English bible reading thoughts January to June



January – click on the date below

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May – click on the date below:


June – click on the date below:


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

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 every day life and set a good example. The same example is in Titus. We are awaiting eternal life verse 2 of chapter 1. We have lots of lessons in all the chapters there of how we should live our lives. Messages for elders, young, old, wives and husbands. We all have to follow God wholeheartedly so that others recognise that we are godly chapter 2 verse 7 & 8. 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. And this reminds me of our Isaiah reading, ie 19. God wants to have all people turn to him, verse 25. So when we see wars as we have just seen between the Israelis and Palestinians we must remember not to run down one side or the other, we should be praying for peace for everyone as they are all God’s people. 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. God bless. May

May 30th

Joshua 16, Isaiah 22 and Hebrews 1. I want us to have a reflection of yesterday’s reading from Hebrews 1:9 which talks about love righteousness and hate 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 of our salvation. And when we love righteousness then we must be humble and such God exalts us Philippians 2:9. Therefore we should turn a way from evils 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 as Mayende says and in 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 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

Some more thoughts about today’s readings. In Joshua 17 we still have the details of dividing up 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 latter 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 3 verse 14 to 19. So if we want to be part of God’s promises we have to at least try our best 4 verse 11. Because if Jesus all this is possible 4 verse 14 to 16. The picture reminders we have here from history is that the Jews actually rebelled against God, 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 lesson for us is not to rebel and keep hold of ungodly things to help us to be part of the wonderful grace that God gives. May

June 1st.

Sue and I have just been chatting about the readings today and the theme that we see also follows what Mayende and Monica have both said about God being in control at all times. The detail is there again in Joshua 18 as the land is allocated this time to Benjamin by God – we know it was God who did it because lots were used and God was in control of these lots. 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 don’t follow God. Often the Bible uses the terms moon, stars, etc. to describe nations who are powerful, especially powerful in the middle East. They are brought low because they are proud and not interested in God at all, they were only interested in their own enjoyment. 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. 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. June

June 2nd.

We have the detail again on Joshua 19 in the continued dividing of the land, remembering that it was God dividing it if he was controlling the lots that were cast. I wonder if we have a little lesson here in verse 9 about not being greedy and holding onto things just because we had 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 were willing to give the extra up, they were not proud. A good attitude for all of us to have as we all try to help our Christian family. Notice too that as promised, Joshua, himself received a 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. Isaiah 25 gets us looking again to our promise of the kingdom (promised land) when Jesus comes back in the future. We have the wonderful picture of there being no more pain and suffering and death. 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. We see the promised land as a forerunner of the kingdom 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 a purpose, but now we have Jesus! June

June 3rd.

In 1st reading, Joshua 20 and 21, we have the allocation of the cities of refuge and the cities given to the Levites. The cities were for those to go to if they accidentally killed someone. They still had to face a trial to make sure that it was an accident, and if this was judged as true they had to stay in that city. So there are consequences to all our mistakes and sins. There was a consequence because of Simeon’s anger in Gen 49:5-7 in his descendants being scattered within Israel – this happened in Simon being given land with Judah. So there are consequences. All of the cities of refuge were included in the allocation to the Levites, the Jewish spiritual leaders, therefore, the judgement on those who ran there should have been Godly and just. 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 picture of kingdom when there will be peace (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. This wonderful situation and promise has all been brought about by Jesus as Hebrews 9 and 10 continues to say. He 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. June

June 4th.

There’s a real practical simple message that comes across from today’s readings. This message is “talk”. In Joshua 22 we have a potential 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. Because they knew that ALL Israel would be punished if any tribe turned away from God, they were prepared to go and destroy their brothers, so serious was their concern. But before they went to war, 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. The talking and the reporting back averted a war! We all have to learn this and talk, don’t 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. It is so important to talk and explain, so many disputes between brothers and sisters would be prevented if we did. God talks to us and it is important that we listen and respond. In Isaiah 28 we have a situation where the people in Ephraim were making up their own rules and trusting in their own abilities. 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. We should only boast about God. 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. Hebrews 11 is a great chapter looking back at all the old testament characters who had faith and trust and talked about God. 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, but they and us have a wonderful future promise when Jesus comes back, verses 39 and 40. June

June 5th.

For me there is 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 it 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. In chapter 23:12-13 we have a warning about the dangers of not obeying God and 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. 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. We know that initially they 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 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. 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 a warning for us to only allow God to influence us. 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. We will have hardships but 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. 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. June

June 6th.

A thought will be added next year! June

June 7th.

Thoughts on yesterday’s and today’s readings. We start Judges chapters 1-3. As always God is full of grace, we will see in Isaiah how he waits and heals. Note that God will punish those who reject him and who try to destroy his people. This happened with king Adoni-Bezek, Jud1:7. The sad thing is that the Jews had not driven out every nation, we see that in chapter 1. God was not happy with this, Jud2:3. This is exactly what happened, the nations around influenced the Jews and took them away from God. It is so sad that when the initial elders died the people did not know of God, Jud2:10-12. This is not a good picture of the elders because they were not teaching the people very well. 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. Unless we keep reminding ourselves of the things of God, we will end up being influenced away from God. God will punish, but he also brings healing when his people are low, Jud2:16. It is again sad that the pattern is repeated time and time again, ie, reject God, low, God brings healing, then they reject. So important therefore to keep reminding each other and teaching. Notice in Jud2:22 and Jud3:4 that the people around them were to test the people. Only when they had strong, Godly leaders did they follow God, so again we need to teach and learn. 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, Jud30:12-14. It will fail, so if we rely on human things like money, our own skills and our strength God will bring to an end. Even if we seek help from other human things, this will fail too, Jud31, we can see the picture of human reliance in the prophecy against Egypt. But God wants us to follow him, Is30:18 and Is31:6, 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. There is a great conclusion in Hebrews 13. Hebs13:7-14 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. The rest of the chapter tells us to obey our Godly leaders and help them as we all help each other. Yes we fail and yes we all need forgiveness and we certainly need God’s grace. James follows the theme of obeying and also doing what Jesus did in everything. We are all given tests and trials to build our Godly characters, Jms1:12 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, James 1:19-27. The things that we are taught have to be responded to by having Godly actions. 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, Jud4:3. Notice that God is always listening, 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, Jud4:6-7. 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. Heb11:32. 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, ie Jael Jud4:21, confirmed by Deborah’s song, Jud5:24-27. These were faithful women who remained Godly throughout the people’s rejection of God. Deborah gives the full credit to Israel’s rescue to God – we see this in Jud5. She always gives credit to God. She gives a sobering closing thought in Jud5:31. Only those who really love God have strength. 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 ourselves that we are right, Isaiah 32:9. They were complacent, just happy to go along with their own lives without having a full regard for God. And brought them low again. 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. In our James reading we see that our belief in God and Jesus has to show in what we do. The example starts by not showing favouritism, James 2:1. James 2:14-26 talks about demonstrating our faith by the things that we do. You cannot split the two things, James 2:18. 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. We know we fail and thank God that he is merciful, verse 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 and not to be complacent like the Israelites were. But if we are in a bad place let us come near to God and ask him for help. June

June 9th.

The theme that runs through all 3 readings today helps us in our 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, on this case very low, as the people were finding it very difficult to find somewhere safe to live and to grow crops. By being low there realised again that they needed God and there was recognition of this, then God responded. This principle of turning to God first and then he responds is clear in James 4:7-8. 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 6:7 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, this is also picked up in James. Gideon has respect for God and his angel and he does what he asked. Notice how much Gideon gave, an ephah of flour is a lot, he gave everything to God! Judges6:19. 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 food! His trust in God started to bring results as he started building the army to overcome their enemies. 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 and God’s mercy. 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. 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 will have periods of suffering, but we look forward to the time when Jesus is back and we have a little glimpse of this in verse 24. In the meantime we have to do what God says in verses 15-16 then we will see verses 17-19. Our actions, especially what we say is picked up in James 3:1-12. 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, James 3:17-18, do these words describe you? They should do! James 4:4 is very serious, if you are friends with ungodly things and people you are enemies of God. This is what happened in Judges and in Isaiah and God brought them low. But God is always there, waiting for us to call on him, James 4:8. Remember that our life is but a mist, James 4:14, so take opportunities now to be like Jesus and to obey God because, James 4:17! 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 you repent. June

June 10th.

We will again think of some practical lessons that we can learn from and put into practice in our own daily lives. In Judges 7 Gideon shows how much trust he has in God after he has experienced God’s sign in chapter 6. God said that the number he 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 prayers in the night, he was using their fears! 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 8:22-23, 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? Gideon does appear to have kept the people Godly during his life, but sadly this did not last, Judges 8:33. 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 it was in Gideon’s time. The father of Edom was Esau, he rejected the ways of God, 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. 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. Sometimes we can become impatient and we want God to act now, but James tells us to be patient, James 5:7-11. We have to believe that everything is in God’s time. In the meantime, as we wait we have to try to act like Jesus. 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. 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 really bad example of Abimelech and the people of Shechem. Neither were 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 what they could benifit 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! It is a terrible thing to go against God, he always sees and no matter how long it takes he will bring justice. Judges 9:23-24. God works in his own time and slowly the people of Shechem and Abimelech started to argue, there was no trust between anyone and this is often the case when anyone creates an evil scheme with others, no one trusts the other and relationships break down. This is why we should always build our relationships on Godly things 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. Judges 9:56-57. 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. They will be at peace and have the good things. But the wicked fools, those like Abimelech and those who are ungodly and crave power will not be there, Isaiah 35:8-9. Only those who are redeemed by Jesus will be there, Isaiah 35:9-10. Notice the contrast between the things of God and those of man. The nation Edom did not let the Israelites past 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. 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 can not 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. 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, verse 21-25. June

June 13th.

Our readings today have a theme that runs all the way through the Bible. We have seen this a number of times in the readings recently and warnings are repeated multiple times, so I am going to repeat again! In 1 Peter 3:8 we are told to be humble, chapter 5:5 repeats and reminds us that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble. It is through 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 4:19. 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. 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! Judges12:1-3. Ephraim wanted part of the spoil, they were jealous and they thought that they were the better tribe! There are always consequences when pride and jealousy is involved… 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 about 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 13:1. 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. 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. 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! 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. Compare this with the humility of Hezekiah when he learned of Sennacherib’s insults, verse 1 and how great an impact it had on how God responded, verse 14-20 and verse 21. So the lesson for all of us, do not be proud about anything, humbly give all glory and credit to God. Pride is so dangerous! June

June 14th.

In 2 peter 1:3-4 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. We do not have any idea 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, shows us just how much God dislikes sin and he will judge those who abuse his grace and mercy and his people. (angels here just means messenger, so are human beings who should have been passing on God’s message properly). 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 1:5-9. 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. In our Judges’ reading we have the account of Samson’s mission. He was called by God, Judges 14:6, 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 repress the Philistines. We have lots of detail here in Samson’s life, that maybe we do not fully understand, his parents didn’t, Judges 14:3-4, they were right to challenge him because he should not be marrying someone who is not an israelite. Likewise we are not always sure of what is going on, but we can be sure that God is working. Hezekiah recognised God working in his life, when he had a problem he immediately turned to God, Isaiah 38:2-3. He had done this before and he was doing it again. He also recognised that somehow his suffering was for his benefit, verse 18-19. 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 in his own time frame, so we pray for patience. Because when Jesus comes back we will be saved, Isaiah 38:20. 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 out 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 when Godly people do get 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. There are some confusing things in Judges 16, some of the things written are not what we expect, eg Samson sleeping 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. 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 his strength, verse 17. 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 him, 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. Despite his mistakes, he was a man of faith and he is listed in Hebrews 11. Hezekiah in Isaiah also became complacent and proud, notice he says “my” in verse 4. He did not give glory to God for what God had given him. Hezekiah appears not to have the right attitude in verse 8, perhaps he should have prayed for forgiveness for not giving glory to God? 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 2:15-17 should make us think about where our love is, world or 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 1:9. No one can ever say that we have not sinned, 1John 1:8&10. However, we still have the responsibility to try to do what God and Jesus want us to do. 1 John 1:3-6, 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, verse 5. 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. In Judges 17 and 18 we have this very strange situation where no one checked with God what to do. Judges 17:6 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 18:19-20, notice the priest was “glad” as he now had a better offer. This is a terrible situation to get into, they had forgotten that it was God who helps, Isaiah 40:11 and 31. 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 1:5-7, we need to try to be in the “light” all the time, ie following God, we will fail, and we have forgiveness if we try and change. June

June 17th.

We have 2 great chapters in 1 John 3&4. 4:19-21 sums up how our confessed love for God has to be translated into love for all those around us, especially for our brothers and sisters. We can not say that we love God and then do bad things to each other. There is 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! Chapter 3:1-3, 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 hope we should be trying to be like Jesus in everything. We have a warning too not to be “led astray” 1 John 3:7, we should always try to do what is right. We know again that so often we fail and it is good for us to have a conscience, 3:20 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 is key in all our understanding and also having a respect of God all of the time. John gives the example of when this knowledge and respect fails by reminding us of Cain, 3:11-15, 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 (19) is another example of when things go terribly wrong. 19:1 is a 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 and they again did their own thing. If the Levite 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 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 3:16. 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. Hannah’s prayer in 1 Samuel 2:1-10 shows humility, trust, praise, thanks and honour. She credits God for everything and again confirms that she is a good example to us. Eli’s sons are the complete opposite, they had no respect for God, verse 17. 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 they slept with the women who were there to serve God, verse 22, Eli’s sons were just out to satisfy their own pleasures, with no respect for God. 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 wide – 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. There is always hope, our hope is in Jesus as Revelation 5&6 shows us. Jesus, because he was sinless, is worthy to help and save us, verses 6-10. Jesus is the judge and he will judge those who do not follow his father! 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 weak too. Verse 1 shows the consequences of this, God was not close to them. This is a lesson for us too. If elders are ungodly and weak the whole community is in danger of becoming weak. 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. 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 massive 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. Personally I think that there is a danger in over complicating Revelation and we miss the lessons for us. When we look at chapters 7, 8 and 9 we again see the 2 groups of people, Jews (Rev7:4-8) and gentiles (Rev7:9) and all are worshiping God and Jesus, verses 10-17. This is when all pain will end! Chapters 8&9 are clearly punishments on the generally ungodly world, those who have the mark of God on their foreheads (Rev9:4), ie those who have been baptised, have some form of protection, but the purpose of the destruction is to encourage repentance. Sadly they do not, Rev9:20-21. In any interpretation of Revelation that you favour, always look for the lessons for you. 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. 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, verses 1-30. 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”. We have to always be careful to ensure that we only give credit to God himself, not to any elements of our worship, eg making a “god” of the hall where we meet. 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. 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 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 gone. 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 3:8), 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, not rebelled, verse 5. He trusted always, verse 10 and was helped. 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, Rev10:7. 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 due to Covid-19, we do not know, but what we do know is that at some time God will bring about his purpose. Rev11:15-19 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.

A thought will be added next year! June

June 27th.

A thought will be added next year! June

June 28th.

In 1 Samuel 8, we see that the people reject God as their king, 1Sam8:19. This is despite God giving them victory over the Philistines in 1 Samuel 7:10-11. Even though God answered their pleas for help, eg 1 Samuel 7:7-9, 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 (1 Samuel 8:10-18). A warning again 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 rejecting him he still works in their lives and the lost donkeys is a way of getting Saul to meet Samuel. Samuel was also guided by God for the meeting and we see that God is interested in the details as the donkeys were found, which was a good help for this presumably poor family, 1 Samuel 9:21. 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, 1 Samuel 9:2, so he gave them a King that they wanted. 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, starting from Isaiah 32:13. Jesus is God’s servant. It is clear from the references in the new testament back to chapter 53 that this is the case. Only Jesus can “take up our infirmities”, Isaiah 53:4, we know that he was “oppressed and afflicted”, verse 7 and only Jesus can “bear the sins of many”, verse 12. 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 53:5. Knowing what Jesus achieved for us when he gave his life for us has to make us want to follow him at all times. We have seen from the lessons in Judges how they suffered when they rejected God and we see from Revelation 15 and 16 that God will always punish those who reject him. Even with the different forms of punishment the aim is to encourage repentance, Rev16:8-10. 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, Rev15:3 and we have similar plagues to those suffered by the Egyptians. 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 happen 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. Anything that is based on human thinking is described as the “beast”, this is the number of man, Rev13:18. Whose side are we on?, man’s or God’s? Man’s side brings death, God’s side brings life. June

June 29th.

Some 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 annointed 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 it 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. Isaiah 54 is a great 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. We will see the “tent of salvation” widened 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 peace and security. 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&18. I like to apply everything that I read in the Bible to me, so whatever your prefered interpretation is of Revelation try and get lessons for your life. For me the beast that the woman is sitting on in Rev17:3 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”, verse 3 again. We can all see from the effects of covid-19 lock downs how quickly things can change and how temporary wealth is, we can see how quickly God can change man’s reliance on it. 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 to 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 Rev 18:21-24 which will be destroyed by God’s righteous judgement. So the question is are we spiritually living in Jerusalem or in Babylon? Rev18:20. 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. June

June 30th.

A few practical lessons from today’s readings. In 1 Samuel 11&12 we still see a godly Saul and obviously a godly Samuel, eg Saul does not seek retaliation on the people who opposed him being made king, 1Sam11:12-13. He clearly made a godly decision in his response to the request to help Jabesh, 1Sam11:6-8. At this point in his life God was with him because he acknowledged God and had respect for him. Samuel’s summary of himself in 1Sam12:3, 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! 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 55:6-7, it says to seek the Lord whilst you have the opportunity, tomorrow may be too late! In these verses we have sin, repentance, forgiveness and grace too. We do worship a patient God, but one who should be respected too. Chapter 5 is a wonderful future picture of reconciliation with God and a wonderful time of joy, this will ultimately be in the kingdom, verse 12-13. We are brought to the kingdom on God’s terms though, notice verse 11. His words, or his commands and will will happen, what he says will come true and what he requires will happen, so if we want to be part of his future promises we have to try to do what he wants and to be seen to be godly as Samuel was. We have to respect that even though God has promised us a future there will still be a judgment on us all. Revelation 19&20 reminds us of this. If we are godly we have no fear at all of this and we are blessed to be invited to the wedding super if the lamb, ie Jesus, Rev19:9 and we will sing verses 1-8. But the judgement will condemn those who are ungodly and follow human based things, whatever form they take. Jesus is coming to judge. Those who are recognised as God’s and Jesus’ will reign with him (Rev20:4), those who are recognised as following man’s ways, ie indicated by those with the mark of the beast, will not. There appears to be a temporary pause of sin for the 1000 years for those who have yet to accept Jesus, this again shows God’s mercy and patience, but in the end those who continue to reject him die forever. These are graphical pictures and many have different views of what they mean but essentially the picture we get is man v God and God will always win. We are privileged and blessed to be in the book of life, but we also have a responsibility to walk in God’s ways, in case our names are crossed out, Rev20:11-15. June

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