English Bible reading thoughts – January to June

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January – click on the date below

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February – click on the date below

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March

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January 1st

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

January 2nd

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

January 3rd

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

January 4th

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

January 5th

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

January 6th

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

January 7th

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

January 8th

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

January 9th

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

January 10th

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

January 11th

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

January 12th

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

January 13th

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

January 14th

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

January 15th

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

January 16th

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

January 17th

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

January 18th

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

January 19th

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

January 20th

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

January 21st

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

January 22nd

Genesis 37 starts by telling us about Joseph’s dreams.  There are certainly lessons here for parents to be careful not to love one child more than another because it will always end in jealousy. We can also see the bad consequences of having multiple wives as this contributes to the unhealthy rivalry within a family and we know that God always intended, right from creation, for just one man and one woman relationships. Verse 4 sums up the sad situation in Jacob’s family and says that because of Jacob’s love for Joseph, the brothers hated him. Jacob loved Joseph because he was the first son of his preferred wife Rachel, but also a possible contributing factor is that Joseph was already showing a much more godly attitude and respect than his brothers. The multicoloured coat that Jacob gave Joseph was a very visible sign of Jacob’s love for him, verse 3, this also contributed to the hatred every day. We have a strong indication that Jacob trusted him to tell the truth, he was honest about reports about his brothers, verse 2, and then in verse 12-14. In these later verses it comes across that Joseph was always willing to do what his father wanted, so that makes me think that when he brought a “bad report” to his father (:2) this was not a malicious, gossiping act, he just brought an accurate report. We already know that Joseph’s brothers were ungodly because of the way they deceived the Shechemites (Gen 34), so it appears that they were not a nice group anyway. So our lesson has to be to always be honest, sometimes it does get us disliked, but we have to be honest before God. His brothers’ hatred of him became greater because of his dreams – these dreams were about his brothers and parents bowing down to him, verse 5-10; when we come to the end of the account of Joseph we can see what this means. However, dreams were a method of God communicating with godly people at that time, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob all had dreams as messages from God, this is why Jacob thought about this, verse 11, but sadly his brothers showed no respect for Joseph, or for their father, or for God. This disrespect gets worse when they plot to kill Joseph, verse 19-20, and worse still when they plan to actually deceive their father, verse 31-35. This complete deceit comes about because of no respect for God. In this account we can be reminded of what happened to Jesus as well, how he was betrayed and killed by his own countrymen (brothers) because of envy and jealousy. Psalms 39 and 40 appear to be a continuation of yesterday’s psalm as a godly reaction to our own sins, we should be ashamed and so regretful of our sins that we remain silent, verse 1-3, however, that does not get us anywhere, we need to acknowledge our mistake and our human weakness and humility before God, verse 4-6. Humility is always the starting point for forgiveness, self-justification is wrong, it will not work, you cannot blame anyone or anything else for your our sins, verse 7-11. Only God can help, verse 12-13. Psalm 40 is a wonderful psalm of lifting the sinner up and helping to praise again because of sin forgiven, verse 1-3, “blessed” is the man (or woman) who trusts in God and “turns away from false gods (or lies!), verse 4-5. Again we are reminded of Jesus in this psalm in verse 6-8, we know this because Hebrews 10, talking about Jesus, refers back to these verses, so our forgiveness is so obviously linked to a faith in Jesus and only in him can we praise in the way that David did in this psalm, verse 9-17. We will be helped in our “poor and needy” (sinful) position, if we humbly seek both God and Jesus and try to obey. In Matthew 24 we are given indications of the signs of the return of Jesus, verse 4-31. During this answer Jesus warns us about many things, eg about famines, earthquakes, wars, persecution, false religions, false Christs, nations being destroyed, signs in the sky, etc. and he tells us to be ready, verse 32-33, because we know that God’s promises, reiterated by Jesus, will always happen, they will never fail, verse 34-35. However, Jesus then goes on to say that “no-one knows the day or the hour” when he will come back, verse 36. He does say that at that time people will be going about their own business without any regard for God, just like Joseph’s brothers, verse 37-41. We can see indications of this in our time now, and perhaps the time of Jesus’ return is close BUT no one can work the time out and we really do not know. So, Jesus says, “keep watch”, verse 42. I do not think that this means to watch the signs of the times, even though that is interesting and it keeps us alert and gives us confidence that God’s predictions in the bible are in fact true, I think it means to watch how we live because of the example in verse 45-51. The big lesson is that we have to be doing what Jesus wants us to be doing when he comes back, we have been given responsibilities as Christians to learn, to teach and to act, therefore we have to take these responsibilities seriously and try to do what Jesus would do. We do not know when Jesus will come back, verse 44, but he will come back – everyone will know when he does come back, there will be no doubt.  So now, every day, is the time to do our best to please him. The teachings of both God and Jesus have to have an impact on the way that we live every day – if we are misbehaving like Joseph’s brothers, or David’s enemies or like the hypocrites (people who pretend to be Christian) then we cannot expect to be invited into the kingdom when Jesus returns. January

January 23rd

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

January 24th

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

January 25th

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

January 26th

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

January 27th

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

January 28th

Genesis 46 gives us the list of all of Jacob’s descendants who went to Egypt at Joseph’s invitation to escape the devastating famine that had struck all of the area of the Middle East at that time. But whilst Jacob was travelling God appeared to him, verse 2-4, and told Jacob clearly that his descendants will still become that great nation that God had promised and that they would return to the land that God had also promised, ie Israel. Jacob would have naturally have wondered what was happening as he expected that he would have stayed in the land of Canaan just as God had promised, but he had faith in and trusted God. This is how we should be too when things are not going as we would have imagined – even if we are confused by what is happening, we should still trust because God has a plan. When we read the rest of the account of Jacob and his family (Israel) in Egypt with all the little details, we can see God working in their lives, ie they had the best land (chapter 47 verse 5), they were able to obtain property (chapter 47 verse 11 and 27), etc, whilst the Egyptians all lost theirs (chapter 47 verse 26). This is God making the people of Israel into a “great nation” as he had promised. We see in chapter 47 how desperate the famine was, this made the Egyptians and also the people of Canaan desperate too, such that all their money was spent on getting food from Joseph, verse 14 and 20-21. Looking back to this situation we can see God working in making Pharoah strong – only to make Israel strong when they came out of Egypt hundreds of years later. This is why we should always trust God, because he always knows best. Psalm 50 again shows the 2 characters of human beings, we are either godly and “consecrated”, verse 5 or wicked, verse 16. Those who are godly accept that God is in control of everything, including the famines and the weather, verse 1-4. God has asked us to make “sacrifices” to demonstrate our trust in him and to complete our vows, verse 14.   He does not need any sacrifices, verse 9-13, but by our “sacrifices” we are telling God something about ourselves.  The “sacrifices”, ie being more like Jesus and giving up more of our human tendencies, tell God what is in our heart. However, those who are described as “wicked” are those who hate God’s instruction, verse 17; those who become “thieves”, verse 18; those who “lie”, verse 19; those who “tell bad stories” about our brothers and sisters, verse 20 and those who wrongly think that God is like us, verse 21, those who are like this will be “rebuked” by God.  God is giving all of us the opportunity to change our ways and really be more like the sacrifice that was made for us, ie Jesus, as he says to “consider” these things, verse 22-23. It is simple teaching, those who “honour” God will be shown “salvation”. Romans 3 and 4 get us to think about who we actually are.  The letter to the Romans was written to the Jews in Rome to get them to rethink their wrong belief that just because they were descendants of Abraham they were saved, and to show them (and us) that no one is “righteous”. Chapter 3 verse 9-18 is completely clear in this – no one does good, all have turned away – so whether Jew or gentile (us) we are sinners. The only way that we can be saved is by accepting Jesus, verse 31-26, having faith in Jesus is absolutely necessary for us to have salvation and we have to respond by showing what is in our hearts by “sacrificing” our human nature and being more like Jesus. So the promise of salvation comes by our faith in both God and Jesus and in the promises, but we still only receive salvation because of God’s grace and mercy, chapter 4 verse 16-17. Abraham demonstrated his faith and was counted as righteous before things like circumcision became a godly requirement of the Jewish nation, so the Jews’ argument that being eg circumcised was necessary for salvation was completely flawed.  We too can be counted as righteous before God if we have the faith of Abraham.  Just like Jacob and Joseph after him, Abraham never disbelieved God and always tried to do what God wanted and therefore they all have life in Jesus.  As do we, if we continue to have faith and demonstrate our faith, verse 20-25. January

January 29th

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

January 30th

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

January 31st

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

February 1st

Sometimes it has to get worse before it gets better.  Israel found this when they were slaves in Egypt and told to get their own straw in Exodus 5.  But God had a purpose.  Israel was not to love Egypt and stay there.  Israel needed to want to leave.  God had a greater plan for them.  He told them of 7 blessings for them in Exodus 6:6-8.  The people were not comforted with these because they were focused on their present difficulties.  This is, of course, understandable.  If Israel could have focused on the blessings then it will be a source of comfort to them. It is the same for us.  The more we can focus on our blessings in Christ, then better we will be able to find comfort in this life.  The more we can understand that God is in control of our life, the easier it will be for us to accept the present difficulties and trust in God.  IN all the problems, Moses did not think he was the right man for the job. He was supposed to speak to Pharaoh, but he said he was a bad speaker. The actual Hebrew words for Moses description of himself were ‘uncircumcised of lips’ (Exodus 6:12 and 30).  Uncircumcision is a way of saying that he was unholy. To say he was ‘uncircumcised of lips’ meant that he felt his speech was unholy and not up to the sacred task of speaking to Pharaoh on behalf of God.  Now we know that God specially chose Moses for the task.  This tells us that God decides what is holy and what is not.  If a person speaks God’s words then they are holy, whether they are good at speaking or not.  This is a comfort to those who have to give Bible talks and who think they are not good speakers. Psalms 58 and 59 are Psalms sung to the tune of ‘Do not destroy.’  We see this in the introductory words to the Psalms, which are part of God’s holy writing of the Psalms.  The ones ‘not to destroy’ are the righteous, as we read in Psalm 58:11, “Then men will say, “Surely the righteous still are rewarded.”  The Psalm was about evil judges who punished people with violence and death (Ps 58:1-2).  They were in power but were misusing their position.  The poor were being systematically abused even causing the death of the innocent.  The right punishment for these murderous judges was death.  The poor could not do this.  But the Psalm tells us that God would ensure that this would happen (v10).   In a similar way, Psalm 59 is about the evil Saul when he was trying to kill David.  David appealed to God to save him. David was innocent (v4) and yet the king was trying to killed him.  The king who was the highest judge in the land.  He was unjust and misused his power to kill the innocent.  Psalm 57 is also sung to the tune of ‘Do not destroy.’  It again was about Saul trying to kill David, on a different occasion.  But God is the one who saves the righteous.  Even today, we do not see justice done.  But there will be a time when “men will say “Surely the righteous are rewarded”” (Ps 58:11).  Do not worry about this, God will bring justice. Romans 11 and 12 remind us of the time that Israel was selected to be God’s people.  They were the ‘natural branches’ of the olive tree of God’s people.  To this family tree, God has added the branches of Gentile nations.  Now we are all one in Christ and there is no difference between Jew and Gentile (Romans 11:12).  It is belief in Christ that now determines whether we are part of God’s family tree (Romans 11:4, 9).  But the tree is for all who believe.  It is a good thing if we pass the teaching of the gospel on to others, so that they can also be saved, “How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news” (Romans 11:15).  We can be part of this process by passing on the good news of Christ to others.  But never let us be proud or arrogant. It is God who has called us to the grace of the gospel, not ourselves. God could easily cut us off for pride.  Instead, let us humbly thank God that we are called to be in Christ. In our three readings we have seen that Israel suffered, David suffered and the Jews have struggled to understand Christ.  It is the suffering and struggles of life that we also struggle with. In answer to this, let us remember that God knows what His is doing.  It is our understanding and vision that is limited. Romans 11:33-34 ends with this point, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God!  How unsearchable his judgments, and his paths beyond tracing out!  Who has known the mind of the Lord?  Or who has been his counsellor?”  None of us know the way God thinks or could ever give Him advice.   His ways are beyond our understanding.  What He is doing is bring about the saving of His people through Christ according to His own plan. This is more than enough for us and we praise Him for it! February

February 2nd

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

February 3rd

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

February 4th

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

February 6th

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

February 7th

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

February 8th

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

February 9th

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

February 10th

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

February 11th

In Exodus 21 we have a list of various laws that applied to God’s people (the Hebrews) up until the time of Jesus. The laws applied to things from how to treat Hebrew slaves to coping with dangerous bulls; without exception the laws are for the good of the people themselves and when followed demonstrated a love for God and for each other – this is why Jesus said that the most important laws were to love the Lord God AND your neighbour as yourself. The law about the Hebrew servant is all based on love anyway, God’s people had to employ or have as servants those of their fellows who for whatever reason fell on hard times so that those who were desperate could have a home and an income. The very fact that the person who was a slave could decide to permanently join the household, verse 5-6, means that the relationship between the “master” and the “slave” should be a good loving one. The female slave is the same loving relationship because the option was there for the woman to be the wife of the “master’s” son, verse 9. When we consider the bull in verse 28-32 we see that the owner has to protect others from the bull, so these laws are all about love for God and each other. A lesson that is very topical at the moment in one ecclesia in Uganda is verse 33-34 about a bull falling down un unprotected pit, the owner of the pit is responsible because they should have put a well maintained fence up around the pit to stop animals getting near it in the first place. So all of these laws are to protect others, but for those responsible to also understand that the consequences of not loving others, animals or God were very serious, even resulting in them losing their own lives, eg verse 16. Jesus, in Mark 8 actually refers back to these laws, verse 9-13, where in Exodus 21 we see in verse 15 and 17 that no one should “curse” his parents or “attack” them. In Mark 8 Jesus shows the Jews (Hebrews) that they had changed this loving law to a human “tradition” and by presenting a “gift” (corban) to God there were then free from “loving” their parents! This is a terrible thing because they were changing God’s laws, which were designed to demonstrate respect and love, into a human “tradition” that only advantaged the individual themselves. They were only interested in themselves and their own wealth and standing in the community! Jesus completely condemned the Pharisees and others who thought and acted like this as “hypocrites”, ie play actors, verse 6-7, and although we are no longer under the same laws in Exodus we can still learn the lessons from them and, as Jesus said “Love God and your neighbour as yourself”. The Pharisees had been criticising Jesus’ disciples for not “ceremonially” washing their hands before eating, verse 1-2, saying that they were “unclean”, ie “unclean” before God, according to their “tradition”, verse 3-4. However, Jesus demonstrated to them exactly what makes a person “unclean” before God, ie their actions, verse 20-23. These are the things that make anyone “unclean” before God and these teachings of Jesus actually do cover the laws in the Exodus reading, ie if we do not do any of these things then we would love our neighbour and God and then we would not commit any of those things that the law was designed to prevent! We obviously know that our lives are complete in Jesus, ie we will be in the kingdom if we remain faithful, but our determination to learn and to be more like him should be like that of the Syro-Phoenician woman (Gentile) in verse 24-30. Her daughter was ill, she knew that Jesus was preaching to his own people, ie the Jews, but she also knew that she could benefit too, and Jesus commended her for her faith, verse 29-30. Only faith in Jesus can save us, and we are promised this, therefore our actions and thoughts should demonstrate our faith! Psalm 74 is another of those psalms that are basically divided into 2, verse 1-11 is a sadness that God’s land, Jerusalem and the temple have been destroyed by the Jews’ enemies – we know that this was because of their unfaithfulness and their disobedience to God’s law, ie they did not love God or their neighbours. Verse 12-17 is a recognition of God’s power and love and how he saved Israel from Egypt and protected them from the proud Pharaoh and his army (depicted here as the “monster” and the “leviathan”) and destroyed them in the sea. He provided food in the wilderness and gave them water to drink, he sets the summer and winter etc, so this is the God who we should respect and obey! This is the God who will “remember”, verse 2, 18 and 22, and he will rise up and save those who “love their Lord God and their neighbours as themselves”. February

February 12th

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

February 13th

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

February 14th

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

February 15th

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

February 16th

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

February 17th

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

February 18th

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

February 19th

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

February 20th

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

February 21st

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

February 22nd

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

February 23rd

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

February 24th

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

February 25th

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

February 26th

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

February 27th

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

February 28th

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

March 1st

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

March 2nd

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

March 3rd

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

March 4th

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

March 5th

Leviticus 11 is about clean and unclean animals and what makes the children of God unclean, but to help us understand the lesson for us we have to remember that this is not about clean and unclean animals, it is about spiritual lessons. Acts 10 tells us that no animal is unclean of itself, so the lesson here is not physical, it is spiritual. Verse 44-45 tells us that God is separate from uncleanness and he is encouraging us to be separate too, in fact if we want to be like God we have to be separate from uncleanness too. So God separated his people from Egypt which is a picture of us being separate from the world and as Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6 verse 17-18 we have to be “separate” and God will be our “father” and we will be his “children”. So we must distinguish between unclean and clean things, Leviticus 11 verse 47, ie we have to distinguish between the godly and ungodly things in the world – the godly things with lead to life and the ungodly to death. This is Holiness! Psalm 110 reminds us of Jesus and the resurrection, verse 3, with the “troops” reminding us of the believers and “from the womb of the dawn” being the resurrection itself, Isaiah 26 verse 19. Verse 1 clearly is Jesus going to heaven to sit at God’s right hand. Psalm 111 then is a praise to God for what Jesus has achieved for us – we praise God for his “works”, verse 2, his grace and compassion, verse 4, his covenant, verse 5, the trust we can have in him, verse 8, and his redemption [in Jesus], verse 9. So this loving, caring, compassionate God has to be “feared”, verse 10. This “fear” is a real massive respect – the words “respect” and “awe” do not give the full meaning of “fear” – it is not a “fear” that causes us it be petrified, it is a “fear” like “fearing” the sea or water – we know what it can do to us, so we “fear” water. The “fear” of God is like the “fear” of upsetting a loving father, ie we do not want to upset him because he will punish us, out of love. Psalm 112 verse 1 says that “blessed” is the man who “fears” God, this man is the one who “delights in his commands”, so this “fear” means that we obey God’s commands because we want to please him and we do not want to upset him. The benefits of “fearing” God bring many blessings, verse 2-6, and this is contrasted by us not “fearing” bad news, verse 7. If we “fear” God, we have no “fear” of other things, verse 8, so “fearing” God is more than respecting him, it is a real “fear” but one that is based on love and confidence. The God that we “fear” is the God who helps individuals, verse 9, whose “righteousness” remains for ever. It is the “wicked” man who is distressed by not fearing God because he [or she] misses out on the blessings of God, verse 10, this is just as the “wicked” missed out on the kingdom in Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 8 verse 12. When we come to 2 Corinthians 3 and 4 we realise that with freedom in Christ come responsibilities, we are responsible for our actions, our commitment to grow and consistently trying to be like Jesus. There are so many connections to the law during Moses’ time in these chapters, from the understanding of the law, chapter 3 verse 3, to the radiance of the “light” of the gospel, chapter 4 verse 6. There is a contrast in these chapters with the fading light in chapter 3 verse 7-11 to the light of the gospel in chapter 4 verse 6, which never fades. Therefore we do not lose heart, verse 16-18. So the lessons in Christ are so much greater and clearer that the fading lessons of the teaching of the clean and unclean. The summary is that the glory in chapter 4 is greater that the fading glory of the law in chapter 3. March

March 6th

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

March 7th

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

March 8th

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

March 9th

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

March 10th

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

March 11th

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

March 12th

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

March 13th

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

March 14th

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

March 15th

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

March 16th

Leviticus 24: Instructions for the children of Israel and Aaron and his sons regarding keeping the lampstand burning. We remember that the lampstand was in the Tent of Meeting outside the Most Holy Place. The people were to bring “pure oil of pressed olives” for the light; and Aaron and his sons were to tend the lamps on the pure gold lampstand continually, keeping them lit from evening to morning, every day. The lampstand was made of pure solid gold, and it was all hammered out of one piece. The Lord gave precise instructions for its design; and once again we see why – it represents something else that would give light to mankind. “Your word is a lamp to my feet, and a light to my path” Psalm 119 verse 105, ie God’s word, the Bible. When we look at the details concerning the lampstand, the “cups, buds, and blossoms”, we see there were 3 of each on each branch and 4 of each on the stem of the lampstand, so 9, ie 3×3, decorations on each branch and 12, ie 4×3, decorations on the stem. The lampstand had 6 branches, 3 branching out from opposite sides. So how many decorations did God specify? There were 6 branches of 9 decorations = 54, plus 12 on the stem, ie 54+12= 66. God specified 66 decorations on the lampstand. We have suggested the lampstand is symbolic of the Word of God, so how many books does the bible do we have? 66! Not only that, if we were to look at one side of the lampstand and the stem we would have 3×9 = 27 decorations on one side plus the stem, ie 12. So that is 27+12=39, that is exactly the number of books in the OT, ie 39, and the NT, ie 27. And we have the reminder from the Lord, in the time of Moses, that God’s lampstand was precious, ie gold, and was one, ie one in purpose and inspiration, Because God regards His word, ie the OT and the NT, as one “work”, therefore, we as Christians read the whole Bible. There’s lot more to see, but we know God has brought light into the world, we see it in His word; we see it in Jesus. Do we keep it “burning” each day? Do we tend our lamps? “Are we the wise virgins” who have oil, ie faith in action, in their lamps continually, ready for Jesus return? Matt 25 verse 1-3. Psalm 132 is a psalm, like many which has design within it, history, future, God’s promises, re-assurance, prayers of the faithful and the answers to these prayers, and more! Another aspect is that the words are valid today, and would have been valid from the time of David onwards. The words would, to my mind, be more powerfully said when Israel were in exile without a king, but we too are one with these words as we await the son of David (Jesus), the coming king. The psalm speaks of God’s covenant with David in 2Sam verse 7, in which He promised David a royal “house”, a promise that would be fulfilled in the coming of the Anointed One, the Messiah (Jesus). So we can see this psalm could have been written whilst in exile when the people were waiting for the Lord to restore David’s kingdom to Israel. And it is very much true of today. The complete mess in the world: wars, famines, diseases, injustice, climate changes, etc. are all terrible, interestingly all of the problems are resolved when the Lord returns, so let us all pray, “Thy kingdom come”. The comfort from the prayer in verse 1-10, comes in the following verses from the Lord. It’s almost a reverse of verse 1! “Lord remember David (and us)”. The Lord is saying to them and us, ”Remember the Lord”, by the words and promises He has given you, we too can find the same re-assurance and the same comfort. When I am troubled I find quick re-assurance by confessing that “there is a God”, and that reminds me of what has been written and promised. In this psalm, here are some of the comforts: The Lord has promised; He will fulfil (verse 11);  Jerusalem is where the Lord will choose to dwell forever (verse 13-14); abundant blessings (food, salvation and joy) and  I will prepare a lamp for My Anointed (Jesus), and his crown shall flourish.” These are the answers to our concerns and all of the world’s concerns too. No wonder “thy word is a lamp to my feet”, without that light we couldn’t see where we should be going or what is coming! Luke 7 verse 1-10 shows the faith of the centurion which caused Jesus to be amazed (v9). The good deeds of the centurion (v5) caused the elders of the Jews to say “he deserves to have his servant healed”. But Jesus saw greater qualities in this man, ie humility (v6), faith (v7), when he said “say the word, and my servant will be healed”. Then in verse 8 he reveals his reasoning for his faith in Jesus. The centurion’s authority was given to him by Rome and he could see the authority of God had been given to Jesus, so Jesus only had to give the command and it would be done. When we  read in Matt 8 verse 8 that the CENTURION spoke to Jesus and compare that with the contrast in Luke7 verse 7, ie “the centurion sent friends to say to Him”, Luke is saying what happened literally and Matthew is saying the centurion’s WORDS were brought to Jesus by his friends, ie they spoke for him. Both records are talking about delegated authority. As Christadelphians, we don’t believe in a trinity, for example, but we do recognise the delegated authority that Jesus has been given from his father. This aspect of faith found in the centurion “amazed Jesus” and Jesus said “I tell you, I have not found such great faith even in Israel”. How blessed we are! Verse 11-17 is where Jesus raises a widow’s son from the dead. Proof of a delegated authority that the Jews that witnessed the event, confessed by praising God (v16). Jesus says in John 5 verse 19, “The Son can do nothing by himself….” (all power and authority had been given by his father) and v21 ”For just as the Father raises the dead and given them life, so the son gives life to whom he is pleased to give it”. Jesus continues in John 5 to talk about John the Baptist and so does Luke in chapter 7 verse 18-35. Jesus has great respect for John the Baptist and yet John, in his darkest moments needed help from Jesus. It’s interesting which words Jesus chose to strengthen John – “Go back and report to John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me”. For me, Jesus is reminding John of ISAIAH 35, a chapter that finishes “sorrow and sighing will flee away”. The chapter begins talking about a desert, something that John would relate to as that is where he lived for a time; verse 3-4 speak of strengthening with the promise that the Lord is coming to save you, verse 5-6 by healing. I suspect John’s mind had been on Isaiah 35 and when Jesus spoke to him (through John’s disciples) it revealed that Jesus knew John’s doubts and graciously gave a very personal message with words of encouragement from that very same chapter. Luke 7 verse 36-50 is a contrast between the hearts of Simon, a pharisee, and a sinful woman (prostitute?). We know who’s heart (spirit) we should have. I find verse 47 revealing “her many sins have been forgiven, for she loved much” Love, OF IT’S OWN does not bring forgiveness, it is by faith we are saved. However, if we love we will not want anything (sin) to come between us and the Lord, the more we love the Lord, the more we want to be like him and  will want complete forgiveness, ie totally. So because she loved much, she sought forgiveness for her many sins and for “one-ness” with her Lord, and because of having that spirit she was forgiven, totally. She knew this and so continued to love. In contrast, “He who has been forgiven little, loves little”. If we, like Simon, loves little, then forgiveness is not so important to us,  maybe because of OUR grief (not the Lord’s) we might ask to be let off, that’s not love, that’s not “one-ness” with the Lord. And if we have been forgiven little then we in turn will love little, Jesus doesn’t condemn Simon, he’s trying to help him. Simon (and all of mankind) will only know “one-ness” when aware of the depth of the love that is in Jesus (and in God), when we come to know that love then we GROW in love for them. And we too can hear the words “Your sins are forgiven, your faith has saved you; go in peace”. March

March 17th

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

March 18th

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

March 19th

The purpose of the book of Leviticus is to make God’s people holy, eg chapters 11:44-45, 19:2, 20:26.  The relationship between Israel and their God was dependent on their being holy, just like God is holy.  We must also try to be right with God and be holy too. Leviticus ends with chapter 27 on vows.  This was a chapter on mainly voluntary offerings to God, over and above the prescriptions of the law (with the exception of tithing, which was required).  A person could vow a person or a house or land and when they did so that item became most holy – not just holy (verse 28).  A person would do this because they wanted to get closer to God and express their devotion.  Because of this, taking vows to God is seen by God as a good thing.  Vows can be just gifts, but they could also be part of a request.  For example, if you (God) allow me to have a child, I will dedicate the child to God (as happened in the case of Hannah giving birth to Samuel).  Or you are in a life-threatening situation, you would vow to pay God something if God saves you.  Either way, whatever was promised had to be paid (Ecclesiastes 5:4-6).  God knows if you find paying a vow is hard (Psalm 15:4).  He also knows that many people were afraid to take vows (Ecclesiastes 9:2).  God values those people who do take vows . What this discussion should do is make us think about our own relationship with God.  What do we give to help our relationship with God.  It is not good to have a relationship with God where God gives everything and we give nothing (2 Samuel 24:24). Psalms 140-142 are all about David when he was in fear of his life from enemies.  This is where he had to rely on his relationship with God.  He needed to be holy if he wanted God to hear his prayers and help him. The wicked were around him like poisonous snakes, planning his fall (140:1-5, 141:9-10, 142:5-7). David was powerless to save himself.  He relied on God and prays passionately for his life.  He is aware of the temptation to turn to the dark side and do wickedness (141:3-4) and was making sure he did not.  He needed God to see him as a holy, and different from the people around him, if he was to be helped by God. Even if it meant someone hitting him and rebuking him to bring  him to his spiritual senses (41:5).  In this way his prayer would be like incense – acceptable to God (141:2).  But if he turned to wicked ways, then his prayer would not be accepted (Proverbs 28:9).  We see glimpses of other people in these Psalms.  The burning coals on the heads of the wicked (140:10) remind us of Lot, who was holy and was rescued from an evil town (2 Peter 2:7-8).  And Jesus. Even though they tried to push him off a cliff (141:6), God saved him.  Let us trust in God when our lives turn hard.  Let us make sure our lives are right with God, before the evil days come, so that God will listen to our prayers and save us. Our Lord has much advice for us in Luke 10.  There are not enough preachers taking the gospel message to the world (verse 2).  But those that do should not take the response personally, “He who listens to you listens to me; he who rejects you rejects me; but he who rejects me rejects him who sent me” (verse 16).  Those who do this have their names written in heaven (verse 20).  The next section is about how we can get eternal life (verse 25-37).  Jesus told us to love God and love our neighbour (verse 27).  We must think about how we do both.   The Jews had a mistaken view that their neighbour meant only Jews.  They limited their friendship to who they chose.  Jesus gave the parable of the good Samaritan to show that this was not true.  We may not be like the Jews on this matter, but do we limit our help to just those we like?  Are we actually biased?   It is only natural if we are.  Instead we need to be spiritual on this matter and help all.  The message of Luke 10 ends with advice on our use of time.  Mary chose the words of Jesus (verse 39), while Martha prioritised daily living (verse 41).  In our busy lives, do we spend too much time on daily living and not enough time sitting at the feet of Jesus and listening? Giving time daily to think about the words of God is surely what we should be doing.  This will help us to have a right relationship with God, so that we are helped in our time of need. March

March 20th

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

March 21st

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

March 22nd

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

March 23rd

Numbers 4: In this chapter we see further details that the Lord gave to Moses and Aaron concerning how the people and the tabernacle would journey. They were given specific instructions which tribes would move first and the order of the other tribes’ departure. Also, instructions were given on how and who would be involved when dismantling the “tent” of meeting. When we think of the task of moving millions of people (including children and elderly) and livestock in an orderly way, where everyone knew what they had to do, then we see the need for “details”. Without these details there would have been chaos and division. As I read this chapter I made some notes about the specific details. It’s so easy to get lost in the details and not take notice of them. When many things are moved it is a good idea to label the boxes. This was done in Moses’ time by the colour of the seen covering, so the blue covering was on the ark, and was for the most holy place; the other items were covered with badger skins and destined for the holy place. No doubt those who took down the curtains and the boards would also be the ones who would re-build the tabernacle on arrival. There’s much more to find, but the beauty of it all was that IF each person did according to God’s will, it would all be easy. God had planned everything; the materials, the dimensions, everything had been made so that the Lord and His people could journey together. Simple, as long as the people did n0t question God’s instructions. If you thought that you could do the job better than someone else, or if you wanted to “elevate” yourself, or do it your way (ignoring the instructions that you did not like), then suddenly the “church”, built up as many parts, does not fit as well, it is breaking up and is no longer a suitable dwelling place for God! This can happen in the ecclesia, we either work together, following God’s instructions on the journey to the kingdom, knowing the Lord will be with us, and guiding us, or we do our own will! Seeking to take a “higher place”. If we have this spirit, we have already disqualified ourselves in the Lord’s eyes and it will also be apparent to others! Let us keep it simple (for everyone’s benefit) and do all things according to God’s will that He may dwell amongst us. “…Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being FITTED TOGETHER, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the spirit” Ephesians 2:20-22. Proverbs 1:  If you knew a wise man it would be a good idea to sit and listen to him to gain understanding and instruction in how to live your life, to see things that you were doing right and those where you were wrong. Thank the Lord that we have access to the inspired (of God) words of a wise man (Solomon). They are words that reveal our hearts (good or bad) and are caring words, guiding words as a parent would give a child. But they are not just “good” words, they are words and instruction that IF put into action, bring wisdom and knowledge (from experience), and a more fulfilling life, and this continues throughout the whole of a person’s life. With so much wisdom where does Solomon start? “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (v7). In this verse the word “fear” means total respect and reverence mixed in with a healthy fear for God. We need this otherwise we don’t take His words or mercy seriously. If we do have the “fear of the Lord” then we will live accordingly, we will be conscious of our failings and our need for help, we will seek salvation and the kingdom of God. With a healthy fear of God  we will remember that we are always in His presence. He knows all of our thoughts and our actions, and why! “A wise man will hear and increase learning” (from the Lord) v5. A wise man will become wiser! “If any of you lacks wisdom let him ask of God” James 1:5. Last year an African brother lost his young child, and despite much searching by many, the child was never found. A friend of his, asked him how he was and how was his faith. He replied “I prayed for wisdom”. That is very wise! The wisest thing to do, a wise man wanting to be wiser! When we are in a terrible situation we cannot think rationally, this is the very time to ask for wisdom and guidance from God. Let us put this into action more frequently, the Lord wants to give you wisdom, pray for it, and then listen and wait. This wisdom of God is compared with the thinking of the world in verses 10-19. We immediately recognise that all of the enticements of the world are wrong, summarised in v19 “The ways of everyone who is greedy for gain… takes away the life of its owners”. My boss is a rich man, but he is not satisfied and his life is dominated by greed, in truth he is a poor man. However, wisdom brings beautiful life-changing riches. “Whoever listens to me will dwell safely, and will be secure, without fear of evil”. A lovely promise in these difficult times! A promise from God to all those who will listen and do. LUKE 15. 3 parables with a common theme of lost and found. The parables were relevant to the people then, and to mankind today. The chapter begins by telling us who Jesus was talking to, there were 2 groups. Jesus was with tax collectors and “Sinners”, and  separate from that group (certainly in their minds), the Pharisees and teachers of the law. The criticism from the Pharisees was that Jesus welcomed sinners (no doubt with joy!) and he ate with them. Jesus tells a parable, the lost sheep and the shepherd. He asks the question “If you were a shepherd what would you do?” Some might argue that they would not leave the 99 in the open country, but maybe he had left them with his friends and neighbours (v6). The sheep that is lost is so VALUABLE to the shepherd, the shepherd has such a strong relationship for that helpless sheep, he will do all he can to find it, and he will never feel “complete” until he has found it. When he does find it he rejoices, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep”. All of those who listened would have understood the actions and sentiments of the shepherd. But then, Jesus elevates the story to a heavenly understanding v7, “I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over 99 righteous persons who do not need to repent”. The “sinners’” hearts realized they were the lost sheep and Jesus was the shepherd. The Pharisees’ hearts considered THEMSELVES to be righteous and saw everyone else with a critical spirit, including Jesus, they were distancing themselves from the shepherd, and were lost! Not realizing their need to repent. What about ourselves in the ecclesia? Do we welcome ALL, to bring them to Jesus, we have all sinned, we should welcome (even encourage!) ALL to come to Jesus. But, we come to Jesus NEEDING TO BE CHANGED, to be given a new heart and spirit (mind), to be inspired to CHANGE our ways to his ways. Many came to Jesus, but not all were changed, the failure was not the Lord’s, it was that SOME DID NOT WANT TO BE CHANGED. The parable of the 2 sons and the father. We see the spirit (attitudes) in all 3 characters. The youngest son represented the “sinners”. The father represents God (and His will was being done by Jesus for repentant sinners).The eldest son was the Pharisees. So although the tax collectors and sinners were “lost” like the youngest son, by coming to Jesus, AND changing their lives, they had been found, “They were dead, but now alive, they were lost but now found”. The Pharisees (the eldest son) did not have the same spirit as the father (God).  v 20 -23.” But while he (the youngest) was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him, ”let’s have a feast and celebrate….” Was his response! If the Pharisees (and us) do not have the same spirit as God, we are lost, we are separate from God and we are “slaving” for the Lord instead of serving the Lord because of love, and muttering and moaning instead of rejoicing! The eldest son’s thinking was totally selfish, no consideration for his brother (even a denial that he was his brother) and no consideration for the father, this brings my mind back to Joseph, his brothers, and the relationship with his father, it was thought that Joseph was “lost”, but it was his brothers who were lost! March

March 24th

There are basically 3 topics in Numbers 5 that were specific to the people of God during Moses’ time, but they are powerful spiritual lessons for us now as well. The first is about removing sin from the presence of God, ie the lepers (symbol of sin) and the “flow of flesh” (symbol of the sinfulness of human beings), this is verse 1-4; the second is the necessary repayment for wrongs committed, plus a fifth more, verses 5-10, and then from verse 11 to the end we have the justified or unjustified jealousy of a husband over his wife. Each of these examples is a lesson for us now. The first one about getting rid of sin from the presence of God has to be what we should all be aiming for, we all confess that we are followers of God, therefore we must try our best not to sin and to remove temptation for ourselves. Clearly we should be trying to be like God, so if we are trying to be like God, how can we want to sin! Ephesians 2 verses 1-10 talks about us being made alive by God by Jesus, so we should be dead to sin, indeed if we sin we are as good as dead. We are holy people therefore we can not be unfaithful to God. Our sins should be outside the camp! in other words we should try not to sin, let alone actually plan to sin! The second lesson is if we do take something from someone, which is sin, eg stealing, or not giving the change, or taking something by fraud, etc, we have to pay it back plus we have to give an extra fifth of the value, this shows repentance. The practical reason for this was that taking something that was not ours was just not worth it, therefore it should not have been done. The spiritual lesson is that we would hate the fact that we would even consider sinning against someone else, because we love and respect the other person. If it is not possible to actually “pay” the other person then we give something to God. So what are we giving to God in payment for our sins? The third lesson is the consideration of the jealous husband who suspected that his wife had been unfaithful. in practical terms there would have been a “fear” of the consequences so a woman would not want to be unfaithful in the first place, nor want to do anything that would make her husband jealous and put her to the test. To help with the spiritual lesson we need to consider that at this time the husband represented God and the wife was the people. In our time the husband represents Jesus and the wife represents the church, Ephesians 5. So both God and Jesus are “jealous” for us, they want us to stay with them and our actions are tested. Let us not do anything that causes God or our Lord Jesus to be jealous. In Proverbs we read about the 2 types of people who respond in different ways to God’s word, the one rejects it and the other accepts it and lives by it. The one who puts sin “outside the camp” is the one who gets life, the one who hangs onto sin is rejected by God. Only by obeying God can we understand justice and righteousness, verse 9, this links to Deuteronomy 32 verse 4, where we read that God is the rock and his character is just and righteousness – this is how we should be too as we become like him. We have to understand God’s ways, this is why we put sins outside the camp! Proverbs verse 12 is God’s aim that he wants to save us from corruption and evil, so we clearly see why God wants us to stay away from sin. Then we walk with the righteous, verse 20; these ways are good ie the right way is wisdom. In Luke 16 we read of 2 examples as parables of Jesus. The first is the shrewd manager who did not do what he should have done and then he just pleased his fellows so that they would “reward” him, we should want to always please our master. The other is the rich man and Lazarus that teaches us to use the opportunity now to please God and also Jesus. Verse 10 puts the lesson into perspective, ie if we are unrighteous in anything small, we will be unrighteous in a lot, therefore, we are not trusted; on the other hand if we are faithful in a little we will be faithful in a lot! Therefore we have to use what we have been given in the best way. This parable is clearly not about riches because of the reaction by the Pharisees, verse 14. The rich man and Lazarus is about making the best use of time now because judgement is coming. The rich man had lots of opportunity to help, he chose not to and he lost his opportunity, he did not put his sins outside the camp, neither did he learn God’s wisdom. He acted unfaithfully. These parables give great spiritual lessons for us and equip us to walk with both God and Jesus. The point in each of today’s readings is that you cannot serve both God and man (or money), verse 13, it is either the one or the other. This is another reason why God said to put the sins outside the camp, in other words the ways of man are outside because these do not lead to life. We have a wonderful opportunity to have life so let us take the opportunities now to please our master. March

March 25th

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

March 26th

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

March 27th

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

March 28th

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

March 29th

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

March 30th

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

March 31st

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

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.  Jesus actually says to the people not to grumble, verse 43. I will try and add some more thoughts on this chapter later today or include in tomorrow’s. April

April 15th

Numbers 34 gives us the boundaries of the land that God had brought the people to;  it was important that they acknowledged this, verse 1-2, and it was also important that all took their correct inheritance, verse 13-15. All had what was rightfully theirs and all had what they needed – it was all shared correctly – a great lesson for us is that God gives us what we need. We read previously that the small tribes had smaller inheritances, whilst the large tribes had the larger inheritances, the division was of need, not of any superiority – everyone received what they needed. In Proverbs 25 we read that the impurities in silver are removed when it is refined – this is the same as our experiences in life. The process of God “refining” us is so that we can be pure like refined silver, verse 4-5. During this process we need to be humble, verse 6-8. All these remaining proverbs of king Solomon are all 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 have control over the things that we do. Yesterday we considered how God “tests” our faithfulness to see if we really are doing our best to stay on his side, and to see if we are learning from the experiences that we go through in our lives – we know that both God and Jesus “test” us, and in yesterday’s reading from John 6 we see that Jesus “tests” Philip when they had all those people to feed, verse 6. Both Philip and Andrew failed the “test” because they could not see any possibility of Jesus being able to feed the people with the few things that the people themselves had, verse 7-9. What both had forgotten, and we do the same too, is that with both God and Jesus all things are possible and in this case Jesus did feed the crowd by multiplying the small amounts that the crowd had, verse 10-11. When God and Jesus do provide there is plenty, verse 12-13.  Maybe here is another reminder for us of the people of Israel with the 12 baskets left over, but the obvious message is that when we rely on God and Jesus, and if it is their will, they will provide us with more than enough.  In this case there was another specific purpose because the people needed to be convinced that Jesus was special, verse 14. Their response was to make Jesus king at that time but Jesus knew that all things were in God’s timing so he moved away from the people, verse 15. We saw yesterday that Jesus told the Jews to stop grumbling, verse 43, they were grumbling because they had not learnt the lessons from their history or from their own lives. Jesus reminded them about the history that we have been reading about in Numbers, verse 44-51. It is God who calls people to him and to Jesus, and Jesus reminds the people that he (Jesus) is the “bread of life”; he said that the people who ate the bread in the desert died, but if people eat the bread from Jesus, they will live for ever. Obviously this is not literally eating Jesus, and it is obvious that Jesus does not mean that they will not die now, but he was meaning that if we accept Jesus now, we will live with him for ever when he returns to the earth. Jesus reiterates this in verse 53-58, showing us the significance of us accepting him and being like him, this is why we remember these aspects of Jesus’ life when we eat the bread and drink the wine on Sundays. We do not literally eat Jesus’s body or drink his blood, but we take the bread and the wine as symbols of spiritually taking in Jesus into our lives and being like him. Just as the people during Moses’ time needed the manna to physically stay alive, so we need Jesus, who came from God (the meaning of the phrase “came from heaven”) to stay alive spiritually. Jesus also reiterated that people can only come to him if God calls them, verse 65; these were hard sayings that some people could not accept and they left Jesus, but just like the disciples said to Jesus, verse 68, we also say “where else can we go?”. There is nowhere else where we can get life! In today’s reading in John 7 Jesus states again the importance of listening to God’s teaching, verse 16-19 – we need to listen to ALL of God’s teaching and not pick and choose the bits that we like! The Jews only obeyed the bits that they liked and they suffered for choosing the wrong things to follow. Jesus gave them the example of how they “worked” on the Sabbath by doing good in circumcising a child, yet they wanted to kill Jesus because he did good by healing on the Sabbath, verse 21-24. We too need to make the “right decision” when we consider the things of God. The sad thing is the people did know that Jesus was God’s son, verse 28-29, yet they all still did not accept what he was saying! Some did, verse 31, and we thank God that some still do accept Jesus as their saviour and try to do the things that he and his father want them to. In this chapter Jesus spoke of his death, resurrection and ascension to heaven, verse 33-34, but because the people generally did not understand what God has been doing all through the Bible they did not all believe and were divided about who he was. The lesson for us is to always read and learn and to put into practice what we learn, as God continues to “test” us in our lives as he changes us, so that we will be 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 too today, 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. God gave the laws so that 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; some 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! 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, and we should also be. 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

April

April 30th

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

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