(86 quiet-times as at 18/08/17)
God Shaker - Matthew 5.13
"You are the salt of the earth. But what good is salt if it has lost its flavor? Can you make it salty again? It will be thrown out and trampled underfoot as worthless."
Have you got any salt shakers or pepper pots in your house? They're there to add flavour to your food. In the past and even today, salt is also added to keep food without it going off. Or have you ever bought a ready made meal that just needed some extra something? I had a spaghetti carbonara once that was so bland it was pretty uninspiring. Nothing that some black pepper shaken over it couldn't fix!
Or maybe you're big into making cakes. I often make various cakes including some small fairy cakes. Sometimes these have some icing on them and onto this is sprinkled things like 'hundreds and thousands' or some chocolate bits - all poured onto the cakes from little containers to add flavour, fun and an extra appeal to the cakes!
This is our job as Christians. We go into daily life and situations and we go around sprinkling God flavours of love, light, blessing, hope, peace, joy and encouragement. And at times we have to sprinkle some flavours that people may not think they need but that will help them - like honesty, integrity, doing what's right. But if you think of yourself as God's shaker - going around adding salt, flavour, preservative and goodness then that is an exciting way to do life!
Alone with the One - Mark 4.34
"But when Jesus was alone with his own disciples, he explained everything."
Jesus reached the point in his ministry where he started using parables (stories with spiritual meanings) to teach. Part of the reason for this was to make people reach further and deeper into him. If you ask a person a question, they can answer in different ways. They can give you the answer, they can tell you to go and look for the answer or they can point you in the direction to find the answer. In a way what Jesus did was to force people to seek the answer. This separates those who just want to watch or want knowledge from those who want to know more and to go deeper. Jesus always calls us to go deeper. With Jesus there is always more.
But how to we go deeper? How do we find more? What happens when the talks we hear don't touch the deepest places in us? What do we do when we feel like we've hit the ceiling but know there's more above the ceiling? When we feel like we're in the shallow end of the pool but want to go deeper and swim in the sea? Well, we can go to the Bible, we can maybe go to a new church where God is really on the move. But most of all, Jesus gives us a simple solution - "when Jesus was alone... he explained everything."
To know more about God, we need to get to know God. This comes from a life of walking, talking, believing and obeying God. But most of all we need to know God personally. It's in that quiet place with just you and God - when you're alone with him - that you can know him more, hear his voice, go deeper and find that thing you're looking for which you can only find in God. So get alone with God - ask him what you need, thank him, worship him and then just sit with him in quietness and stillness and wait for him.
God's Remedy for Rejection - Ephesians 1.5-6
"...having predestined us to adoption as sons by Jesus Christ to Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, by which He made us accepted in the Beloved."
Have you ever felt alone or rejected? There are many times in life that we can feel like people are ignoring us or have turned against us. It may be true, it may just be our emotions tricking us or the devil whispering his usual lies to us. But it can be hard if we feel rejected. Many people have gone on to do really bad things because they were rejected - it even happens from within the church which should be the one place where people should be accepted. Back in the Old Testament, David had this problem when his family didn't even think of him when Samuel was looking to anoint the King. David's father himself didn't even think of him. But David was anointed as King - God knows your potential, even when others don't. And Joseph's brothers rejected him and he was persecuted, imprisoned, falsely accused and more. But he kept strong in God and he was also used by God. There are even occasions where God allows (doesn't cause) us to be close to God and this can mean others seeming to reject us.
People are often overlooked, laughed at, looked down on, kept out of groups. Other times people form groups and don't mean to keep people out of the group but it just happens as the group know each other. Sometimes people feel like they just can't fit in, no matter what they do. There are times where things happen (such as terrorist attacks) where certain religious groups feel excluded for the behaviour of extremists. But God calls us to be counter-cultural. He asks us to welcome the stranger and the refugee. Jesus showed unconditional love to people that society (and the 'political elite') had rejected. If we are Christians, then we have a remedy for rejection - knowing that Jesus has already accepted us and called us. When we know God loves us and is always with us and for us, we come to an amazing place where we're free to love others and live for God, no matter what they think. And that is attractive to people. And if you do feel lonely then one good way to change things is to go and help others! And if you see people around who are lonely or rejected, then a nod, a smile, a kind word, a coffee or a friendship could save someone's life!
The 4:8 Manifesto
"Fix your thoughts on what is true, and honorable, and right, and pure, and lovely, and admirable. Think about things that are excellent and worthy of praise."
If you listen to the news, you'll hear mostly bad news. There is news about crime, murder, hatred, war, abuse and every kind of evil. Now it is important to be aware of some things - for example so you can protect yourself while online or from abuse. But when we focus on the bad, it can become the main thing we think about and affect us in a horrible way.
So God provided an answer through Paul who wrote the book of Philippians. He told us to think about things that are good. Why? Because God is good and because what goes into our heads and hearts impacts what we do and what we say. As we think good thoughts and God thoughts, we become transformed and become more like the one who is pure goodness - God. It also protects our minds, lifts us up and makes us the kind of people that others like to be around.
Jesus never turned a blind eye to the suffering and the evil in the world. But he overcame evil with good. We shouldn't be ignorant to some of the things that happen but don't obsess about bad stuff. Jesus came to bring light, life, salt, hope, goodness. So let's not think about what went wrong only - but how we can bring good to something and change what's bad into what's good. Change what you think. Think God thoughts to become the kind of person to bring God's life and hope.
Director - Proverbs 3.5-6
"Trust in the Lord with all your heart, And lean not on your own understanding; In all your ways acknowledge Him, And He shall direct your paths." (New King James Version)
If you're like me, you will have done some drama or theatre studies at school or even been part of a production in school (even if it was a Nativity Play) or a theatre performance as part of a group. I've been part of lots of different plays and productions and they are fun but hard work. We had a brilliant director who helped us put on some amazing shows. But at times he would get really angry and be shouting and getting really stressed out! Sometimes it was quite funny! But his role was to help us make the most of our acting, to work together, to produce a play that fitted together well and that did what he needed it to do.
If you believe in Jesus, this is what he does in our life. Well, except he doesn't shout and scream and get stressed at us! But the Bible tells us that as we commit what we do to God, he directs us, helps us, guides us, leads us, supports us. He is like the ultimate director and the very best at knowing what we need and what we should do. A good director knows when to guide an actor or actress, and when to let them just go with the part because they're flowing in character. God doesn't ask us to play another part but just to be ourselves. He knows when he needs to nudge us, when to correct us, when to encourage us and when to just let us be ourselves. So commit everything you do to God and then play your part on God's big stage - the world! And hear the roar of heaven cheering you on and congratulating you as you go!
Baaaa - John 10.14-16
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd; I know my own sheep, and they know me, just as my Father knows me and I know the Father. So I sacrifice my life for the sheep. I have other sheep, too, that are not in this sheepfold. I must bring them also. They will listen to my voice, and there will be one flock with one shepherd."
I was out walking on Dartmoor during April - which is a lambing month - a month when the sheep give birth to baby lambs. Most of the time the sheep are good mothers and care for their sheep. But occasionally the mother rejects the lamb or even dies which is very sad. In times like this, the lambs are usually cared for by the farmer until old enough to look after themselves. I heard of one lamb whose mother had died and another sheep whose lamb had died. The farmer connected the mother with the little orphan lamb and they soon struck up a mother and lamb bond - a happy day!
But back to Dartmoor... as I walked along, a lamb started baa-ing at me. If I moved one way, the lamb would follow me as if they were calling to me. The lamb was looking for its mum! I reminded the lamb that I wasn't its mum but still it kept 'baa-ing' and following me. So I prayed that it would find its mum. Within a few seconds, mum arrived around the back of a tor (a rock) and the lamb gave out a satisfied 'baa' and went to its mum.
Jesus talked often about how we are like sheep and how he is the shepherd - the one guiding, helping, looking after, protecting and connecting us. He won't let us go but will always be there for us. Sometimes it feels like he is 'hiding behind a tor' but he's not. He's watching, waiting and looking after us. He will never let you go and never let you down.
Seed - John 12.24
"Very truly I tell you, unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it remains only a single seed. But if it dies, it produces many seeds."
This is something Jesus said to his disciples. He was telling them in advance that he was going to die but that in his dying (and of course rising again!) there would be a multiplication. This would happen because of the billions of people that would come to faith in Jesus through time. Jesus also told his disciples that it was better that he died because then he would send his Holy Spirit who would fill the hearts of everyone who believed in Jesus and then we (as his disciples) would do the things that Jesus did in greater number because we'd have God living in and through us. This is exactly what happened. Jesus was the 'seed' who died but just like a seed pops up through the soil and produces fruit, so the life of Jesus when he rose from the grave has produced much God-fruit through history all around the world. We have also seen that time after time, when people are killed because of their faith in Jesus (martyrs), God often brings new life, sometimes even to those who killed them!
But if we think about a seed - it has to be planted into the ground. It's there in the dark soil just waiting. Sometimes we have times of waiting but it's not really wasted because God is getting us ready. A seed gradually breaks apart and releases life as it's nourished by the soil, by water and by light. As we let God feed us with his life, he will make us grow to be good and healthy God-fruits that will also then go on to help other people - and so God's kingdom grows too. Be a seed and be a seed-grower too!
What Is Love - Mark 10.17-21
As Jesus was starting out on his way to Jerusalem, a man came running up to him, knelt down, and asked, “Good Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” “Why do you call me good?” Jesus asked. “Only God is truly good. But to answer your question, you know the commandments: ‘You must not murder. You must not commit adultery. You must not steal. You must not testify falsely. You must not cheat anyone. Honor your father and mother.’” “Teacher,” the man replied, “I’ve obeyed all these commandments since I was young.” Looking at the man, Jesus felt genuine love for him. “There is still one thing you haven’t done,” he told him. “Go and sell all your possessions and give the money to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.”
We hear a lot about love. Some Christians talk about how God is love and how we have to show love to people. We do need to show love but we need to show God's love in the way that Jesus did. You see, when people talk about love they often mean a dreamy kind of romantic love. But real love is God's love and it's not a romantic love. According to the Greek which has much more specific definitions for the word 'love' it means actively doing what the Lord prefers, with and by His power and direction. It means doing what God prefers and choosing God's way. This is a much deeper, more pure and more powerful love and can only come from God.
A man came to Jesus and he thought he had done enough to go to heaven. He had lived a good life. But Jesus knew something deeper. He knew that this man needed something more and so Jesus put his finger on the thing the man really needed to do in order to really get to know Jesus and go to heaven. But first of all, Jesus looked at the man and he loved him with God's love. He then told the man to do something that was beyond the man's comfort zone and was something that the man didn't want to do. But Jesus did this because of love. He knew that the man needed to challenge the man to give away his money in order to really confront the man to make a real commitment to God.
Often God calls us to do things that are against the normal values of society and seem unreasonable. It didn't seem right that this man should give away his money. But Jesus asked him to do this because of love. True love, God's love, often goes against the culture and against what people think and feel. But God's kind of love means doing things that honour God and put him first. This is true love and the love God calls us to live out too!
All Things - Matthew 28.19-20
Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.’
OK so let's cut to the chase. We often take the words and actions of Jesus and we tell each other that we should be like Jesus, do what Jesus did and talk in terms of being like Jesus. We even hear people who don't believe in God talk about Jesus and the good things he did. The trouble is that very often people only talk about some of what Jesus did. They like the acts of justice; they like the way he stood up to religious people; they like how he loved people and looked out for the poor. But even in some talks, we don't hear about everything.
So for example, Jesus did some things that are beyond what some people can cope with and he told us to do the same. So it doesn't really matter what we think - we need to obey Jesus. So what are these things? Well, Jesus healed everyone who came to him for healing (the Bible constantly says Jesus healed "all"). Jesus also told demons to get out of people and he set them free. Jesus did amazing miracles that were supernatural. And Jesus also raised the dead.
But Jesus commanded his disciples and us to obey and teach others to obey everything that he commanded us. And he told us that he is with us to the end of the age - so the things that Jesus did, he still wants us to do. Our expectation of what Jesus has called us to do is way too low! Jesus is the same yesterday, today and forever. The same Holy Spirit that raised Jesus from the dead is on the inside of us. And God has commanded us - and given us power and authority - to do the things that Jesus did and to teach others to do the same. How do we do these things? By doing them and keeping on doing them and not limiting God by what we see happen. Instead, we want to see happen what God has said. Think about it...
Fame - Mark 9.33-37
Then He came to Capernaum. And when He was in the house He asked them, “What was it you disputed among yourselves on the road?” But they kept silent, for on the road they had disputed among themselves who would be the greatest. And He sat down, called the twelve, and said to them, “If anyone desires to be first, he shall be last of all and servant of all.” Then He took a little child and set him in the midst of them. And when He had taken him in His arms, He said to them, “Whoever receives one of these little children in My name receives Me; and whoever receives Me, receives not Me but Him who sent Me.”
The disciples had been arguing with each other about who would be the greatest among them. Many times we do this without meaning too - we think that the way we do things is better or the best in our church. Other times we hear religious people saying that we need to be humble and to think about others as being better than us. And they are right, except that what they often mean is that you need to put yourself down. But unless we see ourselves as Jesus sees us and we are secure in who we are, then we can't really put others first! Only secure people who know who they are can put others first without losing who God has made them to be!
Bill Johnson makes an amazing point about the response of Jesus to his disciples. You would have thought that Jesus would have said, 'No, it's not about who's the greatest. Stop arguing and be humble.' But Jesus didn't do this. In the words of Bill Johnson, he didn't tell them off for wanting to be the greatest, he re-defined what greatness was. Jesus said that to be great you need to be like a child and like a servant. So Jesus didn't say 'don't aspire to be great.' He said, 'this is the way to be great...' As Derek Prince said, 'the way up is down'. So the message to us is - it's good to want to be great, but the way to be great is to have the faith of a child and the heart of a servant.
Unity - Ephesians 3.6
"This mystery is that through the gospel the Gentiles are heirs together with Israel, members together of one body, and sharers together in the promise in Christ Jesus."
The Bible talks about Satan as being a destroyer. He is also called someone who steals and kills. Satan seeks to divide and bring division between people and even in the church. He wants to break up families and marriages. His only desires are to rob people of their life and destiny. He seeks nothing but destruction. He is only evil. And all around the world we see this kind of evil happening. It may be tribal wars in Africa or the murder and torture of Christians by Islamic extremists. Or it may be fights on Saturday night, violent rows between husband and wife, or sex slavery just around the corner from your house.
In Ephesians and elsewhere in the Bible, we see how God is different. Where Satan wants to kill, God wants to bring life. Where Satan wants to tear down, God wants to build up. Where Satan wants to break apart, God wants to restore. Where Satan wants to rob, God wants to give. Where Satan wants to injure, God wants to heal. Where Satan wants to split apart, God wants to bring unity. And this is the real message of Jesus. In our Bible verse, we see Paul writing to the Ephesian church to say that Jews and Gentiles are heirs, together in the promise of Jesus Christ. Through what Jesus has done, we can all enter into a relationship with him and in that, we are all one body - one church. So whenever you feel yourself getting upset, annoyed, angry about people or situations, think about this quiet-time and check your heart. And choose God - choose life - choose the unity found in Jesus. And model this, express this to others all around you. Then we'll see God's Kingdom come and His will be done on earth as in heaven!
What is God asking you to do? 2 Kings 5.10-14
Elisha sent a messenger to say to him, ‘Go, wash yourself seven times in the Jordan, and your flesh will be restored and you will be cleansed.’ But Naaman went away angry and said, ‘I thought that he would surely come out to me and stand and call on the name of the Lord his God, wave his hand over the spot and cure me of my leprosy. Are not Abana and Pharpar, the rivers of Damascus, better than all the waters of Israel? Couldn’t I wash in them and be cleansed?’ So he turned and went off in a rage. Naaman’s servants went to him and said, ‘My father, if the prophet had told you to do some great thing, would you not have done it? How much more, then, when he tells you, “Wash and be cleansed”!’ So he went down and dipped himself in the Jordan seven times, as the man of God had told him, and his flesh was restored and became clean like that of a young boy.
God mostly speaks to us in very normal ways. The Christian life is an incredible life but it's not always exciting and action-packed. God is in the small details of life, like eating, getting up, going to school or work, doing the washing up and cleaning your bike! But sometimes God asks us to do some things that are slightly unusual! Now we need to be clear that God will never ask you to do something that is against what the Bible says or against the character of God. But he may ask you to do some different things to normal (he may not!)
In 2 Kings 5, Naaman had leprosy. He went to Elisha (via the King of Israel) to be healed as one of his wife's servant girls had heard about Elisha. So off he went to Elisha. But Elisha sent word via his servant to Naaman that the way Naaman would get healed was to go and wash himself seven times in the River Jordan. Why the River Jordan? Why seven times? We're not sure. Naaman wasn't going to do this, saying 'I could have washed one of my nearby rivers'. But Naaman's servant encouraged him to do what the prophet Elisha said. He did and he was healed. God asked Naaman to do something that maybe didn't seem to make sense but he obeyed and was healed. We need to follow God when he speaks. When we obey God, even in times we don't understand or doing unusual things, God will reward us (we may not always see this) and he will work in our lives in new and amazing ways. You can't lose by obeying God!
The Greatest Day - John 20.14-16
At this, she turned round and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not realise that it was Jesus. He asked her, ‘Woman, why are you crying? Who is it you are looking for?’ Thinking he was the gardener, she said, ‘Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have put him, and I will get him.’ Jesus said to her, ‘Mary.’ She turned towards him and cried out in Aramaic, ‘Rabboni!’ (which means ‘Teacher’).
Your son has been killed on a Cross. He has been publicly shamed, dragged through the streets. He has been tortured and abused so much that the Bible tells us that he wasn't recognisable (Isaiah 50.6, Isaiah 52.14 - "...his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any human being - and his form marred beyond human likeness.") Imagine what other people would be saying about you. Just imagine how you would feel. What has happened? Was it all true? Where was God? Why didn't he stop this? I know that God told me my soul would be pierced, but you said my Jesus would be a salvation for the nations - is this it? (Luke 2.35) If you were Mary, mother of Jesus, you may feel pretty crushed - emotionally, spiritually, physically.
Sometimes we feel like this. We feel pretty crushed and broken as if things haven't happened. You even think that God hasn't worked or even at times you feel let down. But here's the thing. At this point of darkness for Mary, God did something amazing. In the Garden while she was weeping for her son who'd been killed, she first of all encountered two angels who spoke to her. How amazing - have any of us seen angels?! Then she heard a voice and when it called her name, she realised it was Jesus. It was her son, the risen Lord. He would have looked amazing to her (probably glowing with God's light too!) It was all turned around. Jesus was alive! And so she steamed back home to tell others. What an encounter. What a day. Today, thank Jesus for what he has done and thank God that the answers to your prayers are in hand!
Living Light - Philippians 4.9
Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.
I once heard a speaker challenge a group of people saying, "If they came to arrest you for being a Christian, many Christians would be released for lack of evidence..." What he meant was that sometimes we don't live the way that a Christian should. Our 'who' (we are) and our (what we) 'do' don't match!
Paul speaks to the Philippian church in Philippians 4 with loads of great advice about saying thank you to God, encouraging others, always praying, thinking about good and true things not all the rubbish that TV and society throws at us. But then he says a radical thing - whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen me do - put that into practice. He was saying do the things I say and the way I think. He wasn't being arrogant and he wasn't saying 'follow me and not Jesus'. Instead, God had so worked in his life that God allowed him to encourage others to act and live and speak like Paul.
So here's today's challenge: could we say the same about ourselves?! Most of the time I reckon I'd say to people, "whatever you've seen me do or say, don't do that!!" But could we say to others to do the things we do? To be able to say this we've got to allow God to work in our life and help us be all that God wants us to be. Hopefully one day you too can be like Paul and encourage others younger and older than you, to put into practice whatever you've taught, shown and been as a Christian!
Angry - 1 Samuel 17.28 and 41-44
"When Eliab, David’s eldest brother, heard him speaking with the men, he burned with anger at him and asked, ‘Why have you come down here? And with whom did you leave those few sheep in the wilderness? I know how conceited you are and how wicked your heart is; you came down only to watch the battle.’ ... Meanwhile, the Philistine, with his shield-bearer in front of him, kept coming closer to David. He looked David over and saw that he was little more than a boy, glowing with health and handsome, and he despised him. He said to David, ‘Am I a dog, that you come at me with sticks?’ And the Philistine cursed David by his gods. ‘Come here,’ he said, ‘and I’ll give your flesh to the birds and the wild animals!’"
Many times people who are quite normal in life get very angry, bitter, abusive and full of hate if you mention Jesus. Richard Dawkins, the famous atheist is one well-known person likes to use this kind of spiteful language to try to put Christians down. And this abuse is getting louder and more aggressive. It's all over the place. Increasingly you know when something is Biblical, true or is important because of the level of hate that will come your way! Worse still is when Christians are hateful and abusive towards others. It's one thing to disagree with people, but worse when Christians try to undermine other Christians - usually abusing those Christians who dare to believe the Bible!
In the Bible we see how David suffered abuse too. The first lot of hate came from his own family when his brother Eliab 'burned with anger at him'. He unfairly accused David of being wicked and was patronising towards him, asking who he left the 'few sheep' with. And then came Goliath the enemy... He was big, he was loud, he was abusive, he shouted insults every day at the people of God and when he saw David, the Bible says he 'despised' him - this is hate that's full of arrogance. It sounds a lot like many people today who write articles, write on forums and in the media - they look at the people of God and despise, hate them. Then they accuse Christians of hate! It's so ironic! But here's the response. David didn't abuse back but he spoke the truth firmly - "God will take care of me as God is bigger than you. You look at me and see a boy but I look at you and see a defeated enemy." We never fight back with abuse but we need to stand strong in the truth that Jesus has already beaten the enemy (Colossians 2.15)
Fix Your Eyes, Part 1 - Hebrews 12.1-2
Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith.
In Hebrews 12, the writer encourages us to throw off things in our lives that hold us back - sin, wrong thoughts and wrong beliefs etc. But it's sometimes hard to know how to do this! So how do we throw off sin and the things that easily seem to trip us up? Well, the best place to help understand the Bible is by using the Bible! As we read on in Hebrews 12, the writer talks about 'fixing our eyes on Jesus (he's always there helping us from start to end) in our life of faith.
Many times, the devil messes with our minds and gets us thinking on what's wrong with us or what's happened. We can start to worry, get nervous, over-think things, believe wrong things and the lies of the devil. We start focusing on problems and any situations we're facing. But instead, the Bible tells us to look at Jesus and fix our eyes on him. If you fix your eyes on something then it means you aren't looking at the things around. In the Old Testament, one of the Psalms talks about 'magnifying God'. Mary, the Mother of Jesus also said her soul 'magnifies the Lord'. If you take a magnifying glass, it makes the thing you are looking at much bigger. God is amazingly big anyway but if we magnify him, keeping our eyes on him, we will be helped so much. It doesn't mean we ignore our problems but it does mean we don't magnify them and make them bigger. Instead, we focus on God, the one who is the problem-solver!
Fix Your Eyes, Part 2 - Hebrews 12.3
For the joy that was set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.
As we live our Christian lives with our eyes fixed on Jesus, we also learn from him and are helped and encouraged by him. If you fixed your eyes on someone, you would begin to see things about what they looked like and the kind of person they were. If we want to find out about Jesus, we fix our eyes on him by reading the Bible and thinking about the things he did and the person he was (and is!). The other thing we do is ask him to help us live our lives for him. As we do this, he changes us from the inside - out and does this often without us realising! We change to become like him - especially as we fix our eyes and hearts on him.
So what does the writer of Hebrews say in verse three? He tells us that Jesus went through the crucifixion and then sat down at the right hand of God. He also suggests that at times we can get weary and lose heart because of things people say - people who are Christians and people who aren't Christians. But as we learn from Jesus, we learn to keep going because the 'prize' is worth the price we pay to get there. If you're an athlete, you train long and hard. Often it's agony as you run the race. But for the athlete the prize is worth it. And for us, the prize of eternal life for us is worth even more than winning a race!
Misty Edwards, the singer-songwriter writes her many great songs direct from the words of the Bible quite often. In one song she quotes Psalm 121, "I lift my eyes, up to the hills. Where does my help come from? It comes from you and you alone..." (with the word 'you' meaning God). Let's keep our eyes fixed on the one who helps us and not on our problems!
GoNoYo - Esther 1.10-12
"On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him – Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas – to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger."
The book of Esther is a great book about how Esther and her relative Mordecai were used by God to save the Jewish people from extermination by an evil man called Haman. Haman ended up being hung on the very same gallows (where you hang people) that he had made for Mordecai. The day of God's judgement is coming so we should turn to God.
In the Bible verses we're looking at, the drunk King wanted his Queen (Vashti) to come and parade before him and all his friends. But she said no. We can understand why she said no as today we see too many drunken men using and abusing women. It's evil and needs to stop. So this is an important part of this quiet-time. But it also makes us think of our attitude to King Jesus. When he asks us to do something (from the Bible) or he speaks to us, do we say no? Queen Vashti said no and if we take the spiritual principle here, she was no longer Queen. Esther became the Queen and she said 'yes' to the King and she said 'yes' to God, at great personal cost. Like Jesus, she was willing to humble herself and suffer for God's people. So what about you and me? When God says, 'go' do we say 'no'? Or 'yo'?! (Meaning: Yes!)
Prizes - Philippians 3.14
"I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus."
OK so it's confession time. Who likes quiz shows? Game shows? What about shows like "I'm A Celebrity Get Me Out Of Here" or the latest shows on TV? Or have you ever been to some kind of church fete or community event where they have raffle tickets for you to be in with the chance of winning something? Or maybe you've entered online competitions to win something! Did you know some people are like full-time competition enter-ers?! They enter competitions as their job! These kinds of people have to spend hundreds of hours simply to win one prize.
So what about us? I have felt God speak to me a number of times about how much I do other things compared to how much time I really give him. Yes, we can worship and go to church. We can even read the Bible. But how much do we really want to 'hang out' with God? How much of our life do we really want God at the centre? Often we can look good by what we do for God but we need to run after God more than people run after competition wins or as much as people watch game shows on TV!! It doesn't mean we have to be in church every minute (phew!!) But it just means we involve God in all we do and do things that are God-like. Paul said he ran after the prize of knowing Jesus. Let's do the same. Love God for who he is, not what he can give you! It really is the only prize worth winning!
Love matters - John 21.6-10
Jesus said, ‘Throw your net on the right side of the boat and you will find some.’ When they did, they were unable to haul the net in because of the large number of fish. Then the disciple whom Jesus loved said to Peter, ‘It is the Lord!’ As soon as Simon Peter heard him say, ‘It is the Lord,’ he wrapped his outer garment round him (for he had taken it off) and jumped into the water. The other disciples followed in the boat, towing the net full of fish, for they were not far from shore, about a hundred metres. When they landed, they saw a fire of burning coals there with fish on it, and some bread. Jesus said to them, ‘Bring some of the fish you have just caught.’
Peter had betrayed Jesus. He had denied him three times after Jesus was taken away by the Jewish leaders and crucified by the Romans. Peter was totally ashamed and probably felt there was nothing he could do to make up for it. He probably thought Jesus would never use him again and went back to fishing. He and the other disciples didn't really understand Jesus would return after three days. So when they went out fishing and John realised it was Jesus, Peter jumped out of the boat excited, probably nervous and wondering what Jesus may say to him. Jesus didn't judge him and this would have made Peter so happy. Instead Jesus invited Peter and the disciples to his BBQ!! And what was the result? Together the disciples weren't able to haul the net in (while it was on water). But Peter was so amped that he was then able to pull the net from the water onto the land all on his own! How? Because he knew he was accepted and loved and this helps us do incredible things!
Just a final true story. In a Salvation Army magazine (Jan 4 2014), there's a story about a guy rescued from gangs in London via the love of a local pastor. His message was this: "The church should also be an example and go out on the streets as much as possible and just show love to young people. They should see every child as their own." That's the power of love!
Housing matters - 2 Cor 6.16, Ephesians 3.17, 1 Cor 3.9
"For we are the temple of the living God. As God has said: ‘I will live with them and walk among them, and I will be their God, and they will be my people." (2 Corinthians 6.16)... "I pray that Christ will be more and more at home in your hearts, living within you as you trust in him." (Ephesians 3.17)... "...you are... God’s building" (1 Corinthians 3.9).
I once worked doing some building work for a local builder as an assistant. We had some fun times, building a kitchen, an extension, fixing a roof, a wall and other jobs. It was quite satisfying to start laying bricks or tiles and then at the end of the day or week, seeing something built. It must have been the same for a guy called Nehemiah in the Bible who God used to rebuild the walls of the city of Jerusalem about 500 years before Jesus was born. He was a great builder and a great leader!
But here's an even more amazing thing - God is building something in your life; something amazing! When I've been to America it makes laugh (in a nice way) when people say something is 'historical' and then it's from the 1890s which is nothing compared to some buildings in the UK that have been there for centuries. But God is doing something in you that will last forever. He is shaping you to be more like God. He doesn't force you to do anything but he 'lives' on the inside of you (not in a weird way) but like a baby in the mother's womb. When you say yes to Jesus, his Holy Spirit 'moves in' and starts to help you be more like Jesus, not through following rules but because God changes your heart from the inside-out. But we have our part to play. If someone comes to stay at your actual house they may be a bit uncomfortable at first but you can help them to feel more 'at home'. It's the same way with Jesus. He is the builder, but we can help Jesus like we are his building assistant. And then we can stand back amazed at what Jesus has 'built' with our life.
Unity is vertical then horizontal - John 17.20-23
(Jesus prayed) - "My prayer is not for them alone. I pray also for those who will believe in me through their message, that all of them may be one, Father, just as you are in me and I am in you. May they also be in us so that the world may believe that you have sent me. I have given them the glory that you gave me, that they may be one as we are one – I in them and you in me – so that they may be brought to complete unity. Then the world will know that you sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me."
We often hear about unity in the church and that this is the way that God will really reveal himself to the world and in many ways this is true. Who wants to listen to / be part of anything that is arguing among itself and slagging each other off? We need to remember we're here on earth to represent God and to serve him in building his kingdom. We're not here on earth to tell everyone what to do or to go around thinking that we know everything about God (how arrogant could we get?!)
But here's the thing - people often say that Jesus prayed in John 17 that the disciples (and us as the church) would be one... and this is how the world would know about Jesus. But they miss out a key thing. Yes, Jesus prays that we will be one. But how? Just as the Father is in Jesus and Jesus is in the Father. Then Jesus continues to pray that we would be one like God the Father and Jesus - Jesus in the church and God in Jesus. Many times we hear that we need 'unity' and so we do 'horizontal' things to create 'unity' like joint church services, citywide prayer meetings etc. All this is good, but this isn't what Jesus said. Jesus prayed that the unity would come as a result of Jesus being in the church - just as God is in Jesus. What does this look like? John 5.19 - Jesus only did what he saw the Father doing. So the key is not to create 'unity' but to live lives and build churches that reflect the relationship God the Father and Jesus the Son have - listening, hearing and obeying Jesus. Then out of that will come unity. The priority is upwards (vertical, putting Jesus first) and then the horizontal (between churches) will flow. We can't build unity - only God can.
Put On, Put Off - Ephesians 4.22-24
"... throw off your old sinful nature and your former way of life, which is corrupted by lust and deception. Instead, let the Spirit renew your thoughts and attitudes. Put on your new nature, created to be like God—truly righteous and holy." (New Living Translation)
If you are healthy and well, you wake up in the morning and (hopefully) you put on your clothes (unless you want to face bad consequences). You may put on accessories and make up as well. As Joyce Meyer (famous Bible teacher) would say, your clothes don't magically jump onto you in the morning (unless you're Wallace out of Wallace & Gromit maybe..!) Then at the end of the day, you may put off your work clothes (and put off your makeup even). Again, this is something that you have to do - unless you have servants or a makeup department at your house!
A number of times in the New Testament (second half of the Bible) we are told to 'put on' something, meaning that it's an act we have to do. As well as our reading today in Ephesians 4 where we're told to 'put on' our new nature there are other examples: Ephesians 6.11 tells us to 'put on the full armour of God'. Colossians 3.10 tells us to 'put on the new self'. Colossians 3.14 tells us to 'put on love'. Some things are a decision we make (even if we don't 'feel' like it). For example love is a decision, not always a feeling! On the other hand we are also told to 'put off': Ephesians 4 tells us to 'put off' (throw off) our old sinful nature. Ephesians 4.25 tells us to 'put off' all falsehood and lying. Yes, God wants to help us. But we have our part to play too. Today, choose to both 'put on' and 'put off'. The consequences of not doing so are bad. The consequences of following what God says in the Bible are always good. Even if it doesn't feel that way - it always works out for good!
Wheat and Weeds - Matthew 13.30
"Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: first collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn."
Jesus told a parable (a made up story but with a spiritual meaning) to his disciples. A farmer had planted some good seed (wheat) in his field and it was growing up nicely. But while the farmer and workers were sleeping an enemy came along and started planting some weeds all in the middle of the wheat. The workers didn't know where the weeds had come from. The farmer knew it was an enemy - he knew that he had planted only good seed (God only plants good seed and sees the work of the enemy in your life, knows it's not you!) So the workers asked whether the farmer wanted the weeds pulled up. But the owner said not yet - wait until the harvest to separate the weeds (the bad seed) and the wheat (the good seed). First the weeds would be gathered up in bundles and burned, then the wheat would be brought into the farmer's barn.
If the workers had pulled up the weeds too early, there would be a danger of accidentally scooping up some of the good seed too. The farmer didn't want to lose any of the good seed, so he allowed the good seed to grow into wheat and the weeds to grow too so it would be obvious what was wheat and what wasn't.
But when did the farmer know that it was harvest time? The wheat bows over when it is ready to be harvested. This is a fact of wheat farming but it has a spiritual fact. How will people know we're Christians? Well, we'll look like 'wheat' and not like weeds! But also the wheat will be bowing down before the farmer, whereas the weeds won't be. There may be 'weeds' around you in life (the evil things in the world). But God won't let you go. If you belong to Jesus, when the end comes you will be with him. Those who know Jesus will naturally and willingly bow down. Those who don't know Jesus will be made to bow down and then they will not be with Jesus but be in hell. That should encourage us in our faith and encourage us to tell people about Jesus. He doesn't want anyone to go to hell, but wants everyone to believe in him and have life!
Clothed with a God-fit - Ephesians 4.22-24
"You were taught, with regard to your former way of life, to put off your old self, which is being corrupted by its deceitful desires; to be made new in the attitude of your minds; and to put on the new self, created to be like God in true righteousness and holiness."
Here's the thing: 2 Corinthians 5.17 tells us that when we accept Jesus to be king of our life, he takes away our old nature and gives us a new nature. The old is put to death so that the new can come into life. But this is on the inside of us. Our mind, bodies and things we do don't always line up with God's ways... Am I right?! It's true for me. So in Ephesians 4, Paul gives some help in this whole Christian living thing. It's like Paul is saying, 'OK so you've been changed by Jesus on the inside, so here's some advice on how to see this worked out on the outside' in a practical way.
So let's have a quick look at what he says... Imagine you've been at a Christian festival in the UK Summer - so basically you're wet and muddy! You go home or back to your tent and you take off your dirty clothes and put on a clean set of clothes. This is what Paul tells us to do - saying put off all the rubbish that isn't from God like lying, sexual sin, anger, bitterness etc - chuck away these filthy clothes. Instead, put on a new set of clothes - these are new clothes that are clean and pure. But more than that, these clean clothes don't just have any old logo on them. No, they're designed, developed and produced by God himself. These clothes have the sharpest design and they fit you perfectly. When you wear them, you look good and it shows off the great designer in all his glory - God himself. Today, choose to get God-fitted and chuck away the old dirty clothes.
Being 'hidden' with God - 2 Kings 11.2-3
"But Jehosheba, the daughter of King Jehoram and sister of Ahaziah, took Joash son of Ahaziah and stole him away from among the royal princes, who were about to be murdered. She put him and his nurse in a bedroom to hide him from Athaliah; so he was not killed. He remained hidden with his nurse at the temple of the Lord for six years while Athaliah ruled the land."
Do you sometimes feel that no-one 'sees' you or even that God has forgotten about you? Maybe God has put some dream in your heart but nothing seems to be happening? I know that I've felt that way at different times in life. It's almost like you say, "God, you've said this to me, so why is nothing happening". Sometimes doors even seem to be shutting rather than opening! Things may be happening that seem to be the opposite of what God has said! If you're in this place then you are not alone. In fact you need to be encouraged because if you are really seeking God then he is at work, whether you can see it or not! Sometimes the very fact that you've been separated from other things or that you feel a bit invisible is the evidence that God is at work!!
In the Bible passage, there was an evil woman in the land of Judah called Athaliah who had taken control from the rightful royal family. She tried to kill them all off (this was the work of Satan who throughout history tried to destroy the bloodline to Jesus, even motivating Herod to kill all the babies, meaning Mary and Joseph had to escape to Egypt, Matthew 2.13-18). But a Godly woman called Jehosheba (which can mean 'Jehovah-given' or God given) protected the baby Joash and hid him so he wasn't murdered. Joash (the now rightful King) remained hidden for six years. So even though he was the King, he remained hidden for six years. Other people remained 'hidden' in the Bible. God gave Joseph (the one with the brightly coloured robe, not the 'father' of Jesus) a dream, but it was years before he saw it come to pass. But this was because God was working; moving things into place and developing Joseph's character and skills. Then at the right time, Joseph became ruler over Egypt. In the same way, at the right time Joash became King of Judah. And in God's timing, if you stay obedient to God, he will put you in the right place at the right time in the right way with the right people. So be really encouraged today!
On the Third Day - John 2.1
On the Third Day - John 2.1, "On the third day a wedding took place at Cana in Galilee. Jesus’ mother was there, 2 and Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding."
On the third day – Jesus turned the water to wine as his first ever miracle. This was awesome and benefited the people at the wedding who got to drink the fresh wine and enjoy their day. But it was more than this, it was symbolic... The old was made new and Jesus showed this was now the day of miracles. The third day was prophetic of Jesus’ rising from the tomb on the third day, as prophesied (in part about Jesus) in Hosea 6.2, “in the third day he will raise us up’ and pointed to in Jonah inside the whale for 3 days – as Jesus himself said in Matthew 12.40. The third day in the Bible is also a day of turning, a day of the new, a day of change and transformation. This was also shown in Acts 9 where we see how God met with Saul (who became called Paul). He was struck by a blinding light and was unable to see or eat for three days, until Ananias obeyed God and prayed for Paul - who could then see and ate food.
John 21.4 shows us Jesus on beach, saying it was the third time he was seen by disciples. He got them to get a huge catch by telling them where to throw their nets but when they got to the beach, there was fish on the fire already. Jesus had already provided! This is the truth of the exchange at the Cross - Jesus has already done it. We are living in a new day with Jesus as our miracle worker, provider and transformer from the old covenant to the new way of being right with God, through the blood of Jesus.
New wine - John 2.6-7
Nearby stood six stone water jars, the kind used by the Jews for ceremonial washing, each holding from twenty to thirty gallons. Jesus said to the servants, “Fill the jars with water”; so they filled them to the brim.
John 2 is where Jesus did his first recorded miracle. He was at a wedding and the wine had run out (for me this would be a relief as I hate wine and stuff like that!) But Mary asked Jesus to do something, which he did, as we read in verses 6 and 7 above... It's a good reminder that when we invite Jesus into a situation, he always responds. We're just never sure how and don't always see how! But here, the people saw as Jesus turned water into the very best wine!
What Jesus did was also symbolic... He was actually taking the old system, the ceremonial religious items (the stone jars) and he was filling them with water - which turned into wine. In a way, Jesus was saying 'these jars are no longer for the religious system, they are now being used for the new way of doing things'. The old system was about people following rules and laws to be right with God. With Jesus, the new system would be that people would be made right with God because of what Jesus would do (dying on the cross, paying for our sin and rising again to life). In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is often represented by 'water'. Jesus got the servants to fill the stone jars with water. But there was also something supernatural going on - the water turned to tasty wine. The point is that Jesus did away with the old system and wants you to be filled with the Holy Spirit and to be poured out into other people's lives, bringing God's love, life and supernatural power. Just like the water turned to wine, so Jesus wants to see your life turn from good to bad and to see people turn from evil to a good life with God. Are you up for this? Say yes to Jesus today and watch him go to work!
Opened by Fire - 1 Peter 1.6-7
"In all this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. These 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."
One thing we don't much like are the trials and tests that life throws at us. It may be a fall out with a close friend, or the death of someone you love; it could be that you're tempted to do something wrong, or do something wrong and then regret it; it maybe that things are tough at home or school; it may just be that you're filled with doubt about yourself or feel depressed and want to get through but are struggling with where God is in your situation. We all face different things in life, but as people say, a test can give you a chance for a testimony. In Isaiah 40, God promised Israel that he would be with them through the fire and through the water. The good news is that there is a 'through', that things won't last for ever. The Israelites had a situation where they had a big river in front of them and the Egyptian army coming to kill them behind them. It was then that God moved and the waters parted, enabling the Israelites to get through and escape. But they had to walk across the river.
In places like the Boreal Forest in Northern Canada, there are jack pine cones from the jack pine tree. The cones can stay on the tree for 20 years and stay fresh and able to germinate (meaning the seed can become another pine tree). But the way they get opened is by fire. When the fire comes, the cones open up and the seed can be released. In a way, the forest needs fire. I watched Ray Mears Northern Wilderness DVD as they explained this and God spoke to me saying sometimes that's what happens to us. Sometimes it takes a bit of fire for the 'seed to spill out of the cone' - for the treasure that God's put in you to come out and become new growth for you and others. So if you're going through it, trust God to bring you through to grow more and bring new life to other people around you - and yourself!
Present and Future - Matthew 21.1-3
"As they approached Jerusalem and came to Bethphage on the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, saying to them, ‘Go to the village ahead of you, and at once you will find a donkey tied there, with her colt by her. Untie them and bring them to me. If anyone says anything to you, say that the Lord needs them, and he will send them right away."
A colt is a young donkey. On one hand, this story shows how Jesus goes ahead of every situation to make provision and do what only God can do. Today we want to look at the owner of the donkey. In one way we can look at the donkey and the colt as the present day and the future. One day the donkey would go into retirement having served well and faithfully. In that day, the colt would take over. He would be the future, as well as learning 'the trade' now - watching his parent and learning.
God is the God both of now and the future. He provides for us in the present, but also has plans for your future (see Jeremiah 29.11 among other Bible verses). The donkey's owner had something which was for his 'now' and also for his 'future'. God has done the same for you - he does things for us now but he also has made a way for your future and what he wants to do next. Maybe you're in a place of watching and learning like the colt. Maybe you want to be the 'donkey', to be serving God. God says to you don't worry, if you watch, wait and learn, obeying him, he won't forget you. He knows where you are. But notice one other thing - the owner of the donkey and colt was prepared to give them up to the Master (Jesus). He gave his present and his future and trusted it to Jesus. We need to do the same - give up all we have now and in the future and trust it into the Master's hand. When the donkey and colt were returned to the owner, both he and the donkey / colt would never have been the same - having been used by and been touched by the Master. Today Jesus is waiting to do the same for you.
Added 16/03/13. Thanks to NW for the idea
Isaiah 6.8 - God asks
Then I heard the voice of the Lord saying, ‘Whom shall I send? And who will go for us?’ And I said, ‘Here am I. Send me!’
Isaiah is a prophet - speaking the Word of God to the people of Israel (remember back in Isaiah's time they didn't have the Bible, just some of the 'Law' that God gave to Moses!) In Isaiah 6 we find that Isaiah is caught up in this amazing vision where he sees God in the throne room of heaven. It is so awesome and powerful that Isaiah falls down and has to be helped by an angel in order to stand in the presence of God. Then he hears the voice of the Lord asking a question: "Who shall I send? Who will go for us?" As someone has written, this question is probably not spoken to Isaiah. "Who will go for us?" sounds like the God the Father, Jesus and the Holy Spirit are talking to each other. It's possible that this question is not even directed at Isaiah specifically.
So here's the thing. The Lord asks two questions: The first question is "Who shall I send?" He is looking for someone to send (maybe it's his assignment to find someone to send). We don't know what the person is being sent for. The second question is "Who will go for us?" The question is asking who will be an ambassador to take on the mission for the Father, Son and Spirit. Who will represent them and be true, faithful and obedient? Again, the full extent of what this means isn't revealed. When you go for a job, you get a job description and are then usually asked to do other things as appropriate and decided by the boss. But in Isaiah 6 it's the opposite way round - a job description with little detail (and with lots more to do besides) but that's because with God it is our heart, our obedience, our choosing to serve God that is the important thing. Isaiah stepped up and said, "Send Me". He didn't know the where, what, when or how. He just wanted to serve God. He volunteered for a role that the Lord wasn't necessarily specifically calling him too. We need to have the same attitude. God has no favourites. His promises are true - but they are for 'whoever will' (see Romans 10.13). Today will you step up and step out for God even if you're not quite sure. He is waiting for those who will.
The Oscars, Part One - Matthew 18.1-5
At that time the disciples came to Jesus and asked, “Who, then, is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven?” He called a little child to him, and placed the child among them. And he said: “Truly I tell you, unless you change and become like little children (The Amplified adds 'trusting, lowly, loving, forgiving'), you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Therefore, whoever takes the lowly position of this child is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven. And whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me."
Around the end of February ever year, Hollywood gets its 'glad rags' on (well, its 'glad riches' and posh frocks) on for the celebration of the year. Yes that's right, each February it's The Oscars. This is the place where the rich, famous, actors, actresses and wannabees all gather to pat each other on the back and to celebrate how brilliant they all are. The Oscars are awarded to the cream of the crop, the very best movies, actors, actresses, directors, theme music producers etc. Many times those receiving awards deliver pre-prepared speeches and blub with emotion and a lot of false humility. Many people believe their own 'press release' about how good they are because so many people tell them how good they are, so it's hard for them to think anything different (although many really struggle inside and with life).
God didn't really mean for us to live this way. The reality of life with Jesus is completely the opposite. Instead of celebrating the good and the great, the kingdom of heaven is for those who are humble and who don't seek any honour or any fame. The same is true for you! An author called LB Cowman once wrote, "God calls many of his most valuable workers from the unknown multitudes'. Many of God's greatest workers are completely anonymous to man, but they're seen by God who loves what they do. (PS. He loves his people who are famous too but we shouldn't make fame our aim!)
The Oscars, Part Two - Daniel 3.1-7
King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon... So the satraps, prefects, governors, advisers, treasurers, judges, magistrates and all the other provincial officials assembled for the dedication of the image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up, and they stood before it. Then the herald loudly proclaimed, “This is what you are commanded to do, O peoples, nations and men of every language: As soon as you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipes and all kinds of music, you must fall down and worship the image of gold that King Nebuchadnezzar has set up. Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace.”
The winners of the Oscars receive a statuette which is mostly made of tin but coated with real gold. It really is a mini gold statue. There are huge numbers of parties in Hollywood after the Oscars event. Across North America especially there are Oscar parties. At the Oscars event, people get an award and people all stand for the winner and watch on as the winner delivers their speech. The Oscars are probably the biggest and best known awards on the earth - even more famous than the Nobel Peace Prize.
In Daniel 3 we find that the King had built a massive statue and set it up and wanted everyone to worship the statue, inviting all the important people, having their own theme music with the lyres and harps and everyone having to 'worship' at the sound of the music. The Oscars is a bit similar. With the world's media there and people watching the ceremony live around the globe, it's amazing how many people come and 'worship' at the altar of the Oscars. There's nothing wrong with celebrating people and honouring their achievements, but it's important that in all we do; all we watch; all we buy and in all our time, that we worship only God. Later on in Daniel 3, we find that Daniel's three friends refused to bow down to the idol, no matter what happened. Our lives should be the same - God's given us much to enjoy but our 'one thing' is God - he alone is worthy of worship and it's at his name that one day everyone will bow. Let's get ahead of the game and bow our knee to God in all we say and do!
The supernatural power of praise - Acts 16.25-29
About midnight Paul and Silas were praying and singing hymns to God, and the other prisoners were listening to them. Suddenly there was such a violent earthquake that the foundations of the prison were shaken. At once all the prison doors flew open, and everyone’s chains came loose. The jailer woke up, and when he saw the prison doors open, he drew his sword and was about to kill himself because he thought the prisoners had escaped. But Paul shouted, “Don’t harm yourself! We are all here!” The jailer called for lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas. He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved?”
Paul and Silas had done nothing more than pray for the deliverance of a slave girl who had been possessed by a demon of fortune telling. Paul hadn't acted but eventually he became so annoyed by her days of following them with persistent shouting that he commanded the demon inside of her to come out. The owners of the slave girl got so annoyed because they'd lost their money-making opportunity, they had Paul & Silas stripped, severely beaten and imprisoned. We see this kind of thing across the world today where good people doing good are attacked and beaten in the name of profit. The owners of the slave girl didn't care for her at all, just as the pimps and sex traffickers don't care for the women they abuse and use. It's true evil and God hates it. We need to take our stand like Paul and Silas.
But they were thrown into prison. Now we know the end of the story. We know that as they praised God, everyone's chains came loose (those on Paul and Silas and on all the other prisoners!) and all the doors were flung open! But Paul and Silas didn't know this was going to happen. They were praising God because they loved God, period! They likely weren't praising to get something to happen but simply because they were overjoyed with God in their lives. Sometimes we hear messages about 'praising God' in order to get something. There's no doubt that praise is powerful as we see here. But we praise God because of who he is and our love for him, not because of what we can get!! That isn't true love!
But look at the result of their supernatural praise that God gave them in the middle of terrible circumstances... The chains of all the prisoners came off. That's what worship can do - transform your situation and the situation of all those around you! The doors also opened. Praise that truly honours and is for God can open doors for you and others! But none of the prisoners escaped or even ran away which is amazing. So there was something quite awesome about what happened and could only have been God. Finally, the jailer and his entire family came to know Jesus. Praise can lead to changed lives! Awesome.
Big ministries and the approach of Jesus - John 7.1-10
After this, Jesus went around in Galilee. He did not want to go about in Judea because the Jewish leaders there were looking for a way to kill him. But when the Jewish Festival of Tabernacles was near, Jesus’ brothers said to him, “Leave Galilee and go to Judea, so that your disciples there may see the works you do. No one who wants to become a public figure acts in secret. Since you are doing these things, show yourself to the world.” For even his own brothers did not believe in him. Therefore Jesus told them, “My time is not yet here; for you any time will do. The world cannot hate you, but it hates me because I testify that its works are evil. You go to the festival. I am not going up to this festival, because my time has not yet fully come.” After he had said this, he stayed in Galilee.
Do you sometimes look around and see these big, amazing ministries or churches and think 'wow, I'd like to do that one day'? In one way it's awesome to have dreams and visions. It's great to think big - much better than thinking small ! But just check your motives. Why do you want what you want? Is it for you, or is it for God? Is it really for God? If it is that is awesome. God will really honour your commitment to him. If not, ask God to help you change so that your dreams are for him. Also just check with God that the dream you think you want is the one that God has for you. God won't necessarily help you fulfil a dream that he hasn't called you to! So spend time with God first!
But also think about what Jesus did... In a way his brothers were saying to him, 'Look, you've got potential. You say you want a big ministry so get out of this little place into the Big City Lights. Get into 'Los Angeles' Judea where it's all happening right now - put yourself out there so people can see you and how good you are. No one who wants to be a public figure goes around in secret. Show yourself off!' But Jesus didn't do this because he knew who he was, he knew what God had called him to do but also knew it wasn't about him and it wasn't the right time. The Bible tells us that God uses things that people think are 'foolish' in order to shame those who think they're the top dogs. God wants to use you as his disciple, but it's about his calling, his timing, his vision, his way and his glory. The Kingdom of God is different: Jesus says serve others, be a slave to them, humble yourself while letting your good deeds shine so God gets the glory. Now that is someone God is waiting to use! Be that person!
Emmaus Road and Facial Disfigurement - Luke 24.13-16
Now that same day two of them were going to a village called Emmaus, about seven miles from Jerusalem. They were talking with each other about everything that had happened. As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them; but they were kept from recognising him.
If we read through Old Testament prophecies about what Jesus suffered on the Cross, we find out that there were some very brutal and horrific things done to Jesus. For example in Psalm 22, David prophecies about Jesus saying that he could see all his bones out of joint (because of his injuries). In Isaiah 50 the prophecy is about how Jesus would have his beard tugged out. We also know from Psalm 22 and then from the Gospels that Jesus had his hands, feet and side pierced.
When we go to Luke 24, we find that two disciples were walking along the road going to a village called Emmaus. Without them knowing it, they were joined on the road by Jesus who had risen from the dead. The Bible tells us that "they were kept from recognising him". This could well be miraculous as happened in the Old Testament (in Sodom); in Acts (with Peter) and even to Jesus (John 8). But Chuck Missler makes the suggestion that maybe the disciples didn't recognise Jesus because he had been so injured. We know from John 20 that Jesus had his physical injuries in his hands and side. When John has a revelation of Jesus in Revelation 5.6, he sees what looks like a lamb that had been slain.
So is it possible that part of the reason the disciples didn't recognise Jesus was because of his injuries, despite being risen from the dead? We don't know and it's just one possible way of seeing things. It's equally possible (more possible?) that the disciples didn't recognise Jesus in his resurrected state and body. But if it was because of his injuries, we find the disciples happy to walk and talk along the road with Jesus, despite what he may have looked like. Let us never treat people badly or wrongly because of the way they look.
The best beauty treatment - Ephesians 5.25-27
There are a huge range of beauty treatments on the High Street, in the malls and on the web. These range from make-up to cover-up to anti-age treatments, right the way up to medical procedures to improve, lift and transform the physical body. They're all available for women and for guys and make up an industry revenue of $13bn in the USA alone (source: ibisworld.com, accessed 27/4/12). Most people, whether they admit to it or not (!) spend money in this area - yep, even you guys who often spend longer geling hair than the girls! But sadly, anti-ageing treatments can never be permanent. 1 Corinthians 15 tells us how the result of Adam's sin was death (so we all get old and will all die, from this world anyway!) But through Jesus and his work on the Cross, we have the opportunity to be 'raised' with him to eternal life, if we say yes to Jesus in our life.
Ephesians 5 talks about how Jesus loved the church (the people of God) so much that he gave himself up for the church (in coming to earth and dying then being raised back to life and to heaven), washing us with the water (baptism) and the Word of God (the Bible) to present the church to himself as a radiant church, without spot or blemish - holy. OK so this is a spiritual thing and maybe not a physical thing. But there is no doubt that there is a beauty that comes with a Godly woman and a grace that comes from a Godly man that is often shown physically. I know one lady who is a real prayer warrior and her face shines with Jesus so much that no beauty treatment on earth could replicate it!
There is nothing wrong with looking your best and using beauty treatments (unless it becomes obsessive and wasteful). But God has the perfect beauty treatment for us, his church. As we follow God, read his Word, get baptised and then pursue God, allowing him to make us holy, we do become radiant and lose our 'spots' and 'blemishes'. OK, so we may have physical spots and blemishes but God is purifying us inside to give us a beauty that cannot be bought or improved on - it's the kind of beauty that comes from Jesus living on the inside of us and 'bursting out' from us!
Keep those hands up - Exodus 17.11
One of the amazing things about God is that he fights our battles for us (with our help). But he always does it in different and unique ways. In the battle of Jericho, he had the people march around blowing trumpets. In the battle that Gideon fought, he whittled the large army down to just 300 men and then they won by torches and trumpets. God always knows what he's doing and knows best. So we need to listen to God carefully and always obey him!
In Exodus 17, the people of Israel (under the leadership of Joshua) were fighting an incredibly evil people called the Amalekites. Sometimes we think God is quite harsh - in Exodus 17.14 we learn that God decided to wipe the memory of Amalek from the face of the earth. But the Amalekites were so evil and God had given them 400 years to turn from their evil - but they didn't. Anyway, we find that while Moses had his hands in the air, God gave the people victory. But when his hands lowered, the Amalekites started 'winning'. In the end, Moses sat down on a stone while two men called Aaron and Hur held up an arm each. Then the people of Israel defeated the Amalekites.
So what can we learn from this story? Well, we know that God brings victory and fights our battles. But we have our part to play. Joshua led the men fighting; Moses held his arms up; Aaron and Hur helped Moses. Secondly, we're not called to fight the Christian life on our own. We need each other. Moses needed Aaron and Hur. He accepted their help - they offered their help. If they hadn't helped, Israel would have lost and that would have affected everyone. So when we don't play our part or allow others to play their part, it affects everyone. Finally, Moses won with his hands in the air. We win often by worship, by praising God. Sometimes we offer a 'sacrifice of praise' (Hebrews 3.15). Moses' arms must have hurt and Aaron and Hur probably got back ache - but they kept going and won through God's help. We should do the same :)
Be a free radical - John 15.19 and 17.14
Did you know that the ozone layer is part of the earth's upper atmosphere (10-50km up) that helps protect us from some of the sun's electromagnetic radiation (UV rays, which are very harmful)? The scientific formula of ozone is O3 - which means there are 3 parts of oxygen together. You may have heard that the ozone layer is gradually failing and holes are appearing there. How is this happening? Well, it's through chemical reactions. When something called 'atomic oxygen' meets the ozone, a chemical reaction is caused: O3 + O → 2 O2. This break down of the ozone by 'atomic oxygen' is caused by the presence of 'free radicals' in the atmosphere. These have been caused in recent times by things like CFCs in gas canisters (atomic chlorine and bromine!) OK, you say, this is all very scientific and I'm a bit confused... but what does it mean?!
OK, so it's not a great metaphor, but God has called you to be a 'free radical' in this world. No, you're not called to destroy the ozone layer or tear down things that God put here for our benefit (like the ozone layer!) But you're called to be set apart for God. In John we learn that Jesus prays for us - not that God would take us out of the world, but that he has chosen us from out of the world. This means we do not belong to the world, but God has called us to be in the world and stand as his messengers to the world. You are to stand for God, to be part of his plan in bringing his kingdom, standing up, standing out and breaking down the power of the enemy. To do this you need to be free to be who God's made you to be and to be radical! There's an amazing guy called Canon Andrew White who's the 'Bishop of Baghdad' (in Iraq). He's seen God do awesome things in a very tough place to be a Christian. He quotes a friend of his who told him, "Don't take care, take risks!" Be challenged!
Thanks to Paul Martin for the idea!
Lifting the lid - breaking the ceiling - Mark 2.1-5 (or verse 12)
When I became a Christian, I went to a great church that gave lots of opportunities. But gradually I sensed that God was saying he wanted to take me further. While it was a great place with great people, it began to feel that there was a ceiling and I had to break out. J John talks about a certain fish that grows to the size of the water that it's in. If it's in a small tank, it stays small. If it's in a large tank, it grows bigger. If it's put in a big pond or mini lake, it grows to its full size. Sometimes, we have to break through the ceiling and do something new in order to be all that God has made us to be. If we're close to God and seeking him, he'll work with us and make things happen in the best time and the best way. Sometimes you'll have to take a step of faith despite what others say or think and often you'll need people around you to support you.
In Mark 5 we find a group of friends who brought their paralyzed mate to Jesus. They didn't just politely knock on the door. They were so determined to bring him to Jesus that when there was no room in the house, they didn't give up. Instead, they went onto the roof, physically dug an opening in the roof (despite what people may have shouted and done) and then lowered the man to Jesus. They broke the ceiling, broke out of the mould and did what it took. As a result of what they did, Jesus saw their faith and forgave the man his sins, then completely healed him. Nothing else had worked for this guy, but with his friends, he came to Jesus and Jesus released him into a new level of work - just imagine his testimony!! So - what is God saying to you? Time for something new, time to break through the 'roof(s)' in your life? Get some good people around you and ask God, then step out in faith. Some things won't come to you - you have to get your hands dirty (just don't start making holes in people's roof...)
Be an encourager - Ephesians 6.21-22
Who are your Bible heroes and heroines? Maybe you know of Paul the Apostle, or Peter preaching and seeing a mini revival. Or in the Old Testament, Moses leading the people out of Egypt, Esther standing up for the Jewish people, Rahab saving the spies, David killing the evil giant Goliath... The list goes on. Whose hero is Tychicus? OK, so have you even heard of Tychicus? Do you know how to say his name or how to write it without copying?!
Even though most of us haven't heard about him, he's mentioned directly by Paul and he is also a hero of the faith (so are you by the way, although you may not feel like it). Tychicus, whose name sounds like he either combated small insects on dogs for a living or maybe fixed clocks, was actually an encourager. Some of us know people who are like brothers or sisters to us. They may not be family, but we're so close that we may as well be. I've got spiritual brothers and sisters who I trust and even if we're apart for ages, we connect again when we meet up. Tychicus was like that with Paul, who describes his mate as 'the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord." T was a brother, he was faithful and he was a servant - all essential qualities for serving God and being a trusted mate. But he was also someone able to connect with others and speak accurately what Paul was saying and doing. He was also an encourager - Paul was also sending T to encourage the Ephesian church.
You may sometimes think (like we all do), 'who am I anyway, I can't do much'. But we can all serve, we can all be faithful, we can all speak about Jesus and we can all encourage other people. Put some chairs away, turn up early to set up, listen to people, remember their birthday, say thanks, buy a card or gift for someone who's struggling, meet up with someone, pray for them. All this is encouraging, it all builds God's kingdom and it all makes a massive difference! So be a Tychicus today!
All Chained Up - Philippians 1.13-14
Have you ever felt trapped? I don't mean have you ever been stuck in a lift (maybe you have!) But more 'trapped' in a situation, 'stuck' somewhere? For example stuck in your room when you want to go out - or trapped at Great Aunt Hilda's 130th birthday bash when you'd rather be with your mates. Or maybe you feel stuck at your church and frustrated, or at your school or college. Or it may be that God's called you to do something and it doesn't seem to be happening.
Paul was called by God to preach the gospel. He even said that he couldn't help but preach the Gospel - saying that his love for Jesus drove him to speak about Jesus wherever he went. In Philippians 1 we find that (again) Paul was in chains because of the Gospel - he was imprisoned. But he used his seeming 'imprisonment' to become a witness for Jesus. He became a testimony to all of the guards that he was in chains for Jesus and because of what he was going through, Paul was a great encouragement to other Christians to speak the word of God with even more courage. He also wrote a letter to the Philippians encouraging them! When someone speaks to you having been through something, you know they can be trusted and it takes your faith to a new level.
Whatever 'chains' you may feel you're in today, use it to show God's love, to shout about God in word and action. And if you need help to be released from chains that hold you down - ask God to release you. Jesus came to set the captives free and this didn't just mean releasing convicts (!) it means that Jesus has the power to set you free. Then you can be free to speak about him! And finally, if God has promised something, it will happen. Don't mistake a delay for a rejection. God is faithful!
Invite Jesus into the situation - John 6.16-21
So many times, we do things but forget about Jesus. The Bible tells us in Proverbs 3 that we should commit everything we do to God and he will help us and make the way. "Everything" includes, well, everything! Sometimes we don't mean to forget Jesus, but this quiet-time is about remembering Jesus in all we do and the difference that Jesus makes when we do invite him into our situations!
In John 6, the disciples weren't doing anything wrong, they were about their business. We learn that the disciples had got into a boat and set off for Capernaum on the other side of the lake. Verse 17 also says, "By now it was dark and Jesus had not yet joined them." So the disciples set off without Jesus. This is something we all often do - we do stuff without Jesus and it's never the best choice. We learn from verse 18 that, "A strong wind was blowing and the waters grew rough" but then the disciples saw Jesus walking on the water and were terrified (they didn't know what or who it was). Maybe the disciples thought Jesus wasn't around, but the truth was he hadn't left them to ride out the storm on their own. In fact, he was walking on top of the rough waters - walking on top of the situation as Jesus is lord of everything. There's nothing in your life that God doesn't know about, isn't available for and isn't ultimately in control of - even when it doesn't feel that way. God may not cause the rough waters but he is with you in and through them.
Let's get back to John and see what happened next... When Jesus revealed himself to the disciples, verse 21 says, "Then they were willing to take him into the boat, and immediately the boat reached the shore where they were heading." As soon as the disciples factored Jesus into the situation, things changed. But notice they were the ones who decided to take him into the boat - and you are the one who needed to invite Jesus into all of life's situations. As soon as the disciples did this, they immediately reached the place they were heading for. If they hadn't invited Jesus in they may have gone round that lake or never reached their destination. Same with us - we need to get Jesus on board on everything and then watch him take us where we need to go.
Quiet-time on inviting Jesus added 27/2/11
Do you love me? John 21.15-17
When they had finished eating, Jesus said to Simon Peter, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me more than these?"
"Yes, Lord," he said, "you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Feed my lambs."
Again Jesus said, "Simon son of John, do you truly love me?"
He answered, "Yes, Lord, you know that I love you."
Jesus said, "Take care of my sheep."
The third time he said to him, "Simon son of John, do you love me?"
Peter was hurt because Jesus asked him the third time, "Do you love me?" He said, "Lord, you know all things; you know that I love you."
Jesus asked Peter 3 times whether Peter loved him. Why did he ask him 3 times? Well, we need to go back to John 18 where we find that Peter denied knowing Jesus on 3 different occasions. Jesus very lovingly confronted Peter in a way that no-one else but Peter would understand, but which made Peter fully aware. In a sense, it was Jesus confronting Peter with his sin and Peter repenting (saying sorry to Jesus).
What is also interesting is that there are different words in Greek used for the word 'love'. In the chat between Jesus and Peter, the words used are 'philos' love and 'agape' love. Philos love is a friendship love, whereas agape is an unconditional selfless love. These Bible verses are a great example of the way Jesus stoops down to meet us and come alongside us... Jesus says to Peter, 'do you agape' me? Peter replies, 'yes I philos' you. Jesus again says 'do you agape me'? Peter again replies 'yes I philos you'. The third time, Jesus says, 'do you philos me'? Peter replies, 'yes I philos you'. Jesus starts with the highest standard of love (agape), but Peter isn't able to make that level of commitment of love. Eventually, Jesus asks him whether he loved him as a friend (philos) and Peter replied that he did.
Very often, Jesus will take us where we are and get agreement between us and him as he did with Peter. But he doesn't leave us there. One day after the in-filling of the Holy Spirit (Acts 2), Peter was truly able to say that he had agape love for Jesus, as he demonstrated with his life. Jesus is looking to us for the same kind of agape love, as this is what will make a difference in the world!
Human Being not Human Doing? - Genesis 1.26 | TOP
One way people like to describe life is that God didn't make us as human 'doings', but as human 'beings'. The thing people are trying to say is that what we do doesn't define who we are, but rather it's who we are, in God. This is very true, but it's not the full picture of who and what God made us to be. You see, 'to be' means that you're in a state of existence, something real. A 17th century French philosopher called René Descartes once said, "I think, therefore I am." But you can "be" without doing anything or even relating to God. I can "be" in a state of not thinking, not caring, not doing anything. Alternatively, I can "be" communicating with and hearing from God, actively following and doing what he says in my life, going forward with him, walking in faith and reading my Bible. This is more the picture that God wants for our lives. If you think about it, to "be" is to "do"!
In Genesis 1.26, we find part of the account of God creating man. In this, God said, "Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule... "So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them." In the Old Testament, we find the word 'adam' meaning a 'human being' (the word used in Genesis 1.26). In the Old Testament, the New American Standard Bible (NAS) refers to 'living creatures', but they are always described as doing something. For example, in Ezekiel 1, these living beings were worshipping God. In the New Testament, the word used is often from a root Greek word 'anthrópos' meaning a man / human being. This human is made in the image of God (God making us 'in his likeness'). But we have to make a choice to connect with God (through Jesus) so he changes us to be someone who lives a life 'in his likeness'.
James explains that we cannot have a real faith unless it is accompanied by doing things. In the same way, we cannot simply be a human being in the sense that we just float around like an angel on a cloud, just "being". Instead, Ephesians 2.10 tells us that we are "God's workmanship, created in Christ Jesus, to do good works which God prepared in advance for us to do." Your only 'being', should be a rest and trust in God. This leads to action, to motion, to working with God to see his Kingdom built on earth.
One Tree Hill - Psalm 1.3 | TOP
Psalm 1 is a great kick-off to the rest of the Psalms as it encourages us to get our priorities and get ourselves right before God. It also talks to us about being like a tree. There is the terrible kids song that was written with the line, 'I want to be a blooming tree, more fruit than Sainsburys'. No disrespect to the song-writer, but seriously, what were you thinking!?! Anyways, the Bible says that we can be like, "a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither. Whatever he does prospers." This is the kind of life I want, I don't know about you. If you think about a tree, it has roots and can stand strong for years no matter what hits it - snow, gales, rain. The Bible talks about being a tree planted by streams of water. In one sense, we can see this as the Holy Spirit in our lives - with him representing the 'streams of water'. In John 7.38, Jesus said, "Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him." So from this we know that when we believe in Jesus, streams of living water will come from within us (the Holy Spirit at work in and though us). The tree the Bible speaks about has leaves that do not wither, but yields its fruit 'in season'. There are seasons of the year when we get apples or oranges or other fruit. There are times in our lives when we just have to keep going and hang on in there. There are times when nothing seems to be happening. But we know that God is working in us. Just like a tree may even look bare in the winter, so we can feel a bit empty. But, when the time is right, God moves. Just as an apple tree gives apples in the right season, so we will see fruit in our lives to encourage others, glorify God and help shape us too. I want to be a strong tree, bearing fruit and someone who serves God so that all I do in his will, succeeds. Do you? One last piece of advice - read Psalm 1.1-2. We often want the promise of God without fulfilling the conditions. Here we find that the conditions of prospering in God are that we don't become like the world and its twisted values and that we delight in God's Word and put it at the centre of all we do. Are you doing this? If you are, you meet the conditions to be a prosperous 'tree', bearing fruit 'in season' - at the time that God chooses.
The Harvest - Matthew 9.35-38 | TOP
Jesus went through all the towns and villages, teaching in their synagogues, preaching the good news of the kingdom and healing every disease and sickness. When he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then he said to his disciples, "The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field."
Jesus has great compassion for the world, for humanity. When we look around, we may see people who are successful or who own a lot. But God sees right into our hearts and views us for what we really are - harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Truth is that in this world, we need someone to show us the way - to help us. As a believer, Jesus has tasked you with the role of living a life and showing people that Jesus is the way - the way to the Father, the way to an abundant and satisfying life, the way out of trouble, the way to a better and more world-changing life ultimately.
Often we hear from people that there will be a 'great revival' at the end time. This may be true, it may be wishful thinking. Let's look at what Jesus says here in Matthew 9. He says that the harvest is (already / currently) plentiful - BUT - the workers are few. Ask God to send more workers into the field to reap the harvest. It seems that the issue is not simply praying for an end time revival when God brings many people into the Kingdom, the issue is to increase the workers to field the harvest that already exists! Our problem in the church is very often not doing what we should be doing. Incredibly, God partners with people like you and me to see his Kingdom come. We do our part, God does his part. So the issue is not whether there is a harvest, but whether or not we go into the fields (the world, where God puts us) and allow God to use us to bring people into his Kingdom. This is not some aggressive militant campaign like religions try to do. This is expressing the heart of God for a lost and helpless world. A world that needs a shepherd, a Saviour - Jesus.
God's fire - Leviticus 1.13 | TOP
Leviticus is important reading for any believer, but let's face it, this isn't the most exciting book in the Bible! If you're new to the Bible, this probably isn't the best place to start as it's all about rules that God had for Israel - as they were on their journey to the Promised Land. But the Bible itself tells us that all of the Bible is vital for everything that God has for you. So we know that while Leviticus isn't going to make a blockbuster movie anytime soon, it has loads of incredible things in it that teach us about God. In the Old Testament, the people of Israel had to offer sacrifices to God so that their sins would be covered by blood. They had to offer animals and the blood of the animals covered them. Can you see any parallels with what Jesus did on the Cross? At the Cross, his death and blood enables us to have our sins forgiven. Interesting! In this Bible verse, we read that, "It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the Lord." Time after time, we read about offerings made by fire and aromas pleasing to the Lord. Sounds a bit strange to us today, so what does it mean? We have to think about a burnt offering. A burnt offering is something given to God that has been burned by fire. More than this, we find that the offering is MADE by fire, it is completed by the fire. I think there are 2 things here: Firstly, God often refines us by taking us through the fire - through hard things that shape us to be more like Christ. Secondly, one of the pictures of the Holy Spirit is fire - for example the Bible describes God as an 'all-consuming fire'. So we also know that as we allow the Holy Spirit to work in us and offer our bodies and lives as living sacrifices, that this is what God's heart is. As God sees us shaped by fire and filled with God's fire (his Holy Spirit), our lives and actions become an aroma pleasing to God. This means hearts and lives that God is delighted in and can really use. God is delighted in you anyway, but this is real worship. This is the place where God sees you and says, 'here's someone I can really use'. So get ready for the fire!
Breaking for the making - Luke 24.30 | TOP
Luke 24.30 says, "When he (Jesus) was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them." This could be a sermon in itself and we're grateful to Joyce Meyer Ministries for drawing our attention to this. But there are three things, three separate stages that Jesus undertook while doing communion with his disciples. These are perhaps a pattern for the life of discipleship for a believer in Jesus. First up, Jesus took the bread and gave thanks. As a Christian we are to live thankful lives, thanking God for what he's given us and taking what we have and being prepared to use it for God. In what ways may this happen? Well, if you're a gifted musician, use your musical talents for God - in and outside the church building.. If you enjoy using computers and technology, then give that to God, thanking him for that gift. Then watch God use you. Secondly, Jesus broke the bread. Something we don't like to talk about is God's discipline and God 'breaking' you. He doesn't snap you in half like a loaf of bread! But God knows those areas of our lives that we haven't given to him. What he does is a unique work in each one of us that breaks us down to become the men and women of God that we need to be. Jesus himself was broken when he died on the cross. If you want to be used by God in a big way, he has to get rid of the selfish stuff in you and pour in his Godly character. That often means being broken down. It's certainly something I've done and he's changed me to be more reliant on him and seeking after him daily. Thirdly, Jesus gave out the bread. As we become more like Jesus as he changes us, we will go out and be used by him more and more. You may want to do big things for God but over time, he has to change you to enable you to handle the stuff he gives you. He's not going to 'promote' people he can't trust - God is more interested in your character than anything as his main purpose is to make you holy. But as you line up your thinking with God's plans, he will anoint and appoint you to do the most incredible things for him. So if God is working on you today, get ready for what he's going to do in and through you!!
Handcrafted - Genesis 2.7 | TOP
Did you realise that you are a work of art?! You may not feel like it, you may not think you look like it. But you are a masterpiece, a highly and lovingly hand-crafted piece of extraordinary beauty. The Bible says that, "The LORD God formed the man from the dust of the ground and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life, and the man became a living being." Woman was equally lovingly crafted (Genesis 2.22). The Bible tells us we were formed by God. We know that the word used for 'formed' is one applied to a potter carefully crafting a piece of clay. God showed that same love and artistic expression when he created you and I. While other elements of the world were made by God, it is humans alone that God hand-crafted so incredibly. God used the soil to create man and woman - the same basic elements found in the soil are also found in humans. This is only a fairly recent discovery, but God pre-dates science and scientists and got it in his Word first! The NIV notes record that the Hebrew for man (adam) sounds like and may be related to the Hebrew for ground (adamah) it is also the name Adam. Not only that, but at the end of each day of creation, God looked and said it was good. But Genesis 1.31 we read that God saw all that he had made and said it was 'very good'. Genesis 1.27 teaches us that we (alone) as humans, were made in the image of God. Did you get that? Almighty God who is beyond anything we can imagine, put his stamp on you, and his stamp of approval. Genesis 2.7 also records that it was to mankind alone that God 'breathed the breath of life' into. Clearly, man is not just a physical being (like say for example an ape). But man is also a spirit or soul. Genesis is clear to point this out - man was made from the dust of the ground AND God breathed life into him. You are a God-breathed, work of art, made in the image of Almighty God. Just take a minute to take that in. How will this truth encourage you to think of yourself and live differently from now on?
Soldiering - 2 Timothy 2.3-4 | TOP
"Take [with me] your share of the hardships and suffering [which you are called to endure] as a good (first-class) soldier of Christ Jesus. No soldier when in service gets entangled in the enterprises of [civilian] life; his aim is to satisfy and please the one who enlisted him."
As a soldier, you are trained to follow orders and obey your officer and ultimately, your commander-in-chief. The Christian life is like being a soldier - taking orders from God the Father and then obeying them. The more we get to know God's voice, the more quickly we can obey him and come out on top in life, even when stuff happens. The Bible tells us we are not of this world and that when we become followers of Jesus, we become a new creation. The old goes away and everything becomes new. Our previous mission and orders no longer apply, but we receive new orders. In fact, we could argue that we're not just soldiers, but God's special agents, with a unique plan that God has given just to you. No matter what we face, we know our Commander-in-Chief is in charge of everything and has his hand on all we do. We must make time daily to receive orders from God, through his Word and prayer. How is your personal time with God? If you're not connecting in to God, you won't hear what he says and won't know the 'orders' and his plans for your life. The worldwide church (that we're all part of) is only as strong as its people as the people are the church. So get right with God, learn to hear and obey his orders, love him and then do what he says. These are your orders, soldier.
The Cost of Following Jesus - Matthew 8.18-22 | TOP
When Jesus saw the crowd around him, he gave orders to cross to the other side of the lake. Then a teacher of the law came to him and said, "Teacher, I will follow you wherever you go." Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Another disciple said to him, "Lord, first let me go and bury my father." But Jesus told him, "Follow me, and let the dead bury their own dead."
There are other Bible verses about the cost of being a follower of Jesus, but this is the one we'll look at today. There is a process of natural selection in many areas of life. If you think you are a football player, but no team wants you to play for them, the chances are you aren't that great! If you think you are a great teacher but your classes don't learn anything and riot, then chances are you need to find a new profession.. Jesus needed to let the many people following him that there would be a cost to following him. In a way, he was weaning out the hangers-on and seeing who were the real disciples. Near where I live there is a Royal Marine training centre. To become a Royal Marine, you have to go through a hard selection process. You have to be tough, determined and committed to get through. If you don't really want it, you will never become a Royal Marine. The Bible tells us that when Jesus saw the crowd around him, he crossed to the other side of the lake. One thing he was doing was testing to see who would follow. When one man came to him pledging allegiance, Jesus let him know he had to be ready to have no real home and see action at a moment's notice. Someone else came and wanted to sort things out at home. Jesus let him know that following him meant leaving other things behind. The same is true today. The closer you want to be to Jesus, the more you have to let go of anything else that comes between you and him. Today, if you want to grow, you have to let go. Let go of everything? No. Just those things that get in the way of Jesus as first place in your life. "Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us." (Hebrews 12.1)
Jude | TOP
The 7 stages from Jude for the pattern of a Christian life:
1. Build yourselves up in your most holy faith.
2. Pray in the Holy Spirit.
3. Keep yourselves in God's love.
4. Wait for the mercy of our Lord Jesus Christ to bring you to eternal life.
5. Be merciful to those who doubt.
6. Snatch others from the fire (of hell) and save them.
7. Show mercy to others, mixed with fear - hating even the clothing stained by corrupted faith.
How do you match up? The Holy Spirit is calling you to a change and transformation today. Wash out those stained and dirty clothes, be filled with the life abundant that only the Holy Spirit can bring. Tune into God's frequency, his broadcasts of mercy, love and faith. Be filled with all that God is and has given you. Go out and live a life worthy of his sacrifice and his name. Be holy. Be faith-filled. Be a disciple of Christ.
Dying to self - Luke 8.23-26 | TOP
Jesus has been talking to his disciples. Then, in another world changing view of life, Jesus says, 'If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me.' People through the ages have called this 'dying to self'. This simply means that Jesus must be put first in all that happens in your life, even when the price you have to pay is not doing the things you want to do. I can't say what that cost will be for you, that will be between you and Jesus. But there will be a cost. Many times we think following Jesus is a bit of a doddle, some people even slag off Christians for using their faith as some kind of crutch to lean on. But Jesus is very up front and warns there will be a cost (see also Luke 14). But this cost will be well worth paying. Think about the 2 parables in Matthew 13.44-46 where men sell all they have to buy something incredibly valuable. This is what the Kingdom of God is like, so valuable that it is worth a whole life to get it. Jesus carries on, 'For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for me will save it.' So here Jesus appears to be saying that the way to live a life is to lose it for him. Is this a line for religious martyrdom in order to 'get in' to the Kingdom of heaven, like the Islamic extremist terrorists do (for selfish gain). No way. This is about a life dedicated so fully to God that life itself is completely sold out to Jesus, for him to use you to see his Kingdom come. For some, this may mean death and being killed (although we don't go round trying to get killed). Instead, we live lives of sacrificial love and obedience to Jesus. One question that's always vexed and stressed me has been, 'does this mean we have to give up doing what we're gifted by God to do.' The answer is no. God said let your light shine, he says in Psalms that if you put him first he'll give the desires of your heart (as your heart aligns with his desires for your life). God has given you gifts, skills and passions unique to you. What he's saying is 'will you lay these things down to me, for me.' Some things may go, but much more will take its place. You see, it can be hard, lonely and tough being a Christian (we all know that). But a life given over to God is a great life. Why? Because he is so much higher, deeper and wider than us. You can be a little electric bulb wandering round shining on your own until the light fades and dies, or you can plug into the mains source and be constantly refilled with a brilliant everlasting light. Think about it.
Filled up to pour out - Psalm 67.1-2 | TOP
What is the point of pouring yourself a glass of water? Yes, it may well be to throw over someone.. But most people would say that the purpose of turning on a tap and putting water into a glass, is so that you can drink the water in the cup. The water has a purpose, it has an essential use. The water fulfils a real need, and once we have drunk enough water, we are satisfied, our thirst is satisfied.
So what does this mean for us today? Well, have you ever been in a church service where you've heard these words.. 'May God be gracious to us and bless us and make his face shine upon us' ? It's actually taken from Psalm 67 verse 1. Thing is, the sentence isn't quite complete, it ends with a 'comma' and not a 'full stop' (or 'period'). What does the next verse say? '..that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among all nations.' I'd say this was a significant part of verse 1.
You see, our church services, our music worship, our Bible reading, asking God to bless us - always has a dual purpose. It's summarised by Jesus when he says, 'Love God and love your neighbour.' It's about your relationship with God and your engagement with a world that needs Jesus. It's not enough to say 'God bless me.' Our prayer is 'God bless me so that your name can be made known.' That is true worship, that is true mission. Just like the glass of water, we are asking God to continually fill us so that we can pour out to others.
But there's another part. As a man or woman God (just like a glass), we have to be ready to be poured into. Sometimes the glass will need washing. Sometimes we need to let God know that we are ready to receive and give out. And we need to allow ourselves to be open to God continually pouring into us - he'll always have enough 'water' to satisfy and give to others. As Matt Redman says, 'What can I bring, what can I sing, what can I bring as an offering Lord?' You can bring yourself, surrendered in every part.
Engaging with culture - Daniel 1.8.16 | TOP
There is a debate that rages in many Christian circles about whether we should engage with the culture around us and if so, how much. There are even some Christians in the USA who have abandoned any connection with the world around them and shut up shop in their own private areas, providing only for themselves. To these people, the world is such an evil place that they have cut off all contact with it, fearing infection from it. But this isn't Biblical. Jesus, the Apostle Paul and many others in the New Testament continually interacted and related the gospel message to many people and people groups who didn't believe in Jesus. In Daniel 1.8, we find a pattern of behaviour for our lives. First of all, Daniel had been chosen (along with others) to serve a pagan king in the king's court. Daniel was happy to serve the king but drew a line where he felt that he was being defiled. For Daniel, this was in the area of food, with Daniel not wanting to eat the food presumably as it was a food forbidden by Jewish law (eg pork). Daniel, with a humble and servant heart, told the chief official of the king, that he didn't want to defile himself. Instead, he suggested that he and his Jewish friends were tested by eating only vegetables and drinking water for 10 days. Notice that Daniel did not leave the King's court, resign, walk away. Instead he stayed, but without compromising himself. At the end of those 10 days, Daniel and Meshach, Shadrach and Abednigo looked healthier and fitter than anyone else. So here's our pattern: 1. We serve, as Jesus commanded. 2. We draw the line where the world will defile (that means have a negative impact on us) and 3. We propose another, better way. If the situation is very evil we may need to get out. Otherwise, we stay and make sure our light shines stronger than the darkness. In Christian hip-hop, there are those who believe hip-hop (and other music forms) are evil so Christians should not associate. Our pattern from Daniel shows us different. If Daniel were around there, he would maybe say (like me): 1. I love hip-hop (or whatever music you like), this is an area where God has called me. 2. I won't (for example) DJ using songs that are offensive or diss God, but 3. I will DJ positive hip-hop to be the best of my ability, to represent God. Your situation will be different, but the principles from our boy, Daniel, are the same.
The Rhubarb Plant and Acts 6.1-7 | TOP
I once spoke to a pastor of a church who expressed a belief that he didn't agree with planting (starting) new churches. In his belief, starting new churches meant that the existing church 'planting' the new church either lost its best people, or that the new church only had people in who were discontented. A very negative view and one which misses the point completely. You see, new churches need to be started in order for the gospel to grow. It's not absolutely essential, but it's one way to see the Kingdom of God grow. Why? When we read through Acts, we find the history of a church on the move, Paul the Apostle starting new churches - sometimes staying to help, sometimes leaving, but always staying in contact and discipling from a distance. In Acts 6, we find the numbers of disciples were increasing. The Apostles (apostle means 'one sent' or 'messenger' or 'missionary') were called to spread the message. They found themselves so busy that they had to take action. 'It would not be right for us to neglect the ministry of the word of God..' So they appointed others, full of the Holy Spirit, in order that the apostles could effectively continue the work that God had called them to. We read in verse 7, 'So the word of God spread. The number of disciples in Jerusalem increased rapidly..' As we go through Acts, we know that the number of disciples increased beyond the borders of Jerusalem, across the world. So what does the rhubarb plant have to do with all this? Well, when a rhubarb plant reaches a certain size, it needs to be split and re-planted otherwise it will die. The same is true of the Gospel. If we don't re-plant, commit to growth and start fresh ways of communicating the gospel, we can whither and die spiritually. This is true of us as disciples, and it is true of churches, and other Christian projects. Sometimes this may even mean re-planting in rich, nutritious soil. Think about it.. Let's continue to pioneer, plant and see God's Kingdom grow.
John 21.6 - Cast Out The Net | TOP
There are times in the Christian life where we feel tired, where we feel like quitting, crawling into our shell, going back to what we know and what's comfortable. In many ways it's a natural human instinct. Reasons may be that we're tired, depressed, in need of a break, not close to God, have sinned or plain feel lonely. The truth i, that without God, we can never be satisfied, especially knowing what we know about God. You can't live in the natural when you've experienced the supernatural power of Jesus in and through you.
The history of this Bible passage is that Peter had rejected Jesus three times. With Jesus apparently dead, the disciples went back to the life that they knew previously - fishing. All night they fished, but the Bible tells us that they caught nothing. Our lives can be like this. We work hard, apparently even for God. But we catch nothing, we don't seem to go anywhere or achieve as we should. Reasons are complex - it may be the wrong time, God may be training you or you may have disobeyed God. For the disciples, they had gone backwards, back to what they knew. This is always a risk in our lives. When life throws us different situations, it can move us forward or backwards. Sometimes it can be hard to move forwards.
But let's get back to the Bible. We see that on the shore, watching the disciples closely was Jesus (verse 4). One word from Jesus changed everything. He said, 'throw your net on the other side of the boat.' I don't know what the disciples though when they heard this. They could have though, 'Who's this idiot, telling us our job..' But they threw their net to the other side of the boat. In a sense, they humbled themselves. In their own strength and wisdom, they had dried up. But the Word of God is living, powerful. In obedience to that Word (although initially they didn't know it was Jesus), they got a fish bonanza (153 fish!) Lessons we can learn. Sometimes we need to stop trying on our own, involve God again. Other times we simply need to put our energies across into something else, a new ministry, come back to do what God called you to do, or move to a new place. The harvest is waiting if we are open to Jesus, listen and hear his voice, then act in obedience.
Hebrews 8.13 - Old, worn out and needing to disappear | TOP
Is there anything in your life, your church that is old and worn out? No, I'm not talking about the old people, or just things like the furniture and Bibles. But is there anything that needs replacing, changing, developing, getting rid of? Are there things, patterns of behaviour or thinking - that don't work, won't work, haven't worked for years but you are still continuing to do, or live with? Hebrews 8.13 says, '..And anything that is old and worn out is ready to disappear.' The writer of Hebrews said this in relation to the 'New Covenant' which God made with humanity through the blood of Jesus. The old covenant was one of laws and following these laws very strictly, but the new covenant was that we could be made right with Jesus through his blood on the Cross. The new covenant meant that the old covenant was no longer needed. It had become tired and worn out and was ready to disappear.
But this can be true in our lives and in our churches, youth ministries, patterns of living too. In Galatians, Paul uses a phrase, 'in the old life..' This is about the time when we didn't know Jesus and didn't follow him. When we accept Jesus, he gives us a new life in Christ. But the old life wants to hang on and we like to hang on to it. But the ways of the old life need to disappear. Or maybe there are things in your life that need changing in order for you to move on and forward with God - again, old things need to disappear. Or perhaps there are things in your work, school, youth ministry, church that need to be changed as the old ways aren't working. Again, the old and weary needs to be put away, so that the new way can break through. This doesn't mean ignoring all the old, but when it becomes tired, is ineffective, or holds you back - then the old needs to disappear. What is God saying to you about this today? Sometimes, you just need a change.
Luke 23.32-34 - Some will accept, some will reject | TOP
Two other men, both criminals, were also led out with him to be executed. When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified him there, along with the criminals – one on his right, the other on his left. Jesus said, ‘Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.’
Not every person that hears about the Gospel of Jesus will respond, though many will. Jesus knew that and yet he willingly gave his life to pay the price for the many that would respond and accept him as Lord. In Matthew 27, we read about the painful last moments of Jesus and his brutal death. But even on the Cross, what happened before Jesus died was very symbolic with Jesus reaching out and seeing a man saved. On one side was a criminal who rejected Jesus, but on the other side was a criminal who accepted Jesus.
After Jesus died on the Cross, the curtain in the temple was torn apart top to bottom (symbolising man could now reach God through Jesus and that God alone had opened the way) - the earth shook - rocks broke apart - graves opened - many of God's people were raised from the dead (only being raised up after Jesus was resurrected). We read that when the soldiers saw this happen, they said, 'Jesus really was the Son of God.' Sometimes, only bad things, major events give people the right perspective. After the London bombings, after 9/11, people started reading Bibles, praying, going to church. Sad times are often an opportunity, a time where Christ's light breaks in. While not everyone will accept Jesus, not everyone is beyond hope! So keep on for God and be encouraged!
Matthew 27.50-54 - And then they realised he was the Son of God | TOP
And when Jesus had cried out again in a loud voice, he gave up his spirit. At that moment the curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. The earth shook, the rocks split and the tombs broke open. The bodies of many holy people who had died were raised to life. They came out of the tombs after Jesus’ resurrection and went into the holy city and appeared to many people. When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, ‘Surely he was the Son of God!’
The cross was a terrible experience for Jesus. From Matthew 27.32 onwards we see how one person after another joined in mocking him. They insulted him in every way. First they gave him a nasty tasting drink which Jesus refused - then they gambled to see which soldiers would get his clothes - they put up a mock sign saying 'King of the Jews' - he was crucified between 2 criminals - people insulted him - walked by him shaking their heads - mocked his claims (the people recalled the words of Jesus, but did not take them in, as so many people do today) - they disrespected his claim to be the Son of God - the leading priests, Jewish elders, the one thief on the cross and teachers of the law made fun of him - and lied that they would believe in him if he saved himself.
On the Cross, Jesus did not save himself (though he could have done). He was obedient to the Father knowing his death was needed to defeat sin. We can only be saved through Jesus, and only because of what he went through on the Cross. So be encouraged too, if you are facing abuse. Why? Because Jesus has overcome this, defeated it on the Cross, even if it doesn't feel like it to you in every day life. Speak words of faith that Jesus has overcome your situation, 'let the redeemed of the Lord say so...' Keep speaking and believing God's Word!
In the wilderness - Luke 3.1-3 | TOP
We all have times in our Christian lives when we feel empty inside, or like God is nowhere to be found. This is a common experience in the life of all believers so be encouraged if you feel like this today. There are different reasons - being tired and exhausted (Jeremiah), being disobedient (David) or just a lesson God wants you to go through (Joseph). In all cases, we know that God brought his people through. He'll do exactly the same for you too.
In Luke 3, we find that John was out in the wilderness. Know that God often speaks to us when we are in the 'wilderness'. It may be God that puts us there, it may just simply be that we are there. What is the wilderness? It's an empty place, a lonely place, maybe a place without life or seeing God move. But right into this, God can break through. Just as he broke through to speak to John in the Middle East desert, so he can speak to you to encourage you today.
Other times we may feel like we are a nobody in the 'Christian world' but this just isn't true. We know from the New Testament part of the Bible that the body of Christ is made up of many parts (1 Corinthians 12), that we are all equal in Christ (Ephesians 3.27-29) and that even those who the world despised are incredibly worthy to God (Hebrews 11).
In Luke 3.1-2 we read a list of some very important people - we hear about who was Caesar, who was the ruler over various districts and who were the priests. Yet in verse 2, we find that the word of God came to John, who was supposedly a nobody. Notice, that it is God who brings life - we don't deserve it, God has real mercy on us. But we can be in a place where we are right with God, ready and expectant to receive what he has for us. Secondly, it doesn't matter who you are or who others say you are - you are important to God. You are very significant, very essential and very loved.
Spirit of Excellence - Daniel 6 | TOP
Here's the Bible bit (NKJV) - It pleased Darius to set over the kingdom one hundred and twenty satraps, to be over the whole kingdom; and over these, three governors, of whom Daniel was one, that the satraps might give account to them, so that the king would suffer no loss. Then this Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and satraps, because an excellent spirit was in him; and the king gave thought to setting him over the whole realm. So the governors and satraps sought to find some charge against Daniel concerning the kingdom; but they could find no charge or fault, because he was faithful; nor was there any error or fault found in him. Then these men said, "We shall not find any charge against this Daniel unless we find it against him concerning the law of his God."
Daniel distinguished himself above the governors and supervisors. This means his work was so outstanding that he did things better than those around him. What was the result.. the King found that an excellent spirit was in Daniel and therefore promoted him and set him as in charge of the Kingdom. We see that a spirit of excellence led to Daniel standing above the others, being noticed and ultimately, getting promotion - God putting his man into a position of authority over a kingdom. Maybe you're interested in politics, maybe you want to make a change by being in high positions. Maybe you just want to make a difference in your school, college or community. What is one of the keys? A commitment to excellence. This isn't perfectionism, but it certainly isn't the spirit of 'OK, it'll do, I can't be bothered..' that we find in too many churches. No way. Every time we don't seek excellence, we dishonour ourselves, dishonour God and simply re-affirm much of what the world thinks about churches and Christians. Yes, there will be opposition and jealousy. But it's how you react and who you are in Christ that matters. Time to let your Christ light shine..
Running the Race - Hebrews 12.1 | Olympics Theme | TOP
"Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us."
We're gonna take a look at the second half of this verse and we're gonna deconstruct it, like slowing down a drum break to find the parts that make up that beat.
Therefore let us - as Derek Prince used to say, "if you find a 'therefore' in the Bible, you need to find out what it's there for." So let's try to find the 'there for'.
throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles - we don't just gently brush off some sin, the Word of God says we should 'throw off everything'. That doesn't leave any room for any doubt does it? In fact this verse has 2 parts. We are to get rid of (a) the junk that slows us down and causes us spiritual problems, and (b) throw off sin - as sin so easily entangles us and the evil one knows where to tempt you. Think of it as doing an Olympic swim. The swimmers must trim themselves and get their diet, training and mind right. Then they put all they have into swimming as fast as they can. There may be other things in our life that are good but need laying down to get the 'prize' and win the 'race'. Rob Bell tells of how his son had his hands full of smashed up shells. He saw a starfish in the water and wanted it but wouldn't get it because he didn't want to let go of the shells. Sometimes we have to let go of the 'shells' to grab the 'starfish'.
let us run - I hate living my Christian life at a slow pace. While God knows what we need, there is no doubt that there are different levels to the Christian life - and we have a choice about whether we want to run or stand still (and anywhere in between). Sometimes it's hard and requires real courage or letting go. But just as there is a fast lane on a motorway, so we have a choice. Just don't speed - it's dangerous and uses more fuel! And if you need strength, wait on God (Isaiah 40.31)
with perseverance - if you've ever seen the marathon, this gives us some example of what the Christian race is like. But every athlete has to persevere to win. There are setbacks and obstacles to overcome. Paula Radcliffe had to withdraw during both of her races at the Olympics. Did she quit? No, later in the year she went to the New York Marathon and guess what, she won. We are here to win the race, not just to take part.
the race marked out for us - we're in this Christian race together and yet we have our own race, marked out for us by God. Imagine you are an athlete about to run the 100m. You have a lane marked out for you (and you alone), you have the track marked out in front of you with paint. Don't get outside of your lane and calling. But you have to make the choice to get down and then actually run the race. And you have to obey the rules (don't cheat like Mr Bean in the London 2012 Olympics video!) All this parallels the Kingdom of God.
Being shaped by God - Isaiah 40.4-5 | TOP
Isaiah 40 is quite a 'famous' passage from the Bible. It does many things such as prophesying Jesus coming to earth. In this quiet-time, we're looking at verses 4 and 5 and taking them slightly out of context to apply a spiritual principle which we find evidence for throughout the Bible. Sometimes people 'pluck' verses out from the Bible, use them out of context and make big statements about what the Bible says. This is wrong. We should read the Bible in the light of the rest of the Bible, and in context, and only bring out spiritual points that the rest of the Bible affirms. This is what we're doing here..
The question here is whether you want to be used by God? If you do then you'd better take a look at the Bible. In the Bible we see a big thing called preparation. In Genesis 39 we find Joseph is shoved into prison and left there wrongly. We find that Paul the Apostle went off and studied the Bible alone with the Holy Spirit, we read in Hebrews that the Lord, 'disciplines the one's he loves'. We read in John 15 that Jesus is the vine and he trims off unfruitful branches and makes fruitful branches create more fruit. (The branches represent aspects of our lives, see quiet time called 'God's the Master Gardener' below).
Here in Isaiah 40 we see that the valleys are raised up and mountains are flattened to prepare the way for the Lord. So it is with the Lord's work in our lives. In all of us there are valleys that need to be raised up, rough ground, mountains, hills jagged edges that need to be flattened out or smoothed to prepare for the Lord's service in the Kingdom of God. The question isn't whether God will do this, but how much we are prepared to allow and help make this happen? How far will you allow your love of God to be demonstrated through you? It may mean some edges need knocking off you (temper, temptation and more), but in the end, when the road clears and the path is made smoother, it will be worth it.
It's OK to be sad - 2 Samuel 1.17-27 | TOP
Despite his constant abuse from Saul, David was real sad and down when he heard that both Saul and Jonathan (Saul's son and David's best mate) were dead. He was gutted to learn that they'd no longer be around. In verse 11 and 12 we see the intense grieving that David and his men went through. David cried, tore his clothes and did not eat. Him and his men cried for Saul, Jonathan and for all the men of Israel that had been killed in battle.
You know, it's OK to be sad and be upset. Sometimes we forget that although we're Christians, we still feel pain and sadness. I've known some painful times in my life - plus I've shared with young people in some really hard times too, ranging from a dead pet to really serious stuff. So if you're sad and down, I know what you're going through. But so does Jesus. On the Cross, Jesus took all our pain and grief on himself. This means he felt all your pain and mine. When he died, he put this pain 'to death.' This means that Jesus relates and understands. But more than that, we can deal with our pain by allowing Jesus to help us - 'Jesus, this pain is so hard, please, please, help me..' is a prayer you can pray. He will hear and he will help.
In 2 Samuel, David wrote a poem (he wrote loads of the Psalms too). This time it was a funeral song. OK, so it may have been a Jewish tradition - but writing down your feelings and 'getting them out' can really help. It's one way you can help release some of your pain - write, sing, cry. Physically let the pain out from within you. David did this, he spilt his heart onto paper with pen. But then in Chapter 2, David became King. But he had to go through the pain and let it out first. If you're down, sad, in real pain today, know that there is a way through - by Jesus help - that he will restore you, and , just like David, you have a future. Peace.
Road to Emmaus
Ever seen the cartoon, 'The Story Keepers?' Well, I have. I think it's awesome that stories of Jesus can appear on TV on Sundays, done well by skilled animators and producers. In the episode I recently saw they were recounting the story of Jesus on the Road to Emmaus. You'll find this in Luke 24.13-35. Read it through.
You'll see that the disciples didn't recognise Jesus and I've always wondered how they didn't recognise him. You'd have thought the voice and manner would have given it away! But wait, we often don't hear the voice of Jesus, don't credit him, don't thank him, don't see his work in our lives, do we?
God also revealed something to me he may already have shown you - read verses 28 to 31 again. We find that it was only when the disciples invited Jesus to stay on with them and he broke bread that they recognised Jesus. What a parallel to the Christian life - it's only when we invite Jesus in that we truly recognise who Jesus is. This is the case when we get saved and in our life of discipleship. Inviting Jesus into a situation is the only way to bring clarity to that situation.
Thanking God. Read Psalm 150 | TOP
Ever wonder how many times people praise and thank God in the Bible? Well, we're not going to count them put it that way! It's loads of times. It's part of our life of discipleship. Praise, thanks, singing, rapping, worship, exalting, lifting God's name on high, bigging up and lifting up God. However you put it it's about thanking God for who he is, what he's done, what he will do and spreading the awesome news about Jesus. It's a way to get into God's presence. It's also something that Jesus loves. It's also something that we should and must do, even when it's a 'sacrifice of praise'. We praise God for who he is and what he's done, not how we feel and God is always worthy of praise!
Read Luke 17.11-19 and notice how only one of the healed lepers came back to Jesus to say thanks. Jesus made the point to him - 'hang on, weren't ten men healed? where are the others?' Many times we pray, God answers us amazingly and we forget to say thanks! How dumb is that. It's like something little kids do when they get bought a lolly and have to be reminded to say thanks! We're often the same! Jesus goes on to say, 'You were healed because you believed.' Ever wonder what that means? I do. Does it mean that the others were healed but because they didn't say thanks they became un-healed? No, The Message says it - 'Your faith has healed and saved you.' So the guy who thanked God was healed both physically and spiritually. Thanking God is essential in the life of faith. Think about that and thank God now and every day. You'll be amazed how much there is to thank God for and the difference it makes to you!
They heard the Lord walking in the garden during the cool part of the day (Genesis 3.8). Read Proverbs 13.1-6 | TOP
Don't you like it when the sun is out? It can transform your mood, give you a suntan, make life seem a little bit better. If anyone sees the sun here in Britain, could they give me a call as I've forgotten what it looks like.
God is totally practical. In our reading today we find out that God was walking in the Garden of Eden during the cool part of the day! It's amazing to think that the Lord wasn't walking about when it was really hot, but chose to go for a walk when the temperature had dropped a little!
God wants to walk along with you in your life. Will you let him? If you do and you ask him, he will share with you loads of his secrets and wisdom (James 1.5). These secrets are the key to life because they come from the awesome God himself. Get a life - get God - today!
WOMEN IN THE BIBLE | TOP
Women are important in the Bible, women are important to God. Don't ever let anyone tell you any different. Throughout the Old and New Testament, there are women bravely standing up for God (Esther), women playing a vital role in prayer and in the lives of significant Bible characters (Hannah, 1 Samuel 1.25-28) and even a prostitute who showed great faith and saved the lives of many (Rahab, see Joshua 2 and Hebrews 11.31).
In the New Testament times, a woman meant nothing in Jewish society - they were placed below dogs! It's interesting then that the Bible records eyewitness testimony from women, even though back then, a woman's word meant nothing. In Matthew 28.1-11? Mary and another woman were the first to see Jesus after he'd come back from the dead. If you read through Luke, women are mentioned on many occasions. You see, the gospel is for everyone and we all have our part to play. As Galatians 3.28, the Bible says we are all the same in Christ Jesus - male, female, working class, posh people, English - even Welsh! Let's remember this and thank God for it.
REVELATION AND YOU - Part 1 - Read Revelation 2.1-7 | TOP
This is a series of 7 looking at Revelation - an incredible book that you need to read through even if you're not into all this 'God stuff'. We'll look at Chapters 2 and 3 and relate what God says to the churches to your life.
Are you an 'Erica Ephesus'? God said to the church that they had worked hard and hadn't given up. They hadn't put up with people preaching wrong things about Jesus and feeding them false stuff. They put people to the test by looking at the Bible and seeing if what people said about God matched up to God's Word. They were patient and had suffered for being a Christian.
But they'd lost the love for God they'd had in the beginning. When people become Christians they see loads of answers to prayer and it's exciting. But some lose their love for God and this excitement. Is this you? God says change today and go back to what you were once like. Love God, with all your heart, mind, soul, strength and you'll eat the fruit in his garden.
Revelation 2.8-11. Simon Smyrna? | TOP
Matthew 5 says you are blessed if you know you need God. 'Blessed are the poor in spirit' says one of the Bible translations, the NIV. The church in Smyrna had been persecuted for being Christians. The brilliant thing was that Jesus said to the church, 'I know what you've been through and I've been there with you.' God is saying the same to you. God assured them that though they thought they were poor, they were really rich. Jesus came into this world to turn things upside-down (or should I say to put things the right way round!)
God is also saying to some of you today that you will have problems in the future but not to be scared or worried. He will be there (like he was in the fire with Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego in Daniel 3) and will not let you go. Be faithful to God and he will give you the crown of life - life forever with him!
Revelation 2.12-17. Peter Pergamum? | TOP
The Christians in Pergamum were living in the middle of evil. A place dedicated to the worship of idols and evil things. Feels a bit like living in the UK doesn't it?! All over the world, Christians are being killed and imprisoned because of their faith. Compared to this, the UK is a bit mild but there is evil everywhere and it is increasing very quickly. Would you be prepared to stand for Jesus in difficult situations?
Some of the followers in Pergamum had followed false teaching and had been led off the path of truth that only Jesus has. They had also got involved in sexual sins - sleeping around, having bad thoughts and all that. God warned them to change their lives and what they did or else! God says the same to us today. If we've been sleeping around, following false teaching or doing stuff that God wouldn't want us to, it's time to stop and change.
Revelation 2.18-29. Tracey Thyatira? | TOP
The church in Thyatira was kind of similar to that in Pergamum. Jesus is described as having 'eyes that blaze like fire and feet like shining bronze.' He says to the church that he knows about their love, faith and patience (3 things that being a Christian needs!).
But the church had let 'Jezebel' infect them through her false teachings, sexual sins, idolatry (stuff that we put in front of our relationship with God) and more. The interesting thing is here is that God says he had given Jezebel plenty of time to change but she had not. If you keep rejecting Jesus, there may come a time where he is forced by you to turn away. Think about it.
Many had not followed false teaching and God said, 'Well done guys, you won't be destroyed. I'm not going to load you down but just stay loyal to me.' Maybe God is saying this to you today.
Revelation 3.1-6. Sinbad Sardis? | TOP
The Master has very few good things to say about the church in Sardis - not exactly the kind of church you'd want to be part of! There were only a few believers in Sardis who had 'kept their clothes clean' (they were still living for God).
There are many Christians who don't really live for God. A lot of churches have people in who say they are 'Christians' but they don't really know Jesus or live their lives for God. Are you one of these people?
The angel to the church in Sardis (God's messenger) told them they though they thought they were 'alive' they were really 'dead' in their faith. They were doing less for God than he wanted - they were told to WAKE UP and make themselves stronger before their strength died. What is God saying to you? Is it time for you to 'wake up' and get a God life?
Revelation 3.7-13. Phyllis Philadelphia? | TOP
This is the standard we're all aiming for. So here we go:
a. When God opens a door, no-one can close it. Has something opened up for you recently? If it's from God, it's the way to go - no-one can close that door. Want guidance? Push on doors, see what opens up - then walk through.
b. If God has shut a door, no-one else can open that door. Stop banging your head against a wall trying to do something God doesn't want you to. Remember, however, that sometimes you have to keep on praying and banging on a door! Ask God to show you what he is saying to you?
c. Continue strong in your faith. Obey God's teaching and don't be afraid to speak about God. God will protect you and keep you
Revelation 3.14-22. Larry Laodicea? | TOP
Larry wasn't really one thing or the other. To some people he was always dissing God and church, going out to parties getting drunk and doing some stupid things. On Sundays, he changed and went to church and said all the right things, sung the songs, even raised his hands up in worship to God. He didn't practice what he preached. He said he wanted to help at church but never turned up. He talked about telling people about Jesus but was always out when the church did missions. If he ever bought a Big Issue it was only to impress - he'd never speak to the vendor.
You know, Jesus hates hypocrites (people who say one thing and do another). He slagged off the religious leaders of his day for being hypocrites and he can't stand you doing the same kind of thing.
Jesus wants you to serve him, obey him and be real. He wants you to 'buy gold from him' - that means getting buzzed up by the Holy Spirit not by things this world has to offer. Your 'riches' mean nothing and can be a distraction. God says turn back to me today. Change for your own good!!!
ARE YOU A FOLLOWER? Read Mark 1.16-20 | TOP
If some bloke stopped by your school, college or workplace today and said, 'Right mate, come along with me. You've been working for your education but now I want you to come and work for me' and wandered off down the corridor, what would you do? Would you run to the head and say, 'excuse me sir there appears to be a lunatic on the school property - who should I call the police or the men in white coats?' or what?
Peter and his fellow fish-loving brother just followed Jesus, no questions asked. If Jesus asked you to go to Albania tomorrow, would you go? If he asked you to speak to your mate about being a Christian would you? What Jesus is asking you today is - 'are you my follower?'
HOW DO YOU START YOUR DAY? - Read Isaiah 50.4-6 | TOP
Isaiah is in the Old Testament (the first half of the Bible). Isaiah was a prophet and was looking forward to the time of Jesus. In fact, he was speaking the words of Jesus himself. Why? How? Because the Bible is an amazing book, God is an amazing God - and he often does things like this!
Anyway, what we learn from this is that Jesus started his day by listening to and being taught by his Father God in heaven. If Jesus did that, how much more do we need to do it?! You know, how you start your day is going to have a lot to do with how your day goes. Put God first, pray, commit the day to God and your day be a whole lot different to a day without you talking to God first thing. Each day, ask God to be in charge, to carry your worries & problems, ask him to fill you with your Holy Spirit so you can live for him and then go out with confidence in God!
ARE YOU GOING TO LET GOD GUIDE AND TRAIN YOU? | TOP
Read Hebrews 6.13-15. It's only short but it's really important. It's about God and how he trained Abraham. You know, Abraham spent 40 years in the desert learning from God and allowing God to change him. Most Christian leaders have been in a similar place. It's only when God has humbled you and knocked some of the edges off you that he can really use you. You see, if you are 'in the desert' it's because God's got something for you. Hang on, be patient and in the right time God will lift you up (Galatians 6.9)
God often trains you in 2 different ways. For some people, God will train them directly - people like Abraham, Moses and Paul. Other times, God will put you in contact with an older, wiser Christian who can help you - people like Elisha (trained by Elijah), Joshua (Moses) and Timothy (Paul). Whatever, God has something great in store so listen, submit and learn.
LOVE AND SERVE ONLY GOD (Exodus 20.3) AND DON'T MAKE IDOLS (Exodus 20.4) | TOP
For this, I've used an article by Derek Prince (Proclamation, Vol 1 Issue 3, p.19). Have you heard about people getting their teeth filled with gold fillings by God, replacing their normal fillings? Or perhaps you've heard of other things that God does that don't seem 'normal' to you, like people being covered in gold dust?
Just because things aren't in the Bible doesn't necessarily mean it's not from God (it will be against God if it goes against his Word and character - this is the ultimate test!) The Bible is God's Word, completely right but it is also only God's recorded Word that he knows we need. It is by no means the whole counsel of God as God is so much bigger and awesome than we can begin to understand!! In John 21.25 for example we read that not everything Jesus did was recorded - which is amazing and shows there is much more to God than we have been given in the Bible. (And there's plenty enough in the Bible!!)
But back to the topic... Derek Prince points to an incident in Numbers 21.4-9 where God had Moses make a bronze snake so that people could simply look at it and get healed from snake bites. But by 2 Kings 18.4 the Israelites were worshipping the snake! Totally against what God intended it for and a sin against God. Matthew 7.21-23 says that miracles don't get people into heaven. If people's teeth are filled with gold, that's great. If other supernatural God things happen that's also great. But we worship God and not things, we seek who God is and not simply what he can do for us. Never let anything good that God does become an idol. Be warned!
THE AWESOME GOD - Read Isaiah 6.1-8 | TOP
Isaiah had an encounter with God that threw him to the floor and convinced him he was so unworthy that he would be destroyed. God may not meet with you in the same way but the power of God is the same. So don't mess about with God, swear using his name or try to fool him. When we think of our lives, think of the fact that God is all-powerful and sees all things (Psalm 33.13-15). When you're going to do something you know is wrong, think of the fact that God is looking down and watching you.
There's another side to this part of the Bible. God is very holy so when his power is at work in you, there's no force that can stop him. People may stand in the way but ultimately God's plans won't be stopped. Are you going to be part of God's team? Like Isaiah will you say, 'Here I am. Send me!'
GOD'S THE GARDENER AND YOU'RE HIS WORK - Read John 15.1-8 | TOP
Jesus is at work in the life of every Christian. Here's a little clue as to how he works.
1. Jesus is the true vine and God is the gardener. Make sure you're connected to and being 'gardened' by the right team!
2. God cuts off the parts of your life that are useless, rotten, that we don't need and those branches that shouldn't or can't grow.
3. God makes every healthy branch more healthy and more productive. This is done for God's glory, not ours!
4. You can't produce fruit without remaining in relationship with Jesus. Without this we can produce nothing.
5. If you don't remain in God, you are like a branch that dies - the only use for this is for burning.
6. If you remain part of God's team and follow the teachings of Jesus, the Bible promises you can ask for what you want and get it (only if it's in God's plans of course!)
7. You should produce a lot of fruit. This is what God expects and is the result of being connected to Jesus.
This shows you are a follower of Jesus and it brings loads of glory to God.
KEEP GOING - Read Galatians 6.7-10 | TOP
I'm no gardener but I know that if you use poor quality seed, your plants will turn out to be a bit of a flop. Better seed, well looked after is going to give you a better crop. Being a Christian is the same as Paul points out in Galatians. If you live for other people, to serve them and help them, you will receive eternal life from God. If you are selfish and think only of yourself, if you never go the 'extra mile' for people then you will bring yourself ruin or damage the rewards God has for you.
The Bible turns the world around. It's saying to you today - be there for people, don't be selfish, keep going, keep on doing what God says cos it will be worth it. Help people whenever you can. Listen to the Holy Spirit nudging you to do or say helpful things. Live for God. Live to please God because you love God. Read this bit of the Bible again. Tell God you want to be like this. Believe me, it's the only way - to true life and eternal life.
Read Matthew 21.12-17 | TOP
Here we see Jesus dealing with people who had corrupted the temple of God. People were selling things and ripping off people exchanging coins. He didn't politely ask them to leave, he was filled with Godly outrage and sense of injustice so he turned over the tables and booted the bootleggers out.
Then what does Jesus do? He doesn't wander off, kicking people to get rid of his frustration. No, we see through all this how Jesus was the true King of the Jews and the Son of God. He turns to the blind, the crippled and healed them. The children started singing praises to Jesus (much to the annoyance of the religious leaders) as Jesus started doing these wonderful things.
Want to be like Jesus? Be holy in all you do, stand up where there is injustice and wrong-doing, spend time with the needy. Read James 1.27.
WATCH OUT! - Read Judges 8.22-27 | TOP
Experienced Christians will tell you it's often after you've won a great spiritual victory for God that you're at your weakest because you can forget about God. Be warned and pray to God you'll never do this. Gideon did and many great Kings like Solomon and David messed up later in their lives. I really pray none of us will do the same.
Although Gideon told the people he wasn't their ruler, God was, he collected a gold earring from each of them and used it to make a 'holy robe'. Nothing too wrong in that you may think. Problem was the people started to worship the robe instead of God so this 'became a trap for Gideon and his family.'
Be careful - the Bible says your enemy 'prowls around like a roaring lion waiting for someone to eat. Refuse to give into him, by standing strong in your faith.' (1 Peter 5.8-9, YB). The Bible also says, 'resist the devil and he WILL FLEE from you...' (James 4.7, NIV). Be prepared & stand firm!
BE THE BEST YOU CAN - Read Luke 2.41-52 | TOP
Mary, Joseph and all the friends and family headed off from Jerusalem when suddenly they realised Jesus wasn't with them so they hurried back...
Where was the 12 year-old Jesus? In the temple, listening to the teachers and asking them questions! His knowledge amazed everyone. Mary was pretty stressed that Jesus had been in the temple but he was more and more aware of who he was - he said, 'I've been here, in my Father's house' (he meant God). After that, he obeyed his parents, went with them and grew in wisdom and physically.
Lessons we need to learn from Jesus: First, it's important to spend time with your Father in heaven. Second, our attitude should be to hear from and learn from God and the Bible. Third, we should obey our parents. Fourth, as a Christian, we should be growing in wisdom. Are you? Why not? Ask God.
Read Mark 3.31-35 | TOP
Yep, it's Jesus being controversial again! This time he appeared to deny who his family were! He was sitting teaching when someone said to him, 'Hurry up, your mother and brothers are outside waiting for you.' Jesus looked around him to the people who were listening and said, 'These are my mother & brothers - the people who do what God wants are my brother and sister, mother and father.'
Today, are you a brother, father, mother or sister of Jesus? Jesus died so that through him (and him alone) you could have eternal life - John 3.16 & John 14.6. It's no good being related to someone who knows Jesus, it's about whether you know Jesus. If you know Jesus, then you are family with him and will spend eternity with him. If you already know Jesus as your friend, that's brilliant! But make sure you keep on doing what God wants. How do I know what God wants? Simple, read the Word of God and ask him!
Jesus has won the battle - Ephesians 1.19-23 | TOP
1. God raised Jesus from the dead after he was crucified and died on the cross. This same power is available to those who believe in Jesus. Note the Bible says the power is available - it doesn't say it's guaranteed. To access God's power fully we need to be pure and God-like, keeping ourselves from sin in the presence of a mighty God.
2. Jesus has won the battle and has defeated Satan. You don't need to live in fear of him. Through Jesus and what he has done, you too can win over all situations in your life. Even in church, Jesus is in charge. The Bible says he fills the church and everything completely! Just think about that!
3. There is no power, king, authority or ruler that is not under the authority of Jesus. They might not realise it, but Jesus is Lord over everything. Next time it seems things are out of hand in your life, talk to Jesus about it.