English Bible reading thoughts July to December


July – click on the date below:


August – click on the date below:


September – click on the date below:


October – click on the date below


November – click on the date below


December – click on the date below


July 1st.

Today’s practical thoughts will again start with Saul. 1 Samuel 13 is sadly the turning point in his life – he blatantly disobeyed God, verse 13. Saul tried to justify his actions, verse 11-12, but this does not change the fact that he disobeyed God. This is a warning for us, sometimes we justify our actions using Bible teaching out of context, but it is clearly not what God wants. For example, because we know that God forgives sin, which he does, we cannot assume that he always will, forgetting that he also knows our attitude. There were consequences for Saul’s disobedience, his justification just did not stand up. Saul took the law into his own hands and forgot that God is everywhere and in control. Notice Saul’s human reactions, he blames Samuel for being late, he used the excuse that soldiers were leaving, he provided his own justification and he became proud of this own position and had no respect for God. It is interesting too that verse 10 says that Saul “went out to greet Samuel”, this suggests that he did not regret what he had just done, he had completely the wrong attitude. He incorrectly believed that God’s power to help them was actually because of the burnt offering and fellowship offerings and not the attitude of mind and the genuine commitment to God’s will. Despite this God remains working and is already preparing a replacement king with the right attitude and mind, verse 14. The scene is also set for God’s power to be shown through the weakness in human terms of Israel, verse 16-22, God did not need man’s weapons to defeat his enemies. We have these contrasts between following God and not following God in Isaiah 56 and 57. Chapter 56 is a great confidence boost for those of us who have been baptised and accepted Jesus – we are the “gentiles” that Isaiah is talking about here. Verse 1-2 says that we should “do what is right” and that “blessed is the man [and woman] who holds fast to God’s teachings, sadly, Saul was an example of someone not “holding fast”. The confidence that we get is from verse 3-8, clearly stating that if we “hold fast to God’s covenant” and keep his commands we will be “gathered” and brought to the kingdom – there is no doubt about this. But there is the contrast in this chapter too, ie verse 9-12, suggesting that there are those who cannot be bothered with following God.  That is their choice, but they cannot expect to get the wonderful blessings promised by God. Chapter 57 starts off by talking about the “righteous who perish”, this is interesting because we know all people will die unless Jesus comes back first, but see what it says in verse 1-2, ie they will be “spared from evil”, they will be at “peace” and they will “find rest as they lie in death”. This is an excellent reminder that those who “die in Jesus” are actually taken away from further suffering and they have a peace as they wait for Jesus to return – this is why we often use Jesus’ words that he used when talking about Lazarus in the New Testament that they are “asleep”. Only resting until Jesus returns. Then we have the contrast of the wicked again, ie those who do not respect God, verse 3-5 and have replaced him with own strength or money or other things, verse 6-9. God says let those things that you trusted in save you, because they will not! In fact even when “worshipping” these “false gods”, people see that these “gods cannot help”, verse 11, yet no one asks why and they still carry on! It is quite amazing that people still “worship” false things even though they know that they cannot save! And God asks us why, verse 11, ie 3 things he points out to us about the people: 1. being “false” to him, 2. not “remembering” him, and 3. not thought about him. All these things take us away from God, so we should be determined to always put God first, because, as it says in the last part of verse 13, “But the man who makes me [God] his refuge will inherit the land and possess my [God’s] holy mountain [Jerusalem]. Verses 14-19 shows what happens to those who trust in God and try to follow his commands. Our attitude should be humility, verse 15. We should have complete respect for God knowing that he will heal us, verse 18-19, but at the same time being aware that we need to repent when we fail. There are only two ways to go in life and they are shown for us in this chapter. Those who walk uprightly enter into peace, verse 2; but there is no peace for the wicked, verse 21. Revelation 21 and 22 show us the reward for those who follow God and Jesus now as best as they can. When Jesus returns all our suffering and pain will end, our human nature will end, chapter 21 verse 4. We are the “bride” verse 9, those whose names are in the “book of life”, verse 27, if we are recognised as being a follower of Jesus, with his “mark on [our] foreheads, chapter 22 verse 4. We can be confident of this promise, but there is a warning because all who are not recognised as Jesus’ will be excluded, chapter 21 verse 8. This picture in Revelation is of the future when Jesus comes back, it is a time that we are looking forward to because it means that we will be saved from our human nature and death will be gone, chapter 22 verse 3. So the lesson is, we have a wonderful future to look forward to, we have to always try to respect and follow God’s commands and we have a saviour to help us. Jesus said that he is coming “soon”, chapter 22 verse 6-7, we actually do not know when, we believe that the “time is near”, verse 10, but we cannot be sure; however we know from Isaiah that those who are God’s may die sooner than we think to save us from further suffering so we need to be prepared now. Because when the time is right for Jesus to come back it will be quick, the word “soon” used in verse 12 and 20, can convey the meaning that Jesus’ return will be “quick”, so if we are acting like Saul or those described in chapter 21 verse 8 and chapter 22 verse 15, it may be too late to change then, so let us follow God’s ways now with complete confidence. July

July 2nd.

Practical thoughts today from our readings. In 1 Samuel 14 we just have a snap shot of 2 people’s lives, one godly, the other, sadly not. This is Jonathan and Saul. Both were leaders, see 1 Samuel 13 verse 2 for Jonathan and we know that Saul was the king. We can get lessons from this as we live our Christian lives. It is so clear that Jonathan was godly, verse 6, 10 and 12. Jonathan had a genuine trust in God and a belief that God was in control. All his decisions and his actions were godly and this was noticed by others, eg his armour bearer, verse 7 and the rest of the army, verse 39 and 45. This is an important example for all of us brothers who are elders, we have to genuinely follow God and we have to set good examples. This is in complete contrast with Saul – he is becoming more and more ungodly as he allows his human attitude to replace his previous godly attitude. In this account Saul does not acknowledge that it was God who brought about the victory, verse 15 and 23, neither does he acknowledge Jonathan’s part in this, in fact he was prepared to kill him for breaking an ill thought out oath that he had made, verse 24, 28 and 44. Saul was the leader yet he did not consult God, verse 36. He just thought like Eli’s sons did, that God’s power was in the ark, verse 18. He just simply responded to situations and appeared godly, eg verse 34-35, notice this was the “first time”. Sadly, Saul was now not fully committed to God, in fact he was now more interested in his own strength and in who he could recruit to his army, verse 52. Because Saul did not put God first in everything he was now being undermined by his army, verse 45 and Saul’s anger and jealousy allowed the Philistines to get away and the consequences were that there was continued fighting over the years. In Isaiah 58 we again see this comparison between godly and ungodly attitudes, verse 1-5, shows the wrong attitude, ie pretending to look godly and verses 6-12 shows the actions of the godly. The ungodly, for example, look godly but their actions betray them, they do all the bad things listed, whereas the godly are seen to be godly. The godly really practise what they believe and respect God. Note that God’s response is conditional, verse 9-10, this is re-emphasised in verse 13-14. So if we want God to help us and bring us to his kingdom we have to demonstrate our godliness. Saul’s eventual request for an answer in 1 Samuel 14 verse 37 was not answered, just as God indicates in Isaiah that he would not listen. When we fail and if we have the right attitude, we have forgiveness because we have Jesus, Matthew 1 verse 21. The genealogy of Jesus, verse 1-16 shows God’s plan, despite human failings as we see the “mistakes” in people’s lives, eg David and Bathsheba, verse 6. This is a huge hope that we have in Jesus that with the right attitude we have our sins forgiven. In these 2 chapters we have human nature on display, chapter 1 verse 20, Joseph was angry when he discovered that Mary was pregnant, but he listened to God, verse 24, he was godly. Herod, on the other hand, had absolutely no respect for God, he was determined to destroy God’s son, verse 16. This is extreme, but it is worth remembering it as an example of how corrupt human nature is. The birth of Jesus was a world changing event, it has meant that we can come close to God in Jesus so that we can have our sins forgiven and have the promise of life. July

July 3rd.

The real positive message for us is in Matthew, but just to set the context of our practical thoughts we need to start in 1 Samuel 15 because the human response here is typical of all of us and is the reason why we need Jesus so much. This chapter, sadly, shows Saul’s continuing fall into human thinking, and this confirms the reason for him being rejected as king, verse 26. Saul was given a task to do, he was told to completely destroy the Amalekites, an ungodly people who had refused to let the children of Israel pass through their land all those years ago when they were saved from Egypt, verse 2-3. Like Saul, we are also given tasks to do, summarised by being like Jesus, and God expects us to do our best in doing this. Saul only half did the job and Samuel brought the sad, but inevitable, message from God to Saul, verse 10-11. Saul’s arrogance here is quite appalling, he knew he had done wrong, verse 9, he should have destroyed everything, verse 3. But he then went off and set up a monument to himself, verse 12, this is pride! He then lied to Samuel, verse 13, he then blames his men, verse 15, and he tries to justify himself by saying that the animals were sacrifices! You cannot lie to God, you will not get away with it! Even if you justify disobedience in your own mind, like Saul did, verse 20-21, you will still not get away with it! And this is the problem when we rely on our own strength and forget that the things that we have are from God in the first place. There is a real danger then that we go on to ignore God. Verse 22-23, puts things into perspective, ie God is more interested in us obeying him rather than making sacrifices, whatever that may be. Rebellion and arrogance are typical human ways and we need to continually guard against this. Saul appears to repent, verse 24 and 30, but God knows his heart and there are consequences for his ungodliness. This is a sobering lesson to all of us and we are constantly reminded of this throughout the Bible, Isaiah 59 is another example and God’s words to Israel in verses 3-8 could equally have been said to Saul and also to us when we try to justify our human actions. Saul certainly told lies, verse 4, do we do the same to our brothers and sisters? The fact is if we, like Saul, disobey God then “justice is far from us”, verse 9-11. We cannot expect God to be with us if we are doing wrong! However, we do all fail and humanly speaking there is no justice, verse 12-15. Acknowledging this is the first part of repentance and if we try our best to do right, God’s plan in Jesus allows us forgiveness, verse 16, and Jesus is that “Redeemer” from Zion, verse 20, God ultimately brings salvation through Jesus. And to Jesus we come in Matthew 3 and 4. Both John the Baptist’s and Jesus’ first recorded words are “repent”, I suggest that this is deliberate and therefore important, chapter 3 verse 2 and chapter 4 verse 17. Both said that the Kingdom was near, so if we want to be part of the kingdom we need to repent – 2 important, simple messages right at the start of the New Testament! When Jesus was baptised God said that he was well pleased, chapter 3 verse 17, God was pleased because now it was possible for salvation to happen – Jesus was God’s faithful son and he set the example of baptism that would only “work” if Jesus continued to live a sinless life and therefore be raised from the dead. This salvation was possible because Jesus always obeyed his father, the examples during his temptation show just how much Jesus followed his father, chapter 4 (verse 1-11). He countered all of his bad, human thoughts, by quoting what his father had said and wanted, verse 4, 7 and verse 10, he chose not to justify himself in any sin like Saul did. We need to try to do the same. We thank God for Jesus, because we really need the salvation brought through him. With this wonderful hope that we have we also have responsibilities to try our best to obey God and Jesus and not to do as Saul did and take things into our own hand. The wonderful, positive message in Matthew is that baptism is our start of our preparation for the kingdom and as part of our repentance we are required to produce “fruits” that demonstrate that we take this seriously, chapter 3 verse 8, it is our actions that show others what motivates us. We followed Jesus’ example by being baptised, so too should we follow his example in how we cope with temptations and try to be more familiar with God’s word so that we can know better what is right and wrong. Our response to Jesus’ invitation to follow him should be as enthusiastic as that of the disciples who “at once” and “immediately” left everything to follow him. There was no regret and no half-heartedness, they faithfully followed. So we do too. We all have doubts and we all make mistakes but we can rely on Jesus for forgiveness and healing. The last few verses of chapter 4 tell us that Jesus preached the “good news of the kingdom” and he healed the sick, sickness is a reminder of our human nature and our sinfulness and because Jesus healed the sick we also have a vivid reminder that Jesus forgives us of our sins too, making us “whole” for the kingdom. So let us constantly remember that we have a wonderful promise of a future with God, so let us try our best to produce fruits that demonstrate the value we place on this and the value we see in Jesus’s sacrifice, without which we would have no hope at all! July

July 4th.

Saul was rejected as king because he did not follow God’s commands. God is clear that he is to be replaced, 1 Samuel 16 verse 1. Samuel obeys, despite being concerned about how Saul will respond, and goes to Bethlehem as instructed. The beginning of verse 2 just shows us how ungodly Saul was because Samuel was afraid of him! There was nothing about Saul that reflected God’s love, he was just out for his own benefit, an attitude that is not acceptable to God. A warning for us again. Interestingly Samuel continued to mourn for Saul, 1 Samuel 15 verse 35, this shows a godly love for others, a good example for us, however, God does encourage Samuel to move on because of Saul’s ungodliness, 1 Samuel 16 verse 1. Not such a good example for us to follow is Samuel’s initial consideration of outward appearances only, as Samuel started to do when looking for God’s chosen son of Jesse to anoint, verse 6. No, God looks at the heart, verse 7, and because David was godly, God worked with him, verse 13. And because he was godly he was also seen as godly and noticed by others, verse 18. Such a contrast to Saul, verses 14-16, notice that the evil spirit was from God to allow Saul’s ungodly character to come out, probably a bad temper, or depression, or maybe jealousy. Because David was godly he was trusted and he earned respect, a characteristic that we should have as followers of Jesus, verse 21-23. The picture that we get in Isaiah 60 is one of restoration, it is ultimately in the kingdom when everything is restored and all those in the kingdom are godly. Some of the words used here remind us of those words used in Revelation when all things are restored when Jesus has returned and sin and death are done away with because all are godly. This is a wonderful picture of peace and it is graphically demonstrated by the use of light and darkness, verse 1-3 and then in verse 19-22. We see this use of light and darkness all the way through the Bible it starts in Genesis 1 verse 1-5 and climaxes in Revelation 22 verse 5. Light is always associated with godliness and righteousness and dark with sin and ungodliness. This is such an uplifting chapter. Peace is what Jesus teaches in Matthew 5. Verses 1-12 are the characteristics of those who will be on the Kingdom, they are completely opposite to the natural human thinking, like Saul and us when we disregard God’s commands. And God will give us all these things in the kingdom to all those who humbly try their best to follow. All the blessings referred to in these verses are given to those who try to act in godly ways. The salt and light in verses 13-16 appears to be Jesus asking us to look into our own motives to see if what we do actually reflects who we say we are. Because we say we follow Jesus we have to always try and demonstrate that we are Jesus’s in our lives, otherwise it is pointless being “salt” or a “light” they both have to have a use! We cannot ignore it when both God and Jesus say that we should obey, verse 19, if we want to be part of God’s promises we have to obey, or as it says here we will be “called least in the kingdom of heaven”. It is interesting that the implication here is that we still enter the kingdom, but presumably providing we repent. Matthew refers a lot to the ”kingdom of heaven”, we know from other more clearer passages that no one goes to heaven so the message for us here is that the kingdom is “of God”, ie it is godly. Jesus then presents us with examples of how we should obey from our hearts and he makes the obvious sins like murder and adultery really close to all of us to make us realise just how like Jesus we should be. Murder = anger; adultery = lust, Jesus is making us think of our attitude. Jesus turns human thinking upside down. Saul did not change but should have, and we all need to. So Jesus is inviting all of us to look at our motives and to question our actions and our thoughts. “What would Jesus do” has to be our constant question. The real positive message from these readings is that the kingdom on earth will be a godly place, there will be no human corruption and as result there will be peace, this is promised to us! July

July 5th.

In Matthew 6 Jesus says to seek the kingdom of God first then all the things that we desire will be given to us, verse 33. There are 2 questions that come from this, 1 what does it mean to seek the kingdom first and 2 what should be included in the things that we desire? We have seen from thoughts on the readings that only those who are godly will be in the kingdom therefore this implies that our desires have to be godly too. As an example to help us we have David’s godly character to think about in 1 Samuel 17, because he always put the “kingdom” first. Clearly he thought of God first, verses 26, 30, 36, 45 and 46. All these verses show us that David’s first thoughts were of God, he was distressed that God was being defied. He had no fear of human strength because he knew that God was with him. There is a massive difference in characters between David and others here. The Philistines relied on human strength, verses 4-7, Eliab was jealous and embarrassed as well as misrepresented David, verse 28, and Goliath was proud, verse 43-44, all these human attitudes are wrong and David was completely opposite to these because he put God first. Although David is described as a “boy” here, he was not, he was a young man, strong enough and big enough to wear Saul’s uniform, verse 38-39 and also strong enough to use Goliath’s sword, verse 51. David thought of God first and he desired what God wants, not what humans want. Isaiah 61 is a continuation of the picture of restoration for God’s people, it includes the teaching about Jesus the return of the people of Israel to the land of Israel and ultimately the kingdom when Jesus comes back. A verse that had an impact on me shows how seeking God’s kingdom first and desiring the same things that God wants us…. verse 8. This clear message shows us what God loves, ie justice, this should be what we also love, David did. The verse also shows us what God hates, ie stealing and iniquity. Both these words cover everything that is ungodly, so God hates taking anything that is not yours; he also hates it when we break his commands. We know that parts of this chapter were fulfilled by Jesus because Jesus tells us they were in Luke 4:18-19,so Jesus’s teachings in Matthew 6 are partly a fulfilment of Isaiah 61 and Jesus’s teachings here continue in the theme of our attitude. He tells us to he humble, verse 1-4, he tells us how to pray, verses 5-15, he tells us that when we do things in personal worship not to show others, verses 16-18. In all these sections he says not to be a hypocrite, the word hypocrite means “play acting” or “pretending”. God knows what our motives are, we can not lie to him, we can not pretend to him, Jesus is very critical of hypocrites. In verses 19-24 Jesus is asking us what things are actually in our heart and are we trying to serve 2 masters, ie God and money or human things. Jesus is clear about the right answer, ie you can not serve both. The contrast between light and dark is big and unmistakable, Jesus is saying if your desires are human then you are bad and in darkness, however if you desire godly things then you are good and in the light. Then Jesus says not to worry, verses 25-34, not to worry about our life, about food, or clothes, etc, but to seek God’s kingdom first, then we will have the godly things that we desire. Notice this is we will have the godly things that we desire, not the human things. God is in control, he knows exactly what is happening in all of our lives, he knows our motives, our thoughts, our actions. He knows if we are genuine or not and he knows what we desire so he will bring us to his kingdom. David thought of God first, do we? July

July 6th.

Thinking of practical lessons from today’s readings we still see the contrast of godly and ungodly characters in 1 Samuel 18. Saul’s jealousy of David is now becoming a regular thing. Sail was angry because David was credited with more success than he had been, verse 8, he tried to kill David, verse 11, and he remained disrespectful to God’s will, verse 12. He plotted to get David killed by the Philistines, verse 17 and verse 21, he was even willing for his daughter to go through the pain of having her husband killed. This was a man whose ungodliness took over his everyday thinking and he became worse and worse. This is what happens when human beings allow human thinking to take over. It is a complete contrast to David who had friends who were also godly, verse 1-3, he did his best in everything such that he had respect from others, verse 5 and 16 and he was humble, verse 18 and 23. Yes David was a godly man, he took no credit for himself, he was well known, even the songs about him show this, verse 7, he was even well known by his enemies, verse 30. But with all of this success he remained humble. Saul should have been pleased for David as he was on his side! A massive lesson for us, we should not be proud and arrogant as Saul was, we should accept God working in all of our brothers and sisters’ lives and humbly accept God’s will. David was always aware of God in his life and always attempted to do what God wanted. Isaiah 62 is an example of the thing that should always be on our minds and in our prayers. This chapter is again about God’s restoration of his people and his land that ultimately ends in the kingdom. It is all possible, as we know, through Jesus, verse 10 gives us a hint of this, in that the “banner” is a possible picture of Jesus’ death and resurrection (Isaiah 11:10, 49:22 and John 12:32) all these things are a reminder of God’s plan that includes us. So, like we see in David’s later life he always prayed for God’s future restoration of his kingdom, we should do the same. Verse 6-7, we are those “who call on the Lord” therefore we should always be praying for the kingdom and for Jesus’s return. Because we know that this promise is real we should listen to what Jesus says to us. Matthew 7 continues with his first preaching and in verses 1-6 he is reminding us of our own tendency to sin and how we should be humble and not judge others with a view to condemn. We are all weak, only Jesus did not sin, David was sinful the same as us, so we must always examine ourselves and keep a block on our human tendencies. If we try to be godly and try to obey God we can confidently ask, verses 7-12. We can ask for what God wants. We have a choice as to whether we are in the kingdom or not, verse 13-14, God does not force us to do anything, but if we want to be in God’s kingdom we have to do what God wants. Saul’s actions showed what was in his heart, David and Jonathan’s actions the same and it is the same for us. Jesus uses plants with good and bad fruit to make this point. If we are genuine in our belief in God we people will see by our thoughts and actions if we look like Jesus, if we are not others will see that too. God and Jesus certainly see. It is important for us to remember this because Jesus can still turn around and say that he does not know us, verse 21-23. So the lesson is to be a wise builder, verse 24-27. God has given us all an opportunity to be in the kingdom, he wants us to be there, we will be there if we trust and try our best and we have confidence in Jesus because he covers our failures, but if we are pretending (hypocritical) then our salvation is at risk. So together let us all produce good fruit. July

July 7th.

It is always very sad when people who have been given opportunity to know God and to benefit from his salvation, ultimately in Jesus, turn away. This is exactly what Saul is doing in 1 Samuel 19, he should have been glad that David had, through God’s power, overcome the Philistines, verse 4-5. Jonathan certainly understood and appreciated this and for a time he successfully changed Saul’s mind. But Saul was so jealous of David and because he was ungodly all he wanted to do was to take revenge and again he tries to kill David, verse 9-10. This is the problem when you forget what God does for us and disrespect his commands and requirements, you will only focus on your self and God will arrange things that accelerate the consequences of your bad actions. In this case Saul’s unchecked anger causes him to throw a spear at David. And things start getting worse for Saul and Michal, his daughter, turns against him, verse 17, his men do the same, verse 20-21. God was clearly at work here in influencing the men and also Saul, verse 23, in protecting David and also showing how powerful God himself is. God brought to nothing the perceived power of the ungodly Saul and worked through events to ensure that David was OK. David continued to have faith in God throughout all this, demonstrated by his immediate turning to Samuel, the man of God, when Saul was trying to kill him. A lesson for us is not to rely on our own ideas and strength but to always turn to God. Our reading in Isaiah 63 again talks about the salvation of God, eg verse 5, 9 and 16. We know that salvation is through Jesus and we do have little pictures of Jesus in this chapter. The practical lessons for us have to be the reminders of when the children of Israel rebelled against God, verses 11-14. Despite them seeing God’s wonderful power they still rebelled and suffered the consequences, Saul rebelled and suffered the consequences so we should be aware that there will be consequences if we are rebelling. But Isaiah pleads on his people’s behalf to be compassionate, verses 15-19. And we thank God that he is compassionate and we experience the affect of this in Jesus. Matthew 8 shows us examples of this compassion. The man with leprosy (a symbol of sin) asks Jesus for healing, and Jesus heals him, verse 1-4. Jesus touches the man, no one else would for fear of becoming a leper themselves. Jesus can and will heal our sins if we repent and ask. The humble, faithful centurion asks for healing for his servant, verses 5-13, and Jesus is impressed by his faith. He knew that Jesus could heal from a distance, indeed Jesus healed many, verse 14-17. But Jesus’s main priority was to teach about repentance and the kingdom of God, yes our suffering will end in the kingdom, maybe sometimes we experience healing now but Jesus does say that there is a cost of following him, verse 18-22. We should expect difficulties as these 2 examples show, ie having no home and caring for old or sick relatives and the fear that Jesus’s disciples experienced in the boat is the same fear that we experience when we go through troubles, verse 22-27. With faith Jesus does calm the difficulties around us too… sometimes we may lose everything as David did when he fled but God and Jesus are aware and with the right attitude we will ultimately be brought to the kingdom. Sometimes we cannot see God working in our lives because it is not obvious, I think we have a demonstration of this in the healing of the so called demon possessed man, verses 28-34. This man was probably what we know today as a schizophrenic ie having multiple sides to his personality, notice the man said “us”. He needed a demonstration that he was in fact healed which is why Jesus used the pigs to show the man that he was healed. Events around show us that God is in control, he was in control of the events around David, he has always been in control of our salvation, Jesus is in control of healing and giving forgiveness and God is in control of our lives too if we are open to him and try to follow him. July

July 8th.

The 1 Samuel 20 reading brings the effect of ungodliness into a clear contrast to godliness. The ungodly Saul shows where his human priority was, verse 31. He had disregarded what God had said and was trying to go against him by wanting David dead so that his family, Jonathan, would have the kingly inheritance! He was so determined to get his own way that he ignored God. By contrast, the godly Jonathan sided with the godly David, he had total respect for God and was not interested in his human inheritance, he was just interested in what God wanted, even if it meant a new king from a different family. This chapter shows us just how low humans can be when they have disregard for God as Saul demonstrated. Jonathan wanted to do the right thing and he rightly went against his father because he respected God more. This is how we should be too, we should put God first, even above our family, tribe, nationality – all these are worthless compared to the family of God. We have a prayer of Israel in Isaiah 64, that should be ours too. A prayer for God to show his power and to save those who respect him, verse 5. Notice it says “help those who gladly do right and remember your ways”. Again we see the help that we have from God as being conditional, we can not expect help if we are ungodly as Saul was. Being godly involves us wanting to change, verse 8, we see God as the Potter who is making a pot in the shape that he wants, we are the clay and God is changing us into the people who he wants us to be. The experiences that we go through in our lives, mold us and change us, if we trust God and do not rebel against him. God’s plan for us very much involves Jesus because we cannot be saved without him because we can never be sinless. Matthew 9 shows us how Jesus has authority to forgive sins, verse 6 and we take great comfort from this because we do all need forgiving. Verse 12-13 shows that Jesus has come to heal the spiritually sick, ie sinners and to bring mercy. God is merciful, demonstrated by him giving us Jesus. The examples in the old testament show us how weak willed humans are, even David sinned, but he looked forward with trust in God to the time of Jesus when those who trust in him can have their sins forgiven. Putting a patch on the old will not work, we have to have a new way of doing things, and this is in Jesus, verse 16-17. Jesus has changed the way that we can look at things, for example death is now a sleep, verse 24, Jesus has the power to raise the dead, verse 25. We all will continue to experience difficulties in our lives but with faith we come to Jesus for help, verses 22 and 29. For these examples healing was immediate, this may or may not happen for us before Jesus comes back, but we have confidence that our lives are in God’s hands and he will help as he sees fit. It is sad that some people, despite all the warnings and examples, still reject God and Jesus, verse 34. The Pharisees were so “blind” that they could not even see with their Bible knowledge that Jesus was the son of God. We have a wonderful hope, one that we should want to share, so our prayer should also be, verse 39. We need to pray that we can teach others the wonderful message of Jesus and the coming Kingdom. July

July 9th.

In our first reading today (1 Samuel 21&22), David appears to do his best to protect Ahimelech the priest when David saw that one of Saul’s men was there, verse 7. David did not want the priest to be accused, by Saul, of helping him which would have put his life at risk. So David made up a story in verse 2-3. Sadly Saul was unwilling to accept this story after Doeg told him, 1Sam22:16, David blamed himself for this sad event, 1Sam22:22 and he writes his thoughts in Psalm 52. Here he shows the contrast between godly and ungodly people – the ungodly will be brought down, verse 5, the righteous will see justice, verse 2-7 and will have a future, verses 8-9. Jesus does not condemn David for his “story”, in fact he uses part of this acount to try and get the Pharisees to understand that we will come across occasions when we have to make spiritual decisions, Matthew 12:3-4 and 1Sam21:6. Saul and Doeg are both so far away from God, even Saul’s men refuse to carry out Saul’s command, verse 17. Doeg has no principles and kills the priests, verse 18. Many times we see there are consequences for people who are just Christians for their own selfish benefit, like Saul and Doeg, and Isaiah 65 reminds us yet again of this, verse 13-16. God’s servants are those who try to follow God in everything and seek him, verse 10. Therefore servants get the things that those who “forsake” God crave, verse 11. So if we are just pretend worshiping God and lying to our brothers and sisters and just making money for ourselves then we are amongst those who are in verse 12. God’s appeal to the Israelites, as it is to us, is to turn and seek him. Only then will we be part of the promised kingdom that we see a picture of in verses 17-25. Jesus sends his disciples out to teach others in Matthew 10. This same responsibility to teach is given to us too and we are told to expect difficulties, eg verses 16-23. But Jesus says not to be afraid, verse 26. He says not to hold back on teaching, verse 27-28. Do not be afraid of humans just be afraid of God who has the power to leave us in the grave. God is very much aware of the situations that we are in, verses 29-30, we may not have peace now, but we will in the kingdom. Jesus says something that should make us all think about how we live our lives in verse 32-33. We can only acknowledge Jesus if we are teaching about him, obeying him and acting like him. If we are trying to be like him in everything that we do then he will acknowledge us before God and we have life in the kingdom, but if we do not acknowledge Jesus we put our salvation at risk. Yes, we are saved by grace, but we acknowledge too that Jesus is coming to judge, verse 34. He has hard teachings in verses 37-39, but we have to put God and Jesus first, above our family and above ourselves, even if this means suffering for a while as David did. We have been promised a reward for following Jesus and obeying him and doing the things that he teaches so let us not exclude ourselves from this reward, verses 40-42. July

July 10th.

In our first reading of today we are still looking at David and how God has protected him from all his enemies, including the jealous king Saul. In 1 Samuel 23 verse 1-2, we learn how God uses David to save Keilah from the Philistines, and it is so obvious from the words written that David is very focused on God.  This is demonstrated by him asking God for guidance, verse 2 and 4, for example. God can save us all against our enemies if we do what is right and what God requires us to do, but above all David was prayerful to God so we also need to imitate his life as we too try to do what God wants us to do. In verse 4, we see that it was God who fought for David and his men as God said that he would give the Philistines into David’s hand. This is exactly what happened, verse 5, however in verse 11-12 we also see that the citizens of Keilah, whom David had saved, were now willing to surrender him to Saul. Even in this situation David still asked God, and God confirms what their plans were. This is quite an incredible reminder that it is so unwise to trust a human being, indeed this shows how humans really behave and this shows the true human nature –  trying to get the best selfish advantage. They were happy for David to save them, yet they were just as happy to surrender their saviour to Saul.  This is similar to how Jesus Christ was also rejected = out of selfish ambition Jesus was killed. But more interestingly we see Jonathan coming in to save David and help him find more strength in the lord in verse 16-17, encouraging him not to be afraid, knowing that both of them would be rulers of Israel one day. So in life we need to trust God in every situation, even if things do not appear to turn out in the way that we would prefer. Even as Saul was closing in on David and things seemed hopeless, verse 26, events prevented Saul from capturing David, verse 27, so God is still working to save those who are faithful. Isaiah 66 confirms that God is in control of everything and that he “esteems” those who have the right attitude as David did, verse 1–2. In verse 2 the Hebrew word translated “contrite” here in Isaiah is very interesting. It is used three times in the old testament. The word contrite is used to describe the affliction of a particular person. The Hebrew word literally means smitten, crippled, maimed, lame or dejected. Therefore the verse means God desires the spiritually lame. if someone says to you that you are so lame spiritually say “thank you!”. God is looking for those that can see this and those that are “contrite” and who are “broken in spirit”. This is how David acted, he completely relied upon God and although he did not receive the ultimate promises, he will, with us, when Jesus comes back and the picture that we get in the rest of this chapter confirms to us that there is a future hope, verse 12-16 and 22-23. Throughout Isaiah we have seen a demonstration of sin, repentance and then salvation, and we have seen a confidence in the future for those who put their trust in and try to follow God. Jesus in Matthew 11 talks about humility and those with the right frame of mind, verse 28-29, “come to me” says Jesus “and I will give you rest”. Jesus does not say that we will not experience any form of suffering in our lives, but he says that in him we have a peace and a joy as we wait for him to return to set up his father’s kingdom. Just as John’s disciples were witnesses of the good things that Jesus was doing, verse 4-6, we too can see these things and know with confidence that ultimately all suffering will end because sin and our human mortality will have ended in the kingdom. So this wonderful hope and confidence that we have should give us this “rest” and peace of mind as we cope with the challenges of our daily struggles. July

July 11th.

In 1 Samuel 24 we have David running for his life with the king, Saul, in pursuit.  Saul is trying to kill David and has believed reports that David was trying to hurt him (v9).  It happens that David is in a position to kill Saul while he is in a cave.  David refuses.  It could be argued that God allowed the opportunity to appear, but David still refuses.  God chose Saul as king and God is the only one with the right to stop Saul being king.  David will not hurt the king .  David has such a clear undertanding of right from wrong that he can make a clear decision even when others cannot.  It comes from David accepting that God is in control of his life.  David trusts in God to care for him, even in such dangerous circumstances.  David choose to do the right thing even in a moment of extreme pressure.  This is a great example to us.  Can we understand right from wrong in a time where we have so much to lose and when it would be easy to make an emotional response?  The actions of David teach us something very very important. Even if other people are doing evil to us, we should not return evil on them. The one who does evil is in the wrong, but if we turn to doing evil ourselves, then we sink to their level and become an evil-doer ourselves.  David makes a great point, “From evildoers come evil deeds”.  (v13).  If he had taken an opportunity to do evil on Saul, he would have become an evildoer. He would have become king like Saul, but then he would have become an evil king like Saul.  David was not evil, but good.  We might also say, “From gooddoers come good deeds.”  This was David.  The righteous man knows that it is God who brings about revenge (Hebrews 10:30) and it is generally not a privilage of the righteous. Let us be like David.  Let us refuse to do evil and do good.  Let us trust in God.  Jeremiah 1 tells us how God chose Jeremiah as a prophet.  He was chosen before he was born (v5) to take God’s word to the nations (v10)!  We do not understand such foresight because we do not have it.  However, God is able to see the future and plan accordingly. In this respect, Jeremiah is like the apostle Paul, who was also chosen before he was born (Isaiah 49:1) to take God’s word to the nations (Isaiah 49:6).  God sends His word to the nations because the nations are also part of His plan and they also need to be preached to.  Both Jeremiah and Paul came across a lot of opposition and trouble.  Generally people do not want to hear the message of God.  God told Jeremiah that He would look after him despite people fighting him.  The same was true of the apostle Paul.  We may have similar problems and usually not to the same extent.  When we are witnesses to God’s message, we should accept that people generally do not want to hear it.  If we are faithful in delivering God’s message, then God will be faithful in standing by us.  Matthew 12 explains the reaction of people to the gospel message.  Jesus had sent out the twelve disciples to preach the gospel in chapter 10, and in chapters 11 and 12 we have the response to it.  There were two big things that the Jews did not like.  They did not like Jesus’ attitude to the sabbath (v1-14). And they did not like his miracles (v22-37).  In the case of the sabbath laws, Jesus did not follow their sabbath traditions.  He followed the law which said that you must not do you day job on the sabbath.  Picking and eating corn was not the day job.  The second case, the case of miracles is even more bazaar.  Why did the Pharisees not rejoice with the person who was healed?   God sent His prophet to do good deeds and perform miracles and the religious heads hated it!  Then they have the blindness to ask for a sign (v38) despite all the other miraclous signs that were being seen!  You can understand God being upset with His people.  In fact, the blindness of his people was predicted.  The parable of the seven spirits (v43-45) shows that that generation did start to listen to the gospel and did reform a bit.  They got rid of their evil spirit (that is, evil thinking and evil ways).  However, in the end they would end up seven-times worse.  This they did when they put Jesus to death.  The chapter ends with an encounter with Jesus’s family (v40-50).  It raises the question as to who are his family.  Were they the Pharisees and the evil generation?  No. The family of Jesus are those who do the will of God. It is those who hear his teaching and follow it.  If we listen to the words of Jesus and his disciples and follow them, then we are the family of Jesus.  Like David and Jeremiah, this means being different from most of the people around us.  This includes those who claim to be on God’s side and use His name.  We show that we are the family of Jesus by avoiding the evildeeds of evil doers and doing what is good and right. July

July 12th.

The David, Nabal, Abigail account in 1 Samuel 25 show the best and worst of human characteristics. Nabal was completely ungrateful for the help that David gave him. He was selfish, spiteful and disrespectful, worst of all he was unwilling to share with others the things that God had given him in the first place. Verse 10-11 shows his human pride and foolish nature. David’s reaction to Nabal’s rejection shows a lack of judgement here too, his first reaction was anger and he was determined to go and destroy Nabal, verse 13 and then verse 22, shows how angry David was. He justified his anger and actions because he expected something in return for his protection of Nabal’s sheep, verse 21. This is a natural human reaction, but we must be careful not to be like this, we should not give help to others expecting a reward from them, our motivation should be that we help others because it is what God wants us to do. David recognises this as soon as Abigail confronts him, verse 32-34. Abigail is the good conscience here and she stops David from taking matters into his own hand and from sinning. This is such an important lesson for us that we should be willing to challenge and to listen to each other. The godly Abigail is aware of God’s plan for David and respects him, she demonstrated her knowledge of and respect of God in her challenge of David, verse 24-31. This is another lesson for us, we need to be sensitive when we do challenge others and to always do it in a loving and Godly way. Another big lesson here is that God is always the one to take revenge if that is what is needed, and in this case, Nabal had a fatal heart attack when Abigail told him, verse 37-38. We should always leave things to God and do not take things into our own hands. Another message comes out of this is the impression that our actions have on others, notice how Nabal’s servants had no respect for him because they knew he was wicked, but notice too how nice Abigail was because they were free to talk to her, verse 14-17, we need to have a character like Abigail, David saw her good character and married her. Jeremiah 2, shows us how deceptive our human nature is again. The children of Israel forgot that God had given them the land and rescued them from Egypt, verse 6. All the good things that God had done for them were forgotten and God was replaced with worthless idols, verse 27-28. Nabal’s idol was his fine living and drink and that did not protect him at all, so we too need to be careful not to replace God with idols, whatever form this takes. This is a recurring theme in the prophets, Isaiah reminded us of this too. Jeremiah shows us how sinful we are when we replace him after all he has done for us, verse 13. Unlike David, God can expect us to respond to his love and care, if we do not respond he will cut us off. Jesus in Matthew 13 reminds us in the parables that we do have to respond, his explanation to the disciples, verse 18-23, shows that we do have to respond to God’s love and produce a crop. His explanation in verses 36-43 shows too that Jesus and his angels will judge us when he comes back, we pray that all of us produce good crops now. We have seen numerous times before that we are saved by grace and we thank God for this, but we still have to respond and try to live lives that are like the way that Jesus showed us. July

July 13th.

Saul again demonstrates that he can not be trusted in 1 Samuel 26 because he again pursues David, verse 2. David again seeks an opportunity to demonstrate to Saul that he is not a threat by going into Saul’s camp, verse 6. David had no intention of hurting Saul, verse 9-11, he just wanted to demonstrate that he was to be trusted and just took his spear and water bottle, verse 12. This shows us again just how trustworthy and godly David was. Notice that God had caused the soldiers to be in a deep sleep, so we clearly have God working with David because David was acting in a godly way. This aspect is also included in our reading in Jeremiah 3. The context is the unfaithful people of both Israel and Judah who were half hearted in their following of God, verse 4-5. God is criticising them for calling on God, saying that he is their friend and expecting God to help them when in fact they are doing evil. They were pretending to be godly, verse 10. This is what Saul did and the lesson here is for us not to pretend either, because God will not be happy with us. It is clear that all the suffering of Israel is because of their ungodliness. God is pleading with them to change, ie repent, verse 12-13. This is the message to us too, because God is always the same, we cannot be half-hearted or pretend we are godly, we have to be fully committed and demonstrate our faith, so if we are pretending we have the opportunity to repent. We cannot pretend and still expect to be in the kingdom! In Matthew 14 we have another example of someone who is clearly ungodly, this is Herod. John the baptist tried to change his attitude, verse 3-5. We know from the account that John was killed because of a stupid oath that Herod had made, verse 9, he was not willing to show human weakness in front of his guests. A warning for is not to get ourselves into situations that we cannot get out of! Unlike others, Jesus always had compassion on others because he followed his father, verse 14. Same with the feeding of the 5000 men, verse 21. This is such a contrast to both Saul and Herod. David showed compassion and so should we. The account of Jesus walking on water is a great lesson for us to have faith throughout all the difficulties of our lives. This was a real account of what happened to the disciples in that they were in a boat in a storm in the middle of the lake, verse 24. Jesus appears and Peter goes out to meet Jesus, verse 29-30. This is a picture of our lives too with all our worries and suffering, sometimes we get overwhelmed by events and we start to sink. This is really when faith helps as we ask the same thing as Peter said “Lord save me”. Verse 31. We will have difficulties in our lives, David’s experiences show us that, so did John the Baptist and the disciples, we may not be given peace immediately as happened here with the disciples but we will have peace in the kingdom. Peace really will come when Jesus is with us, verse 32. July

July 14th.

We have a potentially confusing account in 1 Samuel 28 about the “witch” or “medium” of Endor. We know from our Bible understanding that when someone dies, good or bad, they are no more, there is no “spirit” that lives on. We also know that it is wrong to consult any medium and we also know from Leviticus 20:27 that anyone who practices should be put to death. So the events here are very likely God using the woman to reaffirm what God had already told him via Samuel. David was in a potentially difficult situation living with the Philistines who were now at war with Israel, verse 1-2, what would David do if he had to fight against his country men? Because Saul was only pretending to follow God, he only expelled the mediums, verse 3. Samuel would have told him to kill them, but maybe Saul was keeping his options open in case he needed them! We already know from Isaiah and Jeremiah that idols and so called spirits are worthless so by keeping these Saul was demonstrating a complete lack of faith and disrespect of God. Because of Saul’s ungodliness God was not answering him anymore, verse 6 and Saul further sinned and consulted a medium, verse 8. The response was not one that Saul expected, it only confirmed what he already knew that God was not with him and added more information that he and his sons would be killed, verse 19. A sad end for an ungodly man. In Jeremiah 4 we also see warnings and lessons for us. Notice that the destruction that was coming was because the people did not listen to God, it was their fault that they were going to suffer, verse 14, 18 and 22. The Babylonian army was on the move to bring about God’s judgment but despite this, God was still appealing to his people to repent, verse 4 and 8. This shows God’s mercy, but also his severity that if we do not follow him we will potentially suffer. It is clear that God’s mercy is conditional, verse 1&2, we cannot pretend to follow him we have to be wholehearted in our response. In Matthew 15 we have this same message from Jesus, verse 7-9. Jesus was quoting Isaiah and applying it to the Pharisees but it can as easily be applied to us too if we are not sincere in our Christian life. Jesus makes it clear to us that all the bad things come from within us, verse 18-20, these are what makes us unclean before God. If we are unclean we need to repent, ie change. The account of the Canaanite woman, verses 21-28 shows how she persisted in coming to Jesus for help, she did not allow anything to stop her, ending in Jesus in commending her for her faith, verse 28. She put all her faith in Jesus, willing to accept anything that he gave her, verse 27. Providing we are not pretending we can be confident of Jesus’s and God’s patience and compassion. There are many lessons in the feeding of the 4000, but I like the lesson from the disciples’ reaction, verse 32-33. They had such short memories, they had already forgotten what had happened with the 5000! But Jesus gently reminded them what he could do and likewise we should trust him in every aspect of our lives and not try to take control ourselves like Saul did. July

July 15th.

We are not actually told that God was in control of the situation that David found himself in, ie being part of the Philistine army as it went up to attack Israel, but I am confident that God arranged the events to get David away. 1 Samuel 29:11. We do sometimes find ourselves in difficult situations, but if we are godly and trying to put God first he will help us as he sees fit. It was not all happiness because whilst David and his men were away their homes had been attacked and all that they had was taken. This is terrible and the response of everyone is understandable, 1 Samuel 30:6. The first thing that David does is pray, verse 7. David has so far been a good example of a man of prayer and is an example that we should follow. The natural thing would be to run after these Amalekites, but David stopped to pray. David’s attitude is right at the end of this account too, he ensured that all his men benefited, verse 23 and he shared what God had given him, verse 26. All these things show others that he was a man who followed God. We are not called on to fight as David was, in fact we are told not to, but we can have the same attitude as David had in how he responded to different situations. In Jeremiah 5 we sadly see the wrong attitudes of the people and the Jewish leaders. There was not a single person who was honest and tried to follow God in Jerusalem, verse 1. There was no one who was willing to repent, verse 3. The people and the prophets lied about God, verse 12-13. And the prophets actually told lies and the priests did their own thing and the Jews liked it this way, verse 30-31. This is a terrible situation to get into it was no surprise that God was going to destroy the land and take the people captive into Babylon! The warning for us surely has to be to always try to obey God, to be honest, to repent when we fail, to respect what God says, to not tell lies, to follow what God wants in our services and to lovingly challenge when things are not right. Our Christianity should not be centered around what we want, but what God wants. Jesus always did what his father wanted and he always challenged those who were not right. The example in Matthew 16 is in verses 1-4, the pharisees were pretending and Jesus knew this and said that he would not give them a sign other than that of Jonah. If you look at Mt 12:38-45 we can probably conclude that Jesus was referring to his own death and resurrection that would soon come. Jesus then warns his disciples about the teachings of the pharisees, verse 12. This is why it is important for us to read the Bible and to check things that we are told, be careful is the message. The Jews in Jeremiah liked the lies they were taught, Jesus tells us to be careful and to check! The confession of Peter, verse 16, is our confession too and because of this we have a wonderful future in the kingdom promised to us. We already know from Isaiah that God’s ways are not our ways, we will not always understand, but we have to trust as David did and as Peter had to learn when he tried to stop Jesus going to Jerusalem, verse 22. At the time Peter did not understand and Jesus had to remind him that he should have the mind of God, verse 23. Like Peter, we gave to have the mind of God, we have to obey and learn from Jesus, it should be our constant prayer as we look forward to the kingdom. We have to change our minds from thinking in human terms to thinking in God’s terms , verse 24-27. July

July 16th.

It is a sad end in 1 Samuel 31 with the death of Saul and Jonathan and Saul’s other sons. What God had said would happen, happened, and with the death of Saul and his sons, and therefore Saul’s heirs, the way is now open for David to be made king. Although sad because Saul did not follow God properly, we see how God deals with those who disobey him and Saul ends up without the thing that he wanted most, ie his family to be on the throne. The lesson for us is surely to seek the things of God and his kingdom first! In Jeremiah 6 we continue with the prophecy of the impending destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians. In verse 13 we see one of the reasons why – the people were greedy for money, property and other personal gain, just like Saul. Their prophets and priests were just the same, and were not setting a good example, and God said that they “all practise deceit”. Verse 15 shows how far the people had gone away from God because they had no shame, and they were not embarrassed by their godless acts.  This is terrible, may we learn never to become corrupt! This is why it is so important that we challenge each other, in love, when we see others acting in ungodly ways, because naturally humans will rebel, verse 28 and our hearts become hard and we move further away from God. In the end God will reject all rebels, verse 30. In Matthew 17 we have the record of the transfiguration where Moses and Elijah were talking to Jesus, how this actually happened we can only speculate, but Peter, James and John were privileged to witness this “vision”. We are privileged to also see pictures of the kingdom in the bible – we often do not understand them fully and Jesus says to us the same as he said to the disciples, “do not be afraid”, verse 7. The other disciples could not understand why they could not heal the ill boy and Jesus answers them when they question him, verse 20. The point that is important to me here is not the healing but faith.  We have to have faith, faith in God, in Jesus and in the Kingdom. This has to be our aim in life. We know that Jesus paid the price for our salvation in his death and resurrection and Jesus tries to prepare his disciples for it, verse 22-23. Despite all of the good things that Jesus did, he knew he would be rejected and killed. We pray that God will strengthen our faith too, but that also we can demonstrate our faith. This last example in this chapter, ie Mt17:24-27, brings out something that should make us think in that it demonstrates our faith. I think Jesus is basically saying that he was exempt from paying temple tax because he was the son of God and in God’s land. But notice that Jesus says the taxes have to be paid so as not to offend. The temple taxes were required to help maintain the building and do the various jobs; this is the case with us too, we need to maintain our halls where they exist, and to help in preaching, etc, so we too should also be willing to contribute from what God has given us. Saul’s priority was to build a human legacy, but our priority should be to carry out God’s work. July

July 17th.

Forgiveness is the practical thought from today’s readings. 2 Samuel 1 is the account of David learning about Saul’s and Jonathan’s death. His sadness about Jonathan is easy to understand, but humanly speaking, less so about Saul because of all that Saul had done to him. But there is not even a hint of disrespect for Saul in David’s lament, verses 17-27, in fact David credits Saul with things, verses 23 and 24 and 25. David had forgiven Saul for everything that he had done to him; he did this because Saul was the Lord’s anointed and he loved him as such and David was godly. We know how much respect David had for this in the way that he dealt with the young Amalekite who lied about him being the one who killed Saul, verse 15. There are at least two lessons here: do not lie, especially to make yourself look better in others eyes, and also forgive. Jeremiah 7 shows again how we need to repent to have forgiveness from God. The people were being punished because they were pretending in their worship of God, verse 9-10. They were deliberately sinning and living ungodly lives, yet still going to worship. They were completely disrespectful of God, and he reminds them that he is aware and watching, verse 11. God had repeatedly asked the people to repent, ie change, verse 3-7, but they refused and trusted in lies, verse 8. Notice all the way through this section that God will forgive if only the people change their ways. The clear message here is that you cannot expect God to help us and listen to us if we are not trying to do the right things and to repent. God says again in verse 23 to obey him, and then he will be their God. God is patient but we cannot presume that he will always be patient with us, he will stop listening, verse 16. Matthew 18 carries on with this theme. As Christians we should be growing, like a natural child we need to grow. 1 Corinthians 13 verse 11 and 1 Peter 2 verse 1-3 show us that we should not be pretending (being hypocrites) as the Jews were. Hebrews 5 verse 11-14 depicts our “growing” as moving from milk to meat as we mature, like David – we should be trying to start thinking like God. A little bit of pride appears to have crept in with the disciples in Matthew 18 when we read that they asked about who would be the greatest, verse 1. Jesus makes it clear that we all have to be humble, verse 2-4, in this respect we have to be like children. We must not be looking for high positions as Christians, we must be humble as David was during this part of his life. Pride is a big problem in stopping us being godly, but it is other things too, so we have to examine ourselves to see if there are things that are making us ungodly, verses 7-9. This is the same message that was given to the people in Jeremiah. Look at how much God wants us to change, verses 10-14. Because of Jesus, all we have to do is to try, sadly we will continue to sin and make mistakes, but we pray that none of us is actually rebelling against God and that we do repent. We will occasionally sin against a brother or sister, verse 15 – Jesus tells us what to do in these situations, notice it is a conversation with the brother or sister where this process starts. Other church members are only involved if a resolution has not been found, verse 16, so a small number of witnesses are involved.  If that does not work, then the church becomes involved, verse 17. These are clear stages that demonstrate love and respect for others. Even if there is not reconciliation there is still love, because Jesus taught the tax collectors and sinners in the first place, and that us what we should do too to those who we judge as being at fault. Jesus then gives us the parable of the unmerciful servant, verses 21-34. We are the servants, Jesus is the king, the kingdom of heaven is our Christian life now. The 2 servants in this story both owed a debt, our debt is the sins that we commit as well as our human nature. We have had forgiveness from Jesus and therefore from God for our sins, verse 27. We have all been forgiven a huge debt and this should provoke love in us for our brothers and sisters and we should forgive them too, from the heart, ie 70×7! This servant who was forgiven by his king (Jesus) was sadly ungodly, he did not forgive his brother’s debt, or sin, verse 28-30. His master was not happy with his attitude, verse 32-34. The thing for us to remember is that God will treat us in the same way if we do not forgive, verse 35. Forgiveness is an important part of a Christian’s life, we are forgiven, therefore we should also forgive. We sin and we need to repent to have our sins forgiven by God. We are not told to wait for the repentance of our brothers and sisters and not forgive them until they repent. We must always be ready to forgive others because we have been forgiven a massive debt in the first place! July

July 18th.

2 Samuel:1 suggests the humility of David as he does not appear to rush to take over the kingdom of Israel even though he knew it was what God had said would happen. He prays and God answers. His first reaction was prayer. He then moves all his men’s families back to within the borders of Israel. Verse 2-3. Even then David allowed events, under God’s control, to happen, he still did not rush to take what was his. He was only anointed King when others heard he was back, verse 4. This is humility, he did not push himself forwards. Likewise we should not push ourselves forward, we should humbly wait. David starts off his kingship in Judah by trying to make peace with the remnants of Saul’s army, verse 4-7. He again showed no anger towards Saul’s men, in fact he even said he would show favour towards them because they had given Saul a proper burial. Unfortunately, Abner, Saul’s army commander had other ideas, going against what God wanted and made Ish-Bosheth, king of Israel, verse 8-9. This was the start of a war between the two sides of God’s people. A sad situation that arose all because the Israel side did not do what God wanted. Men on both sides lost their lives because not everyone checked what God wanted. Jeremiah 8 continues with the sad consequences of people disregarding God, verses 5-6 shows us that the people went their own way, they did not turn or repent. The people were pretending and listening to lies, verse 8&10 and God asks the question if they were even sorry, no they were not, verse 12. Jeremiah sums up the sad situation in verse 14, the people had rebelled against God and sinned against him. This is why they were going to suffer, they changed the things that God had said and listened to lies. We can take warnings from this as we try to live our lives in Jesus. Matthew 19 talks about divorce and how when we get married it should be for life, verse 6. The account of the rich young man is also a good lesson for us. The young man was generally good, he said that he followed the commandments that Jesus highlighted, verse 18-19 and 20. But there was still something lacking, verse 21. The young man relied on his wealth for his standing in the community. Perhaps there was a bit of pride too in how he answered Jesus about the commands that he kept and he went away sad, verse 22. Before we start thinking that this is a something that does not apply to us because we are not rich notice how the disciples responded, verse 25. They had left everything to follow Jesus and yet they still associated with what Jesus said by asking “who can be saved”. The lesson here is who or what do we trust in! As Jesus said it is impossible to be saved without God, verse 26. The message here for us is again to put God first as David did, we should not be like the people in Jeremiah who believed lies, but we should try to be like the character that Jesus suggested to the rich young man. Our priorities have to be on God; our reliance has to be on God and we have to treat whatever little wealth we have as being given by God and so use it in his service. Verse 29-30. July

July 19th.

There are again a few practical lessons for us in today’s readings that we can use to help us in our everyday lives. It was inevitable that David would become stronger than the remaining family of Saul, 2 Samuel 3:1 and it is no surprise that Abner was thinking about his own position, verse 6-7. I am not sure what his motives were when he went to David, verse 12, maybe they were genuine or maybe they were just self preservation again, either way David demonstrated forgiveness towards him, verse 13-14. David took this as an opportunity of peace within Israel and to again get his wife back! There was certainly peace in David’s heart when he sent Abner back to put the plan into action, verse 21. This surely has to be how we act too when there are disputes between us, we need to find a common ground and not to keep thinking about past problems between us. Providing both parties are trying to put God first, then there can be a reunion. Sadly in this case Joab did not see it that way and he wanted to settle his disagreement with Abner by killing him, verse 26-27. Joab was bitter since Abner killed his brother and he wanted revenge. But there were consequences for this, verse 28-29. The best course of action is always forgiveness, if we keep remembering times when brothers and sisters have wronged us then there will never be peace and unity. Jeremiah 9 shows us again how ungodly human beings can become if we do not try our best to follow what God wants. Verses 3-6 is a terrible description by God of his people, notice the lies and deception. Pretending to be godly is not right, we have to always try to live godly lives, verse 7-8. God is always aware of our motives and actions and he was clear in explaining why Israel at this time was being punished, verse 13-14. The warning for us here is not to forsake God’s law and to not do the selfish things that our human hearts desire. God is very clear that we should not be boasting in human wisdom as both Abner and Joab were doing but our “boasting” should be about God and his kindness and righteousness, verse 23-24. We have to always try to think of God first. Circumcision is only an outward sign of a man’s nationality, what God is looking for in us all is a heart that demonstrates the character of God himself, verse 25. The parable of the workers in the vineyard in Matthew 20 is how Jesus explains how our hearts should be. Those workers who complained were not satisfied with what they were given, verse 11-12. They were not interested in unity, they did not think about the stress that the workers who were not originally hired were going through during the day, wondering if they would be able to earn any money that day so they could eat that night. Neither did they praise the land owner for his love! Being godly means that we have to turn things around and to think of others and not ourselves, like David did in the examples earlier. The men who waited all day demonstrated patience despite their real concern about how they would pay for food for their own family at the end of the day. All of us need grace and mercy to be in the kingdom which is what the denarius signifies, so let us all praise God for this and not look at others in judgement. Jesus again reminds us of the price that will be paid for salvation, verse 17-19. It is sad that James and John at this stage had not grasped the lesson of the vineyard or the price that was needed for all of us and asked a very human request to be either side of Jesus in the kingdom, verse 21. Their request caused disunity with their brothers, verse 24. And Jesus gets them all together to remind them about humility, love, peace and being a servant, verse 25-28. These are great lessons for us to try to follow every day. We are to be humble, appreciative, forgiving, tolerant, obey God and aware that we all need Jesus and that none of us are better than the other. July

July 20th.

And the practical thoughts follow on. James 1 says if you look intently into the bible and do not do what it says then you have wasted your time! We are therefore looking at examples in the bible and learning from them. Our first reading in 2 Samuel 4&5 has a few examples for us to learn from. Baanah and Recab knew that Ish-Bosheth was weakened after the death of Abner and decided to change sides and to try to impress David. 2Sam4:8 shows how they thought. There are a number of things that they had forgotten 1, God is in control, 2, they should not take the law into their own hands, 3, they did not remember David’s respect for Saul’s family, 4, they did not remember forgiveness, 5, they were proud of what they had done. Verses 9-12 shows us what David thought of this and he had the 2 proud men killed. David knew that he would be king of all Israel, but he left all this to God he had faith it would happen, but he did not manipulate or allow others to manipulate events. All Israel was alarmed, presumably because the leaders were now weak, 1Sam4:1, they were not afraid of David because they mainly respected him and made him king over Israel, 2Sam5:1-3. So David became king of both Judah and Israel, God worked with the events and David did not have to take the kingdom by force, he waited for God’s time. Patience is something that we have to also remember, things do not happen in our time, it is God’s time that we should wait for. God was with David, verse 10 and he gave him victory over the tribes that were still in the land that was promised to the Israelites, eg the taking of Jerusalem, verse 6-8. David moved there, verse 9, this being significant in the plan and purpose of God. David always prayed to ask God for guidance, verse 19&23 and God answered and gave him Victory at these times. Sadly we know that the people rejected God in a big way and went their own way, inventing things (idols) to replace the God who made everything and worked in David’s life to start to establish his kingdom. Jeremiah 10 reminds us yet again how worthless these “idols” are, verses 1-5. Any idol or custom that replaces God or is given credit for the things that God gives us is worthless. God is so much more powerful than anything else, verse 2-8 and verses 12-13&16. It is so important that we remember this because God through, Jeremiah, keeps repeating how worthless these idols are, verse 11&14-15. The people had rejected God so much that he was bringing destruction upon them! Jeremiah’s prayer should be ours too, verses 23-25. Matthew 21 shows another triumphant entry into Jerusalem, the City of David. The people were expecting a king and excitedly shouted the appropriate greeting, verse 9. This was a great time, but the nation was not fully committed to God, they had turned his temple into a market, verse 12-13. The people were more interested in what they could make from others rather than having respect for God. The chief priests completely rejected Jesus as being the son of God, verse 15. The chief priests should have been leading the people towards God and towards Jesus but they disregarded bible teachings and the prophecies that they would have known. Even when Jesus told the parable of the tenants (verses 33-44) they knew that Jesus was talking about them, verse 45-46. They were determined to get rid of him. This is something that all of us who are elders in our community have to be careful about, we must not ignore God’s teachings, neither must we take advantage of the servant role that we have been given to give us human advantage, for example to make money or to have authority over others. To do so is clearly wrong. Jesus was very critical of the priests and the religious leaders, for example verses 28-32, he was saying that the priests etc were not repentant. Even the withering fig tree in verse 19 is a picture of the leaders and others, who did not produce fruit. All of us have a responsibility to put God’s teachings into practice in out daily lives, we must not use our religion to improve our human standards, we must repent, we must not take matters into our own hands but be patient and neither must we replace God with anything. July

July 21st.

There is a theme of “checking what God wants” in all of our readings today. In 2 Samuel 6 David does what he thinks is right, but it is clearly wrong and there are consequences. It would seem to be the right thing for the ark to be brought to Jerusalem, verse 1-2. But they put the ark incorrectly on a cart, verse 3. You can imagine the human thought process that took place in this decision. Even though it was a long time ago, the people and David would have known of the account of the ark being returned from the Philistines on a cart, see 1 Samuel 6 verse 12. The ark was transported on a cart then, it was obvious that God was with that event because the ark ended up in the right place, so why not now? could have been their thinking. But they had not researched what God really wanted his people to do to transport the ark, ie those instruction in Exodus 24 verse 14. Thinking it was the right thing to bring the ark back on a cart, they were celebrating and worshipping God, verse 5. But the ark was being moved incorrectly and when the ark wobbled on the cart Uzzah reached out his hand to steady it but died, verse 6-7. God was angry because the ark was not moved as it should have been. David was then himself also angry because of God’s wrath, verse 8, he was “afraid” now of God and wondered how he was ever going to bring the ark back. This is a serious situation; we all have to check that the things we do in worship are what God wants, we cannot simply expect to do things our own way. The second attempt is successful because David checked and ensured that the ark was carried this time, verse 13. It is interesting in the lead up to this second attempt that David heard that the house of Obed-Edom was blessed and this restored David’s confidence that God was indeed still present, it is inconceivable that David was jealous of Obed-Edom, this was a clear case of restored confidence. The ark was successfully transported to Jerusalem together with singing and praise. However, David’s wife, Michal (Saul’s daughter), had no respect for either God or David and she despised David, verse 16, and challenged him, verse 20. David’s response clearly demonstrates that his first consideration is for God and the things of God, verse 21-22. I do not know if the consequence for Michal’s disrespect was from God or if David simply did not sleep with her again, verse 23, but either way there was a sad consequence for Michal and a reminder for her and others of her disrespect. Made even more sad because Michal had previously loved David, 1 Samuel 18 verse 28. Many years after David in Jeremiah 11, we have God speaking about the broken covenant, or contract, between God himself and his people (Israel and Judah) verse 1-5. Because God saved the Jews from certain death in Egypt they were to obey his commands as a response to being his people. They agreed the covenant (Jeremiah 28) but they disobeyed, in fact they rebelled against God and refused to repent so much that it was God’s determination to bring judgment on them. He said that Jeremiah should not pray for them, verse 14. So like David the Jews should have checked and responded to what God wanted. We all have to teach about God and Jesus, sometimes people do not listen and often this is family and friends, this was the case with Jeremiah, verse 21. Anathoth is where Jeremiah came from, Jeremiah 1 verse 1, so these people who were threatening Jeremiah were his family! Not only were they his family, they were the priests, ie the religious teachers. This was also similar to Jesus’s experiences too in that he was rejected by his family, Matthew 13 verse 57 and John 4 verse 44. The priests just did not want to listen to what God was saying, Jeremiah 11 verse 21, and this can be our experience too that people and our close families do not want to listen, but we still have to teach and check what God wants and take action. Jesus’s parable of the wedding banquet in Matthew 22 verses 1-14 has the same message. The first group who should have come to the wedding (invitation to the kingdom) of his son (Jesus) were the Jews, verse 4. But they refused to come, verse 5-7; this is very similar to what was happening in Jeremiah’s time, the Jews repeatedly rejected God, despite all he had done for them. So the king (God) sent his servants to the streets to invite more, verse 8-10, this is the message to the gentiles, ie us! When the king sees the guests he noticed a guest in the wrong clothes, verse 11-12. The man was not in the right clothes, he had not checked what God and Jesus wanted. It is serious because if we do not try our best to follow God we could be rejected by God, verse 13. So the thought today is to check what God wants. We all have to be sure how we are worshipping, behaving and respecting God’s requirements. We need to learn from other’s mistakes and put what God wants into practice in our lives, it is no good just simply doing what we think is right, we have to check by prayerful reading of the Bible. Jesus replied to the Sadducees, after they had tried to make fun of the resurrection, that they “did not know the scriptures”, verse 29; Jesus also silenced the Pharisees who were trying to trick him by quoting scripture that they should have known, ie verse 43-45, so all of God’s word needs to be respected. David clearly loved God as well as his neighbours and Jesus confirms that this has to be our motivation in everything when he responded to the Pharisees earlier, verse 37-40. It is love of God and of our neighbour that should motivate all of our actions, it is love that motivates us to check that what we are doing is right. July

July 22nd.

Today’s practical thoughts from the readings is one of respect for God. 2 Samuel 7 shows that David’s heart is in the right place, he was thinking of God and the ark, verse 1-2. He was concerned that he had a palace but God did not. David did the right thing and asked Nathan. God’s answer may not have been what both David and Nathan would have expected, verse 5-7, so at this stage God did not want one built. However, God went on to make a wonderful and important promise to David, that ultimately was about Jesus and the kingdom being established for ever, verse 13. David acknowledged that God was always with him, verse 9, by fully respecting him. This respect continues in David’s prayer where he is humble, verse 18-19; acknowledges God’s plan, verse 20; acknowledges God’s greatness, verse 22-24; acknowledges his wonderful promises, verses 25-26 and acknowledges his wonderful blessings, verse 27-29. Although Jeremiah does not understand why God is acting in a particular way, he still shows respect by acknowledging that he is righteous, Jeremiah 12:1. Jeremiah is concerned why the wicked appear to prosper and he asks God why, verses 1-4. Because Jeremiah respects, God answers but explains why the punishment will come to all – it is because no one cares, verse 11 – no one respects. There is always hope though because God will not cut off for ever, he will show compassion, but there has to be respect for everything that God stands for, verses 15-16. Notice that God’s kingship is conditional. Those who continue to disrespect are uprooted again, verse 17. In Matthew 23, Jesus criticised the Pharisees and teachers because they did not respect God. They did things for show and were not humble, verse 5-7. They did not do what they preached, verse 3. They were always pretending with no respect. Jesus makes to clear to us that we are to be humble in everything, we are not to call anyone “father” in the religious sense because we only have one father, ie God and neither are we to call anyone “teacher” in a religious sense because we only have one teacher, ie Jesus, verses 8-12. This is humility and respect. The Pharisees stopped people being saved, verse 13-14; they set bad examples, verse 15; they did not respect God’s ways of doing things, verse 16-22; they did not show justice, mercy and faithfulness, verse 23-24; they were greedy and self indulgent, verse 25-26; they were always pretending, verse 27-28 and they covered up past sins , verse 29-32. They had no respect! We need to constantly respect God and what he stands for in every aspect of our lives and not to be like the Pharisees. We need to be respectful like David and Jeremiah. God is merciful but he will bring judgement in his time, verses 33-36. Jesus is compassionate and he will save those who respect him and his father, verse 37-39. So let us respect! July

July 23rd.

Having a godly attitude comes across in today’s readings starting with David’s in 2 Samuel 8&9. War seems to be the inevitable situation as the land of Israel is made safe from its enemies, but unlike other successful leaders, David still puts God first. He acknowledged that God was working in his life, 2Sam8:6 and he responded by dedicating the precious materials gained in war to God, verse 11. He was determined that anything that he gained was kept for using for things to do with God, he did not keep them for himself. Our “wars” are nothing like David’s were, we are not getting rid of physical enemies from the land, in fact we are told not to fight, but we do have opportunities to gain physical things, money from employment for example, so do we dedicate this to God? All things that we have are God’s anyway, so how much do we keep back for ourselves? It was God who gave David victory, verse 14, it is God who gives us success too, do we acknowledge this? Verse 15 is a lesson for all of us, we have to do what is right for the people, ie not to be selfish and do things for ourselves, we have to think of our brothers and sisters. Chapter 9 is a great example of how David thought of others, he became aware of Mephibosheth and ensured that he was provided for for the rest of his life. David certainly thought of God first! The people in Jeremiah 13 just had not listened to God’s teaching, verse 11. They were arrogant, verse 15, they were proud, verse 17 and they did not give glory to Him, verse 16. This is completely opposite to how David acted in the examples we have just seen and God is condemning them because of their many sins, verse 22. The sad thing is that they had basically forgotten Him, verse 25. God is patient with us, but he does want us to be doing the godly thing and to have a godly attitude. Jesus makes it clear in Matthew 24 no one knows when Jesus is coming back, verse 36. It is therefore important that we watch how we live our lives, verse 42. We need to be recognised as Godly by how we act and now is the opportunity that we have to demonstrate that we act in godly ways. We all know that Jesus is coming back, this chapter suggests things that will be apparent before Jesus comes back, maybe we are very close to the return of Jesus now, but we do not know, even if we think we have some idea when, it will still be a surprise, verse 50. These last verses in this chapter, ie from verse 45, record Jesus’s teaching and warnings that we have to be doing our best to do the things that our master, Jesus, wants us to. This includes following God’s teachings. We have this responsibility to do the best for “the people” as David did and as Jesus wants us to. We are given clear teachings in the bible on how to live and how to expect Jesus to return. When he does come back we will all know so we must not get convinced by people who say he is in different forms or different places, verses 24-27. Have faith that we will know, our focus has to be on how we live now. July

July 24th.

The practical thoughts from today’s readings will focus on how we as Christians respond to certain situations. In 2 Samuel 10 David shows a good attitude in his wanting to show kindness to the Ammonites, verse 2. The delegation that he sent was misunderstood, verse 3-4 and David’s men were sent away humiliated. David again comes out of this well by being caring about others, verse 5. These are good attributes for all of us to have. Unfortunately in this case war resulted but it was a time when Israel’s borders were being made secure and Joab was probably right in his evaluation in verse 12, ie God was in control. Our actions have to be godly all the time so that no one can accuse us of starting a problem because of our ungodly motives. A phrase in Jeremiah 14 sums up the attitude of those who are not godly, verse 10. We have to “restrain” ourselves for God to accept us, we always have to check our motives and perhaps we should ask “what would Jesus do” in all situations. Jeremiah himself was demonstrating his godly attitude in the way that he responded to each of God’s judgments on his people, verse 7-9; 13 and 19-22. He associated himself with Israel’s sin, he acknowledged that the prophets were lying and he tried to mediate for his fellow countrymen. God knows the hearts of these people and has remained with his plan of destruction, verse 11. Jeremiah, however remains godly. Coming to Matthew 25 we see how Jesus views our attitudes and motives. Both God and Jesus are merciful with us all but there is still a judgement of our actions. All of the virgins in this parable, verse 1-13 were waiting for Jesus, bridegroom, so they were all apparent Christians looking for their Lord to come. All had fallen asleep, so all were in the same situation. Only one group was better prepared with oil which was required for the lamps. There are many suggestions as to what the oil represents, but clearly it has to do with preparation for the return of Jesus, because without you can not be allowed in the kingdom. Whilst the foolish virgins were off getting oil the bridegroom came, the wise were invited in and the door was closed, verse 10. It was too late for the foolish ones, verse 12, therefore we have to be prepared now, verse 13. The way that we live now has an impact on how we are judged when Jesus returns. The parable of the talents, verses 14-30, suggests that we have to work at our preparation. We all have God given opportunities and capabilities and we are expected to use them and therefore benefit our master. This may be preaching, encouraging, being recognised as godly in every aspect of our lives and taking opportunities to set example to others as David tried. We can not expect anything other than criticism if we do not use the “talents” that we are given. As Christians, we can not sit back and expect salvation just because we are baptised. Jesus’s condemnation of the servant who did not use his talent is strong, verse 26-30. The final parable here, verses 31-46 shows us how we should be naturally helping others, because in so doing we are helping Jesus. Jesus will take all our kind actions as if we have done them for him. The opposite is true if we do not help, Jesus takes it that we have not helped. All of us, no matter what we have, can help, we are all responsible, we all have to be prepared for when Jesus comes back and we all have to use the abilities that we have been given. Our prayer is that verse 34 is the invite for all of us. July

July 25th.

Up until now David has been acting in godly ways, but 2 Samuel 11 captures a big mistake for David that left lasting consequences. It also shows us the depth of God’s mercy too when David acknowledged his sin. The situation appears to arise because David relaxed. He should have been with his troops, but he stayed behind in Jerusalem, verse 1. Maybe he was proud of his achievements, maybe he became lazy, either way he was in a place where he should not have been. We have to be aware of situations where we allow our guard to drop and relax. David relaxed, he was tempted and he gave into temptation, verses 2-4. This is a real warning for everyone of us when we become comfortable in what we were setting out to achieve. David perhaps felt that he had achieved his goal and then let others carry on. The fact is our goal is the kingdom and we should not relax before then! In a single act of lust, David then set off a list of unhappy events that got him further in to trouble. When he discovered that Bathsheba was pregnant, verse 5, he tried to cover up. First he sent for Uriah and suggested that he spent the night with his wife, verse 6-7. Uriah was principled and did not do as David suggested, verse 9. David tried again, verse 10 and Uriah explains why, verse 11. David tries another plan, verse 12-13. When this does not work David becomes desperate and plans Uriah’s murder, verse 14-15. One sin leads to an elaborate cover-up as David becomes more and more desperate. David did know better, he knew God’s commands and here he is breaking at least 4 of them, ie coveting, adultery, killing and stealing. Contrast this with Uriah who was a gentile, he would not have grown up with God’s laws yet his actions and response to David showed that he had principles and he was not willing to enjoy himself with his wife whilst his army colleagues were away fighting. Uriah was killed, verse 17. Joab also knew of David’s scheming which would be remembered in the future, verse 16. This is an event with consequences as we will see over the next week’s readings. With the news of Uriah’s death, David marries Bathsheba, verse 27. But God was displeased! We have to guard against temptation and sin and always keep on seeking the kingdom and not relaxing. When we come to Jeremiah 15 we again see how God treated the Israelites who were rebelling against him, verse 6. Jeremiah’s statement to God in verse 10, prompts a promise from God, verse 11 and again verses 19-21. God has promised all those who follow him a wonderful future, so we must not relax until we reach it. David sinned, as we all do, David was forgiven because he acknowledged his sin and we too have our sins forgiven because of what Jesus has done for us. Matthew 26 is a sad chapter of plotting, betrayal and denying, some were forgiven, eg Peter, others were not, eg priests and Judas. Jesus knew Peter’s heart as God knew David’s. When we come to the breaking of bread service we should be remembering many things, verse 26-29. Our forgiveness, our future in the kingdom, the pain that Jesus went through to achieve this should all be remembered when we take the bread and the wine each Sunday. We should want to be part of it and to be in fellowship with Jesus and with each other. We all sin, like David, we all need forgiveness because none of us is perfect, but we must always try our best not to let both God and Jesus down when we are tempted and sin. July

July 26th.

David still had not thought that he had sinned during his adultery and murder until God sent Nathan to challenge him on 2 Samuel 12. Nathan starts with a parable, verses 1-4. David’s reaction in verse 5-6 is exactly the same kind of reaction as ours is when we read this. The man in the parable is clearly wrong. It is always easier to see sins in other people rather than in ourselves which is why we should lovingly challenge each other and when we are challenged humbly listen. Nathan then says, after David has already condemned the man in the story, that the man was David, verse 7. Nathan then continues to remind David that God gave him everything, verse 7-8. Yet David was not content with what God gave him, by his actions he “despised the word of God”, verse 9. This is serious because what David did was not only a sin by David but it also caused other people who knew what happened to disrespect God. There were therefore consequences for David’s sin as there are for our sins, verse 10-12 and verse 14. We can have forgiveness for our sins if we repent, but there are consequences and we cannot change that. Sometimes these consequences are a recurring feeling of guilt that we have or they can be having to support other children if we have been adulterous, or it could be a bad reputation if we have lied or stolen money. David certainly suffered many consequences as we will remind ourselves over the next few days. Because David immediately recognised his guilt, acknowledged his sin and repented (we know this from David’s Psalm 51) he was forgiven, verse 13. The consequences for David were immediate, verse 15 and verse 27, here David’s authority was already being undermined by Joab, who knew exactly what David had done. Clearly David remained faithful after this event, the way that he responded to the death of his baby demonstrates that, verse 22-23. There are consequences too for the sins of the Israelites in Jeremiah 16:11-13. In the same way that David wanted more for himself than what God had given him, the Israelites wanted more and disobeyed God. The difference between David and the Israelites was that David repented and the people did not. In the terrible account of Jesus’s death in Matthew 27 there are serious consequences too for actions. It may be too late for Judas to experience the wonderful forgiveness of God, verses 3-5. Judas realised that what he had done in betraying Jesus was a mistake that he regretted, but it was too late. He killed himself because unlike David, he did not repent and seek forgiveness. It is important therefore, for us to acknowledge our sins and sinful human nature before both God and Jesus. Pilate’s wife suffered consequences of the actions of the priests and the lack of leadership of her husband, verse 19. Verse 25 is a very significant verse that did bring consequences. In AD70 there was a lot of blood shed as the Romans expelled the Jews from Israel so the “blood of Jesus was very much on them and their children”. Our sins do have consequences. We can have forgiveness if we repent, but our actions can start things that we have no control over. Although the crucifixion of Jesus was terrible it brought about our way to salvation and under God’s control we, and others, are made righteous and we can have the wonderful confidence that we do have our sins forgiven when we have the right attitude. The chief priests mocked Jesus on the cross, verse 41-44 they had absolutely no respect for God, unlike the Roman Centurion who declared that Jesus was the son of God, verse 54. The account here in Matthew shows the ungodly scheming of human beings, there was good that came out of David’s scheming in that he repented, in Jeremiah God promises a future when he will bring the Jews back to him, Jer16:14-15 and we know that in Jesus’s death and resurrection there is hope. July

July 27th.

The consequences of David’s sin continue to be seen in 2 Samuel 13. God told David as a consequence that there would be real disharmony within his family because of what he did and this is exactly what happens. David schemed to cover up his sin and this is exactly what his family did to get what they wanted. This is something that we should remember too, if we scheme now to get things that we want then we are likely to experience the same in return because of the bad example that we set. David lost his family’s respect and they did the same as he did! It should be no surprise that if the parents act in bad ways then the children are likely to do the same as well. The opposite is true too, if parents act in good ways then it is more likely that the children will too, so we have a responsibility to set a good, godly example. Notice in this chapter how many times family relationships are used, ie brother, sister, son, as if God is reminding us that the consequences have started with the family. Amnon lusts after his sister Tamar, verse 2; Jonadab comes up with a scheme and tempts Amnon, verse 5; Amnon rapes his sister, verse 14; David is furious, verse 21; Absalom hates him, verse 21 and then kills him, verse 28-29. The impact of one sin produces so many consequences that impact more and more people. Tamar was the innocent party here, she tried to stop her brother, verse 12-13, even after she was raped she tried to do the right thing, verse 16 and she ended up not being able to marry, verse 20. Our sins do have consequences! David was forgiven but he suffered consequences, presumably he would have blamed himself for all this as he knew he had triggered it because God said it would happen, but he was also tricked into arranging events, verse 6-7 and verse 26-27, he would forever feel guilty for this. Perhaps too he regretted all his wives and all the half brothers and sisters he had fathered! We can continue the same theme in second reading in Jeremiah 17. By their ungodly actions it was the israelites’ fault that they were being handed over to their enemies, verse 4. God is always clear through the Bible that if we disobey we will suffer consequences, verse 5-6, how this happens will be in God’s way; however he is also clear that if we try to put God first we will be blessed, verse 7-8. This does not mean that we will never suffer, but when suffering comes we will not fear because God has promised us a future in the kingdom. We always have to be aware that our human nature is sinful and we always have to read the Bible and pray and always have God in our mind to counter the temptations that result, verse 9-11. Jeremiah prays, verse 12-18, notice he starts by fully respecting God and acknowledging how great and right he is. He then asks for forgiveness, ie healing, because he realises who he really is. He says things that God already knows, eg how people around him do not respect him, verse 15 (similar to 1 Peter 3:3) and he prays that God will carry out his will. God then asks Jeremiah to again try to teach the people to respect, verse 24 and then blessings will follow, verse 25-26. Even though the chief priests were presented with the evidence of Jesus’s resurrection in Matthew 28:11-15 they still schemed to have a lie publicised. This is how low human beings can be. As Christians we need to be better than this and through Jesus’s death and resurrection and our belief in him and our trying to follow him, we are better than those who scheme. Reading about Jesus’s resurrection has to fill us with joy, as it did the women when they were told, verse 8. Their joy increased when they actually saw Jesus, verse 9-10. This was a wonderful time for those who believed, as it should be for us now, because despite our tendency to sin we are made clean in Jesus by demonstrating our faith and trying to be like him. The resurrection changed the world, we can now, through Jesus, come to our father confidently… we do have freedom in Jesus, but it also brings a responsibility to try our best, verse 16-20. We have just read about a new start, so this is also an appeal to all of us to also start again, if we are scheming, then stop. We can have forgiveness if we repent. July

July 28th.

In our first reading, 2 Samuel 14, we have the continued manipulation of David by Joab. Joab has an advantage over David because of what he knows about David causing the death of Uriah, so for David the consequences continue, Joab knows David’s weakness, verse 1. Absalom was David’s heir and because he had killed Amnon he was banished. The story that Joab gets the woman from Tekoa to say has a similar outcome to the situation with Absalom, and David is basically tricked into allowing Absalom back, verse 21. It seems that Joab was manipulating David, presumably for his own benefit, and David was a weaker person (humanly speaking) and therefore also a weaker king, because of his sin. This is a continuing reminder for David and also for us. The section about Absalom in verses 25-26 suggests pride in the way that he looks, he was proud in his hair because he weighed it! His complaint about him not being allowed to see the king, verse 32, also suggests a lack of humility for what he has done in killing his brother. He justified his actions in his own mind because of what Amnon had did to his sister and his naming his own daughter Tamar, verse 27, suggests that what Amnon did was very much on his mind. Taking things into our own hands and not allowing God to bring justice always results in more complications. In Jeremiah 18 God reminds Jeremiah and the people of Israel that it is he that is in control, verse 6. Just as a potter makes different shapes from clay, so God controls what happens in nations, verse 7. But even though God brings disaster for those who do not follow him he still gives opportunities, verse 8 and verse 11. David took the opportunity and repented, although he still suffered the consequences, he was still forgiven; Absalom, on the other hand did not allow room for God’s judgement and took the matters into his own hands. God leaves the choices of doing right or wrong to us, he has set out the way that we should go, but if we say what the Israelites said in verse 12 that we will continue with our “own plans” and “follow the stubbornness of our own heart” then God will turn his back on us, verse 17. God provided everything for his people, even water all year round, verse 14, yet they still rejected him and turned to other gods! They even rejected Jeremiah who God had sent to try and turn their hearts, verse 18. As soon as we turn away from God’s teachings, disaster will result. Romans 1 verse 1-6 shows us just how loving God is by giving us life through Jesus. Only in Jesus’ resurrection can we be confident of life because we have forgiveness , for this we thank God. In these 2 chapters in Romans 1&2 we are reminded how we should act as Christians. Paul is a good example for us in how determined he was in doing the right thing, verse 9, 11 and verse 13. He serves with “all of his heart”, he “constantly” remembers others in prayers, he “longs to see” other brothers and sisters and he is “eager to preach”. This is a description of a committed Christian, one who people can look at and see what kind of person he now was. This is how we should be trying to be too. Paul reminds us too that we do still have a responsibility to obey God, verse 28-32. All those things that we should not be and we have to keep checking to make sure that what we are doing God is pleased with. In Romans 2 we are reminded how we should act every day, verse 7 says that if we “persist” in doing good we will have life, Verse 8 says that if we are “self-seeking”, ie just doing things for ourselves we will suffer God’s “wrath and anger”. The message throughout the Bible is the same – we have to try and obey God, verse 13. As Christians we have to act in the same way as we preach, this is how we get respect, even if people do not accept our message– we have to act in godly ways, verse 21-24. If we act in ungodly ways God himself will not be respected by others. The “heart” needs to be right, verse 28-29, this means that we have to try our best to follow God in everything. July

July 29th.

Our practical thought for today starts with Absalom and his actions in 2 Samuel 15, our first reading. It is clear from his actions that they demonstrate to us how a person behaves when he has no respect for God. Verse 1 shows that he is proud. He has a chariot to stand in, so that he can be seen by anyone around, and he has a guard of honour running ahead of him, so that wherever he goes no one can miss that he is moving around – it is very much like a president of any country today when they move! This is a man who is proud and who is trying to set himself up as important by basing his thinking on human ways. He was making the most (humanly speaking) of his stature and good looks! He is clearly not humble as God wants us all to be. He was also clearly setting himself up as greater than David and he was in fact undermining his father’s position, forgetting that David was put in his position by God. In effect Absalom was going against God and was trying to build up support like a politician, verse 2-4, no doubt be was justifying his actions because of what he witnessed his father doing re Bathsheba and Uriah. So not only did Absalom not have respect for his father, he had no respect for God either, he had completely disregarded the fact that it was God who appointed his father as king in the first place! Absalom was conspiring against God as well as his father! Absalom knew how to get people on his side by making himself appear more approachable, and it worked as the people’s hearts were more open to him, verses 5-6. The problem with this was though that Absalom was not godly so the people were being influenced by a proud, ungodly man. Even when Absalom had David’s blessing to go to Hebron all he did was assemble an army, verses 7-12. His excuse for going there was to worship God.  These are not the actions of a godly man, he was pretending. David knew this too because when he was told about the uprising he fled, verse 13-14. The situation was obviously made worse because David was now a weak leader because of his own mistakes with Bathsheba and Uriah; however, David’s godliness and love come through because he fled to save the city and the people from the impact of a war, verse 14, he basically walked away to save others. He obviously prayed about his situation, for example verse 31, but he also did his bit too and sent the priests and Hushai back to Jerusalem to work with Absalom but to report back what was happening, verse 33-36. Jeremiah 19 reminds us why the people were in a mess, it was because they had “forsaken” God, verse 4 and not listened to his words, verse 15. We see this so many times in the bible, if we stop listening to God and doing what he wants, disasters will result. And the disaster that is predicted here is terrible, the events would be so bad that people would even eat their own children to stay alive, verse 9. The graphically smashed pot, verse 10-11, shows us just how bad this destruction would be for these people, ie it could not be “repaired”. This is the result when God is forsaken and rejected! It is when we get to Romans 3&4 that we are reminded that no one is righteous, Romans 3 verse 10-18. The Jewish believers were incorrectly saying that they were righteous because they were Jews, ie descendants of Abraham and David, but Paul is saying that this is not right. The only way to be righteous is in Jesus, verse 21-26. We must have real faith in Christ Jesus, ie believing in God’s grace, but we cannot ask for forgiveness and then carry on doing the same thing, we must try and change and try our best to do what God wants. David was very very repentant for what he had done and he was forgiven, so we have confidence too that if we recognise that we are sinners and also repent of our sins and try to change we too are forgiven. Understanding our sinful nature and God’s grace puts us in a wonderful position, Romans 4 verse 7-8, there is a blessing that our sins are not counted against us. For us to have this wonderful grace and mercy that we have been promises we have to recognise that we are naturally sinful as in the, verse 10-18, once we humbly acknowledge this and believe it (=faith) then we are able to rely completely on God’s grace and mercy. David humbly repented and was shown mercy; Absalom was proud and God brought about his destruction, just as he did with his unfaithful people in Jeremiah’s time. So the lesson is clear for us, if we want this grace and mercy we have to humbly confess our sinful nature and our individual sins, and have faith in God’s grace to forgive us, and thank him for that, but never take this grace for granted by deliberately continuing to sin. These accounts demonstrate to us the real need for Jesus because human beings will always fail no matter how hard we all try, so again we thank God for Jesus! July

July 30th.

2 Samuel 16 continues with David’s escape from his son Absalom and again brings out the different godly characteristics of the different people in the account. We should always be looking at the example of how others respond to events to find if there are godly lessons to learn from. David previously gave Ziba the responsibility to look after Mephibosheth back in 2 Samuel 9 and Ziba remembered the kindness that David showed to others then, especially to those who were rejected by many, as was the case with the disabled Mephibosheth. Ziba came out to help David, verse 1-2. This appears to be a great example of how we should also be helping each other when circumstances change in others’ lives, presumably Ziba was risking his own life by helping David, who was now a refugee in his own country, but he went out of his way to help him. Sadly this appears not to be the case with Mephibosheth who apparently forgot the help that David gave to him all those years ago and all he now appears to be interested in is his own power and standing as he had the objective of becoming king as he was Saul’s grandson, verse 3-4. If what Ziba was saying was correct, he forgot that it was God who removed Saul from the kingdom and gave it to David. (We need to see 2 Samuel 19 verse 26-28 for the next part of this account. What is more obvious is the taking full advantage of the opportunity by Shimei who came out and cursed David, verses 5-8 and 13-14, he was also a relative of Saul and he incorrectly thought that David had taken the kingdom by force, whereas in fact David respected Saul’s family, demonstrated by his care of Mephibosheth in fact, but that the kingdom was given to David by God because of Saul’s ungodliness! A lesson here is to accept that God is working in events and not to take events into our own hands for our own selfish gain. David’s response here helps us to understand how we should respond to upsetting situations as he stopped his men from killing Shimei, verse 10-12. David accepted that the cursing may have been from God because he knew that it was because of his sin that he was now a refugee, he felt guilty of what he had done and he was humble in his response. This is a good attitude for all of us to have when we consider how sinful we all are and how bad sin is, there are consequences, but also hope as we see from Romans. Ahithophel is another character in this account in Samuel who is no longer acting in a godly way, although what he suggests to Absalom is exactly what God said would happen because of David’s sin, verse 21-22. This sad event weakened David further in the eyes of the people and for a while, made Absalom look stronger. Sometimes it is difficult for us to know who is telling the truth and who to believe, which is why we need to always read and pray and check using the scriptures what we are told. Because David had lost credibility in the eyes of most of the people and he was now basically a weak king, he ended up making some decisions that perhaps were not thought out well, eg giving the land to Ziba. Ahithophel appears to now be giving bad advice but the people were taking his advice as if it was coming from God. It is the same when we come to Jeremiah 20 – the priest Pashhur was saying different things to what Jeremiah was saying, verse 1-6. Jeremiah confirms that Pashhur was teaching lies (v6). The people preferred what Pashhur was saying because he was not teaching that the people would be taken into exile. We need to be careful not to just listen to the things that we like to listen to, but check and to think about what everyone says to see if it is likely to be from God or not, or true or not. The people should have realised that punishment was coming because they were pretending to follow and to worship God. Jeremiah was a little bit frustrated that what he had been teaching had not yet come true so he made a complaint to God, verse 7-10, but the difference with Jeremiah and also with David was that they still saw God working, 11-12 and Jeremiah even praises God, verse 13. This can be hard for us, but we should try to see God working in all of our lives and see that God is in control, perhaps we can then accept our suffering a bit better. God knows how we suffer and knows how sometimes we feel like giving up, as Jeremiah did when he wished that he had not been born, verse 14-18, but he maintained his faith and trust in God. There is an interesting use of names by God in this chapter too: Pashhur means “Freedom” in the Hebrew language, presumably his parents liked the name when they named him or there was some significance at the time of his birth that made them choose this, but the significance here is that God renamed him Magor-Missabib which means “terror on every side”, verse 3. This would have been a powerful reminded to Pashhur of his lies and ungodliness when he was in exile in Babylon, verse 6. It is faith that God wants and in Romans 5 and 6 we see that faith brings peace, chapter 5 verse 1-2. Both David and Jeremiah were suffering, but they had peace that God was in control. They could see that they were in fact growing in faith because of what they suffered and Paul says the same thing to us, verse 3-5. It seems a strange thing to say “rejoice in our sufferings”, but suffering makes us into more godly characters, in suffering we are reminded that our sin eventually brings death; we also get to see just a little bit of how much Jesus suffered for us to give us life! Jesus died for sinners and God showed us his love, verse 6-8. Knowing this should make us want to be godly in everything that we do. So in Jesus our sins and our sinful nature are not “counted” against us, chapter 6 verse 11-14, this does not mean that we can just sin and assume that God will forgive us, it means that we should recognise how bad sin is and therefore recognise how much grace is required to forgive the sin, chapter 5 verse 20. Paul is very clear that we should always try not to sin, chapter 6 verse 15-18, and that because we recognise that we have been saved by grace we have to respect God and Jesus and their love for us, and “wholeheartedly obey” what God teaches. If we do not pretend to be godly and then try to obey all the time then when we sin (because we will always sin) we can be sure of forgiveness, and this is the confidence that faith and grace give us. With the right attitude we can have the confidence that there is always a bit more grace than our sins so we are sinless before God because of Jesus, but with the wrong attitude there is no grace and sins remain. July

July 31st.

Today’s practical thought starts in 2 Samuel 17. We are thinking about an individual’s actions again and considering pride. Ahithophel was the advisor who changed sides and he went with Absalom, he was viewed as “one who enquires of God” (2Sam16:23), these words may give us a clue as to Ahithophel’s attitude. He made a suggestion to Absalom, chapter 17 verse 1-3, Absalom was happy, but he wanted the advice of Hushai too which turned out to be different to Ahithophel’s, verse 7-13. Absalom took this second advice which upset Ahithophel a lot, so much so that he took his own life, verse 23. Ahithophel appears proud and was not willing to accept that someone else’s advice was perhaps better than his, he also did not consider that God was working in the advice that was given. Perhaps he felt jealous of Hushai because Ahithophel was first to change his allegiance to Absalom from David and should have been the main advisor. God was indeed working to frustrate Ahithophel’s advice, verse 14. The lesson for us all is that if we believe that God is in control of our lives and in our community then we should all be willing to accept each other’s suggestions and humbly respect the outcome that may or may not be what we originally want. Humility is key to how we live our Christian lives. We know from 2Sam15 that Hushai was in fact working for David, and also David had prayed that God would frustrate Ahithophel’s advice, but we should still take the lesson that pride does not work. Psalm 55 appears to have been written by David to reflect this event and we see from this that David was upset that his own friend (Ahithophel) turned against him. It is likely that Ahithophel was the grandfather of Bathsheba and if so would explain his reaction to David and his loss of friendship and support. But even in times of suffering and upset, for example David being a refugee again, there is still the need for respect of God’s ways, the examples of Hushai and the priests helping David (verse 15-16) and of Shobi, Machir and Barzillai helping him (verse 27-29) are demonstrations of this, Ahithophel disregarded God’s ways in preference of his own revenge, understandable though it may be humanly speaking. The others all had a continuing respect for David because God had anointed him as king, they knew that this was God’s way, even though it did not appear to be going according to plan at the moment, because of David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah! This is why it is always so important to try to understand God’s plan and to try and work out what is right and wrong, we have the bible and prayer to help us do this. Jeremiah 21 has a few lessons that carry on with this theme of pride and trying to find out what God wants. The king Zedekiah, despite being ungodly, incorrectly turned to God to expect him to help in their distress, verse 1-2. This is too late and with the wrong attitude, we cannot expect God to help any of us if we are disregarding him in our lives and only turn to him when we need something! Jeremiah’s response from God was clear, verse 3 and 4. It is too late when disaster comes, the king and the people should have been godly, they should have been doing the good things in verse 12, sadly they were doing “evil” and God brought the disaster that he had promised. The people chose pride and their own way, rather than humility and God’s way. Romans 7 and 8 shows us how difficult it is not to sin and it is a struggle not to give in to temptation. Because we are aware of God’s commands we are more aware of sin, this then makes us more aware of how sinful we are, but then we realise how much we rely on God’s grace! Paul describes himself as a wretched man, chapter 7 verse 24, because of his knowledge of his sinful nature and tendencies. He knows that there is nothing good in him, verse 18, and acknowledges that there is no hope for him or for us because of our human nature. However, he then recognises that there is a hope, there is a rescuer, it is Jesus, verse 25. So therefore “in Jesus” there is “no condemnation”, chapter 8 verse 1-2 which gives us all confidence because without this there is no hope. However, this does not mean that we can act like Zedekiah and the people or like Ahithophel and Absalom and presume that God will show us mercy and grace, we have to try to “produce fruit”, chapter 7 verse 4 and we have to “have our minds set on what the spirit desires”, chapter 8 verse 5. Paul is clear that those who are controlled by sinful nature cannot please God, verse 8. Chapter 8 has the contrast between life and death, those who try to follow God have life and have confidence in it, but those who just follow human things have death. If we want life, we have to change, verse 13. If we do our best to continue to follow God and Jesus, if we are humble, if we try to understand what God wants and if we always try to remain faithful “nothing will separate us from the love of God”, verse 39. Even though David sinned, he repented and nothing separates him from God’s love, Ahithophel, although very upset with David, took things into his own hands rather than leaving God direct things, so we too should try to do right in humility, but leave judging to God and to Jesus. July

August 1st.

We are continuing the story of Absalom and his rebellion against David and, by his actions, against God, in 2 Samuel 18 and there are plenty of lessons for us to learn so that we can try to respond differently to others in similar situations that we experience in our every day lives. All of this persecution of David happened because of his sins with Bathsheba and Uriah, God said that there would be consequences (2Sam12:11-12) and there were – perhaps David learnt from one of the lessons in his life shown by him not wanting to stay behind, verse 2, but the advice of his soldiers was to stay on “this occasion”, verse 3. David did not want to stay, perhaps for 2 reasons: 1, he wanted to be with his men, which is very likely, and 2, he did not want to have any further temptations whilst his men were out, in fact on this occasion he stayed by the city gate, verse 4. This is an interesting point as on this occasion David was a refugee, he was running for his life so he was alert and responsive to the situation that he was in, previously in chapter 11 he was content and at ease – a big warning and a lesson for us to be careful when we are in easier situations.  We must never stop thinking about God and Jesus. David was a human being like the rest of us and he continued to make mistakes and this is perhaps another mistake that he made re Absalom in verse 5. Under the law Absalom should have been killed because he had killed his brother and Absalom was trying to kill the “Lord’s anointed”, ie David, yet David was protecting him and he was not consistent, for example he killed the Amalekite in 1Sam1 for killing Saul, the “Lord’s anointed”, 1Sam1:14-16. So why was David protecting his son, why did he react so harshly when someone said that he had killed Saul? We all have to be careful and humble when we condemn others for their actions and think about possible consequences when we experience the same thing, David was clearly protecting his son too like any father would, but he was very quick to kill another father’s Amalekite’s son! Let us be slow to condemn and check to see if the action is what God wants. David clearly loved his son as we read after David hears of the report of Absalom’s death, verse 33, perhaps David was more distraught because he was thinking back to his killing of Uriah and the condemnation that David received from God – again David knew that under the law he should have been put to death, but God spared him but with consequences and Absalom’s death was one of those consequences. Not that Absalom did not deserve it because he was a godless proud man, he had no respect for God as well as his father, the Lord’s anointed. It was the thing that Absalom was most proud of that caused his death – his hair, verse 9. The thing that he was most proud off became his downfall and this is so often the case the lives of human beings – pride is often present before a fall! Absalom showed off to others, he even made a memorial pillar for himself and erected it in the King’s Valley and he was not even a confirmed king, verse 18. Other characters in this chapter are things for us to think about too, David’s men had respect for David, verse 12-13, however, Joab did not, verse 14-17, in the case of Joab he lost respect in David because of what David had done, he was not forgiving and he was positioning himself to gain the most advantage. Jeremiah 22 is a reminder of the ungodly actions of the kings of Israel that resulted in the people’s captivity, they are all the ungodly actions that we see in human beings, verse 9, 13, 17 and verse 22. We need to look at what God has done for us, eg 15-16. God warned them, verse 21 – all these things we have to guard against, we need to remember what God has done for us, be careful when we think we are secure and always remember to do what is right and just, verse 3-4. If we go our own way God will cut us off, verse 5. Romans 9 helps us to understand some of the suffering and apparent strange things that happen in our lives and also in others’ lives too. Paul sets out a theoretical conversation from verses 6-29 where he discusses similar things to the whole book of Job. God can basically do what he wants, he does not have to answer to us, we have no right to question the way that he does things we have to simply trust. We may not understand everything, but God is saying to trust him, we have no right to question, we cannot blame God for our sinful nature or for situations that we are in, verse 19-21. It is normal for us to have questions, eg verse 14 and 19, but we have to trust! Paul was a wonderful character for us to learn from, he was absolutely distraught that his fellow countrymen, the Jews, had not accepted Jesus and he prayed for them, verses 1-5. We even prayed that he be “cut off” rather than them, similar to David re Absalom, yet the Jews had rejected Paul’s teachings about Jesus and wanted him dead, Acts 23:12-15, but like David he would have preferred that they be saved. A lot of lessons for us to think about and for us to try to copy the godly parts in our lives but to reject the ungodly actions and so become a little bit more like Jesus. August

August 2nd.

In our first reading in 2 Samuel 19 we can again see practical lessons from those characters who responded in different ways to the different situations that they found themselves in. We can take lessons from these as we try to act like Jesus in our daily lives. David’s continued mourning the loss of Absalom is understandable – David had lost a son and he had lost an heir, more significantly it was his fault that this had happened, verse 4. However, David’s actions were having a very bad effect on his men who had saved his life and had returned the kingdom to him, verse 1-3 and 5-7. We all have to be aware of how our actions impact on others, we may feel justified in acting in a particular way, but others may see this completely differently – David had to be reminded by Joab that he also had a commitment to his men, and he followed his advice, verse 8. The lesson here is for all of us to remember that we do have an impact on others by what we do, therefore our actions need to be godly. There are 3 other characters in this chapter who we can learn from too. Shimei who cursed David when he was fleeing from Absalom comes to say that he is sorry, verse 16-20. It is a good thing to make peace with others, but it was wrong to make enemies of your brother in the first place. Shimei should not have cursed David when David was low because he was now in a vulnerable position now that David was back in power. David forgave him and protected him again, verse 21-23. David showed the right character here in showing forgiveness and protecting Shimei. Mephibosheth’s response is interesting here, verse 24-30. Maybe Mephibosheth is telling the truth to David here and that it was his servant Ziba who lied about him wanting to be king when David fled – the way that he responded whilst David was an exile appears to suggest this, verse 24. The way that he stayed in the same clothes and did not care for himself suggests mourning, so maybe his story is correct and Ziba did lie about him. David believed him, verse 29 and look how Mephibosheth responded, verse 30 – this shows humility and forgiveness on the part of Mephibosheth too. This being the case, this is a good lesson for us, even when we are wronged we should remain humble and forgiving. A lesson from David too, he was quick to judge Mephibosheth in 2 Sam16:1-4 – David could not check the story so he should have waited before he condemned, we need to always try to check stories too and not make immediate judgements – we learn that there are often 2 sides to a story, even when 1 side sounds very plausible. The lesson here is to always check what we are told before we make conclusions. Barzillai always supported David and David continued to show him favour. How we act has an impact! Jeremiah 23 contains a wonderful prophecy about Jesus, verse 3-8 – Jesus will “reign wisely” and do “what is just and right” – he is the only person who we can really trust which is why we look forward to his return so much, but also we try to be like him in our lives. This picture contrasts so much with the false shepherds and the lying prophets Jeremiah tells us about in the rest of the chapter. The prophets were teachers, the priests were religious leaders, they have a responsibility to teach and lead in godly ways; we know if they are speaking truth or lies by the way that they behave and what they say, another reason why we have to check! God hears what they say, verse 25 and he says do not listen to them, verse 16 and God says he will punish them, verse 15. While we wait for Jesus to come back we need to learn from him in our reading of the Bible and pray that we try to be like Jesus. We have to be very careful not to trust those who say that they have messages from God and say that they have dreams – Jeremiah is clear here that those referred to here are liars! Romans 10 and 11 helps to put things into perspective. Rom8:8-13 teaches us where our confidence should be, it should be in Jesus – it also means that we have to “believe from the heart” and this includes how we act as well.  God is “kind” but he is also “stern” too, we have to respect God in all aspects of our lives, Rom11:22-24. Israel was punished for their unbelief and rebellion. We as gentiles were given an opportunity to be saved by Jesus, which shows God’s “kindness”, but we have to try and obey him otherwise he will show us his “sternness” too. Paul is very much warning us as Christians to continue to respect his ways and his commands and he concludes this section in verses 33-36 by a prayer, recognising how great God is, how we cannot ever understand all of his ways now but we continue to praise and respect him! August

August 3rd.

2 Samuel 20 and 21 continues with the account of David having to cope with further unrest on all sides. He had people opposing him from everywhere, just as God had said it would, his family, his countrymen, his army  and the Philistines. These 2 chapters start and end with challenges and this typified David’s life from the time he committed adultery with Bathsheba and killed Uriah. 2 Sam 20:1 shows us the rebellion of Sheba who incited the Israel army to move to his side, verse 2 and thus started another problem for David. He had appointed Amasa as commander of his army (2Sam19:12) to replace Joab, presumably because he trusted him more than Joab, however, both were family members (both Amasa and Joab were David’s nephews). The events that played out in chapter 20 again demonstrate that just because people are related it does not mean that they can be trusted or show respect to each other. For some reason Amasa took longer to assemble Judah, verse 5, so David sent Abishai, and therefore the demoted Joab in pursuit of Sheba, verse 6-7. However,  Joab took the opportunity to kill Amasa, verse 9-10, this is a terrible thing to do as it was simply jealousy that triggered this response, there was no finding out what the delay was. Maybe Joab was “punishing” him for siding with Absalom, but either way Joab no longer had respect for David who had appointed Amasa to replace him in the first place. All these people were related in some way and demonstrates how bad things can get when there are family and personality disputes within the family, in David’s case consequences of his adultery and murder. The consequences of mistakes are shown in 2Sam21 too when David seeks help from God following the 3 successive years of drought, verse 1. Saul had incorrectly tried to annihilate the Gibeonites who were protected by oath (Joshua 9:16). So God was not pleased that there was no recompense paid for this attempted genocide and David has a difficult thing to do to select members of Saul’s family to take the punishment that was decided upon, verse 9. The upset and distress that this caused to Rizpah, verse 10 is a reminder yet again that mistakes bring consequences. This is a blood thirsty extreme, but we have to remember that there are always consequences to our bad actions, consequences on our family and friends maybe years later! God answered prayers when all was sorted, verse 14. There was continued war with the Philistines in David’s later years and although he wanted to go and be with his men (probably because he regretted staying behind when he saw Bathsheba) he was too old and was becoming a liability, verse 17. There are just 2 choices in Jeremiah 24, one group would listen to God and Jeremiah and demonstrate faith by going into captivity and therefore life, verse 4-7 and there was the other group who rejected God and what Jeremiah was saying and attempted to rely on their own strength and stayed at Jerusalem and died, verse 8-10. The lesson for us is to always listen to God and to check what others are saying. It was obvious that the lying prophets and priests in Jeremiah’s time were false because they were giving credit to false gods for the good things that God gave and they were not living a life that demonstrated their professed faith – another lesson for us to remember. The section on love in Romans 12, ie verse 9-21, is a characteristic that the people who went into exile may have demonstrated to the Babylonian army who were taking them into captivity. These people trusted what Jeremiah was saying and gave up their homes without a fight, this would have impressed the Babylonians as Paul says here, verse 17-20 and this is how we should respond to any situation that we are in, we have to “overcome evil with good”, verse 21. We have to love – it has to be sincere, verse 9. All of these Christian attributes have to describe us! Read verses 10 to 16 slowly – is this describing you? It should be! We know that God and Jesus save us by grace, and thank God that this is the case, David was shown grace and was saved, we are shown grace and are saved, BUT we have to change our ways (repent); we must not “conform to the world” anymore;  we must “renew” our minds, verses 1-2. Because we have been promised life by grace we have to respond and try to be like Jesus. We have been brought into a family in Jesus, we all have different tasks in the body of Jesus so we have to work together in unity, no infighting like happened in David’s family, no rejecting God’s true teachers as happened in Jeremiah, but all working together, respecting each other and respecting both God and Jesus, verse 3-8. Not all of us can do the same things, therefore we must humbly accept our abilities from God and praise him for the grace he has shown to all of us! Paul is saying in Romans to do our best in using the abilities that God has given us to all work together in the body of Jesus. August

August 4th

We have David’s song of praise in 2 Samuel 22, his song was after God had delivered him from Saul, verse 1. The same praise would still have been sung by David at the end of his life too as it can be sung by us in our lives if we have put God first as David did. David gives all the credit for his victories to God, verse 17-20 and this has to be true for us too in our lives when we go through problems and suffering, if we are faithful then God rescues us too. The problem with most of us though is that we expect God to rescue us from all our problems now, but God does not work like that. He is interested in our end salvation, ie when Jesus comes back. David shows that he was looking forward to this in verse 51. The “descendants for ever” can only be referring to Jesus and those who accept him. It is natural for us to want saving now, David did when he was suffering, verse 7, God did rescue David and God sometimes rescues us now, but his main aim is to bring salvation, verse 2-3, this permanent salvation is the kingdom. David  describes God as the “deliverer”, “refuge” and for this he gives praise, verse 4. This is where we should also start in prayer, praising God for being all these things for us. David reminds us that God’s salvation is conditional, verse 26-27 – if we want God’s salvation we have to be “faithful” and “pure”. We know that David sinned and we sin too, but if we continually confess our sins and repent we are also “blameless” and “righteous” and “clean”, verse 21-25. God “delights” in us as he did in David if we try our best to follow his ways and throughout David’s life he did try his best, verse 20. Yes he sinned and we do too, but if we confess and repent we are also blameless (1John1:5-10). God is patient with us and the rest of mankind, we read in Jeremiah 25 that God sent prophets, including Jeremiah, to encourage the people to repent and to follow God with all of their heart, verse 5-6, but they did not listen, verse 3, 4, 7 and 8 and therefore God punished them. God is only patient up to a point and none of us should rely on God’s grace if we are not willing to repent and to change. From verse 15 of this chapter we read of God’s wrath on all of mankind if they do not accept God and repent. However, as always with God’s plan and purpose there is always a hope, and God promised that the Jews would return to the land after 70 years and this happened in the time of Ezra and Nehemiah. The context of Romans 13 and 14 is salvation too, Ro13:11, we feel that Jesus’ return is very soon and this is when God will bring about his ultimate salvation, the time that David looked forward too. So in these 2 chapters we see lessons for our daily lives for how we should act and how we should demonstrate that we are faithful, righteous and pure. For example we should submit to the government, verse 1, because God has put them there! If we rebel we are rebelling against God, verse 2. The Jews who went to Babylon would have impressed them and set good examples, we need to do this too. No “debts”, no “adultery”, no “murder”, no “stealing”, no “coveting”, verse 8-9, Jesus says that we must not even think of these things or be angry, we are to “love our neighbour as ourselves”. There’s more, no “orgies”, no “drunkenness”, no “sexual immorality”, no “debauchery”, no “dissension”, no “jealousy”, no “gratifying self”, verse 13, we are to look like Jesus, verse 14 and to behave decently. We have recently seen how Saul, Absalom and the Jews were only doing things for themselves and we know what happened to them. As we see the time of Jesus returning we should be making more effort to do all these things. Romans 14 is further advice on how we should respect and love each other, we have to “build” each other up, verse 19 and not to destroy each other. All of us will have to give an account to God of how we have dealt with each other, verse 10-12. We are in our “church” to help each other, verse 7-9, and Jesus died for all of us to bring salvation for all of us who try our best to follow God. August

August 5th.

In the 2 Samuel 23 reading for today we see David’s respect for God and how David thought of the character of a person who does everything in righteousness and in the fear of God. In David’s case he was ruling in the fear of God, but the same applies to us too in whatever we do, verse 3-4. The description in verse 4 is of peace and things being right. David shows that he is also interested in his salvation, verse 5, he is thinking about the future “everlasting covenant”, ie the time when Jesus comes back, so his priorities were a) being righteous, b) fearing God and c) looking to his salvation.  These should be our priorities too. David contrasts the godly person with the evil person in verse 6-7 and he says that the evil are like thorns that are not even touched, but burned up and destroyed. In the section that tells us about David’s “mighty men”, verse 8 to the end, although we see how these men were, in human terms, mighty, David always gave the credit to God, verse 10 and verse 12. Even when three of his men risked their lives and brought him water, David praised God for it and worshipped and gave thanks, verse 16-17. David tried to put God first at all times, he suffered, he experienced good times, he sinned, he repented but throughout all he learnt to respect God in all things and to look for his future salvation. This is how we should be too, we all experience difficulties, whether this is food or health, we experience happiness and joy, we sin and we should acknowledge this and repent, but we should also be looking towards our salvation when Jesus comes back as a priority. We need to try and always put God first and to not be like the Jews in Jeremiah 26 (our second reading) who many times rejected God’s patience and his constant reminders and opportunities that he gave for them to repent, verse 3, even at the last moment God was still prepared to change his plan and relent! But he is also clear if we do not change then there will be disaster, verse 4-5. The appeal to repent is constant because God wants us all to come to salvation, verse 13. The people who opposed Jeremiah just did not like what he was saying and they even challenged him in the temple, God’s House, but they did not respect God’s words even though they were pretending to worship, verse 7-9. A lesson for us again is that we have to check what God wants and to use past experiences and other events to determine if what we read or are told is right. Some of the elders checked what Jeremiah was saying, verse 17-19, they remembered what the prophet Micah had said during the time of king Hezekiah and God relented for a time. The same message is repeated in Romans 15 verse 4, we have to use all of the events in Scripture to learn from as we try our best to follow what God wants with the purpose of gaining encouragement and having a hope. We are to encourage and to challenge each other, verse 1-3, we are to put others first just as Jesus did. In both Romans 15 and 16, our third reading for today, we have a picture of unity, Rom15:5-6 and Rom16:17-18 and together with the examples of the Christian brothers and sisters working together for a common goal is important. We should also aim to be united in our CBM churches, we should be together with our brothers and sisters and not allow personalities to cause divisions, notice in Rom16:18 that those who cause divisions are not serving our Lord Jesus – these people are often those who can speak very well and have convincing arguments, but we have to check to see if what they are saying is what God and Jesus want. Both David and Jeremiah put God first, so did Paul, for example his “ambition” was to always preach, Ro15:20, the gentiles were “pleased” to help the Jews when they were in need, verse 27. None of these godly people were half hearted, they all wanted to do the right things for God they wanted to do the right things to “bring praise to God”, verse 7-13. Notice how many times Paul makes reference to the old testament, again confirming that we should use all scripture for lessons. Paul suffered in his work for God and for Jesus and he encourages his brothers and sisters to pray for him, verse 30-33, and this is the same request for us too, we should be praying for each other as we all go through the various sufferings that we experience. Part of our prayer has to be that of Paul’s in Romans 16:25-27, we should be praying that all will believe and obey and therefore be brought to salvation, the same salvation that David really wanted. Our Christian life in Jesus should be believing and obeying, confessing and repenting when we make mistakes and by God’s grace we do have salvation. August

August 6th.

2 Samuel ends with David counting his army to see how strong the nation was because Israel had sinned. It would appear that the people of Israel in general were again starting to act in ungodly ways and were proud because God was not pleased with them, chapter 24:1. God was angry with Israel and God allowed this situation to arise, this is just the same as happened in Job 1 and also with Jesus in Mark 1. Unlike Jesus, David gave into the temptation, even despite Joab advising against this action, verse 3. David did not listen and the fighting men were counted, verse 4. It is interesting that even though it was the people who God was angry with in the first place David associated with their original sin and he was certainly repentant when Joab came back and reported the number, verse 10. It is very clear that David blamed no one for this sin but himself. He was tempted by a situation and he gave into the temptation and as a result sinned, he now acknowledged it and asks for forgiveness. However, there were consequences again and God gave David 3 options to bring about the necessary humility in the people and in David. David was wise in his response, verse 14, he “fell into the hands of God”, this is trust in God’s mercy and a willingness to take whatever consequences God decided upon, this is humility and so too was the result. Note that this option was the only option that David could suffered the same fate as the people, there was no protection for anyone in a plague, but David being a king would have likely have been protected from the other options. 70,000 people died because of the plague, all because of the people’s pride – David showed his “strength”, God demonstrated that his strength was not in David’s army it was in God. David accepted this sin, verse 17 and he also ensured that it cost him something too, verse 24. These very vivid lessons are applicable to our lives too, we should control our pride, we should try not to give into temptation, we should accept when we make mistakes, repent and ask for forgiveness and then accept the consequences, if necessary at whatever cost. The people in Jeremiah 27 were tempted to listen to the lying prophets (verse 9, 14 and 16) who only said the things that they knew the people wanted to hear, ie that they would not be taken to Babylon. However, God was clearly saying through Jeremiah that that was exactly what would happen to those who were going to be saved in the end! Our natural human responses are always opposite to what God wants, we have to become like Jesus in how we respond to situations and trust in God. We do get this complete contrast in Mark 1 when Jesus did not give in to temptation in the desert when God allowed the situation for temptation to arise, verse 12-13. We know from the other gospels that Jesus did not give in to the temptation that he was presented with. Acknowledging our sins, as David did, is so fundamental to our Christian life. John taught “repentance for the forgiveness of sins”, verse 4; Jesus immediately taught people to “repent and believe the good news”, verse 15. Those who followed Jesus trusted in him, verse 18 and 20. They left everything to follow Jesus and this demonstrated their trust. We are not asked to leave everything, but we should still trust in the same way, just as David did. In the healings that Jesus then carried out we have little pictures of Jesus’ power to overcome sin. In the healing of the man with a mental illness in verses 25-27 we can see a picture of Jesus helping those who give into temptation that the Bible uses the word “satan” to describe any adversary. In the healing of the man with leprosy, verse 40-42, leprosy is often used in the Bible to depict sin, and like the man who came on his knees asking to be “made clean”, we do the same asking for our sins to be forgiven. The Bible does not teach that illnesses are a result of sin, but we can see a picture of sin in illnesses as a reminder that we are all sinners and sin brings death. So we should all rely on both God and on Jesus, we come to Jesus for forgiveness and we can confidently accept that healing if we repent. August

August 7th.

The first reading, 1 Kings 1, includes David’s son, Adonijah, claiming to be king, verse 5-7. This has similarities to the time that his elder brother Absalom also had aspirations of becoming King. However he did seek advice from Abiathar the priest and also from Joab. Joab supported his actions, presumably because he wanted the best for himself as usual, and he obviously knew so much about David’s past mistakes and now saw him as weak; it is not so obvious why Abiathar supported him too, presumably he had not had a revelation from God at this time. What is clear is that discord would continue in David’s family as God had promised it would, following David’s sin with Bathsheba and Uriah. It is easy to understand why Adonijah assumed that he would be king himself as he was the oldest surviving heir and was impatient because his father was now very old and frail, demonstrated by David being unable to keep himself warm any more, verse 1-4. Bathsheba and Nathan tell king David what is happening and David immediately makes Solomon king, verse 32-35. It is clearly in God’s plan that Solomon was to be king, although it is recorded here that David swore on oath that Solomon would be king. 2 Samuel 12 verse 24-25 tells us that God loved Solomon and we see from the next few days’ readings that God was with Solomon. Because Adonijah had gone against his father and also God by setting himself up as king, he expected punishment, 49-51, but Solomon was wise in his response, giving Adonijah an opportunity to prove himself, verse 52-53. Solomon was already showing his wise and Godly character in how he responded to this situation. Even right at the end of David’s life we continue to see consequences of his mistakes, he was a weak king and so many of those who were close to him saw his weakness and vulnerabilities. God remained with David, despite his faults, because David was humble.  The same thing cannot be said for the false prophet Hananiah in Jeremiah 28 as he “preached rebellion against the Lord”, verse 16. Like so many people before him, he rebelled against God and there is only one result when people do this, verse 17. Hananiah would have known that he was not saying what God said, he knew that he was lying, he was only interested in what he could gain from what he said because the people preferred his message to that of Jeremiah, verse 1-4. He was so confident in his own deceit that he even took the visual picture of a yoke from off Jeremiah’s neck and broke it, verse 10-11. God had told Jeremiah to wear this in Jeremiah 27 verse 2, so for Hananiah to go against what God had said was completely wrong and punishable, Jeremiah 28 verse 12-14, and we are back to consequences again. Because Hananiah rebelled, others were going to suffer more because of what he did and said – a lesson again for us to remind us that when we sin and rebel there are consequences for others, and Hananiah died knowing that his pride and arrogance was making things worse for others. All of us have responsibilities to teach what is right, if we teach lies we will be condemned by God, verse 15, therefore, like Hananiah, we will be removed. God is a God of love and grace and mercy, but we should respect what he says. Mark 2 brings us to Jesus again and the big confident message that comes out here is that Jesus forgives sins, verse 5 and verse 10. This is the message that Jesus appears to want to get across in the healing of the man who was paralysed, verse 1-12. Again in this healing our minds are made to realise that we all need healing from sin and only Jesus can do this for us via our belief in him. Levi was impressed by Jesus’ teaching, verses 13-17 and followed Jesus, who again reiterated that Jesus came to save sinners, verse 17. All of us have to accept that we are sinful and that we do need Jesus because we cannot have forgiveness without him, but to fulfil our agreement with him we have to follow him and try and be like him, having the right attitude. The Pharisees did not have the right attitude, they were critical of Jesus and his disciples for not following the exact letter of the law as they saw it, eg not fasting (verse 18) and working on sabbath (verse 23-34) but Jesus pointed out the more important things, ie his death, verse 20 and through his death and resurrection he was the “rest” for all those who follow him, verse 27. All of us have suffered some kind of bad experience with others, it is part of human life, but how do we react to these things? Naturally we try to have some kind of vengeance or retribution when we have been wronged and this natural, human way is shown in parable of the 2 people who owed debts in Matthew 18 verse 21-35, the wrong servant demanded his retribution, verse 28-30. But also in the parable we have a request for forgiveness, ie a debt, verse 26-27. This worked in the parable. The master renounces his right to the debt – he writes off the debt, he forgets it, he forgives it. So what does this parable mean? The “master” is God, the “debt” means the sins. God forgives us without requiring retribution, ie he absorbs our sins without wanting them to rebound back on us! The condition, therefore is that we should admit that we have a “debt” and ask for “forgiveness” and then to try to be like God in the ways that we continue to live. In Luke 15 the Prodigal son expected that there would be some kind of punishment when he returned, so did the other son, but the father did not punish him, ie he bore the pain, the costs and the public shame of his son sinning and wandering off. The mistake that we make in understanding forgiveness is thinking that it is easy and God will forgive no matter what, but it is not as easy as it seems. The forgiven individual has to have a change of heart. Mark 2 verse 7, says “forgiven” and verse 14 says “follow me”, no reference here to any punishment but there are painful consequences for Jesus. As a result of his love and mercy he draws really bad criticism from others, eg verse 6-7 and 16. Jesus is always in conflict with the priests and authorities and this reaches a climax in chapter 3 verse 6, this is the start of the process that ultimately ends in his death. This really demonstrates the opposition of men who rejected the mercy of God! This same insult on Jesus was also applied to God, ie rejecting God’s mercy, this is the human way of thinking! So what are we seeing when we picture Jesus on the cross? We see all the evil that men, including us, have inflicted on both God and on Jesus, this is the ultimate picture of sin. Peter confirms this in Acts 2 verse 23 and chapter 3 verse 13-15. But he does not leave the image here, he gets us to think of the resurrection, ie Acts 2 verse 15 and chapter 3 verse 15. So in the resurrection what has happened to all the horror, the answer that it has all been removed. Both Micah and Isaiah describe this removal as sins cast into depths of sea (Micah 7:19) and cast behind [God’s] back (Isaiah 38:17) – ie sins have gone! Peter then says in Acts 2 and 3 “repent”, ie admit your sins and allow yourself to be transformed and to be more like God. Prophesying about Jesus, Isaiah says that Jesus was wounded for our transgressions, by his wounds we are healed – Isaiah 53 verse 4-6. This is what the consequences of sin are, therefore we should want to demonstrate our gratitude for this price for forgiveness by wanting to do our best to be like both God and Jesus. So true repentance is a “change of behaviour” and we should also forgive those who have wronged us, just as Solomon did to Adonijah, unlike Abiathar and Joab not forgiving David! August

August 8th.

David continues to recognise that Solomon was wise and godly in 1 Kings 2 and he passes on his own advice to his son who is now on the throne as king, verse 1-4.  He is very keen that Solomon obeys God and his laws, and Solomon did just that in the early part of his rule. David also asks Solomon to deal wisely with all those who had opposed David, a task that David could not do because he did not have the moral authority to punish them as they deserved because of his own sins with Bathsheba and Uriah. But all these people did oppose David at some stage or another: Joab took revenge on Abner and Amasa and he supported Adonijah, verse 5-6 and Abiathar sided with Adonijah too, verse 26-27; his replacement also was a fulfilment of what God had said about Eli’s house. Both of these showed lack of respect for David, God’s anointed. Adonijah and Shimei were pretending to have respect for Solomon and for David. Solomon had said in 1Ki1:52-53 that Adonijah would be fine if he demonstrated that he was humble and godly, however, by asking for Abishag to be his wife he was proving that all he wanted was the kingdom, because he would be taking what everyone would have thought was a wife or concubine of David, demonstrating that he was the conqueror. Although Bathsheba was taken in by this request, Solomon saw that this was a deceit verse 23-25. Same with Shimei – he opposed David and then apologised, but David obviously did not fully trust him but left the decision to Solomon, verse 8-9. Shimei proved that he had not changed because he showed no respect for God and the oath, or the promise that he made, verse 41-46. This is a lesson for us all, our bad actions will be exposed at some time during our lives and we are likely to suffer consequences, no matter how long that time takes. All of these people suffered because of the previous ungodly choices that they had made. But under God’s direction the kingdom was now “firmly established in Solomon’s hands”. It is so important that we keep checking what God wants and for us to also remind others just as Jeremiah did in Jeremiah 29 when he wrote letters to the exiles in Babylon to remind them how they should act at all times. God’s advice to the people was to settle in Babylon, verse 4-6; to pray for their captors, verse 7 and to stop listening to those who were telling lies, verse 8-9. All those in 1Kings2 listened to wrong advice and rebelled against God and suffered as a consequence – the message remains the same, always check what God wants. God has a plan for all of us, just as he had for the exiles in Babylon, verse 10-14. We have to be careful not to listen to lies but to listen to God! In Mark 3 Jesus helps us to understand this a little better when he was told that his mother and brothers were outside, verse 31-35. Perhaps they had come to try to “protect” him because others were saying that he was “out of his mind”, verse 21, but in Jesus’s response he completely changed who we, as Christians, should consider as our family. Our “spiritual” family should be of a higher priority than our natural one because Jesus says that his “brother”, “sister” and “mother” are those who “do God’s will”. This is an important lesson for us to always remember, if we want to be Jesus’ family we have to do God’s will. This means that we have to learn about what God’s will is, we have to obey and we have to follow Jesus. It is easy for us to understand what Jesus means by being his “brother” and “sister” because that is what we call ourselves when we are baptised, we are brothers and sisters of Jesus, but how can we become his “mother”? We know from other scriptures that we have to try to become like Jesus, ie we have to try to do what Jesus does, so in a sense we are trying to allow the attitude of Jesus to “be formed” in us (Galatians4:19), so in this sense we are Jesus’ “mother”. As Christians we have to always try to be like Jesus in the way that we think, speak and act, we have to be recognised as brothers and sisters of Jesus. So in our daily lives we have to demonstrate this, unlike Joab, Adonijah, Abiathar and Shimei who all acted like human beings with human priorities to seek their own ambitions, rather we should look like Jesus who always put his father and others first. The Pharisees were always looking for ways to criticise Jesus and they even started looking for ways to kill him at an early stage in his ministry, verse, 6, even though Jesus had said it was better to do good on the Sabbath, verse 4. So message again is to always try to obey God. August

August 9th.

1 Kings 3 teaches us a great lesson from the life of Solomon. Solomon had just been made king, but he did not know how to reign.  He considered himself a “little child” (v7).  This is a good start for all of us.  Speaking about the kingdom of God, Jesus said that “anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it” (Mark 10:15).  Solomon had received the kingdom of Israel from God as a little child.  A little child is humble, listens to others, learns and grows.  All these things we must do.  A little child is not after power or great riches.  Neither should we. Solomon was granted a gift from God of whatever he wished (v5). This is an exceptional gift.  How many of us would choose wisdom as Solomon did?  In his choice Solomon behaved like a little child.  He wanted to learn more.  In 1 Kings 3 Solomon judges the case of two women fighting over a child.  He used his wisdom to get to the truth.  As the wise man himself says, “The purposes of a man’s heart are deep waters, but a man of understanding draws them out” (Proverbs 20:5).  And Solomon was that man of understanding who found out what was in the heart.  Think how much joy Solomon’s judgment brought to the mother.  This is the benefit of wisdom. It brings joy.  Let us be like little children and choose to find the wisdom of God.  For our joy and for the joy of others. Jeremiah chapter 30 is set 7 years before the end of the kingdom of Solomon’s sons.  It is the time of the last king of Judah, Zedekiah (Jeremiah 28:1).  The kingdom had turned from a spiritual height at the time of Solomon to the lowest depth at the time of Zedekiah.  They had lost the wisdom and humility of a little child.  When Jeremiah was first sent to Israel, he was also a child (Jeremiah 1:7).  God sent Jeremiah with a message of warning about the potential end of the kingdom.  Would king Zedekiah be a little child and listen?  Here in chapter 30 we have a positive message about the future.  In a future time, they would have another king, like king David (v9).    God would again be their God and they will be His people (v22).   Even though there were to be troubles, God has always provided good news for His people. The wise can take this to heart and find comfort. Mark 4 tells us about God’s future kingdom, which Jeremiah spoke of.  It contains a number of parables teaching us aspects of the kingdom of God (v11).  The key parable is the parable of the sower.  The seed represents the word of God, which is heard by people.   But what will the people do when they hear the word of God?  In this respect we are like Zedekiah, who also had a choice as to whether to listen to the word of God.  And what will we do? Will we ignore it, enjoy it for a bit or make it a lifelong choice.  Let us make no mistake.  The kingdom of God is coming. God will ensure that it does.  It has already started.  The parable of the growing seed (v26-29) only occurs in Mark’s gospel.  The kingdom is slowly coming – so slowly that we are not able to see the changes.  But it is coming. One day we will wake up and it will be there.  Let us get ready for it.  We must not be like Zedekiah who ignored it.  Or Solomon who started well but ended badly.  We are wise if we follow the word of God to the end and produce fruit to the end. August

August 10th.

Solomon continues to demonstrate his wisdom in 1Kings4 by those he chose as his chief officials, for example, those in verse 5 are the sons of Nathan the prophet, so they had a good background. This has to be a lesson for us when we choose brothers to be elders in our community, those with a good spiritual background are more likely to serve us better. It is not always the case, Eli’s sons, for example, were not good examples; however, like Solomon, we have to choose wisely. When Solomon asked for wisdom (1Ki3:9) he was thinking about others first, he was unselfish and certainly put God first and God gave him his request, verse 29-34. Solomon used his wisdom in the right way and no doubt praised God for the wonders of his creation! Solomon was a wealthy man, but he shared what he had, verse 27, another lesson for us. Whether we are wealthy or not, we have to share what God has given us. Like his father David, Solomon credited all of the achievements in Israel to God (1Ki3:3) and God granted him and the people peace and security, verse 24-25 and the people were “happy”, verse 20. Solomon was able to prepare the material for the building of the temple, 1Kings5, and with his God given wisdom there was cooperation between Solomon and Hiram, verse 12. How we deal with others always has a lasting impact, we have seen examples of how bad things generated more bad things, but here we have a good thing, verse 1. David set a good example to Hiram and future generations benefited, another lesson for us to always set good godly examples. Jeremiah 31 is a great picture of future hope when God promised that despite the rebellion of his people, he would “build them up again”, verse 4. There is always hope because of the love of God, verse 3. God is always just and he will discipline those who continually reject his ways, for example, Jer30:11, but he will restore, Jer30:17. We need to try and remember at all times that there is always this hope and as God says in Jeremiah 31:16 we will have cause to suffer now and to weep, but we should try to look to the future when our faithfulness is rewarded. God will turn our suffering into joy, verse 13. There was distress in Bethlehem after Jesus was born when the king Herod killed all the boys under 2 years old and this verse in Jeremiah 31:15 was quoted by Matthew (2:17-18). There has always been suffering, there always will be until Jesus comes back, so we are encouraged to always look forward to that time of joy that will come as God promised. God promised Solomon that his son would build the temple and that there would be a time of joy when that happened, so because God’s promises have come true before we are confident that they will come true again. Jeremiah was pleased with the message from God re the return of the Jews to the land, verse 26, so we should be pleased with the message that Jesus will return and set up the kingdom for ever, verse 31-34! These verses will ultimately be fulfilled when Jesus comes back. Mark 5 tells us about 3 healings of Jesus, the first one, verses 1-20 is a very dramatic one when the man with a mental illness was healed, he probably was what we call a schizophrenic today so Jesus needed to demonstrate that the illness had gone by the demonstration of the pigs drowning in the lake. It also demonstrates that Jesus has the power to heal whatever the problem, whether physical or mental. The woman who was constantly bleeding for 12 years, verse 25-29, showed a tremendous faith, she already knew how powerful Jesus was and knew that all she had to do was to touch his clothes, probably the hem of his robe. Jesus wanted to speak to and encourage her too and to remove the stigma of being “unclean” according to the law, so he asked who had touched him, verse 32-34. Jesus wanted to also encourage her as he did with the man who was mentally ill. Jesus and his father are interested in us as individuals, they know that we are suffering and will do the right thing for us at the time. We may not always understand why things happen, and the 3rd healing would have had this upset and confusion about it. Jairus had asked Jesus for help to heal his daughter, verse 22-24. He would have been very concerned and upset when Jesus was delayed by the woman who was bleeding, this delay may have contributed to his daughter’s death, verse 35. But Jesus said, “just believe”, verse 36. Jesus teaches us another lesson here. For those who are going to be raised Jesus describes their death as “asleep”, verse 39, this conveys the strong message that it is temporary and if someone is ill it is often the case that when they sleep they will wake up feeling better. Jesus brings this girl back to life, verse 42, again demonstrating his power and his love. His real concern for individuals is demonstrated in the last verse, 43, in his protection of the girl who would otherwise have become a unwilling focal point for people who learnt about this miracle. So to bring the lessons together, Solomon demonstrated that with wisdom from God there can be joy and happiness, Jeremiah’s message was of hope, yes we would suffer the consequences of our sins/mistakes, but God will never leave us – we have been promised a future in the kingdom, Jesus demonstrates individual attention to all those who have a trust and believe in him and in his father. All this should help us as we go through our different levels of suffering which is temporary and if our suffering results in death, that too is temporary, Jesus sees it as a “sleep”! August

August 11th.

In 1Kings 6 we have the account of Solomon building the Temple. It was a wonderful structure and we have a lot of detail here about how it looked. But the way that it was built and the amount of money that was used show the character and dedication of Solomon and this is where we can learn lessons from, in the things that we do for God. Solomon was dedicated and spared no expense in his service to God, and it took 7 years to complete, verse 38. Before we look at some practical examples we need to put all this into perspective. God was happy that the temple was built because it was a recognition of service to God, but the more important thing was the individual’s attitude, verse 12-13. God requires all of his children to “follow his decrees”, “carry out regulations”, “keep all his commands” and “to obey them” then God will do what he has promised. This is what God is looking for in us, we will not be able to achieve all this because of our natural sinfulness, but we should be aiming for this, and also relying on God’s mercy because we are saved by Jesus. Our attitude has to be one of respect for God and trying to obey him and all the other things that we do, like Solomon building the temple, have to demonstrate this same respect. Notice that the stones used to make the temple were cut in the quarry, verse 7, not on the building site. This demonstrates Solomon’s respect for God and a realisation that what he was building was a quiet place of prayer so he kept the place quiet. This would have had an impact on those working there too and they would have tried to be quiet as they worked. Another lesson to consider is the amount of gold that was used, everything inside was covered in gold, verse 28-35; this must have looked spectacular with the light reflecting on it all, including the golden tabernacle articles that were moved in on completion. There was no expense spared in creating a place that reflected, as best as man could, the glory of God! So do we do our best for the things we do for God? The wonderful picture that we have of Solomon building the temple is contrasted so much in Jeremiah 32 because all of this would be completely destroyed, all that work and care would be ruined and all the last remnants of the gold in the temple would be removed all because the people did not “follow his decrees”, “carry out regulations”, “keep all his commands” and “obey them”, verse 23 and 32. God did what he said he would do if the people rebelled against him, this is a warning to us too, if we do not repent and try our best to follow Jesus’ example we too may risk the promise that God has given to us. Jeremiah’s prayer, verse 17-25 is a good example of a prayer for us too. He starts with a recognition of God’s power, how he created the world and then saved the Jews from Egypt and brought them into a good land with plenty. Then Jeremiah acknowledges that the people sinned so much and that they rightly deserved punishment, and then he gets to the point of his prayer to ask about the seemingly odd request to buy land. Again this prayer shows the same respect that Solomon showed to God in the building of the temple. God always provides a hope to those who really love him, no matter how bad the collective sin is, verse 37-44. So Jeremiah’s purchase of the land was a picture, or parable, that the Jews would return to Israel and again buy and sell in the land. God always fulfils his promises. When we get to Mark 6 we see that Jesus was also rejected by his wider family just as Jeremiah was (Jeremiah 26), verse 4-6 and it is so sad that even those who should know better reject the message from God! When Jesus sent out the disciples to preach “two by two”, verse 6, he gave them instructions on what to do and they started by telling people to “repent”, verse 12, this is the important message for all of us, we all need to change and repent! The way that Jesus sent out the disciples is a good lesson for us and one that we should try and take his advice from too, so when we go out to preach we should go with another brother or sister. The account of how John the Baptist was beheaded is interesting for us too. John the baptised rightly criticised Herod for marrying his brother’s wife, 17-18. Herodias was not happy, verse 19-20 and she wanted John killed, but Herod protected him. Neither Herod nor Herodias were godly people, but nevertheless we can learn from how they responded. Herodias “bore a grudge” against John that ended in John’s death – we need to be careful that we do not bear grudges against a brother or sister, or anyone else for that matter, because it can take over our thoughts and it too could end in disaster. We should forgive when someone has wronged us. Herod was like many of Israel’s leaders in that he was more interested in his own personal gain and standing rather than interested in God – he knew that John was a “righteous and holy man”, but he did not respect his teachings and what he was. He was also very foolish when he made a very unwise promise to his step daughter, verse 22-23. The girl’s response was not what Herod expected, verse 24-28, so as not to look weak before his guests he had to carry out his promise! This is why Herod felt very guilty for what he had done and as a result he mistakenly believed that Jesus was a resurrected John the Baptist, verse 16. Again we are reminded that there are consequences to all of our actions! Jesus knows our needs, the biggest need that we have is the forgiveness of our sins and the eventual removal of our human nature. The feeding of the 5,000 demonstrates Jesus’ compassion, verse 34, he would have taught about salvation, the kingdom, repentance and how to live godly lives but he was also concerned about their food for that day too and provided for them, verse 42-44. But the main purpose of this miracle was for the benefit of his disciples, see John 6:6, they failed the test, Mark6:52. Even though they were following Jesus they were still not sure about their faith in him and this is another lesson for us. If we are trying our best to follow Jesus we can have faith in him, he knows what is happening in our lives, sometimes we struggle as the disciples were here, verse 47-48, but Jesus is close to us as he was here, verse 49. The disciples wrongly thought he was a ghost, verse 50. However, Jesus responded and there was calm, verse 51-52. Things may not happen as we expect, sometimes our expectations are not what God and Jesus want for us but what we can be sure about is that both God and Jesus are close to us to encourage us to the kingdom, and because of this we can be calm! August

August 12th.

Solomon spent 13 years building the ‘palace of the Forest of Lebanon’ (1 Kings 7:1).  The palace was the place of justice (verse 7) where Solomon sat to judge the most difficult cases in the land.  This palace got its name because it looked a bit like a forest, because there were four rows of cedar columns.  The palace itself was presumably at Jerusalem.  We note that there is no description of gold or silver in the palace, as there was in God’s temple  – just wood and stone.  Most of 1 Kings 7 are descriptions of items to go into the Lord’s temple.  We note that the key builder was someone from Tyre, a Gentile city.  It is significant that a Gentile (half-Gentile actually) played a critical part in the building.  We know that Gentiles will be included in the future temple building of God  – the one made out of people (1 Corinthians 3:16).  The temple built in Solomon’s time was much more ornate than the original Tabernacle. There was more furniture.  There were two special pillars at the front, the laver was now a large ‘sea’ and there were ten moveable stands of bronze.  The pillars and the laver were not in the original Tabernacle.  The movable stands were used for washing the animals used for burnt offerings (2 Chronicles 4:6).  This means that the washing of animals and priests were segregated in temple worship. The stands were unusual because they had wheels and had patterns of palm trees, cherubim, lions and bulls on them.  This reminds us of the cherubim in Ezekiel 1.  What is clear is that God was very particular about what was drawn on His temple.  In Ezekiel 8:10, we are told about other drawings of animals that were later added and God was displeased with this.   Palm trees remind us of the righteous (Psalm 92:12).   Cherubim reminds us of heavenly men.   Lions remind us of God’s kingship and bulls remind us of God’s strength.  We note that the temple had a number of other plants also not found in the original Tabernacle.  There were lilies, gourds and pomegranates. The presence of the animals and plants remind us of the Garden of Eden where man was in fellowship with God.  This is the purpose of the temple.  It was a place where man and God could be in fellowship.  The time of Jeremiah was a contrast with Solomon’s time.  The time of Solomon was the start of the temple whereas Jeremiah describes its destruction.  This was not what God wanted, but it had to be that way because the people had turned bad.   Jeremiah 33 makes a great contrast.  God was the creator and maker of the earth (verse 2) but now He was going to kill His people (verse 5).  The royal palaces that were in Jerusalem, like Solomon’s, would be pulled down (verse 4).   Yet Jeremiah 33 is a lovely chapter.  God did not want to do what He had to do, but He spoke of a time where He would again be happy with His people in the land.  In order to do this, God would have to heal His people (verse 6) and cleanse them of their sins (verse 8).  The result would be joy and peace (verse 6) and Jerusalem would become the praise of the earth (verse 9).  There is a picture of joy, where the people are truly thankful to God for what He has done (verse 11).  There would be a king from the line of David and the promises to Abraham and David would be fulfilled (verse 26).  When this happens, the city Jerusalem would take on a new name.  It would be called ‘The Lord our Righteousness’ (verse 16).  In other words, the city will be known by the God who lives there, and by the righteousness found there.  This is confirmed by the name of the city given at the end of Ezekiel, ‘The Lord is there’ (Ezekiel 48:35).  What a place this will be!  The people who live there will be really really blessed.  Jesus was a man who brought healing and cleansed the people of their sins.  We read this in Mark 7.  Jesus was the one who would bring about the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham and David.  Jesus will bring about the future time spoken in Jeremiah 33.  In Mark 7 we have a debate about what is meant by ‘clean.’  The Pharisees argued that you needed to wash your hands before eating to be clean.  In contrast, Jesus argued that you needed to keep God’s commands in order to be clean.  Jesus also pointed out that the Pharisees had prevented the people becoming clean because they actually taught not to keep some of the commands of God.  The people needed to focus on getting their heart right if they wanted to be clean.  It is the heart that can make them unclean because all sorts of evil comes out of it (verse 20-23).  We can imagine that a similar thing had happened in Jeremiah’s day.  The people in those days were also focused on the outward keeping of the law, but in reality their hearts were not right with God and they produced much sin from their hearts.  The account in Mark 7 then tells us about a Gentile (verses 24-30).  The Pharisees would have said she was unclean because she was a Gentile. Yet she showed that her heart was right in an act of humility and faith.  She knew she did not deserve the benefits of God’s people.  But then she had the faith and humility that are features of God’s true people.  And so Jesus healed her daughter. This was a foretaste of the healing of the Gentiles that Jesus would do in the future.  Mark 7 introduces us to another person that would have been considered unclean.  A man who was deaf and could barely talk (verses 31-37).  His sickness would have been considered evidence of sin by the Pharisees. We note that it took place in Decapolis which was a Gentile area.  Was this another Gentile that Jesus healed?  In this case, the man was healed because of the faith of his companions.  We are thankful that faith and humility is recognised by God and Jesus, no matter what our nationality.  They recognise whether our heart is right regardless of race. Providing our heart is right, we will enjoy the blessings of Jeremiah 33.  We will be part of that spiritual temple made of believers in which we will have fellowship with God.  Thanks be to God for such a great hope! August

August 13th.

After the magnificent temple was completed, Solomon now brings the ark to the new place in 1 Kings 8.  God was obviously pleased that this had taken place as the “glory of the Lord filled the temple”, verse 10-11. There is complete respect by Solomon and the people for the thing that they were doing, demonstrated by the sacrifices that they made as the ark was being moved, verse 3-5. This same respect is shown to his father David as Solomon recognised the significance of everything that he was doing, verse 14-21. He recognised the significance of the ark and it symbolising the presence of God with them. The prayer of Solomon as he dedicated the temple has some reminder lessons for us today. Solomon prays that he and the people will “continue wholeheartedly in God’s way”, verse 23, this means that we have to try our best to do what God wants us to, it is a promise that we made when we were baptised. Solomon acknowledges that God’s favour and his own promise is conditional, verse 25, it means that God will ensure that the kingdom of Israel will continue if they obey. Solomon also acknowledges that mistakes and sins happen but he knows that he and the people have to repent, verse 33, 35 and 48, because he knows that no one is perfect, verse 46. Repentance is important for us too, we all sin, we must try not to, but when we do we must recognise that we have sinned and repent, ie change what we have been doing and go in the opposite direction. Then God will forgive, 39 and 50. Solomon ensured that all the people heard the important lessons in verses 56 – 61, he recognised that God kept his promises (56), he said that God would help with us repenting (58) but he reminds us all what our attitude should be (61). Our hearts must be “fully committed” to God and we must “live by and obey his commands”. Sadly the Jews did not and Jeremiah continues with the consequences of this rebellion and breaking the contract that they (and we) have made with God, verse 17-20. This “passing between the pieces of calf” is a contract – it first happened in Gen 15 and was a contract or covenant with God. If we try our best to follow God then he will do what he has promised, if we fail to obey him he will carry out his punishment. Solomon said that the people should be “wholehearted” and this example in Jeremiah shows us what “half-hearted” means. They agreed to follow God’s commands and free their fellow Jews who had become temporary slaves to their countrymen, the law allowed for this but they should all be made free after 6 years, verse 14. However, after the people setting them free they then made them slaves again, verse 11. They had repented, verse 15 but God was not happy that they changed their minds again, verse 16. They “profaned” the name of God, ie they had no respect and God punished them further, verse 17. God showed them a different freedom. In yesterday’s reading there was the important verses pointing towards the promise of Jesus, Jeremiah 33:15-16 and thank God we do have Jesus because of our continued sinning we can have forgiveness in Jesus who is our only hope.  Yes we should try, but we do fail, but the same godly rules apply and when we repent we are forgiven. Mark 8 reminds us how forgetful we are and how often we forget the good things that have been done for us, eg the disciples, verse 17-21 – we need the reminders of Jesus to help us to remember, we get these reminders by reading, discussing and praying. Jesus tells the disciples and the crowd that they need to change their lives if they want to follow Jesus, verse 34-38. As Solomon said in his prayer, we must change our natural way of life and put God first, we basically have to change the way that we naturally live our lives, because we will lose it anyway when we die, but if we change our lives and dedicate it to Jesus then we will save our life when we are resurrected. The point that Jesus is making here is what is the point in living our lives now to gain as much as we can, whether this is money or power or land without God and Jesus in our lives and then lose their opportunity when Jesus comes back. Our only hope is in Jesus so we need to act like Jesus and try and be honest and godly in everything that we do. One of the problems with the people that we have read about in the old Testament was that they pretended and they also tried to do the things that people around them did in eg their worship, I think what Jesus is saying here is do not do that. If we are “ashamed” or reject God’s and Jesus’ words now and pretend, then when Jesus comes back he will be “ashamed” of us. We have a wonderful promise and a wonderful future so let us be wholehearted in the way that we follow both God and Jesus. August

August 14th

We are so reliant on God’s grace, it means that we can have forgiveness and a promised life in God’s kingdom even though we do not deserve it. The amount of grace that God gives to us is demonstrated by the death and then the resurrection of Jesus.  We are so thankful for this, because without this grace we do not have a hope, because we are so sinful and need to always repent. God remains the same, however, and because of grace he expects us to try our best to obey him and this is made clear yet again in God’s response to Solomon’s prayer. God keeps on repeating these lessons and makes it clear that his grace and mercy does demand a response from us, otherwise there are consequences. 1 Kings 9 verse 4-5 God is clear that “if” Solomon and his descendants “walk in God’s ways” then they will be blessed, in Solomon’s case with a descendant on the throne and in our case with a place in the kingdom. However, if “you or your sons turn away”, verse 6-9 then God will “cut off” the descendants and the people from the land all “because they have forsaken the Lord”. Sadly this is exactly what happened as we are continuing to read in Jeremiah which is telling us how they were “cut off” and Jerusalem destroyed. The lesson that we immediately see is that human beings so easily reject God, which is why we need the reminders all the time and which is why we need Jesus. Solomon’s power grew and at this stage Solomon walked with God, but he too allowed his wealth to come between himself and God. In Jeremiah 35 we have a lesson in the example of the Recabites who God used as a living example to the other people who had rebelled against him. The Recabites stuck to the principles of their family, verse 6-11. They never drank alcohol, they did not own land or house and all the descendants stuck to this principle. God did not demand that they do this, but they decided that this was the right thing to do and they stuck to it and God uses this good example to contrast with the Jews who rebelled against the all-powerful God. God wanted them and us to learn a lesson from the Recabites, verse 13. Verse 14-17 says multiple times that the people failed to listen to him, despite God sending prophets many times to get them to repent, verse 14-15 and 17. This is a big lesson for us, not that God does not want us to have fields and homes but we need to live as if we do not have them, in other words we must not rely on our homes and fields more than we rely on God, we have to keep them in perspective. Also we need to learn that we have committed ourselves to God and promised to follow and obey him, therefore the lesson from the Recabites is that we should have the same commitment to the promise that we made when we were baptised. It is interesting that the Olympics started in 8th BC, therefore they were around during part of O/T and all of the N/T. Paul uses an example in 1 Corinthians 9 verse 24-27, where the emphasis is on only 1 person who can get the winner’s prize, which was a garland that was “corruptible”, but we can get the lessons from the preparation and self-sacrifices that the athletes made otherwise no one can win. But in the race for life all are winners and receive a non-corruptible crown, ie life – this does not fade away! Think about the ambitious athlete, he or she was “treating their body harshly” and letting nothing get in the way before the race day. In Mark 9 verse 43- 50, Jesus picks up on this harsh treatment of the body to stop things getting in the way of the kingdom! The “hell” here is Gehenna that was the rubbish dump around Jerusalem that always burnt. Mark 10 tomorrow is a more practical example for us rather than actually cutting off bits of our body, verse 22, he was rich, but Jesus said in 21 to sell all and donate, ie the equivalent to his eye or hand as this was stopping him getting to the kingdom. We therefore all have to identify the obstacles that get in the way to the kingdom, eg work, friendships, etc. Psalm 50 verse 5, this talks about those godly people who sacrificed aspects of their lives so that they would always serve God, just like the athlete. Paul in Romans 12, talks about a living sacrifice, ie describing a baptised person who stops doing things that take them away from God. This is exactly what the Recabites did. In Mark 9 we also read of the disciples arguing amongst themselves as to who was the greatest, verse 33-37. Why they were doing this is as a consequence of human pride, the disciples should have been humble in all that they did, not trying to say that one was better than the other. The only leader that we have is Jesus, so all of us are equal in the way that we should view each other, we have to put others before ourselves. The demonstration that Jesus showed in the child is how we should welcome anyone, we should care and look after and not think that we are greater! Jesus is so concerned that we do not cause each other to sin that he gave us that very drastic set of actions that we should be thinking about when we think about how we sin. This is clearly not intended to be literal, but it shows just how bad we should view sin and just how much we should work at preventing it – maybe the Recabites thought that having land and homes was a trigger for pride, drink would have made their minds fuzzy, so they decided to abstain. The disciples perhaps became proud over the things that they were involved in and therefore sinned, so Jesus is saying if you steal, for example, then you should take drastic action to stop, if you walk into sins, eg a drinking place to get drunk, then you need to take drastic actions to stop; if you keep looking at other things or people to lust, then you should take drastic actions to stop looking! The point that Jesus appears to be making is that if you continue doing these bad things then you will end up being destroyed, you will forfeit the life in the kingdom we have been promised. So we should do our very best to change so that we can be part of this promised life. God wants us to be in the kingdom so he has given us so many warnings to try and change and to act more like Jesus in everything that we do. August.

August 15th

In today’s first reading, 1Kings10,  we have Solomon the king showing and sharing his wisdom from God and the things that he had – he obviously gave credit to God for these because the Queen of Sheba acknowledged and praised God, 1 and 9. She also saw that because Solomon was godly and happy, those who worked for him were also happy, verse 8. This is a lesson for us too – that if we are also godly and trust and are doing our best we can be happy and also this happiness will be passed onto others as well. The chapter also tells us just how much wealth Solomon had and because Solomon asked God for wisdom above everything else, then God blessed Solomon with these things so that the whole nation, God’s people, benefited and were happy! At this stage Solomon used this great reputation and wealth well. However when we get to Jeremiah 36 the king of God’s people had complete disregard for God and the things that he stood for.  He had so much contempt towards God that he actually burnt the things that he was being told, verse 23-25, he in fact tried to capture Jeremiah and Baruch, verse 26. Not only did God protect them he very much noticed what the king had done, verse 30-31. The “wickedness” that God refers to here appears to include the complete contempt that the king and his officials had for God and his commands. Clearly we have to listen to what God wants, we have to respect and we have to try and do what he says. It is clear that we have to make the effort to follow God. God knows that we find it hard and that we need reminding which is why he kept sending Jeremiah to remind the people; the whole point of these reminders was to try and get the people to repent, verse 3.  This demonstrates God’s patience and even at this late stage God would forgive and not bring about the punishment that he had promised. God repeats this again in verse 7 – he wants them to turn from their wicked ways. The unfortunate thing was that the people were pretending – they were coming to the temple, verse 6, so they were still appearing to worship God, but it was clear that they were not serious, and now this has to be a lesson and a warning for us too. We have to respect God and what he says, the writing of all of Jeremiah’s warnings took at least 1 year, started in 4th year of Jekoiakim, verse 1, and completed in 5th year, verse 9, so this is the same as the whole Bible for us, we have to respect and try to do what it says. Jeremiah and Baruch certainly respected God’s words, it was an effort for them to complete this work, some of the people respected it because they willingly went into captivity and some of the religious officials respected it, verse 11-15 and 25. We should do too.  Solomon did at the stage in his life that we are reading about and he passed on that respect to his fellow countrymen and on to the Queen of Sheba. Our 3rd reading in Mark 10 gives Jesus’ teachings on some very human problems that we all come across, if not experience, and which if the kings that we have just read about had followed, would have helped them remain godly. Divorce or taking additional wives, or husbands if a woman, is something that we all come across. Jesus is clear what the Bible teaching is, verse 6-9, a man must only have one wife, likewise the woman must only have one husband, when each are “joined” they are one flesh and they should not be “separated”. That is the ideal, so that is what we should be trying to aim for. Jesus reminded them that it was only because of their “hard hearts” that in the law of Moses there was a possibility of divorce (Dt24:1-4), verse 4-5, so we too should be trying to obey God and to take marriage seriously. Marriage is used by God as a pattern within the Bible to show his people and to also show Jesus as the husband; and the church is represented by the wife – this is a serious pattern in the Bible. Jesus makes this plain to the disciples later, verse 10-12 – clearly if someone divorces his wife or marries an extra one, he commits adultery. The rich young man in verse 17 asks how he can “inherit eternal life” and Jesus answers with the list in verses 21, and this man achieved all of these. But Jesus identified something in his life that was preventing him from following, he trusted in his wealth, verse 21-22. Now it is important to remember that the disciples, who had left everything to follow Jesus (28), also were surprised by Jesus’ reply because they asked “how could anyone be saved”, verse 24 and 26. Jesus acknowledged that this was impossible without God, verse 27. The lesson here is that we should have the right priorities in our lives, our trust should be in God and not in anything else that may replace him. Our priority should always be the Kingdom, verse 29-31. The interesting account in this chapter is that the blind man Bartimaeus, verses 46-52, had nothing and what he did have he threw away to follow Jesus, verse 50, our attitude should be like this in that he put Jesus first! We are not asked to get rid of everything, because Solomon obviously had wealth, but we must not trust in it and we must also share what we have. The other lesson in this chapter is what we get from the request of James and John, verse 37. Firstly Jesus says that it is not his to give, verse 40 and secondly he taught that all the disciples and we too should be servants, verse 42-45, we should not be wanting “special” places, neither should we be jealous of those who are given “special” places but we should all be “servants”. We should all remember too that our requests or our actions can have a detrimental impact on others, verse 41. Maybe James and John’s request was godly, but it caused a rift between their fellow disciples. The lessons in today’s readings are respect, trust and follow Jesus, because Jesus has died for us, verse 33-34 and his resurrection means that if we trust and try our best, we have this wonderful promised life. August.

August 16th.

It is a very sad reading for us today in 1Kings11, sadly Solomon did all the things wrong that God warned about in Deuteronomy 17:14-20. It is very telling that the things that led Solomon astray were the human things that he accumulated to demonstrate his domination and wealth, he allowed these things to come between him and God, verse 1-8. Despite the wisdom that he had asked for he did not use it all for the right things and the things that he did were described as “evil”, verse 6, and the warning/lesson that we get for ourselves from this is that Solomon did not “fully devote” himself to God, verse 4. We should try to be “fully devoted” to God and all his ways, if we are not we too will turn away and do evil and not “keep the lord’s commands” which will make God angry with us as he was with Solomon, verse 9-11. God appeared to Solomon twice and despite this he still turned away and had the wrong “attitude” and did not keep God’s commands. There were consequences and God raised up adversaries who opposed Solomon, verses 14, 23 and 27. Solomon’s wrong attitude also caused him to go against what God had said too in that he tried to kill Jeroboam after he had learned that Jeroboam was to take Israel from Solomon’s family line, verse 40. This is quite a human move for Solomon in that he was trying to change what God had said would happen and this is not possible. Solomon turned from God and there were consequences, Solomon’s kingdom would be split up. One of the lessons that Solomon forgot was pride, Deut17:20 tells a king, or anyone in a responsible position, that they are not to consider themselves as being above their fellow people, Solomon became proud and he sinned. Pride and arrogance affected king Zedekiah, the last king of Judah, in Jeremiah 37 he “paid no attention” to what Jeremiah said, verse 2. He also had the wrong attitude because even though he did not listen to Jeremiah and therefore God, he still expected Jeremiah to pray for him and Jerusalem, verse 3. He also helped Jeremiah at the end of the chapter, verse 21, perhaps trying to change the outcome that God had said would happen, but like in Solomon’s case it was too late. King Zedekiah and the people just did as they pleased, but still expected God to help, Solomon did what he pleased at the end of his life and was disappointed that the kingdom would be torn from his family. The big lessons are that we have to respect God and everything that he says. In the Kings reading today and in recent Jeremiah readings God promised that for David’s sake he would not totally cut off Judah and Israel for ever and the promise of Jesus’ return is the main part of this promise. In Mark 11 we have the people welcoming Jesus as king, verse 9-10, it was not part of God’s plan that this would happen then as Jesus would be killed and then resurrected so that all of us today can benefit. It is sad though that the religious leaders of Israel were still rebelling against God despite all that he had done for them in the past, they had not learned from the lessons in their history or from the prophets like Jeremiah. Jesus visited the temple, verse 11 and saw all of the bad things that were going on there. Because it was late during that visit he returned the following day, verse 15-17 and totally cleared the temple area. The people had the wrong attitude – they were making money out of their worship of God, they were pretending, just as we have seen in Jeremiah and in Kings. This is not what God wants, we are not to be “making” out of our Christian worship, whether this is money or power, it is clearly wrong and Jesus rebukes the people at “thieves”. This is such an obvious lesson for us too, we should not be accused as “thieves” by Jesus! Jesus condemned the leaders too for not leading the people in the right way.  This is displayed in the account of the fig tree, verse 12-14. The fig tree is often used as a symbol of the Jews in the Bible and Jesus was looking for fruit, ie good works, and he found nothing so he said to the tree that no one would find fruit on it again. Verse 20-21 is a graphic demonstration that there is an end to the fig tree, symbolising the end of the Jewish religion being replaced by Jesus. God remains the same, however, and the lessons are still relevant for us today, we have to follow God, as did Jesus, we will fail, but remaining faithful to Jesus and to God will bring us to the kingdom, verse 22-25. We have forgiveness from God, therefore we have to forgive those who sin against us! August

August 17th.

1Kings12 tells us how Israel was split into 2, ie Judah and Israel. Solomon’s son, Rehoboam, was the king of Judah (2 tribes Judah and Benjamin) and Jeroboam became the king of Israel (10 tribes). From now on in the history of the kings all Israel’s kings were bad and ungodly, only some of Judah’s kings were godly, we can take lessons from all of them. In this chapter we see Jeroboam immediately rejecting God’s advice given in 1Kings11:38.  He created other places of worship at Bethel and Dan, verse 28-33 and by doing this he “caused Israel to sin”; we will read this phrase a lot as we progress through Kings. Jeroboam disobeyed and rejected God. A lesson for us is from the reasons that Jeroboam gives for creating false gods, verse 26, shows that he was worried about losing his power if the people went to worship at Jerusalem in Judah. Also verse 28 indicates that he found it too great a commitment to go to Jerusalem to worship, so he changed what God wanted to make it easier for himself. We should also be careful not to change things just to make life easier, we need to always be sure of what God wants us to do and to work with each other to do the right things. God was very critical of Jeroboam’s actions. The split of the kingdom was as a consequence of Solomon’s actions in turning away from God, this is confirmed for us in verse 15. Rehoboam, Solomon’s son, showed his pride by trying to make the tasks harder for the people of Israel, verse 12-14, he had listened to the unwise advise of the younger advisors, however we do see God working through his pride. His mistake did bring out humility and he did listen to God in verse 22-24 and not attack their brothers in Israel. This is the sad split of the great kingdom of Israel, all because the people did not listen to and obey God. Zedekiah became the last king of Judah and Jeremiah 38 shows how weak he had become and how he still did not listen to Jeremiah and God’s words, he did not stand up to his officials who wanted to kill Jeremiah, verse 4-5 and neither did he want them to know that he had spoken to Jeremiah, verse 24-26. On the other hand Ebed-Melech helped and cared for Jeremiah, verse 7 and 12. He went out of his way to show kindness, he probably put his own life at risk in doing so, but he was willing to give it to help others, he was not only interested in his own safety and prosperity. Jeremiah suffered for doing God’s work, in this chapter we read that he was put in a cistern, verse 6, this, I think is a pit latrine! God uses the actions of others to bring about his purpose, Ebed-Melech rescued Jeremiah and Rehoboam’s actions triggered the split of Israel. Mark 12 starts with the parable of the Tenants, verse 1-11 and is a picture of how God (the land owner), sent servants (the prophets) to the tenants (the kings, priests and people of Israel) to collect the fruit (godly works). We read how these prophets were mistreated (like Jeremiah) and killed and how they did not respect and eventually killed his son (Jesus) and the owner (God) kills those tenants (Jews) and gives the land to others (followers of Jesus). This is a dramatic summary of all that we have been reading about in the Old Testament so far and makes the message that we have real for us because we have been given the opportunity to obey God and accept Jesus! The Jewish leaders were only interested in trying to trick Jesus and to make fun of the resurrection, they were rebelling against God. The biggest lesson that we can learn is what Jesus said to one of the teachers of the law who asked a question, verse 28, Jesus said to “love God with all heart, soul, mind and strength” and to also love your neighbour, verse 29-31. Jesus is reemphasising that we have to always do our best, we cannot pretend as Jeroboam did by setting up false gods or as Zedekiah did by secretly speaking to Jeremiah, we have to openly love God and set good examples by acting like Jesus and loving our neighbour. Christianity is not about pride and power as the Pharisees were trying to obtain, verse 38-40 – we need to be careful too, otherwise we risk being “punished most severely” too. Christianity is about giving all that we have like the widow’s offering, verse 41-44. The rich who gave money still had plenty, but the widow gave her last shilling to God, she showed trust, she showed faith, she gave everything to God – she had the right attitude. This is loving God with all of her heart, soul, mind and strength and loving her neighbour as herself! She was not asked to give, she voluntarily gave to God. So what do others see in us? Do they see the widow who gave everything? Or do they see the pretend Christian who likes to be greeted in the market place and likes the important seats? August.

August 18th.

The word of the Lord is truly wonderful. The words come from God and are given to mankind for one reason. .salvation. “The word of the Lord” is mentioned many times in our first reading  1 Kings 13  and we can see how each individual reacted to that word.. JEROBOAM – By the word of the Lord Jeroboam was told that God had chosen him to be king because of the disobedience and idolatry of Solomon (1Kings11). But Jeroboam was also disobedient to that word, and created his own “gods” (1Kings12). In today’s chapter God is reminding Jeroboam that the Lord God rules in the kingdoms of men, both in the now and in the future (even eternity) and Jeroboam had no authority except that given him by God. Jeroboam’s response was only selfish, he had no thoughts for God, all he wanted was his stricken hand to be restored, no confession , no wish for forgiveness , no turning from his evil way,… compare with the spirit of David In Psalm 51 !! Which spirit do we have,  David or Jeroboam ?     “A MAN OF GOD” (v1) Another man chosen of God, sent to a hostile land and king, to proclaim God’s word. He was faithful to that word when facing Jeroboam, but was not faithful when he was “resting” and believing his task had been done. Maybe, because of hunger and thirst the false prophet’s words were more attractive than the word of the Lord, and so he believed in a lie. We too must be on our guard, there are false prophets, we need to “test the spirits”, and above all we must never, never,  justify  disobedience.    OLD PROPHET   it would seem that he believed that the Lord had worked through the man of God and he wanted to hear more of that word. He even told a lie in order to hear more of that word. Why didn’t he say “Can I stay with you to hear more of God’s word ? “ I believe the old prophet wanted to hear, but not to follow.. he was seeking academic knowledge instead of seeking to be changed  by that word. Do we just read the word of the Lord ? Far better to listen to that word and be  “ transformed by the renewing of your mind” Rom 12:1-2. 2nd reading Jeremiah 39: Everything that God said through Jeremiah happened exactly as He said it would. When God tells us what will happen in the future, He means it, and it will happen whether mankind likes it or not. This theme is there from the beginning in Genesis 1  “and God said…and it was so “. The world is in turmoil, with no vision and very little hope, but the Lord has promised us a righteous, just king. And He has left us in no doubt who that is. JESUS. We can listen to Jesus.. what a good reason to give thanks to God for His word. In Mark 13:4 four of the disciples asked Jesus “ Tell us, when will these things happen ?” Jesus prophesies many events , and some have already happened. He leaves us in no doubt, He will return to rule the world with peace and justice. However, He does not tell us WHEN. Instead of being concerned with “when”, Jesus’ concern is that we are ready when He comes. Verse 5: “ watch out that no-one deceives you” v 21-23 “false Christs and false prophets will appear .. so be on your guard” v33 “Be on your guard, be alert”   v6 “do not be alarmed” – concerning events in the world  v13 “He who stands firm to the end will be saved”. These instructions from Jesus are more important than the “signs” of His coming. Therefore, my brothers and sisters, stay faithful, be on your guard, and do not fear for the Lord is near. August.

August 19th.

In 1Kings 14 we have people pretending to do different things, but God always sees what is the truth. Jeroboam, king of Israel, asked his wife to pretend to be someone different to ask Ahijah the prophet about his sick son, verse 1-4. She did, but God knows everything, there is nothing hidden from him, there is nothing that he does not know – we have to remember this as we live our daily lives – God (and Jesus) know exactly what we are doing. God tells Ahijah to expect the wife of Jeroboam, verse 5 and when she arrives he immediately challenges her, verse 6 – “why this pretence?”. Not only did Ahijah say that their son would die, verse 12-13, he also prophesised against Jeroboam and his family because he was “evil”, verse 9 and 15-16. This is a terrible thing that Jeroboam did, causing Israel to sin.  The lesson here for us elders is that we have a massive responsibility to encourage all our brothers and sisters in the right way, ie to try to do what God wants, if we are not good examples then we can only expect God’s displeasure. The other person who pretended was Rehoboam, Solomon’s son and king of Judah, during his reign Judah also did evil and replaced God, verse 22-24. God did not protect them when the king of Egypt attacked and carried off the treasures of the temple and palace, 26. Rehoboam pretended to worship God by going to the “Lord’s temple”, verse 28, when he also worshiped in the “high places” which was part of the “detestable practices” of the nations around. God expects us to worship him with all of our heart, soul, strength and mind and not to pretend, because he knows! There were 2 examples in Jeremiah 39 of how God protected those who trusted in him and did not pretend, Jeremiah himself was actually protected by the Babylonians, verse 12-14 and also Ebed-Melech. Ebed-Melech respected God, he cared for Jeremiah and rescued him from the cistern (Jer 38) and God rewarded him, verse 16-18. In our reading for today, ie Jeremiah 40 we continue with the protection of Jeremiah because he remained loyal to God and did not pretend, verse 4-5. Yes, Jeremiah had lost everything, but he still had his life and some provisions and now freedom and he stayed with the people who were left in the land, verse 6. It would appear that the Babylonian commander knew of Jeremiah and because Jeremiah always acted in a godly way he earned respect, verse 2-3; even though he was an “enemy” Jeremiah made an impression on him such that the enemy respected God too. Lesson for us in how we live our lives, do we earn the respect of those who are not followers of God by the things that we do? There were people who “pretended” in Mark 14 too. The chief priest and teachers of the law looked for a “sly” way to kill Jesus, verse 1, but not during the feast because they feared the people may riot, verse 2, so they “pretended” to tolerate Jesus. Judas also pretended, he was one of Jesus disciples and “pretended” to be one of them, in fact he was a thief, he wanted personal gain out of his apparent support of Jesus and he betrayed him, verse 10-11. But nothing was hidden from Jesus (and God), he knew what the chief priests and teachers were doing, verse 8 and he knew what Judas was going to do, verse 18-21. Judas continued his pretence in the garden of Gethsemane by kissing Jesus in loving greeting as his sign of betrayal, verse 44-46. He also knew that Peter would disown him, verse 27-31 – despite Peter’s insistence that he would not deny Jesus he pretended not to know him, verse 66-71. The difference between Peter’s response and the others who pretended was that Peter remembered and repented, verse 72. Like Peter we all make mistakes and act in ungodly ways, the disciples did the same when they tried to resist Jesus’ arrest, verse 47, we know from the record of the same event in Matthew 26:52-54 that it was the wrong thing to do, but with the right attitude and repentance we are forgiven and we thank God that we are. So often we let Jesus down in similar ways to the disciples such as when they kept sleeping when Jesus needed their support, and in Peter’s case he needed to have been praying that he would not deny Jesus, verse 37-41. Each Sunday we should focus on what Jesus did for us to give us the confidence of forgiveness and salvation and the words in verses 22-25 must be very familiar to us.  Jesus was not pretending when he said that he would die and be resurrected and the bread and the wine help us to focus on the massive price that was paid for us so that we can be saved, if we have the right attitude. The bread is a sign of his body, and we are part of this body and we recognise that we are mortal and will sin and die without Jesus; the wine is a sign of his blood that he willingly gave for us so that we can have life – an immortal life when Jesus comes back, this is a sign of fellowship and joyfulness. So God wants honesty, he wants us to be saved and he allowed Jesus to die so that we can be saved – so there must be no way that we can pretend! August.

August 20th.

The reading in 1Kings 15 gives us more practical warnings as well as confidence. Abijah was king of Judah and he was a bad King, verse 3, his heart was “not fully devoted to God”, in other words he was pretending to be a follower, he was a hypocrite. God repeatedly warns us about pretending and we have seen so many examples in the old Testament of this, we have also seen examples from Jesus’ teaching in the new Testament too. We have to be fully committed to God and to Jesus, if we are pretending God knows. Abijah had a good example in his great grandfather to follow, but he did not, he followed his father, Rehoboam and sinned. Even though David sinned, he later understood what he had done and he repented, verse 5, there were still consequences for that sin and that in itself should be a continued warning for us, but we can have great confidence from this example because if we have the right attitude (and God knows if we do) then when we sin we can be confident of forgiveness. Acknowledgement of sin and repentance is so important and the next king, Asa, was good and part of his “goodness” involved him recognising that his father and his grandmother and Judah had sinned in what they were doing and God described him as “doing right”, verse 11-13. He saw what was wrong and changed direction, he “expelled” the male shrine prostitutes, he “got rid” of the idols and he even “deposed” his grandmother because of what she had done. This is exactly what we should be doing in our lives – correcting the things that are ungodly and wrong.  Even if we are not completely successful, we have to try, verse 14, the important part is that our hearts are “fully committed” to God. Things appeared to be going well and he was able to put some silver and gold back into the temple, verse 15. There were consequences of past mistakes by Judah, the ongoing war with Israel for one example, but Asa still tried and so must we even when we are in difficult times, we still need to respect that God is in control, even if we do not fully understand why things happen. I am always surprised why Asa did not turn to God in prayer when he felt under threat from Israel, verse 16-17, instead he turned to the king of Syria, verse 18-19, this cost him the articles from the temple – a human solution to a human problem is not ideal – another lesson for us – whenever we are in trouble we should turn to God first. Meanwhile in Israel we see 2 evil kings, verse 25-26 and 33-34, Nadab was killed along with all his family by Baasha, verse 28-29, this again being a consequence of Jeroboam, Nadab’s father, not following God, and what God said came about. Israel did not have a “royal line” and a respect of their forefathers, and therefore God, and very quickly fell into a nation that was led by men who just happened to be powerful at the time and the nation would basically do what the king said. This is a lesson for us too if we lose our godly “heritage” and do not have God’s word as our guide to always follow, so it is important that we have to try to continually do what God wants. The unhappy stage that we read about in Jeremiah 41 is yet another reminder of how bad things get when God is forgotten and when people rebel against God. The remnants of the nation of Judah was all that was left of the original unified Israel; it had fallen from the powerful position under David and then Solomon to a group of people who were basically engaged in civil war all because of sin and then God’s punishment. Maybe Ishmael thought that he had a claim to be the “leader” because he was of the royal line, verse 1, but he was ignoring what God had said would happen. Gedaliah appeared to be a good leader, he certainly respected others, he in fact defended Ishmael, (Jer40:16) as he tried to keep the people who remained in the land together. But Ishmael had no such respect for anyone, he killed Gedaliah and the Jews who were with him, verse 2-3, he tricked those who came to worship, verse 6-7, he pretended and he also showed his greed and his priorities for self-gain, verse 8 and he enslaved the people, verse 10. Even despite these barbaric, ungodly actions we see a little bit of confidence that the Bible is true because we see reference to king Asa and king Baasha in verse 9 – a cistern that Asa had built many many years before when he was fighting against Baasha. The consequences of Ishmael’s actions are then played out as Johanan set out to defeat Ishmael and his men, verse 11-15 and sadly then starts the journey back to Egypt because there were so afraid of the consequences from the Babylonians, verse 18. God brought his people out of Egypt under Moses, he made them into a great nation under David and Solomon and now because of their sin and ungodliness they were now intent on going back to Egypt. A lesson for us is to try to follow God so that we “do not go back to Egypt” which in the Bible is symbolic of death. Man’s ungodliness and corruption is again demonstrated in Mark 15, not only did the chief priests and the people want to get rid of Jesus they wanted him to die a barbaric death of crucifixion, verse 13-14. They also cruelly mocked him, verse 16-19, 20, 29 and 31-32; they even replaced his clothes, verse 20. Yes we know that this was all prophesised by God in the old Testament but nevertheless it demonstrates to us just how cruel human beings can be! They were killing the king of the Jews, the man with royal blood in him, there was no respect for David nor of God as the religious leaders condemned him to death and rejected him. Even as the Jews stooped so low as to kill God’s son there is hope recorded here, the centurion who saw all this acknowledged both God and Jesus, verse 39; the women watched and wondered, verse 40 and Joseph demonstrated his faith, verse 42-46. The amazing thing about this is that by God being compassionate in allowing Jesus to die so soon to take away his pain and suffering it also destroyed one of the possible lies that Jesus recovered in the tomb because he was not really dead when he was taken from the cross. The Centurion who would never make this mistake, confirmed that he was dead. The only man who ever lived who did not sin was killed by the cruel, ungodly religious leaders because they did not really know God, they had the wrong attitude, they were just interested in their own power and standing, they were just pretending! Thank God the story does not end here because God has the wonderful plan to save us from death and give us life in Jesus. August.

August 21st

1 Kings 16 is a sad sequence of evil kings.  The dynasty of Jeroboam had ended to be replaced by the dynasty of Baasha.  But the problem remained.  Israel was committed to following idols. In particular, the golden calves set up by Jeroboam were not removed.  Baasha was as bad as Jeroboam.  Therefore Baasha had to be removed like Jeroboam.  God sent a prophet to Baasha to tell him this (verse 1).  We notice that God was the one who set Baasha up as king (verse 2), just as He had done for Jeroboam.  Baasha and his men would be burnt like dung is burnt (verse 3 and 1 Kings 14:10).  Dogs and birds would eat their carcases, just as they did for Jeroboam (verse 4 and 1 Kings 14:11).  The person who brought this judgment on Baasha and his family was Zimri, who was in his army.  But Zimri was no better and lasted only seven days.  He was killed by the commander of the army, Omri.  Omri became king instead and established a dynasty of kings.  Omri was no better than those who went before, nor was his son Ahab.  In fact, king Ahab was the worst king there had been (verse 30).  The key factor was his marriage to Jezebel. Jezebel systematically started introducing Baal and Asherah worship across Israel in place of God.  At the same time she persecuted those who followed the one true God and killed God’s prophets.  Things had got so bad that God did not just let things happen.  He intervened.  He sent Elijah, which is the subject of the next chapter.  Jeremiah 42 continues describing the events following the defeat of the kingdom of Judah.  It records how the remaining leaders of the people wanted God’s advice.  They went to Jeremiah and asked him to ask God for them what they should do.  They made a promise to do whatever God advised them through Jeremiah.  God did not reply for 10 days.  Then he gave them an answer.  They were to stay in the land of Israel and serve the king of Babylon (verses 7-12).  If they did this then they would be blessed.  But if they chose to go to Egypt to avoid the king of Babylon, this would be a disaster for them.  The advice God gave them follows the advice of God over the centuries which was to not go back to Egypt (Deuteronomy 17:16, Isaiah 31:1).  The choice they were to make was described as a life or death choice.  Life if they remain in the land and serve Babylon, death if they went to Egypt.   It does not matter which land we serve God in today.  But we still have a life or death choice.  Do we obey God and live?  Or do we disobey which would result in our death?  It makes sense for us to choose life and obey the commands of God.  Mark 16 tells us how hard it is for people to believe in the resurrection.  Even though Jesus had spoken about the resurrection on several occasions, the disciples were not prepared for it. Even though they had seen Jesus raise the dead on several occasions, they did not think that Jesus would be raised.  The woman were not expecting Jesus to be raised.  Even when an angel told them he had risen, the women did not believe the angel (verse 8).  Mary Magdalene was given the privilage of seeing the risen Jesus first.  When she told the disciples, they did not believe (verse 11).  When two others witnessed to the resurrection of Jesus, the disciples did not believe it (verse 13).  It was only when they saw Jesus for themselves did they believe.  Not surprisingly, Jesus rebuked them for not believing in the resurrection (verse 14).  There were many others who did not believe in the resurrection – for example, the Sadducees (Mark 12:18).  We still have the same problem today. People do not understand the teaching of the resurrection.  We need to go and tell them about it.  Jesus told us all to preach about this good news (verse 15).  Our message is that death does not have to be the end, because there is a hope in life after death through the resurrection of the dead.  Let us go and tell others this good news. August

August 22nd

The spiritual decline of Israel created the reasons for God to send Elijah.  He arrives suddenly in 1 Kings 17.  His first action seems strange until one understands the context.  The context is the Ahab was converting the nation of Israel away from God  and to the idol Baal. Baal was supposed to be the god of the weather, bringing rain, wind and lightning.  This means that people wanted rain they would pray to Baal. Elijah knew that they did not deserve rain.  So he prayed to God to prevent the rain.  That way Israel would learn that rain comes from God, not from Baal.  There was another reason for stopping the rain.  Israel had sinned by serving idols.  This was predicted as a reason for them not to have rain (1 Kings 8:35-36).  God kept Elijah alive in the famine that followed.  Firstly, by the miraculous provision of bread and meat from ravens.  Secondly, by a widow at Zarephath.  The widow was amazing.  Although she lived in a Gentile area, she had faith in the God of Israel, which is more than many of the Israelites did.  She had an amazing faith.  She was prepared to give a prophet of God her last meal before she died of hunger.  How many of us would have done that? She was blessed with as much flour and oil as she needed.  She had an amazing understanding.  She knew that sin brought death and she accepted that her sin would bring her death (verse 18).  When her son died, it was a double trajedy because it also meant her future help in her old age was lost.  But God had a purpose.  For the first time in the BIble, someone was raised from the dead.  Elijah bought her son to life.  The widow had understood about sin and death, but now she understood about resurrection and life. Imagine her joy in the Lord!  We can also imagine the joy of that the future resurrection will bring.  Jeremiah also went through sad times.  Jeremiah 43 particularly.  Jeremiah had been asked by the leaders of the people to speak to God for them.  They committed to doing whatever God said (Jeremiah 42:5-6).  Yet when God gave them the answer, they rejected it and called Jeremiah a liar (Jeremiah 43:2)!  Jeremiah had shown himself to be a true prophet of God by the words he spoke about the destruction of Jerusalem coming true.  All the other false prophets had been shown to be false.  Despite this evidence, the people call Jeremiah a liar!   God gave Jeremiah another prophecy for them, which warned them of disaster.  The one they feared, the king of Babylon, would come and find them in Egypt and punish them.  It seems that the leaders of the people had already made their mind up before they asked Jeremiah the question.  In their rebellion, they took Jeremiah down to Egypt with them.  This is a lesson on what not to do.  We must not stop listening to God and we must not stubbornly go our own way.  1 Corinthians starts in challenging way.  Corinth was close to the capital Athens.  The letter to Corinth was the letter written to those of a Greek culture.  The Greeks were concerned about wisdom.  Their wisdom was admired and adopted by the Romans who them spread it throughout the Roman empire.  But Paul makes it clear that the wisdom of this world is foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:20).  There is a lot of Greek and Roman wisdom in the modern world today.  If Paul was around today he would be saying the same thing to us.  The wisdom of this world is only foolishness and there is a better way.  This is the wisdom of God.  Even the foolishness of God is wiser than man’s wisdom (verse 25).  God uses things which are considered weak by the world to bring about His purpose.  We see this in God’s choices.  He chose Moses who was very meek and a bad speaker.  He chose weak people at the time of the Judges to save His people.  He chose Saul from the smallest tribe, and David, the smallest in the family.  And he chose Jesus.  The world did not understand or value Jesus.   It did not understand the cross.  It was through the death of the meekest that victory was achieved.  The Jews struggled to see this too. They wanted signs to convince them (verse 22).  On the positive side, we do know that some Jews and Greeks were convinced. Crispus (verse 15) and Sosthenes (verse 1) were rulers of the synagogue who were converted (Acts 18).  1 Corinthians 2 moves on from wisdom to consider spirit.  Just like there is a wisdom of the world and a wisdom of God, so there is a spirit of the world and a spirit of God (verse 12).  The spirit of the world is the thinking of the world and the spirit of God is the thinking of God. We need to make sure that we follow the spirit that is from God and the wisdom that is from God.  This wisdom has been hidden from many but it has revealed to us through the Bible for our glory (verse 7).  We cannot expect the world to understand this.   The best of the Greeks wisdom is nothing compared to God’s.  It is the same with the wisdom of today. The best of man’s wisdom today is foolishness with God.  It does not remove sin or produce life.  But the crucified Christ does.  Let us follow that wisdom and that spirit. August

August 23rd

In 1 Kings 18 we have the great account of the demonstration of the only power, ie God. Obadiah, in verses 1-15 is a great example of a faithful follower of God who had natural doubts and was fearful of what would happen to him. But even though he had doubts he demonstrated faith in God. He was clearly a Godly man with great faith and great courage because he hid all those prophets, verse 3-4, but when given the task to actually give a message about Elijah to Ahab, verse 8, he really feared, verse 9. We all have doubts and fears, it is a natural reaction to situations, but we need to try to always trust in God, no matter what happens in our lives. When Ahab did eventually meet Elijah, his accusation made to Elijah, verse 17, shows just how ungodly Ahab was and Elijah makes it clear that it was Ahab who was the problem, verse 18. He had “abandoned” God by not obeying God’s commands and by following a worthless idol – we have to be careful not to make idols too, eg personal belongings, witchcraft, village culture, homes, family, etc. This is an important lesson because if we do the same we will end up pretending and being undecided which we will follow, verse 21. The people reached a point in their lives when they did not really know God. This is a bad situation to get into. When Elijah set the task up to prove God’s power and the futility of idols, the people thought it a good idea, verse 24. Perhaps the people were afraid of the authorities, perhaps the people were convinced by their idols, perhaps they really wanted a proof that God existed, but what it shows us is that the people had stopped putting God first – a dangerous position! The “demonstration” of power is a real great lesson for us, because there is no power in anything other than God. Elijah made fun of the lack of response of Baal, verse 27, this triggered the false prophets to shout louder, verse 28-29. Nothing happened, and this is the point, there is no power except God, nothing can replace him, therefore we should not make anything that could potentially take our time away from God. Elijah made the task of creating fire harder by making his own sacrifice wet, verse 33-35. He then prayed, verse 36-37. There was no loud noise, there was no shouting, there was no dancing there was just the sound of respectful prayer, a prayer that acknowledged who God was and acknowledging that the purpose of the task was for God to get the people to repent! And fire came from God and burnt everything, verse 38. It was obvious who the true God was and who the false prophets were, verse 40. Anything that opposes God will be destroyed, because it has no power at all. Jeremiah 44 emphasises what happens when people do not listen to God and replace his requirements with human thinking. Despite God’s continued patience they rejected him, verse 3, 5 and 8-9 – they were so arrogant that they even said that they would not listen, verse 16. This is complete rejection of God and they are therefore promised only one thing, verse 26-28, destruction. The reason is clear, verse 23, ie they did not obey and they worshiped the gods of Egypt, the very place where they should not have gone to. But it was their choice, verse 25, they made to choice to turn away from God and to turn back to the place where they originally feared and God had rescued them. But our choice should be to try to be a house, or temple of God, 1 Corinthians 3 verse 16. Each one of us who professes to follow Jesus makes up this “temple” and anyone who destroys a part of that temple will be destroyed themselves, verse 17. This shows us why Elijah destroyed the false prophets and why Jeremiah said that the people who had gone to Egypt would be destroyed, it is because they were leading God’s children into wrong ways and causing them to sin. This is why the teaching in this chapter about how wrong disunity is is such a powerful lesson for us. There should not be quarrels in our community, verse 1-4. Paul describes those who quarrel as “worldly” meaning that they are thinking like humans and not like God, they are not being recognised as following God. All of us should be building our own part of the temple with foundations on Jesus, verse 10-15, ie we should be doing what Jesus does. We should be building with thoughts, ideas and actions that will stand the test of God’s “fire”. In Elijah’s time the test was God’s fire, it will be the same when Jesus comes back. If we try our best to be like Jesus, even if our “building” is burned up we will suffer loss but we will be saved, this is grace. So the lessons are to be humble, follow God,  try to please God and not to replace him with anything, verse 18-23. The human mind is so deceptive, just like it was in Jeremiah’s time when the people convinced themselves of the lie that when they prayed to the fictitious queen of the air they had food, we too can end up believing lies if we do not base all of our beliefs on God. So as Paul says in those last verses of 1 Corinthians do not rely on human beings or thoughts, because they will just bring destruction. August

August 24th

Elijah’s emotions in 1 Kings 19 are very typical of the emotions that we all go through in our Christian life. After the end of the drought and the removal of the Baal prophets in chapter 18 Elijah would have been on a spiritual high, everything that God had said would happen happened and the people had turned to accept God – this was a great moment. But, as happens in all our lives, our emotions completely change because of events – Jezebel swore that she would kill him and what is more she knew where he was because her messenger found him, verse 2. So from a high point, Elijah now crashes to a low point and he runs in fear of his life, verse 3. He sees only one way out of his predicament, even though he has just seen the mighty power of God! He wants God to take his life, verse 4, he has reasoned that death is the right thing for him anyway because he recognises that he is as sinful as all his ancestors anyway. He falls asleep from exhaustion, verse 5, but God is still there and an angel provides food so that he is strengthened, verse 5-7. This is the lesson for us, no matter how low we feel, God is still there, he still knows what is best for us and perhaps we need these low moments so that we can see God better. Verse 8-9, it was at Horeb (which is a very significant place with respect to Moses and the law) that he hears God, but not as Elijah would have expected. God was in the “gentle whisper”, verse 12, God was not in the wind, earthquake or fire, but these demonstrated God’s power.  He was in the gentle whisper – we need to be quiet to hear God, not loud and shouting like some churches, just quiet! Elijah presents his problem to God twice, verse 10 and then in verse 14 after God has appeared in the quiet. God tells Elijah that there is a future work for him, one that develops the work that Elijah has been doing for God, verse 15-18 and he tells Elijah that things are not as bad as he thought, there were 7,000 more who remained fully godly. We are reminded, as Elijah was, that we need to look at the positives and remember our highs that God gives us when we are low, God is always with us, even if sometimes we do not recognise this, but he is always there. There is a similar message to Baruch in Jeremiah 45, it is obvious that the godly Baruch was suffering because of God’s judgement on Israel and Judah but God is clear that he is with him and will look after him, verse 5 – it is the same with us, we suffer many things, but if we stay faithful, God will remain with us and will bring about his ultimate plan of life in the kingdom. We can not expect God to change the situation that we are in, but we can be sure that God will never leave us. Jeremiah 46:27-28 shows this same hope, even though they were driven from their own land and in exile, God promised them that their future would be better. Even Egypt, an ungodly nation, was promised a rebuilding at some time in the future, verse 26, presumably this would be when they accepted God. So the message so far for us is even in our worst suffering and in our big lows, God is still there, we have to wait quietly for him. 1 Corinthians 4 gives us a little bit of information of how Paul and his companions suffered because of their faith, verse 9-13, he uses this to forcefully challenge the brothers and sisters in the church at Corinth because they had become arrogant, verse 18-19, they were not humble as Paul was and were trying to elevate themselves above others and were making judgements of Paul, verse 3-5, which is clearly wrong, verse 1-2. Paul is trying to get them to imitate Paul, 16-17. This is the humbling lesson for us all, we have to be like Jesus, as Paul was, Jesus suffered to save us, Paul suffered because of his allegiance to Jesus and likewise we suffer, but through all of this suffering we can bring glory to God. I Cor 5 tells us how far the brothers and sisters at Corinth had fallen because they were accepting very bad sexual practice amongst the members and Paul says that that brother should be expelled, verse 12-13 and verse 6-8. So Paul used his sufferings to bring the members back to God and to Jesus and to change their actions. So sometimes suffering is a discipline from God, sometimes it is for us to gain lessons and sometimes it just happens, but we should all see suffering as a lesson and try to learn from it and always know that God is with us. August

August 25th

1 KINGS 20 – an eventful chapter showing God at work in the kingdoms of men. What I would like us to focus on today in this reading is mercy and the responses to that mercy. AHAB: recorded in the word of God as a wicked king. One who was guilty of idolatry all his life, and one who persecuted  and killed the Lord’s prophets, even though the Lord had been merciful to him many times. We see God’s mercy once again to Ahab in 1 Kings 20. Despite Ahab wishing the prophets of the Lord to be destroyed, the Lord sends one to Ahab so that Ahab might know the mercy and authority of the Lord. ( verses 13,14,22 and 28) Ahab, and all the people with him faced a certain death, but through the Lord’s mercy and guidance they were rescued .No doubt, they would have known that they had been rescued by the one true God. But did they remember His mercy ?  Did that mercy have a lasting effect ?  Did it cause them to re-dedicate their lives to the merciful God, to ask for forgiveness, to ask for strength, to seek to live with their Lord each new day? How much do we value God’s mercy ? Ben-Hadad – A man who had total confidence in himself and his army. In verse 30 we see the all powerful Ben-Hadad stripped of his army , humbled and hiding to try and escape death. He receives some hope from his officials “We have heard that the kings of the house of Israel are merciful …. Perhaps he will spare your life” Because Ahab could benefit from being at peace with Ben-Hadad, he spared his life, called him his brother and agreed a treaty “on the basis of a treaty I will set you free” Ahab made a treaty with a wicked king and yet all his life chose to forget the treaty the Lord made with Israel and their kings. Although Ahab showed some mercy to Ben-Hadad, he did not have the authority to do so. This is shown in v 38-42 where the Lord says “ You have set free a man I  had determined should die” Ahab had not sought  to be guided in this matter and in v43 we see Ahab’s reaction “Sullen and angry… he went to his palace in Samaria”  .. something he would not have been able to do had it not been for God’s mercy not long before ! So how long does the mercy of God stay in our hearts and minds ? When we have been rescued from our dilemmas, how long before we choose to walk alone ? And when we think about Jesus, he would have been and still is, ever conscious of the mercy of God.. to the unrighteous. We might just think of Jesus at the crucifixion, but in truth , it was throughout his whole life, the preaching of the gospel, his encouraging words, everything was lived out so that we might know, and see always, the will of God, the mercy of God. God is merciful, but not that we should continue to sin, but that we are inspired to say no to sin. Mercy and justice… have a look at Exodus 34:6-7. JEREMIAH 47 – Once again history has shown the words of the Lord to be true. History and scripture tells us what happens, only scripture tells us why. To those who heard the word, and believed the word, there was hope and comfort. The comfort of knowing that despite the wars and rumours of wars, God’s plan would be fulfilled. In His mercy, he wants mankind to seek HIS way of salvation. Brothers and sisters , we are in a good place, when we (like Peter) realise there is nowhere else to go. “Lord, to whom shall we go ? You have the words of eternal life” John 6:6-8. 1 COR 6 – The ecclesia is intended to be the temple of the Lord, both in each individual and collectively. The Bible and the ecclesia are witnesses of God and his son Jesus. Very often, the world only chooses to look at the ecclesia to see if there truly is a better way to live. How often have we contradicted  our faith , our saviour by the way we live ? In the first 7 verses of this chapter  Paul asks 7 questions.. As Jesus does, Paul gives them questions  that when they thought about it, would reveal the answer. “Why not rather be wronged ?”… because you do not love or show mercy to your brother/sister. This changes one’s thinking, realising that you are the “one who has a plank in his eye” and guilty of sin. Jesus tells us what to do in Matt 18:15-17. How many times has the first verse (v15) been ignored ? Yes, it might have been difficult to do , but with a sincere prayer and a will to heal, you will be following the teacher.( do not simply do what is instructed, but do with the spirit of re-conciliation and forgiveness). 1 COR 6:9-11   If we claim to be saved by baptism, by faith, by believing in the word of God and yet sin wilfully and conscience free… do we really love the Lord ? If we continually talk about the grace of God and yet continually abuse it, are we really preaching the gospel ? Aren’t we putting a stumbling block to people’s salvation ? If we pray for the kingdom to come  but at the same time have lives of drunkenness, stealing, sexual immorality etc .. then even the world will know we are “frauds”. As Jesus says “By their fruits you will know them”. There is a stark choice here. Do we seek to live according to our own will, leading to “the wages of sin is death” or do we seek to have the spirit of the Lord, and serve, honouring God in our lives always looking to the “gift of God which is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord” How we value God’s mercy will determine our choice. August

August 26th

Consequences of sin and the wonderful forgiveness of God are again both demonstrated to us in 1Kings21. We have the account of Naboth’s vineyard in this chapter and it is a demonstration of the terrible human lust and the evil scheming of Abab’s wife, Jezebel, and it all had consequences. Ahab was an evil king, he disobeyed God and he took advantage of his position as king to exploit others, his wife was selfish and evil too. There are stages in this sin that we should all be careful about and take lessons from. Ahab lusted after Naboth’s property, verse 2; Naboth gave a valid and godly reason for not selling him the vineyard, verse 3; Ahab had no  respect for Naboth’s reasoning and did not understand it, in fact he let the lust consume his life, verse 4; instead of being a godly companion and advisor for Ahab, Jezebel became a slanderer (devil), verse 7; Jezebel then developed a scheme to get the land for Ahab and abused her and Ahab’s position, verse 9-11; the elders of the people were evil too, verse 12; the scheme spread the evil to more people, implicating them and a killing was committed based on a lie, thus abusing God’s law for human purposes, verse 13; the sinful deed is then completed, verse 15-16 and both Ahab and Jezebel think that they have got what they wanted. This is what happens when people lust over anything, sin comes, which is why we are told in the bible not to covet and lust – so that we are not tempted to commit sin. God sent Elijah to condemn both Ahab and Jezebel so this shows exactly what God thinks of the situation, verse 17-19. Verse 20-24 continues the condemnation, so there are consequences of sin. Ahab is described as very evil, verse 24-26, everything that he did was evil, he caused others to do evil and he listened to evil, yet God was willing to forgive! This is an incredible thing, no matter how bad our sins we can have forgiveness if we truly repent and demonstrate humility as Ahab did here, verse 27 and God notices, verse 28-29. There are still consequences of our sin, but we can be forgiven if we acknowledge and repent – this gives us comfort when we do fail, but also gives us warning about consequences and the danger of coveting other people’s things. The judgement on Moab in Jeremiah 48 gives the reasons for their destruction and these reasons are similar to those that led to the condemnation of Ahab and his descendants – God is aware of everyone’s actions and motives. The nation and people of Moab trusted in their wealth and in their ability, verse 7 and 29-30 and God was going to bring them down from their “glory”, verse 18. It does not matter who you are, nation, king, non godly people, godly people, God sees and will humble the pride. Anyone who trusts in human wealth, wisdom or abilities will be humbled, this is what God says, verse 15. Judgement will come, verse 21, it is the same for us all, so a lesson for us. Moab in particular deserved the judgement because they “defied” the Lord, verse 26 and 42 and they “ridiculed” God’s people, verse 27, a lesson for us that God will punish those who make fun of us because we are God’s people too. It is God who will bring the judgement, not us, so we learn to cope with people who abuse us, because they will be brought low at some stage. Even though the nation of Moab had no respect for God at all, they worshipped other gods, verse 35, but God will still give opportunity for forgiveness as he did with Ahab, verse 47. God is a wonderful forgiver if we repent, no matter what we have done wrong! Paul answers specific questions that the brothers and sisters at Corinth asked him about but we can still get lessons from them because they are all inspired words. It would appear that the church was suffering extreme persecution and troubles, verse 29-31, so the time was “short”. This could be a similar situation to the time we are in now because we have so much suffering in the world and Jesus’ return could be imminent. So if this is a similar situation then we should be learning the lessons from the answers to marriage that Paul gives here. Paul’s advice is to “remain as you are”, in this case unmarried, but if you cannot control yourself sexually then marry and do not commit adultery. But once married then your responsibilities become shared between God and your wife or husband. This applies to many situations, eg education, new job, rebuilding house, nursery at the ecclesial hall, farming project, sewing machine project, maize project – all these things have advantages, but they also mean that you have to share your time between God and the project. Paul is saying that if you do not marry then you can devote all your time to God, verse 32-36. The same applies to any other activity, ie loyalty is divided. If marriage or any activity is done with God in mind it is not sin, verse 28, it just adds an extra dimension to life and when time is short it may not be ideal. Paul is giving us advice that he has learned during his life and he basically lived as a travelling preacher without any roots, he had no temptations like Ahab had, nor did he build up wealth like Moab! The thing that really counts is obeying God, verse 19, this has to be our priority in everyday life and to be content in the situation that God has put us in, verse 17-24, he is saying to accept what you have from God and try not to have a priority to improve the situation, like Ahab, he was not content with the palace that he had he wanted something else and he then sinned and suffered consequences. This is a difficult thing to do to be content, there is nothing wrong in education, or a new job, or building another house, but it can take us away from God. Sadly I have seen it too often in Uganda where brothers and sisters have had good education and they have drifted away from God, this is sad. So we all need to think about where our priorities are and always put God first, try to be content with what has given us, realise that there are consequences when we make mistakes, but there is also forgiveness if we repent. August.

August 27th

In 1 Kings 22 there was a problem that needed resolving and the godly king of Judah, Jehoshaphat, worked with the ungodly king of Israel, Ahab, to try to resolve it. Perhaps not the best way of doing things because good did not really come out of this alliance – Jehoshaphat nearly lost his life, verse 32-33. However, the account shows us the stark differences between a godly ruler and an ungodly one. The first thing that Jehoshaphat wanted to do was to seek God’s advice, verse 5. Ahab had not even considered this. Ahab then brings together his false prophets who just said what the king wanted anyway, verse 6 and 12. Jehoshaphat recognised that these prophets were not from God and challenged what Ahab was doing, verse 7, Jehoshaphat knew that this was not the way that God did things, Jehoshaphat expected a single prophet not a noisy group of prophets that Ahab had assembled. We have to understand the ways of God to be confident in what we are told, a good lesson for us! Ahab’s reply shows his complete lack of genuine respect for God and his prophets, verse 8, and this contrasts with Jehoshaphat’s full respect in the way that he challenged Ahab. Even though Ahab humbled himself after what he had done to Naboth, he quickly turned to his disrespectful ways! Ahab sends for Micaiah, verse 9. Ahab’s messengers were also only interested in Micaiah only saying what Ahab wanted to hear when they asked him to say the same thing as the false prophets were saying, verse 13, this is human thinking and again shows how people prefer to listen to human things rather than to God’s ways – we have to be careful to also want to listen to God’s ways. Micaiah’s response should always be our response…. when we have to make a decision we have to check that our ideas comply with what is written in the Bible as well as praying for guidance, verse 14. Micaiah’s answer was the same as the false prophets’ answer, only because God was in control, verse 23, but Micaiah’s prophecy went further because he predicted Ahab’s death, verse 26-28. Even at this stage Ahab still tried to change what God had said and tried to dictate events by disguising himself and also using Jehoshaphat as his decoy, verse 30. Not only was he trying to alter what God had said, he put his ally at risk, and had it not been for God working in the battle he would have been killed. However, God caused the random arrow to reach his intended target, verse 34 and Ahab died just as God had said, verse 37-38. God is in control, he wants respect and he wants us to follow his ways. Jehoshaphat tried, verse 43 and 46, he was not perfect because the ungodly high places remained, but largely he followed God. On the other hand Ahab was more interested in his own human ways and pride rather than God. God’s ways always prevail, again confirmed by Jeremiah 49 with respect to the prophecies about the countries surrounding Israel (and Judah). In most cases it is because of their pride that they are destroyed, verse 4, 16 and 31, they were trusting in their riches, wisdom or location and when this happens they end up with no respect for God and his judgements will come in God’s own time. There is nothing physically that we can do to change God’s plan so our lesson is to always humbly follow God. Again God’s forgiveness and long suffering comes through in these prophecies in that he will restore a few of these nations, verse 6 and 39, but he will not restore all. God is interested in all people, yes Israel/Judah is considered a special people by God, not because of any good that they have done but because they are a witness for him and because of the faithful people like David. There is a statement in 1Corinthians 8 that we should all remember, verse 1-3, Paul is saying that we must not be proud (“puffed up”) that we must be humble in everything that we do. “The man who thinks he knows something”, in fact he does not actually know anything! Humility and loving God is what counts, it is clear that Ahab did not love God and was proud, the nations in Jeremiah were proud and trusted in their knowledge without a love for God, so this is a clear warning for us. In everything we should be humble. This is the way that Paul starts to answer the questions asked by the brothers and sisters at Corinth, he starts his answer by reminding all that they should not be proud, but humble. Paul is saying that because idols are nothing then it is logical that the food “sacrificed” to them is also nothing, therefore a believer can eat it with a clear conscience, verse 4-6. But not everyone knows this, verse 7-8 and we should respect our brothers and sisters who may have a problem with something that we do and it causes them to lose faith, verse 9-13. I think that we have to have the right humble attitude to respect those of our brothers and sisters who may have the same biblical understanding as we do, remembering that Jesus died for them too. Humility has to be the key here, even if we are convinced we are right, we have to give the other brother or sister the opportunity to demonstrate from the Bible their interpretation. It was clear that Ahab’s prophets were not godly and Jehoshaphat could clearly see that and he challenged correctly because it was wrong not to ask God. In the example we have here about meat it is not so clear cut because it does not matter whether we eat it or not, verse 8, but if eating it upsets a brother or sister we must not eat it. Some of our brothers and sisters, for example, do not thing that we should eat pork because of valid reasons in the Old Testament, others argue that it is OK to eat pork because we are no longer under the law and a biblical argument could demonstrate that too, but if a brother or sister eating pork causes another brother or sister to stumble then we should not eat pork because of our love for that other brother or sister and because of humility. It is our attitude and asking “what would Jesus do?”, verse 13. In 1Cor9 Paul reminds us not to use our “rights” because of love for others, verse 12 and verse 15, Paul does not use this “right” because it may have hindered the gospel – he was putting others first and therefore putting God first, just like Jehoshaphat did. The big lesson for us here is humility! Compared to the knowledge of both God and Jesus we know nothing! In humility we preach, in humility we encourage others and in humility we stop doing those things that some may argue from the Bible as wrong and causes them to be offended, eg eating pork. Wherever Paul taught he became like the people he was teaching, verse 19-23, he obviously did not disobey God’s teachings by what he did, but he came as close as he could to set an impression to “win them over”. Jehoshaphat rightly challenged Ahab because he was not seeking God properly, he clearly did not become like Ahab then because Ahab was clearly wrong, but Paul is saying that we respect others whilst always obeying God. In our Christian life we must not lose our focus. We have to constantly “train” and prepare for the race that will get us to the kingdom, it involves being aware of those around us, it involves always remembering where we are heading and we have to practice and keep on trying, verse 24-27. Ahab lost his focus many times and drifted, Jehoshaphat and Paul maintained their focus and remained godly. August

August 28th

We know that Ahaziah was an evil king (1Kings22:52-53) he was about to die with no family just as God had told Ahab, his father, he would (1Kings21:21). Ahaziah continued to reject God and worship Baal and sent messengers to consult with Baal to see if he would recover or not, 2Kings1:2, but the messengers were met by Elijah to ask “is it because there is no God in Israel that you are going off to consult Baal?”, verse 3, 6 and 16 – Elijah says the same thing to the king as God had instructed him. Ahaziah was told that he would die and indeed he did, verse 17. His death and the end of this family line was as a direct result of replacing God with other “gods”, his father was evil, he was evil and therefore the people were, including the soldiers who went out to get Elijah. It is interesting that Ahaziah sent soldiers to get Elijah and only messengers to “consult” with Baal, presumably he was going to arrest Elijah. The apparent hard destruction of the 2 lots of soldiers was a very graphic demonstration of God’s power and also of the weakness of human power that Ahaziah was proud of. Two groups were destroyed, verse 9-10 and 11-12. The 3rd captain learnt respect and humbled himself before Elijah, verse 13-14, unlike his previous colleagues who expected Elijah to obey him. This also brought about a change in heart in Ahaziah who then talked with Elijah himself and Elijah was not detained, verse 15-16. A graphic account but it again shows the consequences of replacing and not respecting God. 2Kings3 is another dramatic account of Elisha taking over from Elijah, the event had to be a memorable one for the benefit of Elisha and the 50 prophets who had served Elijah and would now have to serve Elisha. The very graphic events that took place in front of the prophets convinced them, verse 15. There are some unexpected events in this chapter that has led to confusion in many people who incorrectly think that Elijah was taken to heaven where God is – he was clearly not taken to heaven where God is – many other verses in the Bible tell us that. The 50 prophets certainly did not believe that, and they were there to witness, because they looked for him, verse 16-18. The word “heaven” here can be interpreted as “sky” where the birds fly, so God moved Elijah from one place to another, just as what happened to Phillip in Acts 8 – it is also what happened a lot to Elijah as confirmed by Obadiah (1Kings18:12) and we see happened to Elijah (1Kings18:46). So Elijah was not taken to heaven where God is, he was transported through the sky. Sometimes God does things that appear strange to us, but we have to view this in the context of the whole Bible, God does not intentionally confuse us, there are reasons for doing things in a particular way. Elisha knew that God was going to take Elijah at some stage, verse 3 and 5, but he took every opportunity to stay with him, 3 times Elijah said he was going to go somewhere, each time Elisha insisted that he went with him, verse 2, 4 and 6. A lesson for us is to take every opportunity to learn about the Bible from others and use every moment as if it is our last. Elisha also asked for a double portion of the same spirit as Elijah, verse 9. Elisha’s heart was in the right place, he was ready to take over from Elijah. Jeremiah 50 is the prophecy about Babylon, God said that they would be destroyed and never to be inhabited again because they were proud, verse 31-32, they trusted in their own wisdom and power and God was going to destroy it. They had no respect for God, their land was full of false prophets and idols, verse 36-38. God said that he would punish Babylon, verse 18 because of all the evil that they had done, ie they “rejoiced” when they defeated God’s people, verse 11; they destroyed the temple, verse 28; they sinned against God, verse 14 and they opposed God, verse 24. So God brought on them the things that they did to the nations that they cruelly dealt with, verse 15 and 29. Again a lesson for us that God is aware of all the evil that is done and God will deal with it but also a massive hope for us because God said that he would bring his people back when they repent and forgive them, verse 4-5, 19-20 and verse 33-34 and this hope is all through the Bible, God will never leave his people even though he punishes and allows consequences to continue with the purpose to bring sinners back to him. The lessons from the Old Testament are so clear to us and Paul makes it plain in 1Corinthians 10 that we have to look at these examples and learn, verse 6 and 11. The whole purpose of us reading and learning is that we should try not to make the same mistakes, verse 6-10, replacing God with idols, committing adultery, testing God and grumbling are just the 4 examples used here, but all the examples we learn about have to be a lesson to us to try harder to obey God. God is consistent in the old and the new testaments and his response to our “evil” will be the same too, verse 1-5, so do not misuse the salvation that we have in Jesus. All of us who have been baptised into Jesus’ saving name have made a commitment to try to follow and each week when we have the bread and the wine we remember that we have associated with Jesus’ death and resurrection and therefore are part of his body, therefore we must “flee from idolatry”, verse 14-17. Idolatry is basically human nature and replacing God with human things, so be careful to always put God first, we cannot serve God and “demons” (idols/human nature), verse 21-22. We have been given a wonderful promise of a future in the kingdom, but it requires us to serve God and God only. Part of serving God is always putting others first, verse 23-24 and 31-33. This is how people know that we are trying to follow God when they see all of us putting others first. Do not be proud like Ahaziah or the Babylonians, be humble like Elijah, Elisha and Paul and obviously Jesus. August

August 29th

2Kings 3 helps us to start thinking about human attitudes. Joram, king of Israel was described as “evil”, verse 2; he did get rid of the sacred stone of Baal, but this was not good enough, verse 3, we have to be wholehearted in following God and this is the theme of today’s thought, ie having an complete godly attitude. The nation of Moab rebelled against Israel, and Joram asked Jehoshaphat for help in attacking them, verse 7-8. However, on the way a problem occurred, verse 9, water had run out and Joram incorrectly blamed God, verse 10, this contrasts Jehoshaphat’s first reaction because he wanted to ask God, verse 11. Elisha reminded Joram that because of his way of life he could not expect God’s help, verse 13, but that a godly influence does help in situations, verse 14. It is important that the impressions that we give are good, and if they are godly we can influence things for the good and in this case God brought about a victory. Jeremiah 51 continues with the prophecy against Babylon for all the wrong and evil it had done to the nations, especially to Israel/Judah, verse 24 and 49. Also for its pride, verse 13 and its idolatry, verse 17-18. In God’s own time he will punish, verse 6, 11 and 56, but he will definitely do it as he will always carry out his plans, verse 12 and 40 and even at this late stage there is still opportunity for repentance, verse 8, but the message to God’s people is to “run”, verse 6 and 45.  The lesson here  for us now is to stay away from those who are ungodly, we must “run” from those who set bad examples and lead us astray, we are to only rely on both God and on Jesus because God never “forsakes” us, verse 5.  The 1 Corinthians 11 reading is very significant in our practical thoughts and demonstrates that God never forsakes us but he does require a change in heart. We are all familiar with the words relating to the breaking of bread service, verse 23-26, because we break bread and drink wine each Sunday as we remember Jesus. There is a warning here for us because if we “eat the bread and drink the wine” with the wrong attitude then we are “guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord”, verse 27. Being “guilty” of symbolically crucifying Jesus again is serious because we would be rejecting and disrespecting everything that Jesus did, verse 29. Therefore we have to consider what the right attitude is and “examine” ourselves and “judge” ourselves before we eat the bread and the wine, verse 28 and 31, otherwise we risk God’s judgement, which may take different forms, eg verse 30. The purpose of all God’s judgements on us is for us to learn, verse 32, so we should take opportunities to learn and try better to do the right things. Paul’s conclusion to this chapter suggests what eating the bread and drinking the wine in an “unworthy manner” is, verse 33-34. It seems that when the brothers and sisters were coming together for the breaking of bread they were not considering others and were not remembering that all the brothers and sisters were part of Jesus’ spiritual body (1Cor6:15). Paul made it very clear that he was not happy with the situation that the brothers and sisters were in, verse 17. Originally the breaking of bread service was at the same time as a meal that all the brothers came together to share in fellowship; however, they allowed social differences to dictate who had the better meal and who ate the best, verse 18-22. The result was that there were multiple tiers of brothers and sisters eating the meal and Paul was “certainly not” happy with the situation because they were deliberately differentiating between the rich and the poor/Jews and gentiles/black and white, etc. The brothers and sisters had forgotten that all were part of the body – they should have abandoned their prejudices and remembered that Christ died for their brothers and sisters too! The start of the chapter, verses 2-16, also shows an underlying disrespect for each other and the impression that they were creating for others. At the time this letter was written apparently people in society recognised a man with long hair as being someone who was a homosexual and a woman who had her hair loose and flowing was someone who was liberal, involved in idolatry or sexually available. Therefore Paul was including in his reasoning that brothers and sisters should always be aware of the impression that they give to others. Perhaps he is suggesting here that this is another way of eating and drinking “unworthily” by not remembering that we have to demonstrate Jesus in everything we do. The things that we do or wear today gives different impressions in today’s society but nevertheless we must be aware because we are supposed to always behave like Jesus, ie be seen as him, treating our brothers and sisters as him and rejecting human ways. Any conduct that is not controlled is eating and drinking “unworthily”. We all need each other, verse 11.  August

August 30th

The practical lessons from 2Kings 4 are really helpful for us when we think about suffering. The section from  verse 1-7 is about the account of God giving help in a way that was not expected by the widow and her sons. She was the wife of one of the prophets who worked with Elisha, and Elijah before him, verse 1. He was a godly man and no doubt spent a lot of time doing God’s work and therefore had to rely on people lending him money to feed his family; his widow now was desperate because those who lent him money now wanted repaying. His widow was desperate and “cried out” to Elisha but only when she had nothing left in the house except for a “little oil”, verse 2. This was definitely a crisis, she had just lost her husband, was fearful that her 2 sons would be taken and probably feared for her own life too because she had no food to feed on. Elisha’s response required faith on her part, a response from her sons and also the neighbours to help out, verse 3-4. She did exactly what Elisha said, verse 5-6, and the oil kept pouring into the jars that she had borrowed. When all the jars were full, the oil stopped flowing and she reported to Elisha who told her to sell it to pay the debt and to have money to support her and her sons, verse 7. This is a great lesson because God gives us what we need, not necessarily what we want, presumably she would have wanted her husband back, for the creditors to cancel the debt  and for her to be given food. None of this happened, but instead God provided her with an opportunity that she had to be part of, she had to demonstrate faith and take action, she enlisted the support of her sons and neighbours, then she had to pour the oil and then sell it, so was fully involved in the solution. The account of the Shunammite’s son’s death and healing was also a surprise. The woman and her husband always looked after Elisha when he visited their area and she provided a room for him, verse 10. They too were godly and respectful of Elisha and therefore God, she did not go to Elisha with a request for a child, the faithful Shunammite woman had learnt to be content in her situation, when Elisha asked what he could do for her she said she was content as she was, ie without a child. It is a good lesson for us from both of them – Elisha was trying to show gratitude for what she had done for him while the woman is demonstrating godliness with contentment which Paul recommends to us in 1 Timothy 6 verse 6. It was Gehazi who pointed out to Elisha that she had no son and Elisha then called her in to tell her she would have a child. She did have a son, verse 17, but he became ill and died, verse 18-21. God had given her joy by allowing her to have a son and then he allowed her son to become ill and die. Sometimes we cannot understand why things happen in our lives, we cannot find a reason why God allows certain things to happen that perhaps contradict another situation that was obviously from God. Like the woman we are confused by events, verse 28. But the lesson here is that she turned to God through Elisha, she had the faith that Elisha would bring about what God wanted. Elisha sets the example by praying, verse 33 and her son was restored, verse 36-37. Events happen in our lives, but through all we can give glory to God. All these people that we have looked at were completely opposite to Zedekiah who was described as evil in Jeremiah 52 verse 3, everything that happened to Judah was because of this evil – a reminder that God watches the good and the evil. A sad chapter when you see all of the wonderful things in the temple that had been dedicated to God by the faithful people of the past now completely destroyed along with Jerusalem because of the actions of the unfaithful people at the time. The 2 chapters in 1Corinthians 12 and 13 talk about the different abilities that God gives us, the body working together for a common aim and love. We saw elements of all 3 in the account in Kings, there were different abilities demonstrated, we saw an example of people working together for a common aim and we saw love – God does not change his ways. God decides what our abilities are, verse 11 and we have the different examples on verse 8-10, ie wisdom in interpreting bible teachings and events, bible knowledge, examples of faith, appropriate prayers, teaching, resolving conflicts, being able to speak in different languages and being able to understand different languages. All of these abilities are given for the “common good”, ie working to the same aim. The problem with us human beings is that we incorrectly think that some abilities make us better than other brothers and sisters with different abilities and it is clearly wrong to think like this. The picture of the body and the different parts, verses 12-30, clearly show us that there is no difference in the importance of any function. We are all part of the body, arranged by God, all working together in unity to make the body function well. There is not a single part of the body that can function on its own, it is just not possible, therefore we should consider everyone of us in our community as having a vital role to play to make everything work properly. Our own bodies are an excellent living picture to show how the church works together, everyone has an important role. The body is only able to work together if everyone shows love, chapter 13. Think carefully about the words in verse 4-7, these are all the things that demonstrate love, are we all of these? Elisha, the widow and the Shunammite woman all showed love, we saw protection (widow protected her sons), trust ( all examples show this), hope (the Shunammite hoped in Elisha and God) and perseverance (all of them persevered), these have to be lessons for us too when we are living our Christian lives. Love has to be our defining characteristic. August

August 31st

2Kings5 is the account of Naaman, the commander of the army of the king of Aram, being cured of his leprosy and we remember the account for that, perhaps missing a big lesson from it that we really should think about. Gehazi, although a declared follower of God, showed no respect for God’s work, he showed discrimination, he was greedy, he came up with a selfish plan, he lied to both Naaman and to his fellow brother, he tried to cover his deceit and he forgot that God was aware of his actions. He was found out and suffered the consequences, verse 25-27. Even after all the wonderful things that happened in this account, Gehazi sinned! All of us are in a wonderful position with our belief in Jesus, we have a promise of a future, but with that comes responsibilities to he honest in all of our dealings – Gehazi should have been glad that Naaman had been healed, verse 14, he should have praised God that Naaman came and confessed before Elisha that there was one God, verse 15, he should have had the same humble attitude as Elisha in not accepting any gift because it was God’s work not Elisha’s, he should have praised God for the work and faith of the slave girl who clearly loved her mistress and master, verse 2-3. But he did not have any compassion or praise, he was selfish and greedy and suffered for it. A big lesson for all of us when we are tasked with giving out God’s money, or distributing food, clothes and project materials! We have to be trustworthy in all things. Leprosy is seen as a symbol of sin in the Bible. Naaman, although reluctant at first, washed in the Jordan and was healed – he went away full of joy and praising God. Gehazi on the other hand should have known better, and really was full of sin and became leprous. The impression that I get from this account is that Naaman had a small area of his body that was leprous, verse 11, whereas when Gehazi was made leprous by God it was all over his body, verse 27. Surely there are serious consequences when we deceive God. Lamentations 1 starts the sad reflections by Jeremiah on what has happened to Jerusalem and Judah as a consequence of the people’s sins. Jeremiah recognises the reason for the complete destruction of Jerusalem, eg verse 5 “many sins”, verse 14, 18, 20 and 22. Like Gehazi, the people of Judah did not think about their future, verse 9, all they were interested in was their present life and how they could benefit themselves. As a consequence the people perished by the plague and sword or were taken into exile- there are always consequences for sin. The start of the path to forgiveness is an acknowledgement of sin then repentance. With the right attitude we are complete in God and in Jesus and then have a future. 1Corinthians14 continues to teach us about the right attitude – the example discussed here is speaking in different languages, including personal prayers when words are incoherent to others, verse 2, and even to the person saying them, verse 14, ie making a sound that even the person making that sound is not benefiting from. Paul’s argument is that when we teach (prophesy) we have to benefit others, verse 3-5, so we should concentrate on building the church up, verse 12; everyone has to understand what we say and do – this is why you always interpret the words that we say when we come to Africa! When we pray, you translate for us so all can understand and say “amen”, verse 16. A follower of God has to always think of others and build up, if they do not there are consequences, Gehazi and Judah for example. The chapter concludes with Paul telling us that our worship should be “orderly”, verse 40, all our services should be understood by those who attend, we should not be excluding anyone from understanding, because God is a God of “order”, verse 33. The practical advice here is to all learn together in submission to each other. Gehazi caused confusion when he went against Elisha -he was not at “one” with what God had done so it is right and proper for us not to create confusion with any aspect of our Christianity. August

September 1st

The account of Elisha blinding the Arameans in 2Kings6 is full of practical lessons for us to put into practice every day. It starts off with the king of Aram being frustrated because Elisha was telling the king of Israel every time the Arameans had planed an attack, verse 10. The king of Aram was told that it was Elisha and he sent men to capture him, verse 12-14. Even though the king of Aram and his men were not godly it was good that Elisha’s reputation was known by others, a small lesson for us – we should be known by others for our godly ways, whether those people are godly or not. As a side point, I wonder if the person who advised the king of Aram about Elisha was Naaman? God was interested in protecting the people and he used Elisha to pass on the messages, same in our lives now, God is interested and he protects as he sees fit. This is the lesson that Elisha’s servant learnt when he panicked when he saw all the Arameans surrounding the city, he had to learn that God and his angels were there, verse 17. We are often in desperate situations in our lives when perhaps we think that God is not there, but he is. Elisha’s request of God to make the soldiers blind was a good and effective plan that demonstrated God’s power and had a massive impact on Aram, for a period at least, verse 18-19. Elisha had led them to Samaria where the king of Israel was, who immediately wanted to kill them, verse 20-21. This is a typically human reaction given the circumstances, they were the enemy and this was a wonderful opportunity to seek revenge, but Elisha’s and God’s reaction is to show kindness to those who had been captured, verse 22-23. This kind and merciful reaction brought about a better result than if the king of Israel had killed them, the Arameans “stopped raiding Israel’s territory”. The right Christian course of action is to act in mercy and often the outcome is similar to this; Elisha’s reaction had a far better result than if the king of Israel had killed the soldiers because more would have been sent. These merciful and godly responses are often surprises to the people who are affected by them, in other words the soldiers – when their eyes were opened again, they would have expected death, they certainly would not have expected a meal and then to have been set free! But like the mercy that was shown to Naaman, these soldiers would have told everyone when they returned home. This contrasts with what the false prophets did as recorded in Lamentations 2 verse 14, they only said what the people wanted to hear and they did not learn what God wanted and they were not challenged in their thinking, so as a consequence they suffered the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah. All of this chapter continues with Jeremiah’s lamentation about the state that God’s land was now in, how everything was destroyed and a sad picture it is. The first chapters of this book are in the form of poems with each of the verses starting with a successive letter of the Hebrew alphabet, known as acrostic poems. These were designed to help the people’s memory to remember the words, therefore these lamentations were designed to be remembered so that the people would not make the same mistakes again in the future. We learn a lot by reading this important message so that we too apply the lessons. Especially in times of distress we are reminded to pray, eg verse 19, we may not be able to have the situation changed, but we can still be sure that God is with us and we can pray for strength to cope with whatever the situation was. Jeremiah still had to experience the sad destruction of Jerusalem for example. 1Corinthians 15 is one of those wonderful chapters in the Bible that reminds us of the hope that we have because it talks about our resurrection and the return of Jesus. It talks about the destruction of death and the change that all those who follow Jesus will experience, from being mortal, to becoming immortal. This is the whole point of our Christian life, and this is what we suffer for.  Our faith in Jesus is not for any gain in this life as Paul says in verse 19, it is for having a part in the future life, verse 20-23. Paul starts off his lesson in this chapter by reminding the brothers and sisters that they are saved “if” they “hold firmly” to what was taught them in the first place, verse 1-2. He also reminds us in verse 33-34 that we have to be careful who we associate with and to come back to God’s teachings. The brothers and sisters had started to incorrectly believe that there was no resurrection, they were probably influenced by the Jewish Sadducees who did not believe in the resurrection, and Paul is reminding them and us now, that we have to always come back to God’s teaching. He ends this chapter by saying not to let anything “move” us, verse 38, we are to “stand firm”, eg having a strong faith, being sure what God wants from us, always remembering that we are saved by grace and that there will be a resurrection. All of this has been possible because of what Jesus has done and is doing for us, verse 57. Because of the resurrection the fear of death is gone, it is no longer the end, it is the start of a new life that is symbolised by baptism, verse 54-56. This chapter is all about the resurrection, it also confirms to us the relationship between God and Jesus, how we are saved in Jesus and how we will be with Jesus when he returns to the earth, this is our wonderful hope!  September

September 2nd

In yesterday’s reading in 2Kings6 we were introduced to the famine in Samaria because the king of Aram (Syria) was besieging the city. Chapter 7 shows that the situation was desperate; this was not a minor shortage of food, this was virtually no food, the animals were virtually all dead, verse 13 suggests this. The people were desperate, eg the lepers outside the walls knew that they were as good as dead so did not fear going to the Syrian camp, verse 3-4; the authorities acknowledged that the risk of looking for the Syrians was no greater than staying in the city, verse 13. So we can safely conclude that this was a desperate situation. There are some good lessons here for us. We should trust God, no matter how desperate the situation. Elisha said that the siege, and therefore the famine, would be over the next day, verse 1. The king’s righthand man ridiculed Elisha and God, verse 2, causing Elisha to say that he would not see it, verse 3, and this is exactly what happened when the siege was lifted, verse 17-20. We have to continually trust and respect God, no matter what the situation. God will always bring about a solution for his people and those who trust him and just as Elisha had said, the siege was ended, verse 5-7, this deliverance was achieved by God alone. There is no reason, ever, to justify turning away from God and his commandments and principles – the lepers when they went to the camp saw that the Syrians had abandoned the camp and started to take things for themselves, verse 8. This is a natural human reaction, this was their opportunity to get things for themselves from the plunder that was there for them to take. Lepers were outcasts from the people, they lived outside and ate from the rubbish tips. So they saw an opportunity, but it was wrong and when they thought about it they knew it was wrong, verse 9. The lesson is clear to us, we must be honest in all of our actions. The king and the elders of the city certainly did not have trust in God and disbelieved Elisha, so when they were told that the Syrians had fled, they did not believe the reports and suspected a trap, verse 12. The lesson for us is to trust God and trust what he says. Just as Elisha had prophesised, the drought ended and the people were able to take the things that the Syrians had abandoned, verse 16. In Lamentations 3, Jeremiah is telling us how bad he feels because of all his suffering, he was ridiculed, he was beaten, he was left to die and all because he did what God told him to do – Jeremiah certainly suffered in his life. But through his suffering he came to think about the hope that he had, verse 19-20. He saw God, even in his sufferings, verse 22-27, he saw beyond his suffering and saw the bigger picture and God’s ultimate aim and plan. He saw a reason in the suffering that he and his fellow Israelites were going through, verse 31-33. Jeremiah knew the reasons for the people’s suffering; sometimes we do not when we suffer, but the fact is God knows and we have to trust him, as Jeremiah did and know that God does not “cast off for ever”. We should accept both good and bad from God and we should praise him in whatever situation, verse 37-39. Like Jeremiah, none of us should complain about the situation that we are in, God knows all of our situations and he has a reason, and in any case, we are all sinful and we only deserve death. Jeremiah exhorts us to repent and examine our ways and turn back towards God, verse 40-42. This is just what the lepers did, they repented and turned from their selfish actions. When we are suffering we need to try and remember the situations that have happened in our lives in the past when God has helped and brought our suffering to an end, this is what Jeremiah did, he thought of the time that he was in the pit latrine and remembered God’s salvation, verse 52-66. This gave him renewed strength to see God’s hand at work and he left all judgement to God for those who had wronged him. God works in our lives, let us leave all things to him. The lessons for us continue in 1Corinthians16 where Paul is saying to us to “stand firm” in the faith, to be people of “courage”, to be “strong” and to “love”, verse 13. We learn examples from others who were “devoted” to God’s work, verse 15-18, and how we should “submit” and “recognise” such brothers and sisters. As always, love is the key. Jeremiah loved the Lord, the lepers eventually showed that they loved the Lord, Elisha loved the Lord and so must we, verse 22. Because if we do not love and are selfish in our actions we are cursed. The example in verses 1-4 is a demonstration of love – Paul suggests how all brothers and sisters should save money to help others who are in need, and we too are called upon to share even the little that we have. “The grace of the Lord Jesus be with you. My love to all of you in Christ Jesus. Amen” (verse 23-24). September

September 3rd

The account of the Shunammite woman in 2Kings 8 helps us with a number of practical thoughts and comfort that can benefit our lives. Verse 1 should help us all knowing that God is interested in us as individuals – as well as working in the “big” things in the world he cares for the small just as much. The woman listened to, and more importantly trusted in, what God had said and avoided the worst part of the famine, verse 2. Potentially the woman and her family could have lost all of their property whilst they were away, but here too God was working. Just at the moment when the woman arrived back and went to see the king, the king had been talking to Gehazi about Elisha and the subject of bringing her son back to life was talked about, verse 4-5. God was working in this event too because she arrived just at the right moment. The benefit of this trust did not only result in her getting her land back but she also received the income from the land that she would have had if she had stayed, verse 6. The blessings from God are many, even if it does not appear to be the case at the time. Before we continue with this theme in Lamentations and then again in 2Corinthians there are 2 other simple practical lessons in this chapter. Elisha was a great example of a godly person who treated everyone with respect, even if they were an enemy. Ben-Hadad, king of Aram (Syria) was an enemy of Israel, although at this point a humiliated enemy after their defeat in 2Kings7 at Samaria, but Elisha was still prepared to speak to Hazael, verse 7-10. We know that Ben-Hadad had learnt his lesson that God was in control and he was humble because he referred to himself as Elisha’s “son” – interesting that Naaman had referred to Elisha as his “father” (2Ki5:13), so was this still Naaman’s influence too? Jesus tells us to love our enemies, this is often hard for us to do, but we should love our enemies. The other lesson is about being careful about not mixing with ungodly people. Ahaziah was an evil king of Judah and it is likely that he was influenced by the evil king Ahab because he married his daughter, verse 25-27. We really do have to be careful who we mix with because the people we mix with will influence us (Psalm 1 and 45). We know the background to Lamentations 4, how God is punishing his people by sending them into exile from his land and destroying Jerusalem, verse 11. We are reminded how desperate the situation was and how much suffering the people experienced, verse 10. But Jeremiah acknowledges that this all happened because of their sins, verse 13 and God had “scattered” them, verse 16. One of the easiest traps for all of us to fall into is complacency. The Jews thought that because they were the “Lord’s anointed”, so they thought they would be safe wherever they were, verse 20, but they forgot that this privileged position was only possible if they continued to obey God. However, despite all this suffering there is always hope, verse 22 – “O Daughter of Zion, your punishment will end”. I think that these are the exact same sentiments as written by Paul in 2Corinthians1, verse 3-11. Followers of Jesus are not immune from suffering and “trouble”, but because we suffer we are then able to experience and give “comfort”. The sufferings that we all experience equip us to be able to comfort others in their similar sufferings. The comfort that we give is the hope that we have of the kingdom and to encourage all of us to rely on God and not on ourselves, verse 9. We have read a lot about sin recently and we have seen the consequences of sin, but in this we also have “comfort” because we know that there is forgiveness and hope, verse 5-11. God is always interested in individuals, the Shunammite woman trusted and received a blessing, Jeremiah recognised a hope amongst his and his fellows’ suffering and now Paul says that we experience comfort in the face of suffering. September

September 4th

We see how God holds people accountable for their actions in 2 Kings 9. Even kings do not get away with evil.  The dynasty of Ahab had been the most evil yet, and God had warned them of punishment (1 Kings 21:22). They were to be destroyed in the same way that the dynasties of Jeroboam and Baasha were destroyed.  It was prophesied that Jehu would do this (1 Kings 19:15-18).  This happened in 2 Kings 9.  Jehu was anointed king and killed Joram, the king of Israel who was the son of Ahab.  Joram was killed on land that had belonged to Naboth.  This was a just punishment, because Ahab had previously killed Naboth’s family and had stolen his land (1 Kings 21).  But Jehu went beyond the command he had received from God.  Not only did he kill Joram king of Israel, but he also killed Ahaziah king of Judah who was there too (2 Kings 9:27-29).  God speaks about this crime through the prophet Hosea (Hosea  1:4-5).  Israel was to be punished for this unauthorised killing.  The other side of this event is with the lifestyle of Ahaziah king of Judah. What was Ahaziah doing helping the evil Joram fight his battles? The root of the problem was when a king of Judah married into the family of Ahab.  This means that were brothers. This was used as a reasoning by Ahaziah for helping Joram fight (2 Kings 3:7). Ahaziah had not learnt God’s advice in the time of his father King Jehoshaphat.  God told him, “Should you help the wicked and love those who hate the Lord?” (2 Chronicles 19:2).  We have a clear principle that believers are not to love wickedness.  Believers are not to love everything which includes wickedness.  This is a common mistake.  If the king of Judah had not been with the wicked king of Israel, then he would not have been killed.  There is an important lesson for us.  We need to be careful how we choose our friends.  We should not love those who hate God.  Eventually Israel became so bad that God sent enemies to destroy it. Lamentations 5 is the final chapter of weeping for the loss of the kingdom of Israel.  There was no aspect of their life that was not touched with hardship or trouble.  All joy and dancing had gone. Instead there was a desperate plite to just get enough to eat each day. Boys struggled with the workload of men.  Old people had passed away because of hardship.  The people lived life as refugees.  They recognised that it was because of their sins that they were punished (verse 16).  They were not complaining that God was unjust.  They were complaining about the hardship. But they were not able to change their situation.  Only God could do that (verse 21).  The lamentations ends with a plea for restoration.  God is the hope of the lowest of people, even those who have sinned.  God did change the situation for His people Israel.  At the right time, He sent Jesus.  In 2 Corinthians 3 and 4 we are told to focus on Jesus. There are two things that could stop us seeing Jesus clearly.  One is the Law of Moses, which is a problem for Jews (3:14).  If they concentrate only on the Law of Moses, they are living with a veil over the face so they cannot see Jesus clearly.  The second thing that stops us seeing Jesus clearly is the world (4:4).  We must avoid the thinking of the world which interfers with our ability to see Jesus.  If we keep our eyes of Jesus, then we will be able to grow to be more like him (3:18). This growth into Jesus is not easy, but we are helped by the light of the knowledge of Jesus shining inside us (4:6).  When we are oppressed, we should see it as like bearing the sufferings of Jesus (4:10).  When this happens, it carries the promise that we will also carry the glorious life of Christ in the future (4:11).  The troubles of our short life time are resulting in an eternal glory for us (4:17).  The troubles of life may make us look old and worn, but spiritually we are renewed every day (4:16).  It is not what we look like on the outside that is important, but what we are like spiritually on the inside.  This means we can look worn out to others, but fresh and young to God.   So let us fix our eyes on Jesus and on the things which are eternal (4:18).  We should not focus on the temporary troubles of our lives, but on the eternal glorious future beyond.  Then we will be better able to get the troubles of today. September

September 5th

The 4th and 5th September readings in 2 Kings 9 and 10 have the account of Jehu, king of Israel. Jehu was made king by God, 2 Kings 9 verse 2-3 and 6. He had a purpose given to him by God, verse 7-10. He then carried this out, 2 Kings 10 verse 11 and 17 and he also destroyed the Baal ministers, verse 25-27. He also showed some allegiance to God in the way that he spoke to Joram in that he criticized the idolatry and witchcraft, 2 Kings 9 verse 22. He also thought about the things he had previously heard with respect to Ahab, verse 25 and 36-37. God acknowledged this and Jehu benefited in having his descendants on the throne for 4 generations, verse 30. The lesson for us is that God will always carry out his plans. However, Jehu was not fully committed to the ways of God because he left ungodly things in Israel, verse 29 and 31 neither was he “careful to keep the law of the Lord”. He also appears to have deviated from what God told him to do by also killing the king of Judah. Hosea 1 verse 4, where it was prophesised that Jehu disobeyed by going too far by killing the king of Judah and some of his party, explains this further and confirms 2 Kings 10 verse 13-15. So the lessons for us are to always remember that God will carry out what he says and we should always try to be careful to keep the law of the Lord. Also we should not be friends with the wicked (like Ahab’s family) because we are likely to be mixed up with their life and the consequences of it, as was the case with the king of Judah (Ahaziah) who lost his life. In Ezekiel 1 we see that God did do what he said he would do, ie the people were in exile, but he still spoke to them by sending a prophet, ie Ezekiel. The lesson here is that God never abandons his people, even when he is punishing them for their sins. This picture described here in this chapter was before the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, this is the place where God had previously “met with his people”. So this is a picture of God coming to his people wherever they are. The picture does include words of judgement on his people, but he has not forgotten his promise of peace. Whatever we think these pictures actually represent, we can be confident that God’s plan will always be worked out and his plan right from the beginning of the bible will always be worked out in different times of history. Perhaps this is depicted by the motion of the image in that it goes where God wants it to go, so the lesson for us is that we should always be willing to do God’s will and to respect his authority even if we do not understand the message. This applies to whatever situation we are in, eg the first Israelites who went into captivity into Babylon were given this message by Ezekiel. There are lots of references to creation in this chapter too, eg verse 25 and 28, which point to a new creation and we are actually in a “new creation” now as mentioned in 2 Corinthians 5 verse 17. Wherever we are we should want God to be with us, verse 1-5. Some translations incorrectly suggest that the “eternal house is in heaven” (verse 1), however, the correct interpretation from the original language is “out off” or “from” heaven, meaning that just like God (from heaven) was with the people in Ezekiel, God is with us too if we let him. We have confidence in God’s grace and mercy because we are reconciled to God, verse 18, and we are also to be like him in helping others to be reconciled with God, verse 20, this means teaching and encouraging those who have sinned or left our community to repent and return. We have to remember that we are ambassadors, ie we represent both God and Jesus, so we have to try to be like them as best as we can. Chapter 6 verse 14-18 is a reminder that as Christians we should not be close friends with those who do not believe, Ahaziah had not learned this message from God and he suffered the consequences of this friendship with Ahab and his family. We are the “temple of the living God” and God does not want us to be influenced by wickedness and therefore defile ourselves. The beliefs and life style of a believer can be influenced in the wrong way if they have a partnership with unbelievers, this could be business partners, friends, marriage, all of which can be compromised if the believer is “yoked” (“mis-mated”)  with an unbeliever (verse 14). It is clear from chapter 7 verse 1 that we should “purify” ourselves and this is harder to do if we are mixing with unbelievers, not that we should isolate ourselves, but we should not be so involved with them that their ungodly standards influence us. All Christians suffer hardships, eg chapter 6 verse 4-10, also those in exile in Ezekiel, but the lesson for us is that God is in all situations with us and we should not lose heart, chapter 7 verse 6. Notice that the comfort was provided by a fellow believer, ie Titus, so God uses us to comfort each other too. God wants us to be saved and this is why he gives us the opportunity of repentance, verse 10, but we always have to acknowledge and repent to have salvation which is why we have so many messages in the Bible pleading with us all to repent and change. September

September 6th

In 2 Kings 11 and 12 we read that the death of Ahaziah, king of Israel, was seen as an opportunity to take power by his mother, Athaliah.  She did this in a ruthless way, killing other members of her family.  In this tragic period of history, two individual shone out.  One was an aunt.  By hiding baby Joash in the temple for 7 years, she preserved the line of kings of David.  The other was the High Priest Jehoiada, who helped bring up the child and made him king.  Both people used their position to do what was right, even though much of what was around them was evil.  When we live in dark times, we must do what we can to shine our light when we have opportunity.  We need to remember that these times do not last for ever and that God is in control.  These times were also a pattern of the future work of Jesus.  It took 7 periods (in this case years) to establish the true king and temple workship, to cleanse the nation and to remove what was unholy.  This resulted in joy for the people.  Joash built the temple of God, which was a feature of good kings.  However, in later life he stole from the temple of God (12:18). He did not retain his faithfulness.  Joash is an example of a number of good kings who did not end their reign so well.  The lesson is clear for us.  When we are older, we must continue to serve God faithfully.   If we turn away from the right way when we are old, we will undo all the good we have done before.  We must perservere faithfully to the end.  In Ezekiel 2 we have another pattern of Jesus.  Ezekiel is called ‘son of man’.  The only other use of this title is when Jesus referred to himself.  Like Ezekiel, Jesus was sent to a obstinate and stubborn people.  Like Ezekiel, Jesus had to speak whether the people listened or not.  There were both prophets who encounter dangerous people, who were dangerous animals like scorpions or snakes.  They were not to be afraid of these people.  They were to speak out God’s words, so that the people would know that God had spoken to them through a prophet.  Both saw revelations of God. Both had to present a message of woe, because their message was largely ignored.  2 Corinthians 8 and 9 is about faithful building work, but this time it is about building of God’s people.  In these chapters, it is about sending support for needy brothers and sisters, which included needy missionaries.  These chapters contain the best advice about the topic of giving in the whole of the Bible.  The first thing to notice is that those who give have the quality of grace.  This is the quality that Jesus had by giving his life for others (8:9).  We should also have this quality of giving.  It is called the ‘grace of giving’ (8:7).  We should give as individuals as well as ecclesias.  If we do not give to the needy, then we do not have the quality of grace and we do not have this evidence of our love for God.   We notice what Christian giving should be.  It should be voluntary (8:3, 9:7).  Forcing people to give is not right, but encouraging people to give voluntarily is ok. Everyone must decide for themselves how much to give (9:7).  We cannot decide for other people.  People cannot give what they do not have (8:12).  There is an important principle here.  We will reap what we sow (9:6).  If we sow nothing we will reap nothing. That is, if we give nothing to needy brothers and sisters, then we will receive nothing in our time of need. But those who give will be blessed by God for doing so (9:8-10).  The way we give is very important.  We should not cause arguments or criticism by the way one ecclesia gives to another (8:20-21).  We should make sure that everyone is happy with the process of distribution.  In the example described, Paul made sure that someone from the ecclesia accompanied the gift so they knew it had been given to the right person.  We too must make sure there are no reasonable complaints when we distribute the gift.  When done in the right way, everyone benefits from the grace of giving.  The receiver receives what they need.  The receiver will then praise, pray to and thank God, which benefits both God, the giver and the receiver.  God will then ensure that the giver reaps what they sow.  Giving to the needy is such a wonder thing to do, that Paul says, “Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift” (9:15). The act of giving is such a wonderful gift.  Surely we all wish to benefit from being able to give help to our needy brothers and sisters. We note that this passage does not talk about giving to the needy in our own family, which we should do anyway.  The quality of a Christian is someone who gives for their Christian brother or sister when they are in need. September

September 7th

The accounts of the 2 kings of Israel in 2Kings13 give us interesting lessons for us to think about and to try not to be like them. Both kings did have some kind of respect for God, Jehoahaz did pray to God, verse 4 and Jehoash did have respect for Elisha, verse 14. They both knew who God was but they responded in a half-hearted way and both were described as “evil”, verse 2 and 11. This is why we should really consider what our attitude towards God is, are we just pretending to be Christians just to get advantages from our brothers and sisters, perhaps some kind of elevated standing or perhaps more money, or are we genuine in our Christian faith? The thing that we must remember is that God knows if we are “evil” or not. We can pretend to our brothers and sisters and sometimes get away with it, but we cannot pretend to God and get away with it! So Jehoahaz was “half-hearted” when he prayed to God, he only prayed because he was desperate, he did not really mean it to be a life changing moment. God did provide a deliverer, verse 5, but the people did not turn away from their evil, verse 6. Similarly with the next King, Jehoash, he went to visit Elisha when Elisha was ill and Elisha passed on a message from God, verse 15-17. Despite this, Jehoash did not really commit himself, he remained half-hearted because when he was told to beat the ground with the arrows, he only did it 3 times, verse 18. In our lives, we have to respond to excellent messages from God with enthusiasm, eg we have been told that Jesus is coming back to deliver us, so we have to be enthusiastic in our response. Jehoash was told that God was going to give deliverance from their greatest enemy so he should have been beating the ground in enthusiastic joy! Elisha was angry, verse 19 and Jehoash suffered the consequences of his lack of enthusiasm. A big lesson for us! God always gives us opportunities to be enthusiastic about him, we see the sun and the rain, we see animals and birds, we see new life and we have the breaking of bread as a weekly reminder. The account here of the dead man being thrown into the tomb of Elisha and him coming back to life is a very graphic reminder from God that he exists, verse 20-21. There is no “magic” in Elisha’s bones, he is just like the rest of us, when we all die we return to dust, our only hope is the resurrection, but God was using this as an opportunity to remind his people that he was God. Ezekiel 3 continues with God’s instructions to Ezekiel regarding how he was going to preach to God’s people in captivity because of their sins. Ezekiel eats the scroll as God had instructed, verse 3, and this is a picture of how “sweet” God’s word is, the message that we have in the Bible is the best message that we could ever want and it too should be “sweet” for us as we read it and make it part of our lives. Ezekiel had to go and teach the people, but God warned him that the people would not listen, verse 7. This would be very distressing and upsetting for Ezekiel but he still did what God said, and thank God that he did because we can benefit from his words now when we read the Bible. God told Ezekiel not to be afraid, verse 9 so he confidently went out and did what God said and when he experienced God’s power actually around him he praised, verse 12. Like Ezekiel, we have a responsibility to teach others, we have to warn others that Jesus is coming back and they have to be prepared, the choice of obeying and following God is up to them, but we still have to speak out. Verses 17-21 says this and confirms that if we do not teach others we will be held accountable by God for not teaching; this is very serious.  But if we do teach others but they still reject God, we are not accountable and also, if we teach and others change then we have been part of the salvation of a life. So we have responsibilities to teach others, including our brothers and sisters who are sinning, our commission is to bring others to repentance. This is what Paul was doing in his letter in 2Corinthians 10 and 11 – he was trying to change the attitude of his fellow Christians because they were sinning. They were showing disrespect to Paul himself, verse 7-11. They were also making comparisons between each other to see who was greater, verse 12 and Paul is saying that this is “not wise”. Paul is saying that we should not “boast” but to be humble, verse 13, we should only compare ourselves to Jesus and when we do we see how weak and sinful we are! Paul allows himself to “boast” just to attempt to convince us that Paul did have every human right to boast because of all the things that he suffered – he lists these in 11:21-30. Paul really did suffer for his faith, yet he still carried on teaching others the good news of the gospel, as did Ezekiel, neither were half-hearted in the way that they responded to God’s love, mercy and grace, even though they experienced disappointments, they kept going, verse 12. Those who boast in the things that they do and who are not humble are “false”, verse 13-15. The “satan” (opposer) here are those who pretend to be godly, ie “angels” (messengers of God), so the kings in our first reading were “opposers” and not “messengers of God” like both Ezekiel and Paul were. So the lessons for us in today’s readings are to not be half-hearted, to confidently teach others and to only compare ourselves with Jesus and then we will see how much we need him for our own salvation. September

September 8th

The more we know God’s word, the more we understand what has been written, and more importantly why. In our first reading 2 KINGS 14:1-20 we have the life of Amaziah. The words seem to have been recorded as a news reporter would. Just “facts”, no record of God at work, no record of why these events occurred, and nothing written that the reader might gain teaching and understanding of the Lord. 2 CHRONICLES 25 records the same events but gives extra information, so that we might know why these things were happening, to recognize that God is always at work in the kingdoms of men. So today I will basing my thoughts on 2 KINGS 14:1-20 by looking at 2 CHRONICLES 25. We read in v2 “Amaziah did what was right in the eyes of the Lord, but not wholeheartedly” In truth, no-one except Jesus has done this. So many people think they live “good lives” believing they do those things that are right in their own eyes. But it is what is right in the eyes of the Lord that matters, not according to our own understanding. If we love the Lord, we will seek to know Him, to know what is right in HIS eyes , that we might be one with Him. The bible is the only way that we can find out those things that please the Lord, and those things that do not. V3-4 Amaziah follows instruction from God’s word (Deut 24:16) at this stage in his life…but is he conscious of his sins throughout his life ? David was very conscious of his and sought the Lord for help. One of the benefits of our bibles is to make us conscious of our sins; why ?.. so that we might turn to the Lord and seek forgiveness. The bible reveals our “illness” and shows the way to healing. V5-16  In these verses we have so much more information than in 2KINGS 14. Amaziah receives instruction from God through a prophet concerning 100,000 fighting men from Israel that the king had hired for 100 talents of silver. The prophet was reminding Amaziah what God’s will was and why, and how much more rewarding it was to be one with the Lord. When we make plans, do we seek guidance and wisdom from the Lord… and follow HIS instructions? In verse 10 it seems strange that the hired troops from Ephraim were furious, as they had been paid without having to fight. However, their anger might be explained by verse 13. It would seem that they expected their wages as well as the “great quantities of plunder”. Although Amaziah had heard the word of the Lord “The Lord can give you much more than that” and he had believed that word; did that word stay with him? I suspect that the reason Amaziah brought back the “gods” of the people of Seir is that he saw value in those idols; gold,silver, and other desirable materials. Here was recompense for the “Wasted” 100 talents of silver. He didn’t question his actions, ( am I doing God’s will ?) and he may have even justified his actions in thinking this is what the Lord meant by giving him more ! One small bit of justification can easily cause us to discard all the instructions and  loving guidance we have been  given from the Lord! In verse 15 the Lord tries to change Amaziah’s heart , by revealing his heart to himself. “Why do you… ?”…. those three words are said often in the bible and are always very revealing WHEN THOUGHT ABOUT. But Amaziah refuses to listen. Amaziah without the word, showed his natural self, one of arrogance and pride. But not only did he suffer but his kingdom also and his city, Jerusalem. That which he sought by his own ways, was taken away from him v24 .. gold,silver,treasures. All these things happened and the reason is given.. in v27  because Amaziah turned away from following the Lord. The reason is there that we might learn, be strengthened, and never turn away from the Lord. The bible is not just a history book… it’s a book concerning mankind’s past and OUR now and OUR future. EZEKIEL 4  If we were an exile at the time of Ezekiel 4  .. what would we have seen ? As believers, we would know that the Jewish nation would be in Babylon for 70 years before returning to Jerusalem, and so our hearts would be looking forward to that time to come. For non-believers, or even doubters, it would have been natural to yearn for the lives they had before in Jerusalem and to mourn “if only we were back in Jerusalem !” Their hope was still Jerusalem… not in the Lord. Very often in our lives we are “stripped” of what we value in our lives, why ? To learn a better way, to put the Lord and His kingdom in His time .. First. Ezekiel doesn’t reveal God’s will for Jerusalem through words, but through the same daily peculiar actions for more than 14 months. Although most people would have mocked Ezekiel, and some would have only been temporarily interested, some … just a few, would have been attracted by Ezekiel’s dedication. His willingness to starve himself for more than 14 months, to suffer physically for the sake of others, to not be disillusioned by all the mockers. And if they recognized the message was only possible through God.. then they would KNOW.. the present Jerusalem was not where their hope should be..  but their hope and hearts were to be with the Lord and the future New Jerusalem. We too are witnesses of the truth of the word. Witnesses in what we say, how we think, but also what we do and what we value. And whilst we know that the Lord knows our hearts, do we realise we are “watched” by non-believers, doubters, and by those who are seeking a hope? Ezekiel did ! 2 COR 12:   Paul’s authority was constantly challenged by some in Corinth, and he appeals to the ecclesia through his words , reminding them of his love, his dedication etc. This wasn’t Paul’s message .. he was the Lord’s messenger. In ch 2 v1-10 it is so easy to get distracted with questions in these verses. Some , I believe are easily answered..”the man in Christ” in v2 is Paul. “The thorn in the flesh”.. all I know, and need to know is that Paul writes .. it was to “keep me from being conceited”  And in v10 “to delight in weaknesses… in difficulties. For when I am weak , then I am strong “. How often in our lives have we received strength in our weakest moments, when we had given up of hope in ourselves but had prayed  for the Lord to come alongside. V19-20   “Everything we do , dear friends, is for your strengthening” ..look at some of the behaviours  that WEAKEN the ecclesia,  quarrelling, jealousy, anger, factions, slander, gossip, arrogance, and disorder. 2 COR 13   v5   “Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith, test yourselves” This is repeated teaching in the scriptures “Examine yourself”. Matt 7:1-5 “For in the same way as you judge others, you will be judged”. “Why do you look at the speck of sawdust in your brother’s eye.. ?” 1 COR 11 v27-32    “A man ought to examine HIMSELF before he eats of the bread and drinks of the cup..” “But if we judged ourselves we would not come under judgement. When we are judged by the Lord, we are being disciplined SO THAT we will not be condemned with the world”. 2 COR 13:11-14  Paul’s closing words reveal what God’s will is (v14) and how that will happen (v!). God’s will …. “May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the holy spirit be with you all”. THE PROMISE   if this is so, and you are of one mind (of the Lord) , and live in peace, the God of love and peace will be with you. September

September 9th

Our first reading today is 2Kings15.  The Kings record continues to take us through the order of the kings of both Israel and Judah, the kings of Judah are mainly good, but the kings of Israel are always bad. The consequences of the kings of Israel being “bad” is that there is not a family line of kings, nearly all the kings are people who take over from the preceding king via assassinations and takeovers, eg verse 14 and 25. There was an exception to this with Jehu’s family line because Jehu did show some respect for God and God said that he would have family on the Israel throne for 4 generations as a result, verse 12. So because of the “evil” of the kings of Israel, eg verse 9, 18, 24 and 28 there was always uncertainty in Israel, no one would have known what was going to happen next, and this is a reminder to us too that if we have ungodly elders then our ecclesias will be weak. On the other hand the kings of Judah did follow the family line and all the kings could trace their ancestry back to David, God kept this line going because of the sake of David, it did mean though that there was more certainty with the people, they knew who would be the successors, therefore Judah is a more stable setup. We have 2 kings of Judah mentioned here, Azariah (verse 1), also known as Uzziah (verse 13) and Jotham, both were “good”, verse 3 and 34, however, they still incorrectly allowed some evil practice in Judah to continue, verse 4 and 35 – this was always a problem to the nation and obviously God was not pleased and it resulted in the destruction of Jerusalem and Judah. We read that Azariah became leprous, verse 5, and we read in the parallel chapter in 2Chronicles26:16 the reason for this is because he became proud. God was also aware of bad practice in Jotham’s reign too because he “raised up” a nation to attack them, verse 37. We too must all remember that God is aware of what we are doing in our daily lives and how devoted we are to him, he is obviously interested in each one of us too – God is always working! Ezekiel had a difficult time in his prophecies to the Jews in captivity in Babylon and Ezekiel 5 gives the graphical account of what Ezekiel did with his hair, verse 1-4, like all of Ezekiel’s prophecies up until now, this was visual, ie people could see and hopefully learn. From verse 5 we see that this is a prophecy about the people of Israel being dispersed throughout the world because of their sins, verse 6-7, the punishment is clear, verses 10 and 15. This is exactly what happened in AD70 when the Romans destroyed what was left of Jerusalem and the country of Israel, all because the people would not listen to God! When God says something it will happen, verse 13 and 17. The people were so corrupt they were even worse than the nations around them! We thank God that the story does not end there and in Luke 1 we have the excitement of the prophecies about John the Baptist and Jesus, and how Jesus was to be the saviour, verse 31-33. This was what all godly people who knew what God had foretold, were looking for to happen. Both Zechariah and Mary were godly people, they respected God and respected his laws and commands – Zechariah was a priest and trying to do his priestly duty, verse 8-10, and Mary “found favour” with God, verse 28. Both were afraid when the angel appeared, verse 12 and 29 and both had to be calmed down by the angel, verse 13 and 30. We would be no different if these things happened to us! Both asked a question after they were told the message, verse 18 and 34 because they did not understand the situation, Zechariah said that both he and his wife were old and Mary said how can it happen because I am a virgin. We may think that both are reasonable questions as they are so similar, but the response of God, via the angel, was different. There was a consequence for Zechariah, verse 19-22, he stopped being able to speak because he doubted God’s wonderful message. The response to Mary was different because her question was not of doubt that it would happen but a confusion over how it would happen, verse 35-37. A lesson perhaps for us is that it is OK for us not to understand how things will happen, but we are encouraged not to doubt, thankfully Zechariah being unable to speak was temporary. He demonstrated a confident understanding later in his prophecy, first about Jesus, verse 68-75 and then about John, verse 76-79. Mary demonstrated her understanding in her song, verse 46-55. Both understood that Jesus was the saviour, verse 47 and 69. All the godly people we have read about today demonstrated a respect for God a desire to do what he says; although there were failures there was forgiveness in Jesus and we are part of this wonderful hope that we have read about when all of those people who want to follow him are restored to God’s kingdom when Jesus returns. September

September 10th

We have a number of individuals in today’s readings who reacted differently to God’s message. In Kings we have the bad example, in Ezekiel we see what happened as a consequence, before we get to the good examples in Luke.  Thinking of the examples in Luke will get us to really focus on the bread and on the wine. Ahaz was one of the evil kings of Judah, we read of this in 2Kings 16 (verse 2). He was so bad that he even sacrificed his son (verse 3). We can take lessons from everything that Ahaz did to show us what not to do in our Christian lives. We have to be careful not to fall into the trap of trying to be like the people around us just to fit in. As Christians, God expects us to try to be like Jesus, therefore, we are expected to be different from those others around us. The example of Ahaz shows that he had no respect for God because he corrupted what God wanted in order to fit in with his own ideas and desires, he “offered sacrifices and burned incense in the high places” (verse 4). This is not what God said to do. He was in trouble with the nations of Israel and Aram who were making war against him, so instead of turning to God he turned to man (verse 7). Something that we should not forget when we are in difficulties – we should always turn to God for his help and not to rely on human help. As payment to the king of Assyria, he took articles from the temple (verse 8). This is serious evidence of his disrespect for God and the temple implements that God said were to be used for the worship of him. We should always respect the things of God and not treat them as something to treat with disrespect or sell or use as payment. When Ahaz went to Damascus he saw the altars to the false gods there and he sent messengers to the priests in Judah for them to build a replica before he got back home (verse 10). This is showing further corruption of Judah’s worship and religious practices, even the priests obeyed the king rather than God. Ahaz went further to show total disrespect for God, he presumably gave the credit for himself and Judah winning the war to the false gods of Damascus by altering God’s requirements for sacrifices (verses 11-14). He was bringing in ungodly practices to the worship of God and corrupting the religion, something that we have to be careful to avoid too. He went further in his corruption by moving the altar that God had given instructions for and replacing it with a false one, but he attempted to retain the “bronze altar”, approved by God, to seek guidance (verse 15)! A total corruption of what God wanted! He also removed the valuable materials in the temple, including the supports for the sea and the Sabbath canopy to pay more to the king of Assyria (verse 17-18). In all Ahaz showed complete disrespect for God and completely corrupted the worship of God by bringing in false customs. Yet he still arrogantly expected God to listen to him when he wanted guidance! This is an extreme example for us to take lessons from. But we too have to be careful not to corrupt our worship of God. We have to always ensure that we are doing our best to follow God’s ways in our worship and not doing things our own way, because we prefer them or because those around us think we are odd in the things that we do in worship! Neither must we expect God to answer us when we are doing our own thing. We do not worship at a temple now, we worship as described in the New Testament, but the lesson remains clear, we are to fully respect both God and Jesus in our worship and not to corrupt it in anyway. The sad thing is that Israel and Judah continued to corrupt God’s ways and the consequences are evident in Ezekiel, because the kings did not remove the false altars and idols as they should have, and in Ahaz’s case added more! God says that he will destroy them in Ezekiel 6:3-7. This eventually happened because the people still did not respect God, despite his many warnings and acts of love in him reminding them to repent! The whole point of God’s warnings and judgement was to get the people “to know that I am the Lord”, verse 7. This phrase occurs many times in Ezekiel, in this chapter it appears in verse 10, 13 and 14. God wants us to really know him, to respect him and to worship him and not to replace him with anything, whatever that personal idol could be. And repeating this phrase shows us the importance and purpose of all of God’s messages. That is his aim in all our lives, so that we will know him – really know him! This was why God prescribed the acts of worship. The reason for destruction is clear, it is because of their “wicked and detestable practices”, verse 11. It was because they corrupted the ways of God and lived ungodly lives, surely a reminder to us to always be careful and to recognise that our natural human self is sinful. This is a picture of the natural difference between God’s ways and human ways! Yet despite all this God is still patient with us and willing to forgive us, he did not punish all the people, verse 8, he allowed opportunity for repentance, verse 9. God is always to be respected, he is the Creator after all, and his ways are always right and he expects us to do our best, yet he still does show compassion and allows for repentance. The demonstration of how much God’s compassion extends is shown in Luke 2 with the birth of Jesus our “saviour”, verse 11, 30 and 39. Our sinful human nature requires a saviour and God directed events so that this would be possible. It was God who caused Caesar Augustus to arrange a census (verse 1). It was God who arranged it so that Joseph and Mary went to Bethlehem (verse 4). It was God who arranged the right time for Mary to give birth (verse 6). All this, so prophecy was fulfilled and that we would have a route to salvation. God is interested in individual people, eg the shepherds (verse 8-14). Simeon (verse 25-28). And Anna (verse 36-38). These people were looking for something better, they respected God and praised him (verse 20, 29-32 and 38). Joseph and Mary were the right people to bring up God’s son, they truly respected God, they followed all the laws involved in a birth (verse 21-24). Their offering of the 2 young doves or pigeons shows that they were a poor, yet humble family. And they did their best to comply with God’s laws (verse 39-40), by “every year” going to Jerusalem to worship (verse 41). They were committed to doing the right thing, like we should be. Like us, they did not always understand and were confused by circumstances, eg 19, 33, 48 and 50, yet they trusted in God. When Jesus went missing in Jerusalem it took them 3 days to go to the temple (verse 46), presumably to pray. They would have been desperate by this time and panicking over their lost son, did they try to find him themselves before turning to God in prayer? We do not know, but unlike Ahaz, they did turn to God in prayer when they were in trouble. All the faithful characters in Luke 2 respected and trusted God as they looked forward to the promised salvation that we are part of too. We thank God that Jesus obeyed his father at all times and “grew in wisdom and stature, and in favour with God and men.” (verse 52). We thank God for having Jesus to take away the sin of the world. And we thank God that Jesus did this and became our perfect sacrifice who we remember in the bread and in the wine. His life that was dedicated to his father and to us, that he willingly gave. Because of grace that life was given. And because of his resurrection, that life is new and we also have that same hope in a new life! So what is our character like? If we were like Ahaz, in that his actions showed he had no respect for God then we know the consequences will be destruction, as the examples in Ezekiel show us. But we are more like the Godly characters in Luke 2, who trusted in God, even though they were sometimes confused, but they received a blessing in that they saw evidence of the salvation brought about by Jesus, and because we see this evidence too, we trust and try our best to please God. September

September 11th

In the first reading today (2 Kings 17) we read about in verse 12-23 how the people were punished, not only because they did things that displeased God, but also because they would not listen to God and to repent of their sins. In the second reading (Ezekiel 7), we read in verse 24-27 of punishments again that God would use to turn the people back to wanting to hear from the prophets of God. In the third reading (Luke 3), we read the message in verse 10-17 of John the Baptist, who called those who would listen, to repent. Again in this 3rd reading we see a quote from Isaiah, verse 4-6; it talks about valleys being “filled in” and mountains being made “low”, this gives a picture of a levelling process, ie the land being made level. These words are clearly making us think about the “voice calling in the wilderness” as being John the Baptist “preparing the way for the Lord”, ie Jesus, so Isaiah is asking us to think about people. We therefore appear to have here a picture of people being on the same level, ie there is no person more important than another when both are in Jesus. This is a picture of humility. In verse 2 we are reminded of priests, ie Annas and Caiaphas and also Zechariah. In verse 23 we are told that Jesus began his ministry at the age of 30 – this is the same age when Jewish priests started their religious work. Interestingly Ezekiel was also 30 years of age when he started his work, Ezekiel 1 verse 1, the reference to 30 there suggests his age, and like Ezekiel, Jesus “levelled” the people. All are sinners, there is no one better than another and all need salvation. It does not matter if someone is rich or poor, black or white, male or female, all need Jesus. God was “well pleased” with Jesus, verse 22, because Jesus made salvation possible and Jesus demonstrated this via his own baptism, he did not actually need baptism, because he did not sin, but he outwardly demonstrated that he was going to obey his father and that he would overcome death. The message of John in this chapter is for people to repent and to change the way that they live their lives – he says to “produce fruit in keeping with repentance”, verse 8. This means that our actions are to demonstrate that we are repentant and trying to be like Jesus. We cannot say that we are “in Jesus” if we are living lives that are not the same as Jesus’, our “fruit” has to be the same as Jesus’ “fruit”. Like the Jews, who said that they were Abraham’s descendants and therefore they were saved, we cannot say that we are saved just because we are baptised. John warns that the “axe is at the door”, ie the “tree” that should be producing good “fruit” will be cut down, or made level. In other words unless we try to be like Jesus we will not be saved. John then goes on to give examples of how we can be like Jesus, verse 11-14. We have to share what we have; we must not cheat or steal; we must be content with what we have and not try to get more by devious means. These 3 examples are indicators to demonstrate what kind of fruit we produce – if bad we will fail, if good we will be saved. Sadly the Jewish priests, at this stage in the Jewish history, were not producing good fruit, Zechariah was an exception, and the contrast between them and Jesus was big. Jesus is our high priest and our king, the genealogy in verses 24-38 confirms that Jesus is of the line of king David and is the king. He is the perfect priest and king and brings our salvation when he returns to the earth, therefore we should act in such a way that demonstrates that we are repentant of our sins. So in humility we thank God for Jesus. It is true that we all have habits and rituals. The word “ritual” is used in its broadest meaning, ie a repeated sequence of actions. An example is the sequence of things that we do when we get up every the morning. Do we start with a prayer? I hope that we all give a prayer of thanks before our first meal of the day. Habits and rituals are part of the identity of each of us. They tell of who we are as an individual and also of our culture. We should all be trying to have a daily habit of reading the Bible, which is what these thoughts aim to help with. There are many good habits that we should have, such as starting and ending the day with a prayer. We should have the habit of arriving at the breaking of bread early but before it starts. If we join a few minutes late, we miss the all-important opening prayer. There may of course be good reasons for being late, but we should have the habit of being early because this is what pleases God. In the reading from 2 Kings 7, the people had developed bad habits and rituals. They got into the habit of worshipping idols that they could see and touch, instead of a God that they couldn’t see. Instead of prayer they turned to witchcraft. Practices such as consulting people who said they could speak to the dead. They became comfortable with these bad habits and rituals and refused to hear when prophets called them to repent. In Ezekiel 7 we read of how severe punishments would change them so that they would again remember their God and want to hear the voice of His prophets. God would break their bad habits, doing it the hard way. In Luke 3, John the Baptist called people to repent to prepare the way for the coming of Jesus. He told people that they had to change their bad habits. They had to have good habits, as we should too. This would not be easy. They had to hear and obey, if they wanted to be saved. Those who were in the habit of collecting lots of possessions, were to share with the poor. Tax collectors were typically in the habit of defrauding people – the resultant reduction in their income would hit hard. Soldiers who were in the habit of abusing their authority had to stop, and also they had to be contented with their wages. They needed to hear the voice of John, and change their habitual behaviour. We are in a similar position to those people. I am sure that we all have habits that we need to change. I am sure that we all have a need to develop new good habits, like daily Bible reading and doing our very best to be there at the start of meetings. Israel, in 2 Kings 17 fell down at the first hurdle, ie verse 13-14. They failed to hear and obey the word of God that was spoken by the prophets. Jesus told a parable about hearing, ie the parable of the sower. We tend to think of the ground as representing different types of people, but perhaps we should think of each of ourselves as being a mixture of each type of ground at the different stages in our lives. Is there not some of the wayside in each of us? We do not always concentrate and we forget what we have learnt – the seed that was left lying on the wayside has gone. Then there is the shallow stony ground. Are you, and am I, stirred up by something in an exhortation, perhaps we are encouraged to tell others about the gospel message, and then when someone rejects our message, we give up. We are enthusiastic until we face some slight difficulties. There is the thorny ground. We hear, but then find that there is a price that we are not willing pay. It is a question of whether we value eternal things more than the passing moments of this life. I hope that we are all predominantly made of the good ground, ie hearing, responding, bearing seed. In James 1 verse 22-24 we are warned to “do” after we have heard. We share the bread and the wine each week because it is so easy to forget. It is a good habit that we must not neglect. It is a time to each remember the example of Jesus who heard and obeyed His Father always. He was victorious over the flesh and gave his own blood that we may have life. We are instructed to examine ourselves, this includes considering it we have good or bad habits! September

September 12th

Hezekiah was a good king, he did what is right, 2 Kings 18 verse 3. His actions in removing the ungodly things and the things that caused temptations demonstrate his godliness, verse 4. He trusted in God, verse 5 and held fast and always obeyed, verse 6. This is how we should be in the way we live our lives too. Because of Hezekiah’s faith he was rewarded, verse 7-8. God is with those who trust in him and follow him, even though it may not always seem like it as Hezekiah would experience later, but God is working for the best. The faithfulness of Hezekiah contrasts with the unfaithfulness of their neighbours Israel, verse 12. They were taken into captivity because of their ungodly actions, verse 11. The contrast is a lesson for us too, if we follow God we are blessed, if we disobey God we suffer the consequences. The king of Assyria became confident after his destruction of Israel and he came to attack Judah too, verse 13. Hezekiah attempted to pay him off and tried to trust in humanity, verse 16. There is no record here of Hezekiah praying to God and perhaps he did react too quickly in an attempt to avert a disaster. The king of Assyria did know a lot about God and his promises to Israel/Judah because he made reference to them, eg verse 25 and 32. But he had no respect, verse 35. The lesson here is good too because sometimes human promises do look attractive, sometimes they can be made to look “godly” which is why we should always check to see what God actually wants. In Ezekiel 8 we see just how corrupt the people and the religious leaders of Judah did become, another warning for us when we allow human thinking to replace God’s thinking. There appears to be stages in the corruption of the people starting with idols, verse 5. The start is always replacing God with something, this causes jealousy – God’s jealousy – because he does not want to “share” us with ungodly things. Secondly God shows Ezekiel their even more detestable actions, verse 9-11, they were worshipping the idols and corrupting what God had put in place. Thirdly it gets worse, the elders were involved, verse 12. The fourth thing is again worse still, verse 14-15. When we get to the fifth stage the people had turned their backs completely on God, verse 16. If we allow even the seemingly small ungodly thing to come between us and God it will eventually replace him and we cannot see him because we have turned our backs on him. When this happens God will not even listen, verse 18. The message here is to learn from what happened to the people of both Israel and Judah and not allow God to be replaced and the worship of him corrupted. It is clear from the Bible that none of us can always do what God wants because we have human nature, this is why we need Jesus and only he did not sin. His temptations in Luke 4 show us how he did not give in. He was hungry and was tempted to change stones into bread to overcome his hunger, but he stopped his ungodly thoughts, verse 4. He had the power and ability then to take control of the kingdoms but he resisted his thoughts, verse 8. He wanted to test his power, but he resisted this too, verse 12. Each time he quoted from the Bible, each time he checked to see what God wanted. We most definitely can learn from Jesus. We have to try to be like him. As Hezekiah found out, human thinking just cannot be trusted. When Jesus was teaching in the synagogue the people initially were amazed at his teaching, verse 22, but they very quickly turned on him when they did not like what he said to them, verse 28-29. Not all people can accept what God wants and sometimes we will face opposition, in fact Jesus tells us to expect this. Just as Jesus heals illnesses he has the power to forgive our sins and his priority in teaching was about the kingdom, verse 42-44. So our lessons again today are to always try to follow God and obviously Jesus and to not put our trust in human things because they will fail. September

September 13th

All the way through the Bible we see how human beings always oppose God in one way or another and all of this reminds us just how much we need Jesus. In today’s readings, although we start with reminders of our sinful nature, we end with Jesus and how only in him do we have forgiveness. So the lessons will be reminders how we should try to live our lives day by day. In 2 Kings 19 we continue with the account of the king of Assyria’s arrogance and pride in trying to attack and take Jerusalem, in this account we see how the godly Hezekiah responds to the situation. The king of Assyria had no respect for God, he ridiculed God’s power by saying that God would not protect Judah.  Verses 4, 10-13, 16, 22-24 all show how arrogant and proud the king of Assyria was. We always have to take care not to become proud in what we think are our achievements. The king of Assyria knew of God’s prophecies and words and he manipulated them for his own purpose and he had either forgotten or did not consider that it was God himself who raised up the king of Assyria to humble Israel because of Israel’s sins, verse 25-26. God is in control of everything and he does as he alone sees fit. God is always aware of everyone’s actions and thoughts and he always listens and sees, he made a judgement on the king of Assyria, verse 27-28 and 32-34. What God said would happen took place, verse 35-37. As well as remembering that God hears and sees we also need to respond like Hezekiah did when he was faced with problems. Immediately after hearing what the Assyrians were saying in 2 Kings 18, Hezekiah prayed, verse 1. He then sent attendants to Isaiah to find out what God wanted him to do, verse 2. Later when Hezekiah received the letter from the Assyrians he went to the temple and “spread it out before the Lord” and prayed, verse 14-15. God obviously already knew what was in the letter so he did not have to see it again, but the very act of Hezekiah showing it to God again showed humility on Hezekiah’s part and demonstrates acknowledgement that prayer is real and that we should think of God as being close to us. This is good practice for us to learn from and these actions of Hezekiah were effective as God answered and said that Judah would be saved at this time, verse 29-34. Ezekiel 9 shows what happens when people do not acknowledge that God can see everything, verse 9-10. If we want God to have pity on us then we have to always remember that God sees our actions and knows our thoughts and words. Hezekiah’s concern for their safety also included concern for the name of God that was being blasphemed, the same is true of people in Ezekiel’s time as God sent the angels to “mark” those who grieved over the godless acts that were taking place in Judah at this stage, verse 4. A question for you (and me!) – do you (do I) “grieve” because people around us and the world are ungodly, or do we ignore it and try to get on with our lives? We should be upset when God is ignored and replaced and we should pray as Hezekiah did and the people in Ezekiel’s time who received this “mark”. It was those with the “mark” who were spared by the angels. In Luke 5 we see how Jesus taught forgiveness – Peter responded when he heard and then experienced the wonderful catch of fish, verse 8-9, he recognised that he was a sinner and Jesus responded by saying “do not be afraid”, verse 10. Peter and his partners “left everything” and followed Jesus, verse 11. These are the stages of acknowledging God and Jesus and remembering that only in them can we have forgiveness, but it does mean leaving “everything” to follow – we interpret this as putting God first. We have seen that leprosy is like sin and the healing of the man is a visual account of how Jesus forgives and heals. Notice the man acknowledges that Jesus can do these things, verse 12, and Jesus came close and “touched” and made the man clean, verse 13. If there is any doubt that Jesus’ healing physical and mental illnesses has a picture connection with sin, then look at verse 24. Jesus is keen to emphasise this link – it is not that sin causes illnesses, it is that illnesses are a reminder that we are sinful and illness does end in death, which is the picture of sin, because sin brings death. Jesus said to the paralytic man that his sins were forgiven first, verse 20. He came to Jesus and Jesus forgave him, and in order to demonstrate that his sins were forgiven he healed him too. This healing and forgiveness took place “immediately”, verse 25. The connection between sin and illness is made again in the “saving” of Levi (Matthew), verse 31. Jesus talks about illness and doctors when the context is clearly “eating with sinners” and Jesus said to Levi to follow him, not because he was ill, but because he was a sinner, verse 27. Like Simon (Peter), Levi “left everything”, verse 18. In other words he put Jesus and God first. The parable about the wineskins, verse 36-39, appears to be Jesus saying that it is just not possible to “patch” up the old law and human nature, it just does not work – the people turning to God in Hezekiah’s time was temporary, by the time we get to Ezekiel there are very few left who were godly, so Jesus and those who follow him became the “new wine skin” and the “new wine” signifying Jesus was the only way to have forgiveness and to be saved. This does not mean that God has changed – he still demands respect and obedience, but it does mean that when we fail, as we often will, if we try our best and then repent when we fail, we confidently have forgiveness and life. We thank God for this and we should show this thankfulness by putting him first. September

September 14th

We read of Hezekiah’s illness in 2Kings20. God tells him that his illness was going to lead to his death, verse 1. Hezekiah is advised to prepare for this. The character of Hezekiah means that he immediately turns to God in prayer, verse 2-3, his request is completely understandable and even though we know that we have a wonderful promise in the kingdom, we still naturally want to cling to the life that we have. God responded because he saw that Hezekiah was genuine and although God’s plan was to punish Judah because of their sin, but he delayed because of the faith and godliness of Hezekiah, verse 5-6. God specifically said that he would deliver the city from the hand of Assyria in his response, something that would now happen in Hezekiah’s lifetime with the extension of his life for 15 years. Obviously, God saw Hezekiah’s godly character and said he would extend his life, but after Isaiah told him that his life would be extended Hezekiah actually doubted, verse 8. I am sure that most of us would doubt too, even though he had already been healed, verse 7, so it is OK to doubt and in this case God provided a sign to convince him further, verse 9-10, giving Hezekiah to option to choose. It was good that Hezekiah’s choice was something humble and where he wouldn’t gain from, other than having greater confidence. However, now that Hezekiah knows that he is going to live for an extra 15 years he now appears to have lost the uncertainty of life because he does a foolish thing when he has visitors from Babylon, verse 13. He allows his human pride to take over his humility and this is why we have to also be careful in controlling our pride and showing off our achievements. This was a subtle “temptation” for him because he was obviously pleased that he was well and when the Babylonians came to visit he allowed his pleasure to then show off. It makes me realise that we all need the uncertainty of life to keep us godly, we do not know what is around the corner so we have an incentive to always try to do what God wants, but if this uncertainty is taken away we would allow ourselves to relax. This is why we suffer – it is a reminder for us to always try to stay close to God. God told Hezekiah through Isaiah that all that Hezekiah had shown would be taken to Babylon, verse 18. Hezekiah’s response to this is interesting too, verse 19 – it is a selfish comment because he thought that it would not be in his lifetime! He appears not to have any thought of God’s land, God’s city or God’s people. Hezekiah was an interesting person, like all of us he has good and bad points, all of which we can take lessons from. Ezekiel 10 is another of those sad chapters in the Bible – this is the picture of God’s glory departing from the temple. The vision that Ezekiel saw is described in the best way for us to try to picture the event and it is a dramatic event where God has left his people because of all their rebellion and sin. For Ezekiel this would be very painful because the land of Judah/Israel and Jerusalem would be uninhabited until the people returned from the exile where he and the survivors were, ie in Babylon. Little pictures like this show to us the accuracy of the Bible, Hezekiah was told that all the items that he showed to the Babylonians would be taken to Babylon and Ezekiel was witness to this actually taking place all those years later. Luke 6 confirms that God has not left his people because he sent Jesus and Jesus teaches us how to behave as well as being our saviour who takes away doubts and sin. All that Jesus said was right, he showed the priests that keeping the Sabbath and having no regard for doing godly things was wrong, verse 5 and 9. Jesus shows us that worship INCLUDES doing good, it is no good just observing the formal worship or  just resting on the Sabbath and ignoring people’s needs, we have to always take opportunities to do good too. Like Hezekiah, Jesus prayed before important events eg he spent all night praying before appointing the 12 apostles, verse 12-16, a big lesson for us in our lives, always pray! Jesus clearly says that those who are poor, hungry, sad and hated are all really blessed because we know that when Jesus does come back to the earth all this suffering will come to an end, verse 20-22. The suffering is a reminder of sin and human nature, but also a reminder that it will pass, verse 23. It is so easy for us to sometime resent the ungodly who appear to suffer less than us but Jesus has a message for them too, verse 24-26, all those things that they trusted in will end. But we should not “hate our enemies”, verse 27. Jesus gives us examples of love and how we can help our enemies, verse 28-35, all these things do not come naturally to us, but this is what we should be doing as Christians, we are here to set an example and to also recognise that we have been given everything by God even though we are sinful (ie enemies of God!). We have to be merciful, just as our father is, verse 36. The messages recorded in the gospels often seem to provide an answer to a previous statement, eg how do you judge who is an “enemy”, the answer is immediately given, verse 37. We are told not to judge, therefore it is hard then for us to decide who an enemy is! We do have to make “judgements” as to what is right and wrong, but to judge to condemn is not right. Helping and giving is something that has to come naturally to us as Christians because these opportunities are presented to us to help determine our reward in the kingdom, verse 38. All of us are sinners so judging to condemn others is not something we should do as the humorous parable in verse 41-42 shows! How can I with a plank in my eye see clearly to get the speck out of your eye! It is not possible, so none of us should try, we should all be challenging each other in love with a view to bringing repentance when we see something wrong. The good fruit from a tree shows that the tree is good, bad fruit shows that the tree is bad, it is the same with us, if our actions are good we are good, if actions are bad we are bad, verse 43-45. This is a big lesson for us because what we say and do shows us who we are! We have to build our lives on a solid foundation which again INCLUDES putting what we learn into practice. The simple parable in verse 46-49 is so clear – we have to put into practice what we learn, if we do not we will fail. If however, we are putting into practice what we learn we have reached a situation where our faith is strong because we really believe it and when troubles come we will stay strong with God’s help. Good actions show that we are God’s, sadly there are many people who say they are God’s when it is clear from their actions that they are not serious, interestingly there is a connection back to Ezekiel 13 re “foolish builders”, but that will wait for a few days’ time! We are God’s people, therefore we have to try to demonstrate at all times that we are his people, when we fail we need to repent and we can confidently do this in Jesus. September

September 15th

2 Kings 21 (also same record in 2 Chronicles 33). Some people might not see the relevance of these words in their own lives, thinking that they do not practice idolatry like Manasseh did, but remember Col 3 verse 5-6: “Put to death therefore, whatever belongs to your earthly nature:  sexual immorality, impurity, lust, evil desires and greed, which IS IDOLATRY. Because of THESE, the wrath of God is coming”. Despite experiencing 29 years from the righteous king Hezekiah, Judah still had idolatry within their hearts, verse 15: “they have done evil in my eyes and have aroused my anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until this day”. Within the nation there had always been those who were faithful, those who were not, and those who could be led to be faithful. Hezekiah was faithful and led the nation in such a way as to encourage and inspire faithfulness in the one, true God. But when he died, those who had faith in Hezekiah, rather than in God as encouraged by Hezekiah, would go astray, unless they were led by another righteous king. Manasseh, however, “did evil in the eyes of the Lord”. His reign started when he was only 12 years old, he was too young to impose his will on Judah, so this verse shows us that Manasseh’s actions in his younger life mirrored the “heart” of Judah, and Manasseh, as he got older, actually encouraged their idolatry, taking them further away from God and His word. Verse 7-9 shows how stupid the people of Judah were, the Lord reminds them of the nation’s history and promises and what the temple represented – it was all because of God’s relationship with the nation. But contrast this with what Manasseh put in the temple: a carved, dead piece of wood! It was the same physical temple but a totally different and corrupt worship. This message has relevance for us today: “Do you not know that YOUR BODY is a temple of the holy spirit, who is in you.“ (1 Cor 6:19) ”but the people did not listen”. We MUST continue to listen to the Lord, otherwise we too will go astray. In 2 Chronicles 33 verse 10-19 we have an amazing addition to the Kings record, we see Manasseh “transformed by the renewing of his mind”. In his captivity, he considered himself as no longer a king but a lowly servant, and he humbled himself, conscious of his terrible sins, he had the spirit of the prodigal son who we read of in the New Testament. This too should be our beginning of a Christian life, ie having the right spirit, being humble and being willing servants. God was moved by Manasseh’s prayer and restored him as king of Jerusalem. By God’s mercy and forgiveness, Manasseh was inspired to serve the Lord with a new heart, getting rid of the idols and restoring worship to the Lord, “in sincerity and truth”. If Manasseh can be forgiven, so can we be forgiven IF we are sincere, repentant, wanting to have a new life, having a spirit of humility, love, faithfulness and being prayerful. Ezekiel 11 shows us that once again the people did not listen. The Lord repeatedly sent them prophets, eg Jeremiah, Isaiah etc. and some of the prophecies had already been fulfilled by the time of this chapter, but the people refused to listen, despite their desperate situation. The elders of the people of Jerusalem incorrectly believed that they were “Saved” because at that time they had not been taken into exile. We see in verse 2 that they were actually plotting evil and giving wicked advice, saying, “will it not soon be time to build houses?”, ie to settle again in Jerusalem. They likened recent events to a cooking pot with meat and water in it. It came to the boil and the scum (exiles) was taken out so it would not corrupt the meat (themselves). This is totally opposite to the word of God recorded in Jeremiah 29 (read the whole chapter) and Ezekiel 24 verse 1-14. This is how we recognise the false prophets, we are able to “test the spirits” according to the word of the Lord (Bible). Verse 6, by plotting evil and giving wicked advice, the elders were responsible for many deaths in the city, either directly or indirectly (denying salvation by telling lies). Verse 7 the Lord corrects them, saying that they were actually the deposit left in the bottom of the pot after emptying the pot, spoken of in Ezekiel 24 “Woe to city of bloodshed, to the pot now encrusted whose deposit will not go away! (verse 6) “set the empty pot on the coals until it becomes hot, so it’s impurities may be melted and it’s deposit burned away” (v11). Ezekiel 11 verse 11 says that it is they would be removed from the pot, ie Jerusalem, by intense heat, ie judgement, because they had “conformed to the standards of the nations around them”, and actually done worse! Verse 16-20 the promise from the Lord was that Israel would eventually return to Jerusalem but with a “new spirit” within them (like Manasseh!). These “gifts” given by God are possible too for Christians through the new covenant in Christ, ie an undivided heart, new spirit, etc. and the promise “they will be my people, and I will be their God” will apply to faithful Christians. In summary Ezekiel 11 really asks all of us who do we want to love and serve? The world or the loving Lord God and His chosen King? Luke 7 verse 1-10 tells us that the faith of the centurion caused Jesus to be amazed, verse 9. The good deeds of the centurion, verse 5, caused the elders of the Jews to say “he deserves to have his servant healed”. But Jesus saw greater qualities in this man, ie humility, verse 6, faith, verse 7: ”say the word, and my servant will be healed”. Then in verse 8 he reveals his reasoning for his faith in Jesus. The centurions’ authority was given to him by Rome and he could see the authority of God had been given to Jesus, so he acknowledged that Jesus only had to give the command and it would be done. We notice in verse 7 “the centurion sent friends to say to Him”, Luke is talking about delegated authority. As Christadelphians, we do not believe in a trinity, but we do recognise the delegated authority that Jesus has been given from his father. This aspect of faith found in the centurion “amazed Jesus” and Jesus said “I tell you; I have not found such great faith even in Israel”. Verse 11-17, Jesus raises a widow’s son from the dead, this is further proof of a delegated authority because the Jews that witnessed the event confessed by praising God, verse 16. Jesus says in John 5 verse 19 “The Son can do nothing by himself”, all power and authority had been given to him by his father, verse 21: ”For just as the Father raises the dead and given them life, so the son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it”. Jesus continues in John 5 to talk about John the Baptist and so does Luke in chapter 7 verse 18-35. Jesus has great respect for John the Baptist and yet John, in his darkest moments needed help from Jesus. It is interesting which words Jesus chose to strengthen John, he said ”Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me”. I think, Jesus is reminding John of Isaiah 35, a chapter that finishes with the words: “sorrow and sighing will flee away”. The chapter begins talking about a desert, something that John would relate to as that is where he lived for a time, then verse 3-4 speak of strengthening with the promise that the Lord is coming to save you verse 5-6 and heal you. I suspect John’s mind had been on Isaiah 35 and when Jesus spoke to him, through John’s disciples, it revealed that Jesus knew John’s doubts and graciously gave a very personal message with words of encouragement from that very same chapter. Verse 36-50 is a contrast between the hearts of Simon, a Pharisee, and a sinful woman, perhaps a prostitute and the lesson is that we should all have the same attitude as this woman. Verse 7 is very revealing: “her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much”. Love, OF IT’S OWN does not bring forgiveness, it is by faith we are saved, however, if we love we will not want anything, eg sin, to come between us and the Lord, the more we love the Lord, the more we want to be like him and will want complete, total, forgiveness. So because she loved much, she sought forgiveness for her many sins and one-ness with her Lord and because of having that spirit she was forgiven, totally. She knew this and so continued to love. In contrast, “He who has been forgiven little, loves little”. If we, like Simon, loves little, then forgiveness is not so important to us, maybe because of OUR grief, not the Lord’s, we might ask to be “let off” our sins, that is not love, that is not one-ness with the Lord. And if we have been forgiven little then we in turn will love little. Jesus doesn’t condemn Simon, he is trying to help him. Simon and all of mankind, will only know one-ness when they are aware of the depth of the love that is in Jesus and also in God, and when we come to know that love then we GROW in love for them and we too can hear the words “Your sins are forgiven, your faith has saved you; go in peace”. September

September 16th

We read in 2Kings22 that Josiah was a good king, verse 2. He was considered to be good by God even during the first 18 years of his reign when he and the people were still not completely right in the sight of God. We should not use this as an excuse for our failures because that would clearly not be right, but Josiah did his best during those first 18 years with the knowledge and understanding that he had. His order to repair the temple is confirmation that he did his best with the knowledge that he had, verse 4-6. The people and all those involved were also acting honestly, verse 7, again giving an indication that the people were trying with knowledge that they had – this is the attitude that everyone should have, ie being honest and acting faithfully when dealing with money and in everything else! (All of us should have a faithful attitude and never keep the things that God has given to us as only for us!). As soon as Josiah knew of what was written in the law of God he immediately took action, verse 11-13. He immediately acknowledged that he and the people were wrong. The priests had also failed in their work to ensure that God’s word was checked daily and followed and it confirms that if the elders and religious leaders are bad then the people will also be bad. There were clear consequences for the people’s sin and God was not going to change his mind, but because of his love he was going to spare Josiah from seeing the disaster, verse 19-20. It was because Josiah listened and “humbled” himself that God protected him from seeing this destruction. Josiah’s godly attitude is further demonstrated by how he responded to this news from God, he did not do what Hezekiah did, ie just be pleased that it would not happen in his day, he actually more fully complied with what God wanted. In 2Kings23 we see all the good that he did in restoring the correct ways to worship God. He destroyed all of the idols and false gods that his predecessors had set up or not destroyed – Josiah was a man who wholeheartedly followed God, he did not pretend, he got rid of all the temptations, he got rid of all of the things that took people away from the things that distracted them from the things of God. God describes his godly attitude in verse 25. Josiah had full respect for God and what God said, the sad thing is that the priests and the people and the kings before Josiah did not have the same respect. When Josiah asked about some of the tombs that were around, verse 16, he was told that the one tomb was of the man of God who had prophesised all those years before that a king named Josiah would do all these things, verse 17-18. This shows respect and it also shows how accurate God’s Bible is, things that were said in 1Kings13:2 came true, we too should respect God’s word! The situation that the Jews were now in because of their sins had consequences and despite all of the reforms that Josiah carried out the damage was done, verse 26-28. If it was not for Jesus and God’s grace and mercy the consequences of sin would be so damaging for us too; however we still have to learn and try our very best as Josiah did. The book of Ezekiel is not in chronological order and Ezekiel 12 is probably before king Zedekiah was taken into exile – verse 12-13 suggests this, ie the king (prince) tried to escape from Jerusalem (break through wall) but was captured (net) and made blind by the Babylonians (would not see), but the lessons are nevertheless real for us now. God has always been patient with all of his people, he gives us all opportunities to repent, but there will come a time when God’s patience will run out. The problem is that people mistook God’s patience as God not carrying out what he said would happen, and they introduced a saying, verse 22. They did not believe that all the punishment God had planned would come about, but God changes those incorrect words of theirs to verse 23, ie that what God said would happen, would happen! We must not mistake God’s patience as God not fulfilling the things that he said would happen, he will do what he says he will, therefore we have to be ready and trying out best all of the time, verse 24-25. We can so easily deceive ourselves and think that life will carry on as it is, but it will not! We need to be like Josiah who tried to respect God at all times. The parable of the sower in Luke 8 has a message about checking what God wants and how to always try our best. In Jesus’ explanation in verse 15 he says that we should have a “noble and good heart”, this means trying our best to do the right godly things; we should “hear the word”, ie listen to or read what God says (Bible); “retain it”, ie remember what God says and to check checking and then to “persevere and to produce a crop”, ie we have to keep trying to be like Jesus and therefore like God. The kings and priests of Judah (and Israel) forgot what God wanted, they didn’t check what God wanted they did not produce good fruit (except Josiah) and therefore they did not have a “noble and good heart”. God makes it very clear what he expects, verse 16-18, he hides nothing from us, he tells us what he wants us to do and he makes it clear what our future is if we follow him. We are asked to “consider carefully” because there will be consequences if we are not wholehearted in following God. So many times Jesus reminded us that we should do as he says, eg verse 21, we have to “put into practice” what we learn. The example then of Jesus calming the storm is another way of putting into practice what we learn, ie have faith, verse 25 – we will experience difficulties in our lives, but we should have faith that we will be saved and be with Jesus when he comes back. We have the healing of the man who had a mental illness; Jesus dramatically demonstrated to him and those around him that the man was healed, and therefore Jesus could also forgive sins. Jesus told the man to teach others – this is another way of “putting into practice”. The same is true of Jairus’ daughter and the woman who had a constant bleeding, both were healed and in both cases faith was demonstrated. Many difficulties happen in our lives, spiritual storms, confusion, illness and death and Jesus tells us all not to be “afraid”, verse 50. This is one of the points of our Christian life – we are asked to believe and to trust and to try our best to obey God, but we will fail, so do not be afraid because we are shown grace and mercy and together with Josiah and Ezekiel and other faithful people we will be in the kingdom with Jesus when he comes back. All we have to do is to try our best! September

September 17th

All that God was saying during the times of the kings of Israel and Judah and spoken via the prophets like Jeremiah and Ezekiel has now happened and Jerusalem has fallen. 2Kings24 and 25 bring us to the sad end of this beautiful city that God called his own – all because of the people’s sins. They did not listen to God’s warnings despite him warning them time and time again. The leaders of the people were punished severely for this, 2Kings25:18-21, they were taken captive to Babylon and then the king put them to death and “Judah went into captivity, away from her land”. Just a few words described how everything was over for this generation. A warning again for us, especially those of us who are elders, we have a very great responsibility to set godly examples to our brothers and sisters and to everyone else – God and Jesus expect us to be good examples! The last 3 kings of Judah were evil they had no respect for God and in fact they had no respect for the king of Babylon either, they just demonstrated how arrogant and proud they were; even though they had been attacked by a powerful king, they still rebelled, 2Kings24:1 and 20. Rather they should have been humble and accepted what God had brought against them eg 2Kings24:2-4 and 12-13. Humility should also be our aim in our Christian life! Everything that David and Solomon and the rest of the kings had worked for was carried off to Babylon and the buildings destroyed, 2Kings25:13-17. These verses are a reminder of how great the temple and palace were and now they were totally and utterly destroyed – everything that had been built up was gone! A very good reminder that everything we build up, whatever it is, should be built on God and never motivated by human pride. The cause of the defiance of the people and the leaders is confirmed for us in Ezekiel 13. The false prophets were telling lies, these are the ones who opposed Jeremiah and Ezekiel is making perfectly clear that they were liars, verse 2. God also makes it clear that they will be punished, verse 3. This is why we have to be sure of what God wants before we believe and teach something – our reading of the Bible and our praying for guidance prepares us for this. One of the problems with human beings is that we do not like bad news about ourselves and we make things up to tell a better story, but God has a description for false prophets and liars, verse 4-7. God says that his “hand will be against them”, verse 8-9. It is always amazing how deceptive the human mind is, these people would have convinced themselves that they were speaking the truth, yet they were not, this is why we all have to check what we are told by others to see if it is the truth. The difference between Jeremiah and the false prophets was that Jeremiah was able to demonstrate from the teachings of God through Moses that what he was saying was right.  So when they disobeyed God the punishment should not have been a surprise, whereas the false prophets were just saying what they knew others wanted to hear. Sometimes we have to say things that others do not want to hear, because if they continue to believe a lie then they will end up not pleasing God, verse 8-9. A big lesson for all of us, especially the elders, is that we should take care not to “lead our brothers and sisters astray” by telling them things that are not in the Bible and not correctly challenging brothers and sisters who may be doing things wrong. Ezekiel uses the phrase “covering with whitewash” – he is saying that the false prophets were not being honest and that they were hiding the truth, in the example here, the big cracks in the wall. We too have to be careful about not covering up cracks and sins just to make us look good. Jesus criticised the Pharisees in Matt23:27 for being like “whitewashed” tombs, ie they look good and religious on the outside, but inside they are full of dead men’s bones, ie sinful and defiled. Ezekiel says that the wind and the rain from God will destroy the walls. We all know that if a wall is not protected properly it will get washed away, paint will not save it! Jesus also used this teaching in the parable in Luke 6:46-end to explain what happens to a house that is not on a firm foundation. I suspect that the Pharisees in Jesus’ time would have made a connection with what Ezekiel said and what Jesus was saying, in other words that they were false and lying prophets! Verse 13-16, God will show that the false prophets are liars. All the way through this chapter in Ezekiel, God is saying all these things so that they will know that God is “the Lord”, so even amongst this punishment of God, his purpose is for people to recognise him. In Luke 9 we have the excitement of the 12 disciples going off preaching and healing; notice that they were in twos and they took very few things with them, verse 1-6. They would have been excited by this experience so when they returned Jesus took them away from everyone, presumably so that he could calm their excitement down and stop them from becoming proud of what they were able to do, verse 10. This is why we should always keep the things that we do in perspective and remain humble, always checking what God wants from us. There is no surprise that the feeding of the 5000 comes next, because this is a humbling experience for the disciples as Jesus demonstrated that the power that Jesus gave them at the time to teach and heal was not important. The disciples did not know how to feed the people, verse 13, and when they saw the results, verse 17, they would have been humbled. Jesus always cared for his disciples – an example of this is in verse 18, Jesus was giving the example of prayer to them, and how important it was because not even Jesus could do things on his own, he needed his father’s help. It was the humility to ask and to be sure of what God wanted, that prevented Jesus from deviating from God’s ways. The false prophets that Ezekiel was talking about allowed themselves to become proud and to want the favour of men – Jesus did not, he always wanted to please his father and likewise we should. There was bad news for the disciples because they expected Jesus to set up the kingdom immediately, but Jesus warned them that he would be killed, verse 21; they did not understand this, but Jesus told them the truth, he did not “whitewash” the reality. It is far better to always say what the truth is. The “transfiguration” was a wonderful event for Peter, John and James in how they witnessed Jesus meeting Moses and Elijah in some sort of event that we can only be amazed at. They also witnessed God saying to listen to Jesus, verse 35 and this is what we should always try to do – we have to always check our beliefs and actions to ensure that they are what Jesus would do. Jesus emphasised the importance of listening to him again in verse 44 when he said again that he would be betrayed. At this stage the disciples did not understand, verse 45, and it is telling that the next event recorded is that the disciples were arguing about who would be the greatest, verse 46. This is amazing really – Jesus had already taught them to be humble and now they were arguing about who would be the greatest! Maybe Peter, James and John thought that they were the greatest as it was them who Jesus took to the mountain and who witnessed the transfiguration, verse 28, but Jesus is clear that there is no “greatest”, it is the welcoming of Jesus that is important and the example that Jesus gives is the welcoming of a little child, verse 47-48, that determines anyone’s standing before Jesus. We have to be as little children, accepting whatever their father says, and trusting him fully.  The smallest role we may be given has no bearing on the standing that anyone has before Jesus. Jesus responding to John’s criticism of someone healing in the name of Jesus, verse 49-50, shows us not to be jealous of what anyone else is doing, just worry about yourselves and doing what God wants. There is a cost to following Jesus – you may not have a home, you may not be able to work on your parent’s land, you may not be able to have a family, but Jesus is saying to put him first if we want to be in the kingdom and not regret what you may be missing, because what God has promised is better, verse 57-62. So we have to trust God, we must not lie or cover over the problems, we must “listen carefully” and we must humble ourselves if we want to be in the kingdom. September

September 18th

In Chronicles we get some more details of the history of the kings of Judah than we did in Kings, so there is a repeat of some details. In addition we will also see some more of the detail that we read in Jeremiah, Ezekiel, etc. However, the Kings of Israel are not mentioned at all. It is interesting to compare the differences as we build on our knowledge of the things of God. 1 Chronicles 1 is a list of names and maybe our practical lessons are harder to find amongst them, but what I always find of benefit is to think that all these names are real people, some we are familiar with, others perhaps we cannot remember reading about before but the chapters show the history of God’s people, good and bad. Reading the names reminds us of events, eg Noah, verse 4, and how God saved those who followed him; Abraham who was the father of Israel (Jacob) and Esau, verse 34; we see little bits of how names of tribes and cities came about, eg verse 12 and 17. It is all significant even if we do not understand it, and over time we will be able to find lessons from every section of God’s word. Throughout the history of God’s people we have seen examples of the good and the bad, and in Ezekiel 14 we are reminded yet again why people become bad – it is always when they replace God with other things. Here these other things are described as “idols” and it was true that the people replaced God with what we traditionally know as idols. In Africa you perhaps come across traditional “idols” more than we do in Europe for example BUT we must not restrict the word “idol” to just traditional idols – “idols” is anything that replaces God. Ezekiel talks about “idols in their heart”, verse 3-4 and 7 which replaced loving God “with all of our heart”, which is what we are supposed to do – the answer of the expert of the law in Luke 10 verse 27 is correct, verse 28. So setting up “idols” of any sort is not loving God! Ezekiel describes these “idols” as “stumbling blocks”, these are things that cause people to fall and trip over. So setting up idols in our own hearts is actually causing us to fall and to fail! The big practical lesson for us then is that we should have the right attitude and love God, we cannot love God and the things of the “world”, ie those things described in the New testament as “money” or “man”. These elders that Ezekiel were describing actually believed that they could serve their idols and also serve God at the same time.  God says that this cannot happen, verse 4. God said that the elders should “repent” of their “detestable practices” and to “turn from their idols”, verse 6. This is so terrible that God himself answers, verse 4 and 7-8, with his main purpose being to bring these ungodly elders back to him. Even in serious situations there is hope, but this does not mean that we can deliberately provoke God to anger by replacing him with any sort of “idol”. Remember that these “idols” can be anything that replaces God, even your family if you put them before God. The lesson is also real for teachers too because if we teach anything that is contrary to what God wants we will be guilty, verse 9-11. It is very wrong that some religious leaders teach that you can love money and big houses and lots of worldly goods as well as love God, it is not possible, Ezekiel is clear if you do this you will stumble! The message in verse 12-23 shows us how serious it is if we are unfaithful, there will be a judgement! Jesus was very keen that the people in his time repented from their ungodliness and in Luke 10 we see Jesus sending out the 72 disciples to teach and to prepare them for when Jesus himself would visit to teach, verse 1. Just as he told the 12 disciples in Luke 9 he said not to take luggage with them and not to “greet anyone on the way”, verse 4. This had nothing to do with being unkind to anyone it was all to do with urgency in passing on the message of Jesus. Greetings took a long time in Middle Eastern cultures, it is the same in African cultures and in some European countries where people spend time just asking how each other is and giving greetings to everyone. Jesus tells them not to do this because his gospel is urgent. When we visit Africa we are always rushing around to fit in all the things that we want to do so we do not have time for lengthy introductions and greetings and this is perhaps the urgency that we all should have all the time as we teach others to repent and to accept Jesus! There are many lessons for us in the instructions that Jesus gave the 72, but the main lesson to think about now is how Jesus protected them when they came back from their preaching trip. Like the 12 disciples before them they were excited by what they had achieved, verse 17. There was a danger here that the 72 were a bit proud of what they had achieved and Jesus puts their achievements into perspective, verse 18-20. The thing that we should be pleased about is that our “names are written in heaven”, ie in God’s “book of life” meaning that when Jesus comes back we will be in the kingdom. Jesus’ use of the words “satan” and “heaven” appears to be similar to the use in Isaiah 14 where the proud king of Babylon was humiliated from his powerful position. It is a similar picture in Isaiah 2 where the proud will be humbled. Apparently the city of Capernaum was a very proud city and Jesus says “no, you will be humiliated”, verse 15. So the message we have here is that Jesus saw the proud being brought low by the teaching, this is why Jesus said when he sent out the 72 that they would be like “lambs among wolves”, verse 3. This verse 14 has nothing to do with a powerful supernatural evil being falling from the sky, this is false teaching, we can confirm that it is false teaching by checking the context and understanding what God says. The words of Ezekiel are important in this context too, because if we add another “idol” (powerful supernatural evil being) alongside God, it will become a “stumbling block” for us. The parable of the Good Samaritan is a well known teaching of Jesus to show an example of “loving our neighbour”. The expert in the law answered well when he said that the most important part of the law was to love, verse 27. But in his checking who his “neighbour” was he and we discover that the one who has mercy is the neighbour, verse 37, and Jesus says to go and do the same. There are many aspects to this, all of which are important: we should help anyone in need, we should allow anyone to help us when we are need; we should not discriminate; we should not make excuses not to help, even if we are rushing to teach others! We should also be like Jesus, because Jesus always acted like the Samaritan in this story, he was and is merciful, therefore we should be too. The actions of Martha and Mary help us to understand priorities. Martha complained to Jesus that Mary was not helping her in the kitchen to prepare food, verse 40. Jesus puts the work into perspective, verse 41-42. He does not condemn Martha for cooking and presumably Jesus benefited from the meal afterwards, but he says that Mary “chose the better” by listening to Jesus. Our priorities need to be learning and checking to understand what both God and Jesus want from us. We have to eat otherwise we will become ineffective in everything, but there are times when eating is not a priority and we have to give way to those events that God brings our way from time to time – food can become an “idol” too if we let it! These 2 examples in Luke help us to be more like Jesus every day. It is interesting that the lawyer actually “tested” Jesus, verse 25, this could indicate that he had the wrong attitude. He actually did give the right answer as we saw earlier and Matthew 22 records that Jesus actually repeated what the lawyer had said in his subsequent reply. But the point here is that you cannot achieve the kingdom by what you actually do – salvation can only come by grace, but we have to try out best to follow what God and Jesus want – Ephesians 2:8. Already seen in verse 29 of Luke 10 that the lawyer wanted to justify himself by asked another question and Jesus’ answer shows that our faith is demonstrated by our love for each other, eg 1 John 1 – ie, “if we claim to love God but hate our brother then we are a liar”. So the example of the Samaritan is a key answer by Jesus – love has to be shown in everything, love is not the adherence to a religious ritual, but it includes being at one with both God and Jesus. The practical outworking that came next in verse 38-42 helps us to understand this. Mary was right to listen, but that Martha was not quite in the same thinking as Jesus at that time – we have to build in faith by reading and learning as well as lovingly sharing with others. Our priorities need to be right – not leaving anything undone! We need to reflect on our priorities just as David did in Psalm 27 “One thing I ask of the Lord, this is what I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life” (verse 4). September

September 19th

In the Ezekiel 15 reading today we read about the vine. Israel, God’s people, are described as the vine and when properly tended a vine will produce excellent fruit, ie grapes. If a vine is incorrectly cared for it will produce bad fruit. This picture is used many times in the old and new testament by both God and Jesus to describe the good and the bad of God’s people. Here in Ezekiel the vine is described as bad and the only thing that you can do with a bad vine is just destroy it, verse 6. Unlike any other tree the wood is useless. It cannot be used to make things, it cannot be used as a stick, it cannot even be used as a fire to keep warm or cook or give light. So a vine is only useful when it is looked after and put in the right place and feeding from good roots. The good vine producing good fruits is a great picture of us Christians feeding from Jesus, the pruning, to keep it in good shape, is done by each of us to each other (this is a priority role for elders) and when we prune and when we allow ourselves to be pruned, we will produce good fruits. Often in our lives, as a vine, both God and Jesus prune us by the different situations that we experience, to help us produce good fruit. So a vine is very useful when it is feeding via good roots from good soil and being pruned so that all the broken and damaged branches are cut off. When all of the different good parts are working well together there will be a good crop. However, if a vine is not looked after very well, or is unwilling to be looked after, then it can become wild very quickly. If the elders do not do a good job in pruning then the same result will happen. Sadly the vine that Ezekiel was describing was useless because the elders and the people did not feed from God, they did not produce good fruit. Our fruits tell whether we are good or bad, if bad and there is no pruning, then all of the vine will become bad and in the end the vine will be burned. This is a powerful lesson for us because simply put the only useful thing from us is our fruit. In other words our only hope is in Jesus, without him we are useless, we cannot save ourselves. So fruit is what counts in the end and all of us should make the effort to produce fruit. In the Luke 11 reading we see Jesus setting the example by praying, verse, this prompted the disciples to ask Jesus to teach them how to pray. We then get the example of what we now know as the “Lord’s prayer”, verse 2-4. Jesus appears to be setting out our priorities for prayer, ie first is praise of God, then we have 4 requests, 1, for the kingdom to come, 2, our daily food, 3, our forgiveness, 4, to not be tempted. Jesus then goes on to tell us to ask and trust and we have graphical pictures of how fathers and friends are asked and that they give, so if these human people do this then God will surely give us what we ask for, verse 5-13. But what was Jesus meaning here? Was he meaning that we should only ask for the things in his “template” prayer? These are proper things to ask for because he will grant us these if we are producing fruit, ie Kingdom, forgiveness and not leading us into temptation. All these things are God’s will. So what about the other things we pray about? Should we ask them? In Philippians we are told to pray about anything,  so we can pray for safe journeys, a home, education, health, family, etc. John in his letter tells us to pray and the things according to his will will happen. So it appears to me that things like kingdom, daily food, forgiveness and help in temptation will always happen when we ask. Those others things will still only happen if it is God’s will that they will. It maybe that God does not want us to be educated, have a family, have a job or home, he may have other plans for us. So we ask in faith, some things we know will be granted us, others we do not know so we have to accept God’s will and answers and continue to show faith. God wants us to produce fruit and he will put us in positions where we are best suited to produce this fruit. He may be pruning us by answering prayers in ways that we do not expect at the time. But Jesus set the pattern for our prayers for our good, to help us in our walk to the kingdom, this is the priority. September

September 20th

Ezekiel 16 is a picture story of “unfaithful Jerusalem”.  The context shows us that the story is about the people, and God had asked Ezekiel to “confront” them because of their “detestable practices”, verse 2. The story reflects the history of Judah from their start and really to the future, it starts with God’s pity on them and he saves them, he demonstrates his love for them by providing them with all of the things that they needed, and more, but the people became proud and trusted in themselves and turned away from God in a way that no other nation would. They forgot, verse 43, about all the love that God had shown to them in the past and demonstrated an ungrateful heart and replaced God with other things, verse 36. As a consequence God brought all these nations against Jerusalem and destroyed it and left Jerusalem “naked”, verse 39 (just as they were when God “found” them, verse 6-7). God says that he will deal with them as they deserve and then they will repent (be ashamed), verse 59-63, and God will forgive. God uses some very strong language in this story to make an impact. The picture of a husband (God) and his wife (the people) and how the wife became a prostitute and left her husband. We all know how bad prostitution is in our experiences today and how painful the consequences are when a wife or husband is unfaithful to the person who they are married to. The picture is to make us all think about our own actions and if we betray God and replace him we are acting like a prostitute. We were nothing before God called us and saved us through Jesus, we had no hope at all, yet God showed pity on us and said I want to save you and provide you with all the things that you need. This should make us content and to set an example to those around us – we should not want to look for other things because all we need is from God. And just as happens in this “parable”, there are consequences for us if we do, verse 48. We need to always remember what God has done for us in saving us, verse 43, this is why we need to read God’s word (or have it read to us), to meet together to teach and encourage and to break bread and wine each Sunday. All these things help us to remember what God has done for us. If we fail to remember there is a real danger that we also become like a “prostitute”. In our Luke 12 reading we are again presented with very practical lessons by Jesus. The parable of the rich fool, verse 16- 21, was in response to an inappropriate request for help by someone in the crowd, verse 13, in this one question the wrong attitude was demonstrated, exactly the same attitude as the people Ezekiel was talking about. Jesus sets the context of the parable showing that he is not a judge to resolve envy between brothers over money and makes it clear that “greed” and lots of “possessions” is not what our life should be about, verse 14-16. Just like the people in Jerusalem looked for more than what God had given them, the man in the parable did the same, he was not content with what he had and in the end he lost everything. Jesus says the same will happen to us if our priorities are wrong, verse 21. Being “materialistic” and wanting more and more of the things to make us rich now brings its own problems and worries, one of which is envy. God puts us in certain situations and gives us what we need, just like he did with the people of Jerusalem. Jesus knows that often we do have worries about clothes and food, verse 22, it is normal to be worried about these things, but Jesus is saying to us to try not to worry, verse 23-26. Think about the things that God does do, eg how God provides for the flowers, verse 27-31. “Do not be afraid” and “do not worry” are mentioned a few times by Jesus in this chapter and the message is clear to trust in God and this is where our priority should be, verse 32-34. God wants to give us the kingdom, he wanted to save that baby in the picture in Ezekiel, he wants us to trust him and not to go looking for other pleasures elsewhere because he knows that these will corrupt us, no matter how innocent they may look at the time! Jesus is telling us to “watch” – watch how we live our life – because we do not know when Jesus, the “master”, comes back and when he does come back he needs to find us doing the things that he and his father want us to be doing, verse 35-40. Peter asks the questions about who do these things refer to, verse 41. In Jesus’ answer, verse 42-48, he is saying it refers to everyone who is looking for Jesus to return. There are consequences if we are not following Jesus, but just as in Ezekiel there is always hope of repentance because God wants us in the kingdom. So the lesson is where are our priorities in life, are they God or are they proud, selfish ambition? Of these 2 things the one that we “treasure” the most will be where our “heart” is and that will become our priority. In Ezekiel’s story the people’s “treasure” was idols and riches and power; Jesus is teaching us to trust fully in what God does for us and to be content with what we have. September

September 21st

We have a number of parables in the Ezekiel and Luke readings again today. Parables are intended to be memorable stories so that we can remember the past event (example in Ezekiel), the practical lesson and preparation for the kingdom (examples in Luke). These stories are intended to be retold as a constant reminder of the things that both God and Jesus are teaching us. The parable in Ezekiel 17 is a memorable story for the Jews in exile in Babylon so that they can remember the mistakes that they made and learn from them. The parable is from verse 3-10. We have a cedar tree, some seed from the land, a vine and 2 eagles. The explanation is in verse 11-15, so we see that the 1 eagle is the king of Babylon and the other is the king of Egypt; the cedar branch and the seed are the Jews and the Jewish leaders who were eventually carried off to Babylon after they had rebelled against the first “eagle” by going to the “second”. This appears to be about the record of Zedekiah who was installed as king in Judah by the king of Babylon who then rebelled and asked for help from the king of Egypt, so the king of Babylon came and crushed the rebellion and brought Zedekiah to Babylon. God confirms this in verse 16-18. This rebellion was really against God, because God said that they should not rely on Egypt, Jeremiah repeatedly told them that the people should surrender to Babylon if they wanted to spare their lives, sadly a remnant went to Egypt. God again confirms this in verse 19-21. The lesson for us surely has to be not to rebel against God and to humbly accept his will, including if this is a punishment for sins, as was the case with the Jews. Zedekiah was not humble, he did not accept God’s “punishment” and again turned to a human deliverer and not to God. We cannot leave this account in Ezekiel without thinking about the wonderful hope here that is amongst all this pain and suffering. God will always do better than man and in this concluding parable he will break off a shoot from the top of a cedar and plant it in the mountains of Israel, it will become a “splendid cedar” where all the birds of the air will come and shelter, verse 22-24. God has promised that he will bring the Jews back to the land of Israel where he will make them flourish – this parable is not completed yet, it will be when Jesus comes back! The parables continue in Luke 13 and 14. The first one is a reminder that we have to produce fruit to demonstrate our repentance. The parable of the fig tree follows the discussion with Jesus about a link between death and sin, Luke 13 verse 1-4. The incorrect connection was made by the people who heard about the murder of Galileans by Pilate’s men and an accident when a tower fell on people and killed them. They thought that they died such an awful death because they had been bad sinners.  Jesus clearly says that these people who died were no more sinful than others, but he says if we do not repent of our sins then we will also perish without a hope, verse 5. So the parable is somehow linked to this, verse 6-9. The man is looking for fruit, for 3 years there has been none so he wants to cut it down, the gardener suggests another year of trying, but then agrees that it is cut down. There appears to be a strong link to the 3 year period of teaching by Jesus here, but the point is if there is no fruit then the vineyard (Jews) will be destroyed. The sad thing is that the Jewish religious leaders did not understand what “fruit” meant, their insistence that Jesus should not be healing, ie doing good, on a Sabbath demonstrates their pride, verse 14, they could not understand that giving water to their own donkey on a sabbath was hypocritical, verse 15 -16. In Luke 14 Jesus is again confronted with the issue of healing on the sabbath, verse 1-4. This time Jesus extends the example of giving water to their donkey by adding a son and an ox who had fallen, verse 5-6 – of course they would have helped, so it was hypocritical to criticise Jesus for healing. We have to also be careful in not singling out one action for criticism of others and just being proud in our own actions as the Pharisees were. Jesus watched the guests arriving and taking their places at the table for a meal and his next parable here is about humility, verse 7-11 – the lesson for us is not to think that we are better than our brother or sister, in fact we are to all always think that we are lower. The fruit that we produce is also demonstrated by the people who we associate with and invite to dinner or help, we should not be sharing with those who we know can share with us, we should be sharing with those who cannot share with us in return, verse 12-14, again the lesson is not to want a reward now, our reward is when Jesus comes back. The parable about the great banquet, verse 16-24, is about Jesus inviting people to the kingdom, sadly there are people who made their excuses, the reasons they give are all inward looking, land, oxen and a wife, so others are invited, those who do not have any distractions. The sad thing is that the Jews were invited first, but they rejected the offer, the good thing is that we have been given the opportunity to be saved, so we must not now make excuses to do other things! September

September 22nd

1 CHRON 5:1-2 – Birthright of the firstborn. Usually, the oldest son of an ancient family became head of the family upon his father’s death and also received a larger share of the inheritance (double) than the other children. But Reuben, the firstborn of Jacob, had “slept” with his father’s concubine (Bilhah Gen 35:22) Because of this despicable act, he lost the birthright. Instead, Jacob blessed the sons of Joseph, Ephraim and Manasseh (Gen 48:15-22). The birthright assigned to Joseph and his sons did not carry with it the right to rule the tribes and nation, that privilege was granted to Judah (Gen 49:10) by God’s will. Judah was to be the tribe through which His messianic deliver and king would come, ie eventually Jesus. The ruler from Judah would come from David and his dynasty. The other role of the firstborn was the priest for the family. The priesthood by God’s will, was given to the tribe of Levi. All of mankind have failed to do God’s will, even when blessed, or a chosen priesthood, or a chosen ruler of God’s kingdom, all have failed except one, ie Jesus. Adam, the firstborn of God (Luke 3:38) failed. Priesthood and Kings, failed, eg Ezekiel 21:26-27: “Take off the turban (priesthood), remove the crown (King) it will not be as it was, it will not be restored until he comes to whom it rightfully belongs; to him I will give it.” JESUS, the second son of God, who did God’s will and did not sin (1Pet 2:22). The chosen priest, who sacrificed himself to God’s will (Heb 7-10), the chosen King (Luke 1:33). There are many references to Jesus relating to the firstborn, Col 1:15-18. He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. He is the firstborn from among the dead, so that in everything He might have the supremacy.  Psalm 89:27-28: “I will appoint him my firstborn, the most exalted of the kings of the earth. I will maintain my love to him for ever, and my covenant with him will never fail.” Phil 2:8-11 He (Jesus) humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross. Therefore, God exalted him to the highest place, and at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow, every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  We all should so look forward to that time, “Thy kingdom come”. EZEKIEL 18:  The people of Israel were suffering and blaming their situation on their ancestors. Of course, this is the nature of man, to blame someone else instead of examining themselves and taking responsibility for their own actions.  Remember Adam in the garden of Eden. Gen 3:12 “The woman YOU put here with me, SHE gave some fruit from the tree, and I ate it”. There were terrible consequences. ”Just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all men, BECAUSE ALL SINNED.” (Rom 5:12). This is individual responsibility, “I have sinned.” Without the love, grace and forgiveness of the Lord, I am destined to die (forever). Ezekiel 18 reveals God’s will for all of mankind, summarized in verses 30-32, ”I will judge you, each one according to HIS WAYS, Repent! Turn away from all of your offences; then sin will not be your downfall. Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, AND get a new heart and a new spirit, I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, Repent and live!” Rom 5:19 For just as through the disobedience of the one man (Adam) the many were made sinners, so also through the obedience of the one man (Jesus) the many will be made righteous. God’s mercy offers righteousness to us, by the unrighteous having faith in the righteous one (Jesus). It’s not just faith, but having the will to be “right” in the eyes of the Lord, we will do this if we love, love causes willing servants and the will to obey, Ezek 18:27: “If a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed AND DOES WHAT IS JUST AND RIGHT, he will save his life.” We must continue until He comes, “he who stands firm to the end will be saved” Matt 10:22. In LUKE 15 there are 3 parables with a common theme of lost and found. The parables were relevant to the people then, and to mankind today. The chapter begins by telling us who Jesus was talking to, ie there were 2 groups, Jesus was with tax collectors and “Sinners”, and, separate from that group, certainly in their own minds, the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The criticism from the Pharisees was that Jesus welcomed sinners, no doubt with joy, and ate with them. Jesus tells a parable of the lost sheep and the shepherd and he asks the question “If you were a shepherd what would you do?” Some might argue that they wouldn’t leave the 99 in the open country, but maybe he had left them with his friends and neighbours (v6). The sheep that is lost is so VALUABLE to the shepherd and he has such a strong relationship for that helpless sheep that he will do all he can to find it, and he will never feel “complete” until he has found it. When he does find it, he rejoices “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep”. All of those who listened would have understood the actions and sentiments of the shepherd. But then, Jesus elevates the story to a heavenly understanding, v7 “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent”. The “sinners” hearts realized they were the lost sheep and Jesus was the shepherd. The Pharisees’ hearts considered THEMSELVES righteous and saw everyone else with a critical spirit, including Jesus, they were distancing themselves from the shepherd and were lost, not realizing their need to repent. What about ourselves in the ecclesia, do we welcome ALL, to bring them to Jesus, remembering that we have all sinned, we should therefore welcome, even encourage, ALL to come to Jesus. But, we come to Jesus NEEDING TO BE CHANGED, to be given a new heart and spirit (mind), to be inspired to CHANGE our ways to his ways. Many came to Jesus, but not all were changed, the failure was not the Lord’s, it was that SOME DID NOT WANT TO BE changed. In the parable of the 2 sons and the father. We see the spirit (attitudes) in all 3 characters. The youngest son represented the “sinners”. The father represents God (and His will was being done by Jesus for repentant sinners). The eldest son was the Pharisees. So although the tax collectors and sinners were “lost” like the youngest son, by coming to Jesus AND changing their lives, they had been found. “They were dead, but now alive, they were lost but now found”. The Pharisees (the eldest son) did not have the same spirit as the father (God), v 20 -23, ”But while he (the youngest) was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. “let’s have a feast and celebrate…”” If the Pharisees (and us) do not have the same spirit as God, we are lost, we are separate from God and we are “slaving” for the Lord instead of “serving” the Lord because of love, and muttering and moaning instead of rejoicing! The eldest son’s thinking was totally selfish, no consideration for his brother (even a denial that he was his brother) and no consideration for the father, this brings my mind back to Joseph, his brothers, and the relationship with his father. It was thought that Joseph was “lost”, but it was his brothers who were lost! September

September 23rd

The practical thoughts from all 3 readings today are responsibilities. In 1Chronicles 6 we have the genealogies of the Levites, and specifically the Kohathites, who were a sub section of Levites. The Levites were the priests and the Kohathites were the musicians, each group of people had their responsibilities in the worship of God. The accurate recording of the generations shows how important these responsibilities were and the lesson for us is that we should take all of our responsibilities seriously too, taking as much care as those who recorded all these names through the generations. We know from the recent readings that God’s people did not take their responsibilities seriously enough and they allowed human thinking and ways into their worship that eventually replaced their dedication to God. Ezekiel describes the results and Ezekiel 19 records a “lament” for us all to remember and to reflect on what happens when we drift away from what God wants. We have the picture in this chapter of 2 lions who each were taken captive – this represents the kings of Israel and Judah who were taken into captivities by their enemies who God brought against them as judgement for not fulfilling responsibilities. These lions were strong and powerful, but they were brought low by God and this is the sad thing, that they were made strong by God and all God wanted in return was for them to respect and obey him, if they did God would bless them. But as the verses 10-14 says the outcome was the complete opposite because of their sins. The point of a “lament” is to think about the words and to be sad and to regret what we have just read. It is a sad reading, but should trigger a determination to take our godly responsibilities seriously. There are 2 parables in Luke 16.  The first is what, I think, is incorrectly called in my Bible, the parable of the shrewd manager (it should be called the parable of the dishonest manager) and the 2nd is about the rich man and Lazarus. Both parables are aimed at those who have godly responsibilities but who do not take them seriously, both parables are about how not to act. (We know that both are parables because they both start in the same way, ie “there was a rich man”, some people confuse the 2nd parable as, wrongly, being literal.) Jesus was probably aiming these parables at the Pharisees who should have known their responsibilities and carried them out to set examples to the people, but they also apply to all those who listen to God’s word. So these parables also are warnings for us. So the first parable is about a dishonest manager who was found out by his employer that he was dishonest, verse 1-2. This manager should have been keeping accurate financial records and managing his employer’s affairs honestly, but he was only interested in himself and how much he could gain for himself. We know that he was self centred by the way that he thought, verse 3-4. So he came up with a deceitful plan so that he could at least try and make some friends of the people who owed his employer money, verse 5-7, when, as he expected, his employer sacked him. His plan involved further deceit, but one that gave advantage to the people who owed money, it gave advantage to the manager and it also enabled the “rich owner” to get some of his money back. In fact the owner “commended” the manager for his actions, verse 8. Jesus is making a distinction here though between the “people of this world” and the “people of the light”, the people of the world are deceptive in their dealings with each other, even the owner approved of the deception in the end (perhaps sarcastically?), but this is not how the people of the light should act. Verse 9, I think, is Jesus being sarcastic, he is saying, “OK then, be deceptive in the world and gain friends but when all your advantages have gone you will die and stay dead, ie ‘welcomed into eternal dwellings’”. Jesus then goes on to say exactly what happens with those who take their responsibilities seriously and those who are dishonest, verse 10-12. Jesus is clear that if you are trusted in everything then you will always be trusted, but if you are dishonest in anything then you will never be trusted! The lesson for us is clear also – we have to always deal honestly with any responsibilities that we have, whether this is work, family or with God’s things, like halls, money, Bibles, etc. Jesus goes on to say that you cannot serve both God and money, verse 13.  No matter how hard you try, you cannot because you will be devoted to the one that you love. So the question for us is do we act honestly in everything that we do? Do we take our responsibilities seriously? Or do we think like the Pharisees did that Jesus was wrong when he said these things, verse 14. The Pharisees “loved” money and they wrongly justified their love of money by the way that men saw them, verse 15. They ignored the fact that God could see what was in their hearts. Do we ignore the fact that God sees what is in our hearts and he knows if we love him or money! The second parable again focuses on our responsibilities and how we treat others around us. There is a massive contrast pictured by Jesus here between the richness of the rich man and the poorness of the poor man, verse 19-21. The rich man never helped the poor man. They both died and would both have been buried. Jesus creates a picture of the poor man being at Abraham’s side and the rich man being in “hell” where there was an imaginary fire. These are clearly pictures and not real just to make the important lessons – Abraham died a long time before this and we know that when we are dead we are dead and hell is simply the grave where we are all buried when we die, but the point of Jesus’ parable is well made by this graphic picture. An imaginary and far fetched conversation takes place between Abraham and the rich man, verse 22-31. And this is the point of the story – it is when we are alive that we should take our responsibilities seriously, because when we are dead it is too late for us and also too late for those who we should have been teaching in our families. The rich man had the opportunity to help Lazarus every day, but he chose not to use his wealth in a good way and prevented Lazarus from having any good things. In this imaginary picture, Lazarus was now given the good things and the rich man the bad. So the lesson for all of us, rich or poor, is to make the most of our lives now by doing what God wants. It is assumed by some that Jesus is actually meaning that the rich man is the high priest who at the time had 5 brothers who also had the same opportunities to do good but chose not to – they knew the teachings of Moses and the prophets but chose to ignore the lessons. They were completely blind to God’s teachings and even when they saw the real Lazarus raised from the dead in John 11 they proved Jesus’ words true because even then they did not believe! So let us all take our responsibilities seriously now whilst we have the opportunity. September

September 24th

We all know that God is a forgiving and a long suffering God and when we read verses like Ezekiel 20:2-3 we are sometimes surprised, after all the elders did come to ask Ezekiel to “enquire of God”, verse 1. What happens here has to have an impact on our lives and the way that we act in everything. In explanation God says why he will not listen, verse 4, it is as a consequence of their “detestable practices”. And God gives further reasons, explaining what makes up their “detestable practices”. We get a summary of Israel’s history from when they were in Egypt.  Even before they tried to please God, God promised them that he would bring them out of the land, verse 6 and he said that they should respond by getting rid of their “vile images”, verse 7. In the same way God has promised us the kingdom, he says that we are very welcome there, but we have to respond by getting rid of the things in our lives that could replace God. The Israelites ignored and rebelled God, they still kept their idols, verse 8. But God still helped them in his love and to stop his own name from being ridiculed by the nations around, verse 9. He taught them, verse 10-12, he gave them things to remind them of the love and the contract between them and God, eg the Sabbath.  It is the same with us – we are given things to remind us of God and Jesus’ love, eg the Breaking of Bread and we are taught via our reading of the Bible and events in our lives. But the people still rebelled, verse 13, but God still remained faithful and helped, verse 14. This happened time and time again, verse 16, 21, 24 and 27 and each time God still helped, up until a point, verse 30-31. God’s patience does eventually run out, so we need to always remember this, we cannot continue to presume that God will always forgive us, because at some stage he will not. The problem that we all have is that we want to be “like the world” as well as trying to serve God – we know that we cannot do both, it will not work, verse 32.  God wants us to be fully dedicated to him, verse 33. He will do all he can to bring us to him and there are some wonderful words in Ezekiel from verse 33 to show us that God will attempt to call his people back to him. We will see that things other than God will not help us, verse 39, only God can help us so we still do have an opportunity to repent, verse 43-44. There is no surprise that Jesus’ teaching in Luke 17 picks up on some of the points made by God to Ezekiel. Jesus acknowledges that we will get carried away by the things of the world, verse 1, temptation and sin will come, but there is a warning to us that we should not be the cause of that temptation and sin for other people, verse 2. We have responsibilities to protect and to challenge each other because we have been promised the kingdom. Verse 3-5 shows us clearly how we must lovingly challenge and encourage repentance and to forgive each other, exactly the same way that God forgave the people of their sins and gave the opportunity of repentance. This does not mean that we can just deliberately continue sinning just so that we can repent and then get forgiveness, there has to be a response from us just as there was with one of the 10 lepers who were healed, verse 11-19. We all need “cleaning”, ie forgiveness of sins (symbolised by leprosy) and God and Jesus willingly want to forgive us, but a response is required for it to really mean something. Only the one leper came back to Jesus to praise him, verse 15-16, and Jesus commended him for it, verse 17-19. We are not told about the other 9, but presumably the 1 was more fulfilled and demonstrated the right attitude by praising Jesus. And when Jesus said that the “kingdom was within you”, verse 21, he means that someone with the right attitude is putting both God and Jesus first and trying to obey and follow them, rather than someone who wants to know the exact time so presumably they can leave their preparation until just before! This shows a wrong attitude, which is why we need to always think that Jesus will come at any time and always to live our lives accordingly. God is patient, God is forgiving but when Jesus comes back there will be not time to prepare so we have to always be prepared. Jesus gives some examples as to how quickly his return will be, verse 26-29, people will be carrying on with everyday life, without any thought for God and for Jesus. It will be the same for us when Jesus returns, verse 30-35, so the message is to prepare now. We must not replace God with “worldly things” and “idols” as the Israelites did, we must not cause each other to sin, we need to be prepared all the time by having the right Godly attitude and putting God first in everything. There have been cases in Africa, US and elsewhere where some church elders have said that Jesus is going to return at specific times, Jesus has a warning for them and for Christians who are convinced by what they are incorrectly told, verse 22-25. There will be no doubt when Jesus comes back, we will know.  If we have the right attitude now then we will be known by God and Jesus, so we should have no doubts or worries about being in the kingdom, or missing it! God has promised us the kingdom and we will be there if we continue in faith and with the right attitude. September

September 25th

1 Chronicles 8 lists some of the names from the tribe of Benjamin.  It is a very selective list, because we know that Benjamin had 10 sons (Genesis 46:21) and only two are mentioned here.  Evidently only a few became family heads.  The names in 1 Chronicles 8 are different from those mentioned in 1 Chronicles 7:7-12, who were heads of the fighting groups.  Chapter 8 particularly mentions the families of two famous Benjamites.  The first is the judge Ehud (verses 6-17) who saved Israel from the Moabites (Judges 3:12-30).  It is interesting that his family was deported (verse 7), persumably to Moab (verse 8).  Evidently his family returned to Israel because we find them living in Aijalon and capturing Gath (verse 13).  The second famous Benjamite was, of course, the first king of Israel, Saul.  The kingship passed temporarily to Eshbaal, also known as Ishbosheth (2 Samuel 2:8), before he was murdered.  Chronicles tells us that Saul’s family were not completely wipped out, but that some of Jonathan’s descendants survived.  Ezekiel 21 predicts the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple. Many thought this would never happen, but both Psalms 74 and 79 predicted this too.  Although there were some righteous alive, their righteousness was not enough to prevent the destruction of Jerusalem or even themselves.  Ezekiel was told earlier that even if Noah, Daniel orJob were there, they would only be able to save themselves (Ezekiel 14:14). Much of the chapter graphically describes the sword of God, which in this case was army of Babylon.  God said that even if Babylon would consider going to fight the Ammonites instead of Jerusalem, God would make sure that Babylon came to Jerusalem (Verses 18-23).  God would do this by making sure that even when they examined the liver for guidance, this piece of superstition would direct them to Jerusalem (verse 21). God is able to work through any circumstance to bring about his will. The British Museum has a clay sheep’s liver with guidance on what each abnormality in the liver meant.  This was from Assyria and shows that this form of decision-making existed in these times.  The sceptre and kingship of Israel was destroyed by the Babylonians.  This was necessary because bad kingship could ruin any righteous who were left (Psalm 125:3).  The nation of Ammon was pleased when Babylon destroyed Jerusalem and rejoiced (Ezekiel 25:3).  God would therefore send Babylon against them as well (Ezekiel 21:28-32).  The loss of the king of Israel meant that the people of later times were looking forward to a future king when the former greatness of Israel would be restored.  Ezekiel 21:27 promised this, as did many other passages.  Jesus taught about the coming kingdom.  This kingdom would not have the great fighters and army like previous kings of Israel.  It would have those who are like little children (Luke 18:17)!  In fact, all those who thought themselves great (the proud) would not be there. Only the humble will be in God’s kingdom (Luke 18:14).  Those who think they are righteous fall into the temptation of thinking that they are better than everyone else.  Jesus gave a parable about this (Luke 18:9-14).  The Pharisee told God how good he was compared to a tax collector.  The tax collector spoke humbly and prayed for forgiveness. This is the example of what our attitude should be like when we speak to God and what it should not be like.  God will decide who is acceptable to Him, not us.  The rich would not be in the kingdom (Luke 18:24-25). It will be for those who humble themselves and who keep the commands of God (Luke 18:20) and have faith (Luke 18:42).  The last king of Israel, Zedekiah, was killed because of his wickedness.  The true king of Israel, Jesus, was killed because of the wickedness of others.  In the end justice was done (Luke 18:8), as it was when Jesus was raised from the dead.  God will ensure the right thing is done – the right king is put on the throne and the right people are put in His kingdom.  We need to make sure we are there by living humbly and keeping the commandments so we can be there. September

September 26th

1 Chronicles 9 begins by saying that “All Israel was listed in the genealogies in the book.”  We are lead to think that God has all His people listed in His book, because this is what God says elsewhere (Psalm 69:28, Philippians 4:3).  But we are also led to think tha those listed in 1 Chronicles 9 were unfaithful, because this is what it says in verse 1.  Like other genealogies, the list is very selective.  For example, there are only 3 people mentioned from Judah out of 690.   What the chapter does provide us with is information on how the temple of God was organised.  The role of the gatekeeper was important.  Among other things, this job was to make the treasuries of the house secure (verse 26).  A large amount of gold and treasure donated to God had to be looked after.  The silver and gold bowls and articles were counted in and out (verse 28).  There were also stores of flour, wine, oil, incense and spices which were managed.   This is the only place where we are told that there was a key to the house of God (verse 27).  Access to God was controlled to prevent the wrong people approaching God.  In our times, the access is now managed by Jesus who has access to God (Isaiah 22:22, Revelation 3:7).  Access to the temple of God was granted at night to musicians who praised God day and night (verse 33, Psalm 134:1).  1 Chronicles 9 ends with a repeated genealogy of Saul’s family which was given at the end of the previous chapter.  It probably as an introduction to the next chapter about Saul, with the chapter break not occurring in the ideal place.  Ezekiel 22 describes the state of the nation of Israel at the time of Ezekiel.  God lists out the crimes that the people were committing.  All the 10 commandments were being broken and other commands in addition. God highlights each of the leaders for there part in this evil and He describes them using many animal terms.  The princes were like wild lions consuming what they wanted (verse 25).  The priests altered the law so that there was no difference between clean and unclean, right or wrong (vesre 26).  The officials were like wolves consuming the people (verse 27).  The prophets covered up the evil deeds of the people and taught falsehood (verse 28).  God looked for one man who could heal the sickness and solve the problem, but there was none (verese 30).  So God acted to remove the uncleaness – by scattering the people among the nations (verse 15).  Ezekiel was witness to this because he was among those who had been scattered.  The reference to wolves and lions reminds us of the culture of the nation at the time of Jesus.  But in the day of Jesus, God did find one man who could stand in the gap and heal the problem.  We are all grateful that Jesus was able to do this.  The tax collector Zacchaeus was one of those officials who were like wolves feeding off the people.  Yet when he met Jesus, he repented (Luke 19:1-9).  Jesus stated that Jesus had come to save the lost.  The people understood the saving role of Jesus and welcomed him as their king (Luke 19:28-40).  But Jesus rode a colt not a horse.  It was a joyful welcome, but Jesus knew it would not last.  The people wanted salvation their way, not God’s way.  This is a lesson to us to submit to God’s plan and God’s way because this is the only way that we can get lasting peace. Jesus wept over Jerusalem because they could not do this (verse 41-44).  Jesus knew what was coming to him personally and the city and the nation.  Jesus saw their love of money and corruption and he drove out the businesses from the temple (Luke 19:45-48).  Jesus gave them a parable to teach them that the kingdom of God would not come immediately (Luke 19:11-27).  The parable teaches us that we are expected to use what has been given to us, and we are expected to be found using this when Jesus returns.  Just like Jesus coming suddenly to the temple and judging it, so Jesus will come suddenly to his people and will judge it.  The only way we can live is to expect Jesus to come suddenly any time and to be always ready.  At that time those whose name is written in the book of life will be given access to fellowship with God.  May we be there, by the grace of God. September

September 27th

There is a verse in 1 Chronicles 10 that sums up the sad end of Saul, the first king of Israel. He was “unfaithful” to God, he did not “keep the word of the Lord” and he even went elsewhere “for guidance”, verse 13. He did not “enquire” of God, verse 14 and this is all why he lost the kingdom. The lessons are clear for us too in our daily walk today.  We need to be “faithful” in everything; we need to do what God wants us to do; we should only seek God’s guidance, and then we can be confident of being in the kingdom. The parable of the unfaithful adulterous sisters in Ezekiel 23 is very dramatic and graphic in details. The 2 sisters basically represent God’s people, ie Israel and Judah. They should have been faithful to God because it was God who rescued them when they were in slavery and influenced by the people in Egypt, verse 1-4. It was God who did everything for them to save them – Ezekiel 16:6-7 gives some idea how “dead” they were before God rescued them. But despite this, they were unfaithful and rejected God who gave them “life”. They preferred “human” things to godly things, but these “human” things did not save them or give them life, in fact all the things that they “lusted” after in the end destroyed them. It is the same for us now, the “human” things that we “lust” after will take us away from God and in the end destroy us. The very nations that God’s people trusted in were their downfall, verse 9-10 and 28-31. Like Saul they had forgotten what God wanted them to do, verse 35; they replaced God with other things, verse 38-39, and they corrupted the worship of God. Jesus gave a warning too about those who “corrupted” the ways of God, Luke20:45-47.  Jesus was talking about the “proud” religious leaders who loved human praise and Jesus says that they would be “punished most severely”. Jesus’ authority was always questioned by them, verse 1-8, and this is the sad situation when people dislike and then change what God wants. The parable of the tenants, verse 9-18, is a summary of how God, time and time again, tried to change the minds of his people back to him, he tried with Saul, the people who are described as the “adulterous sisters” and even in Luke’s time by sending Jesus, his son, yet everyone rejected God’s word. The human mind, the way we think, has to be carefully controlled by us because we can often convince ourselves that wrong things are right in the same way that the religious leaders in Luke’s time knew that Jesus was talking about them in this parable and instead of being repentant they wanted to arrest Jesus, verse 19. We have to try our very best to remain faithful to God and to his ways, always trying to reject those temptations that take us away from him. God is bringing us to the kingdom, via our faith and trust in Jesus, and we will be part of this wonderful time if we are “considered worthy”, verse 35-38, so we try to remain faithful.  September

September 28th

We have seen in previous readings how God’s people were punished and suffered the consequences of ungodly behaviour and although in 1Chronicles 11 we see the list of king David’s “mighty men” and examples of the things that made them appear mighty to fellow human beings, we also see the mention of God throughout this chapter. David was a godly man, he made mistakes, but he remained faithful and accepted his mistakes and repented and God consequently worked with him. David was recognised as godly by the people around him, and after Saul’s death David was the recognised replacement. The people knew that he was appointed by God, but also because of David’s actions he was seen by the people as the right replacement too, verse 1-3. A practical lesson here for us: if we profess to be godly then we need to be seen as godly too – in everything that we do. David’s strength was witnessed, but he became more and more powerful because God was with him, verse 9. The mighty men were “mighty” because God was with them, verse 14. David and his men respected God eg verse 18-19 and this I think is the point of a godly life – it is respect of God and understanding that our “might” is all down to God and he should be given the credit for all of our “successes”. David’s attitude was opposite to the ungodly attitude of God’s people at the time of the Babylonian invasion, these people were proud in their abilities and their own protection, Ezekiel24:21. This chapter shows us what happens when human pride and human lust is not stopped as soon as it starts. The parable of the cooking pot, verse 3-12 shows just how bad God’s people had become, they had replaced God with all of the bad human practices and God’s description of this in verse 13 is very critical of them. God tried to help them, but they refused to listen, they refused to even try and therefore provoked God to anger. God is clear that they will be judged by their own actions, verse 14, they would suffer the consequences of their own actions and ungodliness! The actual account of the death of Ezekiel’s wife, verse 15-19, shows just how bad the people’s situation was, as Ezekiel lost his wife whom he loved, so the people would lose everything that they loved and would not be able to mourn. This is a terrible situation and Ezekiel suffered this heart breaking loss of his wife as God tried desperately to change the people’s attitude. Luke 21 is the description of another pending destruction of God’s land and city and the dispersal of his people, again because they would not listen, verse 22. This chapter is another very dramatic description of pending destruction and how everyone is affected. It is a warning for us too because there will be a destruction again before Jesus comes back and some of this chapter applies very much to our time, verse 27. So the message that Jesus wants us to learn is that we have to be ready and waiting because we do not know when this will happen, verse 34-36. We have to be careful not to get “distracted” and allow human activities and lusts and desires to take over our lives as all the examples we have seen in the old testament have shown. We appear to be living in the time when Jesus will come back soon, for this we are grateful, it looks as if the nations of the earth are becoming so arranged that Jesus’ return is imminent, verse 29-31. But we do not know when, so we have to be ready at any time. There is fear in the world at the moment and verse 25-28 is a great symbolic description of how people are thinking now and fearful about what the future holds. So Jesus says to all of us “be careful” and “watch” – watch how you live your lives – do not be proud and always give credit to God. September

September 29th

1 CHRON 12: We see in this chapter how David, a fugitive, grew in strength. Verses 1—22 record those who came to him before Israel made him king at Hebron. What caused them to change allegiance from Saul to David ? There were probably many different reasons that had the same root cause or question.. “ Who do I have faith in, who can I commit my life to ?”. The only one who we can commit our lives to is the Lord, and His chosen one. At that time, it was clear that God was with David. In verse 18, the spirit came upon Amasai and he spoke for all by saying; “ We are yours, O David….. for your God helps you”.. and David received them. Verses 23-40; We have a record of all  of those who came to make David king at Hebron. In v38 we see fighting men who volunteered to serve and… “all the rest of the Israelites were also of one mind to make David king”. Three days of eating and drinking followed in celebration of a joint commitment, a commitment made by different tribes, with different skills, but all one in the purpose of God and His chosen king. Each person’s faith, joy and commitment would have contributed to the building up of each other’s faith and love… and the joint desire to serve all. We too, all of us , can SERVE. This vision of the people with their king reminds me of some verses in Isa 25:6-9.  .v7-8 clearly speaks of a future time with Jesus and his father..v6 shows that the Lord will prepare “a feast for all peoples”  and .v9 “This is the Lord, we trusted in Him: let us rejoice and be glad in His salvation”. EZEKIEL 25: Ezekiel (as other prophets before him) prophesied to the nations, and in this chapter we have the words of warning to Ammon, Moab, Edom and the Philistines. Ammon and Moab were the descendants of Lot (Abraham’s nephew). Edom were descendants of Esau ( Abraham’s firstborn who despised his birthright and sold it for a meal to Jacob). Historically, these 3 nations were linked to Abraham.. according to the flesh.. but not according to the spirit (they did not have the same faith ). If they had remembered the promises given to Abraham and his seed (according to faith), and had lived in faith of those promises, and hence witnessed their commitment to the only sovereign Lord they would be save,  for example Ruth (a Moabitess). However, these nations (and others) were constantly against Israel who were meant to be God’s witnesses. These nations either did not know the one God, or they didn’t believe the words that they had heard from God. That is why , in this chapter, The Lord repeatedly says “This is what the Sovereign  Lord says “  and  these things will happen so “you will know that I am the  Lord”. By coming to know God beforehand they could be saved (God’s will).. by not coming to God they denied Him, His word, His will and chose death. We look forward to the time when another repeated verse and promise will be fulfilled.. “ For the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord, as the waters cover the sea”  Hab 2:14. Luke 22:19   “This is my body which is given for you; do this in remembrance of me”. 1 Cor 11:25    “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. This do as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me”. In Luke 22 we see Jesus with his disciples one day before the crucifixion. We know that Jesus knew of all  the suffering that he would have to willingly endure in the next 24 hours or so . The hatred, violence, shame, pain etc. Despite this, Jesus spends a lot of his time speaking to his disciples, to help them to be able to manage the “now” and the “future”. Just remembering 2 of his words is very helpful  “remember me”. Those words are especially revealing when each of us remember Jesus AND contrast ourselves with Jesus. Judas remembered what happened that night; how he had betrayed Jesus with a kiss, how he had planned Jesus’ arrest (and worse). All of those incredible times with Jesus had been put to one side and considered as of no value… Jesus washing his feet, Jesus’ words to the people, his love and compassion, his forgiveness when the disciples repeatedly got things wrong, etc (the list would be endless!). Judas did remember Jesus. Judas was remorseful and said “I have sinned by betraying innocent blood” Matt 27:3. But he didn’t remember the willingness of Jesus to die for him !!( Jesus didn’t resist arrest) .Judas didn’t remember (or understand) the words  that Jesus shared with his disciples (at least 3 times !) concerning his death AND “ on the 3rd day raised to life”. Peter would have remembered that day.. how Jesus was in complete control (No one else was !) despite Jesus  knowing what was to happen. The plans for the last supper had been organized by Jesus beforehand, so that Jesus could have valuable time with his disciples before his terrible murder. Peter would remember Jesus’ patience, his love, his guidance, his serving by washing their feet, the prayers (in this chapter and John 17 ) .. and much more.. this is all contrasted in Peter’s mind with Peter’s dispute with the other disciples over who was going to be the greatest in the kingdom, and contrasted with his own self-confidence, his later denials and cowardice.. and all of these failings in contrast to Jesus who willingly died for him. Surely, the first few words of a tearful Peter would have been “ forgive me Lord”. None of the disciples did any better.. truly Jesus, when remembered, humbles people, humbles us… not that we should end our lives like Judas.. but so that we might find forgiveness and  live a new life .. in Jesus. There are many enemies of Jesus in Luke 22:  chief priests and scribes,, captains of the temple, elders, high priest, soldiers, etc. All of them would have remembered Jesus, some of what he did, what he said…. And they would have remembered what they did to Jesus. Jesus would have wanted them to “ remember me”. If they did remember Jesus, and kept looking and reasoning about all the things that had happened and the words that were said.. then they had a chance of finding salvation “ seek and you will find” And some of those “enemies” were changed by the witness of the disciples, the resurrection of Jesus and by reading their scriptures anew with their faith in the risen Lord. I think it is significant that Jesus wants us to “remember me”.. BEFORE we think of ourselves.. because our true situation is how we are in contrast to Jesus. So when we take the bread and wine and “examine ourselves”.. we should BEGIN by remembering Jesus – his willingness to give all, even to die for us.. but not only that, we remember a living Jesus.. When we remember a LIVING Jesus and all he has done, especially in contrast to ourselves.. then our first few words are sincere and said with true humility… “Lord, forgive me “ (we wouldn’t naturally say these words to someone who was dead). When we sin we are either forgetting Jesus, or even worse.. choosing to forget! So, everyday (and continually), hear the voice of Jesus saying to you “Remember me”.. and sometimes understand that the 2 words might be a timely question:  “Remember me ?”. September

September 30th

1Chronicles 13 and 14 have some practical help for us today. David had the idea to bring the ark to Jerusalem but he acknowledged that it would happen “if it was God’s will”, 13 verse 2. This has to be how we plan to do things, we have to acknowledge that we will do things “God willing”. David and the people had the right mind when they started to transport the ark of God, 13 verse 6-8, so this was a joyful and happy occasion. However, they were not doing things properly because they should not have carried the ark on a cart and when the oxen stumbled and the ark started to fall, Uzzah did what anyone of us would do; he tried to stop the ark from falling, verse 9. But this was not what should have happened and God was angry because Uzzah touched the ark, 13 verse 10. We must take the lesson from this – we have to always be sure what God wants, we must not just assume we are doing things in the way that God wants, this is why we have to continually read the Bible to check. God was clearly with the ark as he “blessed” the house of Obed-Edom, 13 verse 14. God was also clearly with David and the people as God was establishing David and the land, 14 verse 2. David also respected God, 14 verse 10 and 14 and God worked in their lives, 14 verse 17. But we have to still understand what God wants us to do, if David and the people had done what God wanted then Uzzah need not have died because he would not have been in the position to have needed to have touched the ark. The ark remained in Obed-Edom’s place for 3 months and it seems that David and the Levites used this time to research how to do it. It is important to always respect God and his ways, and even if God has punished people and nations we, as human beings, must not be happy about their destruction, an example of this is in Ezekiel 26. Israel/Judah was punished for their ungodliness but the people of Tyre gloated over their destruction, verse 2, God was going to punish them, verse 3-6. The prophecy is a good prophecy to confirm the accuracy of the Bible but the lesson for us is clear that we should not gloat, or rejoice, over the humbling of, or destruction of anyone or anything, even if they or it was evil. All judgement should be left to God and we should not be involved in any rejoicing of the bringing down of anyone.  Luke 23 confirms that the trial of Jesus was based on lies as the religious leaders plotted to have him killed, even the ungodly and weak Pilate found no basis for the charges against him, verse 4, 14 and 22. However, he bowed to the people’s request and had Jesus condemned to death, verse 25. Herod and his soldiers ridiculed Jesus and showed complete disrespect for him when Jesus did not answer or give them what Herod wanted, verse 8-11. Terrible things happened to Jesus during his trial and he suffered a terrible death yet Jesus still asked his Father for forgiveness for them, verse 34. Even while Jesus was on the cross he still made a difference to others’ lives, eg the 1 criminal, verse 42-43, when Jesus promised that he would be in the kingdom when Jesus came back. All of the old testament history and God’s plan was leading to this. Jesus willingly subjected himself to his father’s will, he never disobeyed, he never sinned and we thank God that this then started the new phase of God’s purpose, ie life through Jesus. Jesus gave everything to his father, even his life, verse 46. The women who wanted to anoint Jesus’ body did not do it on the Sabbath because they showed complete respect for God’s law, as it was before Jesus. Unlike the first attempt to move the ark, the women knew the teachings and would not break them even though they would have been able to justify their actions by caring for Jesus’ body. It is a lesson for us to check what God wants us to do and not to just do what we think is best. Jesus died for us, he gave everything for us.  So all we need to do is to try our best to do what he and his father want us to do.  September

October 1st

The record of the ark actually being brought to Jerusalem is in our first reading in 1 Chronicles 15 – this was successful this time because God was involved at every stage. David acknowledged that the previous failure was because they did not “enquire of him”, verse 11-13. Because they did not ask God and check how he would want them to move the ark there were serious consequences – someone had died! Uzzah’s reaction was natural, we would do the same in that situation I am sure, but we should not have been in that situation, it was not what God wanted. We can therefore confidently assume that David and the Levites did pray to God, as well as completing significant research into how they should transport the ark this time. The details that we have in this chapter demonstrate the amount of research that they undertook into God’s commands given to Moses – we can read about the instructions in Exodus 25 and 37 and the likes of Numbers and Leviticus, and verse 26 shows that God was with them as a result of their careful preparation. This is the lesson for us. For us to be sure that our actions are what God wants we first need to find out what God actually wants, we do this by prayerfully reading the bible, or having the bible read to us every day if we can. It is so risky just doing what we think is the right thing to do, without constantly checking that what we are thinking is right, there can so easily be bad consequences. Even if our motives are right – as David’s were during his first attempt to take the ark to Jerusalem, but he and the Levites just did what they thought was right that time. We then have to try our best to follow what God wants, respecting him at all times. It is not sufficient for us to just assume what God wants, we have to check and be sure. David and the people had the right heart in bringing the ark back, but they did not do it the right way and God was not pleased. This second attempt David was sure what was right, I think verse 2 clearly tells us this when David set out his renewed confidence in doing things right. The joy that David and the people demonstrated, verse 27-28, showed that actually following what God wants results in great happiness, so it is well worth working out what God wants! Anything other than fully respecting God also results in situations that was demonstrated by Michal, Saul’s daughter, by not putting God first. By despising David, who was doing his best to do things as God wanted, Michal in reality despised God, verse 29. It is often pride that stops people doing what God wants, Saul was proud, Michal was proud. And pride brings us to think about the nation of Tyre – they were proud too – we see this in Ezekiel 27, how they used the best things to build their city because of their great wealth. Because of all their trading successes, the people of Tyre thought that they were “perfect” and powerful. People who traded with them also relied upon them and also trusted in human achievements.  When it was destroyed, all those involved “lamented” the loss of Tyre only because their own wealth was now gone, verse 29-36. Pride is bad and the opposite to this is humility and it is a key characteristic to all our Christian lives. David humbly did things God’s way; Michal was proud and all the people of Tyre were proud and it is only those who were humble who were rewarded. Luke 24 is a wonderful confidence boosting chapter, this is the start of the new phase in God’s plan, the phase that we are all involved in because of our belief and baptism into Jesus. The very start of the chapter is such a contrast to the depressing consideration of pride that also significantly contributed to the death of Jesus that we read about again in yesterday’s readings. This chapter is fresh – exciting – verse 1 we read of “first day of the week” and “very early” – this is the wonderful new start. It is a new start for those who humbly respect God, we may not fully understand why Jesus had to die, but we respect and humbly accept that it was God’s way.  It is important for us to remember and to be familiar with both God’s and Jesus’ teachings, for example the women were reminded that Jesus did say that he would be raised from the dead, verse 5-8. They then went in their excitement and joyfulness and told the disciples, verse 9-10. The disciples’ response is typically human, verse 11, but it is something that we can learn a principle from, and that is to check as they did, verse 12. The importance of God’s word is demonstrated by Jesus as he spoke to the two people on the road to Emmaus, verse 25-27. So we have to always respect God’s word in the bible and believe it and try our best to follow it. It is all about really believing what God has said and how what he has said about Jesus and that it did happen and how we have to really believe in Jesus and his resurrection. When Jesus met with the disciples later, he reminded them of the importance of God’s word, verse 44-45. And he reminded them what was “written”, verse 46-49. So let us remember these examples as we try to do our best for both God and for Jesus. Following God and Jesus provoked worship and praise, verse 50-53. Doing what God wanted in David’s time brought worship and praise. Because Jesus died for us, we are now waiting for Jesus to return – as we wait we should be checking what both God and Jesus want us to do, and to try to put that into practice and be worshiping and praising. If Jesus does not come back before we die we can be 100% confident in our own resurrection when he does return – it happened to Jesus – it will happen to us! October

October 2nd

1Chronicles 16 shows us the continued celebration of the ark being brought to Jerusalem. This was a unifying event, David ensured that the celebration was shared, verse 3, this can remind us of how we share the breaking of bread and how unifying that should be.  We then read David’s “Psalm of thanks” which helps us to think about how much we give back to God for the things that he does for us. In David’s case his thanks was prompted by the ark, in our case thanks for Jesus, but also for all the things that we have. Verse 8 prompts thanks, it prompts telling others, verse 9 prompts praise, verse 11 prompts us to always turn to God and verse 12 reminds us to remember. These are all important things that we should all be trying to do every day of our lives because of what God has done for us. Praise and teaching others are repeated again in verse 23-25 and in verse 29 we are prompted to “bring an offering” to God. So what do we “bring to God”? He has given us so much – he has given us life, he has given us Jesus, so what do we bring to God? All of the things David has listed, but what else can we give? God does not need us to bring anything, because everything that we have is God’s anyway, but he wants us to bring things to him so that we demonstrate our love for him. He wants us to take opportunities to praise in every aspect of our lives, so EVERYTHING that we do should be giving to God. David’s praise is full of respect, eg verse 30; he sees all nature praising God, verse 31-33 and he praises too, verse 35. David cries out for salvation and we should be doing this too, David acknowledges that salvation will be in the kingdom and we too should be praising God because he has promised us the kingdom where we can praise him for ever, verse 36. Unlike David, the people of Tyre were proud and arrogant, Ezekiel 28, verse 2, 5 and 17. They thought that they were wise, verse 6, and the king thought of himself as a “god”, verse 9. The people of Tyre should have known better because they knew about God, their predecessors had helped Solomon build the temple and verses 14-15 perhaps remind us of this. This is the problem with human thinking, so respect and praise of God helps us to remain humble. The wealth of the nation of Tyre brought pride and arrogance and ultimately sin, verse 16 – a clear warning for us now in how we live our lives. The end of the chapter in verse 23, 24 and 26 shows the ultimate aim of God, ie that all people will “know that he is the Lord”. Galatians 1 and 2 is another example of people who should have known better, in this case our brothers and sisters at the churches in the region of Galatia. They were going back to the Law of Moses after having seen and experienced the gift of Jesus from God, and Paul was very firm in his challenge of them, chapter 1 verse 6-9. It appears that the Jewish Christians were rejecting Paul’s teachings because he was concentrating on the Gentiles and Paul has to remind them of his calling by God, verse 11-24.  This was not Paul “showing off”, he was simply trying to convince the brothers and sisters that he was a genuine servant of Jesus. God works in the same way when dealing with anyone and he does not judge by external appearance, chapter 2 verse 6, he always knows what is in the heart and what mans real motives are. The one thing that we must always do is to lovingly challenge when we see others making mistakes just as Paul did when Peter was acting wrongly, verse 11-14, showing how important it is that we all try to follow what God wants and to also encourage others to do the same, both Paul and David did this, because the consequences can be severe, as was the case with the people of Tyre. God wants us to be in the kingdom, so we need to praise and thank him for this by giving things back to him, we also need to be careful not to go back to our old ways, or human ways, of doing things in our walk to the kingdom. October

October 3rd

Elite sports’ people train and train to win their goal, eg Olympics, all are dedicated, and we heard of so many stories of how far athletes went in their training whilst at home during Covid lockdown! It got me thinking about how passionate Paul was in wanting his “goal” of being in the kingdom and how much he also wanted to help others. Appling the same dedication as Paul did in his “goal”, and also helping in our “goal” too, is much, much better than the athletes’ moments of glory! When we read about the kingdom and the ultimate praise of God it is no wonder that Paul was so passionate about his faith! But our faith should also create passion in us! While we think about our reading today and how Paul strongly reacted, just ask ourselves how much passion do we have for the promised kingdom “goal” and how we are driven in our response. There were a couple of problems in the Galatian churches – the actual detail of the issues are not important, and perhaps not fully relevant to us, but the principles certainly apply to us now – the church was taking aspects of the Law as being more important than Christianity, they were preferring some apostles to others, they were allowing others to influence their thinking and they were judging by “external appearances”. They had lost sight of what Jesus had done for them and lost sight of the grace that had saved them! In their case they were trying to do things on their own, which I think is what “maintaining the Law” effectively means for us, and therefore Jesus would have “died for nothing”! It is Paul’s passion in his challenge that should help us to see how real God’s grace was to him. Paul was so concerned that they had lost sight of this that he used really strong and direct language, eg (Gal1:6…) (astonished), (Gal2:6…) (added nothing), (Gal3:1…) (foolish) and (Gal4:9…) (weak and miserable principles) – this is foolish! – “You foolish Galatians!” was Paul’s response to their forgetting of grace, mercy, love, forgiveness and relying on their own strength. We read in (Gal3:2-5…) that he gets them to logically think about what they were doing. This is quite amazing really that the church had learnt about Jesus, they’d seen how only through him could they be saved, received the spirit of salvation and seen the miracles and yet wanted to return to the Law and to then demonstrate their “faith” by what they did. Paul really believed in the grace and forgiveness of God and he passionately challenged the church because they missed the whole point of Jesus who gave every aspect of his life for us! And we should have this same passion too when we think about how much Jesus means to us. Our faith need not be complicated, we have read in (Gal3:6-9… & :13-14…) that all we need to do is to rely on Jesus – Abraham didn’t understand all of this in his time, he didn’t understand how God would actually do it, he couldn’t completely see what he did would affect anything, but he believed that God would do what he said he would. We read in (Gals3:22-25…) that we are all naturally “prisoners of sin”, we have no escape other than through Jesus! Paul makes it clear in (Gals3:26-29…) that if anyone has faith in Jesus then they are sons of God! It doesn’t matter who we are, what nationality we are, does not matter where we are – if we belong to Christ then we are heirs. Knowing this should make us as passionate as Paul was – he was pleading with the brothers and sisters in the church not to give up on the wonderful promise made by going back! We read in (Gals4:1-7…) that we are God’s children! We ARE God’s children because of Jesus, because of our belief and our faith in him. And bringing all this together to think of what we really are and to think what Jesus has done for us is explained by  Paul in (1Cor15:22-23…) that in Adam (ie human) we all die, but in Christ we will be made alive! We will be fully “alive” when Jesus comes back, but we should also be alive and full of passion now because of what is promised. All because God loves us and wants us to be his children! What a faith we have to be passionate about like Paul was and all we need to do is to believe and be baptised and to try our best to obey and be different from those around us who do not accept Jesus – Paul’s strong teaching on this is in (2Cor6:17-18…) where he says we are “sons and daughters” of God, but that we should be separate from others because of this. Being “sons and daughters” is wonderful! Paul was really concerned over the Galatians’ change of heart and this really does come across in his letter – he is very blunt, but his passion for God and Jesus and the promise and love for them shines through. Paul was so passionate about the salvation in Jesus, he was so focused on the kingdom and encouraging his brothers and sisters to only focus on grace and mercy too and strengthening their faith that he focused his entire efforts on encouraging others! So let us have the same passion as Paul did because of the wonderful promise that has been made to all of us, if we continue to demonstrate our faith in Jesus. The bread and the wine is an opportunity for us to reflect on what means the most to us in our lives! How passionate are we in believing what we believe? How passionate are we in speaking to others about our faith? How passionate are we in thanking and praising God and Jesus for what has been done for us! We will now think about this in the breaking of bread and the drinking of the wine. October

October 4th

We have some really good practical thoughts on a common theme in the readings today that we can all learn from to put into practice in our daily lives. Starting in 1Chronicles 18 and 19 we have the summary of David’s military successes as the kingdom of Israel was being set up. It was obvious that God was with David in all of this work at the time, 18 verse 6. But it was equally clear that David had the right attitude at this time and we should have the same attitude too. David took all the gold shields that he captured in the war with Hadadezer to Jerusalem, verse 7. The reason for this is in verse 11 – he dedicated everything that he captured to God and to God’s work. The bronze captured was used in the temple, verse 8. David therefore here sets a good example for us to follow in that he always put God first, he did not take any of these things for himself to make himself rich – everything was given to God. In all this David demonstrated the right attitude. This was true too in the way that he dealt with the people, verse 14, he was not selfish and he did the right and just things for the people. This is exactly how we should be in the way that we deal with our brothers and sisters, we should not be using our Christianity to get rich, or powerful or for any personal gain. We should also all be doing the right things for all our brothers and sisters, not only helping our friends and family! Because David had the right attitude, God gave David “victory”, verse 13. David’s good example also influenced others, eg Joab clearly put God first when he went to fight the Syrians (Arameans) because they rejected David’s acts of peace, verse 13, Joab allowed for God’s will to be done. Because David did the right things and had the right godly attitude he had peace at this time and all his enemies were subdued. The lesson for us is clear, if we want peace in our homes and ecclesias, we too should not be selfish and we should put God and our brothers and sisters first. The opposite attitude to this is shown in Ezekiel 30. The Egyptians were proud and selfish, they could not be trusted to help (we saw that in Ezekiel 29:6-7, where they did not support the people of Israel in their need; we also saw that they took the things that God had provided as their own, verse 3 and 9). Their pride is confirmed in chapter 30 verse 6 and 18. Pride always results from selfish actions and ends in people thinking that they are better than others around them – this is not what God wants. God wants all people to recognise that he is the Lord, verse 8, 19, 25 and 26, only when we do this do we demonstrate the right attitude in giving everything to God and always doing the right thing for our brothers and sisters. The Pharoahs were proud, they trusted in themselves and they believed that they were gods.  God brings low all those who are proud and are selfish, verse 20-23. We have exactly the same message and lesson in Galatians 5 verse 19-21, these are all characteristics of proud, selfish people and it is clear that people who “live like this” will not be in the kingdom. Those who will be in the kingdom are those who give everything to God and consider others before themselves, verse 22-23. The right attitude is summed up in verse 14, “love your neighbour as yourself” – this is what David did, even though he was king! Paul says that we have “freedom” in Christ, verse 1, if we abuse this freedom by being selfish then we are not free.  We must not “indulge our sinful nature”, verse 13, we must not aim for any personal gain! Faith is expressed through love, verse 6, so unless we show love, as David did and certainly as Jesus did, we will not be seen as faithful – it is that simple. Personal gain and selfishness without repentance results in death; love and putting others, including God, firsts, results in life. It is our choice! How we live now determines our future. We have to also resist the temptation to allow ourselves little “selfish acts”, because little things end up big, this is the picture of the little yeast working through the dough, verse 9. If we start to be selfish, then we will become more selfish and others will follow our lead and the result is catastrophic. The same message is in Galatians 6 verse 1-3 – be careful is the message, do not be proud, but lovingly and gently restore those who have sinned. We have to “self examine” ourselves, verse 4, and ask “are we like Jesus?”, if not, we are wrong. David helped his people and set good examples, we are to do this also, verse 5. And Paul says to us not to be “deceived” or selfish because God knows, verse 7-8, we must not do anything for personal selfish gain – doing this ends in death. Rather we should be pleasing God and only this brings life. This is exactly what David did, he dedicated all to God and always considered the people first, so the lesson is clear for us – we must do the same – selfishness and pride does not work, if we want life we should put God and others first! Bible teaching is clear, verse 9-10. We all understand food harvests so the lesson is easy to understand – what we sow we reap, so how we act now dictates what happens to us when Jesus comes back. The message in Galatians is not to go back to old human ways, they will fail.  Instead, we need to push on in godly ways. October

October 5th

Up until now in 1Chronicles David has remained godly and always set good examples for others and we have had a good role model to follow, now in chapters 20 and 21 we see some mistakes of David. We can also take lessons from these and see how David responded to the mistakes that he made – we make mistakes, but if we have the same heart as David we can be forgiven too. Chapter 20 verse 1 hints that this is the time when David slept with Bathsheba and had her husband killed – we thought about this in the thoughts on 2Samuel 11 and we saw that there were consequences to his actions. Chapter 21 tells us about the consequences of David counting his army, it was human pride that caused him to count them, verse 1-2. The word “satan” simply means “adversary”, in the parallel chapter in 2Samuel 24 we read that it was God who was the “adversary”, so it is probable that David and the people were boasting about their military achievements and someone suggested to David that he count the army. David demonstrated a weakness in not giving the credit to God for all of his achievements, but he had previously influenced others to the good, Joab, for example, attempted to talk David out of this mistake and even though he ended up obeying David, he still defied David by not counting the Levites and Benjamin, verse 3 and 6. Joab demonstrated that he was more at one with God in this situation than David was, it demonstrates to us too that all of us should be willing to challenge each other in love and to also listen to each other when mistakes are being made. God was clearly unhappy with the situation that David had created, verse 7, and David became aware of this and realised his mistake, verse 8. David’s immediate humility as soon as he realised his mistakes is something that we all need to learn, none of us are sin free and perfect, but when we do make mistakes and sin we should have the humility to accept this and to repent. As always there are consequences to sin, in David’s case 70,000 men died of the plague, verse 14; David had to pay personally, verse 25-26 and David could not do what he would normally have done to offer sacrifices, verse 30. We need to remember too that when we sin there are consequences – others suffer, there is personal cost to us and our worship suffers too. However, if we properly repent there is forgiveness. David demonstrates his godliness by immediately accepting his mistake and allowing God to be in complete control of the consequences, verse 13, a lesson too for us, ie when we sin we should not make things worse by involving others, perhaps in covering our sin up, but we should accept whatever decision there is from God. In this case God did show mercy and halted the punishment, verse 15. David accepted responsibility for the sin, irrespective of who was his adversary, verse 17, he obeyed, verse 19 and he insisted that he paid the price, verse 24. Because David took responsibility and repented in humility God heard his prayer, verse 26.  Another lesson for us is to also take responsibility and humbly repent for our sins. Ezekiel 31 is a prophecy of the destruction of Egypt which is likened to the destruction of Assyria and shows just what pride, which is the complete opposite to humility, results in. The picture, or parable, shows a very big strong tree, a cedar, as representing Assyria, verse 3, it was strong and powerful and all nations sheltered under it, but it was proud, verse 10 and 14. Because of its pride God destroyed them, verse 15, no longer did the other nations come to it for shelter, verse 16-17. God said that the same will happen to Egypt because just like Assyria, Egypt too was proud, verse 18. Pride always comes before a fall, it happened to David, it happened to Assyria, it happened to Egypt and it happens to us too. David’s pride very quickly turned to humility and it is in humility that we read Ephesians 1 and 2. Chapter 1 verses 3-14 contains some very uplifting words for us – it tells us that we have been ”chosen”, we have been “adopted as sons (and daughters)”, we have been shown “glorious grace”, which he “freely gives”, it is God’s “good pleasure” to give us the kingdom, he is “guaranteeing” our inheritance – all this is because of Jesus. Paul is amazed by this knowledge and we should be amazed and thankful too, verse 15-16. Paul prays for the brothers and sisters here that they may be “wise” and “know God better”, that they may be “enlightened” and “believe”, verse 17-19, and we should pray for these things too so that we can demonstrate this knowledge and grace in our lives, chapter 2 verse 10. We acknowledge that we were “dead” in our sins, verse 1, but because of God’s love we are “alive”, verse 4-5. We also have the confidence that we are “raised up” with Jesus, verse 6-7, meaning that when Jesus comes back and we are found faithful we will also be made immortal and be in the kingdom and experience God’s full grace! We have all these promises (which are even more wonderful because there is nothing that we have done to earn them) because the gift has been given by grace, verse 8-9, so none of us can “boast”, or be proud, that we have earned a place in the kingdom. However, we do need to reflect this grace in our daily lives, otherwise Jesus and God are not living in us, verse 22. Verse 11 to 22 show that we are “one in Christ” and this is such a privilege and a humbling situation, especially when we “remember” that we are sinners and continually make mistakes. Being one in Christ does come with responsibilities and later in Ephesians, Paul reminds us again what those responsibilities are. Humility is the key characteristic for us in our everyday lives, pride will always fail. October

October 6th

1 Chron 22   …mighty in the eyes of God …or mighty in the eyes of men? We see in .v8 the reason the Lord did not want David to build the temple. “you are not to build a house FOR MY NAME, because you have shed much blood on the earth in my sight”. We might remember that very often David was doing God’s will by shedding the blood of his enemies.. However, I believe God is referring to blood that was shed by David, not according to God’s will (and in His name), but according to the will of David(in his name).Two examples being the murder of Uriah and the deaths caused by the census. At times when David was not conscious of God, and considered himself as a “mighty man before men” then he abused his God given authority and committed adultery, murder, deceit and denied His God.. So was God punishing David, by not allowing him to build the temple ? …remember David was forgiven. If God was “punishing” David, it was a “punishment” that was designed to be positive ; David was given the opportunity to serve, to provide and support the building of the temple “for the name of the Lord”. As a willing, enthusiastic SERVANT David would be seen as mighty in the eyes of God, for in that role he had the right spirit… as should we .. to be as Christ. “your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus… made himself nothing… a servant.. humbled himself.. obedient even to death.. therefore God exalted him.. (Jesus.. mighty in God’s eyes)   and gave him the name above every name (in the future .. mighty before God and all mankind) Phil 2:5-11. We can see David’s enthusiasm for God’s plan regarding the temple. He prepared everything and everyone. Not only with the materials, the location, but more importantly the words of encouragement. The neighbouring nations would be involved,” cedar trees from Tyre and Sidon”,  the “aliens” would all work together to make a glorious temple, and whilst doing so , more importantly, could get to learn the things concerning the God of Israel and His will for ALL mankind. David gives words of encouragement to Solomon (v7-16). David reveals his will (v7), and God’s will.. and both wills would be achieved by God’s chosen son of David: Solomon… “ his name will be Solomon, and I will grant Israel peace and quiet during his reign . .He is the one who will build a house FOR MY NAME…(v 9-10).With faith in David’s words and God’s  promises, Solomon was to put that faith into action, knowing that if he continued in the spirit of faith and obedience the Lord would be with him. Likewise David spoke to the leaders “Is not the Lord your God with you ?… has he not granted rest.. ?”..” devote your heart and soul to seeking the Lord your God”. There are so many lessons in this chapter.. AND  we see the chosen son of David and his role as a servant for the will of God to bring people to Him , so that they may know God and give him the glory due to His Name. And that is the role of all of us…  to bring people to the one God and for them to find peace with Him. Ezekiel 32:   even though the Egyptians arrogantly thought that they, unlike Judah, would not fall to Babylonian’s forces, they would eventually experience the same fate as the citizens of Jerusalem. The Lord’s words were recorded before the event so that all nations might know that the Lord is the one true God who reigns in the nations of men (and still does !). There are many repeated themes in this chapter .. Pharaoh / Egypt and his multitudes are referred 7 times. It would seem that Egypt and the other nations mentioned put their confidence in their “strengths” their “multitudes”… these multitudes might have been considered mighty by men… but not in God’s eyes. The uncircumcised (people not in a covenant relationship with God) would all die, and were destined for the grave. This is the destiny of all mankind who haven’t responded to the message of salvation offered by God through the sacrificial life of His son. Col 1:11…”In Christ you were also circumcised, in the putting off of the sinful nature…having been buried with him in baptism and raised with him through your faith in the power of God, who raised him from the dead. When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your sinful nature, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins.” Ephesians 3 +4  ..the grace,  gifts, and love from God… and our response. The letter to the Ephesians begins by Paul uplifting the Ephesians (and us) by telling us about  the incredible blessings (gifts) that God had brought to them through His plan in Christ. But what fruit do these blessings bring ?… IF TRULY DISCERNED  they bring gratefulness, love and an incredible comforting humility. With that spirit we will choose to willingly serve, to give, to love, to forgive ….to give glory to His name. The gospel, to Paul (and us) , is always exciting.. as it speaks of God’s will in such a deep way and brings with it a new way of thinking and living. But, at that time, it was even more exciting. The mystery of Christ had NOW been revealed (it was there from the beginning.. it was in God’s word from the beginning, and if one looked back one could see it ) but that which was there wasn’t revealed until Christ was born, lived, died and resurrected.. and in turn proclaimed to the Jews and the Gentiles…. This is what was happening at that very time in God’s plan !! Through that gospel the Gentiles (by God’s will) were heirs TOGETHER with Israel, members TOGETHER of one body, and sharing TOGETHER in the promises  through Jesus Christ.  Despite all of these blessings, Paul prays that the Ephesians may continue to be “ONE” with the Lord, and for that “One-ness” to continue to grow. ”I pray that you are strengthened with power through His spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”…. And to know (intimately) the enormity of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge.. and to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. A high calling! How are we to live? Ch4:1.. “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received.(reminder is in ch 1 !) “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient,.. in love. Make EVERY effort to keep the unity of the spirit ..”. Whilst there is diversity in the church, in the true church there are great areas of one-ness. Paul mentions 7 of them. ONE BODY: In Christ, Jews and Gentiles(us) are “one new man” reconciled unto God in “one body” through the cross of Christ. Eph 2:15-16. ONE SPIRIT: one with the spirit of God. ONE HOPE: one with God’s will.  ONE LORD: “Jesus is Lord” 1Cor 12:3. ONE FAITH: “salvation is found in no one else (except Jesus) “ Acts 4:12. ONE BAPTISM: see how important baptism is.. one of the 7 towards one-ness. ONE GOD and FATHER.. from which all of the above have their beginnings… in the mind of God to bring salvation. “our fellowship is with the Father and with His son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make your joy complete” 1 John1:3-4. October

October 7th

David demonstrated detailed preparation for the organisation and service in God’s temple in 1Chronicles 23. He has learned from his life’s experiences, he has learnt from his mistakes and sins, and has now reached a maturity where God is first in everything. This is how we should be, and all of the readings today show us our responsibilities that we have after we have been shown grace. There is always work to do in God’s service, for example, the Levites used to carry the tabernacle and the articles for worship as the people moved around the desert with Moses, verse 26. However, their service does not stop when the tabernacle stops moving and the temple is built – instead their work has changed, verse 28-31. It is all service to God if we make these changes with the right motives and by putting God first and respecting his principles. In Ezekiel 33 there is another principle that we can follow. Ezekiel was described as a “watchman”, verse 7.  A “watchman’s” responsibility was to look out for any attackers who were threatening a country and to sound a warning by blowing the trumpet if an attack was coming. This warning gave people time to prepare, and was a very responsible job. If the watchman sounded a warning and no one responded then he had still fulfilled his responsibility; but if he did not sound a warning then he had failed in his responsibility, verse 1-6. The watchman who did not sound a warning would be held responsible for the damage done to the country and its people. God told Ezekiel specifically how this example applied to him, verse 8-9. This principle very much applies to us too – we know that Jesus is going to come back, we know that God is going to punish those who are not watching and waiting for Jesus so we have the responsibility to teach others. We are therefore watchmen like Ezekiel. God is not happy with the death of the wicked, verse 11, he wants people to change from their “evil ways” and he has given us the responsibility to share the wonderful message that we have for all human beings. God’s grace and forgiveness is wonderful because he does not exclude anyone from forgiveness, all he asks is that we repent, verse 14-16. This is a great comfort to us because we know that we sin, it was a great comfort to David because he repented and was forgiven after his sins. Notice here though the responsibilities that come with repentance, we have to give back what we “pledged”; we have to return what we have “stolen” and we have to try to stop sinning. We have a responsibility to carry on serving, we cannot say that I was a “pioneer” in CBM or I have previously done so many good things for God, so therefore I can now relax and do what I want to do, verse 13. When Jesus comes back or we die before he comes back we will be judged as we were at the time, whether good or bad, verse 17-20. This is both a comfort and a warning. God does not expect us to be perfect, but he does expect us to be trying to be one with him. It is no good just coming to listen to God’s word and then not doing anything with the knowledge that that gives us, it is a waste of time and does not achieve our salvation, we are told this in James 1, but we are also told this in Ezekiel 33:30-32. We ignore God’s word at a cost to us because we know it is true. There is an example of how true God’s word is in verse 22. Ezekiel was now able to speak all the time; God had foretold that he would be able to speak all the time when Jerusalem had eventually fallen, Ezekiel 24:25-27, so this was confirmation that what the man told him was true, verse 21. Ezekiel had been unable to speak, other than to repeat what God had said, since chapter 3 verse 25-27. So, because we know God’s word is true, as Christians, we are to be “imitators of God”, Ephesians 5 verse 1-2, and we are to also “live a life of love”. Because of the grace that God has shown us (Eph 1 and 2), because we are one in Christ, (Eph 3 and 4) we now have to demonstrate our gratefulness and love, not because we have to, but because we want to be like God. David wanted to serve, so did Ezekiel and so must we. In these last 2 chapters of Ephesians we have more examples of how we should serve in addition to preparing and teaching others. Verse 3-4 highlights sexual immorality, impurity, greed, obscenity, foolish talk and rude joking as being things that we should not do. These cover virtually all the things that are against God – a “hint” of sexual immorality covers thoughts, the things we look at that are sexual, lusting after others, making comments, viewing things on the internet or in magazines, watching traveling cinemas, etc. Impurity covers many many things that are not godly and we can probably ask “would Jesus be doing this”; if the answer is “no”, then neither should we! Greed covers things like taking things that are not ours, making up stories to get help, inflating costs, keeping the change, not sharing, etc. Obscenity, foolish talk and rude joking would be things that Jesus would not say. All these we need to avoid and as Paul says we should be “thankful” for what God has given us. It is important that we do try to avoid these because the consequences are severe, verse 5-7. Thank God that we do have opportunity to repent! We have to be careful with the people we mix with because it is easy to become like the ungodly if we mix with them, rather we should mix with those who are godly because we will be able to learn from each other and to be better “imitators of God”. In verse 8-14, “darkness” describes those who are ungodly. There are more lessons for us to follow, verse 15-20, do not get drunk, rather read the bible together, sing hymns and songs, praise from the heart and give thanks. Giving thanks to God and being joyful shows humility and the right attitude and helps us not to do the things that are ungodly. A big principle comes before further lessons in daily life in Ephesians 5 and 6 this is chapter 5 verse 21. We are to “submit” to each other out of “reverence for Christ”, we are to treat each other as better than ourselves, we are not to think that we are better than others and we are to remember that there is no hierarchy in the church – we are all sinful servants who need grace and mercy. Ephesians 5 verse 22-33 shows us who husbands (and men) and wives (and women) represent, ie the man represents Jesus and the woman represents the church. This is a daily living parable to remind us of the love that Jesus showed to us and how the church (us) responded to Jesus in love. This is not saying that the husband or man is the boss of the wife or woman, it is about love and care and compassion and helping each other, it is about respect and serving, it is about “imitating God”. So brothers, we represent Jesus, sisters you represent the church and this picture (parable) shows us love. The same sentiments are in Ephesians 6 verse 1-4, children will obey parents if they see the parents imitating God and showing love; parents will teach children about God and Jesus because they love them so much that they want them to be saved too. Slaves (workers) and masters (business managers) also need to love and respect each other, verse 5-9, do everything honestly and as if you were working for Jesus or if Jesus was working for you – we can apply the same principle to our CBM structures too in how we all deal with each other in the various roles that we all have. There are many further spiritual lessons in verse 10-17 using the picture of a soldier and applying it to how we prepare for service (we will leave this to another time!). We all struggle to be  imitators of God, we all struggle to be like Jesus (who was the best imitator of God) so we always need to pray, verse 18. David, Ezekiel and Paul were desperate to save others so they followed what God wanted and tried to teach others about God and Jesus’ grace and how to respond to it, verse 23-24: “Peace to the brothers (and sisters), and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with undying love.” We demonstrate our “undying” love by how we act. October

October 8th

In 1Chronicles 24 and 25 we continue with the details of who did what in the service of God as David prepared for the temple to be built and worship to be carried out there. David was keen to ensure that the Levites, who were those chosen by God to manage all the things associated in worship, carried out the work. David’s use of lots in chapter 24 verse 5 and 31 and for the singers in chapter 25 verse 8, allowed for God to direct the choice. So David very much wanted God’s choices to prevail in the worship. The Levites obviously had the important role of actually arranging the worship but the singers had the important role of leading the people in worship by teaching, thanking and praising God via music, chapter 25 verse 3 and to exalt God in verse 5. It is also important for us today to take worship seriously, including the music we use and the words that we sing. In Ezekiel 34 we see that the leaders, described as shepherds, had failed in their task of setting examples to the people, the flock of sheep, and instead leading them in such a way that the flock (people) were scattered among the nations. The shepherds were put there by God to lead, verse 2, but they were selfish and only looked after themselves, verse 3-6 and 8. So God carried out his promise to punish the shepherds, who were the “sleek and strong sheep”, verse 11 and 16. He will judge between the sheep, verse 17.  This is similar to the account in Matthew 25:31-46 where Jesus is saying that we should look after our brothers and sisters as if we are looking after Jesus himself. But God will search for his sheep and bring them back to their land and look after them and he will set up a perfect shepherd, ie Jesus, verse 23-24 who will tend God’s sheep for him. Verse 20-22 reminds us again that God will judge those of the sheep who mistreat others – this lesson is for us too.  As we are all God’s sheep we should be following our shepherd, Jesus, who will care for us if we let him, but the sheep who mistreat others will be judged as Jesus said in Matthew 24. I think we have a picture of the Kingdom here, verse 25-31, so some of these things will only happen when Jesus comes back, but in the meantime as brothers and sisters, sheep, we should be helping Jesus to shepherd God’s sheep.  We see examples of this in Philippians 1 and 2. Paul is writing to the “overseers” and “deacons”, verse 1, these are the shepherds and the servants of the church in Philippi. Paul, another servant/shepherd, is encouraging all of the sheep to carry on the “work” by “sharing” and “loving” until the “day of Christ”, so he is saying that we should learn the lessons of the shepherd and care for each other until Jesus comes back. Paul’s main aim was to help others to stay strong; he always saw hope and encouragement in his suffering, verse 12-14, and he rejoiced because Jesus was preached, verse 18. Both Timothy and Epaphroditus were examples of good shepherds, verse 19-30. Timothy was compared positively against bad shepherds, verse 21, Timothy took a “genuine interest” in others, as we should do too, we must not only look to our “own interests” as the bad shepherds did in Ezekiel. Epaphroditus and people like him are to be honoured, verse 29, it is because they too are genuinely concerned for others, verse 26, they are also “fellow workers” and “fellow soldiers” (for God), verse 25. In other words we should honour those who serve. Paul reminds us that we should “shine like stars”, verse 12-18, we are to be seen as different as we try to be like Jesus in all of our actions and dealings, we are not to be “crooked” or “depraved” we are to be “blameless” and to set good examples as did David, Ezekiel, Paul, Timothy and Epaphroditus. We are “united” with Jesus therefore we should have the mind of Jesus and try to do what he did and does, verse 1-5. And by doing this we will be nurturing our mind and actions to also be like God as Jesus was, verse 6-11. So all of us have to ask the questions of ourselves: are we good sheep, are we good shepherds, are we setting good examples, are we being recognised as being like Jesus and God, or are we fitting in with the world around us and acting just like them and being bad shepherds and fat sheep just interested in ourselves? October

October 9th

There are a few practical lessons for us in today’s first reading of 1Chronicles 26 which are also partially repeated in the Philippians reading. The chapter lists more details, as previous chapters, demonstrating to us how important it is for us to try and do things properly in our worship of God. We also see that the actual men who were chosen to do certain roles were chosen by lot, so again God was allowed to be part of the decision process by directing the name of the person who was picked out. Unlike the lots that are used to determine what country plays another in the World Cup, for example, this lot could be influenced by God, verse 13. However, the men who were put forward into the lot were capable, verse 6, 8, 9 and 31, so it was not a random selection in the lot, David and the people had to select people who were right for the jobs, in this case for service at the temple it was Levites, so there were some faithful actions associated with this. The same is true for us when we select members for certain duties in our Christian worship, we have to select those who are appropriate, who are capable and who are already demonstrating a love and commitment to God. In verse 31 a search was made of the “records” – is our equivalent the ecclesial register to see who has been regularly committed to our Sunday services? The other lesson is in verse 26-28 where we read that “some of the plunder” was dedicated to the temple of the Lord, our modern equivalent of this is our giving of some of our money to the work of the Lord. Because we must remember that all that we have has been given to us by God anyway, so we are only giving back to God what is already his! The short reading in Ezekiel 35 reminds us what goes wrong when the wrong attitude is demonstrated. The people of Edom, or Mount Seir, “boasted” against God, verse 13, and God “heard it”, as he does for everyone. The people were happy when Israel/Judah were defeated, verse 10, they were happy to “take the land over”. It was not a surprise that this happened because the people of Edom were always enemies of God’s people, verse 5 – they opposed them and therefore God at every opportunity. Eg Numbers 20:18-21. So God who hears and sees everything punished Edom, verse 6-9, 11-12 and 14-15 – a reminder to us too in how we respond to situations in our lives. The readings in Philippians 3 and 4 start off by demonstrating humility, verse 1-3, ie “put no confidence in the flesh (human ability)”. In David’s time the Levites humbly accepted their tasks and realised that it was God who was working and giving them the capabilities that they had, the same should be for us, all our talents, or capabilities, should be recognised as coming from God. Paul considered all of his human capabilities as “rubbish”, verse 8; the thing that counted in his life was “knowing” everything about and being like Jesus. He also clearly stated that he wanted to “know” Christ, verse 10-11, this was his priority in life to be like Jesus and to be with him, therefore he wanted to serve and to submit to Jesus’ and God’s will, as did the Levites and as should we. Our “goal” is the kingdom and we have to keep aiming for it, verse 12-14, our minds should be on godly things not on human things. We should be demonstrating that we are starting to think like God, verse 15-16, and if we allow ourselves to change then when Jesus returns we will be fully changed, verse 20-21. It is sad that so many live as “enemies” of God and of Jesus, verse 18-19, and it is sad because these people are putting trust in human things and are selfish and only thinking of themselves, as in the example of Edom, but we too need to be careful not to put our human standing above God. Paul conveys the importance for what we have just read in chapter 4 verse 1, this is how we “stand firm”. Paul then gives us examples of how our humility should work out in our daily lives. The first one is to be united, verse 2; to help there to be unity in the ecclesia, verse 3; to rejoice, verse 4; set an example, verse 5, and to pray about “everything”, verse 6. If we are humble in all aspects of our lives we will be at peace, verse 7. The things that we think about should be those listed in verse 8, things that are “noble”, “right”, “pure”, “lovely”, “admirable”, because we have to put these into practice, verse 9. Paul exhorts us to “rejoice” as he did, verse 10. It is difficult sometimes to rejoice when we are hungry, sad, ill, worried, but Paul said that he learned to be content in any situation, verse 12 – he suffered all these things and he coped because God and Jesus strengthened him, verse 13. As David and all the Levites and the people worked together to help each other, so we should help and support each other – Paul says that it is good to “share in others troubles”, verse 14. “And my God will meet all your needs according to his glorious riches in Christ Jesus. To our God and Father be glory for ever and ever. Amen”, verse 19-20. October

October 10th

When we read the first chapter of John we are struck by the obvious reference back to the creation record in Genesis. In Genesis 1:3 we read ‘And God said, Let there be light, and there was light’.  Before this there was only darkness.  Even after this, there was still darkness, at night time. In John 1:1-5 we read of ‘the Word’ and ‘In him was life; and the life was the light of men.  And the light shone in the darkness and the darkness comprehended it not’.  So when Jesus came as ‘the light of the world’ there was still darkness.  What are we to make of that? Before we try to answer that question I want us to think about a passage which is a little puzzling at first sight.  It’s 1 Kings 8:12 which says ‘The Lord said that he would dwell in the thick darkness’.  What does this mean? Sometimes people say that darkness represents sin, but that can’t be so because God can’t be associated with sin – he could not ‘dwell in sin’. I think this verse is telling us that darkness is something we can’t understand.  We can’t begin to understand where God dwells: we can’t begin to understand where ‘heaven’ is.  So perhaps we can say that ‘the light’ is equivalent to understanding and ‘the darkness’ to a failure to understand. If we apply that principle to the first 4 chapters of John we begin to see the problem the Jewish leaders had: they just couldn’t understand how this man from Nazareth could be the promised Messiah.  Look at the questions they asked: What sign do you show us, since you do these things? (2:18); It has taken forty-six years to build this temple, and you will raise it up in three days? (2:20); How can a man be born when he is old? (3:4); Can he enter a second time into his mother’s womb? (3:4); How can these things be? (3:9). This lack of understanding continues for many Jews, and for the world at large, right through to this day. What about us?  Read now Ephesians 5: 8-14.  We were in darkness and did not understand our need for Christ and what he has done.  But now we have understanding, by God’s grace, we must ‘walk in the light’, which means that the way we live our lives must show this understanding of Christ and his ways. There is another passage that helps our understanding of this principle.  Read now 2 Corinthians 4:3-6.  You see how that passage links our thoughts together? There is an important point in this that we should not miss.  It was God who created light in Genesis: it is Jesus who is the light of the world: and ‘God who commanded light to shine out of darkness has shined in our hearts’.  We do not have our understanding of the Gospel because we are in some way cleverer than others.  It was God who ‘shone in our hearts’.  Although we have a choice as to how we respond we should never think that we have initiated or earned our salvation. Even the disciples struggled to understand.  Read now Luke 18:31-34.  Their understanding grew after the resurrection.  As we share bread and wine now may we reflect on the light of the world and reflect his light to others so that they may come to an understanding of the salvation of God, through the Lord Jesus Christ. October

October 11th

In 1Chronicles 28 we read of David’s continued planning for the building of the temple in Jerusalem. His dedication to the things of God is an excellent example for us. Even though God had told David that he would not build the temple, verse 3, he still prepared undeterred, verse 2. We experience disappointments in our lives but we should carry on too, recognising that God knows best. David always saw God working in his life and he humbly accepted this in his message to the people and to Solomon, his son, verse 4-7. David also involved others in his plans and preparation so that all those who loved God could be involved and also make plans to support the work of the temple within their own areas of responsibility, verse 1. The practical lesson for us is that we are not on our own in the work for God, we have brothers and sisters to help and encourage us all, therefore we share the work. The benefits of being “wholehearted” in the work, as David was, are obvious in verse 8, ie that descendants after them would benefit for ever. David was determined that Solomon should be wholehearted too, verse 9, where David encourages him to always follow God. There is a simple choice for all of us: “If you seek him [God], he will be found by you; but if you forsake him, he will reject you for ever.” David faithfully passed on the plans to Solomon to carry out, verse 19, and then he encourages Solomon, 20-21. This is the same lesson for us too, “be strong and courageous and do the work. Do not be afraid or discouraged, for the Lord God, my God, is with you”. The people in exile in Babylon were discouraged in Ezekiel 37 verse 11, and God told Ezekiel to prophesy to them, verse 12-14. The people were disheartened because they were refugees in a foreign land, all their hope was gone and they said all their “bones had dried up and our hope is gone; we are cut off.” The wonderful thing is that God was still there even in their despair and this dramatic picture of the valley of dry bones all coming together and being brought back to life, verse 1-10, represented the people’s return to God’s land. It is a picture that foretold what happened at the end of Israel’s exile in Babylon, it also is evidence in our time now with the Jews being back in Israel having been brought back by God from all the nations. The State of Israel was officially recognised by the world in 1948. The prophecy is not totally fulfilled yet though, because generally the Jews do not accept God and Jesus, and neither is there one king, but it will happen. The prophecy of the 2 sticks, verse 15-22, shows us that the 2 nations of Judah and Israel will become one again as they originally were at the time of Saul, David and Solomon and today we see this part of prophecy as being fulfilled as the Jews are back in Israel as a single nation. But we still wait patiently for them to be godly and to have the one king, ie Jesus, verse 23-28. So “be strong and courageous” because what God has said will happen will come to pass. Jesus’ first miracle is described to us in John 2 sets the scene for how Jesus is going to change men’s hearts back to God. This simple marriage account can be seen as a picture of man’s failure in that they had run out of wine, verse 3, which can represent the “fruit of the spirit”, Jesus’ mother says to listen to Jesus, verse 5 and then when the master of the banquet tasted the wine he noted that it was the best, verse 10. There are lots of potential lessons in this first miracle but it is obvious that to get the best “fruit of the spirit” we need to listen to Jesus because there is no other alternative. This is because the people had corrupted God’s temple that David had dedicated his life in preparing, they had made God’s house into a market, verse 16. There was no respect for and of God and just as David had said to Solomon the people had “forsaken God” and “God had rejected them” – and only Jesus could bring people back to God. This would be achieved by Jesus’ death and miraculous resurrection, verse 18-21. Jesus’ teaching to Nicodemus in John 3 shows that we have to be “born again”, verse 3, otherwise we will not be in the kingdom. We have to have different thinking, we have to be baptised and we have to demonstrate the fruits of the spirit, verse 5-8. We have to replace darkness with light, verse 19-21, and to try our best to follow God’s ways. The only way that we can do this is to accept and follow Jesus, verse 14-15. It was no coincidence that Jesus’ first miracle was at a wedding because throughout the bible we often see spiritual lessons from weddings, John the Baptist recognised this in verse 27-30, where he sees Jesus as the bridegroom and the church as the bride and we are “married” to Jesus when we are baptised and we will be permanently with him in the kingdom when he returns. The message at the end of John 3 is very similar to what was in Chronicles: “Whoever believes in the son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him”, verse 36. October

October 12th

King David teaches us about wealth in 1 Chronicles 29; “Wealth and honour come from (God)” (verse 12).  In fact, everything we have comes from God (verse 14).  David says this in the context of his own giving. He chose to give to God a vast amount of wealth (verses 2-5) as a contribution to building the temple.  Although in reality he was giving back to God what God first gave to him. What is interesting is that David rejoiced in doing this (verse 9).  Here is true giving.  Giving should be willing and voluntarily, and it should be done cheerfully (2 Corinthians 9:7).  David’s giving encouraged others who also gave willingly. Although the people were losing wealth, they were happy to give for the Lord.  This is a tremendous example for us.  What do we give for the building up of God’s house (which is His people)? Any wealth we have is a test for us (verse 17).  It is a test as to how we will use it.  Are we going to use everything we have for ourselves, or are we going to give some back to God?  King David sat on his throne.  But he was clear whose kingdom it really was.  The kingdom was God’s (1 Chronicles 29:11).  And God was head over all.   The throne was God’s throne (verse 23).  This is a picture of the future kingdom when the son of David will sit as king on God’s throne over the God’s kingdom.  Ezekiel 38 describes an invasion against God’s people a long time in the future (verse 8).  We are told that God’s people have been regathered from the nations and are living safely (verse 8).  They are also rich, and it is these riches that the invader is interested in.  The invader is described as Gog from the land of Magog.  They are from the far north (verse 15).  This means they were not immediate neighbours to Israel, but were from a long distance.  This suggests they are from Turkey/Russia/Iraq/Iran. Many will look at this chapter and see this as potentially applying to today, where God’s people have been regathered from the nations and are relatively prosperous.  An alternative view comes from the only other place where Gog and Magog are mentioned.  This is Revelation 20:7-10, and the time is at the end of the thousand years.  Bible prophecy will be fulfilled, but the question is when? When we think of time, we think of the advice of Jesus to us.  Be ready all the time because we do not know when Jesus will come back.  John 4 describes the encounter between Jesus and a Samaritan woman. Such an encounter would not normally happen with a Jew, but then Jesus was no ordinary Jew.  God ultimately had a plan to save the Samaritans (Acts 1:8, 8:1-8) and Jesus’s meeting with Samaritans and references to them prepare the way for this.  The sect of the Samaritans only take the first 6 books of the Bible as true.  Jesus explained to the Samaritan woman that truth must be followed and they must follow it.  The encounter meant that many Samaritans believed Jesus was the true Messiah.  God used an unusual woman to witness to her own people.  The woman was a bit like the city of Samaria.  Both had been associated with 5 different partners.  In the case of Samaria, these were 5 sets of gods they had previously worshipped (2 Kings 17:29-33).  Now Samaria was not linked to them.  It was to the woman and to the city that Jesus appealed for them to follow truth.  We see in this the mercy of God.  Even though they did were not full Jews, they were invited to follow the good news of the kingdom of God.  The Samaritans received the message even without seeing a miracle. This was in contrast to the Jews at Cana who wanted to see a miracle before they believed (verses 46-48).  God was willing to accept them based on their faith.  We too are not full Jews, but we will be accepted by Jesus if we live a life of faith. October

October 13th

2 CHRON 1-2:  Solomon prayed for wisdom but did he “read the word of God all the days of his life”? Solomon had the potential to be a great king in the eyes of God, and he showed this by asking the Lord to give him wisdom, so that he could lead and govern the Lord’s people wisely. But did he continue in that spirit? Instructions from God for future kings were given in Deut 17:14-20. “The king must not acquire great numbers of horses for himself, or make the people return to Egypt to get more of them. He must not take many wives OR HIS HEART WILL BE LED ASTRAY. He must not accumulate large amounts of silver and gold. The king must write a copy of the law.. and it is to be with him, and he is to read it all the days of his life so that he may learn to revere the Lord his God..” (“The fear (reverence) of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom Psa 111:10). If we listen to the word of God each day we will know more about God’s will, and if we put that knowledge into action; God’s will, will become ours. Then, we will find that when we are praying we are praying for the right things… the things that are important to us and God. The word can bring us to one-ness! 2 Chron 1:14-17….  Solomon did not follow the instructions given in Deut 17..he acquired and sold many horses, he acquired much silver and gold and we learn elsewhere that later on he had many wives who did lead him astray. I suspect Solomon’s heart and will was with God whilst he was over-seeing the building of the temple.. he dedicated his will to giving to the Name of the Lord.. but once that was achieved, he was led astray by women, other “gods” and the deceitfulness of riches and the “pleasures and concerns of life”. All the time the word of the Lord was there to guide him, to give him wisdom.. and if followed, the Lord God himself would be with  him – how foolish mankind can be!! 2Chron 2, “A good name is more desirable than great riches…” Proverbs 22:1. We remember in 1 Chron 14 how David had his house built with help from Hiram king of Tyre. Hiram sent messengers, cedar logs, stonemasons and carpenters  to build a palace for him. They mutually benefitted each other and became friends. So Solomon was naturally guided to Hiram, a man he could trust (had a good name), a man who had some knowledge of the God of Israel. It was to be a shared task, a Jewish king and a gentile king.. working together to give glory to the God of the Jews and the gentiles. Hiram’s number one skilled man was called Huram-Abi .. whose mother was from the tribe of Dan (Jew) and his father from Tyre (gentile). Hiram’s men, along with the “aliens” in Israel (gentiles) would be brought together with Solomon’s men (Jews) to build the temple, a temple of praise, offerings, teaching, dedication etc where all things were done to bring all mankind to the one God. What a wonderful time…when people are together in one spirit (the Lords’) to give glory to the Name of the Lord. Ezekiel 39….  I wonder what Ezekiel understood from this prophecy given to him by the Sovereign Lord. I am sure, like Ezekiel, there are parts that we couldn’t be totally sure about.. when these things would happen etc. But there are some parts that we can be sure about, and when we recognize the main message for all mankind, all nations.. “whose side are you on…. The Lord’s or the world ?”; we realise if we understand and follow that sure instruction… we are safe.. as the Lord would want us to be. I suspect Ezekiel knew what some of the names referred to in his time; Gog, Meshech, Tubal, Persia, Cush, Put, Gomer etc… and we too can be certain with some of them, and have a good idea who the rest are… but it wasn’t just these nations.. no doubt other nations would have been involved.. by funding to support the enemies of Israel.. Ezekiel would have witnesses in his lifetime a similar occurrence.. of nations coming down against Jerusalem and the terrible things that happened (albeit God’s will)… and Ezekiel would have seen the contrast with a future event as described in Eze 37-39…This time the nations would not prevail.. the Jews would be back in their land, gathered from the nations, Jerusalem as their capital and ultimately, the land would be attacked by many powerful nations… and those armies destroyed leading to the ushering in of the kingdom of God…. with God’s dwelling place in Jerusalem… this was and is, God’s will .. nothing can stand in the way of it.. what incredible joy it would bring to Ezekiel’s life.. what purpose to his preaching.. The repeated statement from the Lord through Ezekiel was “they will know that I am the Lord”. The enemies would know when they saw the terrible things that happened to their countries/armies (.v21). Israel would also “know that I am the Lord” when He rescues the nation from this war. But the Lord would cause even greater things to happen… a cleansing of the land.. the nation of Israel to be forgiven, to once more be in a covenant relationship with God… to be given a new heart and a new spirit… their old spirit broken by seeing “the one whom they pierced”. So Ezekiel’s hope, promise from God, where he wanted to be… was in a future time.. in the kingdom of God, with the Lord dwelling in his sanctuary (remember this would have been close to Ezekiel’s heart because he was a priest) amongst his people. His preaching was so that others could share that promise, including eternal life. That will continues, as believers pray “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done. On earth as it is in heaven”. Knowing God, knowing Jesus.. John 5. What a wonderful collection of books the Bible is… we can so easily read of the promise of God in Ezekiel’s time… turn a few pages and go forward 600 years(!) and ….AND..  be listening to the word of God.. spoken by His son!! The gospels record 7 miraculous healings done by Jesus on the Sabbath (7th day).. as believers, we recognize this is design seen in the inspired word of God, and this is just one witness in the multitude of witnesses.. to the design within the whole of scripture.. from beginning to end.. so that mankind might know God’s incredible purpose for mankind, and to be able to put their trust in Him. One of those 7 sabbath miraculous healings is seen in John 5:1-15.. the healing of a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. Because the healed man carried his bed according to Jesus’ instructions.. the Jews persecuted Jesus.. because he had done these things on the Sabbath(.v16). What follows are words of teaching from Jesus.. that they might know God.. and the one whom He sent. Lesson 1: (.v17)  God and Jesus were working.. God’s work had not stopped. Lesson 2.(v18-30) Jesus acknowledges he was not equal with God (Jesus was totally dependent on his Father). God was working through His son, and because Jesus loved His father, he did His will, and was given delegated authority from His father. In verse 19 and verse 30.. Jesus makes it totally clear “I can OF MYSELF do nothing”. God caused miracles to witness to the fact that God approved of his son and was working through his son. But more importantly than the miracles, were the words that Jesus spoke… these were the words said in the spirit of God.. that which could bring (through faith) a changed life and even a future eternal life. Father and son.. V21 as the Father raises the dead… so could the son; V22 the Father has committed all judgement to the son; V23 by honouring the son, we are also giving honour to the Father(albeit separately!!); V24 the shared will of Father and son.. salvation..” from death into life”. V31-47, “If I bear witness of myself (and not God), my witness is not true”. Jesus reasons with the Jews, he appeals for them to see evidence of his delegated authority. It was seen and witnessed by John the Baptist.(v33-35). The “works” which the Father had given him were a greater witness… not just the miracles, not the words, but also Jesus’ willing acceptance as a sacrificial servant, willing to die, even for his enemies.. that they might turn.. and find life. Another witness.. God’s written word (.v37-40).. evidence provided (by God) throughout the O.T. Take Moses for example, someone they claimed to trust in.. and yet “but IF you believed Moses you would believe me, for he wrote about me” There are more than 300 Old Testament prophecies that have been fulfilled in the first coming of Christ! We, as brothers and sisters in Christ, have been taught by God.. taught through His word, His son and His will. And because of these “gifts from above” we naturally give honour to Jesus, and by so doing we also give honour to his Father, from whom all things came. And with understanding the delegated authority that Jesus was given.. that knowledge makes so much of scripture easy to understand.. but more importantly,  that we might “know(intimately) God and the one who He sent (Jesus)”. October

October 14th

Solomon builds and furnishes the temple in 2Chronicles 3 and 4. The details and the size are amazing and it was all intended to remind the people of God’s glory and to bring about respect and worship. The sight of the sculptured cherubim, chapter 3 verse 10-13, must have been awe inspiring. The summary of the items in the temple in chapter 4 verses 19-22, confirms that no detail was overlooked in the worship of God. All this was what was in David’s heart for Solomon to build and it should have been a reminder for the worshippers to remember that God was the only God and all powerful. We know from readings in Ezekiel that the people sadly rejected God and turned away from him and all this amazing temple was destroyed. However, Ezekiel 40 shows us that God’s people will again have a temple to worship in, that they would return from exile in Babylon and that they would worship God. The details of the size and the position of gates, etc. again show us how important it is to get the worship of God right to trigger the right reminders for the worshippers. Since Ezekiel’s prophecy here the temple had been rebuilt twice, once during Nehemiah/Ezra’s time and then again during Herod’s time, but each time the temple was destroyed because of the people’s sin. Whilst the temple was still standing during Jesus’ time Jesus promised those who followed him would HAVE eternal life, John 6 verse 40, he repeats in verse 47, and again in verse 51. Jesus says that unless we constantly “take Jesus into us” we have no life in us, verse 53-58. The implication here is that yes we do HAVE confidence in eternal life, but we also have the responsibility to also be more like Jesus in our lives – knowing that we have eternal life means that we have to live now as if we have it, ie respecting and following both God and his son Jesus. It is no good saying that we just have eternal life because of grace, if we are not doing our best to live like Jesus. The history of God’s people has demonstrated clearly that we all need Jesus to be able to come to God, without him we are lost, but all of the bible teachings show us that we have to grow and be like God. This is what the temple was aimed at, this is what Jesus is aiming at, ie to remind us that we do have responsibilities, as well as grace and the promise of the kingdom. Sadly some of Jesus’ disciples turned away because this was a hard teaching, verse 60 and 66, they preferred their lives with no responsibilities, they just preferred to please themselves. God willing we are like the twelve who said where else can we go, verse 68, they respected that only Jesus could give life and they accepted the responsibilities that came with it. October

October 15th

It was a great day of celebration and worship of God when the Ark was brought into the temple, 2Chronicles 5. Every elder was there to represent the people, verse 2-3, and when assembled the Levites took charge of the ark and moved it, verse 4-6. The celebration and worship of God was undertaken with great joy and respect as the ark was moved to its new home. The whole point of the temple and the ark was to provoke praise, respect and memory, all the things that we should be focused on too, and at this time the music used to worship and celebrate, verse 11-13, was done in praise and acknowledgement to God for his love. God was pleased because he filled the temple with a cloud, so thick that the priests could not perform their duties, verse 14. This was a great time, a time when the people were at one with God. In chapter 6 Solomon continues with the praise and worship, verse 4-11. Solomon’s prayer of dedication starts by acknowledging God’s greatness, verse 14, and he also acknowledges the responsibilities of those who are his to follow “wholeheartedly”. This is how David followed God and this is how Solomon started to follow God, and Solomon acknowledges this again, verse 16. So the same lesson is for us – we have to follow God “wholeheartedly” and “be careful” in all that we do. Solomon acknowledges that we all sin, verse 36, but also acknowledges that when we do we need to repent, verse 24, 26, 29 and 37, and this is very important for us too – when we sin we need to turn and repent. And God knows if we are genuine, verse 30, he “knows [our] heart”. The turning to face Jerusalem and therefore the temple was a great acknowledgement of the importance of respecting God and his interface with man because it was a reminder for the people. Ezekiel 41 continues with the details of the vision of the temple that Ezekiel was shown and although we see the sheer vastness of the temple vision in it we also see the intricate carvings of the palm trees and the cherubim, eg verse 17-20. All of this was intended as a reminder to God’s people of the respect that we should show to God because of his love for us. The temple also features in John 7 – in this chapter the Jews are celebrating the feast of the Tabernacles to thank God for his provision of the harvest and for saving them out of slavery in Egypt (Leviticus 23:33-44) – the people slept in tents to remind them of God’s provisions for them in the wilderness. Jesus delayed his journey to Jerusalem and therefore to the temple, verse 6-9, but he arrived half way through the week, verse 14, and began to teach. As always Jesus was challenging in his teaching and statements, eg verse 24, many people were discussing him, eg verse 25-17, but the people were divided, eg verse 40-44. The Jewish leaders were particularly opposed to him, verse 45-52, but their research about prophets from Galilee was incorrect, there was a prophet from there, ie Jonah (2Kings 14:25, Gath Hepher was in Galilee) (also Micah and Elijah were from there too!) nor had they remembered Isaiah 9:1-2, they should have known this, so the lesson for us is that we should try our best to find out what God does say so that we can at least try to believe and do the right things. We will make plenty of mistakes and there is no way that we can say that we know exactly what God wants, but neither can we just go our own way and expect God to save us! Jesus said to “stop judging by appearances, and make a right judgement” (verse 24), but the leaders were biased in their thinking and were prejudiced against Galilee, they thought that the place was of no value so much so that the place was given away in 1Kings 9:10-14 as payment in Solomon’s time. So the lesson for us is to always be aware of the reminders that God gives to us so that we remember God’s love and mercy, remembering too that he will judge those who do not follow him wholeheartedly. October

October 16th

Following the building of the temple of God by Solomon, and Solomon’s prayer of dedication, we now have God’s response (2 Chronicles 7). Firstly, the presence of God entered the temple and then fire from heaven consumed the sacrifice.  Both were signs that the construction and offerings of Solomon had been acceptable.  The temple had been built to God’s specification and the sacrifices had been offered in the right way.  Now God was living on Zion, that is, Jerusalem.  From this point on in history, God and His plan would be associated with Jerusalem.  God had appeared first in Mount Sinai, travelled with them in the Tabernacle through the wilderness, and now was resting at Jerusalem.  It looked like this would be a permanent dwelling, given it was a building and not a tent.  The second response from God was God’s message to Solomon in response to Solomon’s prayer.  This was after the 7 days of dedicating the altar and the sacrifices.  The sacrifices were evidence that the hearts of the people were right with God.  We note that the words came to Solomon at night when he was alone. God said that He would listen to the prayers of the people when they prayed to Him at the temple.  He would help them when a disaster from God struck because of their sin.  But there were conditions.  The people had to humble themselves and pray.  They also had to turn from their evil ways – that is, they had to repent.  God would always be listening out for these humble prayers, and God was looking out to see true repentance.  These directions to save oneself were repeated by the prophets throughout Israel’s history.  God wants to be merciful to His people when they repent.  However, if they think they can be blessed as they carry on sinning, they are mistaken.  Ezekiel 42 continues to describe the future temple area.  It was to be a square of 500 cubits each (approximately 250m square). Inside this square was holy and outside was unholy or common (verse 20).  The priests were to teach the difference between what was holy and what was not (Ezekiel 44:23).  The chapter describes the rooms that were either side of the temple on the north and south side.  There none of these behind or in front of the temple.  The rooms had 3 stories, reminding us of Noah’s ark (Genesis 6:16).  The rooms belonged to the priests who used them as changing rooms (verse 14) and eating rooms (verse 13). They were probably not living quarters because they had their own houses immediately outside the temple (Ezekiel 45:4).  It is possible that they slept temporarily waiting for their shift in the manner of 1 Chronicles 9:33 and Psalm 134:1, where singers would sing at night.  It is always the priests who are close to God.  These are the ones who are dedicated to the work of God.  We are to be like this (Revelation 5:10).  Imagine living close to God!  The work of God is to save life.  All who serve God must have this same goal of wanting to save the life of others.  But that was not the goal of the teachers of the law and the Pharisees in John 8.  They brought a woman to Jesus who had been caught in adultery.  They wanted to kill both her and Jesus.  In the conversations, Jesus taught them that all are sinners and we all should seek repentance.  This was also the teaching of Solomon’s temple.  Jesus told the woman to leave her life of sin – that is, to repent.  Jesus gave her an opportunity.  If she was willing to walk in the light then she could find life (verse 12).  In the same way that Jesus offered this sinner life, we need to shine the light of salvation through Jesus to others.  There then followed a conversation between Jesus and the Pharisees about fathers and sons.  The principle is this : a son should learn from the father and do what the father does. Therefore, the son and the father should be one or united in purpose.   They should be doing and saying the same things.  This was true of Jesus and his father (God).  This was definitely not true of the Pharisees.  They were not following the heavenly father and were not doing His works.  God was not really their father.  Because they were falsely accusing Jesus of being a fraud, they were false accusers – that is, devils.  They were like sons of a father who is a false accuser, not sons of God. They were sons of a father who was a false accuser.  Another way of saying this is that they were sons of the devil.  They were like Cain, whose goal of false accusing his brother was murder. The Pharisees had just tried to do this to the woman and Jesus.  1 John 3 develops this theme.  If we follow sin, then we are children of the false accuser (and can be called children of the devil, 1 John 3:8-9) and like Cain (1 John 3:12).  If we avoid sin, then we are children of God (1 John 3:9).  The question for us is – whose child are we?   We show who is our real father by what we do. October

October 17th

When Jesus and his disciples were walking away from the temple, they came across a blind man.  We learn that this man used to beg.  Like many blind men, he positioned himself on a busy road.  He was always there and would have been well-known.  This blind man had been born blind.  He had been there a long time. The disciples asked Jesus a strange question.  Who sinned to cause this man to be blind?  It surely cannot have been the man himself, since when he was born, he had not sinned.  Could it have been his parents?  Jesus answered by saying it was neither.   It was not sin that caused this blindness.  It was so that the work of God could be displayed.  The blind man knew that Jesus was a Rabbi because the disciples called him ‘Rabbi’.  But Jesus did not talk like any other rabbi.  One thing we know about blind people is that they have a very good sense of hearing.  We know this when we close our eyes and listen intently.  The blind man heard Jesus say that his blindness did not come from sin but had a higher purpose.  This was good news for him.  Now he was very interested.  Jesus spoke about things which meant a lot to the blind man – Light.  Jesus was the light.  The blind man lived in darkness.  Those in the light work, just as people work in the daytime.  What work was the light of the world going to do to bring light into the world of the blind man?  The next sound the blind man heard was the sound of spitting.  Was he spitting against the blind man?   Then he heard the sound of mixing on the ground.  Then the mud was put on his eyes.  The rabbi told him to go to wash it off in the Pool of Siloam.  What was the blind man to do?   The Pool of Siloam was not near the temple.  It was down the hill to almost the lowest point of the city.  Would he believe Jesus and do what he said?  Or would he wash off the mud and carry-on begging?  He chose to believe.  He left Jesus and felt his journey towards the pool of Siloam.  There he washed and then he understood.  His eyes were opened and he looked up.  The first thing he did was go and see his parents.  He had never seen them before.  We can picture the scene!  It was his faith that had healed him.  The putting of mud and spit on the eyes of any other blind man would not have worked except for the element of Jesus.  His faith in Jesus allowed him to see the light.  All who turn to Jesus see the spiritual light of the world.  There is a spiritual side to the mud too.  The mud comes from the dust.  And man comes from the dust.  The other component was spit.  Spit is always associated with shame.  The shame again is sin that comes from human nature.  The blind man had to see that this was his nature.  Man cannot save himself.  It is only through faith in Jesus, who was the one who carried man’s shame.  The blind man had to go and wash before he was healed.  In the same way, we had to show our faith by the washing of baptism.  The blind man was transformed.  He was spiritually and naturally blind, but now he was spiritually and naturally sighted.  The healing of the blind man was investigated by the Pharisees.  It was not to investigate whether Jesus was a prophet.  They were investigating whether Jesus had broken one of their sabbath laws.  In their investigation, they judged that Jesus had broken them and that Jesus was a sinner.  The blind man had reached a different conclusion, (v17) “He is a prophet”.  When the Pharisees investigated a second time, the blind man spoke up with stronger conviction, (read v30-33).  The Pharisees responded, “You were steeped in sin at birth”.  So now we know where the teaching that the man born blind was born in sin – it was from the Pharisees.  This meant they called all disabled people sinners!  They seem very good at calling others ‘sinners’ – they called the blind man and his parents’ ‘sinners’ and Jesus.  To avoid sin, Jesus and his followers were excluded from synagogues.  We must question what the Pharisees really knew about sin or its removal!  Jesus heard what had happened and found the blind man.  The blind man declared full belief in Jesus.  The final teaching of Jesus is one that explains about the worst type of blindness – spiritual blindness.  The blind man was only physically blind, but the Pharisees were spiritually blind.  Jesus goes further.  He takes us back to the opening question of the chapter.  Is someone born blind a sinner?  Jesus refers to this in his comments to the Pharisees, “If you were blind, you would not be guilty of sin”.  He tells them that the blind are not sinners.  It is those who choose to be spiritual blind that are sinners – like the Pharisees.  Those who choose not to believe.  Jesus contrasts the blind beggar compared to the blind spiritually elite.  Now the blind man came to the daytime in which he too now had to work.  He had sat on the way to the temple.  But now he followed the way.  We need to follow the simple and committed faith of the blind man.  We must stand by our faith in Jesus, whatever the consequences.  It is Jesus who saves us.  We must follow the way he wants us to go.  We read in John 8:12, after Jesus saved someone else who had definitely committed sin, “When Jesus spoke again to the people, he said, “I am the light of the world.  Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.”  We have come to the light, and we too must work in this light.  Like all followers of the way, let us be spiritually sighted as we remember Jesus.  We see in the bread and wine the love and meaning of the body and blood of Jesus.  It is Jesus who removes the shame of our humanity, bore our own shame and opened our eyes to the path in the light.  Then, when our Lord comes, the Lord of the Sabbath will heal our sins on that greater sabbath day.  Then there will no more darkness in our lives.  We thank God for the grace we have received in Jesus. October

October 18th

We read about the death of Solomon in 2Chronicles 9, verse 29-31, and this marks the start of a change for God’s people. This is the end of the united kingdom because of the mistakes made by David and Solomon during their lifetimes. Solomon started well when he asked God for wisdom, but he allowed ungodly things into his life that led him astray – we have already considered this in 1Kings 11 where we see part of his failings in marrying multiple wives. Chronicles does not record Solomon’s ungodliness, it concentrates on his fame and wisdom and those leaders from other nations who came to visit him because they heard of his wisdom, verse 1 and 23. The Queen of Sheba’s response suggests that she learned a lot about God from Solomon, verse 5-8, which shows Solomon in a good light. The queen was “overwhelmed” by the things that Solomon showed to her, verse 4. What also comes across in this chapter is Solomon’s “worldly” wealth, eg verse 13, 16, 17, 21 and 25 and maybe it was all these things added together that caused Solomon to forget God and to lose his original focus. This is an obvious warning to us – to ensure that our priorities are always with God first. The continuing vision that Ezekiel was receiving reminds us yet again that there are consequences for mistakes, Ezekiel 44 verse 10. The Levites had corrupted the worship of God and led the people astray, they did not have God as their number one priority. But, thank God, he does show mercy, because although there would be consequences they would not be cut off, verse 11-14. Their role would change, they would not have the same responsibilities because of their sin.  The same applies to us too, even though God shows us mercy and gives us forgiveness, we cannot undo what wrong has been done. Ezekiel was told to “look carefully” and “listen closely” and “give attention” to everything that God was telling him, verse 5, so God’s lessons are important and we must also “look”, “listen” and be “attentive”. God was criticising his people for not taking the worship of him seriously, verse 6-9, he was saying that these practices would not happen again. However, those who did treat God with respect would continually serve him, verse 15-16, but they too would be constrained by responsibilities, eg verse 20-23. They would also be expected to decide disputes in “accordance with God’s laws”, verse 24, and this is important for us too – we have to make decisions and help our brothers and sisters using bible teaching as our guide. John 11 again reminds us how the religious leaders of God’s people failed to use “God’s laws” as their guide, they also failed to put God first because they were only interested in themselves, verse 47-48, they were putting the Romans above God! We obviously know that the death of Jesus was foretold and the religious leaders were unknowingly fulfilling prophecy, but nevertheless there are lessons for us to always put God first. The prophetic nature of what they were doing is confirmed here too, verse 49-51. From that time the corrupt religious leaders plotted to kill Jesus, verse 43-57. The account here about the raising of Lazarus is a huge lesson for the disciples and the people – Jesus said it would be, verse 14. Many people did believe because of this miracle, verse 45, but as is so typical of human nature, others did not see the significance and power in the miracle, verse 46. It is the same today, some will believe, others will make the choice to ignore the obvious message of salvation and it is their choice. Martha believed in the resurrection when Jesus comes back, she stated this clearly in verse 24 and she really believed in Jesus, verse 27, so she had no doubt that she would see her faithful brother again, but it was still a sad time that Lazarus had died earlier than they had expected. The raising of Lazarus was a significant event that would have helped Jesus as well as Martha and Mary and the disciples, witnessing that God had given Jesus the power to raise someone from the dead, verse 40-42. Jesus had total confidence in his father to raise Jesus himself from the dead in a few days’ time, but the memory of Lazarus’ resurrection would have a great impact on the others too when they considered Jesus’ death and resurrection. We have to put God first, we have to reject our human tendencies to put ourselves first, we have to believe and have the faith in the resurrection, which is our only hope. October

October 19th

2Chronicles 10 and 11 shows how Judah and Benjamin were split from the rest of Israel; we know that this was God’s will, 10 verse 15 and 11 verse 4. The reason for this is in 1Kings11, Solomon “did not keep the Lord’s commands”, so after 40 years of security the kingdom of Israel was split. Humanly speaking the advice of the elders was better than that of the younger people who Rehoboam grew up with, but Rehoboam rejected this and took his peers’ advice, 10 verse 12-15. The consequences were that the Israelites rebelled against the King, verse 18-19, these are natural consequences if the leader is harsh. So there are lessons here for us: 1. It is wise to listen to wise counsel and in the normal course of events this advice from the elders may have worked; 2. We always have to be open to God working in events and in this case if the elders had checked the records, ie the equivalent of the bible for them, they would have seen that this is what was prophesised anyway so they should have expected it; 3. Being harsh is not wise, it drives people away. The good part of this account is that Rehoboam and the rest of Judah listened to God and did not attack their brothers in Israel, he also “walked in the ways of David and Solomon” at this stage, 11 verse 17. On the other hand although God gave him opportunity to follow him (1Kings11), Jeroboam completely rejected God, verse 14-15, this was a serious deliberate act of disobedience on Jeroboam’s part and Jeroboam is blamed for the sins that he “caused Israel” to commit. The start of the ungodliness of Israel was caused by Jeroboam, not only did the Levites leave Israel and move to Judah, all the other godly people in Israel left too, verse 16. This again emphasises that if the leaders are bad then the people will become bad too, a lesson for us today too! It was sad that during Israel’s and Judah’s history they had corrupted the things of God, hence their punishment by being sent into exile and in Ezekiel 45 we see the continuing vision of Ezekiel in how the land should be divided when the people would return, God has to step in to correct the wrongs that had crept in over the years. Verse 9 says this, ie that the leaders had “dispossessed” their brothers  of the land that they had as an inheritance when they were settled after coming out of Egypt. God had to step in again to correct their corrupt weights and measures, corrupted so that the priests and Levites and leaders could obtain more from the people, 10-12. The sad thing was that the people had become dishonest and forgotten that they should demonstrate their faith and belief in God by the honest ways that they interacted with others – a lesson for us too! If you compare the instructions with respect to the Passover in this chapter with those given to Moses in Leviticus 23, Numbers, Exodus and Deuteronomy you will see that these appear to be more detailed, perhaps an indication that the willingness to do more by the people to should their total respect of God had disappeared. Even though they “believed” in God, they were not following God, therefore not pleasing him and I think we have an example of this in John 12. Following the resurrection of Lazarus many “believed”, verse 11, 12-15, 17-18 and 42, even some of the religious leaders did, but no one committed to Jesus and we see the reason in verse 43. So the people were interested in Jesus’ miracles, they wanted to see Jesus and Lazarus but the reaction of the leaders typifies the people’s response, they were not willing to commit, because they “preferred praise from men” rather than from God. This is an important lesson for us too – we believe, but are we committed? Do we prefer the things that come from our life now or are we preferring the things we get from God? Jesus had powerful things to say about this, verse 23-26, he is saying that if we “love” the life that you have now, you will lose it; but if we hate the things of our life now, ie reject all the ungodliness, we will gain eternal life. It is our choice again, we have to decide on our priorities. Belief in Jesus means that we have to believe in all of the things of God too, verse 44-46, this demands respect and honour, it involves listening to God and being honest in all that we do. The way that we live our life now dictates how we will be judged when Jesus comes back, so we have an opportunity now to change and repent, Jesus was not judging the people then, but he will when he returns, verse 47-48. The same applies to us, although Jesus has “saved” the world, he will judge on his return and if we are not “keeping the things” that we have heard, ie doing the things that God and Jesus teach us then we may find that we are condemned! So again our lesson is to try our best to do what God wants us to do in an honest and respectful way. October

October 20th

2 Chron 12. Rehoboam and all Israel forsook the law of the Lord (v1) so the Lord forsook them and left them vulnerable to Shishak, King of Egypt (v5).  Shishak took all the fortified cities and came to Jerusalem (v4).  The leaders and the King, when in a terrible situation, humbled themselves and said “The Lord is righteous”. The Lord would not totally destroy, but he would teach the people of Jerusalem a lesson. Who is it better to serve, the nations (world) or the Lord God?  The choice is the same today for all mankind.  “Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.”  How sad that Rehoboam is summarized in v14 “And he did evil, because he did not prepare his heart to SEEK THE LORD ”. 2 Chron 13. We seem to have a positive account of Abijah in this chapter e.g. The speech he made v 4-12 but in 1 Kings 15v3, it says, “He committed all the sins his Father had done.  His heart was not FULLY devoted to the Lord his God as the heart of David.” So, despite the speech and God’s deliverance from Israel “Because they relied on the Lord” v18 … Abijah’s life is largely remembered as not FULLY devoted to the Lord … it would seem whilst observing the requirement of the Lord our God (outwardly) and claiming they had not forsaken him (not totally!) they had, in truth, still worshipped other gods.  For we read in 2 Chron 14 about Abijah’s son Asa and it says in v3, he removed the altars of the foreign gods and the high places … he commanded Judah to SEEK the Lord God of their fathers etc. … things that his father (Abijah) hadn’t done.  I am reminded of “SEEK the Lord while he may be found. Call upon Him while he is near” (Isaiah 55 v 6-7). “And devote/commit  (FULLY) your way to the Lord.  Trust also in Him.” (Psalm 37v5). A thought from John 13…..”the disciple who Jesus loved”. We  have to remember all the events of John’s gospel would have been recorded after all things had happened. At the time of writing John would remember what happened… how Jesus was treated by all kinds of mankind, even his disciples, and contrast that with how Jesus had lived his life, a sacrificial life of giving, not just at the cross, but his whole life, every day in that spirit, the spirit of a loving, willing servant. So, with tears of awareness/remembrance, John would be writing these words “Now before the Feast of the Passover when Jesus knew that his hour had come, having loved his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end” .v1.… these words are a conclusion to everything else that was written. “Jesus loved them to the end”.. And we too understand that those who “WERE in the world” but now are “his own” (those in Christ) are loved by Jesus. John could relate these words to himself confessing he was loved by Jesus. In fact John, when writing about himself NEVER puts his name, instead he writes “the disciple who Jesus loved”, or similar, as in John 13:23 “one of his disciples, who Jesus loved”. This happens 5 times in John’s gospel: John 13;23…….. last supper (John was placed next to Jesus and asked who Jesus’ betrayer was); John 19:26………crucifixion (Jesus placed Mary in the care of John); John20:2……empty tomb (Mary Magdalene brings news of empty tomb); John 21:7 ….. seeing resurrected Jesus… (on a fishing trip !) and John21:20… following Jesus. They were all truly significant moments in John’s life! Is it by design (God’s) that the words are recorded 5 times? I think it was by design, by God in His inspired word. Five is known as the number concerning grace… and the very name “JOHN”.. means “God has been gracious”…. And what did John mean when he wrote those words…” the disciple who Jesus loved” because in v1 he records “he loved them to the end”. Did he mean that Jesus loved John even more than the others, and that John was “special” to him… and John recorded that he was the “special one” 5 times! And all of this AFTER Jesus had shown his love to all of them.. despite them having the wrong spirit, wrong understanding and a lack of faith and dedication…. NO… that’s not why John wrote “the disciple who Jesus loved”. John, WHEN  WRITING about all Jesus said and did, especially when recalling the amazing times (listed above), was more aware of the incredible love of Jesus… something that he hadn’t realized at the time of these things happening. So rather than writing his name as that disciple being written about.. he merely CONFESSED who he was, ie “The disciple who Jesus loved”. It’s easier to understand when you imagine John is writing and he could have put “John”.. but he didn’t, he paused and confessed what was in his own heart. The confession was not to others (or us), but to himself, “The one who Jesus loved”… it was a very personal, intimate realization… and it is our confession too, when we REALLY take to heart the words of scripture. “We love because he first loved us” 1 John 4:19. A thought from John 14/ Luke 22:7-16, “I go to prepare a place for you”. John 14 begins by Jesus re-assuring his disciples – they were confused, and understandably distraught as they knew they would be separated from Jesus for an unknown period of time. Jesus begins by reminding them to have faith in God, and faith in him (v1). Then in verse 2 he says “I go to prepare a place for you”. The words seem to be a different theme to v1 .. but they are not, they are directly connected to verse 1. Not long before John 14, Jesus tells 2 of his disciples  “Go and prepare the Passover for us, that we may eat”, Luke 22:8. They didn’t know where Jesus wanted the meal to be held (v9) Jesus told them to follow a man carrying a pitcher of water (which later on the disciples realized was Jesus preparing for the washing of their feet!) verse 10 continues “follow him into the HOUSE … and ask him “where is the guest ROOM where I (Jesus) may eat the Passover with my disciples. Not only that, Jesus shows his love for his disciples by saying “with fervent desire I have desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”. The disciples had shown faith in Jesus and it all happened as Jesus had said, a few hours before John 14, Jesus had already “prepared a place for them”, they had gone there not knowing where it was, but simply FOLLOWED Jesus to that place, having complete faith in him, so likewise Jesus is reminding his disciples to keep having that faith, and once again, at a future time Jesus will prepare a place for them, and where would that be?  Jesus tells them in Luke22:16  “I will no longer eat of it, until it is fulfilled IN THE KINGDOM OF GOD”. So, John 14:3 is all about Jesus and his believers in the Kingdom of God, this is further confirmed by listening to Jesus words “where I am , there you may be also”. It is clear from scripture that Jesus is coming from heaven to us, we can see this in John 14, “I will come again and receive you to myself” (.v3) “If any one loves me, he will keep my word; and my Father will love him, and we will COME to him and make our home WITH him”  v23 “For the Lord himself will DESCEND from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first”, 1Thess4:16. Also many other verses say this, all confirming that Jesus is coming back to establish the Kingdom of God on Earth and with fervent desire he has already prepared all things for “his Own (in Christ)”. It is clear, the world has only one future, and that is WITH Jesus. October

October 21st

A common practical message comes through all of the readings again today. In 2Chronicles 14 and 15 we see the results when the leader, king Asa, and the people are at one in how they worshipped and sought God. They had challenges, eg the pending attack by the Cushite army, but each time they sought God and tried to do the right things. Asa was described as “good and right” in God’s eyes, 14 verse 2, and he was described in this way because he removed all of the false gods and wrong worship, eg verse 3, 5 and then 15 verse 8. The lesson for us is that we do have to do our best to remove the things that come between us and God and we have to constantly do this, like Asa who realised that more things were wrong as he became more aware of God, so must we keep reviewing the things in our life that detract from the best worship of God. Asa was an example to others as he encouraged the people to follow God, eg 14 verse 4. Because of his godliness people from Israel moved to Judah, 15 verse 9, so the lesson is obvious for us, ie if we are acting godly people will see and will want to join us because of the example that we set. Because the king and the people did their best God was with them and they “prospered”, 14 verse 7, and again because they asked God for help and they were trying to follow God, God gave them victory over the Cushites, verse 11-15. The account of the message from God in chapter 15 reminds us yet again that God’s help is conditional, verse 2, and Asa is encouraged to not to give up, verse 7. This is cause for great joy and continued dedication, verse 9-14. This is a great situation for all of us to be in, ie to follow God “wholeheartedly”, verse 15, and to be “fully committed” to God, verse 17. In Asa and Judah’s case the result was no war for a time, verse 19, in our case the ultimate blessing is being in the kingdom. Whatever Ezekiel 47 exactly means, it paints a picture of God’s love and teachings flowing out from the temple and giving sustenance for providing “food and healing”, verse 12, this paints a similar picture as Revelation 22:1-2. So the strong message here is that if we want “food” and “healing” that will last we need to rely on God. Setting good examples and allowing others who also respect God to join in with God’s people is confirmed in verse 21-23 and the message here is that God wants those who are not naturally his people (“aliens”), ie Gentiles, to be given an inheritance too; this is us and we are thankful for this opportunity. John 15 and 16 continues with Jesus’ teachings during the Passover meal that Jesus shared with his disciples, which then became the first breaking of bread service for us. Chapter 15 verse 4, 5, 6, 7 and 10 are examples of the conditional love of God, as we also see in Chronicles. We have to “remain” in Jesus to benefit from his grace, and if we try to obey his commands we will remain in his love. We have to want to follow both God and Jesus wholeheartedly and if we do we will be filled with confidence and love. Jesus showed us just how much he loved, by giving his life for his friends, us, and we are his friends if we do what Jesus commands, verse 14-15. The command is: “Love each other”, verse 17. Asa loved God and the people, he demonstrated that by removing temptations, teaching and encouraging; God teaches that his salvation is open to all who love him and Jesus gave everything for us, his friends! We have to do likewise. Jesus prepared his disciples for suffering because of him, verse 18-chapter 16 verse 4, but he said that they would have comfort from God to help in their difficulties and in the times when they have to give an answer for their faith, verse 12-15. The climax of the message for us is that in Jesus we have “peace”, verse 33. “Peace” because we know that God is in control, we are confident in the return of Jesus and in the future promise of the kingdom and “peace” also because we can turn to God in prayer and have help to cope with our troubles. October

October 22nd

We again see the two extremes of human nature in 2Chronicles 16 and 17. After a good, godly start Asa becomes proud and turns to human strength for help rather than to God. It is sad that he had forgotten what God had achieved for him and the people in his early years as king. King Baasha of Israel appears to be stopping the people of Israel from crossing into Judah because of the more godly nature of the people in Judah, 17 verse 1. But instead of turning to God, Asa turned to the king of Aram and God sent Hanani the prophet to challenge Asa, verse 7-9. Unfortunately Asa was not repentant, verse 10, he had become so proud and arrogant in his position and even when he became ill he still did not turn to God, verse 12. It is so sad that Asa started so well in his walk with God but he allowed human pride to come between him and God. In chapter 17 it appears that Jehoshaphat learnt from his father’s mistakes, initially at least, as God was “with him”, verse 3. Because he tried to follow God’s commands, God established him as king, verse 5, and it is clear that Jehoshaphat was “devoted” to God and he removed the source of temptation from the people, verse 6. He goes further too – he sent out teachers to correct the failings of the people, verse 7-9. So again we see the strong lessons for us, we have to constantly be reminded of the things of God, we need to be humble when we do make mistakes and others challenge us and we need to try and always pray to God when we are in difficulties. In this account, Asa suffered consequences by not repenting and turning back to God. In Ezekiel 48 the priests were given a “special” portion in the reallocation of the land, verse 9-12. It was because the priests remained faithful to God when the other Levites and the Israelites went astray. The priests had a period of suffering like everyone else, but God had not forgotten their faithfulness and they were rewarded for this. It is similar for us, if we remain faithful and try our best now, we will be rewarded by being accepted into the kingdom when Jesus comes back. The message is always true that no matter how bad things appear to be, God will never leave us or forsake us – we have been promised the kingdom providing we remain faithful. Jesus’ prayer in John 17 is amazing and humbling, because Jesus includes us in his prayer, we are included as “all those who believe”, verse 20-26. Jesus wants us to be “one” with him and his father! In his prayer Jesus reminds us of the importance of teaching, ie verse 8, 14 and again verse 26, in these words Jesus appears to be acknowledging its importance: “I gave them the words you gave me”; “I have given them your word” and “I have made you known to them” – Jesus faithfully passed on his father’s teachings to his disciples and also to us. Jehoshaphat also recognised how important God’s teachings were, and the priests who Ezekiel refers too also recognised the same. Like the priests, we too will have a special inheritance. This wonderful, special prayer of Jesus becomes more special when we know what followed, ie his arrest and then crucifixion – the last thing before he died, Jesus was praying for us! Jesus always honoured his father’s words and even in this sad chapter 18 where Jesus is arrested and then subjected to a false trial it is clear that God’s word was acknowledged as right, eg verse 4, 9, 14 (Jn11:49-52), 32 and 37 – all these verses acknowledge previous prophecies. Jesus knew all this was part of the purpose of God and even during the last hours before his death he witnessed to the wonderful future that we are all part of, verse 36, where he spoke of his return. To conclude today’s thought read again 17 verse 1-5, Amen! October

October 23rd

2Chronicles 18 and 19 continues with telling ushow Jehoshaphat acted and therefore provides us with more lessons in how we should be living our lives. Jehoshaphat made some ungodly decisions in his dealings with people that resulted in God saying to him that God’s “wrath” would be on him, but he had done “some good”, chapter 19 verse 2-3. Hearing this made Jehoshaphat rethink the ways that he dealt with people and verses 4-11 show how he again turned the people’s “hearts back to God”; he had learnt that we must “serve faithfully and wholeheartedly”. So what had he done wrong up to this point? Chapter 18 verse 1 gives us the clue, he “had great wealth and honour” and he “allied himself to Ahab in marriage”. He had married Ahab’s daughter, Ahab was one of the bad kings of Israel. In those times kings married kings’ daughters of neighbouring nations to form an alliance as a way of protection and maintaining unity. This was a mistake that Jehoshaphat made and it provoked God’s response in 19 verse 2. Maybe it was pride that had crept in too because of his wealth and honour, both of these things put Jehoshaphat in situations that he should not have been in. The lesson is so clear to us, we need to always be aware of the company that we keep and ask ourselves if it is going to help our faithful, wholehearted walk or is it going to hinder it. It is true that our underlying godliness can still shine when we are in bad company and it did with Jehoshaphat when he visited Ahab. Ahab put on a huge feast and then he asked Jehoshaphat to go to war with him, chapter 18 verse 2, a difficult position for Jehoshaphat to refuse, his father-in-law had just given him a feast, how could he refuse! So he agreed, verse 3. This situation could have been avoided if he had not become so close to an ungodly person.  However, he did set an example, verse 4, 6 and 7 where he challenged Ahab for saying a bad thing of God’s prophet. Micaiah, the true prophet of God did come and using a parable showed how God was actually using the false prophets to get Ahab to go to war but that this would also result in Ahab’s death. Another difficult situation for Jehoshaphat then arises – how can he try to save his father-in-law’s life! He agrees to a very bad plan of being a decoy, verse 29, and he is nearly killed but after crying out to God he is saved, verse 31-32. So Jehoshaphat’s bad choices nearly ended in his death! But no one can hide from God and God guided the apparent random arrow that struck Ahab down, verse 33-34. Jehoshaphat put himself in real danger because of his bad choices – a lesson for us to beware of these temptations. It could have been a temptation for Daniel and his friends too in Daniel 1 to eat and drink the attractive things from the “king’s table”, but they put their faith in God first, verse 8. The big lesson for us here is that Daniel and his 3 friends were captives who acted in such a godly way at all times that their captors saw it and liked and respected their example. Despite being captives, they still acted in godly ways and God was able to work through them, verse 9. Our actions are certainly seen by those around us, something for us all to remember! The official was understandably concerned, verse 10, and Daniel makes a suggestion that is accepted, verse 11-14. The official could have only agreed to this because he trusted the four and respected the fact that all four respected God themselves. Obviously God was working too, because the four were trying their best to serve him. Another clear lesson for us about being “wholehearted” in our Christianity and setting good examples. In this case a miracle was evident and the four were more healthy than the others, verse 15-16, so God enabled what the four desired, not “defiling” themselves, and God also increased their understanding, verse 17, so much so that they were 10 times better than their peers, verse 18-20. There were two men who put their human standing at great risk when they went to Pilate to ask for Jesus’ body in John 19, verse 38-42. Both Joseph and Nicodemus kept their faith in Jesus secret because they “feared” the Jews, but now they risked their livelihood by declaring their love of their Lord. Sometimes we are put in difficult situations by events when we have to declare our love for both God and Jesus, our “confession” of our faith is made that little bit easier if we are seen by those around us as being trusted and honest in all our dealings. Although Pilate was a weak leader, demonstrated by his wanting to please the Jews rather than letting an innocent man go free, he was sympathetic to the request because he knew it was wrong that Jesus was killed, verse 12. He even showed his regret by refusing to change the sign that he had written to go on the cross, verse 19-22, even ungodly people confess that Jesus is King. And even here at this terribly sad time we see prophecy fulfilled, eg, verse 23-24 and 35-37. Our Lord Jesus never did anything other than follow his father “faithfully” and “wholeheartedly” and even right at the time of his death he took care of his mother, verse 25-27, such is the love of Jesus! Jesus acknowledged that his life was in his father’s hands and he confessed this again before Pilate, verse 11, Daniel certainly confessed this too and so did Jehoshaphat in his way, all of them are examples for us. Our better example is Jesus, but we can take comfort from others too, who despite their sins, also remained faithful to God. Because of Jesus’ sinless death we have confidence in the resurrection and have a way for our sins to be forgiven, so we see beyond this sad reading knowing that Jesus is now alive and will return as a just king. October

October 24th

John 20 is the wonderful account of Jesus’ resurrection; it is the event that gives us the hope that we have, because we too will be resurrected if we die before Jesus comes back. Jesus knew all though his ministry what was going to happen to him, he referred to his death and miraculous resurrection in John 2, verse 18-22, here Jesus referred to the “temple” as his body. The disciples did not understand the meaning of this until after the resurrection and now it is clear that the “temple” that Jesus was referring to was himself, but also it was now involving believers as part of the body. It appears that the phrase that Jesus uses in John 20 verse 21-22 when he “breathed” on them so that they received the holy spirit, was to remind them and us of the words his father used in Genesis during Creation. When God made man he “breathed” into his nostrils and Adam became a living man. This reference, together with the start of John, ie chapter 1 verse 1-18, strongly suggests that we are to think of a “new creation” with the resurrection of Jesus. Jesus became the “first fruits” (1Corinthians 15:23), implying that there is more to follow, that there will be more resurrections. In this chapter in Corinthians, verse 22, Paul refers to the fact that “in Adam all die” and “in Christ all will be made alive”. So resurrection is a new creation and this new creation involves forgiveness, verse 23. From verse 24 of John 20 to the end of John 21 we have a number of enacted “pictures” as reminders for the disciples, and also to us, about what this new creation is about. The first picture is about doubt, verse 24-31. We all suffer from doubts at time and Thomas really doubted that Jesus was alive and although he was faithful, he really could not believe what the other disciples told him. He said that unless he puts his fingers in the holes where the nails were and put his hand into the hole in his side, he would not believe. And this is then exactly what Jesus told him to do, Jesus knows our doubts and he will personalise his help for us if we let him. Notice that Thomas, although he doubted, remained faithful and met with the other disciples still. The next picture to learn from is John 21 verse 1-8 where the disciples went out to fish again, but they caught nothing, only when Jesus told them where to cast the net did they catch fish. This reminds us of Luke 5 verse 4-7 and then Jesus told Peter that he was going to be a “fisher of men”, verse 10, so this picture in John 21 is saying that Jesus will help them in their preaching as they go out and tell everyone of the resurrection and the hope that it brings. Next picture is from verse 9-14, here Jesus has “prepared” the food for them to eat, that includes bread – there is no doubt that this is intended to remind us of the breaking of the bread as Jesus gave it to them, verse 13. By his death and resurrection, Jesus had “prepared” to make our salvation possible. Although Jesus provides all that we need, we are also invited to bring a contribution, verse 10, so our appreciation for Jesus’ preparation should want us to also bring a contribution to help the group of believers. Forgiveness is the next picture and this is from verse 15-19. Because Peter “sinned” by denying Jesus (John 18) Jesus was now showing him, as an individual, that he was forgiven. Jesus asked three times if Peter loved him, three times to correspond with the three denials, a reminder that those who have been forgiven “much” are stronger, because they learn and grow. The new creation is all about forgiveness. The last picture lesson is from verse 20-23 where we see Peter being concerned about the “disciple who Jesus loves”. Jesus’ kind reply to Peter is also the same to us, ie that Jesus has given us all different roles in the church – Jesus needs all of us with our different talents and abilities, we should not expect everyone to do the same thing in our service and we should not judge others by what we do. We should all realise that we are all loved the same by Jesus and he has brought us into his church to contribute and to perform different roles. The final lesson for us in John 21 is that all these things were written down for us to see that everything about Jesus is true, verse 24. A new creation started with the resurrection of Jesus, we are part of this new creation and we have these picture reminders that Jesus knows our doubts and helps us; he helps us to teach others; he has prepared a way for our salvation; he forgives us and he has called us to have different roles in his new creation. October

October 25th

Some people just do not want to accept God and his ways, no matter how well they are taught and no matter how many good examples there are for them to follow – it is their choice! This I think was the case for both kings of Judah that we read about in 2Chronicles 21 and 22. Jehoram, who succeeded his father Jehoshaphat, was described by God as “evil”, chapter 21 verse 6. A demonstration of why he was described as “evil” is in verse 4. When he was established, he killed all those who he thought might oppose him some time in the future – this is the action of an ungodly dictator who was only interested in himself and was proud. His father did make the mistake of marrying a daughter of Ahab and Jehoram rejected the advice that his father surely would have given him, and also married a daughter of Ahab, ie Athaliah, who was also the daughter of Jezebel, one of Ahab’s very ungodly wives! The real bad influences from this ungodly family become apparent as we read. Jehoram suffered revolts and all because he had “forsaken” God, verse 10. Elijah sent a letter to Jehoram, verse 12-15; in this prophecy we see clearly that God is going to very quickly bring Jehoram down. This is exactly what happened, verse 16-19, and he suffered a very very unpleasant death. Jehoram craved power, demonstrated by the killing of his brothers, yet in his death the complete opposite happened to the ungodly thing that he craved the most, verse 20. He died and no one “regretted” his death! He suffered an extremely sad end to his life. His son did not learn from his father’s mistakes, he too was described by God as “evil”, chapter 22 verse 4, Ahaziah was “encouraged” by his mother to continue to do wrong, verse 3. He allowed others to influence him for evil, and he too was punished by Jehu who God had appointed to destroy the house of Ahab, verse 7-9. The concluding verses show just how wicked Athaliah was, acting just like her mother did in Israel. However, another woman who was unlike all around her, who was godly, saved the young Joash from the murderous Athaliah, verse 10-12. All this is a grim account in Judah’s history, but it still shows God at work and also shows us the faith of Jehosheba who stood out as godly amongst this ungodly crowd. The lesson for us? We should always reject ungodly influences in our lives if we want to remain in God’s love, God will always work out things for the best, even though it may not seem like it at the time – Jehosheba demonstrated great faith and trust in God. Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego also demonstrated enormous faith when they refused to obey the king’s command in Daniel 3. They knew that it was wrong to bow down and worship any god other than the one true God and clearly confessed this to the king, verse 16-18. In this confession to the king Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego demonstrated a great lesson for us, they acknowledged that God could save if it was his will, but they also acknowledged that God had his purpose and accepted whatever God decided for them. We need to also remember this too, we pray for things and outcomes that we think would be best, but we too should always pray that God’s will will be done. On this occasion Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego were saved from the furnace and the king learnt a huge lesson, 26-27; more than this Nebuchadnezzar confessed that only the one true God could do this, verse 28-29. Just like with Jehoram in Chronicles, God directs ways to be completely opposite to corrupt and evil human thinking – the other advisors to the king were jealous of Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego (and Daniel) because the king considered them better than his other advisors (chapter 1:20), so they “denounced” the Jews, verse 8, and it was they who reported Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego to the king in the first place. But look at what actually happened to Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego because they only trusted in God, verse 30. The opposite actually happened to what the jealous advisors wanted! God works in godly people’s lives! Acts marks the start of the Christian era, this new creation. Jesus focuses on teaching the disciples about the “kingdom of God”, Acts 1 verse 3. This is the important part of our belief in God and in Jesus, the kingdom is the end game, it is what is promised, it will happen. The angels confirmed this after Jesus was taken to heaven, verse 9-11, this is what we are looking forward to, ie the return of Jesus to set up the kingdom of God. The disciples believed this would happen, they just did not know the time, verse 6, and Jesus’ answer confirms that all timing and events are in his father’s hands, verse 7. The disciples did not quite know what would happen from now on, but they trusted and remained faithful, dedicating themselves to prayer, verse 14. Another thing that they were dedicated to was God’s teaching. Peter spoke, quoting from the Old Testament Scriptures, which were their Bible, to suggest that they refill the role left by Judas in order to make up the twelve again, verse 15-17 and 21-26. Whether this was actually the right thing to do or not, (we are not quite sure, some people think that Jesus’ choice was Paul and not Matthias), the disciples did the right thing by consulting the bible and praying before they made the decision. This has to be our lesson too, we have to base all our decisions on prayer AND God’s word. One last lesson from here – Peter and the disciples considered the “witness of the resurrection” as well as all of Jesus’ teachings as an important “qualification” to be an apostle. In addition to prayer, the bible, and the importance of the Kingdom of God, we should add the resurrection to our list of important teachings – all these give us hope and should always take priority over our natural human tendencies of pride, power and satisfaction now. October

October 26th

Patience is something that we all have to learn. In 2Chronicles 23 Jehoiada the priest and his godly wife waited six years before they presented the hidden heir to the throne, verse 1. During this period of waiting they endured the ungodly “rule” of Athaliah (Chapter 22 verse 12), this would have been a time when godly people would have been frightened and a time when they would have known that there was no descendant of David on the throne, verse 3. Verse 21 suggests that it was not a good time when Athaliah ruled! They wanted to put in place what God wanted, but they patiently waited until the seventh year, verse 1. Only when the time was right did they make their move and then continued to protect the “line of David”, 2-7. This is exactly what happened and Joash was made king, verse 11. Following the death of Athaliah, the priest Jehoiada renewed the contract with the people that they would be God’s people, verse 16 and they started to right the wrongs that had been introduced into Judah, verse 17. Once again the respectful worship of God was reintroduced, verse 18-20. Jehoiada was a good example to the young king Joash and we know he remained a good influence until he died. The way that he dealt with Athaliah confirms his respect of the temple and therefore God, verse 14-15. The lessons for us are again to try to learn and understand what God wants and demonstrate a complete respect for him, the bad influences of Ahab’s family were destroyed (Athaliah and the false god of Baal and the priests). Nebuchadnezzar learned a big lesson too in Daniel 4, although he was used by God to bring about the destruction of Jerusalem and the captivity of the people (Jeremiah 27:5-7), God still cared for them and used Nebuchadnezzar to ensure they prospered whilst in captivity. By his own admission, Nebuchadnezzar was a proud and arrogant man, verse 4 and 28-30, but he learned over a period of 7 years that it was God who ruled in the kingdoms of men, verse 17, 25 and 32. It appears that all of chapter 4 is a letter that Nebuchadnezzar wrote to all of his people (verse 28-33 may be an interjection by Daniel) and it is a confession that God is the only true God and that man should be humble before him, verse 36-37. By inspiration, this letter is included in the bible for all of us to learn from, his conclusion is not new, Daniel himself confirms that God rules in the kingdoms of men in Daniel 2:21 and 5:21. All those who are proud will fail, only those who are humble can respect God. The Jews in captivity learned humility and God brought them back to the land. Acts 4 ends with many people humbly accepting Jesus and realising that Jesus’ crucifixion was as a result of pride, “wicked” men, verse 23. They asked what they should do after learning how Jesus had been raised from the dead, verse 37. “Repent and be baptised” was the answer then and still is the answer now to sin, verse 38-39. The “gift” is forgiveness, this is what Jesus gives us. By remaining true to Jesus we can “save ourselves from this corrupt generation”, verse 40. These last verses show us the kind of character we should be trying to have in response to Jesus’ forgiveness and the promise of salvation, ie we should be “devoted” to fellowship, breaking of bread and to prayer; we should be in “awe” of what God does for us; we should be “together” and have things in “common”; we should be prepared to give to those in need, even selling possessions; “every day” they “continued” to meet together; they “broke bread”, ie shared food with “glad and sincere hearts” and “praised God”, verse 42-47. This is a similar emotion that the people in Joash’s day felt when they celebrated that he had been made king and that the wickedness was removed, it was similar to how Nebuchadnezzar felt when he humbly acknowledged God and it is how we should feel when we consider what Jesus has done for us. Jesus had promised the disciples that they would receive “comfort” by the power of God’s holy spirit and that they would be helped to teach and to prove that the message about Jesus was right. In this case God’s power enabled them to speak in different languages, verse 4, it was not a power that the disciples had, it was God’s power enabling them to do something at a particular time, they humbly gave the credit to God, verse 17-21. October

October 27th

Jehoiada, the priest, was a good influence on Joash during his life, 2Chronicles 24 verse 2, he did everything right to bring Joash up in the ways of God, he even chose wives for him too, verse 3. We are not told, but we presume that these wives were God fearing, otherwise Jehoiada would not have chosen them. It is also clear that Joash was committed to doing the right things, ie he wanted to restore the temple, verse 4, he was not happy that the work was delayed, verse 6, he used the remaining money wisely, verse 14, and he enabled offerings to continue at the temple. God described him as “right” – “all the days of Jehoiada the priest”. The lesson for us is for us to respect those who are trying to teach us the ways of God and also is a reminder that all of us have a responsibility to teach the ways of God to others. However, when Jehoiada died Joash turned to become an evil man. He forgot the teachings of the priest, he abandoned his worship of God and he introduced false worship, verse 17-18; he was tempted by the officials who came and paid “homage” to him, he was easily led astray and he became proud and arrogant. Even when God sent prophets in an attempt to turn him and the people back, in his pride he rejected them, verse 19. It gets worse – when Zechariah, Jehoiada’s son, who he must have known personally, challenges him, verse 20, he plots to kill him, verse 21. He “did not remember the kindness” of Jehoiada, verse 22. This is terrible, Joash became so proud and arrogant he would not listen to anyone, he even had pride in his army, but God had this destroyed by a smaller army and brought his downfall, verse 24. Then his officials plotted against him because of what he had done, verse 25. He failed because of pride – a massive lesson for us to always be humble in everything that we do. Pride was the downfall of Belshazzar in Daniel 5 too. The king was arrogant, when he boasted about his nation’s power, by bringing out the gold articles that were dedicated to God for worship in the temple in Jerusalem, verse 1-4. He had not learned respect and humility like his father Nebuchadnezzar had done and God was about to teach him about humility too, verse 5-6. It is interesting that Daniel was not part of the group of advisors that Belshazzar first called, I assume this is because he wanted the younger advisors and because of pride he did not use the advisors that his father used. Because his first choice advisors could not help, his mother (I assume) suggested Daniel, verse 10-12. Daniel was brought, verse 13, and he interpreted the writing, verse 18-28. During this interpretation, Daniel is quite clear that it was the pride and arrogance of Belshazzer that was going to bring about his fall. Daniel demonstrated the complete opposite of pride by being humble, he did not want any gift, verse 17, and neither did he take any credit for the interpretation because he referred to God all the way through what he said. Pride stops people honouring God; humility allows God to work in our lives; in this case Daniel was promoted to 3rd in power and God put him in a position to influence Darius when he took over, verse 29-31. We can see pride and humility in Acts 3 and 4 too. Peter and John and the other disciples never took any credit for any of the miracles that they were involved in, they always gave the credit to God and to Jesus, eg verse 6, 12 and verse 10. When they preached they taught humility, eg verse 19, ie you have to be humble to repent! The disciples praised God as soon as they heard that Peter and John had been released, verse 24, and the way that they were all “one in heart”, verse 32-37, demonstrates a humble character. This contrasts with the attitude of the priest, the “rulers and elders”, they were arrogant and proud, verse 1-3, 7, 13-18. They were unwilling to “repent” as a lot of the people had done and were only interested in their own standing in the community. Even though it was now so obvious that what the disciples were doing was of God, they were too proud to see it and believe! So are we humble or proud? Are we only interested in our own achievements, or are we completely reliant on God? Do we keep everything that we have built up for ourselves, or are we willing to share when there is a need? Do we demand that we are listened to, or do we wait for God to give us opportunities? There are so many lessons from individual examples that we have read about today! We pray that we all will remain humble! October

October 28th

King Amaziah of Judah was a man who did not follow God “wholeheartedly”, 2Chronicles 25 verse 2, he was described as “right in the eyes of the Lord”, but during his 29 years as king he ended up refusing to listen. His attitude is a lesson for us, because initially he did start well, he ensured that he obeyed the law of Moses, verse 4, and he initially listened to the man of God, verse 7 -10. But he showed a lack of faith by inviting the men of Israel to help him in the first place, verse 6, he should have relied on God, as he then did when he sent the men back (verse 10). Even though he defeated the Edomites, because God was working, he really turned against God by bringing the worthless gods of Edom back with him, verse 14. This is a bewildering action on his part and it demonstrated a complete lack of trust and respect in God and it is no wonder that God was angry with him, verse 15. After all that God had done for Amaziah, he immediately turned his back on him – a real warning for us when we forget what God has done for us in the past and replace him with other things. God’s love is such that he sent a prophet to speak to him, but Amaziah was just not interested, verse 16. And when we are not interested God stops talking, as demonstrated by the prophet stopping talking, although he passed on the message that God would destroy him because he had “not listened”. And this is what happened. We always have to listen to God if we want him to work in our lives, we can not expect him to listen to us or help us if we do what we want to do and turn our backs on him. Daniel, on the other hand, always listened to God and did what God wanted. Daniel was blessed by God because of this, and because of his position that God had elevated him to, his peers despised him and plotted against him. Daniel 6 verse 6-9 shows how they plotted to bring down Daniel because of their jealousy of him because he had yet again been promoted into a top position, verse 1-3. The only reason why Daniel was promoted was that he was honest and the king could see that he was, obviously God was at work too, but that was only because Daniel was a godly man. This is exactly how we should be too in all our dealings with people, we need to be honest and trustworthy in everything. It is sad though that often others will resent this and will look for ways to trip you up, but we should nevertheless be blameless as Daniel was, verse 4. These men knew how Daniel acted and prayed three times a day and set up the “trap” just to get rid of him, in so doing they also pushed the king into a corner, causing him grief and embarrassment. So Daniel was thrown into the lions’ den, humanly speaking this was the end of Daniel. But the king knew enough about Daniel and his belief that he believed that God could rescue Daniel if he wanted to, verse 16. He was also very concerned about Daniel and demonstrated this during the night and into the morning, verse 18-20. To his relief God had saved Daniel, verse 21-23, and he made a confession to all his nation that they should respect God, verse 25-27. However, the men who had set the trap for Daniel and who had pushed the king into a corner by making this edict a law that could not be changed, were punished, verse 24. There are times in our lives when we are doing things in a godly way, but despite this we suffer, in Daniel’s case it was persecution, and things did not look good when he was condemned to the lions’ den. However, God was still working even then and Daniel was saved. Trust in God is the key, even if things do not work out the way we would like it to, we still have to trust in God, because he knows best, he always does! Jealousy seems to be the common human characteristic in Acts 5 and 6 too. Because of the apostles’ teaching and the work that they were doing many believed, eg chapter 5 verse 14. The religious authorities were jealous that this was happening, verse 17, and arrested them, verse 18. Their miraculous release from prison, verse 18-19, caused the authorities even more of a concern, verse 21-24, especially when they heard that the apostles were speaking at the temple, verse 25. Even though the religious authorities saw even more evidence that God was working through the apostles they still did not believe, and punished them, verse 40. Peter had clearly told them that they would obey God rather than men, verse 29-33, and when they were released they praised God, verse 41-42. Stephen too was arrested too because of jealousy, and lies were used in order to convict him, chapter 6 verse 11-14. There is a common theme here in that human thinking does not like God’s thinking and those who oppose will do anything to stop listening to God! We all forget that God is aware of all the things that happen in our lives, God is aware of our thoughts and our actions. Ananias and Sapphira did not have to give all of the proceeds from their land to the poor, it was their money to keep if they wanted to, but they wanted to appear good by doing what most others were doing. Perhaps they lacked faith, who knows what their motives were, but they lied to God, chapter 5 verse 4 and 9. This is the lesson for all of us, we have all committed to follow both God and Jesus and we have committed to be honest like Daniel was, like the apostles were and certainly to try and be like Jesus. Yes we will fail, but what Ananias and Sapphira did was planned their deceit, verse 1-2 and 9, they worked out a scheme to appear to be good to their brothers and sisters but they could not lie to God and to Jesus, both knew what they had done and both were punished. All the things that we have read about today are dramatic, but the principles still apply to everyone of us – I think that the “fear” that is mentioned in verse 5 and 11 means full respect of God. Stephen certainly respected God, so did Daniel, and both were seen to be different by their actions, they made an impact on the people around them by being godly and Stephen’s face even looked dramatically different when he was defending his godly actions, chapter 6 verse 15. Do we look different? Do we look godly? October

October 29th

Pride and human thinking are two of our main enemies in our Christian life. In 2Chronicles 26 king Uzziah started off well, God described him as doing “what was right”, verse 4, however this only happened whilst he was influenced by those who were good around him, verse 5. God “helped” him and he became “powerful”, verse 8 and 15, however, Uzziah did not use this “power” well; he did not give credit to God and verse 16 shows how his pride and his arrogance led to his downfall. He misused God’s grace, love and help and thought that he could do what he liked, including burning incense in the temple. He had forgotten that he should be humble in all that he did, he allowed his pride to take control and even when he was correctly challenged by the priests he refused to listen and got “angry”, verse 17-19. This is a very dramatic example of punishment from God as leprosy immediately broke out on his forehead; the priests and even Uzziah himself immediately acknowledged that this was from God, verse 20. Leprosy has been used to symbolise sin and lepers were not allowed in the temple, so this very dramatic picture is a reminder that disobeying God is serious and sin comes between an individual and God, verse 21. In 2Chronicles 27 his son Jotham also became powerful, but he remained humble, he respected God, verse 2, and he “walked steadfastly” before God, verse 6. He had a better godly attitude than his father – lessons for us too as we humbly follow God. Daniel 7 is the record of Daniel’s dream about various “beasts” that come out of the sea, we know that these beasts represent four kingdoms, verse 17. Bible scholars believe that they can match these beasts with real nations, but I just want to pick out the lessons and hope for us. We know that human nations are proud and generally ungodly and the fourth beast, in particular, persecuted God’s people, ie the saints, verse 21 and 25. God, the “Ancient of Days”, judged in favour of the saints and they possessed the kingdom, verse 22 and 27. We see a picture of Jesus in this passage, verse 13, like “a son of man”. So wherever this fits into history we can take real hope from this message because God’s people, the saints, will be brought into the everlasting kingdom where we will worship and obey. God will save us via Jesus, his son, at his return there will be a judgement and human nature, sin and death will be completely destroyed for ever. So wherever God’s people are in history, they can be assured that God will work out his purpose and give the kingdom to his saints. Stephen’s speech in Acts 7 is a great summary of the history of the people of Israel and we are sadly reminded that time and time again the people turned away from God’s ways, whether it was the jealousy of Joseph’s brothers, verse 9, the building of the golden calf, verse 41 or the pride of the present religious leaders, verse 51. Stephen quoted Isaiah 66:1-2 in verse 49-50, the religious leaders would have known these verses and also what comes next, ie “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit, and trembles at my word.” Instead of continuing with the quote, Stephen uses the reality of the leaders’ pride and hypocrisy to show that they were rejecting God, 51-43. They were doing exactly what Uzziah did in Chronicles, they were acting like the beasts in Daniel and they were too proud to recognise this! Even when Stephen tried to continue to demonstrate both God and Jesus’ love, they would not listen, verse 54-58. Stephen was humble right to his death, he even prayed for the people to be forgiven, verse 59-60. He died, knowing that Jesus would return, as God had promised, and that he together with all the saints will be in the everlasting kingdom when it is set up on earth. These are all good lessons for us today to increase our hope. October

October 30th

Ahaz was a wicked king of Judah, he was nothing like his father Jotham. He was like the people of Judah who “continued with their corrupt practices”. God described Ahaz as “not doing right”, 2Chronicles 28 verse 1. He followed Israel’s ungodly example and the things that are listed in verse 2-4 are so ungodly that there is not even a hint of any good in him – it appears that he had complete disregard for God. And because of this, God “handed him” over to enemies, Aram, Edom, Philistines and Israel, verse 5 and 17-18, so many people died because “Judah had forsaken” God, verse 6. Judah had become so disobedient to God that even Israel, who were normally worse than Judah, set a better example in the way that they dealt with the prisoners after the prophet had spoken to them, verse 9-15. Despite being defeated, Ahaz did not turn to God, he tried to rely on Assyria, verse 16, but because of the “wickedness” and “unfaithfulness” of Judah, God ensured that this did not work, verse 19. Nothing worked for Ahaz, verse 21, and he made things worse, verse 23.  His actions suggest that he blamed God for this and he basically shut down the worship of God in Judah and set up alternatives, verse 24-25. He completely turned his back on God! The interesting lesson for us here is that if we are determined to reject God’s ways and go our own way it takes us further and further away from God and if our attitude is wrong God will work against us. Even though I feel like Daniel after reading Daniel 8, verse 27, ie “it being beyond understanding”, I do take courage from Daniel’s vision that human thinking will never prevail and that God’s ways will always overpower ungodliness, verse 25. The angel Gabriel explains the vision, verse 16, and we learn that the ram with 2 horns represents the Media and Persia empire, verse 20, and the goat represents Greece. All these kingdoms were replaced by a very wicked leader who will destroy God’s people, verse 23-24, this description appears to suggest that this was the Greek leader Antiochus Epiphanes just before the time of Jesus’ birth. The practical point though in this is not necessarily who the images represent but what lessons we get. Note that in verse 24 and 25 we are told that his strength was not because of “human power” and neither was his eventual destruction. This is God working in history and he destroys those who oppose him, especially those who are proud, as is the case here. Like Ahaz before, God frustrates, he brings to power and he removes from power whilst working out his purpose. Those who should know better to follow and obey him he will punish to bring them to repentance. Bringing to repentance is a theme in Acts 8. The church suffered persecution and the believers were scattered, there was clearly great suffering, verse 1-3. However, those who were scattered preached, verse 4-8, so instead of the religious authorities (and Saul) stopping the spread of the message of repentance and the kingdom of God, they actually triggered the method that spread the message further! God in control again bringing “joy” out of suffering! It would have been terrible for those who were “dragged” into prison, it is terrible now for those who are suffering, so our prayer always has to be for strong faith for all of God’s people. Simon the Sorcerer is an interesting section, verse 9-24. He was clearly a proud and rich man because he was elevated by those who saw him perform his magic, like the other people in Samaria, he was convinced by the message of repentance and the kingdom of God and was baptised. He was “astonished” by the miracles that he saw being done, confirming that his “magic” was only illusions and tricks. Despite his apparent belief, his true character comes out when he asks to pay for the “holy spirit”, he saw Christianity as an opportunity to get even richer, he was “full of bitterness” and “captive to sin”! Peter’s response is damming and Simon is advised to repent. We do not know if he did, but humility was needed for sure for this to happen. The Ethiopian was humble, verse 26-39, he asked for help when he did not understand, he listened to the message about Jesus and he wanted to be baptised and demonstrate his new found faith in the humble act of baptism. So through all these lessons we can see that the people of God (us) need to always follow God and to trust.  If we go against him there are consequences, but he is always there for us to repent; events are often dictated by God and he is aware of situations and will intervene as necessary to bring about his purpose. October

October 31st

I’m sure that we all know somebody who opposes and is critical of our faith. Maybe we know of people who mock us and scorn us because we believe in Jesus. Many in this world would consider us to be cranks because we believe in God and creation. But that is nothing to the way in which Saul, later known as Paul, treated the first century believers. Not only did he curse and discredit the Christians of his time, but he was on a mission to chase them out of their homes, beat them, imprison them, treat them cruelly and even murder them. It’s no wonder that Christians not only kept out of his way, but they also actively fled from him in fear of their lives. We read of Saul today in Acts chapter 9. He was born in Tarsus and received possibly the best education available at that time, studying the Law of Moses in Jerusalem under Gamaliel, and, by all accounts, proved to be an exceptional scholar. From what we know, when he was in his thirties, he was elected to be a member of the Sanhedrin and in Acts 26 verse 10 he confesses quite openly that he voted for the death penalty to be placed on the early believers in Jesus. By the way, being a member of the Sanhedrin meant that he had to be both a married man and a father. So, if that was the case, he must have lost both his wife and his child at an early age. This is speculative and Paul never mentions that fact in his letters neither is it confirmed anywhere in Scripture. So, Saul is a man of great influence. He has great power in the Jewish world. He has just successfully overseen the execution of Stephen. He is a man of great zeal. He is greatly focussed on his objective which was to rid the world of this new sect which followed Jesus, known as “The Way”. We read that a great persecution arose which showed no discrimination between men and women, and it was Saul who was the leader. Apparently, because of the persecutions many of the believers had fled to Damascus. Saul therefore had a plan to set off to Damascus to catch those believers and bring them back as captives to Jerusalem where they would be put to death. It was about 125 miles from Jerusalem to Damascus and it would have taken around 6 days to get there on foot. Being a devout Jew, Saul would have left immediately after the Sabbath, and it would have been his intention to get there just before the next Sabbath day. It was around midday on the sixth day that the Lord appeared to him. A blinding light appeared in front of him. Paul says when speaking to King Agrippa in Acts 26 “At midday, O king, along the road I saw a light from heaven, brighter than the sun, shining around me and those who journeyed with me”. This light which he saw was a lightning flash which kept repeating itself and it was stronger than the rays of the sun. No wonder that he was blinded. This light was the glory of God, the same as that which was seen by the shepherds at the birth of Jesus and the disciples at the transfiguration. Saul saw Jesus whereas none of the other people in the party saw anything. They merely heard the words which were spoken. “Saul, Saul”. By repeating his name this is a form of reproach, the same as when Jesus reproached people in the Gospels. “Simon, Simon”. “Martha, Martha”. “Jerusalem, Jerusalem”. Jesus is reproaching Saul. “Why are you persecuting me?”. By killing, torturing, and imprisoning the disciples, Saul was persecuting Jesus. We are all a part of the body of Christ and if we do wrong to one member, we are doing it to Jesus. “Inasmuch as you do it to one of the least of my brothers you are doing it to me” (Matthew 25:40). Saul is no longer the proud Jew who tries to stamp out all who oppose his way of thinking. He is now reduced to a blind man who relies on others to guide him on his way. When he reaches Damascus, he has three days of blindness. He is trapped in his own world, and he has a lot to think about. He sees the error of his ways. He once thought of himself as being a guide to the blind. Now it is he who is blind and needs guidance. It is Ananias whom God sends to restore his sight, and he immediately asks to be baptised. He is a new man. He is a different person. No longer proud, arrogant and assured in his ways. Now he is a humble servant of the Lord Jesus. Imagine the courage and the humility it must have taken for him to go to the synagogues in Damascus and start preaching Jesus! So, there are lessons to be learned from this episode. As we preach and talk to others about Jesus it’s probably fair to say that we wouldn’t venture near a man like Saul, somebody who has contempt and ridicule for the message we bring. We wouldn’t go near somebody who is a murderer like Saul. We would say that somebody like Saul is a bigot, somebody so fanatical and steeped in a false religion that it is not worth even trying to talk to him. But the truth is that we know nothing about God’s plans. We wouldn’t go near somebody like Rahab the harlot and yet she is part of the genealogy of Jesus. She is somebody commended in Hebrews chapter 11. We might think that Saul is somebody who is so far from the truth that we shouldn’t bother with him. Think also of the faith of the early Christians. Ananias was told by God to go to Saul. He tells God of his fears. How could he go to Saul when it was commonly known that he had come to Damascus to capture Christians and lead them back to Jerusalem in chains where they would die. Would we have gone to Saul if we were in his shoes? It must have taken a great deal of faith. Similarly, we might be in situations where our human thinking tells us not to do something, whereas we know the right thing would be to follow the Lord’s command. We know that the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God and vice versa. Sometimes it takes both courage and faith to follow the right path. Think of the change in Saul. At one time an arrogant, proud member of the Sanhedrin. Now he is a humble servant of the Lord Jesus. He humbled himself. He was prepared to admit that he was wrong. He threw himself into doing what is right in the sight of God. We need to humble ourselves. We need to be prepared to admit it when we are wrong. We need to have the humility and the courage to say, “Yes, I was wrong. I totally messed up. Please forgive me!”. And it’s fair to say that Paul spent the rest of his life admitting to other believers that he had got things so terribly wrong. We now remember Jesus. Jesus, who did no wrong, but who emptied himself of all personal pride and ambition. He put aside the thinking of the flesh and he did the will of his father totally in his life. He suffered a cruel and agonising death for our salvation. Let us remember him now in these emblems of bread and wine. October

November 1st

There is a common practical theme that appears in all of today’s chapters which is unity. Unity is key for any group of people to be strong and to be effective, all have to be unified around a common purpose and belief. In 2Chronicles verse 1, Hezekiah, king of Judah, sends messages to all of Judah and Israel to come to Jerusalem and to assemble at God’s house to celebrate the Passover. He understood from his knowledge of God that it was right for God’s people to be united around a common goal. This Passover was to be special and at the end of the chapter we are told that nothing as good as this had been experienced since Solomon’s time. Hezekiah ensured that all those who were considered as God’s people should come. However, it is clear that the Passover should be celebrated as God wanted it to be, eg the priests and other Levites had to be ceremonially clean, this was so important that the celebration was delayed because originally they were not. All of Judah assembled, because God changed their hearts and many people from Israel also attended. However, some mocked, eg some from Manasseh, presumably they chose not to come and would have missed out on the joy that was experienced. Worse than that, they missed out on a crucial reminder of God’s salvation, but also of his requirements for anyone to be part of his salvation. For Hezekiah to have arranged this event he would have needed everyone to be united.  This is a lesson for us today as brothers and sisters, we also have to be united in our worship of God and our work for him, notice how the plan “seemed right” to the whole assembly, they were united.  This was an event that was designed to celebrate and give thanks to God for saving those that remained from the king of Assyria – we too need to be united when we celebrate our salvation in Jesus. Daniel demonstrated that he was united with God and also acknowledged that he needed help in understanding God’s message. In chapter 10 we read that Daniel had a vision, those who were with him fled in fear and Daniel was left alone. This is a great contrast with the picture that we had in 2Chronicles during the Passover where they had joy, because now we have fear. The angel told Daniel that the vision was about what would happen to God’s people in the future. We know from other visions in Daniel that God was going to restore his people, at the end of the 70 years, but more significantly when Jesus returns, this is why we need to be unified to remind each other when we fear. Daniel needed help, so do we. He received strength from the angel and not from those who ran away. Those who ran did not share Daniel’s understanding and faith. In Acts 10 we have the example of unity demonstrated by Cornelius and his family and friends, in a sense he was in unity with the Jews as he helped and so too, to a certain extent, with God. He prayed and he helped others. Peter was staying with Simon, a brother, so he shared his home. The vision that Peter was shown about the clean and unclean meat was a lesson in unity for him because the Lord taught him that that nothing that God provides is unclean, so the gospel of salvation could be extended to non Jews as well as Jews. Whist Peter was thinking about this, the visitors from Cornelius arrived with the message. Peter went with them, after being told to go with them by God. We see partial unity in this, however, to make it complete there had to also be a unity in belief. All those involved realised that to be united (one), all had to accept Jesus, and therefore God and Cornelius and his family were baptised. For us to be really united we need to have a common belief, a common respect of God and have no prejudice against others who share our faith. Our acts of worship and work together can only be joyful if we are unified. The lessons from these chapters help us to remember that we need others to help us on our road to salvation, and we need to help them too. November

November 2nd

The theme of unity carries on in today’s readings. 2 chronicles 31 shows how the people who were living in Judah, ie all Judah and those from israel who had migrated there, responded to God’s love and their desire to follow God’s laws better after the Passover celebration. Verse 1 tells us that all the people went and broke down all the alters, ie they destroyed everything that came between them and God, this was their priority before they went home. In the same way we should also remove all the ungodly things that stop us from being in unity with God and each other. King Hezekiah then ensured that the contributions to the Levites, including the priests, were reintroduced as required within the law of Moses, verse 4. This was done with enthusiasm and the people also gave a lot, verse 5, they gave so much that there was plenty to store for the future, verse 10. This is a great demonstration of unity, how the people all worked together as one, and importantly they did it for God. The stores were organised faithfully, verse 11-12, and organise distribution, verse 15. Notice in all these verses that many had responsibilities to work as a unit. Careful consideration was given to the requirements for the Levites in all this and Hezekiah and the people were faithful, verse 20-21, and because Hezekiah worked as one, he prospered. Daniel 11 is an interesting chapter and shows us that there will be disunity centered around Israel, however, no one will help those who are not at one with God  verse 45. When we come to Acts 11 and 12, we see great acts of unity, but also how easy we can have disunity if we do not respond in a godly way. Verse 1 of Acts 11 tells that that those in Judaea heard that the gospel had been preached to the gentiles and that the Jewish converts “contended” with Peter, this word means that they were “discriminating” against Peter and therefore the gentiles, verse 2. They had listened to gossip and showed him no respect that he had “eaten with the gentiles”, verse 3. However, what they did do was allow Peter to speak and explain his actions, from verse 4, Peter was also willing to explain what had happened. So much disunity is caused when people do not listen to or explain reasons for doing things, all have to be humble and talk. Until Jesus comes back there will always be differences of opinions of godly things and we have to discuss these and use God’s examples and laws to research and determine decisions. Peter humbly explained all the details and the others humbly listened. Peter quoted Jesus’ teachings in verse 16-17 and showed how both God and Jesus were telling him and them to preach to the gentiles. After listening, the brothers and sisters were happy, verse 18. This is how we should resolve any disagreements in our community too, we ask, we listen, we explain and we refer to God’s words – all in humility and in prayer of course. The lesson was learnt and the gospel continued to spread among the gentiles, eg verse 20. All now working in unity, the brothers in Jerusalem sent help to Antioch, verse 22. The first teaching was to stick with the message of God because of his grace, verse 23, this was the same response as in the time of Hezekiah. Paul and Barnabus teamed up as a unified team and worked together, teaching and setting a good example to others, such that the first use of the term “Christian” was used to describe those who were in unity following Jesus, verse 26. Unity works in physical ways too when other Christians heard about the coming famine, verse 29, and aid was sent. Acts 12 tells us about Peter in prison and the miracle of his escape, there are many practical lessons from Peter’s attitude and peace that he demonstrated whilst in prison, but how he displayed unity is the lesson we will take. When he was released the first place he went was to tell his brothers and sisters, he knew where they would be, verse 12. Do we know where we can find our brothers and sisters when we need them, do they know where to find us when we need them? This is unity. The brothers and sisters were praying for Peter, this too is unity, all were concerned for him, likewise we should be concerned for each other. Peter was concerned that James and the other brothers were told before he hurri1edly left, verse 19, presumably he left to go into hiding to protect his brothers and sisters. Again this is unity as he thought of others. God was not pleased that the ungodly Herod was making himself as a “god” verse 22-23, he was not glorifying God and he died. Being one with God and with each other should be our aim in our Christian lives. The chapter ends with another demonstration of unity, verse 24-25, Paul and Barnabus took Mark with them on their preaching trip, no one considered anyone better than another, all worked together as one. November

November 3rd

In the first 14 years of Hezekiah’s reign believers had enjoyed good times. He had done what was right in the sight of the Lord .. he cleansed the temple, restored temple worship, kept the Passover, and carried out further reforms; getting rid of all the pagan altars and high places etc. Also, the prophet Isaiah witnessed to the word and will of the Lord at that time.  However, the nation of Assyria was a concern. They had taken the northern kingdom of Israel and some of the fortified cities in Judah, and they were now attacking nearby Lachish with Jerusalem the next target. Nothing seemed to be able to stand against the armies of Assyria. If you were a believer living in Jerusalem, how would you feel… would you trust in your king and put your life in his hands, would you trust in God knowing that God’s will would be done no matter what happened ? Sennacherib asked that question in verse 10 “In what do you trust ?” He then tries to divide the people of Jerusalem from their King (.v11-12 and 15). Then he tries to divide the people from their God (.v13-15).The Assyrians tried to frighten the people of Jerusalem and claimed to be mightier than any god including the God of Jerusalem.  As a believer, one would have concerns !! But, as a true believer you would have known that there is only one God.. the other “gods” are the works of man’s hands.. they are powerless.. they couldn’t hear, help or do anything. God’s will would be done… and His word was brought to Jerusalem through Isaiah. Examples of the re-assuring words of Isaiah are seen in Isaiah 37 particularly v 6-7.”Do not be afraid of the words which you heard.. I will sent a spirit upon him.. and I will cause him to fall by the sword in his own land.” How important it is to know the will of God…. commit to Him who saves. Not only did the Lord reveal His will for Sennacherib, but also for his army… Isa 31:8 “Assyria shall fall by a sword not of man..” As a believer, not only would you have been strengthened by faith in the word of the Lord through Isaiah, but also by words  can Hezekiah (.v7-8), as well as the people “coming together/ fellowship” and helping the king make preparations ready to withstand any siege . The city of Jerusalem was being strengthened. .but more importantly the “heart” of the city was being strengthened.. to TRUST in the “Lord our God”.  And what joy, when suddenly, in one night, everything had changed.. the whole Assyrian army was destroyed… by an angel doing God’s will.  And so, for believers throughout history and now.. if we commit our lives to the Lord, we are comforted by the living all powerful God.. 2Chron 32:8 “with us is the Lord our God, to help us and to fight our battles” Only one thing can separate us from the Lord, and that is ourselves.  Dan 12:   Speak about what we are sure of…wait for the rest of scripture to be fulfilled and thus revealed.  In this chapter,  Daniel (a man highly regarded in the sight of God) confesses that he didn’t understand all that was revealed to him.. but one thing he could be sure of was his resurrection to eternal life. “As for you, go your way till the end. You will rest, and then at the end of the days you will RISE to receive your allotted inheritance” Dan 12:13. And, in reality, once those words were written, there was no more to say… nothing else mattered.. the promise of eternal life in the kingdom of God with fellow believers from all generations and nations. Such was the promise that “when” didn’t really matter.. Believers naturally want to know when all these things will happen; but it doesn’t matter “when”.. it doesn’t even matter whether we are dead or alive.. all that matters is our relationship with God from day to day and everyday. Believers from the beginning confessed that their lives were with the eternal God, the creator of all things. They “ all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off .. embraced them..” Heb 11:13… They believed in the resurrection from the dead. We see examples in the old testament : Abraham (Gen17:8), Job (ch19:25-27),Isaiah (ch 26:19),Daniel (ch12:2) etc. All, and many others, believed in their resurrection at the appointed time.. and yearned for that time to come. Jesus was the first to rise from the dead to eternal life “the firstborn from the dead” Colossians 1:18. The same God who raised Jesus has promised to raise others to eternal life.. “those who are Christ’s” and has told us when “at Christ’s coming” 1 COR 15:20….. Need we know more ? Jesus re-affirms Dan 12:2 in John 5:28-29 “ .. the hour is coming in which all who are IN THE GRAVES will hear his voice and come forth.. those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation”.. If we do “evil” we either don’t believe Jesus or we don’t care !! ACTS 13:     What do we preach ? We have read speeches that were done in order to preach the gospel to all nations.. and we have read of another done by Paul in Acts 13. By reading this chapter we can remind ourselves of what we should do.  The early part of the chapter sees the Holy Spirit at work with the church. Heaven and Earth working together to achieve God’s will, that of salvation. Here is a reminder for us to pray, to pray for guidance, for insight, for the right words.. everything. We do pray for a blessing on all that we do, but sometimes the words seem to be just “words”. We need to pray with a real URGENT need, to pray with the right motive.. not that OUR work is successful. .but that GOD’S will is done and salvation might come to another, that they too, might know and feel the love and grace, and truth in God and His son Jesus.  After prayer and guidance.. be ready. We see the Paul and his companions went to the synagogue on the sabbath and sat down (.v14)…they were ASKED for a message of encouragement. Paul didn’t push themselves forward.. they waited for the moment.  Next lesson(.v16).. know your audience.. acknowledge your audience from the beginning.. engage with them.. by so doing the words become personal.. and that is how the Lord wishes the message to be.. from Him… to each individual person. “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God”  .v17-22:  Paul gives a brief history of Israel and their journey from Egypt to David with the Lord God. These verses on their own, might not have seemed relevant to the gentiles.. but within those very scriptures from Moses(Genesis onwards) to David (and beyond).. the plan of God for all mankind was there, and the fulfilment of that plan in the life of Jesus.  .v23: from David’s “descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as He promised”. .v26: a reminder of what this speech was all about.. salvation, for all nations.  .v27: .the people of Jerusalem “did not recognize Jesus” and killed their saviour. The scriptures are the way to recognize Jesus.. especially the Old Testament. Jesus did the same on the road to Emmaus recorded in Luke 24… and so should we, that more people come to recognize Jesus.. not just the historical Jesus.. but also the living resurrected Jesus. .v 38 another lesson..try to keep the “heart” of the message simple. “ I want you to know that through Jesus, the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you”. Yes, that’s our mission… to preach Jesus and all he represents.. and by so doing make people aware of the glory that is due to God. November

November 4th

Acts 15 verse 9 shows us that in the Gospel there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles, ie non Jews. In the Old Testament God worked with Israel who still have a special place in God’s purpose. But in the New Testament it is clear that there is no difference between Jews and Gentiles. Within the gospel of Jesus, Peter describes God’s work as “purifying by faith”. Naturally we are weak sinners and behave badly, we do things that displease God, but God is willing to forgive and we are cleaned by showing our faith. We show faith by baptism, God then forgives and continues to work in our lives through faith as we think about teaching and the actions of Jesus Christ and try to do the same. James says in verse 17 that the Gentiles “come in”, therefore people from all nations can become part of God’s people and “God’s name is called upon them”. So what does this mean? Jeremiah 32 verse 20 suggests that God’s name means his reputation, i.e. God is known for doing wonderful things to save his people. He saved Israel from Egypt with the 10 plagues, where he showed His power and people who heard about it were amazed at the power of God – this is a great reputation made saving his people, Israel, therefore God’s reputation and name concern his actions to save his people. His salvation demonstrates his character, he is merciful (Ex 34). God is also, “truth”, what he promised came true. He acted to save because of the promises he had made, therefore God’s actions are true to his promises and God had mercy on the slaves who were suffering in Egypt, so he showed mercy. He is a God who saves and reveals the glory of his character, abundant in mercy and truth. When God made his promises he spoke about a covenant to Abraham and Jeremiah speaks about this in Jeremiah 32 verse 38, the covenant allows certain people to be God’s people and God will be their God. We can compare this to a marriage, where couple promise to be united and the wife normally takes the husband’s name, with the covenant God makes with us we take God’s name. God’s name is connected with Israel and therefore his people had a responsibility to witness for Him and behave in a way that is consistent with His principles. Jeremiah is talking about these things because at the time the people were disobedient to God and God would send them into captivity as a result. In Hosea 1, Hosea has to give his children different names to speak about God’s message. The first son in verse 4, Jezreel, was given this name because God would scatter Israel because of their sins and judgement would come. Jezreel has two connected meanings, arising from the idea of a farmer planting a crop. In Bible times he cast the seeds onto the soil, he “scattered the seed” so the one meaning is “God scatters”. The other meaning is “God sows”. In Hosea 1 the meaning is initially “God scatters”, the people will be scattered through different countries because of their wickedness, but God had promised to Abraham that the people would have a special place. So also in Hosea 1 we see that God would work out his purpose in verse 11 where Jezreel means “God sows”. This verse also says, God would give the people a leader, the New Testament says that this is Jesus Christ, this is connected with the meaning of Jezreel – “God sows”. The parable of the Sower (Matthew 13) shows Jesus as the farmer sowing the seed, which is God’s word. The different types of ground represent the different types of people who heard. The “good soil” is the people who received the seed (God’s word) liked it, understood it and believed it and through faith became part of God’s people. Despite the people being scattered the purpose of God was still fulfilled. Hosea had another son, verse 9, the son’s name means “not my people” because God said to Israel ‘you are not my people’. This is opposite to “I will be your God” because of their wickedness God’s covenant was ended. But verse 10 contains the promise that God’s people will no longer be separate but they will be one and have a leader to unite them. The New Testament explains that this was fulfilled through the work of Jesus Christ but was not restricted to just the Jews but open to all nations to become part of Abraham’s, and therefore God’s family, through faith in Jesus Christ. This is what James says in Acts 15 verse 17. God’s reputation how he saved Israel from Egypt has now been expressed in a greater way by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. It is this saving work that those who are baptised and participate in the bread and the wine together, remember. Through that saving work God has made a new covenant through faith allowing people of all nations to become the people of God. Not just Jews but all of these people have God’s name called upon them because, by God’s grace, they have benefited from his saving work in Jesus Christ. But if God’s name is on us we have the same responsibility to live in a way that pleases God, modelling our lives on the example of Jesus Christ, who revealed in his own life the character of God. We have the same responsibility to talk to others about the saving work of God. In the bread and wine we give thanks for the way he has saved us and we are encouraged and motivated to live and work in the way of God. November

November 5th

2 Chronicles 34 is about Josiah renewing the covenant (contract) with God that the people had broken by replacing God with idols and ungodly things. Verse 29-32. Josiah was determined that he and the people should correct the things that had gone wrong and to correct the fact that they had disobeyed God, he was determined to teach the people the things of God again. Josiah had already started to correct the things that were wrong during the start of his reign, probably based on the wise advice of the godly influencers around him, eg Shaphan, Hilkiah and possibly his now repentant and humbled grandfather, Manasseh. However, when the book of the law was found during the restoration on the temple, Josiah and the others realised that they were still not following God’s laws properly, what they were doing had become subtly changed because the priests had not been reading the book of the law. This has to be a big lesson for us too to remind us that we have to always check our understanding of what God wants us to do and how to act in our lives. Josiah’s reaction to learning about his and his people’s mistakes demonstrated how important he thought that following God’s law was, verse 19-21. He then sent to enquire of God, and the prophetess confirmed that God would punish Israel because of their rejection of him but that because Josiah had humbled himself he would not see the results of the punishment because he would die before. Even though he knew this he was still determined to completely destroy the images and high places and to teach the people by reading to them the law. Hosea was a pattern of how God’s people had responded to God this resulted in a real sad life for Hosea as he coped with children from other men from his unfaithful wife – this gives us an indication of how God feels when people sin. Hosea’s wife eventually left him completely to follow other men, leaving him to care for the children who were not his, their names reminded him all the time of this. Only his first son, who was his own son, remained faithful, his other children followed his unfaithful wife, so in the symbol God only had his own son who was faithful. In Hosea 2 verse 16, we have a promise that his unfaithful wife will return and further demonstrating God’s love will no longer call him “master” (Baali) but “husband” (Ishi). The word Baali also has a connection with idol worship, especially Baal, so the reconciliation will involve a forgiveness and repentance. The symbol of Jezreel makes us think of Jesus and it is only through him that sinners’ names will be changed from “those who had not had mercy” to “have mercy” and they shall be called God’s people and they will call him their God. This is the same for us, only in Jesus can we have mercy and be the children of God. It is therefore important that we all learn what God wants, we cannot say that we are followers of God if we do not try to do what he wants and believe what he teaches in Acts 16 we learn that Lydia’s heart was opened to learn, verse 14. She was a worshipper of God, but she wanted to learn more from Paul about both God and Jesus and the kingdom on earth and as a result was baptised. All her household was baptised too, they all made a covenant to follow God’s teaching. An important Christian principle comes out in verses 23-40. Paul and Silas were put in prison because of the complaint of the “masters” of the girl whose mental illness they used to make money. Whilst in prison they were kept in a location as safe as possible so they could not escape. Even though in prison Paul and Silas were praying and singing and no doubt teaching the other prisoners. They made a godly impression because during the earthquake when all the doors were opened and all the prisoners’ chains were released none of the prisoners escaped. Such was the impression that they made, not only on the prisoners but also on the jailor. The lesson here is that God should have an impact on every aspect of our lives, we should praise whatever situation we are in because we should constantly be demonstrating that we are God’s and follow him. The reaction of the jailor certainly confirms that we teach in every aspect of our lives. If we want to be saved to have to believe in our Lord Jesus and demonstrate this in the way that we live. November

November 6th

In 2Chronicles 35 Josiah was trying to get the people to do the right thing. Looking at Exodus 12 verse 2-5 and Numbers 28 we see that the Passover lamb cost the people in their preparation. The same principle in preparation applies to us too. In Chronicles we see words and principles that are repeated and these are important for us to think about and remember, one such word or principle is ”prepare” or “preparation”, verse 9, 14 and 20. To follow Jesus we have to prepare for the things that we are doing in following him, eg by prayer, reading, thinking, etc. this ensures that we are ready to work. Preparing for the return of Jesus Christ is achieved by the things that we do and in doing these things we will be ready when Jesus does come back, Luke 12 verse 42-43. He wants us to be ready to assist our brothers and sisters at any time, if we do not do this, we are mistreating them, verse 45. Those who do not assist their brothers and sisters are lost, they are doing their own thing. Just as preparation was required for the Passover, so the person of God must always look after others, the servant was surprised when the master returned, he was unconcerned for his brother, he was just doing his own thing and will be punished by his master, verse 47, because the servant does already know his master’s will. We cannot use our perceived lack of abilities as an excuse for not helping. Our reading, praise and prayer with others when brothers and sisters need us is helping them. It helps us too to be ready when Jesus comes back. It is interesting too that in preparation for the Passover, those with small families are to help each other and share the lamb, so as God’s family we all help each other. Hosea is now older in Hosea 3; his wife is also similarly older too and both are paying the price for the wife’s misbehaviour. Hosea has been on his own and now God asks him to show the same type of love that God shows to all of his unfaithful people. Hosea now has to show real love to his wife who was so unfaithful to him and eventually left him for other men, despite all the things that he had previously done to ask her to stay. God’s love is shown to those who do not deserve it, and this was now being shown to his wife who had now also been left by the men that she once craved for and who previously apparently loved her. To survive she had sold herself as a slave, verse 1, so Hosea had to buy her back, verse 3, the verse suggests that Hosea gave everything that he had to buy her back because he had to use both money and food to make up the total, he gave everything. This is the same that God has given for us to give us the opportunity of salvation – he gave his son, ie everything! This is love, giving to those who do not deserve it, ie loving people like us by giving his only begotten son, this is a cost! Therefore our preparation should be at a cost too. In Hosea’s case, verse 3, says that there was a trial period before they became intimate as man and wife again, this is the same for us we are in a probation period now as we wait for Jesus to come back to see if we will remain loyal. Jesus will come back, we are sure of that, and our suffering now as we patiently wait, is nothing compared to the wonderful future that we have all been promised. God gave a real life experience in Hosea for us to learn from, Hosea would have got used to living his own life on his own but he was told to be reconciled, he had to show the same attributes as shown in Colossians 3 verse 12. All of us have to do what is right, all of us need to change our lives to do, and be what God wants, ie humility and gentleness – this should have a big meaning for us as we read in James 3 verse 13, and is demonstrated by a good life. Our deeds and our good life demonstrate that we have understanding and the Passover shows us that we need to be prepared to change – we need to look at our deeds and see if they reflect what God wants. Do we only meet together for our “Passover meal”, ie the breaking of bread when we have visitors or are we setting a good example by meeting every Sunday as Jesus wants us to? Do we spend our time in “stupid and foolish arguments”, 2Timothy 2 verse 23-26, or do people see us as ambassadors, living lives by doing the right things, being kind and teaching, etc. In Acts 17 we read that the Bereans checked what they were told, verse 11, this is always a good practice and it is important if we are to understand the significance of the resurrection. Verse 3-4, we are sure of the resurrection and it is this that guarantees eternal life and verse 24-28 talks about this new life after Jesus has judged the world. Jesus will judge those who have heard the gospel and who have tried to live in the right way and welcome them into the kingdom for ever, those who follow the system of the world will be excluded and their systems and nations will be destroyed. Verse22 when Paul spoke to the people of Athens he complimented them for being “religious” and having a developed learning and Paul tries to teach them about God just as God himself had a plan to try and convince the Jews who were in captivity in Babylon to turn back to him in Jeremiah 29 verse 10-13. God can be “found” by anyone, wherever they are and God wants all to seek and find him so all can benefit from a future hope. The word “hope” can mean “rope” so hope is like a rope that we can hang onto and help us as we wait patiently for Jesus to come back. Jesus is coming back to set up his father’s kingdom and we have this hope (rope) to hang onto. So the message is to seek God, do not let go of the rope because we have a wonderful future ahead of us, pictures in Isaiah 2, 11, 35 and 65 all give us pictures of a time when there will be no more suffering, no more sickness, etc, and we are going to see the king! We need to believe and test what we are told, we need to do the same things as we are told and to continue to examine what we are told because our only hope is in the Kingdom of God. November

November 7th

Acts 20 verse 32 talks about the word of grace to build up all who are sanctified – therefore Paul urges us to all pay attention to God’s word. If we pay attention, it is able to build us and to strengthen us and helps us to an inheritance, ie a place in the kingdom among those who are made holy, ie us! We are made holy in Jesus with our sins forgiven, through faith in his sacrifice and we remember this during the bread and the wine each Sunday. Although we are made righteous we still have to pay attention to God’s words – we all need to be instructed to know how to act and to think. In the Old Testament there was a problem because the people stopped paying attention to what God said and built up bad behaviours and in the end God punished them. Hosea 4 verse 1 shows that the people were not thinking about God’s mercy to them because they showed no mercy to others because they had no knowledge of God. For Christadelphians we have a certain amount of knowledge of first principles before baptism, this is because we need to make our baptism meaningful to know what God wants us to think and do. Therefore we always ask a few questions of the person who wants to be baptised before we baptise them, it gives them an opportunity to demonstrate a certain knowledge of the salvation that they are accepting and how they should respond to this knowledge. Thy need to know that accepting God would be the right thing for them and that we know that we can have fellowship through our shared knowledge. Our lessons from the Old Testament show us that we should have a faith that needs to be preserved – we do this by always improving our knowledge of what God wants us to believe and do – this is what keeps us faithful. Israel forgot knowledge and when they forgot knowledge they started to behave badly and then displease God. With knowledge we know about God’s truth and mercy – we know that God is true, we know that God is light, in whom is no darkness, therefore God’s truth needs to be honoured. Jesus in his sacrifice honoured God, and his standards of truth reflected those of God; he demonstrated that by allowing himself to be crucified even though he could have saved himself from the cross.  He allowed himself to be killed by wicked men in a public crucifixion. During the breaking of bread we are asked to remember the death of a righteous man, who always obeyed and was faithful, he did no sin. Jesus allowed himself to die. Jesus had the same nature as us – he had the same body as us – he had the same temptations as us, unlike us though he was sinless, he did not sin. He had to have our same body so that he could act on our behalf before God, he allowed himself to die, he followed, he declared, he showed righteousness and he shows truth, so Jesus said through all of this that he “believed God”. Likewise our human nature needs to die and we need to agree that God is right.  Therefore, like Jesus who chose to die in harmony with God’s truth, we need to try our best to put to “death” our natural human tendencies. God is merciful – in the bread and the wine God’s truth and mercy come together, Jesus committed to God’s standard of truth but also because of love, ie God provided Jesus to die for us.  So in God’s mercy our sins can be forgiven – his mercy was expressed in giving his son. Because we understand these things we know how to live, and we should try our best to reflect God’s truth, eg verse 2, this then reflects God’s mercy. So we should learn and teach the truth of the Bible that tells us how to be saved, so that we never lose the knowledge of God’s truth and his mercy, 4 verse 6. Israel was punished because they lost knowledge (Judah suffered the same – 2Chron36) and preferred the ideas and “knowledge” of men, therefore God rejected them. This is the same use by Paul in Acts when he talked about grace, saying that we should pay attention to God’s teaching to remind us to follow our knowledge of God. We will always continue to grow and we improve in the way that we act when we continue to listen to God’s knowledge. The last wicked kings of Judah are catalogued in 2Chronicles 36, verse 2, 5, 9 and 11 – the people and the last remaining articles in the temple are all gone – all because they forgot God and the knowledge, verse 14. Despite Jeremiah reminding the people, verse 12, there was no humility, the people remained proud. Jeremiah 22:1-7 says that we have to obey and in verse 10 Jeremiah was thinking of Josiah, he was good and had a hope so do not weep for him. On the other hand weep for Jehoahaz as he had no hope in Egypt; Jehoiakim, verse 13-24, behaved badly, he built a big house for himself, but this was not going to save him, verse 15-16. Josiah was blessed because he believed and acted in a way that pleased God in his behaviour, knowledge and actions – it was his way of life, as it should be ours. We have responsibilities to try and live in a right way and to demonstrate what is important in our life by our actions.  November

November 8th

The last two verses of 2 Chronicles are the first two words of Ezra. This allows one to consider the books of Ezra and Nehemiah as like the third book of Chronicles.  It is a continuation of God’s dealings with His people after the time of the Chronicles. God had sent Babylon against His people and they were taken into captivity in Babylon.  Now God sent another king to bring them out of captivity.  Going into and out of captivity and its timing was all part of God’s plan.  In Isaiah 45:1 and 45:13 we read that God planned for Cyrus to do this, even before Cyrus had been born.  When Cyrus had been born and become king, God moved Cyrus’s heart to bring God’s people back from captivity (Ezra 1:1).  God can easily change a king’s heart to bring about His purpose (Proverbs 21:1). Ezra adds additional words to what was said at the end of 2 Chronicles.  Ezra gives the purpose of the return of the Jews, which is to build the temple of God in Jerusalem.  For this purpose, Cyrus gave vessels from the original temple of Jerusalem, and facilitated the Jews to travel and set up the temple.  This had to include priests and Levites for the service of the temple.  We are given a list of both vessels and the people in Ezra 1 and 2 (and Nehemiah 7). We have itemized many of the vessels and people, although not all of them.  The total number of people was 42360 from which they started to build a new nation in the land of promise.  There was a further list of returning exiles in Ezra 8.  Hosea 5 describes the situation that caused Israel to go into exile in the first place.  Although it was the northern kingdom of Israel that was overrun and went into captivity by the Assyrians, most of Judah also went into exile at the time of Hezekiah.  In Hosea, God explains why this happened.  Even though they continued to offer sacrifices to God (verse 6), their heart was not with God.  Their religion was a show religion.  But God was not fooled by their performance.  He could see what was hidden in their heart (verse 3).  What God saw was spiritual prostitution and spiritual corruption (verse 3).  In fact, the heart was so badly affected that they were now incapable of returning to God (verse 4).  This meant that destruction and exile were the only solutio to the problem.  The priests and the royal house were the worst (verse 1).  God describes their spiritual sickness as like a wound that could not be healed.  Even in their sickness, they did not seek God and repent.  They sought the king of Assyria to save them (verse 13). Although Assyria was the nation to punish them, God made it clear that the punishment actually came from Him.  God was the lion who would carry them off with noone able to rescue Israel (verse 14).  God would then wait for His people to admit their guilt in exile (verse 15).  We know this happened through faithful men like Daniel, Ezra and Nehemiah.  In Acts 21 and 22 we have another time when God’s people had a show religion.  They were not following God inwardly, but only outwardly. This time their spirituality was exposed by the arrival of Paul at Jerusalem.  Paul had told the Ephesian elders that he was on his way to Jerusalem, where he would find hardship and imprisonment (Acts 20:22-23).  As he travelled to Jerusalem, others told him the same thing (Acts 21:4, 11).  Paul told these people that he was ready to die if necessary (verse 14).  We can imagine Paul thinking that he needed to die because of what he did to Stephen (Acts 8:1) and others.  In this respect, Paul was like Jesus going to Jerusalem.  At Jerusalem, we learn that the Jewish believers still kept the Law of Moses (Acts 21:20).  We remember Paul’s attitude to Jews in order to win them for the gospel. Paul said, “To the Jews I became like a Jew, to win the Jews” (1 Corinthians 9;20).  He did this now by paying the expenses of keeping the law for some believers (verse 24).  It is likely that this was the Nazarite vow (Numbers 6).  However, like Jesus, Paul was falsely arrested and falsely charged.  The Roman officer permitted to speak to the people.  Paul gave a personal testimony of his conversion, but this did not convince the crowd.  They wanted to kill Paul (22:22) and took off their coats in preparation (22:23).  Paul was saved by the Romans. Like Jesus, he was unjustly flogged and detained.  Like Jesus, he was tried before the Roman rulers.  But unlike our Lord, Paul did not have to die.  Our chapters have taught us that God can see the heart. Performance religion is not acceptable with Him.  We must love God truly from the heart.  If we do that, then He is able to save us from our captivity which is a captivity to sin and death.  We do not need to fear death, because God is able to save us from this too.  We must thank God that we do not have to suffer as much as Jesus did or Paul did.  But we do need to stand up for what is right even when it is unpopular and to love God from the heart. November

November 9th

In Ezra 3 the people prepared to build the temple in similar ways to Solomon. Like Solomon they used trees from Lebanon. This gives a picture of the gentiles, represented by the trees from Lebanon, being built into the temple of God. In the time of Solomon Israel had made a covenant with Tyre in Lebanon, because they had learned about the true God from David. For life we have to be in covenant relationship with God. In Ezra 3 and 4 the returned exiles needed to exclude those who are not in this covenant relationship from helping to rebuild the temple. It was harder to maintain separation as they were small in number so the exclusion was important. Some gentiles were already in the covenant relationship, we read of this in Joshua and these people became the “Nethinim” who were still part of Israel in the time described in Ezra (see Ezra 2) and Lebanon was in Solomon’s time. Therefore the people of the land were excluded not because they were gentiles but because they were not in covenant relationship. Separation is key and we have to be careful with our worship, it is right to mix to teach and to set an example, but we have to watch our worship. If worshipping God in a wrong way we miss the point. Our temple (body) has to be built on the basis of the Bible. We must not compromise. Look out for the principle of Separation as we read the books of Ezra and Nehemiah it repeats many times. Ezra 4 records a Letter sent to the emperor by the enemies of the Jews. As a result the building work they were doing stopped for about 15 years. They went back to build the temple, but built the letter from their enemies shows they built the city wall as well. In Nehemiah 1, verse 3 the wall had been broken down and burnt. It appears that is the “new” wall that was built in Ezra, destroyed by the Jew’s enemies when the emperor supported them. 15 years later when prompted by Haggai and Zechariah they started building the temple again, and not wall. Haggai said that they should have been building the temple and not their own houses! They were discouraged when the wall was broken down but they could have continued building the temple. We have a job to do in building our “temple” but things come in and stop us because we are disappointed – we then start to have other priorities but our lesson should be as a first priority we keep going. People were trying to discourage others. Keep going! God uses difficulties that arise in life to develop our role and our character. Isaiah 49, one of Isaiah’s servant songs, which prophesy of Jesus, giving his thoughts. Look at verse 4, even Jesus thought that he had worked hard for nothing, but he carried on – he knew that work was with his God. Verse 6 is God’s answer! God has a big purpose, ie saving the world and he encouraged Jesus in this – it is not about the small things it is about contributing in our small way to God’s big plan. Caleb encouraged the Israelites that even though they looked like “grasshoppers” they would succeed, sadly the people did not believe. Both Caleb and Joshua received what was promised, they did not lose hope. Ezra 3:12 – the older people had not lost their faith and hope. Ezra 3 contains a connection to the things David had organised as well as those between Solomon and this time. The word to “set forward” comes from a word meaning “to shine from far away”, it can mean someone who has “honour”, they are noticed by others. In this case the Levites were given responsibility to supervise the work. This is a lesson for us as we build the house of God, we have to shine and set examples to others – building an ecclesia is not about telling others what to do it is about setting an example. Jesus speaks about a City on a hill, referring to  Jerusalem which when there were festivals in the temple had lampstands in the temple which could be seen from far away. Believers should be like this and shine by setting an example.  November

November 10th

EZRA 5-6…. “Letters”. The prophets Haggai and Zechariah prophesied to the Jews. What did they say? To give a seemingly hopeless nation hope?  By God’s will, we Christians of 2021 can go and find a “letter” written by Haggai 2540 years ago “!! We can see(hear) what God was saying to the people of Judah and Jerusalem, through the inspired words of Haggai. We don’t have to go 100’s of miles to look in a library, we have the words of Haggai amongst the other “letters” that God chose to speak to His people. What words did God choose to inspire His people to once again become His people?  Hag 1:7  “Consider your ways.. build the temple, that I may take pleasure in it and be glorified”.  Hag 1:12 The people obeyed the voice of the Lord.  Hag 1:14 So, the Lord stirred up their spirits to do God’s will.  Hag 2:  a personal message to some individuals and the rest to “be strong… for I am with you”.  By trusting in God and following His instructions they were also to see a bigger picture of a future “temple”, one of greater glory than Solomon’s, in which all nations would come to worship and give God the glory.  We, as Christians, “have been built on the foundation of the apostles(letters) and prophets(letters), Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. Ephesians 2:20-21.  When we write letters to someone, we choose words according to the receiver, so by looking at Tattenai’s letter to Darius we can guess that he regarded Darius as a “just” leader, one who could make wise decisions, one in whose authority he could trust. Tattenai goes into quite a bit of history in order to give accurate relevant(unbiased!) information to Darius. I love the peoples’ description of themselves in verse 11 “we are the servants of the God of heaven and earth”. The reason for writing to Darius was to check if the Jews were re-building the temple according to King Cyrus’ will, some 20 years before. As readers of God’s letters we know it wasn’t just the will of Cyrus, but more importantly the will of God. Almost 200 years before Cyrus was even born, the Lord spoke of His will being done through someone who would be named Cyrus – in Isaiah’s “letter” 44:28 “Cyrus.. will say to Jerusalem, “you shall be built” and to the temple “your foundation shall be laid”” and ch 45 continues to describe God’s purpose with Cyrus – all fulfilled. But, it wasn’t just in a letter from Isaiah, in a “letter“ from Jeremiah ch 29:10 God shows He is Lord because he defines WHEN they would return from exile in Babylon, “After 70 years are completed at Babylon, I will visit you… and cause you to return to this place”.  In Ezra 6  the letter from Tattenai was taken from Jerusalem to Babylon (1600miles) to search for Cyrus’ decree. But it wasn’t found there so they went to Ecbatana (600miles) and after a diligent search they found it !! King Darius was able to read the words of Cyrus, and to conclude that the Jews were doing Cyrus’s will. King Darius supported that will at his own expense from the taxes on the region, and this support was to be done immediately, and animals were to be provided for the sacrifices that the Jews may “pray for the life of the king and his sons”.  All these events are confirmed by the world’s history museums, but the Bible alone, tells you the reasons why. And we, by God’s grace, and faith and obedience in His word, KNOW the will of God.. His will has been in the past, His will is happening now.. but ultimately it finds completeness in the future when the world will be full of the glory of God.. and so we pray “thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven”. Hosea 7: Adultery. Have you ever been the victim of adultery? A victim, when you still loved that person intensely, and you had lived faithfully, and they in turn had “trampled all over you”, with no thought for you at all. It’s very painful! This is what Israel did to God and this is what we do whenever we CHOOSE to do OUR OWN wills knowing it’s not our Lord’s will.  Adultery, pain, betrayal of a greater love… we call it “sin”.  Maybe we understand the enormity of sin when we see that it is often adultery and likewise we should recognize the enormity of FULL forgiveness offered for that “adultery”. This chapter begins with God’s will “to heal Israel” It’s interesting to contrast God’s will with Israel’s actions. Israel’s actions : fraud, wickedness, lies, adulterers, drunkenness, pride, abandoned God, rebel etc. God’s will: to heal, to “call upon me”, be faithful, to seek Him, to be sincere, he would chastise in order to strengthen, and he STILL wanted them to “return to me” !!.. all of this whilst they were still sinners.  “God demonstrates His own love toward us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us” !! Rom 5:8. ACTS 25: Paul knew that as a citizen of Rome he could insist on a trial before the Roman judgement seat, and not the Jewish Sanhedrin, where he would find no justice. If a citizen thought he was getting justice in a provincial court, he could appeal to the emperor himself. If the appeal was declared valid, the prisoner was sent to Rome to be judged there. ( Paul already knew from the Lord that he would be in Rome at some time in his life…Acts 23:11 “..as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also witness in Rome”) . But Festus had a problem, he had to produce a letter providing details of the case, and Festus didn’t understand the problem that the Jews had with Paul. But he knew someone who might understand – king Agrippa.  ACTS 26: King Agrippa had no doubt heard some things about Paul from the Jews, and he had listened to Festus, but now he had an opportunity to hear Paul speak for himself. (We also have opportunity to listen to Paul, to understand his former life (his past), his life for Jesus (his “now”), and his future hope for all those who are baptized and believe in the name of Jesus).  Paul was a Jew, a devout Pharisee. He fervently believed in the promises God had made with Israel; the promise of a coming Messiah and the re-establishment of the Kingdom of God. But he didn’t believe Jesus was the promised one until on the road to Damascus. In fact, before then, he worked with the Jewish leaders in persecuting Jesus’ followers… “being exceedingly enraged against them “. After his “conversion” he saw the hope written in the scriptures, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead confirmed to Paul that all believers would be raised from the dead to share in the blessing of the promised Kingdom of God. We too can listen to the words from the resurrected Jesus to Paul (isn’t that amazing!) “I will make you a minister and a witness… of things seen and which will be revealed. I am sending you to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are SANCTIFIED BY FAITH IN ME”. Paul was obedient to the calling and witnessed through the scriptures “that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” Acts26:23.  We’ve heard Paul’s speech as did the people then. They concluded “this man (Paul) has done nothing deserving of death or chains”. Festus thought Paul was mad. Agrippa had some knowledge, but his heart was not in it.. BUT thousands, in all generations since, have seen, they’ve listened to the letters from God  (scriptures) and understood the witness of Paul. We too have been on that journey of darkness to light, and have embraced the same hope as Paul.. Jesus. November

November 11th

It is clear in Ezra 7 that God was working in every aspect of the Jews returning to the land, verse 6, 9 and 28 and even Artaxerxes acknowledged this, verse 18. God works in the kingdoms of men, he certainly works in the lives of his people. He works in our lives, even though we may not recognise it, but he will always help us to the kingdom if we follow him and let him by trying to become more godly. Ezra was an accurate scribe, he knew God’s teachings well, he was a wise teacher quick to teach and set a good example, verse 6. There is a link too to 2Timothy 2 verse 15, where the same meaning of the original word for sticking to God’s teaching is seen, we too have to correctly and quickly handle God’s word. The return to rebuild the temple was taken seriously by all who returned because the correct people were involved in the supervision of the work. Ezra was a Levite and priest, the others who came back were the correct personel too, verse 1-7. Hosea 8 has a similar theme in that there is reference to God’s teachings, in this case, however, the God’s people did not respond to or respect God’s word as Ezra did. The people did not respect it, verse 12  they considered it “alien”, their offering sacrifices was not serious, verse 13, they pretented to be religious and God was not pleased. All the way through this chapter we see that the people replaced God with other things  their own stength and idols, etc, verse 4, 12 and 14. None of these did any good, even their fortresses did not protect them. God said that his people had broken the covenant  verse 1, and rebelled. We need to stick to God’s teaching and try our best to do what God wants. We cannot survive and succeed in our own strength, we need to follow God and obey to reach salvation and gain his promise. Paul is a great example of someone who trusted in God at all times, Acts 27 continues with the account of his journey to Rome. We have details of his shipwreck and how he and all the people on board were brought to safety because they did, under Paul’s guidance, what God wanted, verse 22-26. It is always encouraging when God’s ways are followed, verse 36, this is a lesson for us too in that we too should follow God’s ways, if we want encouragement. God was working in this situation through others too, just like king Artaxerxes, the centurion helped the situation, God made the king to favour the people who returned to the land  and God worked with the centurion too. However, this happened because Ezra and Paul were acting in Godly ways and had the respect of those who were in charge of them. This account is in detail and maybe Paul would have seen similarities in what happened to Jonah, this woukd have encouraged him as God brought a salvation there too from the sea and the fish. Instances in others, especially in the Bible, and our own lives, increase our confidence that God does save and carry out his purpose. Our ultimate salvation is when Jesus comes back and God wants everyone to have the opportunity to accept him and Jesus. Paul’s confidence in God, had a possitive impact on others, so did Ezra’s, so we should always try to remain confident and encourage others to also put their faith in God. We all suffer challenges in our lives, Paul demonstrates here that we need to continue to trust in God as he works out his plan. November

November 12th

Ezra 8 gives us the details of more returning to Jerusalem and the chapter shows how serious Ezra and the people took the opportunity. For example Ezra ensured that Levites were with the group that went to Jerusalem, verse 15-17, even though there were already Levites in Jerusalem, Ezra wanted to be sure that things were being done properly. Ezra also demonstrated great faith by completely relying on God by not asking for soldiers to protect them, verse 22, he did not want the king to think worse of God and his faith. He and the people took their request to God for a safe journey seriously, verse 21 and 23. It is also likely that the fast that they undertook coincided with the Day of Atonement, which would would be appropreated as they reflected on their sins that caused their captivity in the first place. So they took their responsibilities seriously, as we should when we demonstate our faith in everyday life and can take courage too that when we demonstrate faith we know that the “gracious hand of God” will guide us as it did for Ezra, verse 18 and 31. Hosea 9 continues with the reasons for Israel’s punishment. Unlike Ezra, the people did not respect the things of God, they rejected and ridiculed, verse 7, and God clearly stated that the punishment is because of disobedience, verse 17. It is often the case that when people relax, as you would after the harvest, verse 1-2, that you are in danger of disobeying God. As Christians we should always relax with God. God should always be in our everyday lives and our worship of him should never view it as a hardship. The people of Israel did ungodly things when they relaxed to celebrate the harvest when all their work for the year was complete. The contrast with the wonder of the start of the nation of Israel with the situation now could not be so obvious, verse 10. And God removed his love, verse 15 and punished, verse 9. Acts 28 continues to demonstrate the faith of Paul as his journey ends in Rome. Paul took every opportunity to teach about the kingdom and how faith in Jesus is the only way to salvation. Verse 1-6 reminds us just how foolish human thinking is, they originally thought that Paul was a murderer because he was bitten by a snake, but when he did not die they changed their minds. This is what happens when God’s teachings are replaced with human thinking. The people of Israel acted as prophesied in Isaiah 6, quoted in Acts 28 verses 26-27. The problem was that the people did not want to listen to God, therefore they failed and sinned. So we should respect God’s teachings and demonstrate faith in all that we do, even when we relax. November

November 13th

In the book of Ezra, we read of the return of Ezra from Babylon to Jerusalem.  Ezra visited the newly constructed temple, delivered presents to the temple and offered sacrifices.   However, in chapter 9 he learnt that all was not well.  The house of God might have been completed and looked good, but the house of Israel (the people) had fallen into disrepair.  The house of God was holy but the people were not.  Holiness includes separation from the wrong practices of the world, but the people had not done that.  The cause of the problem was intermarriage with the peoples around them.  The holy race of Israel was no longer holy (verse 2).  Israel had been told not to intermarry with the other nations (Deuteronomy 7:1-6).  The reason for this was that Israel would copy the practices of the other nations and worship idols.  They would become like the people in the land of Canaan that had to be destroyed because of their wickedness (Deuteronomy 9:4-6).  This was a great problem.  The issue at stake was the future of the people of Israel in the land.  If they were no longer holy, God would wipe them out again and take them into exile.  Ezra immediately realised the seriousness of the situation.  He tore his clothes and plucked his hair out.  Those who agreed with Ezra joined him.  They trembled at the word of God (Ezra 9:4).  We too must take the word of God seriously.  Those who do this will be acceptable to God (Isaiah 66:2); “This is the one I esteem: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.”  Ezra was humble and contrite.  He went to God in prayer and confessed the sins of the people.  Like a good priest, he prayed for the people.  He used the word ‘we’ in his prayer, rather than saying ‘them.’  We should also work to help people be right with God.  And we must tremble at the word of God and listen to it humbly.  The mixing of Israel with the unholy practices of the people of the land had happened before.  Hosea 10 describes a time when Israel had built many altars and sacred stones to worship idols.  Hosea calls these ‘high places of wickedness’ (verse 8).  They worshipped the golden calf at Bethel.  They had not remained separate from other nations but had become as bad as the people that were originally in the land.  Hosea likens the time to the time of Gibeah, which was possibly the worst case of corruption ever to occur in Israel.  It almost resulted in the loss of a tribe (Judges 20:4).  Both Judah and Israel would become slaves to other nations if they did not change (verse 11).  The prophet appealed to them to do what is right.  The people would reap what they sow.  If they sowed righteousness, they would reap righteousness (Hosea 10:12).  If they sowed wickedness, they would reap wickedness (Hosea 10:13).  The New Testament picks up this principle and the same principle applies today – we will also reap what we sow (Galatians 6:7-10).  God has also been sowing.  God has sowed the good seed of the word and it is bearing fruit all over the world (Colossians 1:6).  It is generating holy people – those who live by faith, hope, and love (Colossians 1:5).  The writer of Colossians knows that holy people can become unholy, so he prayed that they would continue in faith and grow spiritually (Colossians 1:10-11, 23).  They have been brought out of the darkness of the world into the kingdom of life (verse 12-13).  God has done this through the work of Christ.  Jesus was the true spiritual image of God and the firstborn from the dead.  He is the first of the new creation.  The new creation is the true believers that are brought out of the old natural creation.  It is Jesus who brings this new creation about and reconciles its members to God.  This is why it says all things were created in him and through him.  It mentions the things in heaven and earth as being part of this new creation.  While it is true Jesus is bring the new creation into unity with God, it is more likely that that ‘heavens and earth’ mean God’s people (as in Deuteronomy 32:1, Isaiah 1:2).  This includes the rulers and authorities on the earth who are the ones who are in heaven, just as heaven rules over the earth.  Ephesians 1:10 uses similar language and applies them to the things on earth which we must use the armour of God against (Ephesians 6:10-12).  In Ephesians, it is the believers who are in heaven (Ephesians 2:6).  The purpose of Jesus is to bring everyone together and make them perfect (Colossians 1:28).  If this is the aim of Christ, then it should also be the aim of all Christians just as it was for Paul (Colossians 1:23, 25). November

November 14th

Ezra 10 verse 1 reminds us to pray and confess repent, Hosea 11 talks about the people who used to be called God’s children but they did not listen to him and therefore did not repent. Colosians 1 verse 5 talks about repentance and how we should walk in faith. During our lives, which can be difficult, but we have to “walk in faith” and not “walk by sight”. Paul in this letter reminds the church that although he is absent, he is there in “spirit”, ie he was thinking about his brothers and sisters and getting reports about them. He liked to hear how orderly they were and how firm in the faith in Jesus they remained. We are all learning to become more like Jesus and if we are looking to become more like Jesus we do this in faith, which is the key, 2 Corinthians 5 verse 7. This is about “faith” not “sight”, so we walk in faith. In our learning we acknowledge that without “knowledge” is in Jesus, Colossians 2 verse 3 and we are not basing any of our knowledge on human thinking because this will not last, verse 20-23. So our walk in faith should be something that, as Christians, we should be improving, the sooner that we reach this conclusion the sooner that we become better before God. Many times on our journey people introduce challenges into our path but we should remain firm in faith and continue to confess sins, this is hard within human constraints without faith. We can see an example of faith in Abraham, he “walked in faith”  even though people mocked him and laughed at him, he remained faithfull. Because of his faith he was called to be the father of many nations. Even Sarah, his wife, became strong in faith even when she was old but because of God’s promise and her faith, she had a child, she did not give up. Romans 4 verse 19-20, Abraham did not weaken in his faith even though his body was as good as dead (100 years old). Sarah’s womb was dead yet neither of them weavered because they knew of God’s promise and were strengthened by faith – we too should remain strong in faith. Our life brings many challenges, many things go wrong, but the lesson is is to continue walking in faith and by doing so will help us to avoid many complications. Noah by faith, built the ark on dry land having not experienced rain before and the people around laughed at him and wondered what he was doing. Noah continued to build and to also warn them as he was instructed by God. Because Noah had faith in something that he had not seen. Sadly a lot of people today only trust in what they see, but this is not faith, but Noah saved his fsmily by faith, Acts 11 verses 7-9. By faith when Noah was warned about things that were not seen but he still, in respect and “fear” continued to build the ark to save his life. He taught others and received things that were promised. Sometimes we get mocked, but we still have to build, we can not give up, we continue to build our lives with our actions – this is our salvation. Many things happen when people talk a lot of things about us, but we should stay faithfull. 2 Corinthians 4 verse 18. Other people see things in different ways to us, what they see now is temporary, in contrast to what we see in faith which is eternal. We should not fix our eyes on what is seen because what is seen is not faith, we must fix our eyes on Jesus. If we fix on worldly things all these will pass away, this tells us to fix eyes on what is unseen, this is faith and not a “walk of sight”. If we look at what we can see we will not be in the kingdom, but it is the kingdom that we should be looking at in faith. Understanding the word of God and focussing on our walk of faith is what should occupy us. The world is in a mess, but it is all temporary, whether this is today or tomorrow, we should still focus on things not seen and we should preparing our lives by “walking by faith” avoid stupid things today, 1 Corinthians 2 verses 13-15. This is what we speak, not from human wisdom but words taught by the spirit, this is not foolish, thetefore we do not accept things that are taught by non belivers, rather we should listen to God. God wants us to do things that are not foolish. Spiritual people make godly judgements so we should not follow those who not using plain spiritual reasons based on faith. We have seen faithless people in the world’s actions and we should ask ourselves where are we going. No faith is demonstrated by what we see so we should not really wonder where we are going. The world is faithless, it does not see godly examples and we keep walking in faith. November

November 15th

There is a common theme through the 3 readings today, this is prayer. Colossians 4 talks about the Christian “devoting” themselves to prayer, verse 2, this means a life of prayer, with watchfulness and thankfulness. Epaphras certainly had a prayful life, he “wrestled” in prayer so that others would stand firm, verse 12. The term “wrestled” suggests “struggled”, ie finding it difficult to know what to pray for because you know that the needs of others are so great. His love for his brothers and sisters is so great that he kept on praying for them. This is certainly the same attitude as that of Nehemiah in chapter 1. He was obviously interested in the welfare of the people in Jerusalem and was praying for them and asking about them, verse 1-2. Nehemiah was clearly very concerned and upset for them, verse 3. His reaction in verse 4 demonstrates that Nehemiah was “devoted” to prayer, he fasted and prayed. Notice in his prayer that he praises God, acknowledges that it was the people’s sin that got them in this situation in captivity, and in complete humility he associates himself with the sins of the previous generations. He truly was a humble man and a prayerful man, verse 6-7 and 11. He is also respecting God’s teachings too as he refers to them in his prayer, verse 9. Another lesson for us too is that he prays that God will use him to contribute to God’s plan and purpose, this has to be our prayer too that God will use the abilities that he has given us! It is only because of his preparation that when the king asked what was wrong, he was able to immediately continue with his prayer and pray to God for immediate help when the king asked, verse 4. This confirms his devotion to prayer as we have read in Colossians 4.  God was working in Nehemiah’s life, verse 8 and 18, because Nehemiah invited him to. Despite setbacks, verse 19, he was still able to encourage others, verse 20. Hosea 12 continues to catalogue the pride and sins of Israel, eg verse 1, and God punishes them in accordance with their deeds, verse 2. There is an allusion to Jacob’s birth and his struggles in life, verse 3-5 and then verse 12, this is a real person struggling with life and the situations that he found himself in. Yet his descendants did not learn the lessons and unlike Jacob himself they turned from God. Jacob prayed for a wife, he prayed for protection from his brother Esau and God worked with his failures. As we are told in Colossians about living a godly life, we see that God considers any cheating as a sin, verse 7-9, yet God is always willing to accept sinners back  verse 9-20. So in conclusion Colossians 3 we have “rules for holy living” – there are the things for us to avoid, verse 5-10, ie lies, sexual immorality, anger, etc. The things that we should practise are in verse 13-14, ie, patience, gentleness, forgiveness, etc. The actions in verses 15-17 help us to nurture a live that is devoted to prayer, when we achieve this we are happy in our marriages, in our work, in every aspect of our lives. So let us all try to devote our lives to prayer. November

November 16th

In Nehemiah 3 we have an excellent example of godly people working together to do God’s work. The wall of Jerusalem needed rebuilding and almost everyone contributed to the task, no one said that they could not do it because they were not skilled. This is a very big lesson for all of us, everybody contributed to the work and everybody worked together as one and everybody tried their best to carry out the task. Notice the kind of skills that the people had, there were goldsmiths and people who made perfume, verse 8, priests, verse 24, Levites, verse 17, rulers, verse 18 and women, verse 12, none of these said that they would not do the work because they were incapable or unskilled. The work was divided into sections, each team knew their responsibilities and together they completed their section and contributed to the whole project. There was a spirit of unity with all having the same purpose and working together as one body for God. We need to do the same too as we all work together in unity on all the tasks that we have as Christians, eg teaching others, challenging others, teaching Sunday School, reading, studying, helping others, etc, we should all contribute, no matter our skills. (1Corinthians 12 verse 12 to the end of the chapter shows us how the body is all working together for the head, ie Jesus.) There was only one group of people who did not contribute, this was the nobles of Tekoa, verse 5, I do not know why they were not ready to contribute to the hard work that was required, perhaps they were proud, I do not know, but by not actually helping with the work they would not have set a very good example, more of this later. Hosea 13 is the result of the people of Israel who did not work together as one in praising and following God. Even though God did everything for them, eg bringing them out of Egypt, verse 4-6, he cared for them. He made them powerful, verse 1, but they rejected him, verse 2-3, and God said that they were just like a mist, ie something that disappears. So God punished, verse 7-9, saying that nothing will save them, verse 10. All this because they rebelled, verse 16, and did not work together for God. Despite this, there is still an element of hope and God never leaves us without hope, eg verse 14, even in desperate situations God will always be there for those who repent. This verse is quoted by Paul in 1Corinthians 15 verse 55, where Paul shows us that this time will be when Jesus comes back to correct all of the things that are wrong in this ungodly world. The “ransom” that God will use to save us from death is Jesus, so our appreciation for this should make us all want to work together in unity and in love. 1 Thessalonians 1 and 2 demonstrates what happens when Christians work together as one, it is clear here that the examples that Paul, Silas and Timothy provided in how they worked together helped the brothers and sisters who they were teaching to be “imitators” of them, and therefore of Jesus, chapter 1 verse 6 and chapter 2 verse 5. This is a big lesson for us because a powerful teaching mechanism is for people to follow the example that we set. If we carry out God and Jesus’ desire for us to teach and help and be an example, then others will imitate us for good; on the other hand if we disobey God and act in ungodly ways, people and our children will imitate us for bad. So we have a very big responsibility to set good examples in our lives. The brothers and sisters in the church here became good examples to others, chapter 1 verse 7-9. The result was that others believed and also started to wait for Jesus to come back, verse 10. Unlike the nobles from Tekoa, the brothers and sisters set a good example by being humble and demonstrating their faith by their actions. The examples that the brothers and sisters and the apostles set benefited all those who saw and heard, chapter 2 verse 5-12, this is how we help to become worthy of the kingdom. We know from Nehemiah that there was opposition to the building of the walls of Jerusalem and we will also have opposition to the work that we doing, but the brothers and sisters remained strong and continued to set good examples in their lives. The bible uses the word “satan” to show that there will be opposition to our work, eg chapter 2 verse 18, this is explained for us in verse 14-16 and verse 2 again. But we have to keep going despite set backs and opposition, we have to continue setting good examples and encouraging others to imitate us in our good behaviour. Our lesson has to be to set good, godly, examples as we aim to teach and encourage others as we all work in unity to build God’s people who are waiting for Jesus to return to rescue us from the coming wrath of God, chapter 1 verse 10 and chapter 2 verse 16. We have discovered many times that opposing God’s ways and becoming rebellious will result in consequences, so we pray that all of us will work together as that single unit to glorify God, no work should be skipped as we aim to do our best for both God and for Jesus. November

November 17th

Nehemiah 4: Watch and pray.  Sanballat, Tobiah and others mocked the Jews in Jerusalem “When they heard they were re-building the wall”. Imagine you were one of those builders. The work would be hard, the workers few, the conditions difficult, and you would be aware of a lot of people not liking what you were doing. You know what Nehemiah wants you to do, and you like the idea, but can it be done? If we listen to “our voice”, it will be saying “it can’t be done” and we will dwell on reasons to support our thinking like “We are only feeble Jews” “we haven’t got the tools to do the job or the people who have the necessary skills”. IF one person comes alongside and says “we CAN do this IF we work together” then suddenly each individual achieves more than if he was working on his own – in mathematical language: 1 + 1 is greater than 2!  and this is transforming whenever this happens.  “Though one be overpowered by another, two can withstand him” Ecc 4:12. Nehemiah was the one that came alongside (sent by God), he was “one” with his people. When mocked by his enemies, what did he do?(verses 4-5). He took everything to the Lord in prayer – his mind, his heart, his fears, and those fears he LEFT with God. Because of that prayer Nehemiah begins verse 6 with “so”. In other words because of that prayer the “feeble Jews” were renewed in strength, and they all worked together, with the same will, “having a mind to work”. Fears can only live if we lack trust in God, so by putting faith into action (mind to work), our lives will become less fearful, and more prayerful and trustful. We have our example – Jesus.  “O my Father, if it is possible, let this cup pass from me (fears), nevertheless, not as I will, but as you will (total trust)” Matt 26:39.  And “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit” – words spoken at the cross.  But words that were true of his whole life” Luke 23:46.  Neh 4:7 : With faith restored and the encouragement of seeing the entire wall joined up – up to half of its expected height, the Jews were seeing the rewards of their faith. However, this increased the will and number of their enemies. Jerusalem was now surrounded by enemies from the north (Sanballat + Tobiah), the south (the Arabs), the east (Ammonites) and the west (Ashdodites). What happens?(v9) “Nevertheless, we made our prayer to our God, and because of them (the enemies) we set a watch against them day and night”. Notice, the Jews didn’t just pray, they also “worked”, knowing that they were working WITH the all powerful God. Paul was someone who prayed frequently, but he also worked, recognizing that God was working through him and others. “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God was pleading through us.. we then, as workers together with Him, also plead with you.” 2Cor:20.  And I believe that is what Jesus means when he says “watch and pray. When he says “watch”, he doesn’t mean look at what is happening in the world, he means watch your hearts and minds (Luke21:34).  And Jesus says not to just watch your hearts, he gives the answer, watch AND PRAY.  The teaching and example from Nehemiah 4 is throughout the N.T. and here are 2 examples:  Jude 20 “But you, beloved, BUILDING YOURSELVES up on your most holy faith, praying in the Holy Spirit.”  Ephes 6:17-18: “take the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God: praying always with all PRAYER and supplication in the spirit, being WATCHFUL to this end with all perseverance.” Hosea 14 “return to me” v 1-3 :The final section of Hosea’s prophecy begins with a call to repentance that includes a model prayer. The people of Israel were to pray for God’s gracious forgiveness and renew their relationship with Him, no longer putting their hope in foreign alliances or military strength or other “gods”.  v4-8: IF the prayer was sincere … then God promises to “heal their backsliding”. In another model prayer (Psalm 51) “RESTORE to me the joy of your salvation”. The joy and growth is likened to the growth and beauty of the lily, trees, grain, and vine… and like the dew should be viewed as a witness to blessings from heaven.  v9: we have been taught by the word of God to be wise, to understand, to know, to acknowledge that the “ways of the Lord are just”.  When we follow those ways in the spirit of faith, love and fellowship, then we have confidence in God’s will for us. When we sin it brings fears, and we have a lack of confidence not only in ourselves but in when we are judged by the Lord. We stumble.  “Happy is the man who finds wisdom, and the man who gains understanding… then you will walk safely in your way, and your foot will not stumble.” Proverbs 3:13. 1 Thess 3.   Work in progress. Paul shows his love and concern for the Christians in Thessalonica. His hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing is that the believers will be “in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, at his coming” 1 Thess 2:19. He sends Timothy (our fellow-worker) “to establish and encourage you concerning your faith, so that no-one should be shaken” (echoes here of God sending Nehemiah to the Jews of Jerusalem so that no one would be shaken in their faith). Timothy brings back good news; the church at Thessalonica had the same spirit toward Paul as Paul had for them. How beautiful is true fellowship!! So Paul gives thanks to God, because the news was a witness to answered prayers (do we forget to say thank you for answered/all prayers?) Paul prays night and day (like Nehemiah and Jews working night and day!), praying for the opportunity “to perfect what is lacking in their faith”.  1 Thess 3:12 “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love”.  1Thess 4:1 “we urge and exhort to abound more and more (grow) to walk and please God”.  4:11 “lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands”.  4:12 to be an example to un-believers.  4:12 to understand the hope in Jesus is for those believers who have already died (at sleep) as well as those believers who will be alive at Jesus’ return.  4:16 Jesus will descend from heaven and the dead in Christ will rise first.  4:17 The living in Christ will be with Jesus and the formerly dead in Christ”. We shall always be with the Lord”.  We know Jesus is to RETURN, and we also know we will inherit the promises made to Abraham concerning eternal life ON EARTH; there are so many quotes throughout the bible confirming God’s will for mankind.  Psalm 37:11 “The meek shall inherit the earth” (quoted by Jesus)  in the same psalm look at verses 22 and 29.  John 13:33.. Jesus speaking to his disciples “Where I am going(heaven) you cannot come”.  It is clear from Thessalonians and elsewhere that Jesus will RETURN and be with believers forever in the Kingdom of God on earth – this is God’s will. This has been clearly revealed to us, whereas many other details are not so clear, such as when. God has deemed that we should not be all-knowing, but we should TRUST and FOLLOW in His ways. November

November 18th

Nehemiah 5 and 6 shows us that ALL work carried on even though there was an urgent need to focus on an area as a priority, the wall needed repairing and we have seen how they all focused on this.  However, Nehemiah challenged the elders of the people because they had wrongly been trying to make money out of their fellows, chapter 5 verse 6-8. This was a bad situation and very wrong, the elders realised this when they were challenged which is why they “kept quiet”. The list of complaints from the people is really bad, because everyone should have been helping their brothers and sisters to survive and not trying to take advantage of others’ situation, verse 1-5. God has also put us in a family of believers so that we ALL help each other and do NOT take advantage of each other by demanding things to make your own situation better. We can take a lesson from Nehemiah’s continued challenge to the elders and those who were taking advantage of their brothers and sisters, verse 9-11. The message is clear for us, we must not be trying to make any money out of the things that God has given us, this is wrong. We should “fear” God and always seek to ensure that we are acting in godly ways towards all of our brothers and sisters. This means that everyone of us should be careful not to be corrupt in how we deal with each other, whether this is taking advantage of others’ misfortunes or demanding more for ourselves, verse 13, where Nehemiah graphically demonstrated how all these bad practices should be “shaken out”!  Nehemiah set a good example by not acting in any way that would be ungodly, he ensured that those around him were properly treated, verse 16-20. And he prays that God would remember him when Jesus comes to set up the kingdom, verse 19. We always have to ensure that there is fairness to all our brothers and sisters and none of us should be expecting preferential treatment! Opposition to the building of the wall continued in chapter 6 and the enemies of God’s people continued with their scheming and lies and their attempts to stop the building by mocking God’s people failed. In fact, the very things that they were trying to achieve by their mocking caused them themselves to be disheartened because the repairs to the wall were completed in a very short time because God was with his people, verse 15-16. This is a wonderful lesson for us because when we work in faith, using the situation that God has put us in properly, we will succeed if we continue in faith. Joel 1 and 2 is difficult to place in the history of the Jews, God’s people, it is possible to see some similarities with the events in 2Chronicles 20, if this is right then this happened to Judah. Whenever this happened chapter 1 indicates a suffering under natural things, ie real locusts, drought, etc, the whole chapter indicates a suffering and often God uses things like this to bring us back to him, as happened with his people. From verse 13 we see that there is a call to repentance and an acknowledgement of mistakes and sins, so even when all seems lost there is hope. The key to this chapter is our reliance on God, verse 19-20, no matter how bad suffering appears to be then we should not stop calling on God. 1 Thessalonians 5 talks about the return of Jesus saying that it will be at a time when generally people do not expect him, but for those of us who are waiting for him it will not be a surprise, verse 1-3. The time of Jesus’ return is not important, it is being prepared that is important. Just as in the time of Nehemiah we should all be living in the “light”, is acting as Jesus would and setting good examples to others by the way that we treat them, Our “desire” should be the kingdom of God (salvation) and not what we can gain out of this life now, verse 4-11. Paul has many lessons for all of us in his conclusions in this chapter, verse 12-25, he is advising us all to respect each other, he is saying that we should not be lazy or idle, we are to help the weak and to be patient. Interesting that he also says that we should rejoice always and give thanks for any circumstance that we are in (verse 16). This is important because if we believe that God is in control in our lives then whatever happens we should give thanks to him. Whether we are building (as Nehemiah was), teaching, encouraging, serving, etc. we should be doing all to the best of our ability and doing it joyfully. Our aim in life should be focused on the return of Jesus, verse 23-24, not on how to better our lives now, because this is not what God wants, he wants us in the kingdom – this has to be our desire too.  November

November 19th

Nehemiah 7 starts with a list of people, verses 1-63, showing us that God’s people are individuals; it is important for us to remember that we read about real people in the Bible, and just as God was interested in them, he is interested in us now. The people in verses 62-63 were deemed to have corrupted their heritage, verse 64-65, we see that they cannot be deemed full priests; this is a reminder to us that we have a principle that we all have roles to take seriously and to keep reminding ourselves of what God wants from us, we do this by reading and discussing, obviously prayerfully. Throughout all of this rebuilding and rededication the people gave willingly, verse 70-72, and as a result God’s people lived in their cities, verse 73. A lesson for us is that we should also give our time and other resources generously so that we too will live in security and safety in the kingdom. Joel 2 appears to show the further physical punishment of God’s people, this time by human armies. Despite this punishment there is hope, verse 12-14, God is leaving the option open to repent. God always leaves the option open to come back to him and we see this because of their regret of turning away from God in the first place, verse 15-17. The remainder of the chapter gives more hope that repentance is possible and although verses 30-32 was concluded to have been in part fulfilled in Acts 2, there will be a further fulfilment in the future too. 2Thessalonians 1 and 2 is encouragement to brothers and sisters in the church at Thessolonica. These brothers and sisters were being persecuted and really were suffering, probably by the hands of the Jews. Paul is reminding them of the certainty of the return of Jesus and the kingdom. At which time those who were persecuting them would receive their just punishement. The same lesson applies to us now with all our sufferings, whether this is persecution, famine, temptations or illness, all these things will be taken away when Jesus returns. Paul is reminding us that we are to be content in whatever situation that we are in, chapter 2 verse 13-15, stand firm is the message that we are to learn from. There are different interpretations of what is described as “lawless one”, chapter 2 verse 8, it seems reasonable to also see this as human institutions and the real “lawless one” is human nature and sin itself, this is what will be destroyed when Jesus returns. So we have to be appreciative of whatever situation we are in, there are individual lessons for all of us from each situation. Our hope is the return of Jesus when God will restore all things. Paul’s concluding comments in verse 16-17, shows us where our priorities should be. So our priorities should be to work as one for God because he is interested in individuals, we have to respect his ways and encourage each other with the hope that we have of the kingdom. Only when Jesus comes back will we be in a position when all of our sufferings end. November

November 20th

Ezra 8 really starts on the last verse of the previous chapter. It was the seventh month and the first day of the month, which means it was the Feast of Trumpets (Levitics 23:23).  This was a day when the trumpets were sounded, included the two silver trumpets at the temple.  We are told little else about the trumpets in the law, but its significance is that it symbolised the resurrection trumpet call (1 Thessalonians 4:16).  All Israel had assembled before dawn at the temple, rising very early to listen to the Law of God.  The chapter emphasises the understanding of the law (verses, 2, 3, 8 and 12).  Everyone was attentive and the reader read clearly to help understanding (verse 8). This is an example of how to read the Bible.  It is not as a performance, but in order to help the reader understand.  Reading too fast or unclearly does not help understanding.  The people did understand the words and this made them sad.  However, Nehemiah told them not to weep but be happy.  This is what the word of God ultimately does, because the words are comforting.  The heads of the families read about keeping the Feast of Tabernacles, which was on the 15th of the 7th month (Leviticus 23:33).   They kept a spectacular Feast that year, having just come out of exile and enjoying the fruit of the land for the first time.  This was a bit like the time of Joshua, when the people at the excellent fruit of the land after having had manna for 40 years. The Feast at the time of Joshua was greater, but this feast was greater than any other.  At the Feast of Tabernacles, the Law was to be read every seven years (Deuteronomy 31:10-12) and this year was the year they read the Law.  Having kept the feasts of Trumpets and Tabernacles, we are caused to ask whether they kept the Day of Atonement which should have taken place on the tenth of the month and is not mentioned.  We assume it was because the people were originally sad, perhaps because of sin, and secondly because they did confess sin in the next chapter (9:2).  There is a time to be sad because of our sin and a time to be happy because of God’s goodness to us.  The prophecy of Joel contains God’s judgments against Israel first and the nations second.  In Joel 3 we come across God’s judgments of the nations.  The first part (verses 1-8) are punishment on Tyre, Sidon and Philistia for stealing God’s people and God’s treasures.  It may have taken a long time for the punishment to come, but it did come because people reap what they sow.  What they did to Israel would happen to them.  All nations would be called to battle in the valley of Jehoshaphat, a valley which means ‘God is judge.’  There God would harvest them in the way that the grain and vine harvests are gathered (verse 13). Nations come from every side (verse 12) – Tyre and Sidon from the north, Philistia from the west, Egypt from the south and Edom from the east.  All the nations next to Israel who hated Israel would be judged for the hatred.  God will do this from Jerusalem (verse 16). Never again would foreign armies invade Jerusalem (verse 17).  Israel will have abundant blessings of wine, milk and water.  God will not do this because God is merciful and forgives sin.  This is something to rejoice about.  And then God will live in Jerusalem (verse 21).  Joel ends with this thought, just as Ezekiel does (Ezekiel 48:35).  This is such an encouraging thought for us too.  The Thessalonian ecclesia had a problem with members being idle. In the first letter, Paul counsels them to work hard (1 Thessalonians 4:11). Evidently he had also told them this when he was with them (4:11).  He also points out the example he set in this area of working hard (1 Thessalonians 2:9).  Now in 2 Thessalonians 3 the problem of idleness was still present.  Paul then gives strong advice on the need to work – in fact, this is the strongest passage on this topic in the whole of Scripture. Someone who does not work is not holding the teaching of Paul  (2 Thessalonians 3:6).  This teaching came from Paul in word and in deed.  Whenever Paul ate someone elses food, he paid for it (3:8).  He told them bluntly, “If a man will not work, he shall not eat” (3:10). All people should be able to do something with their time and contribute to the feeding of themselves and others.  Instead, they had those who were idle and then caused trouble by how they used their time.  Paul warns Timothy about these people (1 Timothy 5:13).  His advice goes stronger – do not associate with idle people.  This would include not providing them with food.  He should be warned as a brother about his poor way of life, so that he changes.  We must all think about what we and others do in order to eat.  We must contribute by working and earning our right to eat. November

November 21st

There are a number of important principles in 1 Timothy chapters 1, 2 and 3 and they all convey love. The principles are laid out first and then we have the conditions and qualifications that help us to portray love in the ways that we act, with the aim of us all knowing how to “conduct ourselves in God’s household”, chapter 4 verse 15, ie how we should be acting as children of God. The first principle is that we should not teach false teachings and that we should challenge those in our community who do teach false doctrines, chapter 1 verse 3-4, because it causes disunity and problems. In order to be able to recognise this and then to be properly equipped to challenge we have to know what God determines as true doctrines, therefore we have to constantly check our beliefs and understanding with what is written in the Bible. Paul is clear in 2 Timothy 3 verses 16-17 how scripture helps us in our lives. Notice in chapter 1 verse 5 that the reason for not teaching false doctrine and for challenging those who do is love! This is love for God, love for Jesus and love for our brothers and sisters – Jesus tells us in John 15 verse 9-14 what love is – because of love Jesus did what his father wanted, because of love Jesus gave his life for his friends, because of love we obey commands, because of love we focus on encouraging our brothers and sisters to the kingdom and because of love we try our best to be like Jesus. Love has to be the centre of everything that we do. The problem when we do not always show love to our brothers and sisters we cause some to “wander away”, verse 6-7, so avoiding false doctrine is important. Brothers and sisters who want to be teachers and demand this status are proud and this is wrong – we notice in Nehemiah 9 that it was arrogance that caused the children of God to be punished by captivity (verse 29-31). The lesson is true today – if we want God to be gracious to us we have to do our best to do what he says. The next principle in Timothy is to “use the law [of life and death in Jesus] properly” because this is good, chapter 1 verse 8. So in love we have to use this knowledge properly, remembering that our motivation for this is love of God, Jesus and our brothers and sisters, so it is important. Because if we are motivated by love we will not be “law breakers” or “rebels” and therefore will have no fear of the law! The law only then applies to those brothers and sisters who are included in the list in verse 9-11. However, we need to examine ourselves and ask ourselves if anything in this list describes us or are we really only showing love. As we examine ourselves and our actions also consider what Jesus says in Matthew 5 about such things as lust and adultery or anger and murder. Our Christian belief strongly encourages us to change our outlook on everything to having one of a love just like Jesus – his love was demonstrated by willingly giving his life so that we can be in the kingdom – that is the priority, dictated by love. Our next principle is the real life example of Paul’s repentance and change of direction where previously to his conversion and “repentance” he did not show love, but there is hope for all of us because all of us can be changed if we are on the wrong path now, verse 12-14. It was grace, mercy and love that changed Paul’s beliefs, and he completely changed direction, he changed his life around, in other words he repented. The point is that Jesus came into the world to save sinners like Paul, who opposed God, and to save sinners like us who continually break his commands. This is something that we should remember and accept as a “trustworthy” saying. This is why we remember and break bread and drink wine each week to praise both God and Jesus for the mercy shown to all of us, verse 17. Nehemiah 9 is the account of the people’s confession and repentance, but it includes acknowledgement of past mistakes and a determination to change. Possibly the final principle in these chapters in Timothy concerns our worship and this too is important. Our prayers are not to be focused on ourselves, we are to pray for everyone, including our governments, chapter 2 verse 1-2, notice that this is not a list of requests it is a prayer about peaceful and quiet lives, it is a prayer that there will be no tensions with others, ie it is a prayer for love and this is “pleasing to God”, verse 3, and the reason for this? It is because God wants all to be saved, verse 4, so all these principles are to help us to salvation – this is love and it is without controversies! We are basically praying that God will use us to be good examples as we demonstrate love by doing our best to please both God and Jesus. Paul reminds us again that there is only one way to come to God and that is by fully accepting Jesus and trying to love like he loved, verse 5-6. We acknowledged this when we were baptised and made our confession that we were dedicating our life to a life of love as Jesus did. So when we pray we must not be part of any anger or dispute, verse 8, in fact Jesus said in Matthew 5 again that if we have a dispute with a brother or sister we are to leave our “gift” [or prayer] at the “altar” so that we can be reconciled with our brother or sister first. This is also an important principle because if we have an ongoing dispute with a brother or sister and we are not trying to resolve it, God will not listen to our prayers! So it is important that we consider our attitude towards our brothers and sisters and consider if we are acting in love or not. After these principles we now have examples of how we are helped to remember them in our everyday lives and we are given everyday reminders by God to help us love and demonstrate the right attitude. Brothers need to pray without anger or disputing, verse 8, sisters need to dress modestly and to demonstrate their love by their actions, verse 9-10. Brothers and sisters are to also continually depict the parable or picture of Jesus and the church in their lives as a reminder of sin, verse 11-15. These verses are not about the brother or man being “boss” over the wife or sister, it is about a loving reminder given by God to help us to remember love. Ephesians 5 verse 22-33 helps us to see the relationship between the sister and the church and the brother and Jesus so these verses in Timothy are a loving reminder for us to help us to love more. There is only one way to be saved and that is in Jesus, so the “childbearing” in chapter 2 verse 15 has to involve Jesus and only if the woman (church) continues in faith, love and holiness with the right attitude will salvation be achieved. The selection of overseers and deacons in chapter 3 also shows us how much preparation is needed and how we have a better chance of having harmony in our community if we follow this selection criteria. If our “leaders” are demonstrating love by following all these principles then our church is better equipped to also demonstrate love, if we ignore these selection criteria we will end up with disputes. So the selection criteria in chapter 3 is not designed to exclude those who have made mistakes, it is to ensure that love and harmony exists. November

November 22nd

At the end of Nehemiah 9 and verse 38 we read that God’s children made a “binding agreement” to help commit themselves to following God’s law, thy did this because of their confession that they made earlier in chapter 9. They confessed that they had sinned against God and now they wanted to try to put things right as they repented of their previous sins and actions; they were not only repenting of their own actions but they were including their predecessors’ sins too. So today’s reading in chapter 10 is their contract and their agreement how they were going to try to follow God’s teachings and they were going to use this contract as a reminder for them. Now this reminder and contract is very similar to our baptism. We recognised our need for forgiveness and repentance and we marked our “contract” with baptism and we can use this “binding agreement” as our reminder that we should also be following God’s laws now. Just like our baptism was a public confession, ie in front of others, this contract was in front of others too and we see this in the list of names at the start of the chapter. We then see the items that were included in the contact and we need to also use these as a template so that we too can try to follow God’s ways. The first one is about separation from others who do not share the same faith as we do, verse 28, this is a very good place to start our Christian life because if we become good friends with non-believers there is a real danger that they will influence us for bad. Psalm 101 says the same thing, in that if we mix with non believers we will become like them, this is why we are strongly advised to only mix with believers so that we all encourage each other to be godly. The people agreed to “follow the law of God”, verse 29, this includes carefully obeying the things taught by God. This is encouragement for us to read the Bible and to try to put the teachings that we find there into practice in our lives. This is also was we agreed to do when we were baptised. The people promised not to let their daughters marry those who did not share the same faith, verse 30, this is for similar reasons to those for mixing with others. The lesson here for us is that the love that we have for our daughters is such that we want them to be in God’s kingdom, therefore we would only want them to marry men who are also aiming for the kingdom, this is a very practical ideal for us to aim for. Although we no longer keep the Sabbath because we break bread and drink wine on the first day of the week, ie a Sunday, the lessons are still relevant, verse 31. We should try to keep Sundays free to only remember God and his son Jesus, we would benefit better from a day of concentrating on and worshipping God. Keeping the “sabbath” holy was a great way for God’s children to prepare and to focus on God. The remaining verses talk about giving things for God’s work, this could be money or crops or animals, all these things can help in God’s work, so the lesson is clear for us too that we are expected to contribute to God’s work, no matter what financial situation we are in. We can bring firewood to help in cooking if that is all we have – we all have a responsibility to “give to the Lord” and our “giving” helps others. We can bring food so that others who have nothing can be helped. This is what we agreed to do when we were baptised, so a great lesson for us to use to think about what we give in God’s service. Amos 2 continues with the punishment that God gives to all nations who oppose him, in this chapter this includes Judah and Israel. This chapter is a reminder that God sees everything, he sees our actions as well as seeing nations’ actions and all will suffer the consequences of their failure to follow God’s ways. God will always ensure that justice is done and those who do right will be blessed and those who do wrong will be cursed, these  blessings and cursings will happen when Jesus comes back, so now is the time for us to be serious in how we follow God’s ways. God is clear how he will deal with those who do not follow him, verse 4 – because his people replaced him, he will pass judgement on them, verse 5. The abuse of others and many ungodly actions are condemned in verse 6-7 and God is clear that because of his help in the past, eg verse 10-11, we should respect and follow him and not to continue to abuse others, eg verse 12, and if we fail to remember to follow God he will “crush” us, verse 13. God gives us every opportunity to follow him, he gives us reminders and examples of how we can demonstrate our love for him because he has loved us. 1Timothy 4 sadly reminds us that people will abandon their faith and start to believe in lies, verse 1-2, we should not get confused by the word “demon”, it is simply meaning a false teaching.  By “hypocritical liars”, the context suggests that these were ungodly Jews. The point that Paul is making here to Timothy is that we should be constantly reading our bibles to ensure that we learn what God wants, he says that we should “devote” ourselves to reading, teaching and preaching, verse 13. Our respect of God’s word should be obvious in the way that we dedicate ourselves to it and to comply with the agreement that we made when we were baptised, verse 15-16. God knows that we always fail, this is why he gives us reminders and examples of how others failed and learnt. 1Timothy chapter 5 tells us how to treat our spiritual family and to show respect to each other, eg widows. There are clear messages about how we should treat the different situations that widows find themselves in, we need to treat them as individuals and the widows also have to be responsible in what they should expect. Later in the chapter we have lessons about elders and how they should not show favouritism, verse 21. All these lessons are what we agreed to when we were baptised and we should be trying our best to follow what God wants. We all have responsibilities to each other and we have to try to take the opportunities that God has given us to do what God wants, verse 17-20. November

November 23rd

Nehemiah 11 is an example of how God’s people willingly accepted the different roles that were assigned to them. All appear to accept their part and this is a good lesson for us as we work as a willing team in our ecclesia and the wider Christadelphian community. Every role has equal importance, but roles are assigned in accordance with God’s requirements. In this example in Nehemiah we have the priests, verse 10, and Levites, verse 15, who had the greatest responsibility of leading because of their allegiance to God when Moses lead all the people from Egypt. But like us today, those with particular talents represented the people in different ways. For example the Levites in verse 17 led the thanksgiving and prayer; there were gatekeepers, verse 19; there were singers, verse 22; organisers verse 24 and craftsmen, verse 35. Each had a specific role and all worked for the good of the whole community. There was respect for each other’s land as all took their ancestral land, verse 3 and 20, no one tried to take advantage of others who had not yet returned to Israel. All this is a lesson for us in how we accept the different roles in our ecclesias as we serve God and each other. There was a need for people to live in Jerusalem to keep and protect the city and there was no shortage of volunteers because it was a good place to be at the centre of worship as there were blessings, Psalm 87 verse 1-6. However, to reduce the numbers and to ensure that necessary work was able to carry on elsewhere, lots were cast ,verse 1, this allowed for God to be in the decision process, today we pray for guidance. Notice that all the people supported the decision showing a unity and commitment to each other. This is a great lesson for us to learn from, as we accept our roles on the ecclesia and willingly support each other. Amos 3 is a reminder of what goes wrong when God’s people do not work together as one to follow God. Despite God bringing them out of Egypt, verse 1, and God choosing them as his special people, verse 2 they sinned against God. The questions that God asks from verse 2-6 all invite us to answer with an obvious “no”, and God makes the equally obvious statement that he has always revealed his plans to his people, verse 7, he has never been secretive about his plans, he has always told us his requirements, therefore there should be no surprise when God responds with punishment for his people when they disobey and therefore, verse 11, an enemy would come and sadly just as a sheep cannot be saved from a lion’s mouth, verse 12, his people could not be saved from the enemy. God will destroy those things that take us away from him, verse 13-15. 1Timothy 6 has similar warnings for us, respect is shown by all to all, no matter if slave or master, verse 1-2. We are warned about the dangers of loving money and replacing God with it by trusting in money more than God , verse 6-10. The love of money creates all kinds of evil and will bring nothing but grief to our lives. We are told to be content and to focus on eternal life, verse 11-16. Only by willingly serving God and Jesus can we gain life, anything else just prevents us from gaining eternal life. It is sad that some teach that wealth in this life is a reward from God and today there are many church groups and individuals who think that being a Christian can bring financial gain, they are wrong , verse 3-5. Paul exhorts us to build our faith on a firm foundation so that we can be in the kingdom, verse 17-21. We all have to help each other as we walk towards the kingdom, we willingly serve each other as we do and only by working together in love will we stay firm in our faith. November

November 24th

NEHEMIAH 12:          “It is good to give thanks to the Lord”.  Although in this chapter there are a lot of names, within the chapter we see an  organized “church” having beautiful fellowship. The Levites led the thanksgiving psalms (v8), to praise and give thanks(v24). In verse 27 there was a “dedication of the wall of Jerusalem”.  This seems strange to me, a dedication of a wall!! But for me, the following words bring understanding. The Levites gathered “to celebrate the DEDICATION with gladness, both with thanksgivings and singing and musical instruments”. So the people were gathering together to give thanks for the dedication – of God, of the leaders, of the priests, and of the people, and that dedication of all, working as one, had been to build the wall. How appropriate then, that priests and people should gather together and give thanks and praise to the Lord God, knowing full well His support and encouragement throughout.  v31-39:   How appropriate that the worshippers should walk on that wall – one party went anti-clockwise and the other clockwise, but both were heading towards the temple. By walking on the finished wall towards the temple each person was reminded and inspired by the great work that had been done by God and His people. Everyone there that day would have the same spirit and were one with the Lord.  v42 “the singers sang loudly”.  They weren’t singing loudly so that they may be heard, they were truly giving everything within them to God. Their psalms, and songs, each sound, each voice was directed TOWARDS God… shared with God.  The words of the psalms etc were powerful because the singers knew them to be a true reflection of their hearts, they were one with the words and one with God. When we worship like this, it has power.  When we merely sing with no dedication and direction, it’s just a nice song!!  v43 “They offered great sacrifices, and rejoiced, for God made them rejoice with great joy; the women and children also rejoiced.”  v47 “In the days of Zerubbabel and Nehemiah all Israel gave the portions for the Levites etc”  We too, as a Christian church regularly come together to give thanks and praise to God, for His love, His dedication (faithfulness) and His protection. As we walk to our “meeting place” we remind ourselves of why we are collectively coming together to worship, to give thanks to God. We remember not just the dedication of God, but also the amazing dedication of His son, and as we dedicate ourselves to them, we find joy in a wonderful fellowship.  “truly our fellowship is with the Father and with His son Jesus Christ. And these things we write to you that your joy may be full.” 1 John 1:3-4  “be filled with the spirit. Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music IN YOUR HEART TO THE LORD, always giving thanks to God the Father for EVERYTHING, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ” Eph 5:19-21. AMOS 4:  Worship in spirit and truth (John4:23).  v1 Bashan, the region east and north-east of the sea of Galilee, was (and is) a prime grassland area renowned for its cattle. In the verse the cows of Bashan seem to be symbolic of the rich women (and men!) who indulged in indulgence. Although they had more than enough, they oppressed the poor and crushed the needy to get even more riches! The Lord God warns them, because of their lifestyles of pleasing themselves and not God, they would be taken into captivity (v2-3). Interestingly, “you will be taken away with hooks” because the Assyrians prisoners of war were led away with a rope fastened to a hook which pierced the nose or lower lip.  v4-5 These verses are directed against THEIR worship. God wishes mankind to worship in spirit and truth, and these verses show that this was not happening. They had corrupted the ways of the Lord, preferring to worship in their own ways. They went to Bethel and Gilgal, popular places of worship in Amos’ day. But in God’s eyes, they went to sin. They boasted(v5) about their works, clearly deceiving themselves and others that they were so righteous.  Boast 1: they brought sacrifices every morning…should have been morning and evening Numbers 28:4. Boast 2: they brought tithes every 3 years. God’s will was that tithes were brought so that “the Levites, the stranger, the fatherless and the widow may eat and be satisfied” They brought their tithes as a “ritual”, but didn’t live out God’s principles in the rest of their lives.  Boast 3: they burned leavened bread as a thank-offering. Leavened bread could accompany a thank-offering, but if the bread was to be burnt it had to be unleavened (Lev 7:13-14).  Boast 4: they boasted about their freewill offerings – this was totally the wrong spirit (to boast!) the offering was meant to be done in the spirit of gratitude and humility, not in self-praise!!  v6-11: here we have 5 calamities that God has already sent upon the Israelites in an effort to drive them to repentance. Each section ends with a tragic outcome “yet you have not returned to me”. And so the final outcome.  ”Prepare to meet your God, O Israel”.  We have been rescued, “plucked from the fire” like Lot and his family out of Sodom and Gomorrah, but let’s remember the warning from Jesus – remember Lot’s wife who looked back, desiring her previous life in preference to a new life with the Lord! 2 TIMOTHY 1: Faith or Fear.  Paul writes to Timothy as a father would to his beloved son, such was the spirit of their relationship. No doubt Timothy was concerned about Paul’s situation, in a prison in Rome awaiting a possible execution. Paul writes to Timothy to keep his faith active, to remember what God has done for him, to remember what Christ had done for him, to remember the faith shown by his mother and grandmother etc. But Paul doesn’t just seek to restore Timothy, he is also at the same time, revealing his own spirit to a fearful Timothy. We see from the words of Paul that faith and spirit wise he was managing his situation.  He reminded Timothy of his calling, according to God’s will and the promise of life in Christ Jesus.  He thanked God, who he served with a pure conscience (his conscience was troubled until Jesus turned him round).  He prayed night and day. (This shows his faith was strong. When we get weak, we pray less often, bizarrely).  Paul’s concern was Timothy’s faith which he knew was genuine. But it needed to be stirred up and put into action.  “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind”.   Paul fully believed. Even though he was suffering it didn’t trouble his faith, because faith is about what is ALWAYS TRUE whether in good times or bad times. Good or Bad times never change what is true. Is there a God? YES, whatever.  Is the Bible the word of God ? YES, whatever.  Is Jesus my saviour? YES,.whatever. etc. So when we struggle let’s remind of those things that are true that can’t be taken from us, and then pray for some help in present times.  “who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, according to His purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” “who has abolished death and brought life and immortality through the gospel.”  “For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I committed to Him until that day.” Paul committed his life to the Lord and left his life in his safe hands. Knowing he could die at any time (but it didn’t really matter when) but on that Day (Jesus’ return) he would be granted immortality. Therefore, Paul (speaking on the Lord’s behalf) tells Timothy and us to “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus.  Although many had turned away from Paul and the true gospel,  Onesiphorus had not. He was a good example to follow and Paul was often refreshed by him – what was the refreshment provided ?… no doubt Onesiphorus’ faith and love and his perseverance, and his wonderful spirit as a willing servant of Christ Jesus, no matter what. November

November 25th

Nehemiah 13 starts by reminding us how important reading the bible is and checking what God expects from us, verse 1; here we see that the consequences of NOT reading meant that Eliashib, a Moabite, was actually working as some kind of priest in the temple, verse 4, and he had allowed the “enemy” Tobiah to have a room in the temple, verse 7. This was not supposed to have happened and when Nehemiah became aware he was not pleased, verse 4. Not reading meant that God’s requirements were not checked and the people deviated from them, and it would appear that as a further consequence the Levites had not carried out their tasks, verse 10-11.  Whether this was a consequence of the presence of Eliashib or not we cannot be sure, but we can be sure that the requirements of God were neglected. It then took trustworthy men to take over the responsibility, verse 13, thus ensuring that the proper supplies were assigned to their brothers. The problem in not always checking with God means is that multiple things start to go wrong and people start doing what they want, for example, some were breaking the Sabbath, verse15-18, this was unacceptable and the people were not remembering the lessons about the Sabbath and thinking of God’s rest, ie the kingdom. Being a strong and Godly leader, Nehemiah took action to ensure that the Sabbath was not broken in future, verse 19-22. In addition Nehemiah also discovered that men were marrying women from other nations, verse 23, therefore their children did not know which language to speak, verse 24, but the more important lesson here is that they did not know what the right worship was. This is the problem with all of these “problems” that Nehemiah identified – God’s requirements were being compromised and the people were replacing God as the one true (and only) God. Nehemiah correctly challenged the people and explained how God was displeased with such actions, verse 25-27, some of his actions were extreme (verse 25) and “beatings” are certainly  not the actions that any of us should follow now, but his response demonstrates just how wrong it is for God’s people to replace and rebel against God. The “removal” of hair is interesting, because hair removal can be a sign of a covenant (contract) that is broken so maybe our equivalent is when we remove fellowship from those who rebel against God until they repent. So Nehemiah attempted to correct all of these things and also “purified” the priests, verse 30-31, demonstrating that he took the worship of God seriously and understood what it meant to be in the family of God. Whether this chapter is a summary of Nehemiah’s work as leader of God’s people, or new events as time moved on, it contains massive lessons for us and reminds us again of the lessons in the “vow” or contract that everyone makes when they accept a part in God’s family (chapter 10). Throughout chapter 13 Nehemiah asks God to “remember” him, verse 14, 22, 29 and 31, this is not Nehemiah being proud of what he has achieved in his life, it is a prayer for God to remember him when he sets up his kingdom in the future, our prayer should be for this too, but we should also be asking ourselves what will God remember of the actions in our lives, will they be godly or will they be ungodly! The same message of trying to learn about the things of God and to read the bible or have the bible read to us is in Amos 5 verse 1, we always have to try to follow what God wants. When we do not follow God’s ways no one should be surprised when God removes his blessings from us, verse 2-3.  Because of God’s love for us we should try to obey him in everything that we do. However, God is always willing to be merciful when we repent, verse 4 and 6, so whilst we have the opportunity to do this we should consider how we live and ask ourselves if we are godly in everything and if we are not, we need to repent and seek God properly. When we think about our ungodly ways we need to think if we are “righteous” verse  7 because this was the big problem here with the children of God, they looked religious in their worship but they were not acting properly, they were not giving justice to those who needed it, eg verse 10 and 11, they were not being godly to those who were oppressed and suffering. God was asking them to examine themselves, verse 12 and to change, verse 14-15, we need to keep looking at our actions to see if we are not providing justice properly, we have to care for all those in our ecclesia to ensure that all have “justice”. It is an important challenge that God gives to us because our worship is not complete if we are not caring for all of God’s people in practical and loving ways because if we are not verse 21-27 apply. It is something for us to seriously consider. 2Timothy 2 contains the same message too with respect to learning about God and Jesus and the responsibility to teach others, verse 1-2. The examples of the soldier, athlete and farmer are all examples of how we should work at following and respecting God’s teaching, each had a reward. The important thing to always remember is that in Jesus (verse 8-10) we will all have the reward in the kingdom if we remain true to God and to Jesus, verse 11-13. So as brothers and sisters we need to keep reminding each other of these things, verse 14, we should be looking at all of God’s teachings and see if we are following them. We should not be “quarrelling” about words, we should be doing our best to follow what God wants, verse 15-16, it is “doing our best” that is important here, we should not be tempted to change what God wants because we “dislike” his requirements or find them hard to follow. The same message is here as in Nehemiah with respect to the damage caused by those who influence in wrong ways, verse 17-18, Paul describes it as “gangrene” – a strong picture, but it kills if it is not cut out, so we have to be aware of those who teach false doctrine. God always remains the same, verse 19, we should always build on his solid foundation, when we do, we will not fail because God is always right, if we build on human thinking we will fail. Paul’s concluding comments in this chapter, ie verse 20-26 instruct us to “build” our house, ie our fellowship, properly and on godly principles and to avoid those “stupid arguments” and cause disunity and unrest. 1Corinthians 3 also shows us that divisions in the church are wrong. So we always have to do our best to follow what God wants, we cannot replace God’s ways with human thinking, if we want to be part of God’s future we really must try to keep to what he wants us to do. November

November 26th

The king of Esther held a major event early in his reign.  It may be that this was his first chance to bring his administrative team together to learn about how his kingdom works.  This took 6 months.  At the end, he held a feast for 7 days.  On the last day of this feast, he wanted to display his greatest treasure – his queen.  On the last day, the king was ‘happy’.  The translations give the impression that the king had had too much wine, but the Hebrew word does not really convey that.  The word is derived from the word ‘good’ and it means that the king was good, pleased, kind and happy.  He was not drunk.  He had come to the greatest thing in his kingdom which he was pleased to display. But the queen did not come.  This was not just a snub of the king, but to all those present and the kingdom.  It was a huge issue.   It would set a precedent of behaviour for all women.  As verse 18 says, she was encouraging disrespect for husbands everywhere.  There would be disruption in every household.  The king had to act.  Respect for husbands was an important principle.  The requirement for women to respect their husbands is an important Bible principle in marriage.   We read this in Ephesians 5:22, Colossians 3:18 and 1 Peter 3:1.  And the husbands must love their wives as their own bodies. Unlike Esther, Amos 6 does describe the misuse of wine.  Israel was drinking and lounging in pleasure, using riches gained by its abuse of justice.  It was proud of its own ways, thinking it was godly.  But God said He would judge them for their pride and their ways.  It is a lesson for us not to become complacent like them and think we are ok.  We need to examine ourselves to check that we are doing what is right. 2 Timothy 3 tells us that the complacency of Amos 6 will occur in the last days.  People will have some features of being godly but really they are worldly.  People will always be learning but not learning about the right things.  This is like today.   Godliness is hard to find.  Like Timothy, we must follow the good example of the apostle Paul and Jesus.  It is by reading the Bible regularly, and closely following its message, that we can make sure that we are really right with God.  The Bible can teach us, rebuke us, correct us, and train us, so that we are right with God.  Let it do this for us.  The more we can do this, the less likely we are to fall into the trap of the Israelites of Amos’s day.  We finish with the advice for us to be careful – the world today is a place of pleasure and selfishness, and we must not be like this. November

November 27th

In Esther 2, we learn about Esther.  Unlike Vashti, she is obedient.  She obeys her adopted father and the head of the house of women.  She obtains favour with those who see her.  She is very beautiful, but she is not just a beauty queen.  She had a good personality that brought her favour.  So she becomes queen.  The king saw qualities of humble service that he did not see in Vashti.  This is the behaviour that we too need to have.  As Ephesians 6:7 says,” Serve wholeheartedly, as if you were serving the Lord, not men.” Amos 7 shows us that God listens to His people.  Twice God was on the point of bringing disaster on Israel, and twice He stops because of Amos’s appeal.  However, God finally drew the line on how long He was willing to put up with Israel’s sin.  We see this in His removal of the priest of Bethel.  God will also do this for the world we live in.  He will draw the line at man’s wickedness and say “enough”.  When that time comes, we need to make sure that we are on the God’s side.  We need to be like Amos – humbly serving God and avoiding the ways of the world. The letter to Titus, along with the letters to Timothy, give us practical information on how to run ecclesias.  God wants ecclesias to stand in faith and in the knowledge of the truth and use this knowledge to be godly (1:1).  Key to this in ecclesias is the role of elders.  They are to take the lead, and they need to have the right qualities to do this.  There are many rebels and false teachers and divisive people.  The ecclesia needs protection from them.  But everyone has a role (chapter 2) – old men, old women, young men and young women.  Everyone needs to behave in a godly way; humbly serving God and not themselves.  This includes submitting to the authorities. The key message from all passages is the need for a humble and an obedient service to God.  Hebrews 12:28 tells us, “Since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us be thankful, and so worship God acceptably with reverence and fear”.  Just as Esther served obediently before she received the kingdom, let us also use our time to do the same. November

November 28th

Esther 3 and 4 describe the rise of the enemy of the Jews – Haman.  He took a personal dislike to Mordecai.  But his anger was not just against Mordecai.  His anger was against Jews in general.  We are told the reasons for this.  They remained separate from other people and have different laws.  What seems to have been happening was that they were following the laws of God whenever they were different from the laws of the land.  This is why Haman did not like them. When God’s people are faithful to the commands and trust in God, then God hears their prayers.  God does save them.  This is what happens when God’s people trust in God, keep His commands and do not mix with the world.  It is a lesson for us to keep our separation, and trust in God.  He always listens to His faithful people and will ultimately save them.  He will save us. Amos 8 continues the theme from the chapter 7.  Israel was God’s people, but in Amos’s day they were not faithful.  They made money illegally in everyway and abused the poor, selling them for only a pair of sandals.  They were unholy people in God’s holy land.  Amos spoke of a time of trouble which would lead to the exile. Philemon is a book about a practicing Christian.  We are told Philemon was good at loving the brothers and sisters.  In fact, his name means ‘friendly’.  He refreshed many people, and even the ecclesia was held in his house.  We can ask ourselves whether have such a good reputation among other brothers and sisters.  Paul was confident that Philemon would follow his request, because of his positive reputation. Philemon also tells us how to love someone.  Paul was in prison when he was visited by Onesimus.  Onesimus must have sought Paul out, possibly because of hearing about him in the ecclesia in Philemon’s house.  At the prison, Paul and Onesimus became very close.  By the end, Paul loves Onesimus.  He goes even further.  He loves Onesimus as himself.  What an example of love this is!  Onesimus was a runaway slave, that Romans would have despised and killed.  But Paul talks to him and he became a brother in Christ.  Paul advises others to see him as a brother in Christ as well.  In our relationship with our brothers and sisters, let us make sure that we love all the brothers and sisters deeply from the heart, even the ‘lowest’ brother or sister.  November

November 29th

Esther 5 and 6 describe the self-sacrifice of Esther and the rise of Mordecai.  Esther shows the self-sacrifice qualities of Jesus.  Like Jesus, she saves her people after a period of 3 days.  Like Jesus, her life has led up to this point.  Like Jesus, God worked through Esther to bring salvation. Esther does not work alone, but with the support of Mordecai.  Like Esther, Mordecai is not against the king and even saved his life.  This is unlike what Haman thought, when he claimed the Jews were against the kingdom.  God’s people must be good citizens where it does not conflict with God’s laws. God, who is just, ensures that such righteous people are helped.  Mordecai is finally honoured for saving the king and God ensured that it is Haman himself who had to honour Mordecai.  God steps into man’s affairs to ensure His justice is done.  God will bless those who bless the Jews and curse those who curse the Jews.  Haman had taken on God and had met his match.  God is also greater than any enemy we can have. Amos 9 tells us that no one can hide from God.  There is no place in any mountain, sea or land which can hide.  No one can fight God or deliberately break God’s laws and get away with it.  Israel has become God’s enemy, but a different enemy from Haman.  Unlike enemies from other nations, God will spare a small part of His people.  Even if they are downtrodden, there will be a revival.  The words of verses 11-12 are quoted in Acts 15:16-18 to show that this revival includes believers from among the Gentiles.  And even if they are downtrodden, God has planned better things for them.  The chapter and book end with a picture of the kingdom with the replanting of his people in this kingdom.  But this kingdom cannot be brought about by a people who continually fail.  This brings us to the next reading. Hebrews explains the greatness of Jesus to the Hebrews, which we know as the Jews.  In particular, the book uses the Law of Moses to show how Jesus was greater than the elements of the Law.  Jesus was the exact representation of godliness, and it was glorious.  Chapter one compares Jesus with angels and shows that Jesus is much greater.  It is as if some Hebrews were trying to worship angels and the writer shows that this is mistaken.  Even angels worship Jesus. Chapter 2 builds on chapter 1.  God showed Jesus with greater by allowing him so many miraculous abilities.  Also Jesus is the one God has planned to rule the earth, not the angels.  Jesus is the one who will save many people, not the angels.  In doing this, he had to be like the people, not like the angels.  Jesus was made of the same flesh as we are and suffered as we do.  This is like a High Priest who understood the people he represented.  In the case of Jesus, it was far more so.  He understands our suffering and temptation.  We can be sure that we are understood and well represented to God.   November

November 30th

In Hebrews 5:11-14 we are told to move onto solid food when we are mature. If we are not mature we are on milk, as babies are, like babies we do not remain on milk we have to move on to the meat! To do that we read to understand God’s teachings. Esther tells us about a bad man called Haman who was intent on destroying the Jews, God’s people, and like all people who try to destroy the Jews, Haman was killed. Haman is described as “vile” 7 verse 6. We see the end result of God working to bring about the resolution to the problem and to bring justice, 8 verse 17. At first it seems a strange plan in the way that the king undertook the change of plan after having initially given his seal in sending out the message to kill the Jews and now this message to change it and give a new command to allow the Jews to protect themselves. But the end result was that people “feared” the Jews and became converts, so in this strange, but God directed, change of events people we effectively saved by become part of God’s family. Obadiah teaches the importance of brotherly love – Jacob and Esau were brothers and therefore there should have been love, however there was no love and even when there was a reconciliation there was more of a tolerance rather than a love. Esau then did not love, just like Cain, and Esau’s descendants that we read about here in Obadiah showed no love, verse 12-14. So the message is that we should love our brothers and sisters in Christ. The people of Esau were to be punished and destroyed because they did not love. Obadiah ends with the kingdom. The kingdom of God is coming and God will deliver – he delivers because of Jesus and in Hebrews 3 verse 1 we have the purpose of the breaking of bread which is to fix our eyes on Jesus. The beginning of Hebrews shows us how great Jesus is and we come to his “house”, 3 verse 6, but is conditional because we remain there “if” we hold to the confidence. We then have a warning for us to remember how we have been saved just as the people of Israel were brought out of Egypt. But they stopped believing in God and died. We have to be careful to we do not stop believing. In Hebrews 4 shows our priority for us to enter into this rest. We remember Jesus’ death and resurrection and the breaking of bread and this keeps us strong in the faith and we should keep going to reach the kingdom. This is a great hope in Jesus and we should always fix our eyes on him, which also means that we fix our eyes on God too. November

December 1st

ESTHER 9: “But they did not lay a hand on the plunder”.  It was a strange year (approx. 470BC) within the Persian empire. The people had received instructions of what would happen on the 13th day of the 12th month…the first message said that the king would support the destruction of the Jews throughout his kingdom on that day, as proposed by Haman the Agagite. Not long after, a second message was sent indicating that the king had changed his mind and would now help to protect the Jews and support them in the destruction of their enemies on that day,as proposed by Mordecai (a Jew) and Queen Esther (a Jew).  If you were a Jew, you would be incredibly grateful for the turn of events and your rescue. Had they prayed and fasted, like Esther and Mordecai?  What is apparent within this chapter is the phrase that is said 3 times, “but they did not lay a hand on the plunder” (verses 10,15,16). Did the letter from Mordecai have these instructions? In the book of Esther, as a believer, we know that God’s hand is at work. We see the response to prayer and fasting, the rewards of waiting and faith, the humble lifted high etc. I am confident Mordecai would have reminded the Jews in the letter of their history. A part of which would have been concerning the enemies of the Jews. Haman was a Agagite, and an Amalekite, a long time enemy.  In Moses’ time, when the Israelites were in the wilderness they were attacked by the Amalekites. Because of their hatred for the Jews the Lord said to Moses “write this scroll as something to be remembered… I will completely destroy the memory of Amalek” Exodus 17:14 and “The Lord will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation” Exodus 17:16. Many years later King Saul, a Benjamite, in 1 Sam 15 is told by God to totally destroy the Amalekites and their belongings (flocks etc). Saul was not faithful to God’s word and CHOSE what he destroyed and what he saved – he and his men saved the best for PLUNDER. 1 Sam 15:19 “why did you take the plunder and do evil in the eyes of the Lord?”  Nearly 600 years later, Haman (an Amalekite) hated the Jews and wanted to destroy all of them- but now the Jews had an opportunity to avenge themselves of their enemies. Mordecai, also a Benjamite (Esther 2:5), would have been very familiar with Saul’s successes and failures, and so he would destroy the enemies of the Jews, but he would not take any plunder.  REMEMBER: Letters were sent to the Jews so that they should celebrate each year. “As the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy.” (Verse 22) and “These days should be remembered” in every generation, everywhere. So, why did they remember and celebrate? Had their “luck” changed? Or did they celebrate because of some clever Jews; Mordecai and Esther? Or was it national pride? For the believer, then and now, surely by remembering the events we can see God’s hand at work. His rescue, His faithfulness, His justice etc, and the true believer, when conscious of the Lord’s mercy, humbly gives thanks and praise TO THE LORD with great joy. Jonah 1:    We are all “work in progress” We get some things right and some things wrong… and so did Jonah.  v 1: “the word of the Lord came to Jonah, son of Amittai. We see the same character in 2 Kings 14:25 “according to the word of the Lord God of Israel, which He had spoken through His SERVANT Jonah.” So Jonah had done previous work for the Lord, preaching to Israel.  v2: The Lord tells Jonah to go to Nineveh and tell them how wicked they were, and that God would act accordingly. Imagine you are Jonah, it’s more than 500 miles to Nineveh. The people of Nineveh were proud, greedy, brutal etc and what’s more they were dangerous enemies of Israel.  Jonah was not willing to preach to Nineveh. Part of that “unwillingness” is recorded in Jonah 4:2, “for I know that you are a gracious and compassionate God.” Jonah wanted the Ninevites to die in their sins, he didn’t want them to be forgiven. Are we at times like Jonah? Remember Jesus tells us to pray for his enemies (and He did!).  So Jonah separates himself “from the presence of the Lord”. He was already separate in spirit (because God wanted to forgive), and now he sought to separate himself further. As far away as possible. Did Jonah really believe he could escape from the Lord? “Where can I go from your spirit? Or where can I flee from your presence?” (Nowhere!) Psalm 139:7  in the same psalm verse 24 “see if there is any offensive way in me and lead me in the way everlasting”. If we struggle to do God’s will, pray for help, ask for a new heart, a new mind etc. so that you might be led in the way and not go astray.  The Lord sent a great storm. The crew cried out to their gods, they cast lots seeking the cause of the storm and discovered Jonah was to blame – they asked him what they should do. V12: “Pick me up and throw me into the sea…” Jonah accepted the situation and was willing to lose his life for the sake of the crew.  v13: the men of the ship showed their “good” qualities. They tried to rescue Jonah and themselves by rowing towards shore, but the storm got worse. They cried out to the Lord, and prayed, then unwillingly they threw Jonah into the sea, knowing this was God’s will (they did God’s will even though they didn’t want to!). The sea calmed down, and the men feared the Lord exceedingly, offered a sacrifice, and took vows. Would Nineveh do the same? As for Jonah, the Lord had prepared a great fish to swallow Jonah, not that he might die, but that he might live, conscious of the “presence of the Lord”. Hebrews 6+7: Melchizedek.  When we read our Bibles, we don’t always see the importance of the words. An example is when we read Genesis 14:18-20.  “Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High.  And he blessed him and said “Blessed be Abram of God Most High, Possessor of heaven and earth; And blessed be God Most High, who has delivered your enemies into your hand.” And he gave him a tithe of all. I am sure Moses who wrote these words, didn’t see their significance either. But the words were chosen words, chosen by God.  Abraham – a man greatly influenced by God, given great promises and the prospect of eternal life, but he recognised that this man Melchizedek was GREATER than himself – this Melchizedek had been given greater authority than Abraham, and Abraham recognised that (Melchizedek blessed Abraham and Abraham gave tithes to Melchizedek, meaning Abraham recognised Melchizedek as the chosen priest of God).  Although Melchizedek was in such an elevated position, he is never spoken of until 1000 years later.  For me …these 3 verses in Gen 14 are a tiny seed deliberately planted by God to reveal itself at a later time, at the right time, to reveal the full purpose of that seed.  Psalm 110:4. The Lord has sworn and will not relent, “You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.”  This is the only other mention of Melchizedek in the Old Testament. – there are 23000 verses in OT.  Regarding Melchizedek, there are 3 verses in Gen 14, and 1000 years later these words (one verse) in Psalm 110.  Psalm 110 is the psalm most often quoted in the N.T. and no wonder. We can see in this Psalm: v 1 that messiah is GREATER than David (his lord) and in v4 he was to be a priest for ever according to the priesthood of Melchizedek, and not Levi – an eternal High priest to replace the Levitical priesthood.  So in effect God was saying that both the priesthood and the laws connected with that priesthood – and in a future time these would be changed to a priesthood and accompanying rules according to God’s will.  That will was revealed in his son, especially and uniquely in JESUS. The writer to the Hebrews (probably Paul) could see that these 4 verses in the O.T. were planted by God to have impact when God’s son, David’s Lord, and mankind’s high priest and future king was resurrected and given eternal life. God’s plan was there from the beginning and Paul could see it and he wrote Hebrews to share the wonder of it all. The resurrected Jesus was given eternal life and therefore we understand the words in Psalm 110 “you are a priest FOREVER according to the order of Melchizedek”. (King of righteousness) Read Hebrews 7 for yourself and see the undeniable truth concerning Jesus. December

December 2nd

Although Job 1 and 2 uses the word “satan” to depict a conversation between God and someone else it is completely clear that God is in control of the “satan”, chapter 1 verse 8 shows us that God suggested Job to consider some kind of test. “Satan” also acknowledged that it was God who had the power to “test” Job, verse 11, and then God gave permission to “satan” to do something, verse 12. The same thing happened in chapter 2 for the second “test”, God asked the question, verse 2, God suggested Job again, verse 3 and God gave permission verse 6. It is absolutely clear here that “satan” is NOT a supernatural being that goes about making people do evil. The word “satan” is just a word that the bible translators have not properly translated it simply means “adversary”. So what was happening here is that the “angels”, which means “messenger”, are people who should be godly, but are criticising Job and saying that he is only a godly man because he has a big family, has wealth and has health. This is confirmed for us later in the book of Job, but we also see this in Job’s wife’s response to his illness in chapter 2 verse 9. Job’s response to the loss of his children and to his illness shows us how a godly man should try to respond to any suffering situation, chapter 1 verse 20-21 and in chapter 2 verse 10. Job shows us his correct attitude in dealing with the massive disappointments in his life, chapter 1 verse 22 and again chapter 2 verse 10, ie he did not sin in blaming God for his suffering. So in these chapters I think we have a scene being played out so that we learn lessons to help us to understand suffering and perseverance. We should not be confused by the use of the word “satan” because it is just a word meaning adversary! In Job 2 verse 11-13 we see Job’s friends assembling with the purpose of sympathising with Job and supporting him, notice that for 7 days and 7 nights no one said a word. It is always good practice to think about what you are going to say in challenging situations, it is always wise to listen and not to quickly blunder in with suggestions. This appears to be a positive in Jonah too. Jonah was inside the fish and he had time to think about what he had done and he prayed, chapter 2, in his prayer he acknowledged that only God could save him.  As he thought that his life was ebbing away he “remembered” God and vowed that he would remain faithful. In this case God commanded the fish to vomit Job onto dry land, verse 2. Then God gives Jonah a second chance to go and preach to the people of Nineveh. God does “test” us in our lives to see how we respond to different situations, because only in dealing with difficult situations can we really demonstrate our faith. Hebrews 8 and 9 shows us very clearly that in Jesus we have a new life in Christ, the law could not save, but Jesus does and we can confidently come to God because of our commitment to him by our baptism and Jesus is now our mediator, chapter 9 verse 15. The end result of this commitment is an “eternal inheritance” in the kingdom when Jesus comes back, this is why we live through our difficulties now because a future in the kingdom is our only hope. Both Job and Jonah, despite their mistakes, only had hope in God and although they did not understand what was happening to them, they still trusted in God. Often we wonder why certain things happen to us in our life now and often we do not understand, but God’s purpose is not to give us everything now, his purpose is to do away with sin and to give us the kingdom, chapter 9 verse 26-28. Our sufferings now are part of our sinful human nature, our life now is a period of training to see if we really do rely on God and Jesus for everything. December

December 3rd

After the 7 day silence in chapter 2, Job breaks the silence in chapter 3 by stating that because of his experiences it would have been better if he had not been born in the first place. All the way through this chapter he is saying this in graphic ways, this shows us just how much he was badly affected by his experiences, ie the loss of his family and his health, he just could not see the point of his own existence. He is not saying that he now wants to die, he is saying if only he was not born then he would not suffer these things. He is asking many questions and repeats “Why, why, why?” This is the same as us when we suffer, we ask “why?”, and perhaps we feel like Job. A hint to his character is in verse 25, he was worried about such a situation, he “feared” and “dreaded” this situation, maybe he felt guilty of what he had, he certainly over protected his family by always asking for forgiveness for them, Job 1 verse 5, but by the end of Job he had learnt those all important lessons from God to trust and to not ask why because God always does the right things. Eliphaz in chapter 4 really does not help Job at all, he clearly thinks that Job must have sinned in some way for this suffering to be brought upon him. He certainly appears to have feared Job’s response to what anyone was going to say, verse 1, was Job “impatient” at this time? Was he quick to defend himself? Eliphaz starts by commending Job and acknowledging that he was a helpful person, verse 3-4, many had benefited from Job’s assistance in the past, so it is clear that Job was a good, godly man, and contrary to his friend’s wrong belief, Job did not suffer because of anything that he had done wrong. Eliphaz starts to insult Job, verse 5-6, the words that he uses suggests that he may have been one of Job’s “adversaries”, ie a “satan”, he was not complementary of Job’s “blameless ways”. Eliphaz continues with his wrong belief that Job must have sinned to now be suffering in this way. There are obviously consequences of mistakes in our lives as Jonah experienced as God tried to turn him around from running away, but Jonah still takes time to understand fully in chapter 4. Jonah could not understand why God wanted to save the people of Nineveh, he knew that God was “gracious and compassionate” and would save Nineveh, but because he could not understand this, he tried to go in the opposite direction, verse 1-3, and he just could not cope with the success of his preaching and the repentance of the people in chapter 3 and he wanted to die. It is very likely that Jonah thought that it was a really bad move to save the Assyrians because they were enemies of Israel, so he felt justified in his actions, but how can he know better than God! So the message to us has to be that God always knows best, no matter how much we cannot understand the reasons behind something, whether this is our own or other’s suffering. The point is that we have no right to be angry or to question God, verse 4, it does not matter if God is testing us or putting us through a trial, it is better for us to simply try and accept. Jonah was still unsure of God’s reasons and still waited to see what would happen to Nineveh, verse 5-8, he doubted God again and rather than leave all things to God he waited around to see what happened, even though he suffered a lot of discomfort, he waited. The message here for us has to be to trust in God, he knows best, we will often not understand reasons for something, but let us leave it up to God – pray to him for help and strength, but then move on, try not to dwell on the issues, but confidently pass our concerns to him and get on with the next part of our service to him. God’s response to Job in verse 9 seems to be saying that Jonah has no right to be angry about the vine withering, because it was God who provided it for Jonah in the first place, so again the message is that we should not be questioning God, we should rather be accepting his decisions for us, Job is the example of not blaming God for his situation. Verse 10-11, God has a reason for everything, he wanted to save these people and it is not for us or Jonah to question what his plans are. In Hebrews 10 we see that the Jewish Christians were suffering too, verse 32-34,during their suffering they sympathised with those in prison and they joyfully accepted the confiscation of their property all because they had knowledge of the future kingdom that would last. They got through their sufferings because of the knowledge of the future promise and Paul (if it was Paul who wrote Hebrews) was reminding them to “remember”. This is the confidence that we have and Paul (?) is saying to not “throw away” this confidence because we will be “richly rewarded” when Jesus comes back, verse 35-39. So we have to work through our pain and suffering, there is a future for us, so the message is for us to reply on God at all times. We will see in the rest of Job that he learnt perseverance and the message in Hebrews is the same, verse 19-31, we have to persevere and to trust God, this is our “test”. We are exhorted to “draw near”, “hold unswervingly to our hope”, think about how we encourage others and not give up meeting together, especially as we see the return of Jesus getting nearer. Jesus is our only saviour, he is the perfect sacrifice who died once for all.  So let us focus on Jesus who has made us holy, verse 10-13. December

December 4th

Eliphaz continues speaking in Job 5 and whereas he is right in saying that God is in control and “blessed is the man whom God corrects”, verse 17-26, he remains judgemental, ie verse 27. When we are attempting to comfort our brothers and sisters who are suffering we must not judge them. Yes, God can correct us with suffering, but suffering comes to every one of us, it is part of our human existence, it is a reminder that we are human and that we will only be free of our suffering when Jesus comes back. Micah 1 is a sad vision because God is providing a “witness against” his people, verse 1. God is showing that because of the people’s sin God is going to bring judgement on Samaria (Israel) and Jerusalem (Judah) because of their ungodliness, verse 3-7.  All of the things that they have replaced God with, eg their idols, will be smashed to pieces. The response of the people should have been like that of Micah in that he mourned and wept, verse 8-16, the judgement should have brought about repentance, and in some respects it did in Judah’s case under king Hezekiah when this vision was sent by God (verse 1).  This is an important message for us too that we should be thinking about our actions when we are constantly reminded about our sinful human nature, because only when we remember this can we fully understand the loving grace of God that gives us life. Indeed we are blessed when God calls us to accept Jesus and gives us the promise of a suffering-free and human nature-free future in the kingdom. Hebrews 11 is a wonderful chapter showing how many bible characters are also waiting in the grave for Jesus to return, none of them received their “rewards” when they died, verse 13and 39, all of them will receive their “reward” with us when Jesus comes back, verse 40. This is a wonderful chapter of faith and when we look at some of the sufferings that some went through we can see Job’s and our sufferings in context, verse 32-38. It is faith that carries us through our sufferings, faith in God and faith that he will do what he says.  Our life now is temporary, we can view it as a training and a demonstration of faith, as it says in verse 1, ie we have not actually seen what God has promised, but because we believe him, we have faith in him and faith is a vital part of our Christian life. It is not what we do that saves us, it is our faith that does, and these examples show us how faithful people demonstrated their faith in the ways that they lived. The letter to the Hebrews was written to Jews who had converted to Christianity but were now thinking of going back to Judaism.  The letter was probably written in about AD 63 to 65, 30 years after the events recorded in the gospels. We need to try to understand what these Jewish believers were thinking. We know from the Gospels and the Acts that a lot of priests were among those who converted to Christianity in the early years.  Read, for example: Acts 6:1 and 7, John 12:42. When a priest was serving under the Law of Moses he received his income from the offerings made by other worshippers. When he left, he would have lost that income.  I wonder if some were thinking that the sacrifice they had made was worthwhile.  They needed to be convinced that the sacrifice made by Jesus made everything worthwhile. Not only that, but the Jews who had not converted were desperate to discredit Christianity.  They wanted to show that Jesus of Nazareth was a fraud – that he wasn’t really the Messiah.  The letter to the Hebrews was written to deal with that challenge. Let’s note how the letter begins: Hebrews 1:1-2. Look at the points that are made there.  First, the writer makes it clear that he believes that all of the Old Testament was the word of God.  He does not seek to discredit it.  In fact, there are 7 (possibly 8) direct quotations from the OT in this first chapter.  Second, he says that God has spoken to us – these first century readers – by His Son.  That means that the words and teachings of Jesus are of great significance. Read now Hebrews 2:1-4. There are two things that we explore in chapter 1. First, Psalm 110 is quoted twice so we ought to look at that Psalm. Read Hebrews 1: 3 and 13. Psalm 110:1-4. We need to notice the reference to sitting at the right hand of the Majesty on High. The second point to note in chapter 1 is the repeated reference to the Son – the Sonship of Jesus. Read Hebrews 1:2, 5 & 8.  Verse 5 is a quotation from Psalm 2:7 and 2 Samuel 7:14. The point about this is that the Jewish leaders at the time Jesus was arrested KNEW that Messiah would have to be the Son of God. Read Matthew 26:63-64; Luke 22:67-70. This point, and the connection with Psalm 110, is crucial to the argument in Hebrews. Read now Hebrews 8:1 – 2. The point is that the Aaronic priesthood could only go into the presence of God on one day each year – the day of atonement.  But Jesus, our High Priest, is always in the presence of God as the mediator of the new covenant. So some of the specific exhortations contained in chapter 10 are here: Hebrews 10: 22 – 24. Hebrews 8 verses 1 and 2 mentioned the Day of Atonement and this can still teach us now. We read about the Day of Atonement in Leviticus 16.  This is a long chapter – we’ll read a few verses only. Verses 29, 30 & 34   tell us that this was a yearly event. What did Aaron (the High Priest) do? Verses 1-3 tell us that he went into the most holy place, having made a sacrifice. And Verses 16 & 17 tell us that he makes atonement. This is the event that is being spoken about in Hebrews. Read Hebrews 8:1-3.  Our High Priest (Jesus) is in the presence of God in heaven – Aaron could only go into the most holy place once a year.  But Jesus had to make a sacrifice in order to enter into the presence of God (verse 3). This is what Hebrews chapter 9 is about. 9v7 – once a year – Aaron offered for himself and the people. 9 v 8 & 9 – the way into the Most Holy Place – the presence of God was not open to all. 9 v 11-12 – But Christ – into a greater tabernacle – by his own blood – obtained eternal redemption.  Important points here about the sacrifice and Jesus’ own need for it! 9 v 24 – into the heaven itself (cf 8 v1-2). Now into chapter 10. 10 v 12-13 relates back to 1 v 3 and 8 v 1. Note especially 10 v 12 – one sacrifice for sins for ever. So the exhortation for us: V22 let us draw near (to God); V23 let us hold fast (whatever the pressures were or might be); V24 let us consider one another. December

December 5th

Job responds in Job 6 and 7, saying that he sees the suffering that he is going through as coming from God, chapter 6 verse 1-7, even though he is suffering, he takes comfort from the fact that God knows what is happening to him and in his suffering he does not curse God or move away from him, verse 10. He then contrasts the confidence that he has in God with the lack of confidence that he has in his friends, verse 14-15, he says that they are unreliable and he compares them to practical things that are expected to help but do not, verse 15-20, ie flooding streams that quickly dry up and trade “caravans” that do not turn up when expected – all disappoint, just like his friends, verse 21-23. Although Job, just like his friends, is incorrectly linking all suffering to sin, he knows that he can only rely on God and in this he never changes. The sad situation is that Job cannot understand why he is suffering because he believes that he is righteous and has always tried to do the right thing, but his friends are saying that he must have sinned otherwise he would not be suffering like this, verse 24-30! Chapter 7 appears to be Job praying to God and he acknowledges that man’s life is hard, verse 1-5, he is acknowledging the hard graft that came about because of sin, Genesis 3:17-19.  This should perhaps help us to understand our sufferings – it is a reminder that we are sinful and that we do need saving, and that the coming kingdom should be a reality that we can always take courage from because it will be a time when our human nature and suffering will be taken away. When we look at our lives and compare them to God’s existence and also to the promised time in the kingdom our lives are short and quick, verse 6-10, as human beings we are temporary and “vanish like a cloud”. At the end of the chapter Job considers sin and the need to be forgiven, he acknowledges that God knows everything as being the “watcher of men”, but he is incorrectly blaming God for just picking on him, verse 17-21. One of the lessons from Job is for us to learn from our sufferings as they are a reminder of our human nature, and that only by looking to God will we have life when Jesus comes back. Micah 2 has a warning for those who “plan” dishonest things, verse 1-2.  We have to be careful what we “plan” – maybe it is how to misuse a CBM hall for personal financial gain, or it could be how we can personally benefit from CBM money or ecclesial collection money, or maybe it is how we can exploit a project for our own benefit or how we can exploit a brother or sister. The thing that we must remember is that God is aware, verse 3-5, and he will judge righteously.  We saw in Job that human beings generally disappoint, but God never disappoints; however, we should be trying to be more like God in our dealings with each other and we should be “honest prophets” and not “false prophets” that God talks about in verse 6-11. It was the false prophets, ie teachers, who did not respect God’s people and neglected to obey God’s teachings and it is they who are punished. However, as is always the case there is always hope for those who respect God and his children, verse 12-13. Hebrews 12 encourages us to focus on Jesus, verse 2, we need to “fix” our eyes on him, to follow him and to be like him and to do this we need to discard everything that stops us from doing this, verse 1. We have to think about the things that stop us being like him and think about how he acted, verse 3 and constantly remember that our human desires are not going to help us at all. We are told in verse 4-6 that it is a struggle and that we will suffer, though not to the extent that Jesus suffered; however, we can view our suffering as discipline form God, ie it is helping us to reach the promised goal of the kingdom. When we think about this it is simply not easy, hence we are told again to “endure hardship as discipline”, verse 7-11, because we are being trained for the kingdom. For this we praise God, but also respect him, verse 28-29, this is quite a hard verse because it describes God as a “consuming fire”, but when you think about it God only wants people in his kingdom who are trying to be like him, that is the only way that we can be at one with him, so therefore, God has to reject all those who are not like him – so we should humbly make every effort to live at peace with each other and to respect and to follow God, verse 14-27. December

December 6th

In Job 8 we get the response from another of Job’s friends, ie Bildad.  He also incorrectly thinks that Job must have sinned to be suffering in the way that he is, he suggests a simple remedy which is that all Job has to do is to confess his sin and then all things will be right again. He criticises Job for speaking incorrect things, verse 1-7, and in his words he reminds Job of his children who “sinned” (Job 1:4-5) and in so doing suggests that maybe he was one of Job’s “adversaries” (satan) who resented Job seeking forgiveness for his own children! We can all be “adversaries” (satans) to each other in how we think, act and speak, good if we are a good adversary in assisting to help turn someone from sin or encouraging them, but not good if we are a bad adversary and we cause someone to sin or to discourage them! Bildad was a bad adversary because not only did he resent Job’s godliness in the first place, he was now discouraging him and in his concluding, unhelpful remarks, he, like Eliphaz, says that he must have sinned, verse 20-22. Micah chapters 3 continues with the warning in the book to the leaders and prophets, ie those people who should have been looking after God’s children, but who were exploiting them and not caring for them, verse 1-3, these people should have “known justice” and should have been “good” but were not. God says that he will not listen to people who act like this, verse 4, and this again should be a warning to us because if we are acting in ungodly ways God will not listen to us when we pray. There will be consequences for them and even when they think there are secure they will not be, verse 5-7,  and like the people of Judah, our previous security will not save us from God’s justice, verse 8-12. As shepherds and teachers of God’s children we all have a responsibility to do right and to act like God. Because we all want to be in God’s kingdom that is spoken about in Micah 4. Verses 1-5 speaks of Jerusalem and “many nations” going there, this can only be for worship and learning, so this is a time when everyone wants to follow God and to worship and to really be like him. It is a time when all suffering will come to an end, verse 6-8.  This and other pictures of the kingdom in the old testament, eg Isaiah, give us a wonderful hope in the future and Micah asks the question of those of God’s people who were suffering in Hezekiah’s time “why do they cry aloud”, verse 9-10.  Because they had rejected God they would be punished, so this should not be a surprise to them. So the message for us is that if we want to be part of God’s wonderful kingdom we should try our best to always follow his ways and try to act like him in everything that we do! The point is that God has a plan, verse 12, and God will bring his plan to completion, verse 13. So Hebrews 13 is a great way to conclude our thoughts for today. Verse 1-3 show us how to love each other; verse 4 shows us how to respect our wife and husband and verse 5 shows us that we should not love money, it is those who “loved” money who exploited their brothers and sisters and rejected God’s teachings! When we are suffering we should remember that God will “never leave us or forsake us”, he is our helper, verse 6, and this we can say with confidence if we are trying our best to follow him. The mistakes in the past have always been because we and others have forgotten to follow God’s ways and we are always reminded that teaching and encouraging each other to follow his ways is important, verse 7-10. It is only through Jesus that we are saved and this we should always remember when we consider our lives and how we live them, verse 11-16, we remember, we praise and we remember to do good, these are the marks of a Christian. Verse 20-21. Amen! December

December 7th

Job deals with the issue of suffering.  There are two sides to this. Firstly, the suffering of the righteous, which is not pleasant. Secondly, the non-suffering of the wicked which is also hard to take. The righteous will experience both in their lives, as Job did.  In Job 9, we feel the pain of the suffering of the righteous Job.   Job complains about this apparent unfairness, where both the righteous and the wicked are destroyed (v22).  In his dark thoughts, Job seems to tread dangerously.  Does God really mock at the despair of the innocent (v23)?  Does God really want to plunge Job into a slime pit (v31)?  Is the injustice in the land the fault of God (v24)? The pain of these thoughts causes Job to want to speak to God and understand what He is doing.  Job appeals for an arbitrater or mediator to take his complaint to God and bring about a fair solution (v33).  Job speaks for all of us who are hurting today, even though we faithfully do what God wants.  It is not wrong to question the apparent unfairness. But it is wrong is to say it does not matter what we do.  The outcome of these thoughts is to slip into the ways of the wicked.  Job did not do this, and neither should we.  We are in a better position than Job.  God has provided us with Jesus who can arbitrate for us.  Let us bear our sufferings, and keep our faith like Job did. Micah 5 also points us to Jesus.  Jesus is the ruler who will come from Bethlehem (v2).  He is the shepherd (v4) who will bring peace (v5).  He does this through his suffering (Jesus would be struck on the cheek as described in verse 1).  However, the time of Micah 5 was a time of anything but peace.  We know that from Micah 3:12 that this was the time of Hezekiah (because this verse is quoted by Jeremiah 26:18 at the times of Hezekiah).  This was the time when the Assyrian invader destroyed Israel and destroyed all of Judah except Jerusalem.  The Assyrians were attacking the land when verse 5 was written.  It speaks of a deliverance from the Assyrian.  However, these verses really refer to a future time, when both evil foreigners and evil Israelites are purged in the land of Israel.  So let us make sure we are not among the evil but among the righteous. James 1 could have been written to Job.  It says whenever you face trials, these are for the testing of your faith (v3).  There is a purpose to suffering.  It is so that you can develop perseverance (3). Perseverance is the quality of keeping going through difficulty.  In verse 12 we are told that the man who perseveres will receive a crown of life.  James even tells us that Job had perseverance (James 5:11): that is, he will receive the crown of life.  Under the pressure of testing, we should not give into temptation and turn to sin (v13-15).  We should be like Job who kept his faith. In positions of trial, we would be wise to reduce our speaking and do more listening (v19).   We would then be less likely to enter into the dark talk of Job.  We should not become angry. Anger is a dangerous state of mind for the people of God.  It does not lead to righteousness (v20).  Instead we should follow the word of God.  We have been born of the word (v18).  It has been planted in our hearts (v21) but it must now grow.  We listen to the word (v22) such as when we do the Bible readings.  But doing the readings is not enough.  We must DO what it says (v22).  A man who listens and does not do is like a man looking in a mirror and then forgets what type of man he should be.  The chapter ends with two important warnings about what type of people we should be.  We are righteous if we control our tongues (v26), keep separate from the world (v27) and look after the widows and orphans (v27).  So let us control our tongue and live according to the word of God. If we do that, then that will be our wisdom.  And if we lack wisdom, let us ask God for more (v5). December

December 8th

Job 10:     Is faith enough?  Job is very ill and is getting worse. He understandably “loathes” his life, nearly all of what he valued had been taken away from him. He still had faith, he believed there was a God, but did he still confess “ Shall we indeed ACCEPT good from God, and shall we not ACCEPT adversity?” We do have the ability to accept things, even bad things in life, but we need to add to that acceptance TRUST…. Trust in God, wait for Him, learn from Him etc. As I read these heartfelt words in Job 10, words he intends to say to God (v2), I don’t see any trust. As we know in any relationship without trust, doubts, questions and even accusations arise. So the words of Job in this chapter shows he has a faith, but is lacking in trust.  He thought that his problem was a lack of understanding God’s ways, and he was desperate for an answer – but the problem was Job lacked trust in God. v 2-7:  Job in prayer, is telling God what to do (!) and questions God’s judgement, to which God graciously answers in ch 40:2 “shall the one who contends with the Almighty correct Him?” and ch 40:8 “would you condemn Me that you may be justified?” (Both of these questions are given by God, not to win the argument, but God knows that Job will find the answer, and then repent and change (born anew), with a better understanding of God and His ways.  v8-12:  Job acknowledges he, like all of creation, is wonderfully made; the description of how the body is formed is beautiful, and yet the life is short returning to the dust (this present life being temporary is something to thank God for!)  v13-17: Job questions God’s intentions. As with the rest of the chapter, Job is thinking mainly about himself. When we are suffering, the mind dwells on “me, me, me” In this chapter alone Job uses “me” or “I” more than 50 times! For each of the accusations we can give a positive answer:  v14 – God is encouraging you to repent, so that He will forgive;  v15 – God welcomes a humble, broken heart, the Lord breaks the heart in order to re-build;  v16 – God brings down the proud so that He might live in the humble;  v17- God continually works to achieve His will with mankind, correcting, teaching etc.  v18-22: After thinking that God only had negative intentions with mankind, Job concludes why was I wonderfully made, why was I born ? Job would prefer no relationship (not been born) than having a relationship that was like his with God – this is true; but the errors were with Job, not GOD!  The “shadows of death” is mentioned twice (v21,22) – words said with no trust in his relationship with the Lord contrast with David’s “shadow of death”.  Psalm23:4 “Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I WILL FEAR NO EVIL. FOR YOU ARE WITH ME”,  and despite his sins and sufferings, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever”. Micah 6: What does the Lord require of you? “My people, what have I done to you? How have I burdened you?”  v4-5: The Lord reminds His people what He has done – rescued them from Egypt and brought them to the promised land ( the Lord has been faithful).  v6-7:  Mankind thinks that according to what God has done he should “pay Him back”, with “external” offerings.  v8: But that’s not what God wanted, He wants “internal” offerings of the heart. He wants mankind to become like God – to do justly, to love mercy, and by so doing, to walk humbly with God (in continuous fellowship).  Interestingly, if we live our lives justly, humbly and with mercy, it considerably reduces our burdens! God hasn’t burdened us, He has shown us the way to be relieved of OUR burdens (not His), and like Enoch, encouraged us to walk with God.  v10-12: in contrast to God wanting justice; “His people” loved to live lives of injustice.  v13-15: God’s justice will be done “Therefore, I have begun to destroy you, to ruin you because of your sins”. He would cause all of their pursuits to fail, not simply to punish, but because He is a merciful God, to punish in order to correct His people, to bring them back to Him, to forgive them.  v16-17: They abandoned the ways of their redeemer, their just and merciful God for the ways of the evil Omri and Ahab where there was no justice and no mercy. Why?  Because they liked man’s ways better than God’s ways!! And that is why the world is what it is today; a world full of injustice, hatred and pride, and what a burden it is to all of us! Let’s remind ourselves of a promise of Jesus.  “Come to me… I will give you rest”. James 2:  Judging, faith and works.  v1-4:  Do not show favouritism. The example given by James is how we might treat the rich and poor. (But it is only one example of many; it could have been how we judge different tribes or races, or male or female, or young or old etc). In truth we should respect and treat all of mankind equally, as we would wish the Lord to treat us. “Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favouritism to the great, but judge your neighbour fairly” Lev19:15.  v5-6: This is not how God judges, and when we look at who God has chosen, generally (not exclusively), He has chosen the poor of this world to be rich in faith and heirs of the kingdom which He promises to those who love Him. James says that the brothers and sisters dishonoured the poor, and honoured the rich who seek to take you to court, and despise you and your Lord!  v8: “You shall love your neighbour as yourself”.  If you respect this commandment then you will love and respect all of mankind (respect them but not necessarily their actions!). If you show favouritism you have sinned, and now you are reminded in v13 “Judgement is without mercy to the one who has shown no mercy”.. “With what judgement you judge, you will be judged” Matt 7:2.  Faith without works is dead: James gives a practical example; a brother/sister is naked with no food and one of the church only gives words, and does not help with the physical needs. “Love thy neighbour as yourself” are not just nice words, they are to be put into action – love is never just a word. Jesus says “by their fruits you will know them” and the fruits are not just words. Faith is a doing word, faith is dead if it is not active.  The example of Abraham:  Gen 15: promised son and many descendants – he believed (v6).  Gen 17: promises in Isaac and his offspring – so Isaac will have children – he believed.  Gen 22: was willing to sacrifice his son (Isaac) because of faith in God (God will provide) Heb 11:17:  “By faith Abraham, when he was TESTED, offered up Isaac”. Abraham believed God, and the richness and depth of his active faith was SHOWN and proved by his works, being willing to sacrifice his son. If he had chosen to disobey, Abraham would have reasoned, “I can’t kill Isaac, because God promised Isaac will have children (and he hasn’t got any yet)”. Abraham would have then justified his disobedience, but not have shown full trust in God. Instead, by faith and trust in action, he obeyed.. and was by FAITH AND WORKS, JUSTIFIED BY GOD.  Rahab:  a gentile, female and former prostitute – her faith was tested and put into action, by hiding the spies she was revealing her faith, her hope, her God.  We too, have opportunity every day to witness our faith, not just to others, but to ourselves! December

December 9th

It is now turn for Job’s third friend, Zophar, to speak in Job 11. Like the others, he also accuses Job of sinning, thus giving an explanation for Job’s suffering. He incorrectly concludes that Job must have sinned to be suffering all of this. Of course Job has sinned, like everyone else has and does, but this is not the direct reason why Job is suffering in the way that he is, Job was suffering from human nature, which is a consequence of sin in the first place. This is the same for all of us, ie our suffering is part of our human nature, it is a way of life and is to be expected. Zophar in some respects is right in saying that we have no right to challenge God, verse 7-12, but he wrongly believes that God was directly punishing Job because Job must have committed a specific and “bad” sin, verse 13-20. Job and his friends needed to learn that no one has the right to challenge God and that we cannot blame him for sufferings, these are part of our human nature. Zophar did wish that God would speak, verse 5, and indeed he did at the end of Job when we see that the friends were critisised and Job was taught to understand better. In Micah 7 we see disappointment because of Israel’s misery brought on as a consequence of their rebellion against God, verse 1-6; we see a choice in verse 7, ie to wait for God; we see hope from verse 8-12; we see the bad effects of man’s actions verse 13; we see the need for a just shepherd to firmly lead God’s people, verse 14, and then we see the praise and acceptance of God’s mercy in verse 13-20. Despite God sending constant reminders to the people of Israel, they still rebelled against him and replaced him with other things (idols), this was unlike Job, who all the way through his suffering did not replace or rebel against God. The key lessons from Micah are verse 7 where we are to always rely on God and verse 14 where we should always remember that we have to want to be “shepherded”! We need a shepherd to lead us to God, this shepherd is Jesus and we should always want to learn about him and follow him, a big part of this is our constant reading. There are consequences for sin, suffering is part of this but death is the ultimate end, but we have a wonderful hope for the future when God will display his ultimate mercy, compassion and will remove all our sins and our human nature. This will happen when Jesus comes back. We cannot blame God for our suffering. In a way the bad motives of Job’s friends is possibly understood by James 4 verse 1-3, they were wrong in thinking that Job was suffering because of a perceived big sin, Job could not understand why he was suffering because he believed that he had not sinned! The result was a quarrel. Two thirds of James 3 deals with the difficulty of taming the tongue. Although the tongue is only a small part of the body it is described as a fire, a restless evil, full of poison. We find it easier to tame animals than tame our own tongue. We use it to both praise God and speak badly of others; this should not happen. James’ examples are very obvious. We do not expect a spring or borehole to produce both sweet and bitter water but are happy for our own mouths to speak both good and evil. What we say is governed by what is in our heart (Luke 6 v 45). The tongue can cause great harm so we need to guard our hearts against the tendencies of our own human nature and the influences of the world around us so that we can speak words of righteousness, peace and love. There are numerous instructions on the use of the tongue, particularly in Proverbs – see chapters 4 v 24; 10 v 11-14 and 19-21; 11 v 12-13, 23; 15 v1. Paul says our speech should be gracious and seasoned with salt (Colossians 4 v 6) so that we will know how to talk to everyone we meet. If we are never at fault in what we say then we are perfect and able to keep our whole body under control. Jesus was the ‘perfect man’ because he had total control over his tongue (1 Peter 2 v 21-23), none of us will be perfect. We need to be on our guard as even Moses ‘spoke unwisely with his lips’ (Psalm 106 v 33). The rest of the chapter contrasts the wisdom of the world with the wisdom of God. The world’s wisdom is full of bitterness, envy and selfish ambition and leads to every evil practice. The characteristics of Godly wisdom are listed in verse 17 and they lead to a harvest of righteousness and a life of humility. These qualities are similar to the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5 v 22-23. The first nine chapters of Proverbs highlight the benefits of wisdom and dangers of folly and are well worth a read. James 4 emphasises that quarrels among believers originate from within. If covetousness and selfishness are allowed to take hold then strife will inevitably follow, this is how Job’s friends opposed Job. We will not get what we want from God if we ask with wrong motives, ie just wanting things for ourselves so we that we can indulge in the pleasures of the world. James bluntly describes such behaviour as adulterous and points out that friendship with the world is emnity with God. In God’s thinking there are only two ways – his way or the way of the world (1 John 2 v 15-17, Matthew 26 v 24, Galatians 5 v 13-19, Psalms 14 & 15). We need to humble ourselves before God and resist the “devil”, ie those evil desires which well up within us (James 1 v 14-15). God requires us to act justly, love mercy and walk humbly (Micah 6 v 8). God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble (Isaiah 66 v 2, Luke 18 v 14). If we draw near to God then he will draw near to us (2 Chronicles 15 v 2, Hebrews 10 v 22-23). If we speak evil of others we are speaking evil of the law which commands us to love one another and tame our tongues. By condemning others we become judges – which is not our place for there is ‘only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy.’ We should not boast about what we’re going to do in the future – particularly if all our plans are worldly (buying and selling). We have no idea what tomorrow will bring let alone the next year. We need to concentrate on living a life of faithful service today and acknowledge that it is only ‘if the Lord wills’ that we will be able to do anything at all (1 Corinthians 5 v19, Romans 1 v 9-10, Hebrews 6 v 3). Most significantly Jesus prayed in the Garden of Gethsemane for God’s will to be done (Matthew 26 v 36-46, Luke 22 v 39-46). December

December 10th

Job starts with a sarcastic comment in his reply in Job 12, ie verse 2, saying that when his friends die then wisdom will too! This is obviously not true and Job says that in verse 3, ie that he is not inferior to them and he also knows (or thinks he knows) that God brings suffering on those who sin. We know from the end of Job and from the rest of the Bible that suffering in itself is not the punishment for sin, death is. There are consequences for sin and this often results in suffering, and suffering is also part of our human nature, but we cannot conclude that suffering is only brought about because the individual sinned. This was a common belief by the Jews, in fact it was at the time of Jesus too and Jesus had to change the disciples’ perception, Luke 13 verse 1-5. Although Job and his friends were on opposite sides of the argument, all incorrectly believed that suffering was only brought about by sin, Job’s response in verse 4 confirms his mistaken belief, where he says that he “called on God” and was “righteous and blameless”. The respect from his friends was not there because of their misbelief and there was a danger that Job would conclude that it was pointless him “calling on God” and following him if he was going to end up suffering! So it is therefore wrong for anyone to think that suffering is a punishment for sin, it is not – everyone suffers, godly people and ungodly people and no one should be happy that anyone suffers as Job’s friends might have been, verse 5. The problem starts when we make comparisons with others, like Job did in verse 6 – he seems to be concerned that the wicked prosper, ie they are “undisturbed” and  “secure”; this is a very human thought process and David said similar things in Psalm 94:3; Jeremiah asked the same too in Jeremiah 12:1. Rather what we should be thinking is that God knows and he is in control, as he demonstrates in Nahum, in fact Job acknowledges this in the rest of this chapter. He refers to the answer as being obvious, verse 7-9, even the animals, birds, earth and fish know – not that they have the intelligence to work it out, they just accept good and bad from God’s hand! Job correctly acknowledges that all is in God’s hands, verse 10-12. Job also acknowledges in verse 13-25 that God is in control. Nahum 1 and 2 says the same thing and chapter 1 verse 2 shows us that God will avenge wrong in his own time, it is important to remember that it is in God’s own time, because although he will judge, he is also very patient, verse 3. God can use the natural world to demonstrate to us human beings that our ways are wrong, verse 4-6, and we do see a lot of suffering today caused by this, whether it is drought or too much rain, often we can trace these problems back to consequences. However, we can see in verse 7 that there is a purpose of this resultant suffering, ie God wants all those who suffer to come to him for refuge, God is not willing that anyone should perish, but that all should come to him for salvation. Despite God’s patience, there are times in history that his patience runs out and this was the case with Nineveh, the capital city of the Assyrian empire. The rest of this chapter and chapter 2 show the predicted end of this once great city because they “plotted against God”, verse 9, and they were also very cruel to God’s people of Judah, verse 12. So yes there are times when God intervenes in human history and there is one great time when God will again intervene when he sends Jesus back! There is always hope in suffering and this is even present here in this prophecy about Nineveh, eg verse 15, this is a familiar phrase, we see it in Isaiah 52 verse 7 and Romans 10 verse 15 and it speaks about the gospel of Jesus and the good news of salvation.  So any suffering is temporary, we need to look beyond our suffering to the wonderful promises that God has made to us. Just like in chapter 2 the hope continues in that God will restore “Jacob” and “Israel”, verse 2. In James 5 we see a stark warning to those who had grown rich through illicit means and the suffering of others and then the chapter goes on to encourage those who were suffering, just as Job was. James exhorts them to be patient and treat each other well. It is interesting that the means of showing patience, which James highlights, is not grumbling against each other. When things get hard to cope with it is very easy for tensions to arise but that is not the call of the gospel. If we do grumble then we are guilty of judging our fellow believers and will in turn be judged – by the Judge who will soon be here. Instead of judging we should be supporting, forgiving and interceding for each other. We can take encouragement in suffering from the patient examples of the prophets, secure in the knowledge that those who persevere will be blessed. We are directed to consider the perseverance of Job and the blessings he received because the Lord is full of compassion and mercy (Exodus 34 v 5-7), so we know from the complete story of Job that it was his remaining faithful to God that God was pleased with. We must not swear by anything or we will be condemned. It seems that in this context swearing implies that we are not usually honest and that we are not totally convinced of God’s loving mercy. As the antidote to swearing we should pray – in time of trouble, in times of happiness, in times of sickness – basically we should pray in all circumstances. In times of sickness we should call the elders to come and pray over us and anoint us with oil – it is interesting that it is the sick person who asks for help here, so Job was right to ask for his friends’ moral support and prayers. James tells us that the prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective and immediately quotes the example of Elijah (1 Kings 17v1 & 18 v 41- 46), emphasising that he was a man just like us. He was aiming for righteousness as we should be – but was not perfect – and his prayer was heard. James also supplies a detail not given in 1 Kings 17 – that the drought started as a result of Elijah’s earnest prayer. Finally, James turns to those who wander from the truth and exhorts us to bring them back. This reflects the teaching of Jesus in the parable of the lost sheep in Matthew 18 v 12-14, Luke 15 v 4-7). In order to be able to bring others back we have to stay steadfast ourselves, seek out the lost and bring them to God in prayer. The result of this is that both we and they will be saved from death. We need to love each other deeply and pray (1 Peter 4:7-8). December

December 11th

Job continues with his response to his friends in Job chapter 13. He uses similar words, saying that he also knows all of the things that his friends are telling him and that he is no different to them, verse 1-2. Again the confused argument is over the cause of suffering, we know that they are all wrong in believing that suffering is as a direct result of sin and this lesson they all need to learn, so it can seem to us reading Job now that the arguments are repeated time and time again and we start wondering why. The book of Job is in the bible because of God’s inspiration, therefore it must still have an important message for us as we read it today, the lessons are still relevant. The argument that Job and his friends are having is typical of how our minds work today. Some people become Christians for personal financial advantage; some people become Christians because they fear what will happen to them if they do not become Christians; others become Christians because they want to be thought more highly of than others; some leave the church because they lose faith because they suffer, and others look down on others and make judgements on others who suffer. All of these reasons are wrong, neither God nor Jesus said that becoming Christians would mean that an individual’s life would be free from suffering now, in fact Jesus told us to expect suffering for his sake! The promise that we do have is that all pain and suffering will end when Jesus comes back, and this should be amongst the reasons for becoming a Christian. Churches that teach having prosperity now are wrong, their teachings are unscriptural, the scriptural teaching is that Christians and non Christians alike can suffer in their lives now. This is why I think that Job is such a long book apparently talking about the same things, it is to get this important message across to all of us that suffering is not as a direct result of an individual’s sin as Job and his friends initially believed. Job’s determination was to speak to God and argue his case, verse 3, he wanted to explain that he was a just man and not a sinner so why should he suffer; this is sometimes how we feel when we suffer, but clearly this is wrong. We need to learn that things happen in our lives today that we have no control over and that our only hope is the return of Jesus – God’s aim is for us to be in his kingdom, his aim is not for us to have a life free from suffering now. Unlike Job’s friends, we should all be encouraging each other to remain faithful and godly, we should not be criticising and accusing each other of sin, or other reasons why others suffer, verse 4. As fellow Christians who are suffering we need encouragement, otherwise we too could wish that others would be silent, verse 5-19. Job concludes this chapter with a prayer to God, verse 20-28, in it he 1, asks for God to take away his suffering (verse 21) and 2, to show him his sin (verse 23). There is nothing wrong in asking God to remove our suffering if it is his will and we should do that because God can, but we must not expect it to be removed as it could be for our benefit, as suffering was for Paul (2Corinthians 12, verse 7-10); instead we should always ask for strength to cope. I wonder about the sin request though, because we all sin, the only one who did not sin was Jesus and remembering him is a constant reminder that we are sinners! Nahum 3 continues with the prophecy against Nineveh, the reasons for its destruction are in verse 4 and 19, God had his reasons for their destruction and the people were a cruel people, history books tell us this, and clearly God is not happy with anyone who is cruel. The Assyrians were hated by other nations and as a result had no friends, implied by verse 7, they were ungodly and proud, depending on their own strength, verse 16-17, and God brought them low very quickly. The speed of destruction is perhaps hinted at in the way that Nahum describes the destruction, eg verse 1-3, but certainly God is against them, verse 5-6. We have to remember that there is a distinction between godly people, eg Job, and those who rebel against God, eg Assyrians, and not think that punishment in the form of suffering is as a result of individual’s sins. We are reminded in 1Peter 1 that we have “new birth” in Jesus and that we have a “living hope” because of Jesus’ resurrection, this means that we have been “brought into an inheritance” that will not perish, verse 3-4. We know that this will be a reality when Jesus comes back, verse 5. So even if we are suffering now we should be rejoicing because of this wonderful future promise, verse 6. We should try and consider that our trials and suffering now are part of our “training”, verse 7-9, this is easier to say than to believe when we are suffering because suffering is painful at the time and very distressing, this is why we are always reminded of our salvation and it is this we should try to focus on to help us cope with our suffering, verse 10-12. The same reason why we should also “search intently” what God has written in the bible to gain encouragement and to see the many pictures of the future. This does not replace prayer, this is as well as prayer! No matter how hard our lives can be sometimes we should respond to this knowledge of our salvation by looking at how we live our lives, verse 13-16, we should try to be separate (holy) and self-controlled as we respond to God’s love and mercy. We may not understand what is happening in our lives, but what we do know is that God is in control and he is the righteous judge and not flawed human beings who for example judged Job, verse 17-21. Our love towards our brothers and sisters as we encourage them should be the same love that both God and Jesus showed towards us in enabling us to have salvation in the first place, verse 22-28. Suffering is painful, it is a part of our human existence, we can pray for it to be removed, but we can only expect it to be fully removed in the kingdom when Jesus comes back when our human nature and sin and death are removed! December

December 12th

In Job 14v1, we see that man born of woman is of few days and full of trouble so the lesson we learn here is that we must prepare ourselves because our days are few and numbered and we don’t know when our lord Jesus will come to establish the father’s Kingdom so we need to be mindful of lives and check whether we are worthy of the kingdom so we should allow God to control our lives. So in our lives let us struggle to please God and do what is good because for a time is coming when all who are in the grave will hear his voice and come out those who have done good JOHN 5:28-29. And this is the same reflection in JOB 14:14-15 so it is a humble reminder for us all to continue doing good. The Name Habakkuk means EMBRACER OR WRESTLER, we see he starts his prophecy by complaining to God and this is purely human nature that in most cases we complain a lot verse 1-3 but we see God’s answer to Habakkuk so amazing and wonderful and he promises to do something that Habakkuk will not believe verse 5 and truly this is how human beings behave that sometimes we are not patient and we don’t believe that God answers prayers. And 2kings 21:16. And we continue to see the second complaint of Habakkuk in verses 12-13, O LORD, are you not from everlasting and he continues to say your eyes are too pure to look on evil: “You cannot tolerate wrong why then why do you tolerate the treacherous?”; “Why are you silent while the wicked swallow up those more righteous than themselves?” In this case we see Habakkuk is judgmental and not contented with God but in Habakkuk 2:2-3 the answer is simple that we wait to see God’s revelation and this is to say we need to be patient in everything and GOD always answers our prayers at the right time, so we need to worry not because God is in control of our lives and whatever happens in our daily lives He knows why. In 1 peter 2:1 we are told to get rid of certain things such as malice and deceit and in verse 6-7 we see the picture of Jesus Christ as the stone that the builders rejected and has become the capstone. In verses 11 we are urged to abstain from sinful desires which war against our souls such that we live good lives which is worthy of God’s callings by setting the best examples and in verse 21 is that we were “called”, because Christ suffered for us leaving an example that we should follow in his footsteps. In summary of today’s readings is that we should prepare our lives and set the best examples by doing what is right and what pleases God. December

December 13th

In Job 15 Eliphaz responds to Job’s situation for the second time and he continues with the same misguided criticism of Job, saying that he has sinned. He makes serious judgements on him, verse 5-6, and he implies a criticism of Job’s wealth in verse 27-29, where he criticises those who are large, implying that they have more than enough money because they are large! Verse 14 is a question raised by Eliphaz about how can a man be pure – we know that all people are only made righteous in Jesus because all are naturally sinners and therefore all sin, whether, seen as “good” or “bad”. In Habakkuk 2 we have God’s answer to Habakkuk’s complaint about his and the rest of God’s people’s suffering and here we see some principles that should help us in how we understand some suffering. There are different opinions as to what time this prophecy refers to and to whom, but irrespective of this, the lessons seen can clearly apply to us to help in our lives. Although I think that we have to be very cautious about taking what Eliphaz says as God’s ways because we know that he is criticised by God at the end of Job, but what he says about “large, wealthy” people does have some similarities to God’s response here. God is clearly criticising those people who gained their wealth and prosperity dishonestly, ie verse 6, 8 and 12. These people had also replace God with “idols”, verse 18-19, so God is punishing those people who had not respect for him or of God’s people. Twice God includes in his response to Habakkuk two contrasting verses to the rest of the chapter, ie verse 14 and 20. There are only 2 types of people in God’s eyes, ie those who live as if the “earth is filled with the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea” and recognise that “the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him”; the other type of person is the one who builds his or her life on “dishonest gain”. So the start lesson for us today is, which type of person are we! Habakkuk was complaining because of his and his fellows’ suffering, he had forgotten that their suffering was as a consequence for their rebellion against God, and God is reminding Habakkuk that the things that God said would happen will happen, eg verse 3, this includes those things that God has promised after the suffering, ie verse 14 and 20. The suffering at Habakkuk’s time was because of pride, verse 4-5, and we know that pride is clearly the wrong attitude for a Christian – as Peter reminds us in 1Peter 5 verse 5-7, we have to be humble (complete opposite to pride). The focus here is on the young men, but none of us will be part of God’s promises if we are proud, in fact chapter 3 verse 8 includes us all. Chapters 3, 4 and 5 talk about suffering, eg 3:17, 4:12-19 and 10, so just like Job, we are not exempt from suffering. In fact some of our sufferings are brought about because of our faith, and the verse in chapter 4 says that we are “blessed” if we suffer because of Christ, and we should “praise” God because of it. It seems a really strange thing that we should praise God for our suffering, it is so easy for us to complain like both Job and Habakkuk did, but Peter’s exhortation to us is to be “self-controlled” and not to “grumble”, chapter 4 verse 7-11, we have to wait for God to work out his purpose in his own time. Jesus suffered for us, chapter 4 verse 1, and we are exhorted to have the same attitude as he did to help us stay away from sin. The people in Habakkuk’s time were criticised by God for being “worldly” – we are exhorted to stay away from these ideas and to put the ways of God first, verse 2-6. There are some confusing verse here, but the end message is not to replace God with anything, whether it is in order to better our human life, or simply to enjoy our human life! It is our daily actions that “hinders” our relationship with God, eg if husbands are not treating their wives properly, their prayers will not be answered, chapter 3 verse 7; wives should not be showing their “beauty” by the way that they look, they should be demonstrating it by the way that they act, verse 3-6; elders should be caring for the flock, just as Jesus did, chapter 5 verse 1-4, this is not being like Job’s friends in always criticising Job – elders should not be “domineering”! So all of us should be accepting the situation that God puts us in, we should be praising and we should be self-controlled, verse 8-9, because temptation is always there and if we give into it we will sin – the word “devil”, is just that a word, it means “false accuser” and that is exactly what natural human thinking is, it is always the opposite to God’s thinking and just as in Habakkuk where those who were only interested in dishonest gain were punished by God because they were not interested in him, so we should be trying our best to always follow God, rather than being interested in getting things dishonestly. We all need reminding of these principles and because of the forthcoming persecutions, Peter goes to great lengths to remind the believers of the great blessings they have received. One of these blessings is what he terms the grace or the “abundant mercy” of God – 1 Peter 1 verse 3.  Through God’s abundant mercy we have great hope through Jesus, and he tells us that we must have faith in that hope. Verse 7 tells us that that faith is so much more precious than gold that perishes, also that their faith would be tested by fire – they would receive persecutions and their faith would be tested.  But whatever happens their faith would carry them through all these things.  Jesus knows what it is like to be human, with all the temptations and the pitfalls that surround us. He understands the weakness of human nature.  The temptations he endured are far greater than anything we will ever experience.  But doesn’t Jesus praise his servants in the parable of the talents “Well done, good and faithful servant, enter into the joy of your Lord”.  Well done – that is praise from Jesus to us and it is surely a wonderful example of the grace and the abundant mercy of God and this “abundant mercy” is the first reminder that Peter gives us in his epistles. A second “reminder” that Peter gives us is found in 1 Peter 2 v 21, Peter witnessed the sufferings of Christ.  He says that the sufferings of Jesus are our example, and we should follow in his steps.  Verse 22 says there was no deceit found in his mouth.  When we are confronted either justly or unjustly and we have limited options, we often find a way of either saying untruths or maybe “bending the truth” to make things look good for us and to get us out of a tricky situation. But not Jesus – there was no deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return.  When he was mocked by the soldiers, he did not say anything back to them.  When he was in intense pain he didn’t threaten or curse his tormentors.  But rather he submitted himself to the will of God and he trusted in him.  And similarly us – we must not give back evil for evil.  We must not try to get even with others.  “Vengeance is mine”, saith the Lord, “I will repay”. We must leave things in the hands of the Almighty. A third “reminder” by Peter is in 2 Peter 1 and 2 where Peter advises us that we should be on the lookout for false teachers and false doctrines.  Needless to say, our world is full of godless and false ideas.  Even the established churches bend the word of God to suit their own ends.  As so-called students of the word of God they should know better. We need to beware that any false doctrine does not infiltrate the brotherhood. Peter reminds the believers that “holy men of God spoke as they were moved by the Holy Spirit” (2 Peter 1:21).  There is a need for us to follow closely the word of God and to dismiss the false doctrine of other teachers.  Peter describes them as “speaking evil of things they do not understand” (2 Peter 2:12).  It was, of course, a problem in the first century. Paul warned the elders of Ephesus in Acts 20 of false teachers and the epistle of Jude is similarly concerned with false teachers who were trying to infiltrate the early ecclesias.  In many cases the infiltration of the ecclesias by false teachers was a deliberate ploy by the Jews to stamp out the growth of Christianity.  But Peter’s “reminder” is as valid to us in the 21st century as it was to those early believers. The final “reminder” that Peter gives us is in 2 Peter 3 and it is perhaps the most poignant for us in our days. Scoffers will come in the last days, says Peter. We see this so much on our days.  But Peter warns us that “the Lord is not slack concerning his promise”.  One day with the Lord is as 1000 years and the day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.  One day it will suddenly happen – either we will suddenly die and as far as we are concerned the Lord is here – or out of the blue the angel of the Lord will come for us, and we will be taken away to meet the Lord. Whichever scenario confronts us the “reminder” that Peter gives us (3:14) is to look forward to these things and to be “diligent to be found by him in peace without spot and blameless”.  We know that without Jesus we cannot possibly be “without spot and blameless” – but Peter gives us some wonderful words when in verse 15 he says, “consider that the longsuffering of our Lord is salvation”.  Yes, the Lord is longsuffering, he is abundantly kind and gracious to us, and the day will come when we realise just how gracious and forgiving, he is. We pray for that day to come when Jesus is once more on this Earth and the kingdom is established. December

December 14th

Job 16 and 17 describes Job in the depth of despair.  He can see no hope for his life and he prepares for death.  In his dying, he finds no relief.  Friends have become mockers, comforters have become those who condemn him.  He has anguish on anguish.  Even observers are appalled by what they see.  Yet Job continues to maintain his integrity – “Nevertheless, the righteous will hold to their ways” (17:9).  That is what the righteous will do – maintain their right course despite the events of life.  And this is what we must do.  Even if we have to face the disturbing humiliation of the dying process, we must maintain righteous ways.  Because we know that it will be well with us in the end, like Job. Habakkuk was also a man down who was suffering (1:1-4).  Yet by the end of his book he is so happy in a spiritual high place (3:19).  How has this happened?  He has thought about God and what God has done and will do.  He knows that God has appointed a time for the judgment of the wicked (2:3).  God has a great plan that amazingly sees the world full of the knowledge of God (2:14).  Then there is God’s advice to all men (2:20); “But the Lord is in his holy temple; let all the earth be silent before him.”  When Habakkuk thinks about these things it changes everything.  His complaints have been silenced.  Instead of complaining, he now prays.  Now he understands, he can do three things,  1) he is able to wait patiently for God’s plan to happen (3:16), 2) he can cope with the hardships of life (3:17-18), and 3) He can rejoice in the Lord despite these hardships.  Habakkuk is in a high spiritual place.  Can we do the same?  Can we wait patiently for the Lord?  Can we endure hardships?  And can we rejoice in the Lord despite these hardships?  Habbukuk 3 is a prayer, but it was also a song.  Habukkuk literally rejoiced in the Lord with singing. 2 Peter 1 -2 advises us to do everything to make our spiritual calling secure.  In Peter, the trouble was not from friends (as in Job) or the wicked (as in Habakkuk), but from false prophets.  They can take us away from the right way if we are not careful.   We do this by following the advice for all Christians everywhere, which Peter highlights at the beginning of his second letter.  It is not enough to have faith and be baptised.  This alone will not save us.  We must add 7 spiritual virtues to our faith (2 Pet 1:5-8).  The first is moral kindness or goodness.  This is the result of a true faith which we must have.  Then we must add knowledge.  The basic knowledge we had for baptism is not enough.  We have to firm in our knowledge so that false prophets cannot touch us.  Knowledge must lead to self-control.  We know how we should behave and we must control the flesh.  Once we have mastered this, then we can have perseverance in our troubles.  Both Job and Habukkuk were able to do this.  Next comes godliness, the quality of being different from others in the world, as our perseverance will also show.  Finally, comes love.  There are two types of love.  Firstly, the phileo love, which is the warm love we have for friends and family.  This is the easier love.  Then comes the hard love, the agape love.  This is the love we must have for even our enemies.  It is as if the crown of Christian virtues is to be able to love our enemies.  Are we able to get to this place?  Job showed that he had this love when he prayed for his enemies (who were originally his friends).  Let us make sure that we add all these 7 Christian virtues to our faith, so that we can stand the test like Job and receive the crown of life that God will give the righteous.  December

December 15th

Job 18:    the spirit of the words.  In this chapter Bildad seems to have lost his patience. It is very frustrating when you believe you can help someone, and you want to help, and yet they won’t listen. Imagine the Lord’s frustration with mankind when we realise just how much He wants to help mankind!  We have to be careful with our assessment of Bildad, just as Bildad should have been with Job. It’s so easy to read the words as harsh, cruel, condemning, un-loving. If WE do read the words with that spirit, we are confessing that WE would have said the same words with that critical spirit. If WE read the same words as quietly said in the spirit of gentleness (despite the accusations) then instead of Bildad’s criticism, we see his concern, his frustration, his thinking. Whether Bildad was critical, or frustrated, it doesn’t really matter. But what does matter is how we live with fellow mankind. How often have we regretted what we have said, but in reality we should regret the spirit in which those words were said. The most effective words, listened to and learnt from are those done in the spirit of gentleness. “Let your gentleness be known to all men” Phil 2:5.  Job 19:   Hidden treasure.  Suffering is very isolating and can be lonely. Job’s “friends” had come to support Job, but were “breaking him in pieces with their words” (v2). We are instructed within the church “Let ALL things be done for edification” (building up). Job doesn’t receive any help from his family, servants or friends, they had all separated and distanced themselves from Job and even his very life was departing from him. “have pity on me” he pleads (v21).  In v 23-24 he pleads for his words to be written, recorded in a book and saved for future generations (and we are still reading these words 3000 + years later, thanks to God !!) We might think that Job is wishing to reach out to future mankind, to share his suffering and looking for someone else who would understand his frustration.  But more likely, Job wanted mankind to know the words that follow: (v25-27) “For I know my redeemer lives, and He shall stand at last on the earth: and after my skin is destroyed, this I KNOW, that in my flesh I shall see God; how my heart yearns within me!”. Job wanted mankind to KNOW what he knew – something that even suffering and death could not take away… he wanted to share and confess his greatest TREASURE. Suffering can so easily hide our treasure because the “now” can take us away from the eternal, but suffering can also help us to go to the eternal for help, for wisdom, for trust. Let’s try not to ADD suffering to suffering (something we are very good at!) but let us go to a friend that will help us, even to salvation. “He who believes in me, though he may die, he shall live.” John 11:2. Zephaniah 1:  Hidden in the Lord.  The book of Zephaniah tells us about events that happened in Jerusalem about 600+ B.C when Josiah was king. The northern kingdom (Israel) had been destroyed by the Assyrians as forewarned by God’s prophets. Judah’s kings, Manasseh and Amon had largely abandoned God, but a revival to faith and obedience to the only one true God, was led by the young Josiah. After Josiah’s death the people “turned back from the Lord”.  Zephaniah’s name means “hidden in the Lord” and it’s in the sense of hidden treasure, hidden to protect. Zeph 2:3 “seek the Lord, all you meek of the earth, it may be you will be hidden in the day of the Lord’s anger” And when we know this verse we see that some will be saved from “the day of the Lord’s anger”. This helps us in our interpretation of Zeph 1:2 “I will utterly destroy everything from the face of the land” – as some are saved, we understand “everything that is condemned by the Lord” will be destroyed. In short, God’s justice is coming to all. These are reassuring words for true believers, and words of warning to non-believers given because the Lord does not delight in the death of anyone – “repent and live”.  (v4) the words are now focused on Judah and all the inhabitants of Jerusalem. But the warnings to them are the same as to all mankind throughout all generations. Idolatry was(is) everywhere … “those who have turned back from the Lord, and have not sought the Lord, nor inquired of Him” Jesus says “where your treasure is, there your heart will be also” Where are our hearts and minds? What do we value as important, and in what order?  In the following verses we see the desires of mankind:  Royalty… covetousness, indulgence, idolatry, power at all costs (deceit etc), violence, control.  Money handlers: the love of money at all costs (excuse the pun!)  The “complacent” who don’t think that they need God, who are totally centred on their own lives and possessions.  All had committed idolatry and valued their “ desires” more than the Lord ! However, justice will come. “the great day of the Lord is near” & “we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each one may receive the things in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” 2 Cor 5:10.  The words to Judah (600 B.C ish) still apply to all of mankind. We have been warned because of a loving, even jealous God. Put simply, if we live with the Lord now, we will be given eternal life, with the Lord forever by God’s grace. If we don’t, we are choosing eternal death and will hear these words from Jesus “I never knew you”. 2 Peter 3: “Where is the promise of His coming”?  Of course, the answer is “in scripture” and Peter warns his flock to listen to scripture rather than the scoffers. He reminds his followers that all things existed because of the word (will) of God “Then God said… and it was so” Genesis 1. The flood (Gen 7) happened because of God, His judgement on the world at that time. God is still in control, and there needs to be and there will be, a future judgement. The “delay” is because God’s will is that “not any shall perish but that all SHOULD come to repentance”. God’s promise still remains because He is a loving, patient God, but He is also a God of justice and therefore, there will be a time when “the door is closed” and the last have been gathered in. Peter encourages his flock to be ready for that day, and warns them it will come like a thief in the night… read Matt 24:29-44 and Matt 25, all about the return of Jesus and him establishing the kingdom of God.  Heavens and earth (v10-13):  “the heavens will pass away with a great noise.. dissolved, being on fire”.  “The earth and the works in it will be burned up”.  Do we believe that the heavens and the earth will be destroyed by fire? If we didn’t know the rest of scripture we might! But it doesn’t make sense – heaven (where God dwells) doesn’t need to be dissolved and burnt! Even planet earth is not to be literally destroyed, (despite climate change); in verse 13 Peter writes “new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” Elsewhere “the earth abides for ever” Ecc 1:4 and “the earth will be filled with the glory of the Lord” Num 14:21 etc. A better understanding is that the “heavens” are the rulers of this world and the “earth” are those ruled by the “heavens”. The promise is that this current world (the kingdom of men) is coming to a swift end, Jesus is to return, judge mankind and with His people establish the Kingdom of God on earth – this will be totally new. The old “way” will be totally destroyed. Isaiah 65:17-25 and Psalm 72 are helpful chapters to read.  Peter finishes his letter telling them (us) “to look forward to these things, be diligent to be found by Him in peace, without spot and blameless…” and to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and saviour Jesus Christ”. December

December 16th

Zophar replies for the second and last time in Job 20. He appears with typically human thinking in response to Job’s comments about his “redeemer” and that he will “see him” (chapter 19, verse 25-27) – he cannot believe that Job could say such a thing, verse 2-3. He is proud in his thinking because he still considers Job as a bad sinner and he (Zophar) is not! Job demonstrated an element of faith and knowledge that his death was not the end, he probably did not understand how it would happen but he considered that he had a future with God at the resurrection. By implication Job did not believe that Zophar would be part of that as Zophar himself was falsely accusing Job of some very bad sin. All of this chapter suggests that Zophar was clearly a bad sinner and verse 29 gives his conclusion on the matter. The truth is that every human being is a sinner and we all need forgiveness and we are all reliant on our “redeemer”.  We know from the rest of scripture that this full redemption is when Jesus comes back and the resurrection takes place. Suffering is not as a result of specific sins, suffering is a consequence of sinful human nature and sometimes God uses suffering to teach and also as a punishment for rebellion against him. Zephaniah 2 starts by continuing to tell us about the “great day of the Lord”. Chapter 1 tells us that this “punishment” was foretold during king Josiah’s time (verse 1), and the “great day of the Lord” is when God brings his judgement on the people who rebelled against him. This rebelling is important and it is distinct from humble followers of God who sin, rebellion is when individuals replace God with other things and have no regard for him at all and this is why God punished Judah. However, in verse 3, we see the opportunity for God’s people to repent from their rebellion – this calls for humility, the exact opposite to the pride that is normally the case of us human beings! Judah had rebelled against God and this was their opportunity to properly turn back to him and then perhaps God would shelter his people. This is exactly the same for us now, if we are humble and repent of our sins then God will forgive, but if we are proud and rebellious that we cannot ever expect God to shelter us. Not only was the prophecy against Judah it was also against those nations who also rebelled against God because of pride and complete ungodliness, ie Philistia, verse 4-5 – we have to look at Ezekiel 25 verse 15-17 to see the reason why, but it was because they wanted to completely destroy God’s people; Moab and Ammon were to be destroyed because of pride, verse 10, and also the same for Assyria, verse 15, Cush (probably Egypt) was also proud and depended on their own strength. God’s message has always been the same – the only way to be saved is to be humble, pride will not achieve forgiveness or salvation, pride will only achieve destruction in the end. The underlying message in 1John 1&2 is also humility. The acceptance of Jesus as our saviour is humility, so is accepting that we have sinned, verse 9, so is doing what doing what God wants, chapter 2 verse 5. Pride is saying that we have not sinned, chapter 1 verse 8 and 10, pride is not doing what God wants, chapter 2 verse 4, it is also hating your brother, verse 9. If we say that we love both God and Jesus then we have to demonstrate love by walking in the same way that Jesus walked, verse 6, that means loving our brothers and our sisters in the same way that Jesus loves them and us! This means that we have to ensure that we meet for the breaking of bread to remember Jesus’s love for us every week, it means that we should teach and encourage others, it means that we care for the widows, it means that we visit those who are ill, it means that all of us are included, verse 12-14, young and old, male and female (even though not mentioned here, they are included). Love is extended to everyone by everyone, verse 9-11. The problem in Zephaniah is that the people of the nations AND God’s children loved the “world”, they loved the things that replaced God;  but John is telling us in verse 15-17, that we are not to love the “world” – if we do God’s love is not in us. So if we are only interested in doing things for ourselves, if we are only trying to better ourselves and if we are only thinking of ourselves then we are proud and God is not in us! The verses from 18-27 are often used to refer to those who do not actually believe that Jesus existed, as the “antichrist”, but I think that this means more than this, the context of John’s words is that those who say that they follow Jesus and obey his father but do not walk as Jesus did or obey God are still in “darkness” and are “liars”. Therefore those who do not “walk like Jesus” and disobey God are the antichrist – this is something that we should all think about because sometimes we can act like this, ie act like an antichrist, by the things that we do that we should not and the things that we do that we should. For example, Job’s friends were like an antichrist when all they did was criticise him, they also did not comfort him; the people that Zephaniah was talking about were antichrists; John says that those who are liars and those who do not show love are antichrist. So how do you act? Are you ALWAYS encouraging your brothers and sisters? Are you always meeting with ALL of your brothers and sisters in your ecclesia? Are you always holding breaking of bread services each Sunday? Are you visiting the sick? Are you teaching others? We can be confident when Jesus comes back that we will be in the kingdom, however, this does depend on us “staying in him” now and walking in his ways and obeying his father, verse 28-29. During our lives now we need to become like God and his son, we have to present the “light” to others in everything that we do, in humility of course, chapter 1 verse 5-7, then we are “purified from sin”. December

December 17th

Job replies in Job 21 and in his reply he confirms what he thinks of his friends, ie they are mocking him, verse 3, and they are speaking nonsense, verse 34. These are lessons for us when we are called upon to console each other, we should be helping each other to come to terms with suffering rather than making judgements and mocking and speaking nonsense.  Because of their judgmental attitude, Job has lost confidence in his friends, they are more of a hindrance than a help. Job wanted support from his friends and he attempts to answer in this chapter how they should have consoled him, verse 2.  Job’s response is a very human way of looking at suffering and he ponders the question as we all do from time to time, he asks why do the wicked appear to have a trouble free life, verse 7, all the apparent “blessings” of children, animals, enjoyment and prosperity are experienced by them, verse 8-13. The wicked even seem to completely reject God because they see no benefit in worshipping because they already think they have everything that they need, verse 14-15. David had these same thoughts and some of his Psalms reflect on this – he counters these thoughts by thinking about God, and that is exactly what Job does in verse 16 when he remembers that the wicked’s prosperity is not in their own hands. But he still struggles with this and he again thinks about the times when the wicked suffer, verse 17-21, presumably the answer that Job comes up with is not many times! It sometimes does appear that this life is unfair and the wicked do appear to prosper. However, he again thinks of God and he realises that you cannot question God, verse 22, God knows best and knows all the answers. He then gets to the real central point when he thinks about what happens to everyone, whether good or bad, rich or poor, verse 23-26, the fact is death comes to all and like Job our focus should be on following God and looking forward to the kingdom, that is what really counts. Zephaniah 3 talks about this future hope and the last verses from 9-20 talks about future restoration where there will be purification, humility, joy, no one being afraid, etc. This is what God is getting us to consider, he wants us to look at the big picture, the wicked have their rewards in this life; we have our rewards when Jesus comes back, this is what we have to focus on. Verses 1-8 is not a very good picture of God’s people, they oppressed others, they were arrogant and proud, they were unrighteous, they were “eager to act corruptly”, they basically had no respect for God. Yet in God’s love he promised to change their attitude. We see how much God and Jesus loved in 1John 3&4. All those things in Zephaniah that were going to be changed, eg fear, is brought about by love, chapter 4 verse 16-21. God’s love is focused on the forgiveness of our sins, verse 7-15, and because we have knowledge of this we should be trying to love each other as both God and Jesus loved us. The verses in chapter 3:11-24, show us just how much love we have to show to each other, and this was demonstrated by Jesus in verse 16 in giving his life for us. He was like his father who wants us to be his children, verse 1-3. Love is demonstrated in our actions – in how we help others but also in our determination not to sin, verse 4-6. John depicts sin as the “devil”, ie “false accuser” and it should not surprise us that human nature does have this tendency to sin, but because of the love of God and of Jesus, we should be trying our best not to. We are “born of God”, therefore, verse 9-10. So in our sufferings we think of the big picture and focus on the kingdom, and in our lives now we should focus on love because both God and Jesus loved us first. December

December 18th

This is now Eliphaz’s third and final time to respond; in this response he more forcefully criticises Job, saying the same things he and the other friends have said before and also referring back to things that Job said last. What is apparent with this argument between Job and his 3 friends is that as time moves on the distance between the 2 sides of the argument is getting bigger and bigger and reconciliation appears not to be possible. They all basically mistakenly agree that suffering is as a result of sin, but Job is saying that he has not sinned and his friends are insisting that he must have sinned! The differences of opinions between Job and Eliphaz is now so great, reconciliation looks unlikely, and we should take a lesson from this when we inevitably have differences of opinions with others – we should try and not let these differences get out of control – this is why Jesus said to be reconciled with your brother before you pray (Matthew 5 verse 24). Eliphaz is trying all ways to explain why Job is suffering and although his motives appear to be fine, because he wants Job to repent (verse 21), he is suggesting in verse 4-5 that his sins were “endless”.  Is he referring Job back to sins of his youth when he was less aware of God, Job 13 verse 26? Or is he just making a big assumption that Job’s sins were many to explain his suffering? Eliphaz accuses Job of not helping others and even worse, exploiting them, verse 6-9. This he knows not to be true really because Job was known as a Godly man – Job 1 verse 1-3. It is interesting that Eliphaz says that the “righteous see their [wicked people’s] ruin and rejoice”, verse 19-20 – so were Eliphaz and the other friends the opposers (satan) who were jealous of Job’s reputation, who in the first place suggested that he was only good because he had a stable home, income and family? Jealousy is such a bad emotion and we should all learn to control it! It is sad that Eliphaz clearly believes that Job has sinned in a bad way and refers back to Job’s previous comment in Job 21 verse 14-16 in verse 17-18. Job was lamenting that the wicked are just not interested in God’s ways and would therefore not mix with them and Eliphaz was basically saying that Job was one of them and that Eliphaz himself was not going to mix with Job! This is getting to a very sad situation and this sadly happens too often when brothers and sisters become convinced by their own beliefs without thinking about their own motives and if their beliefs are based on the Bible or not. Thinking carefully about what we are doing is the common theme in Haggai 1&2, this challenge is in chapter 1 verse 5 and 6 and in chapter 2 verse 15 and twice in verse 18. The people who had returned to Jerusalem from captivity (they were in captivity because they rebelled against God) in Babylon forgot the reason for their return and already were only concentrating on themselves, chapter 1 verse 4, they had in fact made the decision to put God second, verse 2. In an attempt to get his people to reconsider their actions God reduced the harvest and made their lives harder than they could have been, verse 6. The same thing happened in chapter 2 when the people were not following God’s requirements properly, verse 16-17. God can use an element of suffering to make us think again about our actions and if we take advantage of this “reminder” then we are prompted to “think carefully” about the things of God and what he requires us to do. The people in Haggai’s time were given a new opportunity to start again by properly following God when they returned to Israel, he gave them prompts to “think again” about how they acted, he sent Haggai and he said that he was with them, chapter 1 verse 13, and that he would bless then, chapter 2 verse 19. We too have been given an opportunity to have life in God’s kingdom so we should be reading the bible so that we “think again” about how we act and do things because God will only give us the kingdom if we have the right attitude and always put him first. This wonderful opportunity that we have comes through being baptised in Jesus and it is emphasised for us in 1John 5 verse 16-17. The “sin that leads to death” refers to those people who have either chosen not to follow God and accept Jesus or have “rebelled” against them; the “sin that does not lead to death” refers to those people who have accepted Jesus, try to follow him and repent when they do sin. So we have to always “think again” about the way that we live because it is a matter of life and death! I am sure that all of us say that we love both God and Jesus, verse 1, but the test to see if we really do is whether or not we carry out “his commands”, verse 2. And following his commands should be a pleasure for us when we have the right attitude, verse 3.  It should not be a burden to carry out the breaking of bread service every Sunday to remember God’s love for us. If it is a “burden” to some, then sadly those who think like this have the wrong attitude, just like the wicked in Job. We have to change our worldly thinking – “being born of God” ensures that we “overcome the world” and believing that Jesus is the son of God is the central part of this, verse 4-5. Jesus was sent by God so that we could have eternal life and it is a simple choice that we have to make, if we want life, and we can confidently have it, but we have to follow God’s ways; rejecting his ways means that we cannot have life, verse 11-12. “Thinking again” about all that we read in the bible helps us to understand God’s will so that we then can have confidence in asking God, verse 13-15, how can we expect God to answer our prayers if we are not trying to please him? John concludes this letter by saying to “keep yourselves from idols”, verse 21, we know from old testament times that God’s people corrupted the worship of God by adding human “gods”, they were rebelling against God because they found his commands “burdensome”, so our lesson is not to make the same mistake now. December

December 19th

John’s 2nd and 3rd letters both make reference to “walking in truth”; both link this with great rejoicing and joy on John’s part to know that the believers were doing this.  Look again at 2 John verse 4: “I rejoiced greatly that I have found some of your children walking in truth…” And then 3 John verse 4: “I have no greater joy than to hear that my children walk in truth.” What does it mean to “walk in truth”? 2 John gives us some good clues.  Firstly, this is something about which John says that he “received commandment from the Father”. So this “truth” is not a man-made thing: it is not the truth as defined by an individual human being.  It is God’s truth.  God is, after all, a “God of truth” – He is described as such in Psalm 31:5. Moses describes Him as “the rock”, whose “works are perfect, and all His ways are just.” (Deuteronomy 32 :4). In a world in which we are each invited to make our own version of truth, to make our own standards and redefine any truths we find uncomfortable or unpalatable, we must learn to rely instead on the everlasting truth of God, the Rock, the unchangeable one.  Our own ideas of right and wrong must be subject to His truth: His ways are right and just. Back in 2 John, he goes on to write about 2 distinct aspects of “walking in truth”.  The first is found in verses 5-6.  It is about the commandment to “love one another”.  Love is then defined as walking “according to His commandments”.  So “walking in truth” should be shown by our actions – in particular, towards one another. Showing love to one another means thinking of the needs of each other and doing what we can to help each other towards the Kingdom.  It means investing time and energy in developing relationships within the ecclesial family and putting others first.  And because this love is characterised by the commandments of God, it is not just a case of being nice to each other or simply making each other feel good.  Showing the love of God to one another sometimes requires tough choices. It is the love that is shown to us by God and demonstrated in the life of the Lord Jesus and it is defined by truth.  Godly love is kind, gentle, peaceable – but it also “does not rejoice in iniquity but rejoices in the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).  So it will mean encouraging right behaviours and attitudes in each other, and discouraging ones that are not right or helpful in our walk to the Kingdom. The second aspect of “walking in truth” is perhaps what John goes on to say in verses 7-11.  It has to do with right and wrong doctrine, in particular in relation to the nature of the Lord Jesus.  John, having just said that we need to love one another, is immediately balancing this by making it clear that part of doing this is to keep separate from those who hold and promote wrong teaching. Scripture places a high value on truth. Joshua exhorted the Israelites to “fear the LORD and serve Him in sincerity and truth…” (Joshua 24:14).  Samuel echoed these words when he said, “Only fear the LORD and serve Him in truth with all your heart.” (1 Samuel 12:24). David wrote in Psalm 51:6, “Behold, You desire truth in the inward parts” – at the very core of our being.  In Psalm 145:18 we read, “The LORD is near to all who call upon Him; to all who call upon Him in truth.” Conversely, in Jeremiah chapter 7 we read that the nation of Israel were in desperate trouble because they had become a nation “that does not obey the voice of the LORD their God nor receive correction.  Truth has perished and has been cut off from their mouth.” In chapter 9 he says “…they are not valiant for the truth.” Not surprisingly, these same ideas are expressed in the New Testament too.  Jesus is first described in John as “full of grace and truth” (John 1: 14) and said that the truth will make us free.  Speaking of his disciples, he prayed “Sanctify them by Your truth.  Your word is truth.” (John 17:17).  On the other hand, Pilate dismissively asked “What is truth?” – he cared nothing for it. Paul warned that there would come a time when, just like Pilate, even believers, “would turn their ears away from the truth and be turned aside to fables…” (2 Tim 4:4) and that they would, like Israel of old, perish because “they received not the love of the truth.” (2 Thess 2:10). So when we reflect on what we have learnt about “walking in truth”, we find that this means two things: right thinking and right living. This essential combination comes up in John’s first letter, too.  In chapter 1:5-7 he writes: “This is the message that we have heard from Him and declare to you, that God is light and in Him is no darkness at all.  [So the truth he is passing on comes from God, as we saw in 2 John].  If we say that we have fellowship with Him and walk in darkness, we lie and do not practise the truth.  But if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another…” [the “love one another” talked about in 2 John]. What this passage is telling us is that fellowship has to do with light and with walking.  It comes from firstly being illuminated by God’s light: to know God and to understand the truth about Him.  His Word, the Psalmist wrote, is a “lamp to my feet and a light to my path.” And again, “The entrance of your words gives light; it gives understanding to the simple.” (Psalm 119:130).  God’s word teaches us about Him and how to have a right relationship with Him.  God’s Word is the source of the truth and we must pay attention to it if we want to “walk in light”.  But this knowledge and appreciation of God must then be reflected in the way that we behave towards each other.  It has to be expressed in our relationships, by showing God’s love. So as we now come to commemorate the fellowship that we have with God and with each other, we remember that it was made possible through the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus – the one who was full of grace and truth.  Let us thank and praise God that “if we walk in the light as He is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus Christ His son cleanses us from all sin.” (1 John 1:7). December

December 20th

The Job readings for today are 25, 26 and 27, they include Bildad’s third response and then Job’s further response to his criticism. Bildad’s comments appear right and his comment in verse 4 is true, ie no one is righteous before God, but it is his cruel criticism of Job and his lack of compassion that Job responds to in chapter 26 verse 2-4. Job is sarcastic in his response –  he is really saying that Bildad and his other friends have not helped Job at all in his suffering; they have not tried to save him; they have not given him loving advice and neither have they provided any wise suggestions. He asks them who helped them to say the things that they did say, because the implication is that he does not recognise anything that they said. Job is saying that if they were speaking God’s words then he would have recognised them! The lesson here for us is that the “authority” of the things that we say should be God’s, ie from his bible, we cannot teach or challenge anyone by saying “I think” without referring to the bible. Job confirms his belief in God and says that he will never speak wickedness for as long as he lives, chapter 27 verse 2-6, Job certainly stuck to his principles, and in this sense he was better than his friends because despite how they previously saw Job acting before his suffering, they now forgot all that and now accused him of sinning badly. Chapter 26 verse 8-14 gives us confidence in the inspiration of the bible because there are things here that at that time in human history the only way that Job could have known that the earth was “suspended over nothing” was if that information was provided by God. Today we know that to be true because of the research that humans have been able to do, but then, technology was not available to prove it. He also acknowledged God working in human events, ie verse 12, where he refers to Egypt – the word “Rahab” is used to describe Egypt, see Isaiah 30 verse 7 – presumably this verse refers to the children of Israel coming out of Egypt via the parting of the Red Sea (Exodus 14). Job clearly has complete respect for God and therefore maintained his godliness all the way through his sufferings. As with all prophecies there are slightly different interpretations by all who study the bible and this applies to Zechariah 2 and 3. It is good to have debate, providing the interpretations are bible based.  Whatever period in history chapter 2 refers to, it is a wonderful hope because it is a picture of restoration of God’s people into a nation – we can see that it applied to the return of the Jews from captivity in Babylon, verse 7, and it was around the similar time as Haggai, but we can also take lessons from it for us too because we have confidence that God will restore all things when Jesus comes back. Chapter 2 suggests that it is referring to a restoration following the return from Babylon too, because we have reference to Joshua the high priest, verse 1, who was referred to in Haggai 1 and 2; we know that Joshua and the people had opposition to what they were doing from Ezra 4 verse 1-5 and Nehemiah 4, so characters like Sanballat were the “opposers” or “satan” as described here. Verse 8 says that this account is “symbolic of things to come”, so it appears that we are being told that these, perhaps real events, are also pictures of future events, and it does not take much imagination to see Jesus in this picture and verse 10, for example, as a picture of the kingdom. So we can see reminders of all sorts of times when God restores things all the way through history and will again in the future. As Zechariah progresses with his prophecy we do see that it climaxes in the return of Jesus, so just like Job, we maintain our confidence in God because we know that he will restore all things. Jude, our last reading for today, is written to church members, ie us, verse 1. Jude uses the past history of God’s people as lessons for us to learn to keep a focus on and attempt to correctly interpret what God is saying, Job is another example. The problem with the church in Jude’s time was that brothers and sisters had joined who had corrupted God’s teachings, and this is a warning for our time too, verse 3-4. The only way that we can be best equipped to understand what God wants is for us to prayerfully read the bible, this is why it is important to always check because we always need reminding, verse 5. The past examples that Jude uses are of the Israelites who were rescued from Egypt and then did not believe and were destroyed; God’s human messengers (word “angels” means “messengers”), ie people who were supposed to have been carrying out God’s work but they misused their authority and were destroyed, verse 6, (this is very likely referring to Korah, Dathan and Abiram in Numbers 16); Sodom and Gomorrah were also punished for their sexual immorality; so all those who oppose and rebel against God are rightly destroyed because their continued bad influence would corrupt and turn others against God. Corrupting God’s requirements is so subtle, in verse 3-4 Jude refers to “grace” and it is by grace that we are saved – without grace none of us will be saved, however, these corrupt brothers and sisters were using “grace” as a reason for them to carry on doing what their human desires wished, saying that they could do what they liked and God would forgive them through grace! Jude was pointing out from historic examples that this was not the case, those who corrupted God’s teaching would be punished. So just because we do not like a teaching of God we cannot simply ignore it and do our own thing, that get’s us nowhere. Verse 8 is a very strong statement on what God thinks of those who corrupt his teachings! And they are condemned, verse 11-13, Jude is saying that brothers and sisters who act like this should not be included in our breaking of bread services (love feasts) – so this is serious. The message is to be careful, verse 14-16. Sadly people will ridicule and criticise those of us who try to keep to God’s teachings, we should expect this, verse 17-19, but as Jude says, we should be building each other up, praying and waiting patiently for Jesus’ return, verse 20-21. If we are going to challenge others, we need to use God’s teachings as the “authority” for that, we need to try our best to stick to God’s teachings and we are to try and see the return of Jesus in everything that we read. December

December 21st

Job 28 continues from what Job says about the wicked in the previous chapter.  The wicked die wealthy (27:16 & 19) but then they are gone for ever.  Man seeks wealth like gold and precious stones.  But man is seeking the wrong thing.  There is something of far greater value that lasts for ever but is harder to find.  This is wisdom.  Wisdom starts with the fear of God but continues with avoiding evil (28:28).  Job did this.  Through his suffering, he had the wisdom to recognise the supremacy of God. And he had the wisdom to not turn to evil when he was tested.  Can we have this wisdom when we suffer? Zechariah describes a different type of suffering.  Zerubbabel was trying to rebuild God’s temple but opposition had stopped the building. Zechariah 4 encourages Zerubbabel to restart the building – not by the might of human force but by relying on God (4:6).  And they should not worry about the result being small and inferior (4:10).  What matters is that the faithful work is carried out.  Today we are also builders.  The house we are building is God’s house made of brothers and sisters (1 Cor 3:9). We should build this house in the same way as Zechariah.  We should rely on God and we should not be concerned if our work is only small and inferior.  All faithful building work will be rewarded.  But we should be careful how we build (1 Cor 3:10). The same was true in Zechariah’s day as we read in chapter 5. God’s house should not be built on falsehood, but only on truth (5:1-4).  Nor could it be a house built of wickedness (5:5-11). God’s house must be a holy house built on the truth of God’s word. In the New Testament, we start reading Revelation.  As Deuteronomy 29:29 says, “The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things revealed belong to us and to our children”. Revelation is God revealing the next stage of His plan with man. At centre stage of this plan is Jesus Christ, who is coming soon. Chapter 1 gives us a description of Jesus, who is the one who was dead but is now alive for ever (1:18). The features of the description are ones of Jesus coming in righteous judgment.  The question for every reader of Revelation is, “Are you ready for the return of Jesus?”  We must ask this question and make sure we can say “yes”.  If we cannot, then we have not learn the important last message of Jesus in the Revelation.  Chapters 2 and 3 describe how some of the ecclesias were not ready.  Ephesus had to repent (2:5) and so had Pergamum (2:16).  The problems of the ecclesias are problems that ecclesias today face.  in chapter 2, there are warnings of sexual immorality from teachers like the Nicolaitans, Balaam and Jezebel. These ecclesias were not maintaining their separation from the world. Ephesus had dealt with false teachers but had gone so far as to have lost their love (2:4).  Here is the difficult balance ecclesias need to have of maintaining purity while at the same time as maintaining love. Finally, there are messages for the ecclesias to keep being faithful even while they are suffering (2:9, 13).  Let us maintain our separation from the world, and keep our love for God strong, even if we have to go through our own suffering.  We need to wisdom of Job and the perseverance of Zechariah to do this.  Then we will be able to build up our ecclesia house, so that it is a holy dwelling place which pleases God.  And God will be pleased to live with us, for ever. December

December 22nd

Job 29-30 The perfected man.  It’s a natural thing to do when one gets older, to look back on one’s life;  especially when we were young and at our best. But is our relationship with the Lord dependent on the “good times”?  We might be only one with Him when life is easy; when our health is good and we are respected by mankind. Job had good health, he was highly respected and he was also doing the right things: helping the poor, the orphans, the blind and lame, teaching in righteousness and justice. What a good life Job had, when Job perceived “the Almighty was yet with me” (v5). Isn’t that our greatest joy; when we perceive the Lord is with us ? In chapter 29 we see that Job liked the praise of men, he liked his elevated place in society; and he does seem to give this too much importance. Ch.30 is in contrast. In contrast to what Job did for mankind… mankind forgot his former deeds and rejected the “poor” Job, and considered him the lowest of society…Did Job think that the Lord had done the same, rejected Job? He knew the Lord had caused his humiliation, and he seemed to believe it was some kind of punishment although he did not understand why.  His (our) suffering was (is) not  a punishment with rejection from God (rejection from God only comes when we reject his teaching/discipline and refuse to listen). As parents with children, discipline does not come with rejection, (it comes because of love!) but with guidance and encouragement to live the right way. Circumstances were such that God wanted Job to have the right mind (thinking) in ALL situations, and for Job to go to Him for help and find Him.  Phil 4:11-13  “I have learned to be content whatever the circumstances, whether living in plenty or in want. I can do everything through Him who gives me strength”.  This is true of Paul, and it is true for all of us. It was true of Jesus. Heb 5:7-9 “when He (Jesus) had offered up prayers and supplications, with vehement cries and tears to Him who was able to save Him from death, and was heard because of his godly fear, though he was a son, yet he learned obedience by the things which he suffered. And having been perfected….” The Lord God was the cause of the suffering, not to punish, but to bring Job to a closer understanding of the “perfect” man… humble, trusting and one with God at all times, and in all circumstances. We can do this… “through Him who gives us strength”.  Zechariah 6-7:    Visions.  What would we have seen and understood? Jerusalem and its surroundings had been a very unstable place to live for many years; there were fears on every side. Zechariah was given a vision of chariots and horses, and he knew this was a vision with an intended message. But he didn’t understand “what are these, my Lord?” (v4).  The angel then gives some explanation – the horses were “spirits of heaven”, angels (probably) who were sent by God to do His will amongst the nations. Zechariah would have realized that God was still at work, in the nations, bringing His will and promises to fulfilment, and ultimately preparing people for the kingdom. We too should be mindful of the all-powerful God and obviously, nothing can resist His will. The world today is very unstable, nothing (without God) is sustainable… but there is a God, He is in control, His will will be done, and it’s only with Him that we can find the foundation to build our lives upon.  With that reassurance Zechariah receives another “vision”, building on a “foundation” given to Isaiah before him. (Isa 11:1) He proclaims the word of God (v12-13) speaking about God’s will with a man.  We, by that same word, and the grace of God know who that man is.  “whose name is the Branch”, “who will build the temple of the Lord”, “who will rule on His throne”, “who shall be a priest on His throne”. We know the priest-king – out of the billions of people ever born, there is only one who can be trusted with that authority, and we KNOW, (not just believe) it’s Jesus.  The message from Zechariah 7 is clear. The Lord does not value heartless ritual, fasting or worship… we are not “one” with God when this happens. But the Lord gives us instruction to show us how and when we can become one and experience it (v9-10): “Execute true justice, show mercy and compassion everyone to his brother. Do not oppress the widow or fatherless, the alien or the poor. Let none of you plan evil in his heart against his brother”.  If we don’t show mercy, compassion etc we have failed concerning the 2nd commandment, which in turn has failed the 1st commandment. Love is the commandment, but it’s not a commandment in the human sense… you cannot command someone to love you – when love is spoken as a command it means it is a priority, it’s what comes first. If we have love, then we will find that all of the other fruits of the spirit will come naturally, as good fruit from a good tree. We are TOTALLY dependent on God’s love, let’s make that awareness live in our daily lives by loving in return. “If God so loved us, we also ought to love one another” 1 John 4:11. Revelation 3-4 : lessons and questions.  “He who has an ear, let him hear what the spirit says to the churches” The letters to the churches were not just for them, but for all of us; as churches and individuals.  Lessons from Sardis: be watchful regarding your faith, your lives, your hearts; strengthen your faith and your works of faith; remember your calling; hold fast and repent; seek first the kingdom of God; the Lord will be faithful with the faithful.  Lessons from Philadelphia:  they have kept his word; not denied his name; were loved by Jesus; had persevered and held fast; and great rewards were promised.  Lessons from Laodicea: rebuked for being half-hearted, full of the things of this world believing they had no need; spiritually… poor, blind, naked etc.; the answer – come to Jesus, become rich in faith; receive righteousness (white garments), be healed that you might see; repent to be with the Lord, understand “as many as I love, I rebuke and chasten”.  If you read those words SLOWLY, examining your own minds, and realized you yourself needed to work in some of these spiritual areas, then you “have an ear to hear”. And that is what the word of God does if we listen to His words – reading on its own does nothing; listen and live like Jesus.  Rev 4:     Whenever we read Revelation we see “echoes” from elsewhere in scripture. For example, the 4 living creatures in this chapter and Ezekiel 1; there are many similarities but there also differences in their appearance. What interpretations or messages can we be sure of? For me, the words and visions are intriguing. I accept I don’t understand (and probably never will whilst in this body!) but I find peace in knowing many things of God are beyond our understanding, we just look on in wonder.  Regarding the 4 living creatures and 24 elders; I have read many different suggestions as to what they represent – do the symbols represent one idea, or many; I don’t know. It is interesting to see that they come together in worship.  Ch 4:11 “You are worthy, O Lord, to receive glory and honour and power; for you created all things, and by your will they exist and were created” – words to God. And Ch 5:9-10 “You are worthy to take the scroll, and to open its seals; for you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation and have made us kings and priests to our God; and we shall reign on the earth” – words to Jesus.  So we see the 4 living creatures and 24 elders worshipped because they had been redeemed to God by the blood of Jesus!  I don’t want to steal comments on Revelation 5 (tomorrow) but my limited understanding tells me that the symbols might be pictures of redeemed mankind at a future time given different roles by the Lord.  What I can clearly see is that if our hearts and minds are with the Lord we are in safe hands “we know that all things work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called to His purpose” Rom 8:28 December

December 23rd

Job 31 is a companion to Job 29.  Both chapters describe Job’s way of life.  Job is to be admired.   Job clothes the naked (31:19) and feeds the hungry (31:17).  He provides shelter for the traveller (31:32).  He provides justice for the poor.  He has been faithful to his wife.   He has not trusted in his wealth but trusted in God.  He has not rejoiced in the downfall of enemies and has avoided falsehood.  Noone contradicts Job’s claims, not even the three ‘friends’.  Job is like the righteous as described in the parable of the sheep and the goats (Matthew 25:31-46), who clothes the naked, feeds the hungry and shelters the traveller. Job is an example of righteousness for us all to follow. Just as Proverbs 31 describes the virtuous woman, so Job 29 and 31 describe the virtuous man, who is Job.  Job 31 concludes Job’s speeches in the book.  Job 32 is about the next speaker, a young man called Elihu, who has respectively waited for his elders to speak.  He claims to speak differently from Job’s accusers (32:14).  We will learn that this is true. Zechariah tells us that the righteous are those who will live in Jerusalem (Zechariah 8:16).  Zechariah highlights 4 of Job’s qualities – truth, justice, loving his neighbour and avoiding falsehood.  These qualities will enable the righteous to live in Jerusalem and have joy, love and peace (8:19).  There will be feasts of rejoicing and  happy pilgrimages to that city (8:19-22).  People from all nations will want to go their and enjoy such blessings.  However, the reader is left unclear about when these times will come about.  No doubt those who listened to his words considered an immediate fulfillment and were encouraged.  And maybe some of this happened.  But the real joy and honour from the nations must still be future.  This is our future, if we live righteously.  This is a Jerusalem-based future, as we ultimately read at the end of Revelation. Revelation 5 presents us with the Lamb who takes centre stage in the purpose of God and in this chapter.  The Lamb is Jesus, who is also the Lion of the tribe of Judah.  Jesus was slain like a sacrificial lamb, but he will come as a royal lion.  It is Jesus alone who can open the scroll that is sealed (5:1).  He can do this because he was slain for mankind so that he can bring about God’s plan of the kingdom (5:9-10). For this the Lamb is praised.  What follows in Revelation 6 is that these seals are opened and what is written in the seals happens.  The four horsemen of the Apocalpse appear first and ride off to conquer, to take away peace, to cause famine and to have power to kill.  This means trouble is coming.  The fifth seal presents us with a picture of an altar where the dead symbollically request justice. They do not know how long there will be until justice is achieved.  The sixth seal brings the darkening of the heavens as if a storm is coming.  All the high and mighty on earth flee.  A storm is coming and the world had better be prepared for it.  It is the wrath of the Lamb and the one on the throne.  It is the great day of justice that has come (6:17).  The book of Revelation as a whole describes the justice coming on the earth. This is the time when the wicked and the righteous are both rewarded. For the wicked, this is a day of trouble.  For the righteous, it is a day of joy.  The righteous have nothing to fear from the coming of the Lamb.  The lesson is clear.  We must show the behaviours of the righteous.  We need to live in truth, justice and love just like Zechariah and Job.  If we do, then Revelation ends with the description of our joy in the new Jerusalem. December

December 24th

There are some provoking thoughts from the continuing response by Elihu in Job 33, there are bible students who think that he is wise in his response and others think that he is as bad as Job’s other friends. Elihu certainly gives credit to God, verse 3-4, and he also has sympathy with Job saying that he is just like him, verse 6, and he also says to Job that he has nothing to fear from his responses, verse 7. This always has to be a good start when any one of us has a disagreement with a brother or sister or has the loving task of encouraging them, ie we are all the same and we should help in humility. Elihu acknowledges that God is always right and that he has a reason for doing everything, he suggests that God’s reason for allowing suffering, and bringing it in Job’s case, was to try and stop men from “wrongdoing” and being “proud”, verse 17. This is probably a good lesson for all of us in our daily lives is to always think what are the lessons for me! Elihu uses language that builds a picture for us in his response from verse 19-28, starting with a man ill in bed. He is obviously ill and is clearly dying, verse 22, this reminds us too that we are in the process of dying because of our human nature and we need a “mediator” (Jesus) to show us “grace” and to “ransom” us, verse 23-24. As this picture builds we see the need to “repent”, verse 26, also we see forgiveness (restoration), we then see an admission of sin to our fellow man, verse 27, and ultimately we see that man can be “redeemed” from the grave, verse 28. So we can see in this “picture” the progress from us acknowledging our sin to being forgiven, because that is what God wants in the end. God will repeatedly give us opportunities to save us from death, verse 29-30, this shows just how merciful and long suffering God is. We know from other scriptures, eg Ecclesiastes, that acknowledging our sins and how we can be forgiven is “wisdom”, verse 33. There’s a verse in Zechariah 9 that reminds me of the restoration of Job at the end of the book (Job42:10) and that is verse 12 where those who are brought back to Jerusalem are given “twice as much” as they had before. This promise of having all our suffering removed is something that we can all look forward to when Jesus comes back, a time that this chapter refers to, verse 9.  We know from the new testament that this verse refers to Jesus (Matthew 21:5 and John 12:15), the people at that time expected Jesus to restore all things then, but that was not God’s plan and we continue to wait for Jesus to come back. This prophecy referred initially to the Jews as they went back to the land, but it refers to us too as we faithfully wait for Jesus to come back, verse 14-17, the confidence that we have is that “God will save”, so no matter how we suffer now, if we stay faithful and are wise, we will be part of this promised time of joy. Revelation 7, 8 and 9 continues with this theme, the symbolic number of “144,000” signifies Israel, verse 4-8. They were joined by another “multitude”, verse 9, made up of people who were from “every nation”, so we appear to have a picture here of people from all nations of the world who have accepted Jesus (the lamb) and have their sins forgiven by the blood of Jesus, verse 14. So we see a picture of people, us, and those Jews who  accept Jesus who are promised that they will no longer suffer, verse 15-17. This is a picture of the kingdom of the future that we all look forward to, when our pain and suffering end. In the meantime we try our best to follow God and we pray for help and strength to cope with the situations that we are in – these prayers are important because they feature in God’s plans and judgement for the future, chapter 8 verse 1-5. Chapters 8 and 9 have some further pictures of judgement but we take confidence that God will always care for his people. Chapter 9 verse 4 – we are those people who are symbolically marked on our foreheads and just like the people of Israel in Egypt during the plagues, God’s people will be afforded a certain amount of protection when his judgement comes. Even amongst all this confusing destruction, God’s aim appears to be to turn people around from their sins, just as it was in Job’s time, verse 20-21. God wants man to repent, this is why he will restrict his judgements so it gives others opportunity to think and repent. We have been given the opportunity to follow God and to accept Jesus, our names are already written in the “book of life” and we can be confident we will be with Jesus when he sets up his father’s kingdom on earth, IF we continue to obey and follow. Now is the time to change our lives and try our best to follow. December

December 25th

Job 34, Zec 10, Rev 10 and 11. Not really good Christmassy readings! – but whatever Revelation 10 and 11 actually mean it clearly brings us to the Kingdom and reminds us how Jesus overcome sin! If it wasn’t for Jesus’ birth then this promise would not be possible – so for no other reason than this – this is a Happy Christmas Every Christmas should therefore be happy – but for whatever reason I appreciate this is not always possible for all! (even though Jesus not born at this time of year, I see no reason not to celebrate!). “Happy Christmas” then accommodates most people, most of the time. But there are many who will not enjoy Christmas so much or even not at all, for 1 reason or another, this year. There are brothers and sisters we know who have painful thoughts, especially now when it is more acute.- loss of members of family, breakup of others, illness, worry, loneliness. Ukraine, Afghanistan, Cameroon, Mozambique, Malawi, all East Africa – the list goes on and on where people for one reason or another will not be happy. We all respect these feelings and we feel sad for those who are in distress at Christmas. But individuals’ distress does bring us closer to Jesus because he really does know what we are going through – Hebs 4:14-16 – no matter how hard it is at the time, we have to put our complete trust in God and in Jesus – they know exactly what we are all going through. In fact all the pain and suffering that there ever was is known about – we’re so familiar with Job’s pain and suffering and how we are learning to be patient and that we should not be blaming God for the bad things that happen, even though he does bring them on us when he knows that will be the right thing for us. As with any exhortation we have to think about Jesus and come to thank him and to appreciate all that he and our father have done and do do for us. Jesus’ birth was just one part of this tremendous love that is shown to each of us. We can use the “celebration” at Christmas to again focus our minds on the birth of Jesus when most of the world at least considers some element of his birth, even if they do not believe. Jesus’ birth gave rise to our salvation so, for that reason, I continue to say Happy Christmas! Question is how to help each other when hard? In our Job 34 reading we have the phrase “let us learn together”, verse 4, and this is how we should learn, together – we are brought together as a group of brothers and sisters to grow and learn to cope. Together we have more ideas and we benefit from sharing – obviously providing the ideas are those of God’s too. Elihu was a little bit sarcastic as he speaks to the 3 friends in this chapter, ie verse 2, 10, 16 and 34, he sarcastically calls them “wise men” and “men of understanding”, he was actually ridiculing them for them not being wise and not understanding because they had drifted away from God’s teachings. Now this is the interesting part because we know that we too must be careful not to deviate from God’s ways, this is why it is always good to be in fellowship and share scriptural ideas and encouragement, because there is nothing else! Even if we may not always understand what is written in the bible or what is happening in our lives, we have to start from the understanding that God is always right, eg verse 10, “Far be it from God to do evil, from the Almighty to do wrong”. We know that so many mistakes and misunderstandings are made when we deviate from what God says, so it’s a reminder for us! Another learning point that Elihu makes is that no one can hide from God, he is aware of all our actions and deeds – as well as our sufferings – verse 21-22, there is nowhere to hide from him,  he always knows what we are going through, no matter what that is! Zechariah 10 also repeats doing this “together”, in fellowship, as well as with fellow believers, it is doing things with God, verse 5, the point here is that God’s people were stronger together with each other and with God, because God was with them. Because there was this fellowship created by God in his mercy, God’s people prosper, verse 6, their past problems were forgotten, verse 8, and God redeems them and restores them “as numerous as before” – all this is possible when they (we) remember God, verse 9. Then they will be strengthened and “walk in his name”, verse 12. Man has always rebelled against God and it is this rebellion that has to stop before the world can walk in his ways because man’s ways cannot help at all; verses 1-2 shows the difference between man and God – only God can bring the rains and the crops, verse 1, whereas man brings deceit by the “idols” he creates, verse 2, and God punishes those leaders who cause his people to “wander”, verse 3. The only way that salvation can be brought about is in Jesus and in verse 4 we have the mention of the “cornerstone” which is Jesus, as confirmed in Acts 4 verse 11, and sadly the Jews rejected Jesus when he came first. But for our Happy Christmas thought – we are brought together in fellowship with each other and more importantly in fellowship with God because of Jesus which was made possible by his birth – Matthew 1 verse 20-21. In Revelation 11 verse 8 we have a reminder of what happened to the saviour of the world in Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. There are some confusing pictures in Revelation 10 and 11, but they are very graphic and if we take the whole of God’s purpose, we can see help in the old testament because what is prophesied in Revelation was prophesied then too, verse 7. There appears to be terrible times before Jesus comes back, but like at all stages during history there have always been those who worship God and here in Revelation this is the case too, chapter 11 verse 1, the 2 witnesses were also protected, verse 5. But however confusing this is, it comes before the “kingdom of the world becomes the kingdom of our Lord and of his Christ”, verse 15-18, so we can be really confident that God will do as he has promised and send Jesus back to set up his kingdom – this is when salvation and peace will come – Luke 1 verse 30-33. We will be there together, in fellowship, all because of Jesus! Happy Christmas! December

December 26th

Even though not immediately obvious, these readings do relate to salvation promised at Jesus’ birth. Job’s other friends have had a go, now the young Elihu has his turn and he picks up on what the others and Job have said. Some of his responses are obvious lessons for us but when God does speak in Job 38:2 is he referring to Elihu, or to Job or to the other 3 friends? Some of Elihu’s comments are confirmed in the rest of scripture, so these are known to be right, one such comment is about the arrogance of the sinners, chapter 35:12… and 36:9… – they do not accept God so they do what they want and just saw no point in not sinning – Job35:3… This appears an unfair criticism of Job, Elihu appears to consider Job as one of the wicked, because I don’t think Job actually said this, he did wonder why the wicked prospered, just like David and Jeremiah did, and sometimes we wonder the same, but not Job. The wicked certainly say what is the point in not sinning – but they sadly miss the point – the point is salvation, that all of us look forward too! Amen to that – so we have to “keep on” because of this promise! So it was a massive disappointment for Zechariah and those who heard his prophecy in chapter 11, when God says that the 2 staffs, Favour and Union were to be broken, verse 7, 10 and 14…, they were a sign of God apparently pulling back from caring for his people, despite God saying that he would care for them (10:6), God was now saying that the “shepherd” would not be one who we all desire, verse 16… But for those who stopped to listen – this was talking about a deliverance and it was a prophecy of Jesus. There are quotes around Jesus’ death pointing back to this, so it is very much a “salvation” chapter, albeit the start of the salvation process because of Jesus – who the people rejected BUT because of that we have this wonderful promise of life and we thank God for it – so we do have salvation in these chapters – and Zechariah 12 introduces the realization of the Jews’ mistake! 12 verse 10-14… Rev12 reminds us of pregnant Mary who gave birth to a “male child”, who was persecuted at birth and throughout his life, but God protected him from all the wickedness until the right time, when Jesus destroyed the power of death. All righteous men and women up until then had been looking forward to: verse 10-12… Rev 13 continues with these graphic pictures that depict the worst of human nature – trying to destroy all traces of godliness by trying to stop the wonderful gospel being preached and then “man” “blasphemes” God in every way with proud arrogance – as was the case in Job, verse 5-8… There are many ideas about what all these characters and symbols actually mean, I’m happy to believe that they represent the extremes of man’s thinking – they clearly cause the saints to suffer and so the message for us is to be patient and “keep going” verse 10 (end of)… because in the end God’s salvation overcomes all wickedness and sin. We therefore have a real hope because our names are “written in the Book of Life” and we should rejoice, even though we are in the middle of confusing times at the moment! So we always “keep on going” and thank God always for Jesus’ birth because without him our salvation is just not possible – so for no other reason that this – this is a “Happy Christmas” – every Christmas should be “happy” – even though sometimes, because of suffering, it doesn’t feel very happy! There are brothers and sisters here who have painful thoughts and we respect these feelings and we feel sad for those who are in distress at Christmas – Jesus sympathises too: Hebs 4:14-16… through words like this we try to encourage and to be encouraged. No matter how hard it is at the time, we have to put our complete trust in God and in Jesus – they know exactly what we are all going through, after all, God loves us so much that he sent his son to give us salvation: 1Jn4:7-12… So if God sent Jesus and Jesus knows exactly what we are going through, we know that God is in control and interested in our lives, then what else can we do but cast our burdens on Jesus and have faith that he knows best. Again easy to say, but just think where God and Jesus have helped you personally in the past! It is Jesus’ birth that was a vital part of our salvation and thank God for it! For Christians it’s a time to reflect on Jesus’ birth – the miraculous event that has changed our lives! There are wonderful words in the Christmas account – Mt1:18-21… We are saved from our sins! We are reminded of the whole purpose of Christmas of God’s salvation – because we all need saving Ro3:21-26… God had planned our salvation right at the beginning, when Jesus was a little baby, God knew how he would die – for us! Just think of that love for you and me! So really how can we not praise God for Jesus’ birth? How can we not respect God’s forgiveness? How can we question God for allowing the upsets in our lives? The contrast between the non Christian’s Christmas and the Christian’s Christmas is brought out in [Rev13:11-18… and 14:1-5…] Whichever way you interpret 666 (Rev13), it’s against God, and man is generally against God – he carries on with own activities, with no real thought for God – just as happened in Job’s time! We have the picture of the beast, man against God in Rev 13, and in Rev 14 we have the picture of those who are with God, the saints, us – those whose every action is made with an attempt to follow Jesus; those who acknowledge Jesus in everything. So now each Sunday we remember our king and world ruler who is going to take away all suffering and death! He’s going to raise the dead! He’s going to allow us to worship properly! That’s who was born 2000 years ago – so we think about Jesus’ birth, as well as his death and resurrection. We don’t need to wait for New year to make new resolutions, we should be making new resolutions every week – at each new start! how Jesus’ birth and death affects us now. Each time we break bread and drink wine, we should again thank God and Jesus for their love and give thanks that Jesus was born to be our saviour. 1Pe 1:3-4. December

December 27th

In Job 37 we have the last part of Elihu’s response to Job’s situation and in it he continues to set the scene for God to respond because he sees God in the things around him, particularly in the weather. We know from Job 38 verse 1 that God answered “from the storm”, so it is possible that the storm was building up from chapter 36 verse 27 and Elihu is using the storm to describe God’s power. Jesus certainly used the examples of every day life that was going on around him to find lessons, eg oxen ploughing the fields, the sower planting seed and the harvesters collecting the crop, so it is very likely that Elihu did the same in his response. The weather is a great example to use to depict God’s power, it is used elsewhere in scripture, eg Elijah, and we are reminded by the weather of God’s power. We so often see the effects of eg verse 13, where God shows both his love and his punishment in it. All these things are true, the weather affects all of our lives, even the animals detect changes in the weather, chapter 36 verse 33, therefore we should “revere” God because of his awesome power, chapter 37 verse 24. The first few verses of Zechariah 12 also remind us of God’s creative power, verse 1, and it is this same power that God will use to destroy those who oppose him, and specifically in this chapter, those who oppose Jerusalem. We know from the news that Jerusalem is a problem for the world, there does not appear to be a human resolution to the troubles that surround it, and this is exactly what God said would happen, verse2-3. These verses show how difficult it would be to resolve the issues there and those who have tried have always failed and suffered as a consequence. However, God will provide a solution, he is “watching” over the city, verse 4-5, and we know that Jerusalem will be the capital of God’s kingdom when Jesus comes back to the earth – God will save Jerusalem, verse 7-9. All the people of Israel will mourn for Jesus when they realise that it was God’s son their ancestors killed, verse 10-14. Because we have accepted Jesus now we are part of this continued restoration and Revelation 14 uses “natural” things that we all experience to show that there will be “harvest” when Jesus comes back. We all know that a harvest is a joyful time, but we also know that both good and bad crops are separated during the harvest – the good we use, the bad is thrown away. This is exactly the picture that we have here, there are good, ie the 144,000, verse 1 and 12 and the bad, ie verse 9 and 17-20. The good are determined by the “the father’s name written on their foreheads”, this is shown by obeying God’s commands, verse 12, and by their good deeds, verse 13. This group is made up of the 144,000 and those who have the “eternal gospel”, verse 6-7, so this is us, therefore we have to worship, obey and be seen for our good deeds. The other group are those who have the mark of man (beast) on their foreheads, verse 9-11, these are those who oppose God and are just interested in human things and only interested in their own power and wealth. So the question for us is who do we look like? Do we look like “man” in the things that we do, or do we look like “God” in the things that we do? There are only 2 groups of people when God judges the earth when Jesus comes back, ie good and bad, it is a great time for the good, although they require patience now (verse 12), but there will be no hope for the bad and there will be destruction. Verse 13 is an important verse because although we know from other scripture that we are not saved by the things that we do because we are saved by grace, but, because we are saved by grace we should therefore be doing good deeds, and this is how we are known! So are your deeds godly? Now is the opportunity to change if they are not! December

December 28th

God enters the Job debate in Job 38.  He had let everyone have their say.  Now God sends a storm and the scene turns dramatic. God could speak to all people present but instead He addresses Job out of the storm.  God judged that Job had darkened (ie made obscure) God’s counsel by Job’s own words (38:2).  But God does not reply to anyones specific questions, not even Job’s.  Instead God describes what He had done during the days of creation.  He describes the sea and clouds, the land and the light, the weather and the stars.  With the storm raging around them, there should be no doubt that God has all power and understanding.  What God says will be true.  But Job is left to work out what God is actually saying.  And so must we.  Just as noone can understand how God created the world, so noone can understand how God works in our lives.  This was how Elihu concluded his words in the previous chapter, when he drew attention to God, “Listen to this, Job; stop and consider God’s wonders” (37:14).  And Elihu concluded, “The Almighty is beyond our reach and exalted in power” (37:23).  We too should consider the greatness of God.  Whenever we do not understand God, think of His creation.  We must accept that there will be times in our lives where we do not understand what God is doing.  This is a natural consequence of our limitations and our inability to see into the future.  We must trust God in these moments.  God is bring about His ultimate plan of righteousness and justice, even if it does not like that from our current position.  We must persevere the troubles of the present to gain the blessings of the future. The end of Zechariah is another time  when man did not understand God’s plan.  Zechariah 13 tells us of a prophet who is wounded (v6) and a shepherd who is struck with a sword (v7).  The sheep are scattered and the people struck down (v7-9).  In all this turmoil, God has a plan that is working out.  His people are cleansed (v1) and they are refined to a point where God is willing to be their God (v9).  Today we understand these words as about Jesus.  He was the one who was wounded by his friends (v6) and the shepherd who was struck.  We see the danger of judging God based on the situation in a moment in time.  Yes, the death of the shepherd Jesus was awful, but it does brought about cleansing and reconciliation.  God knows what He is doing, and we do not. Chapter 14 tells us about events still in our future.  There will be a battle at Jerusalem (14v2) where the nations fight against it.  In this battle God intervenes and saves them (v3-5).  The king is established in Jerusalem.  The nations submit to him and honour him.  In other words, we have a situation like Job’s.  We have trouble before blessing.  Along the way, there will be troubles.  We must understand that God knows what He is doing.  Ultimately there will be peace through the king that God has appointed.  We all pray for this time when we say, “your kingdom come.” The book of Revelation gives us a picture of what we have already seen in Zechariah.  The nations submit to God and honour Him (14:4).  God’s people sing about the greatness of God.  They sing about God’s justice and righteousness (15:3).  These are features which Job questioned for a time, but then came to agree with intimately and personally.  The same will be true of all true believers when they see the justice of God administered among the nations.  God is right and just to bring these plagues on the world.  But until that point it looks as though the wicked get away with their wickedness.  This takes us to the seven last plagues (15:1) which are described in chapter 16.  There is no escape from these plague.  Whether people are in the land, sea, river or heavens – or in the things they symbollise – there is no escape. Justice will be done.  Even the altar exclaims, “true and just are your judgments” (16:7).  We previous met the altar speaking when it said, “How long, Sovereign Lord, holy and true, until you judge the inhabitants of the earth and avenge our blood?” (6:10).  Now the altar sees justice.  In the book of Revelation, we read about how God will ultimately bring about his righteous justice on the world.  The righteous, like Job and Zechariah, will see that it does pay to follow God.  There is a time when the righteous are rewarded and the wicked punished. December

December 29th

Job 39 – The wisdom of God.  “Tell me, if you have understanding” (Job 38:4).  In chapter 39 the Lord questions Job’s understanding and wisdom. Let’s pause there and think – how much do we know? (not a lot!) How much does God know? (everything) Can we ever question God’s decision making? If we are struggling (and we all do at various times), don’t question, simply ask for His wisdom and help, help to trust totally. If you trust totally, you don’t need all of the answers.  The Lord challenges Job gently by telling him to observe God’s creation. To see how animals and birds are born, how they live and find food – all of them are different, having different skills – and all have been provided for.  Any life is a miracle when you consider all of the amazing things that have to happen in the womb – then at birth many changes have to happen so that the child can breathe independently without even thinking about it day and night, even the structure of the heart changes at the same time to support the new life, a life outside of the womb. Did any of us parents plan these miraculous changes? (No God did!) Do we know much about how a new life comes to be born? Mankind has come to know some of what happens, but in truth we don’t know how it happens, and if God told us, would we be capable of understanding?  God tells Job to look at the ostrich, because although she seems to lack in parental skills, even she gives glory to her creator. She might not be able to fly, but she can run very fast, indeed it is the fastest 2 footed animal, each stride is 5 metres when running at 40mph! They have also been known to kill a lion with their powerful legs. The more we know about God’s creation the more we give glory to Him, for all things are wondrously made.  What have mankind been given? of ourselves? we cannot fly, we haven’t been given the best eyesight, we are not the strongest animal etc. The major difference with the rest of His creation is that we have been given the potential to have a living, daily relationship with our creator.  The ostrich uses the God given gifts, do we use the gift given to us, do we value it? Would we rather be a lion, or an elephant (powerful animals), but seemingly ignorant of their creator?  Jesus speaks to his disciples similar words in Luke 12:22-24.  “.. do not worry about your life; consider the ravens, for they neither sow nor reap, which have neither storehouse or barn; and God feeds them. Of how much more value are you than the birds?” Remember Jesus spoke these words, he himself was the witness to the provision of God for mankind and just how much He values you and me.  Malachi 1 “I have loved you”.  The Lord begins the message through Malachi with these words. He is not limiting His love to the past; but He is saying “I have loved you” in contrast to them not loving Him. He reminds them of their calling, when he chose Jacob in preference to his brother Esau, even before they were born. But despite their calling from the Lord, they like Esau didn’t value the blessings and having a relationship with God. Do we really value the calling and blessings of the Lord in our lives? There is no doubt that “He loved us”, the sacrifice of His son Jesus witnesses to that. The depth of His love cannot be questioned by any Christian but how is the Christian’s love for God? How deep is your love? How much do we hold back?  In Malachi’s time the people were bringing their offerings, and their offerings revealed their hearts – how much they wanted to “give” to the Lord, how deep their love was.  “When you offer the blind as a sacrifice, is it not evil? And when you offer the lame and the sick, is it not evil?” v8.  God was not offended by the offerings, but by WHY these animals were chosen – they had chosen the worst of the flock and kept the best for themselves! They were not giving “sacrifices”, they were merely doing what was convenient, justifying their actions, giving the appearance of dedication to the Lord, but in truth were doing a heartless ritual, congratulating themselves for doing what was required, and then getting on with more important things to do!   This is a warning to us. Never forget the sacrifice of Jesus, the sacrifice of God, for me and for you. Even in difficult times never forget the faithfulness of the Lord. We too have to bring to the “table of remembrance” and it begins with our hearts being prepared by reminders of “I have loved you”. As Jesus says “do this in remembrance of me”, we rightly link these words with when we take bread and wine, but in truth we are to do all things “in remembrance of him” – when we start the day, when we pray, when we sing etc remembering not just a sacrificial Jesus but a living Jesus. And so, it brings us back to the beginning with the Lord saying “I have loved you” and for us to contrast how deep is ours for Him.  Job and Malachi help us to put everything into perspective, ie God knows everything and God loves us. So when we look at Revelation 17 and 18 we see that if we give credit for anything to man, we end up with destruction, but if we give all the credit to God and respect him for that we find real rejoicing, chapter 18 verse 20. Many bible students have tried to fit the sometimes-complicated words of these 2 chapters into history and to specific organisations, the problem with doing that is that some of the lessons may not be seen as relevant to our lives today. There may in fact be many correct interpretations, as every bible reader should be seeing how they can gain these all-important lessons to make a difference in their lives. Both these chapters appear to be talking about human power and wealth, symbolised by Babylon and the so called “attraction” of the prostitute. We already know that the “beast” represents man, ie human beings (including women) and the things that the “beast” does are attractive so much so that people are addicted to the things that “man” does, chapter 17 verse 2. The pursuit of natural human beings is against the things of God and of Jesus, verse 14, and right from the time of creation man has fought against God and God has “allowed” this to happen until he says enough is enough, verse 17. We are given ideas of what each of the symbols here represent, but all of them are centred around human pursuits, particularly on making money! And when this fails, as is depicted in chapter 18, there is so much anguish amongst the human population, eg 9-19, kings, merchants and all those “who earn their living from the sea”, who were devastated that “Babylon” had been destroyed. Why? Because they were no longer able to make money and to become wealthy – everything that they relied upon was destroyed. So, if anyone’s focus is on the things of man, then they will be disappointed, however, if anyone’s focus is on God then they will rejoice. Man’s focus has always proudly been on excess, eg verse 3 and 7 and man boasts about this, but none of these excesses can save, as suggested by verse 13, that ends with “and bodies and souls of men”, in other words pursuing worldly wealth will kill you in the end! The message appears to be that God will destroy anything that is centred around human thinking, which would include nations, institutions, communities and even religious bodies, if anything is against God it will be destroyed. The message to us is therefore to “come out”, verse 4, this means that God will save us when the destruction comes, but also we need to be careful not to get attracted by the things that the world offers such that we become “intoxicated”.  We have been given opportunities by God to earn or work so that we can feed our families, but we need to ensure that God remains our focus, not our pursuit of wanting to become wealthy! Because any “wealth” will be brought to ruin “in an hour”, chapter 18 verse 17. So let us all keep things in perspective and always put God first because everything about him is right. December

December 30th

God continues his answer to Job in chapter 40; already Job recognises that he has no answer for God because he is “unworthy”, verse 3-5, but God continues his answer from verse 6. God is basically asking Job if he can do the things that God can do – the answer to all of that is obviously no! This is a humbling thought because compared to God we have no abilities at all, even those who think that they are better than their fellow human beings are absolute rubbish when compared with God! In God’s response to Job we see the worst of human beings and how God does give everyone the opportunity to change their attitude, verse 11-12; here God is stating one of his aims in dealing with human beings is to change pride to humility. As human beings, one of our biggest problems is pride. It is interesting that God goes on to talk about the “behemoth”, although the meaning is not completely understood, most bible scholars think that this is the hippopotamus or elephant, and the descriptions here fits either animal. It is a good description of human pride too because those who are proud do not fear, eg verse 23. The main point that God appears to be making in this chapter though is that Job, and also every human being, cannot do what God does, human beings cannot save themselves or anyone else.  God shows his confidence in this fact in verse 14. No one can do what God can do, even though some people choose to ignore God and try to control things in their own way, they have no power at all. Human beings’ pride and God’s salvation is also talked about in Malachi 2 – verse 17 shows the wrong human attitude, ie people incorrectly believe that the wrong that they do is acceptable to God! This is something that we all have to be careful of, because as human beings we tend to manipulate God’s teachings to mean things that we want them to mean! God has a warning for those who manipulate teachings so that they can personally benefit – the priests, for example, were not setting good examples and God gives them a warning, verse 1-2, they were “not listening” to God and they had not “set their hearts” to honour God, and for this God “cursed” them. Their descendants suffered and they suffered, verse 3-4. God uses the example of the priest Levi as someone who was good and showed God “reverence” and who “walked in” God’s ways, verse 5-6, and by being humble and godly, he “turned many from sin”. This is what God wants for human beings, he wants to save, but to come to salvation humility is needed. We can take examples from others who humbly teach and set good examples. God summarises the role of priests, verse 7, but they did not do what they were supposed to have done, verse 8-9, and because they had “not followed [God’s] ways”, they were replaced by Jesus who did humbly walk in his father’s ways. There are lessons too for us from the unfaithful example of the nation of Judah, ie we have to be committed to God and not replace him with other things, described as idols, verse 10-12; we have to be genuine in our worship, verse 13-14 and we have to remember that when we were baptised we committed ourselves to both God and to Jesus; therefore we should not now be trying to go our own way, verse 15-16. We do have a choice, God does not force us to follow him, but if we want to be part of his wonderful promise we have to try our best to follow him in humility, if we humbly follow him and constantly respect him every day then we will be part of the rejoicing spoken of in Revelation 19 and 20, verse 1-10. Verse 7 talks about a wedding, bride and lamb, it also talks about “fine linen”, but gives the meaning, ie the “righteous acts of the saints”, so in this symbolic vision we see the lamb meaning Jesus; the bride means us, his church; the wedding is our ultimate joining with Jesus in his kingdom and the fine linen are our “righteous actions”. Our righteous acts now help us to be with Jesus when he comes back – Jesus said the same thing in Matthew 25, verse 1-13, so now is our opportunity to try our best to “walk in God’s ways” as Levi did. Jesus “walked in” his father’s ways and so should we try. Jesus was the “lamb” that was killed and in his death and then resurrection we were able to start our salvation journey, but now Jesus is the “faithful” and “true” judge, described as a “rider on the white horse”, and he is bringing judgement on the nations in graphic symbolic pictures, verse 11-21. All those who are proud and ungodly will be destroyed, and the “false prophet” and the “beast” symbolise these natural human behaviours. It is so sad that despite all of the opportunities that God gives human beings we have the picture here of them still rebelling against Jesus’ rule, verse 19-20, but those who rebel will be killed at some stage. Chapter 20 talks about a period of time (1,000 years) when Jesus and his saints are reigning, verse 4, the saints are described as those who did not have the mark of the beast on their foreheads, ie those who tried their best to follow God and to not follow natural human tendencies. This period is also a period of time where temptation appears to be subdued, verse 1-3, temptation is depicted here by a number of descriptions, ie “dragon”, “ancient serpent”, “devil” and “satan”, all are just descriptive words of temptation to sin. As we have seen in Job, and the fact that “it” is “bound” and then set free, confirms to us that this is not a powerful evil force, “it” is just a description of the evil temptations within human beings. Whatever all this symbology means we know that ultimately this “evil temptation” will be destroyed, verse 7-10. It is sin that has come between God and man throughout all of history, pride, not walking in God’s ways, rejecting Jesus, all these things become a barrier. God gives us the opportunity to break this barrier down by allowing us to become baptised into Jesus’ death and resurrection and come into a new life, which involves trying our best to live a life like Jesus, and in so doing our names are written in the “book of life”. This “book of life” is a symbolic way of describing all those who are known by both God and Jesus and are seen as “walking with God”; this is us, if we continue to “walk with God”, and so we will be amongst those who are brought to complete salvation, verse 11-15. We pray that all of us reading this will remain “walking with God”. December

December 31st

In all 3 readings today, ie Job 41 & 42, Malachi 3 & 4 and Revelation 21 & 22 we have both God’s grace and God’s judgement shown and for this we should show complete respect for both. Yes, it is very true that we are saved by grace – in fact without grace we would have no hope at all, so we are completely reliant on God’s grace for our salvation and we thank God for that. However, grace does not mean that we can do what we like and believe what we like, if we want to benefit from God’s grace we have to do our best to do what God wants us to do. In Job 41 God continues with his demonstration to Job that compared to God man can do nothing – God uses the example of the leviathan, which is probably the crocodile, and says that it is impossible for human beings to tame the crocodile. As that is true, then God is saying that human beings cannot understand the things of God – and it was God who created the crocodile in the first place. Like the hippopotamus, the crocodile is a symbol of pride, verse 34, people who are proud cannot be saved. Job 42 confirms God’s grace and also shows us other characteristics that God wants to change. Job “knew of” God, but he did not really “know” him, he did not understand God’s grace and mercy, and Job had to learn this.  Job confirms that he has learnt in verse 3 and 6 – he previously thought that you just had to follow the “legal” rules of God and that would result in a suffering free life, but now he has learnt that following God is not demonstrated by following a set of rules, it is about having a godly attitude and realising that God can do anything, and that includes showing grace. This grace was shown to Job’s 3 friends, verse 7-9, they also showed humility, because they realised that all the things that they had said were not right. The “reward” for humility is from God, ultimately that is the kingdom. In Malachi 3 we have other characteristics to add to this list, these are not giving full respect to God, verse 8-9 and not following God 100%, verse 13-15. God reminds us yet again that if we trust in God then he will show grace, eg verse 10-12 and verse 16-17, this may not be in our lives now, but it certainly will be in the kingdom! There is a distinction between the “good” and the “bad”, verse 18, and God gives us the opportunity and wants us to be in the ”good” group. God does not change, verse 6, he has always been the same from creation through the time of the bible and is the same now and in the future – it is human beings that have changed and moved away from God, verse 7. But we can return to God by accepting Jesus and trying our best not to do the “bad” things that Job and Malachi have shown. Chapter 4 shows us without doubt that the “day of the Lord” is coming, verse 1, all the arrogant and evildoers will be destroyed; those who “revere” God’s name, verse 2 will be blessed. And this blessing is summarised for us in pictures in Revelation 21 and 22 where those who follow God and accept Jesus will be at peace, chapter 21 verse 4, in a time when there will be Godly rule and godliness will be taught, verse 7 – it will be a time where those who are not godly will be excluded, verse 8 and chapter 22 verse 15. There is certainly a distinction between those who are ungodly and those who have the character of God, verse 4 – the lesson for us now is do we practice any of the “bad” bits that are listed in all these chapters, or are we in the “good” group. Those who try their best to be in the “good” group are those who will be shown grace by God who really wants everyone to be saved.  However that salvation is on God’s terms – it is pointless someone being in the kingdom if they are proud and only interested in themselves, God gives the kingdom to those who are humble. We do not know when Jesus will come back, but he will come back, that is for sure – he will come back to judge between the 2 groups of people, and how we live now determines which group we will be in. If we are humble and trying to really know God and trying our best, we can be confident that we are saved by the grace and mercy that God has demonstrated all through history, verse 10-11. Chapter 22 verse 20-21, this is a wonderful teaching and we must pass this teaching onto others, ie encouraging our brothers and sisters and also to others who have not yet accepted Jesus – we do not want to have God or Jesus saying to us that we have not been 100% committed! December

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