Reflection day 111- A powerful touch
From Paul Barton, one of our church workers
Matthew 8: 14-15 – 14 When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. 15 He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.
Paul Barton writes today and includes a link to an article by Joni Eareckson Tada:
Capernaum was Jesus’ home for a time (Matt. 4:13). In the previous verses (5-13) Jesus heals a centurion’s servant there. He uses the miracle to reveal His authority, but in our passage the person Jesus restores to full health is a close friend of Christ, a relative of Peter, one of Jesus’ disciples. Jesus takes personal interest in His friend’s life.
Jesus enters Peter’s mother-in-law’s house and he sees her lying in bed with a fever (v14). The tradition at that time was not to touch someone who is feverish, but Jesus breaks this practise, He is countercultural and heals the woman (v15). No words, just a single touch by Jesus and her fever was gone. An instantaneous restoration to full physical heath is given. She immediately sees the need, rises from her sick bed and serves Jesus. Only the Messiah can show great authority and when He does, disease must disappear when it is His will to bring healing. This was ‘…the finger of God.’ (Exodus 8:19).
In Matthew 8:17 we read a quote from Isaiah – ‘This was to fulfil what was spoken through the prophet Isaiah:
‘He took up our infirmities
and bore our diseases.’’
Matthew records this for us to show that the Great Physician’s work fulfils Isaiah 53:4. Jesus’ healing begins to roll back the terrible effects of sin, thereby showing Him to be the Suffering Servant who suffers God’s wrath to save His elect. Charles Spurgeon says, “Jesus is able to heal all the mischief that sin has worked…because He Himself took our sin upon Himself by His sacred Substitution. Sin is the root of our infirmities and diseases and so, in taking the root, He took all the bitter fruit which that root did bear”.
Pastor John MacArthur writes in his Bible Commentary – “In eternity, all sickness will be removed, so ultimately, healing is included in the benefits of the atonement”. Can we expect God to heal all our illnesses and infirmity in our lives? That answer is sadly no. Joni Eareckson Tada, a quadraplegic, writes, ‘it’s still the exception, not the rule.’ The hope and promise is that in the eternal state Christ’s work be fully applied and all disease gone. At the core of Jesus Christ’s plan is to rescue us from our sin. The disease, pain and suffering are not His ultimate focus. He does care about them as today’s passage shows but He wants us to focus upon our sin and repent.
Praying for the sick is a good thing to do but how more important should we pray for the salvation of the lost?
Reflection day 112- fruitfulness
‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.’ (Galatians 5:22-23)
My niece WhatsApped us a photo of several ice cream tubs full of strawberries. She and her Mum had paid £6 each to pick their own and then managed to pick 22 ½ lbs in less than an hour. We’re looking forward to the jam! In our own garden the raspberries, planted long before we moved in, are also yielding much fruit.
The Bible insists that a true Christian is also fruitful. In our Lord’s picture of the vine the chief fruit is love (John 15:9ff). Paul writes in Galatians 5:6, ‘The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love,’ and love also begins his list of the fruit of the Spirit though he includes other things such as peace and joy and self-control. We note today:
Such fruit are a mark of a genuine Christian. ‘Thus, by their fruit you will recognise them,’ says Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount (Matthew 7:20) and he immediately goes on to stress that even the exercising of supernatural gifts is no mark of true conversion. Paul after speaking about spiritual gifts reminds the Corinthians (1 Cor 13:1ff), ‘If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal.’ When Paul sets out the qualifications of elders and deacons (1 Timothy 3, Titus 1) he makes it clear that it is character that counts but it’s striking that the qualities he mentions are only those he expects every Christian to be increasingly demonstrating. We too often are more concerned about charisma, eloquence and ‘success,’ than godliness.
We can only produce such fruit in dependence on God. ‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing.’ (John 15:5) Paul speaks of ‘the fruit of the Spirit’. One reason he prays for this fruit in the lives of Christians is that he knows ultimately only God can produce it. (See for example Philippians 1:11, Colossians 1:10)
An unfruitful branch will be cut off and an unfruitful tree cut down (John 15:2, Luke 13:7) for a gardener will not give space to what is dead or rotten. However, Jesus also says, ‘every branch that does bear fruit he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful’. (I was advised last week to cut off the tops of my very vigorous tomato plants once each has four sets of flowers to improve the yield.) There is a strong hint here that Jesus brings painful experiences into our lives, not because he’s cruel and sadistic, but because these experiences will help produce the graces he wants to see in our lives. ‘Suffering,’ Paul says elsewhere, ‘produces perseverance, character and character, hope.’ (Romans 5:3) Ask God to make whatever pain you’re enduring at this time a means of fruitfulness.
Reflection day 113- The groaning of creation
‘We know that the whole creation has been groaning as in the pains of childbirth right up to the present time.’ (Romans 8:22)
It is estimated that about 547,630 have died worldwide of coronavirus and that of those currently infected about 99% are in a mild condition and 1% or 58,294 in a serious or critical condition (source Worldometer). We should be thankful the situation is improving.
Still, as we continue to struggle with the impact of the virus and the possibility of a spike in cases, it is salutary for us to remember the sufferings many people in other parts of the world have to cope with on a continual basis.
For example, in 2018 (the last year for which it gives figures) the World Health Organisation estimates there were 228 million cases of malaria and about 405,000 deaths worldwide. However, unlike coronavirus where the elderly are most at risk and children highly unlikely to die, it is children under five years old who are most at risk from malaria and they account for 67% (272,000) of all malaria deaths worldwide. Furthermore, this death rate is not a one-off. Hundreds of thousands of people die from malaria every year, the vast majority in Africa.
The majority of people living with HIV/AIDS are also found in Africa. Again, the WHO estimates that, in 2018, 37.9 million people were living with HIV/AIDS worldwide and that 770,000 died of HIV-related illnesses.
Finally, the WHO estimates there are between 11 and 21 million cases of Typhoid each year and that 128,000 to 161,000 typhoid-related deaths occur annually worldwide.
Remember again these are, broadly speaking, deaths that occur every year as a result of these diseases.
On top of all this East Africa is enduring the most serious locust plague that there has been for seventy years. We are told a single swarm of locusts, a square kilometre in area, can include 80 million insects and devour in one day the food that it would feed 35,0000 people. Already locusts have destroyed hundreds of thousands of hectares of crops and pastureland across the region. Experts are concerned that eggs now hatching could produce even bigger swarms than those seen recently. The International Rescue Committee estimates that five million people in East Africa are in imminent danger of starvation. At the same time India and several other countries are also being attacked by giant swarms of locusts.
And of course I have not even mentioned wars or the persecution that many of our brothers and sisters face across the world.
What should we make of all this? I am not seeking to depress you but to flag up the realities of life and death for many people around the world. Let me just say three things:
First, we should not be surprised. Jesus said, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth-pains.’ (Matthew 24:8) John foresees sword, famine, plague and wild beasts (Revelation 6:8). These will be marks of a world characterised by rebellion and sin until the Lord Jesus returns again.
Secondly, we should remember the poor, especially our brothers and sisters in Christ across the world (Galatians 2:10). We should sympathise with them, pray for them and give generously what we can to help them. One of the remarkable things the New Testament records is an international collection for poor, famine-stricken, Christians in Judea.
Thirdly, we should appreciate afresh that one reason the gospel is great news is that in Christ we have eternal life. Unless the Lord Jesus returns again during our lifetime here on earth, we shall all die of one thing or another. But Jesus rose again from the dead and, in him, we have solid hope. This is good news we should not only cherish but be quick to share with others. And ultimately the New Testament points us to that day when, God ‘will wipe every tear from their eyes,’ and, ‘There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.’ (Revelation 21:4) Amen. Come Lord Jesus.
Reflection day 114- ‘Peace, be still’
‘And he awoke and rebuked the wind and said to the sea, “Peace! Be still!” And the wind ceased, and there was a great calm.’ (Mark 4:39 ESV)
‘Peace, be still!’ It was a long time ago, around the time that I finished school, that these words first struck me. I was on holiday in Pembrokeshire in West Wales with some friends and they were displayed on a small stained-glass window in a church in Fishguard – it was a new stained-glass window if my memory serves me correctly. I can’t quite remember the sea scene on the window but the words touched me. My late teenage years were tumultuous and Jesus’ command spoke peace into my heart.
In Mark 4:35-42 Mark describes a violent storm on the Sea of Galilee. It’s the first of a series of incidents in which we see human beings overwhelmed or that they’d failed or just given up. In each case we see the love and power of Christ bringing calm, deliverance, healing and life.
In this case the furious squall was so severe that the disciples (several of whom were experienced fishermen) feared that they would drown. Jesus was sleeping but, after they woke him, Jesus just stood up and rebuked the elements. The wind died down and it was completely calm. Jesus can do that.
Three questions in this passage should search us:
i) ‘Teacher, don’t you care if we drown?’ The answer then and now should be self-evident.
ii) ‘Why are you so afraid? Do you still have no faith?’ Christian friend, why are you so afraid? Don’t you believe in him?
iii) ‘Who is this? Even the wind and the waves obey him!’ Mark has already told us. He is the Messiah and the Son of God (1:1).
John Newton, a former sailor, wrote a hymn based on this incident. He begins:
My Saviour is near,
And for my relief
Will surely appear;
By prayer let me wrestle,
And He will perform;
With Christ in the vessel,
I smile at the storm.’
Reflection day 115- the lost boat
From David Mortimer, one of our church elders
At a recent AGBC(SE) online Committee meeting, Paul Spear, the outgoing General Secretary, referred to the story of a sailing boat, which I subsequently found, and which warmed my heart. I hope that it encourages you too:
Once there was a little boy who made a toy sailing boat. He carefully carved the hull from a block of wood and painted it blue. Then he fitted it with a mast and sails. When it was finished, he decided to try it on the lake in the city park.
It was a beautiful day. The boy tied a cord to the front of the boat and set it in the water. The wind caught the sail and hurried the boat away. Soon the boat came to the end of the cord. But a puff of wind blew so hard that the cord broke, and the boat sailed away toward the far side of the lake. The boy cried, but the boat was gone.
Several months later, as the little boy was walking through the city streets, he passed a junk shop. There in the window was his sailing boat! It was scratched and dirty, and the sails were torn. But it was definitely his own boat! Someone had found the boat and sold it to the junk shop owner. Now it had a price tag of £20.00 on it. The boy hurried home and gathered up all his money. He rushed back to the shop, and bought the boat. He took it home, cleaned it, and gave it a fresh coat of paint and a new sail. Then as he looked happily at it, he said, “Little boat, you are twice mine. I made you, and I bought you.” The story is a beautiful illustration of what God did for us.
1. The Labour and Joy of Creation
The little boy spent many happy hours in making his boat. He had carefully carved the hull, sanded it smooth and painted it. He had fitted the mast and sails. He had enjoyed the work, and often showed it to his parents as he worked. The boy was delighted when it was finished. He experienced both the labour and the joy of creation.
We are reminded of a far greater builder, who is God the Creator. God’s greatest work was man, who was made in His own image.
2. The Risk and the Pain of Loss
There is a risk in attempting anything. There is disappointment and pain when something that has been created is lost. God gave Adam and Eve the freedom of choice: the power to obey and love God, or to reject and disobey Him. Adam and Eve chose to believe Satan rather than God.
3. The Joy of Rediscovery
The little boy discovered his boat in the junk shop. God knows our thoughts, and that He will gives His saving grace to everyone who will receive it. The Bible tells us in many places that God wants everyone to be saved, and we can believe that His joy is great when anyone turns back to Him and accepts His offer of salvation.
4. The Repurchase or Buying Back
When the boy discovered his boat in the junk shop window, he gathered up all his money to buy it back. But there is a difference between the boy’s buying back his boat and our redemption. The plan of salvation is often spoken of as “redemption,” which means setting someone free from slavery or captivity by paying a ransom. Paul says in Colossians 1:13, that God has ‘rescued us from the dominion of darkness and brought us into the kingdom of the Son he loves’. John says “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.” (1 John 3:8), Jesus Christ took the punishment for our sins. God loved us even when we were sinners. But God’s law demands that all sin must be punished, and when Jesus took our punishment, He brought us back to God.
5. The Refurnishing and Refitting of the Sailing Boat
The little sailing boat was scratched and soiled while it was lost. The boy cleaned and repainted it and made a new sail. Man was marred and spoiled by the fall of Adam and Eve, and we were lost to God. Our natures became sinful, and by our own efforts we could not be pleasing to Him. When Jesus took our punishment, this was like the boy buying back the boat; we then belonged to God again. But we still need to be cleaned up and refinished, and this is the work of the Holy Spirit working side by side with us, for we are workers together with God. If we abide in Jesus and yield our lives to His Spirit’s control, He will delight in cleaning us up and will make us fit to be ornaments in God’s house.
Reflection day 116- Stay alert
Mark 14 – 32 ‘But about that day or hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. 34 It’s like a man going away: he leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch.
35 ‘Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back – whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the cock crows, or at dawn. 36 If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!”’
The Government’s slogan for some time now has been, ‘Stay Alert. Control the Virus. Save Lives.’ We must not be complacent. We need to be careful about washing our hands, social distancing, whom we meet up with and so on.
Even more importantly, God’s Word urges us to, ‘Stay Alert.’
Jesus reminds us that we need to stay alert because we do not know when he will return. In parable after parable Jesus warns his disciples that his return will come as a surprise, like a thief in the night, like the flood in Noah’s day. If the boss suddenly appears and finds me playing computer games in work-time I’m going to be in big trouble. We need to be ready for Jesus’ return and not guilty of hypocrisy, carelessness or simple disobedience. Whether we are working or resting we need to be doing what we know Jesus would be glad to see us doing.
Peter also tells Christians in his first letter, ‘Be alert and of sober mind. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.’ (5:7) We are to live with an awareness we could be attacked by the devil at any moment. I ask myself the question, ‘Are there times I need to be particularly alert, when I face special temptations?’ Probably. When I’m tired, when I’m meeting up with unbelieving family or friends, when a divisive subject is on the agenda, Saturday night, Sunday morning. I can think of times that I’ve been ambushed. Umm, Sunday evening too. Actually, when it comes down to it, I can’t think of any times I don’t need to be alert. I need to be alert when I’m on my own and when I’m in company. I need to be alert ‘in church ‘ and when I’m out of church. I need to be alert when life’s going well and there’s the danger of drift and I need to be alert when life’s hard and I’m under all kinds of strain and on edge. I needed to be alert when I was a young Christian and I need to be alert now I’m an older Christian.
Peter has already written in this letter, ‘The end of all things is near. Therefore be alert and of sober mind so that you may pray.’ (4:7) I can’t help thinking that Peter must have had in mind the time in the Garden of Gethsemane that Jesus told him and James and John to ‘keep watch’ and to ‘watch and pray,’ (Mark 14:34,38). Instead they fell asleep. Soon afterwards Peter denied three times that he knew Jesus at all. Paul also links alertness and prayer, ‘And pray in the Spirit on all occasions with all kinds of prayers and requests. With this in mind, be alert and always keep on praying for all the Lord’s people.’ One of the evidences that we’re alert is that we’re praying. We’re like that soldier on his walkie-talkie asking his commander for support. We know that we’re in danger, that we’re under fire, but we also know there is someone who can protect and strengthen us – and others too.
‘Be alert! Watch and pray!’ This is a message God wants us to constantly call to mind.
Reflection day 117- A friend in high places
Christian brother and sister do you realise that the Lord Jesus loves you and is right now actively engaged on your behalf?
In two places in the New Testament we are explicitly told that Christ is interceding for us. In the triumphant conclusion to Romans 8 Paul declares, ‘Christ Jesus who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us.’ (v34) And the writer to the Hebrews says, ‘Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.’ (Hebrews 7:25) The workings of the Trinity are mysterious but these verses make clear Jesus’ ongoing concern for us.
We should also consider Jesus’ prayer in John 17 for Jesus prays as though he had already suffered and completed his atoning work (v4). For this reason, it has often been called ‘Jesus’ High Priestly Prayer,’ for one of the responsibilities of the High Priest was to pray for his people. Thus, the prayer suggests the concerns that Jesus brings to his Father still, for his people’s protection, purity, witness to the world, love and unity and so on.
I like these words of a Christian writer called Louis Berkhof:
‘It is a consoling thought that Christ is praying for us even when we are negligent in our prayer life; that he is presenting to the Father those spiritual needs which were not present to our minds and which we often neglect to include in our prayers; and that he prays for our protection against the dangers of which we are not even conscious, and against the enemies which threaten us, though we do not notice it. He is praying that our faith may not cease, and that we may come out victoriously in the end.’
Or as Samuel Francis wrote:
‘O the deep, deep love of Jesus!
Spread his praise from shore to shore:
How he loves us, ever loves us,
Changes never, nevermore,
Watches over all his loved ones,
Whom he died to call his own,
Ever for them interceding
At his heavenly Father’s throne.’
Reflection day July 13th- Thank God it’s Monday!
Friends, from today we are going to send out a meditation on Scripture on a Monday, a Wednesday and a Friday and we plan to do this at least until the end of August. Today let’s think about work. The Bible says,
‘Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving.’ (Colossians 3:23-24)
We were made by God to work. ‘The Lord God took the man and put him in the Garden of Eden to work it and take care of it.’ (Genesis 2:15) God works and we, who are made in his image, are wired to work. For sure work has been marred by Man’s fall into sin and can be tiring, difficult and stressful – so don’t hanker after that perfect job. Nevertheless, even the OT recognises the value of work in many places. For example, in Ecclesiastes we read,
‘I know that there is nothing better for people than to be happy and to do good while they live. That each of them may eat and drink, and find satisfaction in all their toil – this is the gift of God.’ (3:12-13)
And for the writers of the NT work is something that has been redeemed in Christ. We do our work to the Lord, to please him and find meaning and satisfaction in that.
Jesus himself worked as a carpenter (Mark 6:3) or some think the word could be translated ‘a builder’ and could also have involved working with stone. Whatever, Jesus sawed and planed and chiselled and hammered. He used his mind and hands. He sweated, ached and doubtless bled when the saw slipped. He gave estimates, took orders – and money too when the job was done. No doubt he had to deal with awkward customers. He did all this to the glory of God.
Peter was a fisherman and Paul often continued to support himself working as a tent-maker. In the NT we read of shepherds, farmers (arable and livestock), day-labourers, managers and servants in households, seamstresses and tanners. We read of a man who was the chancellor of the exchequer to a queen, a woman who traded in purple cloth and a city’s director of public works; but at the same time many Christians were evidently slaves. Most younger women were married and occupied with looking after their husbands and children and this work is highly regarded.
If a few jobs are essentially immoral and incompatible with living as a Christian (sorcery, idol-making, prostitution) it is striking that soldiers and tax-collectors are never told to give up their jobs. Slaves are advised to gain their freedom if the opportunity allows but nevertheless to work conscientiously because, ‘It is the Lord Christ you are serving.’
It is then, not just necessary, but right and good to work. For that reason we should remember those who face redundancy at this time. If you are unemployed pray for work and do whatever volunteering you are able to. But if we do have a job we really can, ‘Thank God it’s Monday.’
Reflection day July 15th- Good news
From Paul Barton, one of our church workers
Each day our news feeds are filled with gloomy, sad or depressive reports. I want to encourage you with some good news because as the Proverb reads – Like cold water to a weary soul is good news from a distant land. (Prov. 25:25). The verses from Psalm 34 are a message from heaven directly to you today. We have a direct communication from our heavenly Father. What is the good news?
Psalm 34: 17-18 – The righteous cry out, and the Lord hears them; he delivers them from all their troubles. The Lord is close to the broken-hearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.
One of the benefits/privileges of being a child of God is to be able to cry out to God. We can call upon His name with the assurance that He will hear us and also deliver us from all our troubles, v17. Do you fully appreciate the awesome privilege of being able to call upon God in prayer? When a baby cries for food, sleep or a clean nappy the parent will hear that cry and respond to their child’s need. So it is with us as God’s children. God hears and delivers us for all our troubles.
Can you imagine what life would be like in this world if there was no God. It would be desperately sad, helpless and miserable because the cries of those who are suffering and sorrowful would go unheard. What would it be like if God was a fickle Being who might or might not hear our prayers or was affected by His emotions? There would be no hope and life would be living on a knife edge. David reminds us that God hears our cries in prayer. Jeremiah likewise does the same – Jeremiah 29:12-13: Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart. See also 1 Peter 3:12 & 1 John 5:15.
The promise God makes is that He often delivers His children from the troubles in this life but ultimately, He will deliver us from all trouble in the life to come. God often does deliver us from the troubles here in answer to our prayers. The promise and certain hope is that a complete deliverance from all trouble awaits us all in heaven! Praise the LORD!!
In v18 we read that The Lord is close… This means that He is ready to hear and to help. In a time of crisis, you call upon your family or friends who are close by because they can give a speedy response rather than those who are far away. God is always on hand and therefore we can call upon Him in our troubles, worries and difficulties.
The phrase The Lord is close to the broken-hearted refers to situations when a burden “seems” to be on the heart, and when the heart “seems” to be crushed by sin or sorrow; and it is designed to describe a consciousness of deep guilt, or the heaviest kind of affliction and trouble. Today if you have unconfessed sin and it is crushing your soul then don’t ignore the conscious reminder to call upon the LORD, confess your sin and return to the LORD, And He will have mercy on [you]; And to our God, For He will abundantly pardon. (Isaiah 55:7). Through His grace and love He will save you and lift you up to a place of safety and rest in Christ Jesus for all eternity.