Reflection day 61- an exclusive relationship
From Clive Gullett, one of our church elders
The second thought from the passage in Luke 16 v 19-31 concerning the ‘Rich Man and Lazarus’, following on from yesterday, is again from the African Study Bible.
Its headed, “When God does not share”
Remember, the Rich Man? —
- His dress—finest
- His style of living—luxury
- His attention—wholly taken up with his own pleasures, no thought for the beggar under his nose
- His humility before God—nil
- His concern for others especially his family—too late
A Bakongo proverb from West Africa says “Two people cannot sit on the same antelope hide because where will the second person sit?”
Our Christian faith calls us to an exclusive relationship. Our only master and Lord is to be Jesus Christ. God told us “I am the Lord; that is my name! I will not give my glory to anyone else, nor share my praise with carved idols” Isaiah 42:8. Our worship and service is to be reserved exclusively for God. Sometimes we might value other things more than God. What stubborn competitor is taking first place on the antelope hide of our lives?
The Rich Man in this passage had let the passions and delights of this world consume his thoughts and desires over and above God— and the merciful and compassionate ways of God, that God would have us to employ.
Reflection day 62- Warning!
From Clive Gullett, one of our church elders
The final African Bible reflection from the account of the rich man’s manner found in Luke 16 v 19-31 is headed “Send a Warning!”
It’s quite interesting to see how some of the meditations from the Bible are illuminated and understood by brothers and sisters in another continent with some cultural differences and yet the same word or meaning to life. How beautiful are the variations of our Father’s creation. It’s wonderful how we are all provided for.
So another proverb, this time from the Malagasy of Madagascar. They say “if you have understood what has been said, you have been warned and it’s up to you to pay attention!” Taken literally it means, “Salvation comes to a good listener”
After his death the rich man shouted, “have some pity!” In life however, he had shown no pity to his fellow man. When poor Lazarus lay sick and hungry in front of his door step, the rich man did not even bother to give him the scraps from his table. He had even heard Lazarus crying for help but did not listen. When the rich man closed his ears to the call to be merciful, he closed his ears to God.
When the rich man died and found himself in the inescapable anguish of hell’s flames without relief, he understood his enormous error. Awakened to this dreadful truth too late, he wanted some relief by a drop of water from the hand of Lazarus and he even wanted Lazarus to go and warn his five living brothers about coming to this place of torment.
But Abraham, who was seen from a distance, said to him, they would not take notice of even someone raised from the dead who returned to give such a warning. After all, they have the warning even now from Moses and the prophets (or the word of God) and if they do not listen to them they won’t listen even to someone raised from the dead!
Each small step towards sin, every nudge of the Holy Spirit ignored, hardens your heart until you no longer hear God. Do not be like the rich man who ignored the beggar on his doorstep and began on his journey towards eternal separation from God.
Sobering thought isn’t it? Let us examine ourselves
Reflection day 63- God’s great works
From Paul Barton, one of our church workers
1 These are the terms of the covenant the Lord commanded Moses to make with the Israelites in Moab, in addition to the covenant he had made with them at Horeb.
2Moses summoned all the Israelites and said to them:
Your eyes have seen all that the Lord did in Egypt to Pharaoh, to all his officials and to all his land. 3 With your own eyes you saw those great trials, those signs and great wonders. 4 But to this day the Lord has not given you a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear. 5 Yet the Lord says, ‘During the forty years that I led you through the wilderness, your clothes did not wear out, nor did the sandals on your feet. 6 You ate no bread and drank no wine or other fermented drink. I did this so that you might know that I am the Lord your God.’
7 When you reached this place, Sihon king of Heshbon and Og king of Bashan came out to fight against us, but we defeated them. 8 We took their land and gave it as an inheritance to the Reubenites, the Gadites and the half-tribe of Manasseh.
9 Carefully follow the terms of this covenant, so that you may prosper in everything you do.
Paul Barton writes:
At this gathering Moses reminds the children of Israel that 40 years ago at Horeb (on Mount Sinai) the LORD made a covenant with them (Exodus 24:7-8), v1. Most of those who were alive who had the blood of the covenant sprinkled upon them had died in the wilderness. The generation of unbelief had died, and it was a fresh opportunity for this generation to be one of faith.
In vs2-4 Moses reminds the people all they had seen with their own two eyes. The plagues that decimated the land and the people of Egypt. The death of the firstborn. The signs and great wonders – Red Sea parted, the pursuing Egyptian army killed, the miracle of manna and water in a dry and barren desert. Miracle after wonderful miracle. But the LORD is the one who gives ‘a mind that understands or eyes that see or ears that hear,’ v4. Only the Holy Spirit can change hearts. This is the supernatural work only our sovereign God can do. Brothers and sisters, give praise and thanks to our God for what He has done in your heart.
In vs5-9 the LORD reminded the Israelites of all He did for them in the wilderness for 40 years. How long do your clothes and shoes last? Have you got any clothes or shoes from 40 years ago that are in a good condition? I need to replace my walking shoes because they are disintegrating, and they are only 2 years old. I probably have done tens of thousands of steps in those shoes. The LORD performed another miracle in keeping their clothes and sandals from wearing out, v5. Their physical needs were provided for despite being in a desert with two million plus mouths to feed, v6. The children of Israel who were slaves for 400 years conquered their enemies and took the land, vs7-8. All of this does not happen without the miraculous hand of the LORD.
In v9 the Israelites are told to follow the terms of the covenant. Although they saw the wonderful miracles of God, they must commit themselves to obey and keep the covenant with God. Knowing the greatness of God’s love and power should make Israel more committed than ever to His covenant.
Saints, as we have been reminded today, both former mercies, and fresh mercies, should be thought on by us as motives to obedience. The hearing ear, and seeing eye, and the understanding heart, are the gift of God (Matthew Henry). As we have been given hearts to perceive by God may we enjoy the gifts we have and use them appropriately. Let us praise God for them, have an attitude of gratitude and strive to be faithful to Him and daily keep the Word of the LORD.
Reflection day 64- The good fight
‘But you, man of God, flee from all this, and pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness. Fight the good fight of the faith. Take hold of the eternal life to which you were called when you made your good confession in the presence of many witnesses.’ (1 Timothy 6:11-12)
So, yes, there are bad fights. Perhaps you can remember some fights in the playground at school or with your siblings at home? Sadly adults fight too. There is shouting and swearing and ugly domestic violence. There are the drunken brawls that consume the time of our A&E departments in normal times. There are the urban gangs.
This is not the kind of fighting the Christian should be engaged in. ‘And pursue righteousness, godliness, faith, love, endurance and gentleness.’ Gentleness is to be mark of a man of God as much as a woman of God. An elder (who is meant to set a good example) is to be ‘not violent but gentle’ (3:3).
But there is a good fight. It is the fight to uphold the faith and personally persevere in the faith. This fight is with the devil, the world and our own flesh. This fight involves fighting against false doctrine (1:3ff), fighting for sound doctrine and fighting to live the truth out in our own lives (4:16). In the broader context of our verse that means fleeing ‘the love of money’ (6:10 – note there is a place for flight in the Christian life) and pursuing ‘godliness with contentment’ (6:6) and so on.
What Paul says should be an encouragement to you if you find the Christian life a struggle. This is normal. This is reality. This is how your brothers and sisters are finding it too. The Christian life is a fight and always will be in this world. You are in a fight but it’s an utterly worthwhile one and you have support. Paul wanted Timothy to ‘fight the battle well’ (1:18).
In chapter 4 of this letter Paul had told Timothy, ‘train yourself to be godly’ (4:7) That means running from sin the way you’d run from a lion or a terrorist with a Kalashnikov – sin’s deadly dangerous. But it also means the regular exercise of gathering together with God’s people, feeding on his Word (see 4:13), praying in secret and so on – in short building yourself up in the Lord Jesus Christ. We know we have to fight to do these things and be real when we do.
This is a good fight because you are pursuing good things, things that are holy, loving, beautiful, sweet and lasting. You are following in the footsteps of Jesus and looking forward to his appearing.
In his second letter to Timothy, written shorty before his death, Paul could write:
‘I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Now there is in store for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will award to me on that day – and not only to me, but also to all who have longed for his appearing.’ (2Tim 4:7&8)
Reflection day 65- Not a trace
‘In those days, at that time,’
declares the Lord,
‘search will be made for Israel’s guilt,
but there will be none,
and for the sins of Judah,
but none will be found,
for I will forgive the remnant I spare.’ (Jeremiah 50:20)
It is hard for us to believe that in Christ all our sins really are forgiven by God. We may be acutely conscious of ongoing struggles and failures. There may be incidents and episodes from the past that we still remember with shame. We may live with people who are constantly criticising us and dragging up the past. Parts of the Bible may highlight our own sinfulness. There are commands we have broken or fulfilled so inadequately. Sometimes the lives of godly people we know or read about may also make us conscious of our unworthiness.
And yet the atoning work of Jesus Christ is so powerful and satisfying to God that, if we have trusted Christ, all our sins are indeed completely forgiven. God has nothing against us. There is nothing to get between us. God loves us and is on our side. We can draw near to him.
The Bible uses multiple pictures to convey the fullness of this forgiveness. For example, in Jeremiah 31:34, in the context of the new covenant God is going to make, he says:
‘For I will forgive their wickedness
and will remember their sins no more.’
Our sins are ‘forgiven and forgotten’. In Jeremiah 50 we read of a futile search. This might resonate with us today when almost everyday we could be searching for something on Google. But what if someone were to do a thorough search on us? What if someone were ‘to dig the dirt’ on us? What could they rake up? You may remember the phone hacking scandal some years ago. And we know there are journalists and others who systematically work through every word someone has ever posted on social media in order to ruin someone’s reputation. Surely God can go further and search our minds and hearts?
But in Jeremiah 50 God describes a failed search. A search will be made for sin but nothing will be discovered. No trace of sin can be found at all.
If you are a Christian, carrying around a load of guilt is bad theology and bad psychology. It will keep you away from God and harden your heart towards him. So, confess your sins to God (Matthew 6:12, 1 John 1:9) but also treasure the forgiveness that you enjoy in Christ and the assurance of God’s love.
Reflection day 66- Grace and peace
From David Mortimer, one of our church elders
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
You will notice that I haven’t given the Bible reference for this Reflection. That’s deliberate! I would like you to do a little bit of Bible study before reading on, as follows:
Your task is to find out in how many of the 13 letters written by Paul that the above phrase appears (the answer is at the bottom of this piece).
Paul uses this greeting a lot – you are probably very familiar with it, but, because it is so familiar to us, do we pass over it too hastily in our reading and study of the Scriptures, regarding it as we would ‘Yours sincerely’ or ‘Kind regards’ today? Instead, let’s stop and ponder for a while the wonderful truths that we find in these 15 words– they contain so much for our encouragement and edification.
The above sentence is found in verse 7 of Paul’s introduction of his letter to the Romans. In the original Greek these first 7 verses are all one long sentence, and here he closes this introduction with a benediction – literally, a good word, speaking of grace and peace.
But who does this blessing come from? It’s made very clear here – from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Paul cannot do anything other than rejoice in the fact that he is a sinner saved by this grace, and now he has peace with God. It has been nothing to do with him – it is all of God.
Perhaps the apostle would remembering his humbling on the Damascus road as he wrote these words – he knew that he, the chief of sinners, deserved condemnation, but that Jesus Christ had died in his place, bearing his sins on the cross at Calvary.
What is this grace? John Piper, in his book ‘Future Grace’, wrote ‘grace is the goodness of God shown to people who don’t deserve it’; John Stott’s definition was ‘Grace is love that cares and stoops and rescues’. Grace is mercy, not merit; we could never hope to earn our way to heaven, but God Himself has done everything that we need to be right with Him in His Son.
What is the peace that Paul is writing about? It’s knowing that your sins are forgiven, that you are part of God’s family, that you have a home in heaven, that whatever happens on this earth (including coronavirus), will not affect your standing in God’s sight. What a privilege this is, Christian brother and sister! Paul knew it, his readers knew it, you know it.
Ponder on these words, (found at the start of all Paul’s letters); these truths were precious to him, and should be to each one of us. Praise God for His wonderful salvation!
Reflection day 67- Is any suffering like my suffering?
‘Is it nothing to you, all you who pass by?
Look around and see.
Is any suffering like my suffering
that was inflicted on me,
that the Lord brought on me
in the day of his fierce anger? (Lamentations 1:12)
Lamentations vividly describes the greatest catastrophe in the history of Israel in the Old Testament – the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians. The author of the book (quite possibly the prophet Jeremiah) witnessed suffering, death, destruction and, perhaps most shocking of all, the exile of many of Jerusalem’s inhabitants, including the king, to Babylon. God had brought the people of Israel into the Promised Land but now he had banished them from it.
In the light of the coming of Jesus Christ, however, Charles Wesley saw in our verse a glimpse into the sufferings of the Messiah:
‘All you that pass by,
To Jesus draw nigh;
To you is it nothing that Jesus should die?
Your ransom and peace,
Your surety He is, (guarantor, security)
Come, see if there ever was sorrow like His.’
‘Is any suffering like my suffering?’ Was there ever ‘sorrow like His’?
Jesus suffered physically. To the leather Roman whip (flagellum) pieces of bone or lead were attached. Some men died simply from this flogging. And crucifixion was a deliberately torturous form of execution. It is hard for us to imagine the pain of being nailed to a cross or of the weight of a body being suspended by those nails. Eventually you suffocated.
Jesus suffered mentally. He was betrayed by Judas, disowned by his disciples, denied by Simon Peter. He was falsely convicted of blasphemy and sedition. The crowd in Jerusalem turned on him. He was relentlessly mocked. Crucifixion was a shameful death reserved for runaway slaves (the Roman Empire depended on slavery), revolutionaries and other traitors.
Jesus suffered spiritually. He suffered, as a substitute, the wrath of God on behalf of his people (Isaiah 53:4-6, Romans 3:25ff, 2 Cor 5:21, 1 Peter 3:18, 1 John 2:2 etc.). Although he continued to trust God and speak to God he experienced an agonizing and bewildering separation from God. He was ‘exiled’ and then he died.
There are many reasons for us to meditate deeply on the sufferings of Christ but let me mention:
1. His suffering as a sacrifice for sins show how serious our sins are in the sight of God. Treason would be one way to describe the underlying character of sin, for men and women seek to de-throne God, overturn his authority and live life as they see fit.
2. Jesus’ sufferings reveal the love of God the Father and of his Son Jesus Christ, the Messiah, towards us. ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son…’ (John 3:16) ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins.’ (1 John 4:10) God ‘did not spare his own Son, but gave him up for us all.’ (Romans 8:32) The Son of God, ‘loved me and gave himself for me.’ (Gal 2:20) ‘To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood.’ (Rev 1:5)
3. Jesus’ sufferings are sufficient. They are infinite. They are enough to atone for every sin. Nothing is unforgiveable and no one is irredeemable. God was satisfied with the atonement Christ made and we can be satisfied and know peace and joy today.
‘His death is my plea;
My Advocate see,
And hear the blood speak that has answered for me;
He purchased the grace
Which now I embrace;
O Father, You know he has died in my place.’
Reflection day 68- The Look
From Clive Gullett, one of our church elders
‘The Lord turned and looked straight at Peter.’ (Luke 22:61)
‘Lord, I am ready to go with you to prison and to death,’ said Peter. (Luke 22:33)
Jesus answered, ‘I tell you Peter, before the cock crows today, you will deny three times that you know me.’ (v34)
See Luke 22:54-60 — that’s just what happened.
As Peter was adamantly doing just that for the third time, the cock crowed!
Jesus who had been rudely arrested was now bound and in the presence of the high priest who seemed to be under pressure before the whole Sanhedrin (Mark 14:45) and was frantically asking a silent Jesus if He was the Christ the Son of the Blessed One.
Peter — denying his beloved master — the High Priest in a flap before a baying crowd — The cock crows — Jesus turns and looked straight at Peter —
I have sometimes wondered what that look said, how did it appear, what was its intent?
Jesus had His back to Peter and was in a trial, yet He knew all that Peter said. Christ takes more notice of what we say and do than we think He does. When Peter disowned Christ yet Christ did not disown Peter. Surely it is good that Christ does not deal with us as we deal with Him.
This look that Jesus gave to Peter, what was it like and what meaning did it portray?— I have mused on this in the past and have thought perhaps it was a loving compassionate look that said, ‘Dear Peter, so sure of yourself, so up front, so proud, did I not tell you, did I not warn you? Remember this!’ — was it that sort of look?
Mathew Henry suggests several meanings in that look:
A convincing look? – Peter said he didn’t know Christ. Christ might have been saying, really?, do you not know me Peter?
A chiding look? – a look of remonstration—What Peter? , are you he that disowns me now? You were the one most forward to confess me to be the Son of God and promised you would never disown me?
A look of compassion? – a look of tenderness (as I said above, I love the thought of this) Poor Peter! How you fall and are undone if I do not help you!
A directing look? – Christ guiding him with His eye to retire and think a little to himself.
A significant look? – Signifying the conveying or transmitting of grace to Peter’s heart?
The crowing of the cock would not have brought him to repentance without this look. Power went along with this look to change the heart of Peter.
Peter remembered the words of the Lord.
Then Peter went out and wept bitterly. One look from Christ melted him into tears of godly sorrow for sin.
Reflection day 69- Obedience and blessings
From Paul Barton, one our church workers
Joshua 3:5 – Joshua told the people, ‘Consecrate yourselves, for tomorrow the LORD will do amazing things among you.’
Moses had died before the Israelites had entered the promised land. Joshua was chosen to be the new leader of the LORD’s people. He was to lead them into the promised land. The spies had entered Jericho, carried out their reconnaissance mission and reported that ‘all the people are melting in fear because of them’ (Joshua 2:24). They had moved from one camp to now being encamped at the banks of the river Jordan (3:1-2).
To enter the promised land, their destination after 40 years of wandering, they needed to cross the River Jordan. This was a problem. The problem was so troubling that it caused a three-day delay (v2). What was the issue? It was springtime, a time when the Jordan would have been a rushing torrent of water due to the melting of the mountain snow. 3:15 reports that the river was overflowing at that time. I am told that the riverbanks would have been covered with thick brambles and there would have been steep banks into the river to make matters worse. All of this added to their trouble and the Israelites faced a river that was seemingly impossible to cross.
Joshua gave the instructions to the priests to pick up the ark and carry it before the people (vs 1–6). This was going to an important event in the life of God’s people as the priests themselves carried the ark as they went before the people (cf. Num. 4:15). The ark was the physical representation of God’s presence in Israel (Ex. 25:22), and its movement here indicates that the Lord would lead the people into the land.
Something amazing was going to happen. Joshua told Israel that God was going to do something to show His power and would give the land of Canaan to them (3:7–13). But the difficulty of the fast and overflowing river faced them. With the pressure upon the priests to carry the ark of the covenant and stand in the river (v8), would they melt with fear like the mountain snow and the Canaanites (2:24)?
God intervened with a miracle like the crossing of the Red Sea. When the priests carrying the ark put their feet in the water overflowing the banks of the Jordan River (v15), the water stopped, and the people crossed over on dry land (vs 14-17). AMAZING!
Brothers and sisters, sometimes God requires us ‘to get our feet wet’ for us to receive blessings and prosperity in Him. The LORD was with His people and He demonstrated that in the miracle of crossing the River Jordan. The priests needed to be obedient and trust in the LORD. In these occasions we often feel the pressure and are overcome by the difficulty of our own situations. We forget that we need to be obedient and then the blessings will come. Remember what Joshua was told by the LORD Joshua 1:7-9?
‘Be strong and very courageous. Be careful to obey all the law my servant Moses gave you; do not turn from it to the right or to the left, that you may be successful wherever you go. Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it. Then you will be prosperous and successful. Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go.’
Reflection day 70- Faith, hope and love
‘And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.’ (1 Corinthians 13:13)
These three qualities appear together in numerous places in the NT. For example in his first letter to the Thessalonians Paul writes;
We remember before our God and Father your work produced by faith, your labour prompted by love, and your endurance inspired by hope in our Lord Jesus Christ. (1:3)
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, putting on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet. (5:8)
Or to the Galatians Paul writes:
For through the Spirit we eagerly await by faith the righteousness for which we hope. For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision has any value. The only thing that counts is faith expressing itself through love. (5:5-6)
Or you might think how prominent faith, hope and love are in what Jesus says to his disciples, on the evening before his crucifixion (John 13-17). References could be multiplied.
How shall we define faith, hope and love?
Faith is trusting something or especially someone. To do that you have to know them and have found they are trustworthy. Christian faith is faith in God and especially God as revealed in his Son Jesus Christ.
Christian hope is faith looking forward expectantly to what God has promised.
And love is? Of course Paul has given a description of its character earlier in this chapter. ‘Love is patient, love is kind…’ That is what love looks like in practice but, still, what exactly is love? Love is a delight in someone else and/or a heartfelt desire for their well-being. We may love someone who is kind and generous; but we may also love someone who is harsh and mean whom we want to see transformed and become a better and a happier person. One of the reasons God is so beautiful and lovely is that he models this kind of love: ‘This is love: not that we loved God, but that he loved us and sent his Son as an atoning sacrifice for our sins. Dear friends, since God so loved us, we also ought to love one another.’ (1 John 4:10&11)
Faith, hope and love honour God.
We dishonour God when we distrust him and worry and fret (acting as though we think God unreliable or even a liar) but equally we honour God when we trust him and know peace and joy in believing in him.
Hope in the Bible is ultimately God-centred and Christ-centred. We want to be with God; we want to be with Christ. It is evidence of love for God as well as faith in God’s promises that we have a lively hope.
And love is the most godlike quality of all. ‘God is love’ (1 John 4:16). When we love God, we treasure him (again there is an overlap of faith and love here). When we love others, we imitate God and demonstrate his influence over our attitude and behaviour. When, in heaven, faith has given way to sight and hope to reality, love will remain. ‘Heaven is a world of love.’
How then do we cultivate these qualities? We cannot generate faith, hope or love by ‘trying harder’. We must look out and up, we must look at God and consider how glorious he is, how worthy of our faith, our hope, our love. In other words we need to meditate upon God and his character.
Whatever else you do, take time to do this today.