What you do shows what you think of God – Matthew 25
“The master was full of praise. ‘Well done, my good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in handling this small amount, so now I will give you many more responsibilities. Let’s celebrate together! … “Then the servant with the one bag of silver came and said, ‘Master, I knew you were a harsh man, harvesting crops you didn’t plant and gathering crops you didn’t cultivate. I was afraid I would lose your money, so I hid it in the earth. Look, here is your money back. “Then he ordered, ‘Take the money from this servant, and give it to the one with the ten bags of silver. To those who use well what they are given, even more will be given, and they will have an abundance. But from those who do nothing, even what little they have will be taken away.“
This is a parable told by Jesus. A parable is a story with a meaning behind it – Jesus used parables to show people principles by using real life kinds of situations. This is one way we can help other people understand about God. But in this parable, a master went away and gave some money to 3 servants. One of them really used the money well, earned more money and as a result got praised by the master and was given more. But one of the servants did nothing with the money (didn’t even pay it into a bank to get interest). This servant was criticised by the master, had his money taken away and was thrown out!
Here are two lessons. First, what we think of God determines what we do with what God has given us. The last servant who did nothing saw his master as being ‘harsh’ and unfair. So the servant did nothing with the money he was given. The other servants did use their money well. If you think of God as unfair and harsh (he is really opposite of this – good and fair!) then you won’t give everything for God. When you know how incredible God is, you will give everything. Second, when God gives you a gift, skill, talent, money – it’s there for you to use for God. When you give to God and live for God you never lose out. If you don’t, you miss out. So give God everything!
John 13.34-35 – Truly loving others
“A new command I give you: Love one another. As I have loved you, so you must love one another. By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you love one another.”
I was walking along by the river in a city, minding my own business and enjoying the late afternoon sun. As I walked along, a couple of women in their 20s approached me and asked me a question: “Can we ask you something – what one thing are you grateful for today?” I really nearly answered (jokingly), “I’m grateful that I don’t have to stop and answer your question” but thought better of it! So I replied that I was grateful that I could get out for a walk. Realising they were American, I wondered whether they might be from a religious sect called ‘The Mormons’ and sure enough, they were (calling themselves ‘missionaries’). Mormons don’t believe the whole Bible and don’t believe Jesus was really the Son of God and lots of other wrong thinking. So I let them know that I was a Christian and attended a local church and was very friendly back to them. But I noticed that one of the girls completely lost interest in me when they realised I was a Christian. What she wanted to do was to give me her story, ‘convert’ me to her religion and wasn’t really interested in me.
This really made me think. When we tell people about Jesus, we don’t do it because some ‘book’ has told us to, or because our ‘religion’ says we should or that we get some kind of ‘points’ if we do it. Religion is all about things – do this, don’t do this… But Christianity alone is about relationship. It’s about what Jesus has done and does for us – and what we do out of a heart of love for him. We don’t obey a rule book – we get to obey God because we love him. And when we talk to other people, we do it because we love people. We care about them. One young person once asked a youth worker if they would still care about them if they didn’t become a Christian. The youth worker said ‘yes, of course.’ Put yourself in the place of those two Mormon women – but as a believer in Jesus. If you spoke to someone, would you really care about them and really want the best for them? People can tell and when we do that, we let the love of Jesus in us shine out of us. And people will see and recognise that light.
1 Timothy 4.16 – Mind Your Business
Be diligent in these matters; give yourself wholly to them, so that everyone may see your progress. Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.
One of the issues that social media has caused is that everyone has an opinion about everything and usually that opinion can be expressed very quickly and easily. But as Christians we’ve got to do things differently – whether we’re firing off angry posts about life or judging and hating on other Christians – it just shouldn’t happen.
Paul is talking to his mate Timothy and is chatting about keeping on going and staying strong and open to God. He then tells Timothy to ‘watch your life and doctrine closely’. Doctrine means the way you think about God. But notice what Paul didn’t say… He didn’t say ‘watch other people’s life closely’ and he didn’t say ‘watch other people’s doctrine closely.’ But he did tell Timothy to keep an eye on Timothy’s life and doctrine. What Paul was saying was ‘you look after your own spiritual condition above anything else.’
Sadly I’ve read all kinds of horrible things said by Christians online – often about other churches or about other Christians or leaders. It’s OK to have opinions and it’s OK to question. But don’t do it in public and don’t do it on social media or online. God didn’t call you to be ‘deputy Holy Spirit’ – he didn’t ask you to do the things that only God can do. Yes, we can confront other people we know and challenge them when we genuinely care for them. But don’t fire off posts or messages when you’re upset or don’t know people or think that you know best. As a young person you can model a better way – just as Paul says to Timothy. As one example, the leader of Bethel Church has all kinds of nasty things said about him. His response is simply to say ‘I pray blessing over them and their families.’ So mind your business and if it’s someone else’s business, pray and be a blessing!
John 10.10 – God and Gangs
Around the world, gangs are a huge issue for many people. There can be pressure to join a gang, problems with gangs and between gangs. Many young people get drawn into gangs for lots of reasons – money, to be part of something, for identity, to be feared, drawn in to selling drugs, because they don’t have opportunities, lack of good role models (especially absent fathers) and living in a place with a culture of gangs where it’s hard to escape. Around the UK there is an increasing gang and knife problem with an increase in murders, stabbings and gang violence. Many young people’s lives have been ended or destroyed by gang violence and some stabbings which aim to maim others. Families have been ripped apart and people crushed on the inside. It is messed up and is the result basically of evil and a world where the boundaries that God put in place have been torn down by people who think they know better. Some young people become numb to the pain they cause others because they have so much pain from what life has done to them.
John 10.10 says this, “The thief’s purpose is to steal and kill and destroy. My purpose is to give them a rich and satisfying life.”
So on the one hand is Jesus. He had a little ‘gang’ who he went round with. But there was no gang violence (except one time when Peter cut off someone’s ear but Jesus told him off and then healed the man’s ear completely). Instead Jesus went around doing good, healing the sick, driving out evil demons from people and making things beautiful. On the other hand there is the enemy (satan) who goes around stealing, killing and destroying people, the earth and lives. When we see what happens with the gangs on our streets, we can identify who is behind it. So we have a choice to make. Do we roll with Jesus as he makes things good, or the enemy as he destroys everything? And there is always hope. Like me, there are thousands of people who God has resuced out of gangs and whose lives have been turned around to good. So pray for your neighbourhood, your street, the young people you know. And do what God calls you to do – to make things good and to bring God’s light.
Esther 6 – God will turn it around for good
Go at once,’ the king commanded Haman. ‘Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.’ So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honour!’ Afterwards Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief…
The back story to this Bible bit in Esther 6 is that an evil adviser called Haman had vowed to wipe out God’s people, the Jews. He had even built a gallows to kill a man called Mordecai who he hated. Mordecai was a good man and one who believed in God. But Haman hated God and hated God’s people. The King had called for Haman asking what should be done for someone who had done amazing things for the King. Haman thought the King was talking about him so suggested all kinds of amazing things. But the King was talking about Mordecai. What was worse for Haman is that he had to lead a procession giving public honour to Mordecai. Later, Haman would be killed on the gallows he had built to kill Mordecai. Crazy times!
But this quiet-time is about encouraging us. All around us in our own country and around the world are loads of people like Haman who hate God and who want to destroy God’s people. Christians are the most persecuted group in the world by a long way. Even in so-called democracies there are those trying to silence Christians and do away with God. The story of Esther 6 looks a lot like the world around us today. But God is in charge and even when things like dark and evil, God is ready to turn things around. God is a God of love but he is also a God of justice. One day Jesus will return and make everything right and bring justice. So keep holding on and standing strong for God!
God’s Strength – John 21.2-3
Simon Peter, Thomas, Nathanael, the sons of Zebedee, and two other disciples were together. ‘I’m going out to fish,’ Simon Peter told them, and they said, ‘We’ll go with you.’ So they went out and got into the boat, but that night they caught nothing…
Joyce Meyer, a famous preacher says that God doesn’t have to finish the things he doesn’t start. In John 21, the disciples didn’t really know what to do with themselves. Jesus had been crucified and risen from the dead but they were all still a bit lost. So Peter decided to go fishing. Seems a good thing to do – he was a fisherman after all. But Peter didn’t catch any fish.
There’s nothing wrong with fishing but God had a bigger purpose for Peter. If God calls you to be a fisherman then that’s awesome – go for it. But this was no longer what Peter should have been doing. Have you ever found that the things you used to do just don’t work any more? Maybe God is calling you to something new – or you’re doing something you don’t need to do any more. Peter went fishing when God had said he wouldn’t be a fisherman any more. He didn’t catch any fish. But as soon as Jesus got involved later on, Peter caught a boat full of fish.
Psalm 127.1-2 says, “Unless the Lord builds the house, the builders labour in vain.” The lesson for us is that we should do what God calls us to do. When we do stuff on our own it may not work. Even when it does work it may not be rewarding. But if we roll with God’s plan, there will always be lots of ‘fish’ or ‘house’ (rewards!) And when Jesus gets involved he can turn our mess into our message.
Fruit-Filled – Genesis 1.28
God blessed them and said to them, “Be fruitful and increase in number; fill the earth and subdue it…”
Anyone else like those fruit-filled pies you can get from Mr Kipling or other brands?! OK so they’re not exactly completely full of fruit and may not always have the perfect ingredients for a healthy life! But you get the idea because it represents how God wants us to be – filled with fruit! By ‘fruit’ when we’re talking about God, we mean the character of God in us.
God’s kind of fruit doesn’t have any un-natural ingredients and is only good for us and others. Just think about how good fruit is for you – it is filled with goodness and brings nourishment, health and life. And remember that the very best fruit pies you can buy with the healthiest ingredients are usually the ones that are the most costly. That can be a hard thought for us but think of it this way… If I go to climb my local hill there’s not a lot of satisfaction as it’s probably pretty easy. But if I want to climb a great mountain like the Eiger in Switzerland or Lhotse in the Himalayas, it would be way, way tougher but then way, way more rewarding. God wants us to have good fruit that lasts…
So the final part of being fruitful is multiplying. We’re talking spiritually here not just physically in a married relationship! We need to be people who encourage and enable others to also be like Jesus. We want to invest into others – younger ones – so they can also be filled with fruit. Heidi Baker in Mozambique tells how they planted thousands of trees so that people could be fed. These trees were prayed over and now produce fruit all year round! Today make a choice to be fruitful, to be part of what God is doing and to help others do the same. Just tell God and ask him to use you. Get out there and ‘offer people a hoping hand’.
Clothe Yourselves – Colossians 3.12
Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience.
I don’t know about you but I can get quite excited about getting new clothes! It may be a new pair of jeans, a new pair of trainers, a new top or even a new item of outdoor clothing (for use in the mountains). Many people like to go shopping and buy new things. I don’t know what brands you like to wear but everyone has their favourites. It makes people happy and can make them feel good or more beautiful. Some people call it “retail therapy”! Of course we know that a bit of clothing isn’t going to make us happy in life but it can still give people a boost! And we need to be grateful to God if we have the money to go and buy things – many people don’t.
But God’s brands and fashion sense is a bit different to ours! While we’re out buying a pair of Adidas trainers or a Nike top, God’s list is completely off piste! Here’s the kinds of things God asks us to clothe ourselves with: compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness and patience. Ever heard of those brands?! While it’s good to get new clothes, it’s even better to wear God’s clothes – care about people and show you care; be kind to people around you even when they don’t ‘deserve’ it; be humble so don’t big yourself up but keep your feet on the ground; be gentle with people and fdon’t get all stressy and offended like people love to; and learn how to wait well – stay strong and be full of hope for God’s good things even when it doesn’t look or feel like it. When a group from my church went out on the streets to bring God’s love to people, people were blown away when they were given free chocolates, prayers and hugs. That’s what the world needs and that’s the kind of clothes that God wants us to wear!
Revealing Questions – John 21.4-5
As morning was breaking, Jesus [came and] stood on the beach; however, the disciples did not know that it was Jesus. So Jesus said to them, “Children, do you have any fish [to eat along with your bread]?” They answered, “No.”
There are many times when a question is an important and helps to get to the truth of a matter. Jesus often used questions – to confront people, to ask them questions, to reveal their heart, to get them involved and to challenge other questions when he knew people didn’t really want to hear an answer but just try to trick him.
John 21 is a great example of where Jesus used a question to reveal something deeper and to confront others with a truth. Jesus asked his disciples, ‘Do you have any fish to eat?’ So do you think he asked that because he didn’t know? No. Jesus had risen from the dead and is the Son of God. So he knew what the answer was already! So why did he ask?
Jesus was asking the disciples so they faced their reality. The disciples knew they hadn’t caught any fish but when Jesus asked them if they had caught any fish, they would say to themselves, ‘no we haven’t got any fish, good point, so why haven’t we caught any?’ The question Jesus asked them was one that made them confront their own situation, cause them to think and it opened up the door for the answer that could only come from Jesus. Sometimes Jesus does the same to us – he asks us a question that forces us to look inside ourselves and to check ourselves, looking to Jesus as the only answer. Just ask the Holy Spirit if there’s anything he wants to ask you and see what comes into your heart. Then just take it to Jesus – he’s got your answer before you know there’s a question!
Washing – John 13.5
“After that, he poured water into a basin and began to wash his disciples’ feet, drying them with the towel that was wrapped around him.”
Jesus knew that the time had nearly come for him to leave the world and go back to the Father in heaven. Because of this he deliberately did and said certain things. It would be a bit like you going off to Uni and your youth leader hanging out with you one last time. They may well say and do certain things to send you off, encourage you and give you some advice. A parent or whoever looks after you would probably do the same thing.
One of the things that Jesus was modeling was that being a leader isn’t about bossing people around or thinking you’re more important than everyone else. Leadership and life is not about what you can get but about what you can give. Jesus demonstrated a servant heart and a humility that was more powerful than if he’d been full of words and been all bossy. Jesus showed that true power comes from giving, serving and caring for other people. And that’s a model for us to follow.
Jesus was also showing us a picture of what happens when we meet with Jesus in a spiritual way and follow him. Just as Jesus was washing the feet of the disciples and washing away all the dirt, so this happens spiritually when Jesus changes our life. He washes away the rubbish and all the muck, then he rubs off the stains that have been left behind in an on-going process through our life. He even helps us when we get other dirt on us if we ask for his help. So remember that Jesus is a great example for how to do life and someone who helps us live life to the full.
Trying to contain Jesus – Matthew 27.62-66
The next day, the one after Preparation Day, the chief priests and the Pharisees went to Pilate. ‘Sir,’ they said, ‘we remember that while he was still alive that deceiver said, “After three days I will rise again.” So give the order for the tomb to be made secure until the third day. Otherwise, his disciples may come and steal the body and tell the people that he has been raised from the dead. This last deception will be worse than the first.’
‘Take a guard,’ Pilate answered. ‘Go, make the tomb as secure as you know how.’ So they went and made the tomb secure by putting a seal on the stone and posting the guard.
There are many people in the world today who try to shut Jesus up ‘in his grave’ just like the Pharisees tried to. This can come from secular governments, communist governments and religious governments right down to some school officials, people online and in the media. They can be really hostile towards Christians (it’s not personal to you, it’s personal to Jesus). They mock, laugh, take the mick. Sometimes people are abusive, hateful, hurtful and aggressive (often while wrongly accusing Christians of being full of hate!). We often see positive stories in the media about things that are against God but more negative stories when it comes to Christianity. All around the world, even in so-called democracies, we see how the Bible or the good news about Jesus is closed down by pressure groups and those who want to live and believe anything except what God says. They are just like the Pharisees and the Roman Empire who tried but failed to silence Jesus!
The Pharisees couldn’t stop what the Bible prophecied and what Jesus said would happen. They couldn’t stop Jesus rising from the dead. It didn’t matter what they did to the tomb. They made the tomb as ‘secure as they knew how to’ and yet Jesus rose anyway. Even with today’s technology, Jesus wouldn’t be contained. And with all the world throws at Christians – persecuting, stealing, robbing, murdering and torturing – still, the message of Jesus is growing and spreading like wildfire across the globe more than ever before. Jesus will never be contained because Jesus is uncontainable. So is his message. So is the truth, love and power of God in and through you. The Bible is just as relevant today as ever. So go around doing good and being kind even in your words. Be uncontainable!
Fake Views and God’s Beauty Products – Matthew 23.25-26
“Woe to you, [self-righteous] scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the plate, but inside they are full of extortion and robbery and self-indulgence (unrestrained greed). You [spiritually] blind Pharisee, first clean the inside of the cup and of the plate [examine and change your inner self to conform to God’s precepts], so that the outside [your public life and deeds] may be clean also.”
The media and movies are full of people who look good and appear to be good. They may come across as being a nice person and be seen to do lots of good things. But the question is – what do they really ‘look like’ on the inside? In the ‘Mission Impossible’ movies, the characters often wear different ‘masks’ to disguise their identity. But that is what most people do in real life. The person you see on the front cover of a magazine is not the real person. To find reality, we have to dig deeper into their inner lives and see them behind the scenes. That’s why it’s good to really get to know someone in different circumstances and situations if you’re thinking about marrying someone. Who are they really in private? That may give a good clue as to who they will be if you marry them. But remember, God is also in the change business so pray too!
In the same way, we have become a society where what people see, hear and feel has become more important than reality and for some people can become a fake reality. So if the media says that something is fun, then many people believe it to be fun. If were told something is true or good, we often believe it. This is how advertising works. But behind all of this are ‘fake views’. What we see and what we are told is often fake. Jesus always went to the heart of the matter. And the heart of the matter was always a matter of the heart. He slammed the pharisees for wanting to look good on the outside but being evil on the inside. That is how many people are today because of media, TV, advertising – they look good on the outside but they’re a mess inside. Just think of how many celebs have break downs in their lives or end up dead or depressed or alone. When Jesus is on the inside of you, he cleans up the inside and that is then reflected on the outside. So yes, look good and act well, as often this helps. But as Christians we are different to the world because the goodness (God) is on the inside. God’s beauty products are internal! And before you listen to what people say, ask yourself what they are really like on the inside. It will help you decide whether to believe them or receive what they’re saying. Jesus is 100% pure on the inside and 100% good. So we know we can always trust him!
God works with who we are – Matthew 9.18-19
“While he was saying this, a synagogue leader came and knelt before him and said, ‘My daughter has just died. But come and put your hand on her, and she will live.’ Jesus got up and went with him, and so did his disciples.”
In Matthew 9, a ruler game to Jesus and asked Jesus to heal his daughter – ‘come and put your hand on her.’ So Jesus went and raised her from the dead. On the way to healing this little girl, a woman came along and said, ‘if only I can touch the edge of Jesus’s cloak I’ll be made well.’ She did and she was healed. In Chapter 8 of Matthew a Roman Centurion soldier spoke to Jesus and said to Jesus ‘my servant is ill but if you speak a word, my servant will get healed.’ Jesus was amazed at his faith, spoke a word and the servant (who wasn’t there at the time) was healed at that exact moment. In just these three examples, Jesus responded to the way the person asked for their healing – a touch from Jesus; a touch of Jesus; a word. This shows that it’s God’s will to heal but it also shows us that God meets with us in the way we meet with him. There’s no absolute rules here as he’s God and can do what he likes (!) but God often works with who we are for who we are.
It’s so encouraging to know that God responds to us according to who we are and where we’re at! He speaks our language, relates to our personality and even how we connect with him. Have you ever thought that the Bible tells us heaven will be full of people from every tribe, tongue, ethnic group, race? We’re all human but we all have different ways, languages, cultures, habits, traditions, ways of singing and worship. And then God has made each person unique on top of that! Just think of the differences between people in your youth group or church. I like football, climbing, mountaineering, worship. My sister likes Disney, musicals, working with older people. Some people are new Christians and other people have been a Christian for an even longer time than your age! We are different but God cares for each one us and connects with each one of us uniquely according to who we are. He has a unique plan for each of us and speaks to us in unique ways. And he has done that with each individual Christian throughout history!
Live In Jesus. Jesus lives in and through us – John 15.5-8
‘I am the vine; you are the branches. If you remain in me and I in you, you will bear much fruit; apart from me you can do nothing. If you do not remain in me, you are like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned. If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you. This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples.
Do you know the account of Noah? You can find it in Genesis 6 and 7. God gave Noah the plans for a boat which we know as the Ark. The size was around 137m high, 23m wide and 14m high. A study in the 1990s showed the relative measurements for the height / width / depth are the best kind for a boat in high winds and waves! God knows best! So Noah and his family built this ark over a long time before Noah, his family and two of every species of animal went into the ark. God then sent a flood on the whole world (this was a global flood, it wasn’t just a local flood in Noah’s neck of the woods!)
Inside the ark, Noah and his family were safe. The ark was a picture of Jesus. The idea came from God – God gave the plans and God shut the doors of the ark when Noah and his family had finished it and were inside. The flood was God dealing with the terrible evil that was everywhere in the earth and was an example of the final judgement that will come when Jesus returns one day. Jesus will separate those who have said yes to Jesus from those who don’t. This is God’s plan and despite people’s feelings, it will happen. The Ark was a true example in the physical of what is true in the spiritual: that we are safe from God’s judgment only if we are in the ‘ark’ (in Jesus). Just as Noah and his family were safe inside the ark from the flood waters of God’s judgement, so we will be safe if we are believers in Jesus. The ark also shows us how to live life. When Noah and his family were in the ark, we can say they were living ‘in Jesus’. At the same time, they were carriers of God’s plan on earth. Noah and his family did what they could and God did what only he could. That’s the same call we have today. We are God’s hands and feet and as we do our part, God does in and through us what he does! That’s what it means to be in Jesus and Jesus in us!
Know, Grow, Show (and Go!) – 2 Peter 1.4
“Through these he has given us his very great and precious promises, so that through them you may participate in the divine nature, having escaped the corruption in the world caused by evil desires.”
When you plant a seed in the ground in the right soil and take care of it, you can expect the seed to grow and develop. Obviously if you try to ‘plant’ a seed in the wrong ground (like shallow soil or like dust on a road!) you may have problems. You’ll also have a problem if the soil never gets to see the light or if the soil is so dry that there’s no moisture. But if you plant a seed in good soil in the right way and place and then look after it, you can expect for it to grow – it’s something that God has built into the world he created to help sustain life.
The Christian life is a bit like a seed. God ‘plants’ us in the ground when we come to know him as boss in our life. Then we start to grow. We can help this process by not resisting God. Over time, roots appear and then shoots appear above the ground. Gradually we grow, branches grow up and fruit or flowers grow on the branches. We may even see other seeds fall to the ground or be blown by the wind (the Holy Spirit) and take root in other ground and grow there. There are different seasons – the autumn a few leaves may fall off and in winter some branches may break or be covered in snow. But as Spring approaches we will see new fruit and new flowers grow. In the same way that we see this happen in the natural environment, so we can see this happen in the spiritual environment . The only difference is that as followers of Jesus, we can be sure that God is the best gardener and that we will never be ripped out of the ground!
So in a way, the journey of faith with Jesus is that we get to know God, keep growing in his promises and in what he says through the Bible and by his Spirit; we then grow spiritually and in maturity; we then show off the fruit in our life that comes from God and then go and allow this God-fruit to grow elsewhere. This process keeps on repeating throughout our lives as we know, grow, show and go. The order can be different from this – or they can all happen at the same time. But the whole time we are growing in and showing off God. Just as a rose grows up and proudly displays the God who created it, so we can do the same. God wants you to become all that he has made you to be. The way is to know, grow, show and go!
Bang the floor – 2 Kings 13.18-19
Then Elisha said, “Take the arrows,” and he took them. And Elisha said to the king of Israel, “Strike the ground,” and he struck it three times and stopped. So the man of God was angry with him and said, “You should have struck five or six times; then you would have struck down Aram until you had destroyed it. But now you shall strike Aram only three times.”
The context for this is that Elisha (a prophet, one who would hear from God) was speaking to the King of Israel (Jehoash) and told the King that he would defeat his enemies. Elisha told the king to take some arrows and bang them on the ground to symbolise how he would beat his enemy. The King struck the arrows to the ground three times. Elisha was upset, telling him he should have hit the ground more times, saying that the more times he hit the ground, the greater the victory would have been. The King missed out on the total victory he would have had because he didn’t give it all he had.
I wonder if this is something you recognise from your own life? I know that for me I have missed opportunities sometimes because I haven’t really gone from them. Sometimes it’s because I don’t want to be seen as being arrogant; other times it’s because I’ve felt a lot of fear; sometimes it’s been because I don’t want to bother others or be a hassle. So I have missed out compared to other people who are more confident, who make a big noise or who grab opportunities with both hands. We have to be careful because God wants us to let him lead us and we should always stay humble and have a servant-heart. But if God gives you opportunities, go for them with all your heart and mind and strength. Don’t push others out of the way or step on people, but say yes to God and then go for it. When I have opportunities, I give them my all. But sometimes we also need to reach out and position ourselves to be given opportunities. When we step up and step out for God, it glorifies God. God has called us to be humble and give him the glory (it’s not about us) but he has also made you to represent him well. So push on doors, knock, ask, seek, even be a bit cheeky at times! But whatever you do, when God opens a door, bang those arrows on the floor with all your strength. God asks us to do that! The world needs us to do that!
Stop, Listen and Live – Colossians 3.16
Let the [spoken] word of Christ have its home within you [dwelling in your heart and mind—permeating every aspect of your being] as you teach [spiritual things] and admonish and train one another with all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs with thankfulness in your hearts to God. (Amplified Version)
I’ve travelled to America and Canada. I have stayed with friends, in the houses of local people, in hotels and even in a tent. In all of these places I’ve been welcomed but they weren’t where I really lived. I was just there temporarily.
The Bible says that we should let God’s word have its home within us. We don’t want the Bible to be like a visitor or like a tourist that stays a while but is just passing through on their way somewhere else. It’s good to visit but it’s not God’s best. Sometimes we can even approach God or the Bible like we’re just visiting or like we’re a tourist!
Instead, God’s best is that the Word of God actually dwells in your heart and mind. If you make a cup of filter coffee and just put the coffee in, then add some water and immediately chuck away the coffee, you will get a cup of coffee. But it won’t have really blended and released its full flavour. The coffee and the water have ‘met’ but they haven’t really ‘connected.’ It’s like talking to someone in passing on the train rather than getting to know someone over time. When we really become friends with God and with the Bible and allow it to filter into every part of us. That way the Word of God can take up residence on the inside of us. It can live there like a trusted friend rather than just a visitor or a tourist that is there one day and gone the next. Your potential and the potential of God in you will only happen when you let God live on the inside of you and let God’s Word do the same.
Revealing the heart – John 6.41-42
At this the Jews there began to grumble about him because he said, ‘I am the bread that came down from heaven.’ They said, ‘Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, “I came down from heaven”?’
One of the things about the life of Jesus was that his actions, words and lifestyle revealed what people were really thinking. The only choices became accepting Jesus or rejecting Jesus. In a book called ‘Experience The Impossible’ on page 120, Bill Johnson quotes an unknown person who says that “God offends our minds to reveal our hearts.” And that is what happened with Jesus in John 6. People began to grumble about Jesus because he said the truth that he came down from heaven. People looked at him and thought, ‘what’s he on about? He’s Joseph and Mary’s son.’ Increasingly, people became offended with what Jesus said and did, especially the religious leaders (the political leaders of society in the day). The same thing is happening today. The truth of Jesus and the Bible is offending people and revealing their hearts. This may be people around us and it includes many political leaders too. For many, the message of Jesus is offensive. Not because it is offensive but because it challenges the hearts of people who then react against it.
In 2016 and 2017 in the UK and in the USA, there were huge changes in society and in government. Big decisions were taken that some people supported and some people disagreed with. Some people had very strong opinions which they wanted to express and take action over. God wants us to be involved in issues that he has made us passionate about (as long as they’re not against God’s heart!) and that is good. But if you’re a Christian, then God is equally (maybe more) concerned about who we are rather than what we do. So God will sometimes allow our minds to be offended so that it reveals our heart. Jesus is transforming us to be more like him every day. So whatever we do and whatever is happening, don’t react with offence, anger, hatred, bitterness or unforgiveness. Those things mess us up and eat us up inside. Yes, be angry against what the devil is doing in the world but let God’s light and life shine out and compel us to action through God’s love alone. If you feel challenged by God, just say sorry and ask for his help! We all need that!
Psalm 31.15 – My times are in your hands
In Psalm 31.15, the Psalmist writes speaking to God saying, “My times are in your hands…”
Twice each year in the UK, the time ‘changes’ by one hour from GMT (‘Greenwich Mean Time) to BST (British Summer Time) and back again later in the year. The time changes for various reasons such as to help people make the most of the daylight and even to protect children, giving them more light in the times they walk to and from school.
In the same kind of way, the life and times of a believer in Jesus are in God’s hands. What this means is that we can trust that God is in control. He knows the end from the beginning. The Bible also tells us that Jesus is the ‘Alpha and Omega.’ In the Greek alphabet, ‘alpha’ is the first letter and ‘omega’ is the last letter. So we learn that God is the first and the last (and everything in between). There’s nothing God doesn’t know, doesn’t see and doesn’t understand. He is not like some evil puppet master pulling all the strings of your life as if you’re a puppet on a string. But instead he knows what’s best for us and has good plans for us. God is always for us and helps us to be everything he made us to be. We can trust that if we go to God in prayer asking for things that are in his will, he will give us the right things in the right way at the right time.
We may not understand everything that happens and sometimes things happen that aren’t necessarily God’s will for us because we have an enemy who hates God. But God will always work things out for good if we trust him and want to follow him. We will also go through different ‘times’ and ‘seasons’ where we have ups and downs in life. But God will always be faithful to us, always help us and always work things out for our good and even for the good of others. Just like you keep a check on your calendar app or phone clock, keep your eyes on God and the Bible and know that your times are in God’s hands. You can trust him. With God on your side, you can’t lose!
2 Corinthians 3.3 – Hell-oween or Hello-ween
“You show that you are a letter from Christ, the result of our ministry, written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts.”
Halloween isn’t always a great time. It can be pretty harmless with children going around asking for candy and sweets. But it can quickly get out of hand with people egging houses, buses, gathering in gangs and even picking on vulnerable people or even the emergency services. Some children can be vulnerable unless they walk round with adults.
Every year that something like Halloween comes round, as Christians we have to ask ourselves what our response is. Often when things like Halloween happen, some Christians go into hiding, as if God is somehow less powerful than people or evil forces at work in the world. We can retreat and shut the castle door. Or we can engage with people. Too often the Christian response is ‘Hell-oween’ – focusing on the hellish bit. But we need a change in attitude, to engage with people and share God’s love. Our attitude should be more ‘hello-ween’ as in saying hello to people!
Time to show off God and be his love letter to a lost world!
Galatians 3.26-29 – One in Christ
“So in Christ Jesus you are all children of God through faith, for all of you who were baptized into Christ have clothed yourselves with Christ. There is neither Jew nor Gentile, neither slave nor free, nor is there male and female, for you are all one in Christ Jesus. If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.“
There are many people who use the Bible in the wrong way. Some people believe that we should only do what is written in the Bible but that’s wrong. If we did that, we wouldn’t have cars, clothes, use computers, speak English etc. Others use the Bible very loosely, thinking that it’s just a bunch of guidelines that aren’t that relevant any more today in our ‘modern’ society. Both those ways of thinking are wrong.
The Bible is God’s word and it is completely true. God (outside of time) wrote the Bible through people (inside of time) for all of time. However, we apply the Bible to our lives by way of using both the truth and by using principles from it. So if God says don’t go sleeping with someone’s wife, that’s pretty clear and we don’t do that because we love God and shouldn’t want to do that! But if we’re trying to decide whether to get one car or another car, the Bible doesn’t tell us, so we have to use God’s word and the Holy Spirit in us for wisdom in deciding. Quite often God leaves the choice to us, only nudging us if we’re going wrong.
So back to these verses in Galatians… some people say that there shouldn’t be ‘male’ and ‘female’ any more. They may even point to the Bible saying that there’s no male or female. But that isn’t what the verse is saying. The verse is actually about who we are as Christians. Jesus uses all of us. If we are a Christian, then we’re all children of God – male or female, Jew or people who aren’t Jews, black or white etc. It’s not saying there’s no races any more or no genders any more. It’s saying that when we’re Christians, we are equal in Christ. God doesn’t like any one of us more than another one. It’s about the fact that God values all of his people equally. It’s got nothing to do with being gender neutral. God created man and woman.
Dye-ing to self – Galatians 2.20
“I have been crucified with Christ and I no longer live, but Christ lives in me. The life I now live in the body, I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.”
I once had a pair of jeans that I loved. But they had really faded and my once loved jeans were beginning to look a bit unhappy and sorry for themselves. What was the answer? I could have thrown them away or preferably given them to the Salvation Army or clothes bank. But instead I went into the city centre and bought some blue jeans dye. Within 24 hours I had a pair of jeans that were looking dark-washed. What dye does is that it bonds with the fibre it’s being added to so that the fibres change colour.
In the Bible, Jesus told his disciples that the way to follow him was to ‘deny themselves, take up their cross and follow him.’ Then Paul writes in Galatians that his life has been so changed by Jesus that it’s not him living but it’s Christ living in and through him. When we become a Christian, God puts his Holy Spirit in us and makes all things new there. Over time, God changes us to be more and more like him so that what he’s done in our spirits will be more and more of a reality in our minds, emotions and body. Paul had reached this incredible place where the life he lived even in his body was filled with God.
When I put the packet of dye into the water to dye my jeans, the blue colour gradually filled the water – bit by bit. Then I had to put the jeans into that water. Over a period of time, the dye in the water bonded with my jeans. The old washed out colour went and a new colour full of life was the result. And this is what God wants to do and is doing in your life. So relax and let God do his thing while you play your part, dying to self and letting God change your ‘washed out jeans’ to a new vibrant pair of jeans. Dye to self…
Moved with compassion? Matthew 14.14
“Jesus saw the huge crowd as he stepped from the boat, and he had compassion on them and healed their sick.“
We’ve all faced the busy crowds at Christmas and New Year. There are shoppers everywhere, little room to move past the shops and on the streets. Some people just barge past you or don’t wait their turn. Even in shops people can be rude or take the last present or push and shove to get in line for the sales. There have even been fights over goods in various stores around the world. It can be noisy, difficult to get a coffee and to experience the joy of Christmas. Many people have got home from shopping and sighed a huge sigh of relief! Can you relate at all – even if you love shopping?
Sometimes our attitude is very different to Jesus. Jesus had been on his own and suddenly he was confronted by a huge crowd. But unlike many of us, he had compassion on the people. Have you ever sat on a bench in a city centre or shopping mall and just watched people? Maybe try it one time and look around and ask Jesus for a heart for those people. You’ll see older people struggling along alone; mothers with crying babies; guys out shopping and trying to escape as soon as possible; people looking a bit lost and hopeless; others who get their value from shopping and what they buy and wear etc.
Jesus saw the crowd and he didn’t just have compassion, he was moved by compassion to take action. The Bible tells us that Jesus healed all the sick. This shows that Jesus wants to heal people in every way (including physically). Nothing has changed because Jesus hasn’t changed. It also shows that our faith needs to have action. We can’t have faith that doesn’t ever do anything. When you look around at Christmas or other times of year at the people around you, ask God to move you with his compassion into his action!
Be an environmentalist – Proverbs 11.30
“The fruit of the righteous is a tree of life, and the one who is wise saves lives.“
Did you know that God cares about the environment? He really does. Imagine you hand-made an amazing bit of woodwork into a little sailing boat. You made little sailors to go on it and stuck it all together with rigging and masts and sails. You’d be pretty proud of that little boat. You’d be gutted if someone came along and destroyed it, right? I think that God must feel that way about the world and people who destroy the world and other people. It makes God sad and angry too. One day he will see justice done!
But here’s another truth – the Bible says that the life of a man or woman of God is like a tree of life. So when we live the way that God calls us to live and do the things that please him, we are like little Godly spiritual environmentalists! When we do God’s work it’s like bringing life to people and to situations around us. Back in the time of the Old Testament and still around the world today, people sow seeds into the ground to get crops to grow. When we do God-things to the world and people around us, it’s like sowing God-seeds of life because God is life. So when we do good things we are spreading life – just as a tree spreads its roots into the ground. Then other people get life and we become more alive. There’s nothing better or that can make us more happy then helping others and bringing God’s life!
So go on, be a tree of life today. Live God’s truth, love God’s ways and speak God’s message of life wherever you go!
SRT – Sheep Rescue Team – Matthew 17.3-7
Matthew 17.3-7 – “Then Jesus told them this parable: ‘Suppose one of you has a hundred sheep and loses one of them. Doesn’t he leave the ninety-nine in the open country and go after the lost sheep until he finds it? And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbours together and says, “Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.” I tell you that in the same way there will be more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous people who do not need to repent.“
In June 2015, I was walking on Dartmoor with a couple of friends. Dartmoor is a national park in the county of Devon in the Southwest of England. It is a wild moor and has lots of bogs and difficult terrain to walk on. We were walking up to a load of rock called a Tor and I saw a sheep struggling in the grass. As we got nearer, the back legs of the sheep were stuck down a pit and she couldn’t escape. So we grabbed her and pulled her out. She went off and her mum saw her and said ‘baaa’ and the young lamb (with a black bottom from being in the pit!) ran towards her mum and said ‘baaa.’ back to her mum. They were reunited and it was a happy ending!
Jesus does this for people like you and me and other people around the world. When we are stuck in a pit, or stuck in doing bad things, Jesus comes along. He doesn’t say to us, ‘ha, you’re stuck in a pit. You deserve to be stuck in that pit. You put yourself there, you find your own way out…” No, instead, Jesus comes along and he pulls us out of the pit. He then cleans us up, helps us get reunited with God the Father and with other people around us. Jesus wants to lift you out of any and every put that you are in. All we have to do is say ‘baaaa’ (cry out to Jesus) and ask him. He will be there for you!
Your Five-A-Day – Romans 5.5
“And this hope will not lead to disappointment. For we know how dearly God loves us, because he has given us the Holy Spirit to fill our hearts with his love.”
If you live in the UK, you may have heard about the ‘five a day’ campaign. I was hoping it was about chocolate but it’s actually about vegetables and fruit. The hope is to see people have 5 lots of fruit or vegetables each day, so we can stay healthy. Having been to the dentist, I can say that eating fruit and vegetables and not loading up on unhealthy foods like too much sugar or fat, is a good thing! If you eat sugary stuff, eat it with meals.
The Bible also gives us loads of things to help us live life well. Some people say it’s out of date. Others even say that it shows that God is horrible. But the truth is that the Bible is there to help guide us through all areas of life. God wants the very best for us. In 1 Corinthians 6.17, God tells us that our bodies are like temples where God lives. The Old Testament temple was a physical place that was built from the very best materials by the best people. The same should be true for us. Why would we want to damage what God has made?! But looking after ourselves is more than just physical. It’s spiritual, emotional and about the mind. So here are your 5 a day ideas to keep life going well…
1. Think and talk about what is good and positive, not on problems and what’s bad. This gives you hope!. 2. Make sure you work (it’s very rewarding!) but also have rest and fun. 3. Have a real purpose for living – live for God and what he’s called you to do. 4. Have good friends and good people around you to encourage and help you but also do good for others whenever you can. 5. Spend time with God in prayer, in reading the Bible and just hanging out with him every day!
Peddling – 2 Corinthians 2.17
“Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, as those sent from God.”
So what does it mean to peddle the word of God? Is it some kind of fundraising idea involving cycling..? Maybe a route from Lands End to John O’Groats for the church roof campaign..?! Not exactly. In the very old days there used to be people who were like travelling sellers of goods. In English they were called ‘pedlars’ and were not trusted because they’d try and sell you fake stuff or useless things. So when the Bible talks about ‘peddling’ the word of God for profit, it means this kind of thing and these kinds of people! Peddling means people are corrupt.
Some people believe that everything to do with the Word of God, or spreading the Gospel should be free. This is fair enough (Myfishbites is free – always has been and always will be). But there is always a cost – for example Myfishbites has to pay for the website. God is not against people being paid and he’s not against selling things to do with the Bible. For example, a group of experts came together to create (for example) the ‘NIV” version of the Bible. Then the Bible has to be printed and all this costs money. Someone, somewhere has to pay for all of this. So what people do is to sell the Bible. This is fair enough! Or someone puts on a conference with a visiting speaker. Someone has to pay for the room, for the travel and for other expenses. So people may sell tickets (or ask Christians to fund the costs behind the scenes). So we can’t say that the Bible is saying that everything should be free! (See 1 Corinthians 9).
The key is that when we preach or teach or write books, do DVDs etc. then our motive should not be money or abusing people in whatever way in order to get money. Instead, Paul (the writer of the verse) explained that the motive (the thing that makes us tick) should be honest and with a pure heart. Even if we ‘sell’ things, we should never abuse people. All we do should come from our love for God and people! We should also be careful not to accuse others – we don’t know the motives behind people. Instead we should pray for people and for God’s truth to be revealed!
Getting Your Thinking Straight – Philippians 4.8-9
“Finally, brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable – if anything is excellent or praiseworthy – think about such things. Whatever you have learned or received or heard from me, or seen in me – put it into practice. And the God of peace will be with you.”
What do you think about? How do you spend your time? What are you passionate about? How do you know that what you’re thinking about are the kinds of things God thinks about or wants you to think about? Well of course the best way is through the Bible. But that’s what everyone says, right? So what about some specific help. OK, so first of all let’s look at the ‘framework’ inside of which we can look at specific help. In the book of Isaiah (26.3) the prophet said that our minds are peaceful when we think about God. In the New Testament, Jesus said things fall into place when we put his kingdom first (Matthew 6.33). So this is our ‘framework’. But for specific help, step up Philippians 4.8-9… Here, the Apostle Paul gives us a list of a few things that we should think about:
First, we should think about things that are true. So don’t think about lies and gossip! Second, we think about things that are honourable. This is a word we don’t use much now but it’s about doing the right thing and being respectful, no matter what. So we can think about how we can do this. Third we think about what is right. So we don’t think about wrong things – things that we know are wrong. We can’t stop thoughts coming in always. But we can choose not to keep thinking about it! Fourth we think about what is pure. So everything that is dirty or dodgy shouldn’t be in our lives or minds. Instead we think about being pure. Fifth we think about what is lovely or admirable. There are things we can do to express love and do good. Think about that! Then we think about things that are excellent and praiseworthy. Much of what is on TV is superficial and ultimately pretty pointless. Or we live in a world where people don’t do what is best. So we can be different and decide to think and live out Philippians 4 !
Rules – Colossians 2.20-23
“Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings. Such regulations indeed have an appearance of wisdom, with their self-imposed worship, their false humility and their harsh treatment of the body, but they lack any value in restraining sensual indulgence.”
In this bit of the Bible, Paul was writing to the Colossian church about being free from pointless human rules and ways of thinking. He wasn’t saying don’t obey the law and things like that! No, he was saying you don’t have to do things the way the world does or the way the world sees things. This may be the latest advice from so-called experts about what you should eat, how you should sleep or the latest 10 step programme for the perfect body! Paul was saying – don’t be dominated by these things. You don’t have to obey these fads, these latest theories, the latest ways of doing things just because other people are or because you want to fit in. When we do this we come under someone else’s ideas but God has set us free to be liberated by his ways.
But we can have these things in the church as well. I once read an article on how a woman was told lots of things about what she should and shouldn’t do by her church, regarding relationships. The church was probably well-meaning but when she got married, she was confused on finding out that some of these things taught as ‘fact’ or put in place to ‘help her’ didn’t help her at all and weren’t even true! Other times we have books on ‘5 steps to be a better Christian’ or ’10 ways to improve your prayer life’. Paul warns us to be careful not to follow man-made theories and rules. It doesn’t mean that everything man says or does is wrong. But we are free as Christians to make up our own minds and the Bible says we have the mind of Christ (I’d rather hear God’s ideas than man’s ideas!) If you want to read the latest ’10 step’ book that’s fine. But remember that we are all unique, God works differently in each of our lives and he has a special plan for each of us that may not fit the theories of the latest study, author or speaker. Sometimes their ideas can be helpful but sometimes they can be a barrier to us. So be free to be the man or woman of God that he wants you to be. Not what someone else thinks you should be!
Relationship Building – Ephesians 2.14-17
“For he (Jesus) himself is our peace, who has made the two groups one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, by setting aside in his flesh the law with its commands and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new humanity out of the two, thus making peace, and in one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to death their hostility. He came and preached peace to you who were far away and peace to those who were near. “
The ‘heading’ for this part of Ephesians 2 is ‘Peace between Jew and Gentile’. Quick history lesson… The Bible didn’t originally have these headings or chapters and verses. Someone called Stephen Langton who was an Archbishop of Canterbury put chapters in to the Bible in the 1227. The first Bible to have these in was the Wycliffe English Bible of 1382. Then in 1448, a Jewish rabbi called Nathan put the Hebrew Bible (Old Testament) into verses. Then in 1555, Robert Estinenne known as Stephanus put the New Testament into verses. These were all put in the Bible to help us and this system of chapter and verses remains pretty much the same today. (Source)
End of history, onto application. Did you know you can pray the Bible? Ephesians 2.14-17 is a section of the Bible which can be prayed and slightly developed to pray for people. Maybe you know of mates who are struggling to get on, or a marriage in difficulties, or church divisions. You can pray Ephesians 2 directly over any situation. So you can pray, “Jesus, you yourself are the peace (in a specific situation), you have made the two groups (or people) one and destroyed the barrier of hostility that divides them…” It’s great to be able to pray the Bible over situations, people, relationships. When we ‘pray the Bible’ rightly we can be sure we’re praying God’s will.
Answers – 1 Peter 3.15
“But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect…”
This verse of the Bible is packed full of golden Bible nuggets, so let’s dig for gold together! FIRST, everything comes from putting God first in our hearts. To ‘revere’ God means to honour him for who he really is – good, loving, kind but also all-powerful, the God of the universe and holy. Out of this loving awe of God flows everything else so let’s focus on God for who he is first. SECOND, always be prepared to give an answer. It can help if we think about our faith and really know what we believe before anyone asks. This way we can give a better answer. It also helps us in our faith as we learn from the Bible about what it is we believe and why. The Bible has an answer for everything but we have to dig to find it sometimes! But it will be well worth it.
THIRD, we’re encouraged to give an answer to people who ask. So here’s a couple of challenges. It is right to share our faith with people actively, but very often people don’t want to hear it or aren’t ready to receive it. God works in all kinds of ways but this verse encourages us to answer people who ask. So pray to God that he will give you opportunities to people’s questions rather than just ‘Bible bash’. It also encourages us to give an answer, not to walk away or not answer people! FOURTH, people will ask about the hope you have. So the next challenge is: are you living a life that people ask questions about in a good way? Are you full of hope? Do you have something that others need or want? We should have! Ask God to fill you full of his hope (Romans 15.13). FINALLY, we should answer people with respect and gentleness. Too many times Christians are like a crashing cymbal, banging in people’s heads. But the Bible calls us to be gentle and have respect. The Holy Spirit is pictured as a dove in the Bible, not a squawk·ing crow! Let’s be the same 🙂
Trees – Isaiah 61.3
“… They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of his splendour.”
Trees. I remember working for a guy who ran an incredible ministry reaching out across an inner city community to work with the homeless, the marginalised and the elderly. What he did was awesome. But one day he had a breakdown because he’d worked too hard. I remember him saying to me that he used to drive and not even see the trees but now when he drove, he saw God’s beauty in the trees.
In Psalm 1, we learn about the kind of people God calls us to be (actually it’s a prayer I pray over my life). It talks about someone who steers clear of sin and who loves God’s Word and thinks on it every day saying, “That person is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither – whatever they do prospers.” Then Jeremiah 17.8 speaks about someone who puts their confidence and trust in the Lord, promising that, “They will be like a tree planted by the water that sends out its roots by the stream. It does not fear when heat comes; its leaves are always green. It has no worries in a year of drought and never fails to bear fruit.”
Sounds awesome and the kind of person I want to be for God. Maybe take these Bible verses and pray then over your life because we want to be like these kinds of trees. Recently some railway clearance work was done near me. They cleared a massive bank of trees and concreted over it all. What once was green and full of life is now grey and dull. That’s what Satan does to people. But we should be like trees – full of life, standing strong and true in God and allowing our ‘branches’ to touch other people’s lives for good – to cover, give shade, rest and peace and to point to God’s glory.
Your spices and perfume – Luke 23.55-56
The women who had come with Jesus from Galilee followed Joseph and saw the tomb and how his body was laid in it. Then they went home and prepared spices and perfumes.
As Christians, we are part of the ‘body of Christ’. The word ‘body’ simply means the people – the church. If you didn’t know already, a church isn’t a building but the people of God meeting together. The word used for church is ‘ekklesia’ (in the original language of the New Testament, Greek) and it really means an assembly of people. When Jesus died on the Cross, the women who had come with Jesus (including his mother). We find from Luke 24.10 that these women were, “Mary Magdalene, Joanna, Mary the mother of James.”
These three women had stayed loyal to Jesus when others had run away (even Peter, although he would later experience God’s power and be totally changed into a fearless evangelist – someone spreading the good news of Jesus). But these three women stayed loyal and followed Jesus, even into his death – and were the ones to discover he had risen from the dead (Luke 24.1-3).
Back to our original verses – Luke 23.55-56 and here are some applications we can learn from… Firstly, they brought spices and perfumes for the body of Jesus. We are called to bring our gifts, our time, our lives and invest them into the church (just like you’d put money into a bank except God’s ‘bank’ never goes bust and has the highest interest rates!) We are called to serve Jesus – just as the three women did. Secondly, they stayed loyal to Jesus – we should too! Thirdly, they followed Jesus where he went – even to his death and to his tomb. We are called to be ‘living sacrifices’ (Romans 12.1-2) and many thousands of Christians are killed for their faith around the world today. You may not be killed but you can stay true to Jesus, live for him and serve him by serving the church, and by bringing your gifts and ‘spices and perfume’ to the living body of Jesus – the church.
Let your light shine, so that… – Matthew 5.16
“In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
In the same way we let our light shine… Jesus was talking to his disciples about being light in the world. He gave the example of lighting a lamp. When someone lights a lamp, they don’t put it under a bowl. No, the purpose of the lamp is to give light. This light isn’t just for the person who lights the lamp, it’s for ‘everyone in the house’. Jesus then went on to say – shine your light in this same way. What same way? Well, allow the light of God in you to shine. Don’t try and hide the light as this light is not just for you, but for others too. Don’t let others tell you not to shine the light and try not to worry about people wrongly saying things about why you’re letting your light shine.
Think about this: when someone releases a new music single, they ‘put themselves out there’, risking all kinds of things people may say. When you let God’s light within you shine, there will often be people who will say things wrongly, like you’re being arrogant or being full of your self and pride. We have to guard against this, but Jesus has given us a command to shine the light. When we let the ‘light’ shine, we’re not shining our own light anyway – we’re shining God’s light. When we let our light shine, it’s about us not God (always remember that!) Jesus tells us to shine the light so people glorify God, so this is the purpose of our light shining! It’s not about us – it’s about God. It’s not about our glory – it’s about God’s glory! I felt God once say to me, ‘Let your light shine to reflect God’s light’. This is very simply what Jesus is talking about. Don’t let doubt, fear or the false words of other people put you off. Without you shining God’s light, people have only darkness so your ‘light’ is needed in this world to let God’s music play! God wants you to shine – and this world needs you to shine!
With or without Jesus – Matthew 14.23-24, 32-33
After (Jesus) had dismissed them, he went up on a mountainside by himself to pray. Later that night, he was there alone, and the boat was already a considerable distance from land, buffeted by the waves because the wind was against it… And when they climbed into the boat, the wind died down. Then those who were in the boat worshiped him, saying, “Truly you are the Son of God.”
In Matthew 14, we find that after feeding the 5000, Jesus sent the disciples across the lake by boat and retreated up the mountain to pray. The disciples were now on their own – their boat was a long way from the safety of land and was beginning to be thrown about by the waves and the wind. Very often we can be bashed about in life by the ‘wind and waves’ of different things that happen. Other times we decide to do things on our own and don’t bother to ask Jesus to come with us or be involved in what we do, or leave Jesus out because what we’re doing is wrong.
Whatever the situation, without Jesus we are helpless. We don’t know exactly how the disciples felt, but we know that Jesus changed things when he returned to the disciples. After helping Peter who had walked on water before seeing the wind and fearing, Jesus returned to the boat and what happened? We read in verses 32 and 33 that “the wind died down.” It is amazing what happens when we invite Jesus into the situation, when Jesus climbs aboard our ‘boat’. If you’re facing ‘wind and waves’ in your life, ask Jesus into the situation, to change what’s going on and expect him to do amazing things. Keep praying, keep believing and keep going!
Still small voice – 1 Kings 19.11-13
The Lord said, “Go out and stand on the mountain in the presence of the Lord, for the Lord is about to pass by.” Then a great and powerful wind tore the mountains apart and shattered the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind. After the wind there was an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake. After the earthquake came a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire. And after the fire came a gentle whisper. When Elijah heard it, he pulled his cloak over his face and went out and stood at the mouth of the cave. Then a voice said to him, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Here’s the thing: God told Elijah the prophet to go and stand on the mountain (I’m into things like mountaineering, so I like the many Bible verses that speak like this!) But anyway, God did many dramatic things on the mountain in the sight and hearing of Elijah. But God’s voice wasn’t in any of these things. You know what, I love the big, the quality, the best events and bands etc. I believe that God deserves our best. But it’s very interesting that in this Bible situation we find that the big, bold and dramatic wasn’t where God was…
Think about some of the things we do in the church and all the huge conferences, the great bands and speakers. But here’s the thing: God often speaks through the small, the quiet, the peaceful, the humble and the lowly (Jesus came into the world as a baby in a stable). This is how God spoke to Elijah. This may be a message to the many preachers who just go on and on SHOUTING and ranting, as if somehow God no longer looks at the heart (1 Samuel 16.7) but has gone deaf! Maybe their shouting shows what they’re saying isn’t from God – if God is behind something, shouting for the sake of it won’t be needed LOL!
Other times people do very dramatic and highly creative things. There is nothing wrong with this. I’ve been made to create by the Creator who is creative. But don’t overlook the quiet, the gentle and the meek. I think this world is going to be won to Christ mainly by people who are quietly getting on and obeying God. Yes, we need the big and awesome events and ideas (please!) but when you want to hear from God, fix your eyes, eyes and heart on God and his Word undistracted and even get away from things. You can’t really hear someone what someone’s saying unless you focus just on them. Today, learn to hear the voice of God.
Harmony, Part Two – 2 Corinthians 5.17-18
(Amplified Bible) – Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come! But all things are from God, Who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself [received us into favour, brought us into harmony with Himself] and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation [that by word and deed we might aim to bring others into harmony with Him]
BBC and choirmaster / presenter Gareth Malone created and runs various series about people singing. This started with ‘The Choir’ and has continued with working in schools, with Military Wives and now Sing While You Work, getting people together to sing from various work places and organisations. This is an amazing series, whether or not you enjoy singing or choirs because Gareth has some amazing skills at getting people to take part, encouraging them when they do and about helping them improve their voice. As people get involved, he has amazing ways with people to help them and people start to change, with increased self-belief and confidence. It’s really quite amazing and is quite a picture of what church could and should be!
When we read the end of 2 Corinthians 5.18 we read that Jesus gave us the ministry (through word and deed) to aim to bring others into harmony with God. If we use the example of the ‘choir’ then God is the main ‘choirmaster’, but he has enabled us to be mini ‘choirmasters’. We are to be like these choir programmes – we are called by Jesus to go out and find people, encourage and equip them to be able to join in with the heavenly choir and song. We’re called to see people sing their harmony in tune with the song of heaven. As people start to sing, we’re there to help them find the right notes, to sing the right tune, to stay in time with other people singing. As this God song rises up, people will start to change as they meet with and feel the love of their fellow choir people and the love of God. One day many people will be singing this God song and it will be the most amazing song you can imagine! Today, choose to be a ‘choirmaster’ for God, people around you are waiting to find them and heaven is wanting to hear their harmonies!
Chosen Instrument – Jeremiah 1.5
(Amplified Bible) – Before I formed you in the womb I knew [and] approved of you [as My chosen instrument], and before you were born I separated and set you apart, consecrating you; [and] I appointed you as a prophet to the nations.
We know from the Bible that God has a plan for our lives and wants to use us. We know this from Bible verses like Jeremiah 29.11 and Psalm 139.16 among other places. In the famous series and movies ‘Mission Impossible’ there’s often a line that says, “Your mission, should you choose to accept it…” God says the same thing to us. God has a great plan for us but we must also partner with him to see it fulfilled. If we are seeking God, obeying him and putting him first then his plans in our lives will happen!
God told Jeremiah that before he’d been born or before God formed him in the womb, God knew him, approved of him and set him apart for a specific purpose! It’s awesome. Babies aren’t just born through humans, they have the very hand of God forming them! You were God-ordained and God-formed! Now there’s a thought when you’re feeling down and low! God approves of you, he created you and has set you apart, you’ve been born for a purpose. That purpose can only happen through God! You may sometimes think you’re a bit different. That’s because you are! God has separated you to live for him and he has separated you for a purpose, even to the nations of the world!
I am very different to other people around me. They often try to herd me with all the others. But God made me unique and I don’t have a ‘herd mentality’. I like to be different and so do you probably! God has called each of us to unique things that usually relate to the gifts he’s given us. I love the Amplified translation because it talks about Jeremiah being God’s chosen ‘instrument’. As someone who loves music and worship especially, it speaks to me of God’s call to worship personally. But there are different types of instruments – not just musical ones. There are medical, building, scientific, military and many other types of ‘instruments’ (callings). God has called you, he’s chosen you, hand-picked you. He has a mission for you. Today – are you willing to accept the mission? No reservations. Tell God what Isaiah told God, ‘Here I am, send me’.
Harmony, Part One – 2 Corinthians 5.17-18
(Amplified Bible) – Therefore if any person is [ingrafted] in Christ (the Messiah) he is a new creation (a new creature altogether); the old [previous moral and spiritual condition] has passed away. Behold, the fresh and new has come! But all things are from God, Who through Jesus Christ reconciled us to Himself [received us into favour, brought us into harmony with Himself] and gave to us the ministry of reconciliation [that by word and deed we might aim to bring others into harmony with Him]
If you like or know anything about music, you’ll know that there are basic building blocks for a song. One of those things is the melody – this is the tune that you remember. For example the melody of Amazing Grace are the notes that you sing. Of course when there is more than one person singing or more than one instrument playing, you have the option of singing / playing the same notes – the melody line perhaps. But it does get a bit boring if everyone sings the same thing! That is where the harmony comes in. A harmony is another ‘tune’ that fits together with the melody so that it sounds good and sounds right (we won’t go into music theory here!) When you have a band, you get the lead singer who sings the melody and often you get someone else singing the harmony, or more than one person singing another harmony as well. When a band plays together, different instruments play different parts and they fit together. They don’t all play the same thing, they play different notes and sounds but they all fit together well (or at least they should do!)
2 Corinthians 5.18 talks about how God has brought us into harmony with him through Jesus. The spiritual point is that Jesus took the punishment we all deserve so that we can be right with God if we say yes to Jesus in our life. Let’s think of this musically. Heaven has a melody line – it’s God’s song. If we are not right with God we are singing notes that are out of tune, out of time and it sounds terrible, like the worst contestants in X-Factor all put together (aaaghh!) But when we say yes to Jesus, he gives us a harmony to ‘sing’ and this time it’s in tune and in time. God will tweak our singing voice and the way we sing, but we will now be in harmony with the God song. Everyone has their own song and when we know God, everyone sings together, in tune, in time, in different ways and styles but in harmony. The very best of music! (By the way, our churches should also reflect this! God – and therefore music – is multi-coloured and multi-flavoured, definitely not boring grey!!)
Worship weaponry – Zephaniah 3.17
“The Lord your God is with you, he is mighty to save. He will take great delight in you, he will quiet you with his love, he will rejoice over you with singing.”
Ever thought that God is with you, delights in you, rejoices over you and does this with singing?! What an amazing thought. OK, so this verse in Zephaniah 3 is about the future of Jerusalem and Israel. But I also believe that God feels the same way about the church and that means you and me. I saw a documentary in 2012 about where music came from, with the expert saying singing likely came before languages. But the Bible tells us that music and singing originated with God! God’s voice can even sound like a trumpet – Revelation 1.10 – On the Lord’s Day I was in the Spirit, and I heard behind me a loud voice like a trumpet.
So let’s think about singing… there’s melody, harmony, chords, timing, key, time signature and rhythm. There are many elements to singing, let alone music. Let’s read one more verse from Revelation 5.13: Then I heard every creature in heaven and on earth and under the earth and on the sea, and all that is in them, singing: “To him who sits on the throne and to the Lamb be praise and honor and glory and power, for ever and ever!”
When we read that God sings over us, my heart is to join in with that song. I want my life to be part of God’s song, to be ‘singing’ God’s song. I want to be playing my individual melody that harmonises with others. I want to have the right key, be in time and have the right kind of rhythm and groove! Heaven will be a place where we’ll be praising God with one voice, but each with different parts and flavours. The Bible tells us to pray that God’s Kingdom comes on earth and the truth is we are part of that Kingdom. So let’s ask God to give us his song and let’s sing with joy, with a passion, with the groove in our heart. Let the God-song in you rise up and be heard. As you do, you testify to the world that God is with you and that he is mighty to save! If you’re a musician, be the best you can and let God inspire your every note, thought and lyric!!
God sometimes moves quickly – Exodus 12.31-32
The people of Israel had been held in captivity in Egypt for 430 years (see Exodus 12.40). They had cried out to God for much of that time to be set free. But nothing had happened. Just think of all the generations crying out to God. But he knew what he was doing (he still does, even though we usually don’t understand!) and one day, the answer came. But God’s answer and deliverance came suddenly.
During the night Pharaoh summoned Moses and Aaron and said, “Up! Leave my people, you and the Israelites! Go, worship the LORD as you have requested. Take your flocks and herds, as you have said, and go. And also bless me.”
Pharaoh had continually refused to let God’s people go free. He was so stubborn that eventually God hardened his heart. But there was a breakthrough coming and one day it came. Maybe you’re stuck in a situation that doesn’t appear to be changing (I know I had been with a violent and abusive neighbour when after over 2 years he suddenly came round to the house and wanted to put things right – God answered the prayers!!). So be encouraged that God will bring his deliverance and God will bring about justice for his people. Luke 18.7 is a promise from Jesus, “And will not God bring about justice for his chosen ones, who cry out to him day and night? Will he keep putting them off?”
Often we need to keep on praying. But we also need to be ready. One day Pharaoh spoke to Moses and said “Up and Go!” Moses had to act and move quickly. Sometimes God seems to move quickly. But it’s always part of his plan. Our part is always to be ready. That means developing a life of listening, hearing and obeying God. There’s nothing more satisfying and rewarding 🙂
Playing Your Part – Nehemiah 4.6
“So we rebuilt the wall till all of it reached half its height, for the people worked with all their heart.”
Nehemiah was one of the most amazing men in the Old Testament. He was one of the key people (with Ezra) who helped rebuild the walls of Jerusalem – walls that had been in disrepair for years. This once proud city had been demolished, so Nehemiah, Ezra and a band of exiles returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the walls. In Nehemiah 3, we find a list of different people who rebuild different parts of the wall – Eliashib and the high priests worked (Neh 3.1); Shallum and his daughters rebuilt another part (Neh 3.12); in Nehemiah 3.28, we find that people rebuilt the wall in front of their own house. This gave them a sense of pride, they could look out for their own work (in face of opposition) and their ownership of it probably assured a higher level of quality too.
If we ‘own’ something, we generally look after it! Nehemiah knew this. He gave his life to lead a people in the face of enemies, offering what he was and had to almighty God. The key part here was that every person helped rebuild a piece of the wall. In the New Testament, there is a book called 1 Corinthians 12. In this book, we find a great picture of the church. In the church we have gifts of wisdom, prophecy, knowledge, healing etc in ‘the body’ (the church). The Bible tells us that in a human body, there are many parts. Each part is unique, yet each part does its role together, yet each is part of the body. So it is in the church – each person ‘builds’ their own part of the ‘wall’. Your ‘wall’ may be your church, your school, your family or friends… Just like each of the exiles had their part to play in rebuilding the wall, so you have a part to play in building / rebuilding the walls in your life. God has a unique mission for you, a unique ‘part of the wall’. He’s waiting for you to act and wants to work with you.
Family – Luke 15
In the Bible in Luke 15, we see the story of the Prodigal Son. The son had gone away from his father and his family. He’d gone off to another place, taken all the money he was owed. He’d found friends and partied, gone out clubbing, found lots of mates. But one day, his money run out. He had nothing. Suddenly all the parties stopped, all the friends left and he was alone. Simply to eat, he ate pig food. One day he came to his senses and decided to go back to his family. He decided he’d even be their slave as he was no longer worthy of being part of the family. But as he got home, as he was a long way off, we read that the father was watching out for his return. When he saw his son, he ran towards him, hugged him and threw a party for him – welcoming him back into the family.
We read, “The father said to his servants, ‘Quick! Bring the best robe and put it on him. Put a ring on his finger and sandals on his feet. Bring the fattened calf and kill it. Let’s have a feast and celebrate. For this son of mine was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’ So they began to celebrate.” This is the kind of world that God wants, the kind of people that we want to be. It’s the place where we come to our senses and realise that parties, money, women, whatever – won’t bring happiness. But that being secure in God’s love, part of God’s family is the way to find value, happiness and love.
Tradition – Matthew 13.52
Jesus was talking to his disciples about the end times. At the end, he said to them, “Therefore every teacher of the law who has been instructed about the kingdom of heaven is like the owner of a house who brings out of his storeroom new treasures as well as old.” It’s interesting that even today, many of our churches are stuck in tradition. Some of these traditions started off with a purpose and a sound idea behind them. But over time, new ideas can become religious traditions than no longer serve the purpose or meet the needs. But there are some things that we should keep.
In worship, we have a mix of old and new – using old songs like ‘Amazing Grace’ and ‘How Great Thou Art’ alongside new tunes of the day. Jesus let us know that there are new treasures as well as old, and we are to use both. Bring both out of the storeroom and onto display for him. We need to get away from tradition for the sake of tradition (and new for the sake of new for that matter), but be led by the Spirit, motivated by love for Jesus and to see the Kingdom of God built. In Matthew 15, Jesus had another head-to-head with the religious people.
The Pharisees, like vultures, were looking on at Jesus and the disciples to see what they did wrong (did you know these people still exist in the church today, usually on the internet watching and waiting for other Christians to do or say something ‘wrong’?!) The Pharisees pointed out that the disciples didn’t wash their hands, breaking the ‘tradition of the elders’. Jesus set them straight, letting them know that they wanted rules and laws for the sake of it and cared more about that, than about obeying and loving God. He told them, “Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition.” Let’s make sure that we put first things first: we all worship God in different ways and denominations. But let’s make sure Jesus and the Kingdom of God is the focus and nothing else.
Respond like Doris – Matthew 8.14-15
“When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever. He touched her hand and the fever left her, and she got up and began to wait on him.” What is worship? It is our response to the revelation of God in our lives. Basically this means we get excited about God because of what he’s done and does for us. In fact, we get excited about God simply because of who he is!! If you don’t feel this kind of buzz about God, it may well be that something is blocking or getting in the way of you seeing what God has done for you. Get alone with God and ask him to show you what it is, or help you worship him.
Peter’s mother-in-law (we’ll randomly call her ‘Doris’) was lying in bed with a fever, although we don’t know how serious it was. Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw this. Don’t ever think that Jesus doesn’t understand and doesn’t see. Don’t ever think that your problem is too small for Jesus. It isn’t – he sees knows, cares and loves you. The Bible tells us that many times, Jesus interrupted what he was doing to help people. He wants to do the same for you today. One touch from Jesus was all ‘Doris’ needed and she was healed. One word from Jesus is all we need too – and we can be healed in any way we need. But what was her response to what Jesus did? She got up and began to wait on (serve) Jesus. When Jesus breaks into our life, our response should be to serve him. This will be different and unique for every believer (1 Corinthians 12.5) but if we know Jesus, we worship him by serving / loving him and others. Today, respond like Doris to the love of Jesus!
Loving others as yourself – Matthew 22.37-40 / Luke 10.25-37
“And (Jesus) replied to him, You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind (intellect). This is the great (most important, principal) and first commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as [you do] yourself. These two commandments sum up and upon them depend all the Law and the Prophets.”
When Jesus spoke these words in Matthew, he was summing up all the law of the Old Testament (see also Leviticus 19.18). Anyone that thinks we are religiously bound by Old Testament rules and doctrines is totally missing the point. We are saved by faith, through grace. If we all truly loved God, listened to his voice and loved as he loves – this world would be a changed place. But what if we don’t feel great about ourselves or feel we truly love ourselves in a right and Godly way? Does that mean we won’t be able to love others right? In Luke 10, Jesus responded to a law expert asking who their neighbour was – by telling the story of the Good Samaritan. In this, a Samaritan stopped to take an injured Jew to an inn and pay for his medical expenses, even though the Jews were taught to hate Samaritans. Jesus showed that the one who was a good neighbour was the Samaritan man who showed mercy to the injured man. The point Jesus was making was that this is how we should love others. In Ephesians 5.29, Paul wrote, “For no man ever hated his own flesh, but nourishes and carefully protects and cherishes it, as Christ does the church..” When Jesus told us to love others as ourselves, he was talking about how we should love others, and not just about how we should love ourselves. But, we do need to think about loving others as ourselves. You see, we can’t give away what we don’t have. I can’t give you money I don’t have. You can’t give me water you don’t have. But, as we open up to God and ask him to change us, we will be more like him, be more filled with his love and then be able to give away more and more of his love.
But even if we don’t feel great about ourselves, we still know what it is to love because God’s love is in us. 1 John 4.6-8, “Dear friends, let us love one another, for love comes from God. Everyone who loves has been born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, because God is love.” 1 John 4.21 also says, “Whoever loves God must also love his brother.” So, we know that to love God means to love our brother. We know our brother is anyone. We know that we love them by showing mercy (favour, kindness) to them. If we truly love Jesus and his love is in us, then we won’t be able to do anything other than love and show kindness to others 🙂
Your relationship with God – Haggai 1.3-11
I was reading through the Bible, waiting for God to direct me and I came across Haggai, a book of the Bible which I love, and not just because it only has 2 chapters, LOL !
In this, God spoke through Haggai the prophet to the people and said, ‘Is it right for you to be living in fancy houses while the temple of God is in ruins? Think about it, you plant much but sow little. You eat and drink but are never satisfied, you put on clothes but aren’t warm enough, earn money but lose it.’
I thought that some of this was so like me – and you. In the West we have so much, we buy the latest gadgets or clothes but are never satisfied. We often aren’t truly happy, yet we don’t ask why, stop to think it may be because we have rejected God, or simply not put God first in our Christian lives, not spent enough time hanging out with God. Instead we’re busy ‘doing stuff’ – sometimes ‘for’ God. Yet our priorities are skewed – God seeks us to put him first. As Matthew 6.33 says, ‘Put God first. Then all this other stuff will fall into place.’
You see, I am often busy ‘for’ God but not ‘with God’. It is relationship that God wants, it is in relationship that we find God flowing through us, our needs provided for and satisfaction in life. But we have to put God first. In Haggai, God said to the people, ‘Look, go do something for me – get wood from up the mountain and bring it back and build the Temple. Then I will be pleased.’ So the challenge for us is to invest in God’s Kingdom, not neglect our personal walk with Jesus, keep reading our Bible, praying, putting God foremost in all that we do. Then, we will really see God’s blessing (good God things) in and through us.
Man does not live on bread alone – Matthew 4.3-5
We find ourselves looking on in this Bible passage at the temptation of Jesus by the devil. The devil is described as being the tempter. When we find ourselves being tempted by something, you can be sure that behind it lies the evil one with one of his schemes. So just be warned. Resist the devil and he will flee (not just run, but flee) from you – James 4.7
The evil one came to Jesus to tempt him saying, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.” Jesus resisted the temptation, was faithful to God and used the Word of God to fight off Satan. We find that throughout the ministry of Jesus, he is constantly quoting Old Testament Scriptures (Bible verses). This means that Jesus had learned Bible passages off by heart, memorised them. This is another lesson for you and me. If Jesus did this, so should we. A challenge – if Satan came at you, would you be able to fight him off using your Bible knowledge? The very real truth is that I faced a physical spiritual attack once and it was only the Bible, calling on the name of Jesus and praising Jesus that helped me overcome.
Back to Matthew 4 – Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’ ” You see, Jesus recognised something that our Western World doesn’t seem to currently want to recognise. This is that bread, food, stuff, materialism is not enough. Money will not make us happy, nor will possessions, nor will having things or looking a certain way. These are all temporary and it is a lie of the devil that these will truly satisfy. Jesus is very clear – we don’t just live on bread (although we need it), but on every (note Jesus says, ‘every’) word that comes from the mouth of God..
Why do we need to read the Bible? Why do we need to learn the Bible? Because Jesus says they are life. Proverbs 4.20-22 says, “My son, pay attention to what I say; listen closely to my words. Do not let them out of your sight, keep them within your heart; for they are life to those who find them and health to a man’s whole body.”
Character and gifting, Part 1
I have heard people say (and I’ve said it myself), ‘people should be released into their gifting.’ I agree and am passionate about this as I don’t see enough of it in churches, certainly not in creative enough ways. But hold on, this is only part of a wider picture and the wider picture is called character. By all means, enable people (or be enabled) into strengths and areas of giftings, but remember that God looks for character equally.
What does the Bible say?
1 Samuel 13.14, ‘the LORD has sought out a man after his own heart and appointed him leader of his people, because you have not kept the LORD’s command.’
1 Samuel 16.7, ‘..The LORD does not look at the things man looks at. Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.’
2 Chronicles 16:9, ‘..the eyes of the LORD range throughout the earth to strengthen those whose hearts are fully committed to him.’
Acts 13:22, ‘After removing Saul, he made David their king. He testified concerning him: ‘I have found David son of Jesse a man after my own heart; he will do everything I want him to do.’
Zechariah 13:9, ‘This third I will bring into the fire; I will refine them like silver and test them like gold. They will call on my name and I will answer them; I will say, ‘They are my people,’ and they will say, ‘The LORD is our God.’ ‘
Today, ask God to develop both your character and your gifting.
Character and Gifting, Part 2
Malachi 3:3, ‘He will sit as a refiner and purifier of silver; he will purify the Levites and refine them like gold and silver. Then the LORD will have men who will bring offerings in righteousness..’
Your character is what God is after. He is refining you, shaping you, making you into his likeness. How do we know that? Well, apart from the changes you’ve seen in your life (or should have done), apart from the evidence of characters in the Bible, we just need to take a look at Genesis 1.26, ‘Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness..”
You see, you are made in the likeness of God. OK, we’ve messed up and we’re not gods, but servants of the living God. But we’ve been adopted into God’s family. And because we are made in God’s image, he is working on us, purifying us. This won’t be complete while we’re on earth – but we should be open to God shaping us more and more into his likeness.
Without character, we will fail and fall in our giftings. Without giftings we can’t do so much for God. As God refines our character, as we let him do this, God will release us more into our giftings, which are already there in us. When we have proved faithful with the small things, God can trust us with the bigger things..
Serving God in this generation – Acts 13.36
I claim no credit for this quiet-time. It’s something that I heard someone called Rick Warren say (’40 Days Of Purpose’).
David was a man with many failings like all of us. In 2 Samuel 11, you’ll find that David succumbed to sexual temptation (bloke’s – take note and learn!) We find that David slept with Bathsheba, the wife of Uriah. Then David made sure that Uriah was killed in battle by posting him to the front line. God was not happy, understandably. (For a different, more Godly response, go see Joseph’s reaction in Genesis 39.6-8). Some of the Psalms David wrote were in response to this broken relationship with God (see Psalm 51 for example).
Anyways, we digress! Despite this indiscretion, we find David (and Joseph) listed in the heroes of the faith in Hebrews 11. Moreover, in Acts 13.36, we find that David did 2 things. First he served God. If you want to live a fulfilled life, a true life, then the life will be one of worship. And worship means serving God. This will be in different ways. Secondly, we find David served God in his own generation. Want to find a Bible verse that says use every available means to serve God? This verse is one. I use hip hop culture for God. I’m serving God in my generation. He has appointed me to this time to use hip hop, to do this website and many other things. The same goes for you. Your skills, interests and passion may be different to mine. But God has appointed you to serve him in your generation. Believe it, live it.
Full of the Spirit Life – John 7.37-39
John 7.37-39 says: ‘On the last and greatest day of the Feast, Jesus stood and said in a loud voice, If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him. By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive. Up to that time the Spirit had not been given, since Jesus had not yet been glorified.’
When you’re thirsty you drink something. You drink it deep down into your stomach. You don’t gargle with the water and then spit it out, well, not unless it’s iced tea or something.. This is a great example of if we want to be full of the Spirit’s life. We have to drink deep, real deep.
When you are gagging for a drink, you don’t go out to a jewelers shop and ask for a can of coke. No. Because that would be stupid. Quiet funny but not very successful. Same with the life of the Spirit. Jesus says you have to come to him and drink. It’s the only place where this amazing passionate, creative, full, God-filled life flows from. Jesus. Jesus alone.
Then, once you’ve fulfilled these conditions, you get streams of living water flowing from you – in word, action and thought – you change to be more like Jesus and get the most full life. Nothing else will compare, no matter what the cost. Are you up for it? Are you ready and prepared?
Counter-Culture – Matthew 5.16
If you’re gonna be an effective Christian, you are going to have to face the fact that your lifestyle is and must be different to the ways of the world. You have to be different. You must stand out. In Matthew 5.16, Jesus says let you light (or life and the good that God inspires you to do) shine for people around you so they see that it is God working in your life, so they will praise God.
In April 2003, Toyota released an advert in the UK of a bunch of businessmen talking about promotion and their pay rises. One of them is silent but gives them a lift in a cool Toyota car. The other businessmen accept the life and are real envious of this car. What does this say? It says that people’s motives are work, promotion, money and a cool, expensive looking car so that you can set yourself above others.
What does Jesus say? He says, the first will be last and the last will be first. He says don’t accept glory for yourself cos everything you have is from God. He says be humble and God will lift you up but proud people will fall. He says money and fame and expensive stuff mean none without the Son. He says get alongside the poor and the hurting, associate with people that others hate. He says don’t worry about money as he will provide. True satisfaction and real life comes from serving not being served.
ACCEPTING AND REJECTING JESUS – Luke 23.39-43
Accepting and Rejecting Jesus – Luke 23.39-43 … Despite the inaction of some churches, Jesus made it very clear to us in Matthew 28.19-20 that if you’re a disciple of Jesus, you are called to go out and spread the Good News, baptising people and making disciples. However, we also see from the life of Jesus that some people will accept Jesus and others will reject him.
This is very clear in the passage of the Bible in Luke (above). Two criminals crucified with Jesus had two very different reactions to Jesus. One made fun of Jesus, probably filled with anger and bitterness. The other criminal had a far healthier attitude to Jesus as the Son of God. He wanted to accept Jesus, even at the point of death (a lesson here – some people will accept Jesus on their death-bed). Jesus, loving and kind even in this time of pain and rejection said, ‘Today you will be with me in paradise.’
A clue to what happened to the Spirit of Jesus when he died from the crucifixion maybe? It also raises questions about what people have to believe (and say) before they can enter the Kingdom of God. Although the only way to God is through Jesus, some people believe people coming to know Jesus have to go through an exact set of words in prayer, but this shows Jesus always sees our hearts. This may also be a clue to Jesus as the judge of all and how he will judge. However you interpret these things, be encouraged because while someone people will take the mick out of you because of Jesus, others WILL decide to follow Jesus!!
Young but strong – 1 Tim 4.12
‘Don’t let anyone make fun of you, just because you are young. Set an example for other followers by what you say and do, as well as by your love, faith and purity.’ (1 Timothy 4.12, CEV) Other translations say ‘don’t let anyone look down on you because you are young’ …
This lets us know that people may look down on us. We can’t make people not look down on us, but you can set an example. You can affect other people no matter how old you are.
How old do you think Jesus’ disciples were? 30, 40, 50..? Nope. It’s more likely they were around their late teens/early 20s. Look at Matthew 4.21-22. James and John might only have been teenagers! But look at the impact they made on the world around them as disciples. God is looking for people he can use – Psalm 14.2. Ask God to give you love, faith and purity – and watch him work through you!
Remember the flip side too, don’t you go disrespecting older people just because they are old or older than you. An old person is just a young person with life’s experience and we do well to listen to those with Godly wisdom. Read Proverbs 12 for help. Read 1 Kings 12 for the consequences of not doing so.
WHY NOT SAY NICE THINGS TO PEOPLE TODAY?
Read through Chapter 3, verses 2-12 in James. James was obviously a practical bloke. He said ‘don’t just walk past someone who’s hungry and say, ‘God bless you’ – give him some food!’ (See James 2.14-17).
God wants to challenge you about the things you say. Proverbs has a lot to say about the tongue: if you hold your tongue, you are wise; the tongue of the wise brings healing; if you guard your tongue it keeps you from bad things. The book also offers wisdom about the bad use of the tongue: you will be destroyed if you lie; a lying tongue produces hate.
See, if you go round speaking life and truth and kindness, you will reap what you sow. Let people out when you’re driving, smile at shop assistants, thank people, thank companies who deliver on time, go make somebody’s day. (Proverbs 12.25)
Take the advice given through James by the Holy Spirit. Control your tongue. Say to God today, ‘I don’t want unhelpful and hurtful words to come out of my mouth, only words that will help, encourage and that tell the truth.’ Keep on praying this!
WARNING TO THOSE WHO DO NOT BELIEVE – 2 Corinthians 6.14-17
There were times in the Old Testament where because of the evil of a nation and the fact that God wanted his people to be clean, God demanded that Israel destroyed everything and everyone they fought against. In 1 Samuel 15.3 the Lord commanded Saul and Israel not to let anything live. Read it.
Little has changed today. God still wants you to be separate from the evil of the world, set apart from bad influences. In 2 Corinthians 6, Paul speaks very clearly. You are not like the people of this world so do not go out with them – do not marry them. You are different. Light and darkness cannot share anything together, so it is with the believer and the non-believer.
So what is the Bible saying? It’s very clear. Don’t go out with someone who’s not a Christian, it’s not a good thing. Too many women have lost their faith because of a non-Christian bloke. Don’t destroy your relationship with God for the sake of a brief and ultimately pointless relationship.
THE 10 COMMANDMENTS – Exodus 20.1-18
I heard of a TV programme that was discussing whether the 10 C’s have any relevance today. Of course they have! Even if you’re not a Christian, the rules are basic to any society. In fact, they are the basis of English law.
A Spring Harvest speaker once said, ‘Don’t look at the 10 C’s as a set of rules we have to obey – more like a set of God-given protections and boundaries that help us in our lives.’ Let’s look at these examples:
a. The wrong in the world today comes from people turning their back on God. God says to us, ‘You must not have any gods except me.’ Easy!
b. The 4th Commandment says ‘take the 7th day off work.’ Experts believe 75% of stress-related illness is caused by people not having a day off. Easy!
c. Don’t commit adultery! If you go off with someone’s wife or husband you can destroy 2 families & bring loads of problems. God says don’t! So easy!
ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE A STAND FOR JESUS?
ARE YOU GOING TO MAKE A STAND FOR JESUS … Matt 7.13-14 says, “Enter through the narrow gate. The gate is wide and the road is wide that leads to hell, and many enter through that gate. But the gate is small and the road is small that leads to true life. Only a few people find that road.” (Youth Bible)
Jesus was teaching his disciples about being a Christian and today he’s saying the same to you. He’s challenging you to let him build up your character so you can reflect him to other people. He wants your life, relationships, actions, thoughts and attitudes to be like his. Trouble is it’s hard and it takes work – question is, are you prepared to say to God right now, “OK I want to be more like Jesus. Teach me how and I will do what you say”?
Jesus helps us and tells us what to expect with what he says. First, he lets us know that we have to enter which involves movement that we need to make with his help. Your Christian life is a journey forward, with God’s help. Secondly, we know the gate is narrow. To get through you need to be spiritually fit and you may find some of your edges get rubbed off. We also know that only a few people find this road (which shows that those who believe everyone will be saved that they are wrong!!) So you need to make an effort, to search, to seek, to follow and you will find Jesus and be led by him. So today ask him to help you to and through the gate that leads to life 🙂
FRIENDSHIP – Read John 15.12-17
I don’t know what you’re all like – Maybe you have had a lonely life. Maybe you have loads of mates, I don’t know. One thing is that at one time or another your friends will let you down -they’re only human (well, mostly).
Jesus is the very best friend you can have. He died on a cross for you, he loves you no matter what you may do, he cares passionately about you, he knows everything about you, he always wants to spend time with you, he’ll never let you down, he always does what’s best for you. And that’s just for starters! How’s that for a good friend?
Having mates is important – we all need other people and Jesus had his own group of friends – his disciples. But I have learned not to put my trust in other people but in Jesus. He will never leave you, never forget about you, always be there. So how are you going to respond to Jesus?
ARE YOU A HYPOCRITE? – Matthew 6.25-34
‘So, you are not loyal to God! You should know that loving the world is the same as hating God. Anyone who wants to be a friend of the world becomes God’s enemy.’ (James 4.4, YB)
What do you most like doing? Shopping? Listening to or playing music? Hanging out with your mates? Drinking? And why do you like it?
Listen. Some Christians burn or chuck away CDs they used to like because the lyrics are offensive or the band are just off their faces. Many Christians have stopped drinking because God doesn’t want them to. Other Christians stop seeing some friends because they are a bad influence through drugs or crime. Other Christians realise that money is not for spending on whatever you want to. Is God saying something to you? Listen to the Holy Spirit because TODAY he wants to challenge YOU about some of the things you do.
READ Philippians 2.12-13
“Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose.”
God is calling us to take an attitude check on these things today: A. Do the good things that come from being saved (that means becoming a Christian and following Jesus). When you let Jesus into your life, he changes your heart, mind and what you do so that your life becomes more like the life of Jesus. Do you want to do good to change this world?
B. Are you fighting off the desires that don’t come from God? It’s time to deal with your anger, frustration, hate, love of money, lust, swearing, letting bad influences get into your head through TV, radio, films, magazines.
C. God is at work in you! He is always there, helping you and challenging you. God does two things. First he helps you to want to obey him. Is God trying to get your attention? Second, God helps you to do what he wants. It’s not about being God’s slaves, but the opposite – it’s the fact that God’s will is the best & most rewarding place to be.
So where are you today? Where do you need to be?
HONOUR YOUR FATHER AND MOTHER – Exodus 20.12
Read Ephesians 6.1-4. The command that God gave for the people to honour their father and mother was the 1st commandment that promised a blessing (good things from God) with it.
This is exactly what Ephesians 6.1-3 says. It says honour your parents because it is the right thing to do. This is the first command with a promise with it. It means do what God says and ‘everything will be well with you and you will have a long life on the earth.’ (YB)
Ever felt angry towards your dad or your mum? Has this developed into a hatred or resentment? Has this meant that other areas of your life have gone downhill – like going to church or your attitude towards God? The answer is to forgive your dad or mum, to promise God not to hate them, to ask God for forgiveness and for his help. This is the only road to be restored. Parents are rarely perfect, sometimes hostile but your duty is to honour them. Not for who they are but because God knows best.
READ 1 Corinthians 15.33-34
Don’t fool yourself – you need to be a strong Christian clothed in God’s protection before you can spend time with bad people without them corrupting you. One illustration someone used was 2 people in a room. One is on the floor and one is on the table. At a given signal, the one on the table has to pull the other one up onto the table. The one on the floor has to pull the one on the table down. Now who’s going to win most of the time?
Being a Christian means living in the world but not being like the people in the world. It means living separately and different. A Christian hip-hop artist wrote this, ‘Deviance, different from the norm. To the world’s standards we will not conform…’ Need to change some of your friends? It’s not wrong to have non-Christian friends, after all the Bible tells us to be in the world and to tell people about Jesus. What I’m on about is those friends who corrupt you and have a bad influence over you. God says come back to the right way of thinking and stop sinning!
READ Matthew 5.1-12
Some people say that being a Christian is an easy life. Shows how much they know (not very much)! Jesus said some amazing and strange things that seem confusing but are really the way to true happiness and true life.
Jesus always put God’s will first, even when it meant massive cost to himself. He always put others first too. Jesus is our example. He was and is perfect. What he did, we should try to do, always asking him for his help and wisdom. He turned things on their head – just read through Matthew 5.
If you know you need God, you’re happy; if you’re sad, because you have God with you, you’ll be happy; those who are humble & not arrogant will be happy; those who want to do right things always will be happy; if you show mercy to others, God will show mercy to you; if you keep your mind pure, you’ll be happy; if you bring and make peace, you’ll be blessed, if people abuse you because of God, you’ll be happy. People will insult you, hurt you and say evil things. But when they do, because of God, you’ll be happy!