English Bible Reading thoughts – January to March


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January 1st

At the start of another new year a lot of people take the opportunity to make new starts in their lives, the old year with all of its good and bad has ended and the new has started with new opportunities. We too can take advantage of this imaginary new start and decide to try harder to be more like Jesus and therefore more like God. We can use all of the readings today we encourage us to focus better on what God wants. Genesis 1 immediately makes a distinction between “light” and “dark”, verse 3-5, and throughout the rest of the bible “light” is used to describe “good”, particularly with respect to Jesus being the “light of the world”; darkness, on the other hand is used to describe “bad” or ungodliness. John 1 describes the “new creation” which is Jesus and also distinguishes between light and darkness, verse 3-9, we therefore see that there is this distinction between good and bad. But even in the “dark”, God ensured that there would always be some light, Genesis 1 verse 14-29, so even when we read the creation of the world account we are reminded about the “light of the world” – Paul in Romans 1 says that “men are without excuse” not to know the message of God from creation, verse 20, so our lesson for our “new start” is to ensure that we follow God’s ways and try harder to be more like him. God’s creation is just in the right order and when all of the “good” parts were completed God described the creation as “very good”, Genesis 1 verse 31. This is a great lesson for us too, it reminds us that when we all work together in unity with both God and Jesus our “church” (assembly) is “very good”, sadly all too often our human nature prevents this unity. Genesis 2 verse 2 sets the scene for the day that became known as the sabbath (Saturday) because the day was “holy”, ie separate, and God “rested”, our “sabbath” is Sunday, because it was the “first day of the week” when Jesus was raised by his father from death, we need to try to always remember the love of both God and Jesus in the breaking of bread and drinking of wine every Sunday as a priority. Man was created from the dust of the ground, verse 7, and God gave man everything that he needed, verse 8-9, but he also expected respect and gave Adam a command, verse 15-17. For us to be able to follow God properly we need “rules”, it is how we respond to these “rules” that demonstrates our love for him and as God showed us time and time again, these “rules” are a demonstration of his love for us. Sometimes we do not understand the “rules”, but we have to learn the lessons that Job and his friends learnt – that God knows best, only he knows the complete picture. God’s love ensured that Adam had a “suitable helper” to work together in their service to God, verse 20-24; because Eve was part of Adam, we have a vivid picture to remind us that the coming together, or marriage, of a man and a woman is to be kept pure and each are to help each other, being “glued together”. The new testament refers us back to this example to show us how to build our relationships with a partner AND it is also used to show us the relationship between us (church/bride/woman) and Jesus (bridegroom/husband/man), we see this in Ephesians 5 verse 22-33. At this stage in man and woman’s history things were “very good” and although they were naked, they felt no shame, Genesis 2 verse 25, a peaceful picture with no sin. Psalm 1 shows us the “good” and the “bad” and tells us how we should respond to different situations if we want to follow God. Verse 1-3 describes the human being who does not “walk”, “stand” or “sit” with the “bad”, he or she is “blessed” (happy). But the “bad” (wicked) are not “happy”, verse 4-5, they are temporary and will not pass the judgement [of Jesus] or assemble with the righteous [in the kingdom], but God will look after the “righteous”, verse 6. Psalm 2 is a psalm that talks a lot about Jesus, we know this because the new testament refers back to this psalm a lot (it is the second most quoted psalm in the new testament).  In this psalm we see a summary of God’s purpose in Jesus and we have a reminder that Jesus will be king in Jerusalem when he returns, verse 6. So the lesson for us is to “serve” him and to respect both Jesus and his father, because those of us you have been baptised “take refuge in him [Jesus]”, verse 10-12. We have probably read Matthew 1 and 2 many times during the Christmas period as we thought about the birth of Jesus and celebrated that fact that Jesus will “save his people from their sins”, Matthew 1 verse 21. The birth of Jesus is a new beginning (creation) too and it enables human beings to have a way to salvation this was God’s way right from the first creation and Matthew is trying very hard in these to chapters to convince his first readers, the Jews, that what he was saying was correct. At least 5 times Matthew reminds the Jews (and us now) that the things that happened during Jesus’ birth were foretold in the old testament, eg chapter 1 verse 22, chapter 2 verse 5, 15, 17 and 23, even the genealogy in chapter 1 verse 1-17, confirm that Jesus was of a human, Jewish, line. There was a lot of uncertainty for the godly people involved in the birth of the saviour of the world, events impacted their lives, the census, Herod’s wicked actions, fear of Herod’s son, etc. but throughout it all God was in control and guided those who tried to be “good”, eg, chapter 1 verse 20, chapter 2 verse 12, 13, 19 and 22. On the other hand the “bad” were just not interested in God’s ways and caused real distress for others, verse 16-18. So at the start of the year in our readings we already see the “good” and the “bad”, we already know what awaits both groups, so I pray that all of us choose the way of “light” (good) this year. January

January 2nd

With it still being the beginning of a new year we are still thinking about “beginnings” and new starts, and we are reading about “beginnings” in our readings today.  Even though Matthew does not actually say in English that it is about a “beginning”, as is the case with John 1 and Mark 1, it is the “beginning” of the gospel of Jesus, the son of God. In Matthew, however, we do see the word “genealogy” which means “genesis”, therefore Matthew is also talking about a “beginning”. Matthew is clear that his gospel is referring to the “beginning” of the renewal of the Jewish and the human race so the gospel of Matthew is an account of “renewal”. The genealogy list can seem out of place, but it is the history of Israel, often tragic and blood stained – until we get to the words in Matthew 1 verse 16 when we have the mention of Jesus. And then we have the wonderful account of the birth of Jesus in verse 18, and it is by Divine intervention that this “renewal” is realised. Until then man could not follow God, all men failed and the prospect of a godly life looked remote. Although God intervened it was not a simple intervention and things would get better, it would not be immediate, and there were consequences many of which we read about in the gospels and the rest of the new testament, eg for Mary as being an unmarried lady who was pregnant. The words in verse 22-23 are quoted from Isaiah 7 where at the time king Ahaz and Judah were fearing an attack from their enemies and Ahaz did not have the faith and courage to ask for a sign. But God gave a sign anyway and gave a guarantee that no matter what happened then they would be delivered when God decided on the right timings. So when Matthew was talking about Jesus as saving his people from their sins (verse 21) it was again not an immediate “help”; Jesus was born a human being just like us, but he was also his father’s representative on earth.  Jesus himself said that “he and his father were one” (John 10:30). This verse does not say that God and Jesus were the same being as some Christians wrongly believe, it is saying that Jesus was God’s man on earth. This idea that a person being the son of God and a son of man (human) has massive implications for those who heard him and saw him and read about him as we do, because when Jesus speaks we are hearing the voice of God. When Jesus healed or forgave, it was just as if God had healed or had forgiven because Jesus was his representative on earth. The people who profited most from  this were his disciples, they heard Jesus and he was there with them. He taught and fed them at times, he corrected them when they made mistakes and they witnessed what he did. Jesus was their “fixed” point – he was part of their everyday lives and God was completely real for them as they saw him in Jesus. The best word to describe this relationship between Jesus and the disciples is a Greek word that appears in John 14, “parakletos”, which means in English that someone is “called to be beside” you or a “counsellor” or “a support” or a “stay” or someone to “plead your cause”. Therefore imagine that when Jesus was crucified the disciples must have been absolutely devastated, especially as they saw that Jesus had never done anything wrong. It is not surprising that the disciples had not understood or had forgotten what Jesus had said to them in John 14 verse 18 that even though he would “leave them” (his death) he would not “leave them as orphans” and that he would “come to you”. Jesus said that he would ask his father and he would give you another “parakletos” – a “comforter”, verse 15 and 26; this comforter would be with them for ever. Now Jesus was God’s representative, so it was Jesus who gave the “parakletos”;  also Jesus had said in verse 18 “I will come to you”, so it is Jesus himself who is described at the “holy spirit”  or “counsellor”. The disciples would then realise that because Jesus was God’s representative and that Jesus was in his father, verse 20, that BOTH God and Jesus were with them. They did see Jesus again after his resurrection, but only temporarily, but they then understood that Jesus would not abandon them, all then understood that “God was with us” in Jesus, ie Immanuel which means “God was with us” (Matthew 1 verse 23). Jesus had to suffer the same as the rest of the Jews suffered at the hands of the Romans in AD70, 40 years later, therefore it was the revelation of the depth of his association with human suffering and sin. Crucifixion showed the depth of sin AND the depth of grace. So after his resurrection and his ascension the disciples remained very conscious of this “parakletos” always being with them. Paul gives one example of how “parakletos” was for ever with him – in 2Corinthians 12 verse 10, in Paul’s weakness, Jesus was his strength, through this wonderful “parakletos”. Jesus stood by him and strengthened him – right at the end of his life! In Matthew, as with most Greek writings, we have the “beginnings” as being significant and so too are the endings, with often the end corresponding to the beginning. So Matthew starts by announcing that Jesus was “God with us”, ie the meaning of “Immanuel” and at the end he quotes Jesus as saying “I am with you”, Matthew 28 verse 20. This promise is no less sure than that given to the disciples before his death and this time Jesus is saying the same to us here too. So the “counsellor” in John 14 was for the disciples, but it is also the same for us because we are included in the words by Matthew. So what does this mean for us at the start of another year? Whatever challenges we face we must remember that Jesus is always with us, we need to seek him and ask for help and wisdom when we are in trouble – and remember his words in Matthew 28 verse 20. January

January 3rd

We are reminded in Genesis 5 and 6 that human beings very quickly forget God, even at this time when people lived so long they could pass on almost first-hand information to a number of generations. Most of the people who are mentioned in Genesis 5 would have known each other as they were alive at the same time! We can see though that people “walked with God”, like Enoch, verse 22-24 and others considered the godly aspects of sin eg Lamech in his naming of Noah, verse 29. (This is not the Lamech in chapter 4 verse 24 who was proud). The Lamech in chapter 5 understood the cause of suffering and the “painful toil” that resulted from Adam’s sin in the Garden of Eden and this is a lesson for us to help us in understanding our “painful toil” too. Often people misunderstand verse 24 in relation to Enoch, some wrongly thinking that he was taken to heaven, sadly what is missed is the love of God in protecting those people who are faithful. Hebrews 11 verse 5 helps us to understand this, especially when we apply verses 13 and 39-40 and remind ourselves that all of these people, including Enoch, died and did not receive what was promised by God and that “only together with us would they be made perfect”. Therefore, whatever Enoch was taken away from, it was not that he would not die and neither was it to get a reward somewhere else. We can only conclude that Enoch was protected from the suffering that was about to come and God made him fall asleep before he experienced any suffering. Genesis 6 tells us just how bad the human race had become, verse 5; God was “grieved” that he had made man on the earth and decided that he would destroy all, verse 6-7. It is the same problem with human beings whenever they do just what they want to, verse 1-2, then they will turn away from God. However, Noah found favour with God, verse 8 and he walked in his ways, verse 9; when God told him his plan, Noah did just as God told him, verse 22. Clearly the lesson for us is to “walk in God’s ways” and to trust him and not to do things just as we please; the confidence that we have is that God will care for us, even just as he did for Enoch to protect him so that he would receive his reward when Jesus comes back. Psalms 6, 7 and 8 also consider the suffering of godly people, Psalm 6 shows this and in Psalm 7 we see God’s promised protection, verse 10, who saves the “upright in heart”, even if it is not until the kingdom. And as is the case all the time the wicked will suffer, his or her evil ways will come back on them, verse 14-16, this happens so many times that the wicked do end up suffering the same as the suffering that they have caused others, but all in God’s own time. And because God cares for each one of us even though he made everything, Psalm 8 verse 3-5, as well as having given all things for man to use, we should praise him, verse 1 and 9. Whilst reading Psalm 8 we can see a reminder of Jesus, who was made “a little lower than the angels” – Hebrews 2 verse 6-8 quotes from Psalm 8 verse 4-6. So this is when Enoch, and all the faithful men and women in the Old Testament, will receive his reward, ie when Jesus comes back. Matthew 5 are those teachings of Jesus that take the law of Moses a step further – not only are we not to murder, we are not to be angry, verse 22; not only are we not to commit adultery, we are not to even look at a woman lustfully, verse 28. We have been shown so much love by both God and Jesus that we now have the responsibility to lift our response to a higher level – we have to match God’s love and grace with our desire to try and do our best to “surpass the righteousness of the Pharisees”, verse 20. Our aim is to “practise and to teach” Jesus’ commands, verse 19. The aim of the kingdom is to bring happiness or blessings, so we should be trying to aim now to have the character of those who will be in the kingdom and the attributes of those who will be there are listed in verse 1-10. In Jesus’ teachings he gets us to focus on the causes of murder, adultery, divorce, bad oaths, retaliation and hatred and therefore makes us think about anger, lust, commitment, honesty, tolerance and love. So – if you get your anger under control, you will not murder; if you get lust under control, you won’t commit adultery; etc.  Get these right and you will automatically correct the first list! If you pray for your enemies you won’t be able to hate them, verse 43-48 and if you resolve issues with your brother or sister before you go to the meeting, you will be able to worship properly, verse 23-26. We are the light of the world, verse 14-15, we have to be seen as such, verse 16, so that God is praised. January

January 4th

Genesis 7 and 8 take us through the flood of Noah’s day. Through Noah, God brought about the saving of humanity and animal life. The wicked receive their just reward and were destroyed. At the time of Noah, the world was judged. These events are a pattern of other events in Scripture. Firstly, there is a pattern of creation. The earth covered in water reminds us of how it was in Genesis 1:2. The appearance of dry land (8:14) reminds us of the creation of dry land on Day 3 of creation. The olive leaf reminds us of the creation of plant life also on Day 3. This shows us that the flood was a restart of life on earth, with features similar to some of the original creation. It was like a new heavens and earth. Secondly, there is a pattern of a future restart of life of earth. The apostle Peter speaks of this (2 Peter 3:10-13). Like Noah’s day, this future judgment will come suddenly. There is only one reasonable response we can have to this future time; “Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives as you look forward t the day of God and speed its coming.” We need to be righteous like Noah and his family, so that we are saved from the judgment coming on the world. The man Noah is also a pattern of Jesus. We know that the dove flying down on a man, who was surrounded by water, only occurs in one other place in Scripture. This is at the baptism of Jesus. Jesus is like Noah. It is through Jesus that the new heavens and new earth will come. It is through Jesus that new life on earth will restart. It is Jesus that will bring about the peace and rest of that future time. Like Noah, Jesus will remove the curse of the earth and bring a time of joy and fellowship with God. Those who are wise will join Jesus and become part of his spiritual family. Then, like Noah, Jesus will save his family and his family will enter the new age of the earth. The wicked will not be part of this future age. Psalms 9 and 10 speak about the ways of the wicked and how the righteous must cope with them. Both Psalms are linked through a Hebrew letter pattern that goes in sequence from Psalm 9 and Psalm 10. Both Psalms speak about the same subject. Psalm 10 is a description of a wicked man at his worst. It may even be the most graphic description of the wicked in the Bible. They ignore God’s laws (10:5) and think only of themselves. They want to get rich at any cost, and are willing to oppress and even kill others to do so (10:8-10). It is perhaps like the wicked of Noah’s day. Like Noah’s day, God does see them. God also sees the righteous and God will bring justice. As 9:16 says, “God is known by his justice.” Until that time, the righteous must put up with wicked people around them. They must do this by leaving the wicked for God to deal with and by trusting in God. As we are told in 9:9-10, “The Lord is a refuge for the oppressed, a stronghold in times of trouble. Those who know your name will trust in you, for you, Lord, have never forsaken those who seek you.” Matthew 6 is the centre part of the ‘Sermon on the Mount,’ which is the greatest single set of teaching from Jesus in the Bible. It is about how we can be righteous with God. A crucial teaching for us is that when we do what is right, we should not brag about it. Whether we pray, fast and give to the needy, we must do this secretly. If we do not, then we get praise from men rather from God. If we do our righteous things secretly between us and God, then we have treasure in heaven (Mat 6:19). Any treasure we have there will not be lost or forgotten. If we do our righteous acts before men, it is like we are serving men and the things man values. If we do our righteous acts secretly, then we are serving God and seeking praise and thanks from Him. We cannot serve both God and the things man values. We must make the choice. Verse 33 puts it this way, “seek first his kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be given to you as well.” We need to choose to follow the ways of God and not the ways of man. We need to choose a right relationship with God in preference to looking good to other men. If we put the right things first and make them a priority in our lives, then God will look after us. The events of Noah’s day teach us that humanity easily turns to wicked ways. We have seen the example of a wicked man in Psalm 10. In contrast to the wicked, the righteous stand out as being different. They do not resort to the ways of the wicked. They follow God’s ways. When this happens the righteous will see the wicked around them continuing to be wicked. In these circumstances the righteous must trust in God and not resort to wicked ways. They must seek the praise of God and not men. If the righteous put the right things first, then God will provide for their needs. Then, at a time God has chosen, the wicked will be judged, and the righteous will enter that new age. Like Noah’s family, they will find rest and peace on earth. January

January 5th

Genesis 9 begins with a new start for mankind, with blessings from God and laws regarding blood; both animals and mankind. A reminder of how precious a life (given by God) is in His sight, and a reminder that blood and life are strongly linked in the word of God. The chapter ends by recording Noah’s death; but his life is never forgotten. He is spoken of by Isaiah, Ezekiel, Peter, Paul and Jesus. Paul summarizes Noah’s life as an example of faith leading to salvation. Hebrews 11:7 “By faith, Noah being divinely warned of things not yet seen, moved with godly fear, prepared for the saving of his household, became heir of the righteousness which is according to faith”.  Jesus reminds us of Noah’s time with the warning “But as the days of Noah were, so also will the coming of the Son of Man be…Therefore you also be ready.” Matt 24:37,44 Are we ready?  Genesis 10 begins with “Now these are the generations of the sons of Noah” – these words on their own may not seem to reveal much. But when we link these words with other parts of scripture which use the same words we see design, we see inspiration from God. These words are taken from the King James version of the bible, where we see “the generations of” recorded 11 times in Genesis. Those words are also seen in Numbers 3:1, so Moses would have recorded those words 12 times! We also see one more example in the O.T. in Ruth 4:18, so 13 times in the OT. The New Testament begins with Matthew 1:1 “The book of the generation of Jesus Christ.” In Matthew chapter 1, Matthew is fascinated with 14 generations… Abraham to David, David to captivity, and from captivity until Christ(v17).  Did he know that he himself, in his first few words, had completed 14 “generations of” within the whole of scripture? (I don’t think so) But, by God’s will and inspiration, Matthew had unknowingly written the 14th “generation of”! Further evidence of God’s inspiration is seen when we notice the wording of Matthew 1 “the Book of the generation of Jesus Christ”.  in the OT. there are 13 “generations of” but only one “the book of the generations of Adam”. There are just 2 books – one in Adam and one in Jesus? This hasn’t just been written by Moses and Matthew, it is by God’s inspiration – we can see God’s plan from the beginning. “as in Adam all die, even so in Christ all shall be made alive” 1 Cor 15:22; salvation is for “those written in the Lamb’s Book of Life” Rev 21:27.  Psalms 11-13: the answer to David’s struggles.  David wrote many psalms expressing his struggles with himself, and with wicked mankind.  How can such words be songs of worship? Because totally trusting in God is the answer, He is our refuge, He is our strength and when we are weak and find that rest …. then we pour out our thanks. “For when I am weak, then I am strong” 2 Cor 12:10.  Our praise is good when life is good, but when we praise in times of trouble it is a more intimate praise, because when we are struggling, we find deep down within our hearts, reasons to worship God – reasons that can never be taken away from us whilst we live.  Psalm 13 is a psalm expressing impatience, 4 times David says “how long?” When we have to wait for things to happen, as time goes by we start to fear that they will never happen. If we are waiting for a promise from mankind then we have reasons to doubt and all the more so as time goes by. But not so with the Lord, He is faithful. If the Lord has said, then it will be so; this is a consistent message throughout the bible. And so let us worship in the spirit of total trust in the Lord, and say “amen” to David’s words Psalm 13:5-6 “But I have trusted in Your mercy; my heart shall rejoice in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord, because He has dealt bountifully with me”.  Matthew 7: The teachings of Jesus.  “The people were astonished at his teaching” (v28) for he taught them as one having authority.”  When we read Jesus’ teaching, we know his words are right. The words are very often few, and yet always get right to the point. They are also simple in the sense that anyone can understand and follow if they have the will to do so. Very often Jesus doesn’t directly tell you what to do, or what not to do, instead he teaches you by asking a question; so that if you answer his question, you will find the answer. An example of this is in v3 “why do you look at the speck in your brother’s eye, but do not consider the plank in your own eye?”  Sometimes we might be thinking with a critical spirit against our brothers or sisters… Jesus tells us to examine ourselves first, and think about “WHY, do you” It is very often about “why”.  We are so often guilty of the same criticism, and so we should focus on ourselves and put things right in OUR lives, and then, and only then, we can help (not criticise) our brother or sister in a kind and merciful spirit recognizing that the Lord has shown the same spirit to us.  An example of simplicity: “whatever you want men to do to you, do also to them, for this is the law and the prophets” (v12).  Teaching comes with warnings: “beware of false prophets” v15… “you will know them by their fruits” v16. We so often only relate false prophets to other people and what they say, but we have to examine ourselves first – are we a false prophet? Are we witnesses of God’s word, both in word and our lives? We, and others, including Jesus will know by our fruit. This self-examination continues: v21-23 “not everyone who says to me “Lord, Lord” shall enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of my Father in heaven”; “depart from me, you who practice lawlessness”.  And the story of a wise man and a foolish man who built their houses – we know the story, we have been taught how to be wise, but we are only wise if we do it!!! So, if we know the Lord’s teaching and we love the Lord, we will do it… and be true prophets. If we don’t do the Lord’s will, we are foolish and we are false prophets. January

January 6th

In Genesis 11 we have the account of the Tower of Babel, verses 1-9. This shows us the problem with human beings in the way that they think. Their motivation was to build a big city and a tower that reached high into the sky to “make a name for themselves”, verse 4. They were also going against God because God had previously said to Noah and his sons to “fill the earth”, Genesis 9 verse 1 – what is really happening with the Tower of Babel story is that the people were rebelling against God. They were not interested in God, they just wanted to “make a name for themselves”. This was arrogance and pride, it was “me first”! They just wanted to be together and not be “scattered over the earth” as God had said they should do. God originally gave them a common language so that they could work for the good, but they abused it and did what they wanted to do. So God confused the very thing that they relied upon to work together, their language, and forced them to scatter throughout the earth, verse 5-9. His will will always be done. It was in fact a help for man that God did this because if left alone they would become more and more corrupt and therefore further and further away from God (verse 6). God was not concerned that they would become more powerful than him and the angels because God was the creator and therefore all powerful and it was impossible for man to become more powerful than him. So this first part of chapter 11 is about direct rebellion against God which we should not do, whereas chapter 12 shows faith and also a lack of faith, which often we also show in our lives. This chapter introduces us to Abraham, called Abram because God had not yet changed his name. We know that Abram was a godly man otherwise God would not have spoken to him, verse 1. There is also a verse in chapter 11 that tells us something about Abram and Sarai (name not changed yet either), his wife – she could not have any children, verse 30. So when God tells Abram that he will make him the father of a great nation he, and Sarai, showed a lot of trust in God, chapter 12 verse 2-3. Notice that this is such a contrast to ungodly people who wanted to make a “name for themselves” in the Tower of Babel, yet here God is saying that Abram’s name would be “great” because he was godly. A lesson here for us is that the greatest thing that we can ever do is to follow God and Jesus – we should not be trying to be “great” using human standards, it will just not work. And Abram did what the Lord told him, verse 4 – we know from Hebrews 11 verse 8-12 that this was an act of faith and total trust in God for both Abram and Sarai. He travelled through the land, which was later known as Israel, and God confirmed his promise, Genesis 12 verse 6-7 and throughout all this Abram “called on the name of the Lord”, verse 8-9. Now despite this faith and trust, Abram’s faith and trust did reduce during his life as it does with us too. There was famine in the land, verse 10, even the land where God had told him to go, which should remind us that godly people do suffer along with the ungodly! However, Abram was concerned about the safety of himself and that of his wife, verse 11-13, so he devised a plan that he hoped would protect them – Sarai had to pretend she was his sister (she was actually his half sister). However, his lack of faith meant that there were serious consequences because Sarai was taken by Pharoah, verse 14-16, in a sense Abram gained, but he lost his wife. But God in his mercy, despite our failings and weaknesses, still protects us if our general attitude is godly as Abram’s was, verse 17-20. The lessons for us then are that if we rebel against God there are serious consequences and God ruins man’s ungodly plans; God does work in the lives of godly people and even when they show a lack of faith he is still there to guide. And as Psalm 14 verse one says “the fool says that there is no God”, this Psalm goes on to remind us that God is aware of the actions of evil doers and that God is a “refuge”, verse 6. God is that “refuge” even though there may be suffering at the time because our real “refuge” is when Jesus comes back to the earth which is hinted at in verse 7. And in Psalm 15 we have a question and then an answer. Verse 1 is the question, who will be in the kingdom? The answer is verse 2-5, these are all very clear descriptions of people who will be there (and these are the things) – is blameless and righteous, speaks the truth, controls what they say, does not cheat neighbour, does not gossip, avoids wicked people, honours fellow believers, keeps promises, does not expect interest, and accepts no bribes – All these things we should be aiming for and doing our best to demonstrate in our everyday lives, and as verse 5 concludes “He who does these things will never be shaken”. Now we all know that we do tend to sin and let both God and Jesus down, so we all rely on Jesus’ forgiveness and what he achieved through his life of sacrifice and Psalm 16 talks about this – it is a Psalm about Jesus, we know this because Peter tells us in Acts 2 verse 22-28. So the happiness and confidence that is talked about in Psalm 16 is because there is a hope in Jesus, eg verse 7-8. So yes, we will make mistakes in our lives but if we have the right attitude, as Abram did, we can still be sure of our “refuge” in God. When we look at Matthew 8 we see a wonderful summary of the responses of those with the correct godly attitudes. Verse 1-4 we have a man with leprosy, who has nowhere else to to turn to get help, humbly asking Jesus if he was willing he could heal him. He conveys in this request that he had complete confidence that Jesus could heal him, but he left that decision to Jesus and Jesus was willing to heal him. Leprosy in the bible is a reminder of sin, how it eats away at the body and completely corrupts the person and makes him or her unclean. So we can ask Jesus for forgiveness and he is willing if we humbly ask. The next example is the Centurion who asked on behalf of someone else, verse 6, he was also humble, and also understood who Jesus was and the authority that Jesus had, verse 8-9, in his answer by showing his own authority he demonstrated and basically said “I also have authority like you!”. And Jesus was impressed by his answer, verse 10, and used the opportunity to say to the Jewish people that they should learn from this example of faith demonstrated by a gentile. The Jews were incorrectly basing their confidence on the fact that they were descendants from Abraham, but what God and Jesus need is faith and trust, irrespective of our nationality. And the teachings of Jesus do demand a response and in verse 17 we have another example of how Matthew reminds his Jewish readers that Jesus was prophesied about in the Old Testament and that the things he was doing were predicted – he wanted them to respond to Jesus’ teachings. Just as Abram found out when he moved from Ur and travelled to the land of Canaan (later called Israel) he suffered from famine, there is a cost in following Jesus, we are not promised a life free from suffering, our suffering will only end when Jesus comes back, verse 18-22. However, as Abram discovered, in the “storms” that we experience in our lives we need to have the faith that we will be helped, even if it seems hopeless at the time. The message is do not be afraid, verse 26. We all go through difficult emotional stresses in our lives too and just like the example of the healing of what is known as “the 2 demon possessed men” we could perhaps be unsure if we are being helped by God because the mental illnesses are not seen physically. So here Jesus heals and demonstrates in a very dramatic way that the men were in fact healed of their mental illness, verse 32. These examples in Mathew 8 demonstrate that Jesus does have the power to forgive sin, reward faith, respond in love, forewarn us of difficulties, but helps us in those difficulties and gives us peace of mind. So the lessons for us are not to go our own way, we must go in God’s way, we need to have faith and trust in him even when we suffer difficulties in our lives because through all of these things God is bringing us to his “refuge” which is the kingdom when Jesus returns. January

January 7th

Both Abram (later called Abraham) and Lot believed in and followed God, however, their actions demonstrated their characters – both demonstrated a lack of faith from time to time, but Lot made a few more poor choices that are summarised for us in Genesis 13 and 14. We can all learn from these, because poor choices do have consequences; but if we remain faithful and do not test God by deliberately going against his requirements just to make a “name for ourselves” or to make money, then we can take comfort that God will remain with us despite our failings. What comes across strongly in these chapters is that God is very much in the forefront of Abram’s mind, eg he returned to the place where he had first built an altar to God and he “called on the name of the Lord”, chapter 13 verse 4. We can only assume from this that Abram lived a prayerful life as he “walked with God”, perhaps he was praying about the issues surrounding the quarrels between his and Lot’s herdsmen, so that he was able to have the right frame of mind when he suggested a solution, verse 9. This shows complete humility on Abram’s side and also faith! Abram was “in charge” and he could have the “authority” to make the choice himself, but he did not. He left it to Lot and also he allowed God to work in the decision, because God will always guide decisions that are made in faith. Lot showed his human side by taking what appeared to be the best land, verse 10-11, it is very telling that verse 13 says that the people of Sodom were “wicked” and “sinning”, Lot had not considered this. Sometimes when we make decisions in our lives we do not consider the question “what would Jesus do?” or “will this help me or hinder me in my walk to the kingdom?”; we should be asking ourselves these questions when we have decisions to make. Examples of this are, living in town or in the village; having higher education or not; getting married or not; taking a particular job or remaining as a farmer – all these decisions have consequences, so we have to make decisions with God very much in mind as Abram did. The right choice was made for Abram and he took Canaan, verse 12, and God confirmed this in verse 14-17, provoking Abram’s continued faith and trust in God, verse 18. Notice in verse 12 that Lot pitched his tents “near Sodom”, but by the time the war started in chapter 14 Lot was now living in Sodom, verse 12 – although a godly man, he allowed himself to get too close to the “attractions” of the city and as a consequence he became a victim of the attackers and was taken captive and so were all of his “possessions”. As soon as Abram heard about this he immediately took action to help his nephew Lot, verse 13-15, this shows amazing love and faith on Abram’s part, he cared for others and he went to a great effort to help – Damascus is at least 100 miles from where he was staying, so this was a big commitment and he successfully recovered Lot and the rest of the captives, verse 16. He wanted no credit from man for what he had done, verse 22-24, he correctly gave credit to God and only wanted to rely on God. This godly character of Abram was recognised by the blessing that he received from Melchizedek, king of Salem (Jerusalem) and priest of God, verse 18-20, Abram also gave a 10th of everything he had in gratitude to God, making his refusal of payment from the grateful king of Sodom more meaningful, because he did not “give to receive”. There is a picture here of Jesus, because Jesus will be king of Jerusalem and he is our high priest now and this, together with the promises to Abraham, confirm God’s wonderful plan for us when Jesus comes back. (Psalm 110 and Hebrews 7 are relevant chapters when considering the full meaning of Melchizedek’s blessing on Abraham). Psalm 17 is a prayer that is made by godly people, only Jesus could actually say that he was “righteous”, he did not have “deceitful lips”, was “right”, “nothing” bad was found in him, he has “not sinned”, has not been “wicked” and has always “kept to God’s paths”, verse 1-5. However, because of our baptism in Jesus and our trying our best to follow him and his father, we are in this position too because we have forgiveness as did David who wrote this Psalm. It is a prayer of faith that God will protect and keep his faithful people, no matter what happens in our lives – when we get to verse 15 at the end of the psalm we see our future hope when ultimately we will see God’s face! David looked forward to the resurrection by saying “when I awake”, so we too should be focused on this and take great hope from this knowledge. Abraham did not actually receive God’s promise in his life time, he only will in the kingdom when Jesus, his promised descendant, comes back. Matthew 9 continues to teach to and give examples for Abraham’s descendants and this chapter highlights examples of faith. The friends of the paralytic knew that Jesus would be able to heal their friend and demonstrated their faith that was acknowledged by Jesus, verse 1-2, and he was healed AND forgiven, verse 6-7. The parents of the dead girl demonstrated faith as they asked Jesus for help, verse 18-19, so too did the woman who touched Jesus’ clothes, verse 20-22, she was healed and so too was the dead girl brought back to life, verse 23-25. The blind men had faith which was again acknowledged by Jesus, verse 27-30, and they were healed. It is so sad that the teachers of the law did not accept any of these lessons and in so doing rejected God’s forgiveness and offer of salvation, they were only interested in themselves and their distorted understanding of God, verse 3-6. The Pharisees were always critical and were unwilling to show love to all, verse 11-13, they did not understand mercy, which is what we all have need of so that we can say that prayer in Psalm 17. In their desperate attempt to discredit Jesus, they themselves blasphemed by denying the power of God and by falsely saying that Jesus was healing by some demonic power, verse 34, incredible really!    The whole point of Jesus’ teaching was to make people think and praise God, eg verse 8, 26 and 31, but above all to preach about the kingdom, verse 35-38, along the way he had compassion to heal and help, therefore our focus too should be on the kingdom, but as we have opportunity we should try to help in small ways too. Many things happen in our lives but faith and trust in God and in Jesus will bring us to the kingdom and the promises to Abraham will be finally completely fulfilled! January

January 8th

Having faith and not being afraid is a common theme in today’s readings and is the lesson for us as we try to live our lives, remembering that we have a wonderful hope in the return of Jesus. The promise of future generations of people that ultimately includes Jesus, and also us, is made again to Abram in Genesis 15, verse 4-5 – we see this message more clearly as we continue reading the bible. After Abram had defeated the kings who had taken Lot, God appears to Abram and tells him not to be afraid and that he would have a great reward, verse 1, Abram’s fear is explained by Abram in verse 2-3. He could not understand how God’s promise to him in Genesis 12 (verse 2-3) could happen as he still did not have any children. He also had a concern about being given the land, Genesis 15 verse 8 after God had repeated the promise in verse 7. There are things that we do not understand, we really cannot think how things will work out, and just like Abram we are confused. However, we have to trust God, Abram had to learn to trust God; Abram believed God, verse 6, that is not in question, but it is this complete trust that we all must learn. The rest of this chapter shows us how God used a human custom of a covenant to convince Abram that he could trust God, verse9-23, God made a “covenant” with Abram, something that Abram knew could not be broken.  During this event God also told Abram what would happen to his descendants after Abram’s death, verse 13-16 – this was when they were slaves in Egypt and Moses brought them out to take full  possession of the land. This “passing between the pieces” of the animals was the sign of a covenant, but it also can show us that the fire represents God (more of that in the Psalm later), the pieces of the animals represents God’s people and the birds Israel’s enemies. Chapter 16 is a demonstration of more lack of faith by both Sarai and Abram; despite knowing these promises and having a covenant with God, they still tried to do things their own way and Abram took Hagar as his second wife, verse 2-4, and sadly there were consequences, Hagar despised Sarai, and Sarai wanted to take action, verse 5-6. If only they had waited for God – God will always keep his covenant, we have to be patient. Yes, Abram and Sarai waited many years for a child, but they should have trusted and waited – a lesson for us to always wait for and trust in God. Consequences of their lack of faith persisted and we still see this today with all the disputes between the Arabs and the Jews because Ishmael too was promised descendants, verse 11-12. Psalm 18 is another one of the psalms that reminds us about Jesus, although David wrote this as a song to celebrate the victory that God gave him over Saul, it is also a prophecy. We again know this because Paul tells us (gentiles) in Romans 15 verse 9 where he quotes verse 49 of this psalm. Although David and others can sing this in praise, a few sections can also be said to apply to Jesus, eg verse 20-24 and verse 43-45 and we see the future kingdom in verse 50. However, because of Jesus we also are “clean”, therefore we are part of the same promises. David acknowledged that God was his “strength”, verse 1-3 and that it is only God who protects and gives us protection, verse 30-36, notice it is always “he”, ie God, who should be relied upon. It is the humble that are saved, verse 27, this is the same message that Jesus tells us in Matthew 23 verse 12, so this emphasises that our only trust is in God. Do not be afraid, Abram was told, David cried to God for help, verse 6, and one of the ways that God showed his power and strength was in the fire, verse 8, similar to what Abram saw in the vision. Another way that David witnessed God’s power was in the weather, verse 10-15, just as God told Job in Job 38. There are things all around us to demonstrate God’s power to us, so we are told not to be afraid and trust. In Jesus’ words in Matthew 10 he tells the disciples, and therefore us, not to be afraid, verse 26, 28 and 31.  Rather, says Jesus, be afraid, or respect God, who is the one who allows us to be saved from the grave via the resurrection, verse 28-29. It is this respect and trust in God that is so important for us, God will help us to say the right things, verse 20, and if we acknowledge Jesus, Jesus will acknowledge us before his father, verse 32-33. This all comes in the context of Jesus sending his disciples out to teach about the kingdom, ie the aim of the promises to Abraham, the allusion in the psalm, verse 7, and in the disciples’ case they had the power to heal as well, verse 8. Jesus goes on to warn them and also us, that there will be opposition, even from within families, eg verse 34-36, this is interesting because we expect Jesus to bring peace, and he ultimately will, but there will be opposition in the meantime and we will have to make difficult choices and decide on priorities, verse37-39. Loving Jesus and his father more than anything else has to be our priority, if we love other things more, even family, we are considered “unworthy” and without Jesus we are all unworthy – so this is both a hope and a warning to consider our priorities in life – what are they? So trust in God is key, he has promised us a hope in the future, he will reward us in his time, in the meantime we have to use the opportunities that we are given wisely and preach about the return of Jesus, so do not be afraid! January

January 9th

Additional thoughts for yesterday, 9th January: Genesis 17 and 18 describe two events which resulted in Abraham questioning the will of God. There is the birth of the promised son in Chapter 17 and 18. We can imagine Sarah and Abraham struggling to understand why the promise had taken so long. They were both too old to have children. Then there is the investigation of the wickedness of Sodom, which Abraham took as a sign of trouble. Abraham debated with an angel of God over the destruction of Sodom. The will of God is often difficult to understand at the time. We too will have occasions where we wonder what God is doing in our lives. When we think like this, there are several things that we should bear in mind. Firstly, we must remember that God does no wrong (Deut 32:4). Whatever is happening in our lives is not wrong. It is just that we do not understand it. Secondly, we need to trust God (Prov 3:5-6). God knows what He is doing in our lives. The creator of the universe is well able to do the right thing in our lives. Thirdly and lastly, the will of God is that God wants to save lives. Jesus says this in John 6:39-40. In the events of Abraham’s life, this is also true. God gave life to the family of Abraham by giving the promised son. In the matter of Sodom, God sent His angels to save Lot and his family. The operation of the will of God in our lives means that God wants to save our life too. We should trust Him to do that and accept what is happening in our lives, even if we do not understand it. Psalm 19 reminds us that God has created the universe. We can look up at the heavens and see its greatness. We can then marvel at the greatness of its maker. The same maker made the Scriptures. When we meditate on its words (v14), this too should cause us to marvel at its greatness. If we read the Scriptures, it can revive us (v7), give us wisdom (v7), give us joy (v8) and make us radiant (v8). Why would we not want to read the Scriptures and get these benefits? It is better than gold and sweeter than honey. It can correct us so that we walk in the right way and can be right with God. Psalms 20 and 21 are about the king. What we notice is that the king, the greatest ruler in the country, is dependent on God. The king appeals to God for help (Ps 20:9). He is not saved by the size of his army (20v7), but by his trust in God. In Psalm 21 the king praises God for the victories that God gave. It is because the king trusts in God that he is saved (Ps 21:7). The king firstly committed his life to God, and then trusted in the will of God in his life (Psalm 20). Then he thanked God who saved him. We should also commit our lives to God and trust in His will in our life. Then we can thank God for preserving our lives too. In Matthew 11, we join the king of the Jews, Jesus. Jesus went around taking God’s message of the coming kingdom. In this chapter we learn of the people’s reaction to this message. There are two types of responses. Either they responded negatively, like the towns of Bethsaida, Korazin or Capernaum (v20-24). Or they responded positively, like the disciples of John (Mat 11:2-6). Overall, the response of the communities to the message was negative (v16-19). In fact, the response of Capernaum was worse than that of even Sodom, and Sodom was destroyed for its wickedness. Jesus could have been upset by the general poor response to his message. However, he trusted God. He accepted the will of God in all circumstances. When thinking about the reaction of the people to his message, Jesus praised God! It was the humble, who were like little children, who responded well (v25). The chapter ends with words of great comfort and an appeal for us to respond as well; “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (v28). We can find rest if we come to Jesus and the kingdom message. We can find rest, if we trust God in our lives and submit to His will. God has a great plan to save us, if we are willing and respond in the right way. We will struggle to understand the will of God in our own lives.  We will look in more detail about the will of God.  We will do this by looking at a number of examples. Joseph was sold as a slave by his brothers and taken to a foreign country.  There he was falsely accused by Potiphar’s wife and put in prison.  In prison, Joseph would have struggled to understand the will of God in his life.   Later, he looked back on his life.  Only then could he see the purpose of God.  He explained the reason to his brothers, “And now, do not be distressed and do not be angry with yourselves for selling me here, because it was to save lives that God sent me ahead of you” (Genesis 45:5).  Joseph could see the reason for the troubles in his life.  It was to save lives.  There had been a point to all the troubles he had faced.  He was able to see that God had been in control all the time. At times, we will struggle to understand how God is in control of our life.  One of the problems is our limited understanding.  God understands so much more than we can.  We read this in Isaiah 40:27-28.  His understanding is infinite.   We cannot expect to understand the things that God understands. The second example is prophet Elijah.  Elijah had seen the great power of God in controlling the rain.  First, it had stopped for 3 and a half years, then it started at God’s command.  Then he saw God bring down the fire from heaven.  Despite this, Elijah thought all this demonstration of God’s power had been useless in winning people for God.  Soon after the fire from heaven, Elijah had to run for his life, because Jezebel was trying to kill him. Elijah became so depressed that he wanted to die.  We read what he said to God in 1 Kings 19:10.  He told God it had all been a waste of time and he was left alone.  God replied in verse 18.  There were 7000 in the northern kingdom of Israel who were still faithful.  It had not been a waste of time, and Elijah was not alone in his faith.  Elijah could not see the work of God because he had limited vision.  But God could.  God’s plan was effective in bringing people to the faith.  God knows what He is doing.  Romans 11:1-5 tells us that this continues in our own lives today.  God is saving those who want to be saved. The next example is the servant of Abraham.  Abraham sent him to find a wife for his son Isaac.  The servant did not know whether Abraham’s plan would work, so he prayed to God for help.  We read this in Genesis 24:42.  We notice that in his prayer said “if you will.”  It was a prayer for reliance on God to do whatever God wished.  God did not have to grant him his prayer.  If God blessed the trip, good.  If He did not, then so be it.  He placed his trust in God’s will whatever the outcome.  His prayer follows the guidance of 1 John 5:14-15 where were are told to pray according to God’s will. This is an example of how we should pray.  We should commit our ways to God.  We should ask for God’s blessing, but it must be requested on the basis of “if God wills.”  God does not have to do what we ask.  We have to have the humility to accept God’s will.   James brings this out in James 4:13-15.  If God wills we will do this or that.  If He does not will, then we must accept it. Jesus had to persevere through many difficulties in his life, even though he was the special son of God.  When facing the prospect of a painful and humiliating death, we read what he prayed to God in Matthew 26:42.  “May your will be done.”  He did not want to go to the cross, but if he needed to then he would.  Jesus submitted to the will of God by obeying God.  His life was guided by the will of God.  He trusted in God and he also obeyed God’s commands. Paul’s friends also prayed for God’s will to be done.  They tried to stop Paul being arrested in Jerusalem.  In the end, the submitted to the will of God in Acts 21:14. Daniel’s 3 friends prayed they would not die in the furnace of fire.  Again, the submitted to the will of God, whatever it was, even if it meant they died.  See Daniel 3:16-18. In most circumstances we will not know the will of God or the reasons why things have happened in our lives.  We may be tempted to question God’s will.  God has His reasons for doing whatever He does.  We would be wise to trust in God.  This is the advice we are given in Proverbs 3:5-6 and also Proverbs 16:3. We can trust in God because God will always do the right thing.  We need to understand God.  Let us read Deuteronomy 32:4.  His ways are perfect.  He does no wrong.  This means that even if we do not understand it, God is always doing the right thing.   And He is faithful – this means He will never leave us.  He will stand by us, even if it sometimes looks as though He is not there.  And when our life is difficult, it is not because God has done anything wrong.  It is because we do not understand. Jesus tells us what the will of God is.  Let us read John 6:39-40.  The will of God is that none of us are lost.  God wants all to be saved.  This is what His will was in the life of Joseph – to save the family of Jacob.  This is what His will was in the life of Elijah – to save the 7000 in Israel.  This was His will in the life of Abraham’s servant – to save the faithful family of Isaac by providing a wife.  Most of all, the death of Jesus was the way his followers could be saved.  And we will be forever grateful for this. This is what God is doing in your life – guiding events and circumstances so that people can be saved.  If you have had to leave your homeland, it is for the purpose of saving you.  If you have stayed in your homeland, it is for the purpose of saving you. Being saved is not just about God bringing about His will in our lives.  It is also about us responding to what God has done for us by doing what God wants us to do.  Jesus tells us this in Matthew 7:21.  We must do what God wants.  Knowing the Bible message is not enough.  Telling others that we believe the Bible message is not enough.  We must do what God wants us to do in all circumstances.  Hebrews 10:36 tells us that we must persevere in doing the will of God if we are to receive the promises.  1 Peter 4:2 tells us to live by the things which God will want us to live by, and not to follow the ways of the world. May we submit to the will of God.  We do this by trusting in God and praying for His will to be done.  We also do this by living in accordance with his will by obeying the commands.  And then God will save us from death – because that is His will for us. January

January 10th

In today’s reading in Genesis 19 we see further consequences of Lot’s poor choices that he had previously made, starting with his choice to live in the plains around Sodom and Gomorrah, but also further difficult choices that he has to make just because he originally chose to live there. Lot was described by God as a “righteous” man, 2Peter 2 verse 6-10, and we thank God that he kept his faith in such a bad place, but it could have been better for him if he had made a better choice in the first place. Abraham (name now changed, Gen17:5-8) knew that he was staying in a bad place and Abraham pleaded with God’s angels to allow 10 to be saved, Genesis 18 verse 32, Abraham was thinking of Lot and his family, which is the typical godly thing that Abraham did, just like when he rescued Lot (Genesis 14). He had no bad feelings towards Lot, even though Lot went back to Sodom after he was rescued. Sodom and Gomorrah were so bad that God was to destroy them, Genesis 18 verse 20-21. Abraham knew this would happen so he pleaded for Lot’s life and we know that Lot was saved for Abraham’s sake, Genesis 19 verse 29. When Lot met the visitors in the gateway to the city he pleaded with them to stay with him, verse 3; at this stage he would not know that they where angels, but he did the right godly thing to welcome visitors into his house, perhaps he was more determined that they stay with him because he knew just how bad the people of the city were! They proved to be just as bad as he knew they were, when the men of the city insisted that Lot send the visitors outside so that they could have sex with them, verse 4-5, this is terrible and Lot was forced into making a terrible offer of his daughters to save them, verse 8. Because Lot put himself in a bad situation in the first place, his life is made more complicated and he has to make more difficult choices in his life and this goes all the way through this chapter. He also had the problem of the two men who were going to marry his daughters, verse 14, but they thought he was joking; he hesitated and the angels had to encourage him to go, verse 16; he did not think he could make the hills to reach safety so asked if they could get to Zoar, verse 18-22; he then lost his wife because she looked back, presumably with regret, verse 26.  Then he decided that Zoar was not safe, verse 30, presumably because he then realised that living amongst bad people was not a good influence. Because Lot was righteous, despite where he was, God helped him, whether it was the angels who pulled him into the house and caused the men to go blind, verse 10-11, giving him the time to ask his daughters’ boyfriends to come, 12-13, encouraging them to go or granting him his requests to go to Zoar. This is encouragement for us that despite our poor choices, God will still help us providing we remain faithful, but can you see that we do make things unnecessarily harder for ourselves when we do make bad choices. Even at the end of this chapter when Lot and just his 2 daughters are now left and living in a cave, further bad actions result as a consequence of Lot’s original bad choices and it ends with both daughters getting their father to father children with them to keep the family line going, verse 31-36. So the lesson for us is to always be careful over the choices that we make because there are consequences; even the children that the daughters produced became the nations who were enemies of Israel, verse 37-38. It is because we do make bad choices that we need the mercy and love of both God and Jesus, and human beings have always shown that we need this mercy.  Psalm 22 gives us some idea of the suffering of Jesus in giving his life for us. This psalm is clearly a prophecy about Jesus’ suffering on the cross – we know this because it is quoted in Matthew 16 and particularly in Matthew 27 but we can so easily see the events of the crucifixion in there as we read, eg verse 14-18. But because Jesus trusted in his father, verse 3-11, we know that the future is better, verse 22-31.  Suffering always turns to joy if we remain godly – and we all need to learn to trust and maintain this hope in the future. In Matthew 12, Jesus tells the Pharisees that they should have known about mercy, verse 7, and God’s mercy is always present as we saw in Lot’s life, despite his bad choices. The Pharisees were just focused on the fact that Jesus was breaking the Sabbath, they were not interested in the individuals who were being healed and neither were they thinking of their own hypocrisy when they saved one of their animals from the pit on a Sabbath, verse 11-12. They saved the animal because it was money to them, they were not showing mercy to something that God had created in the first place, and in any case a human being is far more valuable than a sheep or other animal! Jesus requires that we do praise and value our “Sabbath”, we set aside a Sunday for this, but we should also still do good work on that day! Human beings always manipulate God’s words and actions because of their natural corruption and Jesus shows how illogical this is, for example in the healing of the mute and blind man in verse 22-23. His illness was described as “demon-possessed”, but Jesus makes this clear that it was an illness that stopped him “talking” and “seeing”, he makes no mention of also healing him of a separate “demon”, his illness (demon) was being mute and also blind. The Pharisees then incorrectly say that it is by Beelzebub, the prince of demons, that Jesus healed, verse 24, and Jesus shows how stupid and illogical it was for them to say that! If it was true that illnesses were caused by “demons” and if it was true that Jesus was casting out “demons” in Beelzebub’s name, then the process is completely stupid, verse 25-27. It would mean that the “prince of demons” was killing off his own “demons”, therefore the “demons’” “kingdom” would not stand! Rather, said Jesus, the truth is that he healed people by the spirit of God, verse 28. Using the complete message of the bible, we know that demons and Beelzebub are false gods made by human hands anyway and are therefore worthless.  The Pharisees were mistaken in attributing illnesses to these worthless things anyway! Jesus goes on to say that anyone who believes in these things and does not give God the credit is blaspheming, verse 30-32.  People are known by their works, or as Jesus describes in verse 33-37, a good or bad tree is known by its fruit, therefore the words that came out of the Pharisees, or any other person, tells the hearer what they are really like! So how can we tell if some is a brother or sister of Jesus? Verse 28-50. Jesus certainly always did the will of his father.  Lot, even though he made poor choices and made mistakes, tried to do the will of God, so the question is how hard do we try to do the will of God? January

January 11th

Genesis 20 and 21 tells us about Abraham and Abimelech. Abimelech was a Philistine king, who took Abraham’s wife and was rebuked by God. There are several interesting features of this incident. It is the first time in Scripture that the word ‘prayer’ occurs. Its use is also interesting. God told Abimelech that he had to get Abraham to pray for him. Abimelech was not allowed to pray for himself or offer sacrifice, it had to be Abraham. This fits in with what we know of prayer, “The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective” (James 5:16). It had to be a righteous person who prayed because only their prayers were effective. We discover the same pattern when God told Job’ friends that Job had to pray for them. The second interesting feature of Abimelech is that God brought sickness onto Abimelech’s family. Abimelech’s family were prevented from having children (Genesis 20:17). A similar event had already occurred with Pharaoh, where God plagued Pharaoh’s family (Genesis 12:17). In both cases God brought sickness because Pharaoh and Abimelech had done wrong. This is what God can do. He says of Himself, “I have wounded and I will heal” (Deuteronomy 32:39). Health comes from God and we should be thankful for it. If we are sick we can get righteous people like elders to pray for us (James 5:14-15). Genesis 21 tells us about the birth of Isaac. This resulted in family tensions between Ishmael and her son and Sarah and her son. It lead to Hagar and Ishmael leaving Abraham’s camp. The beauty of this incident is that it shows that God cares for all people. Hagar may have been a slave, but God still cared for her. She may have been too far away for the human eye to see her, but God saw her. It is in fact the first recorded time that a voice comes from heaven, and it is for a slave girl. God looked after them in their darkest moment. This is the God we worship. God cares for all and sees all. God can look after us in our darkest moment too. The beauty of Psalm 23 is that it is so easy to understand. The image of God as the shepherd shepherding his sheep is simple and informative. This is how God cares for us. This is how God cared for Hagar, who was a lost sheep. It is a good Psalm to learn by heart. God provides everything we need. We do not even need to worry about death, because the good shepherd has a solution for that too. We do not need to worry about the shadow of death in our life. We will be given eternal life, because we will live in his house for ever. Psalm 24 continues this theme. In order to live in God’s house, we must be His sheep. We are told what this means in this Psalm. We must have clean hands, a pure heart, avoid idols and speak truth (Psalm 24:4). Then the king will come and live with us (see the end of the Psalm). Psalm 25 can be understood as telling us how God’s sheep behave. They trust in God (v3). They follow the right paths (v4, 5, 9). They look to the Lord (v15). They are protected (v20). Psalm 23 is beautiful, but let us also remember what it means to be the sheep of the good shepherd. Matthew 13 tells us 7 parables about the kingdom of God. Two parables explain how great and desirable the kingdom is. It is like treasure (v44) and a great pearl (v45). It is worth everything we have in this life. Two parables tell us that the kingdom starts small but then becomes the greatest – the mustard seed (v31-32) and the yeast (v33). We should not worry about the smallness of God’s kingdom in our day – it will become great. Two parables teach us about the judgment, where the righteous and wicked will be separated and rewarded appropriately. These are the parables of the wheat and weeds (v24-30) and the fish net (v47-50). This is a warning to us to be righteous. This leaves the greatest parable which Jesus explains carefully. The parable of the sower teaches us that God is sending out his message (the seed). The soils represent different hearers. Some do not listen at all (the seed on the path). Some listen for only a short time (the seed among the rocks). Some do not properly listen and struggle to grow (the seed among the weeds). Some fall on good soil and grow and produce a crop (the seed on good soil). The question Jesus is asking us is which type of soil are we? Only those who listen to the word, understand it, persevere in it and live it will produce the crop. Can we do that? Our hope of the kingdom is dependent on us trying our best to do this? Our passages today have taught us about God’s care. God cared for Abraham and protected him from the Philistines, despite his own lack of faith. God cared for Hagar and saved their lives. God cares for us like the good shepherd. But we need to be the sheep. We need to hear the words of God and his son and follow. As Jesus said about his sheep, “the sheep listen to his voice” (John 10:3). Let us listen to the voice of the shepherd through reading and thinking about the Scriptures. And let us follow the shepherd along the right path. This will lead eventually to a place in God’s house in the kingdom. January

January 12th

Genesis 22: “The two of them went together”.  This chapter divides mankind.  The unbeliever would read the first 2 verses and then close the book saying, “what a terrible God, tempting someone to sacrifice their own child!!” To the believer, there is so much more to realize, to gain understanding, to understand God’s message to mankind. To understand what God had in His mind before the foundation of the world, the lamb of God (Jesus), this chapter is a picture of the sacrifice of God in the sacrifice of His son – intimate details, revealing the depth of the love and trust of both, and the willingness to give. Truly “the two of them went together” (v6+8). As Christadelphians we encourage all people to gain further understanding from elsewhere in scripture; we do this for many reasons. I will mention just 2: that our faith has a strong foundation supported by the knowledge of God’s word – and that we may grow in the love of the Lord so that the more we know of Him, the more we realize the glory due to Him. There are more than 70 references in the New Testament concerning Abraham, but we will focus references to this chapter alone.  James 2:22 “Do you see that faith was working together with his works (another “2 of them went together”!!), and by his works, faith was made perfect?”  Hebrews 11:17-19 “By faith Abraham, when he was tested, offered up Isaac, of whom it was said “In Isaac your seed shall be called”, concluding that God was able to raise him (Isaac) up, even from the dead”. Abraham believed the promise and within that promise he understood Isaac (who was childless at the time) was to have children.  He did not understand what would happen and how, but he totally trusted God with his son’s life! God had prepared Abraham beforehand for this test by giving him that promise. This shows how much help is gained by us knowing God’s promises and living with those promises in our minds each day. We, like Abraham, know that we can totally trust in the Lord and His word. Galatians 3 (the relevance of Abraham to us).  v7: “those who are of faith (in Christ) are sons of Abraham.  v16: “Now to Abraham and his seed (Jesus) were the promises made”. Paul says the seed in Gen22:17 is singular and is Jesus, because in Genesis 22 it says “and your seed shall possess the gate of HIS enemies – in your seed (Jesus) all the nations of the earth will be blessed.  v26-29: …through faith and baptism into Christ we have become his.  “And if you are Christ’s, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (we are in the promise and hence its relevance and the need to know the Old Testament!).  John 8:39 “If you were Abraham’s children, you would do the works of Abraham” What was the works of Abraham in Genesis 22? Faith in God and His word… and TOTAL TRUST in Him.  With total trust we see the spirit of Jesus in his life and his desire for us to have the same. The Lord will prepare us, test us, to encourage us to follow Jesus – who showed his total trust, expressing words that witnessed of his will every day of his life “Father, into Your hands I commit my spirit” Luke 23:46.   Psalms 26-28: How do we worship?  The wonderful thing about the psalms is that they reveal the heart of the psalmist and we can compare with our own hearts. In these psalms David pours out his emotions and his worship for his Lord. His worship is in many ways, not just in songs; in trust (v1), in continuing instruction throughout his life (v2), in God’s love (v3), in obedience (v3), in thanksgiving (v7), in praise of the Lord’s presence (v8), in God’s mercy (v11), and the desire to dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of his life (particularly in the future Kingdom of God).  When we have these things in our heart, we know we are in a good place! And can confess Psalm 28:7 “The Lord is my strength and my shield; my heart trusted in Him, and I am helped; therefore, my heart greatly rejoices, and with my song I will praise Him”. Matthew 14:   The Lord will provide.  Feeding the 5000. This miracle is recorded in all 4 gospels and each contributes individual details. For instance, John tells us when – it was close to the time of Passover when all the people would be going towards Jerusalem to celebrate that feast, it was the time of the year when there was much green grass, a time when at night there would be light from the full moon, it was a time when John the Baptist’s witness had come to an end (beheaded by Herod), a time when Jesus and his disciples were teaching the kingdom of God and healing the ill (physically and mentally); it was a time when many were asking “could this be the Messiah?”.  Luke tells us where – Bethsaida, which incidentally explains why (in John’s gospel) Jesus asked Philip where he could get food for the people.  Philip was from Bethsaida (so were Andrew and Peter).  Mark tells us Jesus was moved with compassion for them “because they were like sheep without a shepherd” – you can imagine the people running up and down the hills, scattered but all coming to Jesus, the good shepherd.  We all believe this miracle happened without a doubt, but if we had been there what would we have seen?  “Jesus took the 5 loaves and the 2 fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. So, they all ate and were filled, and 12 baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them” Luke 9:16-17.  The disciples were amazed by such a miracle – although they kept giving the food to the people, they knew the miracle was not from them. Would they attribute the miracle to Jesus?  Jesus had already said (John 5:30) “I can of myself do nothing”.  The disciples would learn and confess that all things were done by God’s will living through Jesus.  Some of the people saw the significance of the miracle: “This is truly the prophet who is to come into the world” John 6:14 This is referring to a promise of God to Moses and Israel. “I will raise up for them a prophet like you (Moses) from among your brethren and will put My words in his mouth, and he will speak to them all that I command him” Deut 18:18.  Generally, the reaction of the people was wrong. They wanted Jesus to do their will!! Some wanted to force him to be king, now!! (John 6:15). Others wanted to be continually given food from Jesus (John 6:26). The wise asked Jesus what they should do in order to fulfil God’s will. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom He sent” (John 6:29) and “This is the will of Him who sent me, that everyone who sees the son and believes in him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). Jesus is the bread of life, he who comes to him will never hunger (he will be fed).  We too, brothers and sisters of Christ, confess like Peter: “You have the words of eternal life. Also, we have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the son of the living God” (John 6:68-69).Matthew 14:   The Lord will provide.  Feeding the 5000. This miracle is recorded in all 4 gospels and each contributes individual details. For instance, John tells us when – it was close to the time of Passover when all the people would be going towards Jerusalem to celebrate that feast, it was the time of the year when there was much green grass, a time when at night there would be light from the full moon, it was a time when John the Baptist’s witness had come to an end (beheaded by Herod), a time when Jesus and his disciples were teaching the kingdom of God and healing the ill (physically and mentally); it was a time when many were asking “could this be the Messiah?”.  Luke tells us where – Bethsaida, which incidentally explains why (in John’s gospel) Jesus asked Philip where he could get food for the people.  Philip was from Bethsaida (so were Andrew and Peter).  Mark tells us Jesus was moved with compassion for them “because they were like sheep without a shepherd” – you can imagine the people running up and down the hills, scattered but all coming to Jesus, the good shepherd.  We all believe this miracle happened without a doubt, but if we had been there what would we have seen?  “Jesus took the 5 loaves and the 2 fish, and looking up to heaven, he blessed and broke them, and gave them to the disciples to set before the multitude. So, they all ate and were filled, and 12 baskets of the leftover fragments were taken up by them” Luke 9:16-17.  The disciples were amazed by such a miracle – although they kept giving the food to the people, they knew the miracle was not from them. Would they attribute the miracle to Jesus?  Jesus had already said (John 5:30) “I can of myself do nothing”.  The disciples would learn and confess that all things were done by God’s will living through Jesus.  Some of the people saw the significance of the miracle: “This is truly the prophet who is to come into the world” John 6:14 This is referring to a promise of God to Moses and Israel. “I will raise up for them a prophet like you (Moses) from among your brethren and will put My words in his mouth, and he will speak to them all that I command him” Deut 18:18.  Generally, the reaction of the people was wrong. They wanted Jesus to do their will!! Some wanted to force him to be king, now!! (John 6:15). Others wanted to be continually given food from Jesus (John 6:26). The wise asked Jesus what they should do in order to fulfil God’s will. “This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom He sent” (John 6:29) and “This is the will of Him who sent me, that everyone who sees the son and believes in him may have everlasting life; and I will raise him up at the last day” (John 6:40). Jesus is the bread of life, he who comes to him will never hunger (he will be fed).  We too, brothers and sisters of Christ, confess like Peter: “You have the words of eternal life. Also, we have come to believe and know that you are the Christ, the son of the living God” (John 6:68-69). January

January 13th

Genesis 24 is a great account with a lot of detail of how God answers prayer and how individuals respond to it. God always answers prayer, it may not be as we expect at times, but that does not mean that God has not answered our prayers. Both Abraham and his servant realised this when they discussed the possibility that Abraham’s family may not agree with the arrangement, verse 5 and 8. They also both realised that this was a very important situation because Isaac was to be a major part of the promise relating to the nation of Israel and more importantly to the eventual birth of Jesus, Abraham said this in verse 7, that God would “send an angel before you”. So the servant promised Abraham that he would do as he asked and find a wife for Isaac from Abraham’s relations, verse 9. The servant’s prayer is in verse 12-14 where he is specific in his request for help – he has a task to perform and he did exactly as Abraham had said – he also knew how important this was so he had the right godly attitude in asking for help. In this case God’s answer was immediate and obvious, verse 15, and the servant was eager to meet her, presumably with joy, verse 17.  complete amazement when she responded exactly as he asked God, verse 19. He then waited patiently to see if his interpretation was right, verse 21, and then explained to her what he was there for, verse 22-23. His immediate reaction was to praise God.  He explained everything in detail again to Rebekah’s family, again giving credit to God, eg verse 48-49. He was an excellent witness and Abraham’s family had no option but to conclude that this was also God’s plan, verse 50-51. For this he also gave thanks, verse 52. When the servant met Isaac on the way back he also told him everything, verse 66, we can assume that his account included all the detail that he relayed to Abraham’s family. The servant demonstrated a lot of faith and trust in God, also respect for Abraham and for the promises of God and how God answered his prayer. Psalm 29 reminds us again how God uses the weather to demonstrate his power, we have graphic descriptions here how great trees are broken by wind, rain and lightning, verse 5. God, the creator of everything has the power to do anything and will show his power when he needs to. Yet Psalm 30 reminds us that the great God who we worship is also interested in individuals, in this case David, and when David called on him, God answered, verse 2-3. Just like Abraham’s servant, David praised, verse 4-5, and felt secure, verse 6-7. In complete humility we approach God and say our prayers, only asking him for those things that we know he will want us to ask for, but also realising that he knows best and also accepting that it is the kingdom that God wants to give us when we will be able to praise for ever, verse 12. In Matthew 15 we have the account of the feeding of the 4,000 (verse 32-38) and it would appear that the disciples had forgotten about the previous feeding of the 5,000 (Matthew 14), verse 33. This is how we very often respond too when we are confronted with a problem, we forget how we have been helped in the past and we fail to rely on God for a response, but Jesus took command of the situation and organised a solution, verse 35-37. We may not get the answer that we expect, but we nevertheless get an answer if we allow our lives to be controlled by both God and Jesus and try our best to do the right things. The account of the Canaanite woman (verse 21-28) is sometimes hard to understand, why did Jesus seemingly ignore her?, verse 23, this prompted the disciples to want to send her away! Jesus’ response appears to be a rejection, verse 25, but in humility the woman responded to Jesus in action and words, verse 25-27, indicating to Jesus that she did persist in asking and showing faith – that was acknowledged by Jesus, verse 28. Her request was answered immediately too. There are lots of connections with Isaiah 29 in this chapter, in fact Jesus quotes Isaiah in verse 8-9, so the message in Isaiah is being fulfilled in this chapter, ie the Jews, headed by the Pharisees, were rejecting Jesus, and the gentiles, typified by the woman, wanted to accept Jesus and listen to what he said. The Pharisees criticised Jesus at every opportunity and they held onto their human traditions, verse 1-2, prompting Jesus to demonstrate to them that they were “play acting” (hypocrites), by actually breaking God’s commands so that they could comply with their traditions, verse 3-7, thus fulfilling the prophecy in Isaiah. The Pharisees were completely missing the message about being “unclean”, Jesus said that it is nothing to do with your hands or food, but it is very much to do with the person’s attitude, ie the way that they speak and act, verse 18-20. Abraham’s servant tried to do things right, David acknowledged God in everything and the Canaanite woman had faith, all would have made mistakes in their lives, we read about David’s, but all tried to follow God and Jesus. So using Jesus’ words as our lesson – do any of these things in verses 18-20 describe us? Are we “unclean” or are we trying our best to be clean in Jesus? January

January 14th

In Genesis 25 we read of the death of Abraham but God’s blessing remains on Isaac as he continues with the promised line from Abraham, verse 11. It is significant that we are reminded of the origins of the hostility that existed around this extended family, verse 18 and chapter 26 verse 35, because it helps us understand the problems that always appear to exist between the people of Israel and their neighbours today. Chapter 25 introduces us to Jacob and Esau, the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, there was always hostility between these two brothers too and Esau’s ungodly character and priorities help to explain this. It is clear that God is at work in the events, even before the twins were born; Isaac faithfully prayed to God asking for Rebekah being able to have children, verse 21, Rebekah too was faithful and turned to God when she was in trouble, verse 22-23. The answer she had from God again says that there would be conflict between the two sons. Both sons were different characters, verse 27-28, they were each preferred by a different parent, which in itself is a warning for parents not to love one child over the other! However, Esau, showed complete and under disregard for his God-given birthright, verse 32-34. Jacob took advantage of the situation, which he should not have done, but Esau was just not interested in the promises of God, he had no real respect for the significance of being the first born. Because of famine in the land, Isaac moves his family to where there was food, chapter 26 verse 1, presumably also thinking that he would then move onto Egypt – until God spoke to him, verse 2-5. God confirms that Isaac will continue with the promised line and talks about the blessing for all the nations (verse 4), which we know from the rest of scripture and completely confirmed in Galatians 3, was through Jesus. And Isaac showed strong faith by remaining where he was.  However, he, like his father, showed a temporary lack of faith by saying that Rebekah was his sister, verse 7. We should not judge Isaac for this because it is a human thing that we all do from time to time, rather we should praise God that God continues to work through all of our weaknesses; God had protected Isaac as he promised he would, verse 8-11. Abimelech must have remembered the similar events with his father (Genesis 20) and was respectful of Isaac and his God, explaining why he responded in the way that he did. These lapses should encourage us when we consider our own failings, not that we should deliberately sin, and then expect forgiveness, that is the wrong attitude, but when we fail, we should sincerely repent and then be confident that God will forgive. God blessed Isaac and he became strong, verse 12-13, and as is often the case others looked on in envy, verse 14, and take spiteful actions to try and disrupt events, verse 15. As a result Abimelech, although he respected Isaac, asked him to move away, verse 16. Isaac gives us an excellent example in how we should also respond when there is conflict, he willingly moves on, he did it 3 more times when there were further disputes over water, verse 19-22; he humbly moved on, knowing that God was with him, and did not quarrel about the wells that he had actually dug. Moving away from conflict is a hard thing for us human beings to do, but it is what God wants us to do. Psalm 31 is a psalm where David talks about those who oppose him, verse 6-13, and he contrasts this with where his real help comes from, ie God, verse 1-5. It is only in God that he finds his “refuge”, and he trusts in God, verse 14-16, he also acknowledges that it is “pride” and “arrogance” that are wrong, verse 17-18.  Humility is therefore key to being part of any blessing from God. It is this humility that David goes on to mention in verse 19-20, ie those “who fear” (respect) God, these are the ones who praise, verse 21-22, and he contrasts the humble and the proud in the last 2 verses, verse 23-24. The Pharisees and the Sadducees in Matthew 16 were proud and arrogant, they had no respect for God and for his son, there were just interested in their own position in society. When they asked for a sign, Jesus responded by saying that they were a “wicked and adulterous generation”, verse 4, they thought that they were clever in being able to predict the weather, verse 2-3, but Jesus clearly showed that they should have been interpreting the “signs of the times”, ie knowing that Jesus was the fulfilment of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob! So concerned was Jesus about the Pharisees’ false teaching that Jesus warned his disciples, verse 12. Peter’s confession that Jesus was the “Christ the son of God” is the belief and hope that we have in knowing that God will fulfil all of his promises in sending Jesus back to the earth to set up the kingdom that was promised to Abraham, verse 16. However, for all this to happen Jesus had to be killed and he told his disciples this in verse 21 to prepare them for the crucifixion, but also for them to have hope in the resurrection. Jesus makes it clear that there is a strong link between his death and resurrection and salvation with the ultimate reward of being in the kingdom, verse 24-28. Peter did not understand this at the time and he tried to stop Jesus from going to Jerusalem to be killed, he “opposed” Jesus, he “stood in his way” and Jesus said “get behind me satan” because he was trying to stop Jesus from doing the things that God wanted him to do, verse 22-23. Many Christians are confused by the term “satan”, they incorrectly think that this is a power that causes people to sin, but Jesus used the term to describe Peter who was in fact trying to save Jesus! Peter was not trying to cause Jesus to sin, he was trying to protect him! Clearly Jesus is saying that Peter was “opposing” Jesus and also God, because Peter was looking at the situation from a human point of view and not from a godly point of view. Likewise we should try our best to live our lives in a godly way, to be humble and to trust and rely on God and to try not to oppose his ways. January

January 15th

Genesis 27 contains a lot of detail on how Isaac intended to pass his blessing onto Esau, but how this was actually taken by Jacob by deceit. Both Rebekah and Jacob worked together to do this, presumably both Isaac and Rebekah wanted their favourites to have the blessing from Isaac that was traditionally given by fathers to the firstborn. Having twins makes this custom more difficult because both are born at the same time, Rebekah already knew from God that the twins would have a difficult relationship, (Genesis 25:23), and she wanted to try and ensure that Jacob would be the one who was stronger and the one who was served. We know too that Jacob was the one chosen by God anyway to be the line of Abraham to Jesus (Genesis 28), so this blessing of Isaac would not have changed God’s purpose anyway, but Rebekah was impatient. Despite this God works through our weaknesses, however, there were consequences of this deceit, Esau hated his brother, Jacob had to run away and it is likely that this was the last time that Jacob saw his mother, verse 41-46. The lesson is that even if we do not understand our present situation, we need to trust in God to do the right thing. Psalm 32 is a short psalm of David who acknowledged that “happy” or “blessed” is the person whose sins are forgiven, verse 1-2.  We all make mistakes, we all make wrong decisions, but we can have these forgiven, as I am sure Jacob and Rebekah did. However, it does require a response and acknowledgement from us first as verse 3 says, when David was “silent”, ie he had not confessed his sin and acknowledged that he was wrong, and so he suffered, verse 4. It was only when he acknowledged his sin, verse 5, that he experienced forgiveness. This is the same pattern of repentance and then forgiveness all the way through the bible, we have to confess and then we are forgiven. Those of us who are baptised have already confessed our human nature and we know that we do have forgiveness in Jesus, no matter what we do wrong, however, we still have to confess and repent of our ongoing sins if we are to have forgiveness. Forgiveness is not limited, but it is conditional, verse 6 says that those who are “godly” can pray; verse 8 talks about “instruction” and “teaching”; verse 10 shows that those who “trust” are helped, and those who can rejoice are those who are “upright”. So all of this confidently shows that those with the right godly attitude are forgiven, but unfortunately those with an ungodly attitude are not. Matthew 17 starts with the account of the transfiguration, where there is some kind of vision where 3 of the disciples see Jesus with Moses and Elijah and for Jesus, who sees Elijah and Moses, to encourage him, verse 1-3. This amazing “vison” was overwhelming for the disciples, verse 4 and 6, who did not really know what to do, but God makes it clear in verse 5, saying that they (and us) are to “listen to” Jesus. This is why all of our focus has to be on Jesus, it is not that we ignore the teachings of God through Moses and Elijah, ie the old testament, but that all their teachings and all the promises point to and lead us to Jesus. Jesus is the fulfilment of all the promises that we have been reading about recently and it is in Jesus that we can really have forgiveness, again emphasised by Jesus saying about his death and resurrection, verse 9-13. This aspect is important and Jesus mentions it again when they had re-joined the other disciples, verse 22-23, after telling them to have faith, verse 20-21. If Jesus has the power to heal illness, (this example here (verse 14-19 ) is of a man’s son who probably had what we know as epilepsy now, but here described as a “seizure” and “demon”) then Jesus can certainly forgive sins, so we must not doubt. The account of Peter and the temple tax in verse 24-27, seems unconnected to what we are told before, but this is an everyday example of how we have to have the right godly attitude in everything we do. Perhaps Peter was too quick in answering the question that he was asked, verse 25, and Jesus, who knows everything, knew what Peter had said and that they had not actually paid yet. So Jesus, via a miracle, enables Peter to pay so as “not to offend” the tax collectors, verse 27. This is a great example of what demonstrates a godly attitude, we have to look like Jesus all the time if we are to be “blessed” with forgiveness and ultimately the kingdom, we need to be careful about the impressions that we give to others and to be upright in everything that we do. May God bless us all as we try our best to be like Jesus in everything that we do and “rejoice”! January

January 16th

Matthew 18 contains the message of forgiveness – something that is not generally not done in the world around us. We do live in an unforgiving world. Prominent people are often in the news because of something that they said or did, sometimes many years ago. People are condemned for a few careless words. In the world around us, it is considered right and proper to be totally unforgiving in such cases. A prominent UK politician recently encouraged children to maintain a state of anger against those of the older generations about climate change. He was encouraging young people to blame and not to forgive. However, clinical psychologists will tell you about the conclusions of medical science. People who cannot forgive are in a poor state of mental health and their mental health is not likely to improve. Likewise those who are in a sustained state of anger and blaming of others will damage both their mental and physical health. Therefore there is a contradiction in today’s worldly thinking. The science tells us that for our health, we need to forgive and put off anger and blaming, but the media and many influential people tell us to condemn for a past comment and to be unforgiving. We are not to be like this. Verses 21-35 of Matthew, although written nearly 2,000 years ago, ia actually what today’s medical experts say! Matt 18:21-22 reads: “Then Peter came to Him and said, “Lord, how often shall my brother sin against me, and I forgive him? Up to seven times?” Jesus said to him, “I do not say to you, up to seven times, but up to seventy times seven.” If we want to be forgiven, we must forgive, even up to 70 times 7 times. That is 490 times, or in other words more times than we can keep a count of, therefore it is unlimited times. If we are each trying to follow the example of our Lord, then our lives and the lives of our brothers and sisters are a journey of development and transformation. Our past failures should not reflect the people who we are now and we must not judge others by their past failures. Our heavenly Father helps us in this transformation, as we read in Hebrews 12:6-7: “For whom the Lord loves He chastens, And scourges every son whom He receives. If you endure chastening, God deals with you as with sons; for what son is there whom a father does not chasten?” and then: verse 11: “Now no chastening seems to be joyful for the present, but painful; nevertheless, afterward it yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness to those who have been trained by it.” There is no instant transformation at our baptism. In Ephesians 4, Paul is writing to baptised brothers and sisters. Verse 22: “that you put off, concerning your former conduct, the old man which grows corrupt according to the deceitful lusts, and be renewed in the spirit of your mind, and that you put on the new man which was created according to God, in true righteousness and holiness.” Our life in Christ must be one of continual transformation. Every time we meet to break bread, we must examine ourselves and focus on that putting off of the old man and putting on of the new. Many years ago, I misread some verses in Matthew 11, ie verse 28-30: “Come to Me, all you who labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take My yoke upon you and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For My yoke is easy and My burden is light.” I mistakenly thought that Jesus was offering to share our burdens, but rather He is wanting us to share His yoke. This means first taking off our burdens. How can we do this? When Jesus spoke, the people were burdened with the corrupt religion of the Pharisees. Today many are burdened with false religions there are many other false teachings in this world, such as humanism. Jesus is inviting us to take off these burdens, so that we can share his light burden. Galatians 5 may help us to understand the heavy and light burdens: Here in verses 19 to 21 we see the works of flesh: “Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jealousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies,  envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God.” All of these can offer short term rewards or pleasures, but put heavy burdens on our lives. The consequences for those who commit adultery or drunkenness are obvious. Each of the works of the flesh, as well as denying us a place in God’s kingdom, does us physical and mental harm. On the other hand, in verses 22-23 we have those light burdens: “But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law.” Two of the works of the flesh, wrath and hatred will increase our blood pressure, and can lead to damage to the heart, strokes, damage to the immune system, anxiety and depression, migraines, harm to the digestive system, damage to a number of organs, and harm to our interpersonal relationships. If we pursue the works of the flesh, we will create heavy burdens for our lives. The opposite is true of love, joy, peace, and all the other fruit of the spirit. These things can lower our blood pressure, and improve the health of our minds and bodies. We can hardly describe such things as burdens. Verse 24 reminds us of the main reason why we are here today: “And those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.” We are here to examine ourselves, our attitudes and our lives, and to remember the example of our Lord. In Heb 12:1, we read: “Therefore we also, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us.” We see here again the need to put off the burdens of sin, false religion and worldly thinking. We cannot run a race whilst carrying a heavy burden. We also are reminded of the purpose of being here today in verses 2 and 3: “looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before Him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls.” Jesus looked forward in faith to the hope of God’s kingdom and the joy that this gave him, motivated him to endure crucifixion. We now come to the time to examine ourselves. To consider how we can put off the old man and the thinking of the flesh and put on the new man in Christ. It may help to think of the bread as reminder to put the mind of the flesh to death with its works and its burden. And to think of the wine, the symbol of the new covenant of grace by which our sins are forgiven, as a reminder to seek to put on the spiritual mind, and to grow in ourselves the fruit of the spirit and take on its very light burden. January

January 17th

Genesis 30 is the continuation of the sad story of Jacob’s unhappy family. Chapters 28 and 29 tells us about the previous deceit practised, particularly by Laban, and now Jacob has to cope with the aftermath and the competition and jealousy of his 2 wives about having/not having children. Jacob loved Rachel more than Leah, chapter 29 verse 30, perhaps no surprise as it was Rachel who he wanted to marry, chapter 29 verse 20, but as we know Laban tricked him and gave him Leah, verse 25! However, this was the cause of the tension between the sisters, chapter 30 verse 15. The first verses in this chapter give us the details of the growing family and the ungodly attitudes of them all.  To be honest, all of them were using different ways to compete for children. It was only when Rachel kept praying for a child that God “listened”, verse 22-24. God worked through all these weaknesses and the 12 tribes of Israel were born, however, we take lessons from the fact that this was an unhappy family because of Jacob’s multiple wives and the resulting competition. Having multiple wives is not what God wants and Jesus explains this in Matthew 19 which we will look at later. The last verses of Genesis 30 show how God worked to give Jacob the wages that he had worked for, for 14 years, that Laban had withheld from him. The arrangements of the sticks from the various trees, verse 37-39, has been wondered about by many, but there is no “magic” in these; the fact is God helped Jacob to be given the things that were rightly his, that Laban had withheld from him. Jacob actually confirms that it was Jacob himself that helped Laban become richer than he was before Jacob arrived, verse 29-30. So Jacob became prosperous, verse 43. Laban tried to trick Jacob many times, but as God had previously promised Jacob in Genesis 28 verse 15, he would “never leave him”. Psalm 34 is a prayer of David acknowledging that it is only when we seek God, in humility, that God will answer us, verse 1-6, it is clear that David is giving God all the credit for helping him in his troubles. Verse 7 where it says that the angel of the Lord encamps around those who fear him, does in fact remind us of Jacob in Genesis 32, verse 1, where Jacob acknowledges that God’s angels are camping around him (Mahanaim means 2 camps = his camp and the angels’ camp). Rachel too displayed a trust in God, although she sometimes doubted, but she took her troubles to God, just like David did, verse 15-16. All of this psalm distinguishes between the evil and the righteous and it is only the righteous that he helps, eg verse 11-14, and this help maybe only when the kingdom comes, which verse 12, I think, alludes to. God has never promised that the righteous will have a trouble free life, in fact we are told the opposite, verse 19, but we will be delivered when Jesus comes back. This psalm does talk about Jesus as verse 20 is clearly referring to Jesus’ bones not being broken, we know this because John 19 verse 36 quotes this, so we can conclude that God will care for those who take refuge in him (verse 8 and 22) and God will “redeem his servants”, ultimately in the kingdom. Matthew 19 starts with Jesus answering a question about divorce and then remarriage, or having multiple wives, and Jesus reminds us what the ideal godly situation should be, verse 4-6, so not only does multiple wives cause practical problems, it is not what God intended. Jesus adds that the reason why divorce was permitted was due to their own hard hearts, verse 8-9. The rich young man wanted to know how he could get eternal life, verse 16, Jesus says, as we would expect, to “obey [God’s] commandments”, the very thing that David was praying about in the psalm. Notice here too that within Jesus’ answer he clearly says that he and his father are separate entities, because he said “do not call me good” because the only one who is good is the creator, ie God, his father – the teaching of the trinity is so wrong! The man asks for Jesus to detail the commands that he should keep and Jesus does this in verse 18-19, he must have been a special man because he was able to say that he did keep these, verse 20-22. The sad thing is this man trusted in his wealth and was not, at that time at least, fully committed to God. It is interesting how Jesus responds by giving the picture of the camel and the needle, verse 23-24; some argue that the small gate to the side of the main gate to a city was called “the needle”, it was used after the main gate was shut at night for protection to allow access to those who were late. The gate was too small to get a fully laden camel through, so the camel had to be unloaded first and then it could squeeze through. I prefer to picture a real needle and a real camel because the disciples were “astonished” that this could be possible, verse 25-26, and they asked “who then can be saved?”, ie it was impossible, just as it is impossible for a real camel to go through a real needle. Jesus however answered that it was possible with God, verse 26, and this is the whole point, it is not possible for us to get in the kingdom on our own, it was not possible for Rachel to have children without God helping, it was not possible for David to be saved from his enemies without God helping, so God has provided Jesus to make things possible for us to be in the kingdom. But for us to be righteous and have the right frame of mind we have to be willing to leave everything and follow Jesus, verse 28-30.  So the message here is where are our priorities? Our priority has to be God and also Jesus, the man’s wealth could not save him, it is a humble reliance on God and on his son Jesus that saves us. January

January 18th

Genesis 21 tells us of how Jacob and his family left the house of Laban to go back to Canaan.  This was necessary because Jacob was outside the Promised Land.  More particularly, it was necessary that God’s people had to separate from idol-worshippers like Laban.  Laban had every reason to believe in the God of Jacob and his fathers.  He had seen how God had blessed Jacob and knew it was from God (Genesis 30:27).  He had also had a dream from God (Genesis 31:24).  Yet Laban chose to worship idols and zealously searched for them in Jacob’s camp.  Like Jacob, we too must separate from ungodly people and be God’s holy people.  As we are told, “Come out from them (idolaters) and be separate” (2 Corinthians 6:16-17). Only God knew that Rachel had stolen the idols of Laban.  Why Rachel had wanted them is unclear.  At best, she was after their wealth.  At worst, she worshipped them.  Either way, God saw what happened because it is recorded in Genesis.  Rachel compromised the separation of Jacob’s house from the idolatrous ways of Laban.  Idols should not be in the house of God’s people, as we read in the Deuteronomy 7:26; “Do not bring a detestable thing (eg an idol) into your house”.  Let us not compromise our separation from the ways of the world by bringing into our houses things that compete for our worship of God.  We must separate from the ways of the world and not bring them into our house.  God is watching. Psalm 35 shows us two extremes.  We have a very righteous man and we have very wicked men.  The righteous man loves his neighbour and cares for them.   Since the Psalm was given to David, we assume that it is talking about David.  David fasted and prayed from his sick neighbours (v13).  He mourned when their sickness continued (v14).  Despite doing his neighbours good, the neighbours plotted evil against David.  They invent false charges and take him to court (v11).  They tell lies against him (v15, 20).  David did not fight back.  He did not start returning evil against them.  Instead he took his complaint to God and asked God to help.  This is how we must react when evil is unfairly done to us.  We must take it to God and wait patiently for God to help. We must not turn to evil ourselves.  It is God’s role to repay these people, not ours, “Do not take revenge, my friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: “It is mine to avenge, I will repay,” says the Lord” (Romans 12:19). Matthew 20 gives the parable of the vineyard workers.  Despite working for different lengths of time, they are all rewarded with the same. Those who started first got the agreed reward.  And because God is good (Greek word in verse 15) those who started last got the same.  The first workers grumbled because they wanted more than the others.  However, this is not fair on God.  Why should any complain if God decides to reward everyone the same because of His goodness?  The parable teaches us that anyone entering the kingdom will receive a great reward because of the goodness of God.  Let us thank God for His goodness to us, and not grumble about His goodness to other people.  For example, God’s goodness is seen in the healing of the blind beggars (v29-34). Thank God for His goodness to them.  Let us seek the welfare of others instead of being selfish.  The disciples made the mistake of being selfish.  They argued over who was the greatest (v24-28).   Instead of this, they should have had the humility to serve others.  If they humbled themselves, then they would be made great by God.  Jesus showed us how to do this, by laying down his life for us (v28).  Let us thank God for His goodness to us in calling us to the hope of the kingdom.  Let us thank God for the goodness of Jesus.  And let us copy the example of being good to others, as David also did. January

January 19th

Genesis 32 + 33 : Jacob and Esau. Jacob is on his way home and “the angels of God met him” (v1). We have no idea what was said but surely the angels would have come to help Jacob, to remind him of all the promises the Lord had given to Jacob which in turn would remind him to TRUST in the Lord. In verse 3 “Jacob sent messengers to Esau”. In these 2 verses we have an example of the translators of the bible using the context the word translated “angels” comes from the Hebrew word “malak” and the same word (malak) in verse 3 is translated messengers. This is a reminder to be careful when angels are mentioned in the bible – are they messengers from God (angels) or messengers (men) from men? The message sent by Jacob is given in humility; despite having the birthright, and being chosen by God Jacob humbled himself and had the spirit of a servant calling Esau “master” and “lord” and says he wants “to find favour in Esau’s eyes” to be forgiven for the past. Esau receives the message and with 400+ men, is coming to meet Jacob ! Jacob is anxious and makes plans. He prays (v9-12) and he begins by re-calling the promises made to him by God (v9), then he pours out his heart to the Lord; he is unworthy of the kindness and faithfulness that has been shown to him “Save me, I pray from Esau… save me, my wives and the children” then he re-calls another promise, one that spoke of having numerous descendants (maybe the words of that promise were a quick answer to his prayer: “don’t worry, trust Me”. Jacob, as he did in the womb, was hanging on, one hand holding on to the “now” (fearful for himself and his family) and his other hand holding onto the promises from the words of God. Jacob then gets into action and seeks to pacify Esau with many gifts sent ahead, saying “later, when I see him, perhaps he will receive me”. That night Jacob “wrestled” with a man (angel). Jacob would not let go until he was given a blessing, something that was consistent in Jacob’s life, he was always seeking and valuing a blessing from God, whilst acknowledging his un-worthiness. It’s at this point that Jacob’s name is changed to Israel. There are different interpretations of what “Israel” means, but for me what the angel said in verse 28 gives us the meaning “you have struggled with God and with men, and have prevailed”. We, at times struggle, particularly when our will is not the Lord’s will. But if we ask for help from the Lord, we will be able to overcome, Jesus is the example e.g. garden of Gethsemane. Jacob sees Esau and the 400+ men coming, so he bows 7 times as he approaches him. But Esau ran and hugged him and kissed him, and they both wept. What had changed? Esau had plenty, he had everything he desired. Jacob’s desires were different they were spiritual, he had learnt more about God and his relationship with Him, he learnt of His promises, His faithfulness, His patience, His support, His will and His love. He clearly saw the Lord’s work (probably through the angels?) on Esau, the Lord had worked on Esau (a non-believer) to protect Jacob and his family. When we see the Lord’s protection in our lives it is very humbling and re-assuring, Jacob was being prepared, it was a timely reminder from the Lord that the Lord was with him, because even greater troubles that lay ahead, “If God is for us, who can be against us ?” Rom 8:31. Psalm 36 – The servant of the LORD. A psalm of David contrasting wicked men with the loving LORD and those who “put their trust under the shadow of His wings”. The wicked have no fear of God and therefore they do as they wish, invariably with wickedness and deceit, and self-justification. In contrast, the qualities of God (which he wants his children to have) are mercy, faithfulness, righteousness and just judgement. The contrast causes David to write (and praise) “How precious is YOUR lovingkindness, O God!” When we praise or sing such words, we are confessing the same as David and it lifts us up above the troubles of our life in this world, mainly caused by wicked men. Matthew 21: knowing Jesus. They were very busy times in the last few days of Jesus’ ministry; and many people were gathering together in Jerusalem for the Passover. As Jesus approached Jerusalem he sent 2 of his disciples to collect a donkey and a colt, which had been pre-arranged by Jesus. This was foretold by 2 prophets 600 years before it happened! “Rejoice greatly, shout, O daughter of Jerusalem! Behold, your king is coming to you; He is just and having salvation, lowly and riding on a donkey, a colt, the foal of a donkey.” Zech 9:9. Recent events, which many of the people would know about, was the healing of a blind man and the raising of Lazarus. So many recognized Jesus as the Messiah, and when Jesus came into Jerusalem riding a donkey that confirmed that Jesus was that king. However, they thought that THEIR king was going to do their will, ie defeat the Romans and rule the world etc. Did they remember the words that said the king was humble (lowly), just and having salvation (from sin)? The crowds called him “son of David” and were willing to serve with him as king, but this wasn’t God’s plan at that time. Jesus went into the temple and cleared it out of all those who bought and sold there. The temple was meant to be a house of prayer, a place where God “dwelt”, but they had corrupted everything, exploiting the people to make money! The traders would have been very angry with Jesus, this was their busiest time of the year ! Jesus healed the blind and lame which brought praise from children and anger from the chief priests and scribes ! Jesus asks them if they had read Psalm 8 v2, and by that reference he is telling them that the children praise because they know “the son of man – born a little lower than the angels”. The next line in that psalm speaks of the Lord’s enemies, which is what the chief priests and scribes had become, seeking to put Jesus to death. After these events Jesus went out of Jerusalem and lodged at Bethany. Many people would have been disappointed with Jesus, he hadn’t done what they expected their Messiah to do and so for many, they changed their minds and concluded that Jesus was a fraud, a trickster! SEE HOW IMPORTANT IT IS TO KNOW THE SCRIPTURES – because the scriptures said what would happen! When Jesus was teaching in the temple again, he was confronted by the chief priests who asked him where his authority came from. Jesus knew if he told them they would not believe, they had seen “the wonderful things that he did” and yet refused to believe his authority was from God. A bit like people today who see a wonderful creation and yet refuse to believe in a wonderful creator! So Jesus replies with a question – “the baptism of John – where was it from? From heaven or from men?” They reasoned among themselves, and thought about the consequences of their answers, they put no value in the importance of John’s ministry and they were now doing the same with Jesus, they responded according to the consequences that Jesus brought – that’s why they had to kill him ! If they had isolated their minds to “who is Jesus ?”, looked at the evidence in the scriptures and what was happening in the temple, without thinking about their lives, then they would have seen their saviour given to them by God ! Jesus teaches the chief priests with 2 parables. The first parable concerns the response of the people to John the baptist’s message, a message that the chief priests did not believe despite their scriptures saying otherwise! The 2nd parable concerns a vineyard with echoes from Isaiah 5. The owner of the vineyard is God and the vinedressers were Israel. As God’s people, Israel were to bring fruit to God. The servants are the prophets sent by God, the son is Jesus, who the vinedressers would kill. Jesus links this parable with Psalm 118:22-23 “The stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone. This was the LORD’s doing, therefore the kingdom of God will be taken from you and given to a nation bearing the fruits of it.” Jesus isn’t condemning them, he is witnessing to God’s will of that to save. But, if they refused to listen to God’s gift, then Jesus told them the consequences, ie judgement, condemnation and death. “The light has come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil.” John 3:19. January

January 20th

In the two chapters Genesis 34 and 35, we have good and bad events that we can all take lessons from to help us in our daily lives and the theme is continued in the Psalm reading and also in Matthew. We have seen earlier on in Genesis the promises to Abraham and Isaac, and now we have them confirmed to Jacob in chapter 35 verse 9-13; here God reiterates that Jacob’s name is now Israel (:10) and that a nation (Israel) and a community of nations (believing gentiles) will be his descendants. We know from the new testament that these promises are fulfilled in Jesus, so because we are baptised into Jesus, we are part of these promises, that will all ultimately be fulfilled when Jesus returns. In response to this Jacob worshipped God and set up a “stone pillar”, verse 14 and 15, this stone pillar seems to represent Jacob’s correct understanding in there being one God. This knowledge of the promises and knowing that we are part of them, should make us rejoice as it did Jacob. Even though we are believers in God and these promises, and even though we accept Jesus, we still suffer upsetting and difficult situations in our lives, whether they are triggered by us or by others. In these chapters we do have some difficult situations that impacted the life of Jacob and his immediate family. Chapter 34 has the ungodly event of the rape of Dinah and its consequences, and perhaps this suffering was brought about by a bad choice of staying near the city of Shechem. Jacob was journeying to Hebron and Jacob’s journey there had to take him past Shechem, but did he have to actually stay near the city, Genesis 33 verse 18? As Lot found out previously, bad influences can result by being too close to ungodly people and as Jacob’s family found out there were consequences by being so close. Dinah went into the city and the ungodly Shechem raped her, chapter 34 verse 1-2, it is obvious that he loved her, but raping her is not the way to start a relationship, verse 3-4! This event caused consequences that were as deceitful as the rape itself, Dinah’s brothers tricked the people of Shechem into being circumcised, verse 13, that ended in their slaughter, verse 25-26; the people of Shechem were deceitful too as they saw it as a way to benefit from Jacob’s wealth, verse 23, so all these actions, on both sides, were deceitful. Jacob quickly recognised that trouble would result from his sons’ actions, verse 30, and this probably would have happened had not God been continually with Jacob – he told him to move on in chapter 35 verse 1 and helped them as they moved, verse 5. Being too close to ungodly people does result in them influencing us, which is why we need to be careful about who we chose as friends and even a wife or husband. Jacob’s family had become too close and they were starting to accept their neighbours’ wrong practices, verse 2, they had collected “foreign gods”, and Jacob told them to get rid of them. The only way to worship God properly is to get rid of the things that replace him, verse 3-4, and only when we have done this can we expect God to help us in all our ways like he did for Jacob (:5). Following the high of having the promise repeated to him, Jacob then has to endure the sad loss of his favourite wife, Rachel, verse 19-20, suffer the disrespectful act of one of his sons, Reuben, sleeping with Billah, Rachel’s maid and then the death of his father, Isaac, verse 29; through all of this though, Jacob remained faithful to God. Psalm 37 explains that the sons, and we, should wait for God to judge, it is not our role to retaliate, verse 34; it is also confirmed for us how and why God remained with Jacob, despite the setbacks and failings, verse 23-24, which is why we should all try our best to do what God wants us to do. This psalm is summarised in verses 1-4, the whole psalm tells us to rely on and trust in God; it tells us how to act; it talks about God’s judgements and it talks about God’s salvation when Jesus comes back. Constantly we are told to “turn from evil”, eg verse 27, this includes getting angry as Jacob’s sons did, verse 8; those who are humble, verse 11, those who are righteous, verse 6, will enjoy plenty when Jesus returns, verse 18-19, the evil will not be there, only the righteous will be, verse 9. This is a wonderful psalm and it is no surprise that we are reminded of the wonderful promises to Abraham, Isaac and now Jacob in it, eg verse 29. The bible is centred around God’s grace and mercy and God demonstrates this love in the death and resurrection of Jesus, we rely completely on grace, because we all make mistakes and sin, however, it is very unwise to expect grace from God without trying our best as the man in Jesus’ parable in Matthew 22 found out. The first part of the parable, ie verse 1-4 is a story about the Jews, who rejected the promises that God gave of the inheritance, they paid no attention and did their own thing, verse 5. They not only did their own thing, they even killed those who God sent to help them, which includes Jesus, verse 6! And understandably the “king” destroyed them, verse 7. The king then asked his servants to go and call everyone, good and bad, to come to the wedding banquet, verse 8-10, and the place was full. This is a picture of the message of God and of Jesus going to the gentiles and being offered a place in the kingdom (wedding banquet). However, when the king, Jesus, comes he notices someone who has not changed his clothes, verse 11-12, and because he has not changed, or tried his best to change, he is thrown out of the kingdom, verse 13-14. This is a very hard hitting teaching of Jesus – it appears to be telling us that we cannot only presume upon God’s and Jesus’ grace to be saved, we have to also try our best to change, obviously with God’s help as we have read in the psalm. We need to have “wedding clothes” on, this represents looking like and acting like Jesus. Jesus clearly says that in our life now we have to respect our country leaders and pay things like taxes, verse 15-22, but we have to “give to God what is God’s”, ie praise, respect, honour and obedience. The Sadducees say that there is no resurrection and came up with a situation to test Jesus, verse 23-28, in his reply Jesus condemns their understanding, verse 29, and gets us to think about the promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, verse 29-33. Because of their faith and their godliness they are considered as “alive”, because they had confidence in the resurrection when Jesus comes back, we know that all these 3 are dead, because the bible tells us they are in eg Hebrews 11 verse 13. And the greatest commandment? Is to love the Lord your God with ALL of your heart and soul and mind, verse 37-38, this is being dressed in wedding clothes! And the second commandment? To love your neighbour as yourself, verse 39, this is also being dressed in wedding clothes and looking like Jesus. And Jesus’ concluding comment on this subject says that all of the law and the prophets “hang on these 2 commandments”, verse 40. This is the reason for all the laws and teachings, it is to teach us to love God in everyway and to ALSO love each other and to be like Christ to them! January

January 21st

Today’s practical thought starts in Genesis 36 where we look at Esau’s descendants – a few names in there we can recognise from elsewhere in the Bible of nations who opposed Israel, eg Amalek, verse 12 and Edom and Horites in verse 12. These names and situations remind us what Rebekah was told when both Esau and Jacob were born in Genesis 25 verse 23, and it helps us to understand why all through history the people of Israel have been opposed by their Arab neighbours. Esau himself showed little interest in the desires of his parents by marrying wives not of his parents’ family, verse 2 and also Genesis 26 verse 35, this ensured that the thinking of the 2 families drifted apart as God said that they would. However, God had promised that both lines would produce nations and God blessed both Esau and Jacob with possessions and wealth, verse 7, confirming that God keeps his promises, despite human weaknesses. It was the descendants of Esau who Israel drove out of the land promised to Israel by God. Different bible students have different opinions as to what Psalm 38 is referring to in David’s life, I think it is likely to be referring to David’s repentance after he sinned and slept with Bathsheba and then killed her husband Uriah. It does not really matter what triggered this prayer of confession and repentance, but the important thing is that we should be equally repentant when we are made aware of our sins. David felt so bad after his sin, verse 4, Whether his “wounds” were physical or not his situation made him feel “crushed”, verse 5-8. This is how we should view sin, the description here is like leprosy which, without “healing”, destroys our physical bodies. Sin is just like this, if we do not acknowledge it and repent of it, it metaphorically “eats away” at us, this is why sin should produce guilt. And it does produce consequences, which may be a physical illness or condition. God has built emotions into us to try to encourage us to repent; he has placed us in spiritual families to get others to point out to us the need to repent (as was the case with David when God sent Nathan), but sadly there are people who ignore guilt, and other people’s advice, and especially God, and do not acknowledge their sins, so if they do not repent they will not be forgiven. But this psalm of David shows us how a godly person should react when they become aware of, or are made aware of, their sins. There is nothing hidden from God, verse 9-12, others see our mistakes and any enemies are waiting to exploit us because of our sins. so therefore we should feel completely helpless because of our guilt, verse 13-14. But because we acknowledge our sin, which is the first stage, we can “wait for God”, verse 15-16.  We have to acknowledge our sins first, then we can repent, verse 17-20, then we can be forgiven and see God as our “saviour”, verse 21-22. Throughout the bible these are the steps to salvation (or forgiveness), first acknowledgement, second repentance, then forgiveness. Jesus was arguing with the unbelieving Pharisees in Matthew 23 and during this chapter Jesus is extremely critical of their ungodly actions, eg their pride, verse 5, their greed, verse 25, and their pretending, verse 28. The Pharisees should have been the godly leaders and examples of the people, but they completely failed, they should have put what God was telling them into practice, instead they abused their positions for their own ends. Jesus tells his disciples to obey them, because they were teaching about God, but not do what they do, because they act like ungodly people, like Esau, verse 2-3. In fact the Pharisees made life hard for God’s people, verse 4, for which Jesus condemned them saying that their complete attitude was wrong, verse 5-7, they just “showed off” and were proud! Jesus then contrasts this with how the disciples, and we, should be, 8-10. Jesus is clearly saying that no one, in the context of Christianity, should be called “teacher”, “Rabbi”, “master”, “father”; you should include in this “pastor”, “vicar”, “bishop”. Why? Because we have one “father”, ie God and one “teacher”, ie Jesus. It is wrong, in fact, and therefore a sin, to be called any of these things because it is a person “exalting” themselves, verse 12. Instead we are to call each other “brothers” (or “sisters”) in the Christian sense to show humility and respect of both God and of Jesus. Anyone who has a title is exalting themselves and therefore sinning. It is because Jesus is our master and head.  In the Christadelphian church we do not have any “pastors”, etc, it is wrong! The Pharisees made up all sorts of extra “rules” and customs in an attempt to bring glory to themselves, they were really stupid things and illogical and Jesus points this out in verse 16-22, they were valuing the gold, for example, more than God! All these are lessons for us, especially those of us who are shepherds, or elders, in CBM, but the really big lesson here is emphasised by Jesus again in verse 23. Jesus is saying that all of us, especially the elders, should practise “justice”, “mercy” and “faithfulness” BUT not neglect the “former”, ie God’s teachings (:2). As Christians we have to do our best to learn about God and about Jesus so that we can then put into practice what we are told. We cannot have a wonderful biblical knowledge without putting the lessons into practice (like the Pharisees), neither can we be full of justice, mercy and faithfulness without having a knowledge of God and what he wants. We need to strive for both! David knew that he could be forgiven and how he could be forgiven because he knew a lot about God, he learned about God’s character and, although he often failed, he tried to be like him. We too should be striving to be like both Jesus and God in everything that we do. January

January 22nd

As human beings we naturally have our favourite people, we have these for all sorts of reasons and maybe we can justify to ourselves that this is OK. But Bible teaching clearly shows that we should not have favourites and not demonstrate that favouritism over others – James 2 verse 8-9 is very clear – if we “show favouritism we sin”! James actually starts this chapter by saying “don’t show favouritism” (James 2 verse 1). Paul makes it clear in 1Timothy 5 verse 21 and in Galatians 3 verse 27-28 he reminds us that we are “all one in Jesus” – no matter who we are, in Jesus we are one. For example coming together at the breaking of bread service and taking the bread and the wine together is a practical demonstration of us being one – one with each other, with Jesus and with God. These symbols remind us too how this was possible – that Jesus died and was raised and it enables us all to be in the kingdom, if we do our best to remain faithful. I think the readings bring out this principle of being one and also bring our thoughts to the kingdom. Genesis 37 starts by telling us about Joseph’s dreams, which in themselves speak of God’s salvation in that his brothers did bow down to him when they eventually came to Egypt for food, but also we are reminded that Jesus brings that better salvation and that Israel, and we, will bow down to Jesus as one when he returns. As well as this prediction about the future there are certainly lessons here for all of us, including parents, to be careful not to love one person, or child, more than another because it will always end in jealousy. We can also see the bad consequences of having multiple wives as was the case here and also in certain cultures in Africa and elsewhere now, as this contributes to an unhealthy rivalry within a family and we know that God always intended, right from creation, for just one man and one woman relationships – this being a great picture of Jesus and the church – as one. Verse 4 sums up the sad situation in Jacob’s family and says that because of Jacob’s love for Joseph, the brothers hated him. Jacob loved Joseph because he was the first son of his preferred wife Rachel – hence the practical warning about favouritism. But also a possible contributing factor is that Joseph was already showing a much more godly attitude and respect for God than his brothers were and they became jealous of him – just as happened to Jesus. The multicoloured coat that Jacob gave Joseph was a very visible sign of Jacob’s love for him, verse 3, this also contributed to the hatred every day. We have a strong indication though that Jacob trusted his son to tell the truth, he was honest about reports about his brothers, verse 2, and then in verse 12-14. In these later verses it comes across that Joseph was always willing to do what his father wanted, so that makes me think that when he brought a “bad report” to his father (:2) this was not a malicious, gossiping act, he just brought an accurate report, as did Jesus. We already know that Joseph’s brothers were ungodly because of the way they deceived the Shechemites (Gen 34), so it appears that they were not a nice group anyway – they were not one with father, Joseph or God. So our lesson has to be to always be honest, sometimes it does get us disliked, but we have to be honest (or one) before God. His brothers’ hatred of him became greater because of his dreams – these dreams were about his brothers and parents bowing down to him, verse 5-10; as I said, when we come to the end of the account of Joseph we can see what this meant. However, dreams were a method of God communicating with godly people at that time, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all had dreams as messages from God, this is why Jacob thought about this, verse 11, but sadly his brothers showed no respect for Joseph, or for their father, or for God. This disrespect gets worse when they plot to kill Joseph, verse 19-20, and worse still when they plan to actually deceive their father, verse 31-35. This complete deceit comes about because of no respect for God and no unity or “oneness”. In this account we can really be reminded of what happened to Jesus, how he was betrayed and killed by his own ungodly countrymen (brothers) because of envy and jealousy. However, despite this, it gave us the opportunity of salvation, but also lessons on how we should live our lives if we want to be in the kingdom. Psalms 39 and 40 appear to be a continuation of yesterday’s psalm as a godly reaction to our own sins, we should be ashamed and so regretful of our sins that we remain silent, verse 1-3, however, that does not get us anywhere, we need to acknowledge our mistake and our human weakness and humility before God, verse 4-6. Humility is always the starting point for forgiveness, self-justification is wrong, it will not work, you cannot blame anyone or anything else for our sins, verse 7-11. Only God can help, verse 12-13. Psalm 40 is a wonderful psalm of lifting the sinner up and helping to praise again because of sin forgiven, verse 1-3, “blessed” is the man (or woman) who trusts in God and “turns away from false gods (or lies!), verse 4-5. Again we are reminded of Jesus in this psalm in verse 6-8, we know this because Hebrews 10, talking about Jesus, refers back to these verses, so our forgiveness is so obviously linked to a faith in Jesus – being one with him, doing his father’s will – and only in him can we praise in the way that David did in this psalm, verse 9-17. We will be helped in our “poor and needy” (sinful) position, if we humbly seek both God and Jesus and try to obey. In Matthew 24 we are given indications of the signs of the return of Jesus, verse 4-31. During this answer Jesus warns us about many things, eg about famines, earthquakes, wars, persecution, false religions, false Christs, nations being destroyed, signs in the sky, etc. and he tells us to be ready, verse 32-33, because we know that God’s promises, reiterated by Jesus, will always happen, they will never fail, verse 34-35. However, Jesus then goes on to say that “no-one knows the day or the hour” when he will come back, verse 36. He does say that at that time people will be going about their own business without any regard for God, just like Joseph’s brothers, verse 37-41. We can see indications of this in our time now, and perhaps the time of Jesus’ return is close BUT no one can work the time out and we really do not know. So, Jesus says, “keep watch”, verse 42. I do not think that this means to watch the signs of the times, even though that is interesting and it keeps us alert and gives us confidence that God’s predictions in the bible are in fact true, I think it means to watch how we live because of the example in verse 45-51. The big lesson is that we have to be doing what Jesus wants us to be doing when he comes back, we have been given responsibilities as Christians to learn, to teach and to act, therefore we have to take these responsibilities seriously and try to do what Jesus would do. We do not know when Jesus will come back, verse 44, but he will come back – everyone will know when he does come back, there will be no doubt.  So now, every day, is the time to do our best to please him. The teachings of both God and Jesus have to have an impact on the way that we live every day – if we are misbehaving like Joseph’s brothers, or David’s enemies or like the hypocrites (people who pretend to be Christian) then we cannot expect to be invited into the kingdom when Jesus returns because we are not “one” with him. So in faith and trust we recognise that we are one in Christ Jesus, that we have all been invited to the kingdom, we will be there if we remain faithful, by taking these everyday examples as daily reminders – that as children of God we have responsibilities to be like Jesus and like our God. The bread and the wine remind us of life, death, resurrection and the return of Jesus. January

January 23rd

We have previously discussed at our Wednesday class the reasons why our Lord used parables as his – seemingly – primary method of teaching. The principal reason is given us in Matt 13, itself drawing on Isaiah 6 – to drive a wedge between those interested in learning and those simply out to catch Jesus out (Mk 12:13). But it also the case that teaching by parable using everyday illustrations can help to fix the lessons. The example of perhaps Jesus most famous parable – that of the sower, or rather the different terrains where the seed is sown – makes the point; every time someone saw that everyday, rural picture, the lesson would become renewed. Sometimes the Lord’s parable is used to draw a contrast between 2 opposites. At the end of what is usually described as the sermon on the mount, Jesus paints a word picture of 2 builders. Luc 6:46-. One builds on sand, the other on rock. Superficially both buildings look the same – they are identical above the ground. BUT, there is a significant difference between them – one of the builders went for the quick option and built straight onto the surface,  whilst the other went through the surface to the rock below. Bad weather highlighted the difference between the 2 buildings – one survived the storm, the other did not. There were only 2 options – a quick build, and a proper job – and only 2 outcomes – failure and success. In Luke 15 the Lord tells a parable about 2 sons – one of whom grabbed hold of his share of the inheritance prematurely, spent it all having a good time, became destitute, and resolved to return home, chastened by his folly and asking for forgiveness. The other son, apparently without the same streak of recklessness, stays at home, and will not participate in the welcoming home of his brother. This parable is preceded by 2 others – concerning a lost sheep and a lost coin, both of which are joyfully found by their owners. There is a fundamental difference between these 2 situations – the sheep is lost by wandering away from the home, the coin is lost whilst still in the home. The human equivalent is to be found in the 3rd parable – a son who is lost, “comes to his senses” and returns chastened and remorseful, and a son who is equally lost, distant from his father and his household. The setting for all 3 parables is given in the opening verses: 2 groups of people before Jesus – sinners and Pharisees. Again the 2 groups are mutually exclusive. These 3 parables are unique to Luke, but the human one does have an equivalent in Matthew – 21:28. And again there are 2 sons – 2 options, 2 outcomes. And so we come to Matthew 25, with 3 parables. It is worth noting that we know we are in the last week of the Lord’s life before his death, and he is still speaking in parables. In ch 24 he has given an answer to questions posed to him by the disciples about what would happen to the magnificent Jewish temple, and also about signs to foreshadow his return to the earth. The temple would be destroyed by the Romans in AD 70 – approx. 40 years later. But the return of the Lord would be preceded by a fruiting of the fig tree – an Old Testament symbol of the nation of Israel. That event has happened within very recent history. But the Lord proceeds to give his hearers – including us readers – a warning about being ready for the coming of our Lord. He uses the example of the days that preceded Noah’s flood, when people took no notice of the work and preaching of Noah. And then the Lord speaks in v 45 about a faithful and wise servant ministering in the house, which I believe gives us an introduction and context to the 3 parables that make up ch 25. The 3rd parable defines for us “the house” Interestingly, in the Greek the word is the source of our word ‘therapy’. It only occurs 4 times in the Bible – healing (Luc 9:11 & Rev 22:2) and house(hold) (here and equivalent passage in Luc 12:42). The Lord’s household should be a place of healing. The 2nd parable expands on the Lord’s reference to a “faithful” servant, and the 1st to a wise “servant”. Let us consider briefly this 1st parable – about a wedding scene – a very homely picture. And you will realise that once again there are just 2 groups of people presented to us – foolish and wise people. There are just 2 differences between the 2 groups. And it is not about staying awake until the call comes to go and meet the bridegroom, because it is stated quite explicitly that both groups slept. But only one of the groups was actually ready for the big event. We might be tempted to hope that, in a real situation the wise would be willing to share with the foolish their supply of oil. But this is a parable, not a narrative account of reality. And sharing is never even an option here. Why? Because of the 2nd difference – that one group ended up on the inside with the bridegroom, whilst the other ended up outside, with a closed door between them. You see, the outcome is about ultimate salvation – being with the Lord Jesus in his kingdom. We can, and should help each other to prepare for that wonderful occasion, but ultimately it is about our own state of readiness – Psalm 49:6/7. My salvation is ultimately dependent on the quality of the preparations I have made, and yours is dependent on the quality of your preparations. The wise ladies were able to find the way into the kingdom because they had lights which were fed by oil. The Bible is the source of the illumination that we need to find the way to the kingdom – Psalm 119:105. That is why we as Christadelphians place so much emphasis on reading the Bible every day – so that we might absorb its light and life-giving qualities. Our Bible Guide has served our community well for 150 years. There are other systems you may prefer to use – so long as it makes you read the whole of the Bible, and not just the interesting or easier bits. The point about all these parables is that we have a choice – but only between 2 alternatives. The Lord, again in the sermon on the mountain, states it quite clearly – Matt 7:13. Just 2 ways, no 3rd option. Moses said exactly the same to the children of Israel, just before they entered the promised land, which was a foreshadowing of the experience we wait for of entering God’s kingdom – Deuteronomy 30:15. The reason why we meet now to take bread and wine is to confirm that we have made the right choice – the right decision – to build our lives on the rock-solid foundation of the Lord Jesus, to turn to God as repentant sinners, and to use the time still available to us to develop and increase our knowledge and love for the Word of God.  January

January 24th

We have a wonderful example of godliness in the life of Joseph in Genesis 39 and 40 – no matter what situation he was in he always acted faithfully to God. This is a really important message for us because no matter what work we are given to do, whether it is in our CBM ecclesia, or for employment, or for our own garden or in helping our family or community or on a project, we have to be faithful. Each time we are given something to do, we have to work as if we are working for both God and for Jesus. This is exactly what Joseph did, even though he was in a situation that was not of his doing, and which he would not have understood at all, he still did his work as if it was for God. Chapter 39 verses 2-6 is a wonderful description of Joseph’s faithfulness and this should be the same description of us in whatever we do – the question is, “is it?”. It was obvious to Potiphar that God was with Joseph – is it obvious to those who we “work” for that we are a child of God and a brother of Jesus? Because of Joseph’s honesty and trustworthiness, God remained with Joseph and helped Joseph in the eyes of his master. Even when temptation came his way, Joseph still remained godly and refused to sleep with Potiphar’s wife, even though she kept insisting, verse 6-10, Joseph kept God in the front of his mind to resist this temptation – we should do that too. Potiphar’s wife persisted and became angry and lied when she saw that Joseph was not going to give in to temptation, Joseph then suffered for being godly, verse 19-20. This is sadly often the case when we stand up for our godly principles, but this we must do if we are to please God. Joseph never lost his faith, or his drive to always do the right thing and even in prison he remained honest and godly and the prison warder then saw that Joseph was godly and trusted him to do things that prisoners would not normally be allowed to do, verse 21-23. God only gave Joseph success because Joseph was honest and godly – another lesson for us! Chapter 40 continues to show Joseph’s godly character to us in how he was proactively caring for others, verse 6-7, he then gave credit to God, verse 8, before he gave the interpretation. This shows that he was a humble character! I am sure that Joseph often remembered his own dreams and perhaps he wondered how they would be fulfilled, but he still maintained his faith. Even though he had faith he still took the opportunity to ask Pharaoh’s cupbearer to remember him, verse 14-15, but so often human beings let us down, verse 23. In these dreams Joseph must have gained confidence that in God’s own time, Joseph himself would be remembered. Psalm 44 was possibly written around king Hezekiah’s time when they were suffering under the army of the king of Assyria. But in this psalm we have the importance of teaching others, verse 1-3, it is important to know that our trust should be in God and not in human strength, verse 4-8. So like Joseph, we too should try to faithfully follow God and to trust him. We know from bible passages explaining the history of Israel that God punished the people because they turned away from him – this is what happened before Hezekiah’s time when his father Ahaz was king.  We are probably reading of the consequences of this in verse 9-16. God warned them, and he warns us too, that if his people turn away then there will be consequences, we cannot expect God to give us success if we are not acting in a godly way, so we should not be surprised when we learn about these consequences. It appears that Hezekiah is referring to the godly people in verses 17-22, who like him turned back to God after listening to Isaiah the prophet, and in these verses he is urging God to remember them! It could well be that the suffering was because of nothing that they had done, like Joseph, and that God was working out a plan in his own time, but like Joseph, Hezekiah (if it was Hezekiah) still maintained his trust in God. This is the important thing for God’s people, we have to trust in God always, no matter what is happening in our lives, never doing things our own way and always acting faithfully so that we can demonstrate to others that God is in our lives! Our faith and trust should always be in God, verse 23-26. Jesus always trusted in his father and always did what he wanted him to do and Matthew 26 demonstrates yet again Jesus’ care and concern for his disciples and also for us! The chapter starts by Jesus reminding his disciples that he was to be killed, verse 1-2, so even though he knew that the chief priests and authorities were plotting against him, verse 3-5, he went on to teach (v6-13) and to instigate the breaking of bread service (:26-29), demonstrating his care for others. We see that Joseph demonstrated the same godly character as Jesus did, both suffered for things that they had not done, yet they remained faithful to God. Joseph discovered that he could not trust human beings and here we see the “sly way” that the authorities looked to kill Jesus (:4); we see how Judas’ greed, verse 14-16, set up the Jesus’ betrayal; sadly we see Peter’s initial confidence (and the others) that he would not let his Lord down, verse 33-35; we see all the disciples falling asleep when Jesus needed support, verse 36-45; we see Judas’ actual betrayal, verse 49; and then Peter’s denial, verse 69-75. In all this we see that naturally human beings cannot be relied upon, this is why we need Jesus! There are important lessons for us in this chapter, eg when Jesus was anointed with expensive perfume, verse 6-7, the disciples complained about the waste, verse 8; It is tempting for us to also have the wrong priorities too. Jesus challenges the disciples, verse 10-13, reminding them and us that we have to give the right priority to remembering and worshipping both Jesus and God. Jesus described the woman’s attention as “beautiful”, our worship too should be “beautiful”, which is why we must always try to follow exactly the breaking of bread service each Sunday when we are baptised. The words in verse 26-29 have to be very familiar to us because this is our “beautiful” act of worship, remembering what God did for us in providing Jesus and what Jesus did for us in giving everything for us so that we can overcome our human nature and be saved. Although this chapter is sad, it also has a tremendous hope because at the breaking of bread service, although we remember that Jesus gave his life, we see his resurrection and the kingdom where we will drink of the fruit of the vine with Jesus in the kingdom when he returns. God and Jesus provide reminders for us to bring us back to them, eg Peter was given a reminder by Jesus in the sound of a cock crowing, verse 74, this reminded him of Jesus’ words and his own weakness and he repented, verse 75. We will make mistakes, but like Joseph, Hezekiah and Peter we have to trust in God that he will not reject us if we try our best to remain faithful. January

January 25th

In Genesis 41 we have the disturbing dreams of Pharaoh.  The cows and corn teach that there will be seven years of abundant harvest followed by seven years of dire famine.  Pharaoh has to accept that the God of Joseph is in control of the weather and the harvest, if he is to believe the dreams.  Surprisingly, Pharaoh has the humility to do so.  Pharaoh is supposed to be the one in contact with the gods and bringing balance and good harvests.  But Pharaoh’s dreams must have been so real that he accepts them as a revelation from the God of Joseph.  Also he has heard the testimony of a key witness.  The chief cupbearer is in a position of great trust.  He must drink the drinks of Pharaoh to check Pharaoh is not being poisoned.  Pharaoh trusts him and his team with his own life. The testimony of the cupbearer must have carried great weight.  When he says that the dreams of the cupbearer and baker were correctly interpreted, Pharaoh believes. God is in control of the weather and the harvest.  God sets the times and the seasons.  As we read in Daniel 2:21, “He changes times and seasons; he sets us kings and deposes them. He gives wisdom to the wise and knowledge to the discerning.”  God is the source of our food and drink.  God is in control of the times and our future.  We should trust God to give us what we need today and we should trust Him with our future too. Psalm 45 is a beautiful Psalm about another king.   It is about the marriage of a righteous king to his beautiful bride.  The words of verses 7 and 8 are applied to Jesus in Hebrews (Hebrews 1:8-9).  Jesus is the righteous king.   The bride is a symbol of the faithful believers, which we hope includes us (symbollically referred to in Revelation 19:7 and 21:9).   The king speaks grace (v2).  He stands for truth, humility and righteousness (v4).  He hates evil (v7).   The king will choose as his bride those who follows his principles and calls him ‘lord’ (v11).  We must follow in his ways.  We must follow truth, humility and righteous.  We must hate evil.  He must be our lord who we lovingly obey.  If so, then he will accept us as his partner.  He will allow us to live in his presence and he will give us joy and gladness (v15). Everything that we hope from a wedding will be provided for us, and much more besides.  We will then live happily ever after with our lord. Finally, Matthew 27 takes us to a third king.  This is the righteous king of Psalm 45 but he is here being punished for his righteousness. Judas has a change of heart and witnesses that Jesus was innocent. Pilate listens to even his wife say that Jesus is innocent.  But neither cares about truth and righteousness.  They pretended to honour the law and then they did what they wanted.  The law taught that innocent blood must not be spilled and that those who spill it are guilty (Deuteronomy 19:10).  So the judges, the Jewish leaders, the people and Pilate were guilty.  Almost everyone was against Jesus.  The soldiers mocked him, the people did, the leaders did, even the thieves on the cross did. Here was a man who was treated as the lowest of the low and was humiliated for all to laugh at.  Yet Jesus submitted voluntarily.  He could have called on support from God, but he did not.  Instead he stood up for truth, bowed his head in humility and fulfilled all righteousness.  He hated wickedness so much that he was prepared to die for its removal.  He loved righteousness.  He was mockingly dressed and crowned as a king. Pilate tried to make an example of him, but unwittingly identified him as ‘King of the Jews’.  Here was a true king – one who was prepared to lead the people into battle and die if necessary.  At his crucifixion we see the worse of human nature meeting the best of it.  God ensured that righteousness had the victory. Philippians explains what happened, Jesus “made himself nothing…he humbled himself and became obedient to death – even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him a name that is above every name” (Philippians 2:7-8).  Through defeat there is victory.  Through humility there is exaltation.  Let us follow the example of Jesus and control the flesh, love righteousness and choose truth and humility.  Then we will stand with our Lord when he marries his bride.  It is God who controls this future and our future.  We should trust Him and look forward to the marriage of the king. January

January 26th

Genesis 42-43: There is a severe famine and Jacob realizes they need grain.  So he sends 10 of his sons to Egypt to get some. He keeps the youngest son Benjamin behind with him, not trusting Benjamin’s life with his other sons. When they get to Egypt they are met by Joseph – he recognized them, but they didn’t recognize him. To get information from his brothers, he accuses them of being spies; in trying to prove their innocence they give Joseph more details of their family. Joseph learns that both Benjamin and Jacob are alive, together at home in Canaan. His brothers didn’t confess their betrayal of Joseph but say “one (brother) is no more”. Joseph decides to test their “story” by keeping one brother in jail until they brought back to Egypt the youngest son (Benjamin); the 3 days in jail and the decision of Joseph remind them of their sins done to Joseph more than 20 years ago. Joseph chooses who will stay in prison, Simeon, and sends the others back home with grain, food for the journey, and (unknown to them) their money, which when they found made them very fearful – they reasoned they were being punished by God. They tell Jacob everything that happened. Benjamin has to go to Egypt otherwise Simeon will have to stay in jail and they will all die of starvation.  Jacob refuses. Remember Jacob’s mind – the birthright, how he deceived his father (Isaac). Imagine you are Jacob conscious of which of his children has the birthright.  Reuben was the firstborn but lost it after having sex with one of Jacob’s “wives”; next “firstborn” would be Joseph (1st of Rachel).  Jacob thought he had been killed; next “firstborn” Simeon, missing, he was in jail in Egypt; next firstborn Benjamin, who the sons are asking Jacob to allow them to take away from him to Egypt!! Eventually Jacob agrees and tells the brothers to take Benjamin and double money, as well as return the money that was returned to them. Not only did this show honesty, but also appreciation for the favour done to them.  We are taught by Jesus to be honest in ALL that we do, and our relationship with the Lord is more precious than “stolen” money.  You can imagine their fears as they travelled to Egypt but they were treated well, welcomed and fed. Joseph asked if his father was still alive, and they all showed honour and gratitude to Joseph, bowing down to him as in the dreams that Joseph had concerning his brothers’ sheaves bowing down to his. (20+ years ago). When Joseph saw his brother Benjamin he was overcome with emotion; no doubt there had been years of prayer, and after so many years of injustice, Joseph’s life was coming together: his father was alive, his youngest brother was alive, AND his brothers had a new spirit (did he pray for them?); they had concern for their father and for each other. To celebrate, a meal was prepared for the Egyptians, for Joseph, and for his brothers. Joseph was not ready to reveal himself to his brothers yet, but showed that he seemed to know them by arranging them (all 11) in order of their birth(age). Truly, the brothers would have marvelled at “this man” although they did not know who he was. As in so many parts of Genesis, and particularly with Joseph, we can see an “echo” of the life of Jesus, and what he brings to Jews and Gentiles – salvation. We are Jesus’ brothers, given a new spirit SHOWN by honesty, repentance, gratitude and trust.  We owe our lives to him, and we also recognize all these changes have happened according to God’s will. Psalms 46-48:  These psalms give praise to God for who He is and what His plan is for His people and planet Earth’s future. We don’t know when the changes will happen, but in truth, it doesn’t matter when. For all of those “asleep” in the Lord, will it matter whether it’s in one week’s time or a year or 100 years? No. We have committed our lives to God and we are safe IF we stay committed. It is with this spirit we are able to sing “God is our refuge and strength a very present help in trouble, therefore we will not fear” (Psalm 46:1) and “The Lord Most High is awesome; He is a great King over all the earth. He will subdue the peoples under us, and the nations under our feet. He will choose our inheritance for us” (Psalm 47:2-4) and “sing praises with understanding” (Psalm 47:7) and “We have thought, O God, on Your lovingkindness, in the midst of Your temple. According to Your name, O God, so is Your praise to the ends of the earth; Your right hand is full of righteousness. Let Mount Zion rejoice, because of your judgements.” (Psalm 48:9-11) What joy when all of God’s children, throughout all ages, are brought together in one name giving thanks to the Lord, for everything. By reading psalms we are sharing their God-given vision; a vision that helped them get through life no matter what happened. They would have been read by Jesus also, and he would have gained strength, “who for the JOY that was set before Him endured the cross.” Both subjects, joy and the crucifixion, are there in the psalms – the words were there for Jesus, and they are there for us – “for the joy set before us.” Future unity in praise to the one God.  It’s a promise, and wonderful. Matthew 28.  Matthew gives a very brief account of the resurrection of Jesus. He speaks of an earthquake, an angel rolling away the stone of Jesus’ tomb and speaking to some female followers of Jesus. The angel tells them that Jesus has risen, as he had said would happen (many times!), and tells them to quickly tell the disciples, and they are to go to Galilee where they will see Him. “So, they went out quickly from the tomb with fear and great joy, and ran to bring his disciples word.” The soldiers employed to guard the tomb were bribed by the chief priests to say, “His disciples came at night and stole Him while we slept”. Apparently, there would have been about 80 guards, but even there had only been 3, would they have all fallen sleep knowing that if they didn’t do their job they would be put to death? And if they all slept, how did they know the disciples had stolen the body? The world might think we are crazy to believe in the resurrection of Jesus, but they have less evidence for what they believe than we do.  Far less. The Old Testament was a superb witness to the future life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Now the witness would be shown by His disciples… in word (New Testament) and in their committed lives – the Lord working with them. These disciples who formally were scared, once they had seen the risen Lord, would witness to God’s salvation in the name of His Son, and be willing to preach even to the very people who shouted “Crucify him, Crucify him”. They had changed dramatically.  If they were asked how, surely they would confess it was because of the love of God and all that means in the life of Jesus. They would preach Jesus. For Jesus, the resurrection and then the ascension to follow. Wonderful outcomes, but there is no time to waste. God’s plan of salvation continues – now the disciples are to preach the message, to prepare mankind for the next stage, ie Jesus’ return and a necessary judgement to bring justice to this world.  “All authority has been given to Me in heaven and on earth. Go and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the holy spirit, teaching them to observe ALL THINGS THAT I HAVE COMMANDED YOU; and lo, I am with you always, to the end of the age”.  The witness continues –  from our inspired lives, and from our inspired Bibles. January

January 27th

It may seem from initial reading of Genesis 44 and 45 that Joseph was being spiteful to his brothers in making them suffer by prolonging the agony and suffering for them and their father. However, we have to remember that Joseph was a godly man and had always remained “close” to God and always acknowledged God in all that he did, so I believe that Joseph was very carefully testing and encouraging his brothers to really repent. Many years had gone past since he last saw them and I do not think that they ever forgot about their corruption because they would have been reminded of their lies and deceit every time they saw their father, as it is obvious that he was continually mourning for Joseph.  However, I do think that they still had no remorse and therefore they had not repented and therefore they were not forgiven, so in Joseph’s actions he was in fact showing love to them because he wanted them to repent. We cannot ignore Joseph’s emotions in all of this – they show us that he was not cruel in the way that he was treating his brothers, eg Genesis 43 verse 30 and chapter 45 verse 2. Joseph’s actions were a carefully thought out plan to test his brothers to see if they would repent, his servant was very much included in his plans as we have read in chapter 44 verse 1-9. The response of the brothers was predictable, because Joseph knew that they had not stolen the money or the cup, so in all good conscience they would say what they said in verse 10. They must have started to wonder what was happening to them when again the correct order of birth was used by Joseph and his servant, verse 12 (same as chapter 43 verse 33), their consciences must have started to be moved further than it was in chapter 42 verse 21-23 where they started discussing in front of Joseph. When they arrived back at Joseph’s house they again bowed down to him, chapter 44 verse 14, this is now at least the 3rd time and was in fulfilment of Joseph’s dreams, although they did not know this yet. The change of the brothers was confirmed as complete as they, represented by Judah, demonstrated to Joseph that they regretted their previous actions regarding Joseph and that they now really cared about their brother, Benjamin, and their father, Jacob, verse 16-34. This is how we should also react when we become aware of sins that we have committed, we should fully repent and demonstrate our remorse, and change. The emotion of Joseph is demonstrated in chapter 45 verse 1-2 when he makes himself known to his brothers, he says “I am Joseph” in verse 3. It is not surprising that his brothers were terrified – they would have been shocked, surprised, confused as well as terrified, but Joseph explained the reasons for everything that had happened, verse 4-8. In his answer Joseph confirms that he was godly and understood that God was always in control, through all of his own sufferings and now in this position that he was in, he had no remorse for his brothers, he did not blame them, because he saw God’s hand in everything that had happened.  He explained this to his brothers and asked them to also convey the same message to his father, verse 9-13. Reconciliation is always wonderful, demonstrated again by verse 14-15, this is how we should be with each other and this is how both God and Jesus want to be with us. And so the brothers went back, with Pharaoh’s blessing, to tell Jacob that Joseph was alive and second in command to Pharaoh! We have to believe that repentance and forgiveness is final, there is no need to prolong the “sin”; Joseph was aware of this when he said to them to not quarrel on the way, verse 24. If repentance is complete then sin is forgiven, it should then be forgotten! Psalm 49 puts life into perspective, the psalm talks to “all peoples”, including us, it is telling us that trust in human things is a complete waste of time, it cannot save. However trust in God ensures that our lives will be “redeemed from the grave”, ie resurrection, and we will be with God, ie in the kingdom when Jesus returns. The psalm is telling us not be concerned by the things going on around us but to trust in God. It is sad that human beings do trust in themselves but if they trust in “riches without understanding” then they are no different to the animals, verse 12 and 20, ie when they die they are dead! This is an important lesson, it is said twice! Romans 1 and 2 continues with important lessons for us in how to live our lives, chapter 1 verse 18-32 contains really hard hitting words about God’s wrath (:18) coming on those who disobey him and practise terrible things, people who act like this are described as fools (:22), they believe what they want (:28-30) and they are “senseless” (:31-32). This is an incredible account of how bad human beings are without God in their lives, it was what Joseph was concerned that his brothers were not like and it is a list of things that we should not be like, chapter 2 verse 1. Sadly the Roman church was actually criticising people who acted like this, but in fact were doing the same things that they were criticising, verse 2-4. And if they (and us) do not repent we are storing up God’s wrath, verse 5. God and Jesus will both judge us for what we have done, verse 6, and the “reward” is absolutely clear, if good we get immortal life, verse 7; if bad we will be subject to God’s wrath, verse 8. Again the lesson is repeated because it is important for us to remember, verse 9-10, good = life; bad = death, it is so clear, but it is so sad when brothers and sisters continue in their bad ways –  because they are risking their lives! We are told many many times in the bible that we have to put into practice what we learn from God’s word, it is again clear here in verse 13, ie it is not those who “hear”, but those who obey what they hear and “do”, are those who are declared righteous. And nothing is kept secret from God, verse 16, both God and Jesus know what is in our heart. We are adopted into God’s family and therefore the continuing practical lessons in this chapter apply to us, verse 17-29, for example we teach not to steal, but do we? Do we exaggerate costs, do we keep the change, do we make up stories, do we take things from the ecclesia and use as if they are ours? We teach not to commit adultery, but do we? Paul starts the letter of Romans by reminding us of the nature of Jesus, ie being God’s son, having a human mother, descended from David and it is through his resurrection that we are called to belong to Jesus, verse 1-4. And it is through him, ie Jesus, that we are saved by grace, but that brings with it responsibilities, ie obedience, verse 5. So because we are in this privileged position, verse 6, we should be listening to God, spoken via Paul, and doing our best to obey all the time. We made a commitment in baptism to follow and obey therefore we have “no excuse” (chapter 2 verse 1). January

January 28th

The reading in Psalm 46, 47, 48 on 26th reminded me that God is fully in control. Things in our life very quickly change – we do not know what is going to happen next. In these 3 Psalms we have really important messages to encourage us. 1. we have this reminder that God is in control! 46 verse 1-3, it doesn’t matter about the upset of the nations, eg wars, famine, earthquakes. 2. We praise God because he is in control and is our refuge, 47 verse 1-4 and 3. We praise him because of this series end with a picture of the kingdom, which is to be our priority, 48 verse 1-3 and 12-14. This series in these 3 Psalms of God as our only refuge, followed by praise and also pointing to the kingdom helped me in thoughts from today’s readings. In today’s reading in Genesis 46 it gives us the list of all of Jacob’s descendants who went to Egypt. Joseph had invited them to escape the devastating famine that had struck all of the area of the Middle East at that time. But whilst Jacob was travelling, God appeared to him, verse 2-4. God told Jacob clearly that his descendants will still become that great nation that God had promised, and that they would return to the land that God had also promised, ie Israel. Jacob would have naturally have wondered what was happening in his life. He expected that he would have stayed in the land of Canaan just as God had promised. Like us he would have wondered about the famine, how was he to understand God’s promise! But he had faith in and trusted God. He demonstrated this immediately by worshiping God at the start of the chapter, verse 1. This is how we should act too when things are not going as we would have imagined them to – even if we are confused by what is happening, we should still trust, because God has a plan. When we read the rest of the account of Jacob and his family (Israel) in Egypt with all the little details, we can see God working in their lives, ie they had the best land (chapter 47 verse 5) and they were able to obtain property (chapter 47 verse 11 and 27). This was in contrast to the Egyptians who all lost theirs (chapter 47 verse 26). This is God starting to make the people of Israel into a “great nation” as he had promised. We see in chapter 47 how desperate the famine was, this made the Egyptians and also the people of Canaan desperate too, such that all their money was spent on getting food from Joseph, verse 14 and 20-21. Looking back to this situation we can see God working in making Pharoah strong – only to make Israel strong when they came out of Egypt 400 years later. This is why we should always trust God, because he always knows best, even when we are really suffering in our lives as Jacob was at this time. Psalm 50 again shows the 2 characters of human beings detailed within the bible, we are either godly and therefore “consecrated”, verse 5 or wicked and “rebuked”, verse 16. Those who are godly accept that God is in control of everything, including the famines and the weather, verse 1-4. God has asked us to make “sacrifices” to demonstrate our trust in him and to complete our vows, verse 14.   God does not need any sacrifices to benefit himself, verse 9-13, but by our “sacrifices” we are telling God something about ourselves, this is what he needs.  The “sacrifices”, is being more like Jesus and giving up more of our human tendencies, it is these that tell God what is in our heart. However, those who are described as “wicked” are those who hate God’s instruction, verse 17; those who become “thieves”, verse 18; those who “lie”, verse 19; those who “tell bad stories” about our brothers and sisters, verse 20 and those who wrongly think that God is like us, verse 21. Those who are like this will be “rebuked” by God.  God is giving all of us the opportunity to change our ways and really be more like the sacrifice that was made for us, ie Jesus, as he says to “consider” these things, verse 22-23. It is simple teaching, those who “honour” God will be shown “salvation”, these are those who are filled with joy and praise. Romans 3 and 4 get us to think about who we actually are.  The letter to the Romans was written to the Jews in Rome. The letter was to get them to rethink their wrong belief that just because they were descendants of Abraham they were saved. It was also to show them (and us) that no one is “righteous”. Chapter 3 verse 9-18 is completely clear in this – no one does good, all have turned away – so whether Jew or gentile (us) we are sinners. The only way that we can be saved is by accepting Jesus, verse 21-26. Having faith in Jesus is absolutely necessary for us to have salvation. And we have to respond by showing what is in our hearts by “sacrificing” our human nature and being more like Jesus. So the promise of salvation comes by our faith in both God and Jesus and in the promises. But we still only receive salvation because of God’s grace and mercy, chapter 4 verse 16-17. Abraham demonstrated his faith and this was counted as righteous before things like circumcision became a godly requirement of the Jewish nation. So the Jews’ argument that being circumcised was necessary for salvation was completely flawed.  We too can be counted as righteous before God if we have the faith of Abraham.  Just like Jacob and Joseph after him, Abraham never disbelieved God and always tried to do what God wanted and therefore they all have life in Jesus.  As do we, if we continue to have faith and demonstrate our faith, verse 20-25. God is our refuge, only knowing this can we praise and have joy, the only hope and certainty that we have is the promised kingdom. In the bread and the wine we remember that Jesus was “delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”. He died for us. He gave his whole life for us as an example. He was a sacrifice. And because he was raised, we too should live a new life in Jesus, by trying to be like him. But we can also be confident of a life without sin in the kingdom. Therefore, we should have no fears, no matter what happens in our lives and what goes on around us! Romans 4 verse 7-8. January

January 29th

Genesis 48, 49 and 50 bring us to the end of both Jacob’s and Joseph’s lives as both had reached old age, but it also shows us the reconciliation of the family and another reiteration of the promises, ie chapter 48 verse 3-4. All through the account of Joseph he saw, and we recognise, God working in his and in others’ lives. Joseph himself reminds his brothers that this was always the case, chapter 50 verse 19-21. Even though there was bitterness and real suffering and distress, Jacob’s blessing on Joseph recognises this, chapter 49 verse 23. Joseph remained faithful, verse 24, and God worked out his plan. This is probably the biggest lesson in these chapters – that God is in control.  Even in the blessings themselves, Jacob, directed by God, blessed the right sons, chapter 48, verse 20 and chapter 49 verse 26. In human terms the first born is always the heir, but in God’s terms it is always the right person, so Ephraim was above Manasseh, Joseph above his brothers, as Jacob was above his brother Esau, and Isaac above Ishmael. We can see clearly from the account of Joseph that he was the right character to be above his brothers because of his godliness. The “blessings” given to the 12 sons reflected their characters and actions and the consequences are apparent, eg chapter 49 verse 3-4, Reuben suffered because he slept with Bilhah (Gen35:21); Simeon and Levi, verse 5-7, because of what they did to the Shechemites (Gen34:35) and obviously we get the blessing of the line to Jesus in the blessing to Judah, verse 8-10. So we are reminded that there can be unpleasant consequences for the mistakes that we make. Even after Jacob’s death, Joseph’s brothers, although conscience stricken for what they did to Joseph, judged that Joseph may act deceitfully like they had done, so they approached him again to say sorry for what they had done, chapter 50 verse 15-18. The lesson for us here again is that if we act in ungodly ways then it is likely that others will deal with us in the same way too, but godly people should be like Joseph and forgive. Psalm 51 is that psalm of David after he had been told by Nathan that he had sinned with respect to Bathsheba and the attitude in David’s prayer should be ours when we sin and repent. David acknowledged that his sins are “against God”, verse 4, this is exactly how we should view our own sins, when we steal, lie, get angry, take a second wife, keep the change, gossip, don’t forgive, etc, all this is sinning against God! David is so distressed, verse 17, that he has sinned against God, that he asks for mercy, verse 1 and asks for a new heart, verse 10. This is humility, this should be us. Psalm 52 summarises the differences again between the wicked, verse 1-5, and the godly, verse 6-9. The things that make people wicked is what we say, what we do, what we are comfortable with, what we lie about and what bad things we love, verse 2-4. Verse 7 reminds us not to rely on our own strength! The godly person, on the other hand, should try to remain doing what God wants. Although we do fail we can trust in Jesus as we read in Romans 5 and 6 – we firstly recognise that we all sin, chapter 5 verse 12, and that death comes to all of us, verse 18-21. But if we try to be godly we are justified, made right, in Jesus, verse 9-11. The wonderful thing about grace is that as we become more and more aware of our sin, grace increases too. This does not mean that we can deliberately sin because grace covers it (Ro6:1-2 and 15), because that is the wrong attitude, it is about us realising more and more that we can be only saved because of grace. Romans 6 is the wonderful reminder that by grace we are saved, verse 14, and this is all brought about by Jesus and in this we have a responsibility, verse 3-4. We do have a new life, as David prayed for for a “new heart”, but we need also to try to live as if we are in this new life now, this means trying to do what is right. We have to be “slaves” to God if we want eternal life, being “slaves” to someone means that we have to do what they say, we basically have no choice, but being baptised we have chosen to be slaves to God, just as Joseph’s brothers chose to be slaves to Joseph as they humbly sought forgiveness, it is the same picture for us now too, we humbly seek God’s forgiveness in Jesus and we have voluntarily become God’s slaves, verse 15-22. The alternative to being slaves to God is to be slaves to sin, which ends in death! So the lesson for us? We need to be slaves to God and obey him in everything, yes we will fail, which is why we have Jesus, but our attitude should be like that of David in Psalm 51. “For the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal like in Christ Jesus our Lord.” (Ro6:23). January

January 30th

Exodus 1 and 2 gives us the account of Moses’ birth and early life and sets the scene for God to bring his people out of Egypt, who are now a strong and numerous nation, chapter 1 verse 7. This in itself brought a severe period of suffering on them because the Egyptians feared them, verse 8-14, but even then as they suffered we see God’s hand still working to bring about his plan and fulfil his promises. We see the two Hebrew midwives, Shiphrah and Puah, involved in God’s purpose, these women were ordinary people, like you and me, yet they trusted in God. In an attempt to limit the number of Jews in their land Pharoah demanded that the midwives kill any males born to the Jewish women, verse 15-16. They must have feared for their own lives by the hand of Pharaoh but they respected (feared) God, verse 17, and boys continued to be born and live, such that Pharaoh summoned them again, verse 18. So in this act we see that God was using them to enable his people to grow even more in number despite the actions of an ungodly man to try to stop it. The fact that the people still grew in number despite their hardships confirms to us again that God works in the lives of his people and helps them endure their suffering. The actual answer that the midwives gave to Pharoah, verse 19, also shows God’s hand at work – in the possibility that this was actually true and God ensured that the boys were born before they arrived to help, but also in the way that Pharaoh accepted the answer that they gave. Whatever the situation, God blessed these women, verse 20-21, he gave them “families”, he Hebrew word that was used for this suggests many descendants, it was the same word used to say to David that he would have many “descendants” too. There are many of our brothers and sisters who are refugees and who suffered in similar ways as God’s people did here; persecution comes in many forms, physical or psychological, and if we are all sharing each other’s situations we all suffer with each other. However we suffer, we all need to learn to trust God and to have courage, we should all be praying for this. Both of these midwives valued life, they knew that God gives all life and respected his purpose in giving life and they acted out what we later read in Proverbs 31 verse 8-9, these women “spoke up” for those who could not; do we? Jesus “spoke up” for the poor and needy, because, unchecked, human nature is naturally corrupt and selfish, and therefore ungodly, as Pharoah demonstrates yet again in verse 22. God continues to work to save his people and he again provides women rescuers to ensure that Moses is not killed as Pharaoh demanded, chapter 2 verse 1-4. God’s help comes about in amazing ways, no one would have expected help to come from Pharaoh’s daughter, verse 5-6, and furthermore she agreed that Moses’ parents themselves would look after him in his early years, verse 7-9. The Egyptian superstition meant that Pharoah’s daughter probably believed that this baby was from the Nile “god”, and when he was a bit older she took him into the palace, verse 10, and brought him up as her own son, with his name reminding her that she “had drawn him out of the water”. Being brought up in Pharaoh’s house meant that Moses was gaining vital experience to later lead God’s people and all was directed by God. Even Moses’ actions in the rest of chapter 2 were all in God’s hands as he prepared Moses for the next stage in his life, verse 23-25. Psalms 53, 54 and 55 have the feelings of those who are suffering, particularly 55, where it talks about the “wicked”, “enemy”, “destructive forces” and “deceitful men”, all these are also descriptions of Pharaoh and his people who opposed God’s people. But all of this is countered by trust in God, like those midwives and now like David.  They all prayed to God, 53 verse 2, they knew that God would help, verse 4. Psalm 55 repeats these sentiments, verse 1, 16 and 22 – God does help in his own time and we all need to remember that it is the fool who says that there is no God, Psalm 53 verse 1. No matter what we go through, we “trust in God”, Psalm 55 verse 55. When we try to look at ourselves from God’s perspective we can only conclude that we are “wretched men and women”, Romans 7 verse 24.  We are reminded every day, whether we are old or young, that we are getting older and this reminds us of the curse of death because of Adam’s (and our natural tendency to) sin. And Paul immediately answers this conclusion in a wonderful way by saying “Thanks be to God – through Jesus Christ our Lord”, verse 25. The only way for salvation is through Jesus! We are reminded yet again that there are only two choices, it is either ignore Jesus and be born, live and die, or we accept Jesus and his ways and be born, live and live again! It is God’s aim to save people who become his children and although we may not always see this at the time, it is often only when we look back that we can see God working. Romans 8 verse 17 says that we are God’s children, we are heirs of God and co-heirs with Jesus, but there is an “if”, ie “if indeed we share in his sufferings”. Sharing with Jesus starts by accepting everything that he did and then being baptised, but it may mean enduring further suffering too because we are followers of Jesus, just like the midwives and David, we then have to really trust in God. Suffering, of any sort, makes us want to be in the kingdom more and more, because only then will we be free of suffering when our sufferings now will be so insignificant when compared with the glory that we have been promised when Jesus comes back, verse 18. We will all struggle with our human nature, chapter 7 verse 18, but because of Jesus and our faith in him we are “more than conquerors”, chapter 18 verse 31-39. “If God is for us, who can be against us?” If we remain in him then we have no fear of the result of sin, ie death and we also have courage to be able to cope with our sufferings, no matter what they are. In this section in Romans there are quite a few questions and answers, but all answers are positive if we remain in Jesus, whatever our “wrestle” with sin is. The quotation in verse 36 is from Psalm 44 verse 22 and just as the psalmist (possibly king Hezekiah) then said to God “Awake, Awake!”, verse 23-26, we too should constantly call on both God and Jesus to help us and give us strength to cope with managing our sin and our resultant sufferings. “For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels, nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord”, verse 38-39. January

January 31st

In Exodus 3 and 4 we see a typical human reaction to doing God’s work – Moses gave God reasons why it should not be him who worked for God to save his people!  But Moses learned to trust God and by the end of chapter 4, because everything happened as God had said it would, he would have been happy and confident as he prepared to meet Pharoah. These events served only to make Moses stronger and this is how we also should view our lives as we go through all our experiences, whether they be periods of highs or lows. Chapter 3 starts with the burning bush where God appears to Moses; whether this is a heavenly angel or not that Moses actually talks with, doesn’t matter because the heavenly angels only did God’s bidding. Here Moses is reminded that this was the God of his ancestors, ie Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, verse 6, this is repeated 3 times in this dialogue with God, verse 15, 16 and chapter 4 verse 5 to emphasise the fact that Moses was to return and talk to and lead his “special” people. And that God “heard” and “saw” the suffering of his people, chapter 3 verse 7 and 9, so even if it is not always obvious, God always “hears” and “sees”.  So God tells Moses what he wants him to do, ie rescue his fellow (and God’s) people, verse 8 and 10. As with Moses, we have all been given the opportunity to “rescue” others, whether this is our family, friends or neighbours, by telling them of the good news of the kingdom and teaching them how to be saved, so we need to heed God’s call to rescue others from death. 5 times Moses made excuses not to take on this role, ie verse 11, 13, chapter 4 verse 1, 10 and when he could not see any alternative, verse 13, “O Lord, please send someone else to do it”. We are all a bit like this, we fear and we would prefer that God send someone else, but each time God helps, chapter 3 verse 12, 14, chapter 4 verse 2-5 and 6-7, but Moses pushed back too much and verse 14-17 we see that God became angry with him.  But still God had provided Moses’ brother Aaron to help! We may not see God’s assistance in such dramatic ways, but God is always there. So Moses does as God says and returns to Egypt and just as God said, the elders and the people responded to what Moses said, verse 29-31. It is often the case that we worry too much about difficult tasks in front of us, but let us always remember that if we do it in faith, God will always remain with us and help us in what to say, etc, as we will see later in Exodus, things do not always go as Moses expected, but God was always in control. In Psalm 56 and 57, written by David when he was in distress and suffering, God helps us too when we are fearful as Moses was. When afraid, trust in God Psalm 56 verse 3-4, and when God helps, praise, verse 10-11, and we too can say “what can man do to me?”. We have to look at the end picture, ie the ultimate kingdom, no man can take this away from us and David alludes to this in Psalm 57 verse 11 when he talks of God’s glory being “over all the earth”. It is God we should trust and take refuge in, verse 1, and just as happened in Moses’ time, praise, prayer and worship resulted, verse 7-10. God’s love is so vast, it “reaches to the heavens” and God is aware of what is happening to us and will help us, even if we do not see evidence of it at the time when we are in hardship as David was, ie captured by the Philistines (Psalm 56) or trapped in a cave by Saul (Psalm 57). These are wonderful psalms to help us through our difficulties too. Paul in Romans 9 is distressed that his own people, the Jews, despite all of the wonderful works of God through their history, persisted in rejecting Jesus; he wondered why they had got it so wrong, verse 1-5. They had all these wonderful promises, the law, the temple, all these things, yet they rejected Jesus, who all these things were pointing to! It was not that God’s word failed, verse 6, it was that God saw what was in human hearts which  made people reject him that he then “hardened” their hearts further, eg Pharoah, verse 17-18. But it is up to God who he chooses, verse 14-15, and this in itself should made us humble and willing to do his will, because he has chosen us to be given the opportunity to be saved and to teach others! Some then say “then why does God still blame us [for our sins]?”, verse 19-21, it is up to God who he saves, we cannot question why, this is what Job learned during his suffering, and we need to learn this too. So we have a wonderful privilege as gentiles, verse 24-25, who have been taught about Jesus and the coming Kingdom, therefore we should respect God, respect Jesus and try to do their will and to willingly and proactively try to pass the wonderful message onto others – every day. We should be wanting to be meeting in our halls and our other places of worship as often as we can to encourage others to learn with us, we have been blessed with these places, so we should use them and respond to God’s calling as we “rescue” people from “Egypt”, ie death. January

February 1st

Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.  Israel found this when they were slaves in Egypt and told to get their own straw in Exodus 5 verse 6-9.  But God had a purpose.  Israel was not to love Egypt and stay there.  Israel needed to want to leave. And this was initially the case – but they did crave Egypt later – Numbers 11 verse 4-6 and God sent a plague, verse 33, because of their looking back. But here God was working things out so that they would want to leave the world – this is why we should take note of the many reminders in the bible of what God has done for us and what great things are in store for us – and what ungodly things we are leaving behind – we mustn’t look back as Lot’s wife did and she died!  God had a greater plan for Israel.  He told them of 7 blessings for them in Exodus 6:6-8: 1. Bring them out from Egypt; 2. Free them from slavery; 3. Redeem them with outstretched arm; 4. Demonstrate might acts of judgement; 5. Make them his own people; 6. He will be their God; 7. Bring them to a land that was promised. These blessings are the same for us in our salvation, ie: 1. Being brought out from the world; 2. Being freed from slavery to sin; 3. Being redeemed by Jesus; 4. Having a knowledge and understanding of a judgement; 5. We are God’s people; 6. He is our God; 7. We will be in the kingdom. But the people were not comforted with these because they were too focused on their present difficulties.  This is, of course, understandable, but not right and not what God wants. In fact they basically blamed God for their worsening situation: Exodus 5 verse 19-21 – something that we should be careful not to do either. This depression could be infectious too because Moses was not best pleased either, verse 22-23. However, God reminds Moses, the people and us that he does have a plan, Exodus 6 verse 1-5, he does remember, he does hear! If Israel could have focused on the blessings then it would have been a source of comfort to them. It is the same for us, we need to focus on the blessings rather than on our sufferings, hard though that is sometimes, but our sufferings are a reminder of our dying human nature and remind us that we do need God and Jesus – only they can save. The more we can focus on our blessings in Christ, the better we will be able to find comfort in this life.  The more we can understand that God is in control of our life, the easier it will be for us to accept the present difficulties and trust in God.  In all the problems, Moses did not think he was the right man for the job. He was supposed to speak to Pharaoh, but he said he was a bad speaker. The actual Hebrew words for Moses’ description of himself were ‘uncircumcised of lips’ (Exodus 6:12 and 30).  Uncircumcision is a way of saying that he was unholy. To say he was ‘uncircumcised of lips’ meant that he felt his speech was unholy and not up to the sacred task of speaking to Pharaoh on behalf of God.  Now we know that God specially chose Moses for the task.  This tells us that God decides what is holy and what is not.  If a person speaks God’s words then they are holy, whether they are good at speaking or not.  This is a comfort to those who have to give Bible talks and who think they are not good speakers! Psalms 58 and 59 are Psalms sung to the tune of ‘Do not destroy.’  We see this in the introductory words to the Psalms, which are part of God’s holy writing of the Psalms.  The ones ‘not to destroy’ are the righteous, as we read in Psalm 58:11, “Then men will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded.”  The Psalm was about evil judges who punished people with violence and death (Ps 58:1-2).  They were in power but were misusing their position.  The poor were being systematically abused even causing the death of the innocent.  The right punishment for these murderous judges was death.  The poor could not do this.  But the Psalm tells us that God would ensure that this would happen (v10).   In a similar way, Psalm 59 is about the evil Saul when he was trying to kill David.  David appealed to God to save him. David was innocent (v4) and yet the king was trying to killed him.  The king who was the highest judge in the land.  He was unjust and misused his power to kill the innocent.  Psalm 57 is also sung to the tune of ‘Do not destroy.’  It again was about Saul trying to kill David, on a different occasion.  But God is the one who saves the righteous.  Even today, we do not see justice done.  But there will be a time when “men will say “Surely the righteous are rewarded”” (Ps 58:11).  Do not worry about this, God will bring justice. Romans 11 and 12 remind us of the time that Israel was selected to be God’s people.  They were the ‘natural branches’ of the olive tree of God’s people.  To this family tree, God has added the branches of Gentile nations.  Now we are all one in Christ and there is no difference between Jew and Gentile (Romans 11:12).  It is belief in Christ that now determines whether we are part of God’s family tree (Romans 11:4, 9).  But the tree is for all who believe.  It is a good thing if we pass the teaching of the gospel on to others, so that they can also be saved, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Romans 11:15).  We can be part of this process by passing on the good news of Christ to others.  But never let us be proud or arrogant. It is God who has called us to the grace of the gospel, not ourselves. God could easily cut us off for pride.  Instead, let us humbly thank God that we are called to be in Christ. In our three readings we have seen that Israel suffered, David suffered and the Jews have struggled to understand Christ.  It is the suffering and struggles of life that we also struggle with. In answer to this, let us remember that God knows what His is doing.  It is our understanding and vision that is limited. Romans 11:33-34 ends with this point, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counsellor?”  None of us know the way God thinks or could ever give Him advice.   His ways are beyond our understanding.  What He is doing is bring about the saving of His people through Christ according to His own plan. This is more than enough for us and we praise Him for it! February

February 2nd

Exodus 7-8.  The Lord prepares Moses and Aaron as He reminds them of His plan. God’s plans are different to ours – His plans ALWAYS happen!! The Lord is going to bring His people out of Egypt and take them to the promised land, that land promised to Abraham and his descendants. The Lord will also cause the exodus to happen in a way that both the Israelites and the Egyptians will KNOW He is God, the one merciful and almighty God.  If Moses thought about the task – the millions of people and livestock, the need for food and water, the need for unity, Pharaoh’s power against them etc. then Moses would have realized that he (by himself) couldn’t do it. But Moses knew enough about God to trust in His word. For example: “your descendants will be strangers in a land that is not theirs, and will serve them, and they will afflict them 400 years, but they SHALL return here” Gen 15:13-16. Moses knew this hadn’t happened yet, but it would. We are the same – we know Jesus is coming, the promised kingdom; we totally believe in the future, we need to bring that God-given vision into our lives here and now, and like Moses, seek guidance for the journey to eternal life.  The Lord witnesses to Pharaoh through the words of Moses and Aaron, and also through a rod. The rod brought about God’s will; it could punish, it could restore. (The rod of itself was nothing, it was merely a way of showing that God’s will was happening). Pharaoh witnessed the rod becoming a serpent, and that same rod would cause the river to become like blood(red) and kill all the fish. That was the 1st plague; the plagues were signs from God. What sign was Pharaoh meant to recognize? There were many “gods” in Egypt, even Pharaoh was considered as one. These plagues/signs were to show that there is only one God, to show respect and obedience, to realise our lives are in His hands. Pharaoh refused to submit to God. One week later the Lord spoke to Moses “Go to Pharaoh “Thus says the Lord, ‘let my people go.’” He warns Pharaoh that if he doesn’t do God’s will, then the 2nd plague would happen, a plague of frogs coming out of the river. There must have been millions of them (imagine). Sure enough, Pharaoh refuses to do God’s will and the plague of frogs happens; it is so severe that Pharaoh asks for the frogs to be taken away and he promises that he will do God’s will. The next day, the frogs are all dead but Pharaoh was not faithful to his promise. We see Pharaoh had sinned against God, God punishes him, Pharaoh asks for mercy, God shows mercy, Pharaoh sins again (God was faithful, Pharaoh wasn’t). His heart should have changed for the better; but instead it was getting worse. What about us – when we earnestly pray for forgiveness, is it ONLY so the Lord will remove the problem in our lives; and when the Lord is faithful to us, are we faithful to the Lord? Do we have new hearts and spirit, seeking always to please our merciful Lord? Or, do we when the prayer is answered, forget and carry on in life as if nothing has happened?  The 3rd plague (lice) caused the Egyptian magicians (tricksters) to admit that it had come from God. But Pharaoh refused to humble himself and did not listen to them.  The 4th plague (flies) happened throughout Egypt, except where Israel dwelt – there were no flies in Goshen, as forewarned by God. Pharoah called for Moses and Aaron and tries to negotiate a deal. Moses will not negotiate; he is doing God’s will within His plan, so Moses cannot change the terms of the plan.  Sometimes, it is tempting to “negotiate” with others in order to bring peace, but if by “negotiating” we are not following God’s instructions, then we are seeking oneness with mankind and not oneness with God!  Once again, the Lord removes Pharaoh’s temporary problem – and Pharaoh went back on his promise. What was Pharaoh thinking? Did he really think that he could fool God? Do we seek to change the terms of our relationship with the Lord? The Lord’s terms are love, obedience and trust; all 3 involve some sacrifice in our lives.  Do we GIVE – or do we just take?  Psalms 60-61.  Psalm 60 begins in v 1-3 by David praying for help. He feels as if God has abandoned him, and is even against him. An answer to that prayer of suffering (with heads downward) was “You have given a banner to those who fear you, that it may be displayed because of the truth, that your beloved may be delivered.”  We know what a banner is – it’s like a flag that is lifted up. It’s a sign for people to decide where they belong, so like-minded people would gather together to their banner, and stay there!  Jesus is our banner. “As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the son of man be lifted up, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life” John 3:14-15. “And in that day, there shall be a root of Jesse who shall stand as a banner to the people: for the Gentiles (us) shall seek Him.” Isa 11:10 and elsewhere.  So when our heads are down, and we are going through difficulties, let’s lift up our heads and see Jesus – and remind ourselves of all he represents, of all he said “remember me” “come to me” and “I will give you rest”.  We see our banner in Psalm 61. “You will prolong the king’s life, His years as many generations. He shall abide before God FOREVER.  So I will sing praise to your name forever, that I may daily perform my vows”. David’s fulfilment in life was to be with his Lord – he wants to sing praise to the Lord’s name and to be faithful to Him each day.  He manages to do this by being mindful of the promised son of David, (our banner to gather in His name), the one who will fulfil all of God’s amazing promises and bring love, justice and peace to this world, but above all of that, he will cause the whole world to know the glory due to God. Imagine – when the whole world will have that spirit!  Romans 12.  Paul encourages believers to serve and obey God in their daily lives “By the mercies of God present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your reasonable service”. Our lives should reflect the mercies of God that have been shown to us, and if we dwell upon God’s mercies, we will better equipped to serve the Lord in love, every day. This is a way of thinking that David spoke of in the psalms, and a way of thinking that Pharaoh never accepted. Being conscious of the mercies of God transforms our minds, changes how we believe and helps us to become more like Jesus.  Paul then reminds the church that just as our physical bodies have many different parts and functions (by God’s design), so is the spiritual “body”, ie the church. Each has been given different gifts (from God) and they are to use those gifts to the benefit of the church. By so doing, they would be fulfilling God’s will and would all be bringing a new way of thinking and living (God’s way)- transforming people’s lives, as they meet together in the Lord’s name.  Whilst there were different gifts within the church, Paul lists the way of thinking that ALL, everyone, must have within the church. As I read v9-21 I recall brothers and sisters who I have met who have shown this spirit and they are a tremendous encouragement to all who know them. I am sure there are times when they struggle, but the words here remind them and encourage them to ask for help in having that spirit, in seeking to have the mind of Christ rather than their own.  And I am sure that the good examples of Christ were those who knew they themselves were not good, but they wanted to be Christ-like and asked for help. If their motive was good, then they would receive help.  In verse 20 we read “If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink; for in so doing, you will heap coals of fire on his head”. There have been many interpretations of this verse, when this happens always look at the context and what Jesus says. Jesus says “love your enemies” and the context in Romans 12:14 “Bless those who persecute you” and :21 “overcome evil with good”.  So I like this interpretation “The coals of fire is a visual symbol of a change of mind which takes place as a result of a deed of love”.  We should continually have “coals of fire on our heads” and be transformed by a deed of love (Jesus) because of the mercy of God – and we in turn should do the same for others. February

February 3rd

In all 3 readings today we see a common lesson on how to live our lives. The choice is really simple – if we want to be in the kingdom and have the benefits that God has promised then we need to “make every effort” to obey him, this means not stealing, not lying, not cheating, not loving money and wealth – it means we have to try to do what Jesus did. Because if we fail to try to be like Jesus we really do risk our salvation and that is serious. It really is amazing how we often ignore what God wants us to do and do our own things and this is really bad. So many problems are caused in our lives and in our church community because brothers and sisters have been dishonest, and they will answer for this when Jesus comes back if they do not repent now. Although Pharaoh did not say that he was a godly man, God still gave him opportunities to accept the ways of God but he continually refused and he showed his complete disrespect for God in the ways that he refused to listen to God speaking via Moses. Genesis 9 gives us the account of the plagues of Livestock, boils and hail, this time for the livestock and the hail God protects his people from the plagues, verse 4, 6 and 26. Even when he saw this Pharaoh still “hardened his heart”, verse 7 and 35, so much so that God started to lessen any desire of Pharaoh to repent, verse 12. The basic problem with Pharoah was that he was proud and (as with all Pharaohs) they wrongly thought that they were “gods”, so he was not willing to listen to another “power”, but in his responses he lied, verse 27-28, and after Moses prayed he sinned again, verse 34. Pharaoh was too interested in the cities that the Jews were building for him under forced labour and he judged his life more important than listening to God! When we read about the plagues we imagine that they immediately follow each other, I don’t think that that is right, there are probably weeks or even months between each plague, we get a clue to this with the livestock and the hail plagues. Verse 6 says that “all livestock” were killed, yet in verse 19, the Egyptians had livestock again. I believe that this happened because these plagues were months apart and the Egyptians rebuilt their livestock herds from the traders who brought them from other nations. This also explains the hardening of Pharoah’s heart because although he and the people suffered during the plague of the livestock, they recovered quickly and also quickly forgot the pain and suffering beforehand. This is like us too, we forget the lessons so quickly, which is why we need constant reminding, and we ignore the reminders at our peril! God always has a plan, even in the ungodly attitude of Pharoah, and good will always come in God’s own time, verse 16. In Psalms 62 and 63 we see this same human attitude when David is reminding us about stubborn human thinking, Psalm 62, verse 3-4 and Psalm 63 verse 9-10. Ungodly men “delight in lies”, they think that they are so clever, yet God will destroy them, he knows that they “bless” with their mouths, yet “curse” with their hearts, ie pretending to be godly – this is the lesson that we get in James 3 about the tongue! God knows if we are being hypocritical, ie pretending! But David is also reminding us that it is in God that we should trust, Psalm 62 verse 1-2, 5-8 and all of Psalm 63. It is clear that if anyone trusts in pride and extortion, stolen goods and riches, verse 9-10, then they will be judged for what they have done, verse 11-12. So these prayers of David are a great comfort for us if we are trying to act like Jesus, but they are also a warning if we are acting in ungodly ways – we all have that choice! It is clear from Romans 13 that we are to submit to the authorities, ie the governments where we live, verse 1-7; we should always do this, unless what they tell us conflicts with what God wants – the great example is in our Exodus reading, Moses and Aaron obeyed God rather than Pharoah and they trusted in God as their “rock” as did David. The lesson for us then is clear, we should obey the laws of the land, because God has put the governments there as his agents to work out his purpose, verse 4 and 6, so we should willingly pay our taxes! We should always pay back our “debts”, verse 8, except the “debt” of “love”, this we should always be doing if we are godly! If we loved then we would not do any of the things (and more) listed in verse 9, the point is that love “does no harm to your neighbour”, ie we are godly and honest in EVERYTHING! The world is in a mess and it does appear that things are happening as predicted would happen in the bible just before Jesus comes back, if this is so then we should “wake up” and stop doing ungodly things and the things that our human nature wants to do, verse 11-13. We have to be like Jesus, verse 14. There will always be brothers and sisters who think slightly differently to us about things that are debatable, we have an example of this in Romans 14 with respect to eating meat. Some rightly believed that it was OK to eat all meat now, because Jesus had said it was OK to, however, others could not eat it because of conscience, therefore a loving Christian should respect the feelings of the “weaker” brother or sister and not eat meat in their presence. This is all about unity, and this is what we should be aiming for because Jesus has died for everyone of us, verse 3 and 8. We should not be looking down on our brother who does not think the same as we do in these debatable matters, verse 9-11, we should not be condemning them. And the lesson is that we should not be destroying our brother or sister by the things that we do, verse 15. So Paul says we should make “every effort” to do things that lead to “peace” and things that encourage, verse 19. Paul concluded that in these debatable matters, eg eating meat, we do not do it if someone is with us who objects – this is love! Clearly this does not give us an excuse to believe anything and do anything when we are not with our brothers and sisters because there are non debatable teachings and actions that are really clear to everyone who is serious about following God. It does mean things like meat and drink, or special days, clothes we wear, etc. So as is always the case our bible knowledge has to lead to a godly life, having respect and love for God, for Jesus and for each other. February

February 4th

We read of 2 more plagues in Exodus 10, ie locusts and darkness, and we see that Pharaoh remained proud, verse 3, his officials appear to be frustrated now by his refusal to let the people go, verse 7, and because of his pride God “hardens” his heart still further, verse 20 and 27. God had a purpose to all of this and this is indicated in verse 1 and 2; one of the reasons was so that God’s people would talk about this for generations to come so that they would remember that God “is the Lord”. Throughout all this Moses and Aaron remained faithful and had complete trust in God, they did not doubt that God was with them and they did exactly what God had said, they are therefore great examples for us to follow when we are in challenging positions. Even though God’s people do suffer, along with others often, God still always cares for them – an example of this is in the plague of darkness where the Israelites remained in the light, verse 23. This reminds us of the regular picture in the bible that uses light and darkness to describe those living in Jesus and God v those who reject God and all his principles. Although God did give plenty of opportunity to Pharaoh to repent he only reluctantly acknowledged his sin just to get relief from what he was suffering at the time, verse 16-19, there was obviously not humble repentance! The 2 psalms in Psalm 64 and 65 remind us again of those who are in “darkness” and those who are in the “light”. David complained to God about those who opposed God and acknowledged that God would eventually deal with them in his own time, verse 1-8, all their planning and their words would come to nothing, as was demonstrated by Pharaoh. However, it is the “righteous” (those in the “light”) who can take refuge in God and praise him, verse 10, this is exactly what Moses and Aaron did. Psalm 65 is a prayer of David that is also our prayer too – we praise and are confident that God hears prayers and if we repent all our sins are forgiven, verse 1-3. We have been “chosen” by God to be saved and to be in his kingdom and this is such a great blessing, verse 4. There is no greater blessing than this, to be promised the kingdom when Jesus returns, this is what we should try to focus on every day of our lives. Our God is “awesome”, he is the hope of everyone who turns to him and even though he is the powerful creator and controller of the weather he is still willing to save us individuals, verse 5-8. This knowledge of God has to make us respectful and to praise him in all humility. Verse 9-13 is a complete opposite picture to the destruction that was sent, by God, on Egypt in Exodus; in the psalm we have a picture of a land that is covered with “flocks and corn”, verse 13, ie plenty. It is what God’s children were promised when they came out of Egypt if they obeyed God, and it is what we have been promised when Jesus comes back to set up the kingdom. In small ways we see God’s care now in the harvests that we do get, and for this we should praise him, but we should still praise him even when the harvests fail because he still has a plan for us in his kingdom. This wonderful hope and blessing theme is continued in Romans 15 where Paul reminds us that we are part of the promises that were made to Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and now Moses, verse 8. We are the gentiles that Paul is referring to, verse 9-12, and this should fill us with “hope”, “joy” and “trust”, verse 13. Because we have this wonderful hope of a future, our lives now should be changed as we deal with everyday difficulties.  In this example in this chapter Paul is saying that we should be helping those who are “weak”, this could be physically or scripturally, verse 1. We are asked to “build [each other] up”, verse 2, because even Jesus always thought of others, verse 3, so we should do the same and also use the examples from the old testament to learn from, verse 4. There should not be any pride or eagerness to be the “leader” in our church, we should humbly accept Jesus, remembering that he accepted us, therefore our aim should be unity, verse 5-7, and for this we should praise. This subject of unity is so important because Paul repeats it in chapter 16 verse 17-18, we are told to keep away from those who cause divisions and care should be taken because often they can deceive with their “smooth talking”. There are lots of names in this chapter and in chapter 15 we see Paul’s plan to visit Rome, this is showing us that fellowship is important, we need to be together in fellowship to praise God for his blessings and to encourage each other as we prepare for Jesus to return. And in verse 30-32 we see that we need to remember our brothers and sisters everywhere in our prayers as we “struggle” to try to do what is right. Paul’s concluding prayer is ours too, ie chapter 16 verse 25-27, “Now to him who is able to establish you by my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings by the command of the eternal God, so that all nations might believe and obey him – to the only wise God be glory for ever through Jesus Christ! Amen.” February

February 5th

The account of the Passover in Exodus 12 verse 1-30 is very specific. The Israelites had to follow the commands of God exactly to demonstrate their faith and trust in him so that they could be saved from death. It was a day for them to remember for ever and to celebrate the Passover on the fourteenth day of the first month of the Jewish calendar, it was a special day, it was a day when they were saved and it preceded their leaving Egypt and then their crossing of the Red Sea towards the land that God had promised them if they were faithful. There are many many details in the Passover, but for now it is a reminder of Jesus and his sacrifice for us, he was the “lamb without blemish”, that saved us and allowed us to cross into the kingdom that God has promised us. It was also during the Passover, many years later, that Jesus was crucified, it was on the first day of the month when Jesus rode into Jerusalem – this was lamb selection day, verse 1-2; Jesus was killed at the same time as lambs were started to be killed and no meat was left until morning – just as Jesus was not left on the cross. The Passover was a celebration that only Jews could take part in, verse 43-49, just as our breaking of bread is a reminder of Jesus’ death and resurrection and only people who are baptised can take part in the service. The list of similarities and reminders are almost endless! The mark on the door post was an act of faith, just as our baptism and godly acts are an act of faith and so the Israelites were saved from their worldly suffering. In the Psalms from Psalm 65-67 there is a change in tone from the preceding Psalms where salvation for Israel is spoken about, now from 65 the gentiles are included in the salvation, so when we get to Psalm 66 verse 1-2 we see that “all the earth” can be part of the promise and therefore sing praises now. This Psalm appears to be looking forward to the events spoken of in Psalm 67, which seems to be a picture of the kingdom, verse 4, because it talks about God “ruling” over the nations of the earth. So verse 1 is talking about those who are saved, we are the “us” spoken of here, ie we are the gentiles that are included in the promise because of Jesus. Verse 2 mentions God’s “ways” this is more than knowledge of God it means actually knowing his character and those who are saved being like him and as it says in Genesis 18 verse 19 that Abraham and his descendants were chosen to “keep God’s way”, in contrast to those in Noah’s time who had corrupted “God’s way”, Genesis 6 verse 12. Therefore in Psalm 67 verse 4 the nations were glad and sang praise to God who had provided salvation and brought the believers to the kingdom. The praise is all inclusive, verse 5, and then the land will have a “harvest”, this being more than what we recognise as a harvest today, it includes all the aspects of God’s creation bringing forth fruit. This is in complete contrast to the world today which is in a mess with all sorts of things failing, but in the kingdom the world as God created it, will be working again, which triggers more blessing and praise, verse 7. So with this future picture of the kingdom which we are all looking forward to now we consider the situation that we experience now by thinking about Psalm 66, which is again about praise but praise triggered by the anticipation of God bringing the kingdom. We do life in a troubled world and all the pressures we all experience can interfere with our worship and praise. But we do “shout” now to teach and encourage others, verse 1-4; we should be setting an example now in demonstrating to others what God has done for us, verse 5, “come and see” is the message and one that we should take seriously as we change from an ungodly, worldly character, to having a character which is the same as God’s. Verse 6 is an important example to show what God has done in saving his people from Egypt and bringing them through the Red Sea, the event that follows the Passover, and then he brings them into the Promised Land (Kingdom) by again “turning the sea into dry land” when the people crossed the Jordon. This reminds us of our baptism as we were “saved” by water, ie saved from the world, and God is interested in individuals, he demonstrated that to show his “awesome works” he used the example of saving people! He therefore again demonstrates his “awesome works” by saving us in Jesus so that we are saved from sin and death! Therefore we praise him now for our salvation that it is bringing about, verse 8! We ask him to help us and deliver us from temptation, ie stop our “steps from slipping”, verse 9, because he is testing us, verse 10, we do suffer, verse 11 and we are sometimes ridiculed, verse 12, but all this suffering and pressure is part of us being changed and learning and becoming like God and obviously like Jesus. God tests us so he can see what we become, so we should praise God in our trials because by doing our best we can be confident that God will show us grace as well as mercy, ie bringing us to that place (kingdom) of “abundance”. And knowing this we come to worship each Sunday and more often than that and praise, verse 13, always repenting of our sins, verse 18, because without repentance God cannot show us grace. He has offered us the kingdom, in Jesus, who also took responsibility for us and lived a life of love and obedience, dying for us, but having the confidence that his father would raise him again. In Mark 1 we start to see Jesus taking this responsibility, not one of authority, but knowing something that results in an action, eg like a husband and wife having a child and they then become responsible for looking after their child. The meaning of “responsibility” comes from the verb to “reply”, therefore there is a duty to influence when someone is responsible. The word also conveys the meaning to be something or someone to “depend on”, or that can be “clung on to”. So we have a meaning here that someone with responsibility is caring for the future. That someone needs to be “concerned”, as they are duty bound to do something in order to fulfil their responsibility. Being responsible means that God “Watches” over the city (Psalm 127 verse 1); the shepherds were “keeping watch over the sheep” (Luke 2 verse 8); the Levites took “charge” of objects in tabernacle (Numbers 10 verse 17), all of these convey a deep care for the things that they were responsible for. Soldiers are responsible for protecting people, those in command of others are also responsible for those who were under them, eg King David after he had sinned in counting his army in 2 Samuel 24, requested that God concentrate the punishment on him and his family not the soldiers and people, verse 17. The story of Joseph is another example of correct responsibility for others, in Genesis 42 his brothers said that “they were guilty” and took responsibility for the past and in Genesis 43 Judah took full responsibility for the present and the future, in taking responsibility for Benjamin, verse 9. We see the deep concern in Judah when he was speaking to Joseph in Genesis 44 verse 18-34, he said that he could not go back to his father without Benjamin, this is responsibility! Judah taking responsibility for Benjamin is an excellent example of caring for someone even though it could be costly for him. But this should be the same as us in taking responsibility for our brothers and sisters – this is Christian love.  An example of refusal of responsibility is with Adam and Eve, they blamed anyone but themselves, Genesis 3 verse 12-13, but Cain demonstrated this refusal to take responsibility in chapter 4 verse 9, he said that Abel was nothing to do with him! “Am I my brother’s keeper?” was his wrong response, he completely refused to take responsibility for his past and future responsibilities. However, as Christians our responsibilities should be like that of Jesus. In Hebrews 1 verse 1-4 we read that the responsibility for everyone in the world was taken on by Jesus! He “upheld” his responsibility, he “carried” those who needed his salvation, ie us – he died for us; he willingly did what his father wanted! Therefore Mark 1 is talking about Jesus being the servant of the Lord, he lived this in his character all the time and willingly sacrificed his life for his father and for us, he took responsibility, eg verse 17, 35 and 41. He often went into solitude to get help and focus, he carried the weight of responsibility to carry us to our destination, ie salvation. Jesus devoted all his energy to this task, he must have experienced anxiety, as he was human, but it did not detract him from his path. It was not that Jesus was a slave to God, his father, in the way that he obeyed, but he took responsibility for us, so that we could be saved and brought to his father’s kingdom as his father wanted. And Jesus continues to carry us, using all the power that has been given to him by his father and just as God lifted up and carried Israel in the past, Jesus does the same for us now by discharging his responsibilities, he was setting example for disciples (and us) to share the responsibility with him. We see examples of this with Paul in how he had daily pressure of all the churches, and how he exhorts us to share each other’s burdens! This is how we should be, Jesus has asked us to be his partner in taking responsibility for brothers and sisters to “keep”, protect, carry, etc. So how are we going to do this? Are we going to be like Cain? We are responsible for our brother and sister and if Jesus had heard Cain’s comment he would have answered “Yes, you are your brother’s keeper!” Or are we like Judah who took full responsibility for his brother? Jesus sets us the example so do we share his responsibility? February

February 6th

In our daily readings over the next few weeks, we will be reading about the Children of Israel on their wilderness journey to the land God had promised to them.  Yesterday we read about the Passover and tomorrow we will be reading about Israel as they cross the Red Sea as all part of the journey that God had promised them. Those of us who are baptised are also on a journey to the kingdom so we can see many lessons for us as we continue to read Exodus. When we looked at Romans recently we saw in chapter 15 verse 4 that things are written to “teach us”. Paul again says in 1 Corinthians that the experiences of the Children of Israel are written for our instruction. We should therefore be prepared to learn from the things we read about in Exodus. Paul highlights a number of events from this wilderness journey in chapter 10 verses 1-2: they were all baptised in the “cloud and the sea”; they ate and drank the same spiritual food and drink, ie they were all given everything that they needed; those things which God provided was a “spiritual rock”, as is Christ to us. Therefore, Paul reminded us that these things that they were provided with were a reminder of Jesus. His warning is that many who started the journey did not reach the promised land, so he is warning us too that life sometimes will be difficult. But God does keep his promise and the kingdom will come. We have to therefore remain faithful to what God had promised and we are reminded by Paul that God had helped and provided, verse 11.  Exodus 10 verse 21-23 describes how the darkness in the 9th plague spread all across Egypt, but there was light where Israel were; this is remarkable because God is drawing a distinction. There is the distinction between light and darkness of the different groups of people; that distinction should also exist today in the way that we lead our lives.  This theme of light and darkness runs all the way through the bible, starting in Genesis 1 – notice that God did not destroy the darkness, he separated the darkness from the light, verse 1-5. So we can see that darkness still existed but it was separated from the light and there is a lesson there for us, we need to be separate from the things of the world to show the light of the gospel in our lives even if we are surrounded by darkness. The principle is continued in the New Testament.  You will remember that the Gospel of John begins by saying that Jesus is “the Light of the World”.  Those who respond to the light are described as the “sons of God”.  And in John’s first letter we read 1 John 1 verse 5-7 – Jesus is the light and we walk with him.  As such we become in fellowship with him as the kingdom of God approaches; however we should always remember that there was spiritual darkness in Egypt and that is why the people of Israel had to leave. However, there is spiritual darkness in our world today too so we have to try and walk in the light as they did. After the Passover meal the people were led out of Egypt.  We read that the Lord went before them, Exodus 13 verse 20-22, so God was with them through this part of the journey.  There was a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire to give them light by night, giving light and protection, and importantly, it showed them the way.  But the route they took, following the cloud and fire, brought them to a point where they were trapped between the Red Sea and the pursuing Egyptians.  Understandably they were very afraid but this was to teach them – and us as well – an important lesson – that neither they nor we are able to bring about our own salvation, only God can bring salvation, Exodus 14 verse 13-14.  They would not escape the darkness of Egypt by their own strength – they needed to rely on God.  Therefore, trust in God, no matter what happens to us is the lesson, we should stay calm and stay quiet because is God is going to fight for them and us. They would not be able to fight themselves because they would not need to, because this is a deliverance form God. All this is God’s provision: “Stand still and see the Salvation of the LORD”. The pillar of cloud (by day) and fire (by night) which had gone before them now went behind them, Exodus 14 verse 19-22 It is this, I think, that allows Paul to describe the crossing of the Red Sea as a figure of baptism.  We know that baptism requires a total immersion in water.  I imagine the people passing between the waters of the sea on each side and with this cloud above and around them.  The Egyptians, in spiritual darkness, could not cross over but the children of Israel did and were saved by the power of God. Not all went well in their journey because of their disobedience and lack of faith, but Paul reminds us of that and tells us to listen to the warnings in 1 Corinthians.  But God kept his promise and eventually the promised land was reached. So it shall be for us, if we remain faithful. There is a very important part of the account of Israel being brought out of Egypt and this is the Passover meal.  There are many lessons we can learn from that night but the most important one is that the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed and its blood painted around the door of each house where those who followed God were.  There was no other way to escape the curse that was about to fall on Egypt.  We can apply that lesson to our own circumstances in that there is no other way to salvation other that through Jesus. This Passover lamb had to be “without blemish”, Exodus 12 verse 5, it had to be perfect in every way, just as Jesus was and is for us. There are many passages that link the Passover lamb to Jesus, one of them is in Hebrews 9 verse 12-15.   This passage is talking about the sacrifice of Jesus and contrasting it with the sacrifices required in the Old Testament.  Those sacrifices could never save us from sin and death.  But the sacrifice of Jesus – who was without blemish – can take us from “dead works” to a service of the living God and bring us to the “eternal inheritance”. February

February 7th

Exodus 15 starts with the praise and worship of God for all the good things that God has done in saving his people from the Egyptians. It is a wonderful acknowledgement of the specific things that God did to rescue them from their impossible position trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptians. In this song of praise, verse 1, the people recognise the salvation of God, verse 2. This is exactly why God put them in this position in the first place so that they learnt to accept that only God could provide salvation. And just like the Israelites we too praise God for the salvation that he has given to us; in the case of the Israelites this salvation was through the sea, in our case our baptism and faith brings us to the kingdom. It is clear from Moses’ song that it is all the things that “oppose” God, verse 7, and the things that “boast”, verse 9, ie pride, that God destroys and this prompts us to acknowledge God’s “holiness”, “glory” and “wonders”, verse 11. It is because of God’s “unfailing love”, verse 13, that we have been “redeemed” and have been given salvation – which will be completely fulfilled when Jesus comes back when we will be taken to God’s “dwelling place”, verse 13, which is clearly centred on earth, around Jerusalem, verse 17. This is why the land of Israel is the centre of Bible teaching, where all of God’s children (which obviously includes us) will be with Jesus, and ultimately God, for ever, verse 18. Miriam too led the women in praise because of what the Lord had done for them, verse 20-21, such was the praise and worship amongst all of the people. Because of their human frailty, despite all of this praise because of what God had done, the people grumbled 3 days later when they had no water, verse 22-24. It is easy for us to criticise them, but we are also like this sometimes, we so often forget what God has done and is doing for us, we should try to always trust God. However, God provided a solution, verse 25, and, as for the Israelites, he does the same for us.  However God’s help is always conditional, verse 26, ie “if we listen carefully” and keep his commands and decrees, then we are helped to salvation. Psalm 69 is a psalm that reminds us of Jesus, although a lot of the words applied to David, who wrote it when he was persecuted.  The words apply more to Jesus, eg verse 21, which applies to Jesus on the cross (Matthew 27:34). All the way through this psalm we see God’s love and goodness and how he will reward the righteous, eg verse 16 and 33. It is a psalm too that is full of praise, eg verse 30-31 and 34-36, significantly it reminds us yet again that God’s dwelling place is on earth, centred around “Zion” and “Judah”. Verses 22-28 is David demonstrating his frustration with the enemies of God and he is wanting them to be excluded from God’s salvation, but Jesus turns this around when on the cross, he said “father forgive them, they do not know what they are doing”(Luke 23:34). Jesus in Mark 3 confirms that we should try to follow what God wants, by saying that if we do what God wants then we are Jesus’ mother, brothers and sisters, verse 31-35. This has been the important principle all the way through the Bible and sadly many do not understand this, in fact the Pharisees were always looking to criticise Jesus and to seek a way to kill him, verse 1-6; even though Jesus did good, they still maintained that he was “working” on the Sabbath and opposed him. We know that at the time of Jesus the Jews incorrectly believed that those who were ill must have sinned, hence why phrases such as “cast out demons” and “evil spirits”, eg verse 10-11 were used.  These phrases are understood to be what we know today as diseases and mental illnesses, in fact even in Jesus’ time things as “diseases” were recognised. Because the Pharisees and the other religious leaders opposed Jesus they said that Jesus was mentally ill himself, even his own family said the same, verse 20-22 and 30. Jesus in his reply demonstrated that this kind of argument was completely stupid –  if that was the case then what the Jews incorrectly believed to be the cause of sin, ie satan, was fighting against itself, verse 23.  He likened it to a human kingdom which if it was divided and arguing then it too would not stand, verse 24-25, so if satan opposed itself then it too would not stand either, verse 26. Jesus was saying that if the people thought he was satan and he was healing those who satan had made ill in the first place, then that was a silly thing to believe because it would fail!!! Verse 27 appears to be sin depicted as the “strong man” and for there to be a spiritual healing then sin has to be “tied up”, we have to remember that Jesus is speaking in a parable (verse 23) and that the people [incorrectly] understood that illness was caused by sin. This is why Jesus then talks about being forgiven from sin and blasphemy in verse 28, however, if anyone denies God’s power, which enabled the healing in the first place, then that sin would not be forgiven, verse 29. Not only had the Pharisees blasphemed by saying that it was not God’s power that enabled Jesus to heal, they were also believing incorrectly that an evil power caused illnesses in the first place. The disciples believed that Jesus was the son of God and did their best to follow him.  Jesus appointed 12 of them to become Apostles so that they too could go out and teach others about the good news about Jesus and his kingdom, verse 13-19. Sadly Judas, despite knowing all these things, later betrayed Jesus, however, God’s will was done and Jesus was raised to enable us to have this salvation that has always been God’s desire for those who love him. February

February 8th

Exodus 16 tells us that God tests His people.  When God sent manna to feed His people in the desert, he said, “In this way I will test them and see whether they will follow my instructions” (Exodus 16:4).  The test was that they needed to go out every day and collect manna every day except the sabbath.  This was the first sabbath law that God gave Israel.  What God found out is that people broke the sabbath and went looking for manna on that day as well.  God learnt that His people were not good at following His commandments.  This was a pattern of what later happened during the rest of the wilderness journey.  Israel would persistently grumble and break the commandments.  It may seem that God was testing them to see if they would fail.  But this is not how God works.  In Exodus 15:25-26 we read that God tested Israel with the water supply.  God did so in order to bless them with health so that could avoid Egyptian diseases.  God tests His people with commands so that He can bless those who are truly following Him.  He does the same thing with us, as we read in 1 Thessalonians 2:4, “We are not trying to please men but God, who tests our hearts.”  Let us stand the test and obey God and so receive the blessing that comes from being His people.  Psalm 71 is the old person’s Psalm.  The writer tells us he is old (v9), ‘old and grey’ (v18), and his strength has gone (v9). In the Psalm he looks back over his life and reflects on it.  Even though he has seen many troubles (v20), he is still secure.   He has survived and is able to tell the next generation the great things that God has done in his life.  As an old man, he is vulnerable to evil people.  The Psalm is about how he continues to trust in God in his old age.  Even as he writes, he is in danger and he prays to God for help.  This shows us how we should be when we are old.  We should keep trusting in God and we should tell the next generation what God has done for us.  We should be like a sign to them (v7).  That is, when people look at us, they should understand that God looks after His people.  They should then put their trust in God just like we do.  Psalm 70 was not about old people, but about the ‘poor and needy’ (v5).  These people need to trust in God just like old people.  The kingdom is the hope of old people and the promised land was the hope of Israel’s when in the wilderness.  There is a goal at the end of our life’s journey.   Let us also maintain our faith on life’s journey, so that we reach the goal of our journey – the kingdom of God.  Mark 4 describes the kingdom of God in a set of parables.  The kingdom of God is like a seed that starts small and grows slowly, but sooner or later becomes a great tree (v26-29). God’s kingdom may look small and insignificant now, but it will be great.  It will unexpectedly come and achieve its full greatness. The parable of the sower (v1-20) teaches us that the people of God’s kingdom produce spiritual fruit.  Let us make sure that we are fruitful so that God sees us as people of His kingdom. The final incident of Mark 4 is a storm on the lake.  The original Greek is clearer than most translations.  The storm was caused a ‘great’ wind (v37), so much so that the disciples were afraid of drowning.  Then when Jesus saved them, there was a ‘great’ calm (v39).  The difference was so dramatic.  We need to imagine going from almost drowning to a flat sea without waves or wind.  When the disciples thought about it, they had a ‘great’ fear of Jesus (v41).  Jesus can greatly calm the storm of our life and we should greatly honour and respect Jesus.  As Jesus said to people like us, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).  May you find calm in your day, and may the peace that comes from knowing Jesus accompany you in whatever you do today. February

February 9th

Exodus 17, 18: The refugees (Israel) were on the move, led (by God) to Rephidim. But when they arrived there was no water. Although this was a very difficult situation, the provision of manna and all of the other blessings should have caused them to have some trust in the Lord. Moses does what the people should have done – he prayed for help. The Lord gives instructions to Moses regarding striking a rock, and water came out for the people and their livestock (it must have been like a continuing river!). What a gracious gift to those who even questioned the Lord’s will with them – “Is the Lord among us or not?”.  Difficult times can separate people; the answer to difficult times is always to work together. By so doing, we are saying to each other, “don’t give up, I haven’t”. This is also true with our relationship with the Lord – even when we are weak (if we don’t give up) we can be strong knowing the Lord is with us.  An enormous amount of water provided to a refugee camp in a barren land probably was one of the reasons Israel were attacked by the Amalekites. Moses organized Israel; Joshua was to fight the battle. Moses with the rod and Aaron and Hur overlooked the battle from a hilltop. Whenever Moses held his hand up with the rod in his hand, then Israel dominated but when his hand dropped then the enemy dominated. Moses needed help because he wasn’t strong enough, so Aaron and Hur supported his outstretched arms so that the rod was held up continually – by working together (with God) the Amalekites were defeated.  There are quite a few lessons here – Moses, despite being willing, couldn’t save Israel on his own, he needed help from others.  Joshua learnt that when he saw that God was with them (the rod was a reminder of God’s will), then he was strengthened by knowing the battle was the Lord’s.” Be strong and of good courage…for the Lord your God is with you” Josh 1:9. The people should have learned from Joshua’s example: “if God is for us, who can be against us?”. We have been encouraged by the same words from God. (Rom 8:31).  Further help comes to Moses in the next chapter. Jethro his father-in-law heard what God had done for Moses and Israel, and arranged to meet him. He listened to Moses’ account of all that had happened, causing Jethro to confess that the Lord is greater than all the gods. The next day Jethro saw Moses judging for his people, how they should live their lives in accordance with God’s ways. But Jethro could see it was too much for Moses – there were some issues that could be judged by other “able men” – those who fear God, men of truth, hating greed; they could “bear the burden with you”. Moses might have seen this as personal criticism, but he didn’t. He had learnt from the battle with the Amalekites that he couldn’t do everything; he needed Joshua, Aaron, Hur and others to share the burden and fulfil God’s will. I believe God had prepared Moses before Jethro’s advice, so that Moses knew this was confirmation of what he had already been shown from the Lord. Although I am sure he still prayed about it, as we should.  It is good when leaders (elders) delegate “able men” to bear the burden to work together with the Lord. Instructions for Christian churches are found in 1Tim 3:1-13 and elsewhere.  Psalm 72:  The perfect leader…the answer to climate change, famine, fresh water, wars, poverty, justice, everything. This psalm was written 1000 years before Jesus was born, and although another 2000 years have passed by, we know (with no doubt) these words are describing Jesus’ rule over the earth. Let’s remind ourselves of some of the wonderful things that will happen.  The King will reign according to God’s ways (v1); He will judge with righteousness (v2); Bring peace (v3); Justice to the poor (v4); Break the oppressor (v4); Rule the whole world (v8); All nations shall serve him (bring unity) (v11); Abundance of food (v16); Blessing (v17); Whole earth filled with His glory (v19); None of these promises will you find in any other leader, in any country, at any time. This is why we pray “your kingdom come, your will be done on earth as it is in heaven” From this psalm and elsewhere in scripture, we KNOW that God’s will, will be done.  Mark 5: Three different miracles.  The first miracle was a man who had lost his mind; we would call him a schizophrenic today. He had battles within his mind every day – we see some thoughts are good, some confused, and some mad.  The good: when he saw Jesus he ran and worshipped Him. He knew Jesus was the son of God.  The confused: “Do not torment me”, although he recognized who Jesus was, he didn’t know His purpose, what Jesus wanted to do for him. Was this because of bad teaching/understanding, or was he confused? bad teaching does bring confusion!!  The mad: his confused mind requested that they (his imaginary demons) might be sent into the swine.  Jesus healed him; 2000 swine ran into the sea and drowned. The man who had been “demon possessed” was sitting (at peace) and clothed and in his right mind.  This is what Jesus can do for us – bring peace and clothe us with the right mind – and then we can tell our neighbours all that Jesus has done for us.  2 more miracles:  A woman had a continuing leakage of blood… this caused her to be considered as unclean, isolated from society; she was to keep her distance from everyone. This had been going on for 12 years, and everyone would have rejected her. But this woman had faith in Jesus. “If only I touch His clothes, I shall be made well”. She came to Jesus from behind and touched his garment, and was immediately healed. Now she was “clean” she could be accepted back into society. But Jesus wanted to give her more than that. He doesn’t just want to heal/forgive, he wants a relationship – after confessing her faith and actions in front of a crowd (like our baptisms) Jesus says “Daughter, your faith has made you well…go in peace” Jesus welcomes her into His Father’s family! From outcast to fellow citizens and heirs – do we remember this blessing? Let us always dwell on EVERYTHING that has been given us and why.  Jairus was a ruler of the synagogue and his 12-year-old daughter was close to death. So he begs Jesus to come and heal her. On the way Jesus is delayed by the miracle on the “unclean” woman. Imagine Jairus’ anxiety!  A message comes to Jairus that his daughter has died, it’s too late. Jesus says to him (and us) “Do not be afraid; only believe”. We know what happened, the young girl is restored to life. Jairus had wanted Jesus to heal his daughter, but Jesus does more – he raised her from the dead and gave to Jairus and his family, a faith that could never be denied. And a realization that he (and us) can never repay Jesus enough for what He has done. We too have been given a new life – now, and if we live according to that new life we will be given eternal life, with the Lord. February

February 10th

Most people have heard of the 10 Commandments, whether they are a Christian or not; these are the commandments that God gave to his people as soon as they had reached the “holy” mountain, Mount Sinai. A lot of countries have laws based on these, certainly the last 6, ie Exodus 20 verse 12-17, they are the things that most people try to live by. They know that it is wrong not to honour their parents, to murder, to commit adultery, to steal, to give false testimony and to covet (want) things that a neighbour has. This is confirmed because people who do such things normally initially deny that they have done them, because they know that “normal” human principles of good communities comply with these. If people in general know things like these are “wrong”, then those of us who are baptised should know 100% that they are wrong, so it is sad when brothers and sisters fail to demonstrate their acceptance that these are wrong in their lives. Jesus certainly expects us to try to live by these “laws”. The first 4 commandments, ie having no Gods, no idols, not misusing God’s name and keeping the Sabbath, verse 3-8, are those commands that Christians should be following – Jesus again reemphasises these, except for the Sabbath. The people fully respected God and his commandments, verse 18-21, by listening. And God expects respect by demonstrating it in how we go about our worship, verse 22-26. These detailed things, ie making altar o earth, or if using stone, not to chisel it to shape and even not being in danger of accidently exposing yourself by climbing steps, is all a demonstration of respect for God. This is what should motivate us to show respect to God in everything that we do, everything! At Mount Sinai God spoke with Moses, Exodus 19 verse 3-6, and the message to his people was conditional, ie “Now IF you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all the nations you will be my treasured possession.” Because of Jesus we have now been included in this promise, but we do have to still try to obey even though we are under grace and mercy now. Just as the children of Israel did, those of us who are baptised have also said that we will “do everything that the Lord has said”, verse 8. The rest of this chapter tells us about the limits that were temporarily put in place to stop people (and animals) from going close to the mountain whilst God appeared to the people, God was respected. It is respect for God and also for Jesus that should make us want to obey God. Psalm 73 is one of those psalms that shows us human thinking and our human weakness, but then when we consider God our outlook changes, this is a dramatic reminder that we should always want to worship and to be with our brothers and sisters, verse 17. The faithful writer of this psalm was confused by all the things around him until he went into the “sanctuary of God”; this is where we can understand what God and his purpose is all about, our “sanctuary” is prayer, reading the bible, worshiping with our brothers and sisters and thinking about both God and Jesus. Then we too can find understanding for all the confusing things around us. Verse 1-16 is the confusion, eg why are the wicked and the arrogant and the proud better off than me?! Verse 18-28 is the understanding gained from God – that is the way that we should be thinking and acting, knowing that the wicked will not prosper and that the faithful will find a refuge in God; this is pointing towards our salvation when Jesus comes back. Mark 6 has the sad account of how John the Baptist was killed as a result of a stupid, ungodly promise by king Herod and the scheming of his equally ungodly wife, verse 14-29. This is an example of how the wicked and proud cause pain and suffering for themselves and others, verse 26.  As a result of a stupid promise, verse 22-23, John the Baptist was killed, verse 27-28. It is so important that we encourage each other to repent, it was Jesus’ priority as he sent out the 12 disciples, v7-12 – they were to heal those who were ill as they travelled, but repentance was the important element. Some people listen to the message, others do not and even Jesus’ own relatives chose not to listen to him, even though he had the message of life, verse 1-5. We know that both God and Jesus provide when there is a need, the example of Jesus feeding the 5,000, verse 30-44, is an example of this, but this is not why we should be a follower of Jesus. We follow Jesus because we want to be in the kingdom, the person who wrote the psalm was clearly suffering, but he maintained his faith in God because of his regular worship. The account of the storm on the lake and Jesus walking on the water, verse 45-52 is a great picture of how both God and Jesus help in our lives which are often troubled and “stormy”. Jesus wants us to cry out to him when we are in difficulty, because he is the only one who can help, verse 50, and his answer is the same to us, ie “Take courage. Don’t be afraid”. When Jesus got into the boat the wind calmed down, verse 51. This is the same with us when we ask for help, and with Jesus besides us things do become calm, ie when we are in the “sanctuary”. Just like the people in Moses’ time, we still need to do our best to obey and above all to respect. February

February 11th

In Exodus 21 we have a list of various laws that should have applied to God’s people up until the time of Jesus, but also sets the scene for Christian life too. The laws applied to everything from how to treat Hebrew slaves to coping with dangerous bulls; it included how people should treat each other and not fight. Without exception the laws are for the good of the people themselves and when followed, demonstrated a love for God and for each other. This is why Jesus said that the most important laws were to love the Lord God AND your neighbour as yourself when he was asked to give a summary in Mt22 verse 37-40. The law about the Hebrew servant, for example, is all based on love anyway. God’s people had to employ or have as servants those of their fellows who, for whatever reason, fell on hard times so that those who were desperate could have a home and an income and not be abandoned. The very fact that the person who was a slave could decide to permanently join the household, verse 5-6, means that the relationship between the “master” and the “slave” should be a good loving one based on “loving the Lord your God”. The law about the female slave is the same loving relationship because the option was there for the woman to be the wife of the “master’s” son, verse 9. When we consider the bull in verse 28-32 we see that the owner has to protect others from the bull. So these laws are all about love for God and love for each other. A lesson that was very much a reality in Uganda in 2023 when a bull fell down an unprotected pit that was being dug for a pit latrine at one of our ecclesias there. The owner of the pit is responsible because they should have put a well maintained fence up around the pit to stop animals getting near it in the first place, verse 33-34. So all of these laws are to protect others, but for those responsible to also understand that the consequences of not loving others, whether humans, animals or God were very serious, even resulting back then in them losing their own lives, eg verse 16 – this is how serious this lack of love was taken. Jesus, in Mark 7 actually refers back to some of these laws, verse 9-13: “And he said to them: “You have a fine way of setting aside the commands of God in order to observe your own traditions! For Moses said “Honour your father and mother”, and “Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.” But you say that if a man says to his father or mother: “Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is Corban” (that is, a gift devoted to God), then you no longer let him do anything for his father or mother. Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like that.” Acting as the Pharisees did is clearly not love! In Exodus 21 we read in verse 15 and 17 that no one should “curse” his parents or “attack” them. In Mark 7 Jesus shows the Jews (Hebrews) that they had changed this loving law to a human “tradition” and by presenting a “gift” (corban) to God they were then free from “loving” their parents! This is a terrible thing because they were changing God’s laws, which were all designed to demonstrate respect and love, into a human “tradition” that only advantaged the individual themselves. They were only interested in themselves and their own wealth and standing in the community! Jesus completely condemned the Pharisees and others who thought and acted like this as “hypocrites”, ie play actors, verse 6-7, and although we are no longer under the same laws in Exodus we can still learn the lessons from them and, as Jesus said “Love God and your neighbour as yourself”, the examples in Exodus 21 are a great starting point to see what this love actually means. The Pharisees had been criticising Jesus’ disciples for not “ceremonially” washing their hands before eating, verse 1-2, saying that they were “unclean”, ie “unclean” before God, according to their “tradition”, verse 3-4. However, Jesus demonstrated to them exactly what makes a person “unclean” before God, ie what comes out of them, their words, their inappropriate actions, their inactions, verse 20-23. These are the things that make anyone “unclean” before God and these teachings of Jesus actually do cover the laws in the Exodus reading very well, ie if we do not do any of these bad things then we would naturally love our neighbour and God and then we would not commit any of those things that the law was designed to prevent! Our hope is clearly wrapped up in Jesus because the various laws remind us that we cannot achieve salvation by observing them because we simply cannot obey them all, temptation and sin just stops us! We obviously know that our lives are complete in Jesus, ie we will be in the kingdom if we remain faithful, but our determination to learn and to be more like him should be like that of the Syro-Phoenician woman (a Gentile) in verse 24-30. Her daughter was ill, she knew that Jesus was preaching to his own people, ie the Jews, but she also knew that she could benefit too, and Jesus commended her for her faith, verse 29-30. Only faith in Jesus can save us, and we are promised this. Therefore our words, actions and thoughts should demonstrate our faith and love! Psalm 74 is another of those psalms that is basically divided into two, verse 1-11 is a sadness that God’s land, Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed by the Jews’ enemies – we know that this was because of their own unfaithfulness and their disobedience to God’s law, ie they did not love God or their neighbours. The second part is verse 12-17 is a recognition of God’s power and love and how he saved Israel from Egypt and protected them from the proud Pharaoh and his army (depicted here as the “monster” and the “leviathan” = pride) and destroyed them in the sea. He provided food in the wilderness and gave them water to drink, he sets the summer and winter etc, so this is the God who we should respect and obey! This is the God who will “remember”, verse 2, 18 and 22, and he will rise up and save those who “love their Lord God and their neighbours as themselves”. Jesus demonstrated his love in laying down his life for his friends and we are his friends if we do what he says – or at least try our best to! Maintaining faith and hope, realising that we are useless on our own is the starting point. Unlike pharaoh who went proudly after the Israelites! In humility we consider Jesus and his love for us, we consider God’s love for us and remind ourselves in bread and wine that: 1John 1 verse 5-10. Only in Jesus is there hope! This hope brings responsibilities too, ie to love, demonstrated by those examples in Exodus. February

February 12th

It seems that the whole point of the protection of property and the social responsibility laws in Exodus 22 was to make any attempt to gain anything by deception unprofitable. It is clear that if anything was stolen they had to pay back more than the original cost of the property, eg verse 1 and 4. If an animal is allowed to graze on another’s land and destroyed crops, the owner has to pay more, verse 5, it is the same if a fire is left out of control, verse 6. These laws were designed to encourage all of God’s people to love and respect both God and their neighbour and to dissuade God’s children from even considering that crime pays. These laws go beyond what many societies today do in that what is stolen or destroyed has to be paid back double or even five times! This is how seriously God views it when his people steal anything – it has to be repaid! God even judges those of his children who misuse things that are merely lent to them, eg verse 7-15, so all property has to be respected, as has our love for God and for each other. As Christians, ie people of God, we should be learning from these lessons and remembering that stealing and cheating is clearly wrong, there is no justification for these wrong actions. Even relationships with each other are clearly laid out, eg verse 16-20.  Verse 21 is interesting, “do not ill treat an alien”, within God’s family – it is not acceptable to mistreat anyone if they are not of the same tribe or nationality as we are! Those who accept Jesus are all God’s children and our nationalities should not count in the way that we deal with each other, this verse clearly says that discrimination is wrong. We should not be taking advantage of orphans or widows, verse 22-24, God’s laws teach us to be respectful of all who we come across! It is always very sad when brothers and sisters mistreat anyone, let alone discriminate against them or steal from them! Verse 28 is more likely referring to the elders or judges rather than God as the word used here for “God” is the same as in verse 9 and in Psalm 82 verse 1, and the context here is judging as God would judge. It is clear from elsewhere in the bible that we should not blaspheme against God, but neither should we blaspheme against his servants – these are our elders in the church. And the reason for all this? It is because we are “holy people”, verse 31, as Christians we should take lessons from this and act upon it in our lives and try to live as God wants us to. Although we have to try to make “judgements” as God would, ultimately God is the judge, Psalm 75 verse 2, 7 and Psalm 76 verse 9. This knowledge should make us realise and respect that God is always aware of our actions and our thoughts. Clearly the proud and the arrogant are condemned, Psalm 75 verse 4-5, and the arrogant and proud are those who generally have no respect for God and for their fellow man and woman. The humble are those who respect and love God and each other, verse 1 and Psalm 76 verse 11-12, it is because God is so great and yet so loving that we should be humble, verse 1-3. In Mark 8 from verse 31 Jesus makes it clear to his disciples that he will be killed, but after 3 days he will be raised to life again. It is because of our human sinfulness and the way to forgiveness that Jesus had to die, and in this God demonstrated his great love for us by allowing this to happen to his son. So even if we do let God down and mistreat others we can still have forgiveness if we repent, and repay back what we have done wrong. Jesus was clear that, as Christians, our lives should be different from those around us.  We have to have a different perspective on life, and this may include hardship, verse 35. Being a Christian does not mean that we will have a “wealthy” life now, what it does mean is that if we reject the “wealth” of this life then we will have proper “life” when Jesus comes back. This is what Jesus wants for us and it explains why he rebuked Peter so strongly when Peter “opposed” him in verse 32-33 – Peter was looking at the problem from a human point of view, he should have been looking at it from a godly point of view – just as we should when we consider our relationships with others. Just like his father Jesus had compassion on God’s children, eg verse 2 and 22-26, he is willing to “heal” us spiritually if we ask him and repent. When Jesus comes back he will be wanting to see a little bit of himself reflected in us, verse 38. We must not be ashamed to stand up and be like Jesus in the ways that we act and by doing this Jesus will not be “ashamed” of us when he returns. February

February 13th

Exodus 23 continues with the various laws that Moses was given from God to give to God’s people; we can continue to learn from these. The first few verses, ie 1-9 involve relationships with others, even your enemy! It starts with “Do not spread false reports” and ends with “Do not oppress an alien, ie a foreigner”. It is so sad when we see brothers and sisters spreading false reports and also speaking badly about those who are not of the same nationality, clearly God condemns these actions. This chapter is about justice and mercy, then about worship and giving the best to God, eg verse 19, then, and this seems to be a significant order, God’s angels will guide us, verse 20. So if we get our relationship with other people right, and we get our relationship with God right, God’s angels will guide us.  Again these laws are summed up in “love the Lord your God with all your heart and love your neighbour as yourself”, this is the theme of the bible! We recognise though that all of us have to change to be more like Jesus and because Jesus was like his father, God, we will also be like God! Thinking who Jesus is should focus our minds on who we should be! In Mark 8 verse 27 Jesus asked the disciples “Who do the people say I am?”, the disciples gave some suggestions, verse 28, then Jesus asks them “But what about you?” he asked “Who do you think I am?”, verse 29. Now this is the same question that Jesus asks us daily, ie “Who do you think I am?”. Now all of us have read the gospel of Mark and we have learnt from Mark who Jesus is, ie Mark 1 verse 1 – Jesus Christ is “the son of God”. There is a remarkable and profound progression in Mark to get us to really understand who Jesus is, which in tern gets us to think about who we are. So by reading Mark we know who Jesus us, the disciples knew who Jesus was, but the characters that are introduced to us in Mark needed to learn who Jesus was as the events unfolded around them. In Mark there are 2 incidents where a voice is heard by Jesus and those around him, the first is in Mark 1 verse 11, “You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.” This was confirmation for Jesus that he was indeed God’s son. During Jesus’ ministry in comparison with the rest of the people at the time , the disciples were well informed about Jesus and they were effectively initiated into the fact that Jesus was the son of God. This was confirmed by Jesus in Mark 4 verse 11, ie “The secret of the Kingdom of God has been given to you.”, meaning that those of Jesus’ close companions knew who Jesus was. But although they witnessed all these things, they remained uncertain and they often did not understand and we see the climax of this uncertainty in Mark 8 verse 17 and 21. And it is these embarrassed disciples that Jesus is asking “who do you think I am?” (verse 29) and it is Peter who decides to speak by saying “You are the Christ.” Ie the Messiah, verse 30. And yes Jesus is the Messiah, but Peter’s answer is in the context of what was taking place at the time, ie the Jews were ruled by the Romans and this is exactly what everyone, including the disciples, wanted, ie a “deliver, a king, a ruler” which is what “Messiah” means. Jesus actually tells them not to tell anyone about this, verse 30, but then he immediately talks about his death. In yesterday’s thought we suggested that Peter rebelled against Jesus, verse 32, it implies that Peter thought that Jesus’ answer about his death did not fit with his expectations, so his answer about Jesus being the Messiah was misguided. Jesus’ reply to Peter appears quite a crushing rebuke, verse 33, Jesus was saying that there are only 2 ways to think: 1) human inclination, ie to save own personal life, to think of personal, selfish aspects; and 2) divine inclination, ie thinking of others and seeking the good of others before yourself. Therefore, as we concluded yesterday, Peter was rebuked for thinking about the things of men, ie the human inclination, effectively he was against God and against Jesus, his master. The laws in Exodus were given by God to encourage the people to think of others, ie the divine inclination. So what follows in today’s chapter, Mark 9, is the Transfiguration and this was an occasion that was designed to help the disciples to understand who Jesus was, Jesus already knew who he was, it was Peter and the others (and us) who have to move from a human inclination to a divine inclination. This is where we get the second voice from heaven, ie “This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him!”, verse 7, this is clearly addressed to the disciples who were there, and this “listen to him” clearly includes what Jesus had previously said earlier about his death, everything that Jesus said was true. Because of this revelation you could think that the disciples would now be able to amend their thinking, but they found it difficult to change their human inclination and this is graphically demonstrated to us in verse 33-37, when they were arguing who was the greatest! We will continue this in tomorrow’s thought, but we have to try to change to a divine inclination. Psalm 77 helps us in a crisis and we will have a thought from this tomorrow, God willing. February

February 14th

In Exodus 24 and 25 we read about the “covenant” being confirmed, this is when God’s people agreed to do everything that God had said, chapter 24 verse 3 and 4. Moses had read the “Book of the Covenant”, which is Exodus 20 to 23, and their agreement to keep it was confirmed by the sprinkling of the blood, verse 8, that followed the sacrifices. This covenant is a commitment by both parties, ie God and the people, to abide by the agreement. It is the same as our baptism when we promised that we would follow Jesus and God, and we can be sure that if we do, then God will keep his promise of the kingdom. Chapter 25 is the start of the instructions that God gave to Moses for the equipment that was to be in the tabernacle for the all important worship of God, there is a lot of detail here that gives us some idea of how important we should consider our worship and preparation. We can learn these lessons, especially from the Jews’ failures, that are summarised for us in Psalm 78, this being a history of their early existence as a nation. One of the reasons for the worship ceremonies was that the people would remember, verse 1-6, they were to teach the people so that they would trust in God and not forget, verse 7-8. However, the people constantly rebelled, eg verse 10, 17, 32, 37 and 41, they broke the “covenant” that they had agreed at the time of Moses, despite all that God had done for them. God had rescued them from Egypt and given them water and food in the desert, he guided them, verse 53, yet they rebelled against him, verse 56. There were consequences for their rebellion and God punished them for their breaking of the covenant, verse 57-64. All these reminders are God given so that all of us who profess to follow him will remain faithful so that God can give us what he has promised. The previous Psalm 77 again helps us to remember; this psalm is a reflection of one of the periods in the Jews’ history where they were in crisis because of their disobedience to God, some suggest that this was around the time of Hezekiah following the period of his ungodly father, Ahaz. Whenever it was does not really matter, what matters was that the writer of this psalm was in a crisis point. His response is given in the psalm, but how do we respond in a crisis? We should know how to respond, because all of us suffer multiple crises in our lives! Psalm 73 starts a series of psalms that reflect on these individual and national crisis periods and we have already looked at some of these over the past few days. Psalm 77 helps us too in guiding us through crisis periods, it gives us pictures of sleepless nights and confusion, or disorientation. The person who wrote the psalm is basically saying that things were not right, nothing seemed to fit his understanding of what God had said, and then the psalm shows that the writer is reorientated at the end, ie he now knows where he is going. Sometimes we feel that things are not right and we do not understand why certain things are happening, but by reading this and other psalms we can get back on track and understand what is happening. What is obvious from this psalm is that the language used is very direct and the writer’s concerns are shared with God, therefore we too can openly share our real concerns with God in prayer, eg verse 7-9. We know that God is loving, but sometimes this is not obvious when we are eg suffering, and our concern for ourselves and families result in sleepless nights as we worry, verse 4, we get no comfort, verse 2, and we end up having really negative feelings – we all think like this from time to time. When crisis situations arise we wonder how can these ever be resolved, we sometimes wonder why Jesus has not returned yet, we look at events in the world now and we think that he should come back, maybe this is the time, but maybe it is not. Jesus will return in God’s own time, but how should we respond to this apparent delay? Verse 10-12, we have to look back and remember all of God’s “mighty acts” and how his “right hand” saved. The bible uses the phrase of God’s “right hand” to convey protection and care, eg Ps110 verse 1; this is where Jesus is now and confirms that God gave Jesus for our protection; Ps16 verse 8, again a psalm closely linked to Jesus which is about protection; Ps118 verse 15-16 talks about the protection of the “right hand” of the Lord.  We need to think of God holding our hand, as we hold our children’s hands. These are the things that we need to think about when we are in times of crisis and trouble, Psalm 77 verse 11, ie “remember” – in times of doubt we need to think of God’s deliverance in the past, thinking of his love and care. Because there is no other “god” who can help, verse 13, we need to remember that our salvation is here, in God, verse 14-19. God has helped in the past, therefore we can be sure that he will help in the future. The last few verses of Psalm 78 remind us of the deliverance of God’s people whilst David was king, verse 65-72 and we know from elsewhere in the bible that Jesus is the “son of David” and that Jesus has brought and will bring salvation. So even when we are confused and in a crisis we must remember that God has rescued us in the past and he has promised us a future. It appears that the disciples did not really understand who Jesus was, demonstrated by their human inclination. We saw in Mark 9 that their argument about who was the greatest was evidence of this. Their faith was lacking too, Mark 10 verse 32, and even the request in verse 37-40 further demonstrated this. Their request was not really so far away from what will happen anyway as there will be 12 disciples sitting with Jesus judging in the kingdom, but it is ironic that there were 2 criminals put either side of Jesus when he was crucified! The response of the others was motivated by their human inclination too, verse 41, they were all still motivated by personal advantage, ie human inclination, and even at the end of Jesus’ life Peter’s human inclination, his human instinct, took over when he denied Jesus 3 times leaving Jesus all on his own to face his enemies, Mark 14 verse 66. The climax of Mark’s gospel is equally remarkable because it is a voice again that confirms that Jesus is the son of God, but this time it is not a voice from heaven, it is not the disciples, but it is a human voice, Mark 15 verse 39, “Surely this man was the son of God!”. The original structure of this verse, and that of Mark 1 verse 11, suggests that Mark, via inspiration of God, wanted us to see a connection between what God said and what the centurion said, prompted by “how Jesus died”! It was very clear to the centurion from what he saw in the way that Jesus died that Jesus died thinking of others, he was of divine inclination, which is what we should be like too. The centurion was not convinced by the splitting of the veil in the temple, he was not there, he was with Jesus when he died, this convinced him, but the veil was apparently a depiction of heaven with stars and sun and moon on it, so this represented the actual heaven that separates man from God. And by Jesus dying this separation is removed, so it is in looking at Jesus, ie looking at the manner of his death, that we recognise Jesus. Jesus died for the good of others, all of his suffering was for others, ie a divine inclination. This should be our image of the “son of God” as opposed to the image of a “messiah” (deliverer). So we are reminded in Mark 8 that Jesus was speaking about his own death and Jesus alludes to a second question from all of his followers, because his last words in that chapter talks about “denying” ourselves, ie changing from our human inclination into a divine inclination, verse 34-35. So Jesus is actually challenging us today, ie “Who am I”, we have to ask ourselves this question and see if we are of human inclination, like Peter was then, or of divine inclination as Jesus was and this was seen by the centurion. “This is my son, whom I love. Listen to him!”. In Mark 10, in response to the others criticising James and John, Jesus called them together to remind them yet again that he had come to “serve” and that he came “to give his life for the ransom of many”. This is why we should always remember, remember our “covenant”, remember God’s past care and remember that Jesus will return to give us a permanent “divine inclination”. February

February 15th

The tabernacle described in Exodus was the one place on earth where God was prepared to live.  God did not chose to live in a palace.  He chose to live in a tent.  He did not choose to live in isolation.  He chose to live with His people.  In fact, He chose to live in the middle of them and surrounded by them.  These features describe God’s purpose with the earth.  God wants to live among His people and be near them.  This purpose is restated throughout the Bible and the Bible ends with God’s purpose achieved and with God living among men.  This plan is seen in the Tabernacle.  The Tabernacle itself had to be made carefully, “Set up the tabernacle according to the plan shown you in the mountain” (Exodus 26:30).  The tabernacle coverings and structure described in Exodus 26 have special meaning.  The coverings are colourful. The inner layer of blue, purple and scarlet thread on white linen.  The goats hair layer was probably black.  The rams skin was dyed red.  The outer layer may have been yellow.  The place of God’s presence was to be surrounded by colours, very like a rainbow.  In fact, the visions of God in Ezekiel 1:28 and Revelation 4:3 show God surrounded by a rainbow.  The rainbow reminds us of God’s covenant of peace after the flood in Noah’s day. The rainbow promise is near the presence of God throughout Scripture. This means that the place where God lives is also the place where His people can find peace.  This is good news for us.  Psalm 79 is a surprising follow-up to the tabernacle.  The tabernacle was converted into a permanent structure at the time of Solomon.  This seems like a positive step.  But Psalm 79 describes the destruction of the temple and the death of the people!  It was a prophecy of a future time when this would happen.  The Psalm does tell us why it happened – because of the sins of the people (verse 8).  God cannot live with people who have little regard for keeping His commands and being good neighbours.  Psalm 79 requests God to return the punishment on those who destroyed them ‘seven times’ (verse 12).  This ‘seven times’ punishment was what Israel was to experience for sin as described throughout Leviticus 26. The book of Revelation gives us the same pattern of punishments ‘seven times’.  Psalm 80 describes Israel as a vine in a vineyard.  Many other places do the same (eg Isaiah 5 and three parables of Jesus in Matthew 20 and 21).  The vine Israel was great and productive. But, like the temple of Psalm 79, it was destroyed.  The Psalm is an appeal for God to save Israel.  We have further information. This is to happen through the ‘son of man’ (verse 17).  Now this title is used of Jesus.  The vine Israel was to be saved by Jesus.  In Mark 11, Jesus comes to the people Israel.  He was welcomed as a king.  But he did not find things has they should be.  He found the temple had been turned into a market place.   Jesus calls it ‘a den of robbers’.  This is a phrase only found in Jeremiah 7:11 which describes Israel in their worst condition.  Jeremiah goes on to say in the next verse (Jeremiah 7:12) that the temple will be destroyed in the way that the tabernacle at Shiloh was destroyed. In other words, we have the Psalm 79 scenario all over again.  The passage in Mark 11 describes the corrupt Israel in 2 ways. Firstly, Israel was like a fig tree that did not produce fruit. If a fruit tree does not produce fruit, then there is no point to it.  It was only fit to be removed.  When Jesus cursed the fig tree, it was enacted parable of how the fruitless Israel was to be removed.  The second image was a mountain.  Jerusalem was built on the mountain of the Lord and it senses likely that the mountain represented the city of Jerusalem.  The city was only fit to be removed into the sea.  The removal of the mountain would fit with an evil city being removed.  Both images point to the removal of Israel which would happen after the resurrection of Jesus.  We started by saying that God wants to live with His people.  He does. But there have been times where His people have become such wicked neighbours that He had to move His house back to heaven. This happened at the time of Jeremiah, which was predicted by the words of Psalm 79. It also occurred after the time of Jesus.  But God’s plan still exists. He has sent ‘son of man’ to help people get ready.  His people have to turn from wicked ways and produce fruit if they want to live with God.   We have to learn from the mistakes of Israel, so that we do not make the same mistakes. Jesus said that the future place of God will come again to this earth, “Therefore I tell you that the kingdom of God will be taken away from you and given to a people who will produce fruit”.  (Matthew 21:43).  Let us produce spiritual fruits, so that when Jesus comes he can find welcome us to live with him in God’s kingdom. February

February 16th

Exodus 27: The tabernacle was to provide a place where God lived among His people. After going through the entrance, the first thing you would face is the altar of burnt offering. God gives instructions regarding the altar; it was very specific. It’s a good idea to measure it out to see what it would have looked like. It was 7.5 ft square and 4.5 ft high. It was to be made of acacia wood which was available in the wilderness… and the wood was to be covered with bronze. It was made to be carried by poles of the same materials. Given its size it would have needed more than 4 men to carry. Moses and the people followed God’s instructions being faithful to the covenant promise “All the words which the Lord has said we will do” There is great comfort and peace to experience when we collectively do God’s will and are one with Him. And essentially that’s what the tabernacle was about – how sinful man could become one with God, how to approach Him with the right heart and mind. Of course, the tabernacle was a God given picture of the means of forgiveness to be found when fulfilled by Jesus. “Christ came as High Priest of the good things to come with the greater and more perfect tabernacle, not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood he entered the most holy place once for all, having obtained eternal redemption.” Heb 9:11-12. Surely, if our minds are conscious of this, we should have the right spirit to approach the throne of grace.  In simplicity, Jesus is the sacrifice from God to mankind for mankind, the righteous for the un-righteous. It’s all been done – God’s will is clear, he wants (so much) to save us… do we want to be saved? And if so, is it for the right reasons?  namely to be one with God.  The courtyard (v9-19) of the tabernacle stopped the people and animals from intruding into the dwelling place of the Lord. The Lord is also specific regarding the courtyard – its dimensions, its position (north/south etc), the materials, the colours, the supports, everything. These details can be seen to represent principles of worship, forgiveness and salvation, that’s one of the reasons why the details are so specific. God is teaching us His ways, His salvation, His plan, which all represent His plan in Jesus who said “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me” John 14:6.  Psalm 82:  gods.  This is a psalm which Jesus referred to, to “teach” the rulers of his day. In this psalm we have the word “gods” which at first seems strange as we know there is only one God. The Hebrew word is Elohim which means “mighty ones”. The word can be referring to angels, or men, or the Messiah when they have been chosen by God to represent the Lord and to do His will. The context is how we interpret who the “mighty ones” are. In Psalm 82 we see that the “gods” who were criticized were judging unjustly and supporting the wicked – they should have defended the poor and fatherless etc.  So we see that these “gods” were rulers or judges of the nation of Israel. These judges throughout Israel’s history were warned many times. “Take heed to what you are doing, for you do not judge for man, but for the Lord, who is with you in the judgement” 2Chron 19:6. So the judges (mighty ones) should have judged as God would have judged.  This was a problem in Jesus’ time, and Jesus revealed it in John 10:34. He was being criticised by the “judges”, who accused him of blasphemy and accused him of declaring that he was God. Both accusations were wrong, either because of misunderstanding or hatred – or both! What does Jesus want us to understand? Jesus is the son of God (John 10:36) and does the works of God, and that we should know and understand “the Father is in me and I in Him” Jesus represents God, he speaks for Him, he judges for Him…he did what the judges should have done. Instead, despite knowing God’s will and being in a position of authority, they chose to do their own will; they were no longer representing God to His people. Little did they know that Jesus was their judge both then and in the future!  We, as Christians, are called to show the Lord to the world, to behave as the Lord, to think like the Lord.  “We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God were pleading through us: we implore you on Christ’s behalf, be reconciled to God” 2Cor 5:20. An ambassador is someone who has been chosen to represent their boss. That is a useful reminder at the beginning of each day – we have the opportunity to represent the Lord in all we come into contact with, be that family, friends, brothers and sisters or our neighbours (everyone). Let’s prayerfully do it.  Mark 12 – Jesus’ teaching concerning resurrection.  In verses 18-27 we see the Sadducees mocking Jesus’ teaching. The Sadducees were an elite group of religious leaders who denied the existence of angels, the resurrection and only valued the first 5 books of the Old Testament. The Sadducees in this chapter mocked Jesus for his teaching on resurrection, and even basically said it was obviously a silly idea! Jesus answers “You do not know the scriptures”. Note the importance of knowing the scriptures so that we might understand and believe the right things, to be guided in the right way with the right mindset; that of Christ.  Jesus uses a verse out of the scriptures that they would claim to know and respect – Exodus 3:6 where Moses was at the burning bush and the Lord spoke to him (through an angel).  “I am the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob”. Jesus adds “He is not the God of the dead, but the God of the living. You are therefore greatly mistaken”.  At the time of Moses, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob had died. Moses himself knew that they were promised the land of Canaan and that promise would happen at a future time, so Moses believed in a future resurrection of the dead. So how can the Lord God be the God of the living when at that time Abraham etc were dead?  There is a little verse that reveals a wonderful consistent Bible truth: “God, who gives life to the dead and calls those which do not exist (either they hadn’t been born yet or like Abraham etc had died) as though they did” Rom 4:17.  So in Moses’ time and our time – Abraham etc are dead, but in God’s time – God is a God of the living because in His eyes he can see that they will be raised. He knows they would be judged faithful and given the promises. God can see the future resurrection when Jesus returns, in fact God even knew them before they were born! Such is the knowledge of God.  If we think that Jesus meant they had already been resurrected then that means that “He (Jesus) is the firstborn of the dead” Col 1:18 is wrong!!  So clearly, this is not what Jesus meant.  There are many other verses which confirm that Abraham etc and other people will be resurrected WHEN Jesus returns: 1Cor 15, Heb 11, John 5 to name a few!  If we think that God is a God of the living because our spirit goes to heaven and so we will be alive with God…you are mistaken. That thinking comes from Ecc12:7 “Then the dust will return to the earth as it was, and the spirit will return to God who gave it” – the true understanding of this verse is that it is God’s spirit (not our own) which returns to God, it will return to God who gave it as in Gen 2:7.  God has seen the future resurrection. Jesus believed in his future resurrection and the resurrection of others, Moses and others understood there would be a future time when this would happen – God had promised. We believe in the resurrection for the same reasons, and Jesus encourages us to be ready for his return, when it will happen as promised. February

February 17th

Exodus 28 is the record of God giving Moses the details for making the clothes for the priests; each of these items was very detailed and specific and without exception the items were made by a “skilled” person, eg verse 3, 6 and 15. This fact, and the detail all confirm just how much preparation was required by God for his people’s worship of him so that they would “remember”, verse 12 and 43. Aaron, the priest, had to have garments that were appropriate for the priestly role, each part having a significance. There was a certain reverence in the worship too, for example Aaron’s sons had to wear specific undergarments, verse 42, and certain types of clothes to give them dignity, verse 39-41. Although we are no longer required to follow these exact requirements because Jesus is our priest and we are not a nation yet, we must still learn from the examples and requirements of God, because he is still the same. We all have to take our worship of God seriously and prepare as best as we can, our preparation must not be half hearted, it has to be to the best of our ability, because that demonstrates our respect of both God and of Jesus. The description of the breastplate that had 12 stones, representing the 12 sons of Jacob (Israel), ie the 12 tribes of the nation of Israel, were close to the priest’s heart. So important was this symbol that it was not allowed to swing out, so it had to be tied, verse 28, each time Aaron entered the holy place of the Tabernacle he would therefore bear the names close to his heart, verse 29. The stones that were used for decision making, ie Urim and Thummim, were also close to his heart, verse 30. The picture that we have here is that everything was done seriously and in reverence of God. Even the plate on the turban had a specific purpose and a reminder, verse 36-38, the plate had “Holy to the Lord” engraved on it, this is so that the people could see it and remember, and Aaron would know that he was “holy to the Lord” as he represented the people. We see this phrase in Zechariah 14 verse 20 where it refers to the time of Jesus when he returns to set up God’s kingdom – everything in Jerusalem will remind us that all is “holy to the Lord”. We have to be serious about our worship if we want to be there. Psalm 83 and 84 should be our prayers too, as should all psalms. Maybe Psalm 83 was written by Hezekiah when Jerusalem was being attacked, it certainly fits with the words he used, but it can fit at any time for any follower of God who is suffering. Verse 1-4 can be appropriate in any situation, sometimes we do feel that everyone and everything is against us, verse 5-8. But we remember what God has done previously, verse 9-12, and we can have confidence that God can, if it is his will, give immediate help, verse 13-18. It is this respect of God that is so important, because he is the one who can do everything. And when we consider that God wanted to live with his people and he wants to live with us, we can also appreciate how “lovely” it is, Psalm 84 verse 1. Notice how the person who wrote this psalm “yearns” to be in God’s dwelling place, verse 2, this is how we should be preparing too and really want to be with our brothers and sisters as we worship God and Jesus and wait for Jesus’ return. “Blessed are those dwell in your house”, verse 4, “they are ever praising you”, the climax will be in the kingdom, but we need to be doing this now with our brothers and sisters and praising with them. God will hear our prayers if we have the right attitude towards him and each other, verse 8, if our trust is in him and not in human things, eg money, then we will be blessed, verse 9-12. Notice that we should want to be in God’s house and not be in the “tents of the wicked”. Mark 13 is Jesus’ teaching on the signs of the end of the age, ie for us the time when Jesus comes back, but he was also warning his disciples about AD70 when the Romans destroyed Jerusalem. The most important lesson for all of us, is that no one knows the time when anything happens, we will not know the time when Jesus comes back, verse 32-37. No matter how well we think that we can predict, we will not know, this is what Jesus says! The message is to “watch!” or “stay awake!”, we have to keep on preparing and putting the lessons that we learn into practice. God’s people were close to the priest’s heart, we are close to Jesus’ heart, therefore we have to respond and respect and prepare. There are a few phrases in Jesus’ teaching about the end of the age that warn us and help us. Verse 5-8, warns us that when these things happen it is the “beginning” – we could be there now, so we should be more urgent in how we prepare; verse 10 says that the “gospel must be preached to all nations” – so this should be our priority, ie setting a good example and teaching others; verse 13 teaches us to “stay firm” because in the end we will be “saved”; verse 20 gives us hope that inevitable suffering will be “shortened”; and verse 27 increases that confidence because his angels will “gather his elect”. We are in a privileged position because we have been baptised, but with that comes responsibilities to prepare. The Tabernacle that God was giving instructions to Moses to make was intricate in detail, when Solomon built the Temple that too was intricate in detail, the rebuilding under Ezra and Nehemiah and then Herod provided a central point for worship; however Jesus said that that magnificent temple would be destroyed again, verse 1-4. It would be as a sign that what was prophesised would come true, we know that Jesus’ return will happen, we do not know when, so we need to be prepared! February

February 18th

We read of the detailed process that was to be carried out to consecrate the priests in Exodus 29, although we do not have to do this because our priest is Jesus, we can still take lessons from it in our preparation. We can also get some idea of how much effort Jesus put in to follow his father’s requirements as he prepared to be our teacher, priest and king! The new testament reading of Mark 14 includes Jesus giving the instruction for what we call our breaking of bread service which had to be prepared, so this chapter in Exodus can help us to understand better what our attitude should be as we prepare for each Sunday service. Note in verse 1 of Exodus 29 that the bull and the lambs had to be “without defect”, they were the best, we should also want to give of our best to honour God and to remember Jesus. We are reminded in verse 6 of the “skilfully” made clothes for Aaron; although we are not asked to wear clothes like this, we can still get some idea of how we should prepare. This chapter contains a lot of instructions from God about blood being used to “clean”, eg verse 12, 16, 20 and 21, and it becomes clear to us that without the shedding of blood there can be no “cleanness”. Again this reminds us of Jesus and how we remember his life that he gave for our “cleaning” when we drink the red wine that symbolises his blood. All of God’s people were expected to be involved in the ongoing consecration of the priests, verse 28, and when you consider how many animals were needed to sacrifice – 2 each day, everyday – then we are given some idea of how much preparation was required, verse 38-41. All of these actions were required to remind God’s people what God had done for them, how he had brought them out of Egypt (death) to live with them, verse 45-46. We too have been saved from death by our baptism into Jesus and we constantly need reminders so that we can acknowledge what has been done for us. Yes, God is “compassionate and gracious… slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness.”, Psalm 86 verse 15, and we are all reliant on his mercy, but we can not presume upon this without commitment ourselves. All the Israelites had to make a contribution re the consecration of the priests, in this psalm there is an acknowledgement that we need teaching, verse 11, and we need to praise, verse 12, because God’s love is great towards us, verse 13. Our prayer is the same as the person who wrote this psalm, verse 1-6, ie we acknowledge that it is God who saves, shows mercy, gives joy, is forgiving and we humbly cry for mercy! We do this because we acknowledge that we cannot work for our salvation, we cannot have salvation by our own strength. Psalm 85 demonstrates an appreciation of God’s favour, restoration and forgiveness, verse 1-3, it includes acknowledgement of sin and repentance, verse 4-7, and it also reminds us that God’s love is conditional, verse 8-9, ie we have to respect God (fear him). Psalm 86 verse 5 also acknowledges this conditional aspect, love is given to those who “call on him”. Grace is an “undeserved favour”, but we cannot presume upon grace when we deliberately rebel against God. Preparation is important and Jesus asked his disciples to prepare the Passover in Mark 14 verse 12-16, notice that they knew what to do and it was they who asked Jesus where; this is being proactive, just like we should be. The breaking of bread service that we follow as Christians is in verse 22-25, in this we see Jesus’ body and his blood that was given for us for our salvation. So how can we not prepare properly for this each week? We know what is expected on a Sunday so we should always prepare to have bread and red wine so that we can remember in the way that Jesus asked us to remember. We do not have to follow the rules that God gave Moses to give the people, but we can learn the lessons and prepare just as carefully, ensuring that we give our best and are all committed to ensure that this simple reminder is properly done each week. The Passover was a fellowship meal for the family to enjoy together – we should all want to be with our “family” in Jesus so wherever we are we should do our best to meet together for the breaking of bread. Jesus knows that we are all weak, which is why he so willingly gave his life for us, he knew that Judas, despite his pretence, would betray him, verse 20; he knew too that Peter would deny him, despite his insistence that he would not, verse 30. The difference between Judas and Peter was that it appears that Judas did not repent, but Peter did, verse 72, he “remembered” and regretted his human failing. Thank God that we too can remember, acknowledge, repent and be forgiven of our failings too, but for this to happen we have to have the right attitude and really want to do what God wants us to do and to prepare. Jesus prepared all through his life and he sets the example for us; he acknowledged his father’s will, verse 35-36, he would have preferred not to have died in the way that he did, but he totally surrendered to his father’s will. Jesus did the right thing by praying for strength and guidance, verse 32-34, he asked his disciples to stay and “watch” with him – Peter had the opportunity to prepare and pray for strength to not deny Jesus as Jesus said he would, but they all fell asleep, verse 37-41. At this last hour, just when Jesus wanted help and support and to watch for the betrayer, they failed him, we do too, which is why we need grace and mercy, but we still need to prepare! February

February 19th

God knows that human beings keep forgetting things so he has deliberately given us reminders so that we remember the important things, ie the things of God. Why? So that we can have life and not death; this is so important to God that he has given us multiple reminders, both today’s and tomorrow’s readings continue with this important theme. Exodus 30 gives God’s instructions for the Altar of Incense, the collections, the basin for washing, the anointing oil and the incense itself, again this is specific to the tabernacle and, later, temple worship of the old testament, but we can still get all important lessons from these principles. The first principle is the all important reminder, these instructions from God were for the people at the time and for “generations to come”, verse 8, 10 and 21, each new generation were to be taught the details by the older generation. Teaching our own children and others has to be an important part of our godly worship! The second principle is that all of God’s people are equal in his sight, each person is of the same value in God’s eyes, verse 15. This was a type of tax (in addition to the money given for other things), but notice that this value of atonement money is exactly the same, whether the person was rich or poor. A person’s “wealth” is of no consequence to God with respect to value of life. The third principle here is that we need to completely respect those things that God values, both the anointing oil and the incense were to be made to specific recipes, eg verse 22-25 and 34-36, however, it was ONLY to be used for these purposes. Verse 33 and 38 are very specific that those who abuse them should be “cut off from his people” – this means that the worship of God has to be done in his way, at the place that he has said and the items used only for worship. The lesson for us is respect of the things of God, whether this is his teachings, his property, his people, etc. The phrase “Tent of Meeting” is used a number of times in this chapter, verse 16, 17, 26 and 36; it is another name for the tabernacle, but the phrase helps us to remember that their (and our) worship is a “place of meeting God”. Now all of our lives is an act or worship, as well as when we meet in our halls and places of worship, so all day and every day we should be respecting that we are in the “place of meeting God”! Psalm 87 is a psalm confirming that Jerusalem is God’s holy place, it is the place where God dwelt with his people when the “Tent of Meeting” became the temple and where the requirements of worship given to Moses were initially reintroduced. Sadly we know from the history that the people abused everything that God had given them and they were punished, however, God has promised that his glory will return to Jerusalem in the future after Jesus has returned. Psalm 88 is written by Heman, a wise man during Solomon’s time (1Kings4:31). He was acknowledging that it was God who saves, verse 1, however he was troubled with some kind of suffering, perhaps his old age, verse 3-5. He recognised that his condition was from God, verse 6-9, he also acknowledged that it was only when he was alive that he could praise God, verse 10-12, and this is an important lesson for us too, we only have our life now to demonstrate that we respect God. Heman recognises his mortality, verse 15-18, but through all this he maintains his respect of God. This is a sad psalm, but another wise man of his time, Ethan, lifts us to praise, but we will look at that tomorrow. Mark 15 is a particularly sad chapter because it tells us of the crucifixion of Jesus; even if Jesus felt like Heman in the psalm, he submitted his life to his father’s will, knowing that his father knew the big picture. What I find incredibly sad is that the chief priests, who should have known how to worship and respect God, got up “very early” to reach the decision to kill Jesus, verse 1. Not only did they and the people reject Jesus who gave life, they chose a person who took life instead of him, verse 7 and 15, so in this choice they chose death as opposed to life! What saddens me more is how the person who gives life was mocked by the soldiers, verse 16-20, the passers-by, verse 25-30, the chief priests, verse 31 and the others crucified with them, verse 32. Only the chief priests’ own selfish ambitions made them get it so wrong! However, it was in God’s plan and good came out of this sad event – that confession of the centurion who oversaw the murder of Jesus confirmed who Jesus was, verse 39, and the resurrection in Mark 16 had to follow because Jesus was sinless. The two Marys and Salome remembered and prepared, verse 1; they were also up early, verse 2; they had yet to decide what to do, verse 3, but unlike the chief priests they had respect for both Jesus and his father  and had faith that something would allow them to do something to anoint Jesus’ body. We need to demonstrate this kind of faith too as we try to follow both God’s and Jesus’ teaching, perhaps we do not know how to achieve the tasks, but let us have faith! What the women saw was not what they expected! Verse 4-8 – “He has risen!” All the sadness, all the pain, all the confusion comes down to the one simple fact that that our salvation is enabled by the death and resurrection of Jesus! It was hard for the disciples to believe this, even though Jesus had told them many times beforehand, verse 11 and 13, Jesus later rebuked them, verse 14, and later these men became 100% committed to the spread of the gospel. Teaching is important, it was what God’s people were told to teach the generations after them, now Jesus is telling his disciples to teach others, verse 15-18, and after Jesus was taken to heaven that is exactly what they did, verse 19-20. Because of their work in teaching, we now wait for Jesus to return, it is our turn now to teach others and to respond to those reminders that God has given us because he also wants us and others to accept salvation. February

February 20th

We have been called to be “holy” – sperate!, set apart, sanctified – 1Cor1:1-3… – it is understandable that Paul starts this letter by reminding those who read it that we are supposed to be separate – ie different from others – when we then look at what Paul has to say to the brothers and sisters at Corinth we are perhaps a bit shocked at some of the goings on! Paul should, however, have our attention because of how he starts and then especially when he then talks about the benefits of being in Jesus, verse 4-9… He will keep us strong; we will be blameless; we’ve been called into a fellowship. So how come we make so many personal mistakes and how come there are divisions in the church – then and now? How is it that brothers and sisters don’t always want to attend our church? How is it that we keep doing the same things wrong again and again? The concept of the sabbath was introduced to God’s people in Exodus 31. Verse 13 says that it is a “sign” that God makes them (us) “holy”… – it is a reminder of God’s power, verse 15…; it’s a time of rest, v15, its to be remembered, v16… and it is to be taken seriously verse 14… The sabbath was to be a day in the week where everything about it, including the people, were to be “holy to the Lord”. This separation was supposed to be a godly response of praise to God – the great and wonderful God who make the earth and yet, even though he is so great, he is also interested in us as individuals! What comes across in this is just how much God loved his people and now loves us! It would appear that as God was concluding these commands to Moses and the people and cementing this covenant with them, God already knew that the people were rebelling around the foot of the mountain – despite what Aaron said, the golden calf just didn’t pop out of the fire! (chapter 32:24) – they had to plan it, make the mould and cast the gold and shaped it into a calf . So as we know they had made the golden calf by the time Moses got back from the mountain! Yet God still continued in his love to prepare a separation for his people, verse 18…  He even made things easier for the preparation for the worship of him by giving people the skills to produce the worship materials, verses 1-11, particularly v 3 and 6… Through all of this God was making things straightforward for his people so that they could worship and also be separate. So it is so sad that God’s people had basically forsaken God because Moses was a long time, Exodus 32:1… this is a great example to show why it is necessary for all of God’s people to take responsibility for spiritual growth of the community, it is not just the role of the appointed “leader” (representative) to ensure this. We have to take the reminders that God gives us seriously because he knows that it is easy for us to slip back into old ways – and we all do it, no sin is greater than another, we all need reminders we all need grace! Irrespective of Aaron’s motives then re the calf, whether he was trying to keep the people together until Moses came back by giving them what they craved, or was as bad as those around him, God was not happy with the people’s behaviour, verse 9-10…, so much was his anger that he wanted to destroy them! Moses, in humility, pleaded with God and successfully made the case that God should not destroy them, verse 14…  it is so easy to immediately criticise the people, and perhaps Aaron too, but we do the same kind of things and “replace” God sometimes in the way that we act or speak or think! So a lesson for all of us is to be more forgiving and less judgemental because we are as sinful and as “human” as anyone else! Probably we would have acted no differently to Aaron if we have been in his position, but I do smile at his response in blaming others, verse 22-24… all this reminds me of Adam and Eve and me as well – and my deviation from holiness! Psalm 89 is a psalm with reference to Jesus, eg verse 26-29… – we can be sure of this because of reference in Hebrews 1 verse 5. It picks up on the promises to David, eg verse 35-37… so we are confident that this is our praise too. It is a psalm then of praise for those who are holy or separate, verse 1-2…, we sing of the Lord and declare his love because we are holy; even the heavens praise, verse 5-8 and 11… and this is exactly what God’s people were to remember on the sabbath, they were to praise God because of his power and might and also his faithfulness, despite their failings. And we can gain confidence from this by doing the same on our “sabbath”, ie Breaking of bread service, despite our failings too! Because God will do what he has promised, verse 34-37… so providing we do not forsake Jesus we can remain confident in God’s promises and in his holiness! So back to 1Corinthians and just like the children of God in Moses’ time, the members of the Corinthian church also forgot that they were holy, or did not realise the implications of being holy, the people made the calf and the Corinthian brothers and sisters followed their preferred teachers and as we read further on, they accepted bad practices. All of which God was willing to forgive if proper intercession was made and repentance demonstrated, but it was God first, in his love, who provided the methods for this because he knew that we would sin – and thank God that he did! So we really do thank God for Jesus and also for each other: chapter 1 verse 4-9… There are 2 phrases in this “thanksgiving” that really give me confidence, just as David had once it was pointed out to him that he was wrong and as a result he repented, these are “eagerly wait for our Lord Jesus Christ” and “will be blameless on the day of our Lord Jesus Christ”. These 2 phrases apply to us providing we do our best to remain holy, we are “eager” for Jesus’ return because in him we are “blameless”, obviously that does not mean that we can sin whenever we like now and not worry about it, but it means that we should be trying to be “holy”, different and separate in everything that we do. And we are different because we believe in the “message of the cross”, verse 18…, we believe that because of Jesus’ death and resurrection we have life, and because we have the example of Jesus to follow we “put to death” our human tendencies because we want to demonstrate our holiness. But everything centres around “Christ crucified”, verse 23…, Paul’s teaching to the Corinthian church was solely around this too, chapter 2 verse 2… and as we come to remember Jesus’ life, death and resurrection again, we can see the future promise too when we will be with Jesus when he returns because we are holy and we “have the mind of Christ” (verse 16). This is what we should be trying for with both God’s and Jesus’ help! 1Corinthians 1 verse 8… February

February 21st

Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness and rebellion against God, God said that he was unwilling to go with them to the Promised Land, Exodus 33 verse 3.  This is now a serious situation and it demonstrates the consequences of deliberately rebelling against God. In this case, when the people heard that this was going to happen, they were distressed, demonstrated regret and did something about it, verse 4, therefore they i), acknowledged their guilt and ii), repented. The ornaments that they removed appear to be the superstitious ornaments that they brought out of Egypt when they left and they were putting their trust in these rather than in God. God had clearly identified them as the source of their rebellion as he had told Moses to get the people to take them off, verse 4-6; a lesson for us here is that we should “remove” those things that tempt us and cause us to go against God! The “tent of meeting” referred to in verse 7-11 was the place where Moses met with God prior to the tabernacle being constructed, this probably explains why the same name was used to also refer to the tabernacle later on – the reference to the “tent of meeting” in Exodus 30 was probably because this was the preferred term and understood by the people. But the original “tent of Meeting” was pitched some distance away from the main camp, verse 7, maybe demonstrating that there needed to be some effort required by the people to enquire of God and that there was a “distance” between the people and God. This should make us remember now that we are so privileged to be able to go direct to God in prayer because we are now in Jesus.  This closeness demands more respect from us! Moses humbled himself before God and, on behalf of the people, acknowledged that they could not travel without God so God agreed that he would go with the people, verse 15-17, it is not that God “changed his mind”, it is that God wants us to acknowledge our weakness and to also acknowledge that we cannot and should not do anything without him. As God was providing a copy of the 10 Commandments, this time on stones that Moses had to chisel out, Exodus 34 verse 4, God showed his glory to Moses, verse 6-7. These are wonderful verses and show us God’s character and how much he does forgive, and we thank him that this is the case, but we also must not forget that there are consequences of sin and rebellion too. Moses acknowledged this yet again and sought forgiveness, verse 8-9, and then God reminds Moses and the people that they are under a covenant (a serious contract) with each other that requires the people to obey, verse 10-11. God will remove opposition, providing they obey, but also we get the reason why wickedness and temptation should be removed, verse 12.  It is God’s love for them that they should remove “snares”, ie things that will tempt them, this is also what we should do in our lives and remove things that tempt us away from God. Psalm 90 and 91 are psalms of Moses and in these psalms he acknowledges man’s sinfulness and that the end is death, Psalm 90, and then he acknowledges that there is life if the person remains with God, Psalm 91. Psalm 90 talks about man being temporary, verse 3-6; sinful, verse 7-10; that wisdom comes from God, verse 11-12 and that man has to repent of evil ways, verse 13-17. Psalm 91, on the other hand shows us the blessings of dwelling with God, verse 1-2; how salvation comes from God, verse 3-8; Jesus quoted from verse 9-13 during his temptation in the wilderness and it is our ultimate prayer too and verse 14-16 reminds us that we have to love God if it is salvation that we seek. There really is confidence in these psalms for those who really try their best to know God – the confidence is in the future kingdom that we have all been promised. 1 Corinthians 3 is a sad chapter because brothers and sisters were causing divisions in the church and this should never happen – Paul describes their wrong attitude as “worldly”, verse 1-3. As Christians we should be thinking of better things than this, we should be not “quarrelling”, but we should be united as we help each other to cope with the temptations in each other’s lives  – this is what God told his people in Exodus to do, to remove those things that tempt them and not make agreements with the nations around them, they and we, should be separate. Brothers and sisters in the Corinthian church were preferring some individuals over other individuals, verse 4, and Paul makes it clear that both he and Apollos were just servants, verse 5, they were simply doing what both God and Jesus had told them to do, verse 6-9. They were building “God’s building” and we should be doing the same, no one is greater than anyone else, we are all servants and we should all be trying our best to contribute to the building. Our only foundation should be Jesus, verse 10-11, it is Jesus who saves, it is Jesus who we have to try to be like, no human being is going to save us, so we should not be treating anyone better than another. Fortunately God knows what we are like and sometimes our foundations are not always on Jesus and there does appear to be hope for those who still love God and they are “tested through the fire”, verse 12-15. However, our priority should be building on Jesus and remembering that we are part of God’s house, ie the temple, verse 16-17; it is building together in unity that is the important part and a big lesson for us. We are deceiving ourselves if we put confidence in any human thing, whether this is money or work or home or education, the wisdom that we should try to gain is from God, verse 18-20. The “wisdom” in Exodus and in Psalms is to trust and obey God and the conclusion from Paul is very appropriate, “So then, no more boasting about men! All things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas (Peter) or the world or life or death or the present or the future – all are yours, and you are of Christ, and Christ is of God.”, verse 21-23. God is loving, but he is a jealous God, he wants to save us, but he needs us to obey him; we need to trust in him and in Jesus and not rely on what we can make out of life now for our own advantage, we are part of God’s temple and we are supposed to be separate – holy! February

February 22nd

The Tabernacle needed to be made of the right materials.  Exodus 35 tells us what was needed.  It is likely that most of this was what they took out of Egypt about 3 months before.  The Israelites had been able to ask the Egyptians for all sorts of material, which the Egyptians had given them (Exodus 12:35-36).  They did this because they feared the God of Israel and had seen all the plagues that God had brought on them. This means that it was God who made the Israelites rich with the Egyptian wealth.  Now God was asking for some of these materials back in order to build His Tabernacle.   He asked them to return some of it voluntarily. This was the challenge.  Would they keep the riches for themselves or would they give some back to God?   This is not just a lesson on history.  It is a lesson from history.  We face the same challenge today.  We have been given everything we have from God. Our chapter in the New Testament teaches us this, “What do you have that you did not receive?” (1 Corinthians 4:7).   The question is will we return any of it voluntarily for the work of the Lord?  We are told that Psalm 92 is ‘For the Sabbath Day’.  Our first reading from Exodus 35 told us that the Sabbath day was one day a week when Israel did not work and instead rested (Exodus 35:2). It was a day when Israel was not to light a fire (Exodus 35:3). In other words, it was a day when they were not allowed to cook. They needed to have cold prepared food from the day before.  So what did they do on the Sabbath? Psalm 92 tells us that they thought about the great works of God and His great teaching (verse 5).  These will bring them joy (verse 4) so that they are caused to make music and sing (verses 1-3).  Among the reasons for joy was the defeat of their enemies (verse 11) and God’s enemies (verse 9).  The righteous flourish because of God’s blessing.  We are given descriptions of these by the examples of the fruitful palm tree and the majestic cedar tree.  Even old people can do this.   When they are old they can still be fruitful.  The Sabbath day was a day that they could rest from the fears of enemies and rejoice in what God had done for them.  God does this for us too. We can remember His great work on the Lord’s day.  We can also rejoice in the defeat of our enemies, which Christ has achieved for us.  We can think about God’s great teaching and His work.  We can praise God for this.  Psalm 93 also praises God.  This time for God’s majesty and eternity (verse 1-2).  And also His strength (verse 4), His commands and His holiness (verses 5).  The book of 1 Corinthians deals with the worst things from the Greek world.  Although Athens was the capital, we have little information about this city in the New Testament.  But Corinth was close to Athens and we have much written about it.  It is in the first letter to Corinth that the Christian standards are contrasted with the worst of the Greek world.  The Greek world had its own wisdom and some of the worst of human behaviour.  Both of these needed to be counteracted.  One of the issues is how does one teach the right way when the city is so set on the wrong way? The answer to this is in chapter 4 is by setting a good example. If they can see what it means to be a Christian, then they are better able to be Christians themselves.  So Paul says, “Therefore I urge you to imitate me” (1 Corinthians 4:16).  Paul taught them to have the right behaviour, but then he also displayed the right behaviour. The two things are necessary in order to be a good teacher.  We read that Paul would send Timothy to them so that “He will remind you of my way of life in Christ Jesus, which agrees with what I teach everywhere in every church” (1 Corinthians 4:17).  An example of his way of life is given in verse 12 where, “When we are cursed, we bless; when we are persecuted, we endure it; when we are slandered, we answer kindly.” Here was Christianity in practice.  On the other hand, we have an example of the worst type of sexual immorality among believers in 1 Corinthians chapter 5.  Someone has had sex with his father’s wife (verse 1).  Paul makes it clear that this is not acceptable behaviour.  In fact, many similar behaviours are not acceptable.  They will exclude believers from being God’s people.  The examples given are sexual immorality, greed, idolatry, slander, drunkardness and swindling (verses 10 and 11).  They should avoid these behaviours and also avoid those who do them (5:11, 13).  One of the reasons for this avoidance is the danger of spreading immorality.  If one person starts, then others copy.  It is therefore necessary to remove such people from the ecclesia so that the ecclesia is not corrupted.  This is done in the hope that the offender repents and is saved from such evil ways (verse 5).  Our chapters today have taught us the need to give what is necessary in order to build up what is God’s.  In the Old Testament, this was the Tabernacle.  Today, it is God’s ecclesia. We must build up the ecclesia voluntarily.  The ecclesia must be kept free from the ways of the world so that it is different from the world.   We saw this with the world at Corinth.  We need to teach the right standards and also set the right example ourselves.  And we have learnt the need to thank God for His greatness and care, which we enjoy now and will enjoy in the Kingdom. February

February 23rd

Exodus 36: What a wonderful picture of unity, people with different God-given talents working together… all doing God’s will with the right spirit. We also see that the Lord had provided for everything. The precious materials of gold, silver etc were given to them by the Egyptians as they left the country, and now they were able to “give” to the Lord.  And they gave willingly, and they had to be told to stop because they had already brought more than enough. What joy each morning seeing the people giving towards the Lord’s tabernacle. The workers were also faithful, everything was for the Lord, no taking from the people for themselves.  The Lord had also provided the necessary skills in Bezalel and Aholiab in order to build the tabernacle according to God’s will. These two had been gifted and chosen by the Lord so that all of God’s people would benefit. They couldn’t do everything, they of themselves didn’t have enough materials, they couldn’t by themselves make the tabernacle so quickly. If they had been able, then pride would have happened, it would have been called Bezalel and Aholiab’s tabernacle. No.  It was to be the Lord’s tabernacle, it was His design, spoken of by Moses, fulfilled by called and inspired experts, and provided for by His people from the “riches” that God had given to them; it represented what the tabernacle was all about. God and His people coming together, being one in heart and mind, being fitted together; that is why all of the individual parts of the tabernacle are mentioned – all the parts had a purpose.  On their own they didn’t represent anything, but when coupled together to other chosen parts, they came together to make a glorious meeting place for the Lord to dwell amongst His people.  We see this theme when we consider our own bodies. They are wonderfully made and yet do we welcome the Lord to “dwell” within us? “The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts which then form one body.  So it is with Christ. (1Cor12:12). “Now you are the body of Christ. And each one of you is a part of it” (1Cor12:27). “There are different kinds of gifts, but the same spirit” (1Cor12:4) This is very important, the church MUST have the same spirit; not just the same spirit within ourselves but that we all have the spirit of the Lord. One of our greatest joys and reasons to worship is that we are confident that the church is the Lord’s, not ours! Moses, Bezalel and Aholiab, all of them knew that the dwelling place of the Lord was His in every way. How wonderful and gracious to be included in that place. But even more wonderful and gracious to be part of the body of Christ!!!  Psalm 95: The first 7 verses are words of worship that we have experienced: singing, joy, giving praise to our creator, and thanks for the relationship that exists between the Lord and his sheep. Then there seems to be a dramatic change of thoughts. “Today, if you will hear His voice: Do not harden your hearts, as in the rebellion (Meribah), as in the trial (Massah) in the wilderness”. The following verses warn of the consequences of going astray in their hearts – “they shall not enter My rest” (Kingdom).  Both of these “themes” had happened in Israel’s history. The people worshipped the Lord with grateful hearts after they had been rescued from Egypt and had crossed the Red sea (Exodus 15), but not long afterwards (Exodus 17) when suffering because of a lack of water, their hearts had become hardened, and they tested the Lord by saying “Is the Lord amongst us or not?” The Lord was with them, but they weren’t with the Lord; difficulties had caused them to separate from the Lord that they had recently worshipped and sung praise to! When difficulties happen, we have 2 choices – go to the Lord, or be hardened and further separated from the Lord and complain in self-pity.  These lessons from the Old Testament are also in the New Testament. Seven times these verses in Psalm 95 are quoted in Hebrews 3 and 4 with warnings. “Beware, brethren, lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief in departing from the living God (Heb 3:12) and “Let us therefore be diligent to enter the rest, lest anyone fall according to the same example of disobedience” (Heb 4:11).  In our daily lives, how do we respond to difficulties? If we share them with the Lord and trust in Him, that is also a part of worship. And so the 2 themes are one theme – how we worship the Lord.  Just as it is true that if we love we will willingly obey, so it is also true that if we have the spirit to worship and praise, then that same spirit will also trust. We can’t worship and not trust!! Otherwise our God is happiness!! Our worship shouldn’t be because of circumstances, but because of our relationship with the Lord, and in hard times, very often that relationship is stronger.  1 COR 6: We can see that the Corinthians were called by God: “God is faithful, by who you were called into the fellowship of His son, Jesus Christ our Lord” 1Cor1:9. Were they all in fellowship with God and Jesus? When we look at chapter 6 we see that some were not. The ones who took their personal disputes with fellow church members to pagan courts were not in fellowship with the Lord, because they were going against God’s will and the Lord’s instruction in Matt 18:15-17. His words were about achieving peace between the 2 “parties”, and if necessary involving the church. I am sure we have all experienced problems within the church, have we all followed Jesus’ instruction?  Paul teaches them by reminding and questioning them. Six times in this chapter he says “Do you not know?” Which suggests they did know, but they wanted to do things their way. Surely the church would judge better than the world, they should have judged as God would have judged. After all, in the kingdom they would be helping Jesus to judge/rule the world. Today is the training ground for future leaders.” He who is faithful with little will also be faithful with much” Luke16:10 and “If you haven’t been faithful with unrighteous money, who will trust you with true riches?” Luke16:11. Paul continues “Why do you not rather accept wrong?” The answer reveals that the offended was also an offender! He didn’t love his brother; he didn’t want to forgive and didn’t have the right spirit within him… he was driven by worldly pride. Beware, says Paul “Do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the Kingdom of God” By taking a brother to court he had broken the greatest 2 commandments (Love God and love your neighbour).  Before God had called them, they were guilty of many sins, but God had forgiven them, forgiven them, shown love to them etc, and in recognition of this they should have shown the same spirit towards all of their brothers and sisters – forgive as you have been forgiven.  V12: All things are lawful for me, but all things are not helpful.  There are many little phrases people use which seem right but have to be tested to make sure they don’t bring wrong teaching. Today we have “God’s love is unconditional”.  This is not in scripture.  In one sense it is true, but it can suggest that because He loves us no matter what we do, we can do whatever we like!! Reasoning “It doesn’t matter because He still loves us”. These ideas will not lead us to salvation! These ideas separate us from fellowship with the Lord.  Who do want to be in fellowship with? harlots, the world, the un-righteous etc, even death! Or… the Lord, and life; even eternal life. Our lives reveal who we wish to be in fellowship with. February

February 24th

Exodus 37 is the account of the construction of the ark, table, lampstands and altar of Incense by the Israelites as instructed by God. All these items were required by God for his people to use in the worship of him, they were reminders of God’s greatness and his presence with them. You notice throughout all of this chapter the detail and the care that was taken to construct the items using “skilled” people. All the items were made of “pure gold”, verse 2, 6, 11, 17 and 26, this was the best that human beings could contribute, it was the metal that represented the best, it was “pure”, in other words it was the very best. God’s presence with them was represented by the Ark and particularly the 2 cherubim with their outstretched “wings” (probably the wings of clothes that were formed by the material of the sleeve). This is a nice picture of covering. The construction of items in “one piece”, verse 8 and 17, is a great picture too of us being “one with God”, ie trying to be like him. So all of this was designed by God to lead the people to God to worship him. The same lesson is for us too, we are to give the best, view the things that God has made as a reminder of his greatness and the need to worship him. Our “Ark” or “Mercy seat” is Jesus and he is ”pure”, ie without fault, and we should value him as “pure gold” too, he is the representation of God and is the “best” that God has given for us, therefore we should give the best of ourselves to him. Psalms 96, 97, 98, 99 are all praise psalms and because we are reminded of God’s greatness and his willingness to be with us we praise him too using similar words, eg Psalm 96 verse 1-3. Psalm 99 itself refers to the cherubim on the Ark, verse 1, and we acknowledge that God reigns in our lives and we again acknowledge his greatness, verse 2-3. Although he is so great he is willing to lead his people, verse 6-7, this is the God we worship, who has given us reminders to help us to worship, yet we have to completely respect him and recognise that we cannot presume upon his forgiveness even though he is a God of love, verse 8. He is a God of love and his forgiveness is unlimited, but his forgiveness is conditional, we have to try our best to do what he wants and give him the best. As it says in Psalm 97 verse 10, we have to “hate evil”, this means hating the things that God hates and doing our best to be like Jesus in everything that we do. In all of these psalms we are also reminded that God will judge the earth, eg Psalm 96 verse 13, so we are reminded yet again that we have to try our best to please our judge! These are lovely psalms for us to reflect on and so too is the discussion on marriage in 1 Corinthians 7. Throughout the bible God often refers to the people of Israel as being married to him, they being his wife and God being the husband; in the new testament we have this same picture with Jesus and the church, ie Jesus as the husband and his church as his wife. So although this chapter is Paul answering specific questions that the church had, as we read we can also see the picture of Jesus and the church, eg verse 2-5, husbands and wives are one, each one belongs to each other, and this is how we should view our relationship with Jesus, we belong to each other, and if we belong to Jesus, we should always want to do what he wants us to do. We should always want to be in his protection and to use him as our guide in every aspect of our lives, we should not want to leave him, verse 11. The practical and specific advice that Paul was giving here was prompted by his knowledge of persecution that was coming, and we can also use as practical lessons for us too as we all try to live our lives today. The important lesson is to keep in mind how both God loved his people and how Jesus loves the church and that these relationships can be represented as a picture by our marriages. As with marriage and the later question on circumcision, verse 19, “Keeping God’s commands is what counts”. We were all “bought at a price”, verse 23 – Jesus died for us therefore we need reminders to continue to worship him and his father as we view them as our “husbands”.  Verse 39 is clear, “a woman is bound to her husband as long as he lives”, practically this means that a Christian man and a Christian woman who are married should remain together and not be divorced, but spiritually, if we consider the woman as the church and the husband as Jesus, then this is a powerful message. The woman (us in the church) will be “bound to” Jesus (the husband) as long as he lives – Jesus is now immortal, so we are bound to Jesus for ever! Only our unfaithfulness will break this bond. So all those intricate details of the worship items in Exodus encouraged God’s people to look to him and to praise as in psalms; the “Mercy seat” (Ark) is now Jesus and he is the best, we are married to him and are “bound” to him, therefore we have the responsibility to be like him if we want to be with him in his father’s kingdom. February

February 25th

Love is demonstrated in all 3 readings today, as it says in Colossians 3 verse 14 “And over all these virtues [compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, patience] put on love, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” Jesus also said in Mark 12 verse 29-31 that “The most important one [commandment] is this: Hear, O Israel the Lord your God is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. The second is this: Love your neighbour as yourself. There is no greater commandment than these.” In Matthew 22 Jesus adds: “All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Love has to motivate every aspect of our Christian lives – love of God and also of Jesus and of each other, so as we read today let us all ask ourselves the question: “am I demonstrating love in EVERYTHING that I do?”. In Exodus 38 it is clear that the skilled craftsmen and all the people were demonstrating their love for God in everything that they did to follow God’s commands in building the tabernacle and all of the worship items. They clearly followed God’s commands because it all fitted together as God wanted it to, we will see that in Exodus 39 tomorrow. Not only did all the work get completed as God wanted it to, the people kept accurate records of all the items used, Exodus 38 verse 21-31 – this was a lot of costly material, yet everything was recorded in love. Love should motivate all of us to be honest and open in everything that we do. The term “finely twisted” linen, eg verse 16 and 18, suggests care and attention to detail; we should be applying this same care and attention to the things of God, which should be everything that we do! The 2 Psalms, ie 100 and 101 are significant too because the sentiments, ie joy, praise, etc. are a reflection of love. We can only genuinely “shout for joy”, Psalm 100 verse 1, “worship with gladness”, verse 2, give “thanks” and “praise”, verse 4, if we genuinely love God. We love because he loves us and his love is limitless, verse 5, even though God is the all powerful creator, he still cares for us as individuals, verse 3. We sing of God’s love, Psalm 101 verse 1, and as a demonstration of that love we should be careful to lead a “blameless” life, verse 2 and 6. And those things that contribute to a “blameless” life are not looking at “vile things” and hating “the deeds of faithless men”, verse 3; not being in the company of “men of perverse” hearts and having anything to do with “evil”, verse 4, and ensuring that we are not in fellowship with those who “practice deceit” and who lie, verse 7. It is only the “blameless” who we should be “dwelling with, verse 6, because in the end when Jesus comes back he will “cut off every evil doer from the city of the Lord”. We accept that we are only “blameless” in Jesus, because it is impossible for human beings to be blameless on our own because we are naturally sinful, but we should be trying to be like Jesus, because it is a demonstration of love. 1 Corinthians 8 really is a chapter of love. The brothers and sisters of the church had asked Paul a question, verse 1, about food sacrificed to idols, but before he answered it he talks about love, continuing in verse 2-3. Why did he do this? I suggest that Paul wanted to set the very important background that every decision that we make has to be made around love – by strong implication here, Paul is saying that if we do not love our brother or sister then we are not loving God and therefore we are not known by him. So if we want to be known by God then we have to love him and in loving him we have to love our brothers and sisters. Only when Paul has made this clear, does he then answer the question, ie from verse 4. Love has to be the starting point of all of our actions and all of our conversation, when we challenge any one, we have to be motivated by love. When we see a brother or sister doing something wrong that could exclude them from the kingdom, we have to challenge them; when we preach to others, including our children and wider families and in all our interactions with each other we should be motivated by love. So if we are giving or receiving the challenge or teaching we have to recognise it as being motivated by love. Back to the example about eating food sacrificed to idols. Paul makes it clear next that idols are nothing because there is only one God anyway, verse 4-6, therefore the food that is “sacrificed” to them is not contaminated at all because there is nothing to contaminate it, verse 7-8. So clearly there is no practical or religious reason not to eat of the food that was sacrificed to idols. BUT, those who had the better understanding to know that there was nothing wrong in eating food sacrificed to idols must NOT eat it because of love for the “weaker” brother or sister, verse 9-12. If we do not demonstrate our love for our brother or sister and we sin against them (by eating the meat) we sin “against Christ” – this is a very important thing for us to remember – if we ignore our brother or sister’s “weakness” then not only do we not love God we are also sinning against Jesus! Paul is very clear in his advice, verse 13, ie we must not do the things that cause others to fall into sin. We should be applying this principle to everything we do, if for example a brother or sister gets drunk when they drink alcohol, then those brothers and sisters around him or her must not drink themselves or even suggest that drinking is OK because that will be a temptation to them – this demonstrates love. If a brother or sister misused funds whilst being the treasurer for the ecclesia and they repented and paid back what they stole then in love, we would not put them into a tempting situation again by giving them financial responsibilities again. If a brother or sister is just interested in financial gain for themselves and their family, out of love we must not put them in positions where they are further tempted to gain more for themselves. All our decisions have to be motivated by love – with their salvation in mind. Chapter 9 appears to be Paul’s response to unfair criticism that he has received from the church about some form of payment and in verse 17-18 he makes it clear that the preaching and teaching of the gospel is free – no one should be charging anyone for anything and no one should be expecting payment for their work – this is a demonstration of love! He concludes this chapter by using the example of a runner training for a race and applying strict training to achieve the temporary crown, he compares this with our training in love to achieve the crown that will “last for ever”, ie the kingdom, verse 24-27. So we too have to strictly “train” so that we will not be “disqualified for the prize”. There is so much evil and hatred in the world today, we have to be different and show love in everything we do, whether towards our brothers and sisters, or family or people around us, we have to demonstrate love – this love that embraces all the laws and prophets! February

February 26th

Exodus 39 describes the directions for the garments for the High Priest and the Priests.  There is some repetition with Exodus 28, and the repetition emphasises the importance of these directions. Without the right clothing when they approach God they would die (Exodus 28:43).  We note that the colours blue, purple and scarlet keep recurring in the garments.  These are important, especially as the purple was derived from a shellfish and was highly expensive.  We can use a bit of reasoning to work out some of the teaching.  What is blue either in the Bible or in God’s creation? The answer is the sky, which means it represents heaven and therefore God.  The other thing that is blue is the sea, which is only blue because it reflects heaven.  And what is scarlet either in the Bible or in God’s creation?  The answer is blood. Red is a symbol of man or flesh.  The red of the garments of the priests shows that they are human or flesh.  The blue of the garments shows that they are heavenly or godly.  The priests do the work of God, so they are men behaving heavenly.  This is also meant by the colour purple, which comes from mixing blue and red together.  In reality, there was only one man who was truly heavenly and that was Jesus.  Jesus was actually clothed in scarlet (Matthew 27:28) and purple (Mark 15:17) before his crucifixion.  The High Priest and the priests acted out the work of Jesus by the wearing of the right garments and behaving as a priest had to.  The blue robe (which is especially a symbol of heaven) also had bells and pomegranates attached.  The wearer would make a noise whenever he carried out his duties, making him and others conscious of the important work.  The pomegranate was a symbol of the priest being fruitful in his work.  The pomegranate is bell-shaped and full of seeds.  We come to the end of Exodus in chapter 40, where the tabernacle is set up.  It has taken about 9 months to build, about the time of the gestation of a human baby.  It was set up on new years day, ready for the whole annual cycle of feasts.  The ordination of the priests would take 7 days (Leviticus 8) so that the priests would be ready for the Passover seven days later.  The order of set up of the Tabernacle follows a logical order of the frame first, then the coverings over the frame, just like any tent.  Next the inside furniture from the inmost moving to the outside.  All the tabernacle was anointed with anointing oil (verse 9), so it was dedicated to holy work.  Aaron the High Priest and his sons the priests were also anointed (verse 13) and dedicated to holy work. This is a pattern of Jesus.  Jesus was anointed during his last seven days for holy work he was to do (his death).  This is also a pattern of believers.  Believers are figuratively anointed too (1 John  2:20) which comes from knowing the truth.  The believers are God’s temple (1 Corinthians 3:16).  Just like the tabernacle, we have been chosen as a dwelling place for God and a holy place.  We must make sure we do the holy work we are expected to do and live in a holy way.  Psalm 102 tells us in the title that it is a ‘prayer of an afflicted man’.  We see his problem.  The writer is sick and believes he is going to die.  He has become so thin that he is skin and bone.  He groans and cries and cannot sleep.  He is taunted by enemies and is alone.  We think of Job or Legion in their distress.  The fact that there is a Psalm 102 tells us that God has heard him.  God goes on to speak about His love for Jerusalem (verse 13-16) and how He will respond to the prayers of the afflicted (verse 17).  The implication is that God will particularly do this when Jerusalem is restored.  At this future time (verse 18), even the prisoners condemned to death will be released and restored.  This will give rise to thanks in Jerusalem (verse 21).  In reality, we are all prisoners of sin and therefore will die for our sins.  It is Jesus who came to release these prisoners (Isaiah 61:1). The end of Psalm 102 continues this theme.  God made the heavens and earth, which will wear out.  The most obvious symbol of wearing out in every day life is used, which is clothing.  The passage describes how the heavens and earth will wear out and be changed.  This refers to the physical outer covering of planet earth.  We read that the heavens are described as a garment (Psalm 104:2, Job 38:9).  The passage also applies to the spiritual heaven and earth by which the Bible means the people on it (Deuteronomy 32:1; Isaiah 1:2).  The people will be changed and made new.  This is done by Jesus, who is the one acting for God in bringing this about.  We read this in Hebrews 1:10-12 which quotes the passage from the Psalm and applies it to Jesus.  1 Corinthians 10 explains the importance of the Old Testament. What happened before (in the Old Testament) are examples for us to learn from (verse 6).  It starts by saying that things in the past were symbols of baptism and Christ.  The passing of the Israelites through the Red Sea was a pattern of baptism.  The rock that Moses struck to produce living water was a symbol of Jesus.  In fact, many, many events in the Old Testament teach us about Jesus. These are not just history to learn about.  It has important practice lessons for us.  We are not to worship idols (verse 7). We are not to be sexually immoral (verse 8).  We must not test God (verse 9, by insisting that God must do things for us).  We must not complain (verse 10).  We are told (verse 12), “if you think your are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall!”  Then we are given some very reassuring information.  We will be able to bear our temptations because God has said so (verse 13).  Whenever we think life is too hard for us, let us remember that God  has said He will not give us a test that is too hard for us.  We are also warned about freedom in Christ.  We have a lot more freedom in Christ than the Israelites had under the Law of Moses. However, we must be careful how we use our freedom.  We must not use it selfishly.  We must think of others.  If we distress our brothers by our use of freedom, then we need to think again.  We are to think of others in all that we do, just as Jesus did (verse 23-24, 31-33). February

February 27th

We all need help to get to the kingdom, therefore God has given us the way, ie via Jesus, and given us reminders so that we do not forget God’s mercy and grace and the desperate need for this because of our sinful nature. Leviticus 1 was a reminder for the Israelites how to sacrifice the various burnt offerings as their reminder and consideration, but as usual these can also help us as Galatians 3 verse 24 says, “So the law was put in charge to lead us to Christ that we might be justified by faith.” Therefore all these laws and lessons for the Israelites can be a help for us even though we do not have to carry out the actual animal sacrifices since Jesus allowed himself to be sacrificed for us, they do point towards Jesus. All of these sacrifices were presented at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting, ie the tabernacle, Leviticus 1 verse 3, Jesus is our way to be presented to God so we need to bring our “sacrifices” and present them by him, the “entrance”. The examples in this chapter are of the herd, flock and fowl and verse 2 – 3 tell us that these offerings were voluntary, it was therefore up to them and it is up to us what we bring as an offering. However, the phrase used in verse 3 suggest that the offering had to be a “delight”, ie the best (without defect) and also willingly given, ie with the right attitude and wanting to do the right thing for God. So basically how are our “sacrifices”? The “offerings” that we make do we give them with “delight”? Do we willingly give time? Do we willingly give money? Do we willingly contribute food and other items. God wants us to use the things that he has given us in his service as a demonstration of our “sacrifice” and “offerings”. Jesus is our example and he sacrificed his whole life by willingly doing God’s will, this is the example that we should follow; his sacrifice was all his life, and it ended in the ultimate sacrifice, his death when he was killed by evil human beings. We know from Hebrews 10 that Psalm 40 verse 8 refers to Jesus: “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.” The 3 types of animals in Leviticus 1 tells us that size is not important, whether it is a cow, goat of bird, verse 2 and 14, it does not matter, those who give it have to give the best, ie “without defect” and give it with “delight”. So it did not matter if the person was rich, to afford the cow, or poor, who could only afford the bird, to benefit from this voluntary offering, it was open to all. This is the same message with Jesus’ salvation, it is open to all. The most important thing is the “completeness” of the offering, ie without blemish and also that it was not reluctantly given by the person making the offering. This is exactly like Jesus, he gave everything to his father, he kept nothing back, he kept nothing for himself. So that same question again for us, how much of a real sacrifice is our  “sacrifice” that we give to God? How dedicated are we? How happy are we to serve God? This “reminder” of the animal sacrifice shows us that the life was in the blood and as the blood was drained out of the sacrifice so the animal or bird died, ie it was completely given and this should remind us that our “sacrifices” should be completely given. Giving the best animal or bird took time and effort, the animal or bird had to be looked after, it had to be checked in detail to ensure that it would be acceptable and God knew the quality and the effort that went into the sacrifices. The same for us too with our “sacrifices”. Psalm 103 also reflects the thoughts of the godly person who “delights” to give voluntarily to God, because it is ALL of our selves that praises, verse 1, ie “ALL my inmost being”. This is because of what God has done and does do for us, verse 2-5, ie the “benefits” are “forgiveness of sins”, “healing of diseases”, “redeeming life”, showing “love and compassion” and “satisfying our desires”. Note our “desires” should be to be in the kingdom, when our “youth will be renewed like the eagle’s”. God has done all these things, therefore we make our “offerings” with “delight”, ie we are really pleased and happy to make them and not hold anything back. When we consider again that all of our sins have been forgiven and that we are redeemed by Jesus and therefore we have a peace of mind, so how can we not respond in the right way? This whole Psalm is a great demonstration of the work of Jesus in love for each one of us, we cannot achieve forgiveness without him, therefore our praise, worship and our “sacrifice” should reflect this. Verse 8-11 is a reminder of Exodus 34 verse 6-7 and demonstrates to us yet again that God’s mercy applies to those who “fear him”, ie respect him, the same message is in verse 13 and 18. It is his love for us that should make us want to “sacrifice” in “delight”. Sadly the attitude of the brothers and sisters in 1 Corinthians verse 20-21 is in complete contrast to God’s requirement for these offerings; they had completely the wrong attitude, they were selfish, there was no unity, there was no “delight”, each wanted to benefit themselves. There was no fellowship in the church, there was just a group of individuals who had lost the godly principle of giving voluntarily and with “delight”! They were basically despising both God and Jesus, ie they had no respect (fear) and their behaviour was completely unacceptable. Therefore, they needed to change and Paul challenged them. We too have to be careful not to make the same mistakes as they did, also despising God and Jesus by our reluctant “sacrifices” and “offerings”. Paul then reminds the brothers and sisters there, as he reminds us now, of the example that Jesus set, verse 23-26, which was unity and fellowship. The broken bread represented Jesus’ body, just like the burnt offering in Leviticus that was cut up, and Jesus “broke” sin for us as he overcame for us, therefore we should delight in the “sacrifices” we make. The wine in the cup is a symbol of the life blood and we are reconciled because of Jesus, therefore we must remember the price that was paid for us and thank God with the right attitude, thinking of both God and Jesus as we remember them in the bread and wine. We should give everything and demonstrate this as we “examine ourselves”, verse 27-32, before we take the bread and the wine each week and compare ourselves with Jesus and what he sacrificed for us. We will be very quickly reminded that we cannot be compared with Jesus, but we then quickly remember that only in Jesus can we be saved, meaning that our weaknesses are covered, which in turn should prompt our repentance and also prompt us to improve the quality of our “sacrifice”. We have to seriously think about what has been done for us. Psalm 103 verse 17 tells us that those who “fear” (respect) God and obey and remember are those who the kingdom is prepared for, ie us, if we remain faithful and “delight” in what we give as an “offering” because of what has been done for us. “But from everlasting to everlasting the Lord’s love is with those who fear him, and his righteousness with their children’s children – with those who keep his covenant and remember to obey his precepts.” February

February 28th

Leviticus 3 continues with the voluntary offerings, this being the “fellowship offering”.  Just like the burnt offering and grain offering, the fellowship offering had to be the best, verse 1 and 6. Each of these offerings enabled those who sacrificed them to give what they were able, but each had to ensure that the details of the offering were followed exactly. These offerings were to be a “lasting ordinance” for future generations, verse 17, ie they were to be remembered and passed down from parents to children. The same lesson applies to the fellowship offering as to the previous ones, ie the best was to be selected for God to demonstrate appreciation of the wonderful fellowship that they had with God. The sin offering in Leviticus 4 is unlike the others in that this one is mandatory. It is all about seeking forgiveness for unintentional sin, verse 2, 13, 22 and 27 for priests, verse 3, for the whole community, for the leader and for individuals, and again the sacrifice has to be without defect, eg verse 28 and 32. So again the best has to be presented; it can only be an animal and the blood was used in different ways as the blood had to be taken into the holy place. Only when all of the actions required were completed was forgiveness given, verse 20, 26, 31 and 35. Although we no longer have to do this because of Jesus’ sacrifice, we can still get lessons from these actions, and the principles still apply to us now – we have to acknowledge our sin, take action to demonstrate our regret and seek God’s forgiveness directly, this is repentance. One thing that we must note here is that this is forgiveness for “unintentional sin”, this is when we accidentally sin, or sin because we were not aware that something was wrong. So it appears that there was no forgiveness for INTENTIONAL sin, eg when a member set out to defraud the community; maybe this is why Ananias and Sapphira were both killed in Acts 5 when they deliberately set out to defraud the community and therefore God. It is something that we should consider and guard against. When we look at the description of God’s actions in Psalm 104 we realise why we have to give of our best and repent when we become aware of sin or when we want to thank God for the fellowship that we have with him. This psalm is a song of praise, it starts and ends with praise, verse 1 and 35, it is praise that follows on from thinking about what God actually does. Not only did he create the world, he ensures that the weather and all of nature provides food for all of his creation, whether this is for the animals or for us, verse 10-18. We are all reminded how reliant we are on this when there is drought and too much rain, some of these events are brought about because we human beings are destroying the balance of what God put in place. Our destruction is caused by pollution, cutting down trees, slashing and burning, using too much fuel for travel, etc. so all of this is exaggerating the suffering that we all experience, and this destruction will only be corrected when Jesus comes back. We can praise God because we know that even though there are distressing natural events, He is still in control. The point we need to remember is that we have to acknowledge that God is all powerful, therefore when we offer things to him voluntarily to thank him or to seek the mandatory forgiveness we have to acknowledge how bad we are and respect God’s requirements. I always find it very sad when people are too proud to demonstrate this respect to God, in 1 Corinthians 13 we are reminded yet again what love means, verse 4-7. Love is a whole list of things and when you look at this list it covers all the things that result in sin if we do not love! The chapter actually starts off by putting all of the gifts that were mentioned in the previous chapter into perspective, verse 1-3, ie if you do not have love, then everything else is a complete waste of time. Love should never fail, verse 8-13, other things fail, but love does not. In other words love has to be the focus of everything, everything has to be centred around love, this is why we have to respect God when we respond to him, whether asking for forgiveness or thanking him for the things that he does for us. Therefore, when any individual or church boasts about any ability that God has given them then they are not demonstrating love. The spiritual gifts in 1 Corinthians 12 were given and allowed by God, verse 4-6 and 11.  It is important to note that these gifts were given by God and used just as “he determined”. It is impossible then for God to give any gift that would not result in love, eg pride, so those people and churches who insist that “they have the holy spirit” and demonstrate that by eg speaking in tongues are not demonstrating love. Those churches that charge for prayers, are not demonstrating love, so we have to question their motivation. All things have to be done humbly and in love, this is how we know that an ability is from God. God will always do everything for the good of the whole community, verse 7, so any apparent gift will never be used for disunity or personal financial gain! The picture of the body from verse 12-26 shows us that every part is equal, all working together for the common good, if one part suffers, all suffer, the body cannot even be made up of one part otherwise other functions will just not be possible. Paul makes it clear that we should use this picture to remind ourselves what functions we have in the church, verse 27-31, any appointment “made by God” is for the common good, we all have parts to play, no part is better than any other, we all have to work together in unity to enable the church to function. So the lesson from these 2 chapters is not about spirit gifts, it is about love and working in unity and not abusing the position and the abilities that we are given! All these readings today require a respect of God and humility on our part, anything other than love for God and for each other is destined to fail. February

March 1st

Leviticus 5 and 6 describe the sin and guilt offerings.  Both are for sins committed unintentionally.  Guilt offerings are for sins to do with the holy things (Leviticus 5:15) whereas sin offerings were for other sins.  The sinner needed to humbly accept that they had sinned.  Then they needed to listen to God and offer the right sacrifice.  If they did this, then there was no doubt that God would forgive them.  God wanted so much to encourage sinners to repent that He made provision for forgiveness of the poor and the very poor.  This grace from God comes through to us today through the work of Jesus.  We need to recognise sin for what it is and repent and then ask forgiveness.  The main elements of the process are the same.  We are also taught about what was at the other end of the scale of holiness.  We are told about two things that are ‘most holy’. One is memorial grain offering (Leviticus 6:17).  It is so holy that whatever touches it becomes holy (6:18).  The other is the sin offering (6:25). Again if this is touched, then this too can make things holy (6:27). This means that things that are ‘most holy’ can make other things ‘holy’.  When we think of most holy things, we think of the Most Holy Place inside the Tabernacle. This was the place of the presence of God. It teaches us that it is God who wants to make unholy things holy.  The only person that was allowed to go into the Most Holy Place had to have the same attitude – one of making sinners holy.  This happened on the Day of Atonement, when the high priest went into the Most Holy Place carrying the blood of sacrifices.  All this teaches us about Jesus. Jesus was like God in wanting to help sinners change and become holy people.  If God and Jesus have this attitude, then it also means that we must have the same attitude.  We should want to bring sinners to repentance and holiness. We should not be like the Pharisees who condemned sinners and made others proud people like they were.  We need to show sinners the way to life – not bar them from it.  And we need to be thankful for the grace that has been shown to us.  Psalm 105 continues this theme.  It is about God’s wonderful works in saving His people.   It takes us through history from Abraham to the Promised Land.  It shows us what God did to make this happen.  God made a promise to Abraham (v9).  He protected the small vulnerable family from enemies (v14).  He sent Joseph into Egypt (v17) and He sent them Moses and Aaron (v26).  He sent the plagues on Egypt and brought the Israelites to the Promised Land.  All this so that His people would obey His commands in peace in the land (v45).  We may look at the detail of history and say that evil man took Joseph to Egypt.  But God tells us that it was He Himself who did it.  It was part of His plan.  Even though it looks like man makes the decisions of history, it was actually God who was in control.  God has a plan and nothing can stop it. He has still remembered His promise to Abraham (v42).  Just as He worked in the past, so He will work in the future.   He will raise Abraham from the dead to receive the kingdom, along with faithful believers.  Praise God for His great plan and the wonders He will do to bring it about!  1 Corinthians 14 describes the misuse of the spirit gift of speaking in tongues.  The Corinthians had disorderly meetings, where several people spoke at once (v27) and where people were saying things that others could not understand (v27-28).  The chapter makes it clear that speaking words which others cannot understand is not what God wants.  Evangelical churches need to read this chapter and understand it.  If they did, they would not all speak at once with words that cannot be understood.  The chapter reminds us that the spiritual gift of tongues was languages not incomprehensible sounds (v10 and 21).  What really matters is that unbelievers are taught so they believe, and that believers are taught so they grow.  We need to use our voices to do this.  We should all think about our own behaviour.  Are we building up the believers to give glory to God, or are we causing confusion and putting people off?  To put it in a Leviticus way of speaking, are we leading people to sin or to repentance?  Or to put it in a Psalms way of speaking, are we working with God or against Him? The goal of today’s readings is to lead unbelievers to belief and repentance and believers to strong faith, so that we may all be holy people of God who share the promises to Abraham. March

March 2nd

Leviticus 7 continues with God’s instructions to the people and priests concerning their offerings to Him.  God gave different instructions for the burnt, grain, fellowship, sin and guilt offerings. Each served a different purpose. We come to the Lord for different reasons at different times in our lives; sometimes for forgiveness, sometime to dedicate, sometimes for thanks and worship, or fellowship, very often it is for more than one reason. We would identify with seeking forgiveness (by bringing a sin offering or guilt offering) then committing ourselves to God (burnt offering and grain offering) and then fellowship with the Lord (fellowship offering). They were all valid ways (before Jesus!) of having sins forgiven and fellowship with the Lord.  If the people willingly brought their offerings according to God’s will, they were already on the right path, doing God’s will seeking to please Him -unlike Cain. We are also reminded that God is always ready to forgive IF we follow His ways. He is always there; we know where to go. If the offerings were given in the right spirit, then the offeror was forgiven and one with the Lord. If the heart of the offeror was wishing to stay separate from the Lord, then the offerings were futile. Ritual is for robots, heartless, and never brings fellowship.  Israel were warned many times about their hardened hearts.  “Stop bringing meaningless offerings” Isaiah 1:13: the offerings should have been full of meaning, revealing God’s love, grace, forgiveness and will for fellowship. He wanted their hearts to be one with His spirit. So often, they just did the ritual and walked away as if nothing had happened.  David, “a man after God’s heart” says in Psalm 51:16-17 “You do not delight in sacrifice, you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and humble heart.” David means without the right spirit the offerings were meaningless and worthless.  We too, when we meet in fellowship to share a meal with the Lord at the breaking of bread, must examine ourselves. (it’s best to do this before we get to the meeting, there is more time.) We must come with the right spirit. We must beware of familiarity, just sharing the bread and drinking a sip of wine is meaningless on its own. Everything the emblems represent, the reminder of the sacrificial life of Jesus and God’s gift (offering) to sinful mankind etc, brings meaning and value, and reveals both God’s desire and ours for continuing fellowship. John writes “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.  Psalm 106: We know that “Whatever things were written before, were written for our learning”. Rom 15:4. In other words, read (listen!) and learn!  Psalm 106 has many lessons that we are given by means of reminders from Israel’s history. However, the psalm begins with praise for God’s mercy. If we are conscious of the enormity of God’s mercy to us, and meditate and dwell on this gift from God, and if we were to do this at the beginning and the end of each day, IF, then it would be unlikely that we would sin so often. As each day starts, we make preparations for the day, but each day has its spiritual challenges and we are told to put on the armour of God, to prepare for the day with the Lord (Eph 6:10) How often do we follow this advice? The words in the Bible (and therefore from God Himself) encourage us to put faith into action, and share our days with the Lord. What a lovely invitation, there must be something seriously wrong if we don’t, with joy and humility, accept His wish!  What do we learn from Israel’s history in Psalm 106? Do not separate yourself from the Lord. This can happen in many ways and a few examples are given in this psalm.  V-7 When Israel was being rescued from Egypt, “they did not understand your wonders, they did not REMEMBER the multitude of your mercies, they rebelled by the Red Sea” How could they forget! Not just what happened but more importantly, why. God was with them, but because of fear they separated themselves from God. The lesson is to never forget God’s continuing mercy toward you, He is faithful, so understand that fear is because you are looking at the problem as if you are alone, go to the Lord “come unto Me” and find peace.  V- 13 “They soon forgot His works. They did not wait for His instructions, but lusted exceedingly in the wilderness” We are waiting for Jesus’ return, we have been given instructions until He comes, do our lives reflect readiness for His return, and gratitude for His works? Or are we abusing God’s mercy? v16 – They envied Moses and Aaron.  Envy comes from an ungrateful heart, not being content with one’s life. This is understandable for a non-believer, but not for a believer.  Envy is very often linked to covetousness (greed) and is a sin, we are saying that we are not trusting and being content with what the Lord has given us. We are forgetting His mercy, love, forgiveness, help, salvation, promises, and dwelling on what we have not been given instead, and therefore separating ourselves from the Lord!  v19-20 – they worshipped an idol.  In many ways the same problem. Is there anything that we desire more than God’s presence in our lives?  v24 – “They did not believe His word (and promises) and did not listen to the voice of the Lord”.  It’s so important to listen to His word, not just to read. The words need to live in our lives, not just remain on the pages. It is the only way to salvation and life with our creator.  v34-39 – Israel had been separated from the world to be a witness to the world of God’s righteous ways. Instead, they went back to the world.  We are witnesses of the Lord and the disciple John gives us the same warning.  “Do not love the world or the things in the world” 1 John 2:15. If we are truly conscious of God’s mercy to us, we won’t forget His works, we won’t envy and be ungrateful, we won’t have or want to have idols, we will live according to His will(word) because of His love, and seek to please Him by choosing His way (not ours), and we will not go back to the world.  1 COR 15: “Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He rose again the 3rd day according to the scriptures”. We have all received the gospel and seen the evidence in the scriptures. (In the Old and New Testaments). We know this is true.  There have always been non-believers and mockers whose hearts have not responded to the gospel. And there have always been those who deny some parts of the Bible message. Eg the resurrection. But we have a clear message about what happened and why.  Christ’s death was NOT because of blasphemy, or perverting the nation, or forbidding to pay taxes to Caesar, or treason. It was NOT a punishment of God for disobedience!  Christ’s death was for the forgiveness of mankind’s sins (the righteous for the un-righteous). His death was in obedience to God’s will!  Christ’s resurrection confirmed that without any doubt, He was the one spoken of in the scriptures. (Psalm 16,110; Isa 53, Acts 2 etc) no one else had been risen to eternal life. The resurrection confirmed that salvation had been achieved in the life and death of Jesus. He was the first, and when He returns, the faithful will also be raised to eternal life and be with Him and His Father forever. This is why (especially in recent times) we pray “Thy Kingdom come”.  Paul shares some more “truths” in this chapter. The Lord will rule over all the nations; there will come a time when there is no more death; all things will be made subject to God including the ever-willing Jesus (notice Jesus’ recognition of the supremacy of His Father) that God may be all in all. The faithful will be changed, in a moment, and will be “incorruptible” – like Jesus. God’s plan of salvation for mankind will come to completion.  What joy for the Saviour and the saved! “Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ; therefore, be steadfast, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that your labour is not in vain in the Lord”. March

March 3rd

In Leviticus 8 we read about the details of the ordination of Aaron and his sons as priests.  We see yet again that this required attention to detail, and all of it was done as the “Lord commanded Moses”, verse 9, 13, 17, 21, 29 and 36. It was always important to do as the Lord commanded – and it is as equally important today in our Christian lives now. Moses, Aaron and Aaron’s sons had to be sure of the detail and the requirements of God for their service to be acceptable and we are reminded yet again about the “skilful” work that was involved in the preparation of all the items used in the worship of God, verse 7. Because Jesus is now our High Priest we are not required to follow the same processes, but the amount of preparation and detail we read of should be lessons for us in our worship and in our approach to God – we should certainly respect him as the creator. In Psalm 107 we have 4 human examples of separation from God, some “wandered into the desert”, verse 4; some “sat in darkness and the deepest gloom” (this possibly means so sinful, however the lesson could still be the same if literally in prison), verse 10; some “became fools through rebellious ways”, verse 17 and others just ignored God and just made money by focusing on business, verse 23-24. We get clues that some of these states were as punishments because of rebellion against God, ie verse 11 and 17 (again); all of the conditions required an acknowledgement that they were far away from God, ie verse 6, 13, 19 and 28. We can therefore be sure that all of these people in each of these situations needed to acknowledge their ungodliness and repent from their ways. It was the things that they suffered from that caused them to rethink their ways, hunger and thirst, verse 5; “bitter labour”, verse 12, “loathing of food”, verse 18; and they realised that God had awesome power and not them, verse 24-27. Only when they acknowledged their mistakes and repented did God then respond, verse 7-9, 14-16, 20-22 and 29-32. The rest of the psalm appears to summarise these 4 examples, reminding us how God can change things, if we acknowledge him and repent.   Verses 33-38 show how God initially dried up the rivers and springs because of sin, but he will also turn them back again – so there is a contrast in these verses. There is also a contrast in the next set of verses, verse 39-42, ie the decrease in numbers and causing humility, then God lifts them up. It is possible that this psalm refers to the return of the Israelites from captivity in Babylon to Israel – they had been taken into captivity because of their sin and now because they had repented they are brought back. This is just how we should react, we should not sin in the first place, but when we do we can acknowledge and repent and turn back to God and as the last verse says, “Whoever is wise, let them heed these things and consider the great love of the Lord.” Verse 43. And it is this love that we should demonstrate in everything that we do, as Paul says in 1Corinthians 16 verse 14 “Do everything in love.” This is God’s character and it should be ours too – the attention to detail in Leviticus was because of love; those who are wise understand love and now we read here we should love. Colossians 2 verse 2, and chapter 3 verse 14 show us that love results in unity.  These concluding words in 1 Corinthians 16 demonstrate the love of Paul for his brothers and sisters, eg verse 1-4, where he advises that collections be made each Sunday so that some money can be available for those brothers and sisters who were suffering in Jerusalem. He wanted to spend time with them, verse 5-9, he was concerned that Timothy should be accepted by them, verse 10-11, and he was concerned about the wellbeing of others, verse 12-18. Fellowship is the key to all of our worship, and Paul’s letter is all about people and about people’s reactions to others, in fact all of these chapters today are about people and unity. This comes across in the last few verses where the churches in Asia send their greetings to the church, including the church that meets in Aquila and Priscilla’s house, and the common prayer is that Jesus will return, verse 19-24. March

March 4th

The priests begin their ministry in Leviticus 9. They have prepared the tabernacle, the worship implements, the animals and the priests clothes, just as “God had commanded”, verse 7. Everything that was done was done in the “prescribed way”, verse 16, and this all ended in shouts of joy by the people, verse 24. All of their preparation had brought them to the stage where they could all witness the “glory of the Lord”, verse 5-6; the attitude that was displayed here by the people is also how we should respond when we are preparing to see the “glory of the Lord”. We see this in Jesus, so our preparation has to be everyday if we want to be with Jesus and his father every day! Although we cannot see them, we can see their glory in the things around us. The details are important, the sacrifices were all “without defect”, verse 2-3, and the priests knew what to do, eg verse 9, 12 and 18, and because everything was done properly they all saw “the glory of the Lord”, verse 23. Sadly from this hight of joy, two of Aaron’s sons, the priests, so quickly failed to continue their respect and in Leviticus 10 we see the results of their disrespect by offering “unauthorised fire” to the Lord, verse 1. This was “contrary to his command” and God put them to death, verse 2. The reason is in verse 3, they showed no respect and it is no wonder that Moses was “silent”! It is likely that they were drunk, which explains why Aaron was then told that they should not drink alcohol when they were going into the Tabernacle, verse 8-11, Leviticus 16 verse 1-2 suggests that whilst under the influence they sinned by going into the Most Holy Place, somewhere where only the High Priest could go once a year, ie on the Day of Atonement. Our preparation has to always respect God, he demands that we do, if we want his blessing! The 2 sons lost their lives but there were personal consequences on others too, Moses, Aaron, Eleazar and Ithamar were not allowed to mourn the loss of their relatives, Leviticus 10 verse 6. There are consequences with all sins and we are to be constantly reminded of this in our teachings. Moses was understandably on heightened alert after this and was determined that things were done correctly and he challenged the priests when he saw something wrong, verse 16-18, this is what we should do too. We should also be like Moses who gave Aaron the opportunity to reply, verse 19-20, in this case the priest’s actions were understandable. All of us have the responsibility to ensure that everyone’s worship is right. Psalm 108 is a psalm of praise for what God has done for his people, verse 1-5, it is a recognition that God saves, verse 6, and aids them against their enemies, verse 12. We have a hint too that the psalm is looking forward to Jesus as it says that Judah is God’s sceptre, verse 8, it is a similar blessing in Genesis 49 verse 10. Psalms 109 and 110 are certainly psalms looking forward to Jesus eg 109 verse 3 is quoted in John 15 verse 25; verse 8 is used in reference to replacing Judas in Acts 1 verse 20; verse 25 is in Matthew 27 verse 39 and Mark 15 verse 29; and in Psalm 110 verse 1 we have reference from Matthew 22 verse 44. The mention of Melchizedek in verse 4, is referred to in Hebrews 6, where we read that Jesus is likened to Melchizedek. So we are confident that everything in the old testament points to Jesus and the lessons that we glean there can help us in our lives now. We can see in Psalm 109 how true these words were in respect to Jesus’ life in how he was accused and “opposed” by the religious leaders and also by Judas, eg verse 4, 6, 20 and 26, these are the same words as translated “satan” which describe how Jesus was “opposed”. It is a complete corruption of bible teaching when people blame a supernatural “satan” for sin, one does not exist, it is a personification of an opposer or an accuser. The “satan” that Paul was referring to in 2 Corinthians verse 11 was also an opposer, probably the Jews who were trying to stick with the law, it was certainly a human source, not a supernatural one. The section of the chapter where Paul mentions this is with respect to a brother or sister who has sinned, verse 5-6, and he exhorts the brothers and sisters to forgive and comfort them, verse 7-10. And it is this comfort that Paul sees as important to every aspect of our Christian lives, this is the comfort that we get from God, 2 Corinthians 1 verse 3-7. The church and members of it were going through all kinds of sufferings, Paul mentions his in verse 8-11, and Paul is saying that we will have comfort from God if we do our best to follow him and pray for and try to help those who are suffering. Because of the faith and hope that we have in God we should be reflecting this in our lives, for example Paul explains in verse 15-22 that we should not be saying one thing and doing another, ie “yes, yes” and then “no, no” (verse 16), we should be just “yes” (verse 19-20). Because we should be “standing firm” in Jesus, we should always be true to our word. Presumably Nadab and Abihu said “yes” to following God’s commands, but then they acted “no” when they disobeyed and sinned against him. So, brothers, sisters, we have this responsibility to reflect both God and Jesus in the ways that we act, with full respect, always trying to comfort and never trying to gain a selfish advantage from our belief, 2 Corinthians 2 verse 17. We need to give thanks to God, verse 14, just as the people in Moses’ time presented their “fragrant” sacrifices and “aromas” pleasing to God, verse 15-16, and worship and respect him in the right way. March

March 5th

Leviticus 11 is about clean and unclean animals and about what makes the children of God unclean. But to help us understand we have to remember that this is about spiritual lessons from clean and unclean animals. Acts 10 tells us that no animal is unclean of itself, so the lesson here is not physical, it is spiritual. Verse 44-45 tells us that God is separate from uncleanness and he is encouraging us to be separate too, in fact if we want to be like God we have to be separate from uncleanness! So God separated his people from Egypt which is a picture of us being separate from the world and as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6 verse 17-18 we have to be “separate”, and then God will be our “father” and we will be his “children”. So we must distinguish between unclean and clean things, Leviticus 11 verse 47, ie we have to distinguish between the godly and ungodly things in the world – the godly things with lead to life and the ungodly to death. This is Holiness! Psalm 110 reminds us of Jesus and the resurrection, verse 3, with the “troops” reminding us of the believers and “from the womb of the dawn” being the resurrection itself (Isaiah 26 verse 19). Verse 1 clearly is Jesus going to heaven to sit at God’s right hand. Psalm 111 then is a praise to God for what Jesus has achieved for us – we praise God for his “works”, verse 2, his grace and compassion, verse 4, his covenant, verse 5, the trust we can have in him, verse 8, and his redemption [in Jesus], verse 9. So this loving, caring, compassionate God has to be “feared”, verse 10. This “fear” is a real massive respect – the words “respect” and “awe” do not give the full meaning of “fear” – it is not a “fear” that causes us it be petrified, it is a “fear” like “fearing” the sea or water – we know what it can do to us, so we “fear” water. The “fear” of God is like the “fear” of upsetting a loving father, ie we do not want to upset him because he will punish us, out of love. Psalm 112 verse 1 says that “blessed” is the man who “fears” God, this man is the one who “delights in his commands”, so this “fear” means that we obey God’s commands because we want to please him and we do not want to upset him. The benefits of “fearing” God bring many blessings, verse 2-6, and this is contrasted by us not “fearing” bad news, verse 7. If we “fear” God, we have no “fear” of other things, verse 8, so “fearing” God is more than respecting him, it is a real “fear” but one that is based on love and confidence. The God that we “fear” is the God who helps individuals, verse 9, whose “righteousness” remains for ever. It is the “wicked” man who is distressed by not fearing God because he [or she] misses out on the blessings of God, verse 10, this is just as the “wicked” missed out on the kingdom in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 8 verse 12. When we come to 2 Corinthians 3 and 4 we realise that with freedom in Christ comes responsibilities, we are responsible for our actions, our commitment to grow and consistently trying to be like Jesus and his father, God. There are so many connections to the law during Moses’ time in these chapters, from the understanding of the law, chapter 3 verse 3, to the radiance of the “light” of the gospel, chapter 4 verse 6. There is a contrast in these chapters with the fading light in chapter 3 verse 7-11 to the light of the gospel in chapter 4 verse 6, which never fades. Therefore, we do not lose heart, verse 16-18. So the lessons in Christ are so much greater and clearer than the fading lessons of the teaching of the clean and unclean in Leviticus 11. The freedom in Jesus that we have explained for us in these 2 chapters is that the glory in chapter 4 is greater that the fading glory of the law in chapter 3. There are some wonderful phrases to describe our relationship with God and with Jesus in these chapters, eg: 2Cor3:4-6, 2Cor3:10-11, 2Cor3:12-18. We have “freedom”, we have been changed! 2Cor4:6-12… this is ALL through Jesus 2Cor4:16-18… So fixing our thoughts on Jesus is the important lesson. We always Break bread and drink wine and remember what God and Jesus have both done for us. Paul also uses the body as a reminder, the temple, the community and this is one of the most powerful aspects of our Christianity, ie fellowship in Jesus – (1Jn1:3, 1Jn1:6-7). No matter what our personal situation is, we are a family, united by God through Jesus. (1Cor11:23-26) What do you think about when you take the bread and the wine? What do you think about some of these lovely words of Jesus just before was killed (Luke22:14-20) Jesus’ body was GIVEN for us, his blood POURED out for us so that we could be part of his body (his church), with Jesus as the head – he “really wanted” to do this for us. Jesus was thinking about each one of us as he was leading up to his own death, the actual agony, the fear of failure, the thought of us! As a body – his body! We take the bread – one loaf (1Cor10:16-17) We are one loaf – wheat, yeast, water, butter, salt, sugar are all separate ingredients – all different, when all mixed together they make a unique, staple food. You can’t just mix them together and then pour them into a pot and bake it and out pops a loaf, you have to work at it, you have to mix the right quantities and leave it the right time to rise. Care is taken in preparation, measuring, kneading, cooking. Once made into a loaf you can’t break the ingredients back down into the component parts. It is food, it sustains us. Bread was needed in the desert in Moses’ time for life. Think about it – all those separate ingredients, all mixed carefully together. We have to keep on “partaking of that one loaf”, which is Jesus – but in it we also see the body, us! We have to keep “eating” Jesus – we have to “keep taking” Jesus in to ourselves by reading and thinking about it. We also need to “take each other” in as we share the meal, by thinking how we can encourage each other to remain “clean”. The wine, is also made of component parts, each carefully prepared, grapes, yeast, water, sugar, sometimes spices and some kinds of preservatives. The important part about wine is keeping the wine free from impurities and this is exactly what Jesus does for us, is keeping us clean – it is what God said in Leviticus. We know we so often miss the mark, but we need not worry, because we are made clean in his blood. To get the full effect of wine it needs to be swilled around in the mouth – when we do this the gums and tongue tingle as Jesus has an effect – our senses are aroused, we anticipate the flavour. And then as we swallow, we feel the warmth as we again take Jesus inside us – it feels as if the warmth is expanding in our bodies. It’s like reading about Jesus, it’s the result of prayer, it is about his character being inside us – filling us up, changing us, making us feel and act differently. These symbols have been chosen for us to remember Jesus and his wonderful love for us – how we take him into us, how he becomes part of us and how we make up the body. We use various ingredients in both the bread and the wine – these are mixed together, inseparable, they can never be made into the individual ingredients again. Isn’t this a brilliant thought too – nothing will separate us from the love of God – (Ro8:37-39) In these symbols/reminders we always see the continuing love of God and of Jesus. Being part of the body we also have responsibilities to each other – other parts of the inseparable body. There is no limit to the bread or the wine, eg (Jn6:13) and gives 100% confidence: (Jn6:32-40) As we continually allow Jesus into our bodies we can only be so so thankful – 2Cor4:16-18. March

March 6th

We are obssessed with health.  We all want to be healthy.  The Bible does not use the word ‘healthy’.  Instead, it uses the words ‘peace’ and ‘wholeness’.  This is appropriate.  Health is really wholeness and peace which comes from the absence of sickness, disease and disability.  The Bible tells us not just how to get peace with our bodies, but also peace with God.  The laws in Leviticus 12 and 13 are examples of these, although at first sight you might find this hard to see.  Leviticus 12 is about childbirth.  One of the problems with this is the flow of blood which arises during the actual birth and causes uncleanness.  In fact, this is one of a group of laws also found in Leviticus 15 which describes the “flow of the flesh”.  Most translations use words like “bodily discharge”, but this misses the point.  The problem is the flesh and the things that come out of it, which makes man unclean. Jesus spoke of this, “Nothing outside a man can make him unclean by going into him.  Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’” (Mark 7:15).  Flesh (human nature) produces evil and that is the problem. Leviticus 13 moves on to the leprosy laws.  Although these look like what we can see with leprosy today, there are some important differences.  The white hair and the ‘deeper than the skin’ are examples of differences.  If it is not leprosy, then what is it about?  When we look at the same word elsewhere in the Bible we come across examples.  Uzziah had it because he rebelled against God and burnt incense which he was not to do (2 Chronicles 26). Miriam caught it when she challenged Moses’ leadership (Numbers 12).  Both are examples of behaviours coming from human pride. Naaman was healed from it, only when he was humble and washed in the Jordan (2 Kings 5).  Pride is linked to it, and humility to its cure.  The symptoms of the condition also lead to this conclusion.  In verse 2, the word for ‘swelling’ is the word for ‘exaltation’.  The word for ‘rash’ or ‘scab’ is the word for ‘attaching’ (as in attachments of flesh) and the word for ‘bright spots’ is really ‘brightness’.  All these words are linked to pride from flesh.  Pride takes man away from God.  Humility brings man to God.  Jesus spoke of this principle too, “whoever exalts himself will be humbled and whoever humbles himself will be exalted” (Matthew 23:12).  This means Leviticus 12 and 13 are physical laws which are also spiritual parables about the flesh (human nature).  They teach us that flesh (human nature) is the problem.  As we read in Romans 8:5-6, “For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on things of the flesh, but those who live according to the spirit set their minds on the things of the spirit.  For to set the mind on the flesh is death, but to set the mind on the spirit is life”. When we move to Psalm 113, we encounter God.  The difference between God and the flesh (human nature) is enormous.  God is above the nations (verse 4).  He is higher than the stars (verse 6).  He has to “humble” (or stoop) himself to even look on man (verse 6).  For all God’s greatness and highness, He cares about the smallest and the least of people.  He is concerned about the poor, the needy and the barren (verses 7-9).  Such detailed care by such a great God is awesome. We are compelled to agree with the words of the Psalm, Praise the Lord!  Psalm 114 shows God’s care for His people.  He called them out of Egypt.  He made them His people and they became His sanctuary.  He then took them into the Promised Land.  In the process He turned sea into land and made water come from the rock.  No wonder the earth and mountains trembled.  Nothing can stop the will of God in saving His people.  Praise the Lord! 2 Corinthians brings us back to the flesh (human nature).  Our flesh is wearing out (5:1) and we groan within our bodies (5:2).  But we do not fear, because God will provide us a permanent existance that does not wear out.  It is like a permanent building compared to a tent.  We also have links with our Leviticus thoughts, because we must avoid the uncleanness of the flesh (human nature) which is found in the world: “Therefore come out from them and be separate, says the Lord.  Touch no unclean thing and I will receive you” (6:17).  We are advised, “Let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence to God” (7:1).  We have the same lessons of controlling the flesh (human nature) and avoiding uncleanness.  We must not mix with the world and become like it.  We must be different.  “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation, the old has gone, the new has come!” (5:17).  We are new in Christ – not old in the world.  When we think of Christ’s love, it does cause us to think about being different from the world.  “For Christ’s love compels us, because we are convinced that one died for all, and therefore all died. And he died for all, that those who live should no longer live for themselves but for him who died for them and was raised again” (5:14-15).  So let us not live for ourselves and the flesh (human nature).  Let us live today for Christ.  We are “new” in Christ, not “old” in the world. March

March 7th

As we learnt from yesterday’s thought, the lessons that we gain for ourselves from Leviticus are important, because the laws detailed in these chapters remind us of the uncleanliness of sin and it is the same now for the examples we read about in Leviticus 14 today. Verse 1-32 is God’s command about the cleansing from infectious skin diseases and verse 33-53 for the cleansing from mildew, both are atoned for in a similar way, both examples become clean and both involve careful attention to detail. God’s commands had a physical application, but because of the words used in the original language, we can be confident that they also contain a spiritual meaning too – this is where our lesson is. Verse 54-57 therefore suggest that the spiritual reminder from these physical problems is that pride is the wrong character for a child of God – the original words for “swelling”, “rash” and “bright spot” suggest “pride”. So by accepting the spiritual lesson from these physical problems we can see how detailed we have to be in “purging sin”, we also need to be sure that it has been “purged” and if the attempted corrections have not worked, then in the case of the mildew in the house example, the whole house has to be pulled down and rebuilt, verse 43-45. This is why we have to be really careful with sin, if we do not try our best to stop it, it will make the whole person and the community completely sinful. For example if we have a corrupt elder in our community and he is not challenged and brought to repentance, then his influence will corrupt the whole community – this is why it is always important to challenge and to ensure that all wrong doing is challenged and removed. When a problem is identified he is “put outside the camp” and the priest had to go and examine him, verse 1-3, in other words the person who sins has to be treated in love and with care, but must not be allowed to “contaminate” the rest of the community. The treatment for physical defects has to remind us of sin (not that physical defects are caused by sin), verse 12, a “guilt offering” was presented. When a person acknowledges sin and they repent and are forgiven, they have to acknowledge that they have been forgiven by changing, verse 8-9. This “cleaning” is so important eg verse 20, 28 and 31, also important is that all, whether rich or poor, can have the same cleansing, verse 21 and 31. So everyone has the same opportunity to be clean! All of us need to be willing to challenge others and all of us should be willing to be challenged by others. For example with the mildew it had to be identified, verse 35, tested, verse 38 and then checked, verse 43. Do you notice in verse 34 that it was God who put the mildew there, maybe as a test, or consequence or punishment – when we consider that God is not willing that anyone should perish, then it is no surprise that he causes things in our lives to make us think and reconsider our actions with the aim of bringing about repentance. Psalm 115 and 116 are the psalms that are traditionally read by the Jews at Passover time – Psalm 113 and 114 before the meal and 115 to 118 after the meal, so 115 and 116 were immediately after the meal and these start by remembering God’s love and greatness, 115 verse 1-7, God is such a contrast to the things that people replace him with and when you read these verses you remember that it is ONLY God who can do these great things for us. It is completely futile to “worship” anything that is made by man, because they give false hope and God says that those who make them will be like them, verse 8, ie false! It is only God who is our “help and shield”, verse 9-11. This is why we praise him! Psalm 116 makes us compare the falsehood of man made things because it contrasts the mouth, eyes, ears, nose, hands and feet with what God does by delivering us from death, ie when in the kingdom, verse 8-10, and we are reminded that “all men are liars”, verse 11, ie those who are not trying to be like God. So how can we repay God for what he has done for us? We should try to obey him and “fulfil our vows” and take the spiritual lessons that he gives us and practice them in our lives, verse 12-14. We are precious in God’s sight, verse 15-16, which is why he challenges us and examines us! In 2 Corinthians 8 and 9 we see 2 characteristics of a child of God who has responded correctly to God’s love and mercy, ie generosity and sowing generously. The motivation for us acting in this way is a response to what has been done for us, ie the life, death and resurrection of Jesus so that we in turn can have life, chapter 8 verse 9, Jesus is described as “poor”, he gave everything for us so that we might become “rich”, that is “rich” in been given life in the kingdom. And just as in the psalms we “praise the Lord” we give “thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!” chapter 9 verse 15. So this generosity that we should all be showing – the brothers and sisters in the church at Corinth were poor (chapter 8 verse 2), but they still gave all they could – is an act of fellowship, chapter 8 verse 4 and chapter 9 verse 13. This “sharing” is because of the life that we have in Jesus and because of our gratitude we should all be giving generously and not trying to become rich and powerful, because that is pride and sinful. It is God who provides for us, he provided his people with manna in the wilderness, chapter 8 verse 15, and he gives us the harvests now, chapter 9 verse 10-11, so we are only giving to others what God has given us. Paul reminds us in verse 6-9 that our contributions to others will be reflected in what is given to us when we are in need, we have to give because we want to, and this is because God gave everything to us in his son! Our giving is an appreciation of what God has given us, verse 12-13. It is pride that dictates how we respond to any given situation so we need to humble ourselves and demonstrate and test our appreciation for what God has done for us. March

March 8th

Leviticus 15 is possibly the least pleasant chapter in the Bible to read.  It is about ‘bodily discharges’, as one version has it. At first sight there seems little of benefit that we can get out of it.  But whenever we think this, it means we do not understand why God has put it there.  We need to look at the chapter more closely.  The biggest problem is the translation which tries to turn the chapter into a medical catalogue, when it is really a spiritual chapter.  Instead of ‘bodily discharges’ the Hebrew actually says ‘flow of the flesh’.  We are learning about the flesh, which is often the opposite of spiritual things.  Flesh is humanity, which is what causes the problems in the world.  It leads to uncleanness, which in turn separates from God.  God cannot live with man if he is unclean (verse 31).  The chapter describes various causes of a flow of the flesh, some of which are worse than others.  The flow described in verses 4-13 is the worst.  It causes the man himself to be unclean (primary uncleanness), and the things he touches to be unclean (secondary uncleanness) and things that touch them to be unclean (tertiary uncleanness).  We can see that this is a spreading uncleanness that can make many things unclean.  Such uncleanness needs isolating before it contaminates other things.  On a practical level, this is what is needed when there is a very infectious disease like ebola.  On a spiritual level, it is a parable of how an unclean person can spread their uncleanness and ruin the spirituality of others.   Jesus teaches us about the problem of the flesh (human nature).  “Nothing outside a man can make him ‘unclean’ by going into him.  Rather, it is what comes out of a man that makes him ‘unclean’” (Mark 7:15).  Leviticus 15 is a parable about the dangers of human nature and what comes out of it.  We must be careful.  We must not become unclean ourselves, we must not spread uncleanness and we must avoid those who can make us unclean. Psalm 117 is famous for being the shortest Psalm and shortest chapter in the Bible.  But it is very important.  It is quoted in Romans 15:11 to teach the Jews that all nations will praise God, not just Jews.  All this is because of God’s great mercy.  We, the nations, must be thankful for God’s calling and His mercy. Psalm 118 is about Jesus.  Verses 22 and 26 are quoted with the triumphal entry of Jesus into Jerusalem.  In fact, the whole Psalm is about how Jesus went up through the gates of Jerusalem to offer the sacrifice (of himself).  As we read the Psalm, we can see what Jesus was thinking of as he made this journey.  He was not afraid of man, because he trusted in God (verse 6).  He advises us to do the same (verse 8). He is confident of victory over his enemies (verses 7, 10-12).  Even though they tried to trap him and make him fall, he relied on God and God helped him (verse 13).  He was confident that God would save him and give him victory (verses 14-15).  This caused him to sing about God (verse 14).  He believed he would not die – that is, he would not die for ever (verse 17).  He believed he would live – that is, he would be raised from the dead (verse 17).  Because of all these things, we too can “give thanks to the Lord, for he is good; his love endures for ever” (verses 1, 29). In 2 Corinthians 10 and 11, we find Paul wrestling with strong personalities at Corinth.  They were saying that Paul was weak-looking and an unimpressive speaker (10:10, 11:6).  Those of us who are speakers can take comfort in these words.  It does not matter if we are poor at speaking.  What matters is that we speak the truth of God.  Paul found that these people were boasting about themselves (10:12).  So much did they boast, that they claimed they were apostles.  In fact, they were false (11:13). They were teaching things that were not right (11:4). Paul is compelled to answer their claims by explaining what is meant to be an apostle.  These were people hand picked by Christ for the work of preaching.  The apostles were those who suffered for Christ more than any others, like ones appointed for death (1 Corinthians 4:9).  Paul gives a list of all the things he had suffered up until that point (11:23-33), proving that he had the qualifications of an apostle and the false apostles did not.  The false apostles were a danger to the ecclesia, because they could deceive the whole church.  In this respect, they were like the spreading uncleanness we read about in Leviticus 15. The ecclesia needed to be protected and they needed to understand that Paul was the one teaching the truth.  This is what the letters to Corinth are about – making sure that the ecclesia is clean and spiritually well, rather than places of spreading uncleanness.  The letters are about making sure the ecclesia belongs to Christ (10:5, 7). We too need to remember that we belong to Christ.  We need to remember what Christ has done for us, going to the altar of sacrifice and laying down his life.  It is because of this that we, the nations, can receive the mercy of God and praise God that His mercy endures for ever. March

March 9th

Leviticus 16: The Day of Atonement was, and is, a very special day in the Jewish calendar. It is what Jews today call “Yom Kippur”. It is the one day in the year when all of the sins of the nation are taken away. Leviticus 16 tells us about the offerings and rituals that the High Priest, with the help of others, had to perform on that day. Amongst the offerings, was the instruction from the Lord that the people bring 2 goats. The Lord would choose, by lots, one goat to be sacrificed as a sin offering and the other goat as a “scapegoat”. The High Priest was to put both of his hands on the head of the live scapegoat and confess over it all their sins. The goat would be taken away and released in the desert, never to be seen or return. Here was a picture of re-assurance so that the people might know that their sins were forgiven and taken away, it was God’s will and he wanted it to be their will. He had provided all that was necessary, the people had to have the same desires, ie that of atonement/one-ness, and to willingly follow His words of mercy. It was a time of humbling and of examining themselves, and being forgiven, and then sharing that joy of forgiveness and a restored relationship with the Lord. Can you imagine the joy in the camp, to be cleansed and have been given a shared new start, and the will to show the same mercy to fellow-mankind as the Lord had shown to one-self. Of course, we have a far better High Priest and a greater re-assurance in Jesus. Listen to some quotes from Hebrews. “For such a High Priest meets our need, one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, who does not need to offer sacrifices, first for his own sins then for the people, for this he did once for all when he offered himself” Hebrews 7:26-27. “Not with the blood of goats and calves, but with his own blood he entered the Most Holy Place, once for all, having obtained eternal redemption, whereby this should cleanse your consciences, to serve the living God.” Hebrews 9:12-14. “Christ was sacrificed once to take away the sins of many, and he will appear a second time, to bring salvation to those who are waiting for him.” Hebrews 9:28. We all know, without any doubt, this is Jesus. There is no other. We have been given full assurance by his sacrificial life and death, and his resurrection to eternal life, all according to his Father’s plan. A plan because of love and mercy. In conclusion to these gifts, the writer of Hebrews says “Let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience  and having our bodies washed with pure water. Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for He who promised is faithful.” Hebrews 10:22-23. Psalm 119:1-40,  176 verses! 22 groups of 8 verses. In the first group of 8 verses, each sentence would begin with the letter “Aleph” and the next group of 8 would begin with the letter “Beth”, and so on, until all 22 letters of the Hebrew alphabet were recorded in the same style. Obviously, we cannot see this pattern in our translated bibles, but it does remind us that there is much more “design” within the word of God than we can ever see! When we read these words we can see the heart and life of the writer. We not only know the same God, have the same word, but we also share the same highs and lows in our relationship with God. For example, in verses 1-8,  we see the writer seeking whole-heartedness. “blessed are those… who seek Him with the whole heart”; “who walk in His ways”;  “who keep your precepts diligently”; “who obey all your commandments”. Clearly, the writer’s wish is for 100% dedication to his Lord, but is unable, at times, to do so. The word of God, and the will of God, when sought in the right spirit, helps the writer by reminding him of God, ie His love, mercy, forgiveness and patience! “Do not utterly forsake me” in verse8, I find myself regularly praying for God to continue to be patient with me. Not so that I can continue as I am, but that the Lord might help to change who I am. I find the example of David in Psalm 51 very helpful as he asked the Lord to help him in his struggles against his human nature (self-will). And we see similar requests being made in this psalm in verse 33-40. The writer probably knew the Lord more than we do, and we might conclude that whatever he asked for, we should do also, perhaps even more so! “Teach me”; “Give me understanding”; “Make me walk in your path”; “Incline my heart to You… and away from greed”; “Cause my eyes to look upon you… not worthless things”; “Take away the disgrace I dread… revive me in your righteousness”. All of these words are confessing that on our own, we are lost: humanity naturally goes the wrong way, and lives in the wrong spirit. With God, if we seek for change, from our ways to His ways, and we ask for help from Him to make those changes, He will surely bring those changes, and ultimately the final change, when Jesus returns, when we shall be changed in the blink of an eye, to be like Jesus, and to be with Jesus. 2 Corinthians 12-13. What do we boast about? Some of the Corinthians were boasting about themselves, this is totally the wrong spirit. “Let nothing be done through selfish ambition or conceit, but in lowliness of mind let each esteem others better than himself”, Philippians 2:3. Paul speaks about “a man in Christ” who 14 years ago  experienced a vision and revelation where he “was caught up to the third heaven”. This was obviously a greater revelation than the Corinthians had claimed to receive, but Paul doesn’t directly claim that he was that man, although the context would suggest he was. No, Paul would boast about God and how He rescued him, 2 Corinthians 11:32, and how the Lord gave him this vision 14 years ago and yet Paul had not chosen to speak of it before, because “of myself I will not boast” and he didn’t want people to over-value who he was. Because of the many revelations he had received, he could easily have been proud. But the Lord caused “a thorn in the flesh” which caused Paul to see himself with humility. Although he prayed 3 times that the “thorn” might be taken away”, it wasn’t, “My grace is sufficient for you, for My strength is made perfect in weakness.” So when we are weak and we go to the Lord for help, we are less resistant to His will  and so the Lord’s strength works better in us. This is what Paul was happy to boast about, ie his weaknesses and the Lord’s help. These verses remind us that the Lord will answer our prayers, thankfully He does not always give us what we want, but gives us what we need, and this for our  salvation. Paul reminds the Corinthians of his conduct, he was doing all things for their salvation, he loved them as a parent loves their children. “All things were done for their edification (building up)”. Notice all things are done for others to be built up, not to elevate oneself! Paul has understandable concerns about when he visits again, he fears he will find many still living a life of sin. Many of the comments that Paul makes would be appropriate coming from Jesus to us, warning us to be ready for His return. “Examine yourselves whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves!” After showing concern and care, Paul finishes his letter with his desire for the faithful: “Be of good comfort, be of one mind, live in peace; and the God of love and peace will be with you” We are certainly more conscious of this when “we are weak”.March

March 10th

There are 3 important principles in Leviticus 17 with respect to the laws regarding not performing any sacrifices outside the tabernacle area, and the drinking of blood being prohibited, ie “this is what the Lord has commanded”, verse 2; “They must bring them to the priest, that is, to the Lord”, verse 5 and “the life of the every creature is its blood”. All the laws and commands from God were to teach his children for their own good so that he could ultimately save them, they all had practical as well as spiritual lessons. The first principle that these laws are God’s commands should have been sufficient reason to obey, but sadly our human nature is naturally rebellious; however, when we do break his laws there are consequences. The people had copied the practices of the Egyptians and the other nations that they came into contact with, and so sacrifices were undertaken anywhere, presumably to any “god”, but God said “stop!” – the only valid place to offer any sacrifice is at the Tabernacle, verse 3. Anyone who sacrificed to anything else, anywhere else, was to be “cut off”. It is only God who we should be serving, that is the message here. The laws may seem tedious to some people, but that is because they have forgotten who they are worshipping, ie God, verse 5. This is a danger for us too if we forget that it is God we are worshipping when we follow his commands! These “sacrifices” are to be an “aroma pleasing to the Lord”, verse 6 – He is the only true God, anything for anything else is simply wrong, verse 7. The lesson for us is that we must never replace God with anything, otherwise we are in danger of being cut off. God’s children were told by God not to drink or eat blood, verse 10 – why? Because the blood is to be remembered as the “life blood”, verse 11-12 and 14; this is what keeps the creature alive, so therefore we should see in the blood the “life”. We are reminded that Jesus gave his life for us, he shed his blood for us, and as it says in verse 11 again, “it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life”. It is to be respected, because God said! Leviticus 18 contains a lot of “do nots” about sexual relationships, every possibility is covered here and it is clear that these commands are from God, verse 4-5, why? Because God “is the Lord”, verse 2 and 4-6, we should “fear” God with a very strong respect, therefore, none of us will enter into these unlawful sexual relations. How can we, if we fear God? To disobey is “wickedness”, verse 17, it is “detestable”, verse 22, it is “perversion”, verse 23. God is saying to his people not to “defile” themselves like the nations before them, verse 24, he punished them, verse 25, and he will punish his children if they disobey 26-28. There was a justifiable reason for God to punish those who were before; therefore, those who want to follow God must obey, verse 29-30. Yesterday we saw that each section of Psalm 119 started with the letter of the Hebrew alphabet to help us remember this longest Psalm and also the longest chapter in the Bible. When we read such a long chapter, we can miss both the detail and the big picture. It is one of only two Psalms that speak about the word of God (the other is Psalm 19). Verse 1 makes it clear what the goal of the Psalm is: “Blessed are those whose ways are blameless, who walk according to the law of the Lord”. The goal is to keep the commands of God blamelessly. The verse also describes life as like a walk. We have to walk in the right way. Walking along this path is a theme of this Psalm. Those who do this are able to do nothing wrong (v3) and therefore do not suffer the shame that comes from disobedience (v6). They do not stray from the path (v10) and they do not turn to a way of deceit (v29). How can we not stray or turn? By learning the commands of God (v7) and letting the word of God teach them (v12, 26, 33). But this is not one-off learning for an exam, we must make the commands stick in our heart, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you” (v11). This is what Jesus did. When he was tempted, he was able to recall the commands and avoid sin. Learning the commands requires us to recount them (v13) and recall them. We must meditate on them and think about them often (v15, 24). When we understand the righteous commands, it will bring us delight and joy (v14, 16, 24) as if they were great riches. The commands are right and just – for example, many commands protect the poor man and ensure they have food to eat. There are wonderful things to find and learn from them (v18). We must let them be our teacher and counsellor (v24) in all our life situations. Then we live with God and speak to Him and He answers our prayers (v26). The psalm develops the theme of the one who learns God’s commands and is dedicated to following them. And we learn the depth of the individual’s commitment to God. He is determined to follow it always (v43). He has made a choice to love the commands (v47-48). They are better to him than a large pile of money (v72). When he meditates on them he learns God’s knowledge and God’s way of evaluating things (v66). He appreciates that they are good, just like God Himself (v68). Therefore, he has chosen God as His portion in life (v57). He thinks about the commands regularly and even in the night they are on his mind (v55). When he does this, he is compelled to get up and thank God for them (v62). He sings about God’s commands (v54). When he thinks about them, he forces himself to walk in the right way (v59) and to do that soon (v60). This does not mean that the person of the Psalm was perfect and found it easy. Nor does it mean that he was ‘blameless’ because he was perfect. He admits that he has been wrong by going off the path. This resulted in his affliction (v67). He understands that his affliction was a teacher to him and it helped him learn the commands (v71). So he can say that it was good for him to be afflicted (v67) and that God brought about this affliction faithfully (v75)! Troubles in our own lives can teach us and direct us back to the right way. When on the right way, we find that not everyone likes those who do right. The arrogant mock them (v51). They lie about them (v69). But even if they are arrested, they will not forget God’s law (v62). Following God’s law makes us different from the wicked. And it makes us like others who are also walking on the right path. He says, “I am a friend to all who fear you, to all who follow your precepts” (v63). And it makes those on the same path be friends with him (v74, 79). This section of the Psalm ends with a reminder of the goal of the Psalm, “May my heart be blameless before your decrees, that I may not be put to shame.” That is our goal too – to walk in the right way with our God so that we are not ashamed in the day of judgment. Luke 1 tells us of godly people who were not ashamed to walk in the right way, to obey God, even though they did not fully understand what was happening. Zechariah and Elizabeth, for example, verse 5-7, both were old and they had no children, yet they were prepared to listen to God, verse 11-17. Zechariah actually did doubt and there was a consequence, verse 18-20, Elizabeth praised God, verse 23-25. Mary was another who was not ashamed, she wondered how things would happen, but she listened too, verse 26-38, and she accepted what she had been told. Both Mary and Elizabeth were able to compare feelings and experiences, verse 39-45, leading Mary to praise and glorify God, verse 46-55, she understood the purpose of God. Zechariah being unable to speak had a great impact on his family and those around him, when he was able to speak again after both he and Elizabeth insisted on the name John, verse 57-64. They did as God commanded them and those around worshipped too, verse 65-66. Like Mary, Zechariah worshipped as well, glorifying God and demonstrating an understanding of God’s salvation and mercy, verse 67-79. All of them knew the laws of God and they were all able to see the spiritual element and what it was all leading to. We too should listen to God and obey. March

March 11th

Leviticus 19 is a collection of important laws given by God to Moses to pass onto the people, verse 1-2. The heading in my Bible is “various laws”. This seems to minimise them a bit, as if they are mentioned in passing, but this is certainly not the case! In this relatively short chapter God repeats that he is the “Lord” and that he is “holy” 16 times. Therefore the phrase “I am the Lord” (sometimes “your God” is added) has to be an important message for his children, we have to listen to this if we want to be one of his children. Our adherence to this law is because we recognize who God is, and that he is our God! Nearly all of these laws apply to us now, just a few exceptions that are obvious eg keeping the Saturday as the Sabbath, instead we keep the first day of the week, ie Sunday as our breaking of bread “sabbath”, because Jesus was raised that day. Another obvious exception is the actual sacrifice because Jesus was our sacrifice, but the rest we should be trying to obey and follow. Verse 9-10 is so clearly a demonstration of our attitude in sharing what God has blessed us with; verse 11-13 are very applicable to our daily lives, ie do not steal, do not lie, do not deceive, do not swear falsely, do not defraud, do not keep payment that is owed to another. All of these Jesus picks up on in his teachings and we should never be like this in our dealings with anyone because if we do, we are doing all these things to God! We should never be unkind to anyone, verse 14-17, we should be seen to be like God and Jesus, verse 18 is what is known as the “Royal Law” in James 2 verse 8. Jesus himself says the same and he tells us that the 2 important laws are to love the Lord your God and your neighbour as yourself, because all of the laws hang on this! It is so sad when people, let alone brothers and sisters, seek revenge on others, clearly it is wrong. The last 2 laws in this list talk of not ill-treating the foreigner in your land, verse 33, and also not using dishonest scales, ie cheating, verse 35-36. Clearly this tells us that we should always demonstrate a godly attitude – a Christian should never be racist, for example, or cheat anyone. God repeats the phrase “keep my decrees” at least twice in this chapter, ie verse 19 and 37; this leaves us in no doubt that we should try to keep them! Lots of lessons for us from this chapter! Verses 81-128 of Psalm 119 continue to describe the thoughts and experiences of the one walking on the path of God. He explained previously that he had problems from the proud and the wicked, but in this section his problems are raised to a new level. They have now set traps for him (v85) and snares (v110) to take his life. His life was almost wiped out (v86-88). He suffers from persecution (v84, 88, 95). In these depths, he does not despair nor does he stop trusting in God. He hopes in God and longs for salvation (v81). He will not resort to abandoning God’s commands, even when life is so distressing (v83). His eyes fail (v82, 123) while he waits for God to help. He has made God his refuge and shield (v114). And in this state of trust, he cries out to God (v115-117, 107). This is what to do when life gets hard. We must make sure our ways are right with God (v92), appeal to God and trust in Him. Then wait. It is God’s decision when and how He helps. We cannot force His hand, but we can rely on His mercy. The righteous make it clear that they are determined to follow God, “Though I constantly take my life in my hands, I will not forget your law” (v109). There is no doubt that this attitude is the right one. We should have this attitude to the law of God. He considers it sweeter than honey (v103) and better than fine gold (v127). It gives him joy (v120). He loves it (v97). It makes him wiser than others (v98), more insightful than others (v99) and having more understanding than others (v100). Surely we also want this too. We should pray for more understanding (v125) and vow to keep the commands of God (v106). This means we need to keep reading the word of God just as we are now. It will then guide us; “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path”. (v105). May it shine on our path, so we do not go astray or stumble. Luke 2 is a familiar chapter for all of us because it talks about the birth and early years of Jesus, but I want us to continue to consider the faithful people who “kept God’s decrees”. Joseph and Mary clearly wanted to follow God’s law, verse 22-24, and 39-40, also verse 41 – they made it their objective to obey God. We know that they were poor because they presented 2 doves which was allowed for the poor in Leviticus 12, so even though they were poor, they still ensured that they obeyed God. Simeon followed God’s laws, verse 25-27, so did Anna, verse 36-37. And because they all followed God’s laws they were blessed, Mary by having the son of God, Joseph by caring for him and bringing Jesus up, verse 51-52. God would never have given this task to people who did not obey his laws! Simeon was allowed to see the saviour he really wanted to see before he died, verse 28-32, and Anna was able to tell others of the wonderful things that she had witnessed, verse 38. Even the shepherds were likely to have been faithful people, they were probably caring for the sheep that were kept for the sacrifices, so their attention to detail and ensuring that the sheep were “without defect” meant that they were “rewarded” by being told about Jesus and being privileged to see him, verse 8-20. So we are asked, by God, to keep his laws, we are supposed to revere his words, by doing so we will be blessed too by seeing Jesus in reality when he returns to set up his father’s kingdom. March

March 12th

The Leviticus 20 reading carries on in much the same way as chapter 19 with things that God’s children should not do, and then God gives his reasons why we should not do these things, they are “detestable”, “wicked”, “abhorred by God”, “dishonourable” and a “disgrace”. God will always judge us if we deliberately go against his laws and degrees, and you cannot blame him for that because of all the things he has done for his people, including us now! He called them, and us, to be a separate (holy) people, verse 22-24 and 26. God says that we have to make a “distinction” between godly and human things, verse 25. So we have to do our best to make that same distinction as they did in Moses’ time, although in Jesus we are able to obtain forgiveness when we do make a mistake. In Moses’ time the consequences were immediate, eg verse 10-16. These consequences were severe and demonstrate just how bad they were in God’s eyes. If we continue to live like this without acknowledging how wrong our sins are and without repenting of them, then we too will be excluded from God’s kingdom. Dismissing God’s laws and decrees is rebellion against him and a terrible example of this rebellion is shown in the example of sacrificing children to the false god Molech, verse 1-5. The reason God gives for the punishment is again just, because they are rebelling against him and those who turn a blind eye are also guilty of this, so all of them will be cut off from God’s grace and mercy. So all of us have the responsibility to do our best to follow God’s laws and decrees and to encourage others in our community to do likewise. We have to be “separate” (holy), verse 7-8, if we want to have a place in God’s “promised land”, verse 20, which is ultimately the kingdom. God is so concerned that we do not do the “abhorrent” things that the people around us do that he has given us “rules” to try and keep, verse 23. Sadly his children did rebel and a whole generation lost their lives in the desert, we pray that none of us rebel too and lose that opportunity of being in the kingdom. All of these laws are things that we do well to follow, if we fail we are privileged to seek forgiveness in Jesus, but God still abhors these things and it is in his love and mercy that he has given us Jesus – but we must not presume upon his mercy! Psalm 119 is a Psalm with many themes. These keep reappearing, and we see them at different times throughout the Psalm. There is a consistency of message. It again all centres around the commands of God. They are right (v137-138, 144) and true (v142, 151, 160) and wonderful (v129). They are eternal through the ages (v152, 160). They are a treasure. We see the writer’s passion for them, “I rejoice in your promises like one who finds great spoil” (v162). He longs and pants for the commands (v131). It is the fulfilment of his desire. He is in love with them (v140, 163, 167). He is zealous for them (v139). And he is upset when others do not obey the law (v136). He praises God for such righteous laws, “Seven times a day I praise you for your righteous laws” (v165). He thinks of the promises during the night (v148). The laws are a reflection of the great God who designed them. God is righteous (v137-138), like His laws. His righteousness is everlasting (v142), like His commands. God will not stop doing what is right. His compassion in great (v156) so we do not need to fear whether we can be forgiven. He is a God who is near the righteous (v151). This means He is near them when they are in great need. This is necessary in the Psalm because the writer is lowly and despised (v141) and in trouble and distress (v143). He is persecuted, and these persecutors are also close by (v150, 157). Life is made more difficult because some of the persecutors are rulers (v161) who have power. But he continues to trust in God for his help (v146) and even rises before dawn to appeal for help in the new day (v147). He wants to be saved by God (v146). This is the key difference with the wicked, because salvation is far from the wicked (v155). God does make a clear difference between the righteous and the wicked, as in Leviticus there is a distinction. The Psalm ends in a strange way. The writer admits that he had strayed like a perishing sheep (v176). We finish the Psalm thinking that to follow God’s ways does not require us to be always perfect in every way. But it does require us to remember the commands (v176) and walk in that path. If we are sheep who must follow a path, then it is easier to follow the shepherd. This leads us to think of the good shepherd, our Lord Jesus. We must make sure we try to follow in his steps and keep his commands. In this way, we can be presented blameless in the day of judgment and receive the salvation that is promised to those who keep the commands. And it was John the Baptist in Luke 3 who responded to God’s instruction and started teaching about repentance leading to forgiveness, verse 1-6. This exact thing had been prophesised before in Isaiah 40 verse 3-5, so God was causing John to fulfil this in just the way that God had planned. John’s teaching is very direct, he was clearly aware that the people were disobeying God’s laws which were exactly as required by Leviticus at this time, verse 7-9. He called them “snakes” and made it so clear that they should be “producing fruit” to demonstrate “repentance”, in other words they had to do the things that God required of them! People did respond, verse 10-14 and the examples that John gave remain lessons for us today, ie we have to change and demonstrate that we are different, separate, holy! People were required to share what they had, verse 11, people were told not to exaggerate their claims, verse 12-13 and people were told not to extort money or falsely accuse, verse 14. All of these are practical ways that people of God are supposed to act once they have accepted God and Jesus. John taught about Jesus, he “prepared the way”, some people wondered if John was Jesus, but John made it clear that he was not, verse 15-18. Note that a judgement is hinted at in verse 17, yes Jesus came to save, but along with salvation comes responsibilities! Jesus himself was baptised, verse 21-22, and God was “well pleased” with this situation, because now people could have the opportunity to repent of their wrongs. Jesus’ human line is clearly mapped out for us in verses 23-38, yes Jesus was the son of God, but he was clearly the son of Mary too, the human being who was able to take away the sin of the world! We thank God that this is the case because we know we fail, but we pray too that our attitude is such that we do do our best to follow God’s commands! March

March 13th

Leviticus 21 contains specific “rules” for the priests – we know that the actual specifics of these rules for the priests are no longer applicable to us now because Jesus is our priest and we are no longer under these aspects of worship. Even though some of the aspects here are perhaps uncomfortable for us now, the fundamental respect of God and the spiritual lessons must still remain. The number of times that it is said that the priests and God were “holy” should make us sit up and think, so too the phrase “I am the Lord”. This appears to be the motivation for these “rules”, the priests were to remember and respect and not become familiar and blasé about their roles, and neither should they forget that God is the Lord! It is true that we need to be constantly reminded of our position before God even though we have been brought near to him through Jesus, we are reminded here that any defect is a picture of sin – and it is sin that prevents contact with God. Every day I thank God that we have been brought near and despite our weaknesses and natural “uncleanness” we can be in God’s company because of Jesus. These uncomfortable verses seek to remind us that despite our blemishes we can come to God through Jesus. “I am the Lord who makes them holy”, is the common phrase in this chapter, ie verse 8, 15 and 23 and it is God who has made us “holy” in Jesus. Psalms 120 to 125 are the first of 15 psalms known as the “song of ascents” – songs that were sung by the people whilst they were going up to the temple at Jerusalem to worship. These psalms appear to be relating to our various senses and we should gain lessons from them: Psalm 120 is the voice; 121 is sight; 122 is location, ie where we are; 123 is looking in the right direction; 124 is our helper and 125 is God’s protecting arms – reminding us of the cherubim’s’ “wings” and God’s protection with the people. So we appear to get the start off an all encompassing picture of our relationship with God using all of our senses and emotions – what people say can be bad – we have lies, deceit (Ps120:2-3) and even when we speak of peace some people who hear are for war (Ps120:7), yet when we call to God he answers us (Ps120:1), God will respond as he sees fit (Ps120:4). In response to our looking, asking and answering where our help comes from, we get that wonderful answer, Psalm 121 verse 1-2… and he watches over us – 5 times it is repeated – God watches over every aspect of our lives, whether we’re awake or asleep and he will not let our “foot slip”, verse 3. Sometimes in our life now we clearly feel our feet slipping so the ultimate protection has to be the kingdom as Psalm 122 suggests where peace and security are assured, eg verse 6-9… This psalm is our “location”, ie where our journey ends, we want to go “up to the house of the Lord”, verse 1, we want to stand in Jerusalem where clearly there will be security and peace. Yes, we surely must be praying for help now in eg places like Ukraine, Afghanistan, Cameroon, etc. but the peace we are really craving is the peace that Jesus will bring. We realise just how sinful we are and therefore how much we rely on mercy and Psalm 123 is just that, because we know that only looking to God, now via Jesus, is the only place were we find mercy, verse 1-2… It is in humility and in subjection that we look to God, just as the slave and the maid looked to their master or mistress. And we appear to have the contrast here in verse 3-4 with the “proud” and the “arrogant” – the proud and arrogant would not be looking for mercy, therefore they will not be shown mercy! The proud would not be relying on God for their help, Psalm 124, it is the humble who recognise God by their side, verse 1-5… It is this recognition that we need help from God that sets us apart and demonstrates humility and the need for help and mercy! This leads us to praise as we recognise that “our help is in the name of the Lord, the maker of heaven and earth”, verse 6-8… It is only God who can “surround his people” with his arms to protect, Psalm 125:1-2… this is again a great picture of trust in God and his response, sadly at the moment we are surrounded by a lot of wickedness, this is why it can never co-exist with the children of God, verse 3…, hence all the indications in the bible that we should attempt to be separate – or “holy” now as we prepare for the kingdom to come. And thank God that wickedness will be banished, verse 4-5… when there will be no more cruelty towards fellow men and women as demonstrated horrifically in Ukraine. Jesus’ time in the desert in Luke 4 brings all this together as relevance to us today. Jesus was tempted in the same way as we are, obviously he had greater powers than us because he is God’s son – so the greater the ability, the greater the temptation, but throughout his temptations recorded here he remembered that he was “holy” – separate. Having not eaten anything for 40 days he clearly would have been hungry and he could very easily have turned the stones into bread – we know his capabilities in the feeding of the 5,000 and the 4,000, but he thought about humility and how God helped his children through the desert and recalled the summary in Deuteronomy 8 and how he remembered how God led his people and “watched” over them. Even though he was suffering for a period, he remembered his father and all that he stood for. Verse 4… The temptation to rule over the kingdoms of the world must have been an incredible temptation, we have felt desperately powerless as we see suffering in the world due to human actions, eg wars, but we are powerless, Jesus was not, he could have resolved the issues as he saw them then, yet he again remembered his holiness and fell back on what he knew was right in his father’s commands, quoting Deuteronomy 6: 13 in verse 8… And seemingly to leave things up to God and his timing the 3rd example is also countered by Deut 6:16 in verse 9-12… In all of these Jesus ensured that any pride was quashed by humility, leaving things up to God. Although Jesus was rejected by lots, he taught and he healed and he kept teaching about the kingdom of God verse 43-44… Summed up in verse 18-19…another picture of the kingdom. Ps122 verse 6-9… As we now share in bread and wine, thank God that he has made us holy and promised us the kingdom! March

March 14th

The way that we act all of the time must demonstrate a full respect to God. Leviticus 22 reminds us of the need to give the best of everything to God – for the Israelites this was the sacrifices that they made, eg verse 19-20, it had to be without blemish, verse 21. Verses 22-25 give some examples of what is considered as defective; it also distinguishes between a “freewill” offering and a “vow”, but the point that is made here is that God has set out “rules”. Whether they were understood or not, they had to be followed in order to demonstrate respect to God, verse 1-2. The chapter ends with a repeat reminder that we are to “keep God’s commands”, verse 31-33, why? Because God said “I am the Lord”. It was God who made the people “holy”, it was God who brought them out of “Egypt”, he has done this too for us, he has made us holy and brought us out of the “world”, so we too should respect him. We have discussed this before in previous chapters that any “flow” or “discharge” that comes from our body makes the person “unclean”, verse 4, and this reminds us that what naturally comes from us, ie our human nature is sinful and we have to try to change and be like Jesus and like God. In his love God prescribed a way that the people in Moses’ time could be clean as he has with us, ie we have Jesus. But we still have to respect God. This is key to our walk to the kingdom, we have to respect him and his ways and realise that his ways are always right and we have to try to follow his commands. The next 3 psalms in the “Songs of Ascents” are Psalm 125-127, we saw yesterday that Psalm 125 is about the arms of protection of God in the way that he “surrounds” his people, verse 2, he surrounds his people so that the wicked cannot influence them into bad ways, verse 3-5, and peace results, ultimately in the kingdom. Psalm 126 moves onto the next sense, that is of praise. When God’s people thought about where they were in Egypt, and the other nations where they were scattered later, and compared it with their new status of being back in Zion, they were overwhelmed with joy, verse 1-3. They could not help but praise, they thought it was a dream, and sang for joy! We too should have this same joy and praise because of what we have been promised in the kingdom when Jesus returns. Our “fortunes” will be restored too if we continue to respect God and instead of tears there will be joy, verse 4-6. There are lots of connections in verse 5 to prophecies about the restoration of Israel in the kingdom when Jesus returns, ie Isaiah 35 verse 10; 51 verse 11; 60 verse 15 and 61 verse 7, so I think we can safely say that we are meant to think about the joy in the kingdom when we read these verses in psalms. And Psalm 127 reemphasises the respect of God that we should have in everything we do. Verse 1-2 is saying unless we are motivated by God and “building” on what he says, our labour is a waste of time, we have to be trying to follow God and to try to obey his commands, otherwise we will fail in any of our endeavours. This psalm suggests a family, verse 3-5, we too are in a family in Jesus, in fellowship with each other so it follows that if we build our community based on God, ie “God builds the house”, then it will be strong and our work within it will not be in vain. This demonstrates a respect of God. Jesus taught about the kingdom of God and in some small way he physically demonstrated the kingdom when he healed people eg the man in Luke 5 and the people praised, verse 26. The man with leprosy who Jesus healed in verse 13 started a changed life from that moment – prior to Jesus healing him he was shunned by all people – after his healing he would have been accepted back into his family and would have again had friends. Jesus did all of his building with God, ie “God builds his house”. For example, before choosing his disciples, Jesus prayed and God directed him to choose the right people for his ministry. The first ones resulted from the miraculous catch of fish in verse 6-7. But this took place AFTER Jesus had first used Peter’s (Simon) boat to teach from, during this teaching Peter learnt and he demonstrated his respect of God’s son, verse 4-5, and responded verse 8-10; this response of respect and humility caused Jesus to say “follow me”, verse 11. The order of events appears right, ie 1st is teaching, 2nd is respect, 3rd is part of God’s family. Luke records that Levi was called next and although it does not say it here, he too listened to Jesus (Mark 2 verse 14), and he obviously respected his teaching and became part of the family. The powerful part of this chapter is that Jesus forgave, he said this to the man who was paralytic, verse 23, and those who respected Jesus left everything and followed him – Jesus became their number one priority and because Jesus was their number one priority, this meant that God was too. Sadly, not everyone respected Jesus, the Pharisees did not, they complained, verse 30 and 33, they did not realise that they were the same as everybody else and needed to be repentant, verse 32. It is clear that everyone needs to repent because all of us are sinners. Unfortunately the Pharisees thought that they were righteous and did not think that they were “sick” so they did not bother seeking a doctor, but really they should have, verse 31. Without respect for God (and for Jesus) the building fails – Jesus was alluding to this in the parable in verse 36-39. The “old building” was weak and could not be repaired, it was pointless tearing a patch from a new garment to repair the old because it destroys the new! Neither is new wine poured into old wine skills because both will be destroyed. Jesus saying that new wine has to go into new wineskins is saying that a new way of responding to Jesus’ and God’s teaching was necessary for there to be salvation and this is helped by a deep respect of the things of God. March

March 15th

The 7 annual Jewish feasts are mentioned in Leviticus 23 (Passover, Unleavened Bread, Firstfruits, Weeks, Trumpets, Day of Atonement, Tabernacles).  It also mentions the Sabbath, which is a weekly event. One reason why the Sabbath is grouped with the other days is because of what the chapter is about, which is “appointments” with God.  Most translations will say that it is about the ‘appointed feasts.’  But the Hebrew does not mention the word ‘feast’. It is about ‘appointments’ or ‘appointed times’.  The word ‘feast’ also gives the wrong impression.  None of the appointments are feasts as we would know them.   The only ‘feast’ is Passover, which was eaten standing up, quickly, and with bitter herbs.  Hardly a relaxing time and not a feast in the way we would think of it!  And the Day of Atonement is definitely not a feast – it is usually a fast. God has set His ‘appointed times’ in the divine calendar.  What is important is what they all represented!  We cannot explain the detail now, but it is helpful to know the deeper meaning so here is a summary: Passover pointed to the death of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Unleavened bread represented the Christian walk.  Firstfruits represented the resurrection of Jesus. Weeks represented the harvest of Christian believers.  Trumpets represented the resurrection of the dead.  The Day of Atonement represented the forgiveness of sins.  Tabernacles represented life in the kingdom.  When we think about all this, we understand that God has a plan of appointed times, which His people, the Jews, enacted out every year.  God has appointed times for all these activities.  Today is the time of the harvest of believers.  The next event in the divine calendar is the resurrection of the dead.  We are looking forward to this!  So let us make the most of the time we have and help the harvest of believers by helping others to honour God. Psalms 128, 129 and 130 are part of the pilgrims hymnbook (Psalms 120-134), also known as the ‘songs of ascents’.  The pilgrim starts from the far distance (Psalm 121).  He is now in Zion (Jerusalem), the city of David.  It is here that blessing is found.  We read of this blessing in all three Psalms.  Zion is the place of blessing (Psalm 128:5) where God blesses our families. It is the place where believers are freed from their enemies (Psalm 129:4-5).  It is the place where sins are forgiven (Psalm 130).  We are saved from our enemies – our own sin and those that hate us.  It is where we can be blessed with family or fellowship.  It is the place of our life’s journey end where we find rest.  It is the place where Israel kept the ‘feast’ of Tabernacles.  In this feast, the Jews had to carry out a pilgrimage to Jerusalem and keep the feast there (Deuteronomy 16:16).  Just as the feast of Tabernacles reminded the believer of the time of rest in the kingdom, so do these Psalms remind us of promised rest in the kingdom.  Our hope is a Jerusalem-based hope (Revelation 21:2). In the New Testament reading of Luke 6, we meet the future king of the kingdom. He tells us about what type of person he will have in his kingdom.  We need to listen carefully if we want to be in the kingdom. He has some hard advice for us.  We must love our enemies and bless them (verse 27-28)!  Just as God gives His enemies blessings and gets nothing in return, we should be prepared for that too (verse 35).  God is kind and merciful to them, as we should be too (verse 35-36).  How we behave should be how we want others to treat us (verse 37-38).  The more we give in this respect, the more we will receive.  If we learn these lessons well, then we will become like Jesus.  This is our aim – “everyone who is fully trained will be like his teacher” (verse 40). This is why we read the Bible.  We need to learn to be like Jesus in word and deed (verse 43-49).  Those who are like Jesus will be in his kingdom, centred on Zion, and enjoying the peace, satisfaction, laughter and fellowship that God has promised at His appointed time. The time is coming.  Let us look forward to this better age, and make sure we are ready for it. March

March 16th

Leviticus 24: Instructions for the children of Israel and Aaron and his sons regarding keeping the lampstand burning. We remember that the lampstand was in the Tent of Meeting outside the Most Holy Place. The people were to bring “pure oil of pressed olives” for the light; and Aaron and his sons were to tend the lamps on the pure gold lampstand continually, keeping them lit from evening to morning, every day. The lampstand was made of pure solid gold, and it was all hammered out of one piece. The Lord gave precise instructions for its design; and once again we see why – it represents something else that would give light to mankind. “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” Psalm 119 verse 105, ie God’s word, the Bible. When we look at the details concerning the lampstand, the “cups, buds, and blossoms”, we see there were 3 of each on each branch and 4 of each on the stem of the lampstand, so 9, ie 3×3, decorations on each branch and 12, ie 4×3, decorations on the stem. The lampstand had 6 branches, 3 branching out from opposite sides. So how many decorations did God specify? There were 6 branches of 9 decorations = 54, plus 12 on the stem, ie 54+12= 66. God specified 66 decorations on the lampstand. We have suggested the lampstand is symbolic of the Word of God, so how many books does the bible do we have? 66! Not only that, if we were to look at one side of the lampstand and the stem we would have 3×9 = 27 decorations on one side plus the stem, ie 12. So that is 27+12=39, that is exactly the number of books in the OT, ie 39, and the NT, ie 27. And we have the reminder from the Lord, in the time of Moses, that God’s lampstand was precious, ie gold, and was one, ie one in purpose and inspiration, Because God regards His word, ie the OT and the NT, as one “work”, therefore, we as Christians read the whole Bible. There’s lot more to see, but we know God has brought light into the world, we see it in His word; we see it in Jesus. Do we keep it “burning” each day? Do we tend our lamps? “Are we the wise virgins” who have oil, ie faith in action, in their lamps continually, ready for Jesus return? Matt 25 verse 1-3. Psalm 132 is a psalm, like many which has design within it, history, future, God’s promises, re-assurance, prayers of the faithful and the answers to these prayers, and more! Another aspect is that the words are valid today, and would have been valid from the time of David onwards. The words would, to my mind, be more powerfully said when Israel were in exile without a king, but we too are one with these words as we await the son of David (Jesus), the coming king. The psalm speaks of God’s covenant with David in 2Sam verse 7, in which He promised David a royal “house”, a promise that would be fulfilled in the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah (Jesus). So we can see this psalm could have been written whilst in exile when the people were waiting for the Lord to restore David’s kingdom to Israel. And it is very much true of today. The complete mess in the world: wars, famines, diseases, injustice, climate changes, etc. are all terrible, interestingly all of the problems are resolved when the Lord returns, so let us all pray, “Thy kingdom come”. The comfort from the prayer in verse 1-10, comes in the following verses from the Lord. It’s almost a reverse of verse 1! “Lord remember David (and us)”. The Lord is saying to them and us, ”Remember the Lord”, by the words and promises He has given you, we too can find the same re-assurance and the same comfort. When I am troubled I find quick re-assurance by confessing that “there is a God”, and that reminds me of what has been written and promised. In this psalm, here are some of the comforts: The Lord has promised; He will fulfil (verse 11);  Jerusalem is where the Lord will choose to dwell forever (verse 13-14); abundant blessings (food, salvation and joy) and  I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed (Jesus), and his crown shall flourish.” These are the answers to our concerns and all of the world’s concerns too. No wonder “thy word is a lamp to my feet”, without that light we couldn’t see where we should be going or what is coming! Luke 7 verse 1-10 shows the faith of the centurion which caused Jesus to be amazed (v9). The good deeds of the centurion (v5) 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 (v6), faith (v7), when he said “say the word, and my servant will be healed”. Then in verse 8 he reveals his reasoning for his faith in Jesus. The centurion’s authority was given to him by Rome and he could see the authority of God had been given to Jesus, so Jesus only had to give the command and it would be done. When we  read in Matt 8 verse 8 that the CENTURION spoke to Jesus and compare that with the contrast in Luke7 verse 7, ie “the centurion sent friends to say to Him”, Luke is saying what happened literally and Matthew is saying the centurion’s WORDS were brought to Jesus by his friends, ie they spoke for him. Both records are talking about delegated authority. As Christadelphians, we don’t believe in a trinity, for example, 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”. How blessed we are! Verse 11-17 is where Jesus raises a widow’s son from the dead. Proof of a delegated authority that the Jews that witnessed the event, confessed by praising God (v16). Jesus says in John 5 verse 19, “The Son can do nothing by himself….” (all power and authority had been given by his father) and v21 ”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’s interesting which words Jesus chose to strengthen John – “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”. For me, Jesus is reminding John of ISAIAH 35, a chapter that finishes “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; verse 3-4 speak of strengthening with the promise that the Lord is coming to save you, verse 5-6 by healing. 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. Luke 7 verse 36-50 is a contrast between the hearts of Simon, a pharisee, and a sinful woman (prostitute?). We know who’s heart (spirit) we should have. I find verse 47 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 (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 forgiveness, ie totally. So because she loved much, she sought forgiveness for her many sins and for “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, that’s not love, that’s 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’s trying to help him. Simon (and all of mankind) will only know “one-ness” when aware of the depth of the love that is in Jesus (and in God), 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”. March

March 17th

Leviticus 25 is a wonderfully practical chapter that all nations in the world would benefit from if they followed! The chapter talks about the “sabbath year”, when the land gets a year’s rest from farming and being worked hard; the chapter also talks about the “year of Jubilee” which is basically a big “reset” every 50 years when all those people in the preceding years who had found themselves in financial difficulty and had to sell their land, property or even themselves to others, were given back their land or “freedom”. Both of these things stopped the people exploiting each other and the land, and it ensured that the rich could not get very very rich at the expense of the poor, who therefore would also not become poorer. Sadly, human beings are greedy and land is not allowed to remain fallow and so the rich make more and more money out of the poor, and the poor become poorer – because generally no one respects God. The words in this chapter are clearly God’s words, verse 1, and Moses has to pass the message onto the people, verse 2. As well as being practical there are spiritual lessons here too, for them and also for us. Always leaving the seventh year as a sabbath required faith and trust in God, because during that seventh year no one was to plough or sow or harvest as they did for the six years. They were, however, allowed to glean what grew itself, verse 6-7, and everything and everyone benefited, foreigners, animals, wild animals as well as the people themselves. We are told a little bit more about how this worked in verse 20-22, ie God would ensure that the land produced a crop in the sixth year that would last them until the harvest of the ninth year harvest. There was an immediate blessing if only the people trusted God! The lesson for us is to trust God and not to be greedy and “build bigger barns” to keep his crops like the man did in Jesus’ parable in Luke 12 verse 13-21. These 7 year sabbaths were building up to the year of Jubilee where more than the land could be “reset”, verse 8-12, the year of Jubilee was when all were to return to their own property, verse 13. This again is an act of faith but also it sets the principle that we should certainly apply as Christians today, ie not to take advantage of each other, 14-17. Natural human nature does take advantage of each other, but as God’s people, ie Christians now, we should not take advantage of anyone. If we put complete trust in God then he will help us now, as he helped the Israelites in verse 18-19; this was specific for the Israelites going into the promised land, but the principles remain for us and it will certainly be practically fulfilled again when we are in the kingdom. Verse 23 to the end of the chapter shows how land and even people who fall on hard times can be redeemed, but at the year of Jubilee they can get their land or freedom back – this is the “reset”, but it was also a very good spiritual reminder that we have been “redeemed” from sin by Jesus and in him we have “freedom” from the consequences of sin, ie permanent death! God reminds the people that they should keep to these laws because he is the Lord, verse 38 and 55. It is a command to all of us not to take advantage of each other, not to charge interest and to enable all to be redeemed at any stage in their life. There are so many principles in this chapter for us to apply in our lives now! Psalm 135 and verse 15-18, which talks about idols which are all man made, makes the contrast between the God who we can trust in and the items of man’s imagination and invention – they cannot sustain the people who “worship” them, but God can and does. This psalm is one full of praise, it starts and ends with praise, because of God’s power over the weather, verse 5-7; his power to save from enemies, verse 8-12 and for that all important glimpse of the kingdom, verse 13-14 and 19-21 – all of this demands praise. Psalm 136 effectively repeats the message of the previous psalm but splits each fact with the always repeated “His love endures for ever”. And his love does endure for ever, it was his love that kept his children fed during the sabbath year’s rest, it was his love that allowed all those who made mistakes to be set free every 50 years, it is his love that has promised us the kingdom where we will experience his love for ever! These psalms are all about remembering his love in all of his acts, it is only human beings themselves who can break away from this love. Even though the year of Jubilee did have the effect of stopping the rich getting richer, there is nothing wrong with the wealth that some have, if it is used in the right way. For example in Luke 8 verse 1-3, the women were helping Jesus “out of their own means”, they were using properly what God had blessed them with. The parable of the sower seems appropriate to consider now after reading about the sabbath in the seventh year! Jesus’ explanation of it in verse 11-15 concludes that the “those with a noble and good heart” are those who hear and through “persevering” produce a crop. We all have to respond to God’s and Jesus’ commands and lessons, we have to listen and do. It is pointless having a light and then putting it under the bed, verse 16-18, we have to use what light has been given us. As in yesterday’s reading, the light reminds us of God’s word, the bible, and we have a responsibility to allow it to be seen and to be seen by it, hence we should be obeying God. Jesus makes it clear that to be part of his family we have to “hear God’s word and put it into practice”, verse 21. Just as God controls the weather, Jesus controlled the storm in verse 22-25, much to the “fear” and amazement of his disciples. Again this “fear” is the same “fear” that we should have of a loving father, who will “punish” us if we disobey him, because he loves us! Just like the man, who Jesus healed of his dual personality mental illness, went and told everyone about what Jesus had done for him, verse 38-39, so we should also tell others about the future kingdom of God. The sick woman who had constant bleeding knew that only Jesus could heal her and she made it her goal to touch the edge of Jesus’ cloak, verse 43-44, and she was healed. In the spiritual sense we need to be like her too, because only in God and in Jesus can we be healed from our sins. March

March 18th

Leviticus 26 is basically divided into 3 parts, ie “reward for obedience”, verse 1-13; “punishment for disobedience”, verse 14-39 and opportunity for repentance, verse 40-46. When his children “fear” God and as a consequence things are going well and also when the people are turning back to God, then God is “the LORD”, verse 1-2, 12-13 and 44-45 and this seems appropriate. It is to be expected that when the people follow him and humble themselves when they realise that they have not followed him, that God would say “I am the LORD”. It is unreasonable for us to expect God to be with us if we are not trying to please him. We all know how we respond when people who we love completely reject us, why should we expect God to act any differently? These are the “decrees, laws and regulations” that God gave to Moses, verse 46, for Moses to pass onto the people, so they should have taken them seriously, as should we when we are learning lessons from them. The first 13 verses make it really clear that “if” the people obeyed God and did not replace him with anything, he would help them with food and safety etc. However, if they rebelled against him and did what they wanted, then God would bring problems for them, verse 14-39, ie they would suffer attacks from enemies and disease, verse 14-17; they would suffer famine, verse 18-20; they would suffer from wild animals, verse 21-22; they would suffer more attacks from their enemies and plagues, verse 23-26; they would suffer from God’s hostility and they would be expelled from the land, verse 27-35; even those who escaped the terror and were in other lands would also be fearful, verse 36-49. Five times God said he would give them opportunities – the suffering that he brought upon them was intended to turn them back to him, he wanted them to get rid of their pride and to be humble, verse 19. Each of these “punishments” were the opposite to the blessings God had promised if they obeyed; the further they would turn from God, the more the blessings that they originally had would disappear. They rejected God and did what they wanted, and suffered – this surely has to be a lesson for us too! Yet God is a merciful God, yes he demands obedience, but when the people would humble themselves, verse 41, ie acknowledge their sin and repent, then he would not destroy them completely. Yes God is loving and merciful, it is limitless, but it is conditional! Did you notice that God said that when they were out of the land then the land would enjoy the Sabbath that they should have given it, verse 34-35. The point of the Sabbath in chapter 25 was for the people to demonstrate their faith and appreciation of God’s love. Sadly, we know from history that the Jews did reject God and were sent into captivity, they did suffer from the “punishment for disobedience” – all of it! Let us learn the lessons! Psalm 137 was the song that God’s people wrote and sang when they were in captivity in Babylon, they were there just as God said they would be if they rejected him, but this song confirms that the remnant did acknowledge and repent, they wanted to be back in the land as do we want to be in God’s kingdom when Jesus returns. Psalm 138 verse 3 confirms what was written in Leviticus, ie if we “call” on God, he will “answer”; this “calling” has to be a way of life, not a one off consideration of God! Again we see that God is not happy with the proud, verse 6, and that God will always work out his purpose, verse 8. He will not forsake his people because of the promises that he has made. Now Psalm 139 should made us all think, because God knows everything about us, there is nowhere we can go where we can hide from him! He knows our thoughts, he knows what we think, verse 1-4. He knows our every move and we should always remember and acknowledge this. Only God can give us everlasting life and our prayer should be the same as that of the person who wrote this psalm for God to “search us and know our heart”, verse 23-24. It is God who created us, verse 13-16, so it is God who knows us intimately, so there is no hiding from him. Those of us who think that we can hide from God, need to acknowledge and repent and become humble; those of us who in humility ask God to search us can look forward to the everlasting kingdom with confidence. We know that there is a cost of following Jesus, Jesus explains this in Luke 9 verse 57-62. The cost of discipleship may be no home, it may be giving up the family business, it may be leaving the family because their principles are not the same as Jesus’. Jesus is very specific in his conclusion because he says that anyone who regrets following Jesus is not fit for the kingdom, verse 62, so our worship of God and of Jesus has to be every day, no matter what we do. The disciples demonstrated by their argument in verse 46-48 about who would be the greatest, that they had not yet fully understood what humility and being like Jesus meant – Jesus’ response was that they should welcome the “little child” because of Jesus, caring for the child was not a great big grand task, but welcoming the child was no less important than doing a grand task! Besides, said Jesus, by welcoming the child, you are welcoming Jesus and also God! Perhaps the argument was triggered by the knowledge that only Peter, James and John were with Jesus for the transfiguration, verse 28-36, and this was seen as a “grand task”, but the whole point of following God is to do it in humility – pride caused the Israelites to be dispersed among the nations, pride was condemned in the Psalms and now Jesus is saying that the “least will be the greatest”. So the message is clear, we all have to humbly follow our Lord. March

March 19th

We are prompted to remember that the purpose of the book of Leviticus is to make God’s people holy – separate -, eg chapters 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:26, 21.  The relationship between Israel and their God was dependent on their being holy, just like God is holy. And God really wants us to be separate with him which is why he has promised us the kingdom! He wants us to be holy! So although the law and the religious practices do not apply to us today, the principles certainly do to help us in our Christian lives because God does not change and he really  wants his people today to also be holy. So I suppose this exhortation is about holiness/about separation/about not being distracted. So we must also try to be right with God and to be holy too – it makes sense that if God is holy and we want to be part of his promises then we also have to be holy. It is no accident that Leviticus ends with chapter 27 on vows.  This was a chapter on mainly voluntary offerings to God, and what makes this interesting is that these vows were over and above the prescriptions of the law (with the exception of tithing, which was required then).  A person could vow a person or a house or land and when they did so that item became most holy – not just simply holy (verse 28) – it became most holy.  A person would do this because they wanted to get closer to God and express their devotion to him.  Because of this, taking vows to God is seen by God as a good thing.  Vows could be just gifts to God, but they could also be part of a request.  For example, “if you (God) allow me to have a child, I will dedicate the child to you (God) (as happened in the case of Hannah giving birth to Samuel).  Or if you are in a life-threatening situation, you would vow to “pay” God something if God saves you from that illness/situation/etc.  Either way the vow had to be taken serious, 1. whatever was promised had to be paid (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6); 2. God knows if you find paying a vow is hard for you (Psalm 15:4); 3. He also knows that many people were afraid to take vows because of their difficulty and cost (Ecclesiastes 9:2).  Therefore God values those people who do take vows because it is a big decision for the individual who makes the vow to make. What this decision should do is to make anyone think about their own relationship with God.  And the question has to be “what does anyone give to help their relationship with God?” We were not part of God’s people, Israel, we were not bound by the requirements of the law and the prescribed way of worship but we made a voluntary discission to want to be part of God’s promises. So in a way our decision to be baptised is a vow – Romans 6 has vow like language, eg Ro6:1-4 and :11-14 so these comments re vows actually do also apply to us, these are the questions I should be asking, ie “what should I be giving God?”. It is not good to have a relationship with God where God gives everything and we give nothing – David realised this when the plague stopped after he had wrongly country Israel – (2 Samuel 24:24), so a vow is us giving something back to God. An example of this is David in Psalms 140-142 when he was in fear of his life from enemies.  This is where he had to rely on his relationship with God.  He needed to be holy if he wanted God to hear his prayers and to help him. The wicked were around him like poisonous snakes, planning his fall (140:1-5, 141:9-10, 142:5-7). David was powerless to save himself.  He relied on God and prayed passionately for his life.  He was aware of the temptation to turn to the dark side and do wickedness (141:3-4) and he was making sure he did not by praying. He needed God to see him as holy, and different (separate) from the people around him, if he was to be helped by God. He was so desperate to remain holy that even if it meant someone hitting him and rebuking him to bring him to his spiritual senses then he would accept this (141:5).  In this holy way his prayer would be like incense – acceptable to God (141:2).  But if he turned to wicked ways, then his prayer would not be accepted (Proverbs 28:9) so determined was David to remain holy that he did all he could and prayed for help to achieve this holiness. We too should be and remain holy for when our lives turn hard as David’s did.  But we need to try our best to  make sure our lives are right with God, before those “evil days come”, so that God will listen to our prayers and ultimately save us. Jesus has a few examples for us in Luke 10 to help us be holy and separate and to know the right way to respond to our vow. There are not enough preachers taking the gospel message to the world (verse 2).  But those that do should not think they are personally doing it – (verse 16), the message is Jesus’, if people reject it then they reject God. But those who do this have their “names written in heaven” (verse 20) – we do not rejoice because we are achieving results, we rejoice because God is pleased that we are trying to be holy. “Preaching” is not just talking to others, it is a way of life as an example to others – so all of us preach! The parable of the Good Samaritan is also about holiness and eternal life (verse 25).  Jesus told us to love God and love our neighbour (verse 27).  We must think about how we do both. The Jews had a mistaken view that their neighbour meant only Jews. They limited their friendship to those who they chose, which is not right. Do we limit our help to just those we like?  Are we actually biased? It is only natural if we are, but instead, we need to be spiritual and holy and be wanting to help all.  The message of Luke 10 ends with advice on our use of our time.  Mary chose the words of Jesus (verse 39), while Martha prioritised daily living (verse 41).  In our everyday lives, do we spend too much time on daily living and not enough time sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening? Giving time daily to think about the words of God is surely what we should be wanting to do.  This will help us to have a right relationship with God and to be holy, so that we are actually helped in our “time of need”. We renew our vows at least once each week because God is making us holy, we are being saved and our names are written in heaven and we have been told how we inherit eternal life – so let us rejoice that our names are written in heaven and continue to respond by doing our best to demonstrate our own holiness! March

March 20th

We start reading the book of Numbers.  The Jews call this book “In the wilderness” after some words in verse 1.  It is about Israel in the wilderness for 38 years.  In fact, those 38 years happen in only chapters 15-19!  Chapter 1 verse 1 is significant because it tells us that no longer is God speaking to Moses on Mount Sinai.  God now inhabits the Tabernacle and is living with His people.  His people need to remember to behave in a holy way as described in the book of Leviticus.  Chapter 1 is about Numbers – the number of the men of Israel over 20 years who enter the service of the Lord (excluding the Levites who are entering a different kind of service, Numbers 4:3).  Moses is commanded to count and record the number.  He has 12 assistants to help him in this work.  This reminds us of another leader who had 12 disciples as assistants.  The total number is 603550.  Everyone is important.  If God knows the names of all the stars in heaven (Isaiah 40:26), then He knows the names of everyone one of His people, including you and me.  And if we are counted as God’s holy people, then we need to behave in a holy way too. Psalm 143 and 144 follow on from the theme of the previous Psalms.  David is in desperate trouble and these are further appeals for God’s help.  These are not the daily troubles of everyday life, but life-threatening dangers.  He knows he has no right to God’s help.  No-one living is righteous before God (143:2) and who is man anyway compared to God (144:3-4)?  Because man does not deserve to be helped, he must rely on God’s mercy (143:1).  This is what we have to do when we are in trouble.  We have no right to help, but we appeal to God for mercy.  David thought about God and what He did in the past (143:5).  He will make God his refuge (144:2) and he is ready to be taught by God anything he needs to learn (143:10).  Psalm 144 sounds more like a national panic than a personal problem.  It speaks about warfare (144:1) and foreign enemies (144:7, 11).  David attributes his skills in warfare to God (144:1).  It is God who saves him and the people, not the king.  Here is an example of a humble reliance on the God of Israel that we also need, “Blessed are the people whose God is the Lord” (144:15). Luke 11 tells us the importance of prayer (verses 1-13).  Do not stop praying!  The Psalms are also examples of this.  The parable of the persistent friend teaches us not to stop praying.  He persisted until he got his request.  In the same way we need to persist.  God is the one who is willing to give us what we really need, just as a father does his children.  The Lord’s prayer teaches us how to pray.  “Father” – we have a special relationship with Him and should not be afraid to speak to Him.  “Hallowed be your name” – we need to make the name of God holy in our lives.  If we do not, why would He listen to any of our requests?  “Your kingdom come” – this is the real answer to all our problems.  “Give us our daily bread” – our food is a blessing from God.  May God feed us today.  “Forgive us” – without this we are doomed.  “Lead us not into temptation” – we need protection from ourselves, and pray that circumstances may not lead us away from God. The next part of Luke is about giving good gifts to God’s children – Israel.  But this is here through Jesus.  Jesus healed a mute man.  But many in Israel were not receptive.  They call him “Prince of Demons.”  They wanted a sign from heaven (verse 16), having not recognised the healing as a sign from heaven.  Jesus describes the contemporary Israel as a “wicked generation” (verse 29).  They were like an evil man, who then became seven times more evil (parable of evil spirits in verses 24-26).  They were like people whose bodies were full of darkness (verse 35).   In the remainder of the chapter Jesus judges their behaviour.  In summary the chapter tells us of a loving Father who wants to give His children good gifts, but His children rebel, and dishonour His gifts and His name.  In their arrogance, they thought they were light.  But they were in fact darkness.  The lesson for us is to be careful how we think of ourselves and to make sure we live in the holy way with God.  Jesus encourages us to do what is right; “Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and obey it” (Luke 11:28). March

March 21st

As we were reminded yesterday, Numbers is a book about numbers and each number is a person, so we have a book about individuals. Because there were many people, there had to be an order if there was going to be any co-ordination and division of responsibilities. The first thing that we are reminded of in Numbers 2 is that the place where God meets with the people is right in the centre, verse 17 – the Tent of Meeting is the Tabernacle, it represented God’s meeting place or resting place. It is so obvious that for any activity to work, God has to be in the centre. This chapter is about where each of the tribes of Israel set up home, albeit temporarily, and how they moved on when God wanted them to. In both of these situations there was an order and God remained in the centre. Each of the 12 tribes were put into groups of 3, each with their “leading” tribe, ie verse 9, 16, 24 and 31. To be able to move all of these people and all of the equipment and animals, there had to be an order, so that each group packed up and moved off in order, and when they set up camp again the same order was followed so that there was no chaos, confusion or argument, and God was always in the centre. The spiritual lesson is apparent too for us Christians, we follow an order or guide, ie the bible, we know where we are going, ie to the kingdom, we know how to get there, ie obeying God and for everything that we do God is in the centre, ie he “meets” with us and he “stays” with us. God sees the overall plan and he knows how the plan will work out, so we have to obey each part of that plan, even if we cannot see the bigger picture, we have to trust and walk in faith! Doing it this way, everyone was able to be aware of who was around them and therefore who they would help and guide when times became hard, each person knew their neighbour because setting up camp again was not random, so although the community moved around for 40 years (although most of the time it was in one place), relationships with neighbours and the rest of the tribe would have grown strong. There is a similarity with our ecclesias (or churches) now. And because God knows what is the best for us we can do nothing else but praise him, Psalm 145 verse 1-2. Throughout this psalm David lists many things that cause us to praise, eg his “greatness”, verse 3, his “awesome works”, his “grace and compassion”, his promise of the “kingdom”, verse 11-13, he keeps his “promises”, verse 13 and he cares for individuals, verse 18. This is why we praise, verse 21, this is why we teach, verse 4. In Psalm 146 the person who wrote this psalm says very clearly do not put any trust in humans because they cannot save, verse 3, they are corrupt as well as mortal, verse 4, ie when they stop breathing they return to dust, just as God said in the Garden of Eden, and their plans come to nothing. But this is contrasted with those who do trust in God, verse 5-8. In these verse we get a hint of the forgiveness of God in Jesus (setting “prisoners free”), ie enabling a forgiveness from sin, and giving “sight to the blind”, ie opening eyes to see Jesus! Psalm 147 continues with the theme of God’s greatness and power, ie how he created everything and how he builds up Jerusalem and Israel, and even though he is all powerful, we are reminded again that he is interested in individuals, verse 11, ie those who “put their hope in his unfailing love”. But one thing is sure in all of these 3 psalms – those who are wicked will not thrive, Psalm 145 verse 20, 146 verse 9 and 147 verse 6, it is only the humble who God sustains. We are so privileged to be part of these promises of God, this is why we praise and obey him! In Luke 12 Jesus continues with these teachings of his father, just as you would expect! He reminds us in verse 1-3 not to trust in human beings, even those who pretend (hypocrites) to be godly, because God knows everything and has warned us many times that he knows what humans think; we are reminded to only trust in God, verse 4-7, it is only God who can save, therefore it is him who we should “fear”. He reminds us of the need for us to commit to the ways of God and to follow his “order”, recognising that he knows best, verse 8-10. The parable of the rich fool, verse 13-21 – he thought that he could put trust in his own abilities but Jesus makes it clear that he could not, being “rich towards God” is the only route to success, verse 21. And if God, and therefore Jesus, are both in the centre of our lives, we need not worry because God knows what we need, our “need” priority should be the kingdom and if we “seek it first” then all our needs will be given to us, so do not be afraid, verse 22-33. In contrast to the rich fool, our treasure is God and Jesus and that is where our heart should be! Jesus tells us to be ready at any time for the return of Jesus, this may be the actual return, but it could be when our life ends too, so every day we have to be expecting Jesus back and to be ready, ie acting in a Christlike way, verse 35-48 – our belief has to result in us acting in Christlike ways. And one example of this is to be united in our faith, just like the Israelites were in Exodus, each being part of a united fellowship and seeking unity, verse 54-59. Without God in the centre we will end up in serious problems. March

March 22nd

In Numbers 1 we read of the numbering of Israel without the Levites. Now in Numbers 3 we read of the numbering of the Levites.  Their service was different from the rest because they were to serve the work of the Tabernacle (verses 7-8).  In contrast to the other tribes, the tribe of Levi was very small, even allowing for the numbering of all males over the age of one month (verse 39).   This means the priesthood came from the smallest tribe.  We note that this is like the king which came from the smallest tribe at the time (1 Samuel 9:21).  Through both these appointments, God worked through the small and weak things to bring about His purpose.  There is a lesson on humility here. There is another lesson in humility which comes from the tragedy of the deaths of Nadab and Abihu (verse 4).  This was a big thing.  Compared to all the thousands of Levites, there were only 5 priests (unless of course, Eleazar and Ithamar had sons).  Of these, 2 were killed.  We are told that Nadab was the firstborn, who would have been expected to take over the priesthood after Aaron.  Nadab died by taking on more of his role than he should have when he offered “strange” fire (verse 4).  This sounds like pride.  We all have God-given roles, but we must not take on more than God wants us to. We must stay humble. Psalms 148-150 are part of the group of 6 praise Psalms that end the book of Psalms.  What are a good way to end the Psalms, praising God for His wonderful works, His wonderful word and His wonderful care of the righteous.  All creation praises God (Psalm 148). When we look at the stars, we see the wonder of God’s power.  The stars cannot help but give honour to their maker.  When we look at life, we see the wonder of God’s design.  Life cannot help but honour God by living the way they do, so we think about their maker.  So it must be with God’s people (verse 14-15, 149:2, 150:6), who must praise God for their salvation.   This overflows into singing and dancing (149:3).  They even sing on their beds (149:5).  We see what happens in Psalm 149.  The people praise God, which makes God happy with His people (149:4), which makes the people happier still (149:5).  Everyone is very very happy. This is the outcome of our faith.  So we conclude the Psalms, “Let everything that has breath praise the Lord.  Praise the Lord.” Let us all remember to praise God – because that is what God’s people do! The mission of Jesus was also about salvation – saving people from perishing (Luke 13:5).  People must repent before disaster and death comes (Luke 13:1-5).  Jesus came to set people free from their sins and diseases (13:10-17).  The kingdom of God was coming (13:18-21) and everyone needed to get ready for it.  Unfortunately only a few would enter into it (13:22-30).  This excludes many of the Pharisees and many of the people in the city of Jerusalem (13:31-35).  We too need to prepare for the kingdom, and take the warning that many will not find it.  The gospel message of the kingdom is like a great banquet that all are invited to (14:15-24).  The servants must go out with the invitation to the people (14:23) because everyone needs to be invited.   But there are strong words for us.  We must care for the poor and sick if we want to receive the benefit at the resurrection (14:12-14).  And we must carry the cross of being a disciple.  This includes ‘hating’ ourselves and all things, except for the things of God (14:25-27).  This seems to conflict with the need to love our neighbour and our family.  But Jesus gives us the answer in Luke 16:13; “No servant can serve two masters.  Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other.  You cannot serve both God and Money.”  We must serve God above all things. It is not good enough to value God equally with other things.  God must stand as the top master in our life. March

March 23rd

Numbers 4: In this chapter we see further details that the Lord gave to Moses and Aaron concerning how the people and the tabernacle would journey. They were given specific instructions which tribes would move first and the order of the other tribes’ departure. Also, instructions were given on how and who would be involved when dismantling the “tent” of meeting. When we think of the task of moving millions of people (including children and elderly) and livestock in an orderly way, where everyone knew what they had to do, then we see the need for “details”. Without these details there would have been chaos and division. As I read this chapter I made some notes about the specific details. It’s so easy to get lost in the details and not take notice of them. When many things are moved it is a good idea to label the boxes. This was done in Moses’ time by the colour of the seen covering, so the blue covering was on the ark, and was for the most holy place; the other items were covered with badger skins and destined for the holy place. No doubt those who took down the curtains and the boards would also be the ones who would re-build the tabernacle on arrival. There’s much more to find, but the beauty of it all was that IF each person did according to God’s will, it would all be easy. God had planned everything; the materials, the dimensions, everything had been made so that the Lord and His people could journey together. Simple, as long as the people did n0t question God’s instructions. If you thought that you could do the job better than someone else, or if you wanted to “elevate” yourself, or do it your way (ignoring the instructions that you did not like), then suddenly the “church”, built up as many parts, does not fit as well, it is breaking up and is no longer a suitable dwelling place for God! This can happen in the ecclesia, we either work together, following God’s instructions on the journey to the kingdom, knowing the Lord will be with us, and guiding us, or we do our own will! Seeking to take a “higher place”. If we have this spirit, we have already disqualified ourselves in the Lord’s eyes and it will also be apparent to others! Let us keep it simple (for everyone’s benefit) and do all things according to God’s will that He may dwell amongst us. “…Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being FITTED TOGETHER, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the spirit” Ephesians 2:20-22. Proverbs 1:  If you knew a wise man it would be a good idea to sit and listen to him to gain understanding and instruction in how to live your life, to see things that you were doing right and those where you were wrong. Thank the Lord that we have access to the inspired (of God) words of a wise man (Solomon). They are words that reveal our hearts (good or bad) and are caring words, guiding words as a parent would give a child. But they are not just “good” words, they are words and instruction that IF put into action, bring wisdom and knowledge (from experience), and a more fulfilling life, and this continues throughout the whole of a person’s life. With so much wisdom where does Solomon start? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (v7). In this verse the word “fear” means total respect and reverence mixed in with a healthy fear for God. We need this otherwise we don’t take His words or mercy seriously. If we do have the “fear of the Lord” then we will live accordingly, we will be conscious of our failings and our need for help, we will seek salvation and the kingdom of God. With a healthy fear of God  we will remember that we are always in His presence. He knows all of our thoughts and our actions, and why! “A wise man will hear and increase learning” (from the Lord) v5. A wise man will become wiser! “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God” James 1:5. Last year an African brother lost his young child, and despite much searching by many, the child was never found. A friend of his, asked him how he was and how was his faith. He replied “I prayed for wisdom”. That is very wise! The wisest thing to do, a wise man wanting to be wiser! When we are in a terrible situation we cannot think rationally, this is the very time to ask for wisdom and guidance from God. Let us put this into action more frequently, the Lord wants to give you wisdom, pray for it, and then listen and wait. This wisdom of God is compared with the thinking of the world in verses 10-19. We immediately recognise that all of the enticements of the world are wrong, summarised in v19 “The ways of everyone who is greedy for gain… takes away the life of its owners”. My boss is a rich man, but he is not satisfied and his life is dominated by greed, in truth he is a poor man. However, wisdom brings beautiful life-changing riches. “Whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil”. A lovely promise in these difficult times! A promise from God to all those who will listen and do. LUKE 15. 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, there were 2 groups. Jesus was with tax collectors and “Sinners”, and  separate from that group (certainly in their minds), the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The criticism from the Pharisees was that Jesus welcomed sinners (no doubt with joy!) and he ate with them. Jesus tells a parable, the lost sheep and the shepherd. He asks the question “If you were a shepherd what would you do?” Some might argue that they would not 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, the shepherd has such a strong relationship for that helpless sheep, 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 to be 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, we have all sinned, we should 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. 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….” Was his response! 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! March

March 24th

Let us think about the things that we should be trying not to do as a Christian. And to replace them with the things that we should be doing as a Christian. To start with there are basically 3 topics in Numbers 5 that were specific to the people of God during Moses’ time. But these topics are also powerful spiritual lessons for us now as well. The first is about removing sin from the presence of God. Leprosy was a symbol of sin and the “flow of flesh”, or discharge of any kind was a symbol of the sinfulness of human beings. This is verse 1-4. The second is the necessary repayment for wrongs committed, plus a fifth more, verses 5-10. Then, thirdly, from verse 11 to the end we have the justified or unjustified jealousy of a husband over his wife. Each of these examples is a lesson for us now. The first one about getting rid of sin from the presence of God has to be what we should all be aiming for. We all confess that we are followers of God. Therefore we must try our best not to sin and try to remove temptation for ourselves. Clearly, we should be trying to be like God. So if we are trying to be like God, how can we want to sin! Ephesians 2 verses 1-10 talks about us being made alive by God in Jesus. So we should be “dead” to sin. Indeed if we sin we are as good as dead. We are “holy” or “separate” people therefore we cannot be unfaithful to God. Our sins should be “outside the camp”! In other words we should try not to sin, let alone actually plan to sin, which in its extreme is rebellion against God! We should identify what we do that is sinful. Then we should move away from the things that we find tempting. In this way we reduce the sin. The second lesson is if we do take something from someone, which is sin, eg stealing, or not giving the change, or taking something by fraud, etc, we have to pay it back. Plus we have to give an extra fifth of the value. Both these acts show repentance. The practical reason for this was that taking something that was not ours was just not worth it. Therefore, it should not have been done. The spiritual lesson is that we would hate the fact that we would even consider sinning against someone else, because the right Christian behavior is that we love and respect the other person. If it is not possible to actually “pay” the other person, then we give something to God. So what are we giving to God in payment for our sins? The third lesson is the consideration of the jealous husband who suspected that his wife had been unfaithful. In practical terms there would have been a “fear” of the consequences, so a woman would not want to be unfaithful in the first place. She would not want to do anything that would make her husband jealous and put her to the test. To help with the spiritual lesson here we need to consider that at this time in the old testament the husband represented God and the wife was the Israelites. Since new testament times the husband represented Jesus and the wife represented the church. This is the message of Ephesians 5. So both God and Jesus are “jealous” for us, they want us to stay with them and our actions are tested. Let us not do anything that causes God or our Lord Jesus to be jealous. In Proverbs 2 we read about the 2 types of people who respond in different ways to God’s word. The one rejects it and the other accepts it and lives by it. The one who puts sin “outside the camp” is the one who gets life. The one who hangs onto sin is rejected by God. Only by obeying God can we understand justice and righteousness, verse 9. Interesting that this links to Deuteronomy 32 verse 4, where we read that God is the rock and his character is just and righteous. This is how we should be too as we try to become like him. We have to understand God’s ways, this is why we put sins outside the “camp”, ie we keep the things that tempt us outside our mind and consciousness! Proverbs 2 verse 12 is God’s aim that he wants to save us from corruption and evil. So we clearly see why God wants us to stay away from sin. Then we walk with the righteous, verse 20; these ways are good ie the right way is wisdom. The first part of Proverbs is about wisdom. And wisdom always brings us to Jesus. In Luke 16 we read of 2 examples as parables of Jesus. The first is the shrewd manager who did not do what he should have done. And then he just pleased his fellows so that they would “reward” him. We should want to always please our master. The other is the rich man and Lazarus that teaches us to use the opportunity now to please God and also Jesus. Verse 10 puts the first lesson into perspective, ie if we are unrighteous in anything small, we will be unrighteous in a lot. Therefore, we are not trusted. On the other hand, if we are faithful in a little we will be faithful in a lot! IE we will be trusted. Therefore we have to use whatever we have been given in the best way. This parable is clearly not about riches because of the disparaging reaction by the Pharisees, verse 14. If we want to be in the kingdom we have to be wise and try to demonstrate in our lives now that we are trying to act like both God and Jesus. The second parable with the rich man and Lazarus is about making the best use of time now because judgement is coming. The rich man had lots of opportunity to help. But he chose not to and he lost his opportunity. He did not put his sins outside the camp. Neither did he learn God’s wisdom. He acted unfaithfully. These parables give great spiritual lessons for us and equip us to walk with both God and Jesus, by being faithful and taking opportunities. The point in each of today’s readings is that you cannot serve both God and man (or money), verse 13. It is either the one or the other. This is another reason why God said to put the sins outside the camp, in other words the ways of human thinking is outside because these do not lead to life. We have a wonderful opportunity to have life so let us take the opportunities now to please our master. All this is hard. This is why we need Jesus. Only through him can we be saved. Hebrews 4 verse 14-16. We remember this grace in bread and wine. We remember too that if we try our best to put things outside the camp, we have life too. All because of Jesus. March

March 25th

The Nazirite vow in Numbers 6 is detailed and very prescriptive, therefore it was to be taken seriously. Although this was voluntary, it was still a serious matter. The woman or man who was entering into a vow of separation was bound to the vow by God and even if they were contaminated by a dead body, ie someone suddenly dying when they were there, was seen as them sinning by being contaminated, verse 11. In this case they had to start again, verse 12. The period of the vow was a big commitment for the individuals who entered into this, verse 1-4. When they eventually completed their vow they had to make certain offerings, interestingly all similar to those offered by the priests, verse 13-21. All of us who have been baptised made vows when we made a commitment to follow Jesus and also God. Those of us who are married made a commitment before God to remain faithful to our partner. So our “vows” have to also be taken seriously. We may also want to make additional vows to thank God for a specific thing, for example, but before we do we need to ensure that we are serious about it, because God will hold us to it. We obviously do not enter into the same physical actions as those who took vows in Moses’ time but our attitude should still be the same. The final blessing in this chapter is wonderful and applies to those who are committed and serious, verse 22-27. It is interesting that in Luke 1, Zachariah was due to say these words to bless the people when he came out of the temple but he could not because he could not speak because of a lack of faith. Proverbs 3 talks about wisdom. The chapter starts by reminding us to remember and obey God’s teachings and ways, verse 1-4. We are not to rely on our own understanding. We are supposed to be so determined to know what God wants us to do that his “word is in our hearts”, ie we should be reading and learning his ways every day. This is how we find favour in God, verse 4, and then gain help, verse 5. If we acknowledge him he will lead us, verse 6, just as it says in the blessing via Moses. The problem that we all have is that if we follow our own human thoughts and ideas we will be led astray and led from God so we should always take the things of God seriously. God will do what he can to redirect us when we fail to follow him, verse 11, and we are happy if we apply his wisdom to our lives, verse 13. The great benefits of God’s wisdom are far better than anything else, even rubies, silver and gold, verse 14-15. Verse 16-18 remind us that the wisdom of God brings us life and it is this that we should be craving. Wisdom brings the benefits that God will not allow us to fall, providing we are trying our best to be followers of God. This really is wisdom. The wise accept that God’s ways are right, the wise aim for the kingdom and try not to be distracted by human ways because they cannot save. It is wise to remember that God is interested in the earth, this is where his love is centred and where our focus should be too, verse 19-20. Both God and Jesus know that we will fail and sin, but there are consequences for those who cause others to sin, Luke 17 verse 1-5. It is better, says Jesus, that the person who causes another to sin should be thrown into the sea with a weight around his neck, in other words it would be better if that person was dead! This is how serious it is if we disregard God or cause others to sin. However, God is forgiving, and we should be too, when someone who sins against us repents. Faith is important, the disciples asked Jesus to increase it, verse 5, and Jesus used the healing of the lepers to demonstrate an individual’s faith, verse 19. This man was one of 10 people who asked Jesus to heal them, they all had faith, but only he really understood and accepted both God and Jesus because only he came back to acknowledge his healing and thank Jesus, verse 15-18. Only this man had started to understand the things of God.  The way that Jesus responds to the Pharisees appears to help us here to understand what is happening, verse 20-21. Jesus was in effect saying that he was the King and if there was a King then there must be a Kingdom…he was in the middle of the group of people he was talking to so he could say the Kingdom of God is among you. If we want to be in the physical kingdom when Jesus comes back we need to be trying to live the things of the kingdom in our lives now. Many are looking for the return of Jesus and Jesus suggests this in verse 22-24. There will be no doubt when Jesus physically comes back, it will be obvious to all who are looking for it. Sadly Jesus had to suffer first to bring this about and he suffered death but then resurrection…for us. We may have to suffer too as we wait for Jesus to come back and we have indications of this in the similarities with both Noah’s and Lot’s time verse 26-31. At the end judgement came, but if we are faithful, wise and we look forward to the Kingdom, we will not look back with regret as did Lot’s wife, verse 32-36. So let us all resolve to do our best to please both God and Jesus as best as we can. March

March 26th

So the tabernacle was now completed exactly to God’s plan and now it was to be dedicated to God…. we read about this in Numbers 7 verse 1-2. All the people had contributed to its building and now they were to contribute to the transport for everything, verse 3-8. Note verse 9 that the ark and other articles were to be carried by people rather than carts, it was important that God’s instructions were followed. All of the tribes all had the same opportunity to give and all gave the same at this time of dedication. Each nominated representative brought the offerings, verse 10-11, the details of which are repeated 13 times for each of the 12 tribes, one tribe each day. the words for Judah are the same for the other 11, verse 12-17. All were a commitment, all cost and all were the best. This is how we should respond when we are doing things for God, we should be doing and giving our best and also we should be united in how we go about our activities. By the end of the 12 days a lot had been done and dedicated to God – it is a great thing for us all to work together, each contributing a part. The tabernacle itself was a contribution and now the dedication was. The summary of items is in verse 84-88. God was obviously pleased with the dedication and the end result because we read he spoke with Moses, verse 89, that message is in tomorrow’s chapter. The lesson we have for today is one of unity, equality and commitment.  Proverbs 4 continues with the importance of wisdom and making it our priority. We have to love wisdom and our reward is help, verse 1-9. There is no other way that we can get help to the life that God has promised us other than loving his wisdom, verse 10-13. This love that we should show is not “walking with the wicked”, verse 14-17, they do not have the way of hope, and sadly if we walk with them we will end up like them. In contrast the righteous are in the light, this is a repeated message of the Bible, and those who walk in the light have that future in the kingdom. So the message is to keep listening to God and putting what he teaches into practice, verse 20-27 – this is what each of the tribes did in our Numbers’ reading and it should be what each of us are doing as we walk to the kingdom. Jesus’ parables in Luke 18 again help us to gain further lessons in how we stay faithful to God. First we need to keep praying, just like the lady kept asking for justice, verse 1-8. Not that God is anything like the unjust judge, but God gives what is right for his people. The message is to keep praying. Secondly we have to remain humble; pride will not get us into the kingdom, neither will our prayers be listened to if we are proud , verse 9-14. Jesus makes it very clear that unless we become like little children we will not enter the kingdom, verse 17, we need to be humble and obey. We also need to reflect God in our dealings with others as the next message shows, verse 18-21. Sadly this man was unhappy because he trusted in his wealth, verse 23. Jesus commented that it is hard for those who trust in riches to enter the kingdom , verse 24-30, and he emphasises that following him and his father involves a cost. Just as it cost the Israelites, it costs us in commitment too, but the rewards of the kingdom are second to none. Jesus demonstrated the cost to him in that it would be his life for us, verse 31-34, although at the time the disciples did not understand. Cost can be in many ways, but whatever form it takes it demands commitment from us all. The blind man at the end of the chapter wanted to see and Jesus gave him that ability, verse 42 – we too should be praying that we can see the things of God and to be wise. it is only the humble and the wise in the things of God who will be brought to the kingdom. March

March 27th

The gospels present us with a picture of our Lord Jesus constantly on the move, travelling between the 2 main centres of his mission – Jerusalem in the south, and Galilee in the north. We also know that on at least one occasion he went even further north, to Tyre and Sidon, and to Caesarea Philippi. But the majority of his journeys were between Jerusalem and Galilee. But behind these physical journeys in geography lies the over-riding purpose of his whole ministry – to give his life to redeem sinners from the devastating consequences of their sins – eternal death, and banishment from fellowship with the Lord their God. And throughout his whole life of conscious awareness of his mission was the realization that his life would be a journey – not a geographical one, but a journey of purpose in life, towards the horrors of Calvary, and the glories of the resurrection morning. And our Lord knew that every geographical journey he made to Jerusalem would bring ever nearer the awful moment when he would make that journey for the last time, to surrender himself into the hands of evil men who would take away his life in such a painful and degrading way. And it is Luke’s gospel that brings the reality of this final journey to our attention. 9:51-13:22 (:33 )-17:11-18:31-19:28,41. That first passage takes us back to some prophetic words about our Lord recorded by Isaiah – ch 50 – one of Isaiah’s 4 servant songs. Here we find the basis of our Lord’s resoluteness in the face of the ordeal that awaited him – his close, daily communion with his Father who taught him through his life of regular prayer and meditation. As our Lord Jesus read the (Old Testament) Scriptures it would be revealed to him that certain passages – such as this one – were about him. He knew in advance how his life was mapped out; his destiny as the Lord’s servant who would have to surrender his life so that sin and death might be conquered. We know there are occasions where our Lord made specific journeys to meet particular individuals. The most obvious example of this is the woman of Samaria. The Syro-Phoenician woman may well be another example. And I want to suggest to you that the Lord’s visit to Jericho in today’s reading is another one. Luke’s gospel does focus upon disadvantaged groups in Jewish society; he talks about women more than any of the other gospel writers; he also refers to publicans and sinners more often than the others, often in the same breath (5:30; 15:1). Publicans were a detested group of people for the Jews, because of their links with the Roman occupying power. The Roman way of raising taxes from the Jews was by selling the right to collect the various taxes within a defined geographical area to ‘publicani’, who would then extort the money from the common people and add a significant mark-up for themselves. It was a recipe for bringing out the very worst in human nature. And in Luke 19 we have a man called Zaccheus, who was not only a publican, but even worse, he was a chief publican – someone who had other tax-collectors under him. No doubt we are meant to conclude that he was a rich man BECAUSE of his hated profession. Why do I suggest that Jesus went to Jericho to find this man? – because of ch 18, and the parable. The 2 men described in the parable are so exaggerated in their actions that the parable can only have been based on 2 real individuals whom the Lord had observed at some stage on one of his visits to the temple in Jerusalem. I believe the Lord went to find Zaccheus. The details of the story are delightful. We can easily imagine the crowd in Jericho doing everything possible to prevent Zaccheus getting anywhere near Jesus, exploiting the one advantage they had over him – height! So, he has to resort to inventiveness and resourcefulness – he climbs a tree. And Jesus walks under it. The tree was a sycamore – or more accurately an Egyptian fig tree. Jesus looks up, and sees a piece of fruit ready for picking – a man ready to renounce his life of exploitation. The publican in his prayer had asked for mercy – and now Jesus is going to confirm to this man that he can be rehabilitated. He invites himself to Zaccheus’ house – he “must” come – just as Jesus “must” pass through Samaria in John 4, even though it was not geographically necessary for him to take that particular route. The language of the event continues to strike with force – salvation has come to the house. What has come to the house is the Lord Jesus – the very embodiment of the “salvation of God” which Luke has already shown to be the ‘leitmotif’ of his gospel record (2:30; 3:6). The story does not read of someone who, on a whim decided to climb a tree and who was instantly converted. It is far easier to see it as the account of a man who had already concluded that his past way of life was unsustainable, and was looking for a way of launching into a new life. He was a lost sheep, and the good shepherd went looking for him. Having accomplished that particular mission, the Lord will continue his journey towards Jerusalem (v28), no doubt encouraged by the success of the Zaccheus story. But he will also be heavy-hearted in the knowledge that his mission of love and grace was to be cruelly and brutally rejected by the Jewish leaders. Our Lord would be feeling this sadness on his own behalf, coupled with the very real fear of the inhumane treatment he would shortly be experiencing. But he would also be feeling that sadness on behalf of those shepherd-less sheep who were now rejoicing because they thought that the prospect of their deliverance from Rome was imminent, but who would within just a few days be baying for their king’s blood. We need to view our Lord as the same combination of conflicting emotions as we ourselves have – capable of high euphoria and profound sadness. And as he approaches Jerusalem for the last time on this journey of purpose that Luke has been charting for us we see him shedding tears- consumed with sadness at what the city will experience because of their rejection of him (v41-). And just 40 years later the city did indeed suffer terribly at the hands of the Romans who effectively destroyed the city and brought their Temple-based system of worship to a violent end. Hundreds of thousands perished, and equally large numbers were sold into slavery across the Mediterranean world. But even up to the end, in spite of the Lord knowing what awaited him in the form of unjust arrest, illegal trials and brutal execution by crucifixion, the Lord was still reaching out to people, as the closing verses of this chapter show us. The shadow of the cross lay before our Lord throughout his conscious life, and we must never minimize the agonies our Lord endured; he was not some sort of superman figure. His sufferings and pain were very real, and his triumph over them was never inevitable. But we can take heart from what sustained our Lord through all these awful experiences – it was “for the joy set before him” (Heb 12:1-2) – the joy of ascending to his Father’s presence, the joy of victory over sin and death, the joy of sharing that victory with his brothers and sisters. And we confirm that we wish to participate in that victory by sharing together now in bread and wine, expressing our personal as well as our communal gratitude that our Lord made that journey to Jerusalem so that we can have before our eyes that wonderful prospect described earlier in Luke by our Lord – 12:32. March

March 28th

Numbers 10 is the point where the Israelites leave Mt Sinai, where they have been since leaving Egypt. There have been taught by God and they have prepared all of the items that they need to be a godly nation, this time has taken 2 years, 2 months and 20 days, verse 11-13. Just as God had said, when the cloud lifted from over the tabernacle, it was time to leave. Previously God had also initiated the signal of the 2 trumpets, verse 1-7. So when the cloud lifted the priests also blew the trumpets, verse 8 – this was to be a pattern for the following generations. This was a reminder that God would be with them when they faced any enemy, verse 9, it was also a time to remember their rejoicing and praise, verse 10. We all always need reminders of the things that God does for us so that we remember to always call on him, whether for help or in praise – the Israelites used the trumpets, God has given us the Bible, the breaking of bread service, each other and natural things like nature and the things around us – so we should use these reminders to remember God. We discussed this previously when God gave Moses the order of the camp and the order of setting off and setting up camp again, and here in verse 14-28 we see it actually being put into practice. For this to work it had to be in order as God required, there were each of the tribes in order, the tabernacle in the middle, the ark leading the way and the final tribe to be last – it was clear, it was ordered, it was right. It was right because God gave the requirements – sometimes we do not always see the reason for doing things in a particular order, but it is God given and therefore it is right. So the people set out, verse 33-34, in faith they moved on, because God had said that they should and Moses said appropriate words for them moving on, verse 35.  Likewise it is our prayer that our “enemies” be scattered and our “foes” flee before him – these “enemies” and “foes” can often represent our sins and temptations, so we should always pray for this. And when the Israelites and we rest we pray that God will remain with us, verse 36. The Israelites were humble when they followed God and this is what God always calls for in his children. In Proverbs 6 we see the list of the 7 things that God hates and detests, verse 16-19. The list is interesting; he detests “haughty eyes”, ie arrogance and pride; “lying tongues”, ie lies; “hands that shed innocent blood”, ie people who take God’s work into own hands; “heart that devises wicked schemes”, ie corrupt; “feet that are quick to rush into evil”, ie not following godly principles; “false witness”, ie not standing up for what is true; “a man who stirs up dissension among brothers”, ie someone who gossips, plots and makes up or exaggerates stories – all these things God detests. Everyone of us should look at this list and ask if we are involved in anything like this and remind ourselves that God “detests” these things! This proverb is the continuation of a godly father’s advice to his son, advice that we should all be learning from. The advice includes being careful how involved we get with a neighbour, verse 1-5, because he may not be godly, he may be trying to trap you, he may not be thinking of God first. The scriptural principle is to work, and we are invited here to think of the ant, verse 6-11 – we all have responsibilities so we all have to step out in faith, just as the children of Israel did when they moved on. Do not get involved with the “scoundrel and villain”, verse 12-15, disaster will overtake them, and us, if we are involved! These are all warnings for us, and if we are committed to God as we should be, ie only getting involved with godly things, working for God in everything and avoiding the scoundrel and villain, then we will be able to rest in God! The warning against adultery, verses 20-35, clearly has practical advantages, but the obvious teaching is that we are not to be involved in such things. If we do obey the godly things that we are taught, then we will avoid temptations, verse 20-23. This is certainly true practically, but it is just as true spiritually too. We should be familiar with and remember God’s teachings and we should use his teachings to provide “light” for our “path”. Just as a man can “lust after an immoral woman’s beauty”, verse 24-25, all of us can “lust” after things that are not godly – this “man/woman” teaching is often used in the bible by God to show how his children “lusted” after ungodly things and turned away from him. Just like the man committing adultery, all of us experience great difficulties when we turn away from God, verse 26-29, and if we fail to do what God wants us to do, we will suffer one way or another! It is clear in the Bible that there are no categories of sin, ie one is not greater than another, but we are made to think in verse 30-35 of the differences between stealing to feed your family and adultery: stealing to feed your family is clearly wrong (in fact, you have to pay back 7 times!), but humanly speaking there is a justifiable reason for it, but even with human thinking, there is no logical reason to commit adultery, the consequences are just too dangerous. So we think about disregarding God’s teachings and as with adultery, the consequences are also just too dangerous! Sadly in Luke 20, the chief priests, their spies and the Sadducees were clearly arrogant and proud, they had no regard for God’s teachings, and even though they appeared to have a form of godliness, they clearly did not know God’s teachings and therefore rejected Jesus. They looked for ways to kill him, chapter 19 verse 47 and chapter 20 verse 19, they tried to trap him, verse 2 and 20, but each time Jesus saw their doubleminded hearts and answered in appropriate ways. Jesus warned the people to beware of these arrogant teachers, verse 46-47, just as God had said in Proverbs, so Jesus reminded the people again. The parable of the tenants, verse 9-18, reminds us again just how many times God (the land owner) tried to turn his people back to him, eventually sending his own son (ie Jesus), but each time these arrogant teachers rejected God’s attempts. The really sad thing is that the priests knew that Jesus was saying this parable about them, verse 19, so they were too arrogant and proud to accept that they were wrong and to humble themselves. Let us not be like them! Jesus includes some wonderful words in his answer to the Sadducees about the resurrection when he returns, verse 34-38 – we are reminded that God is the God of the living, so we have a wonderful hope in the resurrection if we remain faithful! March

March 29th

Numbers 11 was a disaster for Israel.  The reason for the trouble is given at the end of the previous chapter.  This was their first journey for a year and they had travelled for three days and three nights continuously from Mt Sinai (Numbers 10:33).  During this time they had suffered hardship and complained (11:1).  This was the restart of their complaining against God which continued on and off for the entire wilderness journey.  They next complained about the manna (11:4-6) so that every family complained in its tent (11:10).  God gave them meat, but He also gave them a plague.  It does not make pretty reading.  The apostle Paul warns us, “Do not grumble” (1 Corinthians 10:10).  Are we also like this when life gets hard?  It takes faith to accept the hardship and keep going without complaining.  The journey we are on will get us to the Promised Land.  Let us not complain about the journey.  We should expect hardship.  Philippians 2:14-16 says, “Do everything without complaining or arguing… in which you shine as stars in the universe.”  We can show we are different from those around us by not complaining.  Numbers 11 tells us the impact the complaining had on Moses.  It was so bad, he wanted to die (11:15).  In response to this, God gave 70 elders some of the Holy Spirit from Moses, so that 70 elders could assist in the administration of the people.  It is likely that this is where the Jewish senior council called the Sanhedrin came from.  The people need wise eldership to help them understand the will of God and to accept the journey God has put us on.  We can help others bear their burden and live without complaining. Wisdom is what we find in Proverbs 7.  It is the wisdom found in the commands of God.  We need to have them in front of our eyes all the time to remind us to keep them (verse 2).  When we see things it should help us keep the right way.  If we see someone who wants to lead us into sexual immorality, the commands will remind us not to do this.  We need to have them on our fingers, so that we see the commands when we do anything (verse 3).  In fact, better than being in front of our eyes or on our hands; have them in your heart (verse 3).  Then they are always with us to keep us in the right way.  As it says in Psalm 119:11, “I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you.”  This is what Israel needed to do after having received the commands on Mt Sinai. It was Jesus who kept the words of God in his heart so that he did not sin.  It was Jesus who was tempted in the wilderness and resisted with the help of the word of God.  It was Jesus who did not complain.  Never did he complain by saying, “Why me?”  He knew that the cross is always before the crown.  Jesus predicted that his people would suffer (Luke 21:12-16).  But by “Standing firm you will gain life” (Luke 21:19).  Even if the temptations are like those of Proverbs – the temptations and problems of this life (verse 34) – we should stand firm.  Jesus gives us the advice – “Be always on the watch” (verse 36) – because we will face temptations and evil.  We must stand firm in our faith, so we can stand before Jesus when he comes (verse 36).  Let us learn from the mistakes of Israel and the advice of Jesus and watch that we stand in faith. March

March 30th

Numbers 12-13:  Relationships with the Lord. In chapter 12 we see Miriam and Aaron speaking against Moses. At first we assume they were talking to Moses, but it was probably more likely they were sharing their complaints with other people in the camp, and this is why the Lord acted suddenly. We don’t know the exact reasons for their complaints, but we do know it was linked in some way because of Moses being married to an Ethiopian/Cushite woman. And this was linked to de-valuing Moses in their eyes and seeking for themselves to be more elevated amongst the people. Jealousy, grudges and concerns about how we appear before mankind (pride) are common “sins”, all 3 cause us to “separate” ourselves from the Lord. The Lord’s judgement was just. Miriam, who complained against Moses, was seeking to elevate herself before the people, instead, the Lord humiliated her in front of the people and cast her out of the camp for 7 days, maybe the “leprosy” was a picture of how God saw her, and we should remember this whenever we see pride in ourselves and ask “what does God see?”! The 7 days in isolation was a positive punishment, it gave Miriam time on her own to recognise her true self, and to then return to the camp, a changed woman, ever conscious of God’s forgiveness and mercy. If we have a good relationship with God we naturally want to serve Him, the greatest example of this, being Jesus. The spies in chapter 13 also revealed how their relationship was with the Lord. The Lord had rescued them from Egypt (fulfilling a promise given to them before any one of them was born, ie Gen 15:14). God had fed, watered and led them through the wilderness, in fact had  done everything to prepare them for the promised land (Gen 15:18-21). The people should have realised that the word and will of God was that they would share their lives with Him and to remember that any problems they faced that the Lord was with them, and all problems could be faced together. Caleb and Joshua had a good relationship with the Lord and so could say “The Lord is with us… do not fear them” Numb 14:9. Ten spies did not have the same spirit, because their relationship with the Lord was without love, without trust and without humility. They were separate from the Lord. They were full of fear believing that their enemies were more powerful than themselves, they had not learnt to trust in the Lord and to have faith in His promises. Have we? If we have, we have nothing to fear. Proverbs 8-9:  Who are we listening to? As Christians, we have heard the words and ways of the world and we have heard (thankfully) the words and ways of the Lord. We know which ways are right, we have heard wisdom, but are we listening? “Blessed is the man who LISTENS to me… for whoever finds me finds life and obtains favour from the Lord. But he who sins against me wrongs his own soul; all those who hate me love death” Prov 8:34-36. Wisdom is not just on a page, it is not just something to agree with, it is words of instruction and guidance for the journey to eternal life, available every day, in every situation. If we are not sure what to do, a wise thing to do would be to pray for God’s wisdom as opposed to the world’s supposed “wisdom”! Very often this brings unexpected answers, but that is because we do not always realise what we really need within God’s plan of salvation. There is none wiser than God, He knows all things, we can trust in Him and  His will for us, we cannot trust in the world or even ourselves, so let’s continually listen to Him and walk with Him. Luke 22:  Tears? All 4 gospels record the “last supper”. Each writer recalls what happened at that meal with Jesus, and I am sure all 4 writers would be crying as they were writing. There were many reasons to cry. Verses 1-6: The contrast between Jesus and the chief priests, scribes and Judas. He wanted to save them, but they wanted to kill him and to humiliate him. Judas chose to have some money instead of the love of Jesus. The chief priests feared they would lose their position of authority in a wicked society, for them, it was not about right or wrong, it was them or Jesus! Jesus chose to die, the righteous for the unrighteous. Verses 7-18: Peter and John were told by Jesus to go and prepare a place for the “last supper”. They quickly realised everything had already been prepared by Jesus, they would later realise that these preparations were done because he “fervently desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer”. How humbling, to be one of the chosen to share that meal of fellowship and to realise that Jesus had a fervent desire to share precious time with them, even though he knew they would all quickly fail him! Verses 19-20:  The Lord’s words “My body which is given FOR YOU” and “My blood, which is shed FOR YOU”. The disciples would have shed tears when they recalled those words. We too, when we break bread and drink some wine together in fellowship recall Jesus’ words “For you”. The words are for all of us individually and for all of his brothers and sisters collectively. Jesus’  sacrificial life was given for us, not that we should continue in ignorance or selfishness, but that we might seek forgiveness, correct our ways and follow and serve our saviour. Verses 24-30: Tears would happen again when the disciples remembered Jesus was giving them loving words of guidance and serving them, yet they were arguing who would be the greatest! Jesus had not given up on them, but he knew they needed changing. So he gave them an example, he washed their feet, the son of God washing their feet! The disciples would also recall that Jesus had prepared for this situation by instructing a man to “carry a pitcher of water” to the meeting place. Jesus knew they would have the wrong spirit, but he was still patient with them and kept “teaching” them to change, ie to be like him. Are we humbled by the son of God? And if so, how long does that “change” last? Verses 31-34: The Lord knows us better than we do. Peter said “I am ready to go with you, both to prison and to death”. Whereas Jesus had said “I have prayed for you, that your faith should not fail, and when you have returned to me, strengthen your brothers”. Peter quickly failed, denying Jesus three times , and when he realised what he had done he wept bitterly. Peter thought he was strong, but when he was tested, he was a weak, denying disciple. But Jesus had given him words to remember that showed Jesus knew what Peter would do, but despite this, Jesus had not abandoned him! He had prayed for him and when Peter had returned to Jesus, ie re-dedicated himself, Jesus had given him the responsibility to “strengthen your brothers”. Tears continue throughout the gospels as we see the spirit of Jesus seeking to change the spirit of mankind. Peter was changed, he was now a brave willing witness of Jesus, appealing to those who shouted “crucify him, crucify him”, so that they too might understand the life of Jesus, given for them, that they might repent, be baptised and be forgiven. “Greater love has no one than this, than to lay down one’s life for his friends. Is Jesus our friend? “You are my friends if you do whatever I command you” – Jesus laid down his life for us, no denial there,  are we faithful and loving in response? Jesus could not have done more, but we can! March

March 31st

It is very obvious to all of us that there are 2 sides to human nature – we are reminded by the various wars going on in the world of what terrible things human beings are capable of doing, yet during these same times we also see the good sides of human nature coming out by people opening their homes and giving help to complete strangers who have become refugees. All 3 readings today show the extremes of human nature, ie both the good and the bad. In God’s eyes “good” is only doing things that are motivated by him and demonstrating his character; “bad” things are rejecting him and acting in ways that he would not. Numbers 14 starts with the “bad” character, verse 1-4, “all” the people “grumbled” against Moses and Aaron, they took out their anger on the leaders, but what they were really doing was complaining against and rejecting God! They were demonstrating a complete disregard for what God had done for them in bringing them out of Egypt in the first place. They had forgotten how much they suffered there and in fact the only thing that they were suffering now was a fear of the unknown! No one was attacking them, no one was opposing them, they saw no evidence of trouble and they forgot just how much God had helped them in the recent past! Understandably Moses and Aaron were distraught by the people’s ungodly attitude, verse 5, but the real “good” comes out in how Caleb and Joshua responded, verse 6-9 – they stood up for what was right and gave evidence for their belief and exhorted the people not to rebel and not to be afraid – they stood up for God! We all need strong Godly leaders, like Moses, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua and we need to respect them as we are taught in the New Testament. However, the people had no respect for them at all, in fact they talked about killing them, verse 10 – this is terrible and God steps in, as he always does in situations like this. There are times when our elders and leaders (our shepherds) have to stand up for what is right. God sees what is happening as he did here and he immediately responded, verse 11-12 – this should serve as a warning to any of us who oppose our clearly godly leaders! We see another “good” characteristic in Moses. This is the second time that God has said that he will make a great nation from Moses’ descendants because he was going to destroy the people, but each time Moses demonstrates complete humility, intercedes for the people and humbly says to God what God would have already known anyway, verse 13-16. Moses recognises the character of God and gives him all the praise and glory, verse 17-19. This is an example of the character that God wants to be shown in his people – a humble and a contrite heart! The “test” that God had set was passed by Moses, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua, but the people sadly failed.  Although God forgave them, verse 20, there were consequences, verse 21-23. This is a very immediate response and one that we should remember too in how we live our lives – we should not “treat God with contempt” by the things that we do, however, big or small we may think them to be! All our actions should respect God and deny our own selfish ambitions. It is recorded here how it was only Caleb’s spirit that was different, verse 24, and both he and Joshua would see the land, verse 30 and 38. Those who demonstrated contempt would not enter the land, verse 32-35 – a big consequence!  It was even more severe for those who had spread the bad reports and caused the people to sin, verse 36-37 – they had a greater responsibility and they failed in their response and were immediately punished. So we really do have to be careful what we say that could cause others to sin, remembering that God is always aware of what is happening. Sadly the people had still not learnt, despite God saying that they would now have to spend 40 years in the desert, they did accept their sin, but they still went against God and suffered even further consequences, verse 41-45. When we look at Proverbs 10 we see this same “good” and “bad” in human nature, all but 4 of the verses have a “good” and a “bad” side for us to think about – it is only the “good” that reaps the reward; the “bad” suffer consequences – read through all the verses to see how, as a Christian, we should be acting every day! Moses, Aaron, Caleb and Joshua clearly acted in ways to get the rewards. The 4 verses that only have 1 element in are as equally important, these are verse 10, 15, 22 and 26, each has a special message in order to reemphasise what is being said elsewhere in the chapter. Verse 10 is all “bad”, clearly the one who does anything “maliciously” is “bad”, so too the “chattering fool”, ie someone who just says anything and does not pass on the wisdom of God. Verse 15 is an interesting verse because it talks about both wealth and poverty in a “bad” light, however if we look at Proverbs 18 verse 11 and Psalm 52 verse 7, we see that having faith in “wealth” is “bad”, because it cannot save; whereas the godly poor person will see the futility of those who trusted in wealth! It is the blessing of the Lord that brings “wealth”, verse 22, it is therefore God we should trust in and not in human beings. And verse 26 shows us just how “bad” being lazy is, ie it is painful! So again the lesson for us is clear, we should respect and follow God and not oppose him in what we say or do. In Luke 23 there is a group of people who clearly opposed God and Jesus and a group who clearly remained or became faithful. The “whole assembly”, verse 1, took Jesus to Pilate to accuse him – presumably these were the Jewish leaders who were inciting the people and also telling lies to convict Jesus, verse 2. This was not what Jesus had said, he actually said to “give to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s”. Despite Pilate saying that he could find no fault, verse 4, they insisted that Jesus caused trouble by his teaching, verse 5, this was their second attempt. Again after Herod had found no fault, their third attempt was to choose Barabbas, verse 18 and their fourth was to continue with their insistence, verse 23. Others mocked, verse 11, 35 and 39, clearly they were treated both God and Jesus with contempt! The other group though clearly had full respect and listened and responded. One of the criminals who was crucified with Jesus challenged his peer, verse 40-43, he was rewarded with the promise that he would be in the kingdom when Jesus came back to the earth. The centurion praised God after he witnessed the events surrounding Jesus’ death, verse 47; others who were around also were affected, verse 48; those who knew Jesus watched, verse 49; Joseph stood up for his beliefs, verse 50-54 and the women cared for his body, verse 55-56. All these in the “good” group responded in the “good” ways as listed in Proverbs. This is how we should respond too in everything that we do. March

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