on God’s greatness in comparison to who you are.
      3. Exalt the Lord. Make Him higher. John said of Jesus, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).
      4. Ascribe to the Lord the glory due Him. Give God proper credit for what He has done. Do not accept His glory as your own.
      5. Bless the Lord. Speak well of Him.
      6. Glorify the Lord. Give Him honor and glory in what you say.

Read below the sample prayers of worship. Underline those that express your feelings of worship. Now pray them to the Lord.

Sample Prayers of Worship

      • I bless You, Lord.
      • Honor and majesty belong to You.
      • I stand in awe of Your greatness and power.
      • I love You because You first loved me.
      • I long to be with You, Lord. I hunger and thirst for You.
      • I would rather be a doorkeeper in Your house than live as a rich person with the wicked.
      • I glorify Your name because You have done great things.
      • The heavens declare Your glory, Lord. I worship You in the splendor of Your holiness.
      • The earth is full of Your glory, Lord. Your wisdom, knowledge, and power are beyond my understanding.
      • Lord, Your splendor and majesty are glorious. I worship You.
      • I long to be with You in eternity. I yearn for my redemption to be complete in Christ.
      • I desire intimate fellowship with You.

Prayers of worship are responses to God’s glory. Because God is spirit, you must worship God in spirit. The opposite of spirit is flesh, which can taint worship when you focus on self. Pride and arrogance before God prevent true worship. The real test in worship is this: Who is first? Who is foremost? To worship in spirit, think of God first. Seek to meet God, to see Him, to think about Him, to please Him, to fix your mind on Him. Flesh will lead you astray. Spirit will always lead you to God’s supremacy. God’s glory is very sacred. You dare not give His glory to another or take it for yourself, for God said:

I am Yahweh, that is My name; I will not give My glory to another (Isaiah 42:8).

God’s glory, demonstrated in your life, is the greatest good that can come to you. His glory is best demonstrated when your life reflects His character. The way you live your life can demonstrate worship to God by glorifying Him. God wants you to attain maturity, to reach the measure of the stature of Christ, and to become complete in Christ. When you worship the Lord, God works in you to make you more like Him.

Close today’s study by worshiping the Lord. Focus on Him as you express your reverence, awe, love, and adoration. Use the words at the end of day 2 if you wish.

Day 4: Thanksgiving: Responding to God’s Riches

Today’s Prayer Promise

“Every generous act and every perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father” (James 1:17).

Squeezing toothpaste onto my toothbrush one morning, I (T. W.) realized that I had never thanked God for toothpaste. Come to think of it, I had never thanked Him for my teeth. I wondered, What if my blessings tomorrow depended on my thanksgiving today? It would mean that if I did not thank God for air and lungs today, there would be no air tomorrow, and my lungs would collapse!

Few of us realize our total dependence on God. We fail to acknowledge God as the source of everything we have. He is our source for abundant living, bestowing on us material and spiritual blessings according to His grace.

Read today’s prayer promise, James 1:17. Where does every generous act and perfect gift come from?

Read Ephesians 1:3-9, 11 below and underline some spiritual blessings God has given you. We’ve underlined one for you.

“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with every spiritual blessing in the heavens, in Christ; He chose us in Him, before the foundation of the world, to be holy and blameless in His sight. In love He predestined us to be adopted through Jesus Christ for Himself, according to His favor and will, to the praise of His glorious grace that He favored us with in the Beloved. In Him we have redemption through His blood, the forgiveness of our trespasses, according to the riches of His grace that He lavished on us with all wisdom and understanding. He made known to us the mystery of His will, according to His good pleasure that He planned in Him In Him we were also made His inheritance, predestined according to the purpose of the One who works out everything in agreement with the decision of His will.”—Ephesians 1:3-9, 11

Every good gift comes from God. He has blessed you with all spiritual blessings. God has chosen and adopted you as a child, has forgiven your sins, has given you wisdom and understanding, has revealed His will, and has given you an inheritance.

When God reveals Himself by giving blessings to you, thanksgiving to Him is a natural response. Thanksgiving is not just an act or a statement. It is an attitude of gratitude. Thanksgiving indicates a relationship between God as source and you as receiver. Prayers of thanksgiving indicate one of the most important characteristics of your relationship with God. Your relationship can grow only when you properly acknowledge that you are the receiver and God is the Giver.

Read Ephesians 5:20 and Philippians 4:6 below. What does Paul say about gratitude?

“… giving thanks always for everything to God the Father in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ.”—Ephesians 5:20

“In everything, through prayer and petition with thanksgiving, let your requests be made known to God.”—Philippians 4:6

a. Thank God for only the good things in life.
b. Thank God for every situation—both good and difficult.
c. Thanksgiving is not important unless you want something.

Paul tells us always to be thankful in every situation (b). This is difficult for most of us. We think of gratitude merely as a reaction to a favor, not to unpleasant events. Properly expressing gratitude means that you thank God in all circumstances—large and small, good and bad. Response to God in gratitude should be a continuous attitude of your heart: “Give thanks in everything, for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus” (1 Thessalonians 5:18).

Learning to be content in whatever state in which you find yourself helps you submit to God’s sovereignty. He wants you to develop gratitude for all you have rather than to focus on what you do not have. Thanksgiving is responding to God for the blessings He has bestowed on you.

Gratitude is a response not only to what God does but also to who God is.

Gratitude is a continuous attitude about your relationship with the One who continuously gives to you, supplies your needs, and brings you joy. Gratitude is a response not only to what God does but also to who God is. Gratitude is the heart’s response to God’s goodness—not merely to the gifts of His goodness but also to His quality of goodness.

What quality of God encourages our gratitude?

Turn to pages 9899 and read the examples of thanksgiving. In the space provided on those pages, list from Scripture some things for which you can thank God.

God’s nature is good. His will and work are always good. You can thank God for even the difficult or trying experiences in life, knowing that He can work through those for your good (see Romans 8:28 below). Here are some other things for which you can thank God: spiritual riches, honor, strength, His nearness, His wonderful works, joy and gladness, freedom, daily provision, a call to be involved in His work, and wisdom.

“All things work together for the good of those who love God: those who are called according to His purpose.”—Romans 8:28

Read the list of subjects for thanks below. List on page 99 other things, persons, or experiences for which you can give thanks.

Subjects for Thanks

      • Redemption, mercy, grace, forgiveness
      • Meaningful spiritual experiences
      • Family, relatives, friends, and church
      • Provision for your needs
      • Persons and events that have had spiritual impacts on your life

Pray through your lists and use the Scriptures on pages 9899 to express your gratitude to God for His goodness and for all He is and does for you. Be alert to ways to express your gratitude to God today.

Day 5: Responding Together

Today’s Prayer Promise

“Come, let us discuss this,” says the Lord. “Though your sins are like scarlet, they will be as white as snow; though they are as red as crimson, they will be like wool” (Isaiah 1:18).

You will spend most of this week’s prayer session in responding prayers. Today you will prepare for your small-group prayer session.

Preparing to Confess

In Isaiah 1:18, today’s prayer promise, God invites you to reason together with Him about your sin. No matter how bad the sin appears, He can cleanse and forgive! Confession is a way to respond to God’s holiness by agreeing with Him and turning away from your sin. As you do, God makes you holy—set apart for His work.

Sometimes sin needs to be confessed publicly (see Nehemiah 9:1-3 below). This is especially true when a group has sinned. We call this corporate sin.

“The Israelites assembled; they were fasting, wearing sackcloth, and had put dust on their heads. 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 9:1-3

Check sins that could be church sins or group sins rather than individual sins. Some could be both.

pride
murder
robbery
sexual immorality
envy
adultery
bribery
tolerating evil
greed
unbelief
unforgiveness
shifting priority from God
lying
gossip
bitterness
neglecting the needy

Nearly all of these could be sins of a church or a group. Some, however, like murder, robbery, sexual immorality, adultery, bribery, lying, and gossip, are more likely to be individual sins. James 5:16, below, commands us to confess our sins to one another. Healing and deliverance can come when others pray for you about an area of sin, weakness, need, or fault. Take care, however, when you confess sin publicly. Below are some guidelines to follow when confessing sin to others.

“Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, so that you may be healed. The intense prayer of the righteous is very powerful.”—James 5:16

Guidelines for Confession

      1. Confession should be directed by the Holy Spirit.
      2. Limit group confession to what is corporately (as a group) agreed on as sin.
      3. Corporate confession is not accusation of others but agreement with God and with one another that the action confessed is sin.
      4. Confession includes sins of omission and commission.
      5. The purpose of confessing personal sin is to secure forgiveness or to enlist prayer support.
      6. Any sin that has caused damage to a group should be publicly confessed.
      7. The circle of confession should be as wide as the circle of damage done by the sin.
      8. Confession should not be public when it would hurt other persons or lead to anger or lust.

Confession also includes agreeing with God about truth. Turn to page 93 and read two examples of the confession of truth. Now read the list of sample prayers of the confession of truth below. On page 93, list other truths you can confess about God or about who you are in relation to God.

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.

Preparing to Praise

During your group prayer time this week, you will respond to God’s attributes in praise. You might use statements like these: “I praise You, Lord, for You are. … ” “I magnify Your name because You are. …”

List four or more attributes of God for which you can praise Him. If you need to, skim Psalms to find some of His attributes.

Preparing to Worship

Turn to pages 9697 and select an example of worship that is meaningful to you. Underline what the Scripture describes of God’s glory.

Preparing to Give Thanks

Review the lists on pages 41 and 99 of things for which you can express thanks to God. Draw a star beside those for which you are particularly thankful.

Spend a few minutes in prayer, responding to God’s holiness, attributes, glory, and riches

Growing Disciples Series – Pray In Faith.

 

Friday 2 October 2020

Pardon Me: Forgiveness And Unforgiveness

“To err is human, to forgive divine”—so said the poet Alexander Pope, though many people think those words come from the Bible. Pope’s words do nicely sum up the Bible’s teaching about forgiveness. People are expected to forgive, just as God does. Why not, since our own sins and failings ought to make us willing to overlook the sins of others? Unfortunately, in the Bible (as in our own lives) there are many examples of not forgiving.

      1. What wild young man confessed his riotous living to his forgiving father? (Hint: It’s a parable.)
      2. According to Jesus, how many times are we supposed to forgive someone?
      3. What is the one sin that cannot be forgiven?
      4. Who asked the prophet Elisha’s forgiveness for worshipping in the temple of the god Rimmon?
      5. Who was the first man recorded as forgiving those who had wronged him?
      6. To whom did Jesus say, “Your sins are forgiven”?
      7. Who was Jesus’ immediate predecessor in preaching the forgiveness of sins?
      8. In which Gospel does Jesus say from the cross, “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do”?
      9. According to the Epistle to the Hebrews, what is required if sins are to be forgiven?
      10. According to Deuteronomy, what sin cannot be forgiven?
      11. Who begged David’s forgiveness for her husband’s boorish behaviour?
      12. What abused prophet prayed that God would not forgive his enemies’ many plots against him?
      13. What happens to people who will not forgive their enemies?
      14. According to Jesus, what was poured out for the forgiveness of men’s sins?
      15. According to Mark’s Gospel, what activity should we cease from until we have forgiven our brothers?
      16. What woman loved much because she had been forgiven much?

Pardon Me: Forgiveness And Unforgiveness (Answers)

 

Thursday 1 October 2020

The Soul Who Sins Will Die – Ezekiel 18:1-32

Open It

      1. Why do we like to have a ready excuse for our failings should they come to light?
      2. What examples do you know of parents of poor character who have had children of excellent character?

Explore It

      1. What parable was current in Israel that God wanted to correct? (18:1-3)
      2. Whose sin did God say has the power to condemn a person to death? (18:4)
      3. From what sinful activities does God’s “righteous man” abstain? (18:5-8)
      4. What positive activities are part of the righteous person’s life? (18:5-9)
      5. What will happen to the “violent son” of a righteous person who commits the sins his or her father avoided? (18:10-13)
      6. In Ezekiel’s story, how does the violent son’s son respond to what he sees in his father? (18:14-17)
      7. How would God judge the son who did not follow the evil practices of his father? (18:17)
      8. Whose actions are the final determiner of every soul’s fate? (18:19-20)
      9. How does God feel about a wicked person who repents? (18:21-23)
      10. What happens to a righteous person’s good deeds if he or she later turns to sin? (18:24)
      11. By what logic does God explain His justice through Ezekiel? (18:25-29)
      12. What does God call each person to do in light of His coming judgment? (18:30)
      13. What new things does a repentant person possess? (18:31)
      14. What does God desire for each soul He has created? (18:32)

Get It

      1. What can we infer about why the Jews of Ezekiel’s day felt they were suffering?
      2. How would it affect our motivation to live a righteous life if we could indeed be punished for our parents’ misdeeds?
      3. What excuse is eliminated if we know that God does not punish us for our parents’ sins?
      4. What is the difference between suffering because of the mistakes of our forebears and paying for them?
      5. Why is God more concerned with the way we live today than with our previous mistakes or accomplishments?
      6. Based on God’s attitudes, how should we feel about the misfortunes of nonbelievers?

Apply It

      1. What fruits of righteousness can you cultivate this coming week?
      2. How can you help young people to take responsibility for their own soul, regardless of where their parents stand with God?

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