Daily Devotionals Old

Updated  3rd March

The Christian’s role in evangelism      2 Corinthians 4.1-6

There are many Christians who wince at the word evangelism and feel awkward. This is often because past experiences have been difficult. There are frequently strong emotions associated with the term. The proclaiming of the gospel in whatever form is opposed by the dominant cultural view in many countries including much of the West. This should not surprise us as Paul states, ‘the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers.’ V4 What is role of the Christian? It is to proclaim Jesus Christ as Lord. v5 For Paul this took many forms. At times he addressed large crowds, he met with women by a river during a time of prayer and talked with them. He visited people’s homes, he addressed small gatherings in homes, he spoke in court and he spoke to his jailers in prison. There is no one model and undoubtedly if ministering today he would use whatever modern means he could to proclaim Jesus. What the NIV translates, ‘preach’ the ESV translates ‘proclaim’ but the meaning is to herald. That is to go before and announce or introduce and to tell of the good things of Jesus.

 

Paul in this passage strongly qualifies his role in preaching the gospel with his attitude and approach as he proclaims. There is no room for self-promotion, he is not about creating a personal following. He terms himself a servant or slave for Jesus’ sake. v5 Underlying this is his awareness that the only difference between a Christian and an un-believer is that God in his mercy has opened the Christian’s blind eyes. It is the Spirit of God who does that not the preacher. The Christian then is to continue proclaiming Jesus and praying that God will open blind eyes by shining the light of the gospel into the hearts of unbelievers. v6

 

There are three basic heart attitudes the Christian should adopt when sharing the good news of Jesus.

 

Integrity – Open honesty that is genuine and sincere. ‘We have renounced disgraceful, underhand ways. We refuse to practise cunning or to tamper with God’s word, but in the open statement of the truth we would commend ourselves to everyone’s conscience in the sight of God.’ v2

 

Faithful adherence – As the NIV translates we do not “distort” the word of God. This means we do not avoid the aspects that might be more uncomfortable to speak about. This includes sin, the need for repentance and the judgement of God. All of which Jesus was very clear about in his teaching.  We need to trust the Holy Spirit to attract people to Christ.

 

Humility – We are not to manipulate people or play on people’s vulnerabilities. It is Jesus we proclaim and we want people to make their own mind up as to whether to follow Jesus becoming convinced of the truth and led by the Holy Spirit.

 

(The content of this reflection draws on the Christianity Explored Leaders Handbook)

 

When we share the good news of Jesus do we pray that we will have the right attitude ourselves in how we relate to others?

 

Do we remain honest and humbly brave to speak about the whole gospel as the Spirit causes situations to arise?

 

Lord, I need you – Matt Maher

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuvfMDhTyMA

 

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God’s role in evangelism         2 Corinthians 4.1-6

When Jesus gave his disciples the instruction to go into the whole world and ‘make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you,’ he did not intend them to achieve this alone or purely by their personal powers of persuasion. He added, ‘And behold, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’ Matthew 28.19-20 Paul was deeply aware of the Spirit of Christ accompanying him as he preached and taught and therefore did not lose heart, v1 he was aware of the mercy of God in his ministry.

 

God’s role whenever the good news of Jesus is shared is to shine, ‘the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. v6 He makes his light shine in our hearts. This is fundamental to anyone coming to faith in Jesus. That role cannot be replicated by a human. God enables us to see who Jesus is. It is a matter of the Holy Spirit revealing Christ to us. That is the moment when someone becomes a Christian, when they recognise Jesus for who he is. When Paul became a Christian on the road to Damascus to persecute Christians, he saw miraculously a dazzling light. He asked, ‘Who are you Lord?’ Then Jesus replied, ‘I am Jesus.’ Acts 9.5 Not only physical light but the light of revelation had shone into Paul’s heart and he grasped who Jesus really was and called him Lord.

 

When Jesus healed the man blind from birth he said, ‘I am the light of the world.’ John 9.5 Jesus is the same God who brought light into the world at creation. Every time a person recognizes that Jesus is God and has come to save them from the consequences of their life of sin, God performs another miracle in their heart. It is no coincidence that the man who Jesus healed of blindness had been blind since birth John 9.1 we all have been blinded by sin and the devil until God reveals himself to us.  The sharing of the gospel alone is not sufficient for an individual to become a Christian.

 

There is spiritual conflict over the hearts of people, the gospel is veiled to those who are perishing. v3 The reason it is veiled is, ‘the god of this world has blinded the minds of unbelievers to keep them from seeing the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ.’ v4  The devil causes people to pursue and desire the things of this world above a relationship with God. Whether that is popularity, possessions, relationships, sensual gratification, power and prestige or immediate temporary gratifications. People are blinded to anything that will open their eyes to see Jesus for who he is.

 

Part of the blindness can be that they think they have Jesus labelled, as a teacher, a dead prophet, a con merchant, a made up person to justify people’s beliefs, a myth. The devil wants and is happy when that is how Jesus is viewed. Anything to prevent people seeing Jesus as, ‘the light of the gospel for the glory of Christ, who is the image of God.’ v4

 

Who are you praying for that the Holy Spirit will open their blind eyes to see the glory of Christ?

 

Have you in your anxiety that someone should believe striven to do what only God can do?

 

Open our eyes Lord

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XJu0mnn_b4

 

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Benefits of belonging                  John 17.6-12

Jesus continues his intercession for his disciples, ‘the ones given to him by the Father’, in this passage with a particular focus on them being sustained over the testing period ahead for them. Jesus continues to intercede for all disciples following his ascension to heaven. The High Priestly prayer we read here gives us an insight into how Jesus prays for all believers now. Hebrews 7.15 says, ‘he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.’ Paul emphasises this to Timothy, ‘For there is one God, and there is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus.’ 1 Timothy 2.5 John confirms that Jesus carries on interceding for the church with specific reference to the continuing sanctification of believers as they struggle with sin in their lives. ‘My little children, I am writing these things to you so that you may not sin. But if anyone does sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.’ 1 John2.1

 

Jesus’ prayer reminds us that does not negate the necessity for prayer. It is God’s chosen means of fellowship with people. Neither does God’s sovereignty make redundant the human responsibility to obey God’s word. ‘They were yours; you gave them to me and they have obeyed your word.’ v6  Believing in the sovereignty of God is an encouragement to pray because he has the power to answer prayer.

 

At this stage the disciples may not have fully understood that Jesus must die and be raised again. They also may have not understood how Jesus had fully fulfilled the motifs of the Messiah in the Old Testament: such as the lamb of God, the Temple, the High Priest and the Suffering Servant, but what they did know was Jesus came from God the Father. v8 Belief in the Trinity is essential for authentic Christian discipleship. All disciples have been given by God the Father to Jesus, who have faith in Jesus and obey the word of God.

 

The redeemed disciples bring glory to Jesus. v10 They have the security of belonging to God the Father and Jesus. Jesus knows he is about to leave them and this world and so he prays to the Father that he will protect them as he is about to be no longer physically present with them. v12 Now the disciples will have the protection that comes from the authority of God the Father. V11

 

Does the knowledge that Jesus prays for us help us to be obedient to his word?

 

How are you encouraged that Jesus prays for you?

 

Charlotte Church – The Lord’s Prayer (Live From Jerusalem 2001)

 

 

 

 

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Sanctification process                    John 17.13-19

Sanctification is one of those technical words in the bible that can be difficult to apply to our lives in everyday terms. Jesus in these verses throws light on it in his prayer for his disciples to God the Father. The ESV global study bible sums up sanctification in this way, “The sanctification of Christians is a lifelong process. It involves separation from evil and growth in moral purity in attitudes, thoughts, and actions.” From this definition we can see that it remains an incomplete process this side of heaven. Jesus himself is the only person to have lived a life entirely free of sin, he therefore is our example. His prayer though shows an understanding of human frailty and now he seeks God the Father’s intervention to protect his disciples from the pressure of sin in the world and from Satan or the evil one. What is also clear is that Jesus expects his disciples to dedicate themselves to their personal sanctification and not use the inevitability of imperfection as an excuse for conforming to the pattern of the world.

 

Jesus emphasizes the joy of having Christ in their lives and sharing in his relationship with God the Father. The system of slavishly obeying rules is a failed system. God does not want grudging obedience, his desire is that we live the Christian life filled with the joy that Jesus had. ‘But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves.’ v13 The world may try to convince us that God’s righteousness is dull, boring, limits our freedom, crushes our identity, whereas in truth the opposite applies. Living a life full of the Spirit, dedicated to love, peace, kindness, forgiveness and faithfulness is a joy filled life in close relationship with God the Father. The disciples have learnt this from words Jesus has spoken.

 

Jesus’ words caused a marked demarcation between those who were receptive to them and the wider world. Underlying this is the spiritual battle that was taking place. Jesus’ words caused extreme opposition about to culminate in his arrest, trial and crucifixion. Jesus was praying for his disciples because this battle was not going to end with his resurrection even though that struck the victory blow. When Jesus prayed, ‘that you keep them from the evil one,’ v15 he was praying for their continued sanctification despite temptation. He was also praying for their continuing mission in taking his word to the wider world.

 

The disciples were not to be miraculously taken out of the world and neither are we. We are to live in the world for the sake of others and the gospel. They were to be sanctified by his word and take the word to others. ‘Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth. As you sent me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. vv 17-18 Jesus continues to be the High Priest before God praying for the church’s growth in holiness and effectiveness in taking the gospel to others making disciples.

 

Does it encourage you to pray that Jesus prayed for himself?

 

How might you pray in the light of this passage?

 

REVIVAL ANTHEM – Rend Collective

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Egw65U99qjU

 

 

 

 

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I have manifested your name to the people              John 17.6

In John 17 we have the privilege of overhearing a private prayer between Jesus and God the Father. It has been called the “High Priestly Prayer.” Jesus is concerned at this point for the glory of God the Father, the welfare of his disciples and obedience to the word of God.

 

Jesus himself has been obedient to the Father in revealing his name to the disciples who God had already identified to be called out of the world into the kingdom of God. Revealing or making manifest God’s name is much more than a simple name. His name includes God’s identity, character, works and words. Earlier in John 1.18 John says of Jesus, ‘No one has ever seen God; the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.’ Part of Jesus’ role is to make the whole nature of God known to mankind. When we see Jesus, we see God. This is a major reason for the modern Christian to regularly return to the gospels where his portrayal takes a narrative form. We can find out how he reacts to various people and circumstances. We can learn how he organises his life. We have the great honour of listening in to prayer. We witness obedience to God’s word in action as we discover the minutia of Jesus’ life. All of this had formed part of the disciples’ education into who God is.

 

They learnt the closeness of Jesus’ relationship with the Father. They must have been amazed at the power of God over creation seen in the quietening of the storm. How lives are transformed when faith enters people’s lives when the resurrection power of God was revealed through Jesus raising Jairus’ daughter from her death bed. How God has compassion on ordinary people who seek after him in the feeding of the five thousand. They learnt that God did not tolerate false religion that pampered to human pride. They witnessed the rejected in society experiencing mercy and inclusion into the kingdom of God whether that was a Roman tax collector, a leper or an alien woman with a dubious moral history. When anyone recognised Jesus for who he was and turned away from their sin and toward him they were welcomed with open arms.

 

The ones God had revealed himself to through Jesus were indeed a mixed bag but Jesus was able to say of them, ‘Yours they were, and you gave them to me, and they have kept your word.’ v6 How much does that reflect our own experience and what we know of the modern church. How has God revealed himself to you through Jesus?

 

The challenge then passes on to the modern church and each individual Christian, to reveal to the world this Jesus and in doing so Jesus manifests the whole Trinitarian Godhead. How can this be done? The first clue lies in the end of verse 6, ‘and they kept your word.’ To be able to do that we must first of all know the word of God. Then we need to live under the authority of the word.

 

What a beautiful name – Hillsong Worship

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nQWFzMvCfLE

 

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What does eternal life mean?           John 17.1-5

Pre-lockdown I used to go along to a monthly meal for retired people at a rather nice hotel. Now don’t get me wrong these are not geriatrics who have lost an interest in life. They are a group of intelligent, quick witted people who were all engaged in active retirement. Even so conversation could quickly turn to ailments, waiting lists and hospital appointments. With life becoming increasingly painful and potentially limiting why would anyone contemplate eternal life as a good thing?

 

However, what one does become increasingly aware of in conversation over lunch beside the excellence of the roast potatoes is the importance of relationships. When the drivers of career and scaling the money tree have diminished what is desired above all are loving relationships. I try to avoid offspring poker. It goes something like this, “Well my daughter is a doctor and is doing frightfully well.”

“Oh is she, that’s lovely. Of course, my grandson is a specialist in orthopedics and he gives up three months of his year to work in refugee camps.  He says it’s very fulfilling.”

“Strange you should say that. Jeremy, my grandson used to work in war zones but he says that so often it feels like a lost cause. He now dedicates himself to reconstructive surgery for orphans in remote areas that you can only reach on foot or by small aircraft where the runway has been hacked out of the jungle.”

 

I exaggerate naturally, but it illustrates the importance of loving relationships that we can be immensely proud of. Today’s passage is all about wonderfully loving relationships. The relationship between God the Father and Jesus the Son but also God’s love for those who believe in Jesus and Jesus’ love for his disciples.

 

Firstly, Jesus speaks to the Father in his hour of greatest need, he does not shut him out. In his own suffering his desire is to bring glory or praise to the Father. ‘Father, the hour has come, glorify your Son that the Son may glorify you.’ v2 He shares the love the Father has for those who have trusted in him and this love has existed since before creation. Eternal life is in the gift of Jesus because the Father has granted it to him. Because it is a gift it cannot be earned or bought, it can only be received.

 

Eternal life is defined in terms of relationship. It is described as knowing, ‘the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom you have sent.’ v3 However much we love and are proud of our closest loved ones what makes eternal life wondrous is the personal knowledge of God the Father and Jesus the Son. It is being in the presence of divine love. It is not sensual delights, possessions or achievement it is being in relationship with God the Father and Jesus Christ. What is wonderful is that this is not a one way street of admiring from afar. The Godhead desires to be in relationship with those who trust in Jesus and so Jesus is going to do all that is necessary for that to be achieved. He is going to take the judgment we deserve and grant us his righteousness because compared to his ours is like filthy rags.

 

Who is this one who desires to be in relationship with us. It is, “the Author of all Creation, the infinite One, the almighty One, the eternal One.” (Josh Moody, John 13 to 21 for you.) Jesus, whose works achieve our salvation brings glory to God the Father. Jesus persisted to the end, even though the end was the cross. Therefore, the cross is the glory of Christ that he had with God the Father before the world began. v5 It is a glory that is found in weakness, in sacrifice, in service and in death that brings about life.

Have we started our relationship with Jesus through faith in him?

 

Do we give the glory to Jesus for his love towards us expressed on the cross?

 

To God be the glory

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2CeBoSQsBR0

 

 

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Sharing in His victory                 John 16.25— 17.1

We come now to the concluding section of the long discourse between Jesus and his disciples the evening before his death. It started in the upper room following the last supper. At some point it would appear they had left the room and were walking to the Gethsemane garden as at the conclusion of the discourse Jesus moved into prayer. His last words in the discourse were, ‘In the world you will have tribulation. But take heart, I have overcome the world.’ v33 The disciples were to face tribulation with immediate effect, they were only minutes from Jesus arrest and Jesus words that, ‘they will scatter, each to their own home and leave him alone,’ v32  were sadly fulfilled. They had still not yet grasped how Jesus was to overcome the world but they had understood he had come from God. v30 Jesus’ questioning of their belief v31 was an indication of how incomplete their understanding and faith in him still was. His crucifixion was going to shake them to the core.

 

Jesus had just spoken plainly that he was about to leave the world and go to the Father having come from the Father. V28 There was no confusion about what he meant by the Father, he was referring to God. v27 His promise to them was one of a loving intimacy with God the Father which was radically different from the rules and fear governed religion being propounded by the religious leaders seeking to kill him. Their relationship with Jesus had opened up to them a direct communication with God the Father. ‘In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf, for the Father loves you, because you have loved me and have believed I have come from God.’ v26-27

 

Jesus also makes a break in his own style of teaching. Up to now he had extensively used parables and metaphors to speak about himself (e.g. the I am statements) but now their teaching was to be more explicit and direct. v25 He was referring to the period following his resurrection and then to the Holy Spirit’s work leading them into all truth following Pentecost. We see this greater direct instructional style in the epistles in the use of extended sequential exposition addressing both doctrine and real life issues. All of this was intended so that believers in Jesus could share in his victory over the world and have peace whatever their tribulation. v33

 

The important point to grasp is, it his victory not ours. He has already achieved it. By the world he means all those forces ranged against him, evil spiritual forces, the sinful hearts of his enemies and our own sinful desires. His enemies were going to kill him but God was going to raise him from the dead. He would then lead those who believe in him into an eternal relationship with him and victory over sin and death. We are not able to do that for ourselves, only Jesus can do it for us.

 

When speaking of Jesus’ victory over sin and death Paul says, ‘But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.’ 1 Corinthians 15.57 We then should go on and live victorious lives. As Paul describes it, ‘Therefore, my beloved brothers, be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord you labour is not in vain.’ 1 Corinthians 15.58

 

Are you confused about a part of the Bible or Christian teaching? What could you do to gain clarity?

 

In what ways does Jesus’ resurrection victory give you confidence, joy and peace?

 

To You O Lord I lift up my soul (Psalm 25) Graham Kendrick

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=iQgZAg8QwX4

 

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From sorrow to joy                  John 16.16-24

My wife and I were sat in the parish church at her Father’s funeral which he had attended for decades and been church warden for many years. The presiding minister had just given the lovely depiction of people standing on the shore waving goodbye with great sadness as a ship crossed the horizon whilst on the other side of the sea there were people cheering and waving their greeting as the ship hove into view. It was the image of the grief of loss and the joy of reception into heaven. When the service ended the young grandchildren were playing in the church and Heather leaned over to me and whispered those are the most important people here. Two images of loss, joy and hope coming together.

 

Jesus’ words, ‘A little while, and you will see me no longer, and again a little while, and you will see me,’ v16 were not immediately understood by the disciples. They did what so many do when confused and talk amongst themselves without directly asking Jesus for clarification. Jesus, however, realized their confusion made clear to them the process they would go through. Importantly he made clear that this would be in direct contrast to the “world.” By the world here Jesus was mainly speaking of his enemies. They would rejoice at his death and following his resurrection be angered and refuse to accept the truth. v20

 

The disciples were about to be struck by grief, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, you will weep and lament.’ v20  The grief though will be like the pain and suffering of giving birth, painful and intense but followed by the joy of new birth. Jesus was using the birth process as a simile of his death and resurrection and it is not meant to apply to all births including those that have tragic outcomes. Whilst Jesus words were directed at the immediate circumstances for his disciples they also convey a wider meaning for all who trust in him.

 

When believers experience grief, hardship and suffering however extreme, it will pass. There will be resurrection and there will be eternal joy in his presence. Jesus never sugar coated the cost of discipleship but at the same time he went through suffering for us because of his love for us to overcome the world on our behalf. His words to the disciples regarding his appearing to them following his resurrection also apply to his disciples now as we look forward to his return or meeting him in heaven. ‘I will see you again, and your hearts will rejoice, and no one will take your joy from you.’ v22

 

Up to this point the disciples were not in the practice of praying to the Father in the name of Jesus. This great privilege was now being opened up to them. v23 Because of what Jesus did on the cross the disciples can now approach the Father in Jesus’ name. We should be encouraged to pray in the name of Jesus, that is in his will. We are to pray as Jesus taught and how Jesus himself prayed, that God’s will be done. Matt 26.39 As we read the bible and increase our understanding of his will, it aids us in submitting to his will in prayer.

 

Do we give thanks that Jesus has provided a path for us by his death and resurrection through suffering and death to share in his eternal glory?

 

Do we ask the Spirit to enable us to understand his will and gladly submit to it?

 

God Will Make A Way – Don Moen Religious Song

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RsMAXhc0QTs

 

 

 

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The Spirit within               John 14.16-17 & 16.13

“And I will ask the Father, and he will give you another Helper, to be with you for ever, even the Spirit of truth, whom the world cannot receive, because it neither sees him nor knows him. You know him, for he dwells with you and will be in you.” … “When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.”

 

Whilst Jesus continues to speak to his disciples on the evening of his arrest he repeatedly returns to the topic of the Holy Spirit. As we saw yesterday he was specifically preparing his immediate disciples, however, his teaching also contains relevance and application beyond that time and audience. His statement, ‘He dwells with you and will be in you,’ does not mean the Spirit of God has not been active in believers lives prior to this but in the future he will be ‘in you’ in a new and more powerful way.  As believers our sense of intimacy will be greater. This experience will make clearer to believers that they now belong to the kingdom of God and not to this world.

 

As a consequence, ‘the Spirit of truth’ v 16.13 will lead us into understanding of the bible but he will also guide us in his ways. The Holy Spirit is holy and so his ways are holy. Followers of Jesus are not immune from what Paul calls the desires of the flesh, in other words the behaviours and desires of our pre-Christian life. Paul illustrates these but does not give an exhaustive list in Galatians 5.19-21, all of which are as applicable today as they were then. He contrasts this with the instruction to ‘walk by the Spirit,’ Gal 5.16 this is not about slavish obedience to a written law but is a relational response to Christ Jesus. ‘Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires.’ v Gal 5.24 Sin is serious and it deeply grieves the Spirit who lives with and in us. Walking by the Spirit brings joy to our relationship with him. The Spirit empowers us but does not force us to keep in step with him. v Gal 5.25

 

The Spirit also confirms to us our identity in Christ as children of God. Therefore, we need have no fear of God. We are able to look forward with confidence that we will share in the heritage of Christ even if we face hardship as children of God.  ‘For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the Spirit of adoption as sons, by whom we cry, “Abba! Father!” The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, and if children, then heirs—heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ, provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him.’ Romans 8.14-17

 

How conscious are you of the Holy Spirit guiding and prompting you?

 

Are there things the Spirit has challenged you over that you have avoided addressing?

 

Spirit Lead Me  ~ Michael Ketterer & Influence Music

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ABWnLjXer10

 

 

 

 

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A Guide into Truth                  John 16.12-15

In most forms of learning there is a fairly hierarchical structure to the concepts involved. There might be more than one route up the structure but learning is not secure until the simpler concepts are grasped and the connections between them are made. We may gain some insight into the more complex issues but we will not have fully understood or mastered them until there is sufficient supportive scaffolding to our learning. Most simply put, we cannot run before we can walk. Learning takes time and that alone often puts people off learning because sustained effort is required. David Beckham admitted he was not the most talented young footballer he grew up with but he practised every day and longer than anyone else. Practice alone is usually not sufficient. A skillful coach makes a massive difference to the amount learnt and the speed of progress.

 

One of the shifts in emphasis in the teaching of mathematics with young children was a focus on identifying gaps in their knowledge which may have occurred years before but without having grasped a key foundational concept true understanding of a more advanced idea was not secure. The child was not ready to learn the advanced concept until the earlier learning had been returned to and taught again.

 

The disciples were still undergoing their spiritual education and that would not be completed in Jesus’ earthly lifetime. Jesus had already taught the disciples about his forthcoming death and resurrection and many other key features of “New Testament” life and although there had been some inspirational insights along the way e.g. Peter’s confession that Jesus was the Christ, the building blocks of spiritual learning were not yet secure and wouldn’t be until they had witnessed and experienced more.

 

This then was the reason for Jesus words, ‘I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.’ v12 They were going to be in need of an advanced level coach and so the divine plan was for the Holy Spirit to be that person. ‘When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.’ v13 Why this is vital is that these disciples are to be the ones who record Jesus’ life and teaching and write further books included in the New Testament. Jesus was firstly addressing the disciples immediately in front of him regarding their imminent experiences. The things to come were firstly his death, resurrection and ascension. Later on they were to be the giving of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and expansion of the church into the wider world with all its developing issues.

 

It is upon their Holy Spirit inspired writing that the future church up to our present time is founded. The importance of the New Testament scriptures cannot be over estimated. The same principle also applies to Paul’s writing although he was not yet a disciple. Paul wrote, ‘For I would have you know, brothers, that the gospel that was preached by me is not man’s gospel.[a] 12 For I did not receive it from any man, nor was I taught it, but I received it through a revelation of Jesus Christ.’ Galatians 1.11-12

 

The Holy Spirit’s teaching is to glorify Jesus Christ by revealing all that is Christ’s and the Father’s. v14 We cannot fully understand the things of God without the assistance of the Holy Spirit revealing them to us. An intellectual understanding is not sufficient, faith itself is a gift of the Holy Spirit. This is not to devalue the importance of the intellectual integrity of the faith but the Christian experience is a relational experience in a way that an understanding of simple facts is not. The authority of the Spirit’s teaching is it comes from the Son and the Father. v13 Therefore the authority of scripture also has the authority of the full Godhead.

 

What are the things that you find more difficult to understand regarding New Testament teaching?

How can you find the answers to your questions?

 

Fall Afresh – Amanda Cook | Bethel Music Worship

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yJAsppeugzo

 

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Convicted by the Spirit            John 16.8-11

Convict -to decide officially in a law court that someone is guilty of a crime: Cambridge Dictionary

The term convict for the modern reader carries with it legal overtones. We called those sent to other countries to serve their prison sentence convicts. If someone is convicted we think there has been sufficient evidence brought to court to deem someone worthy of a negative judgement. There are three elements that go along with the word convict. Firstly, wrong has been done, secondly for this judgement to be made there must be a standard for good against which the wrong judgement is made. Thirdly there is a price that must be paid for the wrong that has been done. To grasp the rounded sense of the word convict in the passage it is also to be understood in terms of a strong opinion or belief or a feeling of being certain about something which are definitions of conviction in the Cambridge dictionary.

We get then two perspectives when Jesus says the Spirit will come, ‘to convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgement.’ v8 From the individual’s perspective the Spirit will impact their strong feeling and belief about their own conduct and motivations. From God’s perspective the Spirit will make clear to them what God’s judgement is. The common position in the modern west is that what is important is what I think about my life is what matters. Otherwise I cannot fulfil myself. However, the Spirit brings an understanding that there is an objective standard outside of oneself about right and wrong and we will face accountability to God against that standard.

 

Why was Jesus making this clear to the disciples now? It was because he was equipping them for their gospel work, evangelism. Whilst they were to take the message to the people it is the Holy Spirit that persuades and changes the listeners deeply held beliefs. It is interesting that when Jesus describes the reason for sin he addresses lack of faith in him. v9 This refers back to the first commandment, ‘You shall have no other gods before me.’ Exodus 20.3 All sin originates in a rejection of God. The gospel message is that righteousness comes from faith in Jesus as well. Through faith the Christian receives the righteousness of Jesus in the eyes of the Father. ‘For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God.’ 2Corinthians 5.21

 

There is a judgement and a decision to be made. If we align with the values of the world we will receive the judgement along with the ruler of the world. If we align and believe in Christ we receive the judgement reflecting Christ’s righteousness. A first step in believing in Christ is an awareness of our own need. The Spirit convicts people of their need so that they can respond to the gospel. There are highly important aspects of the Spirit’s role in convicting one of sin as one progresses in the Christian life however in the context of this passage Jesus is preparing them for his own death, resurrection and ascension and their subsequent role in taking the gospel to the world.

 

This directly relates to the church’s core current role of continuing to share the gospel. The Spirit continues to be the one who convicts people of their need and who Jesus is. That does not detract from the church’s and individual Christians responsibility to share their faith. Neither does it mean that we should not communicate the message in the most effective way we can. However, a spiritual work needs to be done and only the Holy Spirit can do that. We live and work in a divinely arranged partnership having received God’s mercy ourselves.

 

Do we specifically pray that the Spirit will convict people we are sharing the gospel with of sin, righteousness and judgement?

 

Mighty to save

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sR8rlTIU8_Y

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Helper, Advocate and Friend          John 16.7

When writing a will one has in mind how one can benefit others following your own departure. Along with one’s material possessions one wants to think about how those closest to you are going to cope with the storms of life that might just about to be becoming stronger because your presence will no longer be there. When my wife and I wrote our first wills we still had small children and so the most important thing to us was to consider who could be a guide for them until they reached adulthood. Our parents were naturally ageing and we could not be sure they would themselves survive that long. The solicitor then suggested that in the will we nominate a couple of trusted friends who would be consulted during that period whenever major decisions regarding their welfare were made. Two such friends did in fact agree to being named and their role was to be mature and wise helpers, advocates and friends. As things turned out we continued to live and so the formal nature of this trusted friendship never had to be called upon but provision was made.

 

Jesus in this passage is invoking on behalf of his disciples the Father’s promise to provide such a person during his absence due to his death and eventual ascension. This person is the Holy Spirit the third person of the Trinity and therefore much more than simply someone to be consulted he is God himself. His role in coming to the disciples is much more than that of an adviser.

 

The first thing to grasp about the Holy Spirit is that he comes from the Father. ‘But when the Helper comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth, who proceeds from the Father, he will bear witness about me.’ John 15.26 Therefore he will act and reveal those things the Father wills. The full Godhead is working in harmony, the Spirit is coming from the Father but is sent by Jesus and therefore occurs at Pentecost following Jesus’ ascension.  ‘Nevertheless, I tell you the truth: it is to your advantage that I go away, for if I do not go away, the Helper will not come to you. But if I go, I will send him to you.’ v7

 

The Greek word “Paraclete”, translated Helper in the ESV is translated Advocate in the NIV and Friend in the Message. These three variations convey some of the shades of meaning as to the role of the Holy Spirit in the lives of the disciples. What Jesus is also amazingly saying is that the disciples will be better off having received the Holy Spirit than with his physical presence.

 

Of course, any friend, helper or advocate is only of use if they are listened to. The Holy Spirit’s words and actions will have the character of the Father himself. Conflict will naturally occur between the world’s perspective and his and also within ourselves where we desire things contrary to God’s character. This means having the self-discipline to spend regular time in prayer and bible reading is essential if we are to be guided by him. It is through the “word” of God that the Holy Spirit primarily uses to guide and reveal God’s purposes and truth.

 

What is your experience of being “helped” by the Holy Spirit?

 

Do you use the bible as a standard to check guidance against?

 

Psalm 121 (I Lift My Eyes) LIVE – Kristyn Getty, Jordan Kauflin, Matt Merker

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QeFa6iSP_XQ

 

 

 

 

 

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Jesus the realist                            John 16.1-16

One of the many wonderful, refreshing aspects of the personality and character of Jesus is his commitment to utter reality. As he continues to paint a very sobering portrait of the shadowy road ahead for the disciples, he demonstrates a deep sensitivity to their emotional fragility, only giving them as much as he knows they can bear to take. v12 And yet he told the truth, even though the truth was painful to bear, and he lived under no naïve illusions about the disciples either.

 

Jesus was totally aware that they, despite all of their experiences and victories, were still human, and humans, like sheep are gifted at going astray. His carefully chosen words are designed to warn them of coming perils ahead of time, ‘so they will not go astray.’ v1 Jesus saw through the posturing and false piety of mere religion too, knowing that a time would come when religious zealots would attack his followers and irony of ironies, believe that they were doing God a favour as they did so. v2

 

Jesus makes no attempt to gloss over the painful hours ahead. He was going away, and said so plainly, even though the news brought grief to the disciples. vv 5-6

 

Jesus is no negative pessimist, though, because he is equally real and emphatic about the help that would be available for his struggling friends in the Person of the Holy Spirit. He reminds them of the wondrous resurrection he would experience, ‘in a little while you will see me no more, and then after a little while you will see me.’ v16

 

Sometimes people of “faith” try to deny their sickness or sadness, believing that to admit to them is a “negative confession” and an obstacle to faith. No such teaching exists in scripture. Rather, the pages of the Bible tell the real life, flesh and blood stories of the faithful, with their mistakes and fears and scandals unedited. True faith is realistic, it doesn’t attempt to minimize the challenges we face. On the contrary, it squares up to them and yet still affirms that God is great. Get real.

(Jeff Lucas, CWR cover to cover, Feb 2012)

 

How easy to we find it to be honest with God?

 

Mighty to save – Hillsong Worship

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEAcs2B-kNc

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The Reason Why                    John 15.21-25

‘Four Christians in China are facing prison sentences of between 18 months and five years for involvement in the distribution of audio Bibles. A fifth Christian involved in a separate business is currently on trial and could face a similar sentence. It’s part of a wider government campaign to ‘eradicate pornography and illegal publications’. (For a fuller story of government opposition to the Christian faith in China – https://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/latest-news/christians-china-audiobibles/ )

 

It is important to understand what Jesus meant by the “world.” v19 When he speaks of the world hating himself and his disciples. Some might consider the world to be anything non-religious but it was clear that religious people made up a significant portion of those who hated and persecuted him.  Jesus’ meaning included the whole system that is in rebellion against God and that may include aspects of rebellion. It also includes individual and societal rebellion against the name of Jesus. ‘But all these things they will do on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.’ v21 The name of Jesus represents his identity as the Son of God and the existence or authority of God the Father. The extract above from China is an example of political and philosophical hatred of Jesus and his followers. In that case they invoked a law outlawing pornography including the bible as equivalent material. Societal opposition does not have to be so formally organised. Materialism in terms of valuing the acquisition of goods and wealth as the goal of life forms a dominant opposition in the West. As does materialism in terms of excluding the possibility of anything existing outside of what can be measured in the physical world also sets itself up in rebellion against Jesus. This is despite advocates of materialism not facing up to the contradictions such a position causes within how they live their own lives.

 

Opposition to Jesus is heightened by what he said and did because it reveals their rebellion towards God. God views their rebellion as sin and the rebel wishes to assert it as good. In Western society having many sexual partners is commonly endorsed as good. Drunkenness is approved of as having a good time. Using foul language is often approved of, and gossip is to be relished. Those with wealth and power often place their right to increase their wealth above the needs of others who are greatly disadvantaged. Attitudes towards the distribution of Covid 19 vaccines have seen rich countries placing the lives of their citizens and the profit of pharmaceutical companies above the needs of the world’s poorest as good and fair policy. Similarly, if a Christian teaches what Jesus taught they will also open themselves up to opposition and even personal hatred. The purpose of Jesus’ teaching the truth is not vindictive but to open a way for people to repent and turn to him for forgiveness and be included in the Kingdom of God. There will be those who will respond in that way but there will be others who hate Jesus without cause. v25

 

When Jesus performed miracles of mercy that enraged opposition. v24 Some accused him of doing so by the power of the devil. Others accused him of breaking the law. When God’s people are engaging in his works of mercy whether through miraculous means or simple kindness there will be those who make accusations that it is done for evil motives. There is considerable opposition to church schools in our society, there are those who accuse acts of mercy by churches as having purely impure motives. This is done because of a rejection of the name of Jesus and his Father.

 

Jesus’ teaching, actions and life sharply divides people. 2 Corinthians 2.16 However, we are not left without help.

 

Are we prepared to be known as Jesus’ disciple?

 

When Trials Come – Keith & Kristyn Getty

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MpScEpriWZs

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They hated me first                                   John 15.18-23

‘It was a day like any other for Peninah in Kenya. She went to the market, leaving her phone behind, not expecting any calls. But then she returned home. And everything changed. Peninah’s phone was full of missed calls. Her husband, Paul, a lorry driver’s assistant, was on his way home from the Somali border when the lorry was stopped by al-Shabaab militants. They lined up everyone from the lorry and demanded that each person recite the Shahada, an Islamic creed. Paul didn’t know it and, as Peninah relates, he ‘told them he could not deny Jesus’. “If you want to kill me, I’ll remain in Jesus,” Paul told the attackers. “And if you let me go, I’ll still remain in Jesus.” He was shot dead.’ (Full story https://www.opendoorsuk.org/news/latest-news/violence-world-watch-list/ )

Jesus had just spoken about how he and the Father loved his disciples with a love greater than all others when out he comes with these words, like a punch to the jaw. ‘If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first.’ v18 One can imagine some of the disciples taking a deep breath and thinking, “Wow! I am not sure that I signed up to be hated. I thought we had a message of love.” Jesus here sets a clear example of how the Christian church should be up front about the costs and consequences of discipleship. Jesus knew it was not fair to leave them with the mission to take the good news of Jesus to the world without warning them of the level of opposition they will face. Jesus himself had faced continuous opposition from the moment of his birth until he was finally cruelly falsely accused, tortured and then brutally executed. The accusations made against Jesus were: he broke the Sabbath, he blasphemed, he deceived people, he was demon possessed, of illegitimate birth, an apostate, a sinner, he was mad, a criminal, a Royal Pretender and a political threat. (NIV Study Bible page 2167) John was the only apostle thought to have not died for his faith in Jesus although at the time of writing Revelation he had been banished to the Island of Patmos.

Jesus was primarily addressing his particular disciples at the time in the context of his imminent execution and his subsequent resurrection followed by the gift of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost.  However, all that he said then applies to his disciples now. There are Christians who try to live in both camps, attempting to conform to the Kingdom of God without giving up the ways of the world. This may arise from a lack of understanding of Jesus’ teaching but it may also be because they do not want to change or be different from the world surrounding them. Jesus draws a much sharper distinction. The world he says should not consider you as one of their own because, ‘I have chosen you out of the world. That is why the world hates you.’ v19

 

Loving and obeying Jesus will cause you at times to be hated and that is likely to be an uncomfortable and unpleasant experience. If we have never experienced that then it may raise questions as to whether we are loving and obeying Jesus.

 

Jesus sums up the reason for this, ‘A servant is not greater than his master. If they persecute me, they will persecute you also. When we read Acts and the epistles we see the truth of Jesus’ words. Just as Jesus did they taught, healed the sick, lived their lives in humble community and befriended sinners and unclean foreigners. For this they were ridiculed, faced court hearings, were put in prison, were attacked by mobs and at various times killed. At no time did they politically oppose the authorities. But they did boldly preach the gospel.

 

This is the lived experience of many today. The evil one will oppose the gospel in all societies in many subtle and explicit ways. However, there will be those who if we teach what Jesus taught they will obey and respond to the gospel, believe and trust in him. ‘If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also.’ v23

 

 

Do we down play the cost of being chosen out of the world? John 15.23

 

If so, what do you think are the consequences of teaching that discipleship is only ever positive or easy?

 

Trust & Obey – Chelsea Moon w/ the Franz Brothers

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=IrSCxfnN2B8

 

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Love Love Love                                 John 15.17

After Jesus has emphasized the importance of remaining in him and his words remaining in his disciples so that they are enabled to live a fruitful life, Jesus then continues with the instruction to remain in his love. This is a three step love, the Father loves Jesus, Jesus loves his disciples and his disciples are to love each other. vv 9,12 There is something similar to the conservation of energy about this love in that it does not lose any of its force when transferred from one to another. Jesus loves his disciples to the same extent and in the same way as the Father loves him. The disciples then are to love each other in just the same way. ‘As the Father has loved me, so have I loved you.’ v9 ‘My command is this: Love each other as I have loved you.’ v12

 

The implications of Jesus’ statement are a lot to take in. God the Father’s love for Jesus cannot be surpassed, it is eternal in nature and is expressed through his pleasure in him. Math 3.17 It is a sacrificial love unto death. v13 It is not self centred, it considers the other first and it is reciprocal love. Which is why Jesus says, ‘If you keep my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have kept my Father’s commands and remain in his love.’ V10 His is not the love of an abuser who is making his love conditional. It is a love where Jesus was obedient because he was filled with love for his Father and obedience was his desire.

 

This is love intended to bring great joy. v11 Why joy and not happiness? It is joy because it is eternal and not transient. It is a love that brings purpose and peace and is not subject to circumstances. It is a love that does not rely on the fickleness of humans because its source is God the Father. It is a love that is open and explained and so each party is able to trust one another. Jesus has raised his disciples to the status of friends. ‘I no longer call you servants, because a servant does not know his master’s business. Instead, I have called you friends, for everything that I learned from my Father I have made known to you.’ v15 Jesus has made known to his disciples God’s full intentions and what has been made possible for them through Jesus’ death and resurrection. He has explained how he has equipped them for their mission in the world. They have the security that it was Jesus who chose them, and not the other way round, even if it seemed like it at the time. v16 If Jesus has chosen you, why would you have anything else to fear? He has provided each Christian with a community to belong to, to be loved by and to love.

 

Have you taken time to absorb the love of Jesus for you personally?

 

Love Divine All Loves Excelling – The All Souls Orchestra

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=igs3mNsppsI

 

 

 

 

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The secret of success     John 15.1-8

Most of us want to succeed. The things we may want to succeed in will vary but the notion of success applies to all areas of our life. Parents want to be good parents and want their children to do well. If we are in business then we want our business to thrive to support not only ourselves but benefit others as well. It is unusual not to want to be socially successful even if that is the modest ambition of having a few good friends. When we marry we go into marriage with the intention of it lasting, giving us happiness and if we are Christians of it enhancing our Christian lives.  Jesus though redefines the nature of success through the metaphor of the vine.

 

In our individualistic age we would naturally think of ourselves being the one who produces the fruit of our lives and it is up to us to independently strive for success. Jesus makes clear that in the Christian life it is him that produces success through us. Observable success in whatever walk of life we are on is measured in how we show the character of Christ. He is the source of Christian success, only through close relationship with him is success, Godly success, achievable. So close is this relationship that is that he speaks of it as, ‘Remain in me, as I also remain in you.’ v4 Before Jesus talks of success in terms of achievements such as teaching, healing and acts of service he addresses holiness.

 

When one first believes in Jesus we are forgiven and cleansed by him in the sight of the Father. ‘You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.’ v5 However that does not mean that our life will then continue in a God pleasing way. In fact, he says it will not unless we continue to remain in him and he in us. Otherwise we are like a branch removed from the vine which is naturally incapable of producing fruit. Whatever our plans for achievement through the church or our own lives unless we pay close attention to maintaining our daily relationship with him they will be in vain. We need to constantly seek his strength and Spirit to overcome our desires to sin.

 

The responsibility is on the Christian to remain in Christ. He makes that clear with the use of the word “if”. ‘If you remain in me’, in verse 5 and ‘If you do not remain in me’, verse 6. Jesus also says that Christian lives that drift away from him and sever their contact will be subject to the Father’s judgement at the end. ‘If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown in the fire and burned.’ v6

 

What then if we feel that describes us now? We have indeed drifted away from Jesus and persistent sin still in part controls our life. Is all lost? Certainly not. Jesus’ immense love is shown in the following section. We need to subject ourselves to the Father’s pruning secateurs and have him cut away that controlling impulse. How is this achieved? By our own confession of our need and incapability of changing on our own. We need to apply ourselves to his word and let his word change our lives. ‘If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish and it will be done for you.’ v7 ] The regular reading and application of God’s word (the bible) is a vital part of a fruitful Christian life. He then by his Spirit will enable the Christian to overcome and be fruitful. Much like the vine sends its sap into the branches to bring life to apparently dead branches in the spring.

 

It is Jesus’ greatest desire that his disciples’ lives should be fruitful, he will not give up on us. ‘This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.’ v8

 

How do you ensure that following your first confession of Christ that you are remaining in him?

What fruit in your life are you praying for?

 

Abide with me – Keith and Kristyn Getty

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GnagUvvpGjw

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The Fruitful Life             John 15.1

 ‘I am the true vine, and my Father is the gardener.’

2020 during lockdown saw many people spending more time in the garden, physically connecting with life processes, literally from the ground up. I was one of those and I have always loved growing produce but often because other demands in life have taken me away I frequently missed a crucial time. In five years I had not eaten a ripe gooseberry from my three bushes, the blackbirds have always beaten me to the harvest. Last year I was determined to win the gooseberry wars. I cleared the ground, fed the bushes with copious manure, cut out dead wood, and covered them with a net fruit cage. Following a delicate afternoon of carefully picking fruit around the thorns we froze a bumper harvest and are still enjoying gooseberries through the winter.

 

To be successful in the kitchen garden one has to spend time learning how to create the right environment for each fruit and vegetable, what to do and when. The excitement of bringing in the first strawberry or bowlful of raspberries surely gives us an insight into the Lord’s excitement at seeing a new Christian’s life starting to reflect Christ-like changes in their lives. Jesus chose metaphors and allegories from the natural world firstly because his creation speaks of the Creator, secondly because his immediate audience would have had detailed understanding of the agrarian processes and thirdly because they are not limited by culture and history and so are just as powerful an image now two thousand years later.

 

Jesus powerfully applied the repeated Old Testament image of Israel being God’s vine to himself. Israel was chosen to be fruitful but had in large part failed and become dead wood. Psalm 80.8-15 This is the last of Jesus’ “I am” sayings. Jesus is now announcing that, “he is the reality of which Israel was but the type.” (New Bible Commentary) Jesus himself is the source of fruitfulness and the nature of fruitfulness. If the Christian or the church are the branches they can only produce fruit when attached to the root stock of Jesus himself. Detached from Jesus the Christian and the church simply become fruitless dead wood. However, when connected, grafted into Jesus, the Christian and the Church can produce a bumper harvest.

 

God the Father is pictured as the gardener tending to the vine. Once again Jesus is evoking a Trinitarian image of the whole Godhead causing his church or disciples to flourish. If the Father is the gardener it would not be unreasonable to imagine the Holy Spirit as the sap bringing strength and goodness to the whole vine.

 

Are we prepared to pay as much attention to our Christian lives and the life of our church as the good gardener would to his garden?

 

Do we have periods when we neglect our Christian lives and the life of the church and allow our lives to become fruitless?

 

Lord of all hopefulness

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9-D_aT8CXyc

 

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Not as the world gives          John 14.27

 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. Not as the world gives do I give peace to you.’

What did Jesus mean by the peace the world gives? There are short and long answers to this question that go to the heart of the conversion experience to Christianity. By the “world” Jesus is meaning all those who do not believe and trust in him, those who have other gods they worship, whether or not they are termed gods by those who have placed them on the throne of their lives. In Jesus’ time many of the Jewish leaders said and thought they believed in Yahweh and had him on the throne of their lives but in reality did not. This is evidenced by their own behaviour and response to Jesus where they plotted and eventually did have Jesus killed. On the throne of their lives was their own status, their self-interest, their love of rules without the spirit of the rule. Pharisees added to the law of God excluding others from faith, placing religious ritual where love of the Lord and love of others should have been in their hearts. The Jewish leaders’ faith at that time was racist, looking down on all other people groups and believing that they were condemned by God simply by their birth as we see in their attitude to their immediate neighbours the Samaritans. This went against God’s purposes for the Israelites to be a light to the world revealing the Lord to them.

 

The Roman world was a world where multiple gods were worshiped, each deity was considered to have specific limited control over aspects of human life. People were free to choose the deities they worshiped. This seems a long way from modern western civilization dominated by materialism. Jesus’ teaching did address the modern world because he addressed the issue of the human heart. For many peace comes from financial security with the belief that the more wealth one has the greater the peace and the more one can relax and enjoy life. The parable of the rich fool Luke 12.13-21 warns against a reliance on material wealth. For others in modern life peace is pursued through a range of what the bible terms sins. However, Jesus’ challenge goes deeper than overt sin, his challenge is to whatever is placed on the throne of our heart that is not the love of God. Even though there is nothing wrong in themselves with many of these things. The peace Jesus gives is not a peace limited by circumstances.

 

There is nothing wrong with having a pension and financial security in one’s old age, or enjoying the love of one’s family, these are good and sensible things. Grieving for the loss of loved and good people and circumstances is normal and healthy. Jesus himself grieved over the loss of people he lost and was about to enter a period of mental and spiritual agony in the Garden of Gethsemane. Our peace comes from who and what is ultimately on the throne of our hearts.

 

Jesus calls his disciples to have the same life attitudes as he has. He summed this up with his words,

And he said to all, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me. For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will save it.’  Luke9.23-24

 

Who or what is on the throne of our life?

 

Before the throne of God Above

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EQ6QaZcPphM

 

 

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Gift of peace         John 14.25-31

The passage is still in the discourse after the last supper. Central to this section are Jesus’ words, ‘Peace I leave with you, my peace I give you.’ v27 In one sentence Jesus is announcing his departure and giving them a departing gift. This is not a casual departure or gift such as someone changing jobs and leaving a set of coffee mugs for the “mugs” stopping behind. Jesus is leaving to do his Father’s will and leaving a gift that will see them through the serious challenges ahead. This section is a continuation of the theme of the opening verse of the chapter, ‘Let not your hearts be troubled.’ v1

 

The peace Jesus is speaking about is not something gained by the disciples’ own endeavours, it is to be received. It is the peace Jesus has and it is his to give. What do we know about Jesus’ peace? It comes along with the spiritual presence of God himself in the form of the Holy Spirit. v26 We know from our life experiences that certain people’s presence can bring us peace of mind. Jesus himself experienced the peace that came from the constant infilling of the Holy Spirit marked by the Spirit descending on him at his baptism by John the Baptist. John 1.32 Now Jesus is promising the same Holy Spirit to them which they themselves were to be baptized with at Pentecost, 50 days after Jesus made this promise. One of the things the Holy Spirit was going to do for the disciples was to bring to them the remembrance of Jesus’ teaching. The secure understanding of the perspective of scripture provides one with a fundamentally different outlook on life. It is then that our world view becomes aligned to God’s revelation.

 

Jesus’ peace comes from living in and abiding by the Father’s will. v31 It also comes from sharing in Jesus’ joy of being in the Father’s presence. ‘If you loved me, you would have rejoiced, because I am going to the Father, for the Father is greater than I am.’ v28 The disciples at first did not understand these words and were grief stricken and fearful when Jesus died the next day. However, following his resurrection and then witnessing his ascension, they were transformed. At first they devoted themselves to worship and prayer. Acts 2.14 Once they had been baptized with the Holy Spirit they joyfully and publicly worshiped God with their whole lives. ‘Day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favour with all the people.’ Acts 2.46 Finally their peace was to come from knowing that Jesus’ death and resurrection had all taken place as he had told them, to fulfill the will of God the Father on their behalf. ‘Now I have told you before it takes place, so that when it does take place you may believe.’ v29

 

A great deal of time has passed since Jesus made those promises to his disciples. How do they bear upon us now? The same gift of peace is there for his disciples now. The same Holy Spirit is given to those who believe in him. We rejoice in the knowledge that Jesus is now with his Father in heaven having accomplished all we need for salvation. We have the same teaching as the first disciples because the Holy Spirit reminded those first disciples and they have preserved it in the New Testament gospels.

 

A Christian’s peace does not come from the circumstances of our life it comes from the person of God who is the same yesterday, today and tomorrow.

 

How does Jesus’ gift of peace differ from the “worlds”?

 

Be still my soul – Kari Jobe

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mq59iE3MhXM

 

 

 

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Belonging     John 14.18-24

 

Lee Strobel in “The Case for Grace” tells the story of a Korean girl who was abandoned by her family as she was the child of a US soldier during the Korean war. Having a child outside of marriage from an American father would have been a cause of disgrace for the mother and the family within the culture at that time. From about the age of three she scavenged a feral existence until about the age of 11 she was discovered by an American missionary who thought initially she was dead. The missionary worked in an orphanage who took her in and brought her back to health. A little while later another missionary couple came to the orphanage looking to adopt a baby but in a remarkable way God intervened and instead of selecting what had been their heart’s desire, a new born baby, they fell in love with this feral child and adopted her. The girl had no memory of parents, family life or love. She presumed she had been taken as a servant and could not understand why she was being given a room, clothes, food and sent to school and not forced to work all day at the home. Then at school she spoke of this to another child who said to her. Don’t you understand, you are their child. At that moment she was overwhelmed with the realization that she was loved and her new parents’ child. She rushed out of school, ran all the way home, threw herself at her mother and cried repeatedly, “You love me and I am your child.” You can imagine the emotional impact on the parents as well as the child.

 

Hours before his death, although the disciples as yet were still unaware of the imminence of coming events, Jesus seeks to comfort the disciples regarding their impending grief. He says, ‘I will not leave you as orphans.’ v18 When Jesus dies they may feel cut off, alone, disorientated, afraid, as if the last three years were a waste of time, defeated; but Jesus is saying to them it is not going to be like that. The world may think he is dead and gone but they will be reunited with him. v19 The bond between the Father, Jesus and his disciples is strong, entwined and based on love, the love of the Father. When Jesus reveals himself to them again they will understand that they also will overcome death because of him. ‘Because I live, you also will live. In that day you will know that I am in the Father, and you in me, and I in you.’ vv19b,20

 

Obedience to Jesus’ commands is not the slavish obedience to an overbearing master. A way of earning love. That was the thinking of the little girl who had not yet realized she was her parents’  child and belonged as part of the family. Obedience to Jesus’ commands is a love response. Loving Jesus is accompanied by the Father’s love back to the disciple. v21 When Jesus says, ‘I will … manifest myself to him.’ V21b He is referring to meeting with his disciples after his resurrection but he is also probably meaning his revelation of himself through the giving the Holy Spirit at Pentecost and beyond to the present day. This experience of Christ in disciples’ lives is limited to his followers and is not experienced by the wider world until they become disciples.

 

The evidence of becoming a disciple and an adopted child of God is in changed and changing lives. These changes will not always be acceptable to the wider world as they do not conform to aspects of the world’s culture. ‘Whoever does not love me does not keep my words.’ v24 This will mean that life for the disciple will not always be comfortable, just as Jesus experienced opposition as well as appreciation. However, the disciple’s calling is to live as Jesus lived, loving the Father, listening to the Father and in close relationship with the Father. ‘If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our home with him.’ V23

 

What is our choice, to live as the world lives or to live as an adopted child of God the Father?

 

If we know we can be a child of God, why wouldn’t we share that knowledge?

 

I am a child of God – Bethel music

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8TkUMJtK5k

 

 

 

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Do you know me?                             John 14.15-17

There is a story that in Mississippi USA a young lawyer was prosecuting his first case. His first witness was an elderly lady and to put her at her ease he thought he would ask a simple question. He said, “Mrs Jones do you know me?” “Yes,” she said. “I have known you since you were a boy and frankly you are a big disappointment. You lie, you cheat, you manipulate people and you cheat on your wife. You are nothing more than a 2 bit paper pusher.” Trying to recover the lawyer asked, “Do you know my colleague for the defense?”  “Yes,” Mrs Jones replied. “He is a lazy bigot who has a drinking problem. He cannot sustain any normal relationships and has the worst law practice in the State. He has cheated on his wife three times and the last one was your wife.” At that point the judged quietly summoned both lawyers to the bench and whispered, “If either of you ask her if she knows me I will send you both to the electric chair! The truth can at times be very uncomfortable.

 

Most of us would say we want to know the truth but when we say that we often have an internal desire for that truth to confirm to what we already believe to be true. We want an affirmation of our current understanding. When what we hear differs from our presumptions it can become difficult even unacceptable. We cannot help it, our existing world view shapes our understanding of the truth.

 

Jesus had embarked on a long sequence of teaching to his most intimate disciples, immediately prior to his arrest, recorded by John in chapters 14 to 17. A close relationship between the disciples and Jesus had already been formed and now he knew he was about to be taken from them. He was drawing on their existing relationship when he said, ‘If you love me, you will keep my commandments.’ v15 Jesus was not making his love conditional on blind obedience or legalistic conformity. Jesus is the incarnate Son of God, to love him is to recognize him for who he is and therefore willingly obey him out of love. As we grow in our love for Jesus so we will increase in obedience and it will be a matter of joy and not a hardship.

 

However, the disciples were used to having Jesus consistently with them, reinforcing their love and trust by his presence, the sound of his voice and witnessing the many miracles he performed. How were they going to cope when Jesus left? Scripture is full of occasions when God’s people were obedient when all was going miraculously well but the heart had often proved fickle. Remember how the Israelites repeatedly grumbled in the desert and built themselves a golden calf to worship. The Israelites at that point had blocked the truth they had experienced of walking through the Red Sea as the Lord parted it and created their own false truth that a man-made statue was now their God.

 

To prevent a similar falling away the Trinity of God was going to take action. Jesus was going to ask God the Father to send God the Holy Spirit to be with them and in them. v17 The Spirit was described by Jesus as their helper or advocate. He was going to be their constant companion. v16 The Greek for helper is parakletos commonly used in terms of an advocate in a law court. The Holy Spirit was to be their representative to God the Father. We read elsewhere that Jesus intercedes for his disciples, (Romans 8.34)  together they make for powerful representation on our behalf.

 

What sort of helper is the Holy Spirit to be? In the context of this passage Jesus means the Spirit is the one who will teach his disciples the truth. For those at the time it would have been reminding them of Jesus’ teaching and opening the Old Testament scriptures to them so they understood how Jesus fulfilled the prophecies. In a similar way Jesus explained the scriptures to the two disciples on the Emmaus road. The Holy Spirit also inspired the authors of the New Testament. For disciples now it is the Holy Spirit who brings a spiritual understanding and conviction as we read the New Testament as well as the Old Testament.

 

It is the spiritual understanding the Holy Spirit brings that separates the disciple of Jesus from the wider world. It is so important then that we pray for those who are wanting to know more of Jesus and are seeking after God, asking that the Spirit of truth will bring not only an intellectual grasp of the truth but also a spiritual conviction leading to repentance and new birth. The Holy Spirit as the Spirit of truth makes clear to us our standing before God, who Jesus is and what he achieved through his crucifixion and resurrection. He enables us to love God and keep his commandments.

 

What impact has the Spirit of truth had on your life?

 

Who are you praying for that the Spirit of truth will reveal who Jesus is?

 

Spirit of the Living God – Vertical Worship

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ogGOlGswStA

 

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Greater works than these           John 14.12-14

‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever believes in me will also do the works that I do; and greater works than these will he do, because I am going to the Father.  Whatever you ask in my name, this I will do, that the Father may be glorified in the Son. If you ask me anything in my name, I will do it.’

 

We get used to people saying hyperbole but not literally believing it. The speaker usually doesn’t believe it, or mean it, but uses it as a means of emphasis. Mother’s say to children, “I’ve told you a million times.” A compere might introduce a run of the mill comedian with, “Ladies and Gentlemen give a big hand for one of the funniest comedians of all time.” Is that the sort of thing Jesus was doing when he said, ‘whoever believes in me will also do the works I do.’ v12 He didn’t stop there, he went on to say believers would do even greater works than him.

 

Let us consider the sort of works he did. He walked on water, he calmed a storm with a word, he caused the blind to see, he raised the dead, he healed those with leprosy. The Acts of the Apostles does record some similar events in terms of healing and Peter raised Tabitha from the dead. Acts 9.40 There are not the same type of miracles demonstrating power over natural forces like a storm. Although there are many miracles recorded in Acts there are not same volume of healings. Records of many miracles have continued since biblical times into the modern day. Clearly disciples are enabled to pray and miracles occur as signs to the truth of the gospel. Is it fair to say they are greater than those Jesus performed?

 

In one sense certainly not. No disciple has the power to raise themselves from the dead eternally. Neither can a disciple ascend to heaven by their own will. No disciple can atone for their own sins or the sins of others. No disciple can bring into being the universe. John 1.3

 

What then could these greater things be? To understand that we need to look to the commission Jesus gave his disciples prior to his ascension. The fulfilment of this were to be the greater things. ‘But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth.’ Acts 1.8 Jesus left behind about 120 disciples who gathered together to pray when the Holy Spirit descended on them at Pentecost and in one day around 3000 more disciples were added to their number.

 

The greater things were the spread of the gospel and growth of the church. Numbers though are far from the whole story, it is about changed lives as the Spirit of God transforms people. It is about people with no certainty of their future grasping the hope of eternal life with Jesus. It is how the gospel has radically impacted society over history. The miraculous in terms of dramatic supernatural events still occur as God responds to prayer but they are not the ultimate objective, simply steps on the way to complete the great commission.

 

The promise Jesus made to do whatever is asked in his name so the Father will be glorified, ought to have a handle with care label. Prayer in the name of Jesus is not simply an incantation. It is prayer in the same terms as an ambassador represents the will of the government. They are only authorized to speak according to the government’s policy and will. So it is with praying in the name of Jesus. We then as disciples need to spend time aligning our heart and mind with his, crucially by becoming biblically informed and having our own character sanctified by him.

 

How might you be involved in evangelism, discipleship or the ministry of the local church?

 

Welcome Holy Spirit

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ch-b1VkttqQ

 

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How can we know God?          John 14.6-11

 

When the children of my eldest son were very small you could see them looking at a photograph of me hanging in the hall with a puzzled expression. They knew it was not picture of their father and yet they were still not sure because my likeness was so similar to my son’s. When people rang the home phone number and Paul answered they could not tell the difference between our voices and equally the same thing happened if I answered his phone. The likeness between parent and child can be very close. Personality can also be very similar although in that case it is difficult to know how much is genetic and how much environmental. Is it that sort of thing that Jesus meant when he said, ‘I am in the Father and the Father is in me’?

 

Well the answer is no, he was not speaking about genetics as both are eternal. They are part of the mystery that is the Trinity. Their closeness is of a different order to a biological genetic connection. So much so that Jesus perfectly reveals the Father but, in a way, more comprehendible to us. To emphasize the point Jesus repeats four times, although he says it in different ways, within four verses, “Whoever has seen me has seen the Father’ v9

 

It was time for Jesus to fully open the eyes of his disciples as to who he was. Firstly, in response to Thomas’ questioning as to where Jesus was going and how they were to get there, Jesus answers he was going to the Father meaning God (Yahweh) and the way to God was through him. vv5-6 This is an exclusive route, there is no other way, says Jesus. At this point the narrative does not answer the question what about those who have never heard of Jesus? We have to look elsewhere in the bible for responses to that question. Here, however, Jesus is speaking to disciples of his own, in a country that had the benefit of the Old Testament scriptures that speak of him, and to people who had met him, watched him and heard him. They clearly have no excuse as to whether or not they positively respond to him. For ourselves, Jesus words make it imperative to explain who Jesus is. If people are genuinely seeking God then we know we need to introduce them to Jesus.

 

Jesus could not have made it plainer when he said, ‘If you had known me, you would have known my Father also. From now on you do know him and have seen me.’ v7  Philip did not take in the meaning immediately but demonstrated the heart of a seeker by saying, ‘Lord, show us the Father, and it is enough for us.’ v8 There appears to be a mix of exasperation and patience in Jesus’ reply to Philip. He says again that to see him is to see the Father. He clearly does not mean physical sight. He means that Jesus expresses God’s love, power, wisdom, truth and character. He can only do that as the two are intimately combined and he expresses that with the question, ‘Do you not believe that I am in the Father and the Father is in me?’ What Jesus says comes from the Father, what he does comes from the Father and his power comes from the Father.

 

For Jesus it is better if the disciples believe in him because they know him. However, Jesus goes on to say in effect, if knowing me is not enough for you to believe: believe because of the miracles you have witnessed. v11 This statement by Jesus places miracles in the appropriate perspective. The main purpose of miracles is to enable faith, which leads people on to the Father. They have a gospel value. The miracle’s primary purpose is not the miracle itself.

 

How much time do we take to know Jesus?

 

What have we learnt about God the Father through the life of Jesus?

 

How do we try to make Jesus known?

 

Knowing You, Jesus – Graham Kendrick

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=pTTlSx6zXio

 

 

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Hope when troubled        John 14.1-4

“Let not your hearts be troubled. Believe in God; believe also in me.  In my Father’s house are many rooms. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you? And if I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself, that where I am you may be also. And you know the way to where I am going.”

 

Hope is a necessary part of a healthy mental attitude. If we lack something to look forward to motivation quickly dissipates. For many of us we mostly live in the moment but that is in the context of also having hope even if it is short term and even unrealistic. Hope helps us tackle the everyday with positivity. Having no hope can be a symptom of depression. Taking away hope from an individual is one of the weapons of an abuser.

 

Hope can be severely tested when circumstances turn against us and if we are frequently confronted by loss and obstructions to happiness then it is understandable when people give up on hope. Such events are very common and occur even when on the surface someone is apparently in a stable secure position. One does not have to be homeless or jobless to have lost hope. Lack of hope leads to a sense of powerlessness and powerlessness leads to a lack of hope. These feelings can grow slowly or descend quickly. In the bible, the story of Job is possibly the most complete and dramatic account of cataclysmic circumstances to test one individual’s capacity to have hope.

 

The theme of hope is one of the three great threads that extend through the entire text of the bible. As Paul famously writes ‘Now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’ 1 Corinthians 13.13 At this point in the narrative of John’s gospel Jesus wanted to provide his disciples with hope because he knew the hope they had in him is about to be severely tested. In doing so Jesus has provided hope to all who believe in him whatever their circumstances. Hope to strengthen his disciples in times of trouble and hope that goes beyond death.

 

At the time Jesus said these words he was speaking of his own death. When he leaves them, it is not to be a permanent separation. He is preparing a place where they can be together in the presence of God the Father. His absence from his disciples is to be a temporary separation. The implication is that Jesus’ reunion with his disciples will take place whether or not the disciples have died during his absence.

 

It is Jesus’ unique claim in John 14 that differentiates Jesus from any other founder of a major world faith. All other religions have a founder who points to what they believe must be done to achieve the end goal. Jesus says it is not possible for you to achieve those things by your efforts. Jesus says I am going to prepare a place for you and I will come back for you. The Christian’s hope is the person of Christ not a route map to salvation. He summarises this in verse 6 when speaking to Thomas, “I am the way, and the truth, and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”

 

God through Jesus Christ is the source of the Christian’s hope not the Christian’s own endeavours, no striving on the Christian’s part is sufficient. Peter who listened carefully to Jesus’ words eventually fully grasped their meaning and wrote to the churches many years later. ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! According to his great mercy, he has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead’ 1 Peter 1.3

 

Are we still placing our hope in our own endeavours?

 

In Christ alone

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JWiFYJMGas0

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Just as I have loved you    John 13.33-35

The meal had been completed. Judas Iscariot had walked off into the night to inform the authorities of Jesus’ whereabouts and time was short. In John’s gospel we are now at what has been termed “The farewell discourse” that continues to 16.33. During this final teaching Jesus explains the significance of his death, resurrection and ascension. He also outlines the promise of the Holy Spirit whom he will send after he has left to be with the Father. However, before he gets into the depth of that teaching he has two important things to say. Firstly, what he is about to do is something that only he can do and they are not able to be a part of it. Secondly, the disciples are to be a distinctively loving community. The tenure of Jesus’ words is him being firmly gentle. He understands the emotional roller coaster they are about to go on. He wants them to understand and become the people he wants them to be even if it is only possible when they look back over events.

 

He addresses them with an intimate term, ‘Little children,’ v33 John adopts the same term in his epistles late in life. He explains they cannot go where he is about to go. This is to his inner circle who have been close by his side for three years. Only Jesus can pay the price for sins. He allowed no room for disciples to think in some way they shared in the cost Jesus paid because only Jesus could be the lamb of God. For a little while the disciples were going to feel lost and leaderless. Jesus knew about their oncoming grief and confusion and he was preparing them for it. Their grief and suffering was to bear no comparison with Jesus’ but even so he had time to support them and remind them of their responsibility to support each other. When we face grief and confusion it is good to remind ourselves that Jesus understands us as much as he understood his first disciples.

 

Jesus them gave them a new commandment which continues to be a commandment for all his followers. ‘That you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.’ vv34-35

 

What could Jesus have meant by, ‘As I have loved you?’ None of us can do what Jesus did in terms of taking upon himself God’s wrath that is rightfully ours. However, we can share many of his qualities. We can be genuinely sacrificial in our love for each other. We can be unchanging in our love. We can be righteous in our love and by this I mean not mixing it with sin, leading each other towards holiness. We can actively love the poor, the weak, the vulnerable, the stranger and those who are different to ourselves. We can be family. Tertullian wrote describing the Roman view of the early church, “It is mainly the deeds of a love so noble that lead many to put a brand upon us. See how they love one another, they say.”

 

Being a loving Church family is to be actively involved in gospel mission. Words that have no substance behind them carry little weight. It is in the living out of Christ’s love for others that we demonstrate the reality of how he has transformed out lives. It is resurrection life in action. In this way we can all be engaged in communicating our own relationship with Jesus. ‘By this all people will know that you are my disciples if you have love for one another.’ v34

 

How can we continue to show by the way we live our life that we are a disciple of Jesus?

 

The love of Jesus – Nathan Taylor

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOFZhLVX0W4

 

 

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It’s all about Glory                        John 13.31-33

 

Judas leaves the room and the conversation changes. Judas stepping into the night v30 seems to take the darkness with him. The second half of John’s gospel is all about glory it is just not as the world would recognize it. Jesus’ face is set towards a journey to glory. ‘When he had gone out, Jesus said, “Now is the Son of Man glorified, and God is glorified in him”.v31 Glory for most comes from a public display of triumph but Jesus in less than 24 hours was to gasp his last breath on a Roman cross. A very public display but to those watching at the time an utterly humiliating defeat. A world view of glory and a Godly view of glory being in sharp contrast because the world did not understand what Jesus’ had been teaching. Even his closest disciples at this stage failed to grasp the nature of how it was that God the Father was going to glorify Jesus. The words Jesus spoke were intended to stay in their memory so that in a few short days they would understand firstly that Jesus knew what was coming and secondly it had been God’s prophesied plan for mankind’s salvation.

 

Jesus could have been drawing on Isaiah’s second servant song describing the Messiah who will save the nations. ‘You are my servant, Israel, in whom I will be glorified.’ Isaiah 49.3 There is a mutual glorifying effect, the saving sacrifice Jesus was about to make would bring glory to both Jesus and God the Father. The repeated use of the word glory in verses 31 and 32 indicates glory above normal honour, this is supreme glory. The Message version provides a straight forward understanding of a verse that can seem confusing in NIV or ESV. When he had left, Jesus said, “Now the Son of Man is seen for who he is, and God seen for who he is in him. The moment God is seen in him, God’s glory will be on display. In glorifying him, he himself is glorified—glory all around!’ vv 31-32 (The Message)

 

Jesus, knowing the disciples forthcoming emotional and spiritual confusion seeks to soften the blow. What he is about to do no other person can do. In a very short while they will feel left alone but he is saying you have already heard me speak about this to the Jews. v33 Here he meant the Jewish leaders as well as the crowds. They were about to witness Godly glory. They were about to witness the most significant moment in history and he had to do it on his own. The only perspective that would matter would be how God the Father saw the unfolding events.

 

The loneliness of Jesus’ crucifixion must have been extreme. It was the only time in eternity when Jesus and the Father have been separated as seen in his agonised cry from the cross, ‘My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?’ Matthew 27.46 Jesus’ path to glory was down a road of suffering, rejection and mockery.

 

How does this bear upon our own path of discipleship? Where and in what way are we seeking plaudits? What have we got to say to God if we would rather be in a different place to do his work? Are we liable to grumble if events have not turned out to be how we initially hoped? Have we in the past promised to sacrificially follow Christ but are now saying, ‘not this sacrifice, can’t I be associated with something a bit more fun, a bit easier, a bit more glamourous, a bit more recognised?’ ‘Just not here Lord, alright?’ Do we sometimes think, I deserve more than this.

 

Peter said to Jesus, ‘Lord, why can’t I follow you now? I will lay down my life for you.’ v27 In only a few hours he was to deny he knew Jesus. Jesus knew that, but Peter would, about 30 years later, die on a cross for his faith in Jesus, as Jesus indicated. “Where I am going you cannot follow me now, but you will follow afterward.” v36 Peter the person who Jesus chose to found his church in the end walked the same path as Jesus.

 

When I Survey the Wondrous Cross

 

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You will believe, I am who I am       John 13.18-30

‘Even my close friend in whom I trusted,
who ate my bread, has lifted his heel against me.’ Psalm 41.9

 

When things all go wrong, even dramatically wrong, it is easy to believe you and God have been thwarted. When I was appointed as Headteacher of Central Middle School in Exeter the linked church, St Leonard’s, had just experienced a catastrophic fire gutting the main building. It was arson and the Rector, whom I know and have great trust in his spiritual judgement, was confident it was more than vandalism and had elements of spiritual adversary. St Leonard’s was already a thriving evangelical Anglican church with a well developed university student ministry but itself attracted opposition. The fire though acted as the spark (forgive the pun) to enable a major refurbishment and the building of a new purpose built annex for midweek ministry as well as improved young people and student outreach.

 

When we read of Judas betrayal of Jesus it may have been easy for the disciples to think, this is when it all went wrong. The bible’s perspective along with Jesus’ is different. This does not mean that Judas’ betrayal was OK, it was not. Our perspective looking back on events must inevitably be different from the disciples during the days of Jesus’ trial, torture, death and burial. Jesus though was preparing them to understand God’s purposes when they later reflected on events.

 

Spiritual opposition as well as physical and intellectual opposition was and is real. Jesus was about to complete God’s plan. Jesus had been confronting evil spiritual forces throughout his ministry. Now at the last supper Judas had been tempted through his major weakness, the love of money, to join with a final attempt to do away with Jesus for ever. It is not surprising that the devil uses our principal weakness to tempt us, whether that is wealth, sex, substances, anger or any other of a multitude of sinful tendencies. Judas had lived closely with Jesus, maintained a responsible role as keeper of the purse but the king of his heart was not Jesus it was money. There had been tell-tale signs as small amounts of money had gone missing. John 12.6 We need to be spiritually self-aware of who or what really is king of our heart. We will know by what we find the most difficult to stop and if we are a Christian the Spirit will strongly convict us of it. Whatever it is we need to die to it, lay it at the cross of Christ and not only ask him to forgive us but also remove the compulsive desire for it.

 

God is not overcome by evil and Jesus needed the disciples to understand that even Judas’ betrayal was part of God’s sovereign plan and fulfilling the scripture. Psalm 41.9 Even so the pain of Judas’ betrayal is evident. If ever we feel we have been unjustly betrayed or let down when we come to Jesus in prayer we can know he empathises. Hebrews 2.18

 

By foretelling events Jesus wanted his betrayal to increase their faith rather than destroy their faith. It is in the face of opposition and suffering that faith can grow when at last we can see the hand of God in it.  ‘I am telling you this now, before it takes place, that when it does take place you may believe that I am he.’ v19

 

Jesus then instructs them to equip them for mission after his ascension. ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, whoever receives the one I send receives me, and whoever receives me receives the one who sent me.’ v20 The disciples were completely at a loss when Jesus said that and reverted to questioning him as to who was going to betray him. However, Jesus was drawing a distinction between the betrayer and the faithful. Jesus was saying the other disciples would be sent by him, with the gospel, and if they were accepted the recipients would also be accepting Jesus and God the Father.  This great honour of taking the good news to the world is now the privilege of all Christians, whether or not they are specially commissioned as evangelists. How we should be encouraged and emboldened by his promise. As Josh Moody simple puts it, ‘If someone accepts you as you proclaim the gospel, they accept the Jesus who sends you, and they accept God the Father.’ (John 13-21 for you.)

 

Whether in the face of opposition or not do we have the confidence and trust to share our faith in Jesus?

 

Broken Together – Casting Crowns

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=RhxELo-uD3c

 

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He stoops to conquer.        John 13: 12-17

‘When he had washed their feet and put on his outer garments and resumed his place, he said to them, “Do you understand what I have done to you? 13 You call me Teacher and Lord, and you are right, for so I am. 14 If I then, your Lord and Teacher, have washed your feet, you also ought to wash one another’s feet. 15 For I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you. 16 Truly, truly, I say to you, a servant[a] is not greater than his master, nor is a messenger greater than the one who sent him. 17 If you know these things, blessed are you if you do them.’

Jesus washing his disciple’s feet was an act of profound importance. He did this within 24 hours of dying for them and all who believe in him. He could have done it at a host of occasions during his ministry, at any one of hundreds of times he ate with them. His act spoke of the deep and divine love he had for his disciples and continues to have for his disciples now. He did it with the intent of them learning a truth they still had failed to grasp. v15 What Jesus did was unique among founding religious leaders, there is no comparable story for Mohammed or Buddha. Fully aware of his place in the Trinity v3 he reduced himself to the most humble state.

 

My wife and I watched a minister at the end of one of a church’s regular times when it cooked and served meals for the local hungry go and fetch a mop and bucket and set to cleaning the floor. There were plenty of other volunteers around doing a variety of jobs. He was happy to mop even though he was the church leader and teacher. To him it was a natural thing to serve. There is a story of John Stott, a famous leading bible teacher who when visiting some African bishops after the meeting started cleaning the floor to the astonishment of the bishops. He had internalised Jesus’ words, ‘you also should do as I have done to you.’ v15

 

Jesus’ teaching goes beyond using one’s gifts to serve each other. I doubt whether the minister or John Stott had the gift of cleaning. If they were to stop at giving through their gifts both of them would have stopped once the sermon or talk were over leaving the cleaning to others. Jesus is teaching all of us to humbly seek to serve in whatever way we can. To do it willingly out of love for God and love for each other. Love for God and love for each other cannot be separated. If we do not love each other, love for God is an idea we assert but not a reality in our lives. 1 John 4.7-8 None of us are above the most humble acts of service for no one approaches the greatness of God.

 

Loving acts of service are part of the way the church is intended to demonstrate the gospel. Firstly, through serving each other. If we cannot serve each other, then acts of service to those outside the church have a hollow ring of insincerity. Loving service to those outside the church, often through everyday kindness, is a fundamental way to communicate God’s love and character. We should pray that God will open up for us ways to show our love. Reaching out in the name of Jesus is much more about the everyday than it is the big event.

 

Paul urged every Christian to, ‘Let love be without hypocrisy. Abhor what is evil; cling to what is good. Be devoted to one another in brotherly love; give preference to one another in honour; not lagging behind in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, persevering in tribulation, devoted to prayer, contributing to the needs of the saints, practicing hospitality.’ Romans 12:9-13 In this way we bear the master’s image.

 

Jesus words were not optional or advice, they were a clear instruction, ‘you also should do just as I have done to you.’

 

Are there serving attitudes you can ask God to help you develop?

 

The Servant King – Graham Kendrick

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=aBd3ThCResI

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It’s a hard, hard thing        John 13.8b

 Jesus answered, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.”

As I read these words of Jesus I hear them in a Scottish, ‘Rebus’ like, accent and I want to hear him end the sentence with a clipped, “Jimmy.” It is one of those, there is no arguing with me, statements. It might be construed as a threat although I expect Jesus actually said it with soft patient compassion. The thing is, what Peter really did want was a part of Jesus. He was desperate for it. Jesus was saying there is only one way you are going to get it. I’m going to have to wash you. So, what’s so hard about that then?

 

Consider Naaman, back in the days of Elisha he was the commander of the Syrian army. A powerful, successful general. ‘He was a mighty man of valour, but he was a leper.’ 2 Kings 5.1 Sometime previously Naaman had captured an Israelite girl child and made her his wife’s servant. She told her mistress about Elisha, who, she said, could cure Namaan. Naaman’s wife told Naaman, who told the king, who gave him permission to seek out Elisha. Off went Naaman to the king of Israel with huge amounts of money and gifts and a letter from the terrifying king of Syria demanding the king of Israel cure Naaman of leprosy. The king of Israel, knowing he could do no such thing had a full-blown panic attack. Up steps Elisha and says stop panicking and send him to me. ‘Why have you torn your clothes? Let him come now to me, that he may know that there is a prophet in Israel.’ 2 Kings 5.8 Naaman turns up and is told to wash seven times in the Jordan. Naaman loses his temper and says Syria’s rivers are better than your river. ‘I want full blown, dramatic prophecy and ceremony,’ and storms off. Once again, it was servants who had wisdom and persuaded the ‘great man’ to do the simple thing he was asked to do. He did, he was healed and immediately believed in and trusted in the God of Israel.

 

The hard, hard thing was that there was nothing about him or his capabilities that he could bring to his own cleansing except obedience. It took a slave girl to point the way out of kindness. It took other servants to recognize who God was speaking through. He had to come to the point where he laid aside his ego. Perhaps that is why Jesus said it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. All those things we value the highest and have placed in the place God should have in our life have to be forsaken as useless to enter the kingdom of God. We cannot buy our way to forgiveness, we cannot earn our way to forgiveness, we cannot deserve forgiveness, we cannot prove ourselves to God through overcoming trials, we cannot gain forgiveness through religious ritual and tradition. The only way to forgiveness is through humbly allowing Jesus to wash us. Josh Moody wrote, “There is no other way to heaven but through the basin and the towel of Jesus’ sacrifice for us.” D.A. Carson wrote, “Unless the lamb of God has taken away a person’s sin, has washed that person, he or she can have no part with him.” No one is excluded unless we exclude ourselves.

 

We can be washed by Jesus by humbly asking and trusting in his promise to forgive and cleanse our lives.

 

We can be a servant and humbly point others in the direction of Jesus.

 

Here I am – Chris Bowater

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OC0PQNx01ow

 

 

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You are clean                John 13.2-11

What do we imagine God sees when he looks at us? What is the true me? Does it actually reflect what others think of us or even what we choose to think of ourselves? There is a strong inclination to be self-deceiving but the bottom line is that it is what God sees that counts. Personally, I would like to pick the time God can see and rub out the other times as just embarrassing. But that isn’t how it works; my honest self-evaluation is despite some good things there is a great deal that might be described as dressed in filthy rags. Peter knows that, even though he had been as close a friend of Jesus as anybody. He didn’t want Jesus to wash his feet because his view of the world was still the world’s view. ‘Peter said to him, “You shall never wash my feet. v8 He understood rank as it was commonly practiced around him by the Romans and by the Jewish religious leaders. Servants served, leaders were served. Worth was determined by perceived rank. Contrast Peter with Jesus.

 

‘Jesus, knowing that the Father had given all things into his hands, and that he had come from God and was going back to God, rose from supper. He laid aside his outer garments, and taking a towel, tied it round his waist. Then he poured water into a basin and began to wash the disciples’ feet and to wipe them with the towel that was wrapped round him.’ John 13.3-5

 

Jesus the man, fully conscious of divine status, knowing his equality with God the Father, aware of the path immediately in front of him and his eventual glorification because of his death on a cross, chose not to be served but to serve. His enactment of the servant’s role, washing the feet of his own disciples, was also a picture of their sins being washed away. Instead of being dressed in filthy rags in the sight of God, because of him, they were to stand as people who are clean in the eyes of God.

 

When Jesus said to Peter, ‘If I do not wash you, you have no share with me,’ v8 he was meaning that without the forgiveness and cleansing that comes from the trusting in him and his forthcoming death on his behalf, Peter could not be acceptable to God the Father and be part of the kingdom of God.

 

Only through his cleansing, now symbolised in baptism, can we be seen as clean in God’s eyes. Peter had already confessed that Jesus was the Christ. His faith, however wobbly it was about to be in a few hours’ time, was already rooted in Jesus and Jesus knew that. The initial trusting in Christ is a once for all matter. However even so the normal human condition is that we repeatedly rebel and place other things in our heart where the love of God should be. Jesus’ feet washing was a picture of the disciples regular need to confess and be forgiven for the sake of the ongoing relationship with him.

 

It is an excellent feature of the Anglican liturgy that confession is placed early in every act of worship. Spiritually as we confess we come to Jesus’ foot bowl to have the obstructions to our relationship removed and only he can do it. It is something often omitted from ‘nonconformist’ services. Is that because we want to miss out the embarrassing things that expose our dependence upon him or is it because we still want to pretend that we are better than we are?

 

For our own spiritual life, we need to learn the humility of Christ and value it as something of great worth. He who had no need to be humble expressed ultimate love and humility.

 

Do you think it is sometimes hard to “allow” Jesus to wash us?

 

What particular form of pride can prevent us from accepting our need of forgiveness?

 

Lord, I need you.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=LuvfMDhTyMA

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He loved them to the end.        John 13.1

 ‘Now before the Feast of the Passover, when Jesus knew that his hour had come to depart out of this world to the Father, having loved his own his own who were in the world, he loved them to the end.’ (ESV)

Chapter 13 begins the second half of John’s gospel. In the first half John records signs and key moments from Jesus’ three years of ministry. He included the great ‘I am’ statements connecting him to Yahweh’s name in the Old Testament. He opened the gospel with the words, ‘In the beginning’ placing Jesus as the creator of all things, ‘through him all things were made,’ and now here he was, God living with us. “The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us’ John 1.14

 At this point in John’s gospel the focus changes from a broader overview to narrow down in detail to the few hours before Jesus dies on the cross. The next chapters up to the end of chapter 19 all follow Jesus’ deliberate choice to obey his Father, to go through death to glory. Jesus knew what was to come and what he was doing.

 

Here lies the essential difference between Christianity and all other religions. Christianity at its core is not a set of teachings to learn and follow. It is the person of Jesus who loves us to the end. It is his relationship with us. He is God made flesh and he loves us. He loved us before we loved him. He loved us when our lives rejected him and caused him great offence. He loves us when we continue to offend him with our sin. He loves us to the end. If we are suffering, he chose to suffer more because he loves us.

His love is not a hopeless love without direction. It is a love that carries a certainty about its destination. He left this world to go to the Father to prepare a place for his own. His own are those who have trusted in him, whom he loves. He came to this world that he had created because he loves us and that love will not end. God created humankind to be in relationship with him and now, at the last supper, just before the Passover festival, Jesus knew the time had come to complete his saving work in the ultimate act of love.

 

It is God’s great desire to be in relationship with us. How can we not respond to such love?

 

The love of Jesus – Nathan Taylor

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bOFZhLVX0W4

 

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Revive us again.             Psalm 85

If the spiritual auditors were to arrive at the local church how would they draw up the balance book? Does even the suggestion of that strike you as shocking? Would you be outraged if someone made judgements of a spiritual nature? What would you look for in the final report, perhaps pleased if there were more positives than negatives? If that was the case would you expect a well done? Possibly responsibility for any negatives could be passed on to the leadership, after all simply for an attender or member it would not be reasonable for responsibility to be apportioned in their direction – would it?

 

The church in Ephesus received such an audit report, Revelation 2.1-7 highlighting eight commendations, each one in an important area of spiritual life. It only had one point on the debit side. ‘But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first.’ Rev 2.4 The consequence of this would be the Holy Spirit would withdraw his presence from them and the church would wither and die. The church was called to repent, remember what their first love was like and return to it again and revive the works that their love led them into. The score, good against bad, might have been 8 to 1 but it was still a losing score line. The leadership may have particular responsibility but it was the church as a whole that was being held responsible.

 

In the same way as the nation had lost their first love in Psalm 85 and incurred God’s anger so that picture is applied to the local New Testament Church. We need to remember what our salvation was like at the beginning. ‘Lord, you were favourable to your land; you restored the fortunes of Jacob. You forgave the iniquity of your people; you covered all their sin. You withdrew all your wrath; you turned from your hot anger.’ vv 1-3 But for the psalmist that was in the past. Now they were experiencing the discipline of the Lord. So, he prays, ‘Will you prolong your anger to all generations? Will you not revive us again.’ vv  5-6

 

There were two stages to the revival of the relationship between God’s people and God himself. Firstly, it was the hearing of God’s voice. Secondly, it was repentance. v8 This would lead to the glorying of God and a restored relationship of steadfast love and faithfulness. v10

 

How do we contribute to our church’s relationship with the Lord?

 

Would we describe the relationship as one of steadfast love and faithfulness?

 

Love divine all loves excelling

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGGcqhKShQ8

 

 

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Loving it here!           Psalm 84

On our first touring caravan holiday with the children in France we arrived in the Loire Valley feeling very intrepid. We were off to explore the chateaus of France and so on the first day we decided to walk to the nearest one. As we crested a small rise there was a spectacular vision of Chambord, perhaps the largest of the Loire chateaus. It’s setting, elegance and scale took my breath away. I stood and stared. Psalm 84 invokes that image in my mind. The Psalm is a celebration of pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at the temple set upon Mount Zion. It is a song of delight at being a welcome guest in the home of the Lord. For the psalmist no wickedness or pleasure of the world can compare with being in his presence, in his home. ‘How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God …. Blessed are those who dwell in your house ever singing your praise.’ vv1-2,4

 

The temple structure dominated the landscape, it was a justifiable tribute to Almighty God, built to strike awe in the ancient heart. But it wasn’t the architecture that primarily excited ancient pilgrims, it was that here they were in the presence of the Lord of Hosts. It thrilled them and filled them with joy. When joyful, the most natural thing to do was to sing, not a solitary song but songs sung as a community, the people’s choir. Everybody and everything was welcome, even the lowly sparrow. v3

 

Here was a place where one could find refreshment and new strength v5 no matter how worn down one might have become. The journey was worthwhile. There is no known valley of Baca but the word Baca is also the name of a tree that grows in arid areas. The image of the Valley of Baca v6-7 is one of arid places becoming a fertile place where nature flourishes and strength returns because of springs of water. (Frequently a simile for the Holy Spirit.)

 

The psalmist then picks up repeated themes. It is in the presence of the Lord that prayers are heard. v8 His presence is the pilgrims shield. However, the psalm at this point takes on prophetic notes as it pleads with God to look upon his anointed. In context almost certainly the king but also with the coming of Jesus it pertains to him.

 

The temple is a place where the pilgrim wishes to remain, however lowly the position. v10 Why? Because being in the presence of the Lord is both a place of blessing and protection, accessed by faith alone. ‘For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favour and honour. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you.’ vv11-12

 

For the Christian Jesus is that temple set on Mount Zion. Time in his presence brings joy, safety and blessing. He is the anointed one but he is also the one who anoints us with the Holy Spirit. He is the one to whom we can address our prayers. Praise comes naturally from our mouths as individuals but is a special blessing when we can praise him together as his family. He is the object of our pilgrimage. Blessing comes in response to faith.

 

Do we know the joy of being in the presence of God or do we just know about it?

 

Do we miss out on the pleasure of worshiping together with other disciples of Christ or do we treasure the times we can praise him together?

 

Better is One Day

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndVRcqziKWA

 

 

On our first touring caravan holiday with the children in France we arrived in the Loire Valley feeling very intrepid. We were off to explore the chateaus of France and so on the first day we decided to walk to the nearest one. As we crested a small rise there was a spectacular vision of Chambord, perhaps the largest of the Loire chateaus. It’s setting, elegance and scale took my breath away. I stood and stared. Psalm 84 invokes that image in my mind. The Psalm is a celebration of pilgrimage to Jerusalem to worship at the temple set upon Mount Zion. It is a song of delight at being a welcome guest in the home of the Lord. For the psalmist no wickedness or pleasure of the world can compare with being in his presence, in his home. ‘How lovely is your dwelling place, O Lord of hosts! My soul longs, yes, faints for the courts of the Lord; my heart and flesh sing for joy to the living God …. Blessed are those who dwell in your house ever singing your praise.’ vv1-2,4

 

The temple structure dominated the landscape, it was a justifiable tribute to Almighty God, built to strike awe in the ancient heart. But it wasn’t the architecture that primarily excited ancient pilgrims, it was that here they were in the presence of the Lord of Hosts. It thrilled them and filled them with joy. When joyful, the most natural thing to do was to sing, not a solitary song but songs sung as a community, the people’s choir. Everybody and everything was welcome, even the lowly sparrow. v3

 

Here was a place where one could find refreshment and new strength v5 no matter how worn down one might have become. The journey was worthwhile. There is no known valley of Baca but the word Baca is also the name of a tree that grows in arid areas. The image of the Valley of Baca v6-7 is one of arid places becoming a fertile place where nature flourishes and strength returns because of springs of water. (Frequently a simile for the Holy Spirit.)

 

The psalmist then picks up repeated themes. It is in the presence of the Lord that prayers are heard. v8 His presence is the pilgrims shield. However, the psalm at this point takes on prophetic notes as it pleads with God to look upon his anointed. In context almost certainly the king but also with the coming of Jesus it pertains to him.

 

The temple is a place where the pilgrim wishes to remain, however lowly the position. v10 Why? Because being in the presence of the Lord is both a place of blessing and protection, accessed by faith alone. ‘For the Lord God is a sun and shield; the Lord bestows favour and honour. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O Lord of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you.’ vv11-12

 

For the Christian Jesus is that temple set on Mount Zion. Time in his presence brings joy, safety and blessing. He is the anointed one but he is also the one who anoints us with the Holy Spirit. He is the one to whom we can address our prayers. Praise comes naturally from our mouths as individuals but is a special blessing when we can praise him together as his family. He is the object of our pilgrimage. Blessing comes in response to faith.

 

Do we know the joy of being in the presence of God or do we just know about it?

 

Do we miss out on the pleasure of worshiping together with other disciples of Christ or do we treasure the times we can praise him together?

 

Better is One Day

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ndVRcqziKWA

 

 

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Crafty plans to wipe them out.     Psalm 83

 They lay crafty plans against your people; they consult together against your treasured ones. They say, come, “let us wipe them out as a nation; let the name of Israel be remembered no more!”

(Psalm 83:4-5)

Psalm 83 was written when God’s people were a nation state. Jesus redefined God’s people to be the church or the disciples of Christ. The psalmist describes a country surrounded by enemy states of one accord in their determination to overcome Israel so that they are not even a memory. v4  In doing so he names nations who not only geographically surround Israel but historically span the time from Joshua to the invasion of the northern kingdom by Assyria. vv 5-11 Antagonism towards Israel did not mean that they were not at various times at war with each other.

 

The psalm’s geopolitical imagery mirrors the contemporary situation of the modern church. Where the enemies of Christianity are numerous. Whilst divided in their own goals and motivations they share a common objective of destroying the influence and even existence of Christianity. Atheist secular forces are frequently not passive. In western civilization they often attack Christianity with the claim that it is not intellectually credible. Atheist states such as North Korea and China see Christianity as a threat to their authoritarian control. Other authoritarian states think that Christianity’s  teaching, that every human is made in the image of God and is precious in his sight, threatens their oppression of their own people. There are theocracies especially in the middle east and sub-Saharan Africa who enshrine in law that conversion to Christianity is illegal and punishable by imprisonment or death. Religious based militias and state forces impose their faith through violence and drive alternative people groups from their land causing mass migration which has led many thousands across the world to live in refugee camps for generations. (Overall in 2020 there are 79.2 million displaced persons and 26 million refugees, Doctors Without Borders.)

 

The opening prayer of the psalmist then of, ‘O God, do not keep silence; do not hold your peace or be still, O God!’ v1 remains highly relevant. There is much that the modern church can do in practical terms in the face of this level of opposition. In the West the intellectual opposition can be answered in as intellectually credible a manner as those who argue against the faith. The Church could be much more active in equipping its members to do so. The church could also improve its capacity to advocate for persecuted Christians at an international level and in local settings as well as supporting local churches in persecuted settings. There are excellent organizations working in this field including the Bible Society, Barnabas Aid and Open Doors. I recommend looking at the 2021 Open Doors World Watch list, just published, that maps and ranks countries by Christian persecution levels. ( https://www.opendoorsuk.org/ )

 

However, practical activity, without prayer and the working presence of the Holy Spirit, is worthless. Psalm 83 demonstrates prayer that is a lamenting cry from the persecuted, pleading with God to intervene. It is also a prayer for God’s holy power to overcome the oppressors. However, it is also an insightful prayer that by the grace of God his salvation is for his enemies as well, if they recognize he is the Most High. v18 Humbly the Christian needs to own up that s/he has also been an enemy of God through her/his sin. S/He is now called to pray for their enemies, that they will repent and turn to God for forgiveness. “God’s desire is not to punish for punishment’s sake but to redeem.” (NIV Study Bible 2015) Following Jesus, all Christians are called to live loving sacrificial lives.

 

Be still my soul – Kari Jobe

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=mq59iE3MhXM

 

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Psalm 82 Doing nothing is doing wrong.

When we know there is an injustice, what do we do? When we vote, in whose interests do we exercise that power? When we buy what we consume, do we care about who benefits? Is doing nothing a neutral act? Have we got to the age where we say my time has gone it is up to others now? Do we favour those who will benefit us over others in greater need?

 

Papua New Guinea is a highly tribal country, nobody actually knows exactly how many tribes, but it is estimated there are around 850 tribal languages, in a country with a population of 8.5 million. It has a complicated preferential voting system. Each voter has 3 votes which they place in preferred order. It is common for each constituency to have 50 or more candidates standing and only one can be elected. Bribery is common place. I asked a woman how did she work out who to vote for? Her reply was, ‘In PNG you always give your first vote to the person from your tribe because they will make sure the most government money will be spent on your tribe. Then you give your second vote to the person who you think will do a good job.’ Partiality is culturally built into the election process and partiality is the outcome as those elected heavily favour their own. You may not consider it is much different in your own country or even in the church.

 

The Christian is not separated from the world in the sense of having no responsibility. Psalm 82 is a powerful condemnation of participating in injustice. God is not neutral, he is on the side of the weak and powerless, the poor and oppressed and he expects action to be taken. These are his words to those in responsibility, ‘How long will you judge unjustly and show partiality to the wicked? Give justice to the weak and the fatherless; maintain the right of the afflicted and the destitute. Rescue the weak and the needy; deliver them from the hand of the wicked.’ vv2-4

 

Commentators argue about who is meant by ‘gods.’ v1 God is placing himself in judgement over them, whether they are the gods of neighbouring nations, spiritual principalities and powers as mentioned by Paul or Israel’s own judges and kings. Jesus himself however when quoting the passage used it to mean the people of Israel. John 10.31-39 In verse 6 the psalmist enlarges on ‘gods’  as ‘sons of the most high’, a term used in Exodus to describe the nation of Israel. It is reasonable to take from the psalm that all who act unjustly will be judged by God, including his own people.

 

If God is so clear about his justice what excuse is there for his people to be silent over injustice? Inactivity or passivity clears the way for injustice to thrive. It is easy to look back at missed opportunities to act justly. It takes greater discernment and courage to raise one’s voice over contemporary issues, especially when it occurs close to home within the church. It is however clear in a way that it probably wasn’t to the first hearers of this psalm that God’s concern is a global concern. The concluding verse is a jolt to any navel gazing, obsessing introspection by the people of God. ‘Arise, O God, judge the earth; for you shall inherit all nations.’

 

Is there an injustice that we are ignoring?

 

What action have we taken to rescue the weak and the needy; to deliver them from the hand of the wicked?

 

Who is on the Lord’s side?

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QfunlcqcBXA

 

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Second chances               Psalm 81

I had a conversation with someone recently as to whether an old grievance had been healed. It can be hard to restore relationships and even when that has been done there is always the question can it be on the same terms. Memories remain, embarrassment prevents fully open communication and pretending things didn’t actually happen doesn’t work either. We can never be totally sure we know what the other person is thinking and feeling. These same barriers come into play when we know we have grieved God.

It is possible that the pattern of relationship between God’s people and God, spread over hundreds of years, can be worked out in microcosm in our own lives. Psalm 81 is a prophetic hymn calling the people back to covenant faithfulness by recalling the history of God’s relationship with them. It is a harvest hymn to be sung at the feast of Trumpets and the Booths. It therefore opens with verses of musical praise recalling the promises and blessings received through Jacob and Joseph. vv1-4  It resembles the first flush of passion and thrill of knowing the Lord when one becomes a Christian.

 

The verses recalling escape from slavery by God’s strong hand and then provision in the wilderness years emphasizes how God heard their voice and they heard his. vv4-7 Just as God heard them when they were suffering so he understands our need when we are burdened down with sin and live separated from God. As God said to Moses, ‘I have surely seen the affliction of my people who are in Egypt and have heard their cry because of their taskmasters. I know their sufferings, and I have come down to deliver them out of the hand of the Egyptians and to bring them up out of that land to a good land, a land flowing with milk and honey.’ Exodus 3.7-8 This reflects our own experience of salvation through Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection. The parallels in the Exodus account are multitudinous.

 

However, the people of God although in covenant relationship did not remain faithful. They broke the opening commandments and replaced God in their hearts with other desires. vv8-9 Therefore the psalmist quotes the words of God before the ten commandments to remind them of how their covenant relationship was formed, ‘I am the Lord your God, who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.’ v10 and Exodus 20.2  Many of us have had a time when we drifted off from our relationship with him, replacing him with other things, passions and relationships. This period for many can last for decades. I spoke to one man who before attending a Christianity Explored Course told me he had made a commitment to Christ when a university student and done nothing about it since, he was now in his 50s and felt the need to find his relationship with God again.

 

God though did not give up on his people despite hundreds of years of wayward discipleship. Instead his words were, ‘Oh, that my people would listen to me, and Israel would walk in my ways! v14 God was still calling them back. He still wanted to bless them with good things expressed as feeding them with the finest of wheat and with honey. v18 He wanted to satisfy their souls. The man I mentioned above turned again to the Lord and his relationship with him was restored.

 

It isn’t too late. God is patient and gracious beyond human imagining. If we have walked away from our relationship with him and replaced him with “foreign gods” v9 there is a way back if we turn back to him. He is waiting to bless us with eternally good things. He is able to restore our relationship with him even though we may be embarrassed, awkward, sure we don’t deserve it, unable to forget and not forgiving ourselves. It is because God had done all that is necessary through Jesus’ sacrifice. We are simply told to turn and ask. It is so simple, we are to come as a child. Mathew 18.3 He knows. There is no point in pretending.

 

No longer slaves

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f8TkUMJtK5k

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Tears to drink in full measure.       Psalm 80

How long, Lord God Almighty will your anger smoulder against the prayers of your people?
You have fed them with the bread of tears; you have made them drink tears by the bowlful.
You have made us an object of derision to our neighbours, and our enemies mock us.

 Restore us, God Almighty; make your face shine on us, that we may be saved. Psalm 80.4-7

A drinking bowl full of tears sums up many people’s experience over the last nine months. It could be a simile for the nation’s current condition. How do we handle grief in whatever form it comes? It is one of the most fundamental questions of human life. My eyes were opened to the pervasiveness of grief when a disability adviser came to speak to me about the needs of a child with severe brittle bone disease, who was wheelchair bound and had regularly broken bones for her whole life and would continue to do so. The adviser herself had a progressive condition that meant that she steadily lost function in her body and senses. She explained how every time she lost function she went through the full grief process for the loss of that ability. Loss causes grief and does not only occur following death. There are many forms of loss that have debilitating even life changing impacts.

 

I remember a colleague who was lively, successful in her career and physically well. She experienced a relationship breakup, the grief for the loss of her relationship brought on a severe mental illness that nearly took her life. I am pleased to say that following a long period of treatment and recuperation she not only recovered, she got her career successfully back on track and found a new permanent relationship, she also returned to her faith in Christ in a much deeper way from which she had drifted in adulthood.

 

Why these anecdotes? It is to illustrate how pervasive grief frequently is and also how much a relationship with the Lord, our Shepherd, is the healing balm we need. v1 Those of us who have grieved know how much we need to be restored. This is not to minimise the loss whether or not we are responsible, it is to find salvation within the loss.

 

The psalmist is grieving the loss of relationship the people of God are experiencing in addition to the suffering inflicted by Gentile nations. He knows the only salvation for his people is not to be found in their own power, it comes from the ‘Shepherd of Israel.’ Hear us, Shepherd of Israel, you who lead Joseph like a flock. You who sit enthroned between the cherubim, shine forth.’ v1 He has a deep longing to see the face of God. v3 He repeats this desire as a prayer to God in verse 7. In his grief he shows how we should act in ours, to seek the face of God.

 

In the second half of the psalm he invokes an image used elsewhere in the Old Testament of Israel as a vine. Jesus himself used this image where he spoke of God’s discipline as pruning the vine so that the branches of the vine will bear fruit when it is grafted in to the main vine, or God himself. ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’ John 15.5 Unfruitful branches are consigned to the fire.

 

Whether or not grief is a result of the Lord’s discipline have we sought his face, that we may be saved? v7

 

Shine Jesus Shine.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J3iB30gCqAc

 

 

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Is collective responsibility a thing?        Psalm 79

 

How much do we consider ourselves to be part of the church’s relationship with God or do we attend a church but consider ourselves in some way only partly attached? Psalm 79 is a community lament not an individual’s. It is a confession and a pleading the people of God are making as one body. Collective responsibility is being owned up to and mercy is being asked for all God’s people. Is this something we could see the modern church doing?

Psalm 79 is a prayer that arises from a dire situation that the remains of Judah found itself in. It has come from God’s judgement following persistent embedded sin throughout Judea, from top to bottom, and it was sin that persisted over generations. The Babylonians were God’s instrument of punishment and now a remnant remained in a much reduced Jerusalem. The temple had been defiled, the city reduced to rubble and the people so weakened in numbers and capability even the dead were not being buried. They were in short a laughing stock of neighbouring nations.

The psalmist in this situation does not pretend or cover up their responsibility or that of previous generations. He is honest with God and says it how it is even though it places the surviving remnant in a very poor light. He asks God, ‘Will you be angry forever? v5 He recognizes that the Lord is jealous for his people and his name. The psalmist as the voice of the people throws himself on God’s mercy. ‘Do not hold against us the sins of past generations; may your mercy come quickly to meet us, for we are in desperate need. Help us, God our Saviour, for the glory of your name; deliver us and forgive our sins for your name’s sake.’ vv8-9

 

Realistically one could imagine the modern persecuted church praying very similar prayers. The difference though is that God’s people were experiencing divine judgement for dishonouring God’s name. The circumstances of the contemporary church is much more like the persecution of the early church in the Roman Empire for preaching the gospel. However, whatever the circumstances opening one’s prayer with confession of sin is a helpful practice.

 

The remnant also prayed for God’s judgement on those who were cruelly oppressing them. It is important to note the distinction between asking for God’s judgement as opposed to themselves exercising the act of judgement and punishment. It is being left to God. We could say these prayers were answered at the end of Daniel when the Medes and Persians overthrew Babylon in one night.

 

The psalm ends with the confession that the people of God are God’s sheep and in praise to him. Jesus himself is our Shepherd. It his name that is brought into dishonour when the church is disobedient. The church is not a loose collection of individuals but the one body of Christ, mutually dependent upon each other and Christ himself as our head.

 

Do we take some responsibility for the church we belong to?

 

The church’s one foundation

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jotNbcFelX4

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How many times and ways?      Psalm 78:9-39

Have you, like me, looked back over your life and considered how many times you have offended God the Father and in how many ways you did that? Alongside those thoughts have you also considered how many times God has forgiven and rehabilitated you? It is perhaps easier to examine the lives of others and see their crooked path whilst at the same time to make excuses for ourselves for similar decisions and actions. When we have gone wrong, what has prompted us to turn back, repent and ask for forgiveness? Would we have called it God’s discipline at the time or do we only in retrospect recognize his hand on our lives?

 

Asaph in his lament forensically examines not one life but the life of a nation over up to 500 years, from the Exodus to King David. It is a catalogue of God’s unjustified love for a rebellious people who in the face of repeated miraculous interventions grumbled, rebelled, disobeyed, rejected God and worshipped other gods who do not exist. They tested God’s love beyond the reasonable or excusable and deserved God’s rejection. If we are honest, how well do we stand up against the same accusations.

 

Let’s look at the charges. Ephraim, (often shorthand for Northern Israel) ‘turned away from the battle.’ v9 Do we engage in the spiritual battle, in prayer, in resisting sin, in standing up for righteousness, in loving when we are not loved?

 

‘Israel did not keep the God’s covenant and refused to live by his law.’ v10 Do we even consider that when we asked Jesus into our lives and accepted his death on our behalf that we had entered into a covenant with God. From then on, we had made promises of covenant love, the best simile is that of marriage vows. When we break that covenant love by giving our love due to him to other people, vices or things we are committing spiritual adultery. Such behaviour deserves the same response by God the Father as when the Israelites sacrificed to other gods on the high places. ‘They angered him with their high places, they aroused his jealousy with their idols.’ v58

 

Do we grumble about the situation the Lord has placed us in when he has blessed us greatly forgetting all he has done forever wanting more? vv 9-30 Where is our treasure and how does that impact our daily life?

 

When God is leading us in one direction, how often do we want to turn round and go the other way, back to our old lives? ‘He divided the sea and led them through; he made the water stand up like a wall. He guided them with the cloud by day and with light by night.’ vv13-14 The people of Israel complained to Moses that they had been led out of slavery where they felt safe and wanted to return despite all the Lord had done. As we consider the span of our life, how often have we wanted to do just that and turn back from his calling and promises. Did it feel easier to live as the world lives?

 

When we speak to God or join in with worship are our words sincere or are have they been at times as Israel’s sometimes were, a false declaration? ‘But then they would flatter him with their mouths lying to him with their tongues; their hearts were not loyal to him they were not faithful to his covenant.’ vv36-37

 

Remarkably, God’s patience, grace and understanding meant they were not permanently rejected by God. Even when tested to the limit he held back righteous anger and restored his people. ‘Yet he was merciful; he forgave their iniquities and did not destroy them. Time after time he restrained his anger and did not stir up his full wrath. He remembered that they were but flesh, a passing breeze that does not return.’ vv38-40

Should we then be casual in our own attitude towards sin, presuming on God’s forgiveness? Paul had a blunt response to this notion. ‘What shall we say, then? Shall we go on sinning, so that grace may increase? By no means! We are those who have died to sin; how can we live in it any longer? Or don’t you know that all of us who were baptised into Christ Jesus were baptised into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.’ Romans 6.1-4

 

We can rejoice in the promise, ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.’ I John 1.9

 

Let us live then as a new creation, by faith and in the Spirit.

 

Forgiven – Crowder

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=u_ZWEO36jok

 

 

 

 

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Tell the children this       Psalm 78: 1-8

Many years ago, I was studying for a Philosophy degree in education and so fairly obviously the first question was, what do we mean by education? The most succinct and helpful definition I came across was the transmission of culture. Culture includes the body of knowledge we hold and value, our behaviours and traditions. Culture belongs to a defined group and is something that we learn, it is not innate. As people of God, what is the body of knowledge, values, behaviours and traditions we value so highly that we want to do our best to pass it on?

 

Psalm 78, the second longest psalm, is a narrative covering the period from Moses to David attempting to encapsulate the critical memory of God’s great deeds and his instructions to his people over the generations. It graphically spells out the consequences of the repeated times when God’s culture had been forgotten, ignored or rejected. Asaph, the psalmist, appeals for each generation to be taught the ways of God and the history of God’s people.

 

‘He decreed statutes for Jacob and established the law in Israel, which he