Updated 29th Sept
During these times of flux… a thought for the day…
D A I L Y D E V O T I O N A L S T U D I E S
Being in the presence John 6.15-21
In these six verses we see two examples of being in the presence of God. The first is Jesus who went up the mountain to pray and the second is when Jesus met the disciples in the stormy sea.
Jesus did not miss out on spending time in prayer and fellowship with his Father. At the beginning of the chapter Jesus had crossed to the east side of the Sea of Galilee with his disciples to find time to pray. This had been interrupted by a huge crowd seeking him and he then spent an exhausting day teaching, healing and finally feeding the crowd. He then withdrew on his own. His disciples had lost track of him. He went back up the mountain and stayed alone except for being in the presence of God through the evening and on into the night. This was not a one off, there are frequent references to Jesus spending time like this with his disciples and alone. At times he behaved in this way before a major event, prior to choosing his twelve disciples, Luke 6.12 before Peter’s profession of faith Luke 9.18 and before the transfiguration. Luke 9.28 Perhaps the times of greatest significance and recorded in the most detail were following his baptism Matthew 4.1-11 and on the eve of his crucifixion. Matthew 26.36-46 However, Jesus did not leave times of sustained prayer to times of greatest need, prayer to him was a necessity of life not to be postponed. Luke tells us that Jesus, ‘often withdrew to lonely places and prayed.’ Like 5.16 Jesus provides the ultimate example of choosing to spend time in the presence of God. He also needed those times to be uninterrupted and so found places where he could be quiet. It was to him as great a need as food, drink and sleep. Jesus did not let the business and urgency of the day crowd out quiet time. He normally chose to rise earlier or spend time at the end of the day to be with his Father.
The disciples having lost Jesus made the decision to row the six miles back across the Sea of Galilee even though it was going to take them well into the night to achieve it. Over half way across they hit trouble with high waves and strong winds. They were not fools, some were experienced sailors on the Galilean Sea, they knew they were at serious risk. At that point Jesus came alongside walking on the turbulent sea. Now they were more afraid from seeing Jesus walking on the water than they were of the stormy sea.
The importance of this event is not that this was simply an amazing feat, it lies much more in what it says about the identity of Jesus and the significance of the words Jesus spoke. Jesus in walking on the sea demonstrates that he is the Lord of all the natural world because he is the creator and sustainer of the world and beyond that the universe. When we are in his presence, this is who he is. How does that relate to the troubles we find ourselves in? Jesus reassures his disciples with the words, ‘It is I; don’t be afraid.’ John 6.20 This was not a carelessly chosen phrase. Jesus deliberately chose to say ‘It is I’ to remind them of Exodus 3.14 where God said to Moses when the people ask you who sent you, say to them ‘I AM has sent me to you.’ When Jesus said these words to the disciples he was preparing them for the time when he answered Jewish leaders with the words, ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.’
The impact of Jesus’ presence was that the disciples calmed down and welcomed him into the boat and they immediately reached their destination. John 6.21
What kind of King is this, the great ‘I AM’? “He is far greater than we can imagine, and his claim upon our lives is more significant than our tendency to domesticate God so often allows.” Josh Moody, John 1-12 For You
Do we make time and space within each day as Jesus did for spending that valuable time in the presence of God?
Do we allow the storms of our lives to triumph over the scale of the majesty of Jesus?
Here In Your Presence – New Life Worship
Feeding a crowd – What’s that about? John 6.1-15
If you have taken the step to active belief in Jesus and as they say committed your life to him, how did you reach that point. It is typical that such a personal journey can be complicated although not for everybody. Listening to people’s personal stories is a helpful process when planning how a church should reach out with the good news of Jesus. It rapidly becomes evident that individual journeys are frequently very different and what made the greatest impact also varies greatly. Misunderstanding and changing motivations are common features. We can draw comfort that even the way people reacted to Jesus and his teaching was a complicated picture.
Jesus had been attracting large crowds despite opposition from the authorities. As it neared the Passover festival the general level of anticipation would have risen because it was at Passover time people expected God to act. Jesus chose to cross the Sea of Galilee, we know from the other gospels that Jesus wanted a quiet place to pray and be with his closest disciples. However, a great crowd followed him. Their motivation was simple, they had seen him perform miraculous signs especially healing the sick. This was incredibly important as medical knowledge was very limited and there were a huge number of ailments and disabilities for which there was no treatment. The crowd were not foremost interested in his teaching.
Jesus and his disciples had climbed a mountain, probably the Golan Heights, and could see the crowd coming from a long way away. Luke tells us, ‘he welcomed them, and spoke to them about the kingdom of God, and healed those who needed to be cured.’ Luke 9.11 Jesus then did not turn away the opportunity to both meet people’s physical needs or teach them about the kingdom of God. He was prepared to stop what he had wanted to do to put others’ needs first. This alone is a serious challenge for all of us and the church in general.
Secondly, he did not hesitate to teach about the kingdom of God even though that was not the main reason people came to him. There would have been those who did seriously desire to hear Jesus teaching amongst the crowd but Jesus did not discriminate. He healed all and he taught all. As churches it is easy to appear as if we are only interested in people if they accept what we have to say even if that is not how we feel.
Jesus questioned Philip about how they were going to feed the crowd as a test. John doesn’t say what Jesus was testing but Jesus was about to perform a sign. John 6.14 By miraculously feeding a vast crowd Jesus was providing a sign as to who he is. The connections to God’s provision for Israel in the desert, the provision of meat in Numbers 11 and Manna in Exodus 16 were there for all to see, only God could do this. The test for Philip then could well have been, how much did he understand of Jesus’ identity?
Once Jesus had fed the crowd and they themselves had participated and had time to absorb what was happening, a change occurred in their understanding. It was not a complete grasp of the truth regarding Jesus but they did understand that what they had seen was in the same category as had been performed through the great prophets of the past. John 6.14
They responded by wanting him to be their political ruler, a king, a rebel leader against Herod and the Romans. They had translated the sign of Jesus’ divinity and concern with the eternal as well as the temporal into a political movement. The crowd had shifted its understanding and interest, grasping that Jesus was from God but not understanding the implications as yet.
Does this mean that what Jesus did that day was not worthwhile and members of the crowd had missed out on promised salvation? No to both those questions, what was happening was an evolving message. Jesus later in the chapter follows up the feeding of the five thousand with teaching that he is the bread of life, making the links between the miracle, his identity and his salvation ministry. In the middle of that teaching Jesus repeats the salvation message of John 3 and John 5, ‘For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise them up at the last day.’ John 6.40 What is building here through the gospel of John is a connected account with significant signposting events that establish the evidence of Jesus’ identity, purpose and accomplishments along with how the people of the time and we should relate to him.
Equally the church should allow for and be sensitive to the stepped approach many take to faith.
What are the misunderstandings that confuse people about who Jesus is?
How should the church help people on their journey to faith?
Do we show the same flexibility as Jesus did to people’s needs even when it causes a change to our plans?
Lift Him Up, Lift Him High – Dave Bilbrough
Do you solemnly swear … ? John 5. 28-47
‘A single witness shall not suffice against a person for any crime or for any wrong in connection with any offense that he has committed. Only on the evidence of two witnesses or of three witnesses shall a charge be established.’ Deuteronomy 19.15
In the record at the end of John 5 Jesus applies the principle in Mosaic law of accusations being supported by two or three witnesses. Jesus uses it again in Mathew 18.16 when teaching about how to settle disputes between his followers and Paul also does so in 2 Corinthians 13.1 when he warns them about his coming to settle disputes. ‘This is the third time I am coming to you. Every charge must be established by the evidence of two or three witnesses.’ The Jewish leaders accuse Jesus in the name of Moses and Jesus turns it back on them. ‘There is one who accuses you: Moses, on whom you have set your hope. For if you believed Moses, you would have believed me; for he wrote of me. But if you do not believe his writings, how will you believe my words.’ John 5.45-47
On the question of belief, a misunderstanding can occur when Jesus was claiming he has the authority to execute judgement on the final day as the dead are raised. ‘And he (the Father) has given him (Jesus) authority to execute judgement, because he is the Son of Man. Do not marvel at this, for an hour is coming when all who are in the tombs will hear his voice and come out, those who have done good to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil to the resurrection of Judgement.’ John 5.27-29
This passage in isolation can be read as salvation or justification by works, that is on balance one is saved if one generally lived a good life. However, previously in verse 24 Jesus said, ‘Whoever does not honour the Son does not honour the Father who sent him. Truly, truly I say to you, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life.’ The “good” then is belief in Jesus as the one sent by the Father and obedience to him. Evil is the rejection of Jesus.
Jesus turns the subject to who are the witnesses that testify that he is the “Son of God”. John 5.25 He turns initially to the testimony of John the Baptist who at this point is still alive and greatly respected, even feared, as a contemporary prophet and hero of the masses, if not liked or welcomed in the circles of Jewish leadership. John had publicly endorsed Jesus as the Messiah. John3.22-36 (The famous, “He must increase, but I must decrease” speech.) We see something at this point that is easily overlooked, Jesus remains concerned for the salvation of his accusers even though they are plotting to take his life. The consistency of Jesus’ underserved love continues even as he is dying and prays for the forgiveness of the soldiers who are hammering nails through his flesh and bones. Jesus referred to John’s testimony because the Jewish leaders had been, ‘willing to rejoice for a while in his light.’ John 5.35 For that reason then, they may have been willing to believe in him.
Jesus does not need the testimony of John or any other person. The works of the Father that he accomplishes are testimony in themselves. The miracles of mercy he has performed including the healing of the man at Bethesda and the royal official’s son along with many others were all works of the Father, done in the open for all to see. Jesus calls upon the word of God as a third witness. ‘The Father who sent me has himself borne witness about me. His voice you have never heard, his form you have never seen, and you do not have his word abiding in you, for you do not believe the one whom he has sent.’ John 5.37,38 When Jesus spoke of the Father’s voice it is possible he was making reference to the words God the Father spoke at his baptism by John, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’ Mathew 3.17 but he is certainly referring to the whole of the Old Testament scriptures through which the Jewish Leaders accepted that God had spoken. Jesus is making the claim that all scripture points to him.
What the Jewish leaders found difficult to understand and accept was that studying scripture was not intrinsically life giving but that it pointed to Jesus who is. ‘It is they that bear witness about me, yet you refuse to come to me that you may have life.’ John 5.40
Finally, Jesus identifies the obstacle that prevents the Jewish leaders from recognising Jesus for who he is. It is their own pride. They want their own expertise as teachers of the law to bring them praise and credit whilst at the same time not realising that the law itself points to Jesus. John 5. 45,46 Jesus spoke plainly when he said, ‘How can you believe, when you receive glory from one another and do not seek the glory that comes from the only God.’ John 5.44 Their pride had become their idol. As we read the bible do we ask the Spirit to reveal to us in what ways it reveals Jesus?What things do we place in our life before seeking the glory that comes from God?What is the evidence we are confident of, that Jesus is the Christ?
Who Is There Like You? – Paul Oakley
The biggest claim John 5.19-29
Mathew’s gospel records the Pharisees accusing Jesus of performing his miracles by the power of the devil. (Mathew 12.22-32) It was at the same time one of the most ridiculous accusations as well as one of the most heinous. A man had been brought to Jesus who was demon possessed, blind and unable to speak. Jesus heals him to the extent that he could both see and talk Matt 12.22 which naturally caused amazement in all those who saw it and knew the man in question. Jesus puts down the Pharisee’s accusation with the now famous statement, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.’ Matt 12.25 Abraham Lincolns “House divided” speech (1858 on his acceptance of his nomination to the Senate when the nation was profoundly divided over slavery) did not prevent, drawing on this biblical principle, but it did provide the basis for unity following the civil war. In modern times we saw the echo of this in the Peace and Reconciliation process following the abandonment of apartheid in South Africa, led by Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
In the passage in John’s gospel we have Jesus explaining that his authority comes from God the Father in obedience to him. In doing so he is also claiming equality with God the Father. Jesus is demonstrating the unity of the Godhead. Each has their role. How is this equal partnership worked out?
Jesus, the Son, does what he sees his Father doing demonstrating his divine insight. He limits his own actions to those of his Father’s will. John 5.19 We see Jesus aligning himself to the will of the Father in all he does and in this way he reveals the invisible God to us. God the Father reciprocates by showing all he is doing to the Son. John5.20 The basis of this reciprocal relationship is equal love. The relationships within the Godhead are demonstrations of how our relationships with God himself, between members of his church and especially in marriage should be ones of unity and love.
Jesus obedience will lead on to the demonstration of greater works than the disciples and the general public including the Jewish leaders had yet seen. This includes the raising of the dead that demonstrate that the Son is the life giver. John 5.21 Later Jesus raises from the dead Jairus’ daughter, the son of a widow in Nain and his close friend Lazarus. These of course lived to die again but Jesus’ true divinity and proof he has authority over eternal life is shown by his own resurrection from the dead. The raising of the dead is achievable by God alone.
A second feature of divinity is the right to render final judgement. Here Jesus reveals that the Father has ‘given all judgement to the Son, that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father.’ John 5.23 Jesus here is claiming the same honour as the Father meaning he is worthy of the same praise.
The third God defining feature is the authority to raise the dead on the final day and execute judgement. John 5.27 He is able to do this because as God the Father has life within himself and so does the Son. John 5,26 Jesus is able to grant eternal life to those who have believed in him. John 5.24 ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear, the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. The NIV Study bible explains it in this way. “Hears, includes believing and obeying. ‘My word’ brings either eternal life and cleansing or judgement. Because the Son, in all he says and does, mediates the Father to us placing one’s faith in the Son is placing it in the Father.”
We see in this passage the closest unity between the Father and the Son. This unity is worked out throughout the gospel until it is tested without being broken, to the greatest degree in the Garden of Gethsemene.
Jesus showed the way the people treated him showed how they really treated God the Father. How do we treat Jesus?
Rend Collective – Church Online (Be warned it is a 20 minutes collection
Mathew’s gospel records the Pharisees accusing Jesus of performing his miracles by the power of the devil. (Mathew 12.22-32) It was at the same time one of the most ridiculous accusations as well as one of the most heinous. A man had been brought to Jesus who was demon possessed, blind and unable to speak. Jesus heals him to the extent that he could both see and talk Matt 12.22 which naturally caused amazement in all those who saw it and knew the man in question. Jesus puts down the Pharisee’s accusation with the now famous statement, ‘Every kingdom divided against itself will be ruined, and every city or household divided against itself will not stand.’ Matt 12.25 Abraham Lincolns “House divided” speech (1858 on his acceptance of his nomination to the Senate when the nation was profoundly divided over slavery) did not prevent, drawing on this biblical principle, but it did provide the basis for unity following the civil war. In modern times we saw the echo of this in the Peace and Reconciliation process following the abandonment of apartheid in South Africa, led by Bishop Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela.
In the passage in John’s gospel we have Jesus explaining that his authority comes from God the Father in obedience to him. In doing so he is also claiming equality with God the Father. Jesus is demonstrating the unity of the Godhead. Each has their role. How is this equal partnership worked out?
Jesus, the Son, does what he sees his Father doing demonstrating his divine insight. He limits his own actions to those of his Father’s will. John 5.19 We see Jesus aligning himself to the will of the Father in all he does and in this way he reveals the invisible God to us. God the Father reciprocates by showing all he is doing to the Son. John5.20 The basis of this reciprocal relationship is equal love. The relationships within the Godhead are demonstrations of how our relationships with God himself, between members of his church and especially in marriage should be ones of unity and love.
Jesus obedience will lead on to the demonstration of greater works than the disciples and the general public including the Jewish leaders had yet seen. This includes the raising of the dead that demonstrate that the Son is the life giver. John 5.21 Later Jesus raises from the dead Jairus’ daughter, the son of a widow in Nain and his close friend Lazarus. These of course lived to die again but Jesus’ true divinity and proof he has authority over eternal life is shown by his own resurrection from the dead. The raising of the dead is achievable by God alone.
A second feature of divinity is the right to render final judgement. Here Jesus reveals that the Father has ‘given all judgement to the Son, that all may honour the Son, just as they honour the Father.’ John 5.23 Jesus here is claiming the same honour as the Father meaning he is worthy of the same praise.
The third God defining feature is the authority to raise the dead on the final day and execute judgement. John 5.27 He is able to do this because as God the Father has life within himself and so does the Son. John 5,26 Jesus is able to grant eternal life to those who have believed in him. John 5.24 ‘Truly, truly, I say to you, an hour is coming, and is now here, when the dead will hear, the voice of the Son of God, and those who hear will live. The NIV Study bible explains it in this way. “Hears, includes believing and obeying. ‘My word’ brings either eternal life and cleansing or judgement. Because the Son, in all he says and does, mediates the Father to us placing one’s faith in the Son is placing it in the Father.”
We see in this passage the closest unity between the Father and the Son. This unity is worked out throughout the gospel until it is tested without being broken, to the greatest degree in the Garden of Gethsemene.
Jesus showed the way the people treated him showed how they really treated God the Father. How do we treat Jesus?
Rend Collective – Church Online (Be warned it is a 20 minutes collection
A chasm opens John 5.9-18
We know John included the events around the healing of the paralyzed man at the pool of Bethesda as the third sign that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God. It is not a sign simply because of its miraculous nature but also because of what Jesus said regarding his actions in the follow up to the healing. The day of the healing was the Jewish Sabbath and Jesus’ instruction to the man was to pick up his mat and walk, which he immediately did. John 5.8 There is no record of the man objecting that he couldn’t possibly do that on a Sabbath. He was in receipt of grace and mercy. The pool though was a large crowded place and he was seen by Jewish leaders who challenged him. ‘It is the Sabbath; the law forbids you to carry your mat.’ John 5.10
At this first point the first chasm of understanding is exposed. For the Jewish leaders salvation was dependent on keeping the law meticulously. Salvation in their mind was earned and if one was ‘good’ at keeping the law one was better than those who were not so good at it. It took a great deal of effort and study to achieve so little. However, being so meticulous and interpreting the law so rigorously, fed their self-righteousness. It also, in their eyes, gave them the right to judge and condemn. Can you see how in adopting these attitudes they were attributing to themselves god like status about their own righteousness and right to both judge and condemn? In their apparent effort to be obedient they were in fact going down the line of idolatry, for only God who is truly righteous is both the one who judges and has the right to condemn.
The man replies that he has no idea who healed him. This seems to be the most extraordinary lack of curiosity and thankfulness. Jesus had just completely changed his life beyond anything he could have realistically thought and he didn’t even ask Jesus’ name. At this point the object of the Jewish leader’s wrath moves from the healed man to the healer who had instructed him to carry his mat. But this was just the start of an escalating situation. When Jesus later saw the man again he stopped and spoke to him, ‘See, you are well again. Stop sinning or something worse may happen to you.’ John5.14 For some reason the man thought it would be a good idea to promptly find the same Jewish leaders and tell them it was Jesus who healed him. The motivation for this is interesting, he was clearly aware that the Jewish leaders were hostile to Jesus for his act of mercy on a Sabbath day but was more interested in keeping in with them than protecting the very person who had healed him. This raises for ourselves the need for self-awareness of our own motivations for the things we do and say.
Our own receipt of God’s mercy can be thrown back in his face whilst at the same time as we continue to benefit from the mercy of God. If we connect that with the warning Jesus gave the healed man, to ‘stop sinning’ John 5.14 it raises the question of how many times we throw Jesus mercy towards us in his face by our own persistence in carrying on sinning. How seriously do we take our continued sin? Jesus’ warning to the man that, ‘something worse may happen to you’ was not a reference to another malady brought on by his sin either administered by God or otherwise but a warning of God’s judgement.
The response to Jesus, who is the one who is genuinely righteous and has the right to judge and condemn, was to set about persecuting him. When the word persecute is used in this context it does not mean say hateful things or make life difficult. It is absolutely clear it means plot to kill Jesus. John5.18 In addition to Jesus acting mercifully on the Sabbath was added the charge that he was making himself equal to God.
A second chasm opened at this point was over the identity of Jesus. In response to the Jewish leader’s accusations Jesus spoke directly to them. It confronted their understanding of the Sabbath, a fundamental pillar of their religiosity, and Jesus’ relationship with God the Father. Jesus’ statement that God the Father works on the Sabbath bringing grace, mercy and salvation to people conflicted with their own beliefs about the Sabbath. God, Jesus was saying, does not become detached from the world and people’s need on the Sabbath, he continues to be a merciful and loving God active in people’s lives.
Additionally, no Jew would term God their Father as Jesus did. Jesus by saying God was his Father and he was about his Father’s work was making a statement that Jesus was equal to the Father. He was indeed God incarnate. Jesus was saying he is the Lord of the Sabbath and his healing of the man was evidence that both he and God the Father were at work. He had the right to heal on the Sabbath and to tell the man to carry his mat because he was Lord of the Sabbath.
A divide had arisen, “between God’s Son and God’s historic people who want to kill him”. (John’s Gospel: Read, Mark, Learn. Marshall Pickering.)
Are we comfortable with our own sin?
Is there a danger of succumbing to the idolatry of legalism?
Have we taken in the significance of Jesus’ equality with the Father when we reflect on his words?
Lord Reign in me – Brenton Brown
Do you want to get well? John 5.1-14
The pool was crowded that day but not with swimmers or children larking about. Instead it was packed with resigned despairing adults waiting for a false hope. The pool itself was impressive, stone built with five colonnades. Steps surrounded the pool leading into the water. Jesus was walking there, picking his way between sat and lying bodies. He had returned to Jerusalem for a festival and made his way to the pool called Bethsaida near the city Sheep Gate. As he looked around he could see a multitude of suffering; the blind, those who could not walk disfigured by illness or accident, a few paralyzed and entirely dependent on others to carry them each day to the pool, all waiting for the water in the pool to be disturbed. This was not a pool for swimming or play but the story went if the water rippled then the first person into the water would be healed. Each time it happened there was a mad scramble as the disabled on their own or aided by friends sought to be the first. This architecturally beautiful pool had become a pool of human tragedy. While people waited there were those begging as their sole source of income.
In the middle of this scene Jesus became aware of one particular man and his story. He had been an invalid for thirty-eight years, longer than many lived in those days. We do not know his name and in a sense his anonymity adds poignancy to the account. Jesus stopped, looked at him and when he spoke he said, ‘Do you want to get well?’ The answer might seem obvious but the man evidently knew nothing of Jesus. Instead of affirming his desire for healing his reply was a resigned complaint. There was not an element of hope within it. “Sir,” the invalid replied. “I have no one to help me into the pool when the water is stirred. While I am trying to get in, someone else goes down ahead of me.” Jesus then told him to, “Get up! Pick up your mat and walk.” Surprised he undoubtedly was but he did as he was told.
That question, ‘Do you want to get well?’ has a much wider significance and application than for this one man and event. There were potential costs and implications for his identity arising from being healed after thirty-eight years. How were family and friends going to respond? Was he going to accused of being a fraud all these years? How was he going to make money and live now? What was going to happen to his state of mind? His life was about to change radically, had he become content with his disability and accepted it as his lot in life with the hope of healing just being an excuse to beg?
We have no idea about what eventually happened to this anonymous man, it would appear that despite being the recipient of the third sign of Jesus being the Messiah in John’s gospel, he did not become a follower of Jesus.
The question, do you want to change, is a bottom line question when it comes to discipleship and being a Christian. It may be that you know you need to change but actually you like what you know is wrong or undesirable and you are too attached to it to change. The cost may be too much and you are unwilling to pay.
Jesus repeatedly made it very clear there is a real cost to following him. Discipleship is not a call to easy street. Amongst other things it costs changes in behaviour and for that to happen you need to want it. On one occasion Jesus explained to his disciples that the cost they bear is one he shares with them.
“If the world hates you, know that it has hated me before it hated you. If you were of the world, the world would love you as its own; but because you are not of the world, but I chose you out of the world, therefore the world hates you. Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you. If they kept my word, they will also keep yours. But all these things they will do to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have been guilty of sin, but now they have no excuse for their sin.” John 15.18-25
What do want in life?
Has Jesus challenged you and are you prepared for the consequences?
Whatever your answer this is God the Father’s promise – ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.’ John 3.16
Look Up Child – Lauren Diagle
Superficial to deep faith John 4.43-54
How would we describe a superficial faith in Jesus today? It may be that Jesus is recognised as an important historical figure whose teachings have had a positive impact on our society and even influenced how one lives individually. It could be that one wants to include Christian landmarks in our lives such baptising a child, getting married in church and a church or Christian led funeral. For some it may be that Christian theology is of interest even fascination in a purely intellectual way. Other’s might really like visiting Christian architecture on holiday or love classic Christian art and music. They may pray occasionally usually at a particular point of need. At no point though would a person with superficial faith or interest say that Jesus was at the centre of their lives in a continual way. This is at least in part because they are not convinced about the identity of Jesus.
Above all John’s gospel is written so that people will understand who Jesus is, ‘Jesus performed many other signs in the presence of his disciples, which are not recorded in this book. But these are written that you may believe that Jesus is the Messiah, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name.’ John 20.30,31 John’s gospel above all is an evangelistic gospel, written first to Jews spread out across the world so that they would know who Jesus is and have life in him. He recorded Jesus’ healing of the son of the royal official as the second sign John 4.54 of who Jesus is (note present tense) so that they could enjoy the same life as the official and his whole household.
He records an interesting contrast between the Samaritans who believed and the Galilean welcome. The Samaritans believed, ‘because of his word’ John 4.41 they had been convinced by his teaching and his prophetic insight and recognised him as the promised Messiah. The Galileans were fascinated by his miracles which they had witnessed in Jerusalem but had not made the connection as to his identity as the promised Messiah, the Son of God. They were sensation seekers.
Jesus was now in Cana the place of his first sign, as to who he was, at a wedding. He was approached by a royal official from Capernaum, some 16 miles away. He was part of Herod Antipas’ court and almost certainly a Gentile. He was a man in great distress because he believed his son was about to die of an unspecified disease. He was desperate that Jesus came immediately to his home to heal his son. John 4.47 Jesus first response was not to the official but directed to Galileans around him, saying that faith for them relied on signs and wonders John 4.48 the implication being, how many more do you need to see? Jesus was not being careless of the official’s distress however he was always conscious and focused on his mission of revelation and salvation.
Up to this point the official was a superficial believer, he believed and wanted to believe that Jesus was in some way a healer because he had heard of him healing many. He thought that for Jesus to heal he would have to be in the presence of his son. Then Jesus spoke, ‘Go, your son will live.’ John 4.50 There was something about the authority of Jesus coming from his divinity that the official grasped. He believed the words of Jesus and went on his way. On his return his belief was confirmed by the news that his son recovered at the exact time Jesus spoke. John 4.53 What an awesome moment. It was then that he completed his move from superficial faith to deep faith and not only him but his whole household, probably including servants as well as family members.
Deep faith occurs when the words of Jesus strike deep into our hearts and our lives change.
What will it take to believe?
Has deep faith in Jesus, recognising him as the Son of God, occurred in our lives?
How do people now hear the words of Jesus?
I See the Lord (Live) – Ron Kenoly
Lift your eyes and see John 3.27-42
Tolstoy in his novel War and Peace wrote that a battle can turn in a “Hurrah”. The Hurrah represents a changed contrasting attitude compared to the disposition of all around. It stands for a different vision of what is before them. It is grasping the positive when all around is negative. Suddenly the world seems different and the “Hurrah” enthuses, encourages and conveys a new sense of reality. Belief in Jesus can be that “Hurrah” as we see in the Samaritan woman when the penny drops and she realizes that the man before her is the Messiah she and all her people have been waiting for. She believed him when he said, ‘I who speak to you am he’. John 4.26
Jesus’ disciples returned from town with food just as he made that confession to the woman. It reads as if they barged in breaking the intimate profound moment oblivious to the significance of the event that had taken place and not caring. ‘No one said, “What do you seek?” or “Why are you talking with her?”’ John 4.27 Their preoccupation was with the mundane and the everyday. Food was their dominant thought. ‘Meanwhile the disciples were urging him, saying, “Rabbi, eat.”’ John 4.31
The woman though had just had her view of the world changed by her encounter with Jesus. She was a convert in the first flush of excitement. The mundane, such as collecting water, had fallen away and she was bursting to share her new-found faith and introduce others to Jesus. What a contrast with the disciples. ‘The woman left her water jar and went away into town and said to the people, “Come, and see a man who told me all that I ever did. Can this be the Christ?”’ Counter culturally we have in essence the woman being the evangelist. She was doing what all can do and so frequently do not do. She was inviting people to discover Jesus for themselves.
Jesus and the woman now shared the same vision inspired by the Holy Spirit. It was a vision of a harvest of people for salvation. Is it too strong a term to say that Jesus rebuked his disciples when he said, ‘I have food to eat that you do not know about’? He was referring to the Spirit of God empowering him to preach the gospel. This was his calling and purpose. The disciples like the woman at the beginning of her encounter were preoccupied with the everyday and literal understanding of his words.
You can feel Jesus frustration coming through the words, ‘Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest. Already the one who reaps is receiving wages and gathering fruit for eternal life, so that the sower and reaper may rejoice together.’ john 4,36,37 He was drawing on the imagery in Amos 9.13 which also describes the abundance of the new age. Men and woman from the Samaritan town responded to the woman’s invitation to come and see Jesus. Their salvation was Jesus’ total priority and he stayed two days teaching. As a result, many believed. They believed because they encountered Jesus for themselves and the Holy Spirit spoke into their hearts. ‘They said to the woman. “It is no longer because of what you said that we believe, for we have heard for ourselves, and we know that this is indeed the Saviour of the World.”’ John 4.42
Are we preoccupied with the everyday or do we share Jesus’ vision for the gospel?
As a church have we stopped inviting people to meet Jesus?
Do we think that we are not sufficient in some way to invite people to meet Jesus?
Where does reaching people with the gospel rate in our priorities as a church?
Lord I lift your name of high – Maranatha singers
When barriers collapsed John 4.1 -26
What stops someone from feeling able to trust in Jesus? There are many potential barriers some of which are intellectual regarding questions about the historical or scientific evidence. Some questions are philosophical perhaps regarding suffering, justice or whether there can be only one true religion. However, for many the barriers that prevent the act of trusting in Jesus are not so much about these wider questions, they are ones concerning personal identity, culturally and emotionally. It is in this highly personal area that the account of Jesus meeting the Samaritan woman is highly relevant. Before moving on I want to say there are highly coherent responses to scientific, historical and philosophical questions and if anybody would like a steer towards where to read, listen or view these, please get in touch via my personal e mail or facebook page. (See below)
Jesus left Judea where his disciples had been baptizing because his presence was attracting more attention from the Pharisees than he wished at that time. It was still early in his ministry and there was much more to be done before his death on the cross. He returned to Galilee, taking the shorter route north and therefore passed through Samaria. Many Jews would have gone around Samaria, up the east side of the River Jordon, because they would not have wanted to mix with the Samaritans who they considered, “half-caste, religiously barbaric heretics”. (Josh Moody, John 1-12 For You.) The Jewish view of Samaritans, who lived in part of what was the Northern Kingdom of Israel prior to the Assyrian conquest, were people who were mixed race due to Assyrian deportation and settlement policies. Their religion whilst sharing the Pentateuch, although it partially differed in content, also mixed in pagan worship practices. The Samaritans had a different centre of worship to Jerusalem, Mount Gerizim, where Moses pronounced the law’s blessings. It was on this mountain that the Samaritans had erected a temple but in 128/7 BC John Hyrcanus, a Jewish High Priest, destroyed it. There were then deep historical and cultural divides between the Jews and the Samaritans although they were immediate neighbours.
Jesus and his disciples arrived at Sychar, half way through Samaria and close to Mount Ebal and Mount Gerizim. It was midday, Jesus was hot and tired and his disciples went on into town for food while Jesus settled down by the famous “Jacob’s well” just outside town. A Samaritan woman arrived on her own to fetch water and Jesus asked for a drink. John 4.7 The woman was shocked because she was immediately aware that the cultural and gender barriers that existed between her a Samaritan woman and Jesus a male Jew would normally prevent any form of communication. John 4.9 Jesus completely ignored these factors and spoke directly to her heart and need. He used water as a metaphor for the Spirit and spiritual life. He loved her and wanted her to have life that was the best it could possibly be. He used the term “living water” to describe eternal spiritual life. John 4.10 There then followed a conversation at cross purposes, the woman speaking literally and misunderstanding Jesus. She refers back to her cultural heritage and speaks of Jacob supplying them with water from the well and how it was revered as Jacob and all his family had used it. At this point the barriers between Jesus and the woman were historical, cultural, gender based and simple lack of understanding. There was little hope of this discussion making progress. Jesus then tries to clarify what he meant but initially that did not work and the woman still took him literally although she thought it would be wonderful to have water that satisfied one’s thirst once and for all time.
‘Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty again and have to keep coming here to draw water”.’ John4.13-15 Jesus then jumped over the barrier of culture, religion, gender and comprehension by showing deep insight into her life revealing her disgrace and sin while at the same time offering her the spiritual ‘water of life’. There could not be a greater act of love and respect for a woman who her own people considered did not deserve respect. Jesus had divine insight into her life and heart by exposing her relationship outside of marriage and five previous husbands. Culturally, at that time, it was unacceptable to have had more than three husbands even if there were acceptable reasons for multiple husbands such as widowhood. The implication is though that her multiple husbands were for more unacceptable reasons than that. It was the turning point for the woman. Jesus had made contact with her heart and revealed himself as the Messiah. He moved her thinking from understanding that religion is based on place and culture to spiritual connection and truth. She was looking forward to the Messiah coming who would reveal truth and Jesus revealed himself to her as that Messiah. Instead of a body of ideas her faith was now placed in the person of Christ.
When we reflect on our own spiritual journey can we identify a time when culture and religious practices were replaced by encountering the person of Jesus? Can we also identify a time when our understanding was changed by the Holy Spirit convincing us that the “water of life” is Jesus himself? Can we think of a time when the Spirit of Christ showed us up to ourselves how we really are without excuses?
Jesus’ conversation with the woman was a private conversation, she was not publicly humiliated or made a fool of. He respected her dignity and valued her highly. He was patient in his explanations. He was spiritually insightful. It would be great if as Christians we prayed for these qualities as we meet people cross culturally. When we speak of cross cultural work we often mean across global cultures, however as disciples of Christ we belong to another culture, the kingdom of God. May we have the attitude and discernment to communicate with those around us, cross culturally.
There is power in the name of Jesus – Noel Richards
The Crunch Pt 2 John 3.36
When John writes, ‘whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life’ John3.36 he raises several questions in the modern reader’s mind. Is the reason for obedience just the reward we will receive? How is it possible to know what it is I am meant to do? How am I meant to get the strength to continue to be obedient. I want to be free and isn’t obedience the opposite to freedom? To understand this phrase it is necessary to place it in the context of the developing account in John’s gospel as well as in the wider biblical writings.
Christian obedience to Jesus is a response to both authority and love. John opened his gospel with a declaration that Jesus as the Word of God is eternal, the creator of all and the revelation of God that brings light to our lives. John 1.1-5 His authority is from that he is the awesome God but more than that, he is intimately concerned with us. However, Jesus’ relationship with us is not simply as the all powerful God who made all things and will judge us, he is the one who was lifted up to die for us because of his very great love for us. John 3.15-16 Obedience then is a love response to very great love, love that is almost beyond our comprehension and indeed would be if it were not for God enabling us to understand.
Love for Jesus means we want to be with him and be like him. ‘Whoever keeps his commandments abides in God, and God in him. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit whom he has given us.’ 1 John 3.24 Obedience becomes a pleasure, ‘For this is the love of God, that we keep his commandments. And his commandments are not burdensome.’ 1 John 5.3
To grasp what obedience is we are helped by the word of God and the Spirit of God both of these are received through Jesus. Immediately prior to John 3.36 we read, ‘For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure.’ John3.34 It is the combined words of God and his Spirit that brings us both understanding of God’s will and the capacity to be obedient.
Our understanding of freedom depends upon our world view. The biblical view of freedom is freedom from the slavery of sin. This freedom from the slavery of sin is also expressed in love for others especially love for fellow disciples of Christ. ‘Whoever says he is in the light and hates his brother is still in darkness. Whoever loves his brother abides in the light, and in him there is no cause for stumbling.’ 1 John 2.9,10 Love and obedience for Jesus then overflows into love for others around us.
How has God been speaking to you about his love for you?
Is there any next step of obedience that the Spirit has made you aware of?
Be the Centre – Michael Frye
The Crunch, Pt 1 John 3.36 & Deuteronomy 27.9,10
Independence of mind and self-determinism is so ingrained in our society that an instruction to obey can be seen as wrong, offensive and detracting from our rights. It feels like being forced to do things against our will. There have rightly been strong reactions against enforced controls on people’s lives typified in the anti-slavery movements and a rejection that crimes committed under the orders of military commanders are excusable. Many women have seen a promise to obey in a marriage service as inappropriate and unequal. How then do you react to John’s words, ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God remains on him’? John 3.36 These words fit into a whole biblical theme of obedience to God and are also a repeated theme in John’s writings. They can be a stumbling block to faith and spiritual growth and they can also be misinterpreted and cause Christians stress and anxiety. On the other hand fully grasped and understood they can be a pathway to freedom, joy and peace.
Jesus was just about to walk through Samaria on the way back to Galilee, passing Mount Ebal and it was close to there he met the Samaritan woman at Jacob’s well. It was on Mount Ebal that Moses addressed the people of Israel just before they enter the promised land with these words, ‘You have now become the people of the Lord your God. Obey the Lord your God and follow his commands and decrees that I give you today’. Deuteronomy 27.9,10 He then went on to clarify what obedience to God was by issuing a series of curses or forbidden things, followed by blessings for obedience. Obedience then is about rejecting sin and living in a God pleasing way. What then is sinful? No lists in scripture are comprehensive, but what they do is expose the depth and range of sin. Moses’ list Deuteronomy 27.15-26 first of all identifies idolatry, that is anything we place in our hearts where God should be. It includes a whole range of behaviours destructive to family life: not respecting parents, having sexual relations with close relatives and animals, maliciousness, injustice to the poor, weak and foreigners, crimes against neighbours and corruption. The blessing in addition to occupying the promised land and prospering is that they will be God’s people, Deuteronomy 28.9 and the name of the Lord will be known throughout the world. Deuteronomy 29.10 Here we see the missionary dimension of obedience to God. The lives of the people of God are intended to reveal God to others.
God’s material blessings in the Old Testament are symbolic of the spiritual blessing in the New Testament. The promised land of the Old Testament becomes the promised land of eternal life in the New Testament. Does this mean that obedience is the means of salvation and eternal life? It does not, but obedience is the evidence and outcome of faith. Condemnation by God is not something that God decides after having weighed up how obedient one has been. It is the state all are in unless one believes in Jesus. It is a very hard message to hear, that one has naturally separated oneself from God and it takes the positive action of faith in Christ to change that.
Does it also mean that if we stumble and fail in obedience then we come under God’s wrath again? No, it does not and John addresses this in his first letter to the churches. We all stumble and fail, but we are called to be honest with God about our struggles. The Christian life is about our ongoing relationship with God. It is highly personal and intimate as in a marriage or with parents in a family. These are John’s words, ‘If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness. If we claim we have not sinned, we make him out to be a liar and his word is not in us.’ 1 John 1.8-10
Does our obedience to Jesus reveal the character of God to others?
What A Saviour – HTB Worship
The bride belongs to the bridegroom – Hallelujah John 3.22-36
Once the Passover was over and Jesus had finished his conversation with Nicodemus, he and his disciples moved out of Jerusalem into the surrounding Judean countryside. His group were close to John the Witness (Baptist) and both parties were baptizing people. They were located beside a plentiful water supply. In Jesus’ case his disciples were doing the baptizing. A Jew and we do not know anything more about him than that, challenged John over his practice of baptizing, we can only presume it was because it did not conform to normal Jewish purification rites. This sparked off questions to John from his own disciples because people were now going to Jesus for baptism. In John’s answer to his disciples he came up with a cornerstone of all appropriate Christian ministry, ‘He must increase, but I must decrease.’ John 3.30
John’s heart towards Jesus exemplifies the perfect attitude for Christian ministry. John was delighted that people’s focus was now on Jesus. For a more detailed understanding of humility in Christian ministry read 2 Corinthians 4, but this short passage contains bright insightful gems. I was once in a church where a potential split was occurring because another church of the same denomination was starting up and some of the members were wanting to transfer as the new church was more charismatic in character. Our minister spoke to the church and said he welcomed a thriving charismatic church starting in the same area and expressed the hope that both churches would continue to lead people to Christ and grow in all ways. This indeed did happen, but for me it was an example of a Christian leader putting Christ and his ‘bride’ before his own ministry and God blessed the community with two thriving churches.
John corrected his own disciples with positive teaching because he clearly understood who Jesus was and that his own ministry was to prepare and point people towards Jesus. ‘You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ John 3.28 The day after John had baptized Jesus two of his disciples, Andrew and probably John the gospel writer had left John to follow Jesus. This had now become the dominant pattern of behaviour and John was glad. John recognized that his ministry was a gift from God and that he had been able to fulfil it. ‘A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven.’ John3.27
John used the analogy of a bride, a groom and a best man. The bride is what we now call the church or Jesus’ disciples, the groom is Jesus and his role is the best man. As he sees the two wed it is for him a matter of great rejoicing. ‘The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete.’ John3.29 Witnessing the union of Jesus with his people is the pinnacle of Christian ministry.
John then moves on to the best man speech where he extolls the virtues of the groom. Because Jesus is from heaven itself he alone is able to speak from firsthand knowledge of heavenly things. ‘He who comes from heaven is above all. He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony.’ John 3.32 Sadly there are many who do not understand or reject his words but there will be those who receive both his teaching and Jesus for themselves. Where people do accept and act upon his teaching Jesus assures them of his truth through the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit. John 3.33 The seal seems to work both ways. The believer affirms the truth of God but God secures their faith with the gift of the Holy Spirit. Elsewhere in John’s gospel Jesus says, ‘Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.’ John 6.27 Paul writes, ‘And who has also put his seal on us and given us his Spirit in our hearts as a guarantee.’ 2 Corinthians 1.22 The seal of the Holy Spirit acts like the evidence of the signed marriage certificate or the gift of the ring that signifies the contract and bond that holds together Jesus and his bride the church.
All these things are in the gift of the Father through the Son. John 3.34,35 John draws a clear distinction between those who believe in Jesus (the Son) and those who do not. ‘Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life, but whoever rejects the Son will not see life, for God’s wrath remains on them.’ John 3.36 By implication this emphasizes again the importance of Christian ministry that points to Jesus and why he must increase and the minister must decrease.
How do we approach our own ministry?
Do we rejoice each time a person commits their life to Christ?
You must increase youtube – Matt Redman
Loving darkness – Being loved John 3.16-21
Stories about how lives have been dramatically transformed when individuals have come to faith in Christ are frequently inspiring and deserve celebration. The apostle Paul or Zacchaeus would be biblical examples. However, the dramatic can often cloud everyday reality. Our own hearts are by nature deceptive, we are inclined to think unduly well of ourselves and so the normal default position is that we are basically good people. This comes from a perception that who and what we are is normal and we then make judgements regarding other conduct and beliefs relative to ourselves. So hopefully a murderer is worse and therefore bad and worthy of condemnation whilst the likes of Mother Teresa is probably considered better and therefore worthy of praise. Nicodemus is likely to have thought well of himself at the time of his night time visit to Jesus. He may well have thought how open minded he was being and perceptive as he recognized God at work in the miracles Jesus was performing.
Jesus sweeps away this relativist perspective. God does not have a balance sheet of good stuff we have done compared to the bad. God looks at the heart attitude towards him and our love for him expressed through our faith. He knows and had already told Nicodemus’ generation the state of everybody’s default position. ‘We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a polluted garment. We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.’ Isaiah 64.6 Paul reiterates this, ‘For all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,’ Romans 3.23 because the standard of righteousness is not our standard, but God’s. The truth that is so hard for us to grasp deep within our hearts is that we naturally love darkness. Jesus exposes this in his sermon on the mount. Mathew 5 It is a false position to think we start at a neutral position and make choices from there. We are naturally inclined to reject Jesus. On top of that the last thing most of us want is the state of our heart to become known. As Jesus said to Nicodemus, ‘This is the verdict: Light (Jesus) has come into the world, but people loved darkness instead of light because their deeds were evil. Everyone who does evil hates the light, and will not come into the light for fear that their deeds will be exposed.’ John 3.19,20
It takes a work of God within us to recognise our need and want to do something about it. If we are in the position of searching for God to change us, God has started that work, and he will be responsive to our prayer to make our need clear to us. God uses the bible to speak into our hearts and lives, it pays great dividends to spend time to not only read a passage like John 3 but to dwell on it prayerfully letting each phrase sink in. The Spirit of Christ uses scripture to expose our true selves to us. ‘For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart.’ Hebrews 4.12
Whilst the judgement of God would condemn us the love of God wants to save us. His love is directed towards everybody not to a select number. Once more our natural hearts frequently rebel against a God who is like that. We say to ourselves, I understand God loves me but how can he possibly love and want to save this other dreadful person? Jesus, however, is clear, ‘God so loved the world’, it is the clearest of statements against racism and discrimination. The demonstration of the extent of his love is the cost he is prepared to bear to restore relationship with him and give eternal life. Life spent forever with him. Implied in, ‘he gave his only son’ is Jesus incarnation and crucifixion. God desperately does not want to condemn individuals. Whilst we have considered John 3.16 onwards separately from the previous paragraph it is all part of one explanation made by Jesus. God’s only requirement is belief in Jesus, ‘As Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.’ John 3.15 Such love.
Belief in Jesus is a transforming moment. From that point our heart starts to be drawn to the light unafraid of what God sees. ‘Whoever does what is true (initially belief in Jesus) comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God.’ John 3.21
How much do you pause and let scripture sink in and transform your inner life?
Such love – Graham Kendrick
The wonder of being lifted up John 3.10-15
Nicodemus was struggling to understand Jesus when he said, ‘You must be born again.’ John 3.8 Nicodemus had thought he was an expert in spiritual matters but Jesus was now speaking about things beyond his expertise and experience. His prior prejudices were being challenged. ‘ “How can this be?” Nicodemus asked.’ v 3.9 Jesus then made clear the gap between Nicodemus knowledge and experience and his own. Jesus opened up about his identity. In using the term ‘we’ when speaking of what we know v 3.11 he may have been referring to the Trinity but he was certainly saying he had knowledge of heavenly things from personal experience that Nicodemus could not have. When Jesus said, ‘No one has ever gone into heaven except the one who came from heaven – the Son of Man’ he was stating in terms very clear to Nicodemus that he was the prophesied Messiah. He was also saying he had the knowledge and authority to speak of these things because he was from heaven. God incarnate.
Jesus then connected his teaching about new birth with his coming crucifixion. He did so using symbolism from the time of the Jewish exodus from Egypt. Numbers 21.4-9 The Israelites rebelled against the Lord complaining that he had brought them into the wilderness without food and water. God miraculously provided both. God punished their rebellion with venomous snakes but when the people repented and confessed their sins God instructed Moses to hold up a bronze snake on a pole, if anybody was bitten by a snake and looked at the pole, they lived. The symbolism here includes people’s rebellion against God and his righteous judgement, however, where people confess and repent God provides a means of salvation, in this case salvation of their earthly life.
Jesus here was saying the bronze snake represented how he would be lifted up on a cross and his death would atone for the sins of people who looked to him, in other words had faith in him. His lifting up, however, was a matter of eternal life not some temporary healing of earthly life. ‘Just as Moses lifted up the snake in the wilderness, so the Son of Man must be lifted up, that everyone who believes may have eternal life.’ v 3.14-15 Nicodemus would later personally witness Jesus dying on the cross and help Joseph place him in the tomb.
When John uses the term lifted up in his gospel he has two meanings, Jesus lifted up on the cross and Jesus glorious exultation in heaven following his ascension. Both are relevant here as the promise of eternal life is a promise to share in Jesus’ resurrection and be with him in heaven.
Who have we got our eyes on?
Have we shared in his promise to be lifted up with him?
Be lifted up – Paul Oakley
Spiritual Birth John 3.3 – 3.10
Brian Welch: From Korn to Jesus
Christianity is personal, it goes to the heart of the individual and it changes lives. You can be a clever person, a rich person, socially successful or down and out but if Christianity doesn’t personally impact you in your inner core as a person it is of no lasting value to you. Why is that? It is because Christianity is about personally being born spiritually and from that beginning one’s life changes and a relationship with God starts. Nicodemus knew all about religious practices as a Pharisee and teacher of the law. He was faithfully obedient to all the customs and rituals. He knew the scriptures inside out. However, that does not equal spiritual life. His religion was at that time an empty husk except for one thing he had desire in his heart to know more about Jesus and he recognized that Jesus was from God. ‘For no one could perform signs you are doing if God were not with him.’ John 3.2
That desire to know more about Jesus and really wanting to change is God’s Spirit speaking into our mind. Being as it were touched by the Spirit of God is described by Jesus as, ‘The wind blows wherever it pleases. You hear it’s sound, but you cannot tell where it comes from or where it is going.’ Johm 3.8 It is poetic language but everybody who has started a relationship with God will recognize that prompting that draws us closer to Jesus. We look back and say I have known the Spirit convicting me even when I have fought against him. Jesus concluded his description of the Spirit’s impact by saying, ‘So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ John 3.8 Jesus longs for each one of us to respond to the Holy Spirit’s prompting and ask him to be spiritually born.
Is spiritual birth a real thing and is it absolutely necessary? Jesus makes clear that spiritual birth is necessary for forgiveness, spiritual life and eternal life. He says it twice to Nicodemus. ‘Very truly, I tell you, no one can see the kingdom of God unless they are born again.’ John 3.3 ‘Very truly I tell you, no one can enter the kingdom of God unless they are born of water and the Spirit.’ John 3.5
This to Nicodemus was a whole new idea and so naturally enough he gets confused about the difference between natural birth and spiritual birth. ‘ “How can someone be born when they are old?” Nicodemus asked.’ Jesus states plainly that spiritual birth is separate to natural birth because they are different. ‘Flesh gives birth to flesh, but the Spirit (notice the capital S indicating that it is the Holy Spirit) gives birth to spirit.’ John 3.6 God alone can give one spiritual life we cannot do it for ourselves. Our role is to ask and trust.
Why did Jesus say that one needed to be born of water and the Spirit? The idea that the Spirit gives spiritual birth is straight forward but what is meant by being born of water. Jesus was speaking to a learned Jewish leader who would have known the scriptures intimately. He therefore refers Nicodemus back to Ezekiel’s prophecy addressed to the nation of Israel when the people had persistently pursued sinful ways. ‘I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.’ Ezekiel 36.25-27 The sprinkling with water symbolizes forgiveness and cleansing from their old ways that rejected God. The Spirit within enables one to live a life pleasing to God.
Is it time to take the step that Nicodemus eventually did and ask Jesus for spiritual birth, to be cleansed from old ways and received the Spirit’s life and have a new start?
If one took that step some time ago but now need one’s spiritual life to be refreshed then do not hesitate to come again to Jesus, ask for forgiveness and cleansing, to be filled again with his Spirit to overcome sin and lead a life that is fulfilling and righteous.
Newsboys – Born Again
Too scared to ask in public. John 2.23 – 3.2
Do you understand people who are reluctant to speak in a public forum? A personal fault of mine is not readily appreciating what a barrier that is for many. I am subject to the other personality trait and am too readily prone to speaking out. For me it goes with my learning style which is strongly bent towards engaging in debate, while others may much more happily be outwardly passive learners keen on listening and observing. In a constructive, supportive, nonthreatening environment all personality types can flourish. However all too frequently life is not like that and the context in which we live can carry heavy penalties if we openly speak our mind or indeed at times do not openly speak up for particular people or ideas. I think of a time when the newly invested President of the USA ask his closest advisers and ministers sitting around the table to each say how great he was. It reminded me of Nebuchadnezzar. In the one case their job was on the line in the other their life. Nicodemus’ desire to find out more about Jesus must have been a bit like that. ‘Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him.’ John 3.2 He had come under the cover of darkness, God’s Spirit prompting him to enquire further.
Nicodemus along with many of the other Jewish leaders had witnessed many signs performed by Jesus during his visit at Passover to Jerusalem. Many believed in Jesus because of these signs, (John does not record what miracles they were) but Jesus was not convinced about the long term sincerity of their belief because of man’s inherently sinful heart. ‘But Jesus on his part did not entrust himself to them, because he knew all people and needed no one to bear witness about man, for he himself knew what was in man.’ John2.24,25 The Jewish religious leadership, of whom Nicodemus was one, were highly antagonized by Jesus’ teaching and actions. At the same Passover he had cleared the temple of traders and then spoken of the temple’s destruction and how he would raise it in three days. If one was a member of the religious leadership one would be very unpopular and risk one’s personal standing by expressing interest and respect for Jesus. So, Nicodemus came at night. Nicodemus was a seeker after God and he recognized God at work through Jesus. We can be confident that in the end Nicodemus became more than a sympathizer, he became a disciple. Jhn 7.50-52, John 19.38-42
Nicodemus’ hesitancy about enquiring after Jesus is a very common thing. Nicodemus was genuinely enquiring, he wanted to know more and he wanted God in his life. There are many like that and there is considerable anecdotal evidence that Covid 19 has increased the level of interest. There has been a reported 20% increase in the numbers attending church by virtual means. Alpha reports more people than ever before attending their courses. What are the factors behind this? Partly it is a response to greater awareness of mortality and how we are not as in control of our lives as we once thought and partly because virtually we can as it were come at night with no one knowing. Whatever the case the Holy Spirit is at work in people lives prompting them to seek and ask.
Jesus provides us as a church with two important examples. He was active and known, publicly ministering to people’s needs in the power of the Holy Spirit. His identity and ministry was not hidden or secret. He demonstrated God’s purposes in his life and words. He did not let difficulty, opposition or hardship prevent him from obedience to the Father. Seekers knew who to go to, to find out more.
Jesus made himself available even at night. He was approachable. He did not have a private life that came before his ministry. He was wholly available to God’s will.
How does this challenge us individually and as a church?
KING FOREVER (ACOUSTIC)
Temple what Temple? John 2.13-22
The Temple in Jerusalem during Jesus’ ministry was not the temple built in Solomon’s reign, it was the third temple and even though the Temple authorities said it had taken 46 years to build v20 the outer structures were not completed until AD 66. Prior to Solomon a temporary tent like structure was where the Ark of the Lord was housed, containing the tablets of the covenant, a golden urn holding manna and Aaron’s staff that budded. Hebrews 9.4 David dreamed and planned for the day when a permanent temple would be built, in his eyes it was to be grand enough to be worthy of the Lord. The temple was for the nation of Israel a number of things. It was a sign of God’s presence with his people. It was where the people through the offices of the priests could meet God and seek counsel. It stood for God’s authority over his people. The temple honoured God and was where the great feasts to give thanks and praise to God were centred. Longing to be in the temple equaled longing to be in God’s presence. Above all it was the place of sacrifice to seek forgiveness and reconciliation with God. The temple represented the heartbeat of the nation therefore its destruction under Nebuchadnezzar tore the heart out of the nation and was considered by Israel’s enemies not only a defeat for the people of Israel but also for their God. The temple was the ultimate symbol of nationhood and the nation’s relationship with Yahweh.
When Jesus cleared the Temple, the complaints were not about brutality towards either people or animals. They were not even about the mess created. The whip of cords v15 Jesus made was not comparable to the whip used to scourge Jesus, ripping flesh from his back, it was a means of driving animals from the courtyard. Little did the Temple authorities know but they cut to the heart of the matter. In asking, ‘What sign do you show us for doing theses things’ they were asking by what authority did he challenge the “Father’s” house being used for trade.
Jesus’ answer was not understood by any present at the time. It took Jesus’ resurrection for the disciples to grasp his meaning. v22 The Temple authorities limited imagination was restricted to a Temple of stone. They had lost sight of the Temple being the symbol of God’s presence, the place of reconciliation, teaching, intercession and God’s transforming blessing. In Jesus’ answer he was stating that he is the eternal Temple of God. Only through his death and resurrection three days later would all these things be possible. All the previous rituals would be swept away. God is met through him wherever one was geographically. No physical building is required. Jesus left just two acts of remembrance and
Commitment, the bread and wine of the last supper and baptism. Each needed no set place or even a building of any kind. The only priest needed was the High Priest Jesus. Hebrews 4.14
The first place I truly met Jesus was in my study bedroom at college, aged 18. He placed in me the faith, I had been wanting for some weeks, through his Spirit. Where can you first remember engaging personally with the Lord? He and he alone is our access to God, who is truly a universal God, not constrained by buildings, geography or time.
There are many things during history that the Christian Church has promoted as “Temples” and necessary for access to God. There then occurs a reaction against them that frequently divides the church. It may be a physical church where some feel they have to be there to pray. It could be a ritual or ceremony. It may be a particular kind of musical atmosphere is deemed necessary. The presence of a religious leader may be seen as a means of accessing God’s blessing and even biblical knowledge as the ultimate goal rather than as a means of meeting with God through his Spirit.
What difference does it make that Jesus, and not a building, is our temple; and that access to God is through him, and not through religious ritual?
Be still for the presence of the Lord
Marriage as a metaphor John 2.1-11
Politicians do it all the time, when they have an announcement they pick the background setting to emphasize the message. In just the last week we had the prime minister crawling on a primary classroom floor to encourage parents to send their children back to school and then wearing a hard hat and luminous jacket to announce the reopening of Appledore shipyard. Of course, it can go ridiculously wrong such as when the prime minister was filmed hiding in a refrigerator to avoid questions. The PR people talk of getting the optics right. If then you were the Son of God and you wished to select the place for your first sign of the coming of your future kingdom, where would you pick? As it is a kingdom perhaps a palace would be ideal or maybe the temple. If instead of a building one wanted a natural setting how about the top of Mount Sinai with all its historical associations with the giving of the law. In addition, judging by modern leaders there would be some announcement to attract the crowds. The audience would be carefully selected to ensure the contemporary leaders were present to provide their endorsement.
Contrast this with Jesus who chose the wedding of an unnamed couple in a minor town in Galilee with no greater witnesses than his family and new disciples. When he changed the water to wine it was done without fanfare so the master of ceremonies did not even know it was happening. Yet it was this humble event and setting that has been recorded and preserved over two millennia. Jesus indicates the reason for the low key nature of the miracle is that people’s misconceptions about the coming Messiah would lead to unhelpful responses. However, this did not prevent Jesus performing numerous miracles or signs in the course of his daily ministry. John records that this was simply the first of his signs. v 2.11
The importance of the setting of a wedding is the place marriage has in the symbolic relationship God has with his people. The theme of marriage runs from the beginning of Genesis Genesis 2.24 into Revelation Revelation 19.7-9 as a God ordained relationship. Humans are made for intimate relationships that reflect the fellowship the Godhead has within themselves. The faithfulness of the marriage is intended to reflect the faithfulness of God to his people. In the Old Testament this is particularly the message of Hosea, where God through Hosea’s marriage demonstrates that he is faithful even when his bride is not and reconciliation between God and man is always possible.
A Christian marriage is intended by God to be in itself a witness to God’s faithfulness to his bride, his people. “Paul tells us that marriage is a mystery designed by God to show us Christ’s love for the church.” (Josh Moody, John 1-12 for you.) ‘Husbands, love your wives, just as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word and to present her to himself as a radiant church, without stain or wrinkle or any other blemish, but holy and blameless.’ Ephesians 5.25-27
How then does a marriage reflect Jesus’ love for the church and how can the marriage partners foster that loving faithfulness for the rest of their lives?
What challenges are presented when only one of the married couple is a disciple of Jesus?
What pastoral support do we provide as a church for married couple to be a witness to the faithfulness of God?
Faithful one – Brian Doerksen
Is the business of religion OK? John 2.13-25
Is it true for you that the industry that surrounds religion including the Christian faith is a problem? Does it in any way create a barrier to faith for either yourself or people you know. If so, is the problem where established churches appear to be wealthy and the wealth is not used for the purposes their teaching would lead you to expect? Is it that the churches money is focused on the wants and needs of church members and not on the gospel message and needs of non-church members? Could it be that you believe you cannot trust the people in power in the church to honestly manage the finances? Is it that you believe the business of religion has relegated gospel living and sacrifice to a small dusty back seat in the corner of the church, so much that you believe if Jesus walked in the church he would not recognize it as a people of worship?
Following the wedding feast in Cana, Jesus, his family and disciples go back to his Galilean base, Capernaum, but he only stays there a few days before heading off to Jerusalem for the Passover. John 2.12,13 John mentions Jesus attending three separate Passovers and there is some disagreement as to whether there were one or two occasions when Jesus “cleared the temple”. The other gospels record a similar event in the Passover week of his death. Has John reorganized the order of events to structure his teaching for symbolic and conceptual reasons? This may be so but we cannot be absolutely sure either way. Certainly, conceptually this account fits in well, just before the visit of Nicodemus, as it deals with religion being a barrier to a relationship with God.
When Jesus entered the outer courtyard of the temple in Jerusalem, known as the Court of the Gentiles what did he see? It was noisy, thronging with people doing business selling animals for sacrifice and exchanging currency for the correct money to pay the temple tax. v14 The business itself was not illegitimate it was where and how it was being done that was wrong. It made sense that people who had travelled great distances, often on foot, bought their sacrifice to worship God on arrival. The payment of the Temple tax was not in itself wrong but by insisting that it was paid in specific Temple currency and then charging exorbitant rates was exploitative of worshippers. The temple was being run for the benefit of the insiders preventing them from being the light to the world that God intended them to be. They had effectively reversed the intentions of God and the place of prayer set apart for all to worship in had become a noisy market place where prayer and worship were no longer possible.
Jesus drove out the animals and stall holders because they had become a barrier between ordinary people and God. These were frequently God fearing people who had come in humility seeking forgiveness. God fearing is how the New Testament described genuine Gentile seekers after God who were not Jews. Acts 17.4 The court of the Gentiles was where such people could come and worship but in the eyes of the religious authorities they were inferior to those born a Jew. They were presented with unnecessary additional barriers for the profit of the religious authorities. Contrast that with Jesus’ own responses to such people as we will see later in the gospel. Before we consider how Jesus prophesied that he was the way to forgiveness and a relationship with God it is worth thinking of the many ways the Christian church has created self-seeking additional barriers to forgiveness and a relationship with God. This can be in the form of hierarchies, rituals, legalism, language designed to exclude and moral depravity.
Have you experienced the church placing barriers in the way of simple faith in Jesus?
Have church rituals made it difficult for enquirers after Christ to feel welcome?
Do we place moral integrity as an essential characteristic for continuing in Church leadership?
How closely do we align church finances with gospel priorities?
Holy ground – David Bilborough
Pressed down, shaken together and running over. John 2.1-11
How good are you at taking the right gift when you have been invited to a meal or party? Are you a grab a quick bottle of rioja red wine and a bunch of artificially bright flowers from Morrisons type of person or do you ponder deeply and try to find a gift that fits the hosts just perfectly? I’ll leave you to guess which side of the divide I fall on but I have to say Morrisons is very reasonable when it comes to wine and flowers, or so my Mother said. Weddings are a particular challenge, especially if one is one of those marginal guests and somehow all the presents on the John Lewis website that come under the ‘I can just about afford that’ category went three months ago. It’s funny how what is a suitable gift has changed over time. I can remember when duvets were a big thing, I don’t mean literally as in Super King Size, I mean that most people still fought over blankets and sheets and duvets were strangely European and exotic. Towels always seem a safe bet, but the poor ‘newly weds’ probably never get to actually choose a towel for the first thirty years of marriage and they never match the bathroom décor. Truly a first world disaster. Cheeseboards were the present of choice at my daughter’s wedding.
I wondered if there was any helpful biblical advice for this type of eventuality. Luke records these words of Jesus,‘give, and it will be given to you. Good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you.’ Luke 6.38 Brilliant advice, if expensive, but then I realized that this giving was even more expensive than I realized at first sight. Give did not have a capital letter in the bible, it was preceded in the same sentence with: ‘Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven;’ giving according to Jesus is much more costly than might be thought if scripture is taken out of context.
The thing about Jesus is he lived what he taught and as he was God incarnate both what he said and did revealed the purposes and nature of God. All this brings me back to the wedding in Cana. Jesus turns up with his Mum and his newly found disciples. The party had probably been in full swing for a day or two, weddings were commonly a week long affair. They hadn’t been there long when an embarrassing situation developed, the wine had run out and there was no Morrisons round the corner. Mary turns to Jesus, and this is where Mary is much more in the know than anyone else, after all she had been told all about Jesus even before conception, so she makes one of those observations that are really a question and an instruction. ‘They have no more wine.” v3 Jesus doesn’t seem to be too happy about being put on the spot. I can just imagine the look he got from Mary when he came out with, ‘My hour has not yet come.’ v4 She ignores him and speaks directly to the servants, ‘Do whatever he tells you.’ v5
Jesus does what Jesus is, over abundantly generous, kind and loving he turns water out of vessels for ceremonial washing into the finest of wines. Not just a couple of cases but gallons and gallons and gallons. Of course, this is packed with symbolism, the washing ceremonies and sin offerings of Judaic religion in those days were going to be replaced by the cleansing and forgiveness that never needs repeating. Wine in the Old Testament was a repeated symbol of God’s abundant blessing and the removal of reproach. ‘The Lord had pity on his people. The Lord answered and said to his people, “Behold, I am sending to you grain, wine and oil, and you will be satisfied; and I will no more make you a reproach amongst the nations”.’ Joel 3.18,19 This was a forerunner of the new covenant wine which Christians celebrate every time they remember death of Jesus with bread and wine.
What a joyous thing it is that the first sign of the glory of Jesus is a super abundant gift, miraculously achieved because he is also the creator Word of God.
Is your vision of Jesus as the super abundant generous bringer of joy?
Has the Spirit of God worked in your heart to make you a giver of gifts, pressed down and shaken, a forgiver as well as forgiven?
Joy – Rend Collective (Wait for it)
A fig tree, a ladder and the birth of a nation John 1.43-51
“Truly, truly, I say to you, you will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” John 1.51
Jacob had cheated his elder brother, Esau, out of Isaac his father’s blessing and inheritance. Isaac was now concerned that Jacob should not marry a Hittite and so he sent him to his wife’s brother to marry one of his daughters. This was to be fair, mainly due to his wife Rebecca complaining about how much she hated Hittite women. But that was a ruse in itself as Rebecca had heard that Esau was planning to kill Jacob as soon as Isaac died in revenge for Jacob’s deceit and she wanted Jacob out of the way. It is incredible how despite all the deviousness of mankind God works out his purposes. Jacob did what he was told and set out for Harran where his Uncle Laban lived. It was a long journey so he slept in the open with a stone for a pillow. That night he dreamt of a ladder or stairway resting on earth and reaching to heaven, Genesis 28.12 going up and down the ladder were angels. At the top of the ladder the Lord stood and promised Jacob that his descendants would be numerous and occupy the land he was sleeping on. In effect he would be the father of a new nation. God additionally promised that, ‘All peoples on earth will be blessed through you and your offspring.’ Gen 28.14 Even from the very beginning God’s people were intended to be people of mission or blessing to the world. On a second personal encounter with God, Jacob wrestles with a mysterious man throughout the night and refuses to let him go until he is blessed. At that point the man renames Jacob, Israel, from which his descendants took their national name. This is the turning point in Jacob’s life he now has a new relationship with God following a great personal struggle.
It was this account that Jesus was referring to when he said to Nathanael, a man very conscious of his biblical heritage as a man of Israel, ‘Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven open, and the angels of God ascending and descending on the Son of Man.’ John1.51 As a line of communication was opened for Jacob and his descendants, Jesus was indicating that he, Jesus, would open a new two way connection between humankind and God, pointing forward to his death, resurrection and ascension. Jesus was going to found a new people of God, starting at that point with just five men, Andrew, John, Simon Peter, Philip and Nathanael leading on eventually to the universal church.
Jesus had been able to detect in Nathanael a depth of character and someone conscious of Israel’s unique place in God’s plans. When they met for the first time Jesus’ words about him were, ‘Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.’ v47 Cautious, even skeptical, Nathanael had previously questioned Philip as to whether anything good could come out of Nazareth in response to Philip’s urging to meet Jesus, as he is the one prophesied about in the scriptures. Nathanael was probably well aware that the ‘anointed one’ was meant to come from Bethlehem and did not know Jesus’ early life story. Jesus met him with symbolism laden with significance to an Israelite. Jesus stunned Nathanael by having previously discerned him under a fig tree. To Nathanael’s question, how did Jesus know of him, ‘Jesus answered, “I saw you while you were under the fig tree before Philip called you”.’ v48The fig tree and in particular enjoying life under the fig tree is a repeated image of Israel living under God’s blessing. It was part of God’s blessing in Deuteronomy 8.8 as the people entered the promised land if they were obedient to his commands. A sign of God’s discipline of his people in Jeremiah 8.13 is the destruction of their fig trees. The possibly most importantly sign of life under the fig tree is as the servant who will remove his people’s sins pointing once again to the cross of Jesus Christ. ‘“I am going to bring my servant, the Branch. See, the stone I have set in front of Joshua! (The High Priest) There are seven eyes on that one stone, and I will engrave an inscription on it,” says the Lord Almighty, “and I will remove the sin of this land in a single day. In that day each of you will invite your neighbour to sit under your vine and fig tree,” declares the Lord Almighty.’ Zechariah 3.8-10
Nathanael immediately recognized the implications of Jesus’ words demonstrating a heart already prepared by the Spirit to believe and follow Jesus. Jesus connected with Nathanael in the way that was meaningful to him and trusted him with profound truths. Nathanael’s reactions contrast sharply with the religious leaders and teachers of the law later in the gospel when the signs John records were far more obvious and accompanied by clear teaching.
Pray for people to come to Jesus with open and Spirit prepared hearts and minds.
Pray that like Philip, Christians will keep inviting people to find out more about Jesus.
Thank God that he has made a worldwide spiritual nation so that they are a blessing to all people.
Bri (Briana Babineaux) – Jacob’s Song
Have you got the right? John 1. 9-12 & 35-51
We are keen on our rights and get very upset when they are objected to or taken away. We prize our right to freedom, to live our life as we choose, which is why imprisonment is the strictest sanction our society imposes. A high profile professional footballer has been in trouble this week because according to the Greek courts he thought his wealth and celebrity status gave him the right to get away with abusing and attempting to bribe the police as they broke up a fight. Even following a death family disputes can become highly vitriolic if some believe their right to an inheritance has been denied when they are the deceased’s child. Wars have been fought because a monarch’s ‘illegitimate’ child has believed they have been denied their right to succession.
The right to be recognized as our parents’ child goes to the heart of our sense of self. Who then has the right to be called a child of God and if we are what is our inheritance? There is a common assumption that we are all children of God. This can be associated with a belief that people are naturally good and that it would be unfair of God to differentiate between people including people of differing faiths.
The priests and Levites sent by the Jewish leaders in Jerusalem to investigate John the Baptist v19 believed they had a birth rite because they were the chosen people of God. The Pharisees would have narrowed it down even further to those who obeyed their strict laws, many of which were additional to the laws passed on by Moses. The apostle John though gives a very different perspective.
John says that our starting point is that to be a child of God requires a spiritual birth that comes from the will of God. v12 He clearly differentiates between natural birth and spiritual birth as a child of God. Spiritual birth as a child of God is in the gift and will of God. If natural birth does not automatically give us the right to be a child of God then race and natural parenthood are not qualifying factors.
The qualifying factors are our responses to Jesus, who in the early section of John 1 he calls the Word and the Light because he is the one who reveals God and the way of being in relationship with God. The default position for people is not recognizing Jesus for who he is. ‘He was in the world, and though the world was made through him, the world did not recognize him.’ v10 This sadly included many of the Israelites including the majority of the religious leadership. It took a brave and honourable member of the leadership to stand out against their peer pressure.
However, in the crowds of people who travelled to hear John preach there was a deep sense among ordinary people of their need. They knew their lives were not right, they knew they needed a fresh start. They would have been of all ages from the poor to the rich. When John condemned their lifestyle and told then to prepare for the promised Messiah confessing their sin and being baptized as a sign of repentance they did so in large numbers. John called it making, ‘straight the way of the Lord’. v23 But, was that enough? John, the gospel writer, makes the point that simply wanting to start again and live a better life is not the whole journey to becoming a child of God. One needs to receive Jesus. v12 I find that term receive him difficult to pin down. The NIV study bible (2015) helpfully clarifies what receiving or believing in Jesus means. Receiving or believing in him includes, ‘personally welcoming, trusting, and submitting to Jesus’.
When John the Baptist and Jesus met up the day after Jesus’ baptism two of John’s disciples make that step with the blessing of John. One was Andrew, Peter’s brother, and the other is unnamed but assumed to be John the gospel writer. vv 35-40 It is of great significance that Andrew’s first instinct after making the decision to follow Jesus was to invite his brother to meet him as well. ‘ “We have found the Messiah” (that is, the Christ). And he brought him to Jesus.’ v41
Have you the right to become a child of God?
Have you invited someone close to you to meet Jesus?
Who You Say I Am – Hillsong Worship
Will the guilty person step forward: Behold the Lamb of God- John 1.29
The phrase “the Lamb of God” has meant so much to generations of followers of Jesus, since John the Witness (Baptist) first said it when they met in the wilderness by the Jordon river. I wonder though how that phrase can be made meaningful to people not brought up in the Christian faith. To the crowds who went to hear John preach in the desert it would have readily been understood because it represents the culmination of Israel’s Old Testament history, prophesy and worship rituals as laid down in the Mosaic law. The bible makes clear that it is an eternal title for Jesus, a name by which Jesus is revered and worshipped in heaven. Revelation 15.3 However that seems very remote from most of everyday modern life. There is no exact modern parallel to the meaning of the Lamb of God that I know of but a story of a prisoner in a second world war Japanese prisoner of war camp captures some of the meaning. The camp was on its daily parade following a breach of camp rules. It was made clear to the prisoners that a number of them would be executed unless the person who breached the rules stepped forward to own up and nobody did. When it became clear that the threat would be carried out immediately an innocent man took that step forward to take the punishment and at least temporarily save the lives of his fellow prisoners.
How is this similar to Jesus being the Lamb of God? An unblemished lamb was an offering that was made for the sin of the people on the eve of Passover. It also reminded the Jewish people of how God freed them from slavery in Egypt and the Angel of Death “passed over” their homes prior to their leaving for the promised land. The blood of the lamb was painted on their door posts and its presence protected them from God’s judgement. Jesus as the Lamb of God was to become the vicarious sacrifice for people’s sin. He took the judgement and punishment of God for others voluntarily. The brave prisoner of war was not a completely innocent man in the same way that no human is, however he was innocent of whatever misdemeanour the Japanese guards deemed had taken place. He chose to be a vicarious sacrifice for the sake of others. It was an act of extreme bravery. It came from love for others. Whether knowingly or not he was obedient to Jesus’ own command to his disciples, ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends.’ John 15.12,13
How is the story not similar to Jesus being the Lamb of God? Firstly Jesus’ death whilst being unjust and the work of an evil corrupt set of religious and political leaders, was at the same time Jesus taking upon himself the just and fair judgement of God the Father for the sins of all who trust in him. Jesus was not only innocent of the “crimes” the authorities accused him of, he was also innocent of any sin. Jesus was not only an innocent man he is also the Son of God, creator of all things and therefore taking such a punishment was an act of supreme humility. Jesus’ sacrifice not only benefited his “friends” temporarily it opened the door to eternal life.
It took the Holy Spirit to reveal to John that Jesus was the Lamb of God even though John would have known Jesus his whole life as he was his cousin. ‘John bore witness: I saw the Spirit descend from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but he who sent me (God, John 1.6) to baptize with water said to me, “He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain, this is he who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.” And I have seen and have borne witness that this is the Son of God.’ v32-34 Similarly it takes the intervention of the Holy Spirit for every individual who understands and believes that Jesus is the Lamb of God.
Are we praying that the Holy Spirit reveals the true Jesus to our friends?
Have we taken on board Jesus command to love one another as he has loved us?
How would you explain the phrase, the Lamb of God, to someone who had no knowledge of the bible?
Lamb of God – Twila Paris
Call the next witness John 1
Our legal system, at least in part, is based on establishing the balance of probability. Above the Old Bailey in London is a statue commonly called the Scales of Justice but is more accurately named Lady Justice. She holds in her left hand a balance scale denoting fairness. In her right hand she holds a sword symbolizing authority. Her imagery comes from the mythical Greek god Themis, goddess of divine law. She is often depicted standing on a snake representing evil. Law in the UK has different levels of proof or probability required depending on the area being judged, the highest level is beyond reasonable doubt. To establish this, evidence needs to be provided through witnesses. Some might have specialist knowledge others have first hand experience through their senses.
The whole of John’s gospel is John presenting the case for Christ bringing evidence from a series of carefully chosen witnesses including Jesus’ own testimony. We saw in John 1.3 that creation itself testifies to the existence of and goodness of God. Paul in Romans confirms this, ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.’ Romans 1.20 However early in his gospel John introduces a human witness, John. Known elsewhere as John the Baptist but more appropriately known in John’s gospel as John the Witness. John self identifies as the one Isaiah prophesied, “I am the voice of one calling in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord.’” v23 John was in a long line of witnesses to the coming Christ stretching back through the Old Testament. Each one, like John, sent from God. v6
Confusingly, the only John mentioned by name in John’s gospel is John the Witness (Baptist) and not the author. However, John, the gospel writer includes himself in the same line of God sent witnesses. In the penultimate verse of his gospel John makes clear he also is a first hand witness to Jesus’ words and life. ‘This is the disciple who testifies to these things, and who wrote them down. We know that his testimony is true.’ John 21.24 Jesus himself handed on the baton of being witnesses at his ascension. ‘You are witnesses of these things.’ Luke 24.48
The point of being a witness is that others might believe that Jesus is the Christ or as John is terming Jesus at this point, the light. v7 When being a witness, that is speaking about one’s experience of God through Jesus, it easy for oneself to become central to the narrative. This detracts from the evidence and the reason for the evidence. John the Witness provides a clear example of how to be a witness. I do not mean, go all native and dress in odd clothes, eating uncooked scavenged food. He is repeatedly clear that the message he had to give was not about him, it was about the coming Christ. v8 When questioned by the priests and Levites sent from Jerusalem he said, I am not the Messiah v20 then when pressed again he repeated the statement. v21
John was eager to give his testimony regarding the coming Christ. ‘He did not fail to confess, but confessed freely’. v20 This is a real challenge for us all. John gained his confidence and passion from being filled with the Holy Spirit. The angel of the Lord spoke to Zechariah, his father and prophesied that John would be filled with the Holy Spirit even before he was born. Luke 1.15 Have we prayed that God would fill us with the Holy Spirit so that our lives are a witness to Christ?
John also had a clarity to his message. He knew what he knew, he did not over elaborate. He understood that Jesus is the embodiment of the grace of God. God had up to this point revealed himself through his creation, the prophets and his chosen people Israel. Now in the coming of Jesus God has fully revealed his grace and truth. v17 Jesus is the perfect revelation of God. As John writes, ‘No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.’ v18
Do we see the church as being in the line of succession of witnesses to Jesus as the Christ?
What can we learn about being a witness from John the Witness?
I Will Stand as a Witness of Christ
Ladies and Gentlemen put your hands together for – John 1.1-5
A guest speaker at a morning breakfast to a prestigious award ceremony is usually introduced by the Chair of the organization with a short biography that gives a personal insight into the speaker’s personality, career and qualifications so that the audience eagerly anticipates the forthcoming talk. John does a similar thing in his prologue as the first 18 verses of the gospel are known. In particular verses 1 -5 open with the dramatic statement that Jesus was the Word (In the beginning was the Word) v1 and that he is the source of all things. The implication and consequences of the truth of that statement was and is mind blowing. It would hugely out do an introduction at a writers’ conference that went, ‘Ladies and Gentlemen put your hands together please, fresh from the grave, William Shakespeare!’ John is saying that the person I am introducing you to outranks every person, thing or event that you could possibly think of including creation itself. Hang on tight because what I am going to tell you will blow your mind.
When John wrote the last of the gospels he took a completely different approach to the other gospel writers who essentially took a traditional approach to biography writing of largely keeping to a time line. John divides his account into two main sections his public and private ministry. To build his case for Jesus being the Word and the Christ, the son of God v20.31 he selects three series of sevens whilst recognizes that there are many more proofs that could have been recorded. He alternates in the first section (1.19 – 12.50) seven signs or miracles with seven extended teachings (discourses) that elaborate on the signs. He also includes seven statements of Jesus known as the ‘I am’ statements. These build to John’s own self-declared reason for writing the gospel, ‘that you may believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God, and that by believing you may have life in his name’. v20.31
The Word pre-existed time and creation and John makes the dramatic statement that the Word became human and this person is Jesus. ‘And the word became flesh and dwelt among us, and we have seen his glory, glory as of the only Son from the Father, full of grace and truth). v 1.14 John is identifying himself as one of the eye witnesses to the events recorded in the gospel and it is therefore a first hand account.
John is identifying the Word as fully God. A literal translation of the last phrase of verse 1 is, ‘and God was the Word’. John is also connecting Jesus with the opening of Genesis and the creation of the universe. ‘In the beginning, God created the heavens and the earth Genesis 1.1 … And God said …’ Gen 1.3 Jesus is the eternal creating Word of God. ‘All things were made through him, and without him was not any thing made that was made.’ v3
More that the physical creation of the universe Jesus is the source of life and John refers to Jesus’ life as ‘the light of men’. There are various nuances to the term light of men. There is a sense in which the light of Jesus reveals God and his salvation. This is further developed in the gospel. There is also the way in which the light of Jesus penetrates darkness, symbolic of sin, and reveals it for what it is. In verse 5, ‘The light shines in the darkness and the darkness has not overcome it’ John is pointing forward to Jesus’ victory over sin and death through his crucifixion and resurrection.
Through Jesus then we can understand who God is because he is God revealed to us. We can have confidence in his capability because he is the creator of all things. He also is the light that will reveal and overcome our personal darkness.
My son has a personal favourite exclamation, awesome. This Jesus certainly is.
Is it harder to grasp the all-powerful divinity of the Word of God or the humility of the Word to become human?
Are we prepared for God’s light to be in our lives or do we prefer darkness?
Word of God by Brenton Brown – Music begins 1.30 into video, great Ethiopian images
Hope has a name Psalm 72
Hope energizes, despondency sucks the energy from us. Hope or lack of it is a major issue in our time as certain global forces impact so many lives. A global pandemic, with no clear pathway through, impacts expectations on all continents. Global warming carries with it seismic threats to the well-being of the whole of nature as far into the future as we can see. It is apposite that it is the younger generations who are the most vocal regarding its consequences. We have not experienced a world war since the mid twentieth century but the impacts of regional wars are now felt globally. The human heart has not changed and secular advocates of human rights with a belief that rationality and ever-increasing knowledge will lead to less cruelty have not proved substantially true, although this could be argued at length. Large scale events impact individuals at all levels from young adults feeling that career chances have slipped away following the economic contraction associated with the Coronavirus pandemic, to elderly in severe pain and unable to have any clear date as to when surgery to relieve their chronic pain can be undertaken. At such times a good and strong leader is wanted. People are desperate to believe in somebody who is trustworthy and honest. When a new leader comes to the fore there is often a surge of hope that this one will make a profound difference. There is no need to be entirely cynical. There have been many who have made significant differences to people’s lives and the well-being of their nation.
Psalm 72 is a prayer for such a king. It is only one of two attributed to Solomon but as to whether it was written by Solomon and was a prayer for his own kingship and future kings or a psalm of David for his son Solomon it is not known. The psalmist and for convenience we will call him Solomon is primarily concerned with his own immediate time and the kingship of Israel, prior to the division between north and south. This is a mortal king, ruling a physical geographical nation, loved by his people. ‘Long may he live! May gold from Sheba be given him. May people pray for him and bless him all day long.’ v15 The best fit for the prosperity of the nation during his kingship, the geographical extent of his rule, the gifts and tributes brought to him and the wisdom and fairness of his judgements is Solomon’s reign. Sadly though, Solomon did not maintain this throughout his life and the long decline of Israel started in his life time as he was tempted to worship other gods influenced by his many wives and concubines.
However, Christians see this psalm as much more than that, it is prophetic, set within the whole thrust of the bible whose purpose is to reveal Christ. The aspirations of the psalm are beyond any one human. Themes within the psalm are continued in the New Testament and reach their culmination in Revelation. ‘May his name endure forever; may it continue as long as the sun. Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed’. vv17
In this psalm, which provided a liturgy for an enthronement ceremony we see the nature of Jesus’ kingship. Hope has become not a thing, an idea or a process but a person, Jesus Christ. He alone is capable of providing eternal hope, kept safe and glorious, untouchable, to all who trust in him. ‘An inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you’. 1 Peter 1.4
In this ‘royal son’ we see the righteousness of God. ‘Endow the king with your justice, O God, the royal son with your righteousness’. v1 God’s righteousness is a light that shines into darkness bringing life. John introduces his biography of Jesus with these words, ‘In him was life, and the life was the light of men. The light shines in darkness, and the darkness has not overcome it.’ John 1.4,5 The natural companions to righteousness are justice and judgement. Solomon prays, ‘May he judge your people in righteousness, your afflicted ones with justice’. The clear priority for this righteous king are the needy and afflicted. vv 2,4,12 Read any of the gospels and Jesus’ concern for people and his active mercy accompanied by his anger about hypocritical oppression is abundantly apparent.
He is not only interested in opposing injustice and hardship, he is equally concerned to actively cause righteousness to flourish. This king came on an eternal mission at the heart of which was to overcome sin and death and to do that through his own sacrificial life. He is a king concerned not just for one people group but for all peoples. ‘May all kings bow down to him and all nations serve him.’ v11 ‘Then all nations will be blessed through him, and they will call him blessed’. v 17
He is our hope, he is our king and deserves the doxology that rounds off the second book of psalms.
Praise be to the Lord God, the God of Israel,
who alone does marvelous deeds.
Praise be to his glorious name forever;
May the whole earth be filled with his glory. Amen and Amen.
Can you join in Paul’s prayer, ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace in believing, so that by the power of the Holy Spirit you may abound in hope’? Romans 15.13
Living Hope – Phil Wickham
If you bothered to ask? Psalm 71
When as an older Christian do others see you as old? Is it when they stop asking you to be part of things and including you in decisions or think your thoughts are no longer relevant? Could it be that people no longer think you will be wrestling with temptation and the evil one or you cannot speak in a meaningful way about what God is doing today. Perhaps it is when people see bodily limitations and think the spirit is equally disempowered. One of the most hurtful ways to be perceived is as a caricature. There are several out there. There is, now you are retired an assumption that passion and drive have retired as well. Alternatively, there can be the idea that life is now a constant holiday and you will not have plans beyond the next cruise or trip. Conversely if in later life one is financially poor then one is also negatively dependent in all aspects of life including spiritual understanding. Then there is a belief that from now on all of life’s adventures are lived vicariously through children and grandchildren. In truth some people in later life live up to caricatures like these. Psalm 71 shows a multifaceted spiritual life of a believer who is now, ‘old and gray’. v18
The opening stanza contains familiar refrains of the Lord being the believer’s refuge but in verse 3, ‘Be my rock of refuge’ the Hebrew word chosen includes a subtle change. Here it would be more literally, ‘rock of habitations’. (BST, The message of Psalms 1-72, Michael Wilcock) The implication being that in times past he has sought God when in need of refuge, rescue and deliverance but now he has learnt to see the Lord as his home, a safe home. There is a greater stability about his relationship with the Lord as his saviour. That does not mean he is no longer under threat as he still prays, ‘Deliver me, my God, from the hand of the wicked, from the grasp of those who are evil and cruel’. V4 Simply because one has become older it has not removed one from being as Peter puts it sojourners and exiles in a world that wages war against your soul’ 1 Peter 2.11 I wonder how many times we consider that in the spiritual lives of the elderly the battle for holiness is as urgent as ever it was in younger years.
The psalmist here is able to bring a perspective of God’s faithfulness over his life since his youth. v5 He understands that God’s hand has been upon him from his conception, well before he was able to make any conscious act of faith. The longer one can trace God’s goodness in one’s life the more it is liable to inducepraise for him. In this way the psalmist is fulfilling a principal purpose for his and the lives of others to give praise to God and bring him glory. ‘From birth I have relied on you; you brought me forth from my mother’s womb. I will ever praise you’. V6 But more than this he is able to trace how his life has intersected with others and contributed to their encounter with God. This is a tremendous resource of experience to draw upon and when shared builds up the faith of the fellowship. Can you think back and name people who you know God has impacted upon their lives, in some small way, through you? If so then you can share at least in part with the psalmist when he says, ‘I have become a sign to many’ v7 and it ought to encourage one to continue to pray for occasions when it will be repeated.
A fear in older age is that one can become rejected. Not only by God but also by fellow Christians. At that point one becomes increasingly vulnerable. In the western world in particular there is a tendency for the elderly to be excluded and lonely. There are many reasons for that some of which are not intentional but never the less do happen. In the light of this a prayer written around 3000 years ago can be highly contemporary to a Christian incapable of getting to church. ‘Do not cast me away when I am old; do not forsake me when my strength is gone.’ v9 Feelings are as important and strong in old age as they have been throughout life.
The psalmist is not an elderly person who has given up. He always has hope v15 and he continues to see it as important to tell people about God’s righteous deeds and his saving acts. v15 For the modern Christian with our understanding of Jesus’ cross and resurrection and that we all will face God’s judgement, how much more important is it for elderly Christian to speak of these things. The psalmist is not prepared to let his own inadequacies prevent him from speaking, ‘Though I know not how to relate them all. I will come and proclaim your mighty acts, Sovereign Lord.’ v16 He is not going to limit himself to speaking to people of his own age in some old people’s forum he sees his role cross generationally. v18
As an older person the psalmist understands his eternal hope is fixed upon the Lord, ‘you will restore my life again; from the depths of the earth you will bring me up.’ v20 This is such an important message and needs to be communicated before it is time for the funeral. Our hope rests on Jesus’ resurrection and the reason for that hope should be declared by the church, old and young, repeatedly backed by the reliable evidences. It is what the apostles declared and it continues to the be churches’ calling.
Old age should be a time for praise, hopefully based on a lifetime of grateful celebration of the grace of God. vv 22-24
My Jesus My Saviour
Psalm 70 Hurry up God! I’m dying here!
When the chips are down, when the rubber hits the road, when you’ve just drunk the last drop in Last Chance Saloon, what would you pray? If like me when your first read psalm 70 and thought, what has this got to do with me, then the worst crisis you’ve ever had might not have really been that much of a crisis. Not every refugee is threatened with life threatening violence but the numbers that are, are horrific. Not everybody whose life is threatened by violence is a refugee and again the statistics where this is the case is terrifying. What is the women married to a man who regularly beats her meant to pray? What should the teenager forced at gunpoint onto an inflatable to cross the Mediterranean pray. When I explained to an asylum seeker from Eritrea, that the letter he had received from the Home Office meant that they had the right to send him back to his country of birth, he just quietly cried repeating, ‘No, they can’t’, because he had just told me that for years he had been repeatedly beaten in their jails with electric cable on his feet. What should he have prayed? The examples could endlessly carry on. If one is a victim of such events then the prayer, ‘Make haste. O God, to deliver me! O Lord, make haste to help me! Let them be put to shame and confusion who seek my life.’ Vv.1,2 makes complete sense.
The vast majority of people living in fear for their lives are as the psalmist describes, poor and needy. v5 In that situation the need for salvation is great. Prayer is urgent and they long to rejoice and be glad. It is into that type of situation that the gospel is so crucial and along with that, the role of the church to bring people the gospel. When this happens then people can honestly pray, ‘You are my help and my deliverer, O Lord, do not delay.’ v5 They can also rejoice with the psalmist affirming, ‘God is great!’ v4
In Jesus we have a saviour who knows exactly what it is to have had powerful people to plot to kill him, have him arrested, tortured, publically humiliated and brutally executed. He then overcame through his resurrection but that in no way diminishes his suffering or his experience of fear. Fear so great he sweated blood. The gospel is at its most obviously meaningful in times of the greatest crisis. Perhaps this is why the church often prospers the most in times of greatest oppression because the person of Jesus cuts through empty materialism, temporary sating of senses, self-righteous rituals and the cruelty of one of human to another. Jesus has met people’s needs by giving himself not an ideology. He is the source of love, light, truth and hope.
Jesus though did not simply come to bring urgent relief to those who are suffering, his mission was much more than that, it was to bring people and God back into relationship and establish permanent reconciliation between humans and God through the forgiveness of sin and faith in him. But that does not take away from the repeated biblical opposition to injustice and oppression and the importance of his disciples to love and serve those in greatest need.
How do you think the church should respond to the prayer of psalm 70?
My Help” sung by the Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir in HD
Psalm 69 The isolated disciple Psalm 69 and Matthew 10.32
Whoever acknowledges me before others, I will also acknowledge before my Father in heaven. Matthew 10.32
The emotional and spiritual price of being a follower or seeker after God is no new thing. Today there are so many long term situations where a Christian can feel alone and unable to see a way forward. It feels unjust and when things don’t seem as if they will ever change then in prayer the Christian will understand David’s words, ‘I am worn out calling for help, my throat is parched. My eyes fail, looking for my God.’ v3 It can be particularly difficult for the adult who has become a Christian when those they know are hostile to their new found trust in Christ. This can often be family who now feel rejected or betrayed and then retaliate by rejecting the new Christian. Many experience opposition in the work place especially where the values at work do not conform to Christian values. Friends may reject a Christian because the Christian does not want to speak the way they used to or do the things the group once did. Living in the context of conflicting beliefs where one stands out as different frequently leads to bullying of various degrees and a tendency to compromise and conform to the group.
Psalm 69 exposes David’s inner life when isolated humanly and spiritually and reassures us that these experiences are not rare, they can be openly expressed to God. Christians have seen how Jesus went through many of these things himself and in that sense the psalm is seen as prophetic. Not all that is written here can be applied to Christ, David’s confession of sin v5 in particular does not apply to him. The language is poetic, powerful and evocative but that is appropriate to the internal dialogue that goes on when one feels, ‘up to one’s neck in it’. v1
How many of these feelings or situations have applied to you at some time in your Christian discipleship? They carry a contemporary resonance for the modern seeker after God.
It is painful when one feels that one is hated without legitimate reason. Think of a daughter who has become a Christian, that does not mean she no longer loves and respects her mother and family but there have been many who have been rejected by their family for their new found faith. In such circumstances David’s words, ‘Those who hate me without reason outnumber the hairs on my head; many are my enemies without cause’ will be a shared experience. When we are in the middle of unjust hostility it easy to be filled with self-righteousness but David avoids this and confesses his own sin. ‘You God, know my folly, my guilt is not hidden from you.’ v5
To continue the example of hostility from one’s family David terms it being, ‘a foreigner to my own family’. The most obvious examples may be when one changes faith from the family faith, but it is not limited to that situation. It can be equally and just as painfully when one has abandoned a positively atheist setting or simply a context where no thought has been previously given to faith.
The actual practices of being a Christian in themselves can be the focus for hostility, that may be reading the bible, taking time for prayer, attending a bible study group and going to church. It could be altering how one uses time such as choosing to join in with a feeding the hungry project one evening a week instead of a social activity. For David the religious and cultural practices in his time were different but they still attracted derision. ‘When I weep and fast, I must endure scorn; when I put on sackcloth, people make sport at me.’ vv10.11
When opposition is overwhelming it is OK to plead with God and pour out one’s heart because God does have great love for you. If we are struggling for words then the bible often provides words for us and we can simply pray what we read.
‘Answer me, Lord, out of the goodness of your love;
in your great mercy turn to me.
Do not hide your face from your servant;
answer me quickly, for I am in trouble.
Come near and rescue me;
deliver me because of my foes.
You know how I am scorned, disgraced and shamed;
all my enemies are before you.’ vv16-19
If you feel in any way as David did in this psalm have you shared your feelings and circumstances with a trusted Christian?
Does the church you belong to take the time to know who the Christians are in their church who are experiencing opposition in their private life, understand and support them?
At The Cross – Chris Tomlin
Psalm 68 – Strength comes from the knowledge of God and his deeds
The opening words of Psalm 68 are the words Moses said whenever the Ark set out, ‘Rise up, Lord! May your enemies be scattered; may your foes flee before you.’ Numbers 10.35 The Ark representing God’s presence with his people took hundreds of years to travel from Sinai, the place where the law was given to Mount Zion (Jerusalem). One can imagine the words again being incorporated in the rejoicing as David accompanied the Ark into Jerusalem. David draws upon the song of Deborah as she described the Lord as being the God of Israel and Sinai where the mountains quaked, the earth shook and the heavens poured clouds down like water. Judges 5.4,5 David declares God is the ‘God who saves’ v20 based on the history of how God has fought for Israel from slavery in Egypt, through the desert and the giving of the law, on to the conquest of the promised land and up to the point where the Ark is now resident with God’s people in Jerusalem.
The wicked who perish before God v2 were probably the Egyptians who had for centuries enslaved Israel and the righteous who were glad and rejoicing before God v3 were the Israelites. Such simplified statements gloss over many complications, even doubt and rebellion but when in the middle of events it is helpful to remember the big narrative that God has a purpose and history demonstrates that he has fulfilled his promises in his time. As Christians we benefit from knowing Jesus, who he is and what he has done as well as his promises. The same God who kept his promises regarding Israel will keep his promises regarding his people now.
The destruction of his enemies is balanced by the care for his own as in verses 4 to 6, those who call him Lord. ‘A father to the fatherless, a defender of widows, is God in his holy dwelling. God sets the lonely in families, he leads out the prisoners with singing’. vv5,6 The dwelling of God now resides with the church and these verses capture how the church should be now, a place where God meets the needs of people in need. It describes what contemporary mission should be, not limited to orphans and widows but to all who have need to be in the family of God. Prisoners may be literally in prison but they equally may be people who are imprisoned through sin and need God’s saving grace.
Israel’s victories over the nations as it occupies Canaan are sung of in verses 11 to 14. Again there is no mention of the many failures that occurred during that time as the focus is on God’s faithfulness. The silver sheathed dove with feathers of shining gold is poetic imagery possibly drawing on an ancient practice of sending victory messages by a homing bird. It was the role of women to proclaim the word of the Lord v11 and that feminine vocabulary is used again in Isaiah 61.1-2 and repeated by Jesus in Luke 4.18 as good news is proclaimed to the poor. The biblical narrative may be dominated by male perspectives but the role of women is essential and core and this captures the importance of women in proclaiming the gospel.
The narrative moves on to the eventual arrival of the Ark and the Lord’s presence at Sinai. vv 15-19 This is also symbolic of Jesus’ ascension. The remaining verses of the psalm celebrate the rule of God over all nations. David’s psalm looks forward to a time when nations will recognize and honour the God of Israel and Jerusalem. v29 However Christians will see in these verses the promise of Jesus’ return and his reign culminating in the defeat of all the spiritual enemies of God. Christians can join in with ancient Israel and sing, ‘You, God, are awesome in your sanctuary; the God of Israel gives power and strength to his people. Praise be to God! v35
Paul saw the whole sweep of the psalm, from Egypt to Zion, as a picture of the saving work of Christ (Michael Wilcock, BST) in Ephesians 4 and from Christ’s place in glory he has given gifts to his people through the Holy Spirit that have meant that God’s praises have been sung throughout the kingdoms of the earth. v32 It started at Pentecost and the process continues today as the gospel reaches fresh people worldwide each day.
Do we sometimes focus so much on the details of life that we forget to see the big picture of God’s purposes?
Do we remember what God has achieved in our own lives and draw strength from that as we face the future?
Everlasting God (Chris Tomlin)
Victory snatched from the jaws of defeat.
Psalm 68, 1 Corinthians 15.54-56, Ephesians 4.7,8
The England cricket team has just celebrated an unlikely victory. When Root, the captain, was interviewed he said the team believed they could win because they had won from seemingly impossible positions twice last year and they drew confidence from that memory. What victories have there been in your life and more importantly what victories do there need to be?
In Old Testament literature victory was often recorded over Israel’s enemies, in the New Testament it was victory over spiritual opposition to the gospel of Jesus, sin or death. Whilst victory may occur through the agency of humans, although not necessarily, it was always by the grace (underserved favour) of God. Thus, David opens his song (Psalm 68) with, ‘May God arise, may his enemies be scattered; may his foes flee before him’. v1
Life faces us with many obstacles and battles that can stand between us and a fulfilling relationship with God. They often centre around sin in some form but ultimately the greatest battle is with death, not just physical death but also spiritual death. Most of us for most of the time refuse to engage with this battle and when we have to we are unprepared. The sweep of history covered in David’s song (Psalm 68) acts as a metaphor for the victory over sin and death achieved by Jesus through his death, resurrection and crucially his ascension.
Paul in Ephesians 4.8 quotes Psalm 68.18 with a twist. ‘But to each one of us grace has been given as Christ apportioned it. This is why it says: “When he ascended on high, he took many captives and gave gifts to his people”.’ Ephesians 4.8 The psalmist has the people bringing gifts to God (entirely appropriate) but Paul has God providing gifts to his people to equip them for works of service and growth in their Christian life to enable them to attain the, ‘whole measure of the fullness of Christ.’ It is for this reason that the psalm is used by Christians as a Pentecost psalm because it was following Christ’s ascension that the gift of the Holy Spirit was given to equip the church for gospel outreach and a holy life.
1 Corinthians 15 is a wonderful summary statement of the gospel which as Paul puts it, ‘You have taken your stand. By this gospel you are saved, if you hold firmly to the word I preached to you. Otherwise, you have believed in vain’. 1 Corinthians 15.1,2 The chapter develops until it culminates in Christ’s victory over both sin and death. Over sin through his death and resurrection as he takes God’s judgement over us upon himself. He explains as we share in Jesus’ death so we also will share in his resurrection. Paul summarizes this victory over sin for those who have faith in Jesus with these words. ‘Death has been swallowed up in victory. “Where, O death, is your victory: Where, O death, is your sting?” The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God! He gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’. 1 Corinthians 15.54-56
The result of Jesus’ victory then should be as emphasized in both Ephesians and Corinthians is to be the capability to give oneself fully to ‘the work of the Lord’. 1 Corinthians 15.58 In the next reflection we will look at the victory events celebrated in the psalm that give confidence to his people as they are not immediately obvious. However, the ascension of Christ raises some questions for the modern Christian.
Have we appreciated the extent of Jesus’ victory over all dominions?
Is there any aspect of our life that we need to gain the Holy Spirit’s victory over?
Have we grasped the grace Christ has apportioned us so that the body of Christ may be built up?
Eben – Victory [Africa Gospel Music]
Help rebuild society God’s way Psalm 67.3-7
Tearfund are campaigning for the government to see the coronavirus pandemic as an opportunity to provide reasons for the peoples of the nations to praise God. If the nations are led in the light of the character and ways of God then they will be singing praises. Why is this? Because the Godly way to rule is with equity. It also has a world wide view because God wishes to bless the whole world, not to benefit some peoples at the detriment of others. Gospel living and governing is radically different from government by unfair self-interest. It has a different perception of self-interest in that it is in everybody’s interest that governance is equitable.
Psalm 67 is a harvest psalm but it is clear from verse 7 that the harvest is spiritual and global, not just material. Read again Psalm 67 in the light of the e mail content below from Tearfund.
The coronavirus pandemic has changed the way we see the world.
It’s forced us to pause and reflect.
It’s reminded us of the fragility of life and exposed inequalities in society. But it’s also brought communities together and given us the chance to reimagine what life could be like.
We have a once-in-a-generation opportunity to be part of rebuilding a society which reflects God’s kingdom values.
As Christians, we can play a vital role by living differently and calling for change as we move forward. Christians have often been central at moments of social renewal and justice – from the abolition of the transatlantic slave trade to the civil rights struggle.
And now, we can urge our leaders to prioritise loving our neighbours near and far, protecting the most vulnerable, and caring for God’s creation. Here are two easy ways you can take action today with our Reboot Campaign.
First, you can join us in urging the UK government to reboot the economy in a way that prioritises the poorest and creates a better world for everyone. We have limited time to influence our leaders as they respond to the current crisis.
Add your voice by sending a ‘reboot message’ to the prime minister using the link below. You’ll find easy instructions to send an email or write a letter.
You can also use our Reboot Campaign video and discussion guide to explore with others how you are experiencing the pandemic, and how you can play your part in building a better world. We’d love to hear how you get on.
Respond: Share vaccines with developing countries
Reset: Cancel debt and release emergency funding to help developing countries respond to the crisis
Recognise: Include local faith groups in the response and recovery plans
Recover: Ensure the global recovery creates a better world for people in poverty, including by supporting small businesses, clamping down on tax loopholes and tackling climate change.
Renew: Work with the devolved nations to reboot the UK economy in a way that creates jobs and tackles the climate crisis
To find out more about these recommendations, please refer to
Tearfund’s policy paper Coronavirus crisis: Restoring societies.
Are we prepared to see advocacy as part of our Christian discipleship?
Do we see the world through the eyes of the Holy Spirit and take Jesus teachings to heart?
Psalm 67 (Lyric Video) | The Corner Room
Pulling back the Blackout Curtains of Life
Psalm 67.1-2 and Mathew 5.14-16
‘You are the light of the world. A town built on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’ Mathew 5.14-16
I woke this morning in a hotel room and it was dark, the noise of the motorway outside had been continuous all night and so its roar gave no indication of time. I could have reached for my phone to let its light shine on the time, instead I closed my eyes and let the dark control me. Slight chinks of light crept round the curtain edge jogging me into reluctant action. Eventually my conscience overcame my inertia, I rose, pulled back the curtains and instantly light flooded the room and galvanized me into life and I was ready to engage with the world.
Psalm 67 is about the light of God’s face shining on us so we take the light of the gospel to the world. There are two biblical roots the psalmist has drawn on, almost repeating word for word the blessing God gave Aaron and his descendants as priests to the nation, Tell Aaron and his sons, ‘This is how you are to bless the Israelites. ‘Say to them: “The LORD bless you and keep you; the LORD make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace.” ’ Numbers 6.23-26 However the wording is changed to a prayer for the nation to be priests bringing God’s blessing to the world. Peter confirmed this calling for the modern church to be, ‘a royal priesthood, a holy nation’. 1 Peter 2.9 The second is Abraham’s promise, I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. (Gen 12.2-3)
The opening two verses of Psalm 67 would make a brilliant prayer to be repeated each time a church gathers. 1May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face to shine upon us, Selah, 2that your way may be known on earth, your saving power among all nations.’ (ESV) To push the blackout curtain analogy a little further, a prayer that stops at the end of verse one draws the blackout curtain tightly around the church and says God’s grace and blessing is all ours or mine. How often is that the motivation of our prayer, that we will be blessed? How often is the motivation that we will be a blessing?When talking and thinking about the ‘light of the world’ we frequently think about Jesus words in John 8.12 ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life.’ But in Mathew, Jesus spoke to his followers and said, ‘You are the light of the world … let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.’
God’s blessing on his church ought to be apparent to the world, the ways of Christians should be so distinctive that it is clear that the good news of Jesus is God’s salvation. This is a major challenge to a church too frequently consumed by its own internal issues. Our light for the world is the Holy Spirit within us, a mirror only reflects a light that that faces it, turn the mirror away from the light and it can no longer reflect it. May our faces shine as we gaze upon the goodness of God. How often do we take time to be in God’s presence so that his face can shine upon us?
How do we join in making his ways known on earth?
Shine Jesus Shine (from the Indian released album Shine) Lyric Video – Graham Kendrick
Have you a story to tell? Psalm 66
We may not have a book in us but we all have a host of stories. Listen in to casual conversations around the table, when dog walkers meet, between family members over the phone and the conversation will be filled with stories from their lives. They may be about small incidental happenings but they are relevant, informative and create bonds between people. When the psalmist writes, ‘Come and hear, all you who fear God; let me tell you what he has done for me’ v16 he is keen to share the story of how God has answered his prayer. This is a congregational psalm designed to be used in shared worship and so it celebrates and encourages us to share our own stories of God’s answers to prayer and how important this is in building up the community of faith. Have you a story to tell about answered prayer during this Covid 19 time? If so who have you shared it with and how naturally does it flow in conversation.
The telling of salvation stories is an essential part of mission in our local community. It opens up our faith to others. It is easiest to do so within the faith community because we have confidence that our story will be well received but it is also provides a place for it to become a normal part of our life and makes it easier to share with those beyond the comfort of church. We need to be careful that the stories we tell are those that reflect God’s will and righteousness. The psalmist says, ‘If I had cherished sin in my heart, the Lord would not have listened.’ v18
The ‘awesome deeds’ that God has done are salvation deeds. The reference to the sea being turned into dry land v6 evokes memories of the Israelites escaping enslavement through the Red Sea or the crossing of the Jordon into the promised land. There is no pretense in these stories, everything did not go well but they do show the faithfulness of God. As the psalmist says, ‘For you, God, tested us; you refined us like silver. You brought us into prison and laid burdens on our backs. You let people ride over our heads, we went through fire and water, but you brought us to a place of abundance.’ vv 10-12
All of this is ultimately completed through Jesus’ death, resurrection and ascension. We have a story to tell. We will fail many times on our discipleship journey but God is faithful and we have many reasons to praise the Lord. We no longer bring burnt offerings instead our worship is now to be our lives lived out being transformed into Christlikeness. In Paul’s words, ‘I appeal to you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ Romans 12.1,2
To discern the impact of personal story telling in spreading the good news of Jesus read Matthew 9 which contains several accounts of how personal testimony of encounters with Jesus were passed on and ‘news spread throughout the region’. It is important that Christians normalize the telling of their faith rather than be fearful of reactions as we seek to change the culture.
Have you heard a story recently that encouraged your faith?
Have you passed it on?
Build your Kingdom here – Rend Collective
I heard the news today – Oh Boy! Psalm 65
A vast explosion in Beirut with more than 4000 injured and an unknown number dead. Over 1 million Uighurs’ forced into highly secure camps for “re-education” in the Xinjiang province of China. Governments across the world trying to balance lock down and economic recovery. Each story humanized through an individual’s eyes, a phone’s video clip, an eye witness account or a personal story. Is there a God for all peoples?
Psalm 65 is the middle one of a group of three all of whom address God being the God of ‘all people’. Throughout the bible there is a call to be outward looking to grasp that God’s love is for the whole world and all peoples. Even in David’s time where commonly gods were thought of as belonging to one nation or group, the biblical perspective was looking forward to a time when all people will come to recognize God and this theme continues through the New Testament. Psalm 64.9 says, ‘All people will fear; they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done’. Psalm 65.2 says, ‘You who answer prayer, to you all people will come.’ Psalm 66.4 says, ‘All earth bows down to you; they sing praise to you, they sing the praises of your name.’ Revelation 14.6 declares, ‘Then I saw another angel flying in mid air, and he had the eternal gospel to proclaim to those who live on the earth – to every nation, tribe, language and people.’
Peter explains that it is God’s desire that all people would turn to him now and be in relationship with him and that is the reason for his patience in the face of continued rejection by people towards him. ‘The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. He is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.’ 2 Peter 3.9 But what does it mean to be in relationship with God now? Psalm 65, a harvest psalm, provides us with some insight into the relationship experience.
A foundational position is grasping that God is the creator God and his creation conveys his eternal greatness, power, wonder and continuing presence. He is not a God who has done something and wandered off bored or disinterested and his continuing engagement with this small planet bountifully provides for us. vv 6-13 Contemplation of his provision evokes in us who trust in him a response of joy that the whole of nature seems to join in with. ‘The whole earth is filled with awe at your wonders; where morning dawns, where evening fades, you call forth songs of joy.’ v8 ‘The meadows are covered with flocks and the valleys are mantled with grain; they shout for joy and sing.’ v13 We should not be ashamed of simple adoration and thankfulness, the growing urbanisation of human life has separated many from the immediate impact of God’s provision. ‘The streams of God are filled with water to provide the people with grain, for so you ordained it. You drench its furrows and level its ridges; you soften it with showers and bless its crops.’ vv 9-10
Sin separates us from God and it is easy to minimise sin in our minds because it is uncomfortable and challenging. Sin is all pervasive in the world, not only in our individual lives. It is also evident in the way many companies, organizations and countries conduct themselves. The Beirut explosion will have sins of neglect as a minimum behind it, the Chinese abuse of minority groups involves governmental sins of torture, imprisonment and abuse of women over their reproductive rights. God through Jesus has provided a means of re-establishing a relationship with him. ‘When we were overwhelmed by sins, you forgave our transgressions.’ v3 John in the New Testament writes to the churches that we should not fool ourselves even after we have committed our lives to Christ we will still sin, however if we are honest with God about it we do receive forgiveness. 1 John 1.8,9
Knowing God through Jesus Christ is also to be individual loved and special to God. It is not just being a part of a group it is being a child of God. David writes, ‘Blessed are those you choose and bring near to live in your courts!’ v4 David is drawing on the imagery he knows as a king chosen and anointed by God. Jesus said, ‘No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him. And I will raise him up on the last day’. John 6.44
Whilst the thrust of the psalm is a celebration of God’s goodness through the harvest, David uses this to celebrate the greater harvest of righteousness that comes from God as our Saviour. Being in relation with God is living in a Christ like manner. In the same passage that John speaks about the confession of sin he also uses the phrase to walk in the light, meaning to live according to the gospel. ‘If we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin. A fulfilling outcome of being in fellowship with God is also the fellowship with other believers.
Do we provide time each day to consciously be in fellowship with God through Jesus Christ?
Are we brave enough to face up to the impact of sin on our lives and confess it to Him?
River of God – Paul Oakey
So it ain’t right and it ain’t fair! Psalm 64
If someone’s got a problem with you because what you’ve done is wrong then fair enough but if what you did or what you are is God’s will then what are we to do about that? This is a challenge for an individual but it is also a challenge for the collective body of believers in Jesus, in other words the church. What is experienced in terms of a threat to Israel as a nation or the king as the representative of the nation in the Old Testament is reflected as a spiritual threat in the New Testament. It may not be either right or fair but spiritual conflict is the status quo and we should expect it and treat it as the continuing normal. Paul makes this very clear, ‘For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms’. Ephesians 6.12
In Psalm 64 David is complaining to God about his enemies and seeking God’s protection and whilst he is seeking God for himself as king he is also seeking him for the nation. ‘Hear me, my God, as I voice my complaint; protect my life from the threat of the enemy’. v1 Those who want to overthrow him also want to lead the nation in ways that rebel against God. For the modern church the enemies are those who want to undermine Jesus’ teaching and reject him as the Son of God and restorer of mankind’s relationship with God through his sacrifice and resurrection. The difference between the Old Testament way and the New Testament way is that in the Old the battle was waged with war and in the New it is waged with love. The spiritual battle and enemies are diverse. There is widespread violent opposition to Jesus through sections of other religions and atheist states e.g. North Korea and China. There is also spiritual and intellectual opposition where sanctions are imposed on those who would profess to follow Jesus. There are those who oppose Jesus through the promotion of sinful practices, these may include entirely legal methods of abuse and oppression including behaviour that leads to addiction, self-abuse or an obsession with materialism.
David wants to hide from the conspiracy of the wicked v2 and one can understand that, they want to kill him. It is interesting to contrast that with Jesus who thankfully did not hide but boldly declared the kingdom of God and deliberately obeyed God even though he knew it would cause him suffering beyond our understanding and physical death.
David highlights a number of the characteristics of the enemies of God. They speak with the intent to destroy. ‘They sharpen their tongues like swords and aim cruel words like deadly arrows’. v3 In modern terms that would include through all forms of written and visual media. It is not done haphazardly but deliberately and remorselessly. It is an ambush. v4 How is this expressed today? It is organized by such groups as the British Humanist Society and a range of intellectual institutions. Let’s be clear Christianity is not anti-intellectual it is intellectually coherent and has many leading scientists and other intellectuals as personal believers. Anti-Christian sentiment is often institutionalised much like other forms of prejudice including in certain settings into the legal framework of a country.
We should not be surprised if opposition to Jesus and his teaching is planned in terms of deliberate attacks on faith. These plans may well disguise themselves as other campaigns but in essence they are opposing the gospel. ‘They encourage each other in evil plans, they talk about hiding their snares; they say, “Who will see it”?’ v5
What is the Christian response to such opposition? David points to a concern for all people and points to a time when all will come to a knowledge of God. This remains the Christian confidence and hope. ‘All people will fear; (hold God in proper reverence and awe) they will proclaim the works of God and ponder what he has done. The righteous will rejoice in the Lord and take refuge in him; all the upright in heart will glory in him’. vv 9,10
Whilst David looks forward to God’s judgement and even punishment of his enemies, vv 7.8 Jesus’ teaching was to follow his example and sacrificially love those who opposed and even hated him. Paul who is a classic example of a person who hated and plotted against Jesus prior to his conversion wrote, ‘while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Romans 5.8
Jesus’ words were, ‘But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’ Luke 6.27,28 Peter wrote to the churches, ‘But I say to you who hear, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you.’
A vital part of loving people whether they are friend or enemy is to communicate the gospel as the good news of Jesus Christ in obedience to Jesus’ closing words in Luke’s gospel. ‘Then he opened their minds to understand the Scriptures, and said to them, Thus it is written, that the Christ should suffer and on the third day rise from the dead, and that repentance for the forgiveness of sins should be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.’ Luke24.45-48 How can we be a blessing to the world?
For the joys and for the sorrows – Graham Kendrick
Do you miss going to church? Psalm 63 and Hebrews 10.19-25
Going to church is great but what is the best thing? Is it that the place feels special or maybe it is meeting trusted friends and knowing you are welcome? For lots of people it is simply being with the family of God knowing that what you treasure most is the thing you have in common. For others they love to listen to the bible being explained as they have their life changed by the word of God. Many find that it is in shared corporate worship that they most intimately meet with God whether that is through music and song, prayer or focusing on the words God has provided. Worship is highly personal and intimate because God has enabled that by becoming more understandable in the person of Jesus. As Christians long to worship God part of that longing is for the shared experience because it has so many benefits.
David from, ‘a dry and weary land where there is no water’ v1 is desperate to experience again worship of God in his sanctuary. This for David was a literal experience, he had fled to the wilderness following Absalom’s attempted coup. David’s dejected and mournful state of mind is lucidly described in 2 Samuel 15.23-37. He had commanded Zadok to take the Ark of God back to Jerusalem with the words, ‘If I find favour in the Lord’s eyes, he will bring me back and let me see it and his dwelling place again’. 2 Sam 15.25 When David calls out to God, ‘O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you’ v1 it is the definition of the wilderness experience. For us now many things can be described as a wilderness experience where we are separated from the worshiping community of God’s people. Most of us at this moment cannot physically be together to worship but like David we recall worshipping together beholding his power and glory. Even in the wilderness we can rejoice with David that his steadfast love is better than life and look forward with eagerness to the time when together our lips will praise him.
David is confident and we can share his confidence that the Lord will fully satisfy us. v5 Frequently it is during the night that the sense of being in a wilderness is at its greatest. It is then we can copy David perhaps with the aid of our bible or Christian book in remembering God and meditating on him until we have joyful praise on our lips. Past experience teaches us that we are living in the shadow of his wings as our inner being ‘clings’ to him. David knew his own son was trying to overthrow him. If our troubles are caused by others then we can rest assured that God will be the final judge. vv 9-11
What was David’s experience of worship in the sanctuary of God is now surpassed by Jesus’ once for all sacrifice. All Jesus’ disciples now have full access to God’s inner sanctuary or his presence and we are fully encouraged together to enter his presence. Hebrews put it like this, ‘Therefore, brothers, (all disciples) since we have confidence to enter holy places by the blood of Jesus, the new and living way that he opened for us through the curtain, that is, through his flesh, and since we have a great high priest over the house of God, let us draw near with a true heart in full assurance of faith, with our hearts sprinkled clean from an evil conscience and our bodies washed with pure spiritual water’. Hebrews 10.19-22
Hebrews expands on the benefits of worshipping together. We are to think of ways to stir each other up to love and good works. Heb 10.24 We are to encourage one another with a particular view to the return of Jesus. All this with the purpose to live a life set apart for Jesus resisting sin. Hebrews is very clear being a disciple of Jesus will need endurance Heb 10.36 and it is likely to be a hard struggle with sufferings. Heb 10.32,33 However, through it all we are to show love and joy in the Lord for we know we have a, ‘better possession and an abiding one’. Heb 10.34
For reasons of victorious discipleship we are not to neglect meeting together. Heb 10.25 Whilst meeting virtually in our current circumstances and to be encouraged where possible it is right to long for the time when we can meet fully in person.
Do we take up opportunities to virtually meet together to worship and encourage each other?
Are we minded to support those who are not able to share in fellowship at this time?
Are we praying for the time when we can once again be fully together and behold the Lord’s power and glory?
I CAN’T GET NO SATISFACTION: ‘CAUSE I TRIED Psalm 62
Who would you be most surprised at self-declaring they’re a Christian? For me Alice Cooper lifted an eyebrow. After struggling with drugs and alcohol for much of his life he said, “Drinking beer is easy. Trashing your hotel room is easy. But being a Christian, that’s a tough call. That’s rebellion.’ George Foreman didn’t only invent a worktop grilling machine, he was a world champion heavyweight boxer. He became a Christian after nearly dying in fight in 1977. He quickly became a Christian minister. ‘Mr T’ (Lawrence Tureaud) of The A Team fame following his wrestling career became a Christian. Famous for wearing gold, after Hurricane Katrina (2005) he gave his gold away. He is recorded as saying, ‘When I saw other people lose their lives and lose their land and property … I felt it would be a sin before God for me to continue wearing my gold.’ Francis Collins was an atheist, he invented positional cloning, took part in the discovery of the genes for cystic fibrosis, Huntington’s disease and neurofibromatosis and directed the Human Genome Research Institute for 15 years. He found himself challenged by a terminally ill woman as to what his faith was. He then sought advice from a Methodist minister about Christianity and was given a copy of C S Lewis’ Mere Christianity. On reading that he came to the conclusion that Christianity was rational and is now a strong advocate for both science and the Christian faith.
In Psalm 62 David says, ‘Those of low estate are but a breath; those of high estate are a delusion; in the balances they go up; they are lighter together than a breath.’ v 9 When in adult life we are taken short and challenged as to the value of our life, whether poor and at the bottom of the pile, born into wealth and influence or a high achiever it is a shock to realize that our life is, ‘lighter than a breath’.
David himself was the most successful king, despite many failings, in Israel’s history. It was from his succession that Jesus came and Jesus as Messiah was known as the son of David. Despite being anointed by God and victor of many battles extending and securing the nation of Israel he understood the vanity of self-reliance. He twice records the refrain, ‘For God alone my soul waits in silence; from him comes my salvation. He alone is my rock and my salvation, my fortress; I shall not be greatly shaken’. vv 1-2,5-6
At the point where we are deeply challenged or troubled and action of some kind seems imperative it takes courage to stop in our inner being (soul) and wait for God in silence. It is at that point when we can become deeply aware of our need for the grace of God. To grasp that God and God alone is our salvation is a break through moment to a new life with him. Christianity isn’t trusting in ideas or our own ability to lift ourselves out of life’s problems. The Christian faith is trusting in God expressed in the person of Jesus. Jesus own words were, ‘I am the way, and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me’. John 14.6
David is refreshingly honest in that he acknowledges he can be a little shaken but God is his fortress at those moments. v2 Things that can shake us include people who plan against us and behave deviously, saying nice things to our face but inside curse us. v4 Many will have experience this in family disputes, friendships gone wrong or employment situations. David also cautions against those who seek to prosper through criminal activity or put their faith in wealth. v10
David’s response to such things is listen to and trust in God. He doubles up the importance of listening and trusting God with the words. ‘Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this: that power belongs to God, and that to you, O Lord, belongs steadfast love. For you will render to a man according to his work’. v11-12
If you are experiencing a testing time have you taken time alone to wait in silence and listen to God?
Are you trusting in things that in God’s judgement have no weight?
As you find me – Hillsong Worship
The whole world in your hands 1 Peter
Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence?
If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.
If I rise on the wings of the dawn, if I settle on the far side of the sea,
even there your hand will guide me, your right hand will hold me fast.
Psalm 139. 7-10
The gap year and global travel are now must have aspects of life for many. If like me you missed out on a gap year, I’m not sure I had even heard of it, between education and work then in retirement, the second window of freedom, it is eagerly grasped. This notion of broadening one’s horizons and getting to grips with alternative cultures although so much easier now mostly remains in global terms a privileged pastime. Where the poorest have globally travelled it has often been more forced rather than chosen for pleasure. I am thinking of migrants who have travelled to work as domestic servants or labourers leaving family behind and transferring nearly all of their meagre earnings to their family at home. There are also the migrants who risk their lives travelling huge distances at great personal cost on the vague hope of a safer life in a strange often western country.
The world is undeniably much more connected now than at any time in history. Information is passed almost instantaneously on any subject. Access to information is usually not the question, it is reliability of information that is more uncertain. What then can a letter, handwritten and personally delivered to a few scattered house churches in Asia Minor two thousand years ago have to valuably say when compared to the wealth of information now available in our information rich, globally connected world?
Peter’s first letter does have historically and culturally specific aspects. It mentions the Emperor, a temple and specific religious practices no longer undertaken but in all of these there are valid ways of applying them to modern life. The letter takes a very wide view, it scans God’s salvation plan for human history placing us between Christ’s resurrection and his return. It shows how Christ is the culmination of the Old Testament narrative and the hope for the future not only for the Jewish nation but for all nations. It is a letter with a sharp global perspective.
At the heart of the message is the importance of Jesus’ resurrection because it is through the resurrection of Jesus that he has formed a new global people who are to be to the world his race or people and his priesthood. 1.3-5, 2.9a They are to be from all nations and races of equal worth to him. They are to have one mission in life and that is to reveal God in all his glory, mercy and holiness to the world. 2.9b They are to do this through their life style and communicating God’s word.
This is very good news and will bring its own eternal reward. However, it will be personally costly and followers of Jesus should expect that to be normal. 4.12 Life now for the global Christian is a pilgrimage, they are aliens in an unbelieving society, journeying to our true home. ‘Wherever believers live around the globe, this fallen world is not our home. As Paul put it, “our citizenship is in heaven” (Philippians 3.20)’. 1On this pilgrimage Christ is the example and the substitutionary saviour. Peter speaks of Christ as an example to follow (2.21-23, 4.2, 13-14) as well as a saviour (1.18-19, 2.24, 3.18). The gospels or life stories of Jesus now provide reliable accounts of Jesus character, work and teachings so that Christians are able to understand and follow him.
Peter also wants the global church to have hope even when they suffer for, ‘a little while’ 5.10 in God’s judgement, justice and glory. As Christians across the world journey together they are to be bound together in a supportive unity. They are to intercede for one another, bear each others’ burdens, advocate for each other and reach out in mercy and kindness. At all times they are to keep in view the glorious inheritance that awaits them.
He’s got the whole world in His hand – Mahalia Jackson (Like you’ve never heard it before)
Humility defeats prowling lion 1 Peter 5.5-11
The presence of pain and suffering at the hands of evil in the world frequently presents difficulties for Christians and a barrier to faith for skeptics. Peter does not address the philosophical issues of why there is suffering when God is good. The whole span of scripture with the rebellion of human kind and God’s salvation plan through Jesus addresses the meta story. Peter’s concern is to prepare the church in Asia Minor for the ‘inevitable reality of unjust suffering’ 1 and equip them to positively live as disciples with a confident hope in their hearts.
Peter presumes Christians will naturally be grouped into local churches asserting the necessity of them being led by elders who shepherd God’s flock in the same way Jesus, as the Chief Shepherd, taught and led the disciples. v 5.1-4 Then the church as a whole grows, becomes secure in faith and is equipped to declare the excellencies of God. In these circumstances younger believers can be secure in being subject to the elders. v 5.5 Whether Peter meant younger in age or faith does not overly matter as the principle is equally appropriate. God’s intention is that Christians should live together as part of a loving family or community led by Christ-like elders with a clear understanding of their own salvation and hope in Christ. In this way they are to follow Jesus’ instruction to make disciples throughout the world.
The attitude that preserves the bond in the family of God is humility. Peter urges the people to, ‘Clothe yourselves, all of you, with humility toward one another, for God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble’. v 5.5 He doubles his emphasis on humility with the additional phrase of, ‘all of you’. Humility is expected of everyone in the church it is evidenced by mutual respect and a desire to serve one another. God blesses the humble with the gift of grace. v 5.5 Grace in one sense is a once and forever gift as we first believe. However, we are also in need of continuing grace as we live the life of a disciple. Peter uses the term in his blessing at the beginning of the letter, ‘May grace and peace be multiplied to you’. v 1.2 Grace is the undeserved favour of God and so it takes humility to receive and benefit from it.
Peter presses the point home connecting humility now with being raised up by God to his eternal glory. v 5.10 ‘Humble yourselves, therefore, under the mighty hand of God so that at the proper time he may exalt you …’ v 5.6 Pride is opposed by God as it is a form of idolatry, placing oneself where God should be in our hearts. It replaces trust in God and doubts God’s love for us and hence spoils our relationship with him. Trust in God and humility does not mean we should be naïve which is why Peter is keen that Christians should be sober minded and watchful. v 5.8 Christian life is full of pitfalls and risks, there is constant spiritual opposition. ‘Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour’.
Humility in all these circumstances brings the Christian peace as they cast, ‘all their anxieties on him, because he cares for you’. v 5.7 Does this mean we remain passive and do nothing. Not at all, it means going about our business, facing our issues in the day or night knowing we are also about God’s business, with a trust in his grace. This could be at work in the office, classroom, hospital or field. It could be in the home challenged by children and relatives, financial difficulties or our own mental and physical health. The devil would turn any of our circumstances against us if he could to undermine our faith. Many find that the threat is even more severe in the court, in prison, facing armed forces, fleeing hunger or political oppression. Christians across the world face all of these things and the bible is the word of God for all time and all places. Peter’s word then is, ‘Resist him, firm in your faith, knowing that the same kinds of suffering are being experienced by your brotherhood throughout the world’. v 5.9
In suffering the Christian has hope. The writer to the Hebrews says, ‘Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see’. Hebrews 11.1 Paul in Romans writes, ‘Now hope does not disappoint, because the love of God has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which was given to us’. Romans 5.5 The hope the Christian has is confidence in the grace of God, ‘Who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ, will himself restore, confirm, strengthen, and establish you’. v 5.10 In humility we can join with Peter and say, ‘To him be dominion forever and ever. Amen’. v 5.11
Gracefully broken – Matt Redman
1 – 1 Peter for you, page 163, Juan R. Sanchez
Killer questions for a Christian leader 1 Peter 5.1-5 and Mathew 20.20-28
But Jesus called them to him and said, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones exercise authority over them. It shall not be so among you. But whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many.” Mathew 20.25-28
Is there a difference between Christian leadership and secular leadership? Should we order leadership priorities differently in the Christian context? Here are some questions based on 1 Peter 5 that don’t always get asked.
Have you got a mentor?
Spiritual leaders in the bible are often called elders. Peter as an apostle, a founder of the Jerusalem church saw his role in later life to counsel and guide other elders. ‘I exhort the elders among you, as a fellow elder and a witness of the sufferings of Christ, as well as a partaker in the glory that is going to be revealed: shepherd the flock of God that is among you …’ 1Peter 5.1,2 Peter knew from first hand experience that to have someone to turn to and even step in with a wise word at the right time was essential. When Jesus took him to one side on the beach after the resurrection and three times asked him if Peter loved him and instructed him to feed and care for his sheep it left an indelible mark on him. A mentor is someone who loves enough to be openly honest because they love the Lord, the leader and the sheep. Peter appealed to the elders of Asia Minor on the basis that he also was an elder and knew what it involved but more than that he understood the suffering of Christ as much as the glory. A good Christian mentor is someone who understands suffering. Peter was a man who had a proven life following Jesus and therefore had earned the respect of fellow believers. ‘Remember your leaders, those who spoke to you the word of God. Consider the outcome of their way of life, and imitate their faith’. Hebrews 13.7 If a leader does not have a mentor or mentors then they and the church are at greater risk.
Are you in it for the money or the kudos?
Not many admit to either but careful listening to the language used and observation of the behaviour of a leader reveals their underlying motives. When the mother of James and John asked Jesus for her two sons to have the most important places in heaven, Jesus response was to point to his own death as a servant of others as the model for leadership. Mathew 20.20-28 Jesus’ way is to be the way of all Christian leaders. He was willing to serve to his own cost, not profit, he was willing to experience public shame. He never shirked his responsibilities for ‘the flock’. Peter summarises Christian leadership motivation as exercising, ‘oversight, not under compulsion, but willingly, as God would have you; not for shameful gain, but eagerly …’ v 5.2
Who do you lead?
Peter exhorts elders to shepherd the flock of God, not their own flock. v 5.2 Peter wants to make clear to elders that a sense of personal possession is not appropriate, as an elder one is a matter of steward not an owner. In that sense an elder is an under shepherd of Christ and so the ministry needs to express Christ’s love and teaching. Peter is reinforcing the importance of local leadership as he instructs elders to, ‘Shepherd the flock of God that is among you’. v 5.2
Do you drive or lead?
The ancient middle eastern way of shepherding was to lead from the front in contrast of a British shepherd with a sheep dog. Peter was keen for elders to be humble in their approach and not domineering. v 5.3 A few sharp, unguarded words alone can have a long lasting harmful impact. Trust is built and therefore willingness to follow when the leader is seen to follow his or her own teaching. Where leaders selflessly give of themselves in the way Jesus had done the whole church is built up.
What is the reward you will gain?
The Elders are reminded that there will be a reward in heaven. They do have a special place that is not theirs by right but is by the grace of God. On Jesus’ return they will receive a crown of glory v 5.4 These honours are in God the Father’s gift Matthew 20.23 but are associated with participating in the suffering of Christ. Jesus termed this suffering, ‘the cup I am going to drink…’ Matthew 2022
If I am leader have I asked how my leadership is perceived by others?
If I am led how am I able to support my leaders?
Servant King – Graham Kendrick
The Fiery Ordeal 1 Peter 4.12-19 and Matthew 5.10-12
Eyal is a church leader in Eritrea. In Eritrea only three Christian denominations (Eritrean Orthodox, Roman Catholic, and Lutheran – as well as Sunni Islam) are legally permitted and they are tightly controlled by the government. Eritrea is roughly equally Christian and Muslim.
‘Anybody who is believed to have criticised the government is likely to be severely punished – and following an unapproved Christian denomination is considered anti-government. This means that hundreds of Christians are arrested and imprisoned, including 141 in May 2019 and 30 the following month. Some prisoners are held in shipping containers in scorching temperatures. Eyal, who has now been released, talks about being severely beaten with rods, kept in chains and treated without any human dignity. “I cannot believe I survived that,” he says. “Really, it was only by the grace of the Lord.” Eyal still sees a bright future for the church in Eritrea. He knows that Eritreans are often choosing suffering when they choose Jesus, but as 1 Peter 5:10 says, “The God of all grace, who called you to His eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will Himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.”
In recent months, the Eritrean government has also shut down church-run schools and hospitals. This is believed to be in retaliation for bishops making a public call for government reforms.’ Open Doors, Website UK
Peter opens this section with, ‘do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you’. v 4.12 When Peter wrote to the Christians in Asia Minor the level of persecution was not extreme and more closely matched that of the western world now. However, he had experienced imprisonment and beatings, more importantly he had witnessed the sufferings of Jesus and heard him say, ‘And whoever does not take his cross and follow me is not worthy of me’ Mathew 10.38 and ‘Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you.’ Mathew 5.10-12 In just a few years levels of extreme Christian persecution in the Roman Empire became official policy.
Peter was not academically discussing the rights and wrongs of suffering or does the presence of suffering raise the question is there a God. He was addressing the reality and expectation of suffering for the Christian believer. He knew that unless the churches were prepared their capacity to cope and persist, with eternal consequences, was at risk. One of the most important parts of leadership is to prepare for the worst and one of the most negligent aspects of leadership is to presume the good times will always be with us.
Suffering is on a continuum from insults, derision and threats to torture and death. John Lennox, Professor in Mathematics and Fellow in Mathematics and the Philosophy of Science at the University of Oxford, describes being summoned into the study of his senior lecturers whilst an undergraduate and warned that unless he gave up his Christian faith he would not progress in the world of science. Increasingly in the western world barriers are being raised against Christians but it rarely comes to physical suffering. This is far from the case across much of the rest of the world.
Peter seeks to strengthen Christians in the face of persecution in ways that Eyal has grasped. Firstly, in suffering the Spirit of Christ is with them. ‘If you are insulted for the name of Christ, you are blessed, because the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you’. v 4.14 I think it is only when we have been through such experiences that it is possible to fully appreciate how the Spirit strengthens one at those times. But knowing that brothers and sisters are experiencing such persecution should encourage us to actively support them in prayer and other ways. Having spent time with fellow Christians who have suffered from life threatening experiences and subsequent trauma in their flight to this country for asylum the church here also has a role to play in welcoming, loving and actively supporting them as they go through spiritual and mental restoration. Peter describes suffering for faith in Christ as sharing in Christ’s sufferings .v 4.13 Paul says, ‘For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too’. 2 Corinthians 1.5 In this way Jesus provides us with an example of how to live. 1 Peter 2.21 We should therefore not be ashamed of suffering but instead glorify God. v 4.16 This is an important message for those experiencing post traumatic stress following periods of persecution.
Peter also confirms the apostolic message that those who have suffered for Christ’s sake will receive a reward that far exceeds their suffering. v 1.6,7 James adds his voice in James 1.12 and Paul in 2 Corinthians 4.17.
Peter makes clear though that suffering for wrong doing is very different and should not be considered in the same terms as suffering for Christ. v 44.15
In all things and especially in suffering we are to entrust our life to God while persisting in doing good. v 4.19
The Brooklyn Tabernacle Choir – Psalm 34 (Live)
Multiplying Bags of Gold 1 Peter 4.7-11 and Mathew 25.14-30
Jesus told a story that was similar to an episode of ‘The Apprentice’ and like Lord Alan Sugar the boss was a tough cookie. The boss handed out bags of gold (NIV) to three servants, 5 to one, 2 to another and 1 to a third. The two with the most money used it to good purpose and doubled the value. The third simply buried it frozen by responsibility and fearful of losing his master’s wealth. However, the master had clearly intended the servant to use the money and so condemned him as a wicked lazy servant. He hadn’t even invested it with a bank to earn interest. The gold given to the lazy servant was taken away and he was thrown out. An illusion to final spiritual condemnation.
Matthew places this parable in the section considering the period waiting for the return of Christ and judgement. Teaching elsewhere makes clear that salvation is only by grace and not dependent upon good works or a mixture of good works and grace. The actions of the lazy servant may well indicate that they were never truly a disciple. It could refer to those who professed faith such as some of the Jewish leaders but rejected Christ. Similarly, they may be those in the church who publicly profess faith but do not really believe and are in the church for other reasons. It is clear from this parable that God expects lives to change with the gift of salvation and for believers lives to bear a spiritual profit.
Peter picks up on this teaching by firstly saying it is time to leave behind the life that was before faith in Christ, ‘For the time that is past suffices for doing what the Gentiles (non-believers) want to do’. v 1 Peter 4.3 Jesus is coming, it is time to think calmly, sensibly, deliberately and prayerfully. v 4,7 Jesus himself devoted himself to prayer and as his crucifixion was at hand he took himself to the garden of Gethsemane and prayed that God’s will be accomplished on earth. It is time to use the gifts and abilities that God has given us in a way that brings glory (credit) to God. v 1 Peter 4.11 This raises the question, how do we set about doing that?
The starting point is a deep and sincere love for fellow Christians. Sincere love overcomes difficulties and frictions between each other that arise where people harm each other through wrong actions or words. ‘Above all, keep loving one another earnestly; since love covers a multitude of sins’. 1 Peter 4.8 Brotherly love is gospel testimony to the salvation work of Jesus in our lives. On the other hand, absence of brotherly love brings discredit to Christ’s name and works against the gospel.
If brotherly love is true it will be seen in our delight in spending time together and welcoming each other. Hospitality is a very important part of discipleship. This should be willingly and freely given. ‘Show hospitality to one another without grumbling’. 1 Peter 4.9 Luke’s gospel is known for the amount of times hospitality and food features. Hospitality takes many forms, it includes the welcome given at outreach events, meeting someone for a drink and a chat, providing for a travelling missionary, welcoming new people as well as finding ways to cement or maintain relationships. The Old Testament strongly encourages hospitality to aliens. I have been struck by the importance inviting people from other countries to one’s home. Whether they are seeking asylum, have migrated for work reasons or here to study, it makes a huge difference to feel welcomed and loved when in an alien country. It opens up opportunities to really know people and to have important discussions. A series of brief superficial conversations is not a replacement for spending good quality time with people.
We have all received gifts from God and we are now required to steward those gifts for the sake of others rather than ourselves. ‘As each has received a gift use it to serve one another, as good stewards of God’s varied grace’. 1 Peter.4.10 Peter divides these gifts into two broad categories without prioritizing them. They are gifts of service and gifts of speech. The objective of both types of gift is the glory of God and to achieve that he has provided the strength. 1 Peter 4.11 Serving can be demanding of time and strength and there is a real danger of it becoming a burden. But God has provided us with a new heart 1 Peter 1.22,23 that allows us to serve willingly and by doing so display God’s love for the world.
The gifts of speech are not for our own words or glory. They are to speak the ‘oracles of God’ 1 Peter 4.11 that is his words. God provides Christian teachers and leaders in many forms from one to one counsellors, through small group leaders to ministers and Principals of Bible Colleges. However, their role is to equip the church to enable all to speak in one way or another. The greatest thrill and miracle is one person through their personal testimony to lead another to Christ. Where one person has been greater gifted comes greater responsibility. The servant who was entrusted with 5 bags of gold multiplied it by 5 more.
Is there some obstacle to brotherly love in our life?
Is there anybody to whom you can show hospitality?
There is louder shout to come – Matt Redman
Living in expectation. 1 Peter 4. 1-11 and Mathew 24. 45-51
Imagine the scene, a wealthy member of the English Edwardian aristocracy early in the Twentieth Century divides his time between his home in the country and his London residence. He has appointed a butler in each house to manage each large set of servants. Neither household knows when the owner will return. One butler keeps everything in readiness, the house and gardens are well maintained, the kitchen is kept stocked and all the staff are supervised rigorously. Meanwhile when the owner is absent for a much longer time than usual the other butler begins to behave as if the home and servants were his own. He mistreats the staff, holds debauched parties, raiding the owner’s stocks of drink and food, leaving the house and gardens to go to rack and ruin. On return the owner becomes angry and both punishes and dismisses the butler. At the same time, he rewards the butler who manages the well run house with additional pay and responsibility.
Jesus told a similar story in Mathew 24 to illustrate to the disciples how they should live whilst waiting for his return following his ascension. The parable of the faithful and unfaithful servant is set in a passage of teaching regarding his instruction to, ‘Keep watch, because you do not know on what day your Lord will come.’ Mathew 4.42
Peter is confident of Christ’s return because he was a firsthand witness of Jesus’ death and then bodily resurrection. Peter was with Jesus as he promised to return and saw his ascension. If that was your personal experience then you would believe what Jesus said because you had already witnessed the naturally impossible. But Peter is concerned the next generation of new Christians may grow disappointed that Christ has not yet returned and drift off into their old life style. He then draws a sharp contrast between their old life, as a, ‘flood of debauchery’ v 4.4(ESV) and their new life as born again children of God.
Peter knows there is a constant temptation to conform to cultural pressure to live a life that is focused on immediate satisfaction of unguarded sensuality. They are surprised he says, ‘when you do not join them in the same flood of debauchery, and they malign you’. v 4.4 He describes contemporary culture as, ‘living in sensuality, passions, drunkenness, orgies, drinking parties and lawless idolatry.’ v 4.3 In a sense all these things are forms of idolatry in that they become things we can love more than God and godliness. They are all aspects of life that are on a continuum towards addiction. To these we could add many more or modern variants of similar repeated behaviours and compulsions. If they are not lived out in practice they can still take hold of our mental life. Life in these terms is focused upon self and whilst that may be thought to be a form of freedom it is a slavery to sin. In contrast Christ-like life is centred on love for God and others. ‘Above all, keep loving one another earnestly, since love covers a multitude of sins.’ v 4.8
To equip the Christians mentally to both resist sin and embrace life as, ‘good stewards of God’s varied grace’ v 4.11 he encourages them to, ‘be self-controlled and sober-minded’ v 4.7 because succumbing to sin damages our relationship with Christ and therefore impacts on our prayers. v4.7 To this end he advocates three strategies.
* We are to adopt Jesus’ attitude who was prepared to suffer ‘in the flesh’ v 4.1 to be obedient to the Father. This was exemplified in Jesus’ prayer before his arrest, ‘Father if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done’. Luke 22.42 Peter says it is time to lay aside sinful human passions and live as Jesus did for the will of God. v 4.2
- He also reminds Christians that God is the judge and we all will be judged. v 4.5 This is not to detract from grace but our works will be judged as if by fire. 1 Corinthians 3.15
- Our lives are to be strengthened by God, ‘in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ’. v 4.11
Is there an idol in our life that we need to bring in confession to God and seek the Holy Spirit’s strength to overcome?
Do we live with the expectation of the returning Christ in our minds?
Even so come – Chris Tomlin
Unity in suffering for the gospel 1 Peter 3.8-17
Finally, all of you, have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart and a humble mind. v 3.8
How real is suffering for the sake of the gospel in the modern world? Wasn’t suffering simply because one was a Christian restricted to the early church and the Roman Arena? Even if there are some examples of Christians suffering why should that significantly affect me? 1 Peter 3, shows how a unified, loving, humble church in its response to suffering for righteousness declares Christ to the world. Here are two up to date examples of contemporary Christian suffering and loving responses by the global church taken from, Barnabas Aid, July/August 2020 edition.
The first new church in Uzbekistan for twenty years has just been built and registered with financial support from the global church. Hundreds of Christians will now be able to worship without breaking the law. Churches can only register in the Muslim-majority country if they have at least 100 members. Therefore, many small congregations have to meet in private homes, making them vulnerable to police raids and heavy fines. This new church’s congregation is made up entirely of converts to Christianity making it similar to the churches addressed by Peter in that they were first generation Christians in a hostile religious environment. The blessing spreads well beyond one congregation, now six other congregations also use the building, whilst the smaller old building is used by a further six congregations.
In India the Coronavirus lock down has caused starvation level hunger in some poorer areas particularly for families reliant on daily-wage workers as there is no work and many have migrated back to their villages from the cities. Where food relief distribution is controlled by local Hindu extremist groups Christians are being denied food unless they deny faith in Jesus. In unity, sympathy and brotherly love, the global church in partnership with local Christians has been providing staple food, face masks and soap.
Suffering for righteousness sake is not exclusively something that occurs in distant places. It happens in a multitude of ways and settings including in families, work places and social settings. It takes the form of institutional prejudice and personal hostility. Sadly, it can also happen within the church. Peter expands on what a unified, loving Christian response is when suffering takes place. He draws again on previous themes of the example of Christ in the face of suffering, brotherly love and righteous living set apart for Christ.
We see conflict all around as people trade evil for evil and insult for insult, Peter here sets the opposite standard. ‘Do not repay evil for evil, or reviling for reviling, but on the contrary, bless, for to this you were called, that you may obtain a blessing.’ v 3.9 Here Peter is confirming Paul’s teaching in Romans 12.17-21. In particular Peter is instructing us to be careful in our speech. Self control, Paul informs us is a fruit of the Spirit and an outcome of living and walking by the Spirit. Galatians 5.22,25 James compares self control of speech to the bit in the mouth of a horse or to the rudder of a ship. James 3.3-5 When we are under stress we are more liable to respond rashly and unwisely and therefore need to prayerfully prepare our minds. As Peter says earlier, ‘Prepare your minds for action, and being sober minded, set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’ v 1.13
The Christian should be a peace maker and a peace seeker. Peter connects such righteous living to the effectiveness of prayer as our actions and prayers align with the will of God. ‘Let him seek peace and pursue it. For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are open to their prayer. vv 3.11b,12 Reading accounts of the suffering church it strikes one again and again how much their suffering has caused them to pray.
Peter says that under normal circumstances righteous life would not attract suffering. However where it does God will reward. He urges the church to have no fear and honour Christ as Lord. He returns to this theme in 5.7 and in doing so is confirming Jesus’ own teaching in Mathew 6.34, ‘Do not be anxious about tomorrow, for tomorrow will be anxious for itself.’ I have been repeatedly humbled alongside asylum seeking Christians, who have fled extreme persecution, as to their capacity to live trusting in Jesus during times of prolonged uncertainty.
In all circumstances the Christian’s confidence in Christ as Lord should be expressed in their preparedness to explain the reason for their faith. v 3.15 However this as well should be done with self control and reflecting the character of Christ himself. ‘Do it with gentleness and respect.’ v 3.16
For the Christian the bottom line is, ‘It is better to suffer for doing good, if that is God’s will, than for doing evil.’ v 3.17
Gospel living in marriage 1 Peter 3.1-7
Eileen was brought up in a church attending family and continued with her faith into adulthood. She has good friends at church and loves going. When she met Bob he was happy about her going to church but wanted to do other things on a Sunday morning. Eileen hoped and prayed that Bob would change his mind after they married and want to come with her but it hasn’t happened.
Jane also grew up in a very active Christian family. It meant a lot to her as a child but while she was at university she stopped going to church and mixed with a different group of people. Jane never actually lost her faith but she had lots of questions. After she met and fell in love with Harry her life was filled with all sorts of other things. It was only after they had married and started a family that the feelings of wanting to revive her faith and teach the children came back to her. Harry was a bit grumpy about her going to church with the children every Sunday so that was hard.
Nieve had never been to church, she didn’t know much about Christianity and was happily married. Then a good friend told her that she had attended an Alpha course and it was great. Nieve was amazed that her friend should do that but could see she was really excited and very happy. So, when her friend asked Nieve if she would go to Alpha with her she rather nervously said yes. To her surprise Nieve herself found that she wanted to become a Christian but she was worried about how this would change her relationship with Kieran her husband.
All these examples are fictional but they represent common situations in many churches in Britain. Whilst biblical teaching is that as a Christian one should marry a Christian if you want to marry (2 Corinthians 6.14, 1 Corinthians 7.39) that doesn’t address the actual situation that exists for many. Peter when writing this letter recognized that this was the case in the churches in Asia Minor. Across the world cultural attitudes to marriage vary considerably as they have done throughout history. The reasons for marriage are also varied and the control over whom one marries, especially for women, has not always reflected equal rights and standing. This was clearly the case in the culture of the time.
Peter in this passage has not changed his underlying themes of living for the sake of the gospel and humble obedience to Christ through following his example for his glory. In whatever situation we find ourselves we are to be distinctively his people and that includes within marriage. Marriage itself is a reflection of Christ’s own relationship with the church. Authority and submission are seen in the relationships within the Trinity of God. ‘There is only one God, and he exists in three Persons. Each Person is equally God, yet the Son submits to the Father (1 Corinthians 11.3), and the Spirit submits to the Father and the Son (John 15.26).’ (1 Peter for you. Juan R. Sanchez) We can see then that in Christ, honour, equality and submission are not in conflict. The man is equally required to, ‘live in an understanding way, showing honour to the woman’ v7 and as Paul instructs the Ephesian church, ‘Husbands, love your wives, as Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her. v Eph 5.25
Peter is making clear to Christians that it is the quality of their relationships and love that is the most important thing. External beauty changes over time but God is causing an internal beauty that is even more attractive to grow in the Christian. ‘Let your adorning be the hidden person of the heart with the imperishable beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which in God’s sight is very precious. v4 It is in the quality of love and Christ like character that we seek to win our spouse for Christ or grow together in the Lord. At the same time the church should not simply leave someone alone within a marriage but create a supportive, loving prayerful culture that understands the complexity of marriage.
Is there a married person in your church who you can be a listening friend to and pray for?
How is the church supporting married couples especially during this intensive period of lock down?
When God made you
The bible says we must wear face masks? 1 Peter 2.13-24
No it doesn’t but it does say stuff about the principles of obeying governments. There are times when people are tempted to look for specific guidance when it is not there. At these times there is a temptation to cast around for additional specific guidance perhaps through a prophecy or dream and there is a risk that these can take precedence over existing biblical guidance. 1 Peter 2.11 begins a section that sets out guiding principles for much of our everyday life. It is then our responsibility to consider how they apply to our circumstances and how they fit within the wider teaching of scripture. On the day of writing significant Conservative Party advocates and donors have resigned their party membership in the belief that the government has breached their individual freedom to choose where they refuse to wear a face mask.
Today’s passage addresses submission to Authority and individual freedom, whether it is in the context of obedience to governments or employment even in unfair circumstances. The starting point for Peter is acting for the Lord’s sake vv 2.13,25 following the example of Christ. v 2.21 Peter is building on his teaching that we are not our own but have been ‘ransomed’ v 1.18 from our former life and are now a, ‘chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people for his own possession’. v 1.9 The freedom we have now received is to, ‘live as servants of God’. v 2.16 In doing so we are to, ‘honour everyone’ v 2.17 whether we like them or agree with them. The notion of universal human rights is for most of history an unknown concept, outside of the gospel. Even today although affirmed by most nation states it is very widely ignored by many of the same states. But the Christian is called to see people as Christ sees them and in every individual there is a likeness of God, 1 Corinthians 15.49 however deformed it may have become. The Christian is to love the brotherhood, fear God and honour the Emperor. v2.17
The purpose of respecting civil authorities is to promote law and order and to assist society to prosper. There are also gospel reasons and that is to silence those who would point to Christians as rebels or insurgents in society. Such allegations later became common currency in Roman society. Christians are called to emulate Jesus’ own character of one who does good even when treated badly, who speaks honestly, behaves humbly and does not retaliate with the same attitudes and behaviour that he has been subject to. vv 2.21-13 Judgement and justice is ultimately to be trusted to the hands of God as Jesus himself did.
Does this mean that Christians should always be passive recipients of injustice on behalf of themselves or others? This is clearly not the case as we take into account the wider teaching of scripture. Peter himself draws a line when the will of God diverges from the will of a governing authority. Standing before the highest court in Israel he said, ‘Whether it is right in the sight of God to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge, for we cannot but speak of what we have seen and heard … We must obey God rather than men’. vv Acts 4.19-20,5.29 This same challenge faces many modern Christians. During the reign of the Nazi Party in Germany they rewrote the statement of faith of the Lutheran Church to conform with racist ‘Arian’ ideals. Sadly, much of the church leadership agreed to it because they thought they were obeying the principles Peter wrote in verses 2.3-15. Others such as Bonhoeffer opposed the Church leadership and Nazi Party in that and other ways. Bonhoeffer lost his life for participating in the plan to kill Hitler. A similar situation is now being faced by the Christian church in China as the government is authorizing a ‘new translation’ of the bible to conform to the Chinese State communist ideology. (The same action is being taken over the Koran.)
Similarly, Peter and other apostles repeatedly instruct Christians to do good. This includes advocating for justice, fairness and the good of society especially the most vulnerable. In this way Christians have been and continue to be at the forefront of campaigns for racial justice, improved prison systems, provision for the poor, the care of refugees fleeing persecution and care for the elderly, along with many other good causes.
To revert to the first question, does the bible say we should wear face masks? Not specifically but where the Authority has brought in a regulation for the good of society, even if we are annoyed that it infringes our personal liberty, the biblical principle is to obey.
In what ways are we challenged to follow the example of Christ to do good even if we suffer for it?
Do we uphold in prayer and in other ways Christians who face the challenge of obeying God by disobeying their government?
Trust and obey
Regrets. I have a few. 1 Peter 2.4-12 and Ephesians 4.4-16
‘But you are chosen people, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God’s special possession, that you may declare the praises of him who called you into his wonderful light.’ 1 Peter 2.9
Are you a don’t look back, look forward type of person or do you spend time pondering the if only question? Have you wished you had said something while there was still a chance, written that message or sent some flowers? Do you spend time wishing you had been bold enough to have made a different decision? Perhaps you wish you had gone, when instead you stayed or gone when you should have stayed. A lot of this is tied up with how we manage our feelings. Our emotions are strong forces that either drive us on or prevent us taking action despite what we may know is right.
Shortly before my Father died I realized I wasn’t sure if I had ever really told him how much he meant to me. And I think he was the most formative person in my life. We lived three to four hours drive away, the family were growing and demanding of time and so we only saw each other during school holidays when there seemed more time. It suddenly became important to me to say to him what was deep in my heart but I knew it would never work out face to face. So, I wrote him a letter. It was never mentioned until I was alone with him some months later in the hospice and I said to him, ‘I would just like to say how important you are to me.’ He replied, ‘I know, you wrote me a letter.’ That was all either of us needed. I am not sure how I would have coped if I hadn’t written the letter.
What regrets will we have as we are judged by a ‘Father who judges each person’s work impartially’. 1 Peter 1.17 In particular what will we regret not saying in the light of Peter’s conclusion to the quote to, ‘live out our time as foreigners here in reverent fear’? When Peter and Paul are writing they are addressing believers individually but they are also speaking to the church as a whole and expecting the church to respond and act as one whole entity. Paul uses the biblical analogy of the church being the body of Christ and Peter of the church as a spiritual building. How good is the modern church at being a unified body or building directing its energies in a collective ‘declaring the praises’ of him who saved us.
The declaring of praises is much more than singing worship songs and prayer in the confines of a church building or home group. It is the obedience to the great commission to, ‘Go 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.’ Matthew 28.19,20 There are three broad strategies to achieve this, each one essential. Holiness of life, that is a life set apart overcoming sin that makes us aliens in our own world. Good works that are derived from God’s grace towards us. The proclamation of the gospel. The church is called to be at one in all three areas. Which if any do you struggle with? God has done all that is necessary for us to be obedient. All three in their own ways declare the praises of him but perhaps the one we may most regret when meeting our God is whether we have shared the gospel with others.
God has empowered the church through the gift of the Holy Spirit.
He has equipped the church for the work of ministry through the, ‘apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers.’ Ephesians 4.11
He has given the church the identity and authority to convey the word of God and make disciples. 1 Peter 2.9
In that case why is the modern church frequently so reluctant and ineffective in reaching people with the gospel? Here are some thoughts to address what is for God a vital issue.
Follow the money – How much of the churches resources (people, time, money, events, prayer) go into reaching out to people with the gospel.Training and equipping – How does the church equip itself to communicate the gospel in helping people understand the gospel, the questions people ask, the ways to listen, explain, mentor and coach people who do not yet believe?
Invitations – How often and how many are invited to join in with the family of God. It can be small social gatherings, films, quizzes, courses, individual bible reading, church services.
The attention we give to make the Christian life understandable – From what is done in church to why Christians make different decisions.
Engaging with the market place – The apostles met people where they were, by a river, in the street, in a place of worship, in a community hall, in people’s houses, all with the deliberate intent to share the gospel. Where do people meet now with an open mind?
Friendship – Have we ever asked a friend to come to a Christian function or do we think it will hurt the friendship? Have we ever explained to a friend why we believe and why it is so important to us?
What regrets will we have as we meet our Father?
Here I am Lord
The house that speaks. 1 Peter 2.4-12
When the church comes together whose church is it? It is easy to become possessive over a church and the reasons for going can be strongly about oneself. Church leaders can easily adopt a position where they say this is my church and what I say goes. It is my vision and if you do not agree then go somewhere else. Another might say, it is where I have been for a long time and it is what I like and there should be no change. Some might go as long as the music is what they want. Others may decide based on the version of the bible that is used in preaching. Many go because their friends go and leave if their friends are not there. Some go because of the children, others leave because of the children. At the heart of much of this decision making is a consumer mindset and it exposes a limited and reduced view of the church. It answers the question, ‘whose church is it’ by saying it is mine. Peter answers the question by saying it is God’s and God’s with a massively larger vision than any one person or group of people may conceive of, at any one time or in any one place.
It is God who chooses the people, 1 Peter 2.4 not the church leadership. God who made Jesus the keynote foundation of his church. v 2.4 God who made the church a new race. v 2.10 God who appointed the roles to the church. v 2.9 Crucially it was God who showed mercy to those who had not known mercy, that is ourselves. v 2.10 God is not a brick in the house we are building, we are the bricks in his house if we come to him through Jesus. ‘As you come to him, a living stone rejected by men in the sight of God chosen and precious, you yourselves like living stones are being built up as a spiritual house, to be a holy priesthood, to offer spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ..’ v 2.4,5 Through Jesus Christ, God has made the church the new temple and the new nation that is his medium for declaring the goodness and glory of God through the life of the believers and the gospel.
This is priestly work in terms of worshiping God, interceding for others and teaching his word. Peter explains that the church belongs to God to declare its own salvation and the salvation that is for all who have faith in him. The church is to, ‘proclaim the excellencies of him who called you out of darkness into his marvelous light.’ V 2.9 The declaring of his excellencies is to be by word and life. God keeps these in balance. To do this we need to recognize that we are not to conform to the pattern of life in the surrounding non-believing culture and to overcome those inner desires that as Peter puts it, ‘wages against your soul.’ v 2.11 The Holy Spirit will make us very well aware of these desires of the ‘flesh’ through the word of God (Scripture). Clearly Peter’s meaning is more than simply abstinence, that is the avoiding of things, it is the positive outworking of good deeds. v 2.12 The reason for this is to make evident what God has done and bring him glory.
Changing our view of belonging to the church to perceive it through the eyes of God leads on to a radical change of motivation and life. How does being part of a chosen race, priesthood and nation challenge us regarding our future?
How does our part of the spiritual house of God speak to the world that has not yet received mercy?
Cornerstone – Hillsong Live
Brotherly love 1 Peter 1.21-2.3
How different is belonging to a church from belonging to any other group? The question matters not just for the sake of those who belong to a church, it matters for the sake of the gospel and it matters for the glory of God. Problems in relationships within the church often lead people to take the view that faith is private, their relationship with God is individual and not connected with other believers. Some say they have no need of church. Poor relationships within a church become known in the community and become a barrier to others accepting the validity of Christian teachings because they see a disconnect between what is said and how the church behaves. Christians at times place their own ego and wants above the interests of the gospel and the glory of Christ.
At the same time we are all in need of genuine brotherly or sisterly love. Everyone thrives in a loving environment, however understanding the appropriate way to show love is also crucial. It is easy to take modes of expressing love from one’s surrounding culture and assume that is Christ-like love. Examples of inappropriate behaviour repeatedly occurred in the early church as it does in the modern church. This brings into focus what is distinctive about the ‘sincere brotherly love’ that Peter refers to.
At the heart of this issue is Christ’s perspective. It is through him that Christians, ‘are believers in God, who raised him from the dead and gave him glory, so that your faith and hope are in God.’ 1 Peter 1.21 The object of Jesus’ sacrifice and resurrection are both God’s glory and our faith and hope in God. At that point then when we have trusted in the saving work of Jesus, God has purified our souls. ‘Having purified your souls by your obedience to the truth …’ v22a Purified means cleansing or washing but also in the context of 1 Peter it also has the Old Testament meaning of being set apart or dedicated to God. In verse 1.2 Peter tells the churches they have been, ‘sanctified of the Spirit, (purified) for obedience to Jesus Christ (set apart). Having been set apart for obedience or discipleship they are now aliens in their own country. They belong to a new spiritual kingdom. They have been born again into a new family, the family of God. Belonging to this family through Jesus Christ is the source of their brotherly love. Obedience to Jesus is expressed through obedience to the gospel of word of God. v 1.23
It is the word of God that is the seed of eternal (imperishable) life. This new birth brings forth a new and pure heart, set apart or sanctified to God. Brotherly love then comes from obedience and a sanctified heart. Your old life Peter explains will wither and die but your new life brought about by the word of the Lord remains forever. vv 1.24,25
What is this loving new life like? Peter explains it initially in terms of changes that need to be made in their personal and collective life. Put away he says, ‘all malice and all deceit and hypocrisy and envy and all slander.’ v2.1 These are challenging principles because they take away many of the protections we create around ourselves and make us vulnerable in our relationships. They mean we do not massage the truth so that it appears personally more favourable. It means that groupings within a church that plot against another group are not acceptable. It means being careful in the way we talk so that we do not claim things that are untrue. It challenges our motivation for what we say and do so that we allow others to prosper even if there is a personal cost. It means being open and honest in a way that shows love rather than self-interest. Our desire instead should be for the word of God so that the whole church matures in its spiritual life. We have already experienced the goodness of God through his love for us and want that to be the way we are. V2.2
I will be my brother’s keeper
A Holiness Mindset 1 Peter 1,10-20
Holy isn’t a word that one hears too much these days. When it is used it is often in regard to the exotic, a personal special place or object. It is defined by the individual, a cricket fan might call the Lords pitch their holy ground. Sometimes it is linked to a personal aspiration and is termed their holy grail meaning the goal at the end of a quest. Historically holiness has been linked to pilgrimage and it still is for some Christians, particularly Orthodox and Catholic traditions but is now perhaps more associated with other world faiths. The idea that it is God who determines what is holy is central to the Christian faith and other theistic religions but is at odds with common western world views that are rooted in materialism or relativism that emphasize individual independence.
Peter makes holiness a main theme in his letter. He repeats God’s command in Leviticus 19.44, ‘But just as he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do; for it is written: “Be holy, because I am holy”. 1 Pet 1.15,16 Holiness is defined by the nature of God himself. But is that realistic and how do we go about being holy? Wouldn’t that make one into some kind of oddball? How can one possibly live a normal life and be holy? It does sound rather medieval and completely out of touch with modern life. It is a big topic but Peter in the second half of the first chapter does provide some starting points that are not odd but have a lot to do with one’s mindset.
The believer has always been in the mind of God as he prepared salvation. The Spirit of Christ inspired the Old Testament prophets to point to the coming of Jesus as Messiah. 1 Pet 1.10 A key understanding to start the walk of holiness is grasping that one has always been in the mind of God but more than that, each one of us is so valued and loved that it was always his intention that Jesus would through suffering bring about salvation. Jesus’ death and resurrection followed by his return to glory was never a spontaneous event, it was a matter of pure deliberate love. As post resurrection Christians we have been in the privileged position of having the good news (or gospel) explained to us. The wonder of it is so great, Peter says, ‘Even Angels long to look into these things.’ 1 Pet 1.12 Closely associated with holiness is awe, as we increasingly grasp the depth of God’s love for us then awe of God will grow.
Peter says in the light of this, prepare your minds for action, be sober minded and, ‘set your hope fully on the grace that will be brought to you at the revelation of Jesus Christ.’ 1 Pet 1.13 Being holy then is a deliberate thing, one must be resolute and determined, crucially in being like Jesus in one’s attitudes involves positively embracing godliness and rejecting passions that once controlled one’s life. As Peter goes on to say, ‘As obedient children, do not be conformed to the passions of your former ignorance, but as he who called you is holy, you also be holy in all your conduct.’ 1 Pet 1.15 This is not a colourless drab life, it is filled with love, joy, good relations, peace of mind and fulfilling deeds that are aimed at bringing the good news of the gospel to all in your sphere. As a disciple of Christ one becomes part of a loving, generous community with a common goal.
Disciples of Jesus are in the combined position of being able to know and address Almighty God as Father and at the same time understand that he also is the one who judges impartially. 1 Pet 1.17 That combination of what might feel contradictory understandings makes sense in the light of Jesus’ sacrifice. As we deliberately choose to walk the path of holiness we do so knowing it was Jesus who ransomed us, not a matter of, we pass God’s judgement based upon our own good deeds. Peter reminds us that we were not ransomed with material wealth but, ‘with the precious blood of Christ, like that of a lamb without blemish or spot.’ 1 Pet 1.19 Carrying that knowledge with us helps us to soberly prepare our minds for holiness.
What is your passion?
Holiness – Micah Stampley
The Wind blows where it wishes. 1 Peter 1.3-9 and John 3.1-15
We live very close to the coast and the wind plays an important part in our lives. We have just had a four day period of 40mph winds. The wind howls round the front door and the trees whip and twist. Young plants have been torn from the ground and established trees in the fields are bent permanently in the direction of the prevailing wind. Walking on the beach in shorts becomes painful as the sand blasts the skin below the knee. This last weekend my wife turned to me and said, ‘Look at the wind out there.’ Clearly, we could not see the wind but the effect of the wind was dramatically apparent. Jesus describes the impact of the Holy Spirit on people’s lives in just these terms. ‘The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear it’s sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone born of the Spirit.’ John 3.8
Peter celebrates this spiritual birth, ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ!’ 1 Pet 1.3 Peter is referring back to Jesus’ encounter with Nicodemus a prominent Pharisee and Jewish religious leader, who later came to faith in Jesus and helped with his burial in the tomb. Jesus made clear that just as we have a physical birth, for a relationship with God, there is a need for a spiritual birth. John 3.5-7 This new birth involves being cleansed from one’s old sin driven life and our heart, or inner person, being spiritually renewed. As Paul puts it, ‘He saved us, not because of works done by us in righteousness, but according to his own mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit.
Jesus expresses surprise that this is puzzling to Nicodemus as an Old Testament scholar because it is clearly expressed in Ezekiel 36.25-27 and Joel. 2.28-32 Just as a tree bending in the wind is evidence of the wind so a believer’s life should be evidence of their spiritual new birth. Many look for dramatic spiritual signs as evidence of the Spirit’s work but the most significant signs are to be found in changes in the believer’s life. Peter encourages them to live out their new life. ‘Now that you have purified yourselves by obeying the truth so that you have sincere love for each other, love one another deeply, from the heart. For you have been born again, not of perishable seed, but of imperishable, through the living and enduring word of God.’ 1 Pet 1.22.23
Peter explains that this new spiritual birth is due to the believer’s participation in the resurrection of Jesus Christ. 1 Pet 1.3 The new life will not die as our body dies but is an inheritance of eternal life. Once given it is God who keeps it secure and it will become evident in what Peter terms, ‘in the last time’. Peter is encouraging believers to live in the light of this secure hope. The reason Peter wants believers to be secure in this understanding is that it will create resilience in times of trouble. Resilience here is more than simply bearing suffering, the knowledge of God’s eternal promises will bring about joy during suffering. ‘In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials.’ 1 Pet 1.6
New birth has led to resurrection hope and rejoicing in times of trouble, resisting sin, and this in turn brings glory to Jesus Christ. ‘These (troubles) have come so that the proven genuineness of your faith – of greater worth than gold, which perishes even though refined by fire – may result in praise, glory and honour when Jesus Christ is revealed. 1 Pet 1.7
Peter is the one who has seen for himself the suffering, resurrection and ascension of Jesus and heard his teaching. Time now has passed and the letters’ recipients have only heard about Jesus, they have the Old Testament writings but as yet they would have limited, incomplete collections of New Testament gospels and letters. It was therefore very important for the churches to hear firsthand from those who lived with Jesus. Even so, Peter is excited by the evidence of their new birth through the Spirit. He shares with them the joy of their salvation. How lovely that he is thrilled by their salvation and is rejoicing for others. ‘Though you have not seen him, you love him; and even though you do not see him now, you believe in him and are filled with an inexpressible and glorious joy, for you are receiving the end result of your faith, the salvation of your souls.’ 1 Pet 1.8
How much would others see in our lives evidence of new birth as the wind can be seen in the trees?
Who are we rejoicing with that though they have not seen him, they love him and are filled with joy as a result of their faith and salvation of their souls.?
Power of your love
You’ve got mail. 1 Peter 1.1-2
I was standing on my drive last week when a delivery driver appeared from behind the front hedge with the words, ‘Are you Andrea Williams?’ Now I am six foot, over weight, balding, with a beard and male. ‘Yep’ I replied. He seemed a little unsure so he pressed me for more detail. ‘Are you number three?’ Now as far as I know my mother only had two children and I was the second, but I assured him I was number three any way, just to get the whole thing over with. ‘This is for you then’, he said and thrust a small parcel in my hand. I’ve been had like this before and given post that wasn’t for me and ended up walking the local streets trying to find the real recipient, so I checked which delivery firm he worked for. He threw back over his shoulder the name of the highest valued company in the world (other possibly more ethical internet providers are available) as he rapidly disappeared from sight. Mildly amusing as that interchange was it succeeded in establishing who the post had come from and if it had arrived at the intended recipient, which broadly is what the opening sentences of 1 Peter does as well.
Peter wrote this letter close to the end of his life, around A.D. 62-64, he was probably in Rome. He was one of the most well known of the apostles with a special commission from Jesus to, ‘Feed my Sheep.’ John 21.17 This commission, Jesus made clear, was to be a response arising from Peter’s love for Jesus. Peter had a particular role in reaching out to the Jewish community while Paul had a special commission to establish churches amongst the Gentiles (non-Jewish). However, it is a mistake to think that that these roles were exclusive, Peter was the first to have revealed to him that the same baptism of the Holy Spirit was for Gentiles as it was for Jewish converts and Paul always started his outreach in a new town by going to the synagogue and preaching to the Jews.
Peter starts his letter by stating he is Peter, a sent one or messenger, from Jesus Christ. In fact, no one knew Jesus better than Peter. He went through every grueling moment of Jesus ministry, death and resurrection by the side of Jesus. He knew Jesus’ love and rebukes. He saw Jesus in all his miraculous glory, he saw his tortured body. He witnessed Jesus’ healing touch and then healed people himself in Jesus’ name. He welcomed Jesus into his home and saw him heal his mother in law. He walked with Jesus for three years over the whole landscape of Palestine. He saw Jesus disappear in the clouds following his resurrection promising to return. He ate fish with him, that Jesus had cooked, after Jesus’ crucifixion. He listened to every word of Jesus’ teaching. He had walked on water towards Jesus in the middle of a tempestuous storm and then lost faith so Jesus had to grasp him and save his life. He had been imprisoned for speaking about Jesus’ resurrection and then been miraculously released from shackles and prison. He had experienced the grace of God in a way that few could compare with. Peter was a man who learnt the hard way but there was nobody who had greater claim to say they were an apostle of Jesus Christ. So, receiving a letter from Peter for any church was a massively significant moment.
The letter was for circulation around the churches of Asia Minor or what is now Turkey. In his initial greeting to the elect exiles of the Dispersion the ‘elect’ are the chosen of God in the same way as Israel was the chosen people of God in the Old Testament. He is signifying that the church is now God’s people, called by God, to be his body living distinctively and bearing the good news of Jesus to the world. In the second sentence Peter introduces one of the key themes of his letter, the notion that God’s people are exiles. From now on their allegiances are to the kingdom of God and they are now strangers to the culture of the world that they have been called out of. Jesus consistently taught about the kingdom of God and then established it through his death and resurrection and on his ascension being enthroned as the King. The kingdom became the dispersed people who God had sanctified through the Holy Spirit. v2 Sanctification here is referring both to the initial conversion of the believer and also to the progressive changes the believer experiences as they learn to live more like Christ. This is the life of discipleship or as Peter describes it here, obedience to Jesus Christ. This new relationship with God is only possible because by faith the Christian has benefited from forgiveness from sin because of Jesus taking the consequences of the believer’s sin through his death. Peter describes this as being sprinkled with his blood.
In these ways Peter establishes at the beginning of his letter, who he is and who he is writing to. He then prays for their continued experience of God’s blessing in experiencing God’s mercy and peace. Peace here is not only a sense of inner peace, it is peace in terms of their relationship with God, not being estranged from him and in fact being positively in harmony with him. The opening of Peter’s letter also makes clear that the believer’s relationship is with the full Trinity, as he describes the foreknowledge of God the Father, the sanctification of the Spirit and obedience to Jesus Christ.
Have we made that first step of obedience to Jesus Christ and therefore joined the Kingdom of God?
Do we experience the continuing sanctification of the Spirit that enables us to become more like Jesus?
What a Beautiful Name – Hillsong Worship
Presence makes the heart grow fonder. Psalm 61
David opens the psalm a long way from Jerusalem and the tent of meeting. v4 It felt like being at the end of the earth although he was probably just over Israel’s border. He was in the need of God’s presence to be his place of refuge. He was experiencing a time of spiritual weakness as well as probably a threat to his life. Although the tent of meeting was the holy place where the ark of the covenant was placed the God of Israel was not contained by geography. Psalm 139 makes this clear, ‘Where shall I go from your Spirit? Or where shall I flee from your presence? If I ascend to heaven you are there! If I make my bed in Sheol, you are there. Psalm 139.7,8 David felt safe in the presence of God in a similar way that being in the presence of someone who you love provides a sense of safety. A sense of safety is an important aspect of love, it is why we hold someone who is frightened and why we hold the hand of a loved one in their dying moments.
The central verses of the psalm, either side of ‘Selah’ carry the heart of this psalm’s message. It is the importance of spending time in the presence of God. ‘Let me dwell in your tent forever!’ v4 says David. He wants to be close to God not only for refuge but also because he shares the inheritance of all those who fear God. Because he loves God he loves being with God. Absence isn’t making his heart grow fonder, the continuing presence of God grows his love. He enjoys God and enjoys obeying God. The Old Testament and especially the psalms are full of verses that thrill at being in the presence of God. ‘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’. Psalm 84.1,2
In Jesus we have a perfected model of desiring to be in the presence of God. Jesus showed and taught his disciples the importance of spending time quietly in God’s presence. When the twelve disciples excitedly returned to Jesus after he had sent them out to preach the Kingdom of God, he said to them, ‘Come away with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest’. Mark 6.31
Spending time in God’s presence enables the disciple to resist sin as Jesus showed in the wilderness after his baptism. Persistent sin frequently damages Christians’ ongoing relationship with God and limits the effectiveness of their lives. David links time spent in God’s presence with the keeping of his vows. ‘For you, O God, have heard my vows; you have given me the heritage of those who fear your name.’ v5 Again in verse 8, ‘So will I sing praises to your name, as I perform my vows day after day.’
Time in God’s presence also builds hope. David expresses such hope for himself but at the same time moves into prophetic verse concerning the coming King, the Messiah, as he talks about being enthroned forever before God. vv 6,7 Hope is a vital part of the Christian life, it is rooted in the promises of God and the death and resurrection of Jesus. Hope produces resilience. When Peter was writing to the churches at the time of Nero and rapidly escalating persecution he wanted them to grasp the hope they had in Christ. He wrote, ‘Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade.’ 1 Peter 1.3,4 Later he called them to come into Jesus’ presence to be built up into the people of God that God desires. ‘As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ.’ 1 Peter 2.4,5
Have we regularly built into our life time to, ‘come away and be with Him’?
Do we allow ourselves time to enjoy being in the presence of God and celebrating the hope that is within us?
Living hope – Phil Wickham
Discipline is like worm medicine Psalm 60 and 2 Samuel 8
As a parent what was the worst fight you had with your child, or perhaps it was the other way round? In our household it was over worm medicine. Worms are a topic that most of us prefer not to mention in public but something a lot of us have had to deal with in private. I am not sure if children lock on to parents’ tension over this. I remember vividly the semi-secret whispered request over the pharmacy counter if they stock medicine for worms and then the absolutely toe-curling embarrassment as the pharmacist loudly proclaims the whole family must take the treatment. I was then told not to worry as it was a delicious strawberry flavour. The truth is the taste of the medicine was revolting and nothing at all like strawberries. As dutiful parents we made a show of cheerfully swallowing our dose. The first child opened their mouth and spat it across the room. There then began one of the biggest family scenes I remember that ended with our rolling around on the floor with our child trying to wrestle a spoonful of medicine into him. It was a ridiculous humiliation of parenthood, easily rectified the next day by buying tablets crushed into copious quantities of jam. God’s discipline of his people is like worm medicine, unwanted and unpleasant but good for you.
Psalm 60 relates to a time when David was defending Israel against invasion on multiple fronts and is described in 2 Samuel 8. The enemies were the Philistines, Moabites and Edomites. David believed God who had promised to go with the Israelites into battle had left them v10 and it was God who had previously given them victory. The nation had in some way rejected God and now they were experiencing his discipline by God removing his presence from them. It had become a national emergency, so David prayed, ‘You have rejected us, God, and burst upon us; you have been angry – now restore us! You have shaken the land and torn it open; mend its fractures, for it is quaking. You have shown your people desperate times; you have given us wine that makes us stagger.’ vv 1-3 Some might interpret a psalm like this today as God causing a pandemic to punish countries for sinful disobedience and rejection of God; in much the same way as some said Aids was God’s punishment against homosexuality. This I believe is an entirely false understanding of scripture. The Old Testament should be read in the light of Jesus’ life, sacrificial death, teaching and example.
David responded appropriately, as the representative of God’s people he threw himself entirely on God’s mercy. ‘Save us and help us with your right hand, that those who you love may be delivered.’ v5 God’s reply was that he was not only the God of Israel, he was also God over all nations. vv 6-8 David then faced up to the fact that the nation had become proud and thought they could achieve victories without God’s help. He confessed their own helplessness to do so and their need of God. ‘Give us aid against the enemy, for human help is worthless. With God we will gain the victory, and he will trample down our enemies’. vv 11,12
The New Testament reveals there are still times when God needs to discipline his people. Not this time in national battles as his people are now spread across the nations. No this is a battle for holiness. In Revelation 2 and 3 the risen Christ addresses words of discipline to seven churches located in modern Turkey. He repeatedly opens his words with, ‘I know your deeds’. God’s discipline was addressed to the local church as a whole and formed from his intimate knowledge of the church. He both affirms their obedience and details their failings. He cautions the church in Ephesus, ‘Consider how far you have fallen! Repent and do the things you did at first. If you do not repent, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place.’ Rev 2.5 The Spirit would withdraw from the church and it would die. The church in Laodicea had become like Israel in Psalm 60, self-dependent and not trusting in God. The Spirit warned them of the risk of their losing his presence, ‘Because you are lukewarm – neither hot not cold – I am about to spit you out of my mouth. You say, ‘I am rich; I have acquired wealth and do not need a thing. But you do not realize that you are wretched, pitiful, poor, blind and naked. I counsel you to buy from me gold refined in the fire … Here I am! I stand at the door and knock. If anyone hears my voice and opens the door, I will come in and eat with that person, and they with me.’ Rev 3.16-20
God’s discipline in both the Old and New Testaments is relational.
How much do we prize our relationship with God?
Have we experienced God’s discipline in our lives reflected in our relationship with him?
Do we grasp the grace of God in always wanting to restore our relationship with him.
I will offer up my life – Matt Redman
That’s the sixth time you’ve tried to kill me.
Psalm 59 and 1 Samuel 19
The events that inspired Psalm 59 were getting David down. I can hear him shouting, ‘This is the sixth time you have tried to kill me. It is getting beyond a joke.’ 1 Samuel 19 sets out the series of events. Saul was overtaken by jealousy as he was repeatedly faced by David’s greater success in battle and popularity with the masses. Jonathan, David’s best friend and son of Saul, reasoned with Saul that, ‘the lord worked a great salvation for all Israel. You saw it and rejoiced. Why then will you sin against innocent blood by killing David without cause?’ 1 Sam 19.5 Jonathan temporarily brought about reconciliation between Saul and David. However, the war season came again and David led a major victory over the Philistines. Saul could stand it no longer and when David was playing his lute to sooth the King, Saul picked up his spear and tried to pin David to the wall, making it the fifth time Saul attempted to murder David. David dodged and escaped fleeing to his own house.
Saul sent men to watch David’s house with the intent of arresting and killing him in the morning. David’s wife, Michal warned David and helped him escape through a window. She then tried the old escape from prison trick of making up a dummy in his bed to look like him to give David time to escape. When Saul’s men arrived in the morning to take David to Saul she claimed he was sick and in bed. Saul’s response to his men was bring him in his bed. Once Michal’s deception was exposed Saul challenged his daughter Michal as to why she should help his enemy escape. Michal then lied to protect herself saying that David had threatened her life.
David made good his escape and reached Samuel the prophet. Saul ordered his men to pursue David but as they approached David’s hideout, at Ramah, they were overcome by the Spirit of God and started prophesying. What is meant here by prophesying is uncertain but may well have meant, praising God. Three times Saul gave the same instructions and each time his men were overcome by prophesying. Saul gave up and went himself only to find he also was overwhelmed by prophesy and spent an entire day lying naked and repentant before Samuel, prophesying.
This incredible account explains the extreme language used by David in the psalm. He pleads for God’s protection. ‘Deliver me from my enemies, O my God; protect me from those who rise up against me; deliver me from those who work evil and save me from bloodthirsty men.’ David was not innocent of all sin, but he was innocent of what Saul had charged him with. vv 3,4 For David, Saul’s persistent henchmen were the howling dogs, prowling the city. v6,14 David’s repeated escapes were for him a clear demonstration of God’s protection, although as he wrote the words describing God’s deliverance he may well have also been drawing on other later experiences in his reign as well. ‘But you, O Lord, laugh at them; you hold all the nations in derision. O my Strength I will watch for you, for you, O God, are my fortress. My God in his steadfast love will meet me; God will let me look in triumph on my enemies. vv 8-10
How, you may ask, can this psalm possibly relate to a twenty first century Christian experience? Who can possibly be relentlessly chased down with their life threatened because of their faith in Jesus? Sadly, we see many in those circumstances seeking asylum and refuge in Britain today. There are those who have fled countries controlled by ruthless gangs because their faith will not let them comply with the gang’s criminal demands. Others who by criminal gangs have been enslaved and transported into another country for prostitution, domestic servitude or economic enslavement. Many were either Christian at the point of being captured or tricked, or have become Christians since. There are churches significantly growing where men and women have escaped certain arrest, torture or execution for confessing Christ in their country of origin. Once here, even if given permission to stay, it does not mean that the gangs, families or authorities have given up on taking their revenge.
But we can join with them as they worship when they reach a place of relative safety using David’s words, ‘But I will sing of your strength; I will sing aloud of your steadfast love in the morning. For you have been to me a fortress and a refuge in the day of my distress. O my Strength, I will sing praises to you, for you, O God, are my fortress, the God who shows me steadfast love. vv 16,17
Is there someone who needs our time, love and patience to listen to their story as well as our intercessions?
How long – Stuart Townend
Not even your wife likes you!!!! Psalm 58
The above protest poster was held high by a woman in a crowd of thousands as a head of state visited a Scottish golf course. I added the exclamation marks as they are a signature feature of the head of state’s own memes. Humour, cuts sharpest, when there is an element of shock and potential truth. But that is mild compared to Psalm 58 where all humour has fallen away leaving only truth that is brutally vitriolic. The words are aimed at those with wealth and power who wield both to their own advantage, simultaneously oppressing others. The objects of David’s condemnation are rulers or as the ESV scathingly translates, ‘you gods’. v1
Psalm 58 has been controversial, even made optional in the Anglican 1980 service book, because of the strength of its language, especially verses 6 to 9. The language is strong, these are words that no western politician would expect to get away with. David appeals to God to break the teeth of unjust rulers and then tear them out of their mouths. He wants God to make them disappear, compares them to slugs and a still born child. He wants swift and total judgement that sweeps them from power and even life.
However, a further statement that has caused offence, ‘the righteous will be glad when they dip their feet in the blood of the wicked’ v10 is not a celebration of personal revenge. The imprecatory psalms (of which this is one) leave judgement to God. But it does recognize there is a battle and the godly are involved in it and the righteous will be pleased with God’s victory. v11
This psalm makes clear that when people are not treated with equity then that is wicked and to be opposed. ‘Do you judge people with equity? No, in your heart you devise injustice, and your hands mete out violence on the earth.’ vv1,2 We are called to be godly in what we do and say. A core part of our calling is to campaign for justice and oppose injustice. This can take place within a political party structure but there is an increasing trend for campaigning to be cause specific and there are many causes that Christians and churches as a whole could actively support. They do not all have to be specifically Christian causes such as the persecution of Christians across the world, they can and should also be issues that impact the well-being of all e.g. modern slavery, Black lives matter and the impact on the world’s poorest of global warming.
Christian Aid is currently campaigning for debt relief for the poorest countries so that they have finances to fight the Coronavirus. Burkino Faso a country of 19 million has 11 ventilators, Sierra Leone has no intensive care beds in the hospitals. You can add your voice for debt relief here – https://www.christianaid.org.uk/campaigns/debt-jubilee-petition .
Tearfund is campaigning to clear up the plastics in the ocean which impacts on many poor people’s livelihoods. Increasing the proportion of global aid spent on waste management to 3% would more than halve the quantities of plastics entering the oceans and improve poor communities’ health. More than two billion people have no waste collection, meaning their rubbish ends up being burned or dumped in places like rivers and oceans. Tearfund are campaigning for global companies to take responsibility for the waste arising from their profits. You can join the campaign here – https://www.tearfund.org/about_you/action/
As a disciple of Jesus, do you recognise a responsibility to speak up and act for justice?
How can you help your church actively promote justice?
God of Justice (We Must Go) – Tim Hughes https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b3NelRb1LY4
Sharing in the glory Psalm 57
There was a time when caves figured large in David’s life. (See the title) Life had not improved much since Psalm 56 when David had escaped from the Philistines in Gath. He fled to the cave of Adullam where his brothers and a general band of discontents joined him, but Saul returned from fighting off another Philistine attack with 3000 of the fittest men, to finally hunt David down, while David and his followers were hiding near the Crags of the Wild Goats. At that point David and some of his men were sheltering at the back of a large cave when Saul entered the cave to relieve himself. Despite urging from his men David refused to seize his chance to kill Saul because he honoured him as the Lord’s anointed. Instead he crept up and cut off a piece of Saul’s cloak without his knowledge. A trick fit for a pick pocket in Oliver Twist. When Saul left the cave, David called after him from a safe distance, waving the piece of the cloak and demonstrating that he had spared Saul. Saul temporarily repented of his pursuit of David and recognized that David would succeed him as King.
Psalm 57 begins as a lament vv 1-4 and ends in praise. vv 6-11 David has grown in confidence as he shelters under God’s wings. v2 It is not that his troubles, even the threat to his life, have gone away but he has seen evidence of the Lord’s protection. The threats are real, both physical from the weapons of Saul’s army and accusatory from those, ‘whose tongues are sharp swords’. v4 It is God who vindicates him v2 and so he gives glory to God in verse 5 and repeats it in the concluding verse 11. ‘Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.’ David bursts in to a song of praise, vv 6-11 which gives God the glory for his salvation.
The theme of giving God the glory and living for God’s glory is repeatedly picked up in the New Testament. Jesus said, ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’. Matthew 5.16 Jesus again linked his disciples lives with God’s glory in John 15.8, ‘By this my Father is glorified, that you bear much fruit and so prove to be my disciples’. Jesus demonstrated how obedience to the Father brought glory to God and the Father would in turn glorify him. ‘I glorify you on earth, having accomplished the work that you gave me to do. And now, Father, glorify me in your presence with the glory that I had with you before the world existed.’ John 17.4,5
Later the apostles made clear how disciples of Jesus lives ought to bring glory to God. Peter instructed, ‘As each has received a gift, use it to serve one another, as good servants of God’s varied grace: whoever speaks, as one who speaks oracles of God; whoever serves, as one who serves by the strength that God supplies – in order that in everything God may be glorified through Jesus Christ. To him belong glory and dominion forever and ever.’ 1Peter 4.10,11 Paul made clear that even in the smallest things we do we ought to act in a way that brings glory to God, protecting the faith of the most vulnerable in their faith. In Corinth, meat bought at the market had previously been dedicated in some way by the butchers to a pagan god. Paul said if he eats in thankfulness to God, then his conscience is clear. However, if it becomes an obstacle to another believer then do not eat it because the greater good is in not undermining the faith of another. In all our lives we are to live for the sake of the gospel that bring glory to Jesus Christ and God the Father. In that way we can join with David in singing, Be exalted, O God, above the heavens; let your glory be over all the earth.’
In time of trouble, do we take refuge in the shadow of the wings of the Father?
Do we draw upon the strength God supplies to live our lives in ways that glorify him through Jesus Christ?
To God be the glory – (For traditional worship)
Michael W. Smith – King of Glory ft. CeCe Winans (For full throated modern worship)
Walking in the light of life Psalm 56
When darkness is its most complete we feel the need for even the smallest amount of light. Darkness has the capacity to make us feel completely surrounded and yet absolutely alone. It makes our next step uncertain and can leave us directionless. It connects to our most primitive instincts, our other senses become heightened and our safety becomes our dominant concern. These things were all David’s experience at the time of Psalm 56. No wonder darkness and light are such powerful images in the bible. For those who are conscious of surrounding darkness in their life these are the words Jesus said to the people, ‘I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will never walk in darkness, but will have the light of life’, echoing the closing words of Psalm 56.
Life’s darkness is made worse when accompanied by loneliness and I find it difficult to think of a time when loneliness has been a greater issue than over the last few months of lock down. Psalm 56 describes David’s intimate conversation with God at an all-time low. David, described his life to Jonathan as, ‘only a step between me and death,’ 1 Samuel 20.3 as Saul was determined to kill him. David had fled Israel alone and sought refuge in Gath the home town of his historic enemy Goliath, carrying Goliath’s own sword. There he stood before Achish, king of the Philistines, while Achish’s servants reminded the king of the Israelite chant, ‘Saul has slain his thousands, and David his tens of thousands’. 1 Samuel 21.11 The tens of thousands being Philistines. To Achish, David was a prize hostage. It is in the light of that we can understand David’s opening plea and prayer to God. ‘Be gracious to me, O God, for man tramples on me; all day long an attacker oppresses me; my enemies trample on me all day long, for many attack me proudly.’ Vv 1,2
We do not have to be in fear of a sudden and violent death to experience extreme darkness and loneliness. Sometimes darkness can make us incapable of even uttering a prayer but David does an important thing, he admits he is afraid and in his fear he voices his trust in God, however weakly. ‘When I am afraid, I put my trust in you.’ v3 Why do I say weakly? Because he does what we are all liable to do and reverts immediately to focusing again on his troubles in detail. Although he says, he will not be afraid and in God he trusts, his trust is fragile. To escape Achish, he feigns madness and goes into an elaborate act of desperation. His behaviour is not that of a faith filled man of God.
David’s enemies and risks are two-fold, they come from his own people and the Philistines. He wants God to keep a close eye on both and hold them to account. Faith does grow though as he turns to God’s word. ‘In God, whose word I praise, in God I trust; I shall not be afraid. What can man do to me?’ vv 9,10
David does two things. He remembers his vows to God and he trusts God’s word. v12 For the Christian we may remember a time when we made a commitment to follow Christ, that time when our promise became a life-long promise and we took Jesus at his word. That was when it was God who, ‘delivered my soul from death.’ v13 From then on his word reveals the light of our life – Jesus, who is the light of life.
How disciplined are we in understanding God’s word so we can walk in the light of life?
Thy word – Amy Grant
The enemy within the kingdom
Psalm 55 2 Corinthians 11 & 1 Corinthians 3
‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. You will recognize them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? So, every healthy tree bears good fruit, but the diseased tree bears bad fruit. A healthy tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a diseased tree bear good fruit. Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Thus you will recognize them by their fruits.’ Matthew 7.15-20 ESV
For the Christian one of the most emotional and spiritually painful times can be when division occurs within the church or the ‘Kingdom of God’. Psalm 55 has much to say on this topic. Typically, division arises around personalities but it can also occur because of differences over aspects of theology or the way the church expresses itself. Where it does happen things other than the glory of Christ have risen to the dominant place in peoples’ minds. In David’s time the kingdom of God was a nation ruled by a king under God and division was rebellion against the king.
Frequently when David orders his thoughts and communion with God into a psalm he carefully constructs poetry according to ancient Hebrew literary conventions. Here it appears emotion has taken over and the psalm jumps around as he pours his heart out before God which in itself captures the level of upset he feels. ‘Listen to my prayer, O God, do not ignore my plea; hear me and answer me. My thoughts trouble me and I am distraught … Fear and trembling have beset me; horror has overwhelmed me.’ vv 1,2,5 David, as king, lived in a time when each year brought round the season for war. He was not afraid of conflict with other nations and he had repeated evidence of God’s faithfulness to him in such situations. What was different this time was the enemy was once the closest of friends, one of his own. ‘But it is you, a man like myself, with whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship at the house of God, as we walked about among worshipers.’ vv 13,15 We do not know who this enemy is, perhaps the closest match to the description is Absalom although whilst the psalm identifies him as a close friend it does not call him a son. Absalom was however a very smooth talker whilst plotting to forcibly overthrow his father, v23 Conspiracy was rife in the walled capital of Jerusalem with, ‘Destructive forces at work in the city; threats and lies never leaving its streets’. v 11 Arrogance has replaced a fear of God and the enemy defies the covenant God has made. v 20 It could be said that similar things can occur within a church when division strikes and historically it accurately describes the church when politics and religion have become so closely entwined they could not be separated.
David’s initial reaction is to flee, leave behind the boiling city and find solace in the wilderness. ‘Oh, that I had the wings of a dove! I would fly away and be at rest. I would flee far away and stay in the desert’. vv 6,7 David prays that confusion will fall upon his enemies, bringing to mind the tower of Babel and in various ways he calls for God’s judgement on them. The psalm ends with a lesson to himself. ‘Cast your cares on the Lord and he will sustain you; he will never let the righteous be shaken … but as for me, I trust in you’. vv 22,23b
The Corinthian church, as an expression of the kingdom of God, early in its life experienced division of two types. Firstly, by dividing itself according to the teacher people favoured instead of faithfulness to the gospel, or as Paul expresses it, the wisdom of God as opposed to the wisdom of this world. 1 Corinthians 3 Then in 2 Corinthians 11 Paul severely warns against teachers who change the gospel for personal gain. He calls them, ‘deceitful workmen, disguising themselves as apostles of Christ.’ 2 Corinthians 11.13 Psalm 55 provides a helpful analysis of the fruit of such teaching and Jesus words in Matthew 7 tells us to look beyond ‘smooth talking’ to the fruit of their words and life.
How are we able to check that we are living a gospel centred life?
Jesus Paid It All – Kim Walker-Smith
What’s in a name? Psalm54 and 1 Samuel 23. 14-28
The setting for this short psalm is the wild desert area east of the town of Ziph, south east of Hebron in Judah. David and his band of 600 are dodging from one place to another trying to escape Saul and his army. The Ziphites told Saul of David’s whereabouts and Saul asked them for more precise information which they were able to provide. Saul then closed in on David, he was one side of a mountain and David’s men were running away on the other side. Just at that moment Saul received a message that the land was being attacked by Philistines and he broke off to go and meet the new threat. It reads like a film script. Psalm 54 is David’s prayer in the middle of this threat to his and his followers’ lives.
It is quite simply a prayer for help. David’s confidence in God’s help is deliberately and structurally placed in the very centre of the psalm, ‘Surely God is my help, the Lord is the one who sustains me.’ v4 This is a prayer, expressing an inner certainty before he has experienced God’s answer. He cannot know how God will respond or what will actually happen but in the middle of turmoil his trust is in God. In our lives we can easily be overtaken by events and it feels as if they control us and our future. The odds may seem overwhelmingly against us and we can lose hope. This can relate to so many aspects of our lives, our work, relationships, finance or our safety. Things may have got to the place where we have run out of options. God is not a ‘get out of jail free’ card but he is always our help and sustainer. It greatly helps if like David we have known him as our help and sustainer already in our lives. Sometimes we need to reach a point of crisis to turn to him. It is this message that the work of organizations like Christians Against Poverty bring to people when there seems like no hope.
David opened his prayer in the name of God. The name of God represents his authority and power or might. ‘Save me, O God, by your name, vindicate me by your might.’ v1 When I first became a Christian, we frequently sang a chorus that started, ‘In the name of Jesus, in the name of Jesus, we have the victory.’ People have prayed in God’s name throughout scripture. Jesus spoke to the disciples, ‘Whatever you ask in My name, that will I do, so that the Father may be glorified in the Son.’ John 14.13 Peter and John prayed in the name of Jesus of Nazareth for a lame man in Jerusalem’s temple court and he walked. Acts 3.6 If something is prayed in God’s name it clearly must be done so in accordance with his will and authority. The purpose of such prayers is God’s glory. It will also bring joy to his people for they glory in God. In the lame man’s case it caused many to praise God and to come to faith. It did not however prevent continuing persecution of the church from the religious authorities.
David ends his prayer with a promise to praise and offer a sacrifice to God in the form of a freewill offering. ‘I will sacrifice a freewill offering to you; I will praise your name, Lord, for it is good.’ v6 This is in anticipation of the Lord’s deliverance and is therefore an act of faith. Freewill offerings were not linked to the festival calendar but were voluntary and personal. They remain a joyous way Christians worship and give thanks to God for particular blessings. However, for the Christian all giving is to be a matter of freewill and a ‘cheerful heart’ rather than a regulatory requirement.
If you find yourself in a David like position. Is there a prayer you can pray in the name of Jesus?
Love has a name – Jesus Culture
Who is the fool? Psalm 53
We live in an age where the secularist often derides believers in God as anti-intellectual or emotionally immature. On the other hand, believers are frequently dismissive of agnostics or atheists as people who have no hope or basis for moral conduct. One such argument may go, if we are all an accidentally evolved collection of atoms what does it matter what one collection of atoms does to another? A good starting point to think around the philosophical competing views of, ‘Is there a god?’ is Tim Keller’s book, ‘The reason for God,’ or get a quick introduction on his Youtube channel.
Psalm 53 does not take a neutral position as its starting point. The psalmist is quite clear, it is the fool who convinces himself that, ‘There is no God.’ v1 His reason for that is that he (assuming the psalmist is a man) has a pre-existing relationship with God and he draws upon evidence from the past where God had kept his promises. V5 When an existing believer has experienced God at work in their life or in their community it provides a confident basis on which to build personal trust in him and also to give a reason for their faith. It equips one to comply with Peter’s instruction, ‘In your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect.’ 1 Peter 3.15 I would argue that some of the most compelling evidences of God’s existence are the lives changed by Jesus’ saving grace. It is a natural trait to want to jump straight to the bottom line, that is the assertion there is a God, missing out the reason why one would want to do so. In Peter’s case, the reason is his heart condition of revering Christ as Lord. Peter also reminds us of the importance of how we say things as well as what we say. This contrasts somewhat with the psalmist who holds a more confrontational position.
The psalmist looks at the people who have sought to destroy the people of Israel and connects their lack of faith and reverence for God with corruption. ‘They are corrupt, and their ways are vile; for there is no one who does good.’ v1 This is repeated in verse 3 as he imagines God searching for faithful and honest people. The psalmist then draws upon a time when Israel was treated dreadfully by their enemies and suffered greatly filling them with fear. ‘They devour my people as though eating bread; they never call on God. But there they are, overwhelmed with dread where there was nothing to dread. vv4,5a God did however step in and take saving action. ‘God scattered the bones of those who attacked you; you put them to shame, for God despised them. v5b
The psalmist concludes by appealing to Israel to remain faithful to God, in continuing times of trouble. He is looking forward to God’s salvation for his people and the fulfilment of ancient promises. ‘Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When God restores his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad! v6 Salvation did indeed come out of Israel but not as he imagined through military might. It came in the person of Jesus to establish a kingdom through a victory over sin and death. He came as an expression of God’s love for people while they are still rejecting him and pursuing ways that offend him. God’s response to people who say, ‘There is no God,’ was to send Jesus, to show them God. He is and was not what people expect because despite his awesome greatness he came in humility. ‘God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.’ Romans 5.8
Have you ever felt threatened by people through their conduct or aggressive beliefs?
How could you respond in a way that demonstrates your own faith in God that reflects Jesus’ sacrificial humility?
Love in the face of evil Psalm 52 and 1 Samuel 22. 9-23
Corrie ten Boom was a young woman and member of a watch making family in Holland during the Second World War. The whole family hid Jews in their home and helped them escape the Nazis. Eventually they were discovered, arrested and sent to Ravensbruck concentration camp. Four of the family died, Corrie was released through a clerical error and two weeks later all the women in the camp in her age group were killed in gas chambers. Her sister, Betsie, died of ill health (16.12.1944), prior to her death she told Corrie, ‘There is no pit so deep that He [God] is not deeper still.’ The ESV Global Study Bible’s sub title for Psalm 52 is the Steadfast Love of God Endures. A summary of Corrie’s and her family’s lives can be found on, https://www.tenboom.org/about-the-ten-booms/
The opening stanza vv1-4 originally applied to Doeg, the Edomite, who betrayed David and killed a whole family of priests, in total 85, who provided sustenance to David as he was running for his life when threatened by Saul. It equally applies to anybody whether individual or organizational that plans and carries out evil. The psalm characterizes such behaviour as boasting of evil, v1 discussing plans for evil, v2 loving and enjoying evil vv 2,4 lying or being deceitful. v3
God did not prevent Doeg from carrying out his evil actions in conjunction with Saul. The psalm does however say that whatever their temporary prosperity God will judge them and bring about their destruction. v5 The psalm contains the inference that this is an eternal judgement as well as one applied to one’s mortal lifetime. The psalm contrasts David, who made God his refuge, with Doeg who sided with and relied on the rich and powerful.
Verses 8 to 9 contrast the wicked who are ‘uprooted’ with the godly who become like a green olive tree. Olive trees are long lived, up to 500 years, and so the image is of endurance in God’s love. ‘I trust in the steadfast love of God forever and ever.’ v 8 Because the psalmist has such confidence in God’s love he is able to wait in hope. ‘I will wait for your name, for it is good in the presence of the godly.’ v9 Corrie ten Boom was an example of a woman who waited upon the Lord, endured and overcame.
When we are feeling embattled and even find we have enemies, are we able to wait for the Lord?
Strength will rise as we wait upon the Lord – Chris Tomlin
Psalm 51 part 1 – The poor man’s ewe lamb.
Psalm 51.1-6 and 2 Samuel 11 and 12
A rich and a poor man lived in the same city. The rich man had many sheep and cattle and the poor man had only one ewe lamb. When the rich man received a visitor, he took the poor man’s only lamb to prepare a meal for the visitor. The lamb, being a ewe, was the poor man’s only hope for a future as from it he could breed more sheep. This is the story Nathan the prophet told David 2 Samuel 12.1-10 to expose to him the depth of sin he had committed against God and Uriah the Hitite. 2 Samuel 11 It was a case of sin mounting upon sin through the abuse of power. In the Harry Potter books there is a mirror where you see the greatest desire of your heart. Psalm 51 is like a mirror that has exposed David’s heart as God sees it.
The opening stanza vv 1,2 is a plea to God for mercy purely on the basis of God’s love. There are no excuses offered or bargaining on the basis of other good things he has done. He knows he has no capacity to cleanse himself from sin. He knows God knows his actions and his heart. One sin led to another. He coveted another man’s wife and by abusing power committed adultery with her. To cover up his sin he tried to hide his adultery by making it plausible that Uriah was the father of Bathsheba’s child and when this failed because of Uriah’s loyalty to the king and his fellow soldiers, he conspired with his leading general to murder Uriah. In legal terms because of David’s power and status there were no consequences for David and he got to make his mistress, whether forced or willing, his wife.
Only when confronted with his sin did David repent and plead for mercy. Just as God through Nathan convicted David of his profound sin and rebellion against God, who had blessed him greatly, so it is God, whether through the direct action of the Holy Spirit or by other means who convicts us of our sin. Verse 3, ‘For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me,’ v3 accurately describes how God penetrates our consciousness and raises our awareness of our need for cleansing. Clearly David had treated Uriah with fatal abject disregard and yet David’s words addressed to God are, ‘Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight.’ v3 This not to ignore the criminal injustice done to Uriah, but to emphasize that all sin is fundamentally against God.
David recognizes that God has the right to judge and is right in his judgements. v4 He also understands that he is intrinsically rebellious against God. vv 5,6 This is frequently a major obstacle that prevents people from seeking God’s mercy as our pride does not want us to accept it. Paul confesses the truth of his inbuilt rebellion against God in Romans 7.19-20, ‘For I do not do the good I want to do, but the evil I do not want to do— this I keep on doing. Now if I do what I do not want to do, it is no longer I who do it, but it is sin living in me that does it.’
Can you remember a time when you became particularly aware of rebellion against God’s ways and a need for his mercy?
Have mercy on me, O God – Graham Kendrick
Living in relationship with God Psalm 50
There are times when in our close relationships there is the risk of going through the motions of well worn habits while the intimate core that was once the focus has withered through neglect. In other words there can be a form of relationship without a heart. From a Christian perspective our human relationships are meant to reflect our relationship with God. Psalm 50 is a prophetic message to his own people about their relationship with him.
The opening stanza vv 1-6 draws upon the exodus experience where an awesome God establishes his covenantal relationship with his people. The whole of creation declares his greatness and righteous character. ‘The mighty one, God, the Lord, speaks and summons the earth,’ v1 and ‘the heavens proclaim his righteousness, for he is a God of justice.’ v6
The second stanza vv 7-13 challenges any misconceived notion people might have that God is in some way dependent on human worship or actions. Ancient Judaism’s religious practices shared in common with the other surrounding religious practices, the incessant sacrificing of animals. C.S. Lewis wrote, ‘we should have not enjoyed the ancient rituals. Every temple in the world, the elegant Parthenon at Athens and the holy Temple at Jerusalem, was a sacred slaughterhouse.’ God’s words as conveyed by the psalmist are, ‘I have no need of a bull from your stall or of goats from your pens, for every animal of the forest is mine, and the cattle on a thousand hills.’ vv 9,10
It is a reminder that frequently the form of worship in modern services can become our dominant preoccupation whether formal or informal but the form of worship does not constitute the relationship.
Verses 14 – 23 set out God’s basis for a relationship with him for the people of God as understood in Old Testament times. Framing all, to start and finish what God says, is thankfulness. ‘Sacrifice thank offerings to God,’ v14 and ‘Those who sacrifice thank offerings honour me.’ V23 Thank offerings were a form of fellowship offering. All fellowship offerings were voluntary and the other forms were votive offerings, brought to fulfil a vow and freewill offerings, brought to express love and worship of the Lord.
Verses 16 – 21 reveals how one’s life is the evidence of true freewill offerings. It is what we do, v18 how we speak, v19 and the honourability of our relationships. v20 Asaph, the psalm’s author was a contemporary of David and yet it is striking how modern this set of principles for a relationship with God is and how challenging it remains.
In what terms do we think of worship?
Do we ever get tempted to think that in some way God needs us?
Have we been prompted to examine any aspect of our life?
How Great is Our God – Chris Tomlin
‘Nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes.’
Psalm 49 and Luke 12. 13-21
Benjamin Franklin’s famous words are often quoted but the truth of them had been apparent for centuries. Psalm 49 confronts the reality of death and whilst not speaking exactly about taxes does refer to the cost of life beyond the grave. ‘Truly no man can ransom another or give to God the price of his life, for the ransom of their life is costly and can never suffice, that he should live on forever and never see the pit.’ vv 7-9 The Psalm forms part of the bible’s wisdom literature and responds in part to the last verse of the previous psalm that speaks of God’s guidance.
“It addresses the confusion that the faithful often feel when they encounter trouble even while unfaithful people seem to get along so well. Is not God expected to show his favour for the faithful in how he treats them? The answer is that God will distinguish between the faithful and the unfaithful in what happens to them when they die vv 12,20 Verses 12 and 20 are very similar, the key difference being in the words translated ‘remain’ and ‘understanding,’ which sound almost the same in Hebrew. The element of understanding makes the difference. Those who sing this psalm will want to continue living faithfully. They will be strengthened against the temptation either to despair or to give up and join the unfaithful.” (ESV Global Study Bible)
Jesus takes this theme in the parable of the Rich Fool. In a response to a demand to settle a family dispute of an inheritance Jesus warns them to be on their guard against greed, ‘life does not consist in an abundance of possessions.’ Luke 12.15 Life should though, be lived in the awareness that one might die without warning. At that point it is what we stored up before God that is important. Luke 12. 20,21
Psalm 49 does contain within it the promise of resurrection v 15 although as yet the exact form and means of the resurrection is yet to be revealed. The ransom and resurrection become the principle focus of the New Testament.
Faithfull One So Unchanging
Living in the presence of God Psalm 48
Does the place you are in impact your sense of the presence of God and your ability to worship God? The protestant church has had an uncomfortable history with buildings and symbols fearing that manmade objects can lure one into idolatry. Isaiah was clear that God cannot be contained within a building, ‘Thus says the Lord: Heaven is my throne, and the earth is my footstool; what is the house that you would build for me, and what is the place of my rest? All these things my hand has made, and so all these things came to be, declares the Lord. But this is the one to whom I will look: he who is humble and contrite in spirit and trembles at my word.’ Is 66.-2 However, it is true for many that we associate a place either natural or man-made with an encounter with God. A woman seeking refuge in this country, with little or no knowledge of Christianity, walked into Liverpool Cathedral and sensed God’s presence with her. This led her to find a local church and ask how to become a Christian and so began her daily walk with God. Special places form a part of our spirituality because they convey our awareness of God.
The complexity of the Ancient Hebrew makes the translation of some words in Psalm 48 difficult and so aspects of their meaning are not easy to understand. As the Psalmist worships the Lord in the temple and on Mount Zion he is aware God surrounds him in every sense. Zaphon v2 a mountain in the north also means north. East v7 means in front as the Hebrews made the top of their compass where the sun rose before them. East also means before in time. The word translated ‘the next generation’ v13 also means behind, in terms of direction and after, relating to time. The Great Lord, most worthy of praise, v1 found in the city of God is not confined to the city alone, he surrounds them in all directions and through all time.
Mount Zion and Jerusalem in this psalm are synonymous. Mount Zion is given exaggerated praise v2 when comparing it to Mount Zaphon, a much bigger mountain in the north, which Caananites believed to be the home of Baal. The city of Jerusalem was seen as a citadel defended by God that God makes impregnable. vv 4-8 The particular incident referred to is not known although there are several possibilities recorded in the bible. A leading candidate is when the Assyrians failed in their siege in the time of Hezikiah. 2 Kings 19.35-36 New Testament imagery of the temple of God refers to the heart of the believer 1 Corinthians 3.16 or the collective church. 1 Corinthians 3.17 The threat to the temple, in Paul’s letters, is not physical destruction but the corruption of faith through false teaching leading believers away from Christ and immoral behaviour. As the psalmist celebrated the temple in Jerusalem as sacred so we are to treat our lives and bodies as sacred. The whole community of the universal church is to be considered the temple of God. ‘So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are fellow citizens with the saints and members of the household of God, built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Christ Jesus himself being the cornerstone, in whom the whole structure, being joined together, grows into a holy temple in the Lord. In him you also are being built together into a dwelling place for God by the Spirit.’ Ephesians 2.19-22
To help us maintain a mindset where the unity in the Spirit with Jesus (1 Corinthians 6.17) is worked out in our lives, the psalmist provides us with helpful guidance. He spends time thinking about the steadfast love of God. v9 The more we grasp God’s love for us, the more we will respond with obedience and love towards him. He also enjoys the righteousness of God and spends time rejoicing in his judgements. v10b,11 When we live in a society that frequently values and applauds things that do not accord with God’s righteousness it makes it easy to drift away from godliness. Finally spending time considering how God has built his kingdom through the sacrificial love of Jesus on the cross and his glorious resurrection will encourage us to pass on the good news and that good news will guide our lives. Vv 12-14
Jesus, all for Jesus – Robin Mark
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter Psalm 46
Nations have continued to rage both within themselves and between each other over the 3000 years since the above words were written. Ps 46.6 Boundaries between countries have been constantly shifting throughout history, dominant powers rise and fall, some disappearing completely. Internally nations are often volatile and as I write the ‘Black Lives Matter’ movement is dominating headlines following the killing of George Floyd in Minneapolis. In current times an individual event can produce an almost instant response throughout a nation and even across the globe. The symbolism of one action captures an essence and causes a nation to totter. The unrelenting knee pressing on the neck of George Floyd summed up in a single cruel event the oppression of Black people over hundreds of years. The throwing of Edward Colston’s statue, a prominent Bristol slave trader, into the river, whilst illegal, stood for a demand for institutional repentance and internal change from Britain’s imperial heritage. How then should the Christian Church respond and does the psalm that contains the words, nations rage and kingdoms totter, have anything to say today?
The psalm has two very famous verses, ‘God is our refuge and strength an ever-present help in trouble,’ v1 and ‘Be still, and know that I am God; I will be exalted among the nations.’ v10 Although Christians frequently take comfort from these words individually they are addressed in the psalm to a people group, the people of God. The threat to the nation is unspecified, it is likely that the threat is to Jerusalem that represents the city of God. v4 The psalm with extravagant imagery describes the awesome power of God vv 6, and his power to control nations. vv 8-9
The, ‘river whose streams make glad the city of God, the holy place where the Most High dwells’ v4 is an image found in Ezekiel 47.1-12 and Revelation 22.1-2 of the river of life bringing new life and sustaining life, flowing from the throne of God, in the city of God. The message is clear, in the midst of great turmoil God is able to bring new life through the Holy Spirit.
If God is our refuge then the values and stance we should take as Christians must be those that reflect his character. God in Psalm 46 is a God of action v9 and so as disciples Christians should also be people of action. It was Christians historically, in Britain, who led the fight for the abolition of slavery, even though many in the church at the time resisted the movement. It was the repentant slave trader, John Newton, who gave us the great Christian anthem, Amazing Grace.
The Old Testament call to discipleship still acts as a clarion call over the millennia:
‘He has shown you, O mortal, what is good.
And what does the Lord require of you?
To act justly and to love mercy
and to walk humbly with your God.’ Micah 6.8
Jesus perfectly lived out Micah’s commission and now united in the cross of Christ his disciples are in God’s eyes equal in value and in his love. ‘For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is no male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus.’ Galatians 3.27-28
In the middle of turmoil and action God calls on his people to quietly centre ourselves on him, trusting in him, having confidence in his presence. From this place we will find the strength to live Micah 6.8 lives.
How can the church act in the uproar of national life?
What opportunities does the church create to be still and know that God is God?
How do we live out the crucified life of Christ in our community?
Be still for the presence of the Lord is here
The wedding song Psalm 45 and Hebrews 1.8-9
2020 hasn’t turned out to be the best year for a wedding. Casually reading the Evening Standard Lifestyle pages I discovered that by mid-April 64,000 weddings in the UK had been cancelled or postponed in the previous three months. The wedding app ‘Bridebook’ reckons losses to the wedding industry this year will be £87.5 billion. It seems the average cost of a wedding in the UK is around £20,000. Imagine the cost of a really big royal wedding which is what we have celebrated in Psalm 45. In the bible marriage has been a God ordained relationship from the beginning with Adam and Eve to the last chapter when the Spirit and Christ’s Bride (the church) say, ‘Come and let the one who hears say, “Come.” And let the one who is thirsty come; let the one who desires take the water of life without price.’ Revelation 22.17
Giving a speech at a wedding is nerve wracking enough, here the poet is called to write the wedding song praising both the bridegroom (the King) and the bride a foreign princess. Imagine getting it wrong. It is thought the wedding was probably between Solomon and a princess. It could be the wedding in 1 Kings 3 where early in his reign Solomon married a daughter of Pharaoh. God had warned Israel not to intermarry with other nations as they will turn your hearts after other gods. However, I Kings 3 is a chapter where Solomon also asks God for wisdom and so this marriage more resembles Ruth who was prepared to forget her people v 10 and be loyal to her new people and God.
The Psalmist in his praise of the King connects him with the coming Messiah as is quoted in Hebrews as part of the description of Jesus in his glorified, post ascension, heavenly reign. Hebrews 1.8-9 The praise to the King is fully fulfilled by Jesus in a way which is unattainable by a normal human King. The hugely enthusiastic poet v1 firstly praises the appearance of the King. vv 1,2 But, this is the post Davidic age where Samuel has pronounced God does not look at the outward appearance but the heart. 1 Samuel 16.7 So he goes on to praise the King for his character and justness of his actions. ‘In your majesty ride out victoriously for the cause of truth, and meekness and righteousness.’ v4 All facets perfected in Christ. He then moves rapidly on to credit him with an eternal reign, loving righteousness and hating evil before pronouncing him anointed by God. vv 6,7 This exaggerated type of praise may have been used in surrounding nations for their Kings but Israelites would have seen it as putting oneself on the same level as the one and only eternal God if meant literally. In Solomon’s time it would have been meant metaphorically because the King represents God’s rule on earth. Hebrews applies the same verses to describe Jesus as the Son, who glorified reigns forever.
The second part of the psalm turns to the bride and her relationship with the bridegroom. She arrives gloriously adorned, filled with joy and gladness, leaving behind her previous life. v15 A description picked up on in the New Testament to describe the church’s relationship with Christ. ‘Let us rejoice and exult and give him the glory, for the marriage of the Lamb has come, and his Bride has made herself ready; it was granted her to clothe herself with fine linen, bright and pure”— for the fine linen is the righteous deeds of the saints.’ Revelation 19.7-8
A wedding is a great time of celebration. Do we take the time to celebrate the Kingship of Christ and the honour of our relationship with him?
Praise my soul the King of Heaven
Psalm 44 and Romans 8:18-39
Why aren’t the good times rolling?
It is understandable that if a Christian has believed in God and trusted Jesus for forgiveness and eternal life but is struggling in aspects of their life, that they should question God about it. There is a branch of the late twentieth century and twenty first century Protestant church that advocates what is called the prosperity gospel or theology. This was mostly found in Pentecostal or Charismatic movements, although there are many in those denominations who would oppose such theology. However, aspects of this teaching have been absorbed through the modern church. In brief it says that if you are obedient in your faith God will reward you with material wellbeing. This could be in the areas of wealth, health, career and personal fulfilment. Some of the leaders in this movement have been at the centre of scandals as they have grown wealthy at the personal cost of many low income followers who have been desperate to please God and improve their personal circumstances. It holds out a promise of hope to people who are desperate for a resolution to their problems with the appearance of being rooted in biblical teaching. So, people believe that if they are in some way more obedient in their faith or giving they will have the child they desire, meet their life partner, increase their wealth, be healed or perhaps gain spiritual gifts or ministries that they would love to have.
The psalmist in Psalm 44, speaking on behalf of the nation, finds himself in a similar dilemma. Israel, he says, has been faithful in its covenant relationship with God v17 and yet its circumstances are dire. ‘Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.’ v22 How then can we understand how God who has honoured his covenantal relationship with Israel vv 1-8 can then apparently turn and leave them in a state of national mourning? vv 9-16
Romans 8 sets Psalm 44 in a New Testament context quoting verse 22. The New Testament Christians are indeed in a covenantal relationship with God as children of God. ‘The Spirit himself bears witness with our spirit that we are children of God, heirs of God and fellow heirs with Christ,’ but Paul makes clear this is not a free ticket to a smooth life as he goes on to say, ‘provided we suffer with him in order that we may also be glorified with him. Rom 8.16,17 Our hope is an eternal hope linked to the promise of a new creation Rom 8.23 When Paul talks about all things working together for good, for those called according to his purpose, Rom 8.28 he is not speaking of prosperity in this life, he is speaking of the hope of salvation. ‘Those he predestined he also called, and those whom he called he also justified, and those whom he justified he also glorified.’ Rom 8.30
When the Psalmist complains, ‘You have made us a reproach to our neighbours, the scorn and derision of those around us,’ Ps 44.13 Paul’s reply is, ‘Who is to condemn? Christ Jesus is the one who died – more than that, who was raised – who is at the right hand of God, who indeed is interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ Rom 8.35
The New Testament knows nothing of prosperity gospel, Jesus words were, ‘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. For what does it profit a man if he gains the whole world and loses or forfeits himself.’ Luke9.23-25 God has not rejected us or forgotten us as the psalmist pleaded, Ps 44.23,24 he has indeed risen up and rescued us because of his unfailing love through Jesus Christ.
Does this mean we cannot bring our daily lives before God? Of course not. However, our joy is to be in Christ himself and our calling is to go tell whatever our circumstances.
More Than Conquerors” from Rend Collective
PSALM 42 & 43
The reality of spiritual depression: P a r t 2 .
When thinking afresh about a topic I find it is often useful to consider the vocabulary that is used in discussing it before ordering the concepts. Apart from the second sentence of the repeated verse at the end of each stanza Ps 42.5,11, 43.5 there is little that is positive. The vocabulary includes these words and phrases: thirsts, tears, pour out my soul, cast down, turmoil, breakers and waves have gone over me, mourning, oppression, taunt and reject me. The psalmist is in despair and experiencing repeated mental and spiritual turmoil. Frequently if we are in that place our internal dialogue is circular and although we imagine ways out of the position we return again to the same set of feelings.
We do not know if the circumstances he describes are metaphors or physical reality but it is not necessary to know to understand the nature of his experience and how it relates to contemporary experiences. He describes being in the far north of the country 42.6 well away from Jerusalem in the south, the centre of his spiritual highs with God. He understands his relationship with God through his role as a musician and leader of worship in Jerusalem and is now deprived of it. ‘How I would go up with the throng, and lead them in procession to the house of God.’ v 42.4 When the capacity to continue in the things that have been a blessing to us and others is removed it can seriously damage our spiritual health, cause a period of mourning and adjustment. It can challenge our identity, for the Christian it is helpful to meditate on our identity in Christ and what he has done for us. ‘But to all who did receive him, who believed in his name, he gave the right to become children of God.’ John 1.12
The psalmist describes his longing for God as a dryness and unresolved thirst. vv42.1,2 These feelings will not go away and they are destroying his appetite. ‘My tears have been my food day and night.’ v 42.3 He recognises his spiritual and mental state impacts his physical wellbeing. He keeps going back over memories of times when he was fulfilled and cannot move on.
The second stanza 42.6-11 describes the feeling of being overwhelmed and out of control. In truth there are no major waterfalls or seas with massive breakers and waves to cover him v 42.7 in northern Israel. He is drawing on repeated biblical and ancient Hebrew imagery where the depths of the sea represent chaos and disorder, a place where unknown evils may come from. He is desperate for something firm to stand on. ‘I say to God, my rock: Why have you forgotten me.’ v 42.9 The sense of desertion by God that can overwhelm one creates a spiritual loneliness. Whether his enemies are real or imagined 42.9-10 he is oppressed by them. The taunting in his head will not go away, ‘Where is your God?’ 42.10
In the midst of his turmoil he again resolves to praise God, knowing that he is his salvation, but that does not make him feel better. One has to admire the psalmist, he has faced up to his problems, he has rationalised them and knows the way forward is with God whatever his current feelings. In the third stanza (Psalm 43) he starts his fight back. He calls on God to vindicate him against his oppressors even though his feelings tell him God has rejected him. There is a conflict between his inherent trust and experience of God and his overwhelming feelings. To cut through this he needs two things. He needs light to shine through his spiritual darkness and God’s truth to guide him into the presence of God for which he has so longed. V 43.3 He wants to express his faith and love for God in the way he knows he connects with God, through music. That is undoubtedly true for very many now, however for others their core way of relating with God may be different. For some it will be in silence, for others through the written or spoken word. Some find the easiest way to pray is when walking, others need to be on their knees. Others like me may prefer to spend time with an open bible, moving between reading, reflecting and prayer. However we find God in our deepest souls we also need to spend time in the company of other disciples. Their presence and faith will build us up.
We could pray that:
We will recognise and understand when people are experiencing depression.
We will be prepared to stand alongside them with patience and love.
That our church will be a place where God’s light and truth can gently lead them into God presence.
Holy overshadowing – Graham Kendrick
PSALM 42 & 43
The reality of spiritual depression: P a r t 1 .
Over 3 million people in the UK are diagnosed with depression.
Depression is a mood disorder, characterized by the persistent feeling of sadness, lack of motivation and interest.
(My Therapy website)
Depression is a major issue throughout the population and disciples of Jesus are commonly subject to it along with everybody else. We could ask, why is that? When Jesus promises such a glorious hope. Isn’t Christianity all about love, forgiveness, healing and joy? The songs are full of praise and upbeat. If we have enough faith, it could be assumed, God will bless us with good things and problems will be solved and we will and should be happy.
We could ask, is there a spiritual dimension to depression? If so, what comes first depression for other reasons or is the cause of depression spiritual? Spirituality and depression has been researched around the world, although it is more difficult to identify outcomes specifically concerning Christian faith and depression. Even in the more general research it is difficult to be definitive about the connection between faith and specifically depression although there are general trends that clearly connect to peoples experience of the Christian faith.
A review of over 400 related research papers between 1962 and 2011 concluded, ‘Religious beliefs and practices may help people to cope better with stressful life circumstances, give meaning and hope, and surround depressed persons with a supportive community. In some populations or individuals, however, religious beliefs may increase guilt and lead to discouragement as people fail to live up to the high standards of their religious tradition.’ (https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3426191/) I think that seems realistic and has both positive and negative implications for the communication of the Christian faith and in particular how the bible’s teaching is shared and understood. It also raises a number of questions about how the church approaches its mission in relation to peoples experience of depression and in particular spiritual depression. Psalms 42 and 43 are originally one psalm divided into three stanzas, each one concludes with the same repeated question, ‘Why are you cast down, O my soul, and why are you in turmoil within me? The psalmist then urges himself to, ‘Hope in God; for I shall again praise him, my salvation and my God.’ They recount the internal dialogue of an individual experiencing spiritual depression.
Please read through the two psalms and consider how much do they reflect your own experience and possibly that of a good friend. A closer look at the text will be in part 2.
As the deer pants for the water – Robin Mark
Who are the Sons of Korah?
Psalms Book 2 (42-49) and Numbers 16
If someone and all their family, all those who were associated with them and their possessions fall into the depths of the earth as God opens up fissures in the earth’s surface and it is then closed over them, one would assume there is no coming back from that. That is what is recorded in Numbers 16.31-33. Indeed, for those individuals there was no good ending but somehow some descendants did survive and they became significant authors of psalms. Korah was a ring leader of a rebellion against Moses and consequentially against the Lord’s authority. Numbers 16.1-3 Their rebellion included trying to usurp Aaron’s priesthood Num 16.10,11 and Moses’ leadership of them into the desert and out of slavery in Egypt. The Old Testament contains examples of the fear of the Lord that are usually more graphic than in the New Testament. They are however there, consider Ananias and Sapphira Acts 5.1-11 and Herod Agrippa. Acts 12.20-25 Whilst salvation through the grace and love of God through Jesus is the dominant gospel message a caution about the seriousness of rebellion against God and fear of the Lord in the rounded biblical sense is appropriate.
Repeatedly in scripture where God has taken action in judgement there is a message of restoration as well. We see this worked out in the history of Old Testament Israel and Judah. The ‘Sons of Korah’ (descendants) are an illustration of this. They were musical worship leaders appointed by David and would lead processions to worship God. ‘I used to go to the house of God under the protection of the Mighty One with shouts of joy and praise among the festive throng’. Ps 42.4 The Sons of Korah were the composers and authors of the first eight psalms in Book 2 of Psalms. A feature of their writing was the use of Elohim (God) in preference to Yahweh (Lord). This represents a change from David’s use of Lord (Yahweh) in Book 1. Whilst we cannot be certain of the reason for this it may reflect the fear of the Lord, as in their family history, as possibly Yahweh, the great Name, was thought too holy for common use.
As we progress in our reflections in Book 2 of Psalms we will find the theme of lament occurs repeatedly. From this we can gain comfort that bringing our sorrows, regrets, disappointments and griefs to God is a positive thing to do. Even in our saddest of times we can worship the Lord in honesty.
How conscious are we of the holiness and greatness of God?
Are we able to give thanks for the times the Lord has restored our relationship with him?
Can we support someone else in finding restoration through the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ?
The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom – Tommy Walker
Can a letter to an individual have a lasting global significance?
Some of the content draws upon but not exclusively on the ESV Global Study Bible.
Titus was written to one man on a relatively small Mediterranean island in an ancient Roman Grecian culture. How is this applicable now in a global context?
Titus was a principal member of the second generation of the early church leaders. He was converted under the ministry of an apostle and as such received primary source teaching. He was exposed to firsthand accounts of Jesus life and teaching. Now it was his role to pass on the same teaching, however as we know oral traditions are subject to variation as the accounts are passed on. The Apostles therefore left written accounts for permanent reference although in many cases they were assisted by other disciples who brought their clerical and research skills to bear, such as Mark and Luke.
Paul’s letter to Titus whilst it was a personal letter was also an open letter intended to be shared with the churches. It gave authority to Titus’ teaching and responsibilities. The concluding blessing of grace 3.15 is for the church as a whole and implies it was to be read to the entire church. It was in a sense a bit like a modern job description, openly disclosed, so that all will understand the parameters of the job.
Titus places the current age in the context of redemptive history. God promises eternal life before time, v 1.2 he then reveals the grace of God keeping that promise through Jesus Christ’s first appearance, v 2.11 he also speaks of Christ’s appearing as a future event as our blessed hope, v 2.13 that is, his second coming.
Titus’ message that sound teaching leads to God pleasing lives is not time or culturally restricted, whether people are currently embroiled in false teaching or are church leaders. Titus contains three universal themes: doctrine fuels godliness, v 1.1 the character qualities required for church leadership vv 1.6-9 and the twin connected gospel messages of grace and obedience. vv 2.11-14
In the light of the above teaching the contemporary church is called to, ‘devote themselves to good works, so as to help cases of urgent need.’ v 3.14 The broad scope of the whole bible’s gospel message encompasses that, ‘humans are made in God’s image and human life therefore has intrinsic worth and dignity.’ ESV global study bible
So what things globally would now be included in urgent need?
The provision of basic needs such as clean water and sanitation, the welfare of unborn and young children, universal education, protection from war and violence, the capacity to be heard and understood, a right to flourish mentally, physically and intellectually and the capacity to live free from personal oppression including forced marriage and FGM.
What makes the Christian response to urgent need distinctive? It is the combining of the gospel life with the gospel message, aptly represented by Christian missionary, aid and development charities. Paul’s letter to Titus summons us to a life of self-giving love as we walk with Jesus, “who gave himself for us to redeem us from all lawlessness and to purify for himself a people for his own possession who are zealous for good works” (ESV study bible).
Create in me a clean heart, O God
No legitimate separation between belief and behaviour Titus 1.1; 2.1, 11-14; 3.4-7
During these reflections on Paul’s letter to Titus we have picked out key themes as they are developed through the text. Arguably, that the gospel produces godliness in the lives of believers, is the dominant concept. In the middle of a pandemic we see the impact on credibility where what is said conflicts with the behaviour of the speaker. It destroys confidence, creates division and promotes harmful behaviour. These things equally apply to the teaching of the gospel and Christian leadership.
Paul opens his letter with the statement that it is, ‘the knowledge of the truth that leads to godliness’. Titus 1.1 He is making the teaching of this knowledge central to his calling as an apostle and also the work of Titus and other church leaders. The importance of teaching the gospel is repeated throughout the letter. Elders of churches, ‘must hold firm to the trustworthy word as taught,’ and ‘be able to give instruction in sound doctrine’. V1.9
Titus is instructed to teach older men, v2.2 older women, v2.3 who then should teach younger women. v2.4 He is to urge (ESV) or encourage (NIV) younger men to be self-controlled v2.6 and teach slaves. All of this teaching, in the context of the letter, relates to personal conduct. Titus’ own conduct is to be a model for his teaching. v 2.8 In contrast teaching that does not accord to the gospel is associated with behaviour Paul defines as detestable, disobedient and unfit for any good work. v1.16 Paul gives some indications about how to discern such teachers, he describes their motivation as being for shameful gain, v1.11 although he doesn’t say whether that is personal esteem or monetary advantage. Their teachings are ones that stir up division v3.10 and so their focus will be on controversies, genealogies, dissentions, and quarrels about the law. v3.9 In context this seems to connect with the circumcision party but similar warnings could be taken about contemporary teaching that is designed to divide a fellowship.
Gospel teaching is only effective if it is partnered with the Holy Spirit. Jesus told his disciples, ‘But the Helper, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in My name, He will teach you all things, and bring to your remembrance all that I said to you.’ John 14.26 The gospel is applied to our lives through the grace of God, ‘training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passion, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age’. v2,12 The sanctification process is by the Holy Spirit. Paul terms it, ‘the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit, whom he poured out on us richly through Jesus Christ our Saviour’. v 3.6 The Holy Spirit first teaches and then applies that teaching to our lives training us in godliness.
How then could we pray?
We could pray that the Holy Spirit will make us aware of those things in our lives that diverge from gospel living.
We could pray that the Holy Spirit would train us in godly living.
We could pray for our teachers that their teaching and lives will continue to accord with the gospel.
Lord I need you – Chris Tomlin
An attractive life Titus 2.5, 8, 10
Philip said, ‘Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us.’ Jesus answered: ‘Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time? Anyone who has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, “Show us the Father”? Don’t you believe that I am in the Father, and that the Father is in me? The words I say to you I do not speak on my own authority. Rather, it is the Father, living in me, who is doing his work. John 14.8-10
The reason Jesus was such an attractive person to so many was that he revealed God the Father through his character. It was also the reason people were hostile towards him because their hearts were hostile to God and godliness. Similarly, the transforming work of the grace of God in Christians lives is intended to be a means by which Jesus is revealed to those who do not yet have faith. Titus 2.10 There are many scriptures that capture how as children of God we are to grow into Christ likeness. An outcome of this process is to draw others into relationship with God that they also might be recipients of salvation. Jesus said, ‘Let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven’. Matthew 5.16
In Crete the Christian life was in stark contrast to the surrounding culture where over indulgence and idolatry were the norm. Paul was insistent that the conduct of Christians’ private lives should not detract from the gospel. His advice reflected life in Crete but it is not restricted to that time and place. He wanted older women to be reverent in their behaviour, careful in the way they speak and not addicted to alcohol. v2.3 The impact of excessive alcohol is to reduce self-control and therefore lead on to behaviour that is offensive to God. The same advice is equally appropriate to all including older men who were taught to be dignified, sober-minded, self-controlled, sound in faith and in love. v2.2 The repeated message for all groups within the church whether they were older or younger, free or bondservants, was to be self-controlled, trustworthy, careful in their speech, loving in their relationships, full of good works. All of this for the sake of the gospel. For young women it was, ‘that the word of God may not be reviled’. v2.5 In the case of young men it was, ‘So that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us’. v2.8 In regarding the relationship with bondservants and their masters it was, ‘so that in everything they may adorn the doctrine of God our Saviour’. v2.10
It is a false reading of chapter 2 if it is taken to advocate either the oppression of women in marriage or the endorsement of any form of slavery. Here the emphasis is on the ongoing saving work of the grace of God in believers’ lives and how that in itself is a witness to Jesus as the gospel.
What is it that you find attracts you to Jesus in other believers’ lives?
Is the Lord prompting you through the gospel to become more Christ like?
Are you in a relationship (e.g. sister, husband, friend) with an as yet non-believer and how can your life make Jesus more attractive to them?
How deep the Father’s love – Fernando Ortega
The silver thread in the warp and weft of discipleship Titus 1.4, 2.3-4, 2.11-15
Warp and weft are the two basic components used in weaving to turn thread or yarn into fabric. The lengthwise or longitudinal warp yarns are held stationary in tension on a frame or loom while the transverse weft (sometimes woof) is drawn through and inserted over-and-under the warp. (Wikipedia)
One single thread cannot be separated from the whole material. It adds to the whole and finds its place within it, enhancing its strength and beauty.
A silver thread running through Paul’s letter to Titus is the place of mentors in discipleship and growth in godliness. Paul was himself a mentor to Titus. Titus, a gentile, became a Christian through Paul’s ministry hence he terms him his true son. ‘To Titus, my true son in our common faith.’ Titus 1.4 The term, true son, indicates that the relationship was more than simply one of preacher and convert. Titus had grown up in the faith as a child grows up, under Paul’s guidance and in close relationship as a child does with a loving father. For such a relationship to exist it had to be long standing, intimate and trusting. For such confidence to exist that Paul would leave the ordering of the churches in Crete and the appointment of elders v 1.5 to Titus, he would have needed evidence of his reliability, which indeed he had. Not only had Titus been Paul’s companion on missionary journeys he had shown independent reliability in taking Paul’s letter, known as 2 Corinthians, to Corinth and supervising the restoration of relationships and growth of the church in Corinth. He then went on to raise a collection in Corinth, where they had previously been reluctant, for the Christians in Jerusalem that Paul personally delivered.
Paul was an older man to Titus’ young man and thus a model of the types of mentoring relationships he advocates to the church in Crete. A key principle in Titus is that healthy doctrine should produce holiness and good works. Titus was to teach what accords to sound doctrine, v 2.1 but then what we discover as we read on is that what accords to sound doctrine is not a theological statement but a description of conduct and character. Mentoring is meant to impact the whole life of the Christian including family life, work life, our friendships and our conduct within the church.
It is clear that there is particular place for the mentor and mentee relationship to be between two people of the same gender. ‘Older women like-wise are to be reverent in bahaviour, not slanderers or slaves to much wine. They are to teach what is good, and so train the young women to love their husbands and children …’ Titus 2.3,4 Mentoring is not only to be done by what is said it is to be by example.
A mentor’s credibility is established by the consistency of the example they set. Thus, Paul urges Titus to, ‘urge the younger men to be self-controlled. Show yourself in all respects to be a model of good works, and in your teaching show integrity, dignity, and sound speech that cannot be condemned, so that an opponent may be put to shame, having nothing evil to say about us.
All of this is to be achieved through the grace of God. It is an ongoing process and it has an eventual goal. That goal is, ‘the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour Jesus Christ.’ Titus 2.13 Being both a mentor and a mentee is part of our training in godliness. Titus 2.12
Who has been a mentor to you and who have your mentored?
Do you actively seek to be in a mentoring relationship?
How can you encourage mentoring relationships in your church?
A valuable book if you are interested in the theme is –
Organic Discipleship: Mentoring Others Into Spiritual Maturity and Leadership (Revised Edition) by Dennis McCallum, Jessica Lowery
Oceans (Acoustic) – Hillsong United
The vain pursuit of mammoth clubbing. Titus 1.10-16
George turned up to the house of his friend, Henry, to find him going through a clubbing routine on his back lawn. ‘Henry,’ he said. ‘What are you doing?’ Henry was holding a magnificent two-handed whale bone club, beautifully weighted, intricately engraved, dressed in a bear skin. Henry and the club seemed at one as he swung it in wide majestic moves. ‘I am practising my mammoth hunting techniques,’ replied Henry. ‘Why?’ George asked incredulously. ‘When Marian and I were married, I promised I would defend and provide for her for the rest of my life.’ ‘But’ George said, ‘There are no mammoths left.’ ‘You don’t understand,’ Henry answered, ‘These skills have been passed down by my ancestors, they perfect balance, timing and centre the mind. If I didn’t do them every day my marriage might collapse.’ Marian was looking out of the living room window gently shaking her head with despair in her eyes.
Comic as this image is it illustrates how one can be deceived into becoming trapped by ritual and tradition when they have ceased to have purpose. Henry’s desire was to fulfil his marriage vows but the way he set about it was deeply misguided and was actually driving a wedge into the marriage. In a modern phrase the ritual was no longer fit for purpose.
Paul was deeply disturbed that the young church in Cyprus had been infiltrated by people who taught practices that were worse than not fit for purpose, they lead people away from the truth and on into sin. He termed them, ‘empty talkers and deceivers, especially those from the circumcision party.’ Titus 1.10 For the disciple of Christ physical circumcision was neither right or wrong but reliance on it for salvation was a deception. Paul addressed this directly in Galatians, ‘For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value.’ Gal 5.6 Circumcision was a sign of God’s covenant with Abraham and his descendants Genesis 17.10-13 and later enshrined in law. Leviticus 12.3 It was an outward sign of what should have been an inward spiritual reality. ‘And the Lord your God will circumcise your heart and the heart of your offspring, so that you will love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, that you may live.’ Deuteronomy 30.6
If circumcision was part of God’s law, why then was Paul so condemning of those continuing to teach it? It was because if one is relying on obedience to the law for salvation one has to perfectly obey the whole law, in spirit as well as in rituals, and that is not possible for sinful people. ‘I declare to every man who lets himself be circumcised that he is obligated to obey the whole law.’ Galatians 5.3 At that point one is rejecting who Jesus is and what he did through his sacrifice on the cross. It is a rejection of the grace of God, Paul terms it a, ‘falling away from the grace of God.’ Gal 5.6 He describes the teaching of the circumcision party as, removing the offence of the cross. Gal 5.11
Paul wants to be clear, ‘By grace you have been saved through faith. And this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God, not a result of your own works, so that no one may boast.’ Ephesians 2.8-9 It is only through reliance on Jesus through faith that we receive the gift of salvation, Colossians 2.11-14 any other teaching will lead us away from the freedom of the Spirit.
This provokes the question, what constructs in our life do we rely on that prevents us from trusting solely in the sacrificial death and resurrection of Jesus?
The heart of worship – Matt Redman
Choosing and being a leader Titus 1.5-9
Angela opens the expected e mail and groans at the number of attachments. She really wants this job but process and stress to get it seems almost too much. The first document is the glossy brochure telling the world how wonderful the company is, then there is the formidable application form, an interview schedule, a job description, a person specification and an online task all to be returned in the next three days. How is she to convince the appointing committee that she is the ideal person? If only they just truly knew her and her heart for an opportunity like this.
Paul’s preaching and teaching tour of Crete has left small scattered house churches across the island but now to continue to grow in their faith and mission they need some more formally established leadership. Paul has given Titus the job of appointing these elders. Titus 1.5 They are not jobs for the faint hearted, Cyprus is famous for its lax morals and prevalent dishonesty, v12 a place where the culture lays traps for the newly converted disciples of Jesus. The church has also come under the influence of Jewish groups that are adding to and distorting the apostolic gospel. v14 Surely then Titus must pay special attention to skills, organizational structures, eloquence of speech and commanding presence. It appears these are not considered essential in the person specification although they may have been desirable. Paul has one overriding priority and that is the character of the person. He then subdivides it into three areas.
The fact that Paul did not appoint elders at the foundation of the churches is relevant. It takes time to grow and assess Christian character. In 1 Timothy, Paul counsels, ‘Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands.’ v5.22 He adds, ‘The sins of some are obvious … the sins of others trail behind them. In the same way, good deeds are obvious, and even those that are not obvious cannot remain hidden forever.’ vv5.24,25 The appointment of leaders is not to be rushed.
Public reputation is vital firstly expressed in their family life. What the neighbours see reflects on the standing of Christ in the community. Twice Paul asserts an elder must be, ‘above reproach.’ vv6,7 The conduct of the family and the faithfulness of any marriage should give a positive testimony to the elder.
The individual conduct is also crucial, under the phrase self-controlled comes an absence of drunkenness, quick temper and violence. v7 Motivations are equally important, an elder should not be arrogant, a lover of good, holy in their inclinations and disciplined in their approach. These things all bear strongly on how they will relate to the church and to the community as they reach out in mission. They could well find their perfect expression through hospitality, v8 taking a lead from Jesus’ lifestyle where he delighted to spend time with ‘sinners,’ not to join in their activity but to lovingly share the gospel. What will differentiate the sacrificial leader is the time they give to people beyond their own inner circle.
The final characteristic Paul emphasizes is the person’s understanding and sharing of the gospel. This being the basis on which they relate to church members, ‘holding firm to the trustworthy word as taught, so that he may be able to give instruction in sound doctrine and also to rebuke those who contradict it.’ v9 This implies the capacity to go beyond simply quoting scripture and includes wise and loving interpretation and application.
Word of God Speak
Chosen ones Titus 1.1-4
Each year I grow courgettes from seed. Most people think courgettes are about 10 or 15cm in length, mine usually go wild and end up 30cm monster marrows. This year during lock down with garden centres closed, new packets of seed were not available. I searched the cupboards and found a packet of opened, old, out of date seeds. I only wanted two or three plants so I chose the six fattest seeds to plant in pots thinking with luck two or three would germinate. A week or so later five small plants popped their heads out. As every (well almost every) school child knows, for a seed to grow into a plant you have to do more than choose it. You have to provide water, warmth, food and light in a host environment.
Paul was God’s gardener. Paul opens his letter as a servant or slave of God. It is the only time he uses that term, usually preferring to be known as a servant of Jesus. By identifying himself as a servant of God he was also directly connecting himself to Old Testament greats also known as servants of God, Moses, David and the prophets. Why was this? Perhaps because the root of much of the false teaching in the church of Cyprus was coming from Jewish breakaway groups such as the circumcision party. He also calls himself an apostle of Jesus. An apostle is one who is sent, however in the New Testament it also referred to eye witnesses of Jesus’ ministry who were given authority by Jesus himself. Paul did not fit that description but he had met Jesus personally on the Damascus Road and in subsequent visions, Jesus had chosen and sent him to be an apostle to Gentiles. Paul then uses a term that has divided the Christian church over generations, he was an apostle, ‘for the sake of the elect.’ v1 Elsewhere the New Testament uses the term chosen.
Many have taken a strict interpretation of the term and pushed the meaning to the extent that the elect will come to faith regardless of their own will or the actions of others. God will enforce his will. It then becomes a recipe for complacency and inaction both on the part of the believer and the church. However later in Titus, Paul writes, ‘the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people,’ v2.11 and in 1 Timothy 2.3-4 ‘It is pleasing in the sight of God our Saviour, who desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth.’
The notion of being chosen in the New Testament is much more nuanced than a coach picking a team and simply leaving everyone else out. Jesus spoke to his disciples and said, ‘You did not choose me, but I chose you and appointed you so that you might go and bear fruit – fruit that will last (converts) and so whatever you ask in my name the Father will give you.’ John 15.16 Paul knew he was chosen to go to all with the gospel and nurture faith until it produced righteous lives that then went on to repeat the process with others. We are part of that apostolic tradition.
May the Peoples Praise you – Keith and Kristyn Getty
A new song: a fresh start Psalm 40.1-10
It is our first day of a new job. We spent the last week or so worrying about what the dress code is, who we will meet, are we really up to this new challenge, will we make friends, what time do I have to leave home to get there on time and how fulfilled will we be? At the same time, we were probably worrying about the impact the job will have on family and other aspects of our life.
Fresh starts bring a surge of emotions. Some of us grasp them with both hands and go forward boldly while others are more cautious and focus more on the uncertainties. Probably most people experience a mixture of emotions. We may also look back at what we have left behind, possibly with relief and perhaps with regret. New jobs are of course just one example of new beginnings. Spiritually committing our life to following Christ is the biggest step and it is so dramatic that Jesus terms it being born again.
David, in Psalm 40, has just reached the point of a new beginning. He has kept his earlier advice and waited on the Lord. Ps37.7 38.15 The waiting period can be a time of great uncertainty and stress, I think of refugees who are granted the right to stay in the country but then have to begin the process of building an entirely new life, but there are many other examples. David’s first emotion is one of relief and thanksgiving for the new opportunity. ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; he turned to me and heard my cry. He lifted me out of the slimy pit, out of the mud and mire; he set my feet on a rock and gave me a firm place to stand.’ vv1,2 David may have been recalling Joseph’s experience of being placed by his brothers in a pit as they initially plotted to kill him. Later in Judah’s history Jeremiah was literally condemned to a slimy pit. As we progress through our Christian life we can look back and identify our own ‘slimy pits,’ and understand God’s grace even though it was difficult to do so at the time.
Now with his feet set firmly on rock David pauses to praise God. This is such a necessary step it builds the relationship with God. It puts one’s experience in context and refocuses our eyes and direction. The most natural thing for the saved is to celebrate with song. v3 Part of our witness to the community in which we live is to praise God for his work in our lives and there will be those who see and understand that we have trusted in the Lord. ‘Many will see and fear the Lord and put their trust in him.’ v3
David goes on to make clear how to continue life in new circumstances. In verse 4 he sets out what to root our life in and that is trust in the Lord. He recognizes that the surrounding world tempts us to trust in many other people and things but he urges us to not turn aside to false gods. To pray for clarity in our lives as to what false gods might grow in our hearts is part of the discipleship path. David also returns to a frequent theme of psalms, to remember all that God has already done as evidence of God’s purposes for us in the future. It leads him to declare, ‘None can compare with you; were I to speak and tell of your deeds, they would be too many to declare.’ v5
David then addresses the issue of the heart. The sacrifice that God requires of us is primarily willing obedience. ‘I desire to do thy will, my God; your law is within my heart.’ v8 Paul described this process as being, ‘transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect.’ Romans12.2
To continue with the fresh start and new song David declares it is a public thing. He needs to spend time in the company of the Lord’s people where God’s righteousness, faithfulness, love and saving activity is jointly celebrated. Vv9,10 It is not God’s plan that his people should be lone disciples. We are part of one body and need each other. This is not weakness but strength.
When I was lost – Geraldine Latty
Struggling for perspective Psalm 39
In the rhythm of life there can be times of calm and times of turmoil. Turmoil often raises questions and doubts about how one should tackle those problems including what to say or not say. In the middle of one specific issue it is easy to lose the perspective of the big picture and what remain the important issues. In the short series of psalms 37,38 and 39 David has echoed wisdom books in the bible. In Psalm 37 passages were similar to proverbs, in Psalm 38 it was more like Job and here in Psalm 39 much of it accords with Ecclesiastes.
David is not specific about what his problems are but he does attribute some of it to his own sin v8 and God’s discipline. vv9-11 His troubles are compounded by his feelings of alienation with those around him. David’s initial response is to keep quiet, ‘I will watch my ways and keep my tongue from sin; I will put a muzzle on my mouth while in the presence of the wicked.’ vv1,2 Why is David not wanting to talk about things? There could be a number of reasons, he perhaps doesn’t want to appear a fool or disgrace himself. He maybe does not want to bring disgrace to God in front of nonbelievers. He might simply be unsure of the best thing to do. Whatever the reason his anxiety increased, ‘But my anguish increased; my heart grew hot within me. While I meditated, the fire burned.’ vv2,3 In the end he had to speak but not to those around who he did not trust but to the Lord.
David asked God to give him a perspective on his life compared with the eternal nature of the Lord. He asks God to show him how fleeting life is and concludes, ‘You have made my days a few hand-breadths; and my lifetime is as nothing before you.’ v5 This he realizes is true of everybody not just him however secure people might feel. It is almost as if a penny has dropped, however desperate I might be feeling right now, in truth my objective situation is not fundamentally different to everybody else whatever they might think. This leads him on to grasping that the rush for wealth and by implication other things the surrounding world might bestow on him is simply vanity and worthless. Jesus repeats this teaching in the parable of the rich fool, Luke 12.16-21.
David turns again to the Lord, realizing that his purpose and life is to be found in him. ‘But now Lord, what do I look for? My hope is in you.’ v7 It is a simple statement but profound. He realizes that he is naturally a sinner and constantly needs the Lord’s help to overcome sin and be forgiven. v12 The sense of being a stranger in the world will not go away but he has the presence of the Lord with him as his inheritance, ‘I will dwell with you as a foreigner, a stranger, as all my ancestors were.’ v12 At the same time he finds it difficult to be constantly in the presence of God, as did Job. Job 7.17-21.
My hope is built on nothing less
The unbearable weight of sin Psalm 38
There is a difference between self-loathing arising from a distorted self-image and carrying the burden of knowing the unresolved harm one has done. It is possible to feel deep guilt when there is no guilt. There are however times when one can have done things that we have refused or failed to address. This can then build up In our mind and become, ‘a burden too heavy to bear.’ v4 It can feel that the more we suppress it the more it affects us, impacting our mood and personality, relationships and functioning, in everyday life.
We see in Psalm 38 that for David consciousness of his sin has not just impacted his relationships with people around him but with the Lord as well. David is a man who essentially both fears and worships God but he has here committed sin that deeply grieves God and himself. We can helpfully read this psalm as if it is the experience of someone who has previously not trusted in God but is now burdened down by the weight of his own sense of guilt, convinced by God of his guilt, he is now seeking forgiveness and a relationship with God. We can do this because much of the language fits that situation but it was not David’s true position.
David experiences God piercing his conscience v2 and this has translated itself into physical and mental symptoms. vv3,8 He concludes this section with, ‘I am feeble and utterly crushed; I groan in anguish of heart.’ v8 At this point he has stopped fighting and admits his situation before the Lord. ‘All my longings lie open before you, Lord; my sighing is not hidden from you.’ v9 There are those who treat the confession of sin as a superficial thing, a quick fix and move on. David here shows that it can take time for a truly repentant spirit to work through their situation. His sin has caused a rift between him and his neighbours and friends. v11 He has created opportunities for his enemies to gain advantage. v12 In his prayer life he has found he cannot find words and simply has to be in the presence of God. ‘I have become like one who does not hear, whose mouth can offer no reply. Lord, I wait for you; you will answer, Lord my God.’ vv14,15
David remains worried that he has enemies that he does not deserve and he reverts to previous complaints to God that people who he has been good to are now falsely blaming him. vv19,20 This reminds us that simply confessing sin and being forgiven by God does not remove all troubles from life. David is aware of his continuing need to be close to God in his prayer, ‘Lord, do not forsake me; do not be far from me, my God. Come quickly to help me, my Lord and my Saviour.’ vv21,22
Let us learn to rest in the grace of Christ. To quote Philip Yancey, ‘Grace means there is nothing we can do to make God love us more . . . and there is nothing we can do to make God love us less.’ (What’s so amazing about grace.)
Broken vessels – Hillsong W-orship
Living in a world where the wicked prosper. Psalm 37
It is a great challenge for the Christian to know how to respond when wickedness succeeds bringing prosperity, power and happiness to its practitioners, especially when it is at the expense of ‘the righteous’. This situation does seem to be an ever present reality. In the workplace it is often bullying leaders and managers who succeed at the expense of employees and this is not limited to private enterprise. Consider the cost whistle blowers in public services have paid. At governmental level the power and wealth accumulated by oppressive governmental leaders is a permanent feature of history and no less evident today. A global perspective brings into focus that a broadly just and compassionate government that prioritizes the weakest in society is a minority position. In the home the figures for domestic abuse are frightening. Last year the Office for National Statistics estimated that 2.4 million people were domestically abused in England and Wales. The church is not immune to the corruption of power as has been highlighted in recent public exposures.
How then should the Christian live? Should we change sides and say that clearly righteousness is a waste of time and we would be much better off conforming to the norm where evil doers prosper? David’s response in Psalm 37 is reinforced through the bible and it is striking how much it accords with Jesus’ teaching 1500 years later. He is adamant that we should, ‘turn from evil and do good; then you will dwell in the land forever. For the Lord loves the just and will not forsake his faithful ones.’ vv 27,28
David characterizes the wicked as enemies of the righteous v12 and the poor and needy. v14 This is a warning as to reality, ‘The wicked plots against the righteous and gnashes his teeth at him. V12 and ‘The wicked watches for the righteous and seeks to put him to death.’ V32 It was the same experience for Jesus and the church of the New Testament.
David takes a long view or eternal perspective. Some might say even a naïve view when he says, ‘I have never seen the righteous forsaken or their children begging for bread.’ v25 when that clearly is not universally true. He is however clear that the prosperity of the wicked is a temporary thing and often they become the victim of their own wickedness, ‘But their swords will pierce their own hearts.’ v15 He compares the wicked to the grass in the Middle East, green in spring but withered and dry by the autumn. v2 Ultimately under God’s judgement the wicked will be destroyed, ‘there will be no future for the wicked.’ v38
In the face of wickedness he calls people into relationship with the Lord. He urges us to, trust in the Lord, v3 take delight in the Lord, v4 commit to the Lord, v5 be still before the Lord, v7 wait for the Lord, v7 and hope in the Lord. v34 Arising from time spent with the Lord and our relationship with him he then appeals to us to not be angry or worry v8 and to hope in the Lord and keep his way. v34
This is not an easy thing when one has experienced great suffering from the hands of evil doers but this is the over-arching promise of God that was pioneered by Jesus.
‘The salvation of the righteous come from the Lord; he is their stronghold in time of trouble. The Lord helps them and delivers them; he delivers them from the wicked and saves them, because they take refuge in him.’ vv39,40
Trust his heart – Babbie Mason
New wine – Hillsong
The battle for the heart and soul Psalm 36
Over several months I had conversations with a man I will call Tim. He was trying to leave behind a life that had led him to prison and a reliance on drink and drugs because he now had a child that he was not allowed to see because of his life style. It was an internal struggle but it was also a battle against the deliberate temptations placed in his way by those who encouraged him to continue with his previous life. There were texts from drug dealers extoling the virtues of their new batch from county lines, people knocking on his door and the offers of superficial friendship in the midst of loneliness and depression.
David, in Psalm 36, recognizes this battle for the soul and he concludes the psalm with a prayer that he is not drawn into the ways of the wicked. ‘Let not the foot of arrogance come upon me, nor the hand of the wicked drive me away.’ v11 Translators place different interpretations on the opening verse as to whether it is a message from God or wickedness in his heart, but whatever the source, sinfulness personified is calling to him. The overriding attitude of sin is arrogance. Arrogance expressed as no fear or respect for God and a conceited belief that that sin will not be exposed. ‘There is no fear of God before his eyes. For he flatters himself in his own eyes that his iniquity cannot be found out and hated.’ vv1,2 It was Tim’s experience that even as he was trying to leave a corrupt life behind so others were thinking of ways to tempt him back. We should not underestimate the deliberateness of criminals or even our peer group to encourage us in living a godless life. Once those decisions have been made it becomes increasingly hard to change direction. David expresses the personification of sin as, ‘The words of his mouth are trouble and deceit; he has ceased to act wisely and do good. He plots trouble while on his bed; he sets himself in a way that is not good; he does not reject evil.’ vv2,3 David makes clear that simply not rejecting evil amounts to complying with evil.
In contrast choosing good over evil is not so much choosing good as the source of goodness in the person of God. He is love and righteousness, vv5,6 as well as where we find refuge from sin and temptation. v7 At that point we find a truly satisfying life. ‘They feast on the abundance of your house and you give them drink from the river of your delights.’ v8 David then prays that he will continue to choose God’s life over death. vv10-12
The battle for the soul is a battle that can be won but only by Christ within us. Paul summed that up, ‘If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has passed away; behold, the new has come.’ 2Corinthians 5.17
He’s a chain breaker – Zach Williams
Is it ever OK to pray for your enemy’s downfall? Psalm 35
For many there is a genuine conflict between what is seen as ‘Old Testament’ values of appealing to God for victory in war and Jesus’ ‘New Testament’ statement to love your enemies. Mathew 5.44 The appeals to God for the destruction of one’s enemies, ‘Contend, Lord, with those who contend with me; fight against those who fight against me.’ v1are know as curses. Curses are not limited to the Old Testament. They are rephrased as ‘woes’ when Jesus criticizes scribes and Pharisees. Matt 23 Passages such as Psalm 35.4-10 have been so uncomfortable that the Church of England marked them as not suitable to be read aloud in services between 1980 and 2000. Do we share that problem?
How then can we understand a psalm like Psalm 35? It can be read literally or metaphorically in its original setting. Can it then be applied to modern life? How do we understand it spiritually? I am sure it was written from the experience of life threatening and life taking conflict. This psalm reflects the truth about Israel’s internal conflict during David’s life time when Saul sought to unjustly kill David and during civil war with the forces backing Absalom. Internal malicious plotting was rife. ‘They do not speak peaceably, but devise false accusations against those who live quietly in the land.’ v20 David is not claiming to be faultless but he was chosen by God to fulfil his will and in that sense was living in his will. He could therefore justifiably pray, ‘Vindicate me in your righteousness, Lord my God; do not let them gloat over me.’ v24 He appeals to God that his enemies would fall into their own trap. v8
David was right to first of all appeal to God rather than his own prowess and then give thanks to him when he was rescued. ‘Who is like you, Lord? You rescue the poor and needy from those who rob them.’ v10 As disciples our first appeal is to God, ‘may they always say, “The Lord be exalted, who delights in the well being of his servant.” v27 Where there are those who persistently remain enemies of the Lord the New Testament does teach that there will be judgement and the forces against God will be appropriately punished. Revelation shows us worship of the Lamb for his ultimate victory over evil.
Is there a place now for this literal understanding of praying for physical victory over the political, military, criminal and religious forces of evil? I would say yes in this week of remembering V.E. day. The nation prayed at Dunkirk. The forces of fascist evil attacked not only the Christian church but the whole of society. Such oppressive forces are still very active in the world and through the life experiences of refugees within the church there is ample evidence that Christian opposition to such forces is not only justified it is part of our obedience to God.
There is also a spiritual battle that Christians are expected to engage in. Paul informs us, ‘We do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers over this present darkness, against the spiritual forces of evil in heavenly places. Ephesians 6.12 He then echoes David’s call to put on God’s armour and weaponry. ‘Take up shield and armour; arise and come to my aid. Brandish spear and javelin against those who pursue me. Say to me, I am your salvation.’ vv 2,3
Great in Power –
Can we ever see God’s presence in our major mess ups?
Psalm 34 and 1 Samuel 20.30 – 21.14
Terrified, David, having been tipped off by Jonathan his best friend, fled from Saul’s court with Saul in his jealous rage promising his death. He first went to Ahimelek a trusted friend and priest, lying to him he gained food and a weapon, Goliath’s own sword. He then sought refuge in the city of Israel’s persistent enemy who he had defeated on many occasions, the Philistines. When exposed before the Philistine king, Achish, he feigned madness with comic stereotypical behaviour, foaming at the mouth and clawing at the gate leaving deep gash marks before Achish dismissed him as worthless.
The consequences of this dishonest and faithless conduct was that Ahimelek, his family, 85 priests and the whole town Ahimelek lived in were murdered for his supposed treachery. David himself from being God’s anointed one reduced himself to a pathetic fool to save his life. David later looks back at these actions sees not his cleverness at his deceptions but God’s protection of his anointed even when his actions caused such injustice and reduced state.
David’s reflection divides into two broad sections: his thanks and praise for the Lord’s mercy when he was at his most helpless and faithless time, vv1-10 he then moves on to sharing lessons learnt in bitter experience. vv11-22 Perhaps unwittingly, but divinely inspired, he concludes prophesying redemption through Jesus’ death on the cross for those who, ‘seek refuge in him.’ v22
A brief summary of these experiences are in these verses, ‘My soul makes its boast in the Lord, let the humble hear and be glad, v2 and ‘This poor man cried, and the Lord heard him and saved him out of all his troubles.’ v6 David here gives credit where credit is due.
David also wanted others to grasp, ‘The Lord is near to the brokenhearted and saves the crushed in spirit.’ v18
John draws on David’s prophesy, ‘He keeps all his bones; not one of them is broken’ v20 to testify that Jesus is the redeemer. John 19.36
I invite you to reflect with me on how God in our deepest failures and greatest rejection of him, he has remained near and is still our redeemer.
Close to the broken hearted – Jill Phillips
Creating the soundtrack to our life Psalm 33
Have you felt eager anticipation to join in praise to God? To join the company of God’s people in singing fresh songs to him. David must be the epitome of a worship leader. As we discover afresh some new aspect of God’s nature and salvation so our emotions can burst out and we understand David’s opening exclamation, ‘Sing joyfully to the Lord’ or as the ESV puts it ‘Shout for joy in the Lord, O you righteous.’ v1
The Lord God remains the same, it is our understanding that refreshes or we grasp some new aspect of his character. ‘Let all the earth fear the Lord; let all the inhabitants of the world stand in awe of him! For he spoke, and it came to be; he commanded, and it stood firm.’ vv8,9
All the reasons David found to praise God are perfected in Jesus. Jesus’ words are right and true, v4 he perfected righteousness and justice in his death and resurrection. He is the Word of God and by his word all things were made. v6, John 1.3 Jesus has called to himself a people who are his inheritance. v12, ‘As you come to him, the living Stone – rejected by humans but chosen by God and precious to him – you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ. 1Peter 2.5
The Lord sees all vv13,14 and, ‘the eyes of the Lord are on those who fear him,’ v18 or as Peter says, ‘For the eyes of the Lord are on the righteous and his ears are attentive to their prayer, but the face of the Lord is against those who do evil.’ 1Peter 3.12 Our hope is in him, v20 as Peter again reminds us, ‘He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you.’ 1Peter 3.3,4
In the light of this whenever you feel the urge and want to join in a new song, do so with all your heart and skill giving a shout for joy. v3
New song in my heart – Rob Smith
Won my heart – Emu Youth
The stubborn mule Psalm 32 and 1 John 1.5-10
Have you ever experienced someone who believed their persistent and rigid refusal to accept they are wrong was a sign of strength? Where this occurs it not only harms those around them, it damages the person them self. It exposes their own weakness and frailty and can lead to a warped perception of reality. Internally great mental and spiritual stresses are set up. Frequently lasting damage to relationships occur because the means to resolve the problem has been denied.
God counsels us in Psalm 32, ‘Do not be like the horse or the mule which has no understanding but must be controlled by bit and bridle.’ v9 The pressure of one’s deceit when one is in self denial eats away internally and can feel like a heavy weight upon you. David describes this, ‘When I kept silent, my bones wasted away through my groaning all day long. For day and night your hand was heavy upon me; my strength was dried up as by the heat of the summer.’ vv3,4 This is highly destructive in our human relationships and also in our relationship with God.
What is the pressure relief valve in such a case? It is the acknowledgement of the problem. That opens up a pathway for resolution. This is the case in our interpersonal reactions and also between ourselves and God. David says, ‘I acknowledge my sin to you, and I did not cover my iniquity; I said I will confess my transgressions to the Lord, and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. The apostle John makes the same point that our relationship with God is restored through Jesus’ sacrifice. ‘If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness.’ 1John 1.9
David experienced the relief and joy of being forgiven and Psalm 32 was written to celebrate that and to guide others into what he had learnt from bitter experience. So, he opened the psalm with, ‘Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity and in whose spirit there is no deceit.’ vv2,3
Oh how I need you – Sons and Daughters
Let me not be put to shame Psalm 31
The fear of shame or public humiliation has frequently controlled people’s lives. It can be the fear of one’s actions becoming known, a sin revealed. At other times it may involve not living up to the expectations of others or one’s own. A broken promise can turn in to shame and broken relationships. Shame has led to life changing, even life taking, abuse and now we are far more aware of self abuse arising from a sense of shame. Shame can feel like a place that is impossible to escape from or survive. How we need a God who understands and brings about restoration at times like these even if it is our actions that take us to the place of shame. David twice utters the prayer in Psalm 31, ‘Let me never/not be put to shame.’ vv1,17
In Jesus we have a God who has experienced dreadful public shaming even though, in fact because, he was sinless. As we read David’s cry to the Lord for mercy vv 9-13 we can say it was like that for Jesus but worse. Because of his enemies he became an object of contempt and dread even to his closest friends and family, stripped naked, beaten to near death, ridiculed, nailed to a cross and publicly taunted whilst in great pain until he died. The crowds who had just days before hailed him as a hero now conspired against him and plotted to take his life. It was in those last moments that Jesus used David’s words, ‘Into your hands I commit my spirit.’ v5 He did not go on as far as we know and add David’s words, ‘deliver me, Lord, my faithful God.’ v5 But that was what he did, trusting in a faithful Father to restore him through resurrection for his name’s sake.
The grounds for David’s appeal was for the Lord’s ‘name’s sake,’ v3 referring to God’s promise to David in 2 Samuel 7.8-11 that he would cut off David’s enemies. Similarly, we can also appeal to God’s promises however deep our feelings of despair. David does not pretend that his sin has not contributed to his situation v10 but this does not prevent him from appealing to the character of God. God is righteous, v1 a rock and a fortress, v3 a redeemer, v5 abundant in goodness, v19 and preserves the faithful. v23
At the end of the psalm David has passed through the trial and praised God for his mercy. From his experience he urges others to trust in the Lord. ‘Be strong, and let your heart take courage, all you who wait for the Lord.’ In God, through Jesus, we can find complete acceptance.
‘No one whose hope is in you will ever be put to shame’ – Graham Kendrick, Matt Redman
How great is our love? Psalm 30
When questioned by a self-righteous Pharisee, why a woman known only as a sinner was allowed to touch him and anoint his feet with ointment, Jesus replied with a story that showed that those who have been forgiven most have the greatest love for Jesus. Luke 7.36-50 Her thanksgiving and love were expressed through kissing and washing Jesus’ feet with tears, drying them with her hair and anointing them. We should never be shy about our thanksgiving, praise and love for God.
After a series of laments from David when he was in the midst of troubles, in Psalm 30 we have a celebration of praise and thanksgiving for salvation from troubles. However, this psalm recognizes that life’s challenges do not stop and we have continuing need for the Lord’s mercy. The psalm opens with an exclamation of praise, ‘I will extol you, O Lord, for you have drawn me up and not let my foes rejoice over me.’ v1 Do we reflect on times when we have known the relief of the Lord’s victory in our life and praised him for it? It may be when we first knew his salvation, possibly when he gave us victory over a particular sin, when we were raised from a serious sickness, protected or removed from the threat of harm. Then we can join in with the thanksgiving, ‘O Lord my God, I cried to you for help, and you healed me. O Lord you have brought up my soul from Sheol (death); you restored me to life.’ vv2,3
David considered such times as discipline from God but without them he could not experience the joy of God’s subsequent blessing. vv4,5 Going through such experiences has increased David’s resilience and he praises God for it, ‘By your favour, O Lord, you made my mountain stand strong.’ v7 Despite this David still experiences despair when he feels remote from God v7 David appeals to God for mercy on the basis that we are made to praise God. v8,9 David praises God with his whole being dancing, singing and gladness. Charismatic worship is no new phenomena. If we have experienced God’s victory in our life let us join in with David and say, ‘O Lord my God, I will give thanks to you forever.’ v12
I will sing of the goodness of God.
How do you imagine God? Psalm 29
How do we envision God and what impact does that have on us? Our experiences both enable and limit our imagination. Consider the authors of the three major prophetic books. Isaiah saw, ‘the Lord, high and exalted, seated on a throne.’ He cried, ‘Woe is me!’ He knew he was too unclean to speak the word of God until a Seraphim put a burning coal to his lips taking away his guilt. Isaiah chp6 Jeremiah experienced God’s hand touching his mouth so he could speak and then God gave him a sequence of visions concerning his judgements. Jeremiah chp1 Out of a storm Exekiel saw four spectacular living creatures, ‘Each appeared to be made like a wheel intersecting a wheel.’ Above them a figure like a man of awesome appearance revealing the glory of the Lord, and Exekiel fell down. Exekiel chp1 Each by understanding the greatness of God, his holiness and power was equipped to boldly speak the word of God.
David was raised to praise God’s glory, power and holiness through the experience of an awesome storm that swept in from the Mediterranean into northern Canaan (now Lebanon) and south to the Desert of Kadesh, sweeping over Jerusalem. If this is God’s creation, how much more powerful is the Creator? Grasping the awesomeness of God draws one into worshipping his holiness. v3 There are times when envisioning the greatness and holiness of God can lead one into simply repeating his name. Eighteen times David repeats the name of the Lord (Yahweh) in this short psalm and seven times he refers to the power of the voice of the Lord. This is a psalm to be read aloud declaring the glory of the Lord. ‘And in his temple all cry, Glory’ v9
From this psalm we are to take confidence that, ‘The Lord is enthroned forever. The Lord gives strength to his people. The Lord blesses his people with peace.’ vv 10,11
In the words of the Anglican liturgy, ‘Go forth and serve the Lord.’
Ascribe to the Lord
The people are in great danger! Psalm 28
If like me you are safe and comfortable in your home and nobody is threatening your life or the life of the people you love, you may wonder if Psalm 28 has any relevance today. However, this morning I received a message from someone I know who is seeking asylum in the UK and the opening sentence was, ‘For the past three years we have witnessed and had to cope and deal with death, destruction of property, looting, kidnappings, massive arrests, chaos and fear in my country.’* The setting is a country where the ethnic groups in power are trying to impose their will upon minority groups through the armed forces. Oppression on the basis of ethnicity, religion, gender, political persuasion and organised crime are widespread. A 2019 UK government report found that approximately 1 in 3 people suffer from religious persecution and that in parts of the world persecution of Christians is at near genocidal levels. The latest UNHCR report (2018) shows world record levels of displaced persons at 70.8 million worldwide. There are 37,000 new displacements every day.
In Psalm 28 David pleads with God to, ‘Save your people and bless your heritage!’ v9 In verses 1 to 7 David speaks as an individual threatened by the wicked and evil doers but he does so as the King and therefore is speaking on behalf of all his people. He goes on to assert that the Lord is the people’s saving refuge. ‘The Lord is the strength of his people, he is the saving refuge of his anointed.’ v8
I am repeatedly impressed at the readiness of people who have experienced extreme suffering at the hands of oppressors, political, religious and criminal to turn to God rather than reject faith in disillusionment. They echo David, ‘To you, O Lord, I call; my rock, be not deaf to me.’ v1 Verse 3 speaks of powers that pretend peace whilst practising such things as human rights violations. ‘Do not drag me off with the wicked, with the workers of evil, who speak peace with their neighbours while evil is in their hearts.’
David looks forward to God’s righteous judgement, ‘Because they do not regard the works of the Lord or the work of his hands, he will tear them down and build them up no more.’ v5
In the mean time when we see God’s hand in protecting and saving people it is good to join the celebration of his mercy. ‘The Lord is my strength and my shield; in him my heart trusts, and I am helped; my heart exults, and with my song I give thanks to him.’ v7
Build your kingdom here – Rend Collective
. With permission from the author.
Ordering the desires of our heart Psalm 27
When we face turmoil in our life what symptoms do we display? Does our mind go into overdrive? Do we lose focus on what our priorities should be? Perhaps we have physical reactions such as headaches, feeling sick or becoming overtaken by tiredness. We could find that we have a spiritual reaction, it may be difficult to pray, we want to withdraw from worship, we start self-blaming. One of the bible teachers I find particularly helpful, in both his writing and talks placed on Youtube, is Tim Keller. He uses the phrase ordering the desires of our heart.* This is a conscious act, in Psalm 27 David goes through this process.
In a time of darkness he sees the Lord as his light. ‘The Lord is my light and salvation; whom shall I fear?’ v1 It is easy to get lost in darkness but to him the Lord is light and draws him towards it and that gives him confidence. v3
David has learnt that spiritually he needs to remain in the presence of the Lord and if that seems distant he must seek after it. ‘One thing I ask from the Lord, and this only do I seek: that I may dwell in the house of the Lord all the days of my life.’ v4 Jesus made this promise to his disciples about remaining in the intimate presence of God, ‘As my Father has loved me, so have I loved you. Now remain in my love.’ John 15.9 While in the presence of the Lord, David can worship and seek understanding. v5
David has learnt the power of praise when surrounded by difficulties. ‘I will sing and make melody to the Lord.’ v6 Paul and Silas grasped this when they were in prison having been flogged and their feet placed in stocks, they volubly prayed and praised God, and then an earthquake freed them from their bonds. Acts 26.26,27
As David remains in the presence of God his desire turns to learning from God as this will guide him. vv 7-12
Waiting on the Lord v14 is not a passive resignation, it is an active expression of confident hope. The word translated ‘wait’ in the ESV in psalm 25 is translated ‘hope’ in the NIV. Putting the two words together conveys a positive action in the same way Paul urged Titus to, ‘wait for the blessed hope – the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ.’ Titus 2,13
David then, ordered his desires: he turned to the light of the Lord and chose to remain in his presence. There he offered a sacrifice of praise and learnt from him placing his hope in God his Saviour.
Great is the darkness: (Come Lord Jesus)
How do you plead? Psalm 26
Being unfairly accused of wrong doing is very stressful but an experience common to many. It can impact on many things, our relationships, our public standing, our future capacity to continue in a role or earn income, where we are welcome and to what extent we are trusted. How we react in those circumstances is a test of character. If we hold a particularly prominent position these things can be heightened further. David prays Psalm 26 as King.
David’s circumstances at the time of writing are not known. He considers his accusers to be plotting against him, prepared to bribe others to achieve their goal of taking his life. vv9,10 Their false accusations relate to his lifestyle, v3 his friends v4 and the sincerity of his religious practice. vv 6-8
David’s response is to come to God and plead that he is blameless in these circumstances. ‘Vindicate me, Lord, for I have led a blameless life.’ v1 David is not claiming a sinless life as is clear in many other psalms, but of these accusations he is not guilty. David then prays a prayer of a sincere seeker after God. ‘Test me, Lord, and try me, examine my heart and mind; for I have always been mindful of your unfailing love and have lived in reliance on your faithfulness.’ vv 3,3 To David the judgement of God is more important that the judgement of people even though his standing as King in the eyes of the nation is of great significance.
Our private integrity with God is the cornerstone of our life. It is entirely reasonable to then pray with David, ‘Deliver me and be merciful to me.’ v11 It provides a stable place to stand and then we can in good conscience publically praise God. ‘My feet stand on level ground; in the great congregation I will praise the Lord.’ v12
Does this mean we have to self justify ourselves to God? No it does not. Our standing with God relies on trusting in his unfailing love v3 expressed through Jesus’ sacrifice. ‘But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.’ Ephesians 2.4,5
Faithful one – Robin Mark
Don’t give me that attitude! Psalm 25
I can hear that rebuke in so many situations. I can hear the frustrated parent with the child over the tidiness of their room, the teacher when a student adopts the passive aggressive pose, the employer to the repeatedly late employee, the pensioner to the patronizing call centre worker. Why is attitude so important? It is because it acts as a key to unlocking learning, healthy relationships and personal well being. v13
The attitude with which we approach God impacts our learning but it does not come out of a vacuum. At the time of writing David is fearful and afraid he will be shamed. vv 2-3,19-20 These are common emotions through life, they can cause spiritual paralysis but David is aware this is a time to turn to God and learn.
A key aspect of discipleship is ordering one’s desires and David’s first desire is for the Lord, ‘To you O Lord, I lift up my soul.’ v1 He then desires to learn and learning is much more that a quick fix answer. Learning involves engaging with truth, understanding the character of God and his purposes. ‘Make me to know your ways, O Lord … Lead me in your truth and teach me.’ vv 4,5 For the modern disciple it involves being a life-long learner from the bible.
David brings an attitude of humility to both his Lord and to the process of learning. He doesn’t expect instant command of God’s ways. Perhaps the most important word in the psalm is ‘wait’. ‘For you I wait all the day long’ v5 is repeated in verse 21, ‘for I wait for you.’ Learning takes time and understanding can come in unexpected moments. For me, surprisingly, often in the shower.
David knows God is the teacher, and this is an act of mercy v6 in response to repentance. v11 Learning comes from being in relationship with the Lord. David speaks of, ‘friendship of the Lord is for those who fear him.’ v14 This should not be surprising as most remember learning best from teachers they liked and respected.
Finally, learning is set in an attitude of trust. The psalm is bookended with trust, ‘O my God, in you I trust;’ v2 and, ‘for I take refuge in you. v19
A prayer, ‘Lord, enable me to order my desires. I will wait upon the Lord’
Awesome presence of God Psalm 24 and 2 Samuel 6
There is a generation who gained all their knowledge of the ark of the Lord from Indiana Jones and in a sense would have understood a partial truth. The ark was not to be treated casually, not because blue lasers would be emitted from it, but because it was holy. The awesome holiness of God has a tendency to be lost in the relaxed ease of modern worship but David and the Israelites had a sharp lesson regarding holiness as they carried the ark to Jerusalem. 2 Samuel 6 The ark embodied the presence of God in all his holiness, from God’s presence comes blessing, 2 Sam 6.11 therefore the entry of the ark into Jerusalem symbolized God’s blessing of David’s kingship and thus the whole nation. Psalm 24 is closely associated with this event.
The starting point of reverence and worship is understanding and asserting that everything is God’s because he is the source of all. ‘The earth is the Lord’s and the fullness thereof.’ Ps 24.1 This changes our perspective as any ambitious drive to permanently own becomes illusory.
Who then can stand in the presence of such a holy God? Four criteria are set out; righteous actions, righteous motives, loyalty to God alone and openness in relationships with others without unfair gain. ‘The one who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.’ v4 Verses 5 and 6 change the phrasing and blessing from an individual to the collective people of God. When we seek God’s blessing it is the whole church whose living worship Romans 12.1-2 is called upon to reflect God’s holiness. This does seem alien in an individualized society but we are called to be in the world but not of the world.
The psalm in verses 7-10 changes to a call and response liturgy as the ark and thus the ‘King of glory’ ascends the mountain, enters Jerusalem and the tabernacle, later the temple, to bring victory.
How then can we enter the presence of such a holy God? Praise God, only through Jesus.
‘God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are, so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption.’ 1Corinthians 1.28-30
Who is this King of Glory – Chris Tomlin
(Suggest playing through a good speaker to get the bass)
Valley walking Psalm 23
Valley walking can be a great joy. We probably have favourite valleys. Each one capturing a mood and a sense of spirituality. I love the steep wooded sides of the Dart valley, dark but lightened by the bright foaming water of the river; or the wide peaceful green pastures of Dovedale. But then the valley narrows and the craggy sides steepen casting menacing shadows.
In Psalm 23 David draws upon his personal experience of Israel’s valleys or wadis. Following the rains they provide rich pasture land but they are subject to flash floods and when the sides become cliffs the pilgrim ways become places of danger from bandits, the mood changes completely.
Psalm 23 is often associated with comfort at funerals but that only truly makes sense if in the context of a life led by the shepherd. God as shepherd and his people as sheep led by him is a repeated image in the Old Testament. Isaiah 40.11 Jesus picks up on this, ‘I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.’ John 10.14 Crucial to Jesus shepherding is the notion of him leading, in contrast to modern shepherding, where sheep are driven with a harrying sheep dog pushing them forward. Where Jesus calls us to go he has already gone before.
The psalm contains three testimonies.
I shall lack nothing, vv1-3 and this is because he has provided plenty, (green pastures) v1 peace, (quiet waters) v2 refreshment, (soul food) v3 and righteousness (guidance along right paths.) v3
I will fear no evil as the joyous wide valley becomes harsher terrain, ‘shadow of death’ v4 is literally translated deepest darkness, which includes the darkness of death but also other life experiences. At such times God promises to draw particularly close with a rod to protect and a staff to support.
I will safely dwell even though I am surrounded by hostile circumstances and people. v5 Here David may well be drawing on God’s hand through the abundant hospitality provided by Barzillai when he was being pursued by Absalom. 2 Samuel 17.27-29 The psalm ends with assurance of God’s abundant blessing whatever our circumstances, be it in green pastures or dark valleys. This provision is life long, ‘all the days of my life, v6 and beyond this life into eternity, ‘I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.’ v6 Jesus confirms this assurance with the words, ‘In my Father’s house there are many rooms … I go and prepare a place for you, I will come again and will take you to myself.’ John 14.2-3
The Lord’s my Shepherd – Stuart Townend
Living with the Black Dog Psalm 22 and Matthew 27.35-46
Black Dog, often used as a metaphor for depression, is regularly attributed to Winston Churchill although its use can be traced to earlier authors. It is a metaphor not limited to depression but it does convey an ominous presence that is not under our control where it imposes strong negative influences on our minds.
Psalm 22 is an intense personal lament written by David in a time of great personal despair. David probably wrote the psalm whilst fleeing from either Saul or Absalom although the intensity of suffering in verses 12 to 18 far outstrips anything David is recorded to have experienced. The resonance with Jesus sufferings is pronounced both in words spoken and the derision of his treatment. Matt 27.35-46 The mental and physical suffering described in the psalm oppresses him spiritually.
The psalmist feels deserted by God and his desperate prayers are unanswered. v1 He cries in the daytime and cannot sleep at night. v2 He considers himself utterly derided for his faith in the Lord. vv6-9 He is surrounded by overwhelming enemies, ‘Many … strong bulls of Bashan surround me;’v12 and ‘Deliver my soul from the sword, my precious life from the dog!’ v20 His body is broken as if by torture. v v14,15
It is heartbreaking to consider that this is still a literal experience for many and we see it in the accounts of huge numbers of refugees and victims of abuse.
How does David respond to this? Despite his feelings he remembers that God is holy and has repeatedly in the past saved his people and on that basis appeals to God. vv3-5 He then remembers God has cared for him since his conception. vv9-11 From that he moves to publicly praise God by faith. ‘I will tell of your name to my brothers; in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.’ v22 In the end he asserts that he is what the Lord has made him. ‘For kingship belongs to the Lord, and he rules over the nations.’ v28
David has learnt that as a disciple we are not what the black dog says or even what we feel at the time. We are what the Lord has done and said.
You say by Lauran Daigle https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=sIaT8Jl2zpI
The far side of the mountain Psalm 21
Schools, colleges and universities having closed more than a term before the end of the academic year, cohorts of students will miss their graduation celebrations. That outpouring of relief having gone through the struggle of study and examination. Proud parents buy cards, organize meals, friends gather together to celebrate with joy. In a sense the battle is over. Teachers, lecturers and parents are worrying that the students will miss out on this right of passage.
In a time when many are preoccupied with stressful situations, the battle is not over and we are still in the midst of it all, many will be wondering if they will ever celebrate with joy again. Psalm 21 concentrates on the time after the battle when the crisis at the top of the mountain has been overcome and does so in the name of the king. Whilst psalm 21 is a psalm of David it is also a messianic psalm that rejoices in the victory of the king to come, the Lord Jesus.
Jesus’ battle took place on the cross as he overcame sin and death for the sake of his people and now there is great rejoicing. ‘The king rejoices in your strength, Lord. How great is his joy in the victories you give.’ v1 His great desire is the salvation of his people and this has not been withheld. v2 He is now crowned in glory and ‘a crown of pure gold’ v3 has been placed on his head. Even through the spiritual, emotional and physical torment of Gethsemane and Calvary he trusted in the unfailing love of God the Father. ‘For the king trusts in the Lord; through the unfailing love of the Most High he will not be shaken.’ v8
The bible is clear, there will be judgement and evil will be destroyed, even if that seems very far off. In David’s imagery, ‘Your hand will lay hold on all your enemies; your right hand will seize your foes.’ v8 That does not mean there will not be suffering and grief on the way. There is hope and expectation that we will come to a time of celebration again through the victory of Jesus Christ.
My hope is built on nothing less:-
A story mountain within a mountain range Psalm 21 and Genesis 49.8-12
All children are taught how to write a story based on a story mountain. At its simplest characters are introduced and a scene set, a problem arises and then a solution occurs followed by a conclusion. In a sense Psalms 21 and 22 combine to form a story mountain in the mountain range of the salvation story. They are royal psalms, focusing on the king. They follow a common poetic pattern of parallelism where the first line’s meaning is repeated in the second line with a shift in emphasis. ‘May he grant you your heart’s desire
And fulfill all your plans.’ v4
For verses 7 and 8 a variation of parallelism is used called Antithetical Parallelism, where the second line contrasts with the first.
‘Some trust in chariots and some in horses,
But we trust in the name of the Lord our God.’ v7
The scene is set, the people and probably the priests are praying for their king (David) before an unknown battle. They pray for the king because he represents the people. The characters are the people, priests, the king, the enemy and the Lord. The problem is the threat of a foreign power against Israel.
The opening verse, ‘May the name of the God of Jacob protect you’ v1 appeals to Jacob’s prophetic blessing, ‘The scepter will not depart from Judah, nor the ruler’s staff from between his feet, until he to whom it belongs shall come and the obedience of the nations shall come.’ Gen 49.10 This blessing applies to David as being in the line of Judah and also as a messianic type. It is ultimately fulfilled in Jesus not only through his death and resurrection but also on his return and the final Victory, Judgement and Restoration. Revelaton chps 19-21
The meaning of verse 7 takes on a fresh perspective in the New Testament. Despite various attempts in history Christ’s victory in bringing personal salvation to the nations has never been by military might.* Might mostly serves to raise resistance rather than win over people’s hearts. Rather the New Testament way is to come in weakness but in the name of the Lord. Stephen pioneered the way, following in the sacrificial footsteps of his Lord. He has been followed by myriads since. God’s words to Paul were, ‘My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness.’ 2Corinthians 12.9 It is not the solution on the story mountain that David’s Israelites were expecting but it is the way of the cross.
The Cross Has the Final Word.
*Personal salvation is a separate issue to national salvation and whether or not it is possible to conduct a righteous war.
The enquiring mind of a small child Psalm 19 and Romans 1.18-23
Everyone who has spent significant time with a small child has been questioned about the wonder of the world with the intensity of a John Grisham courtroom scene. Who made this? Where did it come from? How does it work? Why is it green? When will it happen again?
When somebody first becomes a Christian, the question is often asked, but what about people who have never heard of Jesus, how can they find God? Psalm 19 starts to answer this question. Creation itself reveals something of the Creator. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God.’ v1 Observation of the world we live in has always raised those childlike questions and in that sense speaks to us of God. Paul puts it like this, ‘For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities – his eternal power and divine nature – have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.’ Romans1.20
Psalm 19 though recognizes the limitation of creation itself as a full revelation of the nature of God and his relationship with humanity. ‘There is no speech, nor are there words, whose voice is not heard. v3 Central to this psalm is verse 9, ‘the fear of the Lord is clean, enduring forever.’ Scripture is clear, that through God’s creation alone we should understand that he is eternal and holy and consequently we should worship him through the holiness of our lives and be God seekers. Rom 1.21 But to more fully understand God and be in relationship with him we need the word of God. For David, this was the law books in the Old Testament. ‘The law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure, making wise the simple.’ v7
We however live in a different age and have the revelation of Jesus Christ the living Word of God. ‘The law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. No one has ever seen God, the only God, who is at the Father’s side, he has made him known.’ John1.17
It is now our responsibility to communicate that word so the question, ‘How can they find God?’ is no longer asked. How then are we being, ‘witnesses … to the ends of the earth?’ Acts 1.8
How great is our God! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bHAZGXsVF1k
The power of story to celebrate and communicate God’s goodness
I sat next to a man I didn’t know at a church lunch. It quickly became apparent that we had a mutual good friend and they had met some ten years earlier. He told me how it was this friend who introduced him to Jesus at a time in his life when he had an alcohol problem. Shortly after our friend asked him if he would tell his story about finding faith in Jesus in a church service and he initially agreed. However, in the week before the service he visited our friend at his home in tears, saying he could not stand up in church as he was still drinking very heavily. Our friend did what he usually does, he prayed with him for victory over drink. He then turned to me and said, from that moment he had not touched a drop of drink and he was able to be honest and stand up in front of the church and tell his story.
Psalm 18 is fascinating, it is a narrative psalm, a celebration song, a messianic psalm, a royal psalm and a historical psalm. It is recorded in 2 Samuel Chp 22 almost word for word as well as in Psalms. It records David’s eventual deliverance from the hand of Saul in the most dramatic terms. The Lord’s protection is described in a stream of metaphors, ‘The Lord is my rock, my fortress and my deliverer … my shield and the horn of my salvation, my stronghold.’ v2 This in response to David’s prayer, ‘In my distress I called to the Lord; I cried to my God for help.’ v6
‘He rescued me from my powerful enemy, from my foes, who were too strong for me.’ v17 Doesn’t that sound like victory over addiction? David then experiences the capacity to walk righteously, ‘I have been blameless before him and have kept myself from sin.’ v23 The psalm then culminates in praise for God. ‘The Lord lives! Praise be to my Rock! Exalted be God my Saviour!’ v46
God’s deliverance of David was the military victory and spiritual victory of his anointed successor to Saul. In Christ God has delivered victory over sin and the consequences of sin. In Samuel the victory was recorded for instruction, in Psalms it was recorded for sung praise. Contemporary stories of God’s victory over sin both encourage us and induce praise in our times of worship. ‘For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.’ Eph2.10
Jesus is mighty to save. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GEAcs2B-kNc
I love you to the moon and back Psalm 17
When one of my children was small a favourite book was, ‘Guess how much I love you’. It tells a story where an adult hare comforts its child by whispering to it how much it is loved with the words, ‘I love you to the moon and back.’ We would then play a game telling each other how much we loved them, each time the distance getting bigger. To be told how much we are loved is a bedrock for our security, not only for a child but for all of us.
Psalm 17 is an individual lament where David feels unjustly accused of wrong. He is keen to defend himself before God, ‘Hear a just cause, O Lord; attend to my cry! Give ear to my prayer from lips free of deceit!’ v1 He appeals to God on the basis that he has been tested and found to be faithful. v4,5 David then beseeches God for protection on the basis of a special love bond between him and his Lord. ‘Keep me as the apple of your eye; hide me in the shadow of your wings, from the wicked who do me violence my deadly enemies who surround me.’ vv8,9 Here David is harking back to Moses’ song at the end of Deuteronomy Deut32.10 where God has found his people in a desert. Moses describes God’s chosen people in the beautiful phrase as, ‘the Lord’s portion.’
Jesus is the apple of God the Father’s eye and in him we have become God’s chosen people. ‘For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will – to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. Ephesians 1.4,5 Our security therefore lies in the intimacy or our relationship with God the Father. Our portion is the Lord, ‘As for me, I shall behold your face in righteousness; when I awake, I shall be satisfied with your likeness.’ Ps 17.15
Love divine all loves excelling https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JGGcqhKShQ8
Multiple levels of understanding Psalm 16 and Acts 2.25-28
In C. S. Lewis’ children’s book and Christian allegory, Aslan explained to Susan and Lucy that the white witch knew the ancient law at one level but did not understand deep magic. Therefore, when she killed Aslan on the stone table she had no idea the table would crack and he would come to life again. So it is with much of the bible, where text carries meaning and application directly to people at the time of writing but also applies again later in a different context sometimes on more than one occasion. Psalm 16 is a case in point.
David is celebrating the delights of living a life close to God. He acknowledges that without God he, ‘has no good thing.’ v2 He rejoices in the company of fellow servants of the Lord in the same way as meeting as a church for Christians is uplifting for our faith. v3 He keeps himself apart from idol worshippers v4 just as Jesus prayed for the disciples and the modern church to be kept from the evil one because they are in but not of the world. John 17.14-15 David is fully satisfied with what God has given him vv5,6 as he continually learns from God remaining fixed upon him. vv7,8
David’s confidence extends to his eventual death as he asserts that death is not the end and he will continue into eternal life in the presence of the Lord. v9-11 David though, would have had no idea that those very verses would be applied by Peter to the resurrection of Jesus. ‘You will not abandon me to the realm of the dead, you will not let your holy one see decay. You have made known to me the paths of life; you will fill me with joy in your presence.’ Acts 2.27,28
This bodily resurrection from the dead to experience the joy of the presence of the Lord is then promised to all who trust in Jesus. ‘So in Christ all will be made alive. But each in turn: Christ, the first fruits, then, when he comes, those who belong to him.’ 1Corinthians15.22,23
How else can we respond but to say, ‘This is amazing grace.’
Resurrection life in the here and now Psalm 15 & Matthew 5:17-48
As a child in the 1950’s to help me go to sleep at night I would close my eyes and imagine being Bobby Charlton in the winter and Freddie Trueman in the summer. How I would have loved to score from long distance like Charlton or bowl the perfect away swinger like Trueman. Who our heroes are says a lot about who we aspire to be.
The troubled David longs to be close to God, ‘O Lord, who shall sojourn in your tent?’ Ps15.1 David knew the law, he understood God’s righteousness and the personal implications for his life. He frequently interpreted a righteous life in terms of things he should not do: not slander, v3 not do evil to a neighbour, v3 not take offence from a fellow believer, v3,4 not take interest from personal loans, v5 not take bribes. David did also grasp righteousness is positive and involves speaking truth,v2 respecting those who fear God,v4 and keeping promises even when it costs.v4
But Jesus ramped up the expectation in the sermon on the mount, six times repeated the phrase, ‘But I say to you’ * when repeating an Old Testament law. This placed expectation beyond what most would consider humanly possible e.g. ‘Everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.’ Mat5.28
How then can anybody live a righteous life pleasing to God that displays the resurrection life of Christ in our lives? Two New Testament prayers point the way. Firstly, through the active word of God in our lives. Jesus prayed at Gethsemane, ‘Sanctify them in the truth; your word is truth.’ John17.17
Secondly through dependence upon God for the resurrection life of Christ within our lives, as the Hebrews author prayed, ‘Now may the God of peace who brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep, by the blood of the eternal covenant, equip you with everything good that you may do his will, working in us that which is pleasing in his sight, through Jesus Christ, to whom be glory forever and ever. Amen.’ Heb 13.21,22
On reflection then, who would we pick as our hero? Jesus Christ my living hope.
Number 14 Good Friday
Our desperate need for a test Psalm 14 and Romans 3
Every day at the Covid 19 briefing the government is questioned about tests. When will we have enough tests? Who should have tests? What sort of tests should be available? Who is responsible? Who can do tests? Why is this? It is because we all need to know the reality of our situation and when we do know then we can face the consequences. The first step in solving a problem is always to understand the problem.
In Psalm 14 God sets out the test for humanity. ‘The Lord looks down from heaven on the children of man, to see if there are any who understand, who seek after God.’ v2 The diagnosis is devastating, ‘They have all turned aside; together they have become corrupt; here is none who does good, not even one. v3 Paul quotes Psalm 14 as he explains God’s law simply shows, ‘everyone has sinned; we all fall short of God’s glorious standard*’ Romans 3.21 At the point when we are told we have a terminal disease we ask the question what can be done? When we stand before God and realize that we deserve his judgement we ask the same question. God’s answer is, accept a gift. The gift is, Jesus has taken the wrath of God that we deserve. Paul explains it like this, ‘the redemption that is in Christ Jesus, whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.’ Rom3.25 Propitiation means, wrath bearing sacrifice. Jesus on Good Friday took God’s deserved wrath against humanity, to be received by faith alone.
David cried, ‘Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion! When the Lord restores his people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!’ v7 God replies, it has, through Jesus’ death on Good Friday. Now is the time to give thanks.
*New Living Translation
For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but one who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin. Hebrews 4.15
Despair or a sense of distance from God can grip any one of us. Sometimes it is because we have begged God repeatedly and nothing has changed. At other times we believed we were following God’s will but it has become too difficult. We want either our circumstances to change or God to change his mind.
It is not hard then to empathise with David in Psalm 13 as he repeatedly asks, ‘How long, Lord?’ v1,2 David asks questions we understand: ‘Will you forget me forever?’ ‘Must I wrestle with my thoughts?’ ‘Will my enemy triumph over me?’
Jesus on the Thursday evening went to Gethsemane with his disciples and prayed a similar prayer. One record of this is Mathew 26. 36-46. There Jesus wrestled with his thoughts in prayer and as he did so he asked his closest friends to pray with him. Matt26.37 If Jesus felt the desire for companionship in prayer how much more should we be prepared to wrestle in prayer with others. It is something very many, even longstanding Christians, shy away from but it is a vital ministry. How good it would be if our church was an easy place to find supportive prayer partnership.
David v2 and Jesus 26.37 experienced deep sorrow in prayer. Both were in a battle with an enemy, Psalm 13.2 and Matt 26.45. Both were facing death, Psalm 13.3 and Matt 26.39. Both had enemies who would rejoice at their death. Psalm 13.4 and Matt 27.20.
However, they also both shared a willingness to be obedient to God’s will and to trust in his unfailing love despite the depths of their emotions. David said, ‘I trust in your unfailing love, my heart rejoices in your salvation.’ v7 Jesus said, ‘My Father, if this cup cannot pass unless I drink it, your will be done.’ Matt 26.42 Whatever we face this Easter, Jesus has gone before us and so our hearts can rejoice in his salvation and we can, ‘sing the Lord’s praise.’ v6
I had not heard this Gethsemane hymn before but it beautifully captures the spirit of Maundy Thursday.
Flattering with their lips but harbouring deception in their hearts. Psalm 12
Those of us who have experienced legal disputes will have stories to tell of the ease with which many rephrase events to their own advantage. We have all witnessed denials and evasiveness in national life only for lies to be exposed later. Sadly, even in church life brothers and sisters have at times turned on one another bringing disrepute to the name of Jesus.
Reading David’s Psalm 12 in the light of Easter week brings into sharp focus the duplicity of sinful human kind and also the mission of Jesus to bring reconciliation between God and man and hope to the poor and needy. David’s despairing words, ‘Help, Lord, for no one is faithful anymore, those who are loyal have vanished from the human race. Everyone lies to their neighbour; they flatter with their lips but harbour deception in their hearts.’ vv1-2 are played out dramatically. Repeated traps are laid through the week attempting to catch him in something he says,Luke20.20 the Chief Priests and the whole council persuade witnesses to lie,Matt26.59 and Herod and Pilate become close friends through the unjust conviction of Jesus.Luke23.11
But there is hope. God keeps his promise in verse 5, ‘Because the poor are plundered and the needy groan, I will arise.’ Jesus in his response to the council at his trial said, ‘But from now on, the Son of Man will be seated at the right hand of the mighty God.’Luke22.69 He then through his death, resurrection and ascension conquered sin and death. As Paul recorded, ‘But thank God! He gives us victory over sin and death through our Lord Jesus Christ.’1Corinthian15.57
So this Easter week it is helpful to hold fast to the words of Jesus. In the words of Psalm 12, verse 6, ‘The words of the Lord are flawless, like silver purified in a crucible, like gold refined seven times.’ Through Jesus we have words that do not flatter or deceive.
Thy word is a lamp unto my feet and a light unto my path – Amy Grant (skip the adverts)
Come on coach! How did you see that?
Psalm 11 & 1 Peter 4.7-11
At the beginning of the use of video cameras an American football team transformed itself from a mediocre performer to a top flight team in one season. When the captain of the team was interviewed, he said after every match the coach made them watch a video recording of the match and examined in detail the performance of every team member. Analysis like this and much more is now common place but if coaches had read Psalm 11 they might have caught on to this approach earlier. ‘The Lord is in his holy temple …. His eyes see, his eyelids test the children of man.’ vv4,5a
David refused to run and took his stand trusting in the Lord. v1 His stand takes the form of behaving righteously. David links the holiness of God in heavenv4 with righteous deeds on earth. ‘For the Lord is righteous; he loves righteous deeds; the upright shall behold his face.’ v7
Does this support the notion that going to heaven depends on how good a life we lead? No, it does not. Biblical teaching is that when God looks at a person who has faith in Christ he sees Christ’s righteousness not their own. This is termed imputed righteousness. ‘This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe.’ Romans 3.22 The righteousness here is the outworking of the Holy Spirit in the lives of believers.
Peter sees the outworking of righteousness as being alert, sober minded to promote prayer, deeply loving, hospitable and applying one’s gifts to the benefit of others. 1Pet 4.7-10 ‘So that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ.’ 1Peter 4.11 The challenge for us is how to do it when in lock down. To summarise Peter, teachers should teach and servers should serve. v11
Does God really want me to suffer in silence?
*Hilary was living at home with three small children. Her husband had just been made redundant and she worked shifts as a carer. The house they were living in was privately rented and had severe damp problems affecting the family’s health. The landlord had been making excuses for two years now and it had got to the point that it dominated Hilary’s mind. When she went to church, Hilary found it almost impossible to join in the praise when everybody else seemed so happy. Hilary kept asking herself, ‘Does God really want me to suffer in silence?’
One third of all psalms are laments, that tell the Lord about a difficult situation, ask him for help and praise him for help. In times of difficulty God can seem remote. In Psalm 10 David says, ‘Why, O Lord, do you stand far away?’ v1 David describes the motivations of oppressors. They reject God,vv4,11 are arrogant and fixed on their own evil schemes,v2 boastful and greedy, v3 and despising of their enemies and the poor. ‘As for all his foes, he puffs at them.’v5
The oppressor’s actions betray him. He seeks to exploit the weak, laying traps for them,v8 always watching out for new victims, ‘He lurks that he may seize the poor,’v9 The consequence is, ‘the helpless are crushed.’v10 He then boasts to himself, ‘God has forgotten, he has hidden his face, he will never see it.’v11 We can see from Psalm 10 such oppression is not limited to individuals such as Hilary’s landlord but applies to many organisations, political parties, businesses and even countries.
No wonder then that David cries, ‘Arise, O Lord; O God, lift up your hand;’ and ‘Break the arm of the wicked evil doer.’vv12,15 But, ‘God is not deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap.’Galatians6.7 In the end David’s final trust is in God’s eternal kingship and his desire to hear the afflicted, strengthen them, do justice and grant them peace.vv17,18
Does then God want us to suffer in silence? Definitely not, he wants to hear us in our troubles and church should be a safe place for us to say it out loud.
*Hilary is a representative figure.
Beginning and ending with praise
From my early days as a Christian I remember two pieces of advice that were frequently repeated. Trust the word of God rather than your feelings because it is God who made the promises and don’t wait to feel like praising before you praise him, just start.
In Psalms 9 and 10 David constructed one acrostic poem. Psalm 9 is a psalm of praise and Psalm 10 is a lament. He speaks as an individual but also in his capacity as king he speaks on behalf of the nation. He faces troubled time with praise. ‘I will give thanks to the Lord with my whole heart; I will recount all of your wonderful deeds. I will be glad and exult in you; I will sing praise to your name, O Most High. 9.1-2 He then recounts how the strength of the Lord defeated the enemies of God’s people. 9.3-6 He did this because God reigns eternally and his throne is a throne of justice, 9.7 his justice is righteous and he applies those righteous judgements to mankind. 9.8-9 As David considers how God has been a stronghold for the oppressed it causes him to burst into song recounting all God has done. 9.11
David did not praise God because he lived a trouble free life. He praised God because he deserves praise and mostly he praised God because God does not forget the needy and the poor. ‘For the needy shall not always be forgotten, and the hope of the poor shall not perish forever.’ 9.18 In our testing times it would be good to remember the character of God and what he has done through Jesus and give him an offering of praise. ‘Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. 1Timothy 1.15
So let’s join all the saints for the last 340 years in singing God’s praise with https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=roxlm_gCb7c
Number 8 part 2
We are designed for intimacy. Psalm 8.4-5 and Hebrews 2.5-13
Sylvia has just been moved from the town centre to a top flat on the edge of town; Jill speaks with the husband she lost last year each day; Ahmed lives in a shared government provided house but no one else speaks Arabic; Graham left university last year and was excited to get his first job in a new town but now he has been placed on furlough. Each one surrounded by people but craving intimacy.
If it is so hard to find human intimacy, how can intimacy with God be gained, when David in Psalm 8 describes the massive gap between the creator of the universe and humanity? *‘What is man that you are mindful of him, and the son of man that you care for him?’ v4a Hebrews Chp 2 interprets this passage to reveal Jesus as the means by which humanity can gain intimacy with God and regain the relationship with Him that He had always intended. Son of man is a term Jesus regularly used to referred to himself. It was Jesus, when he took on humanity, that was made a little lower than the angels v5 and Jesus who was crowned with glory and honour following his death on the cross, resurrection and ascension. ‘But we see Jesus, who was made lower than the angels for a little while, now crowned with glory and honour because he suffered death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.’ Hebrews2.9 Jesus has made believers sons and daughters of God, been the forerunner of our salvation and made his people holy in God’s sight. Heb2.10-11
‘Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters.’ Heb2.11 It is difficult to get more intimate than that. As we have been designed for intimacy with others so our soul cries out for intimacy with God. ‘Jesus says, “Here am I, and the children God has given me.” Heb2.13
In the darkest place one can see the best.
Who hasn’t walked hand in hand through a remote place, laid on the ground and gazed at the wonder of the night sky? David’s night in Psalm 8 would have been darker and therefore his stars brighter than most of ours. It might have been under such a sky that you first declared your love, it is easier under the cover of darkness. But to David the sky shouted out the laws of creation.
Firstly David declared the majesty and reputation of YHWH (Yahweh) God’s self-given name. ‘You have set your glory in the heavens.’ v1 So great is Yahweh that he takes the weakest of all things, the praise of children and infants, and makes something great and strong from it. v2
To the modern mind the wonder of God’s creation of the universe is even greater than David’s as our telescopes and satellites probe the beauty and size of His creation. v3 How humbling this is when we compare our apparent universal insignificance to His creation, only made significant by God’s compassion for us. v4
It is to God and God alone that we owe our role in the world. He has honoured humanity with being in His sight, made a little lower than heavenly beings. He ascribes us with honour. v5 With such honour comes responsibility, as His emissaries, to care for His creation. vv6-7
This puts a particular light on what God’s work in our world consists of. But before, during and following the day’s work we are to be inspired by His creation to give honour to His name. Yahweh. ‘Lord, our Lord, how majestic is your name in all the earth.’ v9
Where’s the justice in that?
Mohammed* was stopped at a road block driving his government truck. He had just picked up some people at the side of the road, as is normal in his country, not knowing they were participants in an anti-government protest. Mohammed was arrested, imprisoned without trial and regularly tortured in a police jail for over 3 years. For many, even most in the UK, David’s words in Psalm 7 can seem extreme, ‘Save me from all my pursuers and deliver me.’ v7 Mohammed’s story reminds us the bible is for all people, over all time, and is highly relevant in many cultures. David’s cry to God, ‘Arise, O Lord, in your anger; lift yourself up against the fury of my enemies;’ v6 is understandable. David like Mohammed was innocent and yet their lives were threatened. Where is the justice in that?
David however, does not seek to take vengeance himself but seeks protection v10 and justice v12 from God and in the end praises Him because he trusts in His righteousness. v12
Jesus taught and lived an even higher standard. ‘But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven.’ Matthew 5.44-45 Paul explains, Jesus died for us when we were enemies of his, ‘For if, while we were God’s enemies, we were reconciled to him through the death of his Son, how much more, having been reconciled, shall we be saved through his life.’ Romans 5.10
How is it that Mohammed could pray for his persecutors and leave justice to God? Only through first receiving the grace of God.
*Mohammed is not his real name to protect his identity.
‘I can’t go on anymore!’
Marie* in the midst of a crowd took me to one side and said, ‘I can’t go on anymore, I just can’t do it.’ There had been too many false dawns. Each step forward was for a moment like an exhilarating rush of a wave up the beach only for the backwash of loneliness and fear to grip her soul and drag her back. How can we pray when desperation has drained us of hope? David in Psalm 6 has just that experience, ‘Be gracious to me, O Lord, for I am languishing; heal me, O Lord, for my bones are troubled. My soul is greatly troubled. But you, O Lord – how long.’ vv2-3 It is that question, ‘how long’, that is so hard to get beyond, not only for Marie, but today for the nation. David was God’s anointed King, from David’s line would come the Messiah and yet he knew the depths of despair. He knew what it was like to cry all night, seemingly endlessly. ‘I am weary with my moaning; every night I flood my bed with tears. v6 David grasps the one lifeline he knows, God’s steadfast love. ‘Turn, O Lord, deliver my life; save me for the sake of your steadfast love.’ V4 It is God’s steadfast love, not our strength, that is the source of hope and that is perfectly expressed in Jesus Christ. ‘The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.’ Galatians 2.20
This youtube clip may help us set our hope in Him. This is my prayer for every one of our asylum seeking and refugee families with tears in my eyes. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=reAlJKv7ptU
*Marie is not her real name and is a mash up of several real people, not all are female, to protect their identity.
No one can serve two masters
Jesus added, ‘For you will hate one and love the other; you will be devoted to one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and be enslaved to money. Matthew 6.24
Do we ever feel our lives are compromised by competing pressures? Perhaps at work or in the family we know something is wrong but the pressure of loyalty tempts us to compromise.
In Psalm 5 David makes clear there is no middle ground. ‘For you are not a God who delights in wickedness.’v4
So how do we delight in Godly righteousness? David presents us with a model that starts as we rise in the morning as we greet our Lord and prepare to make the day our sacrifice of worship. v3 We are confident to approach Him because of his, ‘steadfast love.’v7 We conduct ourselves with reverence, aware of his presence in the knowledge that this straightens our lives onto a righteous path.
Why would we choose this way of life if it can bring about rejection, ridicule and opposition? Simply because it brings with it rejoicing and joy and God’s protection. v11 David concludes with, ‘For you bless the righteous, O LORD; you cover him with favour as with a shield.’ It is not only our body that needs a shield, it is our spiritual heart as well.
Let’s praise our God each new morning. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QtA-ywPuMEw
Character in a Crisis is Critical
In C S Lewis’ The Lion, The Witch and the Wardrobe the professor asked Peter and Susan who does their previous experience and knowledge of Edmund and Lucy lead them to believe? Both had visited Narnia, Lucy shared the good news but Edmund denied it for his own selfish reasons. Psalm 4 pursues the same questions about character when under great pressure.
David draws upon his previous experience of God and so trusts Him now. ‘You have given me relief when I was in distress. Be gracious to me and hear my prayer!’v3 It is a passionate cry from the heart. David urges reflective prayer,v4 obedience and trust in Godv5 because that way leads to joy in the Lord.v7
In contrast David condemns the high born leaders who use the crisis for their own gain lying and deceiving the nation.v2 He calls such deception loving, ‘delusions and seeking false gods’ but the ancient Hebrew for seeking false gods is equally translated seeking after lies. How we need Godly leaders of integrity. How also we need to discern when to be angry regarding exploitation but not being led into sin ourselves.v4
Who does our past experience lead us to trust? This youtube clip celebrates trusting in Christ alone.
Coping with my zombie apocalypse.
The answers came thick and fast, spiders, shadows in my bedroom, creaks at night, the toilet flush, a zombie apocalypse. I had just asked a primary school class, ‘What really scares you?’ Of course, those fears are not rooted in a genuine threat, never the less the fear is real. How, though as adults, do we respond to genuine threat? I have realised that I stop breathing when suddenly threatened and have to tell myself to breath again.
I often ask asylum seekers who have experienced sustained extreme trauma if they are sleeping OK? Everyone has said they have real difficulty sleeping. In Psalm 3 David prays in the middle of extreme trauma. His murderous son has just launched a military coup, turning nearly all the country against him and he is being pursued by an army of thousands. David boldly states, ‘But you, Lord, are a shield around me, my glory, the One who lifts my head high.’v3 Can David sleep OK? Amazingly, yes he can. His words are, ‘I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me.’v5 I pray that whatever your ‘zombie apocalypse’ you will know the Lord as a shield around you and from that gain an inner peace.
Who and what am I?
I knocked on my son’s door and it was opened by my 4 year old grand daughter dressed on her latest fancy dress costume. ‘Good morning Princess Cinderella,’ I said. ‘NO!!!’ she exclaimed, ‘I am Xena the Warrior Princess!’ Even at four it is kind of important to know who we are, despite gormless Grandparents.
Our sense of who and what we are can be seriously challenged when things suddenly change on us. It can be bereavement, sickness, retirement, redundancy, an accident, war, enslavement, the birth of a child or a pandemic. When we look in the mirror the question pops up, ‘Who or what am I now?’
In Psalm 2 David remembers God’s promise regarding his son Solomon, who is to be the next king and build the temple in Jerusalem. ‘You are my son; today I have become your father.’v7 This was not just a promise or prophecy for just Solomon it reached its complete fulfilment at Jesus’ baptism when God the Father repeated the words, ‘You are my son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased.’ Jesus then through his death and resurrection created the way for everybody who trusts in him to be a child of God. Paul writing to the church in Galatia said, ‘You are all children of God through faith in Christ Jesus.’Galatians3:26
So then, whatever happens and however we feel, for those who trust in Jesus, when we look in the mirror God sees – a child of God.
Here is a youtube clip celebrating just that – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lKw6uqtGFfo
The concrete and the clay beneath my feet begins to crumble but love will never die. Unit 4 plus 2, 1965. Does anyone remember this?
How many of us feel the ground beneath our feet has begun to crumble? What seemed certain a few weeks ago is no longer sure ground. Uncertainty is now the new norm from will my favourite café or pub still be there to how many of my family will survive the next few weeks? What is the solid ground I can now stand on? Will I be able to pay my bills and feed the family to as my son in law asked, ‘will Liverpool be cheated of the Premier League title?’
Some of us have been plunged into frantic activity, if we are an NHS professional or in the new buzz phrase ,a key worker. Others into enforced inactivity with self imposed lock down for the greater good.
Whichever we are now is a good time, to take time, to think about the ground we stand on, whether we have become a headless chicken or socially distanced. I have decided to think about a psalm a day on top of my usual bible study starting with Psalm 1 because it sets out ground that does not crumble.
It says, ‘Blessed is the one … whose delight is in the law of the Lord and who meditates on his law day and night.’v2 King David only had the Old Testament law, we are so much more fortunate, we have the whole bible including the accounts of Jesus life. For David, God’s word was the solid ground to build a life on and he described such a life as, ‘like a tree planted by streams of water which yields its fruit in season.’v3 So that’s the solid ground I am going to stand on while all else may crumble away.
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