English Bible reading thoughts – April to June

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April

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April 1st

Numbers 15 details some of the additional offerings that would be required by God’s children when they reached the land that God had promised to them, verse 1-2; included with the actual burnt offering there was to be flour and oil mix and wine, all prepared in a particular manner, verse 11, and also to be included with every sacrifice, verse 12. The laws applied to everyone who was “native-born” AND the “alien”, verse 13-16. So whoever wanted to be part of God’s people and whoever wanted to benefit from God’s blessing had to follow God’s requirements. It was to be for the “generations to come”, ie all of their descendants, and for all those who wanted to follow God. This is a wonderful situation to be in, God wanted everyone to benefit from his promises and he excluded no one, providing they followed his ways. Also when they reached the land they were to present a food offering to God, verse 17-21, again this was for the benefit of all, including future generations, but like all of those mentioned in this chapter, the people were to show appreciation and respect to God for his love for them. Although we are not required to carry out these particular offerings now, you can see just how important our breaking of bread service and the complete offerings of our lives in service now are – we need to have the same commitment to thanking God and showing our appreciation for the things that he does for us. Admittingly we do make mistakes in our service, and this is referred to as “unintentional”, verse 22-26, and then for individual unintentional sins, verse 27-28, but the important lesson that comes from this is how we recognise if an action is unintentional? We have to always read and be familiar with God wants and to also lovingly challenge each other if a group or individual makes a mistake unintentionally. It is important for all of us to remember what God wants! In God’s love he has provided a way of forgiveness for everyone, including the “alien”, verse 29. God really does want us all to be saved! However, there remain those intentional sins, where we deliberately plan to disobey or disregard God’s laws – this is rebellion, and when this happens then people have excluded themselves from God’s love, verse 30-31. In case we wonder what this means there is an example for us to think about in the following verses.  The man who deliberately gathered wood on the Sabbath, verse 32-36. It sounds really drastic that he should be stoned just for gathering sticks, but he was obviously doing it deliberately even though he knew it was wrong, and it shows just how much God wants us to follow him and he wants to stop those who are rebelling from corrupting those who are faithful! So we do really need to think about what we actually do that can be considered as “rebelling” against God – it may be stealing, it may be being drunk, it maybe lying, it maybe lusting, it may be arguing with our wife or husband, it may be only thinking about God and Jesus on a Sunday, it maybe only attending our breaking of bread services when there are visitors – it can be many things that just creep into our lives. God knows that we are vulnerable which is why he provides reminders for us, we have the breaking of bread each Sunday, our reading of the Bible each day, our talking and discussion with brothers and sisters.  In this chapter the people were asked to make tassels on their garments as additional reminders for them to always obey God, verse 37-40. We need to consider all of the reminders that God gives us to remember him and his ways, if we ignore these reminders we can easily fall into bad habits and we could rebel against God. Proverbs 11 continues to build the picture for us of what are “good” and what are “bad” characteristics, the verses that do not necessarily show an opposite characteristic in this chapter are verse 7, 22, 25 and 29-30, but are all equally important because like all the verses, they are God given! Each verse needs to be read carefully and each of us should ask which part of the verse applies to me, is it “good” or “bad”? Now is the time to change! The chapter starts with God saying that he “hates dishonest scales”, ie he hates people cheating others, verse 1! We know that all through the Bible we read that pride is “bad”, verse 2 reminds us of the difference between pride and humility! The last verses make us think of the kingdom, verse 30, involves the “righteous” teaching others so that they too can be saved and verse 31 makes it clear that the righteous will receive their reward when Jesus returns to the earth, just as those who continue to rebel will! Luke 24 is the chapter about the resurrection of Jesus, through which all of us can be saved if we do our best to follow both God and Jesus. I love the way that the women demonstrated their love for Jesus, by going “early in the morning”; we get the loving challenge of the angels, verse 4-7, which led to them “remembering”, verse 8. I love the way that the 11 disciples and the others were still together, verse 9-10. Even though they did not believe the women, verse 11, Peter ran to the tomb himself, verse 12. I love the way that the 2 followers were talking about Jesus as they walked, verse 13-14, and how they responded when this “stranger” appeared not to be aware of the events in Jerusalem, verse 17. All of them were confused about the events, but they remained faithful to Jesus, this is a wonderful lesson for us too when we are often confused by events. Our confusion can sometimes be exaggerated because we have not remembered what we have been taught. The importance of teaching and learning is demonstrated by Jesus, verse 25-27 and verse 44-43, we too have to see Jesus in all of the Bible – we have been reading the Law of Moses, we should see Jesus in the sacrifices and the offerings, we have just finished reading the psalms, there too we should see Jesus; and God willing when we start reading the prophets’ books we will continue to see Jesus. The eyes of the two on the road to Emmaus were opened so that they recognised Jesus when they broke bread, verse 30-31; the disciples and the others understood when Jesus reminded them from the Bible the things that were said about him, verse 45-47. These are our “reminders”, plus others too. They are exciting and wonderful and our hearts should be burning, verse 32, and we should want to be witnesses and to teach others about the wonderful things that we have been promised, verse 48. Jesus’ message to all of us is not to be afraid and not to doubt, verse 38, Jesus has been raised from the dead as God had promised.  God took the Israelites into the promised land, as he had promised and Jesus will return as God has promised. So like the disciples we too should go on our way with “great joy” and “praising God”, verse 52-53. Repentance and forgiveness of sins has been brought about by Jesus, and we can be confident in this, providing we remain faithful. April

April 2nd

Just as we saw in Numbers 15 yesterday an example of human failure after a lesson, we have the same today in Numbers 16 which is an example of human pride which follows the lesson about remembering and using reminders in the previous chapter. Korah, Dathan and Abiram were proud and considered themselves to be as good as, if not better than Moses and Aaron – more significantly they were so arrogant and insolent that they showed no respect for God’s choice of leaders at this time. The human mind is so dangerous if not challenged by ourselves and others. We see the corruption that was caused here by a few who became arrogant and thought that they could do better than others and craved leadership themselves, forgetting that they too were servants. This is the problem when brothers and sisters forget that everyone of us is a servant, some may have leadership or elder roles but they are servants and their duties should be carried out in humility. Look what happened here when the few became proud, they convinced 250 others, verse 1-2, they also convinced some of the people, verse 41.  Unchallenged pride is so destructive and there are consequences. In this case all these 3 were killed by God, verse 31-34; the 250 were killed, verse 35 and then 14,700 others died of plague, verse 49. The disruption and distress that was caused by a few who rebelled was significant – pride is a killer! It may not be as dramatic as this in our experience, but God remains the same and demands our respect at all times and he demands humility, so we all need to remember that we are all servants, all with different roles to play, all as equally important, but we must serve, not lord it over others. The humility of both Moses and Aaron is in stark contrast to these men who should have known better – twice in this chapter Moses and Aaron demonstrated their humility by protesting to God about God’s “plans” to destroy the “wicked people”, verse 22 and 45, they basically interceded for the people again to stop God destroying them as their actions deserved – this reminds us of what Jesus does for us in saving us from our sins! The human mind is deceptive, it twists the truth – this was demonstrated by Dathan and Abiram’s response to Moses, verse 12-14, they conveniently forgot that their life in Egypt as slaves was not a land “flowing with milk and honey” and they knew full well that it was not Moses’ fault that they were now in the desert and not in the “land flowing with milk and honey” as God had promised – it was because of the rebellion of the people, including themselves (Nu 14). All of these rebels knew too that it was God who had put both Moses and Aaron into these servant leadership roles, yet they again conveniently forgot this. Moses was right in his condemnation of these rebels, verse 8-11, they had “gone too far!” God is always just, he always sees and he always knows the motives of our hearts. He also knows that we need constant reminders to help us to keep control of our human nature, and he gives another reminder to his people in the form of the bronze from the censors of the 250 men which was now to be made into a covering of the altar, verse 36-40. God gives his children very many opportunities to remain faithful to him. The way that the people rebelled again the next day shows us just how corrupt our human nature is, verse 41, this is another “reminder” how much we need Jesus! A close reading of Proverbs 12, looking at each of the verses and considering the “good” and the “bad” characteristics in them, demonstrates why God destroyed the rebels in Exodus in the way that he did. The first part of verse 1, ie “Whoever loves discipline loves knowledge”, is a good description of Moses’ and Aaron’s character, so too is the first part of verse 2 and the last part of verse 3. In contrast the second part of verse 1, ie “but he who hates correction is stupid”, describes the rebels, so too the second part of verse 2 and first part of verse 3. The first part of verse 7 describes the rebels, the second part describes Moses and Aaron. With the exception of verse 14 and 28 you can see these “good” and “bad” characteristics again. Which are you? It is always obvious who the righteous are, verse 14 says that by the things someone says we can tell if there are good things in their mind and we see that they are rewarded – Moses and Aaron’s words showed them to be full of good things. Not so the rebels – all they did was complain to others about Moses and Aaron! Verse 28 shows us the reward of the righteous, ie life in God’s kingdom when Jesus comes back, again not so for the rebels! There are at least 3 verses in this chapter that exhort us to work and not to be lazy, eg verse 11, 24 and 27, we all need to accept the situation and the role that God has put us in and make the most of the opportunities that he has given us.  We have to work at what God has given us to do, perhaps if the rebels were more diligent in the roles that they were given then they would not have had time to complain! Paul was suffering from unloving challenges from the early Christians in Galatians 1 and 2. People were saying that he should not be the servant in the way that he was, and suggesting that he was there by his own making, so Paul had to vigorously challenge this, chapter 1 verse 1, 11-24, chapter 2 verse 1-5. Notice how Paul makes the point repeatedly that he was not in this servant role because of man, he was put there by both God and Jesus. So the challenge of godly servant leaders was not unique to Moses and Aaron, it happened to many others, including to Paul and significantly to Jesus and sadly it continues to happen today – but as always God knows! Paul’s words in verse 6-9 should echo our own disbelief when we witness fellow believers who gossip, and who unlovingly complain and challenge others who have certain roles (which may seem more important, but are not) – this is pride and is totally wrong. Instead all of us should be helping and encouraging godly practice from our servant leaders. However, there are times when there is a need to challenge those leaders for their ungodly actions.  For example, Paul had to challenge Peter in chapter 2 when Peter sided with the Jewish Christians in the church and moved away from the Gentile Christians, verse 11-13. Paul knew that Peter was wrong so he challenged him, verse 14, the reason for his challenge is in verse 15-16. In Christ there is no difference between Jew or Gentile, because all of us need Jesus for our salvation to free ourselves from the effects of our human nature that so quickly corrupts us, verse 17-21. The big lessons from today’s chapters are to avoid pride, this corrupts; accept who God appoints; remain humble; consider “good” and “bad” characteristics and see where we fit; lovingly challenge those who allow human characteristics to become dominant and above all acknowledge that we are all sinners and need Jesus for our salvation. April

April 3rd

Today we are going to look at wisdom, taking Proverbs 13 as the starting point. The motto at a school that I attended was, “Seek Wisdom”. This may seem like a good motto, but I can’t ever remember any of the staff telling us about what wisdom is, or where to find it. The motto, “Seek Wisdom” sounds like it is from the Bible, so let us start our study by looking for the first person in the Bible who sought wisdom? Think about who was the first person who wanted to gain wisdom. I wonder if you guessed it. We find it in Genesis 3:6: “So when the woman saw that the tree was good for food, that it was pleasant to the eyes, and a tree desirable to make one wise, she took of its fruit and ate. She also gave to her husband with her, and he ate.” A tree to be desirable to make one wise! What resulted from Eve’s desire to gain wisdom? It resulted in death, pain, sorrow, tears and mourning. In fact, all of the suffering in this present world began because Eve sought wisdom. This doesn’t seem like a good start of a study on the subject of “Seek Wisdom”. I don’t think that I am successfully persuading you to seek wisdom. Perhaps we can do better when we read what Solomon has to say: When we look at Ecclesiastes 1, we find Solomon’s conclusion: verse 13-14 “And I set my heart to seek and search out by wisdom concerning all that is done under heaven; this burdensome task God has given to the sons of man, by which they may be exercised. I have seen all the works that are done under the sun; and indeed, all is vanity and grasping for the wind.” Solomon applied his wisdom, and concluded that all is “vanity and grasping for the wind”, or in other words, worthless and pointless. He found that his wisdom produced nothing but depression. So far, I doubt that I am convincing you of the benefits of seeking wisdom. Perhaps we can do better in the New Testament. Please carefully note what Paul tells us about wisdom in 1 Corinthians 1:18-23 “For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: “I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, And bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.” Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe.  For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness.” Paul agrees with Solomon. The wisdom of the wise of this world cannot save them. So far, I don’t think that I am presenting a good case for seeking wisdom. Let’s see if James can produce some light on the problem. We find a very different kind of wisdom in James 3. First let’s look at the wrong sort of wisdom that is described, then the right sort: verse 15-16 “This wisdom does not descend from above, but is earthly, sensual, demonic. For where envy and self-seeking exist, confusion and every evil thing are there.” One of the greatest dangers for us is that the wisdom of this world is very enticing to those who cannot see it for what it is. In this world’s reasoning, it is wise to seek to be rich and powerful and happy even if it harms others. As James says, this leads to envy, strife, confusion and evil. In verses 17 and 18 we read of the wisdom that we need to develop: “But the wisdom that is from above is first pure, then peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality and without hypocrisy. Now the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace by those who make peace.” We find that there are two kinds of wisdom. There is one that is destructive, and one that is peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy. The hypocrisy of the humanist can be seen, in that if he truthfully, he must admit that he believes that selfishness has been proven over millions of years of to be good, in that it has supposedly driven the process of the evolution of higher species by natural selection. Eve in Genesis 3, showed how the wisdom of this world is very attractive and desirable, but leads to  pain, sorrow and death. The motto, Seek Wisdom” was on the school badge on our uniforms. The badge also had a picture of a tree. Perhaps the person who designed the badge had some vague idea of a tree connected with gaining wisdom. If so, it is clear that he had not understood the Biblical significance. In the Ecclesiastes, Solomon applies his wisdom to look at the world from the perspective of godlessness, and finds there hopelessness and depression. In the letter to the Corinthians we read of how the wisdom of this world causes people to miss the simplicity of Christ crucified. In James’ letter, it is clarified that there is an earthly wisdom and a wisdom from above. James 3:17 tells us of a way to develop the wisdom from above. Let’s consider his list: Pure – Avoiding contamination from the false beliefs and philosophy of this world; Peaceable – Seeking to live in peace with our neighbours; Gentle – Taking care to never be hurtful in what we do and say; Willing to yield – Not always insisting on having our own way; Full of mercy – Forgiving those who offend against us; Remember what Jesus said as he was in great pain and nearing death on the cross; Good fruits – In Galatians 5 we find a list of the fruit of the spirit; Without partiality – Showing love and respect to all irrespective of how rich or poor they are, irrespective of their background, irrespective of their appearance; Without hypocrisy – no play acting for us – no pretence of love – always genuine. The problem with the school motto, “Seek wisdom”, is that it didn’t tell us where to seek wisdom. It didn’t tell us how to seek wisdom; it didn’t tell us that there is a worldly wisdom and a wisdom from above; It didn’t tell us that one ends in death and the other in eternal life. The wise of this world have no hope of life beyond a few decades despite their ambitions, but because our Lord willingly offered himself, we have a hope of eternal life. To the godless intellectuals of this world, what we do when we break bread and drink wine to remember Jesus is foolishness. Sharing in prayers of thanks followed by eating a small piece of bread and a sip of wine in memory of a man who was crucified 2000 years ago. Little do they understand His victory over sin and death, gives us life eternal. April

April 4th

Very simply put our reading in Numbers 19 is about cleansing from sin. The constant reminder of sin is death. The cleansing from sin and death involves water, this symbolic cleansing by water was made possible by a sacrifice of the heifer – a “red” heifer – “red” is literally “Edom” which means “earth” or dust. It does not take much imagination to see that the symbolic cleaning of the water is equivalent to baptism; this is only possible because of Jesus’ sacrifice.  Jesus was from dust, ie human, just like we are; but he was without sin, so if we want to be “cleaned” we need to wash in the water of “baptism” which has been made possible by Jesus. Hebrews 9 verse 11-14 makes this spiritual link for us. So when we read these apparently difficult verses in Numbers 19 it helps us to understand and to get lessons from them, if we see Jesus in the words. The heifer was “without defect or blemish”, verse 2; it was taken outside the camp to be slaughtered, verse 3 – exactly as Jesus was killed outside of Jerusalem. The items that were burnt with the heifer have significance too, verse 6; for example hyssop is associated with the cleansing of believers from sin and death. Washing is very common in this chapter, eg verse 7, 8, 12, 19 and 21, so again we see the connection with baptism. The ashes from the heifer were used to put into the water for purification from sin, verse 9. There was no special physical properties in the ashes of the heifer, so there was no supernatural power in the water, it was simply a powerful symbol of a cleansing from sin, just as baptism is for us now. The water then, with the ashes in it, was used to ceremonially clean from sin and was a reminder, verse 10. Then follows examples of its use in cleaning from sin. If a dead body or part of a dead body was touched, verse 11, when someone died in their tent, verse 14, if someone was killed in someone else’s presence, verse 18, in other words whenever someone was close to a dead body then cleansing had to take place. Death is the reminder of sin, and the cleansing laws were a reminder that we need cleansing from sin. This is exactly what happens with our faith and baptism in Jesus. It does not end with just a symbol of an action, we have to also follow God’s laws to the best of our ability.  Here in this chapter we have a picture of the wonderful grace and mercy of God who provided a way for the cleansing of our sins, so these perhaps confusing actions in this chapter are pointing forward to the wonderful cleansing from sins provided by Jesus if we continue to respect both God and Jesus and try our best to follow them and confess our sins. God wants us to be associated with life not death.  This is like Ephesians 2v1-5, where we were dead but now are alive.  The red heifer was an acted parable of being associated with life, this is therefore a wonderful reminder of how we need to be cleansed from our sin and resultant mortality. Proverbs 14 continues with thinking about wisdom, we are reminded in Proverbs 9 verse 10 and also in Psalms 111 verse 10 that the “fear of God is the beginning of wisdom”.  Fearing God does not mean being afraid of him, it means respecting him, and being reverential to him, and remembering that he is all powerful.  In Proverbs 14 we see wisdom mentioned in verse 1, 3, 8, 16, 24, 33 and 35. We need wisdom to “build”, to guide the way that we talk, to think about how we act, to fear God, to use what we have in godly ways, to make decisions and to influence others for the good. Without God we can do none of these things, in fact the “bad” characteristics to each of these “good” and “bad” characteristics is a “fool”! So there are only 2 options, we either follow God and be wise, or follow our own human tendencies and be a “fool”! Each of the other verses, with the exception of  verse 11, 10 and 12-13, all have “good” and “bad” characteristics which are so helpful for us now in our Christian lives. An example is verse 27 that really links with the Numbers reading – we have to “fear” God and try to do what he wants and to use the opportunities that he gives us wisely so that we can be “turned from the snares of death”; this is exactly what God was trying to show in Numbers 19, ie cleaning from sin! Those verses that do not necessarily have both a “good” and “bad” characteristic are nevertheless powerful in their messages “Stay away from foolish men, for you will not find knowledge on their lips (:7). Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no-one else can share its joy (:10). There is a way that seems right to a man, but in the end it leads to death. Even in laughter the heart may ache, and joy may end in grief (:12-13)”. It was very sad that the Christians in Galatians 5 and 6 were forgetting the lessons taught by Paul and the other apostles and were returning to the law of Moses that Jesus had fulfilled. The law pointed towards Jesus, yet these brothers and sisters were giving more importance to it than to Jesus which Paul makes really clear is “foolish”, chapter 5 verse 1-6, where he makes the point that if they believed that they should be circumcised (as required by the law), then they should keep the whole law – we know that this was not possible – only Jesus did that – so we must have the full grace of God in Jesus to be able to be properly “cleansed”. Sadly the Jewish influence corrupted the Christian church and Paul was very robust in destroying their insistence that circumcision was necessary, eg verse 7-12 and chapter 6 verse 12-16. These are very strong words and convey the message to us that we should be wise and try to understand what God is actually saying to us. As we read in Proverbs, the source of all foolish things is our human nature, described by Paul in chapter 5 as “acts of sinful nature”, verse 19-21; all these characteristics are “foolish” and in the end result in our being excluded from the kingdom if we live like this. On the other hand the “wise” characteristics, described as the “fruit of the spirit”, verse 22-23, are the characteristics that lead to life. If we belong to Christ then we should be “putting to death” our human “foolish” thinking and we should be replacing it by having the mind of Christ, ie trying to live like he lived, verse 24-25. I have a piece of paper in my Bible and another one on my desk that lists the different aspects of the “fruit of the spirit” to remind me of what characteristics I should have every day! Sadly we do fail, but each of us should help each other and gently challenge, chapter 6 verse 1-5; we should always teach each other, verse 6, and we should not give up and be lazy, verse 7-10. “The grace of our Lord Jesus Christ be with you, brothers and sisters, Amen.” Verse 18. April

April 5th

Numbers 20 begins the time after the almost 38 years in the wilderness.  A generation has died while travelling to the Promised Land, and now Miriam and Aaron die.  Moses has a momentary lapse of faith and fails to carry out God’s request to speak to the rock (Numbers 20:8).  Moses hits the rock twice instead.  We are told later that the rock represents Christ (1 Corinthians 10:4).  The rock was only to be struck once, which happened in Exodus 17:6.  Striking the rock symbolised the death of Jesus.  Christ was not to be struck a second time, but spoken to, which was to be a symbol of his resurrection.  When Moses struck the rock a second time, he was failing to follow a God-designed pattern.  It led to his not being allowed to go into the Promised Land.  We must always remember that God has His reasons for asking for what He asks for.  Even if we do not understand it, we should do exactly what He asks us to do. Numbers 20 also describes the journey of the king.  The people of Israel travelled along the king’s highway (verse 17).  The king was God.  Later God refers to this journey where He was king in Deuteronomy 33:1 and Habukkuk 3:3.  There will be a future journey of the king, and this time Edom will not escape punishment (Isaiah 63:1).  The person who God will use is His appointed king Jesus. At the time of Moses, Israel was not allowed to attack Edom or Moab.  Israel was allowed to attack the Amorites (Numbers 21). But God was not just an enemy to Israel’s enemies.  He was also an enemy to all those whose heart was not right, including Israelites.  God sent snakes to punish these Israelites, who were healed if they looked at the bronze snake (Numbers 21:4-9).  The bronze snake also represents Jesus (John 3:14-15).  We see how the snake and the rock both represented Jesus.  The symbols of the future Jesus were with them in their wilderness journey.  This is like our journey.  Jesus is with us on our life’s journey to help and support us until we reach the Promised Land.  We do not need to feel that we are on our own in this life.  Jesus is with us. But we must remember that this is not enough.  We have to behave like we are Christ’s and have the right heart if we are to reach the Promised Land. Some of the features of the wilderness journey are brought out in our Proverbs chapter 15.   God’s eyes are everywhere on the wicked and the good (verse 3).  Stern discipline awaits those who leave the right path (verse 10).  There is much in Proverbs about keeping the right path, which was something Israel struggled to do.  We will pick a couple of highlights from the rest of the chapter.  We are encouraged to pray.  Prayer pleases God (verse 8).  God is close to the righteous and listens to their prayers (verse 29).  Verse 22 tells us the benefit of consulting others about plans.  Plans are more likely to succeed if we listen to the advice of others.  Finally, let us rejoice in the Lord.  We do not need to live a miserable life.  If we find joy with God, it makes life pleasant (verse 15).  It gives us a cheerful life and health (verse 30).  We can also take joy in saying the right thing (verse 23).  Ephesians 1 and 2 are spiritually deep chapters.  They are also very encouraging.  Believers have been planned by God from the beginning (1:4).  His plan is that we can be adopted into His own family (1:5) and receive the forgiveness of our sins (1:7).  This happens through being in Christ (verse 9, 13).  Chapter 2 describes the difference between coming into Christ from the world, as like the difference between life and death (verses 1-10).  This is a huge difference.  It also explains how blessed we are to be in Christ and why we can rejoice in the Lord.  It is through Christ that Gentiles and Jews have unity (2:11-22).  It is through Christ that all people are united together (1:10, 23, 2:21).  Therefore, God has made Christ above all things (1:20-22).  All power has been given to Christ in order for Christ to achieve this unity and give forgiveness and life to his people.  We rejoice in the blessings we have in Jesus. April

April 6th

Numbers 22 + 23:  Lessons from Balaam.  We remember that Israel had camped “in the plains of Moab on the side of the Jordan across from Jericho”. Balak, king of Moab, was extremely afraid because Israel had so many people. So he sought help from Balaam, asking him to curse Israel, saying, “I know that he whom you bless is blessed, and he who you curse is cursed”. Did Balak or Balaam know about God’s promises to Abraham? Gen 12:3 “I will bless those who bless you, and I will curse him who curses you; and in you all nations will be blessed”. Did Balak know God’s will for Moab at that time? “Do not harass Moab, nor contend with them in battle” Deut 2:9. We see, brothers and sisters, how important it is to know God, to know His will and His promises… to make the right decisions in life and be at peace. All of these gifts come by knowing and living according to His word. Balak sends money (diviner’s fee) to Balaam, but God said to Balaam, “You shall not go with them: you shall not curse the people (Israel), for they are blessed (by Me)”. So Balaam tells Balak’s messengers “Go back… the Lord has refused to give me permission to go with you”. He didn’t mention the rest of what God said, “do not curse etc”. (I think this is significant) Did Balaam obey God, or was he doing his own will, and actually just seeking a higher price from Balak? Was Balaam’s motives God or money? God’s will was made clear to Balaam, and He has made His will clear to us, do we obey God in some ways and yet abandon His will in other areas, particularly our status and money?  Balak promises more riches to Balaam if he would come and curse Israel. Balaam seeks God’s instructions and is told to go with them, but only to “speak My words”.  On the journey to Balak, Balaam’s donkey sees the Angel of the Lord standing in the way “as an adversary against him”. The Hebrew word for adversary is satan, so we have an Angel of the Lord doing God’s will and yet is being a satan!! This is one of the many examples where we, as Christadelphians, recognise the meaning of the WORD satan.  There is no Satan (the word satan does not have a capital letter, it’s just a word, not a being).  But there are many satans!!  When the Lord opened Balaam’s eyes “he bowed his head and fell flat on his face”. He now had the right spirit of humility to listen and confess “I have sinned”. God, through the angel, repeats the instruction “only say My words”, so Balaam continues the journey well aware of the Lord’s presence and His will. If we are aware of both of these, every day, we will be blessed.  So, the next day Balak took Balaam to the high places of Baal so that they might see the extent of Israel. Burnt offerings were made and the Lord told Balaam what to say to the Moabites.  Balaam said “How can I curse whom God has not cursed?” Balak is frustrated and tries somewhere else, but he hears even greater blessings intended for Israel, and learns more about the one true God. “God is not a man, that He should lie.  Has He said, and will He not do?” We see this from the beginning in Genesis 1, and throughout the bible.  So if we are faithful we can trust the Lord with our future.  Despite all of these revelations, Balak refuses to submit to God.  Balaam also, was not “transformed by the renewing of his mind” – there might have been temporary obedience but he didn’t remain faithful.  Peter writes “He loved the wages of unrighteousness”, 2 Pet 2:16 and Jude 11 says “do not run greedily in the error of Balaam for profit”. We might also remember Judas! The warnings are there – seek the blessings and riches that the one true God wants to give to you.  Proverbs 16: When we read these verses, we have to read one verse at a time and think. If you are like me you want to race on to the next verse, but you can’t do this with Proverbs, you have to do a lot of thinking.  But you are rewarded – you find wisdom that’s true to life and true for eternal life. I have chosen 4 examples of Godly advice which Balaam would have benefited from, had he been faithful to that word.  Verse 6: “Through love and faithfulness sin is atoned for; through the fear of the Lord a man avoids evil” Balaam feared the Lord but lacked in love and faithfulness.  Verse 16: “How much better to get wisdom than gold; and to get understanding is to be chosen rather than silver” Balaam made the wrong choices.  Verse 20: “Whoever gives heed to instruction prospers and blessed is he who trusts in the Lord” Balaam put his trust in man and money.  Verse 28:” There is a way that seems right to a man but in the end, it leads to death” How often words or thoughts are said that SEEM to be right! until they are tested with God’s word and thoughts. Balaam’s life ended with death and condemnation.  Ephesians 3,4. Grace, gifts, and love from God – and our response.  The letter to the Ephesians begins by Paul uplifting the Ephesians (and us) by telling us about  the incredible blessings (gifts) that God had brought to them through His plan in Christ. But what fruit do these blessings bring?  IF TRULY DISCERNED they bring gratefulness, love and an incredible comforting humility. With that spirit we will choose to willingly serve, to give, to love, to forgive, in order to give glory to His name.  The gospel, to Paul (and us), is always exciting, as it speaks of God’s will in such a deep way and brings with it a new way of thinking and living. But, at that time, it was even more exciting. The mystery of Christ had NOW been revealed (it was there from the beginning, it was in God’s word from the beginning, and if one looked back, one could see it) but although it was there it wasn’t revealed until Christ was born, lived, died and was resurrected, and in turn proclaimed to the Jews and the Gentiles.  This is what was happening at that very time in God’s plan!! Through that gospel the Gentiles (by God’s will) were heirs TOGETHER with Israel, members TOGETHER of one body, and sharing TOGETHER in the promises through Jesus Christ.  Despite all of these blessings, Paul prays that the Ephesians may continue to be “ONE” with the Lord, and for that “One-ness” to continue to grow. “I pray that you are strengthened with power through His spirit in your inner being, so that Christ may dwell in your hearts through faith”, and to know (intimately) the enormity of the love of Christ that surpasses knowledge, and to be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God. A high calling! How are we to live?  Ch4:1. “Live a life worthy of the calling you have received (reminder is in ch 1!) “Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, in love. Make EVERY effort to keep the unity of the spirit”.  Whilst there is diversity in the church, in the true church there are great areas of one-ness. Paul mentions 7 of them.  ONE BODY: In Christ, Jews and Gentiles (us) are “one new man” reconciled unto God in “one body” through the cross of Christ. Eph 2:15-16.  ONE SPIRIT: one with the spirit of God.  ONE HOPE: one with God’s will.  ONE LORD: “Jesus is Lord” 1Cor 12:3. ONE FAITH: “salvation is found in no one else (except Jesus) “Acts 4:12.  ONE BAPTISM: see how important baptism is – one of the 7 towards one-ness.  ONE GOD and FATHER. from whom all of the above have their beginnings, in the mind of God to bring salvation. “Our fellowship is with the Father and with His son, Jesus Christ. We write this to make your joy complete” 1 John1:3-4. April

April 7th

We saw yesterday how Balaam was not a godly prophet. In fact we know from 2 Peter 2 verse 15 that he was described by God as being someone who loved money and was only interested in selling the visions that he had. It was the event with his donkey that taught him a lesson, verse 16. So Numbers 24 verse 1 shows that Balaam did not follow his usual ungodly practices, but he now followed what God was telling him to do and rather than curse Israel as the king wanted him to do, he blessed them as God wanted him to do. God used him to bless Israel, verse 2. The blessing is in verses 3-9. There are not many good things to say about Balaam, both Jude and Revelation refer to these events to give lessons on how not to act.  We will refer to Revelation later. Barak was understandably upset with Balaam’s response, verse 10, however, Balaam went on to further bless Israel and to acknowledge God, verse 15-24. Note how Balaam acknowledges that his “eyes were opened” by this experience, indicating that he was a false prophet, but now understood who God was. The blessing includes an indication that it will be Jesus who destroys Moab when he returns, verse 17-18. Following a spiritual theme through this again – Moab is the same as Edom and represents human nature that Jesus will fully destroy. In the Peter reference quoted earlier we see the context is about the bad aspects of human nature, this is the same in Revelation 2 verse 14 where we read that Balaam was a temptation or stumbling block to Israel. So we read in Numbers 25 what this meant in practice, verse 1-3. Despite all the things that God had taught them, they still gave into temptatiòn and became involved with Moab themselves. The sexual actions here show us how far things had gone.  Mixing with the people and their women and gods was a rejection of the only true God, and rebellion against him. God’s response was understandable – leaders were put to death and a plague erupted. it was only when Phinehas the priest intervened that the plague was ended, verse 7-9. I think knowing the names of the man and the woman shows us how had things had got and how corrupt the Israelites were by this time. The lesson is that we must be careful who we follow, and who we let ourselves be influenced by – we have to only be influenced by God and by Jesus.  We looked at descriptions in Proverbs yesterday which could apply to Balaam – there are more verses in Proverbs 17, eg verse 5; 7-9, 12-13, 15-16, 20-21, 23-26 and 28. Barak could also be described, eg verse 4-5 and 11. We should not act like these men, but when we fail we should have the same reaction as in verse 10 and act like the wise who are described here. Foolishness is always used to describe those who oppose God. Ephesians 5 verse 1-5 is very appropriate to what we have read in these first 2 readings! God makes it clear that those who rebel, and who are foolish, and those who are sexually immoral will not be in the kingdom. Rather we should be seeking the things of God and what is described as “light”. verse 6-12. All of us should be in subject to Christ, verse 21, this involves trying to be all of these things in verse 14-20. We need to be careful who we mix with, what we talk about, who we look like and always give thanks for what God does for us. We then have a wonderful picture of how we should see the man/woman relationship – it reminds us of the relationship of Christ and the church. This has nothing to do with a hierarchy but it is to do with reminders and love, verse 22-33. Those of us who are married need to see Jesus in our husbands and the church in our wives; in our church we should see the brothers as Jesus and the sisters as the church. All of us should be working together to honour both God and Jesus in everything we do. Ephesians 6 gives advice for all the members of the church, children, fathers, slaves and masters, we are all responsible for our actions, verse 1-9. We should respond as if Jesus was physically with us, because indeed he is, although we cannot see him.  This is why we need these reminders. So many times the Israelites failed to remember that God was with them and was always aware of what they were doing. We are exhorted to “clothe” ourselves with both God and Jesus – we see this in a picture of a soldier with each of his clothes representing or reminding us of a godly attribute, verse 10-20. We have to  be aiming to dress like God, this is the picture we have. All of the examples we have in today’s readings have individuals who were recognised by their actions, they are great lessons; we need reminders to remain faithful and in God’s love for us he has provided reminders, so let us use them! April

April 8th

Numbers 26 is another census of the Israelites, this time 40 years after the first, verse 64.   This is significant because the totals were different, due to the fact that all those older than 20 years died before the time came to cross into the land, verse 65. The census confirms that God is interested in people and their individual inheritance, we have names and numbers quoted, but we also have reminders of failures, eg Korah, Dathan and Abiram, verse 9, as well as the obvious reminder of why the generation that came out of Egypt died in the desert. The lesson is yet again to trust and obey God. Proverbs 18, verse 1-9 reminds us about the foolishness of following human nature’s desires. In contrast verse 10 is an assurance that if you remain in God then you are safe, the examples of Caleb and Joshua demonstrate this. Verse 11-13 confirm for is that anyone who builds their confidence in themselves is in a weak situation and humility is required to change. Verse 15-16 suggest that a man who seeks “knowledge” is wise; there is an advantage to this, suggested in verse 22, ie finding a “partner”. The best thing that any one of us can do is to find a “partner” in God and in Jesus. I am reminded of the common picture in the Bible of the man/woman relationship representing, for us now, Jesus and the church, and for the Israelites then, God and them. This truly is a blessing from God! Obviously so too is a physical wife or husband! Before moving on to the last reading today, verse 21 makes us consider the importance of the need to control our tongue – it is a matter of “life and death”. Life and death in the spiritual sense because God wants us to control our tongue, but it is equally true in the physical sense too because unwise talk can put us at risk in the eyes of our fellow human beings. Philippians 1 is a coming together of both the partnership with fellow believers and how our actions are seen by others. Paul was so pleased about the faithful church in Philippi that he thanked God for the partnership that was made possible in Jesus. His own godly actions and words (tongue) were witnessed by his guards in prison who did have the physical power of life and death, yet they were impressed by Paul’s way of life and allowed him to continue with his work, albeit restricted by his imprisonment. Paul mentions this in verse 12-14. Verse 27 to the end of this chapter is Paul’s exhortation to all of us who read his letters to also be an example to others. We need to live a life worthy of God’s message, remembering that our salvation is from God. Therefore, Paul says in chapter 2 verse 1-8, we have a great example in Jesus, who we should be copying in every aspect of our lives. He gave himself for us, ie the husband for the wife, so we should also be not looking to ourselves but to others. Verse 9-11 is the praise that we should have for Jesus because of what he has done for us. And “every tongue” confess that Jesus is Lord, a reminder that the tongue is a matter of life and death. Therefore, verse 12-13, we work out our salvation with a “fear”, or a real deep respect, of God. And this is demonstrated again by our actions, verse 14-18. We can be blameless in Jesus, but we do have to try to be like him. Paul is reminding us that there are so many temptations in the “crooked” world but we should hold tight to the “word of life”. So we all should be focused on Jesus, we should be trying to obey God and we should trying to be like Jesus – this then brings us to salvation in God’s grace and mercy. April

April 9th

In Numbers 26 we have a list of all the clans of Israel.  There were 64.  In Numbers 27 we learn that one of the families in one clan was on the point of being lost through intermarriage.  The case was taken to God and God judged that the family should not be lost.  The daughters should be given their father’s inheritance. This case teaches us several important lessons.  Firstly, it teaches us that every family is important to God.  We can all take comfort from this.  Secondly, we have a lesson on how to approach God.  The daughters were humble – they understood that their father had died for his sin (verse 3).  They also acted in faith – they had not even entered the land yet, but they had faith that they would.  Thirdly, it teaches us that God plans to give His people an inheritance in the land.  We can take comfort from this as well.  Our hope is a land-based hope, where God’s people will inherit God’s kingdom on earth.  His people will all have their special place in it. Numbers 27 also teaches us about leadership.  Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land, due to disobeying God’s command in the matter of water from the rock (verse 14).  Moses appealed to God to provide a shepherd to lead the people in his place.  We note that shepherding is the role of leadership (verses 15-17).  It does not need a soldier or administrator or orator to lead God’s people.  It needs someone who cares like a shepherd. This is a role of service.  The leader must constantly care for the sheep in a self-sacrificial way.  David was a shepherd.  Even Saul was good at looking after animals.  Jesus was the good shepherd and God Himself is the shepherd (Psalm 23).  The harsh abuse of power that human rulers use is not what God wants in leadership. The dynamics of leadership are explained in Proverbs 19.  A king makes a big difference to everyone around him (verse 12).  Leaders receive the selfish attentions of many power-hungry people.  His wealth and power bring many friends (verse 4 and 6).  Those who are poor experience the opposite (verse 4 and 7).  With all this attention, a leader must be careful not to become proud.  He must fear the one who is even higher – ie God (verse 23).  He must still listen to advice (verse 27).  A leader may think he is in control, but actually it is God who is (verse 21).  If he gets a good wife, then it is from God (verse 14).  He must also be careful to be patient.  Verse 11 says “A man’s wisdom gives him patience; it is to his glory to overlook an offence.”  It is his behaviour that gives him real glory, not his wealth or power.  The advice to kings is also relevant to all of us.  We are leaders of our house/family/ourselves/etc.  We must lead with wisdom. The apostle Paul was the opposite of a king.  He had no home, no wife, no wealth.  He was often so poor that he had to be helped. He had known about riches and honour, but he gave them up.  He said, “I consider everything a loss compared to the surpassing greatness of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things.  I consider them rubbish, that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ – the righteousness that comes from God and is by faith.  I want to know Christ and the power of his resurrection and the fellowship of sharing in his sufferings” (Philippians 3:8-10).  This puts everything into perspective.  We need to focus on Christ and press on in Christ (Philippians 3:12-16).  We need to follow Paul’s example (verse 17).  One way to do this is to live in peace with our brothers and sisters in Christ (Philippians 4:2-4).  Other ways are to rejoice in the things of Jesus (verse 4), to pray in all things (verses 6-7) and to think about good things (verses 8-9).  This will give us an amazing peace of mind, which is there for us if we do these things (verse 7).  But we need to manage our expectations.  We do not live like kings in this world.  We should be content in all situations even when we just have food and clothing (verse 12).  And we should not worry about our weaknesses.  We can cope with all things through Christ who gives us strength (verse 13).  Many of these verses we should underline in our Bible, because they are exceptionally inspiring and comforting.  May you find some of the joy and peace and contentment that we can have in Christ. April

April 10th

We can never dismiss the important words used in chapters like Numbers 28 even though we are not required to make the actual offerings and celebrate the feasts today. These offerings were required by God from a godly nation and it was before Jesus. We very much learn from these works and apply them to our lives now. This chapter gives the requirements of the sacrifices and offerings that were required, ie daily, weekly (Sabbath), monthly and the annual Passover and the Feast of Weeks. All of these had to be done, we are reminded of this in verses such as 10, 15, 24 and 31 – they are all in “addition” and “as well as”. Notice too that the people were reminded a number of times that the animal was to be “without defect”, verse 3, 11, 19 and 31 again. The strong implication of this is that the people always had to prepare, the animals have to be cared for, the grain and the oil, etc had to be provided for the right time, for the right purpose, they had to be “pleasing” to God. Thanks were given for the new day, the new week, the new month, for being saved from Egypt (human nature) and for the harvest; we will read of more in chapter 29 tomorrow. Each day too the people were reminded of and gave a sacrifice for their sins and they could see that they needed a sacrifice “without defect” to be able to achieve this. This sacrifice reminds us of Jesus as he was “without defect”, ie sinless, but we should see the spiritual message in this chapter for us too, ie we should prepare, we should be happy and want to always please both God and Jesus, we should never say that we have done enough now and have a rest, or say “that will do”. Israel was required to make offerings to God at certain times and Numbers 28 tomorrow describes them too.  Every day two lambs had to be offered as burnt offerings (Numbers 28:1-8).  We can identify the meaning of these.  One lamb was to be offered at twilight.  The Hebrew means ‘between the evenings’ and this was the time the Passover lamb was offered (Exodus 12:6).  We know that this lamb represented Jesus (1 Corinthians 5:7).  The evening lamb represented the death of Jesus.  This means that the morning lamb must represent the resurrection of Jesus which occurred in the morning.  Every day these sacrifices were offered they taught the future death and resurrection of the lamb of God (John 1:29).  Not only were there offerings every day, but at the new moon they were to offer another set of sacrifices (Numbers 28:11-15).  These also taught about Jesus.  The bull burnt offering taught about the need for atonement (Leviticus 1:4).  The ram reminds of when the ram was sacrificed instead of Isaac (Genesis 22:13-14).  It reminds us also of God’s firstborn son who God provided as a sacrifice.  The seven lambs remind us of the Passover lamb again.  There was also a sin offering.  Jesus was our sin offering.  So we can see that the monthly offerings all point to Jesus.  The same is true of the other offerings for the feasts.  We see how all things in worship point to Jesus and his sacrifice is absolutely essential to our relationship with God.  Jesus fulfilled the law (Matthew 5:17). Our Christian lives are a commitment then, our commitment should be constant and consistent, day after day we should be trying to please God. Day after day we need reminders that we are sinners and we are indebted to God for the life we now have in Jesus, which is why our Christian life is every day, not just on Sunday or when we have brothers and sisters visiting us! This chapter speaks to me about a careful, godly preparation, it does not matter what work we have to do to live, we should still be finding time for God, in fact everything that we do should be a “sacrifice” to him. Day after day is the message. Even Proverbs 20 verse starts by making us think what happens when someone wastes time, or wastes their money, by drinking too much wine and beer that causes them to fight, they are not wise! The lazy person does not prepare at the right time for the harvest, verse 4, or sleeps too much, verse 13, the point is that we should always prepare so that we have enough to spare. Preparation is key! The problem with not staying alert and preparing is that we end up rushing, take short cuts and end up not pleasing God. Often to make up for time, late people are tempted to cheat and verses here show that God is not pleased with this either, verse 10 and 23. The person who builds his or her life around the love of God and always trying to please him will have a “secure” life. Verse 28, applies to a king, but as we are to be a kingdom of “kings and priests” and we are responsible for ourselves and those around us, this verse therefore applies to us now. And always we are reminded that God knows what we are doing with our lives, verse 27, so the message of God continues the same – we need to carefully prepare and serve God daily by our every action. The life that we should be trying to copy every day is Jesus who was the only one who “kept a pure heart”, verse 9, but we can also be made “pure” by Jesus and as we start reading the gospel of John again we are reminded how pure Jesus was and how we should try to live our lives and therefore be pure with the help of Jesus. In John chapter 1, John the Baptist said of Jesus that he was not worthy to “untie Jesus’ sandals”, verse 26-27, and the next day verse 29-34, where he confessed that Jesus was the son of God, the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. All those sacrifices in Moses’ time pointed to this “lamb without blemish”. It is interesting that one of Jesus’ first disciples was previously a disciple of John, verse 35-40, Andrew had previously shown a commitment to the things of God and he immediately saw Jesus as the “lamb of God” and recognised what the sacrifices were leading to. It is sad that some church people misunderstand this chapter and conclude that Jesus and God are the same entity by saying that the “word” is Jesus and was with God at the time of creation in Genesis because it detracts from God’s wonderful plan throughout the bible to provide a sacrifice that really would take away the sin of the world. The literal translation of verse 1 is “In beginning was the word and the word was towards God and the word was God”. This does not mention Jesus. The order of teaching in this chapter is: 1) about the word of God (verses 1-5), 2) then about John the Baptist coming preaching the word (verses 6-9), 3) then about Jesus coming as the word of God in flesh (verses 10-14). The “beginning” that John speaks of is the beginning mentioned in the other places, ie Mark 1:1 and Luke 1:3 and 1 John 1:1-2. This is the beginning of the times of John the Baptist and Jesus. The word of God came in the “beginning” of these days through angels who told John’s father (Luke 1:11-17) and Jesus’s mother (Luke 1:26-38) about the birth of John the Baptist and Jesus. God’s plan always starts with God’s word because God has to give the order to start the next phase of His plan. Philip confessed to Nathanael that he and others had found “the one that Moses wrote about”, verse 44-45, this is why we do not ignore what is written in the law because in them we see Jesus and can get lessons for our daily lives today. April

April 11th

We saw from Numbers 28 yesterday that we can never dismiss the important teachings used by God to instruct his people at the time of Moses. Again we are not required to make the actual offerings and celebrate the feasts today, but we should still learn the lessons for our own Christian lives. So Numbers 29 continues with these feasts and sacrifices with all 3 mentioned being yearly, ie Feast of Trumpets, verse 1; Day of Atonement, verse 7, and the week-long Feast of Tabernacles, verse 12. Again each one was in “addition” to all the other feasts and sacrifices mentioned in the previous chapter, eg verse 6, 11 and 34. The summary in verse 39 reemphasises that these were all in “addition”.  We see again the commitment that we considered yesterday, so too that the people were reminded a number of times that the animal was to be “without defect”, eg verse 2, 8, 23 and 26. So the lesson again is that the people always had to prepare. The priorities of each person had to be to God, just like on the Sabbath when the people were not to work, verse 7 and 35.  This involved a personal sacrifice and the people were asked to “deny themselves”, so even if the work was critical, they were supposed to give that whole day to God. This in itself is a huge lesson for us in that our time has to be given to God. In his love for us he continues to give us reminders so that we are helped in our daily lives to remember him. Numbers 30 tells us about the voluntary vows, which were in “addition” to the feasts and sacrifices and how, even though they were voluntary, they were nonetheless binding. These vows, or promises, were made to God as a response to God’s love and mercy that he had shown, either individually or collectively, and individuals wanted to give something back to God to say thank you. It could be time, service, a gift or some other thing, but whatever it was, it had to be completed and carried out, verse 2. So vows had to be taken seriously, there had to be thought and prayer involved, there had to be a commitment on the part of the person making the vow. This chapter does make a godly distinction between the vow of a male and the vow of a female – the man’s was binding, the woman’s could be overruled by the man closest to her, ie her father or if she was married, her husband, verse 5, 8 and 12. This has nothing to do with superiority of the man over the woman, but this is yet another picture of God’s order and a reminder for us that the man represents God and the woman his people, or in our case today we can view the man as representing Jesus and the woman representing the church (Ephesians 5). If we view it like this we can see that the vow made by the man, representing God or Jesus, is binding; however the woman’s vow, representing  God’s people, needs to be approved by God (or Jesus) – represented by the man. For me the picture is even more powerfully made by verse 15, where the man delays to give his approval and because he does that he is then responsible, because neither God nor Jesus delay in their response to us, so neither should the man in his response to his daughter’s or wife’s vow. There is care and respect in how the man (representing God) responds, he can alter a perhaps rash vow made by his daughter or wife or accept it as he decides. Proverbs 21 reminds us of a vow that all of us have made – we vowed to follow God and our Lord Jesus when we were baptised, and as part of that vow we committed to remember their love for us each week in the breaking of bread and the drinking of wine. This “vow” should be greater than sacrifices, verse 3. The problem that we human beings face is that we are easily distracted from God’s ways and think that our ways are best, verse 2, but we need to remember that God knows our heart and knows what is best for us and how best we will reach the kingdom. Just like the king’s heart, we are all directed by God in the way that he wants us to go, verse 1. This is unless we are wicked or proud, in which case God will not bring us to life, but our lives will end in death, verse 4 and 16. It is those who pursue righteousness and love who find prosperity and honour, verse 21. The sad thing is that the sacrifices of the “wicked”, no matter what these sacrifices are, are detestable to God, verse 27, those who are false witnesses and those who listen to them also perish, verse 28. Just so that we are left in no doubt that it is God’s ways that are right and not man’s, we are told that “there is no wisdom, no insight, no plan that can succeed against the Lord”, verse 30. All the sacrifices pointed towards Jesus and in Jesus’ first miracle in John 2 we see how much more important Jesus was than all these sacrifices, just as the verse in Proverbs hinted at verse 8-10. In changing the water into wine which was then found to be better than the previous wine that had been drunk, and this being the opposite to normal expectation, Jesus was indicating that he was the better way. This was not that the old way was wrong, in fact Jesus fulfilled the old way, but that it was human beings who were “wrong”, we all need Jesus for our salvation. The “wrong” human way was demonstrated by the corruption of the Passover feast at the time of Jesus – the people had turned “God’s house” into a market place, verse 16. The people had forgotten the lessons that should have been gained from the sacrifices and feasts, the Passover being one of these, and had turned it into an opportunity for making money.  This is why God had said in Proverbs that the sacrifices of the wicked were detestable. Without constant godly reminders, there is a real danger that we corrupt the things of God, so we really do need to try and do what God wants and to constantly learn about his requirements. In John 3 we are reminded about the time when the people rebelled against God in the desert and God sent snakes to bite them, as a way of “escape” God told Moses to make a snake on a pole so when people who had been bitten looked at the snake on the pole they did not die, verse 14. Jesus being crucified was likened to this because in his life, death and resurrection he enabled people to “look to him” and so receive eternal life, verse 15. And it was because of God’s love that this means of escape was provided, verse 16; this is the same love that God has shown all the way through the Bible in giving us examples and reminders so that we are reminded to follow God’s ways. It was God’s intention to save the world, but this required belief in Jesus, verse 17-18, and this also then requires a response from those who believe, ie they are to demonstrate “light” in their lives, verse 19-21. So all of the sacrifices, feasts, and lessons bring us to Jesus, and in Jesus we are to be like him in everything that we do. We are to be recognised as Jesus, we are also to be a “light”, and this is what being “born again” means. Not only are we to accept Jesus we are also to be like him every day! Verse 5-8. As John the Baptist said at the end of this chapter “Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on him.” Verse 36. April

April 12th

In Numbers 31, Israel was told to attack the Midianites as revenge. Their crime was committed in Numbers 25:17, when they joined with the Moabites and Balaam in attempting to corrupt Israel.  They had tried to get Israel to join in their idol worship and sexual immorality.  At stake was the holiness of God’s people.  If they intermarried and joined with them in their habits, they would have been no different from any other nation. God’s people are required to 1) worship God only, and 2) not join in their bad habits.  We have the same gospel call.  We must 1) worship God only and obey His commands, and 2) avoid being worldly.  In Numbers 31, any spoil from the war with the Midianites had to be purified.  They had been in contact with dead human carcases. Everything had to be purified by either fire or water (verses 22-23). The Israelite soldiers themselves had to go through a seven-day purification ritual (verses 19 and 24).  This was the law of cleansing from touching a dead body described in Numbers 19.  God’s people are related to life and not death (Ephesians 2:1-5).  In keeping with this, Balaam (a teacher of compromise) was killed (verse 8), whereas none of God’s people lost their lives (verse 49). In Proverbs 22 we come to the end of a section of Proverbs of Solomon that started in chapter 10:1.  The section ends at Proverbs 22:16.  From then on there are 30 sayings of the wise that start in 22:17 and end at the end of chapter 24.  There is too much advice for this short thought, so we will take some highlights.  Proverbs 22:6 is an important verse for parents, “Train a child in the way he should go, and when he is old he will not turn from it.”  Parents must train their children in the way of God so they follow the right path when they grow up.  In order to do this, it requires discipline to direct them on the right path (verse 15).  The aim of discipline, as always in the Bible, is to get the person on the right path.  Punishment is only a means to the end, to help the person get back on the right track.   It is a good name that we should seek, not riches (verse 1) and we should teach this to our children.  Riches will not enable us to get to the kingdom.  There is no kingdom ticket that can be bought.  On the other hand, a good name with God means everything.  It is through humility and the fear of God that will bring us life, honour and wealth (verse 4).  The chapter also says a lot about our attitude to the poor.  We should not exploit the poor or we will lose our wealth (verse 16 and 22-23).  We should share food with the poor (verse 9), if we want to be blessed.  We can show that we are wise by the way we behave with our children, with riches and with the poor. In each of today’s readings, we are taught that we need to have a right attitude if we want to have a right relationship with God. In John 4, the Samaritan woman was told that we must worship God in the right spirit and in truth (John 4:23-24).  We cannot expect God to be happy with us if we have the wrong attitudes and follow what is false.  The point was well made to the Samaritans.  They did not believe they should worship at Jerusalem (verse 22), which was wrong.  Jesus did something very unusual – he stated clearly that he was the Messiah (verse 25).  He had proved this by showing her that he knew about her previous unfortunate married life (verses 17-18).  Despite this, she was the person chosen by God to teach the Samaritan villages (verses 39-41). And her witness was effective.  God uses the right people for His work, but they are not always the people we would choose.  He can also use us to take the gospel to our town.  As Jesus said, the fields are ripe for the harvest.  We just need people to take it to those who do not know yet the truth. April

April 13th

Numbers 32: The tribes of Reuben and Gad wanted the land east of the Jordan which Israel had taken from Sihon and Og (ch 21). The flocks and herds of Reuben and Gad were large, and the people of these tribes believed that the conquered area east of the Jordan would be good for them. Therefore, they came to Moses to request the land as their tribal inheritance. This was potentially a dangerous situation, that Moses recognised. He reminds them of their brothers’ situation. “Shall your brethren go to war while you sit here?” .. and what “your fathers did, when they saw the promised land, they discouraged the heart of the children of Israel, so that they did not go into the land which the Lord had given them.” Here, potentially was history repeating itself, if Reuben and Gad separated themselves from their brethren. However, they assured Moses that all of their fighting men would fight with their brethren to gain the promised land west of the Jordan, until all of the tribes received their inheritance. When that has been achieved, they will live with their flocks, wives and children east of the Jordan. Moses agrees to the suggestion, and he makes sure everyone is made known of the agreement. For Reuben and Gad it seemed a good deal. For the rest of the tribes it could be a good deal too; they would have the whole army of Israel and the anticipated conquered land (west of Jordan) shared amongst fewer tribes! Not only that, but Reuben and Gad would fight harder so that they could get “home” to their loved ones as soon as possible. The danger was, as time went by, would they stay together, trust each other, support each other? If they continued as 12 tribes of Israel then they would live in the same ways (having the same law), worship the same God, meet together regularly etc. God had already given the law to His people, and if they were all faithful they would continue to be one. There are many lessons here for all of the ecclesias. If we want to be strong, we have to be one with God and the written word, and one with each other. We need to communicate, to be considerate of others, to be sure of our and others’ motives, to share our fears or concerns. To remember we are brethren, brethren of Christ. We all individually need to encourage each other, do we realise how discouraging it is when brothers and sisters do not attend the meeting for example? We might have a valid reason, but do we think about the concerns and fears that Jesus’ brethren might have because of our absence, do we communicate with the ecclesia explaining our situation. In short, even when we are apart are we “one” with each other?  Remember, we are all on the journey, each day we can either encourage or discourage. Remember Jesus says whatever you do for his brethren, you do for Him (Matt 25:40). Are we his brothers? “My brothers are those who hear the word of God and do it” Luke 8:21. Proverbs 23: In this chapter we have 8 “do not” s. V3: “Do not desire his (a ruler’s) delicacies for they are deceptive food”; V6: “Do not eat the food of a stingy man”. What the ruler has in v3 and the stingy man in v6 is minds that do not have your welfare at heart, they are only thinking about what they can take from you. They APPEAR to be giving but they are taking. Compare these men and their hearts with Jesus! He did everything with us in mind and he continues to give good things to encourage and to reassure. V4: “Do not overwork to be rich.” If we commit our lives to being rich, then we will never be content or satisfied. We will be less generous to those in need and we will spend less time with families and with the church. Who was the “richest” woman in Jesus’ eyes? The widow who gave all she had (2 mites), Luke 21:1-4. She was rich because she totally trusted in God. V9: “do not speak in the hearing of a fool.” in contrast, the more we hear from the Lord, the wiser we become. V10-11: “do not remove the ancient landmark”, do not take from the helpless, for God is on their side. V13: “do not withhold correction from a child” discipline is necessary, so is encouragement and showing a good example. We are all children. We have been given instructions from our Father in the scriptures, ”for teaching, correction, and training in righteousness” 2Tim 3:16. V17: “do not let your heart envy sinners”, if we envy sinners our hearts are in the wrong place. Always direct your thoughts to the Lord, be one with Him, pray and talk with Him and He will give you peace. Remind yourselves of all His gifts, especially the gift of Jesus. V20: “do not mix with drunkards”, “those who live like this will not inherit the Kingdom of God” Gal 5:21. All of these “warnings” we know to be right and just. We know if we have these thoughts we do not have the right spirit, we do not have the mind of Christ; and Paul gives another warning: “if anyone does not have the spirit of Christ, he is not His” Rom 8:9. JOHN 5. The gospels record 7 miraculous healings done by Jesus on the Sabbath (7th day), as believers, we recognize this is design seen in the inspired word of God, and this is just one witness, in the multitude of witnesses, to the design within the whole of scripture, from beginning to end, so that mankind might know God’s incredible purpose for mankind, and to be able to put their trust in Him. One of those 7 sabbath miraculous healings is seen in John 5:1-15, the healing of a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. Because the healed man carried his bed according to Jesus’ instructions, the Jews persecuted Jesus because he had done these things on the Sabbath (.v16). What follows are words of teaching from Jesus.. that they might know God and the one whom He sent. Lesson 1: (.v17)  God and Jesus were working, God’s work had not stopped; Lesson 2: (v18-30) Jesus  acknowledges he was not equal with God (Jesus was totally dependent on his Father). God was working through His son, and because Jesus loved His father, he did His will, and was given delegated authority from His father. In verse 19 and verse 30, Jesus makes it totally clear “I can OF MYSELF do nothing”. God caused miracles to witness to the fact that God approved of his son and was working through his son. But more importantly than the miracles, were the words that Jesus spoke, these were the words said in the spirit of God, that which could bring (through faith) a changed life and even a future eternal life. Father and son: V21 as the Father raises the dead, so could the son; V22 the Father has committed all judgement to the son; V23 by honouring the son, we are also giving honour to the Father (albeit separately!); V24 the shared will of Father and son, ie salvation, “from death into life”. V31-47, “If I bear witness of myself(and not God), my witness is not true”. Jesus reasons with the Jews, he appeals for them to see evidence of his delegated authority. It was seen and witnessed by John the Baptist.(v33-35). The “works” which the Father had given him were a greater witness, not just the miracles, not the words, but also Jesus’ willing acceptance as a sacrificial servant, willing to die, even for his enemies, that they might turn and find life. Another witness is God’s written word (v37-40), this is evidence provided (by God) throughout the OT. Take Moses for example, someone they claimed to trust in, and yet “but IF you believed Moses you would believe me, for he wrote about me”. There are more than 300 Old Testament prophecies that have been fulfilled in the first coming of Christ! We, as brothers and sisters in Christ, have been taught by God, taught through His word, His son and His will. And because of these “gifts from above” we naturally give honour to Jesus, and by so doing we also give honour to his Father, from whom all things came. And with understanding the delegated authority that Jesus was given, that knowledge, makes so much of scripture easy to understand, but more importantly,  that we might “know (intimately) God and the one who He sent (Jesus)”. April

April 14th

In Numbers 33 we have God’s summary of the stages of his children’s journey since leaving Egypt, verse 1-2. Notice that it says “at the Lord’s command” that Moses records what we now read – this confirms that the Bible is written by inspiration, but also we get the confirmation that this is what God wants us to remember. Throughout this chapter no stage is missing, but there are significant events that happened at these places that are not recorded, in particular the sins and one of the victories of the people – I think that this is significant. It suggests that God really does forgive and the victories against enemies are not important to him (we will see a point about this in the Proverbs reading). However, God does give some detail in this summary of the stages, suggesting that these are the important points that he wants  us to remember. The first of the 40 stages with detail is actually leaving Egypt, verse 3-4, the Passover is mentioned, so too are the funerals of the Egyptian first born and the judgement on Egypt’s “gods”. Perhaps the message for them, and us, is that all the things not of God are worthless, and we need saving from them because all they bring is death. There is no mention of the people grumbling at Marah and Elim, verse 8-9; all that is mentioned is that they “travelled for 3 days” before they reached Marah (Ex 15), and at Elim (Ex 16) there were “twelve springs” and “seventy palm trees”. Why? Is this a picture of Jesus in the tomb for 3 days?; the 12 tribes of Israel and the 70 elders (Nu 11:16) that helped Moses? Whatever the reasons were for God mentioning these, he did not mention the people’s sin. The same applies to verse 14 at Rephidim (Ex 17) – there was no mention of the grumbling, just that there was no water. There was no details of significant events like the Red Sea in verse 10 or the stage at Sinai. No mention of grumbling at Kadesh (Nu 20), verse 36, no mention or Edom refusing them to pass, only Aaron’s death, verse 38-39. In verse 40 there was only mention of king of Arad hearing them coming, but no mention of the Israelites’ victory over them (also Nu 20). No mention of Moses seeing the land (Nu 27) in verse 47. It appears that God is wanting us to remember what happened and to think about it, rather than God giving us the details all of the time.  He gives us important reminders as a “test” to see if we really are interested in his wonderful salvation. God’s instructions, via Moses, on what they should do when crossing into the promised land are specific, and if they did not follow God’s instructions there would be consequences, verse 50-56. If they did not drive out the inhabitants of the land then those who remain would be a constant problem for them. This is exactly what happens in our lives if we do not remove the ungodly things from our way of life, they will cause us to fail and perhaps take us back to the same place where we started, ie in “Egypt” and death! In Proverbs 24 we have God’s requirements for us in dealing with wickedness, verse 1-2 and 8-9. He says that we should not “gloat” when our enemy falls, verse 17-18; this is perhaps why there was no mention of the victory in Numbers 33:40. God says not to “fret” because of evil men, verse 19-20, because God will deal with them in his own good time. We need to be wise as we build our future in God, verse 3-7 and 14. Just as God said to his people in Moses’ time, we need to be separate from those who are rebellious, verse 21-22, because we will become like them. The reminders given by God in Numbers need to produce in us a character that does those good things and not the bad things listed in verse 23-31. We should always do our best for God and not be half hearted as in verse 32-34, because that will end in disaster too. John 6 is our New Testament reading we see that Jesus ‘tests’ Philip when they had all these people to feed, verse 6. Both Philip and Andrew failed the “test” because they couldn’t see how Jesus could feed the people with the little they had themselves, verses 7-9. What both of them had forgotten, and so have we, is that with God and Jesus anything is possible and in this case Jesus fed the crowd by multiplying the small amounts they had, verses 10-11. When God and Jesus provide, there is abundance, verses 12-13. This may be another reminder to us of the people of Israel with the 12 remaining baskets, but the obvious message is that when we rely on God and Jesus, and if that is their will, they will provide more than enough. In this case there was another specific purpose, because the people had to be convinced that Jesus was special (verse 14). Their reaction was to make Jesus king at that point, but Jesus knew that everything is in God’s time and he walked away from the people, verse 15. We see that Jesus told the Jews to stop grumbling, verse 43. They were grumbling because they hadn’t learnt the lessons of their history or their own lives. Jesus reminded them of the story we read in Numbers 34, verses 44-51. It is God who calls people to himself and to Jesus, and Jesus reminds people that he (Jesus) is the “bread of life”; he says that the people who ate the bread in the desert died, but if people eat Jesus’ bread, they will live forever. Obviously, it’s not a question of literally eating Jesus, and Jesus obviously doesn’t mean that they won’t die now, but he does mean that if we accept Jesus now, we will live with him forever when he comes back to the earth. Jesus reiterates this in verses 53-58, showing us the importance of accepting him and becoming like him. That’s why we remember these aspects of Jesus’ life when we eat the bread and drink the wine on Sundays. We don’t literally eat Jesus’ body or drink his blood, but we take the bread and wine as symbols of our spiritual acceptance of Jesus in our lives and our likeness to him. Just as the people of Moses’ day needed manna to keep them physically alive, we need Jesus, who came from God (that’s what ‘from heaven’ means) to keep us spiritually alive. Jesus also repeated that people can only come to him if God calls them, verse 65; these are difficult words that some could not accept and they left Jesus, but just as the disciples said to Jesus, verse 68, we also say “where can we go?”. There is no other place where we can get life! April

April 15th

Numbers 34 gives us the boundaries of the land into which God had brought the people; it was important that they recognised this, verses 1-2, and it was also important that all took their correct inheritance, verses 13-15. Everyone got what was rightfully theirs and everyone got what they needed – everything was shared correctly – a great lesson for us is that God gives us what we need. We read earlier that the smaller tribes had smaller inheritances, while the larger tribes had the larger inheritances, the division was due to need, not any superiority – everyone got what they needed. In Proverbs 25 we read that the impurities of money are removed when it is refined – the same is true of our experiences in life. The process by which God ‘refines’ us is such that we can be as pure as refined silver, verses 4-5. In the process we must be humble, verses 6-8. All these other proverbs of King Solomon are good lessons for our daily lives, they teach us to be honest, not to gossip, to be patient, not to be greedy, to be careful what we say and to control the things we do. Yesterday we thought about how God ‘tests’ our faithfulness to see if we really are doing our best to stay on his side, and to see if we learn from the experiences we go through in our lives – we know that God and Jesus ‘test’ us, and in yesterday’s reading from John 6 we see that Jesus ‘tests’ Philip when they had all these people to feed, verse 6. Both Philip and Andrew failed the “test” because they couldn’t see how Jesus could feed the people with the little they had themselves, verses 7-9. What both of them had forgotten, and so have we, is that with God and Jesus anything is possible and in this case Jesus fed the crowd by multiplying the small amounts they had, verses 10-11. When God and Jesus provide, there is abundance, verses 12-13. This may be another reminder to us of the people of Israel with the 12 remaining baskets, but the obvious message is that when we rely on God and Jesus, and if that is their will, they will provide more than enough. In this case there was another specific purpose, because the people had to be convinced that Jesus was special (verse 14). Their reaction was to make Jesus king at that point, but Jesus knew that everything is in God’s time and he walked away from the people, verse 15. We saw yesterday that Jesus told the Jews to stop grumbling, verse 43. They were grumbling because they hadn’t learnt the lessons of their history or their own lives. Jesus reminded them of the story we read in Numbers, verses 44-51. It is God who calls people to himself and to Jesus, and Jesus reminds people that he (Jesus) is the “bread of life”; he says that the people who ate the bread in the desert died, but if people eat Jesus’ bread, they will live forever. Obviously, it’s not a question of literally eating Jesus, and Jesus obviously doesn’t mean that they won’t die now, but he does mean that if we accept Jesus now, we will live with him forever when he comes back to earth. Jesus reiterates this in verses 53-58, showing us the importance of accepting him and becoming like him. That’s why we remember these aspects of Jesus’ life when we eat the bread and drink the wine on Sundays. We don’t literally eat Jesus’ body or drink his blood, but we take the bread and wine as symbols of our spiritual acceptance of Jesus in our lives and our likeness to him. Just as the people of Moses’ day needed manna to keep them physically alive, we need Jesus, who came from God (that’s what ‘from heaven’ means) to keep us spiritually alive. Jesus also repeated that people can only come to him if God calls them, verse 65; these are difficult words that some couldn’t accept and they left Jesus, but just as the disciples said to Jesus, verse 68, we also say “where can we go?”. There is no other place where we can get life! In the reading from John 7, Jesus reaffirms the importance of listening to God’s teaching, verses 16-19 – we are to listen to ALL of God’s teaching and not pick and choose the parts we like! The Jews only obeyed the parts that pleased them and they suffered for choosing the wrong things to follow. Jesus gave them the example of how they were ‘working’ on the Sabbath by doing good by circumcising a child, while they wanted to kill Jesus because he was doing good by healing on the Sabbath, verses 21-24. We too must make the ‘right decision’ when considering the things of God. The sad thing is that the people knew that Jesus was the son of God (verses 28-29), but they didn’t all accept what he said! Some did, verse 31, and we thank God that some still accept Jesus as their saviour and try to do what he and his father want them to do. In this chapter Jesus talks about his death, resurrection and ascension into heaven (verses 33-34), but because people generally don’t understand what God has done throughout the Bible, they don’t all believe and are divided over who he is. The lesson for us is to always read and learn and put into practice what we learn, as God continues to ‘test’ us in our lives by changing us, so that we are in the kingdom as he wants us to be. April

April 16th

Numbers 35 is the passage today and there are many lessons of care, sharing and respect for us to learn from. The Levites were the religious “servants” of the time, they spent all of their time doing God’s work and performing the acts of worship on the people’s behalf – so the people had to provide for them, verse 2-5. The expectation was that the tribes that had the most towns (because they were greater in numbers than the ones with fewer towns) had to give more, verse 8. We should follow this principle today too, because we all have different things, some have more, some have less, but we should be willing to give more if we have more. If we consider that EVERYTHING that we have as being from God, then when we see a need, we should be willing to give of the things that we have to those who have less. This is a great Christian principle for us all to follow, no matter where we live. God gave the laws and as a result everyone had what they needed. A complete respect of life was demanded too, the consequence for deliberately killing someone, whether with an object in your hand or even with your fist or even a push, was basically a life for life, verse 16-21. There is no excuse for deliberate actions. In Jesus’ teachings – which are now the way that we should behave – Jesus condemns anger that leads to murder, Matthew 5 verse 21-22, so we should demonstrate a complete respect for human life, which God gave in the first place. The cities of refuge were an important part of the godly legal system of the people of Israel, verse 9-13; notice that these were cities that people could flee to if they “accidentally” killed someone, so that they could “stand trial”. This was a loving process of investigation to ensure that the right course of action was taken. We can take lessons from this too, in that we should always research properly when an accusation arises, no matter what it is about. Verse 30 says that a decision has to be made with “witnesses” NOT one “witness” – this is why Jesus tells us in Matthew 18 that “witnesses” are needed when there is a dispute. A human life is so important to God whether killed by accident or not, even if the death is accidental and the individual escapes to one of the cities of refuge they must remain there, verse 26-28.  This therefore shows us that there are consequences and that we must respect life – the spiritual lesson is that we must not even be angry with others, because Jesus says that we should not be. Proverbs 26 is a list of proverbs about a fool, verse 1-12; someone who is lazy, verse 13-16; a deceiver and gossiper, verse 17-28. All of these people are bad and cause trouble: the fool is the one who has no respect for God and disobeys and rebels; the lazy person just does not do anything and the gossip spreads malicious talk. We have to be careful not to be like any of these and to avoid people who behave like this. God knows however that we do often fail, which is why we now have Jesus, but this does not mean that we can do what we like, we still have to try our best, but when we see others fail we should be slow to judge, remembering that we fail too. We have an example in John 8 in the woman caught in adultery – when the people wanted to “test” Jesus maliciously we see how Jesus responded, verse 7-11 – he said those without sin should cast the first stone – nobody did! But he also told the woman not to sin anymore! So just because there is forgiveness that does not mean that we can continue to sin regardless. When in Jesus we have to act as if we are in the light and be like Jesus, this means not being foolish, not being lazy and not gossiping, verse 12. Jesus was none of these, he was like his father, verse 14-18, this is so much in contrast to the ungodliness of human thinking, verse 23-30. Jesus made it clear that human thinking was from “below” and not from “above” as Jesus was (ie thinking like his father), and we should also be trying to do the same. As Jesus said to the crowd he also says to us that we should “hold to his teaching”, verse 31-32; this means that we should always continue to do our best to follow him and his father, others need to see this in us too. We cannot say, as the Jews did, that they were saved because of their heritage, verse 33, we are not saved purely by being baptised, we have to act like Jesus and be seen to act like Jesus in all that we do. Verse 34-38, Jesus says that there are 2 options, we are either slaves to sin or free in Christ, if we want to be free in Christ we have to do our best to follow him all the time without gossip, being active, no rebelling and being prepared to give back what God has given us. April

April 17th

The people demonstrated just how seriously they took the words of God in Numbers 36. They thought about the implications of what God wanted – this is a healthy and good thing to do. There was a concern that if the daughters of Zelophehad married outside their own tribes then the inheritance of Joseph could become smaller and smaller over the years. This was not a problem with what God had previously said, it was a “test” to see how the people would respond by putting God’s words into practice in their lives, verse 3-4. Presumably a prayer was made to God to ask what should happen and God answered, verse 5-6, the daughters were told to marry only within their own tribe. From this came a benefit for the remaining tribes too because it was now reiterated that no inheritance would pass from tribe to tribe, verse 7-9, meaning that when a daughter received an inheritance they were required only to marry within their own tribe. Obviously because we are now not a nation, and instead in Jesus, there is no longer a difference in “tribes”; we are not constrained to this way of marriage, but the principle remains – we must always research to see how God’s words impact on our daily lives, it is no good just reading the Bible and then doing our own thing, we have to always apply the Bible’s (God’s) teachings to our everyday lives. The daughters did just this, verse 10-13, so must we apply God’s teachings in our lives. Do not move away from God is the message. The daughters considered their inheritance from God as a blessing, we too have an inheritance from God, ie the kingdom, therefore like them we have to respond by ensuring that God’s requirements are not changed in any way. They respected their inheritance, so should we! The last verse in this last chapter of Numbers reminds us that all these are the “commands and regulations the Lord gave”, verse 13. The people at the time were eager to stay uncorrupted in the land that God gave them, sadly, history tells us that this did not last long, but we MUST try to retain God’s word and not corrupt it in the way we live. We need to always put God’s ways into practice in our lives. It should be no surprise that we are reminded of a number of teachings of Jesus in Proverbs 27 because Jesus is the best example for us to follow of someone always applying his father’s words in his everyday life. Jesus uses verse 1 in his teachings in Matthew 6 verse 34, and interestingly in his parable about the rich “fool” (Luke 12 verse 19-20), he makes it clear that the “fool”, who we read about a lot in Proverbs, has no respect of God and only puts his hope in his own wealth – which is a complete waste of time because in the parable the fool dies that night! James too uses this verse in Proverbs to demonstrate the difference between the “wise” [in God] and the “fool” [who ignores God], James 3 verse 13-18. Verse 1 in Proverbs 27 is pride! As with all of the proverbs, we gain so many lessons from this chapter, so each verse should be considered and applied to our own lives, but just to continue with the theme of inheritance we will just look at a few verses as examples. Verse 8 for example is a warning that if a man [or woman] strays from their “home”, ie God’s home, then they will simply not survive – just like a bird who leaves the nest before they are ready to leave, will die. Interestingly Jesus gives us a similar teaching in the parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15 from verse 11, in this case the “lost” son realised his mistake before it was too late and returned. Proverbs 27 verse 10 implies that we should be more at one with our godly “neighbour”, ie our spiritual brothers and sisters, rather than our own ungodly flesh and blood families. Our true friend is Jesus! And we really are introduced to Jesus in verse 23, where the shepherd is sure about the condition of his flocks. John chapters 9 and 10 tell us that Jesus knows the condition of his sheep, he demonstrated this by what he endured in his life and death, so he really does know us. Because of his commitment to his father, and to us, he is now our intercessor and we should always celebrate Jesus’ resurrection, not just at Easter! So do we really know the importance of the resurrection? In 1Corinthians 15 verse 21-23 we read that Adam brings death, but it is Jesus who brings life, so our “Easter” should be every day and it is every day that we have to have the right attitude. The way that we live is our “cross”, this is what we have to “carry”, not just remembering Jesus’ death, but remembering that he was raised because of his godly life, and remember that we too must have a godly life. In John 10 verse 11-13 we read that Jesus said “I am the good shepherd”, and he laid down his life for his friends! We too should always take care and direct the “flock” that is around us in the same way that Jesus did, no one should be allowed to wander off and we should want to keep the flock on the right way. The shepherd should not “take off” and run away when danger comes. Jesus is our friend and he will never leave us, as Proverbs says, a friend will remain, he will always help. We need to be like Jesus and help others with their burdens – for example we should be praying for others and helping them when we can. If we are true friends of Jesus we must never run away from brothers and sisters, we need to stand with them. Verse 14 shows us that Jesus really knows us and we should know him – the question is, do we? Do we really know what pleases him? Do we do what pleases him and follow his teachings? We only “know” him by following him. We should put aside our sinfulness and change, otherwise we crucify Jesus all over again! We need to be committed, ie read, learn and put into practice what we learn. Isaiah 40 verse 11 tells us that God tends and leads his people carefully – Jesus was just like his father – and this is just how we should love others too.  Both God and Jesus really want us to move in the right direction, therefore we should be friends of Jesus, ie put Jesus first. In Ezekiel 34 verse 11-16, the lost sheep were searched for by God – this is the confidence that we have that we are cared for by loving shepherds, ie God and Jesus. The promise of the kingdom is for their sheep, and their sheep will be there to experience a “good pasture”, so both God and Jesus want us to be right and to be there. Those who are ungodly will be destroyed, ie the “pride” described in proverbs will be gone and those who are humble will be there! Our lives need to reflect Jesus as the shepherd, Hebrews 13:20-21, he was the great shepherd who God brought back from the dead. We are equipped to do his will, ie to do good, to do God’s work, to read about him, to learn about him and to preach about him. We need to please God all the time and to walk with both God and Jesus, being ready all the time. In 1Peter 5 verse 4 we read about the chief shepherd who gives us our crown, which is the kingdom, where human things like sin and pain and suffering will fade away. In Revelation 7 verse 13-17, the “lamb” is the shepherd, where our “robes are white”, ie clean from sin. So we should try to keep our white robes clean now and try to keep separate to avoid contamination from others. This is the place where our sorrow is turned to joy! John 15:11-13. All joy is being together – us, Jesus and God. Jesus and his Father will always be with us.  The breaking of bread each week reminds us of their love and the love that we should have. 1John 3 verse 16. April

April 18th

In the readings we now move on to Deuteronomy which is a summary of all the things that happened in both Exodus, ie the actual exodus from Egypt and the giving of the law; and Numbers, which was the events that involved the individuals when Israel were in the desert for 40 years. It was very important that the Israelites who were now crossing into the promised land, had to remember and learn about the 40 year long journey. This was now a new generation because all of those who were aged over 20 who rebelled 40 years ago, had now died, and those that were crossing into the land were their descendants. Moses reminds us all that it is so important to “remember God’s laws”, so he starts his summary in verse 5 in Chapter 1, our chapter for today. God’s expectation is that we are “wholehearted”, as Caleb was, verse 25-36, in the way that we follow him and Jesus, if we are not there are consequences, and God will not listen to any of our pleas, verse 43-46. The elders (shepherds), therefore, should always be teaching and have a godly wisdom, verse 15-18; if our “leaders” are not godly then they will cause others to fall away, ie “to go into hiding”, verse 12 and 28, this is why our choices of elders have to be on the basis of fearing God and not on the basis of a human preference. Moses was very specific in this chapter about the characteristics of these “wise men”. In our Christian lives we should always also remember where God has helped us in our lives, eg verse 31; this is so important for us because we can gain strength from this when times do become difficult for us, as they surely will. It is interesting to note in this chapter that if the people had always been with God then the journey would have been 11 days from Horeb, verse 2, but because they rebelled against God it took 40 years! The lesson for us here is so obvious –  we should always allow God to be in control and not rebel against him and do what we want! Proverbs 28 has some important links to what we have read in Deuteronomy, eg verse 21, not showing partiality (Dt1:17), also the theme of the rebellious people who rebelled against God is reflected in verse 2. Verse 9 is a reflection of how God turned a deaf ear when the people disobeyed him (Dt1:43-46) and did not listen to their prayers – we cannot expect our prayers to be answered when we are rebelling against God. Verse 7 is a connection to keeping the law – the alternative is that those who break the law are a disgrace! Like the Israelites we often forget that we should only trust in God, verse 26, it is foolish to reject God’s ways – the Israelites tried to go into the promised land in their own way, but only in God would they have been safe. Caleb’s and Joshua’s godly reaction is reflected in verse 18, they went into the promised land because their ways were blameless, all the other people rebelled and “chased fantasies”, all fell, ie they died in the desert. In John 11 we have an account about a very godly family, verse 1-3, this family was very close to Jesus, yet Jesus still allowed them to suffer when he remained where he was for 2 days, verse 6, but there is always a reason for suffering. We should always remember that our hope is a future hope, not an immediate resolution –  our hope should be that of Martha’s who voiced her hope in verse 24. We too should always look to the future resurrection when Jesus comes back. Jesus reminds us that “in him” we are considered as alive now, because he is the “resurrection and the life”, verse 25. We have to always remember that God has a big “plan” and that the death of Jesus, for example, was part of that plan –  in this chapter we see that this is where the Pharisees started looking for ways to put Jesus to death, verse 53. The Jews’ reason for this was for purely selfish, verse 47-48, ie their own human, selfish, standing! This was rebellion against God, but it was also part of God’s plan to save. Like we saw yesterday, Jesus is a real friend, verse 33-35, as he felt Mary and Martha’s pain he feels our pain and is emotional with us; yes Jesus does love us, verse 36, he does not like it when we suffer, but there are reasons for it and we really do benefit from our periods of suffering, they make us into what we are! We have to remember that in this account there was a reason for the suffering, ie to teach and to also bring about our salvation in that the Jewish authorities now started to look for a way to bring Jesus down. Another time when we read about Jesus weeping was over the future destruction of Jerusalem (Luke 19:41) when not only the people would suffer terribly but God’s temple and the city would also be destroyed – again there was a reason for this happening – another lesson for us now in not rebelling against God. So let us learn those all important lessons, to remember, to trust in God, to be careful not to act in human ways but to recognise that God is in control. April

April 19th

April 19th. Deuteronomy 2 recounts how Israel moved towards the Promised Land. It explains what was the Promised Land that God would give them and what was not the Promised Land. The Promised Land was the land west of the Jordan river. God was now going to give it to them after their 40-year journey through the wilderness. But the lands of Edom and Ammon were not part of the Promised Land. God had given these lands to other peoples (verse 21-22). God had given the land of the Horites to Edom (which is another name for the descendants of Esau). God had given the land of the Zamzummites to the descendants of Ammon (who were descendants of Lot). In this way, we see that God gives land to the people He chooses and at a time He chooses. We are told this later in Acts 17:16; “he (God) determines the times set for them and the exact places where they should live.” It is God who controls the nations and moves them according to His plan at the time God has set. Man thinks he is in control, but He is not. All nations are under the directing hand of God. God determines the times they exist and where they exist. Proverbs teaches us the wisdom of God. We will pick out a few words of wisdom from Proverbs 29. Firstly, the need to discipline a child (verses 15 and 17). In our human view of discipline, we think of punishment. We think of what punishment is deserved by the child and then ensure that they receive it. But this is not the main point of discipline in the Bible. The main point of discipline is restoration (eg Galatians 6:1). The child may have wandered from the right way, but discipline restores them to the right way. In the case of a child going in the wrong direction, discipline puts the child back on the right track and restores relationships. We all need to understand this when dealing with one another. If the child understands this and seeks wisdom, then the parents have joy (verse 3). Secondly In Proverbs 29, we have the need for self-control. A fool shows no control and behaves without restraint. But a wise man keeps himself under control (verse 11). An example of such foolish behaviour is when the fool rages in court (verse 9). These people get angry quickly, which results in disagreement and sin (verse 22). The fool goes out of control and causes damage. However, the wise man is controlled by his integrity and by God’s laws (verse 18). We must show we are wise by staying in control of ourselves. In this way we will avoid sin and follow the path of the wise. Our final choice from Proverbs 29 is a principle that is important but is not often expressed clearly. Verse 25 tells us not to fear man but to fear God. We need to make sure that we fear God more than man. In that way we will do what God wants and not what man wants. If the Israelites in the wilderness had feared God more than the giants in the land of Canaan, they would have entered the Promised Land 38 years earlier and saved themselves a life of desert living. Fearing God is always the better way. In John 12 we have the beginning of the final week of Jesus. On the sixth day before the Passover (verse 1), Jesus arrived in Bethany. This was were Lazarus lived. Any one who had heard about the raising of Lazarus from the dead came to see Lazarus as well as Jesus (verse 9). This was a testimony to the ability of God to overcome death, and a reminder to Jesus that God was able to raise him too. No doubt this was part of the reason while the sister of Lazarus, Mary, anointed the feet of Jesus with expensive perfume (verse 2). Persumably Jesus stayed with this family, and Jesus would retreat to Bethany at night during this final week. On the fith day before the Passover (verse 12), we have the triumphant entry of Jesus into Jerusalem. The people welcomed Jesus as the ‘King of Israel’ (verse 13) but the Pharisees did not. Some Greeks were attracted to these events. These people heard a voice from heaven (verse 28). Unfortunately most of the people were blind to the truth and did not believe (verse 37-40). Some of the leaders believed but were afraid of men who would put them out of the synagogue (verse 42-43). They feared man more than God and so made the wrong decision. They showed that they were like the fools of Proverbs 29:25. Jesus feared God more than man, and was rewarded. We see this in Psalm 118:8-9, which is a Psalm about Jesus’ last week and journey to the cross. Jesus did God’s will whatever the consequences. It is always better to trust in God, because then God will reward those who trust in Him. April

April 20th

Deuteronomy 3: Moses continues Israel’s history, written for his generation and the generations to follow, including other nations. Right from the beginning in Gen 1 (which Moses wrote) we see, “And God said…and it was so”.  The same was happening in Moses’s lifetime, even in this chapter.  v2: And the LORD said to me “Do not fear him, for I have delivered him and all his people and his land into your hand”, and verses 1-22 reminded the people then, and remind the readers now.  “God said… and it was so”.  Of course, without the Lord’s words and promises, fears and doubts would be understandable. The numerous cities had high walls, there were “giants” in the land, there were mighty armies to conquer etc, and they as a nation had failed 38 years ago (failed to TRUST IN GOD and His words and promises), would it happen again?  This time it was different. They had LEARNED to trust in God, not themselves. By themselves they could not defeat the enemies, but WITH GOD, knowing His will, God’s people couldn’t lose. Did Moses recognise that his people (38 years more mature) had a different mindset from the previous group? It would seem they were at the least less fearful, and by faith more faithful.  Which group are we in? The group of faith or the group of fear? There are fears everywhere – in distant countries, and even in our churches and families. Many of us have been on the journey for a long time. Has God been with us? Yes. Have there been difficult times? Yes, but God was with us.   Have we been with God?  Only as individuals can we answer that question, but I am sure that all of us recognise, for peace and safety, we need to be with the Lord every day.  History lessons have their benefits even though mankind doesn’t seem to learn from it. History can sometimes seem merely academic, but it can be inspirational. There is one verse in this chapter which I find amazing. (Verse 24) Before we read it, let’s recall that Moses is writing the words of this chapter, he is 120 years old and has had an incredible life (good and bad times). He has been given words to be written, from the Lord, which speak of things before mankind existed. He’s been given a picture of creation, even the universe, and promises that God has made concerning mankind’s salvation. He saw some of the promises fulfilled in his own lifetime, and the formation of the nation of Israel and their escape from Egypt. And that nation was fed and watered, and guided in all God’s ways. The plagues, the Red Sea, the tabernacle, all incredible witnesses of the provision of God. Plus, the personal relationship that God had with Moses – all of these amazing gifts from God, and yet what does Moses say in v24? “You have BEGUN to show your servant Your greatness and Your mighty hand”.  Because of this awareness Moses asked that he might see more by crossing over the Jordan and seeing the promised land, like Abraham saw in Gen 13:14. Moses’ request was refused, “They all died in faith, not having received the promises, but having seen them afar off, embraced them and confessed they were strangers and pilgrims on the earth”.  Heb 11:13. We too have seen wondrous acts of God too numerous to mention, but these are only the beginning of God’s great and mighty hand.  “Even so, come, Lord Jesus”.  Proverbs 30:5 “Every word of God is pure; He is a shield to those who put their trust in Him.” When we start to learn the ways of God from the Bible, we learn many things. We gain knowledge of God, and wisdom, of pure love, grace, justice etc. We also learn how mankind should be – according to God’s will. We also recognise the wisdom and beauty in His creation as they live by His design. The eagle in the air, the lion, etc. Also, the small creatures, the ants, locusts, etc and how they work together (by God’s design). By knowing more about our creator, we come closer to Him, and change to be closer to Him. At the same time, we become more aware of mankind’s ways; the pride, the injustices, the greed and selfishness, the adultery. In this chapter Agur writes these thoughts, and describes his journey from not knowing his creator to beginning to know his creator; “who is a shield to those who put their trust in Him”. His eyes had been opened by the word and will of God. And so have ours – thank you Lord.  JOHN 13:  Hearts and Minds.  Jesus knew the time had come, the next day he would be separated from his disciples by death on a cross. But rather than dwelling on his sufferings, he continued to teach and guide his disciples. The instructions in that upper room were not just for them but also for those who would believe in Him through the gospel.  Jesus washes their feet and says “What I am doing you do not understand now, but you will after this” (v7). We see in Luke 22:24 the reason Jesus is doing this – the disciples were arguing amongst themselves which of them would be the greatest in the Kingdom of God. Clearly, at that time, they didn’t have the heart and mind of Christ, they were being selfish and competing against each other.  Pride was rampant! Jesus, the son of God, the Messiah, the one who died for them, who “loved them to the end”, he (the greatest man who ever lived) washed their feet! Don’t imagine he merely washed their feet and it was done quickly. I am sure it was done lovingly, gently and slowly. Days later they were humbled even more when they realised that Jesus knew what was going to happen shortly after washing their feet – the shame, suffering and hatred that mankind would have for Him, and also those very disciples would abandon and in different ways betray Him.  And despite all of this, Jesus washed their feet. He also spoke to them, “If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet.” v14 – so should we literally wash one another’s feet?  Maybe. There is no record of it happening in the churches of the New Testament. But more important is the mindset behind the deed – that of a loving servant. If we have this mindset, we will naturally do those things that are needed each day – we will have the mindset of Jesus!  Jesus continues in v15, “For I have given you an example, that you should do as I have done to you”.  This was not just feet washing, it was humbly living a life as a willing, loving servant – this is what Jesus had done for them, and what he has done for us! So that we also may be inspired by Him, and change to become like Him.  In v16 Jesus gives them more words to remember, words to live in their hearts and minds. God sent Jesus, who in turn would send the disciples. Jesus represented and spoke for God, and the disciples would witness and speak of Jesus. Jesus would send them, but they had to be changed, their minds had to be one with Christ’s. They were chosen by God and Jesus, something that with the wrong mindset would cause pride – but with the true understanding and full awareness of what had been done for them (and us), humility and with it a prayerful life of guidance and help needed on that journey.  If we have the Lord in our hearts and minds we will do those things that please Him, and nothing “shall be able to separate us from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord” Rom 8:39… even death. April

April 21st

In Deuteronomy 4 we see an important distinction between the work of God and the work of man and this theme is continued all the way through the readings for today. God starts by saying that his people should listen and carry out his commandments when they go into the land that God was giving them, verse 1-2. They “saw with their own eyes” what God had done for them over the past 40 years and how he punished those who put faith in man made things, verse 3-4. God reminds them that they should follow his laws so that as well as respecting him in everything, they would also be an example to those nations around them by demonstrating that they were “wise”, verse 5-8. Like the message of God to his people at the time, we too should “be careful” and “watch ourselves closely” so that we do not forget the things of God that we have heard about and seen, and we should set examples to our children as well as those around us, verse 9-10. It was so clear at Mt Sinai when God spoke to all the people from the fire that this was the work of God and NOT the work of man, verse 11-14 – this should have been sufficient evidence and experience to keep the people faithful. Sadly, God knew that the people would rebel in the future and here God was warning the people not to replace him with the “work of their hands”, ie making things to worship, verse 15-20. This is a really important teaching both for them and for us in that we must not replace God with anything, only he is the only saviour, “man made” things will only take us away from God, so we should not make them important in our lives. Moses’ warning in verse 23-24 is just as appropriate for us now. Just as God’s people then, we are privileged to hear and see the things of God so we should live lives that are appropriate, verse 32-34. This theme of using our hands properly is continued in Proverbs 31, we read about the woman, or wife, with a “noble character”, some Bibles call her the “virtuous woman”. Her works are always godly, she uses her hands in godly ways, she is always prepared and is ready to please her husband, verse 12-29. The examples here are wonderful and demonstrate a complete respect and “fear” of God. Her husband is completely confident in her and because of her he is respected, verse 11, 23 and 28. As followers of Jesus we can see the similarities in our Christian lives because the church is represented by the woman and Jesus represented by the man (Ephesians 5). It is such a strong lesson for us (brothers and sisters) to be like this wife (woman) in Proverbs such that Jesus (and therefore God) are respected because people see our “good works”. This is exactly what God’s people were told in Deuteronomy when they should be seen as “wise”. The first half of John 15 talks about the vine (Jesus) and the branches (us, the church) and the vine is supposed to produce “fruit”. If it does not, the branches will be cut off, verse 1-4. This is a great picture for us and Jesus’ teaching is very clear and is exactly the same as his father’s teaching that we read in both Deuteronomy and Proverbs, verse 5-8. The same love that God showed to his children in Deuteronomy is shown by Jesus to us, verse 9-11, therefore this demands a response from us to produce “fruits”, just like the woman in Proverbs. This is especially so when we remember that the greatest part of Jesus’ love was demonstrated by his sacrifice for his “friends”, verse 13. And we are Jesus’ friends IF we do what he commands, verse 14, this again is what his father said in Deuteronomy! We have been brought close to Jesus by grace, therefore we really do need to respond, verse15-17. People around us do notice how we live, we should always set good examples – the aim is for us to demonstrate both God and Jesus in our lives.  It does not always end in unity, in fact it often ends in hatred as Jesus explains in verse 18- chapter 16 verse 4. God is a loving merciful God, there is no limit to his forgiveness.  However, his forgiveness is conditional, verse 27 – God loves us, because we love Jesus, and we are only his friends if we do what he commands. So our lesson is to use our “hands” to do our best to do the work of God everyday! April

April 22nd

In Deuteronomy 5 we see the reminder of the 10 Commandments, ie verse 7-21; the children of God were reminded to take these seriously and were to “learn them” and “follow them”. Jesus tells us in the New Testament that we should also keep these, with the exception of the Sabbath, which is the only one that he did not repeat (our Sabbath day is now the Sunday, although we should remember what both God and Jesus have done for us every day). The reason why they, and us, should learn and do this is because we are so thankful for God bringing us out of slavery to the world and sin and promising us the kingdom, verse 6; the events we read about in Deuteronomy are a reminder for us of our life now and our journey to the kingdom. We made a promise when we were baptised that we would learn and do what both God and Jesus want and this is similar to the confession that the people made, via their leaders in verse 27. So we have to be “careful” to do what the Lord has commanded, verse 32. This message is emphasised by the 4 times that the phrase “God speaking from the fire” is repeated in this chapter, ie verse 4, 22, 23 and 26 – when repeats like this occur in the Bible we should ask why. We also read that the people were “afraid”. There is a reference back to this from Hebrews 12 verse 18-21 and as followers of Jesus, we are told that we are not approaching a mountain that could not be touched and that is burning to hear the voice of God. Because of this at the time of Moses the people actually “refused” to listen to the voice of God, verse 19, which actually uses the same word that is translated as “refuse” in verse 25. So we should not “refuse” to listen to Jesus’ teachings which are the teachings of God. So we really do need to listen, obey and put into practice God’s word. In Ecclesiastes 1, which is our 2nd reading today we read that king Solomon, despite all of his wisdom and learning, verse 16-18, concluded that “everything is meaningless”, verse 2. He sees everything that happens in the world, eg the new days, the rain, the water and the wind, verse 5-7, and how it is all repeated constantly, and he describes this as “wearisome”, verse 8. We need to look at the last verses in this book to try to understand what Solomon concludes to understand better what he is saying, ie without God, everything is meaningless! And when we compare ourselves to God we are so so small and insignificant and therefore anything that we achieve, eg human knowledge and wisdom, is meaningless. The only achievement that we can make in our lives is to learn about both God and Jesus and God’s purpose with us and about his promised kingdom. When we come to our 3rd reading in John 17 we see Jesus’ wonderful prayer that he prayed at the first breaking of bread service, he prays about himself, verse 1-5, he then prays about his disciples, verse 6-19, then he prays about us, ie verse 20-26. This is amazing and shows us just how much both God and Jesus really want us to be in the kingdom together! Jesus is asking his father that we learn via his word, ie the bible, verse 20, which is the disciple’s message; to then be one with both God and Jesus, verse 21; for us to be united, ie as one body, verse 23; and that we may be loving like Jesus was, verse 26. The whole process is that Jesus has prayed that we will be like him, therefore we have to do our best to read, learn and put what we learn into practice. April

April 23rd

The 2 chapters in Deuteronomy, ie 6 and 7 confirm to us that we must take the reminders that God gives us seriously. In chapter 6 we are told that the commands, decrees and laws, verse 1, are to be kept, verse 2. God’s children were to be “careful” to obey, verse 3, so important is this requirement that they are to be an integral part of us, verse 6 describes this as being “upon your hearts”. Our love for God should be with “all our heart and all our souls and all our strength”, verse 5. Parents were required to impress this on their children, verse 6, and they should be ready to answer their children’s questions, verse 20. The symbolic reminders, that we read about in verse 8-9, stress that we need to remember God and his commands every day, they should be second nature. When we pass on the reasons to our children we need to explain the reasons for the reminders and take the opportunities to explain all the reasons for a particular command. We need to have reminders so that we can remember what has been done for us the best example is the breaking of bread service that we all should be eager to celebrate each Sunday so that we can remember the love of both God and Jesus for us, but  also equally because we want to carry out the command. Just as the Israelites were saved from Egypt, we too have been saved from the world and sin. “Therefore take care to follow the commands, decrees and laws that I give you”, chapter 7 verse 12. And if we pay attention and are careful then God will keep his covenant, verse 12. The reason that we need to always remember what God has done for us and to respect his commands is that we know that he hates wicked things, verse 26, this is why he told the Israelites to utterly destroy the wicked things and people, verse 16, we too need to remove everything that can take us away from God. If we do not do this they will be a snare to us. The kind of life that we read about in Ecclesiastes 2 is the human centred life that God was warning his people about in Deuteronomy. This type of life was just centred on self, eg verse 4-9, God knew that if the wicked things were not destroyed completely then those who were ungodly would influence his people for bad. Solomon’s conclusion was that without God a life has no meaning because after death all the things that you have worked for will go to others, verse 15-16. Solomon tried this kind of life and he concluded that it was meaningless! Our 3rd reading in John 19 is what our best example of remembering is all about – Jesus was crucified for us so that we can have life – the minimum that we must do is remember Jesus’ and God’s love for us each Sunday in the bread and the wine. Reminders are absolutely necessary for us in order to remain faithful to God. The surprise response of the chief priests in verse 15 showed that they preferred the things of human thinking rather than the thinking of God – we must not be like them if we want to be in the kingdom! April

April 24th

There are some great messages in Deuteronomy 8 and 9.  We are told that God tested His people to know what was in their heart. One way God did this was to make them hungry and then feed them with manna (8:3).  God was always going to feed His people and not let them starve.  Even in their hunger they needed to trust in God.  God gave them manna so that they had to collect a certain amount every day, and twice the amount before the Sabbath (Exodus 16).  If they did not believe God’s word, then they would not follow the instructions.  They would try and collect more each day (to make it easier) or collect some on the Sabbath (to get fresh manna).  Both strategies would not work and would come from not following and believing God’s word.  God tested them to see if they would follow His word or not.  Unfortunately, many failed the test. There is an obvious lesson for us.  Do we follow and believe God’s word?  Are we prepared to follow God’s commands even when there is hardship?  God predicted a time of plenty for His people.  This would be when they entered the Promised Land.  When He gave them all they could eat and peace, would they continue to be thankful?  Or would they be proud and think they had done it (Deuteronomy 8:17)?  We have the same challenge today.  Are we grateful to God for all He has given us or do we think we have done it ourselves?  The blessings of God for His people were not from their righteousness.  When God gave them the Promised Land, it was not because Israel deserved it (9:5-6).  It was because of the wickedness of the nations living there (9:4).  Can we really say that we have what we have because we deserve it?  Or is it more because of God’s kindness that we enjoy these things?  Israel had a history of turning away from God in their pride.  May we not be like them.  The advice from Deuteronomy was for Israel to be thankful for what God had done for them.  This is the same advice of Ecclesiastes 3.  When we have food and drink and satisfaction, this is a gift from God (verse 13).  It is not because we deserved it.  If we deserved it, it would not be a gift but a wage. Solomon agrees with Deuteronomy that God tests man (verse 18). But Solomon describes it as a test to see if men are really men or are they more like animals?  That is, do people behave like animals or do they rise above their basic instincts and behave like people of God?  It is true man and beast go to same place and go back to dust.  But is their destiny going to be any different? Whether man is any different from an animal in his afterlife depends on how he behaved in his life.  Even judges can be wicked (verse 16).  This is a startling admission, when you would think that it is the time of Solomon and surely he would ensure justice is always done!  It is clear that he cannot achieve this, but he warns the judges that even they would be judged (verse 17).  Of course, Ecclesiastes 3 is the great chapter about time.  There is a time for all things.  We cannot do the same thing on every occasion.  We need the wisdom to know when to do one thing or the opposite.  God knows the difference, but do we?  In John 20 and 21 we read about the resurrection of Jesus.  Jesus was a man who did not die like the animals.  Here was a man who was tested, and found to be a perfect man of God.  When the disciples went to the tomb, they found the stone rolled away and the body gone.  An immediate thought was that the body had been stolen.  But if it had been stolen, why were the covers folded (20:7)?  A thief would not do that.  John believed at that moment, but Mary did not.  This was despite Mary seeing angels (20:12). Thinking the gardener had taken the body, Mary mistook Jesus for the gardener.   When she believed, she went and told the other disciples.  Jesus was raised on the first day of the week, so the night of the same day as the resurrection, Jesus appeared to the disciples (verse 19).  He presented evidence that he had really died (his hands and side) but was alive.  A week later even Thomas was convinced.  When he said, “My Lord and my God” (verse 28), he was saying that he now understood what he had missed before.  In John 14:5, he questioned what Jesus meant by ‘the way’.  In the conversation that followed, Jesus said “Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father” (14:9).  Thomas now understood that when he looked at Jesus he could see the father.  He also gave them the holy spirit to enable them to forgive sins (verse 22).  There were many people with blood or betrayal on their hands who needed to repent.  Even as they saw Jesus, the authorities were after the disciples, which is why they were in a locked room.  John 21 describes the appearing of Jesus to the disciples when they were fishing on the Sea of Tiberias (Galilee).  It was a natural thing to ask fisherman if they have caught anything, because that is how you could buy fish.  They had failed to catch anything and to say so only added to their disappointment.  Jesus, still unrecognised, told them to cast the nets onto the right side of the boat, which resulted in a great catch. They counted the number of fish, which they needed to do if they were to divide the fish among the fishermen.  We are caused to compare this incident with the previous one in Luke 5:1-11.  Previously, Jesus had been with them in the boat.  Now, Jesus was not in the boat and they had still been able to catch the fish.  They had progressed to the point where they could become fishers of men (Luke 5:10).  Jesus did not need to be right with them, but they could still successfully do his work. April

April 25th

Yesterday’s and today’s readings in Deuteronomy 9 and 10 continue with the same theme of grace and it is beneficial to read them together. Verses 1-6 of chapter 9 says 3 times that it is NOT because of any righteousness on the part of the Jews that God was giving them the land to take possession, ie verse 4, 5 and 6, “it is not your righteousness or integrity” that God was saving them! This is important for us to note, this is why it was said 3 times. Twice God says that it was because of the wickedness that God was removing the previous occupants from the land – this tells us that these people really were wicked. But the 3 reminders that God’s people were being given the land even though they were unrighteous is of “grace”! God was saving the people even though they were sinners, described here as “a stiff-necked people”. God’s reasons for bringing them into the land were also because of his faithfulness to their “forefathers”, ie Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. Chapter 10 verse 12-22 is the response that we all should have to God’s “grace” – we should “fear the Lord”, “walk in his ways”, “love him”, “serve him with all our heart and soul” and “observe his commands and decrees”. So being shown grace brings responsibilities – we need to “circumcise” our hearts (verse 16), ie “cut off” the things that are against God, this means changing our human attitude and acting like both God and Jesus. The intervening verses between chapter 9 verse 7 and chapter 10 verse 11 are examples from the people of Israel’s lack of correct response to God’s grace, but it also demonstrates God’s grace. The original meaning of chapter 9 verse 8 suggests that “even whilst at Horeb (Mt Sinai)”, where they could see God’s presence in the cloud and the fire right in front of them, they still sinned and rebelled against God! Moses reminds them that he had gone up the mountain to receive from God the commands direct from him, yet the people still got Aaron to make the golden calf for them! Even though they blatantly sinned, God still showed them “grace”, and this is what God was now reminding them, via Moses – not to forget that grace requires a response from us. We are told in Exodus, when this event actually happened, that Moses was “angry”, but was this why he broke the tables of stone? Moses was a humble character, he always put others before himself, even when God said to him that he would make his descendants into a new people for him, Moses interceded and said no! Because of his humble character it seems reasonable that when Moses broke the tablets in chapter 9 verse 16 that he was in fact protecting the people by breaking the tablets because they had already broken the law. We are reliant on grace but we have to continue to try our best to follow what God wants. April

April 26th

Deuteronomy 12 told Israel how God was to be worshipped.  Unlike worshipping idols, God was not to be worshipped on every hill and under every great tree.  Nor was God to be worshipped in the way that the people thought best (vers 8).  God was to be worshipped at the place where He had put His name, that is, the Tabernacle. Israel was to see God as associated with a particular place. Initially this meant the Tabernacle, but ultimately it meant God was in Jerusalem, where the temple was built.  This is where the burnt offerings and freewill offerings were to be taken.  Visiting God was to be seen as where they were to have a meal (verse 7). We associate having meals as eating with people we are close to, such as family or friends.  By having a meal with God, the people would see that they were close to God and in fellowship with Him. They were to rejoice with God (verse 7 and 12), that is, Israel was to take pleasure in getting close to God.   Throughout history, Israel struggled to keep these commands.  Often in the times of the kings we are told that they did not remove the high places (eg 2 Kings 12:3), by which we understand that they worshipped God on local altars and not in Jerusalem.  Deuteronomy 12 ended with a reminder that Israel had to keep all the commands – no more and no less (verse 32).  It may be tempting to drop commands we don’t like, but we should not do this.  It may be tempting to add commands which we like, but we should not do this either.  Every command of God is important and is to be obeyed.  Ecclesiastes 5 continues the theme of how to approach God.  We must be careful with what we say and do (verse 1).  We should particularly avoid being foolish in God’s presence.  A fool speaks a lot and may say foolish things, like rash promises.  He may also day dream and desire to follow these dreams.  We should avoid doing these things (verse 6-8). The second part of the chapter is a review of wealth from God’s point of view.  God tells us that tthe ones in power are likely to take wealth (verse 8-9).  But whoever loves wealth is never satisfied because they always want more (verse 10).  Those who are rich need to spend riches to look after their wealth (verse 11).  They can look on their wealth but it does not really benefit them (verse 11).  The rich do not sleep well (verse 12).  Riches often hurt the rich (verse 13).  Riches are easily lost (verse 13).  If this is the case, then why do so many people seek the misfortune of riches?  Unfortunately many people in the world run after riches.  The one who follows God should be different.  Better to work hard, enjoy the benefits that come and thank God for it (18-20). Any enjoyment we have in this life is a gift of God (verse 19).  Let us remember that we will all leave this world without taking our wealth with us.  Wealth does not give life and it cannot save us, but following God will.  Acts 2 was a day that changed the world.  God baptised the disciples with the holy spirit, and this enabled them to be witnesses of Jesus Christ.  It was the Jewish feast of Pentecost, one of the pilgrimage feasts, and there were Jews from all over the Eastern part of the Roman Empire (verse 5).  These Jews had grown up in these other countries and could speak the local language as well as Hebrew – the language of Jewish worship (verse 8).  These Jews were able to here the message of the gospel in the language of the country of their birth.  They were amazed and ready to listen to what this meant (verse 12).  Peter explained that this event was foretold by the prophet Joel (verse 16). Joel spoke of coming judgment on Israel (verses 19-20) but also said that those who call on the name of the Lord would be saved (verse 21). Peter then proceeded to explain that the Lord was Jesus (verse 25 and 36) and that they needed to call on Jesus.  Even David understood about the role of Jesus from the words of God. If they wanted to be saved from the coming judgement, then they needed to call on the Lord Jesus.  Peter explained that this meant they needed to repent of their sins and their former way of life and be baptised.  They needed to change and follow a new life. Many did.  They accepted the words of God and positively chose to give their lives to following Jesus.  They kept the apostles’ teaching, fellowship, breaking of bread and prayer (verse 42). They shared their own things with each other in the temple of God, and rejoiced and praised God.  We can see the original words of Deuteronomy 12 coming through here.  They came to the place where God was, the temple, and fellowshipped and ate together in fellowship.  They rejoiced and thanked God.  As we read in Ecclesiastes, they did not chase foolish ideas or foolish words. They listened to truth and followed it, and God blessed them for it.  In the same way, we must follow the ways of the disciples and apostles.  We must avoid the temptation of pursuing silver and gold and we must live according to the commands without adding to them or leaving any out.  We will then receive the blessings of following God. April

April 27th

Deuteronomy 13+14: Continuing instructions from Moses to Israel, the children of God.  Deut 13 concerns false prophets. Every generation needs to beware of false prophets. In this chapter Moses tells his people that signs and wonders are not necessarily a witness to a true prophet. If the prophet” spoke anything that didn’t agree with the word of God, then he was a false prophet. An example is given in v12 where a sign or wonder happens but then he says, “Let us go after other gods and let us serve them”. Clearly the prophet is not a prophet of God, he does not speak for the God of Israel! These false prophets could cause unfaithfulness amongst God’s people, and so had to be put to death, even if he or she was your closest relation. This is because God is so concerned for man’s salvation.  We see the same concern from Jesus in Matt 18:6. “Whoever causes one of these little ones who believe in me to sin, it would be better for him if a millstone were hung around his neck, and he was drowned in the depth of the sea” We can cause others to sin by either wrong teaching or bad example – both are important. This is another reason why we need to be careful and prayerful in our understanding of the bible, especially if we teach or preach, and we must live according to the word of God as well. Wrong teaching has been a problem from the beginning (in the garden of Eden) and is spoken of in the New Testament.  Paul says “If anyone preaches any other gospel to you, let him be accursed”. Gal 1:9. John says, “do not believe every spirit, but test the spirits, whether they are of God” 1John 4:1. Peter says in 2 Pet 2, “there will be false teachers among you, who will secretly bring in destructive heresies.” So let’s be careful and prayerful following the advice in Deut 13:18 “listen to the voice of the Lord, to keep all His commandments and do what is right in the eyes of the Lord your God”. To do this we need to be conscious of God in everything we say or do.  Deut 14: Because God had chosen Israel to be His witnesses to the other nations, they were not to live like the other nations, they were to follow the ways of God.  They were not to cut themselves or shave the front of their head for the dead.  They had to be careful what they ate – they had to be conscious of God in their daily food – by following His laws. Every day would be a day to witness of God even in the simple things of life, like eating and giving thanks.  Their fields throughout the year would also remind them of God and His ways. Each year a tithe (10%) was set aside, “to be eaten before the Lord your God in the place where He chooses to make His name abide, that you may learn to fear (revere) the Lord your God always”.  Every 3rd year the tithe was for the Levites, the stranger and fatherless and the widow within their towns, that they may come and eat and be satisfied, and the Lord may bless all.  Wonderful laws to remind them and us of God’s provision, His care for all of His children.  Ecclesiastes 6: We all want to enjoy our lives; it makes things so much easier. Mankind, without the joy of knowing God, seek other ways to find fulfilment. Money, possessions, children, even food and alcohol. None of these provide lasting enjoyment, and mankind still finds themselves lacking in fulfilment. If man dedicates his life to the pursuit of money and possessions, that pursuit also brings an insatiable, selfish greed and sorrow.  If man seeks fulfilment in having children; they often disappoint, make the same mistakes and are a concern throughout life.  Even food and alcohol are short-term pleasures, and excesses in either will lead to ill health and bad behaviour.  As Christians, what spirit should we have? “Godliness with CONTENTMENT is great gain. For we brought nothing into this world, and we can carry nothing out. And having food and clothing, with these we shall be content” 1 Tim 6:6-8. We are content – because we know there is a God and He loves us.  We trust in Him and our salvation, we’ve found our fulfilment and contentment, and it’s in Jesus and the Lord God.  Acts 3: Peter and John continue to preach the gospel. They go to the temple and see a man who has been lame from birth for more than 40 years. Peter (with no doubt in his mind) says “In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk”.  The man was immediately able to walk and leap around praising God. Everyone, then and now, would know that was impossible, without God. The man (without God) would have taken a long time before he could be balanced on his feet. He would not have sufficient muscles to leap and walk, he would have to be taught how to walk, it was all impossible! But there he was. Clearly the Lord was at work. As with the warning in Deut 3, what words would accompany such a sign or wonder? Peter explains that the miracle was not done by them, but by the Lord. He reminds them of recent history, how Israel had rejected their Messiah, but in contrast God had raised him from the dead. “And His name (Jesus), through faith in His name (Jesus), has made this man strong.” v16.  Peter speaks firmly but gently to the crowd, “Brethren, I know that you did it in ignorance”. Peter had made mistakes and had been forgiven. I believe Peter had forgiven the Jews and now had the spirit to save them, the same spirit as his Lord. He continues to appeal to the crowd. Christ’s suffering was written before, in the prophets. Conclusion – God knew what they would do to His son, and He allowed it to happen, as did Jesus.  If the people could see that Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was God’s plan for salvation, for the forgiveness of their sins, then they would begin to perceive the enormity of the grace and love of the Lord. To these people the message was, “Repent and be converted” (now). For there is a future time when Jesus will return to establish the kingdom. “That He (God) may send Jesus Christ, who was preached to you before, whom heaven must receive until the time of restoration of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all His holy prophets since the world began” v20-21.  What appropriate words, the only hope for this current world – Jesus to return and “restore ALL things”.  Of course, they are not just words, it’s a PROMISE!!  Brothers and sisters, we have heard the same gospel. We believed in the name and authority of Jesus. We’ve seen the evidence in the Bible that Jesus was God’s plan of salvation from the beginning. We’ve been baptised, we’ve repented, we’ve been forgiven.  Wonderful, but that’s in our “past”.  Where are we today? Do we still eagerly await Jesus’ return, the restoration of all things, including ourselves! Having known God’s grace… are we living according to that grace, or do we abuse that God given grace? Our individual statements of faith, are seen in how we live our lives.  “we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him PURIFIES HIMSELF, just as He is pure” 1 John 3:2-3. April

April 28th

We often see the Gospel in the Old Testament, one example of this is in Deuteronomy 15. This is about the year of release or the year of cancelling debts – this was another time to be reminded of the things of God. Every Sabbath day (or our Sunday) is a day of remembering the things of God, if we are not careful and if we do not have other reminders, we may be in danger of becoming over familiar with the activity. God gave his people annual feasts (Numbers 29 and 30) which gave the people additional “energy” as a reminder to remember the things of God. In addition to this every 7 years was a Sabbath year when all year was spent remembering and thinking about God. Another reminder was the year of “release” or year of “cancelling debts” without payment! Those Jews who became poor and who became the servants of others were also released every 7 years. Every 49/50 years, was the year of Jubilee [this is part of the cycle of 7 years, ie 7×7=49, it started part way though the 49/50 year]. There was a progression though the reminders, ie 7 days, 7 years to 49-50 years, each step gives us an opportunity to think about the things of God. This year of release and year of Jubilee is spoken of in Luke 4, obviously Jesus would have done teaching before this, but this is the first event recorded in Luke of Jesus’ teaching and sets the agenda for his message. Luke 4 verse 18-19 is actually a quote from Isaiah 61 which uses the language of the Year of Jubilee where the captives (prisoners) were set free (Leviticus 25 verse 10). Any one who had sold their land because of difficulties they had experienced were given the land back for free during this year. The Day of Atonement, which was the feast celebrating the forgiveness of sins, was followed by the sounding of the trumpet which signalled the start of the period of this “deliverance or freedom” when the land was given back (hence the Jubilee year being in the 49/50 year). So we have a picture reminder in Deuteronomy of the deliverance and freedom that Jesus brings, therefore Jesus’ teaching about the “acceptable year” takes the idea of the “Year of Jubilee”. If we closely compare Luke 4 verse 18-19 we see that it is different from Isaiah 61 but that it includes Isaiah 58 as well, which is about the “Day of Atonement”; this is when the Year of Jubilee started. Isaiah 58 verse 6 contains a quotation from Deuteronomy 15 about  freedom taken from the Year of Release. We can conclude that Jesus was talking about the year of release and Jubilee to describe his work. The forgiveness of debts, represented the forgiveness of sins, freedom for those who had sold themselves into service represented freedom from slavery to sin and family land that was sold being freely received back is a picture of receiving a place in the kingdom. All this is possible because of the all sufficient sacrifice of Jesus, represented by the sacrifices of the Day of Atonement. So these years we have read about in Deuteronomy are a picture of the Gospel. The language of these years are found in many places in the Gospels. One example is the Lord’s prayer, where we read “forgive us our debts”, we understand correctly that this means ‘forgive us our sins’, but the language is from the year of release when debts were forgiven. Ecclesiastes 7 talks about the important principle of knowledge that it brings responsibility. With knowledge we get baptised and this then determines that we are responsible to stand before the judgement seat when Jesus returns. Verse 12 says that this knowledge is “wisdom” and this in turn gives life; which is the land given back freely.  The question for us is – is it money or wisdom that saves our life? It is wisdom that gives opportunity of life but how you apply it determines if you get life – just getting knowledge and doing nothing with it has no value. Jesus is reminding us that when we apply the knowledge of the bible correctly, this is what gives life when Jesus comes back. Verse 2-4 says that it is better to go to the “house of mourning” rather than to a wedding because we always need to be reminded of the pattern of life and death so that we are prepared for death and do something to gain life when Jesus comes back. Wise people prefer to have other people to correct them rather than someone who agrees with them, verse 5, even though we may not like it at the time when we are challenged.  The wise person is showing love for us when he or she does this, and if we accept the correction, we are also wise. We all need to grow to be like Jesus and to be ready for the kingdom. Acts 5 and the first section is a great example of the need to correct bad practice in the church. This was a serious issue and is again a picture of how two apparently good Christian individuals were in fact not ready for the kingdom – they set about to deceive. Interestingly Ananias means “grace of God”; Sapphira means “beautiful”, so knowing them should paint a perfect picture of an ideal brother and sister and the grace of God and Jesus. Unfortunately they were not looking for the praise of God, they were looking for the praise of man and therefore they lied. They wanted to convey the impression that they had given everything, and so they wanted praise. They forgot that you cannot lie to God and that it is what God thinks that is important not what man thinks. We are wise to remember that what matters is what both God and Jesus think about us! April

April 29th

Deuteronomy 16 – Reminders.  “Three times a year all your men must appear before the Lord your God at the place He will choose” (v16).  This was at the Feast of Unleavened bread (Passover), at the Feast of Weeks (Pentecost), and the Feast of Tabernacles. “Each of you must bring a gift in proportion to the way the Lord your God has blessed you” (v17).  Each feast was a reminder of Israel’s relationship and covenant with God. The Passover was “so that all the days of your life you may remember your departure from Egypt” (v3). The Passover was always at the place where He “chose for a dwelling for His Name” (v5). It was at the same time “at sunset” and would be followed by a further 6 days of eating unleavened bread. All of this was done so that the people remembered that their calling was from God, they were reminded of how He rescued them and more importantly, why.  When the people came to the feasts as God requested, each individual was showing their faith, joy and commitment to their Lord, happily following the instructions given to them. Three times a year there would be joy for all of those who attended, seeing fellow believers and friends and sharing in prayer, singing and dedication and gifts. Every man who went to the 3 feasts would be witnessing to his family and his village his faith and commitment. And giving encouragement to those at home and those on the journey as well as those at the feasts. However, those who didn’t attend would be doing the opposite, they would be discouraging all who knew them.  It’s the same today. God has planned a “place” and a time for believers to meet Him, to have fellowship with the one God in the way God has planned – to pray, sing, dedicate and bring gifts. All of our ecclesias are encouraged by Jesus to meet up regularly, to do God’s will, to remember what has been done for them, to encourage each other and to worship him by dedicating our lives to him, and by so doing we are becoming “one with Him”.  And every time we do this it pleases the Lord. There are many reasons to go each week to the meeting, what good reason can there be for not going?  If you don’t go there is only one person you will please – yourself!!  The Lord also gave His people an opportunity to witness every day by being Godly to everyone.  “Follow justice so that you may live and possess the land the Lord your God is giving you (v20). Although the instructions are given to judges and officials, the words apply to all of God’s people. If you are one of God’s people then you will do God’s will and follow His word. “Do not pervert justice or show partiality. Do not accept a bribe, for a bribe blinds the eyes of the wise and twists the words of the righteous” (v19).  Jesus’ prayer in John 17 was that believers would be one with God and him… our God is always just – are we?  Ecclesiastes 8 – Many thoughts.  Solomon did a lot of thinking. Although he was given wisdom from God, he did not understand everything. “Despite all his efforts to search things out, man cannot discover its meaning” (v17) Not knowing or understanding things that happened frustrated Solomon. But he found comfort in the things he did know …he knew he could trust in God; he knew God was wise and just. He knew justice would come to all, whether they had been good or bad; but not necessarily in this life. All mankind would be judged by the Lord. So let us as fellow believers be content to share our lives with the Lord each day, trusting in His love and promises knowing that this life is a “training ground” preparing us for the kingdom of God. “Seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness and all these things shall be given to you” Matt 6:33. Acts 7 – the example of Stephen.  Stephen was accused of speaking against Moses and God, the temple and the law. So Stephen gave his accusers a history lesson concerning God’s will and Israel’s response to God’s will, to show that throughout their history they rejected the very people that God had sent to save them. They had recently put to death Jesus (who came to save the lost sheep of Israel) and although Stephen wanted to save his accusers. they would kill him also.  Stephen began the lesson with Abraham, then Isaac, Jacob and his children, and then Moses. God had been with these people wherever they were. Moses was sent to be a ruler and judge by God, but Moses was rejected many times by Israel. And because Israel rejected Moses and his words, they were at the same time rejecting God and His words. Moses told them “God will send you a prophet like me. (v37). That promised prophet was Jesus, sent by God to save His people, but once again, most of the Jews rejected the one who God sent.  Stephen speaks about the time of David and Solomon when the temple was made. The Jews considered the temple that was made as the place where God dwelt. But God is not limited to living in a temple, He is everywhere and everything comes from Him. Solomon understood this “But will God really dwell on earth? The heavens, even the highest heaven, cannot contain Him” 1Kings8:27.  Stephen summarises Israel’s response to God’s calling in verses 51-53…the Jews throughout history had refused to listen to God and killed those who He sent, even His son the “Righteous one”. The same outcome was to happen to Stephen, especially when he, full of the Holy Spirit, told them what he saw; Jesus standing at the right hand of God. As they were stoning Stephen to death, he showed them his spirit, his love “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” and “Lord, do not hold this sin against them “. His example and suffering would be a continual reminder to those who were there that day, especially to a young man named Saul (v58). April

April 30th

Deuteronomy 17 – continuing instructions for God’s people.  (v1) “Do not sacrifice to the Lord an ox or a sheep that has a defect that would be detestable to Him.” How much do we love the Lord? We give thanks each day for what He has given us, and yet we give little in return, we so often don’t give “our best”. As Christians, we don’t have to give an ox or a sheep, but we are told to “offer your bodies (hearts and minds) as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God, this is your spiritual act of worship” Rom 12:1. We are to follow Jesus. His whole life was a sacrifice of his will to his father’s will, truly a living sacrifice – the best, a sacrifice to God’s will and man’s salvation, the righteous for the unrighteous. When we begin each day, and are mindful of what the Lord has done for us, then we are more likely to “give” our lives to him, to witness of him, to do everything as he would have done. So let us be mindful of his living sacrifice for us at the beginning of each day and remind ourselves throughout the day of the only perfect sacrifice, Jesus.  (v2-7) Instructions to God’s people when someone committed idolatry.  If there were more than one witness then the accused would be put on trial and if found guilty, could be put to death by stoning. The witnesses themselves were to throw the first stones, and afterwards the hands of all the people – by doing this they were “putting away the evil from among you”. This is an interesting phrase when compared with Jesus in John 8:7 “He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone first”. We need to examine ourselves before condemning others, we need to put away the evil within us. We need mercy, and to be merciful. (v8-13) For difficult cases to judge, they were to take the cases to the priests and the judge at “the place the Lord would choose”. The decision of the judge had to be followed, if anyone disobeyed, they were put to death so that evil would be removed from Israel. The law was given so that the people would recognise that the authority that the judges and priests had, was from God. Obedience to God’s ways should have been followed by the judge, the priests and the people. If they did this, they truly were God’s people.  (v14-20) God knew that one day (nearly 500 years later!) the people would demand to have a king, so that they could be like the nations around them (1, 8). Even though the people would disobey God by asking for a king, He gave them laws for the king to follow so that the nation of Israel would still be witnessing the Lord God to the nations. When we read the instructions, we invariably think of Solomon who seemingly didn’t follow God’s advice.  “You must not have great numbers of horses” (trust in God not horses).  “You must not have many wives” (otherwise his heart will be led astray).  “You must not gather large amounts of silver and gold” (desiring riches rather than God).  The king was to write a copy of the law and to read all the days of his life so that he respected God, followed His ways and was humble. All of these instructions were so that the king always had the right spirit… that of serving God and serving his people. The perfect king was the perfect servant of God, our High Priest, our judge, Jesus. Ecclesiastes 9 – “The dead know nothing”.  Everyone knows that death comes to all. “For the living know that they will die but the dead know nothing; they have no further reward, and even the memory of them is forgotten. Their love, their hate and their jealousy have long since vanished; never again will they have a part in anything that happens under the sun” (v5-6). After death you cannot change what you have done. As Christians we know that “we must all appear before the judgement seat of Christ, that each may receive the things done in the body, according to what he has done, whether good or bad” 2Cor5:10. We know that we might die at any time, or Jesus return at any time. So, with this knowledge we can find wisdom, the wisdom to live a life with God each day with gladness and a joyful heart; clothed in white (righteousness) and living a life of faith preparing yourself for the Kingdom of God…and the gift of eternal life. Acts 8: responses to the gospel.  Bringing to repentance is a theme in Acts 8. The church suffered persecution and the believers were scattered, there was clearly great suffering, verse 1-3. However, those who were scattered preached, v 4-8, so instead of the religious authorities (and Saul) stopping the spread of the message of repentance and the kingdom of God, they actually triggered the method that spread the message further! God was in control again bringing “joy” out of suffering! It would have been terrible for those who were “dragged” into prison, it is terrible now for those who are suffering, so our prayer always has to be for strong faith for all of God’s people. Simon the Sorcerer is an interesting section, verse 9-24. He was clearly a proud and rich man because he was elevated by those who saw him perform his magic, but like the other people in Samaria, he was convinced by the message of repentance and the kingdom of God and was baptised. He was “astonished” by the miracles that he saw being done, confirming that his “magic” was only illusions and tricks. Despite his apparent belief, his true character comes out when he asks to pay for the “holy spirit”; he saw Christianity as an opportunity to get even richer, he was “full of bitterness” and “captive to sin”! Peter’s response is damning and Simon is advised to repent. We do not know if he did, but humility was needed for sure for this to happen. The Ethiopian was humble, verse 26-39, he asked for help when he did not understand, he listened to the message about Jesus and he wanted to be baptised and demonstrate his new found faith in the humble act of baptism. So through all these lessons we can see that the people of God (us) need to always follow God and to trust.  If we go against him there are consequences, but he is always there for us to repent; events are often dictated by God and he is aware of situations and will intervene as necessary to bring about his purpose. April

May 1st

We are reminded in Deuteronomy 18 that the Levites were not to have an inheritance with the Children of Israel, verse 1, they were to “live on the offerings made to the Lord by fire”. Moses repeats this in verse 2. Then he goes on the say what they should live on, verse 3-4, and then gives the reason in verse 5. This was important for both the Levites and the rest of the children of Israel – the Levites showed faith and trust in God and in their brothers for their living; and for the rest of the people it also demonstrated a respect of God and for their religious representatives. Here we have a picture of unity amongst all of the people: the priests and Levites performing the religious activities for themselves and on behalf of the people; and the people supporting them whilst they went about their everyday business. Each part of the “body” had their function (1Corinthians 12), so we can take a lesson from this too in our Christian lives. We all have different functions and abilities and we all have to support each other to undertake those functions – during Moses’ time God required the sacrifices for worship and for teaching the people, and the Levites used these to sustain themselves, ie they were given by God.  The people, to whom God had granted success in their farming, willingly gave the sacrifices. A picture of unity! The phrase “the place the Lord will choose” appears in verse 6, we know that this was to be Jerusalem where the centre of worship was eventually to be in the form of the temple, so God was continuing with his preparation of the people, just as he is preparing us for the future kingdom, so we have to take these lessons and practice unity in everything that we do. For there to be unity we have to have a common aim and the section on “detestable practices”, verse 9-13, is a reminder that we are not to be involved in any practice that is detestable to God, we have to be “blameless”, verse 13. The Levites were asked to settle in the cities given to them around Israel so that all the people of Israel had teachers to help all understand, to try to encourage them to be blameless and to help in difficult situations – likewise we should take a lesson from this and to teach each other and to help solve a problem. Verse 6 talks about a Levite who is living elsewhere but wants to go to Jerusalem (the place that God will choose) to serve God in a better way.  This is how we should want to be in wanting to be in Jerusalem, ie in the kingdom. In the meantime we have to be content to be in the place where God wants us to be now, but when here we should always want to be in the ecclesia with our brothers and sisters to prepare for when the Kingdom comes! Jesus tells us in the New Testament to “Seek first the kingdom and his righteousness” – this should always be the first thing in our minds. In Acts we read about a man who was a Levite and he wanted to be dedicated to God, chapter 4 verse 36, he sold his land and was not concerned about his land for himself, even though he could keep the money, he gave it to the disciples for the work at Jerusalem. His name means “son of exhortation” and we can use this as an example for our living by giving our time and money to serve. Acts 1 verse 23, we read that the disciples chose Matthias to replace Judas and it is suggested that the Joseph mentioned here could be Barnabas (it sounds like Barsabbas), if this is true, it confirms that this man was respected, so this could give us a clue as to the respect that Barnabas had. But if so then Barnabas was clearly not disappointed that he was not chosen, he was humble and wise in the way that he dealt with the situation. He was always working and dedicated to God and demonstrated a godly character in the way that he acted – a lesson for us when others are given a role over us.  In Acts 9, our reading today, Saul, who became Paul, was welcomed by Barnabas. Paul was converted, the Jews tried to kill him and, understandably, the Christians did not trust him, verse 26, Paul would have been disappointed! However, Barnabas responded, verse 27, this suggested that Barnabas had already been aware of Paul and he demonstrated his faith and became an exhortation. Just as in Joshua 20 re the cities of refuge, verse 4, a “plea was made for innocence”, Barnabas did the job of the Levite and gave him a place of refuge, ie in the ecclesia (notice the similar language in Acts and Joshua 20v4). Barnabas did his role in the ecclesia. Likewise we should be applying our responsibilities within the body and encouraging others to also come into our “place of refuge”, so this is an important place to be, we should be wanting to come together and be together in our place of refuge. Therefore we all have to make every effort, this is where we are supposed to be – always! So we should be like Barnabas to help and encourage each other to come together. Acts 11 refers to Barnabas again. Verse 19-20 shows that the message was preached to the Jews and the non Jews at Antioch and many believed, 20-21.  The most suitable person to preach was Barnabas, verse 22, he was suitable because he was trusted and he was also from Cyprus, therefore the right person was used at the right place, ie the different parts of the body, teaching about Jesus. We can take important lessons from this: do we encourage, do we support, are we humble, do we gently challenge, are we an “exhortation” (example)? Verse 25, Barnabas searched carefully to look for Paul and he brought him back to teach the gentiles; this demonstrates a complete understanding of Paul’s account when he was converted, ie that Paul was to be a preacher to the gentiles; this also demonstrates humility on Barnabas’ part, he was sent by the Apostles, but this is not about pride, it is about doing what God and Jesus want in everything. We need this spirit too, we should not be selfish at all, we should be focused on God’s work and service to God’s people. Jesus did this for us – he served us even though he was God’s son he acted like a slave, he allowed himself to be taken and killed for us, this is humility, he did not serve himself. We remember this in the bread and the wine that he gave EVERYTHING for us so that we can have a place in the kingdom and be in the place where we want to be where we can have life. Let us copy the likes of Barnabas in our walk to the kingdom. May

May 2nd

Deuteronomy 19 – Cities of refuge.  Of the 48 cities given to the Levites, six were cities of refuge. They were spaced throughout the land, three east of the river Jordan and three to the west. These cities protected those who had accidentally caused a death or who were awaiting trial. The Levites would carefully listen to the evidence whilst the accused person was kept in the city until the time of his trial. If the accused was found innocent, the person would stay in the city until the death of the High Priest. At that time, he would be allowed to go free and start a new life. If found guilty of murder he would be put to death. If the people followed the Lord’s instructions, then Israel would have a nation of justice and mercy, one where the guilty would be punished and the innocent protected. (v14) “You shall not remove your neighbour’s landmark” Removing a landmark was seriously wrong. It was changing a property line and in effect, cheating families out of the inheritance of land that God had given them. Removing a landmark was stealing from God!  (v15-20) Once again we see any accusation had to have at least 2 witnesses. If any witness was a false accuser, then they would receive the penalty that was expected to happen to the accused, hence (v21) “life shall be for life, eye for eye,” etc. The words eye for eye are not meant to be taken literally. The words meant that the false accuser would be punished according to the severity of the accusation. Sometimes this would mean death, but often it would involve an appropriate “fine” according to the severity of the accusation. As Christians we must be very careful how we speak of others. Do we falsely accuse, do we gossip and spread rumours when we don’t really know what is going on and why? Ecclesiastes 11 – How to live.  In this chapter Solomon shows that life has uncertainties. The seeds are sown without any guarantees; we have no control over the weather, the sun and rain, but we sow with hope. So is life, we of ourselves do not have guarantees. We do know one thing is certain. “God will bring you to judgement”, whether we have done good or bad. We also know “There is no condemnation to those who are in Christ Jesus” Rom 8:1. So we should share with others (v1-2), sow in hope knowing God will provide – do not be anxious trust in God, live a life loving God and your neighbour each day.  (v5) “as you do not know the path of the wind, or how the body is formed in a mother’s womb, so you cannot understand the works of God, the maker of all things”. This reminds me of the conversation in John 3:1-12 between Jesus and Nicodemus. (have a look !). We too as Christians shouldn’t expect to fully understand the work of God, both physically and spiritually. Acts 10 – Jews and Gentiles brought together.  Cornelius and his family were devout and God fearing, gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly (v2), but they needed to hear “the good news of peace through Jesus Christ” (v36), “forgiveness of sins through His name” (v43) and all the other gifts through faith in Christ Jesus. How did Cornelius, his family and friends come to hear the gospel and God’s plan of salvation?  God made it obvious to Cornelius and Peter that it was He who was causing these events to happen. We remember Peter’s vision on unclean animals and how he was told “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean” We remember Cornelius being told to fetch a man called Peter from Joppa (35miles away!) to come and listen to him. Cornelius could have seen the difficulties – would his men find him? would Peter come? He could have thought, Peter is a Jew, and Jews don’t mix with Gentiles. But despite understandable doubts, it was obvious God wanted it to happen – so forget your doubts and do it!!  When Peter listened to why Cornelius wanted to hear him, he realised all of these recent happenings were of God, showing that God wanted the gospel to be brought to the world. “I now realise how true it is that God does not show favouritism, but accepts men from every nation who fear Him and do what is right” (v34-35). So, Peter preached Jesus. While he was still speaking “the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message”, and the believers were speaking in tongues (or different languages) and praising God. Again, evidence of God’s blessing and His wish to share the gospel with Gentiles. So, Peter baptised them in the name of Jesus Christ and stayed for a few days no doubt encouraging and teaching all those who would listen.  Although the Jewish Christians were surprised that the Gentiles were also to receive the blessings of God, it was written many times in their scriptures, that this was always God’s plan. “I will also give you as a light to the Gentiles that you should be my salvation to the ends of the earth” Isa 49:6 and many other places. Later on, in the new testament, a Jew would write “God so loved the world”. May

May 3rd

Deuteronomy 20 gives advice on warfare. Israel was allowed to destroy the nations in the Promised Land, but little else. We have been told why they were allowed to do this. It was because of the wickedness of these nations (Deuteronomy 9:4). It was not because of the righteousness of Israel. Israel was not allowed to attack the territory of Edom, Moab or Ammon on the east, and they were not to go back to Egypt on the west. The sea was to the south. The north was the Promised Land that they were allowed to attack but initially failed. Only rarely would Israel be in the position of attacking cities that were far away. Even then they were commanded to offer terms of peace (verses 10-15). It is difficult to know when these conditions did apply. One candidate is the defensive actions of king David when he was attacked by northern nations, who were still in the territory of the Promised Land. David conquered the full Promised Land as a result of defending against attacking armies. Israel was not allowed to empire build, only to inherit the land. The way God wanted battles performed was quite different from other nations. Firstly, the priest was to address the army, so that the war became a holy war (verse 3-4). Secondly, those who wanted to desert were allowed to (verse 8). This meant that those who remained behind had faith that God could give them the victory. God wanted to help a host of believers who did not doubt Him. Then anyone who had a new house, new vine or new wife was allowed to return home. This left an army of people who had been blessed with house, vineyard and wife. Since fruit trees took 5 years to reach a time of eating, this meant that the people would have been blessed over a period of time. If we put this together, it means there is an host of blessed believers who were willing to fight. There are lessons for us too. We too are a host of blessed believers and we have our own spiritual warfare. We must fight the good fight of faith (1 Timothy 6:12). In Ecclesiastes 12, we are given a picture of old age and death. Our bodily abilities are described in terms of city and in creation terms. Just as a city wears out, so will we. Before we lose all our abilities, we should remember our Creator in the days we have. We do this by listening to God’s advice and doing them. Ecclesiastes have given us many wise words, which are right and true (verse 11). Those words are like goads (verse 11) which are prods to prod us in the right path. They are also like nails from a shepherd. The only use of a nail by a shepherd is for securing a place for the sheep. This fits in with the symbology. The words of the wise are like a shepherd using the words to direct us in the right direction and the sheepfold is to keep us in the right place. We should use the wise words of the Bible to put us in the right path and to keep us there. Another way of saying this is ‘fear God and keep the commands’ (verse 13). We see the word of God directing Peter on the right path in Acts 11 and 12. Peter had been shown that God now allowed fellowship with Gentiles. God even gave Cornelius and his companions the gift of speaking in languages to enable them to preach to other Gentiles. You can imagine how effective a Roman centurion would be at preaching to others in their languages! Together the Jews and Gentiles became known as Christians. But there was a problem caused by systematic persecution and killings by Herod (Agrippa 1st). Just like the other great adversary (Saul) God removed him. Prior to this, Peter had been imprisoned and was facing death. Peter must have remembered that he said he was willing to die for his Lord and wondered whether this would now happen. But God had other plans. Peter was released miraculously from prison. We have a link here with the original Passover deliverance. Peter’s escape was at Passover time (verse 4) and was probably the night of the Passover meal. Peter was miraculously saved from bondage of Gentiles in the way that Israel was saved from Egypt. Both happened at night. Both were required to wear the right clothes. Both were led out by an angel. Peter’s escape was another example of God’s care for His people and His willingness to grant them life. May

May 4th

Deuteronomy 21: Further laws from God to Moses and Israel.  The law concerning unsolved murder (v1-9). The elders of the nearest community to the dead body would be responsible for following God’s ways concerning an unsolved murder. The elders would have been concerned that a murder had happened, and they didn’t know who the murderer was. (God did!). If they followed God’s instructions, they would be innocent of any crime in God’s eyes (unless they themselves were the murderer!)  The elders were instructed to bring a heifer down to an uncultivated valley, with a stream of water (a quiet, private area). The elders were to break the heifer’s neck, witnessed by priests (Levites) and the elders were to wash their hands over the heifer and say, “Our hands have not shed this blood (the murdered man), nor have our eyes seen it. Provide atonement, O Lord… and do not lay innocent blood to your people Israel”.  We remember Pilate’s words (Matt 27:24) “He (Pilate) took water and washed his hands, saying “I am innocent of the blood of this person (Jesus). You see to it”. And all the people answered and said, “His blood be on us and on our children”.  Pilate was not innocent concerning Jesus’ death – he had the authority to release the only innocent man that ever lived. But the Jews were worse than Pilate – they hated Jesus and were totally willing to take full responsibility for Jesus’ death. To these people, the ones who accused Jesus of blasphemy and shouted “crucify him, crucify him”, the Lord told the disciples to preach to these people FIRST, so that their sins may be forgiven in the name of Jesus. AMAZING GRACE!!  Female captives (v10-14): Laws were given concerning women who were captured and were wanted as wives. The laws from God “protected” the captive women, they were given time to mourn, time to start a new life. The Jewish husband was to respect the wife as a fellow human being, and his duty was to show God’s love to his wife, and that duty has not changed. “Husbands love your wives. Just as Christ also loved the church, and gave himself for her” Eph 5:25.  Firstborn Inheritance (v15-17): No matter how many wives they had, the firstborn of the father was the firstborn in status, having a double portion of the inheritance. The father could not change who the firstborn was because he loved one of his other wives better and perhaps preferred the firstborn of that wife. However, the firstborn could lose the right of the firstborn, and there are many examples in scripture. Adam>Jesus; Reuben>Joseph; Jacob>Esau etc.  The rebellious son (v18-21): If a son totally refused to respect and obey his parents continually, despite all the efforts made, then he would be brought by his parents to the elders. Then after explaining the situation, the men of that city would stone him to death “so you shall put away the evil from among you”.  This might seem harsh, but it emphasises to parents, families, communities the need to be respectful, obedient, supporting and loving towards each other and God. A part of “loving” is correcting, and saying “no” to wrong actions and thoughts. The world does not focus on community responsibility, and very often justifies injustice, and what God had called evil the world has called O.K. That is why the world is in the state it is – mostly Godless.  v22-23: “for he who is hanged is cursed of God” – we know that Jesus was “hung on a tree” so was Jesus cursed by God? We need to look at the context in Deut 21:22. “IF a man has committed a sin (Jesus hadn’t) deserving of death, and you hang him on a tree, his body shall not remain overnight on the tree, but you shall surely bury him that day. “The Jews (John 19:31) accused Jesus of blasphemy and deserving death, to be hung on a tree. They did bury him that day and regarded Jesus as cursed of God!! But they were wrong, so wrong!! Jesus hadn’t committed a sin, and hadn’t been cursed by God, and Jesus’ resurrection was evidence of God’s blessing, both for him and those who would believe him.  Song of Songs ch 1: This is a very difficult book to understand especially as we are not sure of who is speaking to who. Different translations give different “speakers”, so they are unsure as well. So I will give a brief over-view.  This is called Song of Songs because it was regarded as the greatest of songs. There are similar expressions like “Holy of Holies” (the most holy) and “King of Kings” (the greatest of kings). The song is an emotional love story about a young country girl and king Solomon. In poetic form, the lovers express intense passion and deep longing for each over. Despite this passion, there is instruction to remain sexually pure before marriage (ch2:7). It also teaches that a lasting marriage requires dedication, commitment, and a strong loyalty between husband and wife.  We see the character of the male that is adored – “your love” is better than wine and “your name” brings joy to anyone who knows you, meaning your character and the way you live your life is good and pleasing to all who know you. So brothers, is our spirit one of pure love? Do we have a good reputation within our community?  The female who was dark skinned, felt that she wasn’t as beautiful to the eye as some “do not look upon me, because I am dark, because the sun has tanned me” v6. But Solomon in reply, compares her to “my filly among Pharaoh’s chariots”.  Solomon had 12,000 horses, so he is saying she is his number one, out of 12,000 chosen beauties!! He adores her, her cheeks, her neck, her eyes.  This intimacy is shared between them, and this is what a Godly marriage is about, one-ness, intimacy, pure love, commitment and loyalty, it is a spirit which should exist uniquely between husband and wife. There is no other relationship between mankind where this should be so. It is special and has to be treasured and truly considered as a gift from God.  ACTS 13:     What do we preach?  We have read speeches that were given in order to preach the gospel to all nations, and we have read of another done by Paul in Acts 13. By reading this chapter we can remind ourselves of what we should do.  The early part of the chapter sees the Holy Spirit at work within the church. Heaven and Earth working together to achieve God’s will, that of salvation. Here is a reminder for us to pray, to pray for guidance, for insight, for the right words, everything. We do pray for a blessing on all that we do, but sometimes the words seem to be just “words”. We need to pray with a real URGENT need, to pray with the right motive, not that OUR work is successful, but that GOD’S will be done and salvation might come to someone else, that they too, might know and feel the love and grace, and truth in God and His son Jesus.  After prayer and guidance, be ready. We see the Paul and his companions went to the synagogue on the sabbath and sat down (v14), where they were ASKED for a message of encouragement. Paul didn’t push themselves forward, they waited for the moment.  Next lesson (v16): know your audience: acknowledge your audience from the beginning, engage with them – by so doing the words become personal, and that is how the Lord wishes the message to be, from Him to each individual person. “Men of Israel and you Gentiles who worship God”.  v17-22:  Paul gives a brief history of Israel and their journey from Egypt to David with the Lord God. These verses on their own, might not have seemed relevant to the Gentiles, but within those very scriptures from Moses (Genesis onwards) to David (and beyond), the plan of God for all mankind was there, and the fulfilment of that plan in the life of Jesus.  v23: from David’s “descendants God has brought to Israel the Saviour Jesus, as He promised”.  v26: a reminder of what this speech was all about – salvation, for all nations.  v27: the people of Jerusalem “did not recognize Jesus” and killed their saviour. The scriptures are the way to recognize Jesus, especially the Old Testament. Jesus did the same on the road to Emmaus recorded in Luke 24, and so should we, that more people come to recognize Jesus, not just the historical Jesus, but also the living resurrected Jesus. v 38 another lesson – try to keep the “heart” of the message simple. “I want you to know that through Jesus, the forgiveness of sins is proclaimed to you”. Yes, that’s our mission – to preach Jesus and all he represents, and by so doing make people aware of the glory that is due to God. May

May 5th

The theme of relationships runs through all of the 3 readings today. In Deuteronomy 22 we have what are described in some Bibles as the “various laws” and “marriage violations”, but all of these laws are about relationships and the PREVENTION of things happening. Too often we can look at the consequences, especially in the second section of the chapter, and think that the punishment for the “evil” is too hard, especially for the woman, but we have to remember that the laws were given by God, he is always right and he will never allow the innocent to be punished. So I suggest that these laws should be viewed as prevention rather than punishment because everyone knows what the punishment is, therefore a godly nation will always respect and care for the other party. For example the people had to care for their neighbour’s property, verse 1-3, if they found a stray animal they were to care for it and find out who the owner was and give it back. If they came across a donkey in the road that had fallen, they were to help it, verse 4. This care had to apply to wild animals too, ie they were not to take advantage of the distressed mother of young chicks or eggs, verse 6-7, they were to leave the mother go so that she could produce other offspring in the future. If they built a house they were to protect those building it from injury, verse 8. All this is care and respect for others and all animals and birds, ie God’s creation, no one was to take advantage of a neighbour or anything – this is about relationships. There are practical laws too, ie verse 10-11, it is crazy to even think that you should expect an ox and a donkey yoked together to plough a straight furrow, but the spiritual lesson is valid too, ie you cannot mix beliefs together and expect a godly outcome, God’s people were to remain separate, otherwise they would be corrupted and led away from God. Making tassels for their garments was for them to have reminders to remember God’s ways and this is important – we too need to remember the things of God and to apply them to our lives. Verse 5 and 9 may seem out of place, but they too teach us powerful spiritual lessons. A woman or a man dressing up, or acting, like the other is wrong, God has set an order and defined roles for each to do, and to try to change this is “detestable” to God – this form of relationship comes up in our Ecclesiastes reading. The planting of 2 different seed in the vineyard is warned against, why? The picture of the vineyard is often used in the Bible to describe Israel, ie God’s people, therefore the spiritual lesson is not to mix with other nations, otherwise they will be defiled. These lessons are so obvious a lesson for us too in our Christian lives, we need to care and respect others, we need to be careful about mixing with others and becoming like them. The various violations to do with marriage, rape and adultery from verse 13 to the end of the chapter continue with relationships and the prevention of evil. A godly nation, group and individual would not do these things because their minds were set on God and the things of God. All men should love and care for their wives, all women should respect their men, ie fathers and husbands and no one should want to violate others – the consequences for doing so are harsh, but justifiable in God’s eyes because he wants to purge the “evil”. In the Song of Songs chapter 2 we continue with the picture of relationships, ie between a man and a woman, therefore husband and wife and this will always lead us to think of Jesus and the church (Ephesians 5). It is obvious from the conversations in chapter 2 that we have a relationship between a man (lover) and a woman (beloved), this is a strong relationship based on love. This relationship should be emulated between a husband and a wife because they represent Jesus and the church – and Jesus (lover) gave his life for the church (beloved). There is a number of ideas about what the Song of Songs means, but reflecting on the relationship between Jesus and the church and, in old testament times, God and the people of Israel, we can see just how much both God and Jesus love us and how much we should love them. By doing this how can we wander off and disrespect the things that God has given us? The theme of relationships in Acts 14 and 15 is developed in the sympathy shown to those who are taught and also to fellow believers. The dedication of Paul and Barnabas to others is demonstrated in their regular teaching of the “good news”, chapter 14, verse 1-7; their healing of the crippled man in verse 8-10; and their humble determination to stop the people of Lystra elevating them to being something special, verse 14-18. The contrast in this chapter shows just how dangerous human thinking can be, because the crowd were immediately turned from revering Paul and Barnabas into a crowd that attempted to kill Paul, verse 19-20, this is why we constantly need reminders of God’s ways as Deuteronomy said, because human beings quickly forget. Preaching the “good news” was key for the them, verse 21, just as it should be for us. Their care for others was again demonstrated in verse 22-25, where Paul and Barnabas warned the believers that they would suffer hardships before they entered the kingdom of God, we too should prepare for and expect this. Chapter 15 is all about encouraging godly relationships and dealing in a godly way with a problem that had arisen in the church. The problem was the Jewish converts to Christianity wanting to incorrectly apply the practice of circumcision to the Gentile Christians, verse 5. This had the potential to split the community, but the apostles and elders met to discuss the issue, verse 6, and after discussion, verse 7, they listened to Peter’s example. The fact that the “whole community” became “silent” and “listened”, verse 12, is evidence that all were concerned about relationships and others, there was a care and love demonstrated, so too was the love for God’s word, as this was referred to in verse 16-18, so the conclusion that was reached was based on godly teaching and principles, verse 19-21. The letter that was eventually sent went with the “blessing” of the “whole church”, verse 22, and again is a powerful lesson in maintaining relationships – there was no compromise here, all went back to God’s teaching and a clear letter was sent to encourage those who had been confused, verse 31. Sadly relationships do breakdown, mistakes are made, which is why we need Jesus so much, but we should demonstrate our love for him in the way that we always try to act. Even Paul and Barnabas had a disagreement over who should join them on the next stage of their preaching tour, but they agreed to go their separate ways, verse 36-41; however, we know that later they came back together maintaining their godly relationship. So the lessons for us are clear, we need to value our relationships, we need to apply godly teaching and principles to all our relationships, we need to demonstrate that same love as Jesus clearly showed and yes we should consider the consequences of disregarding God’s ways, but our focus should be on building those godly relationships such that we are protected to some extent from being tempted to fail. May

May 6th

Although the actual detail in Deuteronomy 23 no longer applies to us today in that we do not follow the laws exactly, the scriptural principles certainly apply. We know that God never changes, he is the same now as he was in both the old and the new testaments, so we have to try our best to understand what was God’s thinking when he made these laws. The reason for excluding the Ammonites and Moabites from the assembly of the Lord is clear, verse 3-6, they were not at all helpful to God’s people, in fact they wanted them cursed by Balaam – something that was not possible anyway, but it showed their hatred of a nation who were distant relations of them! They were excluded because they did not think the same way as God’s people, neither did they sympathise with them, they believed differently and they had no respect for them at all – so we can understand why people like this should also be excluded from our ecclesias today. It just would not work if we fellowshipped with people who did not believe the same as us! We can understand why fellowship with Edomites and Egyptians is possible, verse 7-8, but it was only at the “third generation”, so it would appear that some teaching was taking place – we know that people of other nations joined the Israelites when they left Egypt, so we can see that a “joining” together over a few generations was possible when a common respect of God was achieved. The examples in verse 1-2 are harder to understand, but they are reminders of sinfulness and incompleteness in the eyes of God, it is not that God considered these people sinful and has excluded them from any possibility of salvation, it is a reminder for the people that they can only come to God “whole” and with the right “parenthood”. This is such a vivid picture for us in that we are only made “whole” now in Jesus and that we can only call God our “Father” because of Jesus – so we can only enter the “assembly of God” when we are baptised. The uncleanness laws, verse 9-14, shows us how God’s camp had to be respected and anything unclean had to be kept outside, it demanded an honesty and respect on the part of the people. The remaining laws in this chapter continue with respect for God and for others – do not oppress anyone, verse 15-16; do not charge a brother interest on a loan, verse 19-20; keep any vows that you make, verse 21-23 and do not steal your neighbour’s crops, verse 24-25. All these are to show respect, these lessons we can learn too. If Song of Songs 3 is giving us a picture of the woman/wife/church looking for her husband/Jesus then we have a picture of the intensity that we should have as we seek to do what Jesus wants, verse 2-3.  We should love him and his father with all of our heart, which is why we should always show respect for God’s laws and his assembly! Even though circumcision did not mean anything following the death and resurrection of Jesus, in Acts 16 Paul ensured that Timothy was circumcised so as not to offend the Jews at the time, verse 1-5, this is a great example of showing the same respect that we have seen in the other chapters today. We see that both God and Jesus are interested in individuals and bringing them to a knowledge of Jesus so that they can come into the assembly of God. We see the example of the “man of Macedonia”, verse 6-10 and Lydia and her family, verse 11-15, all needed to be taught, as did the people at Thessalonica, chapter 17, verse 1-4; Berea, verse 10-12 and Athens, verse 32-34 – people who respected and responded were being saved, those who rejected and ridiculed (like the Ammonites and Moabites) were not. The Jews who opposed the Christian teaching were actually “excluded from the assembly of God”, although they did not realise this, verse 5-9 and verse 13-15. There are some who follow and there are some who do not, let us try to be those who do! Paul and Silas were so concerned about individuals that they helped a slave girl who was mentally ill, chapter 16 verse 16-18. This act of kindness ended up with them being thrown into prison, verse 19-24.  Sometimes difficulties do arise when we try to follow God and Jesus and ungodly people sometimes oppose us because of our godliness, but like Paul and Silas did we should try to always trust in God. Their reaction to their imprisonment was one of acceptance of God’s will and they praised God, verse 25; the prisoners were listening to their example and teaching, and we know from the account that their example saved the jailor and his family too, verse 31-34. God is interested in individuals, Jesus saves individuals, we should preach and set an example to individuals! Like the Bereans we all should be “examining the scriptures”, chapter 17 verse 11. May

May 7th

Deuteronomy 24 continues with the themes of respect of and kindness to each other. The examples of being kind to the poor, respecting those who are less fortunate and we are, and ensuring that those who have are not greedy all come across in this chapter very strongly – and all these are Christian values, so these lessons very much apply to us! For example no one should take someone else’s work tools as security, verse 6; no one should withhold wages from the poor, verse 14-15; if a pledge has been made using a cloak then give it back for the night, verse 10-13 and 17-18 and do not be greedy with your farms by ensuring everything is taken for yourself – leave some for others, verse 19-22. The spiritual lesson from this is so obvious – we have to be kind to others – this is one part of the fruit of the spirit in Galatians 5 – how “kind” are you? You can tell if someone is “kind”, they always help others, they give time to others, they respect others – all of these characteristics come across in this chapter. Even the first few verses about a marriage, ie verse 1-4 would never have needed to have been written if the husband was kind in the first place! It is obvious from the end result in him wanting to remarry his first wife that he regretted his decision to divorce his wife! If he had been kind in the first place he would never have wanted his wife to leave! God cares about marriage – we see from verse 5 that those who are newly married should remain together for a year and are exempt from eg war and other service – we see that relationships are so important, especially between a man and a woman, because they give us other lessons too. We must not take advantage of each other, eg verse  7, all of us should be kind – to our brothers and sisters, to our families, to our neighbours, in fact, to everyone! Jesus is our example! The reason for our “kindness” is because like God’s children in this chapter, we were also “slaves in Egypt” before we were saved, verse 22! Song of Songs 4 continues with the wedding that was introduced in chapter 3, verse 11. We see references in chapter 4 to a wedding, verse 1 and 8-12, where we see mention of the “veil” and the “bride”. The bridegroom is describing his bride in wonderful terms and here we have a picture of a man who is happy with his new wife and a wife who has always aimed to please her new husband. The question that we can ask is are we always trying to please our bridegroom, ie Jesus? Are we doing the best for him? Are we always showing kindness? We can also ask the question in our daily reminder of our relationships with each other, are we always trying to please each other in everything that we do? Paul’s passion for teaching others is apparent again in Acts 18 and 19, how he dedicates himself to the task, eg chapter 18, verse 4, 18-23 and chapter 19 verse 1-10. He continued even through the disappointments that he suffered at the hands of the Jewish opposition, chapter 18, verse 6, chapter 19, verse 13-16 and then the riot in Ephesus, from verse 23. But despite all this he was encouraged, chapter 18 verse 9-11 and chapter 19, verse 11-12. Accounts about others like Priscilla, Aquila and Apollos would have encouraged him too such that he could continue preaching boldly, chapter 19 verse 8. His motivation in preaching about the kingdom of God was love – love for all those around him – this is why he risked his life, this is why Priscilla and Aquila taught Apollos too. As we saw yesterday, we will come across difficulties – as the riot in Ephesus shows human beings are sometimes more worried about their livelihood than they are about eternal salvation.  The reasons for the riot make this quite clear in chapter 19, verse 25-27 – Demetrius’ focus was money! It would appear too that the focus of the Jews in verse 13-16 was about power and possibly money, and it was a wonderful act of faith for those who did leave their past life of trickery behind and got rid of their false documents, verse 17-20. God and Jesus moved the apostles around the whole area to teach those who were ready at the time.  We noted yesterday that the “holy spirit” moved Paul and his companions on (Acts 16 verse 6-7), it is true that there may have been potential people to teach in Asia, but it was obvious that they had to move on to Macedonia and teach there (Acts 16 verse 10). It is clear from the chapters that we have read today that many converts were made, and we have to believe that this is what both God and Jesus wanted to happen. Maybe the time for preaching in Asia was for another time and for others to do the work; this, I think, is how we should view the spread of the gospel, it is a work for everyone, not just Paul, for example. Just as it says in 1 Corinthians 1, more than one had the task of teaching. In Acts we follow some of the apostles’ work, there would have been others too. So in an attempted answer for bro Sam, others would have taught in Asia and we can be sure that God will ensure that the gospel is taught wherever he wants it to be and all will be given an opportunity to accept Jesus. May

May 8th

The miscellaneous laws continue in Deuteronomy 25 – the first one relates to a court of justice, but we need to remember here that God was creating his children into a nation, so courts were appropriate; they are not so appropriate for us as Christians because we should deal with cases within our community unless a law of the land has been broken – in which case this has to be dealt with by the country’s legal system. However for our spiritual lesson from verse 1-3 we see that the person being punished needs to have a punishment appropriate to the crime, but NOT to be “degraded”, he is still a brother! There has to be a preventative element to “punishment”, but it is not to be overdone in anger. And these laws continue to show a caring and “kind” attitude to others and things around us, for example the ox was to be allowed to eat whilst it is working, verse 4, this is demonstrating kindness. So too is the case of the woman who does not have a family and her husband dies, she is to be shown kindness by her brother-in-law taking her as his wife, verse 5-10, again a law that does not apply to us now because we are to be husband to just one wife, or wife to one husband, but the spiritual sentiment is here, ie caring for the widow. Verse 11-12 is an interesting one because it shows that every one of God’s people should respect the need to progress the family line and anyone, no matter what the circumstances, needs to respect this and not create any risk in damaging the reproductive organs, verse 11-12. It also demonstrates a respect of those parts of the body that are supposed to be private! The lesson about the dishonest scales and measures is easier for us to understand in our lives now, verse 13-16, ie honesty! Time and time again we are reminded that as God’s people we should be honest in everything! The lesson that we gain from verse 17-19, although not applicable to us now, is that God never forgets, he knows those people who oppose his will and he will judge as he sees fit – so we are reminded – “do not forget!”. Song of Songs 5 continues with the wedding, verse 1, but the bridegroom leaves and the bride has to search for him, verse 6, are we “searching” for our bridegroom, ie Jesus? The Jews, who should have recognised him, did not and they rejected him, so we need to be yearning for Jesus to return and doing our best to always please him. Acts 20 is about the importance of correct teaching, as it is criticising false teachings. The importance of actually teaching is obvious, eg verse 2, 7, 17, 20, 24, 25 and 27; the days that Paul was actually travelling he would have spoken about his faith to his fellow travellers, so his warning to his brothers and sisters about corrupt teachers was from the heart. He would have been sad that “savage wolves” would come in and destroy Jesus’ teachings, verse 28-31, so he was exhorting fellow believers to be on their guard. Likewise we should be on our guard for false teachers and check, using the Bible, to see if what they say is truth or not, because we really do not want to be led astray by those who are only interested in their own standing. We have a wonderful hope for the future so we should stand firm, verse 32-35, it is “hard work”, but the promise that we have of a place in the kingdom is worth it! May

May 9th

The lessons for us are clear in today’s reading from Deuteronomy 21 – God’s people are about to cross into the promised land that God is giving them and Moses is relaying to them God’s requirements for when they get into the land. God makes the “rules”, it is our choice whether or not we try our best to obey them; if we want to be in the kingdom then we have to try to obey them, verse 16-19. Our “kingdom journey” is just like the children of Israel’s journey to the promised land, so we can take our lessons from their experiences and apply them to our lives now. We are on our way to an “inheritance”, as Israel was, verse 1, and even though this will be a physical reality when Jesus comes back, we should be acting now as if the kingdom was “within us”. So just like the Israelites in Moses’ time we should also be taking some of the “firstfruits” of the things that God has given us and presenting them to God, verse 2-3. The reason for this offering is in verse 4-11, notice that it is a “confession” that the people were nothing and had nothing before they went to Egypt; they became strong in the “world” that they lived in, but they suffered at the hands of the “world”; they then “cried to God”, which is the first move in the act of repentance; God is always there and he listened and responded; he brought them out, ie saved them and brought them to the land of promise; then we get the “thanks” of the individual and the “rejoicing”. These are the same changes in our salvation too, ie we are nothing without God, we suffer because of sin in the world, we cry out to God for help, he listens and we start our new life in baptism, he is bringing us to the kingdom and we are “practising” now in our ecclesias, so we need to thank him and rejoice. However, it does not end there – we have to help others, verse 12-15, because we are being saved and have been promised a place in God’s kingdom, we need to share of our “firstfruits” with others, this means that we have to teach, set a good Christian example AND help spiritually and physically those who are in need in our country, ie the refugees, the orphans and the widows. These are strong and powerful lessons for us today.  Although we no longer have the responsibility to assist the Levites, ie the religious leaders of the time, we can use the lesson to learn to help each other as we are all required to love and support each other. The point in this chapter is that all were to respond in love to those in need by teaching and helping BECAUSE of God’s salvation – we need to learn from this. Song of Songs 6 is that continued picture of the man and his wife, in which we can see the picture of Jesus and the church, ie us, and in the time of Moses, God and the children of Israel. This intimate relationship should be similar to our relationship with both God and Jesus as theirs is towards us. When we stop to think about it: God’s love was so great for us that he provided and allowed Jesus to die for us, so that we could be in the kingdom, therefore we should love those around us so much that we encourage them to be prepared for the kingdom too, this is our “firstfruit”! The relationships that we read about in Acts 21 and 22 are based on love for each other too, for example the disciples’ love for Paul was evident in their trying to warn him about going to Jerusalem, chapter 21 verse 4 and Agabus in verse 10-11, and also the brothers with him, eg Luke, in verse 12-14. Those who “accompanied” Paul, verse 15-16, did so in love. This love for others is the “firstfruits”, ie the “giving back” of God’s love to others. The brothers who welcomed them in Jerusalem, verse 17-19, did so in love, as was Paul’s “detailed” report to them about how the preaching was going. The rejoicing that was to be part of the dedication of the firstfruit in Deuteronomy was evident too in the brothers’ response to Paul’s report, verse 20. Although the plan did not work out in the end, the request for Paul to demonstrate that he was still respectful of Jewish religion was also an act of love in an attempt to protect him from the Jews, verse 21-26. All of these brothers and sisters demonstrated their hope in the kingdom by showing love to others, ie those they taught, challenged, protected, etc. this should be our response too when we remember that God has “brought us to the kingdom”. The contrast of the non Christian Jews demonstrates what happens when there is no love, ie they made incorrect assumptions, verse 28-29; tried to kill Paul, verse 31, and then they got even more angry when Paul told them that he should teach the “Gentiles”, verse 22-23. It is so obvious that our response to God’s salvation has to make us want to share what we have been given with others because of love! Paul had to change from his previous way of life as he says in his speech, verse 3-16, so likewise we have to change from being in the selfish “world” to sharing of our “firstfruits”, ie the things that God has given us, which includes teaching and any practical help for those in real need. May

May 10th

Deuteronomy 27 tells Israel to remember God’s commands when they got to the land of promise. They were to write all the words of God in stone, set the stones up and pronounce blessings and cursings. The way they were to do this was described and this was carried out in Joshua 8. Here Joshua read all the words of the law before the ark, had all the words of the law written in stone and the stones set up in Shechem. All Israel and anyone else would know that this was the law of the people of the land. Anyone could go and read the law at any time. It is interesting that the next chapter of Joshua is where the Gibeonites who deceived Israel by misusing the words of the law. It is as if they studied the law and then made a plan. In Joshua 8 we read that Joshua read all the law. Deuteronomy 27 says that 6 tribes were to pronounce blessings and the other 6 tribes were to pronounce the cursings. We assume this included the words of Deuteronomy 28 and Leviticus 26. Finally, at the end of the ceremony, the Levites were to pronounce 12 curses in a loud voice. This is an unusual and dramatic end. 12 curses are pronounced for breaking 11 specific commands and then one general command applying to all the other commands not mentioned (verse 26). If it was not clear beforehand, it was now, that breaking the commands results in curses from God. The 11 specific curses cover 2 of the 10 commandments (about idols in verse 15 and honouring father and mother in verse 16), one about land boundaries, two about justice, one about bribing to murder someone, four about sex within the close family and one about not to lead anyone astray. The four about sex within the close family are perhaps the most surprising inclusion and emphasises the need to respect sexual boundaries within the immediate close family. This emphasises the importance of the family unit as a key unit of spirituality now that they would be in scattered throughout the land. No longer would there be Levites and Joshua close by to guide them in spiritual matters. It was now the turn of the family to keep the family spiritual. This is true for us today. We are geographically separated from our brothers and sisters and we need the family unit to keep the family spiritually strong. In the Song of Songs chapter 7 we have a complete description of the woman. This is unlike the previous descriptions in chapters 4 and 6, where we only have a description of the upper body. Also unlike the other descriptions, the description goes from foot to head, instead of top down from head to body. The woman is called (in the Hebrew) ‘daughter of the willing’ (verse 1). This Hebrew word also occurs in Song 6:12 and refers to the faithful. There are 12 features described in this description – the same number as used to describe the beloved king (chapter 5). She is now fully made up to the same number of the king. They are like each other. Her feet are sandalled which means she has been walking or working. The feet of the faithful who carry the gospel are beautiful (Isaiah 52:7). The belly and thighs are used in the law of infidelity in Numbers 5, but here they show us that she is faithful. Her features, especially her head, are described as like places of beauty and fruitfulness. She is beautiful because her work bears of the fruit in the Lord. Verse 6 is like the king takes a step back and looks at her all and says, “Wow!” She is like a palm tree, which is the symbol of the righteous (Psalm 92:12-13). He will enjoy her breasts meaning he will enjoy her intimate love (Proverbs 5:19). The chapter ends with a picture of the king and the woman being one. They belong to each other and desire each other. This is a picture of Jesus and the church. This is the state that Jesus prays for (John 17:20-21). If ever we wonder what God or Jesus thinks of faithful work, then think of this chapter. Faithful work is deeply admired and highly highly beautiful from a spiritual point of view. In Acts 23 and 24, Paul has to correct the High Priest, head of the justice system, of injustice. The High Priest ordered Paul to be struck on the head before the trial. What should have happen is that, if a man was guilty, then he could be struck on the back as punishment. Paul called him a ‘whitewashed wall.’ This reminds us of Matthew 23:27 where Jesus called the Pharisees the whitewashed walls of tombs full of hypocrisy and wickedness. We compare this trial to the trial of Jesus, where Jesus made no complaint, just as a sheep silently going to slaughter. Following the trial, Jesus appeared to Paul and told Paul to be strong (verse 11). At this point, Paul is told that he must go to Rome and witness. In other words, he was not going to die at the hand of the Jews at Jerusalem as Jesus did and as Paul might have expected. This must have been a great comfort to Paul. Even so, this prophecy would take years to come true and would involve imprisonment and much hardship. Through these troubles, Paul was able to witness to the rulers of the country. God’s purpose prevailed and allowed Paul to witness at the centre of the Jewish world and at the centre of the Gentile world. It is a lesson for us, that even though we cannot see God’s purpose in our lives, God is working. We need to rely on God and trust Him to do the right thing. Just as Paul was protected, so God will protect His people. They will face hardship, but they will also be protected. So do not worry and be strong! May

May 11th

DEUTERONOMY 28: Don’t say you haven’t been warned!  Moses speaks to the nation of Israel. Their future was entirely based on their response to the commandments of God. If they “diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, and observe carefully all His commandments” then He would bless them in everything they did, families, homes, food, crops, economy etc, and the Lord would establish them as a holy people to Himself if they continued to walk in His ways. “Then all peoples of the earth shall see you are called by the name of the Lord” Israel were to be witnesses of God to the nations. If we, as Christians, do the underlined in the text above, we too will be good witnesses of the Lord.  But if the nation was unfaithful and instead chose to “serve other gods” then the Lord would curse Israel. So whatever Israel did, they were witnesses of God. When faithful they were blessed and God was with them. When unfaithful they were cursed; and although unintentionally on their part, they were still witnesses to God’s word (and hence God) because God had warned them what would happen. (v 15-68) speak of the curses throughout Israel’s history and we know these things happened – all spoken thousands of years before! Israel’s history is a witness to God and His word, even though they were very often unfaithful!  Are we faithful to God?  And when we are not faithful do we take it seriously? (God does). When we choose to live “our way”, instead of God’s way, we have chosen to forsake Him, we are choosing to serve ourselves instead of God. We are committing adultery! These curses show how serious the situation (our salvation etc) is. God chooses to “correct” His people when they forsook Him. He says he would withdraw all the blessings and curse them, making it obvious that the curses were His will – in the hope that they might come to their senses, and repent and ask for forgiveness, and re-dedicate their lives to the faithful God.  We see the warnings of God fulfilled in Israel’s history.  (v36) “The Lord will bring you and the king who you set over you to a nation, and there you shall serve other gods, wood and stone” – FULFILLED.  (v49) “The Lord will bring a nation against you from afar.” – FULFILLED.  (v52) The cities besieged, starvation leading to the eating of human flesh, even their children etc – FULFILLED.  (v62) few in number, most destroyed by evil enemies – FULFILLED.  (v64-65) scattered among the nations, living lives in fear, persecuted. – FULFILLED.  Why did all of these things happen in Israel’s history? Because of Israel’s unfaithfulness, their adultery. In this chapter there is a warning for all followers of God, then and now. (v47): “you did not serve the Lord your God with joy and gladness of heart, for the abundance of everything”. IF we are conscious of the blessings given to us by God, of knowing Him, knowing His son, His love and gracious plan of salvation, all these wonderful things in abundance, then we will naturally serve the Lord with joy and gladness of heart, and we will do this willingly, giving love and being faithful to the ever-faithful God. The “joy and gladness” will be witnesses of God and Jesus because the source of our joy is in them, not the world.  “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another; as I have loved you, that you also love one another. By this all will know that you are My disciples, if you have love for one another.” John13:34-35.   ACTS 25: Paul knew that as a citizen of Rome he could insist on a trial before the Roman judgement seat, and not the Jewish Sanhedrin, where he would find no justice. If a citizen thought he was getting justice in a provincial court, he could appeal to the emperor himself. If the appeal was declared valid, the prisoner was sent to Rome to be judged there. (Paul already knew from the Lord that he would be in Rome at some time in his life – Acts 23:11 “as you have testified for Me in Jerusalem, so you must also witness in Rome”).  But Festus had a problem, he had to produce a letter providing details of the case, and Festus didn’t understand the problem that the Jews had with Paul. But he knew someone who might understand – king Agrippa.  ACTS 26: King Agrippa had no doubt heard some things about Paul from the Jews, and he had listened to Festus, but now he had an opportunity to hear Paul speak for himself.  We also have opportunity to listen to Paul, to understand his former life (his past), his life for Jesus (his “now”), and his future hope for all those who are baptized and believe in the name of Jesus.  Paul was a Jew, a devout Pharisee. He fervently believed in the promises God had made with Israel; the promise of a coming Messiah and the re-establishment of the Kingdom of God. But he didn’t believe Jesus was the promised one until on the road to Damascus. In fact, before then, he worked with the Jewish leaders in persecuting Jesus’ followers, “being exceedingly enraged against them “. After his “conversion” he saw the hope written in the scriptures, in the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. The fact that Jesus had been raised from the dead confirmed to Paul that all believers would be raised from the dead to share in the blessing of the promised Kingdom of God. We too can listen to the words from the resurrected Jesus to Paul (isn’t that amazing!) “I will make you a minister and a witness, of things seen and which will be revealed. I am sending you to open their eyes, to turn them from darkness to light, that they may receive forgiveness of sins and an inheritance among those who are SANCTIFIED BY FAITH IN ME”. Paul was obedient to the calling and witnessed through the scriptures “that the Christ would suffer, that He would be the first to rise from the dead, and would proclaim light to the Jewish people and to the Gentiles” Acts26:23.  We’ve heard Paul’s speech as did the people then. They concluded “this man (Paul) has done nothing deserving of death or chains”. Festus thought Paul was mad. Agrippa had some knowledge, but his heart was not in it.  BUT thousands, in all generations since, have seen, they’ve listened to the letters from God (the scriptures) and understood the witness of Paul. We too have been on that journey of darkness to light… and have embraced the same hope as Paul, ie Jesus. May

May 12th

Deuteronomy 29 is the reminder from God, via Moses, that the people of Israel and God had made a covenant between each other – this was the blessings if they followed God’s rules and the curses if they disobeyed (Deut 28). This is a very fair and just covenant. God was bringing the people into the promised land because of God’s promises to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, verse 12-15, it was God who was doing this for them, therefore it was right that God should expect something in return, ie obedience. At the end of verse 15 there is a phrase “but also with those who are not here today”, this phrase includes all those future descendants and those of us who have accepted Jesus and have been baptised and therefore become part of the covenant and the promises to Abraham, etc. So it is also right that if we want the good things from God in the kingdom when Jesus returns, ie our “promised land”, then we should also try to give him what he wants too. Moses reminded the people of the ways in which God helped them, eg he saved them from Egypt, verse 2-3; their clothes and shoes did not wear out in the desert, verse 5; they witnessed useless idols, verse 16-17, and even when they came to the borders of the land when they were attacked, God gave them a victory, verse 7-8. All the way through their life they had reminders of God’s help – God even provided them with additional reminders, eg no bread and fermented drink, verse 6, so Moses’ appeal to them was to be careful to follow the terms of the covenant, verse 9. Moses says that they should be careful not to tolerate any influences from other nations because they would be like a poison for them, verse 18, it is the same for us too, we need to be fully focused on the things of God and not let external influences take us away. Our “covenant” is indicated by baptism, but we cannot say that just because we are baptised we can do what we like because we are “saved”; the same “rule” applies to us at it did with God’s people then, verse 19, there are consequences for this “pride” and arrogance. We should never continue to do wrong and presume upon God’s forgiveness, verse 20-21. God gave the “curses” for a reason and if these curses were to come upon Israel then future generations and people in the nations around would see the failure, verse 22-24. We saw yesterday that the Israelites (Jews) were God’s witnesses, and this was the case whether they were good or bad, and if the people were bad then they would not be good witnesses, verse 25-28; it is the same for us too – we should be seen as godly people by our neighbours, if we are acting in ungodly ways then we are not showing God in a good light, and we are breaking our covenant with God. Sadly God’s people, Israel (now only Judah left), did break the covenant with God, and Isaiah 1 tells us that this had happened by the time of the last kings of Judah, verse 1. Verses 2-3 remind us that God made the people into a nation but they rebelled against him, they behaved worse than animals who know their master, Israel just did not obey God. And all the curses mentioned in Deuteronomy 28 came upon them, just as God said they would, verse 4-9. There are so many references back to Deuteronomy in this first chapter and even Sodom and Gomorrah are mentioned in Deuteronomy 29 verse 23 – God is saying in Isaiah 1 that his people were acting just like the people of Sodom and Gomorrah, who he destroyed, verse 10. God was not interested in their worship because their worship did nothing for them, they were corrupt and ungodly and were just going through the ritual of worship – it meant nothing to them because it did not change their lives, verse 11-15. This is a warning for us as well, our worship must be sincere, we must really believe what we say we do, and we must always remember that God is always aware of what we are doing and how we act. If we want God to listen to our prayers, we need to try to do what he wants us to do. God tells the people to “wash”, stop doing evil deeds and to “stop doing wrong” (or evil) and to do what is right, eg “seek justice”, “encourage the oppressed”, “defend the fatherless” and “plead for the widows”, verse 16-17. God wants us to act like he does and he is so determined that we change that he continues to plead with us, verse 18, but he requires our obedience in everything, verse 19, and he reminds us of destruction if we continue to disobey, verse 20. His people had sadly rebelled and turned against him and broken their covenant and we have the examples of how in verse 21-23. Because they broke the covenant God brought about what was agreed in the covenant for breaking it, verse 24-25. Thank God though, there is always hope, and in this last verse we see this hope.  Verse 26 says that they will be a restoration and new future for “Zion”, ie Jerusalem, verse 27, and that rebels and sinners will be broken, etc, verse 28-31. Because of Jesus we know that sin can be removed, but those who accept Jesus still need to learn the lessons from the Israelites and we still need to try to obey God and follow his ways. Paul, Luke and Aristarchus were good “witnesses” on their journey to Rome in Acts 27, it was obvious from the way that they acted in front of everyone that they were godly; we know from previous events that they always prayed, they spoke about their faith and about the future kingdom, so people like Julius the centurion respected them, verse 3. Paul was a prisoner on these ships, yet people listened to him, verse 21-25, verse 29-32 and 33-38, his way of acting demonstrated that he was worth listening to – is this what people think of us, or do they see us as being just like them? Ok, we are not always listened to, as was the case with Paul in verse 9-12, it was human thinking about money I expect that swayed the owner of the ship! But Paul’s warning proved to be true and we know that our warnings about the return of Jesus will also be true, so we have to keep warning others, but also set a good example in our lives as we try and demonstrate to people that there will be a better future when Jesus returns. So I suppose the question from the readings today is are we, are you, good witnesses of God? Do we demonstrate God in every aspect of our lives? Do we do the same things as the ungodly people around us? We need to remember that if we want a part of God’s promised new covenant in Jesus then we at least have to try our very best to keep our side of the covenant – we know we will fail, but if we are faithful and do try we can be confident of forgiveness and life in the future but we cannot continue to deliberately do wrong and expect God to forgive us! God is a loving, forgiving God and he will forgive us if we remain faithful, there is no limit to God’s forgiveness, so any sin can be forgiven, but it is fair that his forgiveness is conditional – the history of the Israelites is an example of that, they were removed from the promised land because of disobedience and rebellion. We have been promised the kingdom – we believe that Jesus may soon be back, so we need to try to be good witnesses now.   May

May 13th

There are 2 choices in Deuteronomy 30, these choices are either life or death, verse 15 – life will bring prosperity and death will bring destruction.  We know from our Bible reading, and we will see later in our Isaiah reading, that this “prosperity” is really when Jesus comes back. So the choice is as simple for us as it was for the people in Moses’ time, it is either life or death – God makes the plea that they choose life, verse 19-20, so the plea is the same for us too, that we choose life. We all want to choose life, therefore we have to respond in the way that God wants, ie verse 16, we have to love God AND “walk in his ways”.  We do this by keeping his commands, decrees and laws. We have the free will to make this choice, God does not force us to obey him.  He wants us to, but he gives us free will, and he is clear that if we want life we have to keep our side of the covenant and love and obey him! Three times in this chapter God says to “obey him with all your heart and with all your soul”, ie verse 2, 6 and 10; this is important and we should think about this and the implications of our commitment when we were baptised. God does not want half hearted followers, he does not want brothers and sisters who just attend the breaking of bread service on a Sunday and the rest of the week do what they want, he wants full commitment – every day! The context of this chapter is a response following the “curse”, verse 1, ie they have rejected God, but in his love he sets in place provision to still listen to those who are repentant, verse 2 again, “and when you and your children RETURN to the Lord”.  In this “returning to God” God then forgives, verse 3. There is no limit to God’s forgiveness following repentance – no matter where the people are, he will bring them back, verse 4-5. This is the same for us too when we sin, we need to repent and change direction, then God will forgive. Even though we have Jesus now so we can have forgiveness, we still have to acknowledge that we are sinners and repent. Isaiah 2 is an appeal to God’s people who were rejecting and turning away from God.  The ”curse” that was spoken of in Deuteronomy was the result of their rebellion and Isaiah is passing on God’s plea this time in the first few verses, verse 1-4. Here God is describing what his kingdom will be like, the place where people will want to learn about him; the place where disputes will be settled; the place where war will not happen anymore; the place on earth where God wants all his followers to be! So when we think about this we should want to walk in God’s ways, verse 5, we really would be foolish not to. It is a sad fact that many want to follow the ways of human beings, verse 6-9; many are proud and arrogant, verse 12-18, clearly God is saying that human ways will perish, the arrogant and proud will be humbled. God’s plea is that we should stop trusting in man, verse 22, because trusting in man is the choice that brings death. Isaiah makes it equally clear that God’s judgement on those who choose the ways of man will not be pleasant, verse 10-11 and 19-21, so God’s plea remains that we all choose life. Choosing life means that we should be humble and follow God’s ways and not man’s ways. The ways of man cannot save us so why do we even consider lying, cheating, defrauding etc? We have a wonderful future promised for us, God wants us to be in his kingdom, he wants us to choose life, all we have to do is obey him! The last thing that is recorded for us in Acts 28 is Paul teaching about the kingdom that God has promised us, verse 30-31, this is how wonderful and important it is, this is our one great hope and we have been given this because of our faith in Jesus. Largely the Jews did not listen, this is why we (Gentiles) have an opportunity, verse 28. Paul never gave up teaching about the kingdom, verse 23, it was his belief in the kingdom and his hope in Jesus that kept him motivated through all of his trials, including being a prisoner, verse 16 and 20. The chapter starts by continuing with the details of the aftermath of the shipwreck he endured and the account on Malta demonstrates to us how foolish human thinking is, initially the people thought that Paul was a murderer when he was bitten by a snake, verse 3-4, but when nothing happened they changed their mind to thinking that he was a “god”, verse 5-6. This is why we should always only refer to God’s laws and ways to guide our lives, anything else is simply false! When we consider this, we should only make the choice of life all the time! The number “three” appears a few times in the details of this chapter, verse 7, 11, 12, 15 and 17, maybe there is a lesson here for us because “three” reminds us of Jesus’ resurrection after three days and each of these “threes” here is similar to new starts, ie during the three days people were healed; after three months they sailed again; they rested for three days; they fellowshipped with others at the Three taverns and after three days Paul started his discussions with the Jews in Rome. So are these “threes” reminding us of new beginnings? If so then we too can think about what God has promised us and we can decide to better reflect both God and Jesus in our lives. As we have made the choice of life, we need to always try and obey God’s commands – the choice is ours! Let us not be like the Jews of old who rejected God and because of the covenant that they had made with God, “curses” came upon them and their choice was death, verse 25-27. May

May 14th

Every new morning is a new opportunity, our waking up in the morning is a small picture of the resurrection and we can use this as a new start. For the people of Israel there was a new start about to happen as they were about to cross into the land that God had promised to them. Deuteronomy 31 brings us closer to this time and Moses gives some of the important messages that he wants them to remember. The first message is “to be strong and courageous”, he says this twice, verse 6-8. The people must have been apprehensive, Joshua must have been apprehensive, as now they were to start in a new land and with a new representative of God. “Do not be afraid” is the message. It could be that the return of Jesus is near for us now and we are about to “cross into the kingdom”, which is our “promised land”, and the message is the same, “be courageous”, “do not be afraid”. However, we still need reminders. Moses ensured that he left the message with the people that they should remind themselves of all the laws that God had given them, every 7 years, at the feast of Tabernacles, they were to listen to all of the laws that God had given them, verse 9-13. The people had to make sure that men, women, children and those living with them “listened”, “learnt” and “feared” the words of God and then “followed carefully” what was said. God expects a respect for him as a response to what he has done for us. It is sad to read from verse 14 to the end of the chapter that God knows that the people will reject him and God tells us what the trigger for this rejection will be, verse 20. It is when they are comfortable and secure that is the time when they will start to follow man made things and rebel against God. So the warning is there for us, we need to always try to follow what God wants us to do, to be familiar with what he says and to put what he says into practice. Isaiah 3 reminds us that exactly what was said in Deuteronomy did happen and there was judgement on God’s people and how the city of Jerusalem and the nation of Judah “staggered”, verse 8-9, all because of their sins. Yet despite of this sin, God still demonstrates his love, and in Isaiah 4 we have the promise of Jesus, ie the “Branch”, verse 2, and we have a complete turn around of fortunes and we see the pillar of cloud and fire as protection again as it was in the desert during the time of Moses, verse 3-6. So here we have a picture of hope for those who are righteous. In Colossians 1 we see just how superior Jesus is to everyone who has gone before, verse 15-20, all because of his obedience to God, his death on the cross and his subsequent resurrection. It is only through the death and resurrection of Jesus that we can have  the confidence of a future in God’s kingdom. Previously we were “alienated from God”, now we are “reconciled”, verse 21-23. Notice again that we have an “if” here – if we continue in our faith, if we continue in try to please both God and Jesus, then we can be confident of the future. Because we have been rescued, verse 13-14, meaning that we have the forgiveness of sins. Throughout this chapter we can see references to “growing”, eg verse 6, 10, 15 and 16 and indeed we should be “growing”, we should be producing fruit and demonstrating Jesus in our lives. Jesus gave everything for us, he willingly died on the cross, the example of Paul in the way that he also suffered to ensure that he taught all he came into contact with about Jesus, demonstrates his commitment and that he “was not afraid”. In fact, Paul “rejoiced that he suffered”, so that in love he could teach others about Jesus, and ultimately us, to be members of Jesus’ body, which is the church. We are therefore in the family of God, let us not reject the promise of being in the kingdom by any ungodly actions! So let us learn from the mistakes of the Israelites! May

May 15th

Deuteronomy 32 verse 1-4 is the start of Moses’ song and the words of God in the first 2 verses should trigger our own humble reflection, like it did with Moses, when we consider how great God is and how important his words are for our salvation. Just as plants need water to survive, so we need God’s teaching to have life! Sadly, the rest of Moses’ song shows the rebellion of the Israelites, God’s people.  We see that to guard against this rebellion, and because of love for each other, we all should encourage each other to respect the teachings of God and to act on them. In Isaiah 5 we have another song about God’s people, depicted as a vineyard, which in this case, represents both Israel and Judah, but despite caring for the vineyard, when God looked for “good fruit”, he found only bad, verse1-4. Because his people did not follow his commands and act like him, he justly brought destruction upon them. Notice how God planted this vineyard on a “fertile hill” and verse 4 says that God could not have done anymore for them to have the best chance to flourish – often we complain about where we live and say if only we were somewhere else – be careful, because God has put us where we are, ie in a particular country or village so that we have the BEST chance of pleasing him and making ourselves ready for the return of Jesus (Acts17:26). Paul was determined that those who listened to him learned from lessons such as these and also from Jesus, and at times challenged his brothers and sisters Colossians 1 verse 28-2:5 says that we always have to come back to God’s teachings and be careful about man’s “fine-sounding arguments”. These can be really deceptive, and Paul repeats the warning in verse 8. We have to be on the lookout for wrong human thinking because it often ends in disaster! And the thinking of some at this time was that Christians should return to the practices of the Jews, eg being circumcised and keeping the Sabbath, but Paul in Colossians is saying that in Jesus we have “freedom” from these aspects of the law. Yes, we have to learn from the Israelites’ mistakes, but we also have to take the lessons one step further. Circumcision, for example, is not the cutting of the flesh by the hands of men, it is the “cutting off of human nature”, verse 11-12. Paul was saying that the brothers (and sisters) were in effect circumcised anyway because they were baptised, and, in this symbol, they were buried with Jesus and then raised to a new life. This new life for us means that we have the promise of life when Jesus comes back to the earth, but we should “practise” now by trying to do what God wants us to do, verse 20-23. Whether the “human teaching” is from the Jews, as was the problem here, or from any other source, we have to treat it in the same way, ie with caution. This is why we should all always check our understanding with Bible teaching, ie with God’s word. For example, Paul clearly talks about the actual physical death and resurrection of Jesus in this chapter (and also in chapter 1, that we will read later). He used words that we all understand, like “death” and “raised from the dead”, so in verse 9 where we read that “For in Christ all the fulness of the Deity lives in bodily form”, it simply cannot mean that God was Jesus, as most Christian groups incorrectly believe it means, because God has always been immortal, so he could not die. This would mean the verses about Jesus’ death and resurrection would have no meaning! But we know they do have meaning because when we were baptised we symbolically “died” with Jesus and when we came out of the water we were symbolically raised with Jesus and we started a new life – now AND when Jesus comes back, in the kingdom. Because of Jesus’ physical and real death we have the confidence that we are now “alive” in Christ and can be confident of the kingdom, verse 13-15. This confidence should then help us to “give thanks” in every situation as Paul often tells us in this letter, eg: Colossians 2 verse 6-7 and Colossians 1 verse 12, Colossians 3 verse 15 and Colossians 4:2. The words we read in verses 13-15 are basically the difference between death & life and they remind me of the choice the children of Israel was given in Deuteronomy 30, where God pleaded with them to choose life.  Just like them we also have that choice to choose the way of God, and to therefore be like Jesus, who was in turn like his father (this being the obvious meaning of verse 9 when Paul talks about Deity living in bodily form!). This knowledge is a great comfort but also a great warning. Comfort because we are alive in Jesus, ie “circumcised by Christ”, but also a warning to all of us that if we allow human actions that “are destined to die” into our lives, then we could potentially die along with them! We need to be careful not to lose “connection with the Head” (verse 19), ie Jesus” – I think that this is the vital reminder that Paul is trying to keep in our minds – something I’m so conscious that I fail in – I forget to always think about Jesus and how he responds to situations. There are some wonderful phrases of Paul in Colossians that remind us of our status in Jesus: He HAS rescued us from dominion of darkness (Col1:12—14); Everyone is “perfect” in Jesus (Col1:28); We know the “mystery of God”, ie Jesus (Col2:2); The things of God live in Jesus (Col2:9); Our circumcision was done by Jesus (Col2:11); God has made us alive in Jesus (Col2:13); The reality of live is found in Jesus (Col2:17) and We have been raised with Christ (Col3:1). When we know that all these things are because of Jesus, why do we so readily replace him by the human things that we do and say so that we think we can be more “contented” than we already are in Jesus? The reality is though that everyone of us needs Jesus to change us and we should also completely give glory to God and to Jesus for what they have done with us and what they have done working through us. (Ephs2:8-10): “For it is by grace we are saved, through faith – and this not from ourselves, it is the gift of God – not by works, so that no-one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”. So we have to ask ourselves – how important are God’s words of salvation to us? Are we “drinking” them in? How much good fruit are we trying to produce? How much are we trying to counter our human thoughts and ideas with God’s, and obviously Jesus’ ways of thinking and actions? These questions should be a priority for us because of what both God and Jesus have done and are doing for us in giving us life! The amazing thing is that all we have to do is to try, and Jesus does the rest! Colossians 1 verse 21-23. As we reflect on this let us think how we have been “reconciled” with God by Jesus’ physical body in death and in resurrection and how we have committed to a new life now and to also have a hope of immortality in the future when Jesus comes back. Amen. May

May 16th

In my Bible the title for today’s reading in Deuteronomy 33 is “Moses blesses the tribes” of Israel.  This was just before they go into the land that God has promised them – these are specific to them and their attitude to God. We notice that there is no blessing for Simeon because that tribe was no more because of their rebellion against God – 12 tribes still exist because they now include Ephraim and Manasseh. We see right at the beginning of Moses’ blessing that God loves the people, verse 2-4. It is God who is king over Israel, described in verse 5 as “Jeshurun” – also used in yesterday’s chapter (Dt32:15) and later on in today’s, ie verse 26. “Jeshurun” literally means “upright one”, meaning godly, so Israel were expected to be godly and to demonstrate God in their lives. The last verses of this chapter show how privileged God’s people were by being loved by God, verse 26-29. Not only is God their loving king, he is their “refuge”, he protects with his arms, he drives out their enemies, he makes them secure and he has “saved” his people. It is quite amazing really that the people rebelled against a God who is like that! God is the same for us, he loves us, he also wants to protect us and save us, so we should remember that we should respond to God’s love. In yesterday’s chapter, Deuteronomy 32, after Moses had finished his song, he reminded the people to obey God’s words because “they are your life”, verse 45-47. We too need to remember that God’s words are our “life”. Chapter 34 tells us about the death of Moses, but more importantly it tells us how special Moses was and how God had worked through Moses for a specific purpose in saving his people and bringing them to a land, as well as giving them laws for daily living, verse 10-12. In our reading in Isaiah 6, in the context of Israel’s rebellion and their turning away from God, we have a demonstration of God’s continued love and a prophecy about the future Jesus, God’s son and a “prophet like Moses” (Deut 18:15 and Acts 3:22). It is clear from the references back to this chapter from the New Testament that this chapter is talking about the future Jesus, eg John 12 verse 36-41. Isaiah acknowledged that he was sinful, Isaiah 6 verse 5, and there was a need for atonement for sin, verse 7. And this is exactly what Jesus is for us – we are “unclean” and we need “atonement” and Jesus is this for us. The very first verse of this chapter gives us a picture of the Lord on the throne, this is Jesus when he comes back to set up God’s kingdom. This was not Uzziah the king of Judah, who incidentally was a good king, however he became proud because of his fame (2 Chronicles 26 verse 16), and he attempted to take over the priestly role and offer incense to God until God struck him with leprosy, verse 19-20. Pride is a real sin and leprosy has become a symbol of sin.  In Isaiah 6 we have a king who is neither proud nor sinful, ie a prophecy of Jesus. Sadly the Jews still did not listen, verse 9-10 – this is confirmed for us in John 12, but we also have an indication when Jesus will return as king, verse 11-13, ie at a time when there is destruction and suffering. But God never forsakes his people entirely, because there are always a few who remain faithful and just as there is life still in tree stumps after the tree has been cut down, and new life begins, we have the same hope because if we remain faithful to both God and to Jesus, we have the same promises as God gave to his people if they remained faithful. In Colossians 3 and 4 we have the description of what being faithful should look like – just as Moses said to the people to obey God’s words, so should we. It is not our works that save us – but our actions that should bring glory to God and to Jesus. In my Bible, Colossians 3 is headed “Rules for holy living” – “rules” is not really the right word, it isn’t a “rule”, it’s a contented reaction – it should be a natural reaction to knowing that we are saved. Therefore, as it starts in verse 12-13, this should be our reaction and it is this contented situation that is an example to others! Just how the children of Israel should have acted, but they did not! Notice all the important things in this list that should describe us: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience, sadly Uzziah did not show humility when God had blessed him with prosperity! Verse 14: “And over all these virtues put on LOVE, which binds them all together in perfect unity.” This is so important, and it is the characteristic that God demonstrated to the people by saving them from Egypt and bringing them into the promised land! We should be trying to be like God all the time. The contrast between life and death (remembering that God’s words are “life”) is also as dramatic as the contrast between freedom and slavery. In slavery we can’t do anything that we want to do, we are dictated to by our “master”. In Jesus we are free! This is something that does not seem possible (a paradox) – because being “free” to do anything we humanly want to is in fact “slavery” because we are dead; having real freedom is being bound to God’s ways and Jesus’ ways because we really want to be alive! It is really amazing that neither God nor Jesus force us to be anything that we do not want to be – we have a free choice. If being with Jesus in the kingdom is something that we really want then we will naturally react and live the life that God and Jesus really want us to live. However, if we don’t really want to be in the kingdom anyway, then neither of them is going to force us to be there – it is our choice! Jesus gave his whole life and ultimately died for us! So in view of this knowledge we should “set our hearts on things above”, verse 1-4, ie we should be reading about, learning, thinking and doing the things that God wants us to do. We are to “put to death” all of the things that God is not happy with, verse 5-11, so we should not be sexually immoral, lustful, evil, greedy, neither should we be angry, raging, malicious, bad story telling, users of bad language or be liars. We have to be peaceable and thankful for what we have, verse 15-16, and “whatever we do, whether in word or deed, do it all in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”, verse 17. Further practical instructions are given by Paul in verse 18 to chapter 4 verse 1 which are all a demonstration of love, none of us are excluded from this. In verse 2-6 we are told to be “devoted to prayer” and again told to be thankful. So brothers and sisters we all need to learn, and to put what we learn into practice in our daily lives, it is no good us saying that we are God’s people if we do not act like him! May

May 17th

The first chapter of Joshua took place on new year’s day.  We get this by working back from chapter 4:19 (compare 3:2, 2:22, 2:1 and 1:11).  It was a new start and a new era.  Moses was gone and Joshua has now the leader.  The events took place in the spring, when the barley harvest was ripening ready for God’s people.  The message to Joshua is clear and repeated – be strong and courageous!  The basis for this confidence was the fact that God was with him (verse 5).  The last time Israel approached the land, they were scared of the giants (Numbers 13:32).  Now God told them that noone can stand before them (verse 5) – not even giants.   But Joshua did not just have to be strong and courageous with the enemy.  He had to be strong and very courageous to keep the law of God (verse 7).  Joshua was told to meditate on the law day and night (verse 8).  In other words, Joshua had to do his daily Bible readings and think about what he had read!  David gave us the same advice (Psalm 1:2).  Keeping the commands needs courage to do what others may not like and others may not be doing.  It takes courage to be different.  This is true for us today.  We all need to be strong and courageous in living as Christians.   The events of Isaiah 7 are another occasion where God’s leader needed courage.  Two kings, the king of Aram and the king of Israel, marched with their armies against the king of Judah.  The king of Judah, Ahaz, and his people were very scared (verse 2).  The two kings wanted to replace Ahaz as king.  God told Ahaz through the prophet Isaiah not to be afraid (verse 4).  This message came at the same place where Hezekiah was later to need courage (Isaiah 36:2).  God was willing to give Ahaz a sign, so he would have confidence in God.  But Ahaz was a wicked king (2 Kings 16:2-3).  He did not want a reason to believe in God.  What was God to do when a king was so stubborn and wicked?  God did what He always had to do.  He predicted a time where He would intervene.  He spoke about a chosen son who would save His people.  We have here the sign of a virgin having a child, which was the prediction of the coming of Christ the king (Matthew 1:23).  Ahaz was given a sign regardless of whether he liked it or not.  Before a son could grow and learn the difference between right and wrong, the two kings would no longer be a threat.  The son that was born might have been Isaiah’s son (Isaiah 8:3).  However, it could also be Ahaz’s own son.  Ahaz named his son ‘Hezekiah,’ which means ‘my strength is Yah (God)’.  Ahaz himself did not trust in God (he trusted in the king of Assyria instead) but it was Hezekiah who had confidence in God despite the vast army of Assyria (2 Chronicles 32:7-8).  We too should trust in God and not in the power of man.  The need for trusting in God again comes as advice in 1 Thessalonians 1 and 2.  The ecclesia was unfortunately in a city where the Jews were militant against Christians (Acts 17).  And so the background to the letters to the Thessalonians was one of suffering for their faith.  The apostle Paul suffered the most, but they also suffered (1:6, 2:14).  With such persecution, anyone who maintained their faith was clearly a faithful disciple.  They became famous for their faith (1:7).  Paul pointed out that God does test believers to find out what is in their hearts (2:4).  The Thessalonians were standing the test.  Paul thanked God for their faith, hope and love (1:3) – the greatest Christian virtues (1 Corinthians 13).  The example of Paul was critical for the believers to see how to live by faith.  Paul had been a great example to them.  This is a contrast to king Ahaz had been a bad example to the people.  Paul describes his role as like a father (2:11).  He then describes what is the role of a father.  They must encourage, comfort and urge their children to live godly lives (2:12).   Fathers everywhere would agree that this is what they have to do.  And when children do what they have been taught, then the father has pleasure.  Paul had pleasure in the Thessalonians (2:20).  In the same way, our heavenly Father is pleased with us if we do the right thing.  All our thoughts have given us the same message, which we remind you again – be strong and courageous in living faithfully before our heavenly Father.  Those of us who are leaders must set a good example in this. May

May 18th

Joshua 2: Joshua sends 2 men to “view the land, especially Jericho”. They stayed at Rahab the prostitute’s home but were seen by some of the inhabitants of Jericho, who reported to the king. When questioned, Rahab said she did not know where the 2 men were from (a lie) and they had already left the city (a lie).  She had hidden them under some flax on her roof.  So, the king sent some men to pursue the spies, knowing that Israel was east of the river Jordan.  Rahab went to the roof and revealed her heart and confessed her faith to the spies. “I know the Lord has given you the land”.  She had faith in the Lord’s word – when 38 years earlier 10 of the 12 spies sent to view the land didn’t!! Did she know about God’s promises to Abraham? (probably).  “We heard how the Lord dried up the Red Sea when you came out of Egypt”. She heard the word from others, and believed – many would have heard but few believed. This was 40 years ago.  The delay did not weaken her faith, in fact she would have reasoned that the time was getting closer. (As is Jesus’ return).  “We heard how you utterly destroyed Sihon and Og on the other side of the Jordan” – this was “a sign of the times”.  The Red Sea was no barrier to the Lord and nor would the river Jordan be. She knew God’s will was about to happen. The 2 spies, I am sure, would have been amazed by her faith.  I wonder what else she knew and how. After her confession of faith, she asks that her household could be saved. They agree, then Rahab helps them to escape, and tells them where to go, to hide 3 days in the mountain (which is west of Jericho, exactly the opposite way their pursuers went – they went east to the Jordan). After 3 days the pursuers would give up, return to Jericho, and the spies could return to Joshua. We see that Rahab’s heart was with the Lord. She believed in the promises and trusted in His words and His mercy.  The spies gave Rahab a scarlet cord to hang out of her window, and promised that the occupants of that house with the scarlet cord, at the time of their return, would be saved from the destruction of Jericho. If they were found outside of the house, then they too would be destroyed…we see “echoes” of Passover, where the blood of the Passover lamb on the “lintel and doorposts would be a sign to the destroyer not to destroy the inhabitants of that house” Exodus 12:23 … and the remembrance of Passover was soon (Josh 5:10).  Rahab’s house would be one of faith and prayer, fully expecting God’s will to be fulfilled. Jericho was in great fear, but Rahab’s household stayed together in faith.  Although she was a prostitute and she told a lie, she is remembered for her faith. “By faith the prostitute Rahab did not perish with those who did not believe.” Heb 11:31. “Likewise, Rahab was justified by works.” (James 2:25) when she showed her faith by her works. And by her faith she received mercy.  ISAIAH 8: Isaiah was told by the Lord to record a name Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz which literally means “speed the spoil, hasten the booty”. Afterwards he had intercourse with his wife (a prophetess), she gave birth to a son and the Lord told Isaiah to call him Maher-Shalal-Hash-Baz; he also told Isaiah the reason for the name. “The riches (booty) of Damascus (Syria) and the spoil of Samaria will be taken away by the king of Assyria”. So whenever the child was seen by either Isaiah, or his mother or anyone else, even the king of Judah, there would be a reminder of the prophecy and word of God. This reminder would be there before the prophecy was fulfilled and after it was fulfilled, just like the prophecies in scripture!! The prophecy was that the Assyrians would conquer Syria and Samaria – this happened 722 BC. Judah would not have to wait long; the prophecy would be fulfilled within 2 years of the child’s birth. The defeat of those 2 nations might have brought relief to Judah, but Assyria would also devastate Judah, but not take Jerusalem. All of these events were foretold by God, giving precise details, showing that God rules in the kingdom of men.  Isaiah is told “not to walk in the way of the people” and not to be frightened by them but be faithful to the Lord. The Lord would be a sanctuary to all who trust in Him. But He would be “a stumbling block” to those who do not trust in Him. These verses are quoted by Jesus to the un-believing Jews in Luke 20: by Paul in Romans 9; by Peter in 1 Pet 2; Isaiah in ch 28 , and in Psalms 118. When we look at the first written of these quotes, we see the theme summarised in 2 verses.  Psalm 118:6 “The Lord is on my side I will not fear. What can man do to me?”  Psalm 118:8 “It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man”.  That would be Isaiah’s life, and his children’s, witnesses of God’s will and mercy for those who trust in Him. And it is the same for us believers. we might not understand all of the prophecies (I certainly don’t) but we can totally trust Him with our present and our future. That is a great comfort in this troubled world, where there is no one else who “we can put our confidence in”.  1 Thess 3 – Work in progress.  Paul shows his love and concern for the Christians in Thessalonica. His hope, joy, and crown of rejoicing is that the believers will be “in the presence of our Lord Jesus Christ, at his coming” 1 Thess 2:19. He sends Timothy (our fellow-worker) “to establish and encourage you concerning your faith, so that no-one should be shaken”.  Timothy brings back good news; the church at Thessalonica had the same spirit toward Paul as Paul had for them. What beautiful true fellowship!! So Paul gives thanks to God, because the news was a witness to answered prayers (do we forget to say thank you for answered/all prayers?) Paul prays night and day praying for the opportunity “to perfect what is lacking in their faith”.  1 Thess 3:12 “may the Lord make you increase and abound in love…”.  1Thess 4:1 “we urge and exhort to abound more and more (grow), to walk and please God”.  4:11 “lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands”.  4:12 to be an example to un-believers; 4:12 to understand the hope in Jesus is for those who have already died (they are asleep) as well as those who will be alive at Jesus return.  4:16 Jesus will descend from heaven, and the dead in Christ will rise first; 4:17 The living in Christ will be with Jesus with those who were formerly dead in Christ.  “We shall always be with the Lord”.  We know Jesus is to RETURN and we also know we will inherit the promises made to Abraham, concerning eternal life, ON EARTH.  There are so many verses throughout the bible confirming God’s will for mankind.  Psalm 37:11 “The meek shall inherit the earth” (quoted by Jesus) – in the same psalm look at verses 22 and 29.  John 13:33. Jesus speaking to his disciples “Where I am going (heaven) you cannot come”.  It is clear from Thessalonians and elsewhere Jesus will RETURN and be with believers forever in the Kingdom of God on earth – this is God’s will. This has been clearly revealed to us, whereas many other details are not so clear, such as when. God has deemed that we should not be all-knowing, but that we should TRUST and FOLLOW. May

May 19th

The Israelites are about to cross over the Jordan river into the promised land that God had said that they would possess and had led them to. We read of this in Joshua 3 and 4. Up until this time God had prepared the people, he had given them “rules” on how to function as a godly nation, he had shown them miracles on the way and had also justly punished them for their collective sins and lack of faith. All their suffering and all the lessons that they had gained from their suffering meant that they were now ready to cross as a unified people and enter into God’s “kingdom”. So as always we too can gain lessons from their experiences as we are moving towards God’s kingdom, that will be centred on the same place, ie Israel, when Jesus comes back. The details that we are given in these 2 chapters are dramatic and the nations who were already in the land, ie chapter 3 verse 10, would have been terrified by the acts of God that they were about to witness, chapter 5 verse 1. The instructions that God gave throughout these chapters had to be followed exactly, because they were specific to the demonstration of his power, eg chapter 3 verse 2-4 and chapter 4 verse 1-3. The reason for this was so that the people would see that it was God who saved, chapter 3 verse 10; that Joshua would be the leader, chapter 4 verse 14 and that the peoples of the earth might know that God is all powerful, verse 24. Now reasons 1 and 3 should motivate us to also ensure that we follow God’s requirements! So the Levites carried the ark, 1,000 yards (metres), in front of the people and as soon as the feet of the Levites who were carrying the ark touched the water, the river stopped, chapter 3 verse 15-17. Notice that the Jordan was in “flood”, it was deep and fast flowing, it took faith for the Levites to walk into the water, they then stood in the middle whilst the people all crossed. This would have been an amazing scene and the reason why the people had to stay 1,000 yards away from the ark – it was because the people the other side of the Jordan could see the ark that represented the “god” of Israel, which obviously we know to be the God of all creation, not just of Israel! So we need to imagine the scene – a raging river suddenly stopped flowing and a whole nation crossed on dry ground – anyone looking on would have been fearful of what was happening – and this is exactly what God had planned. Once across, the 12 stones were collected and set up as a reminder for the people of Israel as to what happened, chapter 4 verse 8-9, and the reason for this, verse 4-7, was so that future descendants would ask and be told. As soon as the feet of the Levites got to the point where the banks of the river were, on the other side, the water rushed back and continued in flood again. Everyone along the length of the river, downstream of the blockage, would have known that something amazing had happened! There are lots of reminders in these chapters of other events in Bible history, for example, verse 19, the 10th day of the first month, is when the lamb was selected for each and every Passover in Exodus 12 verse 3, so the crossing into the promised land was on the same day 40 years before when they prepared for the exodus from Egypt. This too is the same day in Jesus’ time when he rode into Jerusalem on the donkey, ie “lamb selection day”.  We know from history that the Israelites (Jews) turned away from God, despite everything that he had done for them, and in Isaiah 9 we read about the problem many years later. This chapter is about the arrogance and pride of the people which typified the attitude of human beings, verse 8-9. They arrogantly thought that even if Jerusalem and all the cities were destroyed they would build better and better, verse 10, they had no respect for who God was.  So God said that he would destroy them because of their disobedience, verse 11-12. Three times God says that his anger because of what they had done had not passed, ie verse 12, 17 and 21, he was going to destroy the wickedness. Yet still God leaves a hope and we read those familiar words that are quoted in the New Testament about the birth of Jesus, verse 6-7. We read about the promise of the future Jesus, even here amongst all this gloom. We know that this is about Jesus because it is quoted in Matthew 1 and Luke 1, but for the people in Isaiah’s time to have hope as well as it meant that they would have a future king who did respect God and they did when Josiah became king, 1Kings 22, so as with many prophecies there is more than one fulfilment that godly people can have hope in. Obviously the greater hope is the future return of Jesus when life will be given to all those who fear God and this is what we are reminded of in 1 Thessalonians 5. Just as the Israelites did not know exactly when God would act, in their case they had to wait 3 days, neither do we know when Jesus is coming back, verse 1-3. It will be when we do not expect it to happen. All of us have heard about people speculating when Jesus will come back, but only God knows when, we get some indications that it may be soon, but we do not know – so the important thing is not to speculate but to ALWAYS be ready. Verse 4-11 says that we should not be surprised whenever Jesus comes back because we should be ready any time, we have to be “alert”, “self controlled”, we should be “protecting” ourselves with “faith”, “love” and “hope”.  This is how we should be acting every day as we wait for Jesus to come back. We have this wonderful promise of crossing to our “promised land”, verse 9, so because we have been promised salvation we need to be godly! Love is the key to a Christian’s way of life and verse 12-15 shows us that EVERYTHING that we do should be done in love, so whether we are teaching or challenging others or helping or even being helped, everything has to be done in love. This love has to be the same love that God showed to his people of old and to us now and we need to remember the love that God has demonstrated and continually respect him and obey him, otherwise he will be angry with us and we know what God also does to stop wickedness! So brothers and sisters and also friends, we are exhorted to be joyful, to pray and to give thanks, verse 16, we have to use the time that we have wisely as we wait for the return of Jesus, verse 23. This means that if we are baptised we must be seen as godly, if we are not baptised we need to accept Jesus if we want to be in the kingdom and we must be seen as godly! Because God will do all these things, verse 24, just as he brought the people into the promised land in Joshua’s time; he also punished in Isaiah’s time and he will also send Jesus back at the right time to bring those who are godly into the kingdom, but to also punish those who are not prepared! May

May 20th

God always knows what he is doing, even if we do not! Humanly speaking it would seem to not be a good idea that for a few days all the men of Israel were unable to move around without pain because of what would be perceived as a self inflicted wound when they were all circumcised on the same day! We know from Jewish history itself, that the Israelites’ ancestors used this tactic to gain an advantage and an ungodly revenge on the Shechemites after the rape of the brothers’ sister, Dinah, Genesis 34 verse 24-27. So the Israelites now having all their fighting men in pain just as they had crossed into enemy territory seems a strange thing to do – however, it was God’s command and we should always do what God wants us to do, Joshua 5 verse 2. This was an act of faith on Joshua’s and the Israelites’ behalf and it demonstrates that God’s plan is always best – the fear that was felt by all of the inhabitants of the land meant that they knew that they could not fight against God, even if they wanted to, verse 1. In this chapter we are given the reason why the younger generations were not circumcised, as they should have been, because they were in the desert, verse 4-8. But God then says to Joshua that this act now had the added meaning that the reproach of Egypt had now been “rolled back”, verse 9, so this was another reminder that God had done all of these things for them and that they were a “different” nation. The Passover that they then ate was 40 years after they had prepared to leave Egypt and on the day that they left, 40 years later, they ate the produce of the land that God had now given them, verse 10-12. This is an amazing thing, if only the people continued to realise it, that God always provides, he always knows best, so the food that they really wanted was given to them. And the manna stopped from that very day, after the Passover. We should always put God first in our lives! The fall of Jericho is detailed in chapter 6. Notice how precisely the Israelites followed God’s instructions – for 6 days they walked around the city once, in silence – each day returning to their camp. On the seventh day they marched around 6 times, in silence as they did before, but on the seventh time they had to shout, verse 15-19. God’s judgement was brought on people of the city because of their wickedness, but this marked the start of the Israelites’ campaign to take the land. Notice too that because of faith, Rahab and her family were saved, whilst all of her fellow citizens were destroyed, verse 24-25. The people had to do what God commanded – we get an additional requirement here too, verse 17-19, everything of the city was to be dedicated to God. As we will see in tomorrow’s thought it is so so important to always try and do what God wants us to do. The start of Isaiah 10 is a specific warning to the elders of Israel, but it is a very appropriate warning for us too, verse 1-4. All of us are responsible for the poor, the widows and the orphans, all of us have to ensure that they get justice and that we all do the right and appropriate things for them. God will judge those who turn a blind eye to their needs and these verses make it clear that if we neglect to ensure justice, then nothing will save us from God’s wrath! The context of these verses shows us that help was expected from immediate neighbours in God’s kingdom, Israel, so our lesson is that we have to ensure that our immediate brothers and sisters who we should see daily are helped – none of us is excluded from this responsibility. God used the Assyrians as his tool to bring about his judgement on his own people, verse 5-7. Sadly God’s people had become godless, the leaders had become proud and relied on their own riches. It is the same with all people and nations who act without God, they always become proud and the Assyrians did too, verse 12-15. Let us not be like this! As is always the case there is a remnant and they will return, verse 20-23, all we have to do is to reply upon and trust God, verse 24-25. We know from our Bible reading that God’s will will always be done, ultimately this is when Jesus comes back to set up his father’s kingdom, but these pictures of God’s kingdom in the nation of Israel has shown us how God brings his purpose about. But he also brings judgement if his rules are not followed! Our love for each other should be like the example that we see in 2 Thessalonians 1 verse 3-4 and when we also act like this and lovingly care for our immediate brothers and sisters, we demonstrate that we are godly, verse 5. In so doing we are “counted worthy of [being in] the kingdom of God. Just like the examples of good behaviour in Joshua’s time and the bad behaviour in Isaiah’s time, we should try our best to demonstrate faith and to resist being proud in our own abilities. As Paul reminds us in verse 6-10, God is aware of our behaviour and we will be judged for it. Chapter 2 talks about the man of “lawlessness” which is the men and women who have no respect for God and who just do their own thing and sin. Doing ungodly things is just like an addiction, you just sin more and more and in the end, in effect, it “rules” a sinners’ life, this is why we need constant reminders of God and his ways – which is why we see the same teaching everywhere in the bible to “hold firm” to God’s teachings, verse 13-15. All of our prayers should be that both God and Jesus will help us to be like them in every way, verse 16-17. May

May 21st

It is so sad that despite all of the wonderful things that God had done for the people of Israel, how he had led them to the promised land, how he protected them from their enemies and gave them the land just as the harvest was ready so that they could have food to eat, they sinned, Joshua 7 verse 1. Notice that because of one man’s sin, all of Israel were held responsible and God’s anger “burned against Israel”. And God stopped helping the people in their quest to conquer the next city, Ai, verse 2-5. Because the people of Ai chased the Israelites away, their “hearts melted”, ie they became fearful and all of their confidence of the past few weeks would have been destroyed. Not only that, the confidence of the people of Ai would have increased and they would have become bold and would have wondered that perhaps the God of Israel was weak and powerless after all! Can you see how much damage is done because of disobedience – all suffer, worse than that, God’s name is brought low and no longer respected by others – it should be obvious to the people around us that we are godly and we are to be trusted. It is so obvious how disastrous Joshua saw this defeat, verse 6-9, he immediately saw the damage that could be done to Israel when word got out that the army of Ai had routed them. God responds to Joshua and says that the reason that this had happened is because Israel has sinned, verse 10-12. God tells Joshua that he has to consecrate the people and remove the problem and all of the people have to be involved, verse 13. Over the next few verses we see how God identifies Achan as the man, verse 14-18. God is always aware of who is rebelling, he also makes it the whole community’s responsibility to be involved in the problem, whatever it is. Once Achan is identified he has no option but to confess, verse 20, so Joshua sent people to check and found that what he said was true. Achan had an opportunity to confess right at the beginning of the process, but he chose not to, his family protected him too, which is why they also suffered in the end and were all stoned, verse 25-26. This is a drastic punishment and one that we should not do today, no matter what the “problem”, but at this time the people were still learning and they had to remove the ungodliness from amongst them. Horrible though this picture is, the lessons are clear for us – we have to obey God; if we do not, there are consequences. Remember Ananias and Sapphira in Acts 5!  Isaiah 11 is one of those Bible chapters that we can use to give some idea of what God’s kingdom will be like. We have those wonderful picture of peace and no death of any kind in verse 6-9 – “They will neither harm nor destroy on all my holy mountain, for the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.” This is why there will be peace, because all people will know and respect God, there will be no one like Achan and his family there! And all of this is brought about by Jesus, he is the one who this chapter refers to in verse 1-5 and then in 10-16. Jesus is the “shoot who will come from the stump of Jesse”, he is the one referred to in Revelation 5 verse 5, it is Jesus who is descended from David, the second king of Israel and it is Jesus who will be the king ruling from Jerusalem when he returns. It is only Jesus who can judge with wisdom who will bring this peace that we read about. It is often the case that when we read of Bible accounts where God has brought judgement on people because of sin, there is always an account of hope that godly people can take comfort from. So even in Isaiah’s time when there was judgement coming on the people because of sin, those who did remain faithful could still take comfort in their terrible times. It is the same with us too now, we can take comfort in the fact that there will come a time when suffering and pain will end when Jesus comes back to the earth to set up his father’s kingdom. Our prayer is just like Paul’s for the brothers and sisters at Thessalonica in 2 Thessalonians 3 verse 1-5. We should all pray that we do not give in to temptation like Achan did, we know that it is easy to be taken in by the “wicked” and the “evil” men, so we pray for strength and that our “hearts may be directed into God’s love”. The context of the warning about being tempted by wicked and evil men is in verse 6-15. As Christians we should not be idle, we should be living according to the teaching that we have received.  The principle of “if a man will not work, he shall not eat” has to be our starting point in how we act. Achan thought he could get rich quickly by stealing from God! Jesus, described as the wise judge in Isaiah, judges justly and ensures that the poor are given justice, so we should be doing the same too now. If we have brothers or sisters who are idle or are just expecting their other brothers and sisters to help them, then we should all take actions to “warn them as a brother”. The problem with brothers and sisters who are just interested in themselves, is that they distract others from helping those who really cannot help themselves, this is why it is so important that all of us should try our best to provide for ourselves rather than adding to the burdens of the church who really should be helping the poorest of the poor! All of us are responsible for each other, just as the Israelites learnt in Joshua’s time. May

May 22nd

Joshua 8 is the account of Ai now being destroyed, this time we have it recorded that “the Lord said…” eg verse 1 and 18 and Joshua was confident that their actions were from God, verse 7. He also reminded the people that they should follow God’s command, verse 8. This is in contrast to their first attack where the mention of God is not recorded, eg chapter 7 verse 2-3.  Theoretically the 2,000 or 3,000 would have been OK if God was with them, but because of sin God was not. In chapter 8 because the people had repented, God was visibly with them and God actually used the full army, presumably to give them confidence again, even though they had an easy time because the army of Ai were caught in ambush away from the city. The lesson is clear for us, if we are being obedient then God is with us, if we are rebelling then we cannot expect God to be with us and he will not be! This time God allowed the people to keep their plunder, verse 2, so if we are godly now, we may get appropriate extras to help us in our lives now as well as the promise of the kingdom when Jesus comes back. Clearly in this chapter God is included in the people’s actions and Joshua ends the period where he ensures that the instructions that Moses gave before his death in Deuteronomy 27 are carried out, Joshua 8 verse 31 and 33. These were the big lessons that the people had to learn, for example Deuteronomy 11 told them to love God, be careful to obey and to remember and then in chapters 38 and 39 they were reminded of the blessings if they followed God and cursing if they did not. Joshua reminded them again and read the law as he would do every 7 years from now on, Deuteronomy 31 verse 10. Joshua 8 verse 34-35 confirms this for us, so in theory, the Israelites were now back on track, they had been reminded that they should obey God and demonstrate their respect for him by doing what he wanted them to do. And when God’s people are in this repentant, humble, frame of mind they can sing the praise in Isaiah 12 and sing about God’s salvation, verse 2-3. Even though they had sinned they could still get comfort, verse 1, and just like Joshua was told not to be afraid, all God’s people can be too if they love and fear him. If we are godly then the “world” can see and also glorify God, verse 5. Paul, in his letter to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1 verse 3-7 encourages him to warn those who teach false things. This reminds us yet again how important it is to ensure that we do stick to God’s teachings, deviating from them will cause problems. Using God’s teachings properly is also important, verse 8, and the clue to this is in verse 5, ie love, this is the characteristic that we should apply in everything, just as Jesus did, verse 14. If we all loved God as much as we should then we would always want to do what he wanted us to do! Paul realised himself that the path that he was originally on was wrong; he had to change and in humility he describes himself as the “chiefest sinner”, verse 16.  He confessed, as we all should, that Jesus came to save sinners, verse 15. So none of our teaching should involve arrogance and pride, we should teach and encourage others in humility and set good examples in everything that we do. And Paul then goes on to give examples of setting good examples, in chapter 2 he talks about worship being a good example, verse 1-8, that we should “live quiet lives”, that we should pray together without having arguments, all these things set good examples! So too do the overseers and deacons in chapter 3, look at the qualifications for overseers, ie the elders in our church, verse 1-7, even the deacons or administrators have to set good examples, verse 8-13. All of these are servants and all have to set good examples as Joshua did and certainly Jesus did. We have mentioned the role of sisters (women) and how they represent the church (Ephesians 5), before; they, like the brothers (men) have to set good examples in everything that they do too. It is only when we all work together as one body that great things happen – it is when we deviate from God’s laws that problems occur, eg chapter 1 verse 6 and verse 19-20. It is sad when brothers and sisters “wander away” from God, it is the role of all of us to encourage unity and godliness! May

May 23rd

It is an interesting account in Joshua 9 about the deception of the Gibeonites who lived in the land that God was giving to Israel. When Joshua realised their deception they explained why in verse 24-25, ie they “heard” about what God had done and feared for their lives. Because Joshua had made an oath with them, he could not allow them to be killed and instead he made them effectively slaves, verse 26-17. I think that there is a clue to a problem with this oath in verse 14 where it is recorded that “they did not enquire of the Lord”. It is always the start of problems when we do not “enquire” of God, eg reading the Bible; the lesson here is that we should never disregard what God wants and follow his advice as to how we should respond to any situation. We ignore God at our peril! The section of chapters in Isaiah between 13 and 23 are prophecies against the “nations”, ie the gentile nations around Israel. In chapter 13 we start the prophecy against Babylon. God used them to bring judgement on Israel because of Israel’s sins but they became evil, wicked, arrogant and proud, verse 11 and 19. They were clearly “sinners”, verse 9. And because of this, God’s “wrath” would come on them, verse 5, 9 (again) & 13, and God would use another nation to do this, ie the Medes, verse 17, this people were a cruel people who had no respect for life or materials, verse 18. Their destruction would be so great that Babylon would be left uninhabited, verse 20-22, this is a useful passage to have confidence that what God says is true, because Babylon has never been inhabited since then! So the lesson for us in this chapter is the same as it was in Joshua, if anyone wants to be blessed by God they have to respect and follow him. Just as the nations who choose to ignore him and have no respect at all for him and do what they want and ultimately receive the wrath of God, so will we if we choose to ignore his ways and go our own way. In the chapter that contains the “instructions to Timothy” in 1Timothy verse 15-16 we see Paul’s advice to be “diligent” in these matters, ie God’s words; to “watch your life and doctrine closely” because if you do you will “save yourself and your hearers”. This is how we should behave if we want to have God’s blessings, particularly those blessings that we will receive in the kingdom when Jesus comes back. Be an “example”, as Paul says in verse 12, and be devoted to “reading”, “preaching” and “teaching”. These are all lessons for us. We have to be careful about false teachings taught by other people who confuse and distort God’s words, verse 1-5. So dangerous are these people that they are described as “demons”, which are false gods, and their teachings are described as “deceiving spirits”. There is obviously nothing supernatural about these words, they just describe corrupt human beings who are arrogant and proud. So as responsible Christians, we need to point out these errors to others, verse 6-7.  And all of us need to “train” to be godly, we have to read, discuss and practise putting God’s ways into practice.  Physical training helps us to stay more healthy and it does have some value, but spiritual training prepares us for life in the kingdom when Jesus comes back so we really should be training for that, verse 8. And the trustworthy saying in verse 9-10 is “we have put our hope in the living God, who is the saviour of all men, and especially of those who believe.” Chapter 5 is a chapter about respect – respect for the older men and young and old women (:1-2), widows (:3-16) and elders (:17-20). Each of these groups should be treated without any favouritism, verse 21, each individual should receive the same attention as the other, even those who complain! The point that Paul makes in verse 24-25 is that all things that we do, whether good or bad will eventually become obvious because nothing can be hidden. It is interesting that each of those in the groups that Paul mentioned has responsibilities too, the most obvious example here is that of the widows as the verses show us who can and who cannot be on the widows’ list. Those who are young and those who have families should not be, it is only those who really cannot help themselves. Less obvious, but equally as important is that the older men and women and the young women sometimes need to be rebuked, so they have the responsibility to be humble. The elders too needed to match the characteristics in chapter 3, and it is only when they do can they be given that greater honour as described in chapter 5 verse 17. So the lessons are clearly for all of us because we all fit into these categories at one stage or other in our lives! So respect of God, respect of Jesus and respect of each other is key in all of these readings for today. May

May 24th

“There was never a day like it before or since, a day when the Lord listened to a man” (Joshua 10:14).  This was a day when the heavens intervened and gave a dramatic victory.  It was the day the sun stood still when Joshua defeated the southern confederacy in the Promised Land.  It started in an unusual way.  Five kings attacked the Gibeonites.  It was the Gibeonites who had deceived Israel into promising them peace (Joshua 9:15).   Many people would have let the Gibeonites be killed by their fellows, but that was not how Joshua or God saw it.  The Gibeonites were now servants of Israel (Joshua 9:23) and were therefore part of the nation of Israel.  We assume they were circumcised, although we are not told this (they would have had to do what their new masters wanted).  The victory of Joshua was a victory by the heavens.  Notice that the Israelite army arrived at dawn break from the east.  The sun was behind them as they attacked the Amorites, and the Amorites would have struggled to fight with the sun in their eyes. Then God threw stones from the sky.  The Hebrew says ‘stones’ not ‘hailstones’.  God was stoning the Amorites as if they deserved the capital punishment (which they did)!  Then the sun and moon stayed in their place a whole day, so that darkness would not save the Amorites from destruction.  It was a day when darkness did not have the victory. This led event to the destruction of the 5 kings and a victorious campaign against the southern cities.  There are interesting links between this chapter and the victory of the son (of God).  Both took place outside Jerusalem.  We have the 5 kings placed in a cave and then hanged, a bit like the reverse of what happened to Jesus.  Jesus was hanged and then placed in a cave (the tomb).  Hanging was particularly carried out when the people wanted to make a public display of someone’s death – usually a king.  Jesus was a king whose death was displayed. Then we have the words of Joshua, “O sun, stand still over Gibeon, O moon, over the Valley of Aijalon” (Joshua 10:12).  The Hebrew actually says, “O sun, be silent over the little hill, O moon, over the Valley of the Stag.”  Jesus was the one who was silent over the little hill (Golgotha, outside Jerusalem).  Like a lamb he did not open his mouth.  Jesus was the stag.  A stag is a royal animal that lives in high places (used in Song of Songs and elsewhere).  Jesus achieved the victory over the enemy in a similar way to Joshua.  The names of both mean ‘saviour’ (one who saves).  When we think of the glorious God-given victory in Joshua 10 we can think of the glorious God-given victory of Jesus. Isaiah 14 has some interesting links with Joshua 10.  Verse 1 says that aliens will joined with Israel, which is like the Gibeonites joining with Israel.   The Gentiles would be servants of Israel in the way the Gibeonites were (verse 2).  But Isaiah 14 speaks of another victory over a great enemy, this time victory over the king of Babylon.  The king would be so arrogant, he would claim he ruled the heavens (verse 13-14).  Because of the principle, “everyone who exalts himself wil be humbled” (Luke 18:14), arrogance has to be rewarded with a fall of equal magnitude.  Because the king exalted himself so high, he had to be made so low – into the ground in fact.  Babylon is given a parable of its fall.  It was not just going to the grave to join other defeated leaders.  There would be nothing left to bury (verse 19-20)!  Babylon’s king would suffer worse than the other kings. And this would cause rejoicing among the nations.  But other nations need beware.  Other nations would also be judged and punished by God (end of Isaiah 14 and the following chapters).  The start of 1 Timothy 6 could have been written for the Gibeonites. The Gibeonites were servants of believing masters and they needed to show them respect.  This is what happened.  The Gibeonites served the tabernacle by providing the wood and water for tabernacle worship.  This was a fitting service from the Gibeonites, since God saved them from death by the Amorites.  Of course, we are in the same position.  Jesus has saved us in a similar way to Joshua saving the Gibeonites and we are forever in Christ’s debt.  So let us serve our Lord faithfully like the Gibeonites.  We must faithfully follow only right teaching (verses 3-5).  We must also avoid the false teaching that many Christians promote – that godliness leads to financial gain (verse 5).  God does not promise to make all His people financially rich.  This is especially so when we remember that it is hard for the rich to enter the kingdom of God.  Why would God make it hard for us to enter His kingdom?  We must not want riches.  We must be content with what we have.  We must promote contentment, not the love of money.  The love of money leads to many many problems.  Let us not fool ourselves that we can be different from other rich people and that we can love both God and money at the same time.   We cannot.  We are told what we must do.  We must try hard to get righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness (verse 11).  This is the fight that we must fight, if we really want to win eternal life (verse 12).  This is the fight that Jesus fought when he gained the victory.  The book of 1 Timothy ends with Paul repeating his warnings.  Rich people must be very very careful with riches.  They must not trust in their riches, because it means they stop trusting in God.  They must not love their riches so much that they stop being willing to share what they have.   And we must watch out for false ideas which are everywhere.  The world thinks it has all knowledge.  Science can do many things, but it also has some grossly foolish ideas.  We must be careful so we keep our faith and avoid the stupidity of the world. May

May 25th

Joshua 11:    When Jabin king of Hazor heard how Israel were defeating all of their enemies, he decided to form a united front against Israel. He united 10 kings to fight together against Israel, including kings from the Canaanites, Amorites, Hittites, Perizzites, Jebusites and Hivites. We learn from verse 10 that Jabin was head of these kingdoms, and hence had influence. These nations’ armies all gathered together to form a very large army with many horses and chariots. Was Joshua fearful, or did he trust in God? The Lord helped Joshua by saying, “Do not be afraid because of them, for tomorrow I will deliver all of them slain before Israel”. Joshua knew that Israel on its own could never defeat these armies, but with God, and God’s will, Israel’s (and God’s) victory was certain.  If we see problems in our lives and are fearful, we are very often looking at our situations without the Lord in mind. It’s such a “natural” thing to do, and yet it’s the worst thing we can do. Let’s remind ourselves of God’s love for us and commit our lives to His will in whatever situation we are in. By so doing we find some peace and are more able to manage the situation. Remember the Lord’s words “Come unto me, and I will give you rest” Matt 11:28.  God’s word (will) was done, the enemies were defeated and Joshua was faithful to His word by “hamstringing (disabling) the horses and burning the chariots with fire”. Why did God give this command? Because He knew that if Israel had chariots and horses, they would consider themselves strong and less trusting in Him. God’s will was that He would bring the victory, not the chariots! Joshua did as God commanded, the wars on the nations took 7 years to complete. But God’s will was done, Israel had destroyed the wicked nations. (Leviticus 18 is a reminder of the appalling morality of those nations). Most of the Anakim were also destroyed. In fact, ALL of the fears that 10 of the spies had when spying the promised land were proved false. Of course, they judged the situation without God, and that’s the mistake they made. Let’s never make the same mistake. If we are faithful to God’s word, He will be faithful to us. “If God is for us, who can be against us” Rom 8:31.  Isaiah 15:    In this chapter Isaiah speaks God’s word (will) for Moab. We remember that Moab was a nation born from Lot (Gen 19), the nephew of Abraham. We also remember how the Lord rescued Lot, his wife, and his 2 daughters out of Sodom and Gomorrah. They were warned of a sudden destruction intended by the Lord because of the wickedness and pride of Sodom and Gomorrah and they escaped just in time. Lot and his 2 daughters sought refuge at a place called Zoar. This place is mentioned in verse 5 of Isaiah 15. “My heart will cry out to Moab; his fugitives shall flee to Zoar.”  The nation of Moab was guilty of the same sins as Sodom and Gomorrah, they worshipped false gods, they were proud, and immoral. They were “wealthy”, they had good land for their flocks, they had a “good life”. However, they were not rich towards God. Within 3 years, “Moab’s splendour and all her many people will be despised, and her survivors will be very few and feeble” (Isa 16:14).  They were warned, we have been warned – and it will happen quickly.  “The day of the Lord will come as a thief in the night.  The earth and everything in it will be laid bare. Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be…. Make every effort to be found spotless, blameless and at peace with Him” 2 Pet 3:10 and 14.   2 TIMOTHY 1: FAITH or FEAR.  Paul writes to Timothy as a father would to his beloved son, such was the spirit of their relationship. No doubt Timothy was concerned about Paul’s situation, in a prison in Rome awaiting a possible execution. Paul writes to Timothy to keep his faith active, to remember what God has done for him, to remember what Christ had done for him, to remember the faith shown by his mother and grandmother etc. But Paul doesn’t just seek to restore Timothy, he is also, at the same time, revealing his own spirit to a fearful Timothy. We see from the words of Paul that faith and spirit-wise he was managing his situation. He reminded Timothy of his calling, according to God’s will, and the promise of life in Christ Jesus. He thanked God, who he served with a pure conscience (his conscience was troubled until Jesus turned him round). He prayed night and day. (This shows his faith was strong. When we get weak, we pray less often, bizarrely) Paul’s concern was Timothy’s faith which he knew was genuine. But it needed to be stirred up, and put into action. “God has not given us a spirit of fear, but of power, love and a sound mind”.  Paul fully believed. Even though he was suffering it didn’t trouble his faith, because faith is about what is ALWAYS TRUE whether in good times or bad times. Good or Bad times never change what is true. Is there a God? YES, whatever happens. Is the Bible the word of God? YES, whatever happens. Is Jesus my saviour? YES, whatever happens. Etc. So when we struggle let’s remind ourselves of those things that are true that can’t be taken away from us, and then pray for some help in present times. “Who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, according to His purpose and grace which was given to us in Christ Jesus before time began.” “Who has abolished death and brought life and immortality through the gospel.” “For I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I committed to Him until that day.” Paul committed his life to the Lord, and left his life in his safe hands. Knowing he could die at any time (but it didn’t really matter when), but on that Day (Jesus’ return) he would be granted immortality. Therefore, Paul (speaking on the Lord’s behalf) tells Timothy and us to “Hold fast the pattern of sound words which you have heard from me, in faith and love which are in Christ Jesus. Although many had turned away from Paul and the true gospel, Onesiphorus had not. He was a good example to follow and Paul was often refreshed by him.  What was the refreshment provided?  No doubt Onesiphorus’ faith and love and his perseverance, and his wonderful spirit as a willing servant of Christ Jesus, no matter what. May

May 26th

Joshua 12 is a summary of the evil kings and peoples – who were really leaders of “cities” at that time – who the Israelites, under God’s instructions, destroyed and whose land they took over. Those on the east of the River Jordan was when Moses was the leader of the people, verse 1-6, and those on the west of the River Jordan when Joshua led, verse 7-24. We have to remember what God said about the people being involved in replacing the original people in the land. Deuteronomy 9 verse 4-6 and Deuteronomy 18 verse 9-13. The people who were replaced by Israel were “evil” and “detestable”, the Jews, (Israelites) themselves were not righteous either, but by bringing them in God was fulfilling his promise to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. So this summary of the conquests in Joshua 12 is the part fulfilment of God’s promises of a godly nation in the land that he promised to Abraham back in Genesis 13 verse 14-17. The fact that in just 1 verse, ie verse 6 it is mentioned “Moses the servant of the Lord”, means that all this was under the command and control of God as God himself was driving out the wickedness of corrupt human beings. But this does not mean that God is happy to destroy anyone – we know from Ezekiel 33 verse 11, that God has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, he would rather that they turn from their evil ways. We also know from verses like 1Corinthians 6 verse 9 that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom, so in the continuing prophecy about Moab in Isaiah 16, we see a patience and tolerance of the people of Moab as they are being justly punished. It is interesting that the people of Moab used to trade sheep with Israel and the words that God uses here at the start of the chapter liken the fleeing women of Moab as lambs, verse 1-2. The words in the chapter confirm that Moab was a farming nation, relying on their crops and animals to become rich and powerful, verse 8-10. Because of their wealth they became arrogant and proud, verse 6-7, and they are justly destroyed, just like the nations who occupied what we now know as the land of Israel. However, there is a strong suggestion here that God was not happy that he had to do this as either he or Isaiah “weeps”, verse 9, and “laments”, verse 11 because of their destruction. This does not mean that God regrets it, but that he is not willing that any should perish. What should have happened is that his people, the Israelites, should have been a good example by their godly behaviour so that they could teach the nations around them to fear God, sadly they did not and the people suffered because of their own wickedness. But even here in this pending destruction godly people should not take pleasure in the death of the wicked because they were told to care for the fugitives and refugees, verse 3-4, and they would be survivors, verse 13-14. So I think that there are lessons here for us today, we should also not be happy by the death of our enemies, we should be willing to help all people, whether enemies or friends when the need arises – Jesus said himself that we should love our enemies (Mt5:44) – and we should teach others by our words and our actions. There is another example here of future hope, ie verse 5, this is a clear reference to Jesus who will in the future sit on the throne of David ruling over God’s kingdom which will clearly be on the earth, centred in Israel. And in 2Timothy 2 we have lessons on how we should live because of the knowledge and promise that we have of a future in this kingdom because of Jesus, verse 8. It is only because of “grace” that we have this hope, because we know that without Jesus we could not be saved because we are naturally so sinful, verse 1. However, we cannot just simply say that we are saved by “grace” and do what we like, we have to try our best – the exhortation is all the way through this chapter. For example verse 2 tells us that we should be “reliable” and “qualified to teach”; in verse 21-25 we are told to be “useful”, “prepared”, “righteous”, “faithful”, “loving”, “peaceable”, “not to quarrel”, “kind”, “not resentful” and “gentle”. These are the characteristics of both God and Jesus and we should reflect these in our actions – every day! It is so sad that we sometimes argue about “words”, verse 14, so we always have to be aware of this and ask ourselves if what we are saying has a value or not, if not then perhaps we should focus on the areas that we agree on! “Do your best” is the message of Paul to Timothy, verse 15, no one will be perfect, if that was the case we would not need Jesus! We are all sinful, but we have to try to “do our best”. We are described as “workmen” so we have to work at our Christianity, not that we are saved by works, but it means that we fulfil our responsibilities because we have been saved and promised the kingdom. Paul uses 3 examples of occupations to help us to think about this. First one is a soldier, verse 3-4, meaning that he or she is focused on his task to “endure hardship”, we should always want to please Jesus as our “commanding officer” in whatever situation we are in, we cannot be distracted. The second example is an athlete where he or she has to abide by the “rules” if they want to “win the crown”, verse 5, so it is reasonable that we should learn the “rules” if we want to be in the kingdom and then stick to them – the athletes’ “rules” include diet, training, practice, knowing how to start and then follow the course and how to end, this is a great picture of how we should be viewing our aim of getting to the kingdom and doing what both God and Jesus want us to. The third example is the farmer, verse 6. Notice that he (or she) is “hardworking” and that they will receive a share in the crops, it is expected that farmer will sample his crops first, another great picture of the “hardworking” disciple who will receive a place in the kingdom. The farmer also has to prepare and keep nurturing his crops until they produce. Paul is saying that we should “think” or “reflect” about these things and apply them to our daily lives, verse 7. We have to remain focused on the kingdom and train to get there, having the confidence that if we try our best we can rely upon grace and we will be in the kingdom. We have a “trustworthy saying” in verse 11-13, the meaning includes: that if we are baptised and try to live like Jesus lived we will have life with him in the kingdom; if we do not give up and go our own way, we will reign with Jesus in the kingdom; if we do give up and disown him, he will disown us; but if we are “faithless”, he will still remain “faithful” – we all have low faith sometimes, but we can be confident that Jesus will help us if we turn to him and try our best! We sometimes do have to challenge each other, but this has to be “gentle”, verse 25, and our aim has to be to bring others to their senses, verse 26, ie to encourage them not to do what their own evil desires are leading them to do, but to remember what Jesus has done for us and to aim for the kingdom! Just as God’s aim was that no one should perish, but that all should repent and be saved, so this should be our aim too, by what we say and what we do. May

May 27th

There are details in Joshua 13 giving us the boundaries of the tribes of Reuben, Gad and the half tribe of Manasseh who were given land on the east side of Jordan by Moses, verse 8. In the verses that follow, these details are very clear and it seems to me that God is demonstrating to them and to us that he is interested in the details, he is interested in each tribe’s inheritance and the exact boundaries are given. When sections of scripture like this are read it reminds us of what Jesus said in Matthew 10 verse 30, ie that God knows how many hairs we have on our head – that is how interested God is in individuals. Twice we are reminded in this chapter that the Levites had no inheritance, verse 14 and 33, this too conveys the message to the rest of the tribes that they have the responsibility to continue with their sacrifices such that they provide for their religious leaders as God commanded. Each of the other tribes received their inheritance, which was provided by God – in turn they had to provide an inheritance for the Levites as an appreciation of what they had, and as commanded by God! Joshua 13 starts by telling us that there was still work for Joshua and the people to do, even though Joshua was old, verse 1, he still had responsibilities. However, it was God who was going to drive out the remaining peoples from the land that was promised to the Israelites, verse 6. The lessons for us then are that we should always rely on God and not give up, there is no excuse to sit back and say that we have achieved, not even old age! If we allow him to, God will help us to achieve his will. In Isaiah 17 and 18 we see the continuing prophecies against the nations around Israel, chapter 17 is about Damascus and 18 about Cush, or Ethiopia. Damascus used to be occupied by Israel, particularly during the reign of David and Solomon and we see a possible hint of this in chapter 17 verse 4 and 5, which suggests a fading of past days of greater power. This loss of power was because the Israelites forgot God and rebelled against him; however, this prophecy is specific to Damascus and even in times of ungodliness there is still hope and a few faithful remain, verse 6. And these gentiles, just like us, will “look to their maker”, verse 7-8, and reject the human things that they relied upon and turn to God. God is the God of everyone, he made heaven and earth, but to accept his salvation, via Jesus, we have the responsibility to follow him. The problem that we should all realise is that these human things that we sometimes rely on are temporary, just like the previously strong cities they will fail, verse 9, incidentally, a possible translation here is that the fall of these cities will be just like the fall of the cities already in the land during Joshua’s time.  Those who rely on their own strength and abilities will not succeed, verse 10-11. God has to be our only strength, verse 12-14. The prophecy against Cush (Ethiopia) in chapter 18 gives a picture of a turn around of the nation. In verse 2, envoys were sent to this people who were “feared”, yet in verse 7 this “feared” nation is now bringing gifts to God and presented at Jerusalem. It is only God who can change our attitudes and hearts, it is God who prunes the unproductive fruit and produces a change of heart, verse 3-6. Joshua had the faith to always trust in God and we are exhorted to trust too. 2 Timothy 3 reminds us that there will be “terrible times” in the last days, verse 1, and it appears that “terrible times” will be experienced just before Jesus returns.  We can possibly see the description in verse 2-5 as referring to our times now. All these things listed here all sound familiar to us, so it could be that we are living in these times now. We cannot be sure, of course, because only God knows when Jesus will come back, but we need to guard against such things because we are to have “nothing to do with” people like these. Just like the people of Israel were told to destroy all those living in the land they were to possess in order to prevent bad influences, we too need to be aware that we too can be influenced for the bad, verse 6-9. But, as Paul says to Timothy, we are not like these people, we should be living just like Jesus, verse 10-13, we have to demonstrate all of these attributes, like love, and keep going even when we are suffering. The exhortation is for us to “continue”, verse 14-15, it is only God’s word that can make us “wise for salvation”. And we know from all these thoughts that the Bible helps us in every aspect of our lives, verse 16-17, therefore we should be teaching others out of that same love too, chapter 4 verse 1-2. There are so many different opinions about Bible topics and sometimes these can become confusing – Paul says that we should all be careful because bad beliefs can creep into our lives if we do not continually check. We really do have to check to ensure that we are not believing just what we want to believe, ie just what their “itching ears want to hear”, verse 3-4. God wants us to be in the kingdom, so he does not make it hard for us to get there, but he does expect us to obey him and to carry out what he asks, we remember the mistake of Achan in Joshua and all the people suffered because of it! So Paul is saying to “keep our head”, verse 5, ie keep thinking about God and about Jesus and trying to do what Jesus would do. Paul has confidence in God, because of Jesus, and he expresses this in verse 8 and also in verse 18, he knows that God will bring him (and us) to the promised land when God sends back Jesus to establish the kingdom on earth. Even though the Israelites soon forgot the wonderful work of God in bringing them to the promised land in Joshua’s time, we see in Isaiah that they became weak because of unfaithfulness, however because of Jesus we will experience the wonder of the promised land! May

May 28th

In the readings today we have some big lessons for our daily lives. In Joshua 14 we have Caleb waiting patiently for at least 38 years for the land that was promised. Even though it was a long time, he still did everything wholeheartedly, verse 8 and 14. He always followed God in his everyday life and set good examples, this being obvious from the fact that the “men of Judah” were supportive of Caleb, verse 1, that he had always set a good example in his everyday life. Caleb was of the tribe of Judah (Nu13:6), so his family, peers, relations, friends all knew that he was godly. This is a lesson for us all to think about, ie do all the people around us know that we follow God “wholeheartedly”? Or do they see us as no different to them because our actions are still just like their worldly actions? It is clear that the actions of the Egyptians who were prophesised about in Isaiah 19 were not godly, they trusted in their human things (idols), the river Nile and the fertile land around it and they “created” all sorts of imaginary “gods” (idols) to worship because they mistakenly believed that they provided all these good things. They did not give the appropriate credit to God and thank and worship him so God was to bring judgement on them, verse 1-4. Even they would see that their idols would be useless when God brought about judgement on them. Everything that the Egyptians trusted in, whether this was the river, the land or human advisors, all would be useless, verse 5-15. Yet God had a purpose with the Egyptians – these judgements would bring about a change in heart because the people would turn to God and worship him and not their useless, manmade idols, verse 16-21. It is clear that God would “heal” them once they had turned to God, verse 22. This is the same for us too, God wants to have all people turn to him, verse 23-25, he gives us opportunities now to change, sometimes he brings us low, as he did with the Egyptians, sometimes he gives us great examples like Caleb to learn from, but what God wants is a people who want to obey him and follow him. The same lesson is very powerful in the examples in the chapters in Titus. The first example is the one of “elders” and “overseers”, these are the religious leaders (representatives) of the church, they MUST set an example, as Caleb did in his life. The religious “elders” had a specific role to play in God’s community in Joshua’s time, and the Levites were provided for by the people as they themselves did not have an inheritance – our elders today should be taking lessons from this too, their priorities have to be the ways of God. This is why in Titus we have the characteristics of an “elder” described for us, chapter 1 verse 6-9, they must be “blameless”, as Caleb was, they must not, for example, pursue “dishonest gain”, ie making money out of their Christianity. They must be good Bible teachers, ie teach “sound doctrine”, this is emphasised in verse 13 and again in chapter 2 verse 1, so important this characteristic is. So you elders reading this, what is your priority? Anyone who seeks “dishonest gain”, for example, must be silenced, verse 11. God gave the Egyptians (and also the Assyrians) an opportunity to change, as he does with us. We are all awaiting eternal life, verse 2 of chapter 1, so we have to take these lessons seriously. The next example is about the relationships between young and older women, and their husbands in chapter 2. The older women should live a life that sets a good example, verse 3-5, and the reason given is that no-one will “malign (speak badly of) the word of God”, ie we need to set good examples, as Caleb did. The next example is for young men, verse 6-8, they too have to set an example in how they behave every day, so that no one can say bad reports about our church! The last example is for slaves, verse 9-10, this too is setting an example so that God’s “teachings are attractive”. We can all take lessons from every one of these lessons, they are not exclusive to just the one group, each lesson has a result that shows our beliefs and therefore both God and Jesus in good ways. Each one of us must say “no!” to ungodliness and “worldly passions”, verse 11, and live lives that are godly, ie setting an example. We are waiting for Jesus to return, verse 13-14, so we all have to follow God wholeheartedly so that others recognise that we are godly. We cannot say that we are Christians if we are not setting good examples as elders, wives, husbands, young, etc. We have to be humble and gentle, but also encourage and rebuke as necessary, verse 15. Chapter 3 verse 1-2 confirms that we should “remind” each other of godly ways and to remember that to be one with God and his son Jesus we have to change, now whilst we have the opportunity, because ungodly ways are not going to save us, just as the original ways of the Egyptians did not save them, verse 3. Verse 8 refers to the “trustworthy saying” that needs to be stressed because it is “profitable” for everyone. This trustworthy saying, I think, is verse 4-7, where we are reminded about being “saved”, “reborn”, “renewed” and being “heirs” and having a “hope of eternal life” and all this because of “grace” in Jesus our saviour”. This knowledge should make us want to do what God wants us to do. We should all be avoiding ungodly things, examples of which are listed in verse 9-11. So God brings about changes in people and nations and he has a plan so we have to accept this and remain patient and faithful as we continue to do our best with the opportunities that God has given us. We pray for the time when there will be peace throughout the whole world. May

May 29th

There may be a lot of detail in the Joshua reading today, we have the boundary and towns/trading centres of Judah. Some of the names are hard to pronounce, some we may have heard of before when we read elsewhere in the Bible, but all this detail confirms that God is interested in the places where his people lived and was interested in the boundary of each tribe. If you add up the totals I think that you come to 120 excluding the villages, this is just for Judah! So God is interested in detail and in our lives. Caleb’s patience was rewarded as he now gets his inheritance, so we too must be patient and wait for God’s time! The details in Isaiah can be confusing too, but simply these are dramatic pictures of what happens to things, in this case nation’s, that we replace God to rely on. Israel relied on Egypt instead of relying on God and God is showing through Isaiah that Egypt will be humiliated and weak. God is basically saying that we should only rely on him, everything else is just temporary, we may think it a good idea at the time, but it is weak. The sad thing is that the Israelites turned away from God, they didn’t listen to him not to go back to Egypt. All of the nations around Israel were to become weak, this is the same principle in our Christian lives, everything that is not God is weak, it is temporary. We have a great example of how putting God first and above our human rights in Philemon. Onesimus appears to have been a slave to Philemon and he ran away, but then became a Christian and a brother to Philemon. Now under the law of the land Philemon could have had Onesimus punished, but Paul was reminding him that he should be responding as a Christian and that he now had different responsibilities. So we all need to recognise that God is interested in the details of our lives, we have to always rely on God and not replace him with anything else and we have responsibilities as Christians in our every day lives to think of others and to recognise that we have been given life. Notice here too that the church meet in Philemon’s House so we do not always need halls to worship in! God bless. bless. May

May 30th

Joshua 16, Isaiah 22 and Hebrews 1. I want us to have a reflection on today’s reading from Hebrews 1:9 which talks about loving righteousness and hating wickedness. We should always love to do what is right in order to please God and Jesus such that we hate the worldly pleasures for the love of our salvation. And when we love righteousness then we must be humble, such that God exalts us, see Philippians 2:9. Therefore we should turn away from evil ways such that we preach the good news and bind up the broken hearted Isaiah 61:1. The detail of God in our lives comes out again in the land given to Ephraim and Manassah, although these were “extra” to the 12 tribes of Israel, ie Joseph’s sons, they still had their land for their descendants. We can be sure that we too will be in the kingdom when Jesus returns because God has promised us. We are expected to obey God and in the Isaiah reading we see the prophecy against the people of Jerusalem. The problem here is that they were not interested in God, they were only interested in their own pleasure, verses 2 and 13. They did not recognise that it was God who gave them water to drink, but they believed that it was their own skills that gave them the water verse 11. Because they did not acknowledge God and their past Kings who did, eg David, they suffered verse 19. Personal pride is so wrong we have to be humble in everything that we do. We have to follow God and accept Jesus and recognise that it is God that gives us life. Hebrews 2 verse 14-18. But we still have that responsibility to “not drift away” verse 1. We have to acknowledge God’s greatness in Hebrews 1, thank him for his promise of life and respect his teachings and try our best to obey him and his son Jesus every day of our lives. Read again Hebrews 2 verses 1 to 4. Yes we are shown grace, but we still have to try our best to obey. It is no good saying that we are Christians and then stealing or committing adultery or getting drunk or gossiping or getting angry, etc. We have to be like Jesus. May

May 31st

In Joshua 17 we still have the details of the dividing up of the land, continuing to show how God is interested in how this is done. Notice verse 13. God originally said that his people should drive out all of the people from the land so that they would not have an influence over them and take them away from God. This is sadly what happened, the Canaanites did influence the Jews for bad later on, verse 13. There is a picture here for us too. We are told to ensure that there is nothing in our lives that could distract us from both God and Jesus if we don’t remove it it can be a temptation for us. So we should try our best to stop things from getting in the way. Isaiah 23 has the prophecy against Tyre because Tyre became proud. Verse 9 says that God planned this to bring them low. But also after 70 years God would give them another opportunity and he had a plan that they would help God’s people in some way. So we still have God working out his plan, but that same requirement against pride. In Hebrews 3, 4 & 5 we have similar reminders that we have to do our best to follow both God and Jesus. We will share in God’s plan, if we obey chapter 3 verse 14 to 19. So if we want to be part of God’s promises we have to at least try our best chapter 4 verse 11. Because of Jesus all this is possible, chapter 4 verse 14 to 16. The picture reminders we have here from history is that the Jews actually rebelled against God, chapter 3 verse 17 (I think this word “sin” is “rebellion”) so that is why they did not have a place in the promised land during Joshua’s time. So the lesson for us is not to rebel and to also keep hold of ungodly things because these will not help us to be part of the wonderful grace that God gives. May

June 1st.

God being in control at all times. The detail is there again in Joshua 18 as the land is allocated by God, this time to Benjamin – we know it was God who did it because lots were used and God was in control of these lots – Acts 17 verse 26. It would appear that the Israelites who had still not yet taken their inheritance may have doubted a little or were content to just stay in their tents, perhaps they were just a bit worried to change so needed a prompt, verse 3. Sometimes we need prompts to move us from a way of life that just may be too comfortable and that our reliance on God is not always apparent. We noticed too that the land size of all the tribes was completely different in size to each others. Some were tiny compared with some of the others. The lesson for us is that God gives us the right things at the right time, we should not complain about someone else having more than us because all things are given by God! All this is inheritance given by God. In the Isaiah 24 reading we have the prophecy against the world nations who had some influence over Israel who don’t follow God and had their “power” and “land” taken away. Often the Bible uses the terms moon, stars, etc. to describe nations who are powerful, especially powerful in Israel and ruling from Jerusalem. The mention of “city” in verse 10 and 12 suggest Jerusalem and this is contrasted with verse 23 where God will ultimately rule from Jerusalem. These human powers then that are brought low because of their pride and not being interested in God at all, they were only interested in their own enjoyment, are described in this chapter. And when Jesus comes back they will be punished, verses 21 to 23. Notice too that despite all the ungodly actions there are still a few who remained godly, verse 6 and praised God, verses 14 to 16, there is always hope promised when disaster is pronounced by God. In Hebrews 7 we have the detailed argument, to the Jews in particular, who did not accept Jesus as saviour, they wanted to continue to follow the law of Moses, which could not save. They made the argument that Jesus could not be from God because he was not from the tribe of Levi, but the return argument is that Abraham (father of the Jews) gave to Melchizedek who was also not from Levi, in fact no one knew where he came from! So the point is being made here is that God is in control and not governed by the way humans expect them to be. We should respect what comes from God, ie Jesus who also did not come from Levi. So God has a plan for each one of us, we should humbly accept the situation that we are in and to also look forward to our better future when Jesus returns. Hebrews 7 verse 22 to 28. Those “elementary” teachings, referred to in Hebrews 6 verse 1-3, should also be left by us, we should be moving on to “maturity”, verse 4-6. it is important that we should grow in our understanding and verse 7-8 appears to repeat the lesson by saying that we should produce a crop that is “useful” to those for whom it is being farmed, so our understanding has to be demonstrated by actions, eg faith to move outside of where we are comfortable, verse 12. We have a complete confidence in God so let us trust him , verse 13-20. June

June 2nd.

In Joshua 19 we have the detail again in the continued dividing of the land, remembering that it was God dividing it if he was controlling the lots that were cast, confirmed by Acts 17 verse 26. I wonder if we have a little lesson here in verse 9 about not being greedy and holding onto things just because we have been given it, especially by God? The different Bible versions give a slightly different direction of thought from land being “too much for them” to “sharing because they had too much”. Whatever is the correct interpretation, the tribe of Judah was willing to give the extra land up for others, they were not proud. A good attitude for all of us to have as we all try to help our Christian family. It is also interesting here that Simeon had been promised a troubled life amongst his brothers for his anger in destroying the Shechemites, Genesis 34 verse 25, his father said of both him and Levi that they would be dispersed throughout the people of Israel, Genesis 49 verse 7. This was true for both these tribes, Simeon we see here and tomorrow we will read about the Levites, so we again have confidence that the Bible (God’s word) is consistent. Notice too that as promised, Joshua himself received an extra part within his tribe, Ephraim, because he remained faithful and had a complete trust in God when others failed when they first spied out the land 40 years ago. We need to also remember that there are consequences for previous actions, this is both good and bad, but either way, we must not be biased against a brother or sister who is suffering consequence, or indeed biased towards a brother or sister who appears more blessed, as was the eventual case for the Levites, Exodus 32 verse 27-29, We cannot change the past, but we can learn from it and try our best to be more faithful to God. Isaiah 25 gets us looking again to our promise of the kingdom (promised land) when Jesus comes back in the future. In this chapter we have the comparison between 2 cities, ie verse 2 (probably Moab, verse 10) vis Jerusalem, verse 6-7, described as the “mountain”, which it often is in scripture. These cities are representing 2 types of people, ie those who think in human ways vis those who think in godly ways. The human ways are pride, verse 11, the godly ways result in true joyfulness, verse 9. It seems clear that this is looking to the future when Jesus returns to set up his father’s kingdom where we have the wonderful picture of there being no more pain and suffering and death, verse 6-8. The time when there will no longer be human pride as this will be destroyed. Pride is a massively bad thing. In Hebrews 8 we have confirmation that we now have better promises, verse 6, than that of the law at the time of Moses – this is confirmed too in chapter 9 verse 23-28. It was not that the laws were wrong, it was that the people were wrong, chapter 8 verse 7-8.  We now see that the promised land,, that Joshua took the people into, is a forerunner of the kingdom, that Jesus will take us into, and we get a picture of this in verses 8 to 12. All this is made possible by Jesus, verse 28 of Hebrews 9. We rely so much on Jesus for our part in the promises so we must try our best to be like him in everything. These chapters in Hebrews show us just how much better Jesus is than the law, it had its purpose, but now we have Jesus! The fact that the law required that blood had to be shed and that animals had to die, chapter 8 verse 11-14, meant that Jesus too had to shed his blood and die, verse 15, but it means too that if we want to receive the promised eternal inheritance, we have to “put to death” the ungodly things in our lives. We are in a massively privileged place to have this opportunity because of the blood shed by Jesus, so we have to stick to our side of the “new covenant” and try our best to follow what both God and Jesus want from us. The regulations of the “first covenant”, verse 1-5, demonstrate how seriously we should respond to God’s love, even though we are not bound by these requirements any more because of what Jesus has done for as, in fact, we should be even more serious about trying to do what God wants us to do because of his, and his son’s exceptional love! June

June 3rd.

In our 1st reading, ie Joshua 20 and 21, we have the allocation of the cities of refuge and also the cities given to the Levites. The cities of refuge were for people to go to if they accidentally killed someone. Notice that when they get there they have to “state their case, chapter 20 verse 4 and then they still had to face a trial to make sure that it really was an accident.  If this was judged as true they had to stay in that city and not be handed over to the “avenger of blood”, verse 9. It is significant that all of the cities of refuge were amongst the cities that were given to the Levites, ie the religious leaders at the time, it is therefore an obvious lesson that the elders of our community have to ensure that the right and proper things are done, ie they have to investigate and enable justice to take its course correctly and as God wanted it. We are reminded in chapter 21 that all of the cities given to the Levites were “willingly” given by the other tribes, each had to give a certain amount of cities and land so that the Levites could live – the lesson for us too is that we should also respect our elders who are doing the right godly things, we should help them to be able to do their godly work to the best of their ability. It is not giving them “cities” or property, because we are not a nation, but it is enabling them to set us all good examples – 1 Timothy 5 verse 17. So we come to the end of the allocation of the land and every promise of God was fulfilled Joshua 21 verse 43-45. We can see that we can have complete confidence that God will fulfil future ones too. In Isaiah 26 and 27 we continue with the picture of the kingdom when there will be peace (chapter 26, verse 12) when those followers who have died will be raised (verse 19) etc. We have to make peace with God first (verse 5 of chapter 27) then grace always follows. It is always apparent throughout the Bible that God’s promises are conditional, for example “You [God] will keep in perfect peace him whose mind is steadfast”, chapter 26 verse 3, and also “Yes, Lord, walking in the way of your laws, we wait for you”, verse 8. Therefore, we our minds need to be “steadfast” and we have to “walk in his laws”, so although we do have a wonderful promise of salvation we still have to “do our bit!”  This wonderful situation and promise has all been brought about by Jesus as Hebrews 9 and 10 continues to say. It is He who will bring salvation to those who are waiting (9:28) we have to be patient and await God’s timely intervention. We know that without forgiveness there is no hope but if we persevere we will have the promise (chapter 10:19-25). So let us keep encouraging each other and meeting together, nothing should stop this from happening. God is merciful but we need to respect his ways, verse 26 to 29. We should always make every effort to “meet together”, especially as we see the return of Jesus getting closer and closer.  Meeting together helps us all – only by being together can we encourage each other, so those of us who can should be doing our best to meet with our brothers and sisters face to face, those who find this hard can meet via a social media platform if that is possible and those who really do struggle to meet face to face each week should try and meet up with brothers and sisters every few months. It is interesting that in verse 19-25 it is mentioned 5 times how we should think about doing something, ie to “come near in faith”, “hold to the hope”, “encourage each other to do good deeds”, “not give up meeting” and to “encourage each other”. These are similar lessons to encouraging the one accused of murder (or sin) in Judges; giving to the religious leaders and always thinking about others. My version uses the phrase “let us….” So this is how we should always be trying to think and act, ie “how can I best do this”, should be our thinking, not “I cannot do this because of….” So because of the grace that we have been shown, we should be always wanting to work out how best we can please God and Jesus, his son. June

June 4th.

There are lots of real practical lessons in today’s readings that are so simple and obvious. The main message is to “talk” to each other. In Joshua 22 we have a potentially very serious issue caused by misunderstanding. The Israelites on the West of the Jordan misunderstood the intentions of those on the East when they built an “altar” at the border, verse 10-12. Because they knew that ALL Israel would be punished if any tribe turned away from God, verse 13-20, they were prepared to go and destroy their brothers, so serious was their concern. All had started so well with Joshua reminding the 2 and a half tribes of their faithfulness in helping their brothers and also their responsibilities, verse 1-5, he reminds them that they should 1. “Love God, 2. “walk in God’s ways”, 3. “obey God’s commands”, 4. “hold fast to him” and 5. “serve him with all heart and soul”. These are the things that we should do too when we think about or are told about our responsibilities. But before the Israelites who took possession of the west of the Jordan went to war against their brothers on the east, they sent a delegation, verse 13 to 14, to the east to talk and find out what was happening. This is the right thing to do before jumping to the wrong conclusions and is something that we must always do when we hear about something that should be challenged. This delegation gave the opportunity for those on the east to explain their motives, verse 21-29. The talking and the reporting back averted a war! We all have to learn this and “talk”, do not listen to gossip and rumours and then jump to conclusions that may be wrong. But also those on the east could have helped prevent this in the first place if they had told those on the west their concerns about the future, verse 24 to 26, and explained what they were doing. It is so important to talk and explain, so many disputes between brothers and sisters would be prevented if we did this. God talks to us and it is important that we listen and respond. It is a great privilege that we have knowing about God and knowing that we are part of the promises, and therefore we have to “share”.  This includes sharing information – just as Joshua told the 2 and half tribes to share, verse 6-8, then we too should be willing to share. In Isaiah 28 we have a situation where the people in Ephraim, (ie another way of describing the Israelites), were making up their own rules and trusting in their own abilities, this led them to making agreements with other nations around them and in this case probably Egypt. They had no respect for God and boasted that they could protect themselves, verses 14 to 15. But the very things that they boasted about destroyed them, verses 18 to 19, notice that these verses are the complete opposite of each other, ie God turns their boasting back on them. We should only boast about God! If we “boast” about anything else then this ends in chaos and death – it is described here as being drunk, probably with the Egyptians, verse 7-8, and the result is meaningless talk, verse 10. This too is turned back on them by God, verse 13! We know that Isaiah is referring to Jesus in verse 16 because this is quoted in the new testament referring to Jesus, so the only wise thing is the boast in both God and in Jesus. We need to always “talk” to each other about them and not talk to each other about everyday nonsense, verses 10 and 13. We should encourage each other to do the things of God. It is only when we “talk” about the things of God that we get order as described for us by examples in verse 23-29, there is an order and a right way of doing things and by doing it God’s way “life” is what results. Hebrews 11 is a great chapter looking back at all the old testament characters who had faith and trust and “talked” about God, even if they did not fully understand at the time, eg verse 17-19. They were so much stronger than those around them because they trusted in God. All of these godly people tried to talk to and teach others to follow God. All these died in faith, verse 13, but they and we have a wonderful future promise when Jesus comes back, verses 39 and 40. We were told in Hebrews 10 verse 36 that we need to persevere and all of these godly examples in chapter 11 are people who suffered all kinds of difficulties, eg verse 32-38, yet they were all commended for their faith and looking beyond their difficulties to a better future which is what we are looking forward to too, verse 39-40. It is often the case that a strong “faith” is brought about by previous “doubt”, it is when things are difficult that an increased faith in God results, unlike the people of Israel that were described in Isaiah who trusted in themselves and in the nations around them! So we need to also admit that we are “aliens and strangers” on earth, verse 13, and also we should be looking forward to the time when Jesus returns to the earth to set up his father’s kingdom. June

June 5th.

There appears to be a clear theme in all of our 3 readings today. It is about obeying God all the time. In Joshua 23, Joshua is warning the people to be strong and careful, verse 6. This is the same advice given him by Moses, he took this advice and was a good and strong elder of the people, chapter 24:31. He was a good influence on others and set a good example, it is also noticeable that those of the elders who he worked with also continued to set that good example. In chapter 23:12-13 we have a warning about the dangers of not obeying God and not removing all the bad influences in our lives. In this case it was the people around them who God had said to destroy, in our case it is the people we mix with, the things we read, our tribal customs, etc. All these things will influence us if we do not replace them with godly things. And the bad influences will take us away from God. Why would we think of not relying on God after all that he has done, for example it was God who had driven out all the nations, verse 9-11, so why would anyone want to replace this kind of God with other things? If we do then God will ensure that those things that we replace God with will become a snare for us. When we were baptised we made a commitment to follow God and Jesus, just like the people did in Joshua 24:15, 18 and 21. Sadly Joshua knew that some of them were still keeping to the false practices and Joshua said to get rid of them, verse 23. Joshua took this so seriously that he set up a reminder to the people’s confession that they would follow God only, verse 27, reminding us again that we really do need reminders about the confessions that we have made to follow both God and Jesus. Our “witness” is our own baptism where we made the confession and then it is our weekly reminder when we break bread and drink wine, also it is our daily reading of the Bible, we always need reminders and the loving challenges from our brothers and sisters. We know that initially the Israelites did obey, but by the time we get to Isaiah 29 the people had become corrupt because they had allowed ungodly influences into their lives, verses 13 to 16. These are people who “pretend” to follow God, but really they are set on just being proud, and personal gain. But God knows what is in their hearts and brings them low. The term “Ariel” here is referring to Jerusalem and the prophecy is about the Jews living there, but the same lesson applies to us too. The people were doing just what they wanted to do and not following God, verse 11 to 12, there are similarities to 2Tim4:3 here. This is exactly what Joshua was warning about, he was worried that the people were keeping the false “gods” and that they would “change” beliefs as Isaiah says in verse 15-16! The good news is that God shows mercy by bringing them low, and producing humility and he will destroy those who destroy God’s people. So this is a warning for us to only allow God to influence us and to be confident in Jesus as is alluded to here in verse 17-21. Hebrews 12 carries on the same theme, we have to get rid of things that get between us and God, we have to fix our eyes on Jesus, because sin so easily comes, verse 1-3. We will have hardships but we should take them as discipline from God. God will help us to follow him, if we allow him to, but we are still warned to obey, verse 4-11. This picture of allowing bad influences in our lives to grow, for example greed for money, will destroy us in the end. Hebrews 12:15 is a quote from Deuteronomy 29:18 and here we are reminded that if we allow bad influences into our lives and trick ourselves and others that we are OK then God will never be willing to forgive, Dt29:20. We are saved by grace, yes, but we have to remember that God is a consuming fire, Hebrews 12:28-29. We are very privileged to be promised the kingdom, but we have to listen to God, Hebrews 12:25, because God knows what is in our hearts. There are so many reminders in this chapter of what Joshua said to the people before he died, eg, getting rid of things that tempt us (Jos24:19-23); to listen to God ((Jos24:21) and do not forget (Josh23:13). The name Joshua means “saviour” as does the name Jesus, and both focused on the salvation of the people who they taught, we need to take advice from them, especially Jesus if we want to be part of God’s promises, we need to “consider” him, verse 3. June

June 6th.

We start Judges chapter 1. As always God is full of grace – we will see in Isaiah how, despite failures, he waits and heals when people realise their mistakes and turn back to him, and in Hebrews how he does this same thing, ie via Jesus. However, note that God will punish those who reject him by disobeying him and those who try to destroy his people, for example what happened with king Adoni-Bezek, Judges 1 verse 7. The sad thing is that, despite God telling them to destroy ungodly influences, the Jews had not driven out every nation, we see this in chapter 1. Despite a good start in this chapter when the people asked God who should fight for them, verse 1, and God answered them, verse 2, we have 10 examples of where the ungodly nations were not driven out, ie verse 19, 21, 24, 27, 29, 30, 31,33 34 and 35. Why? Did they all think like the tribe of Zebulun (verse 30) that they could use the defeated people as slaves to help them in their work. We know from Judges 2 that God was not happy with this, so why did they allow this to happen? The whole point in the complete destruction of these bad influences was to actually protect God’s people from temptation and then sin so that they could have the promised life! However, these bad influences were not destroyed and that is exactly what happened, the nations around influenced the Jews and took them away from God. We too have to be careful that  we do not allow bad influences to remain in our lives; no matter how innocent they may seem, we can be taken away from God by them – even football! Isaiah 30 and 31 are prophecies against those who do what they want, eg Isaiah 30:10; they were not interested in God’s teaching any more, they just went their own way and rejected the message from God, verse 12-14. It will fail, so if we rely on human things like money, our own skills, our own decisions and our strength, God will bring them to an end. Even if we seek help from other human things, this will fail too, verse 1-7, we can see the picture of human reliance in the prophecy against Egypt, but Egypt was useless in helping them. Even when it is plain to see that man’s way is wrong and can never compete with God’s righteous ways, man often still makes that bad move, verse 15-17, when all that they trusted in to protect will fail in as dramatic a way as their hope. But God does still want us to follow him, and verse 18, shows us that he wants to be gracious to his people, he wants to save us, but we still have to follow and obey him – first he needs us to recognise our failures and repent, verse 22, and then it is in God’s kingdom that there will be plenty and rest for us, verse 23-26. So you would expect him to want us to obey him! There is a great conclusion in Hebrews 13.  Verse 7-14 tells us what the Jews forgot in Old Testament times, we need to take note and to try all the time to be like Jesus and obey his father now. In this concluding exhortation in this chapter we are encouraged to get our priorities right, verse 1-5, it is not, for example, in money (or slaves) that we should trust in, it is God who we should trust, because if we stay faithful, he will never leave us! Yes we fail and yes we all need forgiveness and we certainly need God’s grace but we still need to try and to learn from past examples in the Bible. James follows the theme of obeying and doing what Jesus did in everything. We are all given tests and trials to build our Godly characters, James 1 verse 12, but we still need to remove things that tempt us and we need to pray for help. Christianity is all about obeying, praising and acting in the same ways that Jesus acted, verse 15. The things that we are taught have to be responded to by having Godly actions. God equipped the Israelites with everything that they needed when he brought them into the promised land, even the crops and cities were there for them to take over.  They had to dedicate the firstfruits to God as an act of appreciation, praise and worship. In return all they had to do was to remove all the bad influences in their lives so that they would not be tempted, yet they did not do this properly, they left small “things” remaining and they suffered for it. So we need to learn and make sure that our priority is God, verse 20-21. June

June 7th.

The sad thing was that the Jews had not driven out every nation, we saw that in chapter 1. God was not happy with this and his angel reported this to the people, Judges 2 verse 3. This is exactly what happened, the nations around them influenced the Jews and took them away from God and as we see in chapter 3 they even attacked the people of Israel. The same pattern is followed, whilst the godly leader is alive the people followed God, verse 7, but when they died, the people went back to following foreign gods.  It is so sad that when the initial elders died the people did not know of God, verse 10-12. This is not a good picture of the people in 2 ways: 1. the elders, because they were not teaching the people very well and 2. the people because they did not listen, verse 17. This is a massive lesson for us, we have to teach our children and each other, we have to keep reading the Bible, we have to keep meeting and talking about God’s word and we have to all want to do this. Unless we keep reminding ourselves of the things of God, we will end up being influenced away from God. God will punish us for this, but he also brings healing when his people are low, verse 16. It is again sad that the pattern is repeated time and time again, ie, reject God, people brought low, people “cry to God”, God brings healing, then they reject yet again. It is so important, therefore, to keep reminding each other and teaching each other. Notice in chapter 2 verse 22 and in chapter 3 verse 1 and 4 that God left the people around them to “test” them. This “test” only came about because of their disobedience in the first place by not driving the nations out as they should have – these “tests” are as a result of sin as we will see later in James. Only when they had strong, godly leaders, did they follow God, so again we need to teach and learn, we see examples of these strong leaders in verse 9, 15 and 31.  Notice again that each time the people “did evil”, then God caused them to suffer and it was only when they cried out to God that he helped them – this is a repentance, but sadly only temporary, just a generation. Isaiah 31 is a second prophecy against those who do what they want, ie they rely on men and not on God, verse 1-3, they were not interested in God’s teaching any more, they just went their own way. We could argue and make excuses that the people wanted to see something “strong”, eg horses, chariots and horsemen (or in tanks, big guns and fighter jets!), rather than just seeing the stones that Joshua set up as a witness to their promise (Joshua 24:27) and as a reminder of God bringing them across the Jordan (Joshua 4:20-24), but they should have remembered that God is stronger than any army or problem. It is God who protects those he wants to, verse 4-5.  Human “things” will fail, so if we rely on human things like money, our own skills and our strength, God will bring these things to an end. Even if we seek help from other human things, this will fail too. We can see this picture of human reliance in the prophecy against Egypt so clearly. But God wants us to follow him, verse 6, he wants to be gracious to us, he wants to save us, but we still have to follow and obey him – it is God’s kingdom, so you would expect him to want us to obey him. We are all given tests and trials to build our Godly characters, James 1 verse 12, but we still need to remove things that tempt us and we need to pray for help. Christianity is all about obeying, praising and acting in the same ways that Jesus acted, verse 19-27. The things that we are taught have to be responded to by us then acting in a Godly way, verse 26-27, and trusting in God. So often we incorrectly expect a suffering free life, but that is not what God has promised – because of sin in the first place, we suffer and eventually die, and James is telling us that we should be “joyful” when we do suffer, verse 2-8. Suffering brought the Israelites back to a reliance on God and we can view suffering in the same way too, ie to keep us faithful and in some cases to bring us back to God. These “tests” that we experience, as did the people of Israel, build our godly characters, or at least they should do, verse 13-15. We cannot use them as an excuse to sin and therefore blame God for the sin! We have to respond to God’s love, for example we have to control our actions, verse 19-21 and 26-27, and we have to learn, verse 22-25. James gets us to think about the actual start of the Gospel of Jesus in John 1 in his words in verse 16-18, where in just a few verses we see how Jesus came from “above”, he is the “light” and the “word” and the new “creation”.  It is in Jesus that we are saved, so in appreciation we should be wanting to do what both God and Jesus want us to do.   June

June 8th.

Our readings today start in Judges with the continuing account of how Israel were always drifting away from God, he would bring them low because of their rebellion against him, then they would cry to him for help, Judges 4 verse 3. Notice that God is always listening, even after such a long time too, probably after a generation who experienced God’s grace first hand, but it is the people who have to turn to him for help and then he responds. We know from what Deborah says that God wanted Barak to free Israel this time, verse 6-7. Barak wanted Deborah to go with him to fight verse 8, I think Barak wanted the prophetess to go with him as a reminder that God was with them because he is mentioned in Hebrews as a man of faith, ie Hebrews 11 verse 32. Both he and Deborah wanted God to be in all their lives. Yes, Barak showed a lack of faith over some elements of this as Deborah prophesied that a woman would take the credit for Sisera’s death, ie Jael verse 21, confirmed by Deborah’s song, in Judges 5 verse 24-27. These were faithful women who remained Godly throughout the time of the people’s rejection of God, this is always the case when a few faithful remain. Deborah gives the full credit of Israel’s rescue to God – we see this in chapter 5, eg verse 3, 4-5, 9, 11 and 31. Once again God uses the “natural” things to fight and weaken his people’s enemies, eg presumably rain in verse 4 and the resultant flood in verse 21. Deborah always gives credit to God, thus demonstrating a stronger faith than the tribes who remained at home and who did not come out to fight like Zebulun and Naphtali, verse 18, eg 17. She gives a sobering closing thought in verse 31 too, ie may all enemies perish, but those who love God be strong like the sun. Only those who really love God have strength, so do we trust like Deborah and Barak and those who went up to battle this great enemy? In Isaiah we have this same principle again, human ways of thinking will be unsuccessful, the success only comes when we are completely on God’s side. Notice how easy it is to justify to ourselves that we are right, Isaiah 32 verse 9. They were complacent, just happy to go along with their own lives without having a full regard for God, this is just like the message conveyed in the song in Judges that Sisera’s mother could not believe that her “mighty son could not fail (Judges 5 verse 28-30). But God brought them low again.  We should not put our confidence in human things, remember that we are only strong in God. Only when we put God first will there be justice and peace, ultimately in the kingdom, but how can we ever expect peace in our lives now if we do not always put God first. As is often the case in Isaiah, there is always hope amongst destruction and we see little pictures of the future kingdom in verse 1-8 and then again in 15-20. These are pictures that we should keep in our minds too when we are suffering in any way so that we can remain hopeful of better times ahead when Jesus returns.  In our James reading we see that our belief in God and Jesus has to show in what we do to demonstrate our faith. The example starts by not showing favouritism, James 2 verse 1-11. Verses 14-26 talks about demonstrating our faith by the things that we do, both Abraham and Rahab demonstrated their faith by ensuring that God’s will was not hindered. You cannot split the two things, as is suggested by some in verse 18. The point is that anyone who says that they are one of God’s children has to ensure that what they do reflects this – people have to see that we are godly by the godly acts that we do. Yes we have to give to the poor (as is covered elsewhere in the Bible), but the examples of Abraham and Rahab are more than this, they completely followed God in practical ways even if they did not understand at the time how things would work out. I suppose the best example that we can think of is breaking bread each Sunday and preaching when we have the opportunity, or standing up for our faith and risking persecution, these are acts of faith that I think is being talked about here. We know we fail, and thank God that he is merciful, verse 12-13, but as we have seen before, we need to try to be like Jesus and therefore like God. We all want to be in the kingdom, let us try our best to be like Jesus and ask God to help us not to be complacent like the Israelites in Isaiah’s time were. But if we are in a bad place let us come near to God and ask him for help, but not leave it as late as those in Judges did! I think that the “Royal Law” of “love your neighbour as yourself”, mentioned in verse 8, occurs something like 11 times in the Bible, God stipulates it in Leviticus 19 verse 18; Jesus does the same in Matthew 5 verse 43 and Matthew 19 verse 19, but it is only possible to do this with God, Matthew 19 verse 26, which is why I think in Matthew 22 verse 37-40 that Jesus says that all the law and the prophets hang on the 2 commandments of loving God and your neighbour. Deborah recognised this too by saying that the love of God is your strength. June

June 9th.

The theme that runs through all 3 readings today helps us in our own daily lives. In Judges 6 we get this, now predictable, cycle of the people turning more and more away from God, God then brings them low, in this case very low, as the people were finding it very difficult to find anywhere safe to live and to grow crops, verse 1-6. By being low they realised again that they needed God, and they recognised this, and then God responded, verse 7-10. This principle of turning to God first and then he responds is clear in James 4 verse 7-8. God will always wait for us, but we have to make the first move. Jesus’s parable of the prodigal son is another example of this. So Israel cried to the Lord, Judges 6 verse 7, and God sent a prophet who told them exactly why they were suffering. Gideon is called – note that he is the least likely in man’s eyes to save the people and God uses the weaker things in life to do his work so that no one boasts in their own abilities, verse 15; this is also picked up in James. Gideon has respect for God and his angel, and he does what God asks. Notice how much Gideon gave, an ephah of flour is a huge amount, he gave everything to God! Verse 19. Do we? Gideon then has to do what the people should always have done, he gets rid of the things that were causing them to turn from God, verse 27. He also sacrificed more of his own food! Remember that this was in a time of lack of food and he still gave what was valuable to him and his family. His trust in God started to bring results as he started building the army to overcome their enemies, verse 33-35. Gideon had his doubts and he asked for signs in the fleece, but he was strengthened. In Isaiah 33 we have the same pictures of man’s arrogance (verse 19) and God’s mercy (verse 22). Notice how the chapter switches between thinking of man and thinking of God. For God to help us we need to turn to him, verse 2-6. This prayer acknowledges man’s weakness and God’s greatness. Man’s ways are naturally wrong, only when God is involved do things get better. Until Jesus comes back there will always be suffering, and we ourselves will have periods of suffering, but we look forward to the time when Jesus is back – we have a little glimpse of this in verse 24. In the meantime we have to do what God says, eg in verses 15-16, ie living our lives as God wants us to; this answer was prompted by the question in verse 14, ie “who can survive?”; then we will see verses 17-19, ie salvation in the kingdom. Verse 20 suggests the time of peace when the true worship of God will not move from Jerusalem (Zion) ever again.  The theme of our actions, especially what we say, is picked up in James 3 verse 1-12. Be very careful – what we say betrays what we are. What we say can cause so much damage, if we say we are Christians we have to sound like Christians all the time, yes we fail, but we need then to come near to God to confess and pray that we will become more like Jesus. Think of what wisdom is, verse 17-18, do these words describe you? They should do! The picture of horses being controlled by bits in their mouths and ships being controlled by rudders is showing us that small objects can have total control over big objects. The same is true with the tongue, it is a small part of the body, yet the words that come out of our mouths are sometimes so damaging! James 4 verse 4 is very serious, if we are friends with ungodly things and people who are “enemies” of God then we are in danger of being corrupted too. This is what happened in Judges and in Isaiah and God brought his people low as a consequence. But God is always there, waiting for us to call on him, verse 8-10. Remember that our life is nothing but a “mist”, verse 14, so take opportunities now to be like Jesus and to obey God because if we do not we sin, verse 17! Ie anyone who knows the good he should do and doesn’t do it, SINS! Simple message, simple result, we are not a friend of God unless we repent, however, he is so close that he is waiting for us to repent and be forgiven! “There is only one Lawgiver and Judge, the one who is able to save and destroy”, verse 12, ie God. Therefore, he demands our respect at all times and this includes demonstrating that we belong to God every day! June

June 10th.

In Judges 7 Gideon shows how much trust he has in God after he has experienced God’s signs in chapter 6. God said that the number Gideon had assembled in the army was too many, God gives his reasons for this, verse 2. It is important that we never take the credit for anything that we think that we are achieving, it is God who achieves things for us. 22,000 men leave his army, and Gideon still trusts! God still says there are too many and the army gets reduced to 300 men. God does not need human “power” to achieve anything, he needs us to have faith in him. We all have doubts, Gideon still did and God helped him out by telling him to go into the enemy’s camp and see what was happening, verse 13-16. This was a faithful man convinced of God’s power and he encouraged others around him that God was with them. Even though there were only a few, God brought about a great victory at a time when Israel was at one of their lowest points. Gideon was not proud when he shouted in verse 18, he was reminding the Midianites of their dreams in the night, he was using their fears that were put there by God! His men used the same cry, verses 19-21. It was God who destroyed the enemy, verse 22. Gideon did not take the credit for the achievement, Judges 8 verse 22-23, he made the point that even though he was now a judge it was God who ruled over them. Sadly Gideon appears to set a bad example here in setting up the gold ephod, verse 27, we have to be very careful about the impression that we give to others, will it cause us and them to stumble? Maybe the intention was that this ephod was to be as a reminder, but sadly it was abused and became a snare – such are the things that God warns us about! Gideon does appear to have kept the people Godly during his life, but sadly this did not last, verse 33. It is therefore so important that we teach others the ways of God so that they can lead in a godly way after we are unable to. It is so important because we know that God will not be pleased with ungodliness.  Isaiah 34 makes this completely clear. There will be judgement on the ungodly nations, just as there was in Gideon’s time, verse 2. The father of Edom was Esau, he rejected the ways of God (Genesis 25:29-34); later Edom the nation did not respect God and his people and did not let them pass through their land when Moses was leading them (Numbers 20:14-21). There are always consequences of not accepting and respecting God and God has a day of vengeance, verse 8. It does not sound a very pleasant thing, but God will bring an end to ungodliness and because he does it, it is the right thing to do – God is always right, verse 11. Sometimes we can become impatient and we want God to act now, but James 5 tells us to be patient, verse 7-11. James encourages us to learn the examples of other godly people, like Job and the prophets, verse 10-11. We can add to this the example of Gideon too because he showed complete trust in God even though, like Job, he was also suffering. We have to believe that everything is in God’s time. In the meantime, as we wait for God to act, we have to try to act like Jesus. Verses 1-6 when it talks about the reliance on wealth by the rich, it is talking about a similar principle to Gideon and the size of his original army; it is not numbers or wealth that is going to save, it is God. In fact numbers and wealth can take us away from God, so when either becomes a temptation for us, God takes it away. James has lessons for us in different situations, knowing that we do fail, but that we should be always encouraging each other to repentance, verses 19-20. So trust in God alone, remain humble, be patient, encourage each other and always be willing to respect and share, verse 13-16. Prayer is such an important part of a godly person’s life, Gideon prayed and here we have the example of Elijah who “was a man just like us”, verse 17-18, he prayed for no rain and then rain to show that God was in control. So we should pray too that God’s name be glorified. June

June 11th.

In today’s readings we have some really good examples to help us in our daily lives, and thoughts to help us as we prepare for the return of Jesus. In Judges 9 we have the terrible example of Abimelech and the people of Shechem. Neither was respectful of what God had done for them through Gideon. They had forgotten that it was their own parents who had been so fearful of their lives and had cried to God for help, (Judges 8:35). There was obviously bad teaching happening here, a warning for us! Abimelech was arrogant, proud, wanted power, had no respect and took advantage of others’ greed. The people of Shechem were only interested in how they could benefit from having Abimelech as their leader. When they rejected Gideon’s sons as their leaders, they rejected God! They killed all but one of Gideon’s sons and actually made Abimelech king which was replacing God as their king! It is a terrible thing to go against God, he always sees and no matter how long it takes he will bring justice, verse :23-24. God works in his own time and slowly the people of Shechem and Abimelech started to argue, there was no trust between anyone.  This is often the case when anyone creates an evil scheme with others, no one trusts the other and relationships break down and people replace one leader with another, verse 26-29. This is why we should always build our relationships on Godly things and not on human things. Both Abimelech and the people of Shechem came to a gruesome end. It is interesting just how greedy Abimelech was as once he had destroyed Shechem he went on to attack Thebez, he was only interested in power, and it was this greedy interest that killed him in the end, verse 50-55. Throughout all this unhappy episode God ensured that justice was brought about, verse 56-57. How can we, as Christians, act in similar ways when we have pictures of what God wants for us all the way through the Bible. Isaiah 35, is one such picture that God wants us to be part of. We use this picture to give us some idea of what the kingdom will be like when Jesus comes back. It is a wonderful, positive picture for those who follow Jesus and God, verse 1-7, ie there will be plenty and peace. Not only is this about physical things it appears to also be about spiritual things, ie Jesus spoke about the people being blind and deaf too (John9:38), so God is getting us to think about complete godliness at this time. The people will be at peace and have the good things. But the wicked fools (those who are ungodly), those like Abimelech and those who are ungodly and crave power, will not be there, verse 8. Only those who are redeemed by Jesus will be there, verse 9-10. Notice the contrast between the things of God and those of man, God will always do the right things, man will always be naturally selfish and proud. The nation Edom (who this prophecy was initially about (Isaiah 34:5)), did not let the Israelites pass through their land and closed the highway, but verse 8 shows that there will be a highway for everyone who follows God! When we come to 1 Peter 1 we see how we are made Godly through Jesus. God wants us in his kingdom, but we have to try to be holy to be there, verses 13-16. We have to remember that God judges us as individuals so we have to know this and respect this, verse 17. We have a wonderful promise, we will be in the kingdom if we try our best to follow God now. The promise to us is one of total certainty, verse 8-9 and verse 24-25. So we have to purify ourselves and have a sincere love, verse 22-23. This is not what Abimelech did, he was only interested in himself and what he could get out of life, but it should be what we are because we know that Christ died for us, verse 21. We pray for the time when “Gladness and joy will overtake them, and sorrow and sighing will flee away”, Isaiah 35 verse 10, we pray that this time will be soon because we know that suffering will continue until Jesus returns. Just as suffering was being experienced at the time of Peter because of their faith, verse 6, but we should all look beyond this to the return of Jesus, 7-9. June

June 12th.

In Judges we again see the people turning away from God, they did evil in his sight, Judges 10:6, in fact they rebelled against God. So as usual, God brought them low. Again they cried to God and acknowledged that they had sinned, verse 10, notice that they acknowledged what their sin was, ie serving the Baals. This is only the start of an important process. God rejects their appeal, verse 11-14, saying that they have forsaken him. Only when they had really repented did God help, verse 15-16. This is really important for us, before God helps us we have to change and turn around what we are doing wrong – in this case they were worshipping other gods, before God helped they had to get rid of them! Jephthah is a great example for us, he was obviously a Godly man, despite living at a time when most around him were ungodly, including his own family. He acknowledged God in Judges 11:9-10, for example, and he also knew the history of the Jews when he challenged the inaccuracies of the Ammonite King’s accusations in his letter. Jephthah was inclined to make a vow to God, again showing his godliness, verse 30. He was willing to go through with this even when the first thing that came out of his family house was his daughter, verse 35. We cannot be exactly sure what “sacrifice as a burnt offering” means but we can be sure that she was not killed, she was probably given to the service of God. But in God’s strength, he was able to free Israel from their suffering, because Israel repented. It is interesting too in Isaiah 36 how human pride and no respect of God plays a part in human thinking. The Assyrian army was proud in their own strength, they said that they had a great king, verses 4 & 13. They also knew a little bit about Israel’s history and about their “god”, but they had no respect for God, verse 18-20. The Assyrians were ruthless and depended on their own strength and we know that God brought about their destruction. Chapter 35 does paint a picture of the blessings of the Kingdom.  We are encouraged to think about a time when dry lands – deserts – will flourish; when blind people will see; disabled people will run and jump; and so on.  Verse 4 of the chapter is particularly relevant when we think of what was happening in and around Jerusalem at the time. The people – this includes King Hezekiah – were told that God will save them out of their troubles.  We are bound to ask ‘what were those troubles?’.  Chapter 36 verse 1 and 4 answers that for us. Here was a real challenge to faith.  The people of Jerusalem had been told in 35:4 to trust in God.  But now this representative of the mighty king of Assyria was challenging them – ‘what confidence is this you trust in?’  It was a challenge to their faith and a challenge to God! Before we move on through Isaiah I want us to pause and think about ourselves.  There are times when we are under pressure – in distress – not knowing how to deal with life’s problems.  Such times inevitably test our faith.  The point is that we should not read these records in the Old Testament and think of them merely as a bit of history.  These things contain lessons for us in our time.  So we need to explore how this conflict between Hezekiah, King of Judah, and Sennacherib, King of Assyria, developed. Rabshakeh was the envoy from the king of Assyria – he spoke on behalf of the king.  He tried to turn the people of Jerusalem against their King, Hezekiah. Isaiah 36 verse 13-19. We can easily imagine the impact these threats would have had on the people of Jerusalem.  But it didn’t stop there.  When we read chapter 37 tomorrow we will see that Rabshakeh sent messengers with a letter to King Hezekiah.  There are several things to note in Isaiah’s response, Isaiah 37 verse 14-20.  First, Hezekiah presented the whole of the problem to God.  So often we tend to try to solve problems ourselves and only give ‘the difficult bits’ to God.  We might even think that we have the entire solution and just ask God to put that into effect.  That’s not what Hezekiah did – he gave the whole problem to God.  The second thing to note is Hezekiah’s concern for the good name of God Himself.  If the Assyrian king were to conquer Jerusalem then God’s name would be brought low.  We need to ask ourselves whether we are that concerned about God’s Name – does it disturb us when His name is blasphemed? The end of chapter 37 tells us how God intervened and destroyed the Assyrian army.  Hezekiah’s faith in God was justified.  And God kept the promise we read in Isaiah 35 verse 4. Just like our Lord Jesus, he too was put under intense pressure by the world’s rulers. There is no doubt that Jesus had a great understanding of the future kingdom on earth.  He knew the Old Testament scriptures – including Isaiah 35 – and how they related to him.  I am sure that he believed that God would raise him from the dead after his crucifixion.  But it was still a great act of faith to die willingly.  I believe this is why we are told in Hebrews 12 verse 2 that Jesus is the ‘author and finisher’ of faith.  Our Bible translations are slightly different here but the point is the same: – any discussion about faith should begin and end with Jesus, verse 1-2. This thought about Jesus sitting down at the right hand of God is crucial to our understanding of his work as our High Priest.  Under the Law of Moses, the High Priest could only go into the Most Holy Place in the tabernacle once a year.  Before doing that he had to offer sacrifice for his own sin and for the sin of the people.  That sacrifice had to be made every time.  But with Jesus it is different – he is constantly in the presence of God.  His sacrifice was made once, and once only. This is what we remember each time we meet to break bread and drink wine together. The Apostle Peter has some thoughts on Jesus’ suffering in 1 Peter 2: 21-25. Peter refers to the fact that Jesus suffered.  His acceptance of suffering is an example for us to follow.  More than that – he suffered even though he had done no wrong.  When he was insulted and mistreated he did not respond – he left judgement to God.  That is what Hezekiah did too.  It is an example we should try to follow in our lives. Verse 24 is very clear.  Jesus took our sins upon himself.  And now, with a new life in Christ, we are freed from the burden of our sinful nature and live to righteousness.  1 Peter 2 tells us how we should watch our human tendencies in order to be more Christlike in all that we do. All ungodly people stumble, verse 8. But those who profess to be Godly are supposed to be separate (holy) and a people belonging to God, verses 9 – 12, therefore we have to be doing good deeds so that others will glorify God. There are so many lessons in Peter to help us not be like those ungodly people we have just read about. So our lessons here are to always put God first, all the time, no matter what happens in our lives. Jesus suffered for us to save us, so we take strength from this knowledge. June

June 13th.

Our readings today have the same theme that runs all the way through the Bible, that theme is pride v humility. We have seen this a number of times in the readings recently, and real warnings are repeated for us multiple times. In 1 Peter 3 verse 8 we are told to be “humble”, chapter 5 verse 5-6 repeats and reminds us that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. It is grace, God’s free gift to us, that allows us to seek forgiveness and gives us the promise of life in God’s kingdom when Jesus comes back, verse 10-11. Knowing this in itself should make us want to change and not be proud but to be humble. Remembering that there is nothing that we can do on our own that will bring us to salvation. Peter shows us many times in these chapters today, ie 1Peter 3, 4 & 5 that, as Christians, we are likely to suffer now, but when we do to “commit ourselves to God”, 1Peter 4 verse 19. We always have to look for lessons in our readings to help us be more like Jesus and to try to do what God wants. Even the examples that we have in Peter that do not actually mention pride or humility are still actually teaching us about humility, for example how wives respond to their husbands, chapter 3 verse 1-6; how husbands respond to their wives, verse 7, and how the elders should respond, chapter 5 verse 1-4. It is how we respond to any situation that demonstrates how godly and how much like Jesus we are! So we should be just like Jesus and be self controlled and loving, chapter 4 verse 7-11, and even more so as the return of Jesus is close. We have a few examples of how people failed because of pride both in Judges and in Isaiah. Judges 12 gives the example of Ephraim’s pride, they should have known better, but they showed a total lack of respect for God and none for their brother! Judges 12 verse 1-3. Ephraim wanted part of the spoil, they were jealous and they thought that they were the better tribe! They actually had a history of pride, for example they complained to Gideon in Judges 8 verse 1-3. There are always consequences when pride and jealousy are involved, it is the same for us now as it was for them then. And God brings low those who are proud, verse 6. It is a sad human trait that we can all easily fall into if we are not careful. The Israelites certainly fell back into evil ways after the death of Jephthah, notice the possible gradual slide, verse 9, they allowed daughters to intermarry, something that God warned them not to and then we have this possible demonstration of wealth by so many children all being able to afford a donkey to ride, verses 13-15. Is this pride? It certainly did not stop Israel becoming evil again, Judges 13 verse 1. Judges 13 is the account of Samson’s parents as God “began” to bring about deliverance again. It would appear that Manoah’s wife was more Godly than Manoah himself – it took a long time for Manoah to realise that the man speaking to his wife was an angel, verse 16 and then verse 21. The angel certainly appeared to her first, verse 3 and 9; the account that she told her husband was accurate and she had greater understanding, verse 23 – notice that no additional information was given to Manoah. It looks as if Manoah could have been proud and jealous of God’s revelation to his wife instead of him, just like Ephraim was jealous that God worked through Jephthah and not them. The lesson here has to be that we should rejoice in others’ achievements and humbly accept them, rather than have pride and challenge them. Imagine if we were all humble and considered our brothers and sisters to be better than ourselves how better our relationships would be! Just think of the complaints that you have had about others this week, were those bad thoughts caused by your pride? The lesson in Isaiah 37 is obvious. Sennacherib was proud, verse 23-24 and God brought an end to him and his army, verse 36-38. He was such a proud and arrogant man, in everything that he writes this is so obvious, eg verse 11-13, and as we read in Peter, God knows, confirmed in Isaiah’s response about him to Hezekiah, verse 23-25. And God knows everything, verse 28-29. Compare this with the humility of Hezekiah when he learned of Sennacherib’s insults, verse 1, showing how he humbled himself in putting on sackcloth, and how he went to God first and in humility prayed and acknowledged God and the danger that he was in, verse 14-20. His response brought about a great impact in how God responded verse 21 and 30-35. God carried out his promise and saved the people at that time, verse 36-37, and the proud were destroyed, verse 38 – interesting that everything that Sennacherib boasted about came to nothing! So the lesson for all of us is – do not be proud about anything, humbly give all glory and credit to God. Pride is so dangerous! June

June 14th.

In 2 Peter 1 verses 3-4 we read that we have been given everything that we need. We do have to encourage each other with these promises that we have from God, verse 12-13, because sometimes we feel unable to believe this, especially if we are suffering at the time, but God tells us that we do have “everything” that we need! We do not have any idea about what our future human life will bring, but we do know that when Jesus comes back we will have peace as we worship God with nothing stopping us. I know that 2 Peter 2 is talking about corrupt human beings and how they have falsely used things of God to better their own lives, they have been greedy (verse 3) they have been bold and arrogant (verse 10) and people who act like this will be stopped by God, in God’s time. The examples that we have of people in verses 4-10, show us just how much God dislikes sin, and that he will judge those who abuse his grace and mercy and also his people. (“Angels” in verse 4 just means messenger, so they are human beings who should have been passing on God’s message properly, whereas the “angels” in verse 11 were godly angels who had a right to accuse humans, but do not because that is God’s role). Even though all this is about man, we can still take confidence from the message, because God will put right all that has gone wrong. There is a warning there for us of course, verse 20-22, we have seen the things of Jesus so we have a responsibility to follow God now. So because we know all these things we have to make “every effort” to be like Jesus, 2 Peter 1 verse 5-9. These are the characteristics we should have no matter what problems we may be experiencing in our lives. Therefore, verse 10-11, we will receive our reward – this is what we need to be reminding each other about all the time, ie things will get better when Jesus comes back, this is the whole point of God’s message of the gospel. Therefore, with this knowledge, we should be “more eager” to make our “calling sure” by being like Jesus, 2 Peter 1 verse 10-11. This is a wonderful thing so we need to really listen to and follow what God wants, verse 20-21. In our Judges reading we have the account of Samson’s mission. He was called by God, Judges 14 verse 6, we know that God was in control. Samson, as directed by God, was manipulating the Philistines to provoke them, his engagement to be married was a trigger for trouble and we see the outcome in the chapter. Chapter 15 shows how Samson goes on to provoke further, again as directed by God, and during this time Samson starts to oppress the Philistines. We have lots of detail here in Samson’s life, that maybe we do not fully understand, his parents didn’t, Judges 14 verse 3-4, they were right to challenge him because he should not be marrying someone who is not an Israelite. This verse 4 is particularly important to help us understand why these sometimes strange events happen, it was because all this “was from God, who was seeking an opportunity to confront the Philistines”. Like his parents, we are not always sure of what is going on, but we can be sure that God is working. In this case Samson helped Israel as he led them for 20 years. Hezekiah recognised God working in his life, when he had a problem he immediately turned to God, Isaiah 38 verse 2-3, an important point here is that at this time Hezekiah had followed God “wholeheartedly”, so what he said then was true. He had done this before and he was doing it again. He also recognised that somehow his suffering was for his benefit, verse 17-19. This is a great attitude to have and to use trials as a learning opportunity, we do not know why things happen, but God is in control. He deals with things in his own time frame, so we pray for patience, because we know that when Jesus comes back we will be saved, Isaiah 38 verse 20. Hezekiah’s account from verse 9 does demonstrate to us that he was godly and accepted everything from God, whether happiness or times of suffering, he was confident that there was a reason for everything. Interestingly too at this stage Hezekiah did not have a son, so like Abraham he would have had a faith that somehow God would allow the kingly line of Judah to continue.  There was no way that he would understand how because he had been told he was going to die, verse 1 and that his boil he was suffering from was going to kill him, verse 21, so it is no wonder that he asked for a sign that he would get better, verse 22 – yet God answered this too, verse 7-8. So the lesson for us is to trust in God no matter what. June

June 15th.

In our 2 Peter 3 reading today we are reminded that we always need reminding to think like both God and Jesus, verse 1-2. If we are serious about our faith we cannot become complacent. We have to be Christians every single day and the examples that we have in both of our old testament readings are good examples of Godly people actually becoming complacent. But staying in Peter for now. We should make “every effort” to follow what God wants, verse 14-15. Again we are reminded that we have to be patient, we have to try to be “spotless and blameless”, this means always being aware of and respecting both God and Jesus. And Peter reminds us to always be aware, verse 17-18. The more trouble that we see in the world should remind us that we have already been told to expect it, eg verse 10-11. Notice Peter asks the question “what kind of people you should be”. The knowledge of the things in the bible, about God, Jesus and the kingdom have to have an impact on our lives, we have to be “holy” (separate) and live “godly lives”. It is important how we behave all of the time. Also if we are trying our best, we should not fear the return of Jesus, we know that these things are going to happen and verse 12 says that we should “speed its coming”, so we should be praying for this time to come and not fearing it. God’s judgement will come, verse 13, but we should be looking forward to God’s time of judgement, so it is not a time of fear for us. There will be people around us who ridicule our beliefs and say “where is this coming”, verse 3-7, so we have to keep our faith strong because we know that God will send Jesus back, but also that some will not believe this. There are some confusing things in Judges 16, some of the things written are not what we expect, eg Samson spending the night, or part of it, with a prostitute, so maybe Samson was getting a bit complacent after 20 years of leading Israel and he had built up a reputation of being a strong man and he was feared, therefore this “power” contributed to his bad judgment. Or maybe he only just gave the allusion that he was sleeping with her because his intention was to use his God given strength to challenge the Philistines and since he had the strength to do this still, it seems unlikely that he was deliberately sinning with a woman, verse 1-3. He then falls in love with Delilah, verse 4, and the Philistines use her to get at Samson. She is not very loyal to Samson but he uses this to humiliate his enemies and plays the game. Sadly it goes too far and Samson eventually confesses the reason for his strength, verse 17, and therefore has his hair cut, which broke his vow with God. We too can easily become complacent if we do not continually show respect to God, so this account is a warning to us. Samson thought everything would happen as before, verse 20. But the power that he used was not his, but God’s, and God had left him. He was subdued. However Samson realised his mistake and repented and took the opportunity to act properly for God again, verse 28-30, notice that in his death more of God’s enemies were killed than in his life! Despite his mistakes, he was a man of faith and he is listed in Hebrews 11, so like David, Samson was a godly man. Hezekiah in Isaiah 39 also became complacent and proud in his later years, notice he says “my” a number of times in verse 4 when answering Isaiah’s questions. He did not give glory to God for what God had given him and this is so sad because God had given Hezekiah 15 extra years of life. Hezekiah appears not to have the right attitude in verse 8, perhaps he should have prayed for forgiveness for not giving glory to God, rather than thinking that he would be OK? He is so typical of human nature and we must all be aware of this danger and always try to be humble in all that we do. So as Peter says we should “look to the teachings” in the bible to find lessons to live our lives more like Jesus and not to become complacent and proud. June

June 16th.

In our 1 John 1&2 reading we have some really good, logical teaching on how the messages from God have to have an impact on the way that we live. The section in 1 John 2 verse 15-17 should make us think about where our love is, do we love the world or do we love God? We are probably all going to say “God”. Really? Is that always true? We all often fail to live up to the expectations of how one who says they are God’s, behaves. And because we know we fail we confess and we are forgiven, 1 John 1 verse 9. No one can ever say that they have not sinned, 1John 1 verse 8&10. However, we still have the responsibility to try to do what God and Jesus want us to do. 1 John 1 verse 3-6, we have to try and obey his commands. John writes a lot about this and how we should obey if we say that we are a Christian. God’s love is made complete if we obey him, chapter 2 verse 5. John uses very strong words here he says that “if we say that we love him and then do not do what he says then we are a liar”. Are we liars? Verse 6 says that if we claim to live in Jesus we “must walk as Jesus did”. So the obvious response to this is that we would have to find out how Jesus walked, this involves reading, or having someone else read to us, and learning how he walked, what he believed and how he lived. We cannot just say that we love him and then do what we want, we have to be like him in everything we do – or at least try our best to be like him. It is so obvious from these words of John that we have to live in the way that we were taught, for example, verse 9-11, ie we cannot claim to be in the “light” (of God and of Jesus) and then hate our brother – if we do we are described as being in darkness! Because we have been forgiven, verse 12-14, we can have no fear and will not be ashamed when Jesus comes back, verse 28-29. Our Isaiah 40 reading reminds us just how powerful God is. He made the plants, the stars and there is nothing equal to him. The nations are nothing, man is nothing compared with God. It is so sad that man still tries to replace God, in this example it is with an idol, verse 18-20. It is madness that people do this, how can they replace God with something man made?! Anything, absolutely anything that replaces God is temporary, it will “topple”. So what things are in danger of replacing God in your lives? Is it power, is it money, is it your family, is it your status in the community, all can replace God if we do not keep control. There is no hiding place from God, verse 27, he knows if we are living in the “light” or the “dark” and he wants us to be in the light and he wants to give us the kingdom, verse 30-31, So how can we not remain with God and with his son Jesus when we know that it was God who created everything and not some human made idol! In Judges 17 and 18 we have this very strange situation where no one checked with God what to do. Judges 17 verse 6 says that everyone did what they saw fit, they had not checked what God saw fit! There was a sort of religion, whether this was Micah’s mother, Micah, the Levite and the Danites but it was corrupt and wrong. Micah tried to set up his own religion, the Levite was only interested in the one who provided money and then the offer of power, Judges 18 verse 19-20, notice the priest was “glad” as he now had a better offer. The Levite should have been a godly religious leader, but he was weak and only interested in himself and what he could gain from the situation and this is what happens if we deviate from what God wants from us – we can have a sort of Christianity, but is it really what God wants? Did the Levite give the right advice in verse 6, I doubt it, he was certainly wrong in using idols, verse 19-21. This is a terrible situation to get into, they had forgotten that it was God who helps, Isaiah 40 verse 11 and 31 again. We can never say that God is unaware of what we are doing, verse 27, because God is always aware, verse 28-30. Our God is real, he is the creator, so how can we ever think of replacing him? 1 John 1 verse 5-7, we need to try to be in the “light” all the time, ie following God and his son Jesus; we will fail, but we have forgiveness if we try and change because we now have Jesus. June

June 17th.

We have 2 great chapters in 1 John 3&4. Chapter 4 verse 19-21 sums up and reminds us again, how our confessed love for God has to be translated into love for all those around us, especially for our brothers and sisters. We cannot say that we love God and then do bad things to each other – it is simply not right that a Christian should lie to, cheat or deceive a fellow Christian. There is also so much confidence in these chapters for us, all because what both God and Jesus have done for us. God loved us first by sending Jesus to save us and this is even more amazing because we have not done anything to deserve it – this is grace! Chapter 3 verse 1-3, reminds us of God’s love and that we are his children who will be like him when Jesus comes back, therefore because we have this grace and hope we should be trying to be like Jesus in everything. We have a warning too not to be “led astray”, chapter 3 verse 7, we should always try to do what is right. We know that so often we fail and it is good for us to have a conscience, verse 20, because we know what we should be doing and are then able to seek repentance when we do fail. But it is knowing what God wants that is key to all our understanding and also having a respect of God all of the time. John gives the example of what can happen when this knowledge and respect fails, by reminding us of Cain, verse 11-15, Cain was ungodly and he killed his brother out of jealousy – Note here that John reminds us of what Jesus said… that hate and anger is the same as murder! Our Judges reading, chapter 19, is another example of when things go terribly wrong. Verse 1 is that  very telling verse, “in those days Israel had no king.” God wanted to be their king and they basically rejected him, they had no respect for him or his laws and they did their own thing. So many things had gone wrong beforehand that inevitably resulted in the things written about here. If the Levite had loved God he would not have taken a concubine, if her father had loved God he would not have kept delaying the Levite, verse 7,etc. If the men of Benjamin loved God they would not have wanted to have had sex with the Levite, they would not have raped and caused the death of the concubine and if there was love of God the old man who did try to protect would not have been in the situation that he was in. So whenever we move away from God in any decision, there are sad consequences. Sadly there are so many consequences in our lives after we have made ungodly decisions. So God has to be first. In Isaiah 41 we continue with the contrast between God and idols, ie those things that we trust in that replace God and it is repeated here how worthless these idols are. It is only God who guides us, verse 13, it is only God who helps us, verse 10, it is only God who will stay with us, verse 17. God knows everything and this God who also made and controls, loves us, so we need to love each other and encourage and help when we can. 1 John 3 verse 16. June

June 18th.

1 John 5 will be the starting place of thoughts on readings today. Verses 1-5, shows the principles – we have to believe that Jesus is the son of God and obey him; we must love both God and Jesus and we should carry out God’s commands. By doing this we overcome the world and have life in God’s kingdom when Jesus comes back. We have a wonderful promise that we have “life”, this is the everlasting life that is referred to here rather than human life, so this involves life in the kingdom. We only have this “life” in Jesus. We thank God for this wonderful confidence that we have, all because God provided Jesus for us! So because we know this we all should try not to sin, verses 18-20. John says that we do sin and we pray for forgiveness as we repent and he makes a plea to us that we do not replace God with an idol, verse, 21, because then we would not have forgiveness. It is important that we always try to obey God’s commands. In Judges 20 we are again reminded of the consequences of disobeying God. When the Israelites learned about the terrible things that their brothers the Benjamites did to the Levite’s concubine they were appalled, but they investigated too and they gave the rest of the Benjamite tribe the opportunity to give up the wicked men, verses 3 and 13. Sadly they did not listen. The Israelites did ask God what they should do and God said go. Things did not go well to start with and we can speculate on the reasons why this was, but the message I get from this is that when a brother or sister sins, all suffer. The Israelites also lost men in battle as well as the Benjamites. Everyone is affected… if we love God, we should also love our brothers and sisters, and we should be aware that our mistakes and sins do affect others. We should always all remember that there are consequences to the mistakes that we make, obviously when we do we bring pain to both God and to Jesus, but sometimes it is easier to see the consequences when we look at what we have done to our brothers and sisters and those around us. Isaiah 42 is another reminder for us that God is always aware and is always there even when his people turn away from him. The ultimate servant of the Lord is Jesus, but throughout this chapter we see God wanting to lead his people. We get the pictures of Jesus here saving people, us! But we also get the picture of people who should know better but who are blind and deaf, verse 18-20. They appear to be those who say that they love God, but their actions do not demonstrate this, eg Romans 2:21-22. As Isaiah says in 42:24, it is against God that we sin! We have been given a great promise of life in the Kingdom when Jesus comes back, we are only there by grace, but we try to obey God in everything. June

June 19th.

Looking at all of today’s readings, but starting in Judges 21, we conclude that there is a real danger in doing things our own way and not following God’s ways. So many things had gone wrong in Israel because the people did not have the right godly attitude, they had God as their king, but they did not accept this. Judges 17 typifies how far they were away from God with the building of idols and a Levite, who should have known better, agreeing, for a wage, to become a priest to Micah – verse 6 starts to sum up the situation that they were in – “… everyone did as he saw fit.” This is what we all should guard against. The consequences of not completely following God’s instructions by driving out all the nations from the land that God gave them had resulted in Dan not taking up their inheritance, so they took the law into their own hands to do something about it (Judges 18); they took Laish in battle and set up the Levite as their priest and Micah’s idols as their gods. Although they appeared religious, no one seemed to take God seriously and to properly find out what he wanted. The gruesome account of the death of the Levites’ concubine in Judges 19 demonstrates again how far the people had moved away from God, it also resulted in the war with Benjamin (Joshua 20) which then led to the difficulties encountered in Judges 21. The people had deviated from God, made various oaths that were not thought through and not required by God in the first place; they had been fighting amongst themselves and now they embark in further unacceptable deception in trying to keep themselves “pure”. It helps to read this chapter and the preceding chapters, knowing what the last verse says, ie :25. “everyone did as he saw fit”! A reminder for us to guard against this! This is a terrible situation to be in, because they were so far from God. Their previous poor choices have now made the consequences of sin worse! If they had followed God in the first place they would not be in this situation where they needed wives for the Benjamites! They had no godly reason not to give their own daughters to the Benjamites as wives, so they made this unnecessary vow that they were now stuck with and the consequences were that the Benjamite tribe would die out. There is no record of God replying to any of their cries to Him, so as the last verse says, they did their own thing. Yes, they looked like they were trying to worship, verses 2-4, but were they really being godly? Their plans for getting wives do not appear to be godly at all, certainly their suggestion of deception in taking the girls from the fields was not godly. Their oath to punish those who did not come to Mizpah was not from God either, verse 5. They appeared to be forcing a form of godliness, without having the right heart. This is something that we have to learn from too, our Christianity has to be from the heart, we have to really mean it and really love both God and Jesus. It is so sad when anyone does things their own way and not God’s way. We have to be so careful in our lives now to check that we are doing things God’s way and that we are not picking and choosing the bits that we find easier or more acceptable. In Isaiah 43, we do see the wonderful love and long suffering of God and we are reminded that Israel are God’s witnesses, verses 10-13. God has always used Israel as a proof of his existence and power and that he is indeed God. He gives added reasons for them, and now us today, being his people, verses 4, 21 and 25 show that we are precious, honoured, loved, we were formed for and to praise God and he wants to forgive us for his benefit. It is really amazing just how much God loves us, despite our continued failings, and we thank God for this! This does not mean though that we can continue to do our own thing without respect of God because there are still consequences as verse 28 says. Isaiah 43 is full of salvation and God always has, and always will, bring his people back to him. We have little pictures of past, present and future in this chapter and we look forward to the time when Jesus will be back and we will praise God continually. Here we are reminded that it is God alone who is the saviour (verse 11) and it is him who we should be trying our best for as we wait. In the meantime we learn from these readings to obey God and in 2 John and 3 John we learn how we can try to follow and to please God. Love is obeying his commands, 2 John verse 6. This is not a new commandment, love is the centre of being godly. When love for God weakens, so do our principles and so do our actions. John tells us to be aware that there will be deceivers who do not acknowledge Jesus as having come in the flesh, verse 7, describing these as the antichrist. Jesus was love, he loved us so much that he gave his life for us; this is how important love is to us, so we must be prepared for people wanting to change God’s teachings, but we must be careful not to fall into the same mistakes as were made in the past to change to something more widely acceptable and then displease God. In 3 John verse 11 we see how our response to that love can be seen in 2 different ways, if we “imitate evil” we have not “seen” or experienced God’s love, ie if we do “what is good” then we are seen as being “from God”. So love is seen in the way that we live – which is why we need to continue to read, to encourage each other and to try and understand what “good” is. Being in this “truth”, therefore, is demonstrated by our actions and how we live our lives everyday. Our religion is not just a set of actions that we go through once a week, it is a whole way of life where we try to obey God every day. God’s people in Judges deviated from the ways of God and ended up making very poor choices, and John is writing these 2 letters to church members to encourage them not to make similar mistakes and as a result, make poor choices. John refers to “walking in truth” and he says that he was happy when brothers and sisters walk in this way, eg 2 John verse 4 and 3 John verse 4; we have an example in 2 John verse 6 of what it means to walk in this way, in these examples it is: i) “love one another” and ii) “walk in obedience to his commands”. This demonstrates love, and we notice from verse 4 that this is what the “father commanded us” to do, so “walking in truth” means that we should be trying to be like God, our father who is love who always does “right” actions.   Our “walking in truth” should be shown by our actions to all, but especially  towards each other, therefore showing love to each other means thinking of others’ needs and doing what we can to help each other prepare for the kingdom. This is the important part in this teaching, which sometimes means that we have to lovingly challenge when things are wrong, no one challenged the Levite in Judges and sad situations resulted; the Jews too they refused to listen and sad situations resulted; in the same way we are not really helping our brothers and sisters walk to the kingdom if we ignore things that we believe are wrong. So encouraging each other is not just about nice words (which are important), but it also includes showing the same love that is shown to us by God and demonstrated in the life of  Jesus.  Godly love is kind, gentle, peaceable – but it also “does not rejoice in evil but rejoices with the truth” (1 Corinthians 13:6).  So it will mean encouraging right behaviours and attitudes in each other, and discouraging ones that are not right or helpful in our walk to the kingdom. Another aspect of “walking in truth” is perhaps what John goes on to say in verses 7-11.  It appears to involve right and wrong teaching, in particular in relation to the nature of Jesus, but also including all aspects of God’s (and Jesus’) teaching because immediately after John says that we need to love one another, he makes it clear that part of loving is to keep separate from those who hold and promote wrong teaching. The bible says how important “truth” is, eg Joshua 24:14, 1 Samuel 12:24, Psalm 51:6 and Psalm 145:18. So it is important that we ensure that we base our actions on what God wants them to be, only this way will ensure real love and that we do not do things our own way! But despite our human ways, if we try our best to follow God we have this wonderful confidence for the future. 1John 4 verse 7-21. June

June 20th.

We have been sad about how often Israel turned from God during the time of the Judges and we have also taken warnings from their ungodliness. However, we also know that there always were some godly people and the account in Ruth 1&2 is one example of godliness during a period when the nation itself was mainly far from God. It was probably in weakness that Elimelech took his family to Moab during a time of famine, Ruth 1:2. He probably intended to only go there for a short time, verse 1, but maybe he became comfortable and settled. He and his 2 sons died. So faithful Naomi decided to go back to Israel, verse 6. In the end Ruth went with her, verse 16-18. Naomi recognised that her situation was desperate with all that she suffered and she voiced this in verses 20-21 – Naomi had lost everything. The best thing that Naomi did was to teach Ruth about God, this is what was important to her and had an impact because Ruth put all the things that she learnt about God into practice and is an excellent example for us. Naomi and Ruth were destitute when they returned to Israel, but Ruth immediately got to work to help them both, Ruth 2:2. Over a short period of time she became known for her good work, verse 11-12, so much so that Boaz, also a Godly man, helped her, verse 8-9. People around us see how we act and make judgements on what they see, so lesson for us is to remember that we have to act in godly ways all of the time. We also see God working in this account too as he does in our lives too. The message of Isaiah 44 includes that of remembering that God is in control, verse 2, so do not be afraid. God is reminding us how powerful he is and how he created everything and that there is no other God, verses 6-8. God shows us too how worthless “idols” are and how futile trusting in them is, because they cannot save! Anything that replaces God can be an idol, so we all need to be aware of this and ensure that we do not make an idol out of anything! Jude is a short letter again reminding us of old testament people who should have known how to act in Godly ways, but they failed. In fact they deliberately misused the grace of God as a reason to behave badly, verse 4. They knew that God was a forgiving God so they deliberately sinned, but they forgot that God judges righteously and they will be punished for their rebellion, verse 6. Jude uses very strong and graphic words here to remind us all that rebelling against God just will not work. The lesson for us is clear, we should build ourselves up in the faith, pray and wait for Jesus to come back when he will give us eternal life, verse 20-21. As Ruth’s actions were godly, so must ours be, verses 22-23. And our closing prayer is, verses 24-25. June

June 21st.

Practical thoughts on today’s readings. Isaiah 44 (yesterday) mentioned God as the “redeemer”, verse 22-24, in Jesus we are redeemed and in Ruth 3&4 we have a practical example of redemption that we can see a picture of Jesus in as a reminder for us. We always need reminders, it was one of the reasons why Jude wrote his letter, Jude verses 3&5. Boaz is the redeemer in Ruth 2:20 and chapters 3&4 shows how this worked out in practice in a godly way. Naomi had nothing, she knew that Ruth had nothing either, humanly speaking they had no future, but they trusted in God and in God’s laws. At that time the law allowed for the family line to continue if families fell on hard times and if there were no heirs. Naomi knew this was possible to work out, but also God was guiding events. It is obvious just how Godly Naomi, Ruth and Boaz were by the things that are recorded about them. They all respected each other and more importantly respected God. Ruth 4 tells us how Naomi encouraged Ruth to visit Boaz and respectfully tell Boaz that she would be willing to marry him so that she and Naomi could carry on the family line. Ruth 4:10-13, again by her actions, Ruth demonstrates her godliness. Notice again too that her kindness was rewarded, verse 15. Chapter 4 tells us how Boaz went about redeeming land and Ruth and Naomi. Not only is this account a great example of respect for God by their actions it is also a significant moment in the genealogy of Jesus, verses 18-22. The account too reminds us of Jesus in that he redeems us, that is we come with nothing of value to God and God redeems us via Jesus (we can see this in Boaz). Jews (seen in Naomi) and gentiles (seen in Ruth) can all be saved if they trust and obey (redemption). We know that God worked in their lives and we are confident that God works in the nations too. Isaiah 45 shows how God used a nation to bring the Jews back to the land of Israel. This prophecy was about Cyrus (:1) who would work for God. The prophecy was fulfilled in Ezra 1, perhaps 200 years later. Actually naming Cyrus shows us how much detail God is interested in. Cyrus was not a godly man, verse 5, but God used this event to demonstrate that he is the Lord, verse 3. We take great comfort from this chapter because God is in control of individuals’ lives and nations. The ultimate situation is Jesus’s return and the setting up of God’s kingdom when everyone will turn to God, verses 22-25. No matter what our problems are now, we take great comfort from the knowledge that the earth will be inhabited, verse 18. We are all encouraged to try and obey God and to live Godly lives. Jesus gave a message to John in Revelation 1&2. The 7 churches are typical of the same situations that we all go through in our Christian lives today, so we should be prepared to take lessons from here too. The first 4 churches are in chapter 2, each letter to the elders there has help for us. Ephesus worked hard, did good deeds, suffered hardship, did not compromise in their beliefs, etc, but they had forgotten their first love, verse 4. Perhaps they had forgotten their reasons for their beliefs, ie a love of God. Smyrna was suffering poverty, they were also suffering slander from the Jews and it looks as if they would be persecuted by the Romans, but they were commended for their faith. It is interesting that this was a good group of brothers and sisters, maybe because they were poor they had no distractions to take them away from God. Pergamum, even though they lived in an ungodly place, were true to God’s/Jesus’ teachings and remained strong even though they were persecuted. But they still had members there who did wrong things, eg followed Nicolaitan teaching – this probably means mixing Christian teaching with human teaching to “comply” with the people around them, it was a compromise. But Jesus said “repent” because it is wrong. Thyatira was fill of love, good deeds, etc, but they also had let things slip and similar to the brothers and sisters at Pergamum, they were also compromising with those around them to appear to be more like them. In 3 of these 4 examples the brothers and sisters are told to repent and to get those members who are acting ungodly to repent, otherwise Jesus will come and judge them severely, perhaps with no further option to repent. We all have a responsibility to love and obey God, we have been redeemed in Jesus, we have been promised the kingdom so we need to learn lessons from examples in the bible to live godly lives and to be recognised as being a child of God. June

June 22nd.

During the good and bad times during the Judges another godly family is presented to us in 1Sam 1. Elkanah was a godly man and so too was Hannah, one of his wives. In the old testament we do have accounts of multiple wives, but this was not the way that God wanted it, the new testament teaches 1 man, 1 wife, as it was at creation, ie 1 man, 1 wife. This family account shows how things go wrong when there is more than 1 wife, verse 5-8. Elkanah preferred Hannah and gave her more things and Peninnah kept provoking her – this was not a happy household! We can take practical lessons from this when we think about our actions and the impression that we create. Hannah was faithful and desperately wanted a child and she shared her needs with God, verse 10 – 11, an excellent example for us to follow too. There is a lesson here too about making judgements on others, verse 12-13, Eli wrongly assumed that she was drunk! It shows how bad Israel were at this time that this was his reaction with people coming to worship God! But we all do need to investigate the situation first before we make judgements. Hannah confirms that she is not drunk and explains why she was praying. Hannah successfully becomes pregnant and fulfilled her vow to God, verses 25-28. Everything that Hannah did was centered around God, eg verse 20. She is a good example for us. In Isaiah 46 God is again reminding us that we need to “listen” to him and “remember”, verses 3&8&12. if we want to have a part in his promises we do need to do these things as Hannah did. We cannot replace God with idols, and we are reminded yet again how worthless any type of idol is and how temporary it is, God is our only help! God will help us if we respect and respond to him, verse 4. Hannah suffered many years and it was only in God’s own time that he intervened. Babylon trusted in their own power and abilities, Isaiah 47 and God is very critical of them because they were so ungodly and they would be punished, verse 11. Their own strengths would not help them, verse 10. We get similar lessons in the last 3 of the 7 letters, by Jesus, to the groups of brothers and sisters in Revelation. Sardis (Rev3:1) was a church that looked as if they were Christian and doing the right things, but they were in fact “dead”. The way that they were acting was not right, verse 2, and Jesus tells them to wake up. “Remember” he says, verse 3, and change direction (repent). We always have to ensure that our motives are right, because Jesus knows what they are! He will make a judgement on us as he does here when he says that there were a “few” who were OK , verse 4. The Philadelphian Church was considered by Jesus to be very good, they kept his commands, verse 10 and their deeds were good, verse 8. He encouraged them to hold on, verse 11, because they would be saved. At the time they were being persecuted by the Jews, verse 9 and they felt vulnerable and we feel vulnerable sometimes too, eg worries about Covid-19, but let us take courage that God is aware of our situation and he will never leave us. The church at Laodicea was in a bad way, they appeared to be content in their own abilities and riches, verse 15-17 they were very poor in godly things and Jesus says to change and learn from him, verse 18. It is important, therefore to always find out what God and Jesus want us to do, we do this by reading the Bible, praying, discussing and doing what God wants. Jesus always rebukes those he loves, verse 19. Jesus may soon come back, verse 20, but we can only recognise Jesus’ voice if we are learning about him now. So the message is to “listen”, verse 22. Rev4 is a picture of God and the worship of him by those who do overcome. So we need to fix our eyes on both God and Jesus every day of our lives as we wait for Jesus to return to set up his father’s kingdom. June

June 23rd.

Thinking about today’s readings we are again reminded of the contrast between Godly people and those who rebel against God and his ways. Remember that this even happened during the time of the Judges where, despite the people generally turning away from God, there were some who remained faithful. Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2 verse 1-10 shows humility, trust, praise, thanks and honour, she knows that pride and arrogance are not godly characteristics, verse 3. She credits God for everything and acknowledges that in God’s own time he will bring contentment to the faithful, verse 6-8. It is interesting too that in Hannah’s prayer she refers to 7 children, verse 5, yet in verse 21, the total, including Samuel is 6, so is she prophetically referring to Jesus? Mary, in Luke 1, refers to many aspects of Hannah’s prayer and Hannah herself makes reference to “his king” and “ anointed”, verse 10, so whether or not this is prophetic, it confirms that she is a good example to us. Eli’s sons, on the other hand, are the complete opposite, they had no respect for God, verse 17. As the priests, Israel’s religious leaders, they should have been an example to the people who were coming to worship, instead they were abusing their priestly position and cheating on their fellow Israelites, they were rebelling against God! Not only this, but they also slept with the women who were there to serve God, verse 22, Eli’s sons were just wanting to satisfy their own pleasures, with no respect for God, their countrymen or for their father. Eli was not innocent in this either, he had not taught his sons well and neither did he have their respect. The contrast between them and Samuel is very big – Samuel grew in favour with God and man, verse 26. Lesson for us: a good parent (Hannah) influences a good son; a bad parent (Eli) has no influence and results in bad sons. The contrast continues, Hannah was “rewarded” with more children, verse 21; Eli and sons were condemned, verse 30-34. Teaching others the ways of God is so important, so too is keeping God’s commands. The Isaiah 48 reading ends by saying that the wicked will not have peace, verse 22. This is a serious thought because God is aware of all of our actions and if we are not pleasing him we will not have peace. The encouraging aspect in Isaiah 48 is that despite the Jews’ rebellion, verse 8, God will provide salvation because of his own sake, verse 9 and 11. He will “refine” us and “test” us. It is quite incredible how rebellious and ungodly the Jews were, they had been promised so much by God, if only they obeyed, verse 18-19.  But they did not listen, they did not respect God’s teaching and they were punished for it and did not receive the good things that God had promised. God knew that they were stubborn, verse 4, and tried time and time again to remind them of their godly position. The lesson is so plain for us too, we have to learn from Israel’s experiences and do our best to follow God’s “rules” otherwise we too risk being excluded from what God has promised. God gives us all many opportunities because he is long suffering and patient with us and 3 times it mentions in this chapter that God will reward the faithful for his “own sake”, verse 9 and 11.There is always hope for the faithful, and our hope is in Jesus as Revelation 5 and 6 show us, Jesus is the “anointed king” of God. Jesus, because he was sinless, is worthy to help and save us, verses 6-10. And this is such a powerful picture because without the life, death and resurrection of Jesus there is no hope as verse 1-3 graphically shows us in picture form. No other person could open the “scroll” where all of the faithful people’s names are written and there was great sadness that this was not possible, verse 4. But there is one, verse 5, it is Jesus, the lamb who was slain. Only Jesus fully obeyed his father and it is only Jesus who we can trust to set an example for us to follow, therefore that is why we should try our best to be like him and to trust in him. And because Jesus was this “lamb” there is now great praise in all of God’s creation, verse 9-14. Just as Hannah sang a song of praise in thanks for what God had done for her, we too can be part of this song of praise for what God is doing for us in Jesus. Jesus is the judge and he will judge those who do not follow his father, this judgement will ultimately take place when he returns but we see the judgement on human beings now in the suffering that we all suffer daily. Again in picture format and very graphically we see this in chapter 6, where Jesus, the lamb, is “opening the seals” and different forms of suffering are taking place that ultimately end in death, verse 1-8. The 5th seal gives a picture of the faithful who had been killed because of their faith, verse 9-11, and the message here is not to worry because they have been, pictorially, given a robe, which signifies a promise of resurrection when Jesus comes back. The sixth seal is not good news for the ungodly, verse 12-17, and maybe this is referring to the time when Jesus does come back physically and carries out his “judgement”. Whatever these verses literally mean, and there are many suggestions, it is very clear that those who accept Jesus and try to be like him have a promise of salvation, those who rebel will not. Just as we had the literal example in Samuel of a faithful, godly, woman and unfaithful, ungodly elders, there is a judgement. I pray that all of us remain faithful to God and to Jesus as we patiently wait Jesus’ return. June

June 24th.

It is again emphasised in 1 Samuel 3 just how bad Eli’s sons were and how their bad behaviour was not a good example for others to follow. Eli’s weakness and his failure to do anything about his sons meant that Israel was mainly ungodly and as a consequence, weak too. Verse 1 shows the consequences of this, God was not close to them, it was “rare for God to speak to them”. This is a lesson for us too. If elders are ungodly and weak, the whole community is in danger of becoming weak and the word of God is therefore not an integral part of the community because of the bad examples being set. Thank God for strong individuals that did exist during the Judges, like Samuel’s parents! God’s condemnation of those who should have been setting an example is damning, verse 13-14, this implies no forgiveness. If that is the case then God saw Eli’s sons as rebelling against him, they had no respect and were just greedy for benefit for themselves! Contrast this with Samuel who so far has done what God wanted and God was with him, verse 19-21. Samuel, in contrast to Eli’s sons, was actually in the place that represented God’s presence, he was sleeping “where the ark was”, verse 2-4. Therefore he was able to hear when God speaks, another lesson for us, if we are in godly places then we are more likely to “hear” God speaking to us, rather than in places when we are selfishly trying to get gain for ourselves, like Eli’s sons, places where you will not “hear” God. Our 2nd reading in Isaiah 49 keeps our hope alive, because despite human beings’ natural nature to go against God, God will always save those who are faithful. Even if this prophecy is in part related to Cyrus, who God used to free the Jews from captivity in Babylon, we see the main prophecy as referring to Jesus and the future kingdom, verses 13 and 26. We see references to us, the gentiles, in here, verses 6 and 22. We know that both Jews and gentiles are only saved when they accept Jesus. This is a great hope for us and something that gives us great confidence, no matter how bad things get, we have been promised a future. Neither faithful Jew or faithful gentile will be abandoned by God, we are all one in Jesus. Even when the situation may seem impossible as it was in Isaiah’s time when the question was asked “how can salvation come?”, verse 14. But the answer is obvious – how can a mother forget her child, verse 15-18, therefore God will not forget his children who are faithful. Personally I think that there is a danger in over complicating Revelation and then we can miss the lessons for us. When we look at chapters 7, 8 and 9 we again see the 2 groups of people, Jews, chapter 7 verse 4-8, and gentiles verse 9, and all are worshiping God and Jesus, verses 10-17. This is when all pain will end! Chapters 8 and 9 are clearly punishments on the generally ungodly world. Those who have the mark of God on their foreheads, chapter 9 verse 4, ie those who have been baptised, also described as those in white robes, chapter 7 verse 13-14, have some form of protection, chapter 9 verse 4. But the purpose of the destruction is to encourage repentance for those who are not baptised, ie for them to accept Jesus (the blood of the lamb) too. Sadly the ungodly people do not repent, chapter 9 verse 20-21, despite them having suffered greatly for “five months”, verse 10. In any interpretation of Revelation that you favour, always look for the lessons for you personally. Here we see salvation come for the faithful, warnings for those who do not repent, a time when suffering is over for those who accept Jesus and a time when God and Jesus are praised by all people from all nations. We need to be in places where we can “hear” God, we need to respond to him and try our best to follow him and praise him, and then our pain will end, chapter 7 verse 15-17. The alternative to this is suffering the punishment dealt with by the 7 angels of God, chapter 8 verse 6. We pray that we will listen like Samuel. June

June 25th.

1 Samuel 4 shows how ungodly human beings can be if they are not continually directed by what God wants. Sadly there is no consultation of God in this account. There was no respect of God because they credited the “power” to the ark, notice that they referred to the ark as “it go with us” in verse 3, rather than “so God will go with us”. The people were doing the same as the nations around them, ie giving credit to man made objects and gods, they had forgotten that the ark represented God and his presence with them and had elevated the ark itself to a “god”. The people had been instructed about what should happen when they went to war, eg Deuteronomy 20 verse 4. We have to always be also careful to ensure that we only give credit to God himself for help in our lives, not to any elements of our worship, eg making a “god” of the hall where we meet or our own capabilities to understand things. Verse 4 is quite a significant event because Eli’s 2 sons were there, this is how bad things were, even the religious leaders did not stop to ask God what they should do. The ark was captured and the sons were killed, verse 10–11, just as God said would happen. There are consequences here too, the Philistines would for, now at least, have no respect for the God of heaven and earth because (they thought) they were more powerful. So our bad actions can cause God to be discredited, this is not good. Sad too that Eli, because of his weakness, did not stop the ark from being taken into battle in the first place was now so concerned, verse 13 and 18. He must have regretted his inactions, demonstrated by his falling back when he heard that the ark had gone. His daughter in law was partially right, verse 22, the glory of God had departed because of ungodliness, not because the ark had physically gone, but because of the ungodliness of the people. Isaiah 50 reminds us of Israel’s sins, but it also shows us how longsuffering God is. Verses 1-3 shows this. With respect to Judah, there is no certificate of divorce (there is for Israel, Jer 3 verse 8), so God has a right to take back his “wife” (Judah, Zion, mother), despite her being dishonest. Thank God for his mercy in allowing a way for forgiveness in Jesus. This is now the picture that we get in the remaining verses of a faithful servant, ie Jesus. This is what we all should be aiming for no matter what happens in our lives. We know how Jesus suffered and we get reminders of this in verses 6. Jesus always learnt, verse 4, he was “taught by God” and acted like God, just like we should do too. Jesus did not rebel, verse 5, neither should we. He trusted always, verse 10, so should we, and he was helped, so will we be. We also should try to be like Jesus in every thing. The destruction of human, ungodly, institutions continues in Revelation 10 and 11. This has always been the same right through the Bible with God always being clear about his requirements for those who want to be saved and about the consequences of those who rebel against him, chapter 10 verse 7. There is nothing new here, God has always been the same. His angels, in whatever form, will carry out his work and they will succeed in bringing about God’s purpose. He gives opportunity for all to be saved, but there will come a time when his patience ends, maybe we see an example of this in the suffering everyone has suffered due to, for example, Covid-19, we do not know, but what we do know is that at some time God will bring about his purpose. Chapter 11 verse 15-19 is a great picture of the future when Jesus is back and ruling, when, human corruption and sin would have ended and we, together with the 24 elders, say thank you! The teachings of God are clear, we have to try out best to follow them, do not panic if we fail because there is repentance in Jesus, but we should continue to respect and look forward to the Kingdom. June

June 26th.

After the ark of God had been taken by the Philistines because of the Israelites’ foolishness and ungodliness, God shows his power to the Philistines in 1 Samuel 5 verse 6, 9 and 11, bringing illness to the people who were wherever the ark was put. This is after God had caused their idol, Dagon to crash to the floor, verse 1-5. In doing these things God demonstrates that the Philistines’ “god” was worthless and useless. It is interesting how quickly the Philistines actually recognised that God was the power behind the events, we see this in chapter 6, verse 1-6. Notice how they knew about Israel’s history and how God had treated the Egyptians because of their cruelty to the Israelites, and we have to wonder why the Israelites themselves kept forgetting these things and taking their heritage for granted in not respecting God. The actual journey of the ark back to Israel from verse 7 on is clearly miraculous in that the cows that pulled the ark left their calves and stayed on the road until it got to Beth Shemesh – God was certainly working in these events. Initially the Israelites responded in an acceptable way as they celebrated the return of the ark, verse 13-16, however, they did not stick to God’s ways and the people of Beth Shemesh looked into the ark and God put them to death, verse 19-20. Maybe they justified this action to themselves to “check” that the Philistines had not taken anything, but they should never have touched it, let alone look into it – if only they had done was God wanted them to do. Just like the Philistines they too were afraid of the presence of the ark and wanted to move it to another place, verse 21. This is a lesson for us – we too should fear if we are not doing what God wants us to do. If we are trying our best to do what God wants, we then have no need to fear. Isaiah 51 is a wonderful chapter, as it talks about salvation and the restoration of Israel despite their unfaithfulness. This gives us hope too because God will not abandon his people, verse 17-23. They will suffer because of their ungodliness, but their suffering will end at some stage. God’s comfort will come, verse 3 and 12; his salvation will last for ever, verse 6. And God’s plea is that his people should “wake up” and start to respect God again, verse 9 and 17 (again). In verse 9, Isaiah uses the tern “Rahab”, this is referring to Egypt, we have confirmation that this is the case in verse 10 where it refers to the parting of the Red Sea. It is clear that the Israelites should have remembered their history, ie how God protected them and saved them, even the Philistines did in Samuel! But the Israelites did not. We have many reminders in scripture to bring us close to God and in Revelation, which is a book of signs and symbols which predicted future events, we are continually reminded that God will punish, but that he will also save those who are faithful. Chapter 12, I believe, is about Jesus, he is the male child who will rule the nations with an iron sceptre, verse 5, and the song in verse 10-12 confirms this for me. Clearly the “dragon” (“satan” or “devil”) has to be of human origin, and the “heaven” that it was “cast down from” has to be symbolic because we know that no one has ever gone to heaven where God is, so this “heaven” has to be a human power, probably one that had control over Jerusalem at the time – maybe the Romans. It was God who protected the woman, verse 13-16, and in revenge the “dragon” persecuted the woman’s offspring, ie those who obey God’s commandments”, verse 17. So here we have a picture of God’s people being persecuted for their faith in God and Jesus. It is hard to understand all the details in this book, but there are some things that are easier to understand. Chapter 13 predicts a false human system, which includes religious systems that are based on human thinking and not fully based on God. Verse 8 then is clear in that it says that those who are NOT God’s, worship the “beast”; we know that the “beast” is human beings, represented by the number 666, verse 18. So here we have a picture of 2 groups of people, one group follows God, the other group follows human things. It is clear that those who follow God will be in the Kingdom, but God will judge those who follow human thinking. The apostle Paul warned of false religious teachers, for example in Acts 20 verse 29-31, and we need to make sure that we can tell the difference between false teachings and the message that we find in the Bible. It is most important that we study the scriptures and put what we learn into practice.  Whenever we deviate from God’s ways, mistakes follow, just has happened in Samuel; we saw the result in Isaiah and the same message is in Revelation.  We also have the confirmation that Jesus will bring the salvation that all faithful people want, but we have to be patient as we wait, verse 10. June

June 27th.

We see a short period of godliness in 1 Samuel 7 verse 2. The people had lamented that the ark had been taken by the Philistines, who were repressing Israel at the time, but they were pleased that the ark was now back in Israel, albeit at Kiriath Jearim, verse 1. But although the people now appeared to accept God as their God and king they were still not “right” before God, and Samuel, the prophet and judge at the time, had to get the people to accept their failures, repent and change their way of life, verse 3. Notice that Samuel said “if” you are returning to God with “all” of your heart, then get rid of all the human distractions and things that they trusted in. This is a really important lesson for us today because if we say that we love God and Jesus then we have to try to get rid of all our ungodly actions and behaviours. We need to follow God with all of our hearts! This means doing our best to obey him. Israel repented, verse 4, and they changed their behaviours and then in verse 5 Samuel interceded for them.  The people acknowledged their sin was against God, verse 6. This again is so important, we need to remember that when we sin we are sinning against God, and we need to acknowledge this before God. Then, and only then, did God assist the people in their suffering at the hands of the Philistines, verse 7-11. Samuel then sets up a reminder for the people, verse 12, so that they should not forget that God had helped them – reminders, such as the breaking of bread and drinking of wine service are so important for us now too because we need constant reminders to keep us focused on both God and Jesus. We have discussed before how important it also is to have godly elders and godly examples to follow and Samuel was a good example of this, verse 13, but in chapter 8 verse 3 we see ungodly examples of Samuel’s sons. Samuel had set them up as judges over the people to replace him as he was getting old, verse 1-2. But because the people saw the corruption of their religious elders, they saw the bad example and wanted them replaced, verse 4-5. Samuel’s sons were selfish and ungodly, they were only interested in themselves and look at the result. Because of their bad example the people rejected God as their king, God confirms that this is the case, verse 7. This rejection of God came about because of the corruption of the religious elders. This is serious and such a warning for those of us who are elders, we have to set good examples all the time! As with all ungodliness there are consequences and God spells this out for them in verse 10-18, the people would have greater hardship under a king than if they had continued to accept God as their king. But the people wanted to be like the other nations and have a human king, verse 19-21. A sad situation, and Isaiah 52 starts by reminding us that Israel became even more ungodly and in the end God sent them as captives into Babylon, verse 1-3. This account is just before that actually happened and God is giving them a hope that Jerusalem will be redeemed sometime in the future, verse 9. This prophecy in this chapter will only be fully fulfilled when Jesus comes back to the earth but the one of the important points that is made here is that the reason for salvation is to stop God himself being “blasphemed”, verse 5-6. As Christians, ie followers of both God and Jesus, we have to act like them and be like them, if we are not we are causing people who see us acting in unchristian ways to also “blaspheme” God because they will not see good examples in us, whether we are elders or not! We should all try to have actions that demonstrate that we are godly so that people can look at us and see that we are different, and then in turn they too may have a respect for God; but if people see us acting just like them they will have no respect for God and God will not tolerate his name being blasphemed, he will respond at some stage! There are wonderful words of praise from verse 7-10 and we are part of this, therefore we should not be involved in ungodly things as is summarised in verse 11. And as happened in Samuel’s time, God will go before us, verse 12. We have another picture of Jesus in verse 13-15 and he is the only servant who acted “wisely”, he gave everything for us so that we can have this wonderful hope that we have and his suffering that resulted in his death on the cross for us is depicted in these verses. Jesus was the lamb that was sacrificed for the sins of the world and in Revelation 14 we see another picture of the saints being represented by the number 144,000, ie those who have the “father’s name on their foreheads”, verse 1. This is a wonderful picture because the saints, ie us if we remain faithful, look like God in the ways that we act. Yes we do continue to sin, but we are considered “blameless” in Jesus, if we try our best and acknowledge our failings and try our best to change now, verse 4-5. It is not always easy to do this and we are asked to “endure” and be “patient”, verse 12 – notice that this confirms that the saints, ie those who are baptised, are those who “obey God’s commandments” and “remain faithful to Jesus”. But also our labours will be rewarded when Jesus comes back, verse 13. No one else could learn the song except the saints, verse 3, this is in complete contrast to those who are ungodly and just “look like” sinful human beings, verse 9-11. All these pictures are graphic so as to convey the message that how we act and respond to God is serious. We have all learned about God and about Jesus, we know that we have a wonderful future when Jesus returns so the message carried by the other angel should be something that we are aiming for now, verse 6-7, because we know that God will bring judgement on human ways, represented by Babylon, in the future, verse 8. There will be a “harvest” and Jesus will judge between good and bad, verse 14-20. We should not fear this if we are trying our best now and remain faithful, but we should respect it and learn the lessons from Bible examples to ensure that we look like God in the way that we act and behave. June

June 28th.

In 1 Samuel 8, we saw that the people rejected God as their king, verse 19. This is despite God giving them victory over the Philistines in chapter 7 verse 10-11. Even though God answered their pleas for help, eg verse 7-9, they still wanted to be like the other nations and have a king, they ignored God’s warning to them that human Kings would not be the best for them (chapter 8 verse 10-18). This is another warning for us to not desire anything that is not of God because it will not be good for us in the end! It is with this knowledge that we find lessons in today’s reading from 1 Samuel 9. Despite the people generally rejecting him, God still works in their lives to bring about his purpose and the lost donkeys is a way of getting Saul to meet Samuel. Samuel was also guided by God for the meeting, verse 15, and we see that God is interested in the details, as the donkeys were found, verse 20, removing a concern for Saul and his family, which was a good help for this presumably poor family, verse 21. At this stage Saul was humble, but sadly this changes all too soon. God knew that the people would accept Saul as king because he looked impressive, verse 2, so he gave them a king that they wanted and who, humanly thinking, they could look up to. But God, in his mercy, works with our weaknesses and we know that Jesus was a descendant from king David, Saul’s replacement. It is a picture of Jesus that we see in Isaiah 53, we have no doubt about this because of the references back to this chapter in the New Testament, eg Acts 8 verse 32-35. Jesus is God’s servant, as Philip explained to the Ethiopian eunuch. Other obvious references about Jesus being “despised” are in Luke 18. Only Jesus can “take up our infirmities”, Isaiah 53 verse 4, we know that he was “oppressed and afflicted”, verse 7, and only Jesus can “bear the sins of many”, verse 12, confirmed in Mark 14. The exhortation is to “wake up”, Isaiah 51:9 and 52:1, because only with the message and belief in Jesus will we be “healed”, Isaiah 53 verse 5. Knowing what Jesus achieved for us when he gave his life for us has to make us want to follow him at all times. There is such a contrast between the choice of human beings, ie Saul, being good to look at and the choice of God, ie “no beauty or majesty to attract us”, verse 1-2. God knows the heart and knew that his son would go to his death to save us, verse 12. So many times in this chapter are we reminded of the events leading up to and whilst Jesus was on the cross and we are amazed that God prophesised and allowed this to happen so that we could be saved. We have seen from the lessons in Judges how the people suffered when they rejected God and we see from Revelation 15 and 16 that God will always punish those who reject him. The punishment written about here is final, chapter 15 verse 1, it is also a result of God’s wrath, and is therefore just, chapter 16 verse 7. Even with the different forms of punishment the aim is to encourage repentance, chapter 16 verse 8-10, sadly God knows that human beings (the beast) would not repent and when we come to the result of the hail, the people continued to curse God, verse 21. Jesus, via John, appears to want us to think about the people of Israel being brought out of Egypt with Moses because we have reference to the song of Moses, chapter 15 verse 3 and we have similar plagues to those suffered by the Egyptians, ie painful sores, verse 2, blood, verse 3-4, darkness, verse 10 and hail, verse 21. There is also similarity in our journeys, they started their journey to the promised land and we are on our journey to the Kingdom. Along the way God punished those who rejected him and likewise this will potentially happen to us before the kingdom. The important thing to remember is that God will bring his people to safety; he will punish those who reject him, but those who follow him will have a place in the kingdom, this we can be sure of. Anything that is based on human thinking is described as the “beast”, this is the number of man, we saw this in chapter 13 verse 18. So the question for all of us is “whose side are we on?, man’s or God’s?” Man’s side brings death, God’s side brings life. Because of pride, Saul choose man’s side, only in humility can we choose God’s side. God so wants us to be in his kingdom that he went to the extreme to make this possible, and our Isaiah reading shows us the extent of the suffering of Jesus to make this possible. So the message to us is again to stay awake and to stay “clothed” with the things of God, verse 15. We can speculate on what all these symbols actually mean, but I do not think that that is the objective of the message, we need to understand that God’s judgements are right, they will happen and those who are worthy will be in the kingdom. June

June 29th.

As is the case whenever we read from the Bible there are some more practical thoughts from today’s readings that we can think about to help us all live better lives in Jesus. 1 Samuel 10 continues to show the initial humility of Saul, verse 16 and 22. Saul did not boast about his being anointed as king and also he did not show himself to the people and boast. Also he did not complain when some opposed him being made king, verse 27. He also listened to what Samuel had said and was convinced of God’s will and power by the things that happened, just as Samuel had said, verse 2-8. We see how God worked with Saul, verses 9-16. It does appear to be a good start to Saul’s reign, even though having a human king was not what God wanted for his people, as Samuel points out again in verses 17-19. This is the real danger for all of us, if we do not control our actions we can replace God with other things and this is bad. And the consequences of doing this can mean that our salvation is put at risk. God tested Saul just to see how he responded to certain situations and God enabled proof of his words to be demonstrated and allowed Saul to prophesy, verse 10. Although this was initially handled well by Saul, this became his downfall, especially as it would appear that he became proud in front of the people who were wondering if Saul was “among the prophets” too, verse 11. Isaiah 54 is a wonderful picture of the future kingdom when God brings an end to all suffering, verse 10. A time when Jerusalem will not be attacked anymore, verses 11-15 and where we will sing with, presumably Sarah, verse 1, who this chapter appears to remind us about. Just as Sarah was unable to have children until God enabled her to have Isaac when she was old, from whom the whole nation of Israel came, the Israelites were “separate” from God for a time because of their sins and symbolically were also unable to have children. Because of God’s compassion, verse 8 and 10, he is reunited with his “wife” (woman). Throughout the Bible we have picture reminders of God’s relationship with his people, ie the Israelites, as being his “wife”, whilst God is the “husband”, verse 5. Now the husband role is Jesus and those who are baptised are the wife. And this picture is something that we can all relate to, which is why marriage is to be respected by all those who profess to follow Jesus and this picture is a continual reminder of God’s relationship (and now Jesus’ relationship) with us. We long for this time when all will be “taught by the Lord”, verse 13, this time will be a time of peace because all will be godly! We will see the “tent of salvation” widened (verse 1) to include gentiles as well as Jews who accept Jesus. We can always be sure of God’s salvation and we look forward to the time when there will be that peace and security that has been promised. There are so many “tests” in our lives to develop our own characters, we will know that Saul failed his test from later readings in Samuel and we see people who failed the test when we come to our reading in Revelation 17 and 18. I like to apply everything that I read in the Bible to me, so whatever your preferred interpretation of Revelation is try and get lessons for your life now. For me the beast that the woman is sitting on in chapter 17 verse 3 is a picture of man, ie human beings (Rev13:18), the woman is making the man powerful and “she” rules, verse 18. For my practical thought, Babylon is a picture of the woman and human beings’ strength and chapter 18 suggests to me that it is money/wealth, verses 3, 7, 9, 15, 17, 19. We have discussed before that there is nothing wrong with money if we use it in God’s service, but the problem is pride, verse 7 and “excessive” gains, verse 3 again, the focus is clearly on what human beings naturally crave more than anything. We can all see from the effects of covid-19 lockdowns how quickly things can change and how temporary wealth is, we can see how quickly God can change man’s reliance on it. The stark reminder at the end of verse 11-13 is something that all of us should consider, ie if all these apparently wonderful, expensive things are considered more important than God then the end result is AND “bodies and souls of men”. This means nothing more than if people just aim for wealth then the end result is death and no salvation. Whatever the intended interpretation of Revelation is we read that whatever comes between us and God will be destroyed! So the message for us has to be that we must be careful not to allow anything to replace God in our lives. We have the comparison between Jerusalem in Isaiah 54, which will be godly and safe, and Babylon in Revelation 18 verse 21-24, which will be destroyed by God’s righteous judgement. So the question is are we spiritually living in Jerusalem or in Babylon? Revelation 18 verse 20. God will destroy all things that replace him, all these things are temporary so we commit our lives to both God and to Jesus because our only hope is in them. And as verse 4 reminds us, “come out of her, my people”, ie do not be involved. June

June 30th.

A few practical lessons from today’s readings. In 1 Samuel 11 and12 we still see an initially godly Saul and obviously a godly Samuel, eg Saul does not seek retaliation on the people who opposed him being made king, chapter 11 verse 12-13, I assume that these are the people in chapter 10 verse 27. He clearly made a godly decision in his response to the request to help Jabesh, verse 6-8. At this point in his life God was with him because he acknowledged God and had respect for him. It is also apparent that Saul is spending his initial time with Samuel, notice that in verse 12 the question is addressed to Samuel, but in verse 13 it is Saul who responds, so here we have an indication that this is a godly team with Saul learning from Samuel. If so then this is how we should learn, ie an experienced brother or sister should be teaching and setting good examples to the younger brother or sister, with the younger respecting the godly elder. Samuel’s summary of himself in chapter 12 verse 3, shows his godly attitude and this is how all of us should be acting in everything that we do too, we have to be above reproach. All the people could agree that this was the kind of man that Samuel was, verse 4. Again our brothers and sisters and people around us need to be able to say the same things about us! We have to be seen as children of God! The list of examples in verse 3 can also be our guide when we look back at how we live, especially those of us who are elders, can we really be sure that our brothers and sisters and neighbours around us will answer the same as the people did about Samuel? The answer should be the same! Samuel went on to remind the Israelites how rebellious they had been and said that they should learn from this and continue to follow God’s commands. Because if they did not follow then God’s hand would be against them, verse 14-15. This has to be the lesson for us in our lives, if we want God in our lives we must not rebel against him and his commands. We have a picture of sin, repentance, forgiveness and grace in verses 20-24, so we still have a great hope even when we do sin and fail, but verse 25, God will reach a point when he says enough. And this point is repeated in Isaiah 55 verse 6-7, it says to seek the Lord whilst you have the opportunity, tomorrow may be too late! “Tomorrow” could be the time when Jesus comes back, or “tomorrow” could be when we die, so the message is “seek God TODAY”, because tomorrow we may not be here! In these verses we have a summary of sin, repentance, forgiveness and grace too, this is the pattern all the way through the Bible, ie sin is breaking God’s commands, forgiveness always follows, acceptance of sin and repentance and then we experience wonderful grace. We do worship a patient God, but one who should also be respected . This chapter is a wonderful future picture of reconciliation with God and a wonderful time of joy, this will ultimately be in the kingdom, verse 12-13. We are brought to the kingdom on God’s terms though, notice verse 11. His words, or his commands and plans will happen, what he says will come true and what he requires will happen, so if we want to be part of his future promises we have to try to do what he wants and to be seen to be godly as Samuel was. We have to respect that even though God has promised us a future there will still be a judgment on us all, a judgement that we should not fear if we are doing our best now. Revelation 19 and 20 remind us of this. If we are godly we have no fear at all of this and we are blessed to be invited to the wedding supper of the lamb, ie Jesus, chapter 19 verse 9 and we will sing verses 1-8. But the judgement will condemn those who are ungodly and follow human based things, whatever form they take. Jesus is coming to judge. Those who are recognised as God’s and Jesus’ will reign with him, chapter 20 verse 4, those who are recognised as following man’s ways, ie indicated by those with the mark of the beast (ie man – chapter 13 verse 18), will not. There appears to be a temporary pause of sin for the 1000 years for those who have yet to accept Jesus, this again shows God’s mercy and patience, but in the end those who continue to reject him will die forever, this is symbolically shown to us in chapter 20 verse 10. These are graphic pictures in these chapters and many Bible students have different views of what the details actually mean and how they fit into certain human institutions but essentially the picture we get is man v God and God will always win, ie everything to do with ungodly man will be destroyed. We are privileged and blessed to be in the “book of life”, but we also have a responsibility to walk in God’s ways, otherwise our names may be crossed out from the book, verse 11-15. The great message for me in all these chapters is that we can be one with both God and Jesus if we try our best to obey now; we will sin, because we are weak human beings, but when we repent we are forgiven and ultimately we will be in the kingdom when Jesus comes back. We cannot be sure of the exact order of things, but what we can be sure of is that God is gracious and true and he is not willing that any one of us should perish, but wants us all to come to know him and to be like him.re of reconciliation with God and a wonderful time of joy, this will ultimately be in the kingdom, verse 12-13. We are brought to the kingdom on God’s terms though, notice verse 11. His words, or his commands and will will happen, what he says will come true and what he requires will happen, so if we want to be part of his future promises we have to try to do what he wants and to be seen to be godly as Samuel was. We have to respect that even though God has promised us a future there will still be a judgment on us all. Revelation 19&20 reminds us of this. If we are godly we have no fear at all of this and we are blessed to be invited to the wedding super if the lamb, ie Jesus, Rev19:9 and we will sing verses 1-8. But the judgement will condemn those who are ungodly and follow human based things, whatever form they take. Jesus is coming to judge. Those who are recognised as God’s and Jesus’ will reign with him (Rev20:4), those who are recognised as following man’s ways, ie indicated by those with the mark of the beast, will not. There appears to be a temporary pause of sin for the 1000 years for those who have yet to accept Jesus, this again shows God’s mercy and patience, but in the end those who continue to reject him die forever. These are graphical pictures and many have different views of what they mean but essentially the picture we get is man v God and God will always win. We are privileged and blessed to be in the book of life, but we also have a responsibility to walk in God’s ways, in case our names are crossed out, Rev20:11-15. June

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