Together, we serve
to know Christ
and to make Christ known
for the glory of God

Posts by Stephen Temple

19 November 2019

Job 39

‘Do you know when the mountain goats give birth?
    Do you watch when the doe bears her fawn?
Do you count the months till they bear?
    Do you know the time they give birth?
They crouch down and bring forth their young;
    their labour pains are ended.
Their young thrive and grow strong in the wilds;
    they leave and do not return.
‘Who let the wild donkey go free?
    Who untied its ropes?
I gave it the wasteland as its home,
    the salt flats as its habitat.
It laughs at the commotion in the town;
    it does not hear a driver’s shout.
It ranges the hills for its pasture
    and searches for any green thing.
‘Will the wild ox consent to serve you?
    Will it stay by your manger at night?
10 Can you hold it to the furrow with a harness?
    Will it till the valleys behind you?
11 Will you rely on it for its great strength?
    Will you leave your heavy work to it?
12 Can you trust it to haul in your grain
    and bring it to your threshing-floor?
13 ‘The wings of the ostrich flap joyfully,
    though they cannot compare
    with the wings and feathers of the stork.
14 She lays her eggs on the ground
    and lets them warm in the sand,
15 unmindful that a foot may crush them,
    that some wild animal may trample them.
16 She treats her young harshly, as if they were not hers;
    she cares not that her labour was in vain,
17 for God did not endow her with wisdom
    or give her a share of good sense.
18 Yet when she spreads her feathers to run,
    she laughs at horse and rider.
19 ‘Do you give the horse its strength
    or clothe its neck with a flowing mane?
20 Do you make it leap like a locust,
    striking terror with its proud snorting?
21 It paws fiercely, rejoicing in its strength,
    and charges into the fray.
22 It laughs at fear, afraid of nothing;
    it does not shy away from the sword.
23 The quiver rattles against its side,
    along with the flashing spear and lance.
24 In frenzied excitement it eats up the ground;
    it cannot stand still when the trumpet sounds.
25 At the blast of the trumpet it snorts, “Aha!”
    It catches the scent of battle from afar,
    the shout of commanders and the battle cry.
26 ‘Does the hawk take flight by your wisdom
    and spread its wings towards the south?
27 Does the eagle soar at your command
    and build its nest on high?
28 It dwells on a cliff and stays there at night;
    a rocky crag is its stronghold.
29 From there it looks for food;
    its eyes detect it from afar.
30 Its young ones feast on blood,
    and where the slain are, there it is.’

Job has suffered tremendously. He is desperate for an audience with God. He wants answers as to why God has allowed such suffering on him.

When the LORD finally spoke to Job, He asked questions that Job was not able to answer.

For example, we read that God questioned Job about his knowledge of animal behaviour, including the migration instincts of birds. God was asking whether Job was able to or could do anything to sustain God’s Creation. The truth is, Job had neither the understanding nor the ability to.

One of my favourite channels to watch on TV is BBC Earth – a channel that makes my jaw drop every time I am confronted with God’s creative genius. By His design, some birds fly thousands of kilometres every year between the North and South Pole. BBC Earth once documented the life and behaviour of the Arctic Tern, a bird that could travel pole-to-pole twice a year covering around 23 000 kms in the air!! “The Arctic tern is an incredible traveller. Look beyond that jaunty black hat, the lipstick red stockings, and a fame for pooping on tourists visiting their summer residence, and you will recognise an intrepid explorer that spends much of its life chasing the trajectory of our sun”. http://www.bbc.com/earth/story/20160603-mystery-migration-solved

The Bible reminds us that everything in God’s creation was made with a plan and a purpose – and that includes human life. That should be a comfort to us when it seems that everything is flying out of control around us. We are faced with all kinds of trouble from all sides. We don’t know what’s coming at us today, tomorrow, next week, or next year. Although we cannot be sure of what to expect, we can be sure of the character of the Creator who tells us that He has it all under control as we read here in the Book of Job.

Dear Christian, you and I must stop worrying, stop complaining and grumbling. Instead, we must grow to trust God and serve Him, remembering His promise that ultimately everything will turn out exactly how He has ordained it.

PRAYER: Father God, Creator of heaven and earth please forgive us for some times missing how amazing and powerful and great You are when we are in the midst of trouble. Please help us to let go of the control we think we have on our lives. And as we do that, please give us patience as we wait on You. In Jesus’ name. AMEN

26 July 2019

2 Corinthians 2

So I made up my mind that I would not make another painful visit to you. For if I grieve you, who is left to make me glad but you whom I have grieved? I wrote as I did, so that when I came I would not be distressed by those who should have made me rejoice. I had confidence in all of you, that you would all share my joy. For I wrote you out of great distress and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to grieve you but to let you know the depth of my love for you.
If anyone has caused grief, he has not so much grieved me as he has grieved all of you to some extent—not to put it too severely. The punishment inflicted on him by the majority is sufficient. Now instead, you ought to forgive and comfort him, so that he will not be overwhelmed by excessive sorrow. I urge you, therefore, to reaffirm your love for him. Another reason I wrote you was to see if you would stand the test and be obedient in everything. 10 Anyone you forgive, I also forgive. And what I have forgiven—if there was anything to forgive—I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, 11 in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.
12 Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, 13 I still had no peace of mind, because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia.
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. 15 For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task? 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.

Prayer: Heavenly Father, we, Your people, are united in Christ by Your grace. Give us the grace to bear with one another in love, correct one another in truth, and love and humbly accept Your leading. Protect us from the schemes of Satan to divide and unite us by the bond of Your Spirit. We pray that as Your people we would be more and more aware of our privilege and responsibility to take the gospel to the nations. Help us be the aroma of life that brings salvation to people and help us to be courageous before those who are offended by Christ.

But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. (verse 14-15)

25 July 2019

2 Corinthians 1

Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the will of God, and Timothy our brother,
To the church of God in Corinth, together with all his holy people throughout Achaia:
Grace and peace to you from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God. For just as we share abundantly in the sufferings of Christ, so also our comfort abounds through Christ. If we are distressed, it is for your comfort and salvation; if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which produces in you patient endurance of the same sufferings we suffer. And our hope for you is firm, because we know that just as you share in our sufferings, so also you share in our comfort.
We do not want you to be uninformed, brothers and sisters, about the troubles we experienced in the province of Asia. We were under great pressure, far beyond our ability to endure, so that we despaired of life itself. Indeed, we felt we had received the sentence of death. But this happened that we might not rely on ourselves but on God, who raises the dead. 10 He has delivered us from such a deadly peril, and he will deliver us again. On him we have set our hope that he will continue to deliver us, 11 as you help us by your prayers. Then many will give thanks on our behalf for the gracious favor granted us in answer to the prayers of many.
12 Now this is our boast: Our conscience testifies that we have conducted ourselves in the world, and especially in our relations with you, with integrity and godly sincerity. We have done so, relying not on worldly wisdom but on God’s grace. 13 For we do not write you anything you cannot read or understand. And I hope that, 14 as you have understood us in part, you will come to understand fully that you can boast of us just as we will boast of you in the day of the Lord Jesus.
15 Because I was confident of this, I wanted to visit you first so that you might benefit twice. 16 I wanted to visit you on my way to Macedonia and to come back to you from Macedonia, and then to have you send me on my way to Judea. 17 Was I fickle when I intended to do this? Or do I make my plans in a worldly manner so that in the same breath I say both “Yes, yes” and “No, no”?
18 But as surely as God is faithful, our message to you is not “Yes” and “No.” 19 For the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who was preached among you by us—by me and Silas and Timothy—was not “Yes” and “No,” but in him it has always been “Yes.” 20 For no matter how many promises God has made, they are “Yes” in Christ. And so through him the “Amen” is spoken by us to the glory of God. 21 Now it is God who makes both us and you stand firm in Christ. He anointed us, 22 set his seal of ownership on us, and put his Spirit in our hearts as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
23 I call God as my witness—and I stake my life on it—that it was in order to spare you that I did not return to Corinth. 24 Not that we lord it over your faith, but we work with you for your joy, because it is by faith you stand firm.

What is the purpose of my suffering? This is a deep and somewhat uncomfortable question. It seeks to find meaning in suffering when, the reality is, most of the time we can’t find the answer. Even if we do come to some sort of idea, we wonder if we would ever have chosen such a path or why would God allow it to happen. But as Christians, we have a word of comfort from God in the midst of suffering, trial, and affliction.

God comforts us in our affliction. This is a promise from God, the Father of all mercies and God of all comfort. In the midst of suffering we can’t explain it with words, we can’t describe how God does it but we do experience it, like the embrace of a parent comforting a traumatised child. The assurance we have as children of God is that when we suffer He will comfort.

God’s comfort to us is so that we can comfort others. His comfort to us overflows to others. Our suffering can be a means of grace and comfort to others. In a sense, we can all comfort one another through difficult times whether we’ve suffered or not. But there is a comfort that comes from those who have suffered which is in one sense superior. To have someone with you who has endured and experienced your suffering is to have someone who understands, and someone who can point you to God’s grace.

In our suffering, we may not always know the why but we can know that comfort is at hand, and in it, we can comfort others. The supreme example is that of the God who comforts us, Christ Jesus, who understands our suffering because he endured the worst of suffering and so knows how to comfort us.

Prayer: God of all mercies and comfort, thank You that You comfort us in our time of need. Thank You that You embrace us, keep us, and protect us. May the peace and comfort You give us overflow to those around us, so that we may be a vessel of Your comfort. In Jesus name. Amen.

24 July 2019

1 Samuel 9

There was a Benjamite, a man of standing, whose name was Kish son of Abiel, the son of Zeror, the son of Bekorath, the son of Aphiah of Benjamin. Kish had a son named Saul, as handsome a young man as could be found anywhere in Israel, and he was a head taller than anyone else.
Now the donkeys belonging to Saul’s father Kish were lost, and Kish said to his son Saul, “Take one of the servants with you and go and look for the donkeys.” So he passed through the hill country of Ephraim and through the area around Shalisha, but they did not find them. They went on into the district of Shaalim, but the donkeys were not there. Then he passed through the territory of Benjamin, but they did not find them.
When they reached the district of Zuph, Saul said to the servant who was with him, “Come, let’s go back, or my father will stop thinking about the donkeys and start worrying about us.”
But the servant replied, “Look, in this town there is a man of God; he is highly respected, and everything he says comes true. Let’s go there now. Perhaps he will tell us what way to take.”
Saul said to his servant, “If we go, what can we give the man? The food in our sacks is gone. We have no gift to take to the man of God. What do we have?”
The servant answered him again. “Look,” he said, “I have a quarter of a shekel of silver. I will give it to the man of God so that he will tell us what way to take.” (Formerly in Israel, if someone went to inquire of God, they would say, “Come, let us go to the seer,” because the prophet of today used to be called a seer.)
10 “Good,” Saul said to his servant. “Come, let’s go.” So they set out for the town where the man of God was.
11 As they were going up the hill to the town, they met some young women coming out to draw water, and they asked them, “Is the seer here?”
12 “He is,” they answered. “He’s ahead of you. Hurry now; he has just come to our town today, for the people have a sacrifice at the high place. 13 As soon as you enter the town, you will find him before he goes up to the high place to eat. The people will not begin eating until he comes, because he must bless the sacrifice; afterward, those who are invited will eat. Go up now; you should find him about this time.”
14 They went up to the town, and as they were entering it, there was Samuel, coming toward them on his way up to the high place.
15 Now the day before Saul came, the Lord had revealed this to Samuel: 16 “About this time tomorrow I will send you a man from the land of Benjamin. Anoint him ruler over my people Israel; he will deliver them from the hand of the Philistines. I have looked on my people, for their cry has reached me.”
17 When Samuel caught sight of Saul, the Lord said to him, “This is the man I spoke to you about; he will govern my people.”
18 Saul approached Samuel in the gateway and asked, “Would you please tell me where the seer’s house is?”
19 “I am the seer,” Samuel replied. “Go up ahead of me to the high place, for today you are to eat with me, and in the morning I will send you on your way and will tell you all that is in your heart. 20 As for the donkeys you lost three days ago, do not worry about them; they have been found. And to whom is all the desire of Israel turned, if not to you and your whole family line?”
21 Saul answered, “But am I not a Benjamite, from the smallest tribe of Israel, and is not my clan the least of all the clans of the tribe of Benjamin? Why do you say such a thing to me?”
22 Then Samuel brought Saul and his servant into the hall and seated them at the head of those who were invited—about thirty in number. 23 Samuel said to the cook, “Bring the piece of meat I gave you, the one I told you to lay aside.”
24 So the cook took up the thigh with what was on it and set it in front of Saul. Samuel said, “Here is what has been kept for you. Eat, because it was set aside for you for this occasion from the time I said, ‘I have invited guests.’” And Saul dined with Samuel that day.
25 After they came down from the high place to the town, Samuel talked with Saul on the roof of his house. 26 They rose about daybreak, and Samuel called to Saul on the roof, “Get ready, and I will send you on your way.” When Saul got ready, he and Samuel went outside together. 27 As they were going down to the edge of the town, Samuel said to Saul, “Tell the servant to go on ahead of us”—and the servant did so—“but you stay here for a while, so that I may give you a message from God.”

Prayer: Lord, we come to You today as our King. We come humbly, but confidently because of what Jesus has done for us. Give us today a renewed sense of Your kindness, compassion, and goodness as our benevolent king. Thank You that You are a king, ‘unlike the nations’, and Your purposes have our good and your glory in mind. Give us the strength, conviction, and courage to live for You today. May we make godly and wise choices, may we rest in Your guidance and give praise to You in all things. Protect us from folly and following false things of this world, protect us from the schemes of the devil, and protect us from our own sinful inclinations. We give You humble thanks for Your grace in all these things. In Jesus name. Amen.

23 July 2019

1 Samuel 8

When Samuel grew old, he appointed his sons as Israel’s leaders. The name of his firstborn was Joel and the name of his second was Abijah, and they served at Beersheba. But his sons did not follow his ways. They turned aside after dishonest gain and accepted bribes and perverted justice.
So all the elders of Israel gathered together and came to Samuel at Ramah. They said to him, “You are old, and your sons do not follow your ways; now appoint a king to lead us, such as all the other nations have.”
But when they said, “Give us a king to lead us,” this displeased Samuel; so he prayed to the Lord. And the Lord told him: “Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king. As they have done from the day I brought them up out of Egypt until this day, forsaking me and serving other gods, so they are doing to you. Now listen to them; but warn them solemnly and let them know what the king who will reign over them will claim as his rights.”
10 Samuel told all the words of the Lord to the people who were asking him for a king. 11 He said, “This is what the king who will reign over you will claim as his rights: He will take your sons and make them serve with his chariots and horses, and they will run in front of his chariots. 12 Some he will assign to be commanders of thousands and commanders of fifties, and others to plow his ground and reap his harvest, and still others to make weapons of war and equipment for his chariots. 13 He will take your daughters to be perfumers and cooks and bakers. 14 He will take the best of your fields and vineyards and olive groves and give them to his attendants. 15 He will take a tenth of your grain and of your vintage and give it to his officials and attendants. 16 Your male and female servants and the best of your cattle and donkeys he will take for his own use. 17 He will take a tenth of your flocks, and you yourselves will become his slaves. 18 When that day comes, you will cry out for relief from the king you have chosen, but the Lord will not answer you in that day.”
19 But the people refused to listen to Samuel. “No!” they said. “We want a king over us. 20 Then we will be like all the other nations, with a king to lead us and to go out before us and fight our battles.”
21 When Samuel heard all that the people said, he repeated it before the Lord. 22 The Lord answered, “Listen to them and give them a king.”
Then Samuel said to the Israelites, “Everyone go back to your own town.”

And the Lord told him: ‘Listen to all that the people are saying to you; it is not you they have rejected, but they have rejected me as their king.’ (verse 7)

It’s likely that you’ve heard a story or two about children, in their young adult years, who reject their parents. Generally, it causes us to shake our heads and feel sadness for the parents. Having loved, nurtured and sacrificed they are left dejected and heart-broken. How much more so when we hear these chilling words in 1 Samuel 8:7. The people of Israel rejecting God as their king; who as their King rescued them out of Egypt, who lead, guided, protected and nurtured in the wilderness; who delivered them into the promised land; who sent judge after judge to rescue them from the surrounding nations and who consistently protected them from their fiercest enemies in the land. God’s children reject God as King.

The rejection is a travesty, but what heightens this tragedy is that they are asking for a replacement king, ‘like the nations’. Their rejection reveals the heart of the matter. They want what God has given but they don’t want him as King, they don’t want Him to guide them or rule them. They would prefer a king like the nations, whom they expect to be able to handle better than living under God.

God in His grace, before giving them a king, warns them of what a king like the nations would be like. And the defining characteristic of such a king would be ‘taker’. He will take their sons and daughters and make them servants. He will take the best fields and take the best fruits. He will take their livestock and flocks, and chillingly, God says, ‘you will become his slaves.’ A king like the nations will take, take, take! You would expect any sane minded person to change their mind after such a warning, but sane is not what we’re dealing with here, rather it is sin. The sin of independence and self-rule. The sad conclusion is that God will now grant their request.

Reading this passage may incline us to think we would have chosen differently to Israel but the truth is the scriptures and our own experience say otherwise. Which is what makes God sending Jesus as king that much more profound. He came not as a king who would take but give. He gave up his throne in heaven to come as a man. He gave Himself of service to people. He gave His life in death so that we can have life. He gives us abundant life through the Spirit and he has promised to give us an inheritance in Heaven. Jesus the King gives, gives, gives!

Prayer: Heavenly Father, giver of life in all creation, thank You for giving us Your Son. Thank You for His life, death, and resurrection for us. Thank You that we have a king, ‘unlike the nations’, who deals with us in grace, love and compassion. Forgive us when we desire to be led by men rather than You, help us by Your spirit to rejoice in You as king, and help us to honour You as king. For Your glory sake. Amen.

22 July 2019

1 Samuel 6

When the ark of the Lord had been in Philistine territory seven months, the Philistines called for the priests and the diviners and said, “What shall we do with the ark of the Lord? Tell us how we should send it back to its place.”
They answered, “If you return the ark of the god of Israel, do not send it back to him without a gift; by all means send a guilt offering to him. Then you will be healed, and you will know why his hand has not been lifted from you.”
The Philistines asked, “What guilt offering should we send to him?”
They replied, “Five gold tumors and five gold rats, according to the number of the Philistine rulers, because the same plague has struck both you and your rulers. Make models of the tumors and of the rats that are destroying the country, and give glory to Israel’s god. Perhaps he will lift his hand from you and your gods and your land. Why do you harden your hearts as the Egyptians and Pharaoh did? When Israel’s god dealt harshly with them, did they not send the Israelites out so they could go on their way?
“Now then, get a new cart ready, with two cows that have calved and have never been yoked. Hitch the cows to the cart, but take their calves away and pen them up. Take the ark of the Lord and put it on the cart, and in a chest beside it put the gold objects you are sending back to him as a guilt offering. Send it on its way, but keep watching it. If it goes up to its own territory, toward Beth Shemesh, then the Lord has brought this great disaster on us. But if it does not, then we will know that it was not his hand that struck us but that it happened to us by chance.”
10 So they did this. They took two such cows and hitched them to the cart and penned up their calves. 11 They placed the ark of the Lord on the cart and along with it the chest containing the gold rats and the models of the tumors. 12 Then the cows went straight up toward Beth Shemesh, keeping on the road and lowing all the way; they did not turn to the right or to the left. The rulers of the Philistines followed them as far as the border of Beth Shemesh.
13 Now the people of Beth Shemesh were harvesting their wheat in the valley, and when they looked up and saw the ark, they rejoiced at the sight. 14 The cart came to the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh, and there it stopped beside a large rock. The people chopped up the wood of the cart and sacrificed the cows as a burnt offering to the Lord. 15 The Levites took down the ark of the Lord, together with the chest containing the gold objects, and placed them on the large rock. On that day the people of Beth Shemesh offered burnt offerings and made sacrifices to the Lord. 16 The five rulers of the Philistines saw all this and then returned that same day to Ekron.
17 These are the gold tumors the Philistines sent as a guilt offering to the Lord—one each for Ashdod, Gaza, Ashkelon, Gath and Ekron. 18 And the number of the gold rats was according to the number of Philistine towns belonging to the five rulers—the fortified towns with their country villages. The large rock on which the Levites set the ark of the Lord is a witness to this day in the field of Joshua of Beth Shemesh.
19 But God struck down some of the inhabitants of Beth Shemesh, putting seventy of them to death because they looked into the ark of the Lord. The people mourned because of the heavy blow the Lord had dealt them. 20 And the people of Beth Shemesh asked, “Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God? To whom will the ark go up from here?”
21 Then they sent messengers to the people of Kiriath Jearim, saying, “The Philistines have returned the ark of the Lord. Come down and take it up to your town.”

And the people of Beth Shemesh asked, ‘Who can stand in the presence of the Lord, this holy God?’ (verse 22)

Prayer: Heavenly Father, Your ways and thoughts are better and higher than ours. Your will is perfect and good. It’s to You alone that all men will account and be measured, and in this who can stand? We know Lord that the answer is, ‘no one!’ No one can stand in Your Holy presence and yet it’s in this that we see Your profound and amazing grace. You desire to be with Your people and have made a way for this to be possible through Your son making us Holy. Thank You for Your grace and may we grow in it, be grateful for You and live for Your glory. In Jesus name. Amen.

19 July 2019

Acts 28

28 Once safely on shore, we found out that the island was called Malta. The islanders showed us unusual kindness. They built a fire and welcomed us all because it was raining and cold. Paul gathered a pile of brushwood and, as he put it on the fire, a viper, driven out by the heat, fastened itself on his hand. When the islanders saw the snake hanging from his hand, they said to each other, “This man must be a murderer; for though he escaped from the sea, the goddess Justice has not allowed him to live.” But Paul shook the snake off into the fire and suffered no ill effects. The people expected him to swell up or suddenly fall dead; but after waiting a long time and seeing nothing unusual happen to him, they changed their minds and said he was a god.
There was an estate nearby that belonged to Publius, the chief official of the island. He welcomed us to his home and showed us generous hospitality for three days. His father was sick in bed, suffering from fever and dysentery. Paul went in to see him and, after prayer, placed his hands on him and healed him. When this had happened, the rest of the sick on the island came and were cured. 10 They honored us in many ways; and when we were ready to sail, they furnished us with the supplies we needed.
11 After three months we put out to sea in a ship that had wintered in the island—it was an Alexandrian ship with the figurehead of the twin gods Castor and Pollux. 12 We put in at Syracuse and stayed there three days. 13 From there we set sail and arrived at Rhegium. The next day the south wind came up, and on the following day we reached Puteoli. 14 There we found some brothers and sisters who invited us to spend a week with them. And so we came to Rome. 15 The brothers and sisters there had heard that we were coming, and they traveled as far as the Forum of Appius and the Three Taverns to meet us. At the sight of these people Paul thanked God and was encouraged. 16 When we got to Rome, Paul was allowed to live by himself, with a soldier to guard him.
17 Three days later he called together the local Jewish leaders. When they had assembled, Paul said to them: “My brothers, although I have done nothing against our people or against the customs of our ancestors, I was arrested in Jerusalem and handed over to the Romans. 18 They examined me and wanted to release me, because I was not guilty of any crime deserving death. 19 The Jews objected, so I was compelled to make an appeal to Caesar. I certainly did not intend to bring any charge against my own people. 20 For this reason I have asked to see you and talk with you. It is because of the hope of Israel that I am bound with this chain.”
21 They replied, “We have not received any letters from Judea concerning you, and none of our people who have come from there has reported or said anything bad about you. 22 But we want to hear what your views are, for we know that people everywhere are talking against this sect.”
23 They arranged to meet Paul on a certain day, and came in even larger numbers to the place where he was staying. He witnessed to them from morning till evening, explaining about the kingdom of God, and from the Law of Moses and from the Prophets he tried to persuade them about Jesus. 24 Some were convinced by what he said, but others would not believe. 25 They disagreed among themselves and began to leave after Paul had made this final statement: “The Holy Spirit spoke the truth to your ancestors when he said through Isaiah the prophet:
26 “‘Go to this people and say,
“You will be ever hearing but never understanding;
    you will be ever seeing but never perceiving.”
27 For this people’s heart has become calloused;
    they hardly hear with their ears,
    and they have closed their eyes.
Otherwise they might see with their eyes,
    hear with their ears,
    understand with their hearts
and turn, and I would heal them.’
28 “Therefore I want you to know that God’s salvation has been sent to the Gentiles, and they will listen!” [29] 
30 For two whole years Paul stayed there in his own rented house and welcomed all who came to see him. 31 He proclaimed the kingdom of God and taught about the Lord Jesus Christ—with all boldness and without hindrance!

This chapter brings us to the end of the book of Acts, and we may think it strange that we never get to see what happened to Paul, and don’t hear anything about his trial and appearance before Caesar. Commentator Darrell Bock gives a good explanation when he says that this book is really about the Acts of God. It isn’t intended to be a biography of the apostles, so we should expect to find loose ends in their individual stories – it isn’t about them. Instead, throughout the book, we see God acting at crucial times in the early church, by the power of the resurrected Jesus, working in and through believers by His spirit that was poured out at Pentecost.

Here in this last chapter, as we’ve seen throughout the book, there is a combination of ministry by word and by deed. By word, Paul challenges those around him with the message of the gospel, leading to an invitation to repent and receive forgiveness from the God who loves them. By deed, he demonstrates the love of God as he heals the sick and ministers to the needs of those outside the church. Many of us find it challenging to share the gospel, to find the right language to connect with people outside the church, to be as bold as the early disciples. But we can show God’s love to people around us who most certainly need it, who are hurting and struggling in all kinds of ways, and as we do so, let us pray that we’ll find the right words to express the hope we have in Christ.

Prayer: Father God, thank You that You are at work in Your church today just as You were in the early church. Help us, Lord, to be a people of words, ready to share the gospel and call on those who hear it to turn from empty lives, and find peace with You. Equally Father, may we be those who are known for our deeds – acts of care for the weak and vulnerable, of generosity to the poor, of kindness to the lonely, of mercy to the sick. As we tell people of Your love for them, help us to be sincere and sacrificial in showing them that love and let us encourage one another to persevere in this for the glory of Your name. Amen.

18 July 2019

Acts 27

27 When it was decided that we would sail for Italy, Paul and some other prisoners were handed over to a centurion named Julius, who belonged to the Imperial Regiment. We boarded a ship from Adramyttium about to sail for ports along the coast of the province of Asia, and we put out to sea. Aristarchus, a Macedonian from Thessalonica, was with us.
The next day we landed at Sidon; and Julius, in kindness to Paul, allowed him to go to his friends so they might provide for his needs. From there we put out to sea again and passed to the lee of Cyprus because the winds were against us. When we had sailed across the open sea off the coast of Cilicia and Pamphylia, we landed at Myra in Lycia. There the centurion found an Alexandrian ship sailing for Italy and put us on board. We made slow headway for many days and had difficulty arriving off Cnidus. When the wind did not allow us to hold our course, we sailed to the lee of Crete, opposite Salmone. We moved along the coast with difficulty and came to a place called Fair Havens, near the town of Lasea.
Much time had been lost, and sailing had already become dangerous because by now it was after the Day of Atonement. So Paul warned them, 10 “Men, I can see that our voyage is going to be disastrous and bring great loss to ship and cargo, and to our own lives also.” 11 But the centurion, instead of listening to what Paul said, followed the advice of the pilot and of the owner of the ship. 12 Since the harbor was unsuitable to winter in, the majority decided that we should sail on, hoping to reach Phoenix and winter there. This was a harbor in Crete, facing both southwest and northwest.
13 When a gentle south wind began to blow, they saw their opportunity; so they weighed anchor and sailed along the shore of Crete. 14 Before very long, a wind of hurricane force, called the Northeaster, swept down from the island. 15 The ship was caught by the storm and could not head into the wind; so we gave way to it and were driven along. 16 As we passed to the lee of a small island called Cauda, we were hardly able to make the lifeboat secure, 17 so the men hoisted it aboard. Then they passed ropes under the ship itself to hold it together. Because they were afraid they would run aground on the sandbars of Syrtis, they lowered the sea anchor and let the ship be driven along. 18 We took such a violent battering from the storm that the next day they began to throw the cargo overboard. 19 On the third day, they threw the ship’s tackle overboard with their own hands. 20 When neither sun nor stars appeared for many days and the storm continued raging, we finally gave up all hope of being saved.
21 After they had gone a long time without food, Paul stood up before them and said: “Men, you should have taken my advice not to sail from Crete; then you would have spared yourselves this damage and loss. 22 But now I urge you to keep up your courage, because not one of you will be lost; only the ship will be destroyed. 23 Last night an angel of the God to whom I belong and whom I serve stood beside me 24 and said, ‘Do not be afraid, Paul. You must stand trial before Caesar; and God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you.’ 25 So keep up your courage, men, for I have faith in God that it will happen just as he told me. 26 Nevertheless, we must run aground on some island.”
27 On the fourteenth night we were still being driven across the Adriatic Sea, when about midnight the sailors sensed they were approaching land. 28 They took soundings and found that the water was a hundred and twenty feet deep. A short time later they took soundings again and found it was ninety feet deep. 29 Fearing that we would be dashed against the rocks, they dropped four anchors from the stern and prayed for daylight. 30 In an attempt to escape from the ship, the sailors let the lifeboat down into the sea, pretending they were going to lower some anchors from the bow. 31 Then Paul said to the centurion and the soldiers, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” 32 So the soldiers cut the ropes that held the lifeboat and let it drift away.
33 Just before dawn Paul urged them all to eat. “For the last fourteen days,” he said, “you have been in constant suspense and have gone without food—you haven’t eaten anything. 34 Now I urge you to take some food. You need it to survive. Not one of you will lose a single hair from his head.” 35 After he said this, he took some bread and gave thanks to God in front of them all. Then he broke it and began to eat. 36 They were all encouraged and ate some food themselves. 37 Altogether there were 276 of us on board. 38 When they had eaten as much as they wanted, they lightened the ship by throwing the grain into the sea.
39 When daylight came, they did not recognize the land, but they saw a bay with a sandy beach, where they decided to run the ship aground if they could. 40 Cutting loose the anchors, they left them in the sea and at the same time untied the ropes that held the rudders. Then they hoisted the foresail to the wind and made for the beach. 41 But the ship struck a sandbar and ran aground. The bow stuck fast and would not move, and the stern was broken to pieces by the pounding of the surf.
42 The soldiers planned to kill the prisoners to prevent any of them from swimming away and escaping. 43 But the centurion wanted to spare Paul’s life and kept them from carrying out their plan. He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and get to land. 44 The rest were to get there on planks or on other pieces of the ship. In this way everyone reached land safely.

The voyage to Rome is not plain sailing. Paul warns that it is going to end in disaster and endanger everyone’s lives, but the centurion follows the advice of the captain and owner ahead of his prisoner. Luke gives a detailed description of tremendous wind, storm, and battering, of cargo and tackle being thrown overboard, of days without sun or stars appearing. This could be the story of any shipwreck, but Mark 4:39 reminds us that Jesus is the Lord of the elements, and when all hope seems lost, an angel appears to Paul to assure him that no one will perish. God’s grace to Paul extends to all the men with him, “God has graciously given you the lives of all who sail with you” (verse 24b).

Jesus describes his followers as salt, a preservative against the decay all around them. Proverbs teaches that a city is exalted by the blessing that the upright bring (Proverbs 11:11). Here on this doomed voyage, God’s mercy towards Paul extends to all the men on board. But to what end? Are they spared, simply to go on and meet their end at some other time, in some other way? Peter offers some perspective when he reminds us that “the Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3:9). Surely God has spared the men who accompany Paul not just to give them a few more years on earth, but to hold out the hope of an eternity with Him. Paul has testified about God throughout his time with the Roman contingent and on board the ship, and he will continue to do so on Malta and finally in Rome. We can’t speculate, but we have every reason to hope that some of these men, spared from death at sea and exposed to the gospel of Jesus, would have come to faith in Him.

As believers, we look forward to the day of the Lord when Christ will return in glory to usher in the new heavens and the new earth, but while we wait, let us make the most of God’s long-suffering kindness towards the unsaved. Let us be faithful to share the good news that we have in Christ Jesus, for this is God’s appointed way to bring people everywhere to repentance.

Prayer: Thank You Lord for Your patience, thank You that You are long-suffering and full of mercy. We know that on the last day, You will finally bring all things to their appointed end under Christ, but until then Father, give us hearts filled with love for the unsaved, filled with compassion for those who may face an eternity cut off from the joy of your loving and glorious presence. Father, none of us deserved such grace from You – please give us opportunities to share it with others. Amen.

17 July 2019

1 Samuel 5

After the Philistines had captured the ark of God, they took it from Ebenezer to Ashdod. Then they carried the ark into Dagon’s temple and set it beside Dagon. When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! They took Dagon and put him back in his place. But the following morning when they rose, there was Dagon, fallen on his face on the ground before the ark of the Lord! His head and hands had been broken off and were lying on the threshold; only his body remained. That is why to this day neither the priests of Dagon nor any others who enter Dagon’s temple at Ashdod step on the threshold.
The Lord’s hand was heavy on the people of Ashdod and its vicinity; he brought devastation on them and afflicted them with tumors. When the people of Ashdod saw what was happening, they said, “The ark of the god of Israel must not stay here with us, because his hand is heavy on us and on Dagon our god.” So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and asked them, “What shall we do with the ark of the god of Israel?”
They answered, “Have the ark of the god of Israel moved to Gath.” So they moved the ark of the God of Israel.
But after they had moved it, the Lord’s hand was against that city, throwing it into a great panic. He afflicted the people of the city, both young and old, with an outbreak of tumors. 10 So they sent the ark of God to Ekron.
As the ark of God was entering Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, “They have brought the ark of the god of Israel around to us to kill us and our people.” 11 So they called together all the rulers of the Philistines and said, “Send the ark of the god of Israel away; let it go back to its own place, or it will kill us and our people.” For death had filled the city with panic; God’s hand was very heavy on it. 12 Those who did not die were afflicted with tumors, and the outcry of the city went up to heaven.

The victorious Philistines take the ark of the Lord’s covenant to the temple of their deity Dagon and set it by the side of their idol. The account that follows is almost comical as the idol Dagon is found the next day, fallen on its face, even though the practice of such worshippers was to fasten their idols so they would be secure (Isaiah 41:7). What foolishness to pray for help to an idol that needed their help to stand up. How could they attribute their victory to the power of Dagon when Dagon hadn’t enough power to hold his own ground?

Still, the Philistines continue to revere their Dagon, and they’re in fact content to worship a multitude of gods, so the ark of the covenant is added to the collection. But, the God of Israel does not want worship if He is not worshipped alone. The power of God’s heavy hand of judgment on the Philistines must have stood in sharp contrast to the powerless (and finally dismembered) Dagon, yet they would not give up their worthless idols and turn to the living God.

When it is portrayed this way, the worship of idols looks so obviously foolish, but we too have our idols, the subtle 21st Century kind. Let us take the warnings of this passage to once more consider whether there is anything in our lives that we’ve set up next to God.

Prayer: Father, You are the great God of highest heaven, maker of all things seen and unseen. You are infinite in Your perfections, majestic in Your holiness, and glorious in Your love, Your mercy, and Your grace. O Lord, help us to see You in the wonder of who You are, so far beyond all we can imagine, but so close that You call us Your children. We stand in awe that You came in human likeness in Jesus Christ Your son, and we praise You, Lord Jesus, that in humility You did for us what we could never have done for ourselves. As we reflect on these things, may our ultimate trust, our love, our joy, and our hope be in You, and in nothing else.

16 July 2019

1 Samuel 4

And Samuel’s word came to all Israel.
Now the Israelites went out to fight against the Philistines. The Israelites camped at Ebenezer, and the Philistines at Aphek. The Philistines deployed their forces to meet Israel, and as the battle spread, Israel was defeated by the Philistines, who killed about four thousand of them on the battlefield. When the soldiers returned to camp, the elders of Israel asked, “Why did the Lord bring defeat on us today before the Philistines? Let us bring the ark of the Lord’s covenant from Shiloh, so that he may go with us and save us from the hand of our enemies.”
So the people sent men to Shiloh, and they brought back the ark of the covenant of the Lord Almighty, who is enthroned between the cherubim. And Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, were there with the ark of the covenant of God.
When the ark of the Lord’s covenant came into the camp, all Israel raised such a great shout that the ground shook. Hearing the uproar, the Philistines asked, “What’s all this shouting in the Hebrew camp?”
When they learned that the ark of the Lord had come into the camp, the Philistines were afraid. “A god has come into the camp,” they said. “Oh no! Nothing like this has happened before. We’re doomed! Who will deliver us from the hand of these mighty gods? They are the gods who struck the Egyptians with all kinds of plagues in the wilderness. Be strong, Philistines! Be men, or you will be subject to the Hebrews, as they have been to you. Be men, and fight!”
10 So the Philistines fought, and the Israelites were defeated and every man fled to his tent. The slaughter was very great; Israel lost thirty thousand foot soldiers. 11 The ark of God was captured, and Eli’s two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, died.
12 That same day a Benjamite ran from the battle line and went to Shiloh with his clothes torn and dust on his head. 13 When he arrived, there was Eli sitting on his chair by the side of the road, watching, because his heart feared for the ark of God. When the man entered the town and told what had happened, the whole town sent up a cry.
14 Eli heard the outcry and asked, “What is the meaning of this uproar?”
The man hurried over to Eli, 15 who was ninety-eight years old and whose eyes had failed so that he could not see. 16 He told Eli, “I have just come from the battle line; I fled from it this very day.”
Eli asked, “What happened, my son?”
17 The man who brought the news replied, “Israel fled before the Philistines, and the army has suffered heavy losses. Also your two sons, Hophni and Phinehas, are dead, and the ark of God has been captured.”
18 When he mentioned the ark of God, Eli fell backward off his chair by the side of the gate. His neck was broken and he died, for he was an old man, and he was heavy. He had led Israel forty years.
19 His daughter-in-law, the wife of Phinehas, was pregnant and near the time of delivery. When she heard the news that the ark of God had been captured and that her father-in-law and her husband were dead, she went into labor and gave birth, but was overcome by her labor pains. 20 As she was dying, the women attending her said, “Don’t despair; you have given birth to a son.” But she did not respond or pay any attention.
21 She named the boy Ichabod, saying, “The Glory has departed from Israel”—because of the capture of the ark of God and the deaths of her father-in-law and her husband. 22 She said, “The Glory has departed from Israel, for the ark of God has been captured.”

This story must rank as one of the low points in Israel’s history. They desperately want to shake off the Philistine yoke, but they don’t turn to God before going out to face their enemy, and they are defeated. They question why the Lord allowed this, but it is not a humble and penitent seeking after God’s will, a time of deep prayer and fasting, of seeking God’s word through His anointed prophet Samuel. Instead, they argue with God, presuming that His duty is to fight for the people of Israel. In fact, they think they can oblige God to appear for them at the next battle by calling for the ark of the Lord’s covenant to be brought from Shiloh and carrying it into battle, manipulating God into crushing their enemies.

The Israelites cling to the symbols of godliness, but they don’t know God. They want God to help them get what they want, but they don’t seek His will to find out what He wants. Their camp is full of sin, but they refuse to confront it. No wonder the ensuing battle is a slaughter – 30’000 men are killed, the ark is captured, and God’s judgment against the house of Eli is fulfilled.

Sometimes we shake our heads at the wayward Israelites and wonder how they could get it so wrong. But don’t we sometimes go through the motions of ‘religion’, without spending much time alone in God’s presence with his word spread before us? Don’t we sometimes presume that as God’s children, He will answer our requests, without us taking any trouble to earnestly seek what He wants? Are we diligent in searching our hearts, exposing our sinful thoughts and attitudes, and seeking God’s forgiveness?

Prayer: Lord Jesus, thank You that You gave yourself for us, to open the way into God’s presence. Thank You that even in our weakness, You sit at the right hand of the Father to speak on our behalf so that we can draw near to His throne with confidence, not crushed by the weight of a guilty conscience, but assured that if we confess our sins, You will always be faithful to forgive us. Thank You, Father, for the glorious hope we have in Christ, may we hold on to it without growing weary, and help us even today to encourage a brother or sister who may need to be reminded of the hope we share as Your children. Amen.

15 July 2019

1 Samuel 3

The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”
15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”
Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.The Lord Calls Samuel
The boy Samuel ministered before the Lord under Eli. In those days the word of the Lord was rare; there were not many visions.
One night Eli, whose eyes were becoming so weak that he could barely see, was lying down in his usual place. The lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was lying down in the house of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called Samuel.
Samuel answered, “Here I am.” And he ran to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
But Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.” So he went and lay down.
Again the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
“My son,” Eli said, “I did not call; go back and lie down.”
Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord: The word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him.
A third time the Lord called, “Samuel!” And Samuel got up and went to Eli and said, “Here I am; you called me.”
Then Eli realized that the Lord was calling the boy. So Eli told Samuel, “Go and lie down, and if he calls you, say, ‘Speak, Lord, for your servant is listening.’” So Samuel went and lay down in his place.
10 The Lord came and stood there, calling as at the other times, “Samuel! Samuel!”
Then Samuel said, “Speak, for your servant is listening.”
11 And the Lord said to Samuel: “See, I am about to do something in Israel that will make the ears of everyone who hears about it tingle. 12 At that time I will carry out against Eli everything I spoke against his family—from beginning to end. 13 For I told him that I would judge his family forever because of the sin he knew about; his sons blasphemed God, and he failed to restrain them. 14 Therefore I swore to the house of Eli, ‘The guilt of Eli’s house will never be atoned for by sacrifice or offering.’”
15 Samuel lay down until morning and then opened the doors of the house of the Lord. He was afraid to tell Eli the vision, 16 but Eli called him and said, “Samuel, my son.”
Samuel answered, “Here I am.”
17 “What was it he said to you?” Eli asked. “Do not hide it from me. May God deal with you, be it ever so severely, if you hide from me anything he told you.” 18 So Samuel told him everything, hiding nothing from him. Then Eli said, “He is the Lord; let him do what is good in his eyes.”
19 The Lord was with Samuel as he grew up, and he let none of Samuel’s words fall to the ground. 20 And all Israel from Dan to Beersheba recognized that Samuel was attested as a prophet of the Lord. 21 The Lord continued to appear at Shiloh, and there he revealed himself to Samuel through his word.

God’s call to Samuel is a well-known story – the boy asleep in the sanctuary, and the voice of the Lord coming to him three times. It must have been a dreadful moment for Eli when he realized that God had chosen to speak to Samuel and not to him, and even worse when Samuel confirmed God’s words of judgment against the house of Eli. The priest knew of his own son’s terrible misconduct and how they had abused their positions at the tabernacle – they were described as base and worthless, dishonest and without any regard for the Lord. True to their hardened hearts, they ignored Eli’s rebuke, and he did nothing to restrain them. A man of God had already warned Eli that his priestly line would be cut off (1 Samuel 2:27-36), and the word delivered by Samuel confirmed this.

The sins of Hophni and Phineas were blatant and obvious, but these men were not regenerate – “they did not know the Lord” (verse 12b). Eli, however, knew the Lord, and even though he was old and feeble, he was well aware that his sons were blaspheming the Lord in the most grievous way, and he allowed them to carry on unrestrained. In this way, it could be said that Eli was willfully disobedient to God. Even though Eli seemed like a kind man and a fatherly figure to Samuel, God was greatly displeased that he chose not to act against his wicked sons.

Are we entertaining any sin in our lives? Is there something we know displeases God, but we persist in it? Maybe we’ve convinced ourselves that we have a right to hold onto anger or bitterness against someone who has offended us, maybe we go along with some unjust scheme because we’re afraid to confront those involved, maybe there’s a secret sin that holds us, and we imagine that we’ll deal it later, but for now we’ll just silence our conscience.

The writer to the Hebrews says, “Make every effort to live in peace with everyone and to be holy; without holiness, no one will see the Lord.” (Hebrews 12:14). We know that holiness isn’t sinless perfection – John says, “If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us” (1 John 1:8). But a holy person, in the words of JC Ryle, will “endeavor to shun every known sin and keep every known commandment”.

The Pharisees tried this and failed, and left to ourselves we would too – but praise God, we have a Saviour, Jesus Christ the righteous one, who fulfilled the prophecy of Ezekiel, “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit within you, and cause you to walk in my statutes and be careful to obey my rules.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)

Prayer: Father God, we thank You for Your love and mercy in sending Jesus to bear away our sins on the cross, and thank You Lord Jesus for sending Your Spirit to live in our hearts. O Lord, help us today to listen to the voice of Your Spirit, speaking to us through the scriptures, through the sound advice of godly friends, and through our own consciences. Help us not to willfully sin against You, or hold onto anything that we know displeases You, our loving and merciful Father. In Jesus name, we pray. Amen

17 May 2019

Cornelius Calls for Peter
10 At Caesarea there was a man named Cornelius, a centurion in what was known as the Italian Regiment. He and all his family were devout and God-fearing; he gave generously to those in need and prayed to God regularly. One day at about three in the afternoon he had a vision. He distinctly saw an angel of God, who came to him and said, “Cornelius!”
Cornelius stared at him in fear. “What is it, Lord?” he asked.
The angel answered, “Your prayers and gifts to the poor have come up as a memorial offering before God. Now send men to Joppa to bring back a man named Simon who is called Peter. He is staying with Simon the tanner, whose house is by the sea.”
When the angel who spoke to him had gone, Cornelius called two of his servants and a devout soldier who was one of his attendants. He told them everything that had happened and sent them to Joppa.
Peter’s Vision
About noon the following day as they were on their journey and approaching the city, Peter went up on the roof to pray. 10 He became hungry and wanted something to eat, and while the meal was being prepared, he fell into a trance.11 He saw heaven opened and something like a large sheet being let down to earth by its four corners. 12 It contained all kinds of four-footed animals, as well as reptiles and birds. 13 Then a voice told him, “Get up, Peter. Kill and eat.”
14 “Surely not, Lord!” Peter replied. “I have never eaten anything impure or unclean.”
15 The voice spoke to him a second time, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.”
16 This happened three times, and immediately the sheet was taken back to heaven.
17 While Peter was wondering about the meaning of the vision, the men sent by Cornelius found out where Simon’s house was and stopped at the gate. 18 They called out, asking if Simon who was known as Peter was staying there.
19 While Peter was still thinking about the vision, the Spirit said to him, “Simon, three men are looking for you. 20 So get up and go downstairs. Do not hesitate to go with them, for I have sent them.”
21 Peter went down and said to the men, “I’m the one you’re looking for. Why have you come?”
22 The men replied, “We have come from Cornelius the centurion. He is a righteous and God-fearing man, who is respected by all the Jewish people. A holy angel told him to ask you to come to his house so that he could hear what you have to say.”23 Then Peter invited the men into the house to be his guests.
Peter at Cornelius’s House
The next day Peter started out with them, and some of the believers from Joppa went along. 24 The following day he arrived in Caesarea. Cornelius was expecting them and had called together his relatives and close friends. 25 As Peter entered the house, Cornelius met him and fell at his feet in reverence. 26 But Peter made him get up. “Stand up,” he said, “I am only a man myself.”
27 While talking with him, Peter went inside and found a large gathering of people.28 He said to them: “You are well aware that it is against our law for a Jew to associate with or visit a Gentile. But God has shown me that I should not call anyone impure or unclean. 29 So when I was sent for, I came without raising any objection. May I ask why you sent for me?”
30 Cornelius answered: “Three days ago I was in my house praying at this hour, at three in the afternoon. Suddenly a man in shining clothes stood before me 31 and said, ‘Cornelius, God has heard your prayer and remembered your gifts to the poor. 32 Send to Joppa for Simon who is called Peter. He is a guest in the home of Simon the tanner, who lives by the sea.’ 33 So I sent for you immediately, and it was good of you to come. Now we are all here in the presence of God to listen to everything the Lord has commanded you to tell us.”
34 Then Peter began to speak: “I now realize how true it is that God does not show favoritism 35 but accepts from every nation the one who fears him and does what is right. 36 You know the message God sent to the people of Israel, announcing the good news of peace through Jesus Christ, who is Lord of all. 37 You know what has happened throughout the province of Judea, beginning in Galilee after the baptism that John preached— 38 how God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him.
39 “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, 40 but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen. 41 He was not seen by all the people, but by witnesses whom God had already chosen—by us who ate and drank with him after he rose from the dead. 42 He commanded us to preach to the people and to testify that he is the one whom God appointed as judge of the living and the dead. 43 All the prophets testify about him that everyone who believes in him receives forgiveness of sins through his name.”
44 While Peter was still speaking these words, the Holy Spirit came on all who heard the message. 45 The circumcised believers who had come with Peter were astonished that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out even on Gentiles.46 For they heard them speaking in tongues and praising God.
Then Peter said, 47 “Surely no one can stand in the way of their being baptized with water. They have received the Holy Spirit just as we have.” 48 So he ordered that they be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ. Then they asked Peter to stay with them for a few days.

Acts 10

In Acts 1, Jesus reminds the disciples that when His Spirit comes upon them in power, they ‘will be His witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea & Samaria, and to the ends of the earth’ (1:8). Until now (Acts 10) the spread of the gospel has been confined to efforts within Jerusalem… now we transition to it going beyond Jerusalem and, more importantly, to it going beyond the nation and people of Israel.

Peter is clearly shown through his vision, that the days of things being declared pure or impure, clean or unclean, based on external factors or even on ethnicity are now a thing of the past. We can no longer ‘call anything impure that God has made clean’ (v15 & v28)! The power of the gospel is such that the blood of Jesus is able to wash even the vilest of sinners (remember yesterday’s reading) and make them clean, pure, and acceptable to God. It is able to bring those who were once far away and outside the covenant, not just closer but right into the very family of God. The only distinction made now is whether they have heard and believe the gospel or not. Our biology and birthrights are secondary, our ethnicity, education, and economic status are unimportant. All that matters is whether we have responded to Jesus in faith. For ‘God does not show favouritism but accepts from every nation the one who fears Him and does what is right’ (v34-35).

What wonderful news for us not born Jewish – the gospel is for us too; Jesus died for us too; His promises and blessings are for us too – if we will repent and believe in Him. What a wonderful challenge that we too must be His witnesses both where we are and to the ends of the earth – here, there and everywhere. Pray that we remain faithful and courageous towards this high calling.

Prayer: Father God, thank You that because of Jesus we can be included in Your people and adopted into Your family. Thank You that through His death, we can be made clean, pure, and acceptable to You. Help us daily to live as Your children in a manner worthy of You.

‘We pray to You to remember the multitude of men and women who, though created in Your image are ignorant of Your love. Grant that by the witness of those who serve our Lord Jesus Christ wherever they minister Your word, perishing souls may be saved, the whole church revived, and the Name of our Saviour magnified. In Christ’s name we ask it. AMEN.’

Adapted from the Prayer Book of the Church of England in SA (CESA, 1992) page 22

16 May 2019

Saul’s Conversion
Meanwhile, Saul was still breathing out murderous threats against the Lord’s disciples. He went to the high priest and asked him for letters to the synagogues in Damascus, so that if he found any there who belonged to the Way, whether men or women, he might take them as prisoners to Jerusalem. As he neared Damascus on his journey, suddenly a light from heaven flashed around him. He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?”
“Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked.
“I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.”
The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.
10 In Damascus there was a disciple named Ananias. The Lord called to him in a vision, “Ananias!”
“Yes, Lord,” he answered.
11 The Lord told him, “Go to the house of Judas on Straight Street and ask for a man from Tarsus named Saul, for he is praying. 12 In a vision he has seen a man named Ananias come and place his hands on him to restore his sight.”
13 “Lord,” Ananias answered, “I have heard many reports about this man and all the harm he has done to your holy people in Jerusalem. 14 And he has come here with authority from the chief priests to arrest all who call on your name.”
15 But the Lord said to Ananias, “Go! This man is my chosen instrument to proclaim my name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel. 16 I will show him how much he must suffer for my name.”
17 Then Ananias went to the house and entered it. Placing his hands on Saul, he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord—Jesus, who appeared to you on the road as you were coming here—has sent me so that you may see again and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” 18 Immediately, something like scales fell from Saul’s eyes, and he could see again. He got up and was baptized, 19 and after taking some food, he regained his strength.
Saul in Damascus and Jerusalem
Saul spent several days with the disciples in Damascus. 20 At once he began to preach in the synagogues that Jesus is the Son of God. 21 All those who heard him were astonished and asked, “Isn’t he the man who raised havoc in Jerusalem among those who call on this name? And hasn’t he come here to take them as prisoners to the chief priests?” 22 Yet Saul grew more and more powerful and baffled the Jews living in Damascus by proving that Jesus is the Messiah.
23 After many days had gone by, there was a conspiracy among the Jews to kill him, 24 but Saul learned of their plan. Day and night they kept close watch on the city gates in order to kill him. 25 But his followers took him by night and lowered him in a basket through an opening in the wall.
26 When he came to Jerusalem, he tried to join the disciples, but they were all afraid of him, not believing that he really was a disciple. 27 But Barnabas took him and brought him to the apostles. He told them how Saul on his journey had seen the Lord and that the Lord had spoken to him, and how in Damascus he had preached fearlessly in the name of Jesus. 28 So Saul stayed with them and moved about freely in Jerusalem, speaking boldly in the name of the Lord. 29 He talked and debated with the Hellenistic Jews, but they tried to kill him. 30 When the believers learned of this, they took him down to Caesarea and sent him off to Tarsus.
31 Then the church throughout Judea, Galilee and Samaria enjoyed a time of peace and was strengthened. Living in the fear of the Lord and encouraged by the Holy Spirit, it increased in numbers.
Aeneas and Dorcas
32 As Peter traveled about the country, he went to visit the Lord’s people who lived in Lydda. 33 There he found a man named Aeneas, who was paralyzed and had been bedridden for eight years. 34 “Aeneas,” Peter said to him, “Jesus Christ heals you. Get up and roll up your mat.” Immediately Aeneas got up. 35 All those who lived in Lydda and Sharon saw him and turned to the Lord.
36 In Joppa there was a disciple named Tabitha (in Greek her name is Dorcas); she was always doing good and helping the poor. 37 About that time she became sick and died, and her body was washed and placed in an upstairs room. 38 Lydda was near Joppa; so when the disciples heard that Peter was in Lydda, they sent two men to him and urged him, “Please come at once!”
39 Peter went with them, and when he arrived he was taken upstairs to the room. All the widows stood around him, crying and showing him the robes and other clothing that Dorcas had made while she was still with them.
40 Peter sent them all out of the room; then he got down on his knees and prayed. Turning toward the dead woman, he said, “Tabitha, get up.” She opened her eyes, and seeing Peter she sat up. 41 He took her by the hand and helped her to her feet. Then he called for the believers, especially the widows, and presented her to them alive. 42 This became known all over Joppa, and many people believed in the Lord. 43 Peter stayed in Joppa for some time with a tanner named Simon.

Acts 9

When the Apostle Paul writes, ‘For I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God that brings salvation to all who believe‘ (Romans 1:16); it is not empty and impersonal rhetoric. He speaks from personal experience… as the first account of his testimony (Acts 9) reveals.

Paul, referred to by his Hebrew name, was dedicated to destroying the new community of Christ followers and eradicating these believers. Breathing out ‘murderous threats’ (v1) and seeking to imprison as many as he could (v2); he was intent on persecuting the early church. Jesus sees his hostility towards the body as the persecution of Jesus Himself (v4). And Jesus is going to put a stop to that… but not by treating Paul in the way he has treated others! He, unlike Paul, will act in grace and mercy.

So, Jesus encounters Paul on his journey… meeting him where he was. It is both a radical encounter and a personal one (notice that Paul sees and hears while those with him only hear). Jesus is interested in Paul – this encounter is for him. Terrified, Saul asks, ‘Who are you, Lord?’ Ironically, Jesus reveals who really is Lord, who really is in control and powerful; and who really holds authority over life and death. From this moment on, Paul’s life belongs to Jesus and he will do as Jesus commands him (v6). What a picture of conversion!

Of course, the believers are understandably weary of the ‘new’ Paul – can a leopard really change its spots (v13 & v26)? In one sense, it can’t by itself… but God can change it. And God does change this one! Not only is Paul called to new life, but he is commissioned to a new purpose – ‘a chosen instrument to proclaim [God’s] name to the Gentiles and their kings and to the people of Israel’ (v15). And that’s exactly what Paul did (v22). Paul’s encounter with the Risen Jesus leads to a radical conversion and a life lived in both suffering for (v16) and serving (v20) his new Lord and Saviour.

What a great reminder to the power of the gospel! If God can turn this persecutor of Christians into a preacher for Christ, there is no end to what he can do for you and for your unsaved family and friends. Don’t lose heart… keep holding out the Risen Jesus to them at every opportunity; praying that an encounter with Him will lead them to hear His call and follow the Way. Our God, our Saviour, really is the One who has the power to raise the dead and bring life; to raise those who are dead in their transgressions and make them alive to Christ. Don’t be ashamed of the gospel of Jesus – it is the power of salvation!P

Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank You for the power and work of the gospel in our own lives, bringing us to salvation and faith in Jesus. Help us to be living testimonies of Your gospel today – in every circumstance, before all people. Use us, we pray, as signposts to point others to Jesus so that they too may encounter the Risen Lord. Especially, we pray for those who don’t know Him within our family and immediate sphere of influence. Make Yourself known to them through Jesus and use us to that end. For Your glory alone we ask this. AMEN.

7 May 2019

The Silver Trumpets
10 The Lord said to Moses: “Make two trumpets of hammered silver, and use them for calling the community together and for having the camps set out. When both are sounded, the whole community is to assemble before you at the entrance to the tent of meeting. If only one is sounded, the leaders—the heads of the clans of Israel—are to assemble before you. When a trumpet blast is sounded, the tribes camping on the east are to set out. At the sounding of a second blast, the camps on the south are to set out. The blast will be the signal for setting out.To gather the assembly, blow the trumpets, but not with the signal for setting out.
“The sons of Aaron, the priests, are to blow the trumpets. This is to be a lasting ordinance for you and the generations to come. When you go into battle in your own land against an enemy who is oppressing you, sound a blast on the trumpets.Then you will be remembered by the Lord your God and rescued from your enemies. 10 Also at your times of rejoicing—your appointed festivals and New Moon feasts—you are to sound the trumpets over your burnt offerings and fellowship offerings, and they will be a memorial for you before your God. I am the Lord your God.”
The Israelites Leave Sinai
11 On the twentieth day of the second month of the second year, the cloud lifted from above the tabernacle of the covenant law. 12 Then the Israelites set out from the Desert of Sinai and traveled from place to place until the cloud came to rest in the Desert of Paran. 13 They set out, this first time, at the Lord’s command through Moses.
14 The divisions of the camp of Judah went first, under their standard. Nahshon son of Amminadab was in command. 15 Nethanel son of Zuar was over the division of the tribe of Issachar, 16 and Eliab son of Helon was over the division of the tribe of Zebulun. 17 Then the tabernacle was taken down, and the Gershonites and Merarites, who carried it, set out.
18 The divisions of the camp of Reuben went next, under their standard. Elizur son of Shedeur was in command. 19 Shelumiel son of Zurishaddai was over the division of the tribe of Simeon, 20 and Eliasaph son of Deuel was over the division of the tribe of Gad. 21 Then the Kohathites set out, carrying the holy things. The tabernacle was to be set up before they arrived.
22 The divisions of the camp of Ephraim went next, under their standard. Elishama son of Ammihud was in command. 23 Gamaliel son of Pedahzur was over the division of the tribe of Manasseh, 24 and Abidan son of Gideoni was over the division of the tribe of Benjamin.
25 Finally, as the rear guard for all the units, the divisions of the camp of Dan set out under their standard. Ahiezer son of Ammishaddai was in command. 26 Pagiel son of Okran was over the division of the tribe of Asher, 27 and Ahira son of Enan was over the division of the tribe of Naphtali. 28 This was the order of march for the Israelite divisions as they set out.
29 Now Moses said to Hobab son of Reuel the Midianite, Moses’ father-in-law, “We are setting out for the place about which the Lord said, ‘I will give it to you.’ Come with us and we will treat you well, for the Lord has promised good things to Israel.”
30 He answered, “No, I will not go; I am going back to my own land and my own people.”
31 But Moses said, “Please do not leave us. You know where we should camp in the wilderness, and you can be our eyes. 32 If you come with us, we will share with you whatever good things the Lord gives us.”
33 So they set out from the mountain of the Lord and traveled for three days. The ark of the covenant of the Lord went before them during those three days to find them a place to rest. 34 The cloud of the Lord was over them by day when they set out from the camp.
35 Whenever the ark set out, Moses said,
“Rise up, Lord!
    May your enemies be scattered;
    may your foes flee before you.”
36 Whenever it came to rest, he said,
“Return, Lord,
    to the countless thousands of Israel.”

Numbers 10

Prayer:

Dear Father God, we thank you that we are not alone in our Christian walk. We thank you that You go before us and behind us. Your Word reminds us repeatedly that You will never leave nor forsake us and that You are always with us.

Lord we confess that we often try to do things on our own and only when things go wrong do we seek Your help. We confess that we don’t always seek your guidance and direction. We know that we can’t live the Christian life our own way. We pray that we will not only acknowledge our dependence upon You but will continually seek to know and do Your will.

We thank You Holy Spirit that You are our guide and counsellor. Help us each day to be more like Jesus in what we think, say and do. Lord help us to abide in You as you have commanded us, help us to rest in You and help us to truly give You the glory for the works You do in our lives.

Lord as You led the Israelites by the cloud of the Lord, we pray that Your Word would be our only source of direction. Speak to us through Your Word and enable us to stand firm in our faith as we grow in knowledge of You by reading and meditating on your word. Lord, we ask that Your Word would come alive as we read it, that we will live in obedience to Your Word’s command, and as a result be light to the dark world around us.

Father God, as we grow in our faith and walk with You and live as light, help us to draw others to You. Help us to be beacons of hope to a sinful world, and help us to be your hands and feet to those in need. We realise that we can’t do anything for You on our own and seek Your help in all we do.

We pray this in Jesus’ name.

Amen

6 May 2019

The Lord spoke to Moses after the death of the two sons of Aaron who died when they approached the Lord. The Lord said to Moses: “Tell your brother Aaron that he is not to come whenever he chooses into the Most Holy Place behind the curtain in front of the atonement cover on the ark, or else he will die. For I will appear in the cloud over the atonement cover.
“This is how Aaron is to enter the Most Holy Place: He must first bring a young bull for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering. He is to put on the sacred linen tunic, with linen undergarments next to his body; he is to tie the linen sash around him and put on the linen turban. These are sacred garments; so he must bathe himself with water before he puts them on. From the Israelite community he is to take two male goats for a sin offering and a ram for a burnt offering.
“Aaron is to offer the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household. Then he is to take the two goats and present them before the Lord at the entrance to the tent of meeting. He is to cast lots for the two goats—one lot for the Lord and the other for the scapegoat. Aaron shall bring the goat whose lot falls to the Lord and sacrifice it for a sin offering. 10 But the goat chosen by lot as the scapegoat shall be presented alive before the Lord to be used for making atonement by sending it into the wilderness as a scapegoat.
11 “Aaron shall bring the bull for his own sin offering to make atonement for himself and his household, and he is to slaughter the bull for his own sin offering. 12 He is to take a censer full of burning coals from the altar before the Lord and two handfuls of finely ground fragrant incense and take them behind the curtain. 13 He is to put the incense on the fire before the Lord, and the smoke of the incense will conceal the atonement cover above the tablets of the covenant law, so that he will not die. 14 He is to take some of the bull’s blood and with his finger sprinkle it on the front of the atonement cover; then he shall sprinkle some of it with his finger seven times before the atonement cover.
15 “He shall then slaughter the goat for the sin offering for the people and take its blood behind the curtain and do with it as he did with the bull’s blood: He shall sprinkle it on the atonement cover and in front of it. 16 In this way he will make atonement for the Most Holy Place because of the uncleanness and rebellion of the Israelites, whatever their sins have been. He is to do the same for the tent of meeting, which is among them in the midst of their uncleanness. 17 No one is to be in the tent of meeting from the time Aaron goes in to make atonement in the Most Holy Place until he comes out, having made atonement for himself, his household and the whole community of Israel.
18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the Lord and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.
20 “When Aaron has finished making atonement for the Most Holy Place, the tent of meeting and the altar, he shall bring forward the live goat. 21 He is to lay both hands on the head of the live goat and confess over it all the wickedness and rebellion of the Israelites—all their sins—and put them on the goat’s head. He shall send the goat away into the wilderness in the care of someone appointed for the task. 22 The goat will carry on itself all their sins to a remote place; and the man shall release it in the wilderness.
23 “Then Aaron is to go into the tent of meeting and take off the linen garments he put on before he entered the Most Holy Place, and he is to leave them there. 24 He shall bathe himself with water in the sanctuary area and put on his regular garments. Then he shall come out and sacrifice the burnt offering for himself and the burnt offering for the people, to make atonement for himself and for the people. 25 He shall also burn the fat of the sin offering on the altar.
26 “The man who releases the goat as a scapegoat must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp. 27 The bull and the goat for the sin offerings, whose blood was brought into the Most Holy Place to make atonement, must be taken outside the camp; their hides, flesh and intestines are to be burned up. 28 The man who burns them must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water; afterward he may come into the camp.
29 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: On the tenth day of the seventh month you must deny yourselves and not do any work—whether native-born or a foreigner residing among you— 30 because on this day atonement will be made for you, to cleanse you. Then, before the Lord, you will be clean from all your sins. 31 It is a day of sabbath rest, and you must deny yourselves; it is a lasting ordinance.32 The priest who is anointed and ordained to succeed his father as high priest is to make atonement. He is to put on the sacred linen garments 33 and make atonement for the Most Holy Place, for the tent of meeting and the altar, and for the priests and all the members of the community.
34 “This is to be a lasting ordinance for you: Atonement is to be made once a year for all the sins of the Israelites.”
And it was done, as the Lord commanded Moses.

Leviticus 16

The chapter begins with reference to the death of Aaron’s two sons who offered unauthorised fire before the Lord. Their actions were in contravention of the Lord’s command and the Lord demonstrated His justice by their immediate death. Having introduced the chapter indicating God’s justice and highlighting that man needs to approach the Lord in reverence and awe, the writer goes on to describe the specific requirements in preparation for the Day of Atonement.

The preparation that the High Priest needs to undergo to be ‘right’ before God even before he enters God’s presence in the Most Holy Place demonstrates how serious God takes sin. The High Priest’s clothes, his family, and himself personally need cleansing before he may enter; and the atonement cover in the Most Holy Place required cleansing. The Day of Atonement was to take place once a year for the atonement for all the sins of the Israelites.

The Day of Atonement must have been a day that was eagerly anticipated as the Israelite people would then know that their sins were forgiven even if just for a point in time. Today the Day of Atonement also known as Yom Kippur; it is still the holiest day in Judaism.

What a privilege for Christians today knowing that the atonement of our sins is not required on a repeated basis but that Jesus has made atonement once and for all for our sins. Our gratitude should know no bounds, and so we in response should celebrate our freedom from sin by living in humble obedience to our Lord, Saviour, and King.

Prayer:

Dear Father God, we confess with shame that we don’t always approach You in prayer with the reverence and awe that you deserve. We confess that we don’t realise the amazing privilege we have in being able to approach the throne of grace in prayer at any time because of Jesus’ atonement. We pray that You will help us to glorify You in a way that is honouring and worthy of Your greatness.

We are truly thankful that Jesus has enabled us entry into the Holy of Holies, the very presence of God by His death. We are also thankful that Jesus sits at Your right hand making intercession for us.

We pray that as we start the new series on prayer that You will help us to make the most of the privilege we have in prayer, that we will make prayer a priority in our lives, and that we would practice prayer in a way that is sincere and acceptable to You.

We thank you Father God for your goodness and favour. In Jesus’ name we pray.

Amen

20 July 2018

Ephesians 1

This is my favourite chapter in the Bible. It is packed with encouragement and spiritual truths. I could write a commentary on it and not just a blog post but will restrain myself and just comment on a few of the verses.

Verse 3* tells us that we have ‘every’ spiritual blessing we can have in Christ. These aren’t mystical blessings, and in order for us to understand that Paul goes on to mention a number of them in the rest of the chapter. He chose us (verse 4), He predestined us (verse 5), He has adopted us into His family (verse 5), we are redeemed (verse 7), we are forgiven (verse 7), He has shared His plans with us (verse 9-10), we have an inheritance (verse 11) and we have the Holy Spirit (verse 13).

This chapter is ‘scary’ to some people because of the words ‘chosen’ and ‘predestined’ but I take great encouragement from them as a believer. Firstly, given ‘we were dead in our trespasses and sins’ (Ephesians 2:5), we could never have made ourselves alive and so God choosing to redeem me is a great mystery, but one I am profoundly thankful for. I did not deserve an eternal inheritance; I did not deserve to be a co-heir with Christ; I did not deserve to be part of God’s family. I deserved eternal punishment and separation from God, and so my response to these verses is always one of thankfulness for God choosing me (a wretched sinner) and giving me these Spiritual blessings.

It is hard to get around trying to explain any other meaning for the words ‘he chose us in him before the foundation of the world’ (verse 4) except for them to mean what they say, that God chose us, we never chose Him. Once we accept that (even though we might not understand why), it is much easier to see and accept that because He has chosen us, He must have chosen us for something. And that ‘for something’ is that He has ‘predestined us’ to be adopted into His family (verse 5). He chose us because He had predetermined (predestined) to make us part of His family. What should our response be to that? Paul tells us that He did all this so that we could glorify God (verse 11-12).

And finally, if you’re still looking for a reason to glorify God (as if that isn’t enough already), He has given us His Holy Spirit which is our guarantee that we will inherit eternal life (verse 13,14). WOW! Incredible! Ongelooflik! God has done all of this for me! Why? So that we could glorify Him. Surely these words of Ephesians 1 should drive us to do exactly that.

Prayer: Thank you Lord for choosing me. I don’t know why you picked me specifically but I am eternally grateful for what you have done for me through Christ. Help me to live to Your praise and glory in everything that I do. Amen.

*All quotations are from the ESV

13 April 2018

Acts 10

Acts 10 has a cast of characters that includes Roman top brass, an extra-celestial, a top apostle, a tanner, and some unnamed extras that include a mix of Jews and Gentiles. It’s a racy, all-action drama with some comical moments and a happy ending. It’s also a story of surprises.

Scene 1: Meet Cornelius. He’s part of the colonialist occupation force, but unaccountably has abandoned Roman superstition and polytheism for worship of the Jewish God alone. He’s devout, prayerful and socially concerned. At 3pm one afternoon he’s having his siesta. Not. He’s having a vision. What on earth did he eat for lunch? Mushrooms?

“Cornelius meet the angel.” “Oh, wow. I’ve always wanted to meet one. Show him in.” Not a bit of it. ‘Cornelius stared at him in terror’ (vs 4). Shock treatment. A celestial knows more about me than Google! “Send some men to Joppa. They should ask for Simon.” That’s a little confusing. There are two Simons living in the house. One smells like a tanner, the other used to smell of fish. The leader apostle hasn’t booked himself into a 5-star hotel. Lesson there, is there, for itinerant evangelists?

Scene 2. Peter out flat. What’s happening? Simon–not the tanner–is flat out on the flat roof. He’s waiting for lunch. Maybe fell asleep as he tried to pray. That’s not so unusual, is it? Anyway, God interrupts him for an advanced lesson in theology and racial inclusiveness. It’s a 3 sheet show. There’s a stage voice. “Get up, Peter! It’s meal time.” “Oh, great. How did you know I was so hungry?” Not a bit of it. Peter says, “Eat that stuff? No, Lord!”

Oops! Last time Peter tried that “No way, lord!” (Mark 8:32f.), he got a serious rap over the knuckles from none other than Jesus himself. Not Peter’s finest moment. There were others like that still to come. Here in our story: ‘Peter was very perplexed… puzzling over the vision’ (vv.17, 19). Perplexed? This guy is head honcho apostle? Er, I’m afraid so. A work in progress, you know.

The Holy Spirit has things to say. One thing that Peter understands is: “Get up and go downstairs…” Straightforward enough. But Peter is in for another surprise. Three guys have come looking for him, and they’re not the Temple police.

Scene 3: Cornelius’ house. Another comical woops. ‘As Peter entered his home, Cornelius fell at his feet and worshiped him’ (vs 25). “Oh dear. I thought you told me Cornelius was a devout monotheist?” “I did. I’m afraid this wasn’t Cornelius’ finest moment.” “Stand up! I’m a human being just like you!” says Peter, shocked. Indeed. I think we’ve grasped that, Peter, how human you are. But we find that quite encouraging.

Scene 4: Peter, meet the Gentiles. Enter Peter. Not “Hi guys!”, but… “You know it is against our laws for a Jewish man to enter a Gentile home like this or to associate with you…” (vs 28). Er, Peter, is that the most tactful first greeting you’ve ever made? Nevertheless, Cornelius and friends are agog. What will this man come out with next?

Scene 5: Peter tries a preach. “I see very clearly that God shows no favouritism.” That’s better, Peter. You getting it now. Took you a while. “There is peace with God through Jesus Christ, who is lord of all… God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and with power…” (vs 36,38). Now you’re talking, Peter. Talking about Jesus. Yes, Peter is definitely warming up now, getting into his stride. “We apostles are witnesses of all he did… we eat and drank with him after he rose from the dead…(vs 39, 41b). Cool!

Scene 6: Peter interrupted. ‘Even as Peter was saying these things…’ (vs 44). Who interrupts the sermon? Oh, wow! It’s the Holy Spirit. Doesn’t wait for “Finally, and I finish with this…” as preachers sometimes say. ‘The Holy Spirit fell upon all who were listening to the message’. So the rest of Peter’s sermon is drowned out by his listeners bursting into tongues. It’s the turn of the Jewish extras who came along with Peter to be shocked to their roots. They’re ‘amazed that the gift of the Holy Spirit had been poured out on the Gentiles, too’ (vs 45). I bet Luke enjoyed writing that line! And after that they all got wet, wet, wet with baptismal water.

The moral of the story for us Gentiles? Don’t get smug! We all need converting twice. Once to faith in Jesus. Then again to our fellow believers, the odd cultural ways they do things and other differences. We know all about racism and xenophobia in our neck of the woods. There are many other ungodly forms of prejudice.

Do we learn from the Spirit any faster than Peter and friends did? We should. We have their story open right in front of us.

12 April 2018

Acts 9
Proverbs 12

One can overdose on proverbs. So what’s the best way to read a chapter? Probably by taking one or two items to heart to ponder, those that jump out as specially meaningful in our context.

The Lord is mentioned explicitly in 4 out of the 56 lines of Proverbs 12. The majority 52 lines are based in observation and outcome, using the simple two-box contrast between those wanting to follow God’s way and those who are the hot-tempered, callous, cruel, deceitful, boastful and indolent.

  • Do I observe human behaviour and learn from it? [including my own]
  • Is this ancient two-liner stuff still relevant?

Well, consider that in South Africa as well as the so-called civilised UK, laws are needed on the books, and societies are formed against cruelty to animals—and that’s not just slaughtering our rhinos for their horns.

“The godly care for their animals

but the wicked are always cruel” (vs 10)

If care for animals is God’s way, how much more so care for children!

Take verse 22 and think of South African politics:

“The LORD detests lying lips,

but he delights in those who tell the truth.”

This is applicable in the home as well as in the public space—in our courts, in Parliamentary investigations and in judicial inquiries, whether that’s Eskom or Marikana or State capture or the deaths of mental patients. We need the truth.

A response is that we give thanks for and pray for those who speak out in South Africa and may receive death threats as a result. Thuli Madonsela was an inspiration.

A challenge is that we hold ourselves as equally accountable as we do the politicians—that is, that we be free of deceit, covering over our misconduct, and avoid misrepresentation in what we say about others. It starts at home and continues in our workplace.

  • Is this an issue for church life?

You bet! “Do not lie to one another!” That’s the apostle Paul writing applied theology to the Ephesian believers (Eph 4:25). Check out that paragraph.

And the positive take on words in contrast to lying words?

The power of words to affirm and encourage.

“Worry weighs a person down:

an encouraging word cheers a person up.” (vs 25)

Affirmation, appreciation, encouragement – it’s in our power to bless.

  • Who could I express this blessing towards today?

11 April 2018

Acts 8
Psalm 36

Lots of psalms appeal to God against enemies, and Psalm 36 kicks off by characterising those who have sold out to sinful attitudes that impact members of their community. Most of these threats arise from neighbours, criminals, rivals and political conspirators. Then there are invading armies.

Many in South Africa live in fear because of the violence that surrounds them. This violence erupts in the home against wives and children, in rapes, in xenophobic attacks, in shootings at taxi ranks, between gangs over drugs, and in political assassinations. Violence is a sickness that afflicts South Africa. Sin is real and reflected in every newspaper and TV cast. I drive past the Tokai forest fence where the coloured ribbons remind me of the eruption of rape and murder in our society even as I head for church.

The roots of all this violence can be analysed in sociological terms and generational patterns, sometimes very helpfully, but as Psalm 36 tells it, the fundamental root of human-on-human violence is sin starting with the sinful choice to disregard God himself.

“Sin whispers to the wicked, deep within their hearts

They have no fear of God at all ” (vs 1)

Those wanting to go God’s way, in the positive ‘fear of the LORD’, know that this is not being frightened of God, but rather is the feeling of respect and reverence for the Lord in the light of His steadfast love.

In fact, the focus of Psalm 36 is not on the threatening human beings so much as on the Lord and His steadfast commitment (see vs 5–10).

“Your unfailing love, O LORD, is as vast as the heavens

your faithfulness reaches beyond the clouds.”  (vs 5)

“You are the fountain of life

the light by which we see.” (vs 9)

The story has moved on since the psalmist’s times but criminal violence is still with us. So the unfailing love of the Lord is what we need to hold onto at our core and onto Jesus’ promise of life and of raising us from the dead, based on His own suffering of violence and amazing resurrection.

And why?

Because—read Acts—the Lord may not protect us from the sinful behaviour of the violent, be they drunk drivers or armed robbers. But come what may, Jesus, and only Jesus, offers us life and His love, steadfastly, on-goingly, forever.

10 April 2018

Acts 7
Psalm 35

Acts 7. “Brothers and Fathers…” Stephen starts off politely. By the end of his preach, and it is a preach, his exposition has gone rock-shaped. Stephen is hurling insults at his listeners and they are hurling stones at him. 

I’m not sure if his sermon would get a pass from his homiletics tutor. Stephen begins in Mesopotamia and rambles through The History of Israel: 101. Abraham to Joseph, Moses and Aaron, the tabernacle, David. I’m thinking: “Where are you going with this? Your audience know all this. What’s your point? Get to your point, Stephen!” About 50 verses in, he finally does.

He runs a DNA scan over his listeners and finds that they have inherited some seriously defective spiritual genes. This emboldens him to insult both audience and ancestors in the same breath. He’s said ‘our ancestors’ (vs 39 & 44), but now he gets up close and personal with: You are uncircumcised and deaf!” (vs 51). He could scarcely have pulled a ruder comment from his vocabulary bag for this Jewish audience. That’s his point alright! Ouch!

Now he’s got rhetorical, there’s no stopping him. “Name one prophet your ancestors didn’t persecute!… they killed…” (vs 52). Actually, Stephen, off the top of my head I could name 3 or 4. Yes, Moses had hassles with the Israelites, but he attained a ripe old age and finished with a mountain-top preview of the Promised Land [binoculars not included]. Samuel, prophet, priest and king-maker makes his retirement speech and totters offstage to a doddery end. David who is called a prophet goes shivery and as a unique frailcare intervention receives Miss Israel as bed-fellow and hot water bottle. Lucky David; maiden not so much. Or think Nathan who fingers David for theft, adultery and murder. He’s not decapitated by royal command. Elijah dodged the foreign Jezebel’s death threat and got a hot extraction to heavenElisha was called a baldy, but the taunting lads came off second. As for Hosea, Joel, Micah, Zeph, Haggai, Zech and Malachi… well, we don’t hear of them being mistreated like Jeremiah. Herod Antipas had John the Baptist beheaded, but your audience wouldn’t rate any Herod as their ancestor. So you see, Stephen, it’s best to avoid sweeping generalisations and accusations in the heat of the moment.

The Lord halts Stephen’s preach at this point by giving him a breath-taking visual aid, so he can’t help but make the main point the main point. “Stephen saw the glory of God, and he saw Jesus standing in the place of honour at God’s right hand” (vs 55). Join the dots. See Dan 7:13f. with Mark 14:61f.

“Look, I see the heavens opened…” Stephen is better at personal testimony and prayer than preaching. Contrast Peter’s preach in the Temple (Acts 3:12ff.). Peter is no less direct, but more conciliatory and positively offers repentance, hope and blessing from the Lord.

Stephen might fall short on sermon marks, but he ends on his knees in a prayer shaped by Jesus his Lord: “Lord, don’t charge them with this sin!” (7:60 and Lk 23:34 & 46) “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit” (7:59). We deeply need forgiveness and assurance to pray for and forgive others in turn.

If we share our testimony to Jesus crucified and exalted in Cape Town, we won’t be stoned. Fellow-believers in other countries are indeed being killed for Jesus. We might more likely end in a coma following dementia or losing a battle with cancer or stroke. We need Stephen’s vision of Jesus no less to end well. Or to continue on for years as Jesus’ loyal disciples.

9 April 2018

Acts 6
Psalm 34

When we read the exciting story of the growing church in Acts 6, the question pops up: What’s different, from back then to now?

Not human nature, for sure. Nor human need.

The new community of Jesus was made up of human beings and so…

“as the believers rapidly multiplied, there were rumblings of discontent” (vs 1)

Some people are easily discontented and critical. But… this situation is different. Some widows were being marginalised in a basic way—in their need for food. Oops!

In every society, there are going to be those who are not doing well, and who struggle because of discrimination. The Old Testament mentions widows, orphans, foreigners and the poor as needing special care. As followers of Jesus, we especially need to be aware of the vulnerable in our midst. That’s why Grief Share and Divorce Care reach out to the hurting, and why there’s a feeding scheme operating for those who lack nourishment. Others struggle with depression or disabilities.

The process of response to the neglect is noteworthy—it is practical, spiritual and consultative. All three combined.

The food program needed better management by reliable representatives. The job qualifications were ‘well respected’,’full of the Spirit and wisdom’ (vs 3). The solution commended itself—‘everyone liked this idea and they chose…’ (vs 5). Integrity, reliability, responsibility, wisdom…these are marks of the Spirit’s transforming work in us. We certainly need it! Of course, the apostles—the 11 plus replacement Matthias—needed to fulfil their calling to preach, teach, pray and lead (vs 2 and 4). They’d been with Jesus over three years as training and they must have realised what slow learners they’d been themselves.

Okay, that’s clear, then.  A take-away is this: There’s no true spirituality without practicality and no godly management systems without openness to the Spirit and to one another. Here in Acts 6, the leaders listen and confer. They do not dictate. While those who belong speak up and they discern who rightly takes responsibility for what. Serving at tables is honourable. The Spirit is at work through all.

But why only men for the food program? Is this gender factor prescriptive for who runs the Westlake feeding scheme? Is 7 a magic number?

At the Jerusalem start-up, choosing seven candidates, male only, seemed a good move and was an agreed one (vs 5). It was a cultural fit. We need solutions to our management issues that are wise and appropriate and perceived to be so both by our leadership team and our church community members.  Our church motto lines up with this: Together, we work to know Christ and make Christ known. It’s a lot to live up to. We too need the Spirit to fulfil this.

There’s a sequel (vs 8–15). Do you want a face like the face of an angel? It doesn’t come in a jar by the mirror. It seems that in-between serving meals, Stephen took time off to perform ‘amazing miracles and signs’ and to expound Jesus as the Messiah foretold by the Scriptures (vs 10) through the power of the Spirit.

For myself, given a choice, I’d opt for old age with wrinkles rather than being stoned to death. Which reminds us that some of our fellow-believers are being imprisoned and put to death for less than public debate, even as we sit in our favourite places at our services week by week.  

We have so much to give thanks for.

6 April 2018

Acts 5

‘What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.’
Acts 5:4

The fear of God.

I remember reading ‘The God Delusion’ by Richard Dawkins and shaking my head as I read his mocking and scorn of the Christian God. I recall thinking what a fearful day it will be for him when he meets the living God and has to swallow his words under the fearful judgment of the one he scorned. Acts 5 brings this reality to the forefront: you can’t mess with God.

Ironically, as a believer, I find it easy to recognise someone else’s lack of fear of God and yet I am slow to see my own. Ananias and Sapphira have the same problem. They think they can hide what they were doing from people and forget that God is all-seeing and serious about holiness. In lying they show that their view of God is small and don’t realise that they are in fact lying to God, and the consequences are fatal. The shocking thing is that this all takes place by and in the midst of God’s people. It’s something you would expect of the world, which thinks flippantly of God, but not of the Church. But here we have it: a flippancy towards holiness and the absence of a fear of God.

As I contemplate this reality my heart is unsettled as I think of how often my thoughts and actions reveal a low view of God. I shudder to think how often I have been flippant about the things of God or been unfased by God’s people doing the same. I fear that in our resounding theology of grace and God’s goodness we have overlooked the serious nature of holding a high view of God. Perhaps we have become too familiar with God, or perhaps we have taken on the flippant attitude of the world around us? What should we do?

Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” (vs 11) We must remember that the God we serve is holy, that He is ever-present by His Holy Spirit and that He is all-knowing. True fear of God is shown in our attitude, our words and in our actions as we live before a holy God. We should live our lives in the knowledge of His presence and seek to honour Him in everything we do. By doing this we reveal our fear of God.

9 February 2018

Luke 15

Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.’

And when she finds it, she calls her friends and neighbors together and says, ‘Rejoice with me; I have found my lost coin.’

32 ‘But we had to celebrate and be glad, because this brother of yours was dead and is alive again; he was lost and is found.’

Luke 15:6,9,32

With the water crisis that we are facing, I am reminded with shame of those times when I have wasted and abused the privilege of having more than enough water. That sad, bleak feeling overwhelms us when we don’t have something that we used to have and have become accustomed to, and most probably have taken for granted! We have literally moved from having plenty to very little or nothing!

In today’s reading (v6, 9, 32) we see exactly the opposite: what was once lost has been found and instead of sad, bleak feelings there is much celebrating and rejoicing!

Think about the time in your life before you became a Christian. Do you remember how bleak and sad your life was in comparison to today as a disciple of Jesus Christ? Do you remember the terrible things you did and were involved in and how much pain and suffering it caused you and your loved ones? Do you remember the joy in your heart and the celebration of those around you when you were enabled by the grace of God to cross that invisible line?

Well, this reading today must motivate you to stop and consider the lost-ness of so many people. But it must also make you stop and pray intentionally and earnestly for those who are near and dear to you who do not know how much they need to be saved from this world. Pray for those who are unknown to you and who are ignorant of God and His Son Jesus Christ. Pray for all those who minister God’s Word wherever they are. Pray that perishing souls be saved and the whole Church revived for great rejoicing and celebration to continue on earth and in heaven. Because what was once lost – through our prayers and the faithful work of many – will be found!

For the Glory of God.

8 February 2018

Luke 14
Proverbs 3

Trust in the Lord with all your heart
    and lean not on your own understanding;
in all your ways submit to him,
    and he will make your paths straight.

 Proverbs 3:5-6

The Book of Proverbs speaks of the way of wisdom and the way of foolishness:

  • The way of wisdom will lead to life.
  • The way of foolishness will lead to devastation and eventually death.

This passage invites us to follow the way of the LORD. It is a great invitation urging us to trust in God wholeheartedly. To trust means “to lean your whole weight upon” and here we are invited to place our whole weight upon God. We do that by not leaning on our own understanding. Not our knowledge, or speculation, life experience, gifts, or financial wealth.

So we don’t know what 2018 will bring, do we? But we can put the whole weight of our worries upon God because He is bigger than the problems that we face. He is SO superior to “our own understanding”. And that must affect the amount of trust (if we can quantify in human terms) we have in Him.

The Proverb says that the quality of our trust must not be partial and half-hearted.
What would it look like for you to trust God wholeheartedly with your finances?
What would it look like for you to trust God wholeheartedly with your marriage and your many human relationships?
What would it look like for you to trust God wholeheartedly with your faith?

Listen: “in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight”. And the result of trusting God wholeheartedly is that He will make your paths straight. That is a powerful statement!

How have you experienced God’s leading in your life? What does it look like? He will direct you and lead you.

  • He led Abraham out of his country of Ur of the Chaldeans into Canaan.
  • He led the Israelites out of Egypt.
  • He led Nehemiah in the restoration of the walls of Jerusalem.
  • He led the disciples to be His witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and the ends of the earth.

God will lead you too, all it takes is trust. Will you trust Him today? Will you use these two verses to inform your prayers for yourself today and will you pray this for everyone who is reading Proverbs 3 today?