Doing what it takes – Luke 19.1-6
“Jesus entered Jericho and was passing through. A man was there by the name of Zacchaeus; he was a chief tax collector and was wealthy. He wanted to see who Jesus was, but because he was short he could not see over the crowd. So he ran ahead and climbed a sycamore-fig tree to see him, since Jesus was coming that way. When Jesus reached the spot, he looked up and said to him, ‘Zacchaeus, come down immediately. I must stay at your house today.’ So he came down at once and welcomed him gladly.”
A well-known church leader called Bill Johnson once said something like ‘God will give you what you need but you need to work to get what you want.’ These aren’t the exact words but it’s the principle that we need to think about. These words were proved by the actions of Zacchaeus. He wanted to see Jesus but because he wasn’t tall enough to see over the crowds, he did something about it. Many times as Christians or just in every day life, people find an excuse if something doesn’t seem to be working out as they want. Zacchaeus could have said to himself, ‘the crowd is too big and too small… Oh well, it can’t be right for me to see Jesus. Maybe he’ll pass through this neighbourhood again. I may as well go back home…”
But Zacchaeus didn’t just go home. He did something about it. He went and climbed up a tree on the route that Jesus was walking. It may have taken some effort to climb up and get a good spot. He may have got some grief from other people who didn’t like him climbing a tree. But his passion to see Jesus meant that he acted and did something positive. Through this, he saw Jesus, hung out with Jesus, had his life turned around and became a man of generosity rather than a thief. There’s two points for us today. First, our passion for Jesus should lead us to action. Secondly, sometimes we have to act and not make excuses. Yes, sometimes God closes doors but don’t close a door on yourself when all that’s needed is for you to work a bit harder and do what it takes. A friend of mine in a wheelchair applied to a Bible college. He could have said ‘I’m in a wheelchair so I won’t bother’ but he didn’t. He took action and God opened up doors for him. Like Zacchaeus, when we act in faith, Jesus always does more than we can imagine!
Wanting to justify himself… Luke 10.25-29
Just then a religious scholar stood before Jesus in order to test his doctrines. He posed this question: “Teacher, what requirement must I fulfill if I want to live forever in heaven?” Jesus replied, “What does Moses teach us? What do you read in the Law?” The religious scholar answered, “It states, ‘You must love the Lord God with all your heart, all your passion, all your energy, and your every thought. And you must love your neighbor as well as you love yourself.’” Jesus said, “That is correct. Now go and do exactly that and you will live.” Wanting to justify himself, he questioned Jesus further…
The only way to God is via Jesus. You may come via lots of routes up to the point of Jesus but there is only one point of access and that is through Jesus. Why? Is God narrow minded? No! Even though there is only one way to God, that way is open to anyone and everyone. Only Jesus was able to do what was needed to get to God. If you want to be President of the USA, you need to fulfil certain conditions and then have to be elected. In a much bigger way, there was and is only one who could enable the way between man and God and that was Jesus. The Bible often refers to the way that Jesus makes a way between man and God has a big word called ‘justification’. Hebrews 10 in the Bible tells us that we can’t ‘justify’ ourselves. Only Jesus did (and can) sort things out between man and God. We can’t get to God by our own effort, by our own way and by doing anything that opens the way by ourselves. We can’t get to the door, let alone unlock the door!
The religious scholar came to Jesus with the wrong attitude. First of all he wanted to test Jesus (as if somehow the religious man would know more than Jesus!) And then when Jesus spoke the truth, the religious man went wrong again. This man wanted to justify himself (he wanted to show that he was right with God in himself). The Amplified Bible says he also wanted to ‘vindicate’ himself – prove himself right. This is the wrong way to approach God. We can’t justify ourselves. We can’t do any good to get to God. You can follow rules, do some things, not do other things. You can follow what someone says, say a thousand prayers a day and give up all you own. But this won’t get you to God. Jesus isn’t just the way, he’ll also help you get to God. Just ask him today.
Two kinds of faith. Should I stay or should I go? Luke 8.1-3
“Jesus travelled about from one town and village to another, proclaiming the good news of the kingdom of God. The Twelve were with him, and also some women who had been cured of evil spirits and diseases: Mary (called Magdalene) from whom seven demons had come out; Joanna the wife of Chuza, the manager of Herod’s household; Susanna; and many others. These women were helping to support them out of their own means.”
Have you heard of people who ‘live by faith’? There are some amazing people who have and do trust God for their finances as they live serving others, helping those in need and spreading the good news about Jesus. One friend is working abroad serving local communities, working with disaster relief and praying for people and seeing God bring healing and wholeness to others. Another couple have travelled the world and the UK and set up prayer and worship, served students, done mission trips and more. Another woman recounted how she was protected and guarded by God as she travelled by horse across Israel. It takes a certain kind of person and real courage to do these kinds of amazing activities for God. And we should support these great people with money, with encouragement and with prayer!
But the other side of faith are those who consistently work to support others. You may not be called to go around the world but you may be someone who can raise money for others or work at a job and use money to support those who need it. You may be the kind of person who writes cards of support to those serving God in other countries. Or you may bake cakes to give to people. You may even secretly push some money through someone’s door. You see for every person that goes and does great things for God by faith, there are other people who support them by being faithful and responding to God when he asks them to help others. These are the kinds of unseen people that God also loves just as much as those ‘on the frontlines.’
Mary, Joanna, Susanna and the ‘many others’ (women) were the equal heroes of the twelve who were sent out with Jesus. These faithful and incredible women deserve their place in history as the ones who enabled the disciples to get out there and do their God-thing. They let their gratitude for Jesus overflow to supporting what he did and so can we. Take up your position for God as he leads you and remember you are just as valuable as anyone else!
The Rolling Stones – Mark 16.4 and John 11.38-39
Mark 16.4 – “But when they looked up, they saw that the stone, which was very large, had been rolled away.” John 11.38-39 – “Jesus, once more deeply moved, came to the tomb. It was a cave with a stone laid across the entrance. ‘Take away the stone,’ he said.”
Today we’re looking at rolling stones. Not the Rolling Stones but stones that were rolled away… Joyce Meyer has a saying that as Christians, God asks us to do what we can do and then he does what we cannot do. She points out that when Jesus raised a man called Lazarus from the dead, he asked the people to roll the stone away and he raised Lazarus from the dead. He asked the people to do what they could do (roll the stone away) and Jesus did what the people couldn’t do without him (raising Lazarus from the dead).
Time and time again, Jesus does miracles through our actions. We do something and then God shows up. When Jesus fed the 5000 men (plus women and children) this pattern was demonstrated. The boy brought his food to Jesus and then Jesus thanked God and multiplied the small amount of food and fed thousands. Another time, someone wanted to be healed and Jesus asked him to go a pool, which he did and was healed. It doesn’t always happen this way but it often does – God uses people like you and me to do the practical action or the stepping out to pray or say or do. Then God steps in.
So in John 11, the people did their bit by rolling the stone. But in Mark 16, we see that it was the power of God that meant the stone was rolled away from the tomb that the Pharisees had tried to seal up to contain Jesus. Two rolled stones – one showed an example of us doing what we can. The other shows how God then does what only he can do. So step out in faith and see what God will do through you.
The Truth Hurts – Isaiah 53.3-4
“He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted.”
The book of Isaiah is found in the Old Testament of the Bible. Isaiah lived around 700 years before the birth of Jesus yet he makes an (accurate) prophecy about Jesus. The Bible is absolutely unique in many ways and it’s unique among ‘holy books’ because it dares to tell us about creation, about the end of time and makes around 1000 prophecies (predictions about the future). One scholar has researched and found that around 500 of these have already happened. We can be absolutely sure that the other 500 will happen!
Isaiah 53 tells us that despite of and because of our sin (the wrong things we do), Jesus lived a sinless life then carried our sin and sicknesses and paid for them at the Cross. It’s like we were in debt and couldn’t pay so Jesus came along and paid the debt and paid for any debt we’d get into in the future! That’s why Jesus is the only way to God – because only Jesus paid the price to cancel the debt. But we live in a world that often wants to reject God and even write him out of the present day and history, despite all the clear and factual evidence. Some people are like Isaiah 53.3 predicts – Jesus has become one from whom people hide their faces, despising him and holding him in low esteem (disrespecting him). They don’t want God because they want to be god. This is so true of many atheists and humanists (people who don’t believe in God) who, sometimes arrogantly, choose to believe their own (ever-changing) ideas – intentionally saying no to God and even lying to put together their worldview that doesn’t work or make sense. Despite this, Jesus still loves them (so must we) and still died to bring them life and freedom from themselves. Our role is to love God and love people as Jesus said – two things that are linked together. This is the counter-cultural message of God and it’s the only worldview that is perfectly true and perfectly makes sense.
The Greatest Lie Part 1 – Genesis 3.1-5
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The world around us is full of lies, deception, tricks and fakes. It may be the words of a politician, the visual effects of a movie, the Photoshopping of images, the spreading of fake news or the anti-God agendas in news reporting. If the news media were reporting the Garden of Eden incident, their headline would be “God bans people from eating from the best tree in the Garden.” The article would continue to say that God was trying to control people doing what comes naturally – that God was trying to stop people and hold them back, keep them down. The article writer would be outraged, commenting that what kind of God controls people. People should be free – free to do what they want any old time.
This is the exact same lie that satan the slithering snake said to Eve. But it’s totally the wrong angle and not true. Our news media is full of this kind of thing today. What they are basically saying is that God (if there even is a God) is wrong and humanity knows best. It says we should be free to be who we think we should be. Anyone who says we shouldn’t be is described as a ‘bigot’ and judged harshly.
But the real and accurate headline in news media should read, “God protects people from destroying themselves. Gives them freedom in every other area.” This article would go on to say that God has given us freedom but that he has also shown us what not to do so that we don’t end up causing harm to ourselves and others. The news media should be saying the idea that humans know best is madness and that history shows this to be true. We are who God says we are, not who we say we are. But when we say and agree with what God says and does, it liberates us to be free of all the heavy weights of sin like sexual sin, sexual disease, lying, stealing, hatred, violence, murder, unforgiveness, bitterness, pride, addiction. The way to real freedom is through God. Don’t ever believe the lies of satan.
The Greatest Lie Part 2 – Genesis 3.1-5
Now the serpent was more crafty than any beast of the field which the Lord God had made. And he said to the woman, “Indeed, has God said, ‘You shall not eat from any tree of the garden’?” The woman said to the serpent, “From the fruit of the trees of the garden we may eat; but from the fruit of the tree which is in the middle of the garden, God has said, ‘You shall not eat from it or touch it, or you will die.’” The serpent said to the woman, “You surely will not die! For God knows that in the day you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.”
The Bible tells us that the father of all lies is satan – the enemy of God and the one who only comes to destroy, kill and steal. The biggest lie that he spreads today is that God is somehow ‘controlling’ and you can be free if you follow satan’s lies. So we see a world today that rejects God, rejects what he says, thinks and his boundaries put in place for our protection. But the truth is that satan traps people in a life of control and destruction and it is God who comes to set us free. Just look at someone trapped in a life of drug or alcohol addiction, or someone destroyed by debt or family breakdown. Only Jesus can come to break people free from this and he does every day.
Right in the beginning satan started with his lies and ever since, mankind has been falling for these lies. Our greatest defence from the lies of satan is not to even engage with them. In the Garden of Eden, the first mistake that mankind made was even to listen and then to respond to satan’s lies.
When Jesus was ‘tempted’ by satan (Luke 4), he didn’t get into a debate. He just spoke the word of God, making it clear that this was the Word of God and that he believed it. Notice how satan didn’t debate the truth of the Word of God or even that it was from God. Satan misrepresented what God said in the Garden of Eden and when he tried to tempt Jesus. But when the true Word of God was spoken against him, satan had no defence and had to back off. He didn’t even say ‘did God say?’ because he knew that God did say and that satan couldn’t get away with his lies. When satan comes to attack you through lies, fear, temptation, unbelief, tricks and deception, the best defence is to know the Word of God and to speak it to him.
“Have faith in God” – Mark 11.22
Faith and trust are very similar words. We can say that we trust God but often we don’t show that trust in the way we act. We can be fearful, worry about things, not let the past go or hold on to things that God says we can give to him to sort out.
I know some people who want to tell others how to do things. They mean well but what they do is like them saying that they don’t trust the other person to do the thing right. God is not like that with us and we should never be like this with God! We can trust God. We don’t need to make sure he’s doing his part or check up on him. We just play our part. Joyce Meyer says, ‘we do what we can do and God will do what we cannot do.’ Her husband, Dave Meyer says, ‘cast your care on God.’
So how do we live by faith and trust God? What does it look like? Christmas Evans, a great Welsh preacher said, “Faith… is simply taking God at his word.” George Mueller who ran children’s home in Bristol simply by faith trusting God to provide all their needs said, “The beginning of anxiety is the end of faith and the beginning of true faith is the end of anxiety.” So we know we’re trusting God when we have peace inside and we feel ‘at rest’.
Hebrews 4.10-11 tells us to make every effort to enter God’s rest. Jesus offers us his rest but we have to decide to enter that rest. What is that rest? It is trusting God is who he says he is and will do what he says he will do. Romans 4 talks about being fully persuaded that God has power to do what he says. This is what faith looks like. It’s simply believing God. If we catch hold of who God really is then we know that we can trust him.
Fake News – 2 Timothy 3.13
“…while evildoers and impostors will go from bad to worse, deceiving and being deceived.”
In the US Presidential elections of 2016-2017, there were lots of accusations about ‘fake news’ – basically made-up news stories and stories fed to news media or print media with deliberate wrong information in (called ‘misinformation’). It also includes hoaxes and stuff you may see on social media. But this is nothing new! It’s been going on for centuries.
Jesus, Paul the Apostle and Peter all let us know that there would be all kinds of bad things happen in the world – lies, hatred, false things made up against people, people doing what was right in their own eyes and having their own ‘truth’. The verse from 2 Timothy 3.13 lets us know that evil people will go from bad to worse, deceiving and then being deceived themselves! To deceive means to trick someone in a bad way. In the Old Testament, a man called Isaac tricked his father – but later he himself was tricked. As the Bible says, ‘you reap what you sow’ (what goes around comes around).
Verse 12 of Timothy speaks about evil people and deception with the writer (Paul) talking about Christians suffering persecution of different sorts. And we have also seen that happening in recent years – Christians being falsely labeled and accused of being ‘bigoted’ or full of ‘hate’ and even losing jobs, positions of power, being disciplined, taken to court (and even imprisoned) across Europe and the USA simply for believing or speaking out the Bible. These accusations against Christians are really against God and this is fake news because the truth is that God’s love comes to set people free and to help them live the life God made them to have. The original fake news started with satan who tricked God’s creation (Adam and Eve) into doubting God and believing that God was holding them back. This same lie is the source of all true fake news today. The devil’s lie is that he comes to set people free from a controlling God. This is the biggest fake news ever! Jesus showed the way to life, freedom, hope, peace and good things. He is the one who sets people free from the chains and hatred of the enemy. Remember the truth – the enemy comes to kill, destroy, rob and spread fake news. Jesus sets us free, saves us, heals us and makes us whole.
Evangelism – Mark 4.26-29
He also said, ‘This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces corn – first the stalk, then the ear, then the full grain in the ear. As soon as the corn is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.’
Jesus told his disciples a bunch of parables in Mark 4. A parable is a story with a meaning. In this talk, Jesus explained how someone spreads seed on the ground. Once the man has done this, the seed sprouts and grows. It’s not the man who is in control any more – the seed grows up by itself, fed by the soil, the rain and the sun. But the man does one thing – he keeps watch and when the corn is ripe, the man harvests the corn.
There are many ways we could understand this parable. But one way to think about it is the things you do, the things you say and the kind of person you are – being a witness to others about God. It could be something you said in class, the way you treat others, a website you’ve done about God, the way you help others or something you say in a religious education session. There are loads of stories about how people gradually come to know God through hearing things, seeing things and watching on. You see, our job is to throw seed onto the ground – that means the Bible, the way we live, the words we say and the things we don’t do or say. Then God will bring the change in people’s lives. Then our part is to keep on praying for people around us and watching to be ready for when someone does want to give their life to God.
Walk Different – Genesis 32.31
The sun rose above (Jacob) as he passed Peniel and he was limping because of his hip.
When we meet with God, something should change. We should be different when we meet with the awesome and powerful Creator. As we grow as Christians, we become more and more like God. But when people look at you they should know and notice that something is different. Do people see you like that? Not in a weird way like you’re freaky or do creepy stuff. But people should know that you’re not quite like everyone else – you speak differently, think differently, act differently and walk differently.
In Genesis 32 we find that Jacob had an encounter with the ‘angel of the Lord’. When we read about this ‘angel of the Lord’ in the Old Testament, it’s very likely referring to Jesus before he came to the earth as both man and God! Now when we meet with God and fight against him, God will always win and we’ll know about it just like Jacob did. But God likes it when we keep on going and are determined and passionate. The Bible says that Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord and that after this encounter, Jacob was limping because he had his hip pushed out of place in this fight with the angel of the Lord.
So here’s the thing: when we encounter God, like Jacob we should walk differently. God doesn’t go around trying to damage your body (!) although God will sometimes allow things to happen to get our attention. But when we are touched by God, the result will be that we walk differently than before. So does this describe you? Ask God to touch you today. He has plans for your good, not for evil, to give you hope and a future.
Leaning – Colossians 1.4 / 1 Timothy 1.19 (Amplified)
“…For we have heard of your faith in Christ Jesus [the leaning of your entire human personality on Him in absolute trust and confidence in His power, wisdom, and goodness]…… keeping your faith [leaning completely on God with absolute trust and confidence in His guidance] and having a good conscience.”
I’ve got a dog who we’ve nicknamed ‘Mr Lean’. He’s a very happy little dog and one of his favourite pastimes is leaning! When anyone comes in and fusses him, he loves to move close to their leg and nuzzle his head into their leg. He loves to lean into you and at times he’d fall over if you moved your leg out of the way because he leans into you so much!
Our faith in Jesus should be like this. The Bible tells us about how the people of Colossae had a great faith in Jesus. To many people the words ‘great faith’ is something we associate with ‘big name speakers’ or famous missionaries from history. But the writer of Colossians (called Paul) said that faith meant that the people leaned on Jesus with absolute confidence in his power, wisdom and goodness. Does this describe the kind of faith that you have – that any of us have? Do we have absolute confidence in God’s power? Absolute confidence in his wisdom? Absolute confidence in his goodness? It can be hard when the world around us seems to reject God and when bad things happen. But faith in Jesus is very easy. There’s a story about Jesus that he called some children to him and they came to him. Some of them probably sat on his knee or hugged him. They were unafraid, they were happy to come to Jesus and they trusted him. That’s what we should be like.
Our faith should be like my dog – we should lean our whole personality, confidence on Jesus. In Romans it talks about Abraham and says that “Abraham believed God.” Great faith is just believing God, trusting God and leaning on him.
John 11.43-44 – Take off the grave clothes
When he had said this, Jesus called in a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out!” The dead man came out, his hands and feet wrapped with strips of linen, and a cloth around his face. Jesus said to them, “Take off the grave clothes and let him go.”
This is the true account of how Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. There are lots of stories about people rising from the dead through the Bible. Did you know that this still happens today? I know of several instances where people were raised from the dead, all of which have been testified to by witnesses and medical doctors. One of them even happened in England. But one thing is sure about Lazarus here in the Bible – and others – things change! One minute they are not alive and the next minute they are alive. That’s a pretty big change!
But let’s think about this in our lives. We all have changes – we may move from one school to another or one town to another. We may get a job, or go to University. We may get married. We’ll leave home and live somewhere else. All of these are changes. In the Bible, when Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead, the next thing that Jesus said was “take off the grave clothes and let him go.” Now hopefully he had some other clothes on standby! But Lazarus had to take off one set of clothes in order to get into another set of clean clothes. This is kind of what happens when we say yes to Jesus – we give him our dirty clothes and he gives us a fresh, clean set of clothes. Jesus keeps on doing this as we stay connected to him and live Godly lives with him – he keeps on taking our rubbish and giving us his good. But we have to let go of the old clothes and step in to the new clothes.
Other times Jesus calls us to leave some things behind us (bad behaviour, doing wrong, letting go of anger etc). When he does this, he knows it’s what’s going to be good for us and he always gives us something good and fresh in return. So today let go of the old ‘grave clothes’ and let Jesus kit you out with some new clothes!
Three days – Matthew 12.40
Jesus said this in Matthew 12.40, “For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” In Matthew 27.63, the Pharisees threw abuse at Jesus, mocking him about how he said he would rise in 3 days.
This quiet-time was written on the Saturday in between Good Friday and Easter Sunday. It’s the day in the middle of Jesus dying on the Cross and then rising again. Jesus had said to his disciples (and others like the pharisees had heard this too) that he was going to rise from the dead after 3 days. But in between Jesus dying and rising, there was a time when nothing seemed to be happening – an in-between time. In another place in the Bible, we learn there is such a thing as seedtime and harvest (or seed – time – harvest). During this in-between time, Jesus appeared to be in the grave and nothing seemed to be happening.
Often as a Christian, you’ll have these times where it seems nothing is happening or that God has stepped back a bit. God does this for lots of reasons – so we trust him more, so we live by faith and not by feelings, sometimes it’s to draw us forward into a new adventure, or to call us to go deeper with him. Sometimes it’s because God trusts us to make our own decisions so is giving us that freedom. Other times it’s because he is working in ways we can’t understand or see. If you’re in an ‘in-between’ time then know that Jesus wasn’t lying in the grave, he was at work. It may have seemed like things were dark, quiet or empty but Jesus was about to rise and that would be a game-changer. So stay strong in God and wait – Jesus is on the move!
Elkanah – man of God – 1 Samuel 1.3-5
“Year after year (Elkanah) went up from his town to worship and sacrifice to the Lord Almighty at Shiloh, where Hophni and Phinehas, the two sons of Eli, were priests of the Lord. Whenever the day came for Elkanah to sacrifice, he would give portions of the meat to his wife Peninnah and to all her sons and daughters. But to Hannah he gave a double portion because he loved her…”
Elkanah was a Godly man. Let’s be clear from the start that he had two wives (a bad idea and definitely not God’s best for anyone!) But back in those days there was no IVF and no medical treatment so the only way to have children if one wife couldn’t have children (his wife Hannah couldn’t have children) – was to marry someone who could (he married Peninnah too). OK so that wasn’t great. But Elkanah really was a Godly man and we can learn lots from him whether we’re male or female.
First of all, Elkanah offered worship and sacrifice to the Lord. He could have turned his back on God because Hannah couldn’t have children but he didn’t. A survey found that a large percentage of atheists had known God or known about God but faced a great disappointment that had turned their hearts against God. Just a lesson for us not to turn on God if things seem to go wrong. Second, he looked after his family (including Peninnah & kids) and gave Hannah double because she couldn’t have children. Third, in those days the fact that your wife (in Elkanah’s case, Hannah) couldn’t have children was a cause of great social embarrassment so Elkanah was Godly in that he kept Hannah as his wife. Fourth, when God answered Hannah’s prayers, she gave birth to Samuel. Elkanah played his part in the birth of Samuel (!) and he supported his wife when she told him that Samuel was to be dedicated to the Lord. So he loved God and worshipped God; he looked after his family; he stayed together with his wife for life; he also supported his wife, even when he didn’t understand everything. In these four ways we can all be like Elkanah – faithful, loving God, loving our family and doing what is right!
What do I do with my life?! Hebrews 11.8
“By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.”
Are you once of those people who wonders what you’re supposed to do with your life? Do you think about what God is calling you to do? I think we all wonder what our purpose in life is! So let’s take a look at Abraham…
Abraham was the main man that God used with his wife to be the founding father of the nation of Israel. He’s also one of the heroes in the Bible because of his great faith in God. Because Abraham obeyed God, his influence is still alive today with the Jewish people, the nation of Israel and the church worldwide! No wonder God told Abraham that his descendants would be like all the stars in the sky or the grains of sand on the beach!! But Abraham had to start somewhere…
In Hebrews 11.8 we read that ‘Abraham… obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going.’ Have you ever met people who seem to know what they want to do in life? It’s all planned out – where they will go to University, what job they want to do etc. Whereas you might be a bit like most people and not be quite sure what to do. Abraham is your encouragement – the Bible tells us that he didn’t know where he was going, he just obeyed God. So what does this mean for us in practice? Well, it means obeying what God says in the Bible as best with can, with God’s help. It means making good choices in life. It means putting one foot in front of the other and walking. It means taking the right opportunities (usually the things you’re good at / things that help others and don’t drag you down). It means keeping on going when things are hard. It means showing a good attitude, saying yes to God and always asking for God’s help in all you do. It means stepping through doors that open in front of you. This is what Abraham did. He knew that God was with him and had spoken to him but he didn’t have a great master plan for life. Instead he obeyed God and walked with God step by step. When we look back at his life now we say it’s amazing.
If you do the same as Abraham, you will also look back at your life and see how amazing it’s been – honestly, it’s true!
Genesis 11.1 and 6-7
“Now the whole earth had one language and one speech… And they said, “Come, let us build ourselves a city, and a tower whose top is in the heavens; let us make a name for ourselves, lest we be scattered abroad over the face of the whole earth.” … And the Lord said, “Indeed the people are one and they all have one language, and this is what they begin to do; now nothing that they propose to do will be withheld from them. Come, let Us go down and there confuse their language, that they may not understand one another’s speech.”
Unity is when people come together and agree on something. Back in the Old Testament, the people of the earth came together and started to build a tower called The Tower of Babel. This tower was about them putting their will and their way high above every other thing, including God (people are still trying today!) If you go to English cities and towns, you’ll see churches with tall towers called ‘spires’. One of the reasons for these is to glorify God and to show that the church was ‘above’ other places and buildings. You will often see the same with Mosques.
The people in Genesis 11 were doing something so big that God himself came down from heaven to look at what was happening and said that if they built this, then basically nothing they wanted to do would be impossible for them. God had to do something and he did.
But the main thing is to consider that when people come together with one heart and one purpose, they can achieve big things (even bad things). And that is especially true for us as Christians because Jesus told us that when we come together in agreement and prayer, God will do what we ask. Agreement plus God equals something that is amazing. Jesus said that with God all things are possible. But he also chooses to use us. So the lesson is that as a church, as people of God, we need to be in unity with other Christians – all speaking ‘one language and one speech’. This doesn’t mean we’re all the same but that our agreement comes because of our faith in Jesus. When we work together, pray together, act together as the church, powerful things happen, barriers come down, people see our agreement and God’s power is released!
Double – Psalm 126.4-6
“Restore our fortunes, Lord, as streams renew the desert. Those who plant in tears will harvest with shouts of joy. They weep as they go to plant their seed, but they sing as they return with the harvest.”
Psalm 126 is an amazing picture of just how good God is. The person writing the Psalm prays to God and asks God to restore their fortunes. When the terrorist attacks of 9/11 happened, Christian ministries reported that giving to them went down as people started watching TV about what was happening. We also see something similar happen in what’s called a ‘recession’ (when the economy of a country goes downhill). What happens is that businesses that were successful start to be not as successful. When this happened to one company, the TV reports said that a new manager was coming into the company to ‘restore their fortunes’ – to help make things get better again.
The Psalm writer was asking this same thing to God – the very best person to go to when you need things to change and get better!! So what’s the promise of the Psalm? The promise is for double. It talks about a person who goes out and plants some seed. When they go out, they have to take the seed with them (probably having to buy it too). They have to do the work of planting and they go out when they’re feeling down and upset. But God turns it around so much that they return with a harvest of what they have planted and they come back singing as they’re so happy. We see this elsewhere in the Bible where God turns bad to good; turns sorrow to joy and sadness into dancing! This is the kind of thing that God does in our life – he turns things round and makes them better. He gives us good things because he is good. Why not ask him today to take what you have and what you are – and bring a harvest and give you a song to sing!
God’s abundance – 2 Kings 4.3-7
Elisha said, ‘Go round and ask all your neighbours for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few. Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.’ She left him and shut the door behind her and her sons. They brought the jars to her and she kept pouring. When all the jars were full, she said to her son, ‘Bring me another one.’ But he replied, ‘There is not a jar left.’ Then the oil stopped flowing. She went and told the man of God, and he said, ‘Go, sell the oil and pay your debts. You and your sons can live on what is left.’
God is amazing at taking the little that we have and making it into something bigger! There was a woman who had nothing and was about to lose everything through being in debt. That’s where Elisha stepped in and asked her what she had in her house. She had a little pot. So Elisha got her to ask round her neighbours for as many pots as they could spare. The neighbours may have given her some raised eyebrows but they gave her their pots. (Question – what kind of relationship do you have with your neighbours?!) By a miracle, God took what little oil was in this widow’s pot and used it to fill every pot that she got from her neighbours. With this she could pay off all her debts.
So what can we learn apart from that it’s good to get on with our neighbours! First up, the miracle happened by the widow giving up everything she had and putting into the hands of God (via Elisha). We should do the same. God then took what was small and made it big! God wants to do the same for us. The oil was poured out into the empty jars. God wants us to take what we have and pour it out for others – as we do, God will replace this ‘oil’. He will supply all our needs so we can help others. When all the pots were full, the oil stopped. God doesn’t want to do small things in and through your life – he wants to give you abundance and fill you up with good things!
Choosing good not evil – Matthew 2.7-12
Then Herod called the Magi secretly and found out from them the exact time the star had appeared. He sent them to Bethlehem and said, ‘Go and search carefully for the child. As soon as you find him, report to me, so that I too may go and worship him.’ After they had heard the king, they went on their way, and the star they had seen when it rose went ahead of them until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were overjoyed. On coming to the house, they saw the child with his mother Mary, and they bowed down and worshipped him. Then they opened their treasures and presented him with gifts of gold, frankincense and myrrh. And having been warned in a dream not to go back to Herod, they returned to their country by another route.
How are you going to use what God has given you? God has put gifts and skills inside all of us but we have a choice how we use those skills. We live in a world were people use their skills and knowledge to do wrong. When we see shows like The Apprentice we see how those wanting to get into power are often willing to push others aside or push them out the way to climb to the top.
One Everest expedition basically left two men behind because they slipped and it would mean they wouldn’t reach the summit of Everest. Two British mountaineers rescued them both at great cost and despite it meaning they themselves didn’t get to the summit. The only people that are remembered from this are the two British mountaineers who did the rescue.
When science really kicked off as a serious thing in the UK it was inspired by Christians (like Isaac Newton), by the Bible and by the faith in an awesome God. It’s not always the case today. So what kind of difference are you going to make? Don’t be like Herod who wanted knowledge so that he could do evil and keep power. Be like the Wise Magi who used their knowledge and skills humbly on a journey that led them humbly to Jesus, the King of the world and the only one who is worthy of worship.
Going to where God’s moving – 2 Kings 4.27, 30, 36-37
“When she reached the man of God at the mountain, she took hold of his feet… But the child’s mother said, ‘As surely as the Lord lives and as you live, I will not leave you.’ So he got up and followed her… When she came, he said, ‘Take your son.’ She came in, fell at his feet and bowed to the ground. Then she took her son and went out.”
What’s going on here? A lady and her husband built a house on the roof of their house for the prophet Elisha to stay at when he was passing through. It was a really kind thought. One day, when Elisha was at his mountain, the lady’s son died. Elisha had been the one to tell her that she would have a son. She put her dead son in his room, said nothing (not even to her husband) but left to go and find Elisha. Elisha’s servant went to speak to her and she explained she wanted to see Elisha. So spoke to him and explained her pain about the death of her son and she asked him to come with her. Elisha did and went to see the boy, prayed, acted and God raised the boy from the dead. An incredible story and it really shows the faith, determination and love of this amazing mother. And what a testimony!
Here’s something else we can learn. Sometimes we look around the place and we see that God seems to be doing some special things in some places. Throughout history, God has done some amazing things (Christians often call them things like ‘revivals’ or ‘awakenings’). Very often Christians go to those places to see what is happening, to see if it’s come from God and then to ‘catch’ what is happening and ask God to do the same in their life or in the life of their city or church. It doesn’t mean they copy everything exactly because God always works in different ways. But it’s good to be part of something where God is moving. This woman in our Bible verses did just that – she went to where ‘God was’ (Elisha the prophet) and she ‘brought it back’ (Elisha came with her). As a result she saw God doing an incredible miracle. And God still does this today. See where God is moving and be a part of it!
Young and Fearless – 1 Samuel 14.1, 12-13
One day Jonathan son of Saul said to his young armour-bearer, ‘Come, let’s go over to the Philistine outpost on the other side.’ But he did not tell his father… So Jonathan said to his armour-bearer, ‘Climb up after me; the Lord has given them into the hand of Israel.’ Jonathan climbed up, using his hands and feet, with his armour-bearer right behind him. The Philistines fell before Jonathan, and his armour-bearer followed and killed behind him. In that first attack Jonathan and his armour-bearer killed some twenty men in an area of about half an acre. Then panic struck the whole army – those in the camp and field, and those in the outposts and raiding parties – and the ground shook. It was a panic sent by God.
Captain Eric ‘Winkle’ Brown is a living legend (in June 2014). He was a pilot and a test pilot (testing planes) in World War 2 and beyond. But he was not just any pilot. Apart from successfully plying some of the best planes ever invented, he made a world record 2407 aircraft carrier landings and made a likely world record flying 487 different planes! One time when no-one had landed a ‘jet plane’ on an aircraft carrier, he stepped up and did it first time. In his own words he basically said when you’re younger you just do things no-one thinks are possible.
Jonathan and his armour-bearer did what no-one else thought possible. They went out to the enemy outpost, climbed up and defeated loads of the enemy. Imagine you’re the young armour bearer and someone takes an interest in you and helps you do what others think is impossible. You’re busy serving others, being faithful and then the opportunity comes your way. Or maybe you’re a young person and God’s put something on your heart that seems impossible to others. OK so you won’t go killing Philistines, but it may be that God’s calling you to push back the enemy and make a difference for God. You know what – say yes, get the right people around you and go for it. Just like Jonathan and the armour-bearer.
The Unseen – Hebrews 11.3
“By faith we understand that the universe was formed at God’s command, so that what is seen was not made out of what was visible.”
The Bible tells us that in the beginning there was nothing and then God created the world. So if you don’t believe in God, this gives you a problem. The problem is this: how can something be created out of nothing?! If you want to create a drawing, you need paper, a pencil (or similar) and your hand (and mind). The paper and the drawing doesn’t simply appear out of nowhere! In order for something to be created, there needs to be both a creator (eg you as an artist) and there needs to be information or something ‘real’ put somewhere (eg on the paper).
This is the same for the origin of our world. People who don’t believe in God can’t answer the question of where the information came from that created the universe (some of them even say aliens created the world!) As Christians we know that it was God who created the information that created us! In Hebrews 11.3 we read that the universe that we see was made out of things we can’t see. This is the real truth – God ‘injected’ information into the darkness to create the world. (Interesting fact – science has discovered that DNA is amazingly complex and needs varied parts and codes to exist at the same time – so it is impossible that DNA could have evolved).
We don’t ‘see’ God with our real eyes but we know he exists. We normally don’t ‘see’ angels but they are all around. We don’t ‘see’ heaven or hell but they are very real. In fact the Bible tells us that what we don’t see is more real than what we do see (2 Corinthians 5.7)! This is a truth that science is beginning to prove through ‘quantum physics’. So don’t ever doubt that God isn’t real or that faith isn’t real. The truth is it’s more real than the world around you, what you wear and what you see. And what is spiritual will last forever whereas what is physical is only temporary. That’s why the Bible tells us in Galatians 6 to do things that are spiritual (like giving, loving, praying, helping people to know Jesus) because only these things will last forever!
Astonished – Luke 5.6-11
“When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break. So they signalled to their partners in the other boat to come and help them, and they came and filled both boats so full that they began to sink. When Simon Peter saw this, he fell at Jesus’ knees and said, ‘Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!’ For he and all his companions were astonished at the catch of fish they had taken and so were James and John, the sons of Zebedee, Simon’s partners. Then Jesus said to Simon, ‘Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.’ So they pulled their boats up on shore, left everything and followed him.”
There’s a song from Jared Anderson called ‘Amazed’ and the chorus starts out with the lyrics, “Lord, I’m amazed by you.” In the Bible, we find that when Simon Peter obeyed Jesus, what happened astonished him and his mates. Did you know that God will do things that will amaze and astonish you? That means they are incredible. God does things like that and sometimes we don’t even notice or thank him. It’s probably only when we get to heaven that we will see how God has worked in ways we didn’t see or didn’t understand and it will probably blow us away!
God does amazing things but he just do them for our selfish gain. There is always a purpose with what God does and it’s usually about our character or about us giving to others. In Luke 5, we see that Jesus was being generous to the disciples. He was also showing them that obeying him was the best way. It was also a lesson that Jesus is beyond the natural and does amazing things! But it was also a sign of the truth that when the disciples followed Jesus, they would see an abundance of people come into the kingdom of God, just in the same way that there was an abundance of fish in their nets. And God’s will is to do the same in and through you! So like the disciples, will you follow him?
Do prophets still exist? Ephesians 4.11-13
“So Christ himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”
There are some people in the world who say things like ‘there are no longer any prophets. They only existed in the Old Testament.’ But this isn’t true according to the Bible! In 1 Corinthians 14.1, Paul is really clear that we should love and seek prophecy saying “Follow the way of love and eagerly desire gifts of the Spirit, especially prophecy.” Later on he says, “Therefore, my brothers and sisters, be eager to prophesy…” Beyond this, Ephesians 4 tells us that we need prophets, teachers and evangelists, pastors and apostles to build up the church until we are all mature, reaching the fullness of Christ. So here’s a question. Is your church mature? Is your church completely Christ-like in every way? Are you? Of course we’re not and that’s why we need these spiritual gifts. Often people who don’t accept prophets and prophecy (or apostles) will accept evangelists and pastors and teachers. But Ephesians 4 shows us you can’t have one without all the others!
But there is a balance. Some people are really obsessed about prophecy and want to hear some kind of word from someone about everything! But the Bible has thousands of ‘words’. I know of Christians who live by ‘words’ they get given. Hebrews 1.1-2 says, “In the past God spoke to our ancestors through the prophets at many times and in various ways, but in these last days he has spoken to us by his Son…” So we need to go first to Jesus and the Word of God. But we should accept prophecy (and test it, not just accept any old rubbish!) 1 Thessalonians 5.19-21 says, “Do not quench the Spirit. Do not treat prophecies with contempt but test them all; hold on to what is good, reject every kind of evil.” Let’s learn to live like this and keep prophecy but in balance!
Life not death, Everlasting not temporary – Psalm 139.13-15, 19
“For you created my inmost being; you knit me together in my mother’s womb. I praise you because I am fearfully and wonderfully made; your works are wonderful, I know that full well. My frame was not hidden from you when I was made in the secret place, when I was woven together in the depths of the earth… If only you, God, would slay the wicked! Away from me, you who are bloodthirsty!”
Psalm 139 shows how God is deeply involved in creating us and forming us as individuals. It shows how God made human life to start at the moment of conception – not (as some people say) when a baby is born. This is important when thinking about abortion which is the taking of a human life. If human life starts at the moment of conception then it’s wrong to take a life inside the womb of a mother (with the odd exception medically of course). We learn that God creates us; we’re not the result simply of a human decision and some evolutionary process! Instead, God knits us together in the womb. The womb is a picture of protection, value, great detail and care. We have an amazing and unique pattern, like an incredible bit of weaving or knitting. When we learn that God sees us as wonderful it gives us value. To think the God of the universe created us and is involved in our creation and life it shows how much he cares for us and loves us. If we are just an accident floating around, it doesn’t give humans much value! God cares about life!
As the Psalm goes on it’s a bit like David (the writer of the Psalm) gets upset with the those who hate God and seem to hate human life. He talks about anger towards evil, wicked and ‘bloodthirsty’ men. Maybe in some way David saw forward into our day when things like abortion would see bloodthirsty men and women simply get rid of a baby in the womb because it doesn’t suit them. God is our creator and we have no right to take the human life that he has created. We don’t get angry and do wrong things but allow God to use you to make a difference to save lives and bring life.
Life not death, Everlasting not temporary – Psalm 139.23-24
“Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts. See if there is any offensive way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.”
Right at the end of Psalm 139 it’s a bit like David is saying sorry to God for getting angry and asks God to set him straight! Notice that when we get angry, sin and worry, this is not God’s way or will as the Bible tells us! David asks God to lead him in the ‘way everlasting’ and this should be our prayer too. We live in a ‘throw away society’ where things are seen as temporary and thrown away. But God doesn’t see us like that and he doesn’t lead us like that. Imagine if God called you to live for him one day and then got bored of you, or saw someone else who was ‘better’ or threw you away as you got older. No! God is nothing like that. He is faithful, will never leave us, always thinks about us, is always good and so we know we have everlasting value because he is everlasting.
While things are temporary, God is not. His whole nature is that he has always existed and always will (God who was and is and is to come). God’s way is everlasting and he wants to lead us in this way! Today, ask God to lead you in the everlasting way. What will be the result of this? The life you live, the things you do will have eternal value and significance. Don’t live for the temporary, live for the eternal. That means putting God first and doing those things that will last – loving people, praying for people, serving family, helping in your local community, praying for people, getting to know God through the Bible, standing up for justice against injustice, helping the poor, needy, orphaned, widows. It means using what you have been given by God to make a difference in the world for good and see God’s kingdom on earth. So choose the everlasting way today and ask God to show you what that looks like for you. But keep on loving as God loves!
Unveiled – Exodus 34.33-35
“When Moses finished speaking to them, he put a veil over his face. But whenever he entered the Lord’s presence to speak with him, he removed the veil until he came out. And when he came out and told the Israelites what he had been commanded, they saw that his face was radiant. Then Moses would put the veil back over his face until he went in to speak with the Lord.”
Have you ever been in a dark room – maybe watching a movie during the Summer time. Then you come out of the movie theatre and you’re hit by the bright light. Or perhaps you’ve been skiing in the sun when the sun hits the snow – you need goggles on to protect you from snow blindness. In Exodus 34, we find Moses wearing a veil over his face at times. Back in verse 30, we find that after Moses had spent 40 days and nights with God, his face was so radiant (shining) that the people were afraid to come near him. He was shining because he had been in God’s presence and the shining light was the light of God.
I heard the true testimony of a woman who was a prostitute but Jesus reached her in a vision. In the vision, Jesus was just full of light and love and the woman was so overwhelmed by the gentle power of God’s love that she fell before him. He didn’t condemn her but just loved her. If we go back to Moses, in 2 Corinthians 3 we find that Moses wearing the veil was almost prophetic. The truth is that only Jesus can ‘lift the veil’ – only Jesus can reveal his truth to people whose hearts are hardened. But when we know Jesus, the veil is taken away and we see Jesus with unveiled faces. We have the Holy Spirit on the inside of us and we see Jesus clearly so we should always be shining with God’s love. So here’s the challenge – are you shining today? Do people need to wear ‘sunglasses’ around you?!!
Don’t touch what’s dead – Haggai 2.13
Then Haggai said, ‘If a person defiled by contact with a dead body touches one of these things, does it become defiled?” “Yes”, the priests answered, “it becomes defiled.”
As we live our lives, we go through lots of different stages. For example we start school and then we leave school; we may go to college; we may go to University; we may start a job and then leave that job for another; we may be single and then get married etc. In our Christian life, there are also changes. For example we may move church or God may speak to us to do something different or open up a new door in missions or worship etc. Or maybe you became a Christian recently and there are some things that you used to do that you no longer do / no longer should do. When something changes in your life, you have to go with the new thing. So if you are single and then you get married, you can’t still live like you are single because things have changed!
When Haggai went to the priests, he was checking what was OK and what was no longer OK. He asked the priests about what happens when someone who touched a dead body touched some food. The priests answered that the food touched became ‘defiled’. In another version, it says the food would become ‘unclean’ which is another word for ‘defiled’. The food was no longer able to be eaten or used. The food had effectively become ‘dead’. We need to live our lives so that when we move forward with God, we don’t go back to doing what we did before, because God has declared our previous ways ‘dead’. So if we weren’t a Christian and went drinking and fighting, when we are changed by God these things should not happen any more. They need to ‘die’ and go from our lives. But in smaller ways like God calls you to forgive someone you’ve found it hard to forgive, you have to do that. Then you don’t go back to living with unforgiveness. Is there anything in your life that is ‘unclean’ and that you need to ‘die’ to? Ask God, make a change and keep growing in Jesus – he is the way, the truth and the life. So if we choose life (Jesus) we turn our backs on death (evil and wrong ways of living, thinking).
What music do you hear? Daniel 3.13-15
Furious with rage, Nebuchadnezzar summoned Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego. So these men were brought before the king, and Nebuchadnezzar said to them, ‘Is it true, Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego, that you do not serve my gods or worship the image of gold I have set up? Now when you hear the sound of the horn, flute, zither, lyre, harp, pipe and all kinds of music, if you are ready to fall down and worship the image I made, very good. But if you do not worship it, you will be thrown immediately into a blazing furnace.
OK so here’s a challenge. Let’s set the scene first: the people of Israel had deliberately sinned in terrible ways and so God allowed the King of Babylon to defeat them. All the best things and the best men were then captured and taken to Babylon. Neuchadnezzar was the King and demanded that everyone should bow down to a huge statue of him when some music was played. Basically he had a song written, a kind of theme song to himself. But three of the Israeli men who’d been captured feared God and refused to bow down to an idol. (What happened was they refused to bow down, were thrown into the fire, God rescued them from the fire and a move of God started in Babylon).
It’s quite funny that people make fun of Christians for believing in God. If you think about it, everyone has a god. One of people’s gods in music or a certain band, DJ or singer. They all go and sing the song, know the music, know about the artist(s), buy their albums, watch their Youtube videos etc. In a very real way that people don’t seem to realise, they’re just like the people of Babylon. When the music of Babylon played all the people worshipped the King. When the music plays in clubs, at gigs, many people ‘bow down’ to the artist. They may not realise it but sometimes they are really bowing down to an idol in disguise. The artist has become their idol, whether they understand it or not! So of course let’s listen to the kinds of music we love but let’s only ever bow down to God. Remember it’s not the music that’s the issue, it’s where we ‘worship’. Today, enjoy life but worship only God – you never know, your obedience and love for God and people may well help move people closer to God 🙂
Break the ceiling – Luke 5.18-20
“Some men came carrying a paralyzed man on a mat and tried to take him into the house to lay him before Jesus. When they could not find a way to do this because of the crowd, they went up on the roof and lowered him on his mat through the tiles into the middle of the crowd, right in front of Jesus. When Jesus saw their faith, he said, “Friend, your sins are forgiven.”
When I went to the first church I went to, God used me to do loads of things in the youth work, with the adults and with music. But there came a time where I felt there was a ‘ceiling’ above my head. It was like I’d done everything God had called me to and now I needed a bigger challenge and a ‘higher ceiling’.
In order for these men to get their friend to Jesus, they had to break open the roof. OK, so they had to break it from the top and lower their friend to Jesus to see him healed. But there are times where you have to do something different and ‘break open the roof’. OK so this isn’t great practice if you want a home without a leaky roof!! But there are times you have to push through and step out in faith – as long as what you’re doing is what God says and in line with the Bible!
I used to have a constant dream about going up a mountain and as I got to the summit it got steeper into an overhang so I never made it. One day in my dream I fought through and went beyond what I thought were my limits and reached the summit. I never had that dream again, like it was symbolic. Sometimes you have to push through to reach your summit, your peak, your mountain top.
God’s leading ‘on the way’ – Acts 16.7-9
When (Paul and his companions) came to the border of Mysia, they tried to enter Bithynia, but the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to. So they passed by Mysia and went down to Troas. During the night Paul had a vision of a man of Macedonia standing and begging him, ‘Come over to Macedonia and help us.’
Do you ever hear these stories about how God guides people? You may get a guest speaker come to your church or youth group and say something like, “I was walking in the field one day when a voice came from heaven saying ‘go and work in the village of Katoka in the Democratic Republic of Congo’. As I looked up into the clouds, they parted giving me an exact map of my route. I looked on the floor and there was an airplane ticket for Congo leaving in 3 weeks. As I walked home, the grass parted in front of me with a light leading my path all the way back to my house.” OK so this is made up but you may have met people who seem to have these amazing encounters with God. And God can easily lead you in this kind of way. But the most common way is either through the Bible specifically, or through you reading your Bible, praying and then making a decision to step out in faith. God will soon show you through circumstances, lack of peace, provision etc whether what you’ve done is the right way. If not, try something else. But just step out and do something.
In the Bible passage, Paul and his friends tried to go to ‘Bithynia’ but for some reason it didn’t work out. So instead of going home saying ‘God wasn’t with us, we’re off’ they kept on going. They had been set apart to go (Acts 15) so what they did is went down to Troas, probably the next obvious town on their route near where they were going to go. It was while they went down to Troas that Paul got a vision of where to go – Macedonia. Very often it’s on the journey that we get God’s guidance. Sometimes we even have to set out and get turned back; or even go to a place that is ‘on the way’ like Troas, even if it’s not yet the perfect place. If God has told you something and you know it’s from God, be encouraged, keep going and God will lead you on the way.
Open your house – Luke 10.38
“As Jesus and his disciples were on their way, he came to a village where a woman named Martha opened her home to him.”
This is a famous story of Mary and Martha, two sisters (with brother Lazarus). In this encounter, Jesus came round to visit and while Martha worked on things that needed to be done, Mary sat at the feet of Jesus. Jesus encouraged the two sisters that Mary was doing the best thing. But I think that Martha often gets a bad press, poor lass! The story actually begins with Martha opening her home to Jesus. She was the one who took the initiative and invited Jesus in and showed hospitality. She could have let Jesus walk by, but it was Martha who invited Jesus in.
Did you know that Jesus is very real today and he’s walking past the door of your life? Of course Jesus is now in heaven with God but spiritually, Jesus is waiting for you to invite you into your ‘home’ – into your life. He won’t barge in, break down the door. Instead he’s waiting for you to invite him!
Or maybe if you’re a Christian, did you know that your ‘home’ (your body) is actually the temple of the Holy Spirit. Sounds a bit posh, but it means that God lives in you. God purchased you at a great price (it cost the life blood of Jesus) so we should honour God in our bodies. This means inviting Jesus ‘in’ and then to live and be in control of every area of our life (see 1 Corinthians 6.19-20). If you’ve done this, a bit like Martha, let’s make sure that we keep first things first. We can get distracted in our Christian life but let’s work hard not to do this – but to invite Jesus in, make him welcome and then spend time with him. Your ‘house’ won’t really get tidied up and be in order unless Jesus is first. But it all starts with inviting Jesus in, just like Martha did. He is the door to life in this life and eternity.
The Father – John 14.6
Jesus answered, ‘I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.
Have you ever thought about what your final destination is? OK, so yes if we know God it’s heaven. But actually our final destination is God the Father. Jesus came to give us truth, life and the way… The way to the Father. It is quite amazing how many people are damaged because of a broken relationship with their dad. Sometimes people get a bit obsessed with this kind of thing, but it is a real issue for people. Someone at my church works in prison (well, quite a few do!) She said they did a survey among the prisoners about who they would most like to meet. The results shocked her quite a lot because 90% of the prisoners said they would most like to meet their dad. What a revealing statistic and it showed the price that is paid for guys not having their father around, or not even knowing him. OK, it doesn’t always turn out that way and many people have great lives despite know knowing their father or mother.
But the Bible lets us know that God is the perfect father. He will never leave us or forget about us (Hebrews 13.5); he will be close to you if your mother or father aren’t there (Psalm 27.10); he will not abandon us like orphans but will come to us (John 14.18). In Genesis 28 we find Jacob off to find himself a wife. His father, Isaac tells him not to marry a Canaanite woman but find a wife from his own people (don’t date or marry people who don’t know God!) So off he trots. Isaac’s brother, Esau sees that having a Canaanite wife doesn’t please his father, he takes (another) wife from his own people. He wants to please his father. The great thing is that God is the perfect Father and he loves it when we want to please Him. We should want to please those we love and God’s love for us is furious, deep, eternal. What can we give him back? What can you give to the perfect Father and the Creator of the world?! Give him our hearts, our lives and our love. That is the way to the Father’s heart.
Jesus releases – Mark 5.18-20
“As Jesus was getting into the boat, the man who had been demon-possessed begged to go with him. Jesus did not let him, but said, ‘Go home to your own people and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how he has had mercy on you.’ So the man went away and began to tell in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him. And all the people were amazed.”
There was a man who was full of demons, full of evil forces that made him do crazy things and made him violent. No chains could hold him, day and night he cried out and cut himself with stones. What a terrible life and situation this guy was in. He was being tortured 24/7 (a small glimpse into the reality of what hell will be like) and couldn’t seem to escape. It also shows that cutting sometimes (not always!) has its roots in the work of the demonic. Back to Mark 5, this guy needed release – he needed a touch to set him free. He could break his physical chains off, but mostly the chains were in his mind and couldn’t be broken. But Jesus came to set the captives free and to break the chains off those imprisoned (see Isaiah 61) and sure enough, Jesus commanded the demons out of the man and he was set free!
We spend billions each year on all kinds of courses, counselling, mentoring, coaching, therapy and more. And often this is needed, but the very best solution, counsellor and helper is God through the life-changing power of Jesus in us. The demon-possessed man was free for probably the first time in years and he was so happy he just wanted to go with Jesus and the disciples. But Jesus encouraged him to go home to his own people and witness for Jesus, which he did. Often we look for really fancy ways and new methods of talking about Jesus and these are fine. But ultimately the life changing power of Jesus is power itself. One American evangelist who travels abroad said he never gets to give his talk as God just takes over through signs, wonders and healings. The message is this: Jesus sets people free and it’s your testimony of Jesus in you that has the power to change lives.
God hides for us not from us – Luke 24.28-32
As they approached the village to which they were going, Jesus continued on as if he were going further. But they urged him strongly, ‘Stay with us, for it is nearly evening; the day is almost over.’ So he went in to stay with them. When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they recognised him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’
The amazing thing about God is that he often hides for us and not from us. People have made this point before, but it’s shown really clearly in the story of the two disciples on the Road to Emmaus. It lets us know that to go deeper with God we often have to just go that little bit further and deeper. One friend I sometimes go out walking and mountaineering with is someone who often goes off the path and a bit further to find that ‘perfect’ view and spot. That place is often found.
We see the same thing spiritually. We can go as ‘deep’ with God as we want to go because there is no limit or depth to his love, Word or revelations. On the Road to Emmaus, the two disciples didn’t know they were walking with Jesus. He then pretended to be carrying on but accepted their invitation to stay with them. What if they hadn’t asked Jesus to stay? They would have missed out. It was like Jesus was willing them to ask and then responded. As a result, Jesus revealed himself to them, they were incredibly encouraged and walked back 7 miles to Jerusalem to tell the other disciples. Pursue God as he has so much in store for you. The Bible has so much you’ll never stop learning and growing. You’ll never get to the end of who God is either. So take that extra step, go that extra mile and invite Jesus to be with you in all you do.
God has gone ahead – Matthew 21.1-2
“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.”
Jesus rode into Jerusalem on a donkey in part to fulfil the prophecy made in Isaiah 62.11 and Zechariah 9.9 that the Saviour / King would come to his people, riding on a donkey. God always fulfils his Word and so this happened in Matthew 21.7-11.
But on top of this, the truth is that in all situations that we face, God has already gone ahead of us and has made a way. When Jesus spoke to the disciples, he told them to go to the village ‘ahead’ of them and find the donkey. Wherever you’re going, wherever you’re at on your journey of faith, God has gone before you and prepared the way. He knows what’s ahead and has already been there to make the way. There’s nothing you face that God isn’t in charge of and won’t help you with. He’s always right, he’s always on time and he’s never unprepared or surprised, even if we are!
Jesus was also very specific. The donkey would be tied and would be there with her colt by her. When we read the same account in Mark 11.1-10 and Luke 19.29-38, we find that no-one had ever ridden the colt. God knows all things about you and about every situation you’re going through. He knows the specifics and the details exactly. Don’t ever think that God doesn’t know or doesn’t care. Jesus cares about the things you care about and he knows what’s in your heart. So just trust him today. When Jesus tells you to ‘go on ahead’, trust that he knows, he sees and he has already made a way!
Praying what God has done for us – Joshua 5.13-14
Now when Joshua was near Jericho, he looked up and saw a man standing in front of him with a drawn sword in his hand. Joshua went up to him and asked, “Are you for us or for our enemies?” “Neither,” he replied, “but as commander of the army of the Lord I have now come.” Then Joshua fell facedown to the ground in reverence, and asked him, “What message does my Lord have for his servant?”
In Joshua 5, the people of Israel came to the city of Jericho. They are on their way to walking in the fullness of God’s promises for them. On the edge of the city, Joshua looks up and saw a man standing there with a sword drawn. First lesson: there was a study that said that in the West, people are getting injuries in their bodies because they are looking down (for example looking at a computer keyboard). The truth is that we need to be looking up – up to God. He is our answer, our solution, our help. We don’t look down! Because Joshua was looking up, he saw the man. If we don’t look up, we may not see what we need to see!!
But here is the main point from this quiet time. It seems a bit strange that when Joshua asked the man (who was probably Jesus) whether he was for ‘us’ or for ‘our enemies’. The reply given was ‘neither’! This seems a bit strange. Wasn’t God on the side of Israel? Hadn’t God said that he would fight with the people who he had called by name?! Here’s an important truth that we need to get hold of especially in our self-centred Western way of thinking… Yes, God is for us. If God is for us, who can be against us (Romans 8.31). But God’s main purpose on earth is his Kingdom. When (Jesus) spoke to Joshua, he wasn’t saying he wasn’t on the side of Israel (as he went on to tell Israel how to defeat Jericho). However, Jesus was saying he had first and foremost come to fulfil God’s purposes. Israel were used to fulfil what God wanted to do. Israel were (and still are) God’s people, along with the church. We are invited to be part of God’s work by his grace. But God isn’t ‘for’ us in a selfish ‘get what I want’ way. He is building his Kingdom. As people say, history is about ‘His story’. It’s awesome that God uses us, answers our prayers and is for us in this process. But our prayers being answered aren’t the end – God’s purposes are the end!
New thing – Isaiah 43.18-19
Do not remember the former things; neither consider the things of old. Behold, I am doing a new thing! Now it springs forth; do you not perceive and know it and will you not give heed to it? I will even make a way in the wilderness and rivers in the desert.
As we get older as Christians, we sometimes find that we look back to ‘the old days’ or gaze back into the past looking at what was, or at least how we think it was! This is good sometimes and helps us stay rooted or we can look back and see how God brought us through something or a situation. This then encourages us when we are going through something else and helps us trust God more. But sometimes we think that things were better in the past (maybe they were, maybe they weren’t). Or we live on a faith that we once had. But God is the God of today. His mercies, goodness, kindness are fresh every morning (see Lamentations 3.22-23).
Isaiah 43 can speak to us in many ways. In its context, God was speaking to Israel and letting them know who he was, what he had done for them and what he would do. In verses 10 and 11 he said to Israel, “Before Me there was no God formed, neither shall there be after Me. I, even I, am the Lord, and besides Me there is no Saviour.” But beyond this I think there are 3 lessons we can learn:
First, God tells us not to remember the former things. There are times and seasons in life. It’s no use always looking back to a time before because God is always doing something new (building on the past). Plus we may want to forget our bad past (if you’re a Christian, God has!) Second, we shouldn’t look back to the things of old. It doesn’t mean we throw things out that we think are ‘old’. Instead, we shouldn’t stay stuck in past (human) ways of seeing and doing things. Thirdly, we need to look to see what God is saying and doing now. God is the same, but always does new things. Let’s watch him, follow him and obey him. He will make a way for you as you follow him and are true to His Word.
Gideon, torches and broken vessels – Judges 7.19-21
No apologies for giving credit to Matt Sorger Ministries after I heard him say this on GOD TV. Always good to share a good thing and give credit too!
Gideon and the hundred men with him reached the edge of the camp at the beginning of the middle watch, just after they had changed the guard. They blew their trumpets and broke the jars that were in their hands. The three companies blew the trumpets and smashed the jars. Grasping the torches in their left hands and holding in their right hands the trumpets they were to blow, they shouted, “A sword for the Lord and for Gideon!” While each man held his position around the camp, all the Midianites ran, crying out as they fled.
Gideon and just 300 men had been given God’s strength and anointing to fight a massive army – the Midianites, the Amalekites and other Eastern peoples. God’s strategy this time to show his glory and power to save was to use a man like any of us who felt weak and inadequate with a small group of men hopelessly outnumbered. The only way Israel would win would be through God!
The way was to light torches hidden in jars and then at a certain point to break the jars, let the light shine, to blow trumpets in worship and declare praise and warrior shouts for and about God. Not a strategy you find in any books like ‘how to win wars and defeat people’… Interesting strategy – to let the fire shine, the light to shine, to worship and praise. But God also used broken vessels (hiding the torches but reflecting us…)
In 2 Corinthians 4.6-8 it says this, “For God, who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” made his light shine in our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of God’s glory displayed in the face of Christ. But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. 8 We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair.”
The impossible does happen – Numbers 11.21-23
The people of Israel were frustrated and started whining. You have to feel sorry for Moses. He had to put up with their moaning and then stand before God on their behalf as God understandably got angry with the people. This time the people started complaining about the lack of meat. Moses got frustrated before God and in his clearly tired and stressed state, asked God what he was supposed to do. Sometimes we find ourselves in seemingly impossible situations and don’t know what to do either. But we need to do what Moses did. Even if we’re tired and stressed, or right on the edge, we need to take things to God and ask him for his solution. Don’t worry – he’s got a solution to every problem you’ve got, ever had and ever will have! In this instance, God said he would give the people meat to eat for a month – to teach them a lesson, it would be all they would get. Let’s read the Bible…
But Moses said, “Here I am among six hundred thousand men on foot, and you say, ‘I will give them meat to eat for a whole month!’ Would they have enough if flocks and herds were slaughtered for them? Would they have enough if all the fish in the sea were caught for them?” The LORD answered Moses, “Is the LORD’s arm too short? You will now see whether or not what I say will come true for you.”
God’s solution to do what he said he would do is found in verse 31: Now a wind went out from the LORD and drove quail in from the sea. It brought them down all around the camp to about three feet above the ground, as far as a day’s walk in any direction. God told Moses that no matter what he (God) said he would do, he would do it. God reminded Moses that his arm wasn’t too short – basically this meant God can do anything he wants. And God did as he’d promised. God will always come through for you, even in seemingly impossible situations. He’ll do it differently and it’s up to God how and when he does things. But when God speaks and when you bring things to God, he will move for you and others too! God is the master multi-tasker and he always does more for more people than we can imagine.
One day at a time – Exodus 16.4-5
Sometimes as Christians we want to know the whole picture about our life or events in our life. We ask God, ‘what’s your plan for my life’ and other big questions. It’s right to ask God these questions because God does have a plan for your life which he reveals as you seek him (Jeremiah 29.11-12). But very often, while God may give you some ideas (usually through what you’re good at and enjoy doing), he leads us step by step. Very often if God gave us the whole picture about our lives, we couldn’t understand or even cope with it! Then there are times where we just have to live one day at a time. Like when my brother was killed, it was hard so we just had to get through each day. Or perhaps you’re really busy and just survive each day! The good thing is that God tells us his mercies and kindness are new every morning (Lamentations 3.22-23).
In Exodus 16, the people of Israel were in the desert and needed food (they were complaining again, just as we still do today – be grateful instead of a complainer!) So God promised to send them manna which was a kind of bread. However, he told the people that when he sent the manna from heaven, they should only gather enough for each day. Of course, some people disobeyed God and took more. But whatever they didn’t use in the day, always went off and was full of maggots. The lesson for us is that we need to obey God – it keeps away the maggots (the devil and his evil which always destroys, is ugly and stinks!) But God led the people day by day and they had to put their trust in him to provide for them day by day. God loves faith and sometimes when he wants to stretch us, he will do things like this – leading us day by day. Our job is to relax, believe God cares for us, know he provides for us. And then watch for his amazing provision. He may not send you manna, but he will always look after you! God is loving and he’s creative, so be prepared for some fun and surprises along the way 🙂
Faith pleases God – Hebrews 11.6
“And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him.”
A life of faith is a life that pleases God. Have you ever thought about the fact that your life of faith actually pleases God?! Many of us live without taking any risks and without stepping outside of our comfort zones. That’s cool to do that, but it means that we will never get to see the awesome-ness and width, depth, height of who God really is. If you’re always in control of everything, you won’t be able to see how God does things. This doesn’t mean we are deliberately reckless, but it does mean we do things that show we believe that God is who he says he is. This is a process, a step by step thing. But when we do, God loves it.
I recently stepped right out of my comfort zones to travel, drive and meet people across the other side of the world. But time after time I found that God had gone before us, covered us and was more than faithful. He used us and showed us things beyond anything we could imagine. But in order to see this greatness of God, I had to exercise my faith. I had to step out of the boat, say yes to God and then follow through. But it was worth it and showed me more of God, more of how God is changing me and showed me his great life adventure of faith. So this week and from now on, when God calls, say yes!
Step of faith – James 2.17
Sometimes, God calls us to take a step of faith. It may be that he asks you to do something different, or the same thing in a new way. He may even get you doing something that seems crazy if you thought about it too much! Just make sure that what you do is definitely something that God has called you to do! Ask God to show you and confirm what he says to you unless you’re really sure. And even if things don’t work out, don’t worry because God loves it when we want to follow him!
James 2.17 says, ‘In the same way, faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.’ Hebrews 11.6 says that ‘without faith it is impossible to please God…’ So we can see that faith is an active thing and that it really pleases God. For me recently, just doing something as simple as driving a long way to go to a conference was a small step of faith that God called me to do. It’s quite a small thing, but it made a huge impact in my life.
You see, if we say we have faith but don’t show we have faith, then the Bible says that our faith is dead. Dead is a dramatic word to use, but that’s how God describes it. If we think about this, it makes sense. We may think we’re an awesome football player, but if we never play (and we can) then it shows that we’re probably not that awesome! It’s when we play and play well that it shows we’re awesome! Our faith in God always plays itself out through action. It could be reading the Bible, prayer, looking out for the poor or a friend, it may be going on a mission trip. All these things demonstrate our faith is alive. The challenge today is – what is God asking you to do next as a step of faith? Ask God today and expect his answer!
God speaks in widescreen – Acts 16.9
In Acts 16.6-10, we have a very interesting picture of God’s guidance. Paul and his fellow apostle mates were travelling around Phrygia and Galatia (modern day Turkey). They had their plans. They tried to visit Mysia and Bithynia (NW Turkey) but we find out that ‘the Spirit of Jesus would not allow them to.’ We don’t really know how the Holy Spirit led Paul and his friends, but he did. It may have been a sense of unease, maybe it was a word, a vision or a picture. Maybe they were stopped physically. But unlike Jonah, they obeyed God and didn’t go to Mysia and Bithynia. This is important to note – we must obey God and he often won’t lead us to the next step before we do!
So instead of going North, Paul and his buddies went down to a place called Troas which was to the West of where they were. They can’t have been sure of where they were headed, but they set their feet into motion and were allowed by the Holy Spirit to go to Troas. It was when they got to Troas that God spoke to them again – sometimes we have to be ‘in motion’ (spiritually or physically) before God gives us the next stage of the journey.
What did God say? Well, he spoke to Paul in a dream. Some people have a very religious attitude to how God speaks, but we must be open to how God wants to speak to us and use us. God speaks in different ways to different people. Right across the Islamic world today, Jesus is appearing to people in dreams, visions and personally (the church in Iran has grown by 7 million in 10 years!) So be open to how God wants to speak to you. For Paul, in Acts 16.9, we learn that he saw a man begging him saying, ‘Come to Macedonia’. So having seen the vision, they took it as a sign God was leading them to go to Macedonia and they got ready ‘at once’. When God speaks, obey him straight away. Wait on his timing, but get ready.
By the way, Macedonia is also to the West. If Paul and his mates hadn’t been so obedient and just kept in motion, they would have had to walk further and it would have taken longer to get to Macedonia. So let’s be clear here – if you’re seeking God, be obedient to what he says and keep in motion. And remember this – God speaks clearly. God speaks in widescreen. In 16:9 to be precise 🙂
The religious leaders – John 11.53
When Jesus was on earth, he had all kinds of problems with the religious leaders – the Pharisees and Sadducees (their names are as bad and boring as they were). They were the religious ones, always wanting things to be their way. They had the power in the Jewish community and would do anything to retain it, especially from Jesus who had the cheek to believe he was God’s Son! They were selfish and often acted like little babies or bullies. In John 11.48 they let their true evil hearts be known, “If we let him go on like this, everyone will believe in him, and then the Romans will come and take away both our temple and our nation.” They didn’t care or believe in his message, they were only interested in themselves and stopping what Jesus did. Jesus had many disagreements with them and they were the only ones he really spoke out against – for example see Matthew 23.
There are some other amazing places in the Gospels where Jesus debates with them and silences them by his wisdom. Jesus only went about doing good, but because of what he did, who he said he was and the threat the Jewish leaders felt, they plotted to kill him. The truth is that right from birth, satan tried to kill Jesus and kept on trying because he wanted to silence the message of truth that Jesus brings. Today, they are many religious leaders around the world who are again trying to silence the message of Jesus. These people include Muslims (most persecution of Christians is in Muslim countries), but also Hindus, Buddhists (who people often see as being peaceful), and then secular authorities in China, North Korea and in the Western World. There are ‘religious leaders’ (worshipping false gods of self, humanism, other religions and more) who want to silence the Christian voice and to stop Christians believing, or acting on their beliefs. Across the Western world alone, there are many cases of Christians being persecuted simply because of who they are, what they believe and who they believe in – Jesus. It is all satan’s way of trying to ‘kill off’ Jesus and his followers. He failed with Jesus and will fail today. On the Cross, the evil one thought he must have won when Jesus was killed. But Jesus rose again and lives today.
Despite persecution, in most countries the church is growing by people converted (not by births as Islam does things). Jesus has defeated all the powers, all these authorities and one day will come back as the King of kings and Lord of lords. Our response should be to try and live at peace with everyone, to submit to the authorities, unless that means backing down in our faith. In those times, like Jesus, we have to obey our Father in heaven, not deny Jesus, obey him not man – but do so in love for Jesus and people.
God is good – Ezekiel 11.19-20 (Amplified)
“And I will give them one heart [a new heart] and I will put a new spirit within them; and I will take the stony [unnaturally hardened] heart out of their flesh, and will give them a heart of flesh [sensitive and responsive to the touch of their God]. That they may walk in My statutes and keep My ordinances, and do them. And they shall be My people, and I will be their God.”
It’s hard to be a Christian today. Most people around don’t believe in God, haven’t heard of God, don’t want to hear about God, worship other gods. But it’s harder when dealing with people who hate God. Many times they say things about God that just aren’t true and then they deliberately or accidentally misinterpret the Bible to ‘prove’ their point. But despite what these people say, God is good – amazingly good!
From the very start of time, God who is awesome and all-powerful, decided to create humans like us! He didn’t need us, but he wanted to create and enjoy his creation. He created an incredible planet earth, animals, nature and the whole universe. Then he created man – Adam. Then he saw that Adam, was lonely so he created Eve (he cares that much!). Then God spent time with them, giving them free choice. He said, ‘guys go for it and enjoy creation and each other, just don’t eat from the one tree otherwise you’ll die.’ (Genesis 2.16). But man and woman did eat from the tree and sinned. God could have killed them for their sin but he didn’t. Instead he had no choice but to boot them out as they had sinned and God can’t look on sin because he’s perfect. God then covered Adam & Eve himself with skin (signifying that one day Jesus would cover our sins with his life). Death was introduced for the first time – but even this is kind. Imagine a world of evil where people couldn’t die! God didn’t kill them, but allowed them to die naturally over time. Then Cain killed Abel, but God didn’t kill Cain. He confronted Cain, there were consequences, but just like Adam and Eve, he was kind and showed mercy.
God said he’d spare Sodom & Gomorrah if he found just ten good people (Genesis 18). He allowed Moses to intercede with him for people to not kill them for terrible stuff they’d done. He made an everlasting promise to Israel. Then over time, the people of Israel rejected him. He gave them Kings as they asked. He sent prophets to continually warn them. When peoples like the Amalekites did terrible things like killing children, throwing them off cliffs alive and burning them, he waited patiently for them to repent. But they didn’t. Then God sent his only son, Jesus, who willingly came (as a baby) into the world which he’d created. He grew up, suffered and took on every pain, sin, punishment, disease, sickness, rejection that is possible and died so we could be made right with God. He left us his Word, the Bible to teach us and show us the way to truth. He promises us life on this earth and then eternal life with him in heaven doing things that are so amazing we can’t even imagine. So next time someone disrespects God, just tell them all this and how God’s changed you.
Net breaking faith – Luke 5/4-6
When Jesus had finished speaking, he said to Simon, “Put out into deep water, and let down the nets for a catch.” Simon answered, “Master, we’ve worked hard all night and haven’t caught anything. But because you say so, I will let down the nets.” When they had done so, they caught such a large number of fish that their nets began to break.
I’ve heard some people say that ‘the definition of madness is doing the same thing but expecting a different result.’ I can understand what they mean – don’t keep using red paint if you want your room to be blue for example! But in other ways and certainly with Jesus, this isn’t true. We see that in Luke 5. Simon (who’d be called Peter by Jesus) had been a fisherman all his life, it was what he knew. He went to work one day, doing the same old, but that day he met Jesus. Jesus totally turned his world around. Often we’re doing the same old stuff, but God suddenly meets with us. We don’t know why, when or how but he does. I became a Christian the day I’d been out (as usual) and got back to learn my brother had been killed in Africa. In Luke 5, Simon and his mates had been fishing all night but they hadn’t caught anything. The definition of madness would be to do the same thing and expect to catch some fish, right?! Well that’s kind of what Simon said to Jesus. But there was a difference – Jesus was involved. When Jesus is involved, things are totally different – just like my life was when I became a Christian. Simon had his say to Jesus, but the main thing was he then did exactly what Jesus said. He caught so many fish the nets began to break. Yes, this was Jesus giving a glimpse into what the disciples would see happen (as ‘fishers of men’ or evangelists). But also this is what happens when we obey Jesus and do what he says. Today, commit to do what Jesus says. Read your Bible for more!
Going deeper – 2 Kings 4.2-3
The wife of one of the prophets who’d died was in dire straits in debt. She had nothing, so she came to Elisha, the man of God.
Elisha replied to her, “How can I help you? Tell me, what do you have in your house?”
“Your servant has nothing there at all,” she said, “except a little oil.”
Elisha said, “Go around and ask all your neighbours for empty jars. Don’t ask for just a few.
Then go inside and shut the door behind you and your sons. Pour oil into all the jars, and as each is filled, put it to one side.
When Elijah saw the woman’s need, he asked the widow to go get some pots. He even got her to go round the neighbour’s and get pots from them – something that would have been a real challenge for her – who knows how people would react? But she was persistent in getting pots to the extent that her son joined in as well. First of all, she acted with incredible faith, immediately doing exactly what Elisha had told her to do. Even if she knew him and had seen him (or heard about him) do great miracles. But even so, she had real faith, which was evidenced by her actions. How often is our faith backed up by our actions? Hmmm, there’s a challenge for us all. But why did Elisha tell the woman to get so many pots? In 1 Kings 17, Elijah had done a similar miracle, but the woman only had one pot of oil that didn’t run out. Why so different?
Well, God works in different ways and we must always be looking to him to how we do something, as he has a unique strategy for every situation. Don’t just copy how someone else is doing something – even ‘famous’ people, churches or ministries! But one other reason was maybe Elisha wanted to see how much the widow wanted the oil, and how much of it she wanted. God is asking us the same question today – how much of God do you want and how deep do you want to go with God? In the Bible, the Holy Spirit is often represented by oil. How much of the Holy Spirit do you want? How deep and how far are you prepared to go in order to be filled with him? Notice that the woman sold the oil and lived off what she sold. In order for God to be really using us, we need to be ‘selling’ or giving away what God has put in us. She also had to help herself. While God does work on our behalf, we have to put effort in and do our part too! We also need to be using the gifts that the Holy Spirit has put in us to build God’s kingdom and even to provide for our family. There’s so much we can learn from the Bible as we dig into it. But the question is how deep do you want to go with God? He’ll fill you as much as you want him.
Suddenly – John 1.26-30
There are ‘suddenly’ moments in life. You know the kind of thing. I’ve had these kinds of times, both good and bad – when something happens unexpected. It could be that someone asks you, ‘can I come to church with you on Sunday?’ and after you pick yourself up off the floor, and before you reply ‘yep sure’, you’re thinking ‘where did that come from?!’ Other times it can be an answer to a prayer that you have prayed for a long time, but seen no visible evidence God is on the case. The truth is that God is always on the case, always working on our behalf but we don’t always see it. Then, when something happens that appears ‘sudden’ to us, it’s just the end of a lot of work for God. In John 1, John has been fulfilling the call on his life. He’s been baptising people in the Jordan. One day, the Jewish leaders ask him who he is. He’s sure of his calling, preparing the way for Jesus. He doesn’t point to himself, but to the one who will come after him. John has been totally dependable and humble. He has been faithful, committed and given himself to God’s work and call on his life. What about you? Are you like this?
The Bible says this, “I baptize with water,” John replied, “but among you stands one you do not know. He is the one who comes after me, the thongs of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie.” This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing. The next day John saw Jesus coming toward him and said, “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! This is the one I meant when I said, ‘A man who comes after me has surpassed me because he was before me.’
Incredibly, just the day after John makes a public confession about Jesus, Jesus comes on the scene. This is unexpected, as John doesn’t feel worthy. But this is one of those God-moments. As John was continuing to faithfully and loyally serve God, the person he had come to make the way for, suddenly appeared before him. More than that, John was to baptise him. Wow. God wants to break into your life too and to meet with you where you are serving and do masses more than you think he will. For John, he was able to baptise Jesus. For you, it will be different. But the truth remains – obey and serve God, thank God, be humble before God. When the time is right, God will lift you up and do incredible things in and through you!!
Looking after the orphans – John 14.18
We know from the Word of God that as Christians, we should be looking out for the orphans, widows and the needy. We read in James 1.27 that, “Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress and to keep oneself from being polluted by the world.” So we are commanded to look after the orphans. How many of us are actually doing this? What does it mean to look after the orphans? Do we have to travel abroad to do this? Maybe, but not necessarily. Looking after orphans may be supporting a project with money, but it may be caring for children and young people who don’t have a father or parents around. It may be loving those whose parents are unwilling or unable to care for them. You can do this at school, at church, in your local community and even at work – supporting parents / praying for them / giving money to provide days out for children in need locally. In John 14.18, Jesus promised this to the disciples: “I will not leave you as orphans [comfortless, desolate, bereaved, forlorn, helpless]; I will come [back] to you.” (Amplified Bible). We are called to follow the pattern of Jesus – he cares for the orphans and doesn’t want to leave them alone. So, how do we care for the orphans? By comforting, by being pro-active and finding things to help, to love those who are lonely or suffering, to look out for the needy, to defend the helpless and to be there for them, as God leads. Now that is religion that is pure and faultless. And it carried God’s heart and blessing.
Step by Step – 2 Corinthians 3.18
The Amplified Bible says this – And all of us, as with unveiled face, [because we] continued to behold [in the Word of God] as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are constantly being transfigured into His very own image in ever increasing splendor and from one degree of glory to another; [for this comes] from the Lord [Who is] the Spirit.
We often find that we want things to change in our lives, or in the situations / people around us. You may be praying for something at the moment – a relationship, a friend, a parent, a difficult situation that someone is in. We often get frustrated, wondering what is going on and why things aren’t changing faster. We often cry out to God and ask why. Of course, God sits outside of time and has everything in hand. The Bible says that God is perfect and that his ways are higher (better) than our ways. His timing is perfect and he knows what he’s doing. But it is hard for us to understand.
The Bible verse above lets us know that we are being changed into the image of Jesus ‘from one degree of glory to another’. This reminds us that growth and change usually takes place slowly. When you plant a seed into the ground, you don’t expect it to become a tree overnight. Of course, God can change things in an instant because nothing is impossible for God and it’s OK to ask God for this. But he may be building something in you, in those around you, doing things step by step..
In Proverbs 16.9 it says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps.” This Bible verse means many things. But we do learn that the Lord determines our steps. A step involves lifting our foot off the floor, putting it forward and putting it down again. It’s not always a huge movement (depending on the size of your legs, and of God’s knowledge of what he’s trying to achieve!!) But even if it seems like things are changing slowly, or even not at all, GOD IS WORKING. God is at work, just as a seed is growing under the soil. (though you don’t see it). Whatever your situation, keep praying and believing God because one day there will be a change, one day the seed will push up from under the soil and become an amazing plant – and all the care (prayer) and watering (encouragement) and good soil (Bible) that you’ve put in will be reaped. Galatians 6.9 says, “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Amen 🙂
Thankful Faith – Luke 17.11-19
Jesus was always in demand. He still is – just imagine the prayer requests that go up to heaven each day. No wonder Bruce Almighty couldn’t cope..! Thankfully, God is more than able! As Jesus was entering a village, 10 lepers cried out to him saying ‘Jesus, Master, have pity on us!’ When Jesus saw them he simply told them to do one thing, something that was quite an act of faith. He told them to go and present themselves to the priests. This was something that was unthinkable, as lepers had to stay away from people in case others caught the leprosy. But I’m sure these men were desperate (wouldn’t you be?) so they went. Sometimes, you need to shout out to God – and sometimes obey God in what may seem like a strange direction! On the way, they were healed. It was in the walking, in the motion that these men were healed. They listened, trusted and obeyed. And they were healed from leprosy. Very often it’s in the forward motion and obedience to God that he leads us – as we obey him in faith, trusting him – he does the very thing that we are asking him to do. But our part is to hear, trust, obey and step in faith. However, only one of the men came back to Jesus. His gratitude matched his desperation to be healed. He threw himself at the feet of Jesus and thanked him. The Amplified says “recognising and thanking and praising God with a loud voice” !! He wasn’t ashamed, or full of pride. He was just full-on and so grateful to Jesus – what about us – in all the stuff Jesus has done for us? What did Jesus say to the man? “Rise and go, your faith has made you well.” The Amplified says, “Your faith (your trust and confidence that spring from your belief in God) has restored you to health.” Nine of the lepers were healed of leprosy. Only one was restored to full health – the one who was thankful. Today, thank God for what he has done, what he is about to do. Trust him, receive his answer and then thank him some more in passionate praise!! Be grateful, daily 🙂
Mordecai and Esther – Esther 10.1-2
The whole book of Esther is about God’s perfect and incredible timing. God’s people were obedient, faithful, committed and God had them in place at the right time. There is a famous phrase in Esther when Mordecai speaks to her being appointed to the Royal Court of King Xerxes “for such a time as this” (Esther 4.14). And she was – as she helped to save the Jewish people. She was in the King’s court because of her beauty and character. Ladies, if you are looking for favour in different ways, then develop your Godly character – that means the fruit of the Spirit that’s in Galatians 5.22-23. Esther gained favour because of her obedience and character and so will you, in every area of life. But we mustn’t forget about Mordecai. There are 2 classic Bible characters often mentioned when we think about being raised up to positions of responsibility – Daniel and Joseph. But we have to add Mordecai in too. He was loyal, faithful and obedient to both God and Esther – just as a good husband / boyfriend / friend / father should be to the women in their life. So lads, develop your character, too. Galatians 5.22-23 is for you also. Mordecai ultimately gained great favour, being second only to the King himself. He was also in place for such a time as this and also played a major part in rescuing the Jews. But this was built on a foundation of faith, faithfulness and obedience to God. Throughout the Bible we find these characteristics essential in the ways of God. So build them now and God will be faithful to you and what you do, both in this life and most definitely in heaven with God.
Faith – Genesis 8.6-10
We already know that Noah had incredible faith. I mean, who’d build a massive great ark in the middle of the desert, having heard a voice telling them the whole earth was about to be flooded..? Oh, and by the way Noah, you have to be able to fit in and look after 2 of every unclean animal, and 7 of every clean animal in the earth. How’s that for faith! But God can also teach us other lessons from this Bible story. Here, I’m going to focus on birds. No, sorry not the female kind, the feathered kind – the ones that strange people spend hours watching in fields. But Noah was no birdwatcher for sport. He sent out a raven from the ark in verse 7 to see if it would land anywhere so he could check whether there was any dry ground. Cunning plan! However, nothing happened as the raven kept flying around. So then Noah sent out a dove, which again returned to the ark. However, we find a phrase in verse 9: “(Noah) reached out his hand and took the dove and brought it back to himself in the ark.”
Hmm.. Let’s take another look at this ‘ark’. This was something that came from God, that drew Godly people in, to save them from destruction of a very evil world (where we learn that “every inclination of the thoughts of man’s heart was only evil all the time”). Now that is real evil. But the ark came along and those in the ark were saved. Sound familiar? Yes, it’s another symbolic (and yet physically true) part of the Bible. The ark and the flood happened, no doubt. They have even found evidence of a great flood. But, this is also a picture of Jesus. Jesus, the Son of God, sent by God, to draw men to him so that through him, they are saved. So what’s going on with this verse about Noah reaching out to the dove? Well, just as Noah reached out his hand, so Jesus is reaching out his hand to us today. You may be like the prodigal son who has left the Father (God) and gone his own way. God is waiting to welcome you back, to reach out you. Or maybe you just need a touch from Jesus today, to restore and encourage you. If so, see the hand of God reaching out to you, drawing you back into the safety of his ark. Maybe you need to pray to God right now, to ask him to reach out to you, as you reach out to him.
The faith of young men – Daniel 1.8-17
Picture the situation: Daniel and his 3 friends had been taken by the Babylonian King and ordered to work in the Royal Court. The King had asked for “young men without any physical defect, handsome, showing aptitude for every kind of learning, well informed, quick to understand, and qualified to serve in the king’s palace.” Daniel and his friends showed tremendous courage, refusing to be defiled (dirtied, made unclean and unholy before God) by accepting the King’s food.
There are 2 things we can learn here. First of all, God uses any of his people, no matter what their situation, no matter where they are, whoever they are. In this instance, we find that God used 4 young men. These guys may well have been teenagers, just like teenagers today. These 4 young lads showed incredible boldness and courage. I have found in my years working with students that often they are the most passionate, open and bold for God, and have learnt much from many of them. God wants to use you – children, young people, students. He used Daniel and he will use you. Your choice is will you obey God and be used by him? Your rewards will be great, the struggles sometimes tough, but God will use you beyond what you can imagine and extend his Kingdom powerfully.
Secondly, God is interested in every little thing. He was interested in what Daniel and the other 3 ate, especially where it would have made them impure and unholy. The same is true today. God is interested in every little detail. Isn’t that incredible? What’s more.. today, this week, in your life.. you can make a difference through your actions. In the case of Daniel, we find that through his obedience to God not to defile himself through bad food, he influenced the whole Royal court. Verses 15 and 16 say, “At the end of the ten days they looked healthier and better nourished than any of the young men who ate the royal food. So the guard took away their choice food and the wine they were to drink and gave them vegetables instead.” Just as a little yeast makes bread rise, so your seemingly small actions will affect many for God’s Kingdom. Take action today.
Checking with God. 1 Chronicles 14.8-17
You know, we should always consult with God about the things we do. God may well allow us to go ahead if in line with his general Biblical guidelines, but we need to keep checking in with God to make sure what we’re doing is what he wants. In 1 Chronicles 14, we find David fighting 2 battles with the Philistines (the tribe that Goliath came from). In the first battle, we find that David asked God what to do. “Shall I go and attack the Philistines?” God replied, “Go, I will hand them over to you.” God was true to his word. But then came another battle. Did David charge into battle yet again? No. He asked God about it again. “So David enquired of the Lord again and the Lord answered him, ‘Do not go straight up, but circle round them and attack them..’ ”
We find that David obeyed God and struck down the Philistines. The orders from God for the second battle were different. If David hadn’t asked God, he would not have won that battle. What a lesson for us. David asked the Lord each time he did something, he didn’t presume that he should do things the same way as before. David inflicted 2 major defeats over the Philistines. But let’s rewind back to David the shepherd boy, his slingshot and defeat of Goliath. David’s early victory over the Philistine, Goliath, paved the way for these 2 major defeats of the Philistines. God will move you from one thing to another, upwards and onwards – if we keep close, keep faithful, obey him and put him first. The Living Bible says, “We should make plans – counting on God to direct us.” To direct us, we must talk to him and listen!
Your Sacrifice – John 6.8-11
Another of Jesus’ disciples, Andrew, Simon Peter’s brother, spoke up, “Here is a boy with five small barley loaves and two small fish, but how far will they go among so many?” Jesus said, “Have the people sit down.” There was plenty of grass in that place, and the men sat down, about five thousand of them. Jesus then took the loaves, gave thanks, and distributed to those who were seated as much as they wanted. He did the same with the fish.
This is an awesome true story of one of Jesus’ miracles. It talks to us on many different levels. Today we’re going to look at one person, the boy. I’ve never heard a sermon about this boy and yet he’s so key. We don’t know this boy’s name. But here he is, in our Bible’s forever. One day just a boy, the next day he was THE boy with the bread and fishes. One Bible commentator has said that we know the boy was fairly poor as barley bread was often bought by the poorer people. But what he lacked in money, he made up for in giving. How often do we see this? Poorer people generous in their giving and rich people with tight purses and miserly living. But this boy offered all his food. He didn’t set any aside that we know of, he offered it to the disciples and Jesus. What if this boy did not volunteer his food, what if he hadn’t stepped up to the plate, gave his all, given what he had (in fact what he could hardly afford to give away). This story may never have happened, the people may not have been fed, the power and glory of Jesus may not have been so visibly shown that day..
Let’s apply this to you and to me.. First, what have we got to give God? Second, are we prepared to volunteer it for the King? Third, what are we prepared to give up for God that he’s calling us to? Fourth, are we ready to give (in whatever way) so that the hungry are fed, so that miracles happen, so that the fame of Jesus spreads that little bit further and faster? Pray and act today.
Being Thankful – Psalm 69.30
In The Message Bible, it says, “Let me shout God’s name with a praising song. Let me tell his greatness in a prayer of thanks.” In the old fashioned King James version of the Bible it reads, “I will praise the name of God with a song, and will magnify him with thanksgiving.”
Did you know that by praising God, by thanking God, you magnify God? What do I mean? Well, put it this way. On your desk, you find a small spider. You can’t see the spider very well, so what do you do? You get a magnifying glass and magnify the spider, so you could observe it more closely. If it was in a lab, you may even put it under a microscope. Or, another example. You’re into star gazing and look into the sky. You can’t see the stars that well, so you buy a telescope. When you look down the telescope, you see the star more clearly, as it magnifies what you can see.
The same is true with God. Your praise is like the magnifying glass that makes you and other people see God so clearly. Praise releases something of God like nothing else. Many people testify to how God has released them from sin, healed them, delivered them, changed them, done things for them – simply by them praising God. God is magnified through the praise and thanks of his people. It’s like accepting a gift by saying ‘thank you’ – it gives significance to the other person. This is even more true of God. When we thank God and praise him, it’s as if we’re saying: “Thank you God , I testify that you are a God who loves, who gives, who helps me. I recognise that it is you alone, God, that makes me what I am and does great things in my life.’ It reveals how we are, who we are, on the inside of us.
In Revelation 5, we find a picture of multitudes of angels praising God saying ‘to the Lamb be praise and glory and honour for ever’. This shows us another thing – the power of people praising God together. When I was once at Spring Harvest, I saw a very real vision around the edges of the big top, of loads of angels in the tent praising God, during one time of musical worship. God’s people, together, praising God is a picture of heaven. It is also a picture of earth.
I’m so grateful to God because I know what he has delivered me from. Let’s all continue to thank, praise and magnify God.
Fishing – Matthew 4.18-2
As Jesus was walking beside the Sea of Galilee, he saw two brothers, Simon called Peter and his brother Andrew. They were casting a net into the lake, for they were fishermen. “Come, follow me,” Jesus said, “and I will make you fishers of men.” At once they left their nets and followed him.
The ministries of the church are wide and incredibly varied. The call that God has put on your life is unique and amazing. Across the globe and through time, God has used his people in diverse ways. We can see this today from Matthew 4 where Jesus calls some of his disciples and promises to make them fishers of men. Yes, Jesus used this language because Peter and Andrew were fishermen, but can we learn anything else from this?
1. There are different kinds of fishermen – your call is unique, though others may do something similar. But there are many ways to help people escape the kingdom of darkness into God’s Kingdom.
2. Fishermen catch different kinds of fish – the ‘fish’ (people) that God calls you to will be different to others, though there will likely be some overlap.
3. Fishermen will fish in different places according to the kinds of fish – there’s no point standing on the shore to catch deep sea fish, you need to go out into the ocean. Some people will go to a local river to go fishing, others will have a longer rod and cast it out from the pier into the sea. Different calls.
4. Fishermen use different kinds of bait to attract fish – unlike fishermen, we’re not out to kill and eat the fish (!) but there are many different ways God will use his people to shine their light and attract others to that light of Christ.
5. Fishermen are prepared – so should we be. Many have a separate net to place the fish that they’ve caught. Be ready to help people, support people, disciple people, get them into a school with other fish – church!
Hannah’s Faith – Samuel 1.1-20 (it’s not that much to read, honest!)
There was a man called Elkanah. He had 2 wives called Peninnah and Hannah. Unfortunately we read that the Lord had kept Hannah from having any children (the Bible often refers to women not being able to have children as ‘being barren’). Guys – not being able to have children is something really serious for any lady and it really hurts them. So, of course, Hannah felt a lot of pain. Not helped by Peninnah who used to give her grief about it as Peninnah had 2 children fathered by Elkanah. Peninnah used to hassle Hannah about it so much she’d make her cry and not eat her food. Evil woman!
Anyway, one year, we read that Hannah was so sad that she cried out to and prayed to the Lord. Before God she told him how sad she was, how much pain she had and made a vow that if the Lord would allow her to have a son, she would give him back to the Lord and the Lord’s work for all his life. This was a big thing. So much pain and yet the son she would give birth to would be taken away from her and given to the Lord. Many families have experienced this kind of pain with sons and daughters going abroad as missionaries or even being killed in the Lord’s work.
We find that Hannah kept praying (serious prayer time) so much that Elkanah thought she was drunk. When she explained she was praying and telling God all her problems (something we all need to do), Elkanah understood. Elkanah then said, ‘Go, I wish you well, may the Lord give you what you asked him for.’ Hannah said, ‘may I always please you’ had some food and found her sadness had gone away. Later she slept with Elkanah and the Bible says, ‘the Lord remembered her’ and she became pregnant. Faithful to her word, when Samuel could eat solid food, he was given to the Lord under the tutorship of Eli.
1. We see a parallel with 2 or more people agreeing in prayer – Elkanah effectively agreeing with what Hannah wanted. There’s power where 2 people meet in the Lord’s name. (Matthew 18.20)
2. There’s a parallel with 1 Peter 5.6-7 where we are told to cast our cares onto the Lord, and with Philippians 4.6.
3. The Lord remembered Hannah, her fervent prayers were heard. Don’t bang on in prayer for the sake of it. But if your prayer is passionate and genuine, sometimes we need to hold on and pursue God in prayer day and night, just like the persistent widow (Luke 18.1-8). Remember, sometimes day and night.
4. Hannah acted on her faith. She prayed to God, then slept with her husband. She could have just said, ‘I’ll never have children, stuff it..’ But she continued to love God and love her husband and have faith.
5. God hears. God remembered Hannah. God hasn’t forgotten about you today. Believe me, he hasn’t.
This little quiet time was inspired by watching the inauguration of the latest Pope. I’m not a Catholic but watched with interest and learned as he spoke from the Bible. The Bible reading here followed a similar pattern. Simon (not yet called Peter) had been fishing overnight and had caught nothing. Then Jesus got in the boat the next day, spoke to the people and then told Simon to cast the net into the deep water. Simon’s response is a challenge to us all. He said, ‘we’ve fished all night and caught nothing, but you said put the nets down so we will.’ His response was one of faith, listening and obeying someone who he hardly knew who wasn’t even a fisherman (Jesus was a carpenter, craftsman by trade). Yes, Simon realised that Jesus was someone special, someone unique, though he did not yet quite understand everything about Jesus. But he obeyed.
What happened as a result of Simon’s obedience, acting on the word of Jesus with faith? The fishermen caught so many fish, the nets almost broke and they had to use other nets to gather in all the fish. (How like the parable of the mustard seed this is, a little causing a great harvest). Simon’s response was one of worship, of awareness of his own sin. Jesus simply responded by using the scene as an advert for how he would use Simon and the disciples, saying, ‘from now on, you’ll fish for people..’ This is the gospel message. That me and you (seemingly insignificant), can see major things happen for God if we listen, hear, obey by acting in faith on the word of God. We may also see miraculous things happen to testify to the word of God and the gospel message. So be encouraged today. God has a plan for you. This plan is not simply dependent on me and you, but on who God is and who we are through Jesus.
Vision – Proverbs 29.18
What is your idea of the characteristics of someone with vision? What do you think? Someone who can see something of what might be and with God’s help wants to make it happen? Yep. Any other aspects to a visionary person? Let’s look at this verse from Proverbs in a couple of translations.
“Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; But happy is he who keeps the law.”(NKJV)
“Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.”(NIV)
“Where there is no vision, the people perish: but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.” (KJV)
Where there is no vision [no redemptive revelation of God], the people perish; but he who keeps the law [of God, which includes that of man]–blessed (happy, fortunate, and enviable) is he.” (Amplified)
What do we learn? Many things but one thing is that where there is no vision, people cast off restraint / discipline. So, one of the characteristics of a visionary is that they have not cast off restraint, they are disciplined. This is no legalistic discipline like an old schoolmaster in some old black and white movie. No, this is a person who is committed to vision and work that God has inspired in them, they are passionately and actively disciplined in making it happen. A visionary is someone disciplined enough to know what and what not to do. If you want to be a man or woman of God with vision that sees the vision happen (and you know the vision is from and for God!) then build self-discipline into your life. This means spending time with God and the Bible. This means doing what you need to and not wasting time doing what is pointless. What is pointless? Those things that do not help realise the vision. Be flexible and don’t get tunnel vision (!) but focus..
Seeking Out The Lost – Matthew 18.10-14 – Part 1
Take a peek through this passage. This is covered in a different way in one of the small group sessions (groups > small groups > children) but for this one we’re going to take a look at the life of faith and about flipping the lid on what too many of us are doing in our churches.
You see in this bit of the Bible we see Jesus telling us that there are 100 sheep. The sheep represent people. The shepherd that goes out looking for the sheep is a representation of the true Shepherd, Jesus Christ.
One of these sheep goes off for a run, maybe it’s being inquisitive, maybe it got stuck, felt like a bit of ‘freedom’ but is now out there, lost, in trouble. Let’s forget the symbolism and get real here. There are people around you (maybe even you!) who were tight with Jesus and had a passion for him. But they wandered off, felt like doing their own thing, tried out a different route but got lost, got stuck in patterns of unhelpful behaviour and need someone to come seek them out to help them.
Now the real answer is Jesus but Jesus said that you, me are his witnesses on earth. So many times Jesus uses us to do his work. My challenge to you is – are you out there seeking out the mates that used to come to church but fell away? Are you there for those struggling with their faith? Sometimes you have to leave behind what is the safer large group and head out into the rocks, the darkness, the harsh terrain – in order to go find the lost.
The encouragement is that God, Jesus, the Spirit and you will find great delight in returning folks back to Jesus.
The wrong way round – Matthew 18.10-14 – Part 2
Where I live there are many, many worship events, prayer events and similar style things. These are great as the place of prayer is the starting point for God to work, the place where Christ inspires new passions, changes hearts and releases people. Prayer is the backbone of the ministry, one way of release of God’s power in your life. We look at Jesus and he prayed, encouraged us to pray, was in constant communication with his Father. There is no doubt that God works and ministers in the place of prayer and praise. But it’s one way, not the only way, that God works.
But let’s look a little deeper. The work of Jesus was a balanced life of faith, prayer and action. Sometimes in our churches we have used these things as an excuse not to get out there and reach the lost. Prayer without action is not the complete picture. Let prayer and worship meetings inspire your action and be part of your action (if that’s your thing – it may not be for all people), but don’t have one without the other.
Why not? Well, because our example is Jesus. We find the ministry of Jesus a lot about teaching, knowing and releasing the word of God, acts of healing, deliverance and action, rebuke. In Matthew 18 we have the famous picture of the lost sheep..
Jesus went out to find the 1 sheep and left the 99 sheep behind. The 1 lost sheep held more importance, more delight. Jesus is saying the same to you and to me. Church is a place for the lost, not just for God’s people. Too many churches stay inside with the 99 and forget the 1. Too many times we forget that church contains the 1 and the world around us contains the 99 who have not been saved. Remember that we need to stay close to the shepherd but maybe it’s time to open up the doors of our churches and meetings more to the lost. Maybe we have the wrong balance right now. Too much for Christians and not enough for those who don’t know the shepherd.
Without faith it is impossible to please God – Hebrews 11.6-10 – Noah
How did God water the earth in Noah’s day? Rain? A light covering of snow? Flooding? Nope. We know there was no mass flooding as the flood was the first big flood, snow wasn’t too common in Israel and besides we know the answer from Genesis 2.5-6 which says, ‘..and no shrub of the field had yet appeared on the earth and no plant of the field had yet sprung up, for the LORD God had not sent rain on the earth.. but streams came up from the earth and watered the whole surface of the ground.’ Funny huh? The rain that God sent that caused the great flood was the first time it had rained.
This is no history lesson though.
In Hebrews 11 the Bible says this, ‘By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith. By faith Abraham, when called to go to a place he would later receive as his inheritance, obeyed and went, even though he did not know where he was going. By faith he made his home in the promised land like a stranger in a foreign country..’
So Noah’s faith was amazing because of many things – the fact that he built a huge great boat (had to be huge to fit in all those animals!), he built a boat in the middle of land, he built a boat never having seen rain, and despite all the abuse people gave him.
Many times God will call us to do things that may seem strange. But we need to remember that God knows best and that God commands obedience. Noah saw his inheritance on earth. That isn’t that important. Faith means doing what God says, however small or big, regardless of how it may seem or whether you see the results in this lifetime.
Don’t Just Stand There – Do Something! James 2.14-26
James is a practical action man. What really winds him up is people who claim to be Christians but sit on their butts all week. They sit on their butts on Sunday while the preacher drones on and bores the pants off everyone. Then they go home and sit on their butts the rest of the week. I expect you know people like it.
If James was in your church, he’d walk up to these guys and say, ‘OY! YOU! How can you claim to be a follower of this radical action-packed, world changing Jesus and yet do nothing to show your faith? Change or get out! This is church, not a club where you come and drink tea out of scabby green cups.’ Be funny wouldn’t it? But that’s what James is on about in these verses.
And before you judge other people like that, what about you? What about me? When we hear about people’s needs, see need, feel the Holy Spirit say something to us, do we take action? If you feel strongly about something do you do something about it? One day in a job I was in, someone was moaning about the boss. I got fed up and stood up, inviting her to come speak to the boss with me or shut up. She shut up. Don’t be like this woman.
James is harsh. ‘Faith without action is worth nothing.. can a faith like this save someone?’ There’s no middle ground, as ever! You don’t go to a football match and watch an empty pitch with no players on for 90 minutes. I know some teams would do better that way but it would stupid. Same with Jesus. If you’re a Christian, you have the Holy Spirit in you changing your heart so you want to do stuff for God and other people. So do it. Ask, seek, make the most of opportunities.
Galatians 4.21-31 – Don’t be a religious freak!
You may have read about the Pharisees who loved to parade about being religious. It gave them status and identity and they got to wear stupid hats and robes, eat and drink loads and have all the ‘best’ things. Really they were a bunch of arrogant lumps that irritated Jesus and other people. As 2 Timothy 3.5 says, these people act as if they serve God but do not have his power. Stay away from these people. We can probably see these kinds of people in leadership in certain churches – pretending to serve God – but denying his Word and God’s Spirit. Actually they’re not real believers (or they are but have become too puffed up with themselves) so are fronting, pretending to be something they are not! We may criticise them and we may be right, but what about you and me? Do we act ‘religious’ towards things or people, or are we living in freedom in Jesus – and God’s love in us overflowing out of us to others?
In this passage in Galatians 4, Paul talks about Hagar and Sarah, the 2 women Abraham had sons with. Paul compares Hagar to living the religious life and Sarah to living with the freedom that comes through living for and obeying Jesus. Paul tells us that Hagar was the result of an act of the flesh (not from God), whereas Sarah was born directly as a result of God’s promise. If you want to live in God’s promises, if you want real freedom and real life then get on your knees and give your life to Jesus. We don’t want religion (lots of Old Testament-style laws) in our churches, we want the power and love and self control / discipline that comes from Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 1.7). That is real freedom! Galatians 4 tells us that religion is like slavery, whereas being in Jesus is freedom. Only then can we truly be church bringing Jesus to a hurting and needy world. Nail religion to the cross today. Forever. Verse 30 in Galatians 4 says ‘the son of the slave woman should not inherit anything. The son of the free woman should receive it all.’ As Matrix would say, ‘Free Your Mind’. As I say, ‘Free Your Mind – Accept Jesus – Then live in and for Jesus’
Revelation 21.5 – God is making everything new
When you become a Christian, God does a new work in you. When you get a job and first start, you don’t know what to do exactly. Over time, you get used to the system and how to do things, learning and changing to work in the job, maybe having to wear a uniform and say certain things on the phone.
But God doesn’t do this in your life. He doesn’t take the old you and start to change you. What God does is to put a new person in you, the Holy Spirit. God makes you into a new person. This is what Jesus means when he talks about ‘you must be born again’ in John 3.7. He means that a new person is birthed inside you.
This isn’t some weird freaky thing but a change in your spiritual being. God comes in by the power of his Spirit and if you allow God to work, the Spirit (the new person) will push out the old self (your human and sinful self). One day, at the end of time, if you belong to God, he will make all things new. You, the earth, the heavens so that all evil, death, suffering, crying, sin and decay will be gone for ever. Sounds like time to get on God’s crew.
Fix Your Eyes On Jesus – Hebrews 12.1-3
The Christian life can be hard at times, we all know that. We get tired. We struggle. We question things. We sometimes can’t see a way through or hear from God, right? In these verses, the Bible talks about looking up to Jesus but what does this mean? Does it mean putting your head up and gazing at the sky when you’re struggling or what?
Hebrews gives us a solution to life’s ups and downs. It says let us look at the example of Jesus. He suffered death, shame and abuse but he considered it was worth it because he knew the ultimate rewards and the joy it would eventually bring, with us alongside him in heaven. Jesus was human and struggled as we do but he did not sin as he was perfect, unlike us.
So in practical terms it means, don’t look at the problems, look at Jesus. If you are worried, don’t think about what you’re worried about, but pray, think about heaven, think about what you can do for others to be Jesus in your world. It also reminds us that Jesus was prepared to suffer and die just for you, even if you were the only person ever born. So. Big up God. Big up yourself.
MAKING THE CHOICE
I was reading through Colossians 3 the other day in the Youth Bible. The chapter is subtitled, ‘Your New Life In Christ’. The whole chapter is about doing and not doing things, inspired by the new life of Christ that is in you (unlike the Old Testament where doing and not doing things was inspired by a set of rules). I came across verses 15 and 16.
These verses both begin with the word, ‘Let..’ So we find that in both cases, doing something is by choice. In verse 15, it’s about letting Christ’s peace rule in your hearts. In verse 16 it’s about letting the teaching of Christ live in you richly.
There are times where Jesus will do things in our lives because they need to happen. If we want to grow in our life of faith, however, we have to make a choice. What do we have to make a choice about? Basically, every aspect of our lives. If we read the Bible, how we read the Bible, if we pray, how we pray.. if we want to change, if we want to turn away from doing some wrong.. Sometimes it’s real hard but Jesus said he was the way the truth and the life. If we want that life, true life, then we have to get to know Jesus deeper. The way we do that is by choosing to.
GOD WON’T BREAK WEAK FAITH
In Matthew 12.18-21, we read that Jesus healed many people who were sick and warned people not to tell others who he was. The Bible says that Jesus did this to fulfill a prophecy made by Isaiah many years before.
So what relevance does this have for you and me? In verse 20 of Matthew (or Isaiah 42.3) we read that Jesus will not break a crushed blade of grass or put out even a weak flame.
We get a real picture here of Jesus in his mercy and kindness. He knows what you’re going through, he knows when times are hard, when the tears fill your eyes and have real difficulties in life. We have an amazing promise from Jesus that when your faith feels weak and knocked back, Jesus won’t let you be broken, he won’t break you. We know that whatever life holds, Jesus is by your side, carrying you in his arms, standing alongside you, his arm around you – so that when your faith is low, it won’t be broken and that ‘crying may endure for a night but laughter will come in the morning.’ (Psalm 30.5)
THE LIFE OF FAITH
Through the Gospels we see that Jesus revealed himself more and more to his disciples and to the people around him. It wasn’t always a flashing blinding light that came and hit people into realising who Jesus was. Often it was a gradual process. For example in Matthew 8.27 the disciples saw Jesus calm the storm and wondered who this man was who could calm the storm. By Matthew 16.16, after Jesus asked Peter who Peter though Jesus was, Peter replied, ‘You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.’ Jesus replied, ‘You are blessed Peter because you don’t know this by yourself, this was revealed to you by my Father in heaven.’
You see, sometimes coming to faith is a gradual process, like with the disciples. It wasn’t until the coming of the Spirit that we read about in Acts that the disciples truly understood some of the things Jesus had said. It may be the same with you, it may be the same for you praying for members of your family or friends. Keep praying, keep believing.
HOW BIG IS YOUR FAITH?
Listen to what Jesus said about faith in Luke 17.5-6. The disciples ask Jesus for more faith. He doesn’t say ‘OK then, here you are’. He offers an example instead. He points to a mulberry bush and tells the disciples that if their faith were even the size of a tiny little mustard seed, they could tell the bush to dig itself up and plant itself in the sea!
Slightly confused? I expect the disciples were. Our faith here in the UK seems to be so small compared to what we read in the Bible doesn’t it? I mean, how often do we see people healed and raised from the dead? Not an everyday thing at church is it?
Jesus is talking to you today. He is pointing out that your small faith can achieve so much, if only you would believe and trust him. Whatever your need or your problem, ask Jesus for his help and watch him amaze you! Believe!
TIME FOR AN ATTITUDE CHECK!
“Then Caleb silenced the people before Moses and said, ‘We should go up and take possession of the land for we can certainly do it'” (Numbers 13.30, NIV).
That’s the starter – read through Numbers 13.27-33. Have you met those people who put a downer on what you say? (I really hope I’m not one of those kinds of people!) You may have a great idea but these kind of people don’t say, ‘great, how can we make it happen!’ or ‘well done, but have you thought about’ they say, ‘Oh, I don’t think that’s a good idea’ or ‘no that won’t work’
Here’s the way ahead, as written down by Moses in Numbers: It’s called seeing through God’s eyes! It’s called realising God is bigger than anything or anyone! You see, the other spies that went into Canaan even saw the huge fruit there as God promised and even brought some back! But they magnified the ‘giants’ in the land instead of God of heaven and earth who’d already said he’d given them the land. Caleb (and Joshua) had a different spirit. I want to be like them! Someone said to me once, “Don’t worry about money, after all God owns the planet, I’m sure he’ll sort it out”.
God is saying the same to you this week. Things may even be hard and you can’t see the end, but with God’s help you will get through. Philippians 4.13 says, “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.” This should be your shout of praise too. Focus on God, focus on his promises, shout them, learn them, pray them, believe them, believe God is good. And you will see the fulfilment, just as Caleb (and Joshua) did! Amen!
‘So let us run the race that is before us and never give up.’ (Hebrews 12.1, YB)
Read Hebrews 12.1-3. Ask the Holy Spirit to speak to you before you read. These are what this bit of the Bible says to me maybe you can get something else from it:
1. Look at other Christians. Very often they can encourage us and help us as they set an example for us. Learn from them as they have learned from other people before.
2. Run the Christian race and never give up. Keep on pressing ahead. When I used to go cycling, I hardly ever let a hill defeat me. Have that attitude.
3. Focus on Jesus. When stuff is hard or uncertain, think about Jesus and his life – his example.
4. Get rid of sins that trip you up. Whatever that thing is that trips you up, start to overcome it today. Do something else, use the name of Jesus, refuse to give in, ask God for help.
5. Jesus is the reason for your faith and the one who makes it perfect so today, like every day, you can ask Jesus to help you, change you and make you more like him!
BRAVE MEN AND WOMEN OF THE BIBLE
Read Esther 2.17-18 & 7.1-4. Esther was an amazing woman. She was chosen to be a Queen (after she’d had 12 months (yes, 12 months!) of beauty and cosmetic treatments – for free! See 2.12). She then had the bottle to ask the King to save her people – the Jews – from death. Because of her bravery, Israel was saved and corrupt official in the King’s court was disposed of. God put her there for this reason but she still had to have the guts to stand up and be counted. Girls, ladies – what is God calling you to do for him?
Nehemiah 2.1-6. A bloke with bottle this time. Nehemiah was the King’s wine man – he tasted it and served it to his majesty. This wasn’t just a position for some an alcoholic, this was a very important position. One day, Nehemiah heard that Jerusalem had been destroyed. He was sad in front of the King (something that could have meant instant death) and then asked the King if he could go and restore Jerusalem. The King not only said yes but helped him! Lads – God wants you to be strong and courageous too. Trust God.
PUT ON YOUR BATTLE GEAR – Read Ephesians 6.10-18
Use every weapon and defence that God gives you – you’ll need it as we’re fighting evil powers and not humans. Be prepared. Take hold of the full protection of God each day like you were getting ready for battle.
You’ll need excellent spiritual health. Always speak the truth, be filled with God’s truth. Stand up for justice and the oppressed. Always be ready to tell people about the saving power of Jesus Christ. Your faith in Jesus must be strong and firm – constantly fed through your prayer life and Bible readings. The Bible is a very important part of God’s protection. God’s Spirit speaks to us through the Bible because it is the Word of God. So the more you know and read the Bible, the better prepared you’ll be. Finally make sure you have a strong belief in Christ. Through his saving power and through the power of the Holy Spirit, we have further protection. Put on all this protection daily and thank God for it.