Monday, 1 September 2014

Search The Scriptures: Ecclesiastes

I've added some more noteson Ecclesiastes. This is the updated version.
---
Life “under the sun” is depressing (Ecclesiastes 1:3,9,14). When life is seen in an earthbound way, with nothing above and beyond it, there is no hope, no glimmer of light. The preacher is not saying that this is the only way we can look at life. He is saying that this way of thinking about life is a dead-end street. He is inviting us to see the meaninglessness of a life that is no more than life “under the sun.” He shows us the hopelessness of life “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 2:17,20,22). We can never be satisfied by life “under the sun.” There is always a sense of something more. This dissatisfaction, this longing for something more, comes from God: “He has put a sense of eternity in people’s minds” (Ecclesiastes 3:11). Life “under the sun” (Ecclesiastes 4:1,3) offers nothing to those who are searching for a real sense of meaning, purpose and direction.There is an emptiness at the heart of life “under the sun.” Attempting to find something more, through our own efforts, is a never-ending task, a fruitless exercise - “trying to catch the wind” (Ecclesiates 4:6,8). We need more than life “under the sun.”. We need life in the Son. We need the One who came from above - Jesus Christ, our Saviour. He alone can bring something different into our life. He brings something lasting - eternal life (1 John 5:11-12). As we read Ecclesiastes in the context of the whole of Scripture, our thoughts turn towards another life, a better life - life in the Son. This is a life that is filled with glorious, heavenly, eternal hope. Without God, life is hopeless.With Him, life becomes hopeful. By placing before us these two very different ways of life - life without God and life with God, Ecclesiastes invites us to choose. We are to choose life - the life that comes from above, the abundant life, which is the gift of God’s grace to all who put their faith in Jesus Christ (John 10:10). When we receive life in the Son, our life is transformed. It is transformed by the life of Christ - new life, eternal life.

The book of Ecclesiastes is one of the books of Wisdom. Much of it reads like the wisdom of the writer, as he reflects on his life. There is, however, another dimension in this book. There is God. We are encouraged to see our life in the light of God: “God is in heaven and you are on earth” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). The call to “fear God” (Ecclesiastes 5:7) lies at the heart of this book. This is more than human wisdom. This is the wisdom that comes from above. It’s the wisdom of God. This wisdom comes to us from divine revelation. True wisdom always recognizes that God is at the centre of life. There are times when this book seems to be the writer’s own practical philosophy of life. Sometimes, it seems like God isn’t in his thoughts. In chapter 6, God is only mentioned in verse 2. We should not, however, ignore the fact that he recognizes the reality of God. It is one thing to mention God only occasionally. It is something else when we ignore Him altogether.  The fact that Ecclesiastes (the Preacher) does not have ready-made answers for every question does not mean that he is not listening for the word of the Lord. It does mean that he recognizes that the answers lie with the Lord - not with ourselves. This is what he means when he says, “God is in heaven and you are on earth” (Ecclesiastes 5:2). Our wisdom is limited. Sometimes, we are wise - but we are not always wise. True wisdom comes from God. As we seek Him, we find that He gives His wisdom to us. It comes to us in and through Christ, who is “the wisdom of God” (1 Corinthians 1:30). As we look at our life, we are to “consider what God has done” (Ecclesiastes 7:13). When we look at the good things in our lives, we must not forget to say,”this is the gift of God” (Ecclesiastes 5:19). True wisdom is given to us when we recognize that God is the living God, the God who has done great things for us, the God of our salvation. Recognizing that He is the living God, the God of revelation, doesn’t mean that we’ll understand everything. Throughout our life on earth, there will be matters which are beyond our understanding. We must be content to put our trust in the Lord, with this simple confession of faith: “As for God - His way is perfect.” This is the point the Preacher makes in Ecclesiastes 8:16-17. This is a call for humility. It’s based on the fact that only God understands all things. We must learn to content ourselves with trusting in His wisdom, even we don’t understand all that He’s doing.
 * As we learn to trust Him, He teaches us that the quality of our life - learning to live according to His purpose for us - is more important that the quantity of our years - living for a long time without really understanding what our life is all about, without coming to know the true joy that He alone can give to us (Ecclesiastes 5:3-6).
 * As we learn to trust the Lord, He teaches us that “patience is better than pride” (Ecclesiastes 7:8). We learn to stop acting like we know it all. He teaches us to say, “God loves me. He knows what’s best for me. He will not fail me - even when I fail Him. He gives me His peace and His joy - even when I don’t really understand much of what’s going on in my life.”
 * When we are learning to walk with God, He teaches us that it’s better to seek God-centred holiness - “God made mankind upright” - rather than self-centred happiness - “men have gone in search of many schemes” (Ecclesiastes 7:19).
 * As we seek to put the Lord first in our lives, He teaches us that His way, for us, is not the way of seeking “power” for ourselves (Ecclesiastes 8:4,8). We’re not to assert ourselves - ‘I did it my way.’ We’re to submit to Him - “Not my will, but Yours be done.”
The Lord is leading us beyond our own human “power” to achieve our human ambitions. He’s showing us His way. As we walk in His way, we learn that there’s a greater power  - the power of the Holy Spirit. His power is at work in us - to give us a real sense of meaning, purpose and direction: less of ourselves and more of the Lord.

Search The Scriptures: Proverbs

I've added some more notes on Proverbs. This is the updated version.
---
“The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge” (Proverbs 1:7). The Lord calls to us as the voice of wisdom, ‘Turn to Me when I warn you. I will generously pour out My Spirit for you. I will make My words known to you” (Proverbs 1:23). “The Lord gives wisdom ... Wisdom will come into your heart ... Wisdom will save you  from the way of evil ... So walk in the way of good people and stay on the paths of righteous people” (Proverbs 2:6,10,12,20). Trusting the Lord and fearing the Lord belong together: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart ... Fear the Lord, and turn away from evil” (Proverbs 3;5,7). Wisdom brings great blessing into our lives: “Blessed is the one who finds wisdom and the one who obtains understanding. The profit gained from wisdom is greater than the profit gained from silver. Its yield is better than fine gold. Wisdom is more precious than jewels” (Proverbs 3:13-14). 

The call to “acquire wisdom” (Proverbs 4:5) is a call to”walk away from evil” (Proverbs 4:27). The importance of walking away from evil is grounded in the fact that “Each person’s ways are clearly seen by the Lord” (Proverbs 5:21). We are not to give the appearance of living a godly life while remaining far from God in our hearts. There is to be a true commitment to living to please God in all things - in the places which are seen only by Him as well as the places that are seen by other people. Living to please will involve clearly identifying the ways that do not please God, so that we can avoid such ways and seek the better way of doing the Lord’s will.   

Search The Scriptures: Psalms

I've added some more notes on Psalms. This is the updated version.
---
God calls us to follow “the way of righteous people” (Psalm 1:6). He directs our attention to His “Son”, our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ (Psalm 2:7). He promises blessing to those who “take refuge ... In Him” (Psalm 2:12). There is much opposition: “O Lord, look how my enemies have increased! Many are attacking me. Many are saying about me, ‘Even with God on his side, he won’t be victorious’” (Psalm 3:1-2). We need not be afraid of these enemies - “Victory belongs to the Lord! ... You, O Lord, are a shield that surrounds me” (Psalm 3:8,3).

The Psalmist is experiencing great pain. His honour is being insulted; his enemies are spying on him; he is being harassed by troublemakers (Psalm 4:2; Psalm 5:8; Psalm 6:8). As well as pain, there is prayer, protection and peace. He prays with confidence in God - “The Lord has heard my plea for mercy. The Lord accepts my prayer” (Psalm 6:9). He stands upon God’s promise - “The Lord protects those who take refuge in Him” (Psalm 5:11). He rests in the peace of God (Psalm 4:8).

In Psalms 7 - 10, there is a real sense of the greatness of God. He is “majestic” (Psalm 8:1). He is “enthroned forever” (Psalm 9:7,11). He is “King forever and ever” (Psalm 10:16). He is our “Judge” (Psalm 7:8). The Psalmist teaches us to see our life in the light of God. His light shines brightly upon us. His light exposes our darkness. He’s calling us to walk in His light. He calls us to take refuge in Him: “O Lord my God, I have taken refuge in You” (Psalm 7:1). He calls us to rejoice in Him: “I will be glad and rejoice in You” (Psalm 9:2). He calls us to seek His help: “Those who know Your Name trust You, O Lord, because You have never deserted those who seek your help” (Psalm 9:10). If we are to answer God’s call - take refuge in Him, rejoice in Him and seek His help, we must leave behind the way of the wicked: “In his pride the wicked does not seek Him; in all His thoughts there is no room for God” (Psalm 10:4). When we answer God’s call, He starts changing us - our way of thinking and our way of living. He is the caring and sharing God: “You have heard the desire of oppressed people, O Lord. You encourage them. You pay close attention to them in order to provide justice for orphans, and oppressed people, so that no mere mortal terrify them again” (Psalm 10:17-18). He’s calling us to be like Him. Let’s not keep His love and His blessing to ourselves. Let’s show His love. Let’s share His love.

The Lord is the sovereign God - “The Lord is in His holy temple. The Lord’s throne is in heaven” (Psalm 11:4). The Lord is the God of salvation - “But I trust Your mercy. My heart finds joy in Your salvation. I will sing to the Lord because He has been good to me” (Psalm 13:5-6). The sovereign God, the God of salvation is our Helper - when we feel alone, forgotten and oppressed (Psalm 12:1; Psalm 13:1; Psalm 14:3-4). His salvation is not to be kept to ourselves. His joy is not only for ourselves. We are to pray that others will receive His salvation and His joy: “Oh, that salvation for Israel would come out of Zion!When the Lord restores the fortunes of His people, let Jacob rejoice and Israel be glad!” (Psalm 14:7). In the face of all that opposes God, exalting itself against Him, God is calling us to keep close to Him and to walk with Him: “O Lord, who may stay in Your tent? Who may live on Your holy mountain? The one who walks with integrity, does what is righteous, and speaks the truth within his heart, the one who does not slander with his tongue, do evil to friend, or bring disgrace on his neighbour ... He who does these things will never be shaken” (Psalm 15).    

Search The Scriptures: Job

I've completed the notes on Job. This is the updated version.
-----
With God’s permission, “Satan, the accuser” attacks Job (Job 1:8). The attack is ferocious, May the Name of the Lord be praised! Through all this, Job did not sin or blame God for doing anything wrong” (Job 1:21-22). Satan’s attack on Job is really a challenge to God. The Lord is in control of the situation. Satan can only do what God permits him to do (Job 2:6).

Job’s so-called ‘friends’ were watching the situation. They intended to sympathize with him and comfort him (Job 2:11). When they saw the “great pain” he was in, they did not say anything to him (Job 2:13). They were thinking about what was happening to him, and their thoughts moved from comfort to blame. They started off with the intentcompletedion of being comforters. They ended up doing the work of accusers.

In Job 3, we see Job in a state of deep depression. At this stage, there seems to be no light at the end of the tunnel. He is in desperate need of the Lord’s sustaining strength. Where will the Lord’s help come from? When will his time of suffering come to an end? Job has many questions. He doesn’t have any answers. This “the dark night of the soul.”

In Job 4 - 5, we have the first speech of Eliphaz. On the pretext of bringing comfort to Job, Eliphaz brings a message of accusation. However much Eliphaz claims to be bringing God’s Word to Job, we can be sure that he is not God’s messenger. Why? - It’s because his message conflicts with God’s understanding of Job’s situation (Job 1:8).

In Job 6 - 7, Job replies. There is real pain in Job’s words. He speaks of his “grief” and “misery” (Job 6:2). There is a real longing for God to answer his prayer. Sadly, his prayer has become a cry of despair: “that God would finally be willing to crush me, that He would reach out to cut me off” (Job 6:9). Even though he is in great distress, Job retains sufficient clarity of thought to know that his so-called ‘friends’ have got it wrong - “Please change your mind ... Change your mind because I am still right about this! ...or is my mouth unable to tell the difference between right and wrong?” (Job 6:29-30). There is sadness here - “As a cloud fades away and disappears, so a person goes into the grave and doesn’t come back again” (Job 7:9). Job hasn’t broken through this sense of hopelessness to the triumphant faith, expressed in his confession of confidence in God: “I know that my Redeemer lives ...” (Job 19:25-26), a tremendous declaration of Christ’s resurrection and our resurrection in Him. It’s so wonderful that in a book, filled with so much suffering, there is this marvellous glimpse of an eternal glory, in which all suffering will be banished forever.

In Job 8, we have the first speech of Bildad. Its theme is very straightforward. Sin leads to suffering (Job 8:4). Obedience leads to prosperity (Job 8:5-7). This teaching is presented in a heavy-handed way. In Job 8:2o, we have an attack on Job’s character: “Certainly, God does not reject a person of integrity or give a helping hand to wicked people.” When this statement is applied to Job, it has the effect of saying to him, “You’re not a person of integrity. You’re a wicked person.” There’s a problem with Bildad’s words. He doesn’t recognize that there is an eternal perspective within which the divine judgment is set. Here, on earth, the wicked may be prospering, but the time of judgment will come. It may not be in this world, but it will come, in God’s final judgment (Revelation 20:11-15). Here, on earth, the righteous may suffer much, but their suffering will not be forever. The day of salvation will come. There will be “a great reward in heaven!” (Matthew 5:10-12). Our suffering is “for a little while now”, but it will not last forever: “Your faith is more precious than gold, and by passing the test, it gives praise, glory and honour to God. This will happen when Jesus Christ appears again” (1 Peter 1:6-7).

In Job 9 - 10, Job speaks. He is in a mood of deep distress. He speaks of the futility of arguing with God (Job 9:3). His situation is very depressing: “I hate my life” (Job 10:1). He is surrounded by deep darkness: “So stop this, and leave me alone. Let me smile a little before I go away to a land of darkness and doom to a dismal land of long shadows and confusion where light is as bright as darkness. I’ll never return” (Job 10:20-22).

In Job 11, we hear from Zophar. So far, so good - That’w what we can say about the basic principles of his message: “God’s wisdom is higher than heaven” (Job 11:8); “If you want to set your heart right, then pray to Him. If yo’re holding on to sin, put it far away” (Job 11:13). There’s a problem with Zophar’s message. He applies these basic principles to Job. He allows the idea that Job has sinned to dominate his thinking rather than allowing for the possibility that God, in His perfect wisdom, may have another reason, a very different reason, for permitting Job to suffer. When we have two important principles - God’s wisdom and God’s forgiveness, we must not assume that we know exactly how the two relate to each other. If we act on the basis of our own wisdom rather than God’s wisdom, we may end up showing ourselves to be fools.

In Job 12 - 14, Job speaks. He emphasizes that wisdom comes from God (Job 12:13). He charges his so-called ‘comforters’ with speaking foolishly, without the wisdom which comes from God: “Will you talk wickedly for God and talk deceitfully on His behalf? ... Doesn’t His Majesty terrify you? Doesn’t the fear of Him fall upon you?” (Job 13:7,11). Job is still unclear about what is happening to him. He is still wishing that he was dead: “I wish You would hide me in Sheol” (Job 14:13). He still insists on his innocence: “I know that I will be declared righteous” (Job 13:18).

In Job 15, we have another speech from Eliphaz. He charges in with all the subtlety of an elephant on the rampage: “you destroy the fear of God, and diminish devotion to God” (Job 15:4). He continues in the same vein, getting bolder and brasher in his word of accusation: “Your sin teaches you what to say. You choose to talk with a sly tongue. Your own mouth condemns you, not I. Your lips testify against you” (Job 15:5-6). Eliphaz did not listen to Job, but he insisted on Job listening to him: “I’ll tell you; listen to me! I’ll relate what I’ve seen, I’ll tell you what wise people have declared” (Job 15:17-18). Eliphaz gives a vivid description of the tortured life of the wicked person (Job 15:20-35). He begins with the words, “The wicked person is tortured all his days” (Job 15:20). This part of his speech is in the third person. While he doesn’t explicitly say, “I’m describing you, Job”, it is perfectly clear that this is what Eliphaz is doing. “This is what you are like, Job” - This is the message that Eliphaz wants Job to take out of his description of “the wicked person.”

Job stands up to his ‘comforters’, who are really his critics: “You are all pathetic at comforting me” (Job 16:2). He is, however, at ‘the end of his tether’, as he tries to understand what is going on in his life: “now, God has worn me out” (Job 16:7). The extent to which Job has been overcome by despair becomes clear in the final verses of Job 17. Again, he stands up to his critics: “I won’t find one wise man among you” (Job 17:10). Again, he feels that his situation is hopeless (Job 17:14-16). As we read of Job’s deep distress, we should remember also the words of our Lord Jesus Christ, as he hung on the Cross: “My God, my God, why have You forsaken Me?” (Matthew 27:46). Christ suffered for us - but He also rose again for us. Job catches a glimpse of this when he says, “I know that my Redeemer lives” (Job 19:25).

In Job 18, Bildad, the Shuhite, shows his lack of spiritual stature. In his description of “the wicked” (Job 18:5), he implies that all that he says applies to Job. His speech ends with the summarizing words: “This is what happens to the homes of wicked people and to tose who do not know God” (Job 18:21). The opening words of the book of Job - “He was a man of integrity ... He feared God” (Job 1:1) - make it clear that Bildad’s words do not apply to Job.

For most of his speech, in Job 19, Job is in the depths of despair, then, towards the end of his speech, there is a breakthrough- “I know that my defender (or Redeemer) lives, and, afterwards, he will stand on the earth. Even after my skin has been stripped off my body, I will see God in my own flesh. I will see Him with my own eyes” (Job 19:25). There is, in Job’s heart, a great conflict. Immediately after speaking these great words of triumphant faith and glorious hope, he speaks, again, with deep agony - “My heart fails inside me!” (Job 19:27).

In Job 20, we hear, again, the voice of Zophar - the ‘so far, so good’ man. His principles concerning the judgment of God on the wicked are all right as far as they go. The problem is that they are general. They are floating over the specific case of Job, without really coming to terms with the real man to whom his harsh words are addressed. Zophar begins his speech with the claim that he has been inspired by God - “a spirit beyond my understanding gives me answer” (Job 20:3). He assumes that this spirit is God. He is, in fact, speaking in the power and service of another spirit - Satan. Zophar is serving Satan, whose purpose is to do down God’s servant, Job. Zophar speaks with arrogance, a ‘know it all’ attitude. He displays the kind of spiritual pride which is characteristic of Satan, the enemy of God and the people of God. Zophar’s speech ends with summarizing words: “This is the reward God gives to the wicked person, the inheritance God appointed for him” (Job 20:29). This is a general conclusion. The question he fails to answer is this: Does all that I have just said really apply to Job?

In Job 21, Job points out the folly of the idea that God’s judgment can be conceived solely in terms of what happens in this world. He observes that, very often, in this life, wicked people do not suffer for their sins. When the judgment of God is seen in the light of eternity rather than in connection with what happens here on earth, it becomes clear that the simplistic application to Job of the general principle - wicked people are punished by God - is very wrong. It assumes that Job was a wicked man. God’s Word tells us that Job was a righteous man (Job 1:8). Job emphasizes that God’s dealings with us are not simple and straightforward - according to an easily defined formula. Job asks, “Can anyone teach God knowledge? Can anyone judge the Mist High?” (Job 21:22). We must humble ourselves before Almighty God, acknowledging that He is God and that He knows what He is doing. This is indicated clearly in the first two chapters of Job. God has given us His explanation of what was happening to Job. In drawing attention to this God-given explanation in the case of Job, we should note that, first, that, at the time of his suffering was not given to Job; and, second, God is under no obligation to give us an explanation of all that He is doing in our lives. To those who claim that God must do one thing or another, according to their own limited understanding, we must answer, as Job did, “How can you comfort me with this nonsense when your answers continue to betray me?” (Job 21:34).

In Job 22, Eliphaz charges in with harsh words of accusation - “Aren’t you really very wicked? Is there no end to your wrongdoing?” (Job 22:5). He persists with his probing, heartless questions - “Are you following the old path that wicked people have taken?” (Job 22:15). In general terms, the words of Eliphaz were good words - “Be in harmony and at peace with God” (Job 22:21); “Keep his words in your heart” (Job 22:22). “Return to the Almighty” (Job 22:23); “Put wrongdoing out of your tent” (Job 22:24). The problem with his words is that they are bound up, in such a watertight way, with the promise of prosperity - ‘Do these things and you will prosper.” This leads to the assumption: Because Job is not prospering, he must have sinned. This is not what God says about Job (Job 1:8).

There is real sadness in the words, spoken by Job, in Job 23 - 24. There is no hint of a light at the end of the tunnel, as there was in Job 19:25 - “I know that my Redeemer lives.” That glimpse of glory has dimmed, and Job must continue in the battle for faith, without much to give him any encouragement. His words about God - “He does whatever what He wants” - are not words of complaint. They are words of faith. Job is holding on to God in the darkness of suffering - “He will carry out His orders concerning me, as He does with so many other f Job’s suffering” (Job 23:13-14). This is a statement of faith in the sovereignty of God. It is not a cheap confession, mouthed in times of ease. These words do not come easily. They are words that have power because they are words that refuse to lose sight of God, even when suffering obscures Job’s view of Him.

What are we to say about Bildad’s short speech in Job 25: “If you don’t have anything to say, don’t take a long time, saying nothing.” Bildad keeps it short. He lives up to his name - Bildad, the Shuhite (shoe height!!)! In general terms, what he says is true. He speaks about the universality of sinfulness. Lack of purity applies to all of us. It does not, however, provide us with an adequate explanation of Job’s suffering. To understand what was happening to Job, we must reckon with the activity of Satan and the permission of God. We should not blame God, saying, “It’s all God’s fault.” Satan attacks God’s people. He brings suffering upon them. We should not say, “Just pray, and everything will be okay.” This is not always true. There are times when God permits Satan to bring suffering upon His people. Why does God not answer the prayers of His people? The answer is not, “God doesn’t love us.” It’s “God loves us, but He is permitting Satan to attack us.” God does this because, in His time, He intends to bring us through our time of suffering, bringing us closer to Himself - “My grace is sufficient for you; my strength is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9). Whatever our circumstance here on earth, we take our ultimate comfort from this: “Your faith is more precious than gold, and by passing the test, it gives praise, glory and honour to God. This will happen when Jesus Christ appears again” (1 Peter 1:7).

In Job 26 - 27, Job protests his innocence - “It’s unthinkable for me to admit that you are right. Until I breathe my last breath, I will never give up my claim to integrity. I cling to my righteousness and won’t let go. My conscience won’t accuse me as long as I live” (Job 27:5-6). If these words weren’t true, they would be the height of arrogant pride. It is, however, clear, from the opening verse of the book of Job, that “Job was a man of integrity ... He feared God, and he stayed away from evil” (Job1:1). When Job protested his innocence, he was speaking words of truth. His words were not words of false pride. They were words of true godliness.

In Job 28 - 29, Job emphasizes the importance of pleasing God - “The fear of the Lord is wisdom. To stay away from evil is understanding” (Job 28:28). He describes the earlier part of his life - before his suffering: “God was in my tent ... The Almighty was still with me” (Job 29:4-5). He longs for the sense of God’s blessing to return to him: “If only my life could be like it used to be, in the days when God watched over me, when He made His lamp shine on my head, when I walked through the dark in His light” (Job 29:2). The meaning of past blessings and the hope of future blessings brings strength to Job, as he faces his present suffering.   

“When I waited for good, evil came. When I looked for light, darkness came” (Job 30:26). There is great sadness in Job’s words. He could not see any way out of this situation - “Days of misery are ahead of me” (Job 30:27). Job wonders what he has done to deserve all this suffering. There is no suggestion that the more a person has sinned, the more he will suffer. We are not to make a direct link between personal sin and personal suffering. Following on from this long speech, covering Job 28 - 31, we don’t hear any more from Job until Job 40:3-5 and Job 42:1-6.

In Job 32 - 37, we have a long speech from Elihu. He thinks that he can improve on the speeches, given by Job’s other ‘comforters’: “None of you refuted Job. None of you has an answer to what he says” (Job 32:12). He maintains that his speech is better than anything Job has already heard. That’s why he says.”Pay attention, Job! Listen to me! Keep quiet, and let me speak ... Keep quiet, and I’ll teach you wisdom” (Job 33:31-33). Elihu isn’t interested in what Job has to say. Elihu is saying, ‘Let me do the speaking. You, Job, must do the listening and learning. I have the wisdom. I’ll pass it on to you. You’ve got it wrong.Let me put you right.’

Job 34 ends with a ‘prayer’, in which Elihu shows how far his view differs from the view presented by God in Job 1. He prays, “Oh that Job might be tested to the utmost for answering like a wicked man!” (Job 34:36). Job was being thoroughly tested. God was allowing this to happen to Job. Elihu was misrepresenting the true nature of Job’s testing. Job’s was being tested before he gave answers. Whatever we may say about Job’s answers, we must point out that, despite all his despondency, Job does not speak as a wicked man. We must never forget that Job was a righteous man (Job 1:1). There is great pain in Job’s responses to his testing. There is, however, nothing to suggest that God needs to alter his view of Job. What does God say about Job? - He says this - “my servant Job” (Job 1:8).  

Elihu is scathing in his criticism of Job - “Job opens nis mouth for no good reason and talks without having any knowledge” (Job 35:16). That’s what Elihu said about Job - but it’s not what God said about His “servant, Job.” According to Elihu, Job is “given the judgment evil people deserve” (Job 36:17). This view is very different from God’s view of Job. Generally speaking, Elihu’s teaching has much to commend it: “Be careful that you are not led away with riches ... Be careful! Don’t turn to evil” (Job 37:18,21). When this teaching is combined with his false statements about Job, Elihu strays from being a true messenger of God to Job. This is highlighted in his parting words to Job - “That is why people should fear Him. He does not respect those who think they’re wise” (Job 37:24). True! - but Job does fear God, and he recognizes God as the only One who is truly wise.

In His speech, the Lord asks many questions. They underline the fact that God is God, and none can even begin to compare with Him: “Who endowed the heart with wisdom or gave understanding to the mind” (Job 38:36). Wisdom and understanding come from the Lord. In his response (Job 42:1-6), Job humbles himself before God. At the beginning of the book, Job was close to God - “My servant Job.” At the end of the book, he is even closer to God. This is highlighted in Job 42:5 - “I had heard about You with my own ears, but now I have seen You with my own eyes!” The book ends with the restoration of Job. Before we read of what became of Job, we note God’s Word to Job’s so-called ‘comforters.’ These words are spoken to Eliphaz - “I’m very angry with you and your two friends (Bildad and Zophar) because you didn’t speak what is right about Me as My servant Job has done” (Job 42:7). In this criticism of the ‘comforters’, there is also the divine approval of Job. God was pleased with him. God’s purpose concerning the ‘comforters’ remains a purpose of love - and He calls Job to love them. Job didn’t bear a grudge against his so-called ‘comforters.’ He prayed for them: “My servant Job will pray for you. Then I will accept his prayer not to treat you as godless fools” (Job 42:8). (We note that Elihu is not included in God’s criticism of the others. This may indicate that he spoke with greater wisdom than the others - although we should not overstate this point!) Eliphaz, Bildad and Zophar were restored to the Lord in answer to Job’s prayer (Job 42:10). Job was blessed with an abundance of prosperity: “twice as much as he had before ... The Lord blessed the latter years of Job’s life more than the earlier years” (Job 42:10,12).         

Friday, 29 August 2014

Search The Scriptures: Exodus

In the bad times as well as the good times
“Fulfil your works, your daily tasks, as when there was straw” (Exodus 5:14).
When everything seems to be going from bad to worse, we must pray that God will give us the strength that we need to keep on loving Him, trusting Him and serving Him. Our circumstances may have changed. Nothing seems to be going right. We didn’t think it would turn out this way. Has our Saviour changed? Has He gone away and left us? No! He hasn’t. He’s still with us. Are we still with Him? or Do we opt out when the going gets tough? Lord, You are faithful to us. Keep us faithful to You.

"God will surely visit you" (Exodus 13:19).
Sometimes, when we’re reading the Scriptures, there are some words that just jump out at us. We say to ourselves, “That was just what I needed to read.” We say to God, “Thank You, Lord for that Word. You’ve spoken Your Word to me. It was just the right Word – for me, for right now.” Here’s a great word of encouragement – “God will surely visit you” (Exodus 13:19). What a great privilege this is – God visits us! Are we ready for His visit? Do we pretend that we’re not in when He comes knocking on our door? or Are we so pleased to get a visit from Him? Often, we’re so busy with small things – things that don’t really matter that much in the light of eternity – that we fail to give the Lord an enthusiastic welcome.
As I thought about these words of encouragement – “God will surely visit you”, I looked at the rest of the verse and read these words, “the bones of Joseph”! Here, we see the realism of God’s Word. It lifts us up to the eternal God, but it also keeps our feet on the ground – with a reminder of our mortality! Do we need to hear about “the bones of Joseph”? – Of course, we do! We’re not going to go on forever. “The bones of Joseph” – there’s more than this. There are the heavenly “mansions” (John 14:2). Then, we’ll be going to “visit” the Lord. We’ll be more than visitors. We’ll “dwell in the House of the Lord forever” (Psalm 23:6). That’s our glorious future. This is what we have to look forward to!
Here-and-now, we must settle for something less than that. We’re not quite ready for the fullness of His glory. He’s preparing us for glory. He’s giving us His visitations. He’s giving us ” a foretaste of glory divine.” How well prepared will be for the full revelation of God’s glory? We’ll never be fully prepared. We’ll always be sinners. We can, however, draw encouragement from God’s precious promise – “God will surely visit you.” Here-and-now, we must learn to appreciate God’s visitations. They’re preparing us for something better – “Eye has not seen. Ear has not heard. Neither has it entered into the heart what God has prepared for those who love Him” (1 Corinthians 2:9).

"showing mercy to thousands of those who love Me and keep My commandments" (Exodus 20:6).
In there, among the Ten Commandments, there's the word, "mercy" - what a wonderful word! What a wonderful thought - God is merciful. He does not look upon us in our sin. He looks upon us in His Son, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.  He looks at Jesus - dying on the Cross. He sees Jesus, bearing our sin - and He sees us, receiving Jesus' salvation. "In my place, condemned He stood. Hallelujah! What a Saviour!" - This is mercy, and it's right here in the Ten Commandments. How wonderful is this!
God's Word speaks here of our love for the Lord and our obedience to His commandments. Where does this come from? It comes from the Lord - from the God of love, grace and mercy. Before we come to the Ten Commandments, we have the great declaration of God's salvation: "I am the Lord your God who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage" (Exodus 20:2). Real love for the Lord and true obedience to his Word can never be reduced to legalism. It's always much more than that. His love for us inspires our love for Him. Our obedience to His Word is grounded in gratitude for His love.
Thousands came out of Egypt. They had been redeemed by the Lord. They weren't taken straight into the Promised Land. They had to spend many years in the wilderness. Is that not the story of our life? We want to love Him more truly and obey Him more fully - but our sin keeps on holding us back. We're not the finished article. We're a work in progress. Thousands - this is not just about the spiritual leaders, people like Moses and Joshua. This is about ordinary people, people with a story tell: "This is what the Lord has done for me." My story is not your story. Your story is not my story. Each one tells their own story - in their own way. All of us tell the same story - "Amazing grace! How sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me ... " This is mercy - and it's reached so many different people: different names, different faces, different places, one Saviour - Jesus.
How does God's mercy lead us in the pathway of loving him more truly and obeying Him more fully?
"May your Spirit make us look at the commandments not as a set of observances. May they move us to serve you not in a slavish way but as your sons and daughters who love you and whom you have set free. May we thus fulfil more than the law and serve you as your sons and daughters, in whom you recognize Jesus Christ, your Son and our Lord forever."
"As grateful children of God, let us put our hearts into seeking in the commandments not our will but the will of God, so that we do not ask what God orders us to do but simply how we can respond to his love and show that love to the people around us."
"Commandments are not just observances that guarantee our salvation. they are a response to all God has given us. We ask God not what we are obliged to do, but what He expects us to do to respond to his love."
"May we learn from Jesus that love is the heart of the law and that true love knows how to serve" (Camilo J. Marivoet, "Liturgy Alive - Models of Celebration: Weekdays", pp. 314-316)
We've read about "thousands", receiving God's mercy, "thousands", learning to love God and obey Him. God's Word describes, for us, the glory of heaven. It says that there will be "a great multitude, which no man could number" (Revelation 7:9). How amazing is this! We'll come from different nations, different languages, different cultures and different centuries. Each of us will come with a different story to tell - our own unique story of what the Lord has done for us. There will be so many differences, but they will mean nothing to us. We will all be singing the same song. We'll be singing, "Salvation to our God, who sits upon the throne and to the Lamb" (Revelation 7:10). As we think of where we have come from - the depths of sin - and where we have been brought to - the heights of glory, we will sing to the Lord: "Blessing, and glory, and wisdom, and thanksgiving, and honour, and power, and might be to our God for ever and ever" (Revelation 7:12).

"If thou buy an Hebrew servant, six years he shall serve: and in the seventh he shall go out free for nothing” (Exodus 21:2).
In the seventh year, the slave could choose to leave his master. The slave was no longer under a legal requirement to remain in the service of his master. In the service of Christ, we are bound to Him by His everlasting love. There is never a point at which we should ever choose to turn back from following Him. Jesus redeemed us by the shedding of His precious blood. Let us serve Him all the days of our life.

"The Feast of Ingathering" (Exodus 23:16).
We are gathered into Christ. Jesus came "to seek and to save the lost" (Luke 19:10). This is Good News - but it's not to be kept to ourselves. Good News is for sharing. We're to gather others into Christ. As I thought about this phrase, "the feast of ingathering", my thoughts turned to the words of Psalm 126:5-6 - "Those who sow in tears will reap with shouts of joy." We are to take the "precious seed" with us. We are to sow the "precious seed." We are to trust in the Lord's promise: We "will surely come back with shouts of joy, bringing our sheaves with" us. Our salvation is a tremendous privilege - and so is the service that we offer to our Lord. The Lord has saved us, and we say, "Glory to You, Lord." He has called us to be His servants, and, again, we say, "Glory to You, Lord." We look at our life in Christ - being gathered into Him and gathering others into Him, and we say, "This is the Lord's doing, and it is marvellous in our eyes" (Psalm 118:23). In the New Testament, we read about a man called Levi (Mark 2:13-14). He was to become Matthew (Matthew 9:9-13). Spiritually, it looked like his life was going nowhere - until Jesus came along, and everything changed. He was never the same again. What a big part Matthew has had in the ingathering of men and women for Christ. He was no longer Levi, a despised and forgotten tax collector. He was Matthew, the Gospel-writer. In Matthew's story, we learn about being gathered into Jesus and gathering in others for Jesus. His story is a story of both conversion and call. His life was turned around. It was turned outward towards others. He had a new purpose in life - winning people for his Saviour. * We see the opening of his eyes. Before Jesus spoke the two life-changing words, "Follow Me", was Levi watching Jesus? Was he seeing something different in Jesus? Was he beginning to see himself differently? Was the Spirit of the Lord working in him, preparing him for these life-transforming words, "Follow Me"? His immediate response - "he got up and followed Jesus" - suggests to us that the Lord was already working in his heart, preparing him for that moment when his new life, his life of discipleship, his life of mission would begin. On the day that Jesus came along, Levi saw himself as he really was - a sinner. He also saw Jesus as He really is - the Saviour of sinners, his Saviour. He was gathered in to Jesus - but this was just the beginning of gathering many others into Jesus. * We see the stirring of his heart. Had Levi noticed Jesus? Had he sensed something of the love of Jesus? Was he already beginning to hope that Jesus might do something special for him? Was the love of Jesus already reaching out to him before Jesus spoke the words, "Follow Me"? One thing we can say is this: Levi's conversion was a conversion of the heart. He gave his whole heart to the Lord Jesus - and, when he speaks to us in his Gospel, he speaks to us from his heart, and he speaks to our hearts. * We see the opening of his ears. As we read Matthew's account of his conversion, we are struck by the power of Jesus' words, "Follow Me." Whatever we may think about what could have been happening in Levi's life prior to that moment, we must say this: The moment that Jesus spoke the words, "Follow Me" was the moment that life began again for Levi. It was the moment that he was saved by the Lord - saved from a life of serving his own interests, saved for a life of serving his Saviour. * We see the changing of his life. Levi, the tax collector, became Matthew, the Gospel-writer - a new name and a new mission. He was not only gathered into Jesus. He began a new life of gathering others into Jesus. * We see the loosening of his tongue. We don't know a lot about Matthew. In Acts, we read of Peter and Paul. They were faithful and fruitful preachers of the Gospel. We don't read about Matthew being a preacher. We do know that, in his Gospel, he was speaking for his Lord. He was letting the world know how much Jesus meant to him. He was playing his part - a very important part - in gathering in men and women for the Saviour. * What about us? Will we play our part in the great "ingathering"? "Return to the Lord ... He will revive us ... He will raise us up ... He will come to us like the rain ... " (Hosea 6:1-3). * Return to the Lord. This is where it begins. A life of faithful and fruitful service to the Lord begins when we return to the Lord, when, like Levi, we say to Jesus, "Yes, Lord. I will follow You." * He will revive us. We pray for revival - a great ingathering of many people to our Saviour. Where does it begin? It begins with ourselves: "He will revive us." * He will raise us up. This is not just a little pick-me-up. This is resurrection. In ourselves, we are spiritually dead. In Christ, our risen Saviour, we are made alive. * He will come to us like the rain. "The spring showers water the land" - This is what we must pray for: a spiritual harvest which will bring many people to the Saviour and much glory to God.

"The skin of Moses' face shone" (Exodus 34:35).
What glory there is in the presence of the Lord! The glory of the Lord was shining upon Moses. The glory of the Lord was shining out from Moses. In the Lord's presence, there is light. When we come into His presence, we come out of the darkness, and we come into the light. It is the light of His glory. It is the light of His love. It is the glory of His love. This is what changes us. This is what makes us new men and women. How can we remain the same when we have been in the presence of the Lord? Was there something special about Moses? No! There was something special about God. Is there something special about us? No! There's something special about God. In His presence, everything changes. The things that seemed so important to us are seen in a new light - the light of eternity. They are seen for what they really are. Do these things really matter as much as we thought they did? or Have we been shaped too much by the world's way of thinking? In the Lord's presence, everything seems so different. Light is shining upon us. It is the light of God's Word. It is the light of the Gospel. His light is a great light. It shines brightly. It will not be overcome by the darkness. Often, we feel that the darkness is so powerful. It seems like we're struggling to get into the light - and the darkness keeps on pulling us back in. What do we learn when we come into the Lord's presence? What do we learn when we read His Word? What do we learn when His Gospel reaches us? We learn that it's not all about us - our struggle to break free from the darkness. It's all about Him - His power to set us free. "Turn your eyes upon Jesus, look full in His wonderful face; and the things of earth will grow strangely dim in the light of His glory and grace."

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Praying Through God's Word: Jeremiah

I haven't completed the "Jeremiah" prayers. I will add more.

Jeremiah 1:1-19
Serving You, Lord, doesn’t begin with our choice. It begins with Your call. The initiative is Yours – not ours. Thank You, Lord, that You love us so much. Thank You for saving us – and calling us to be Your servants.
Jeremiah 2:1-19
They had turned away from the Lord. They had chosen to go their own way (Jeremiah 2:13). When, Lord, our message isn’t popular, help us to remember that it’s Your message – not ours. You have not called us to preach a superficial message. You’ve called us to preach a searching message. We are to invite our hearers to think about what their wrong choices were doing to them: ‘Have you not brought this on yourselves by forsaking the Lord your God when He led you in the way?’ (Jeremiah 2:17). We are to leave them in no doubt about where their wrong choices are leading them – ‘“Your own evil will punish you, and your turning from Me will condemn you. You will learn how bitter and wrong it is to abandon Me, the Lord your God, and no longer to remain faithful to Me”, I, the Sovereign Lord Almighty, have spoken’ (Jeremiah 2:19). This isn’t what people want to hear. It’s what they need to hear. Help us to be faithful to You – even when it’s difficult and discouragement is never very far away from us.
Jeremiah 2:20-37
‘Where then are the gods you made for yourselves? Let them come if they can save you when you are in trouble!’ (Jeremiah 2:28). Teach us, Lord, that man-made ‘gods’ cannot ‘save’. They cannot even begin to compare with You – ‘the everlasting God, the Creator of the ends of the earth’ (Isaiah 40:28). There is no comparison between You, Lord, and the gods – ‘I am God, and there is no other’. For ‘all the makers of idols’, the future holds nothing but ‘shame’ and ‘disgrace’. You’re calling us on to a much better and brighter future. ‘Saved by the Lord with an everlasting salvation.’ We thank You, Lord, that this is the great and glorious future which awaits all who obey Your call to salvation: ‘Turn to Me and be saved, all you ends of the earth’ (Isaiah 45:15-17,22).
Jeremiah 3:1-25
Lord, You call us to ‘return’ to You (Jeremiah 3:14,22). You call us to make our response to You. You invite us to say, ‘Yes, we will come to You, for You are the Lord our God’ (Jeremiah 3:22). How are we to come to You? We are to come to You, confessing our sins – ‘We have sinned against the Lord our God’ (Jeremiah 3:25). We are to come to You, trusting You to save us – ‘Surely in the Lord our God is the salvation of Israel’ (Jeremiah 3:23). We thank You, Lord, for all the blessings that You give to those who return to You. You are ‘merciful’ to us. You do ‘not treat us as our sins deserve’ (Jeremiah 3:12, Psalm 103:10). We become Your children. We call You, ‘Father’ (Jeremiah 3:19; Galatians 4:6). You ‘cure us of our backsliding.’ ‘In Christ’, we become ‘a new creation’ (Jeremiah 3:22; 2 Corinthians 5:17). Thank You, Lord.
Jeremiah 4:1-18
‘If you will return, O Israel,… then the nations will be blessed…’ (Jeremiah 4:1-2). Help us, Lord, not only to seek blessing for ourselves. Teach us to pray that others will be blessed also. Your blessing is not to be kept to ourselves. It is to be shared. We are not to be small-minded people – ‘What will I get out of it?’. Help us to remember what Jesus said to His first disciples, ‘Go and make disciples of all nations’. This is still Your Word to us today. May we never rest content with being an inward-looking Church. Christ has given us a worldwide mission: ‘You will be My witnesses… to the ends of the earth’. We are not left to face this great task on our own. Christ says, ‘I am with you always’. We thank You, Lord, that we do not take up this great challenge in our own strength. Christ says to us, ‘You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you’ (Matthew 28:19-20; Acts 1:8).
Jeremiah 4:19-5:9
‘One disaster follows another. The whole land is ruined… My people are fools. They don’t know Me… They are experts in doing wrong, and they don’t know how to do good’ (Jeremiah 4:20,22). Lord, we read the daily news. We wonder, ‘What’s going to happen next?’ We ask, ‘Where will it all end?’ Are we to give up hope? No! Teach us, Lord, to look beyond the things that are happening in our world today. Help us to keep on looking to You, Lord – ‘the God of hope’. You say to us, ‘There is hope for your future.’ Sometimes, we feel like things are just going from bad to worse. When we feel like this, help us to remember Your Word: ‘I know the plans I have for you… to give you a future and a hope’. ‘May the God of hope fill you with all joy and peace as you trust in Him, so that you may overflow with hope by the power of the Holy Spirit’ (Jeremiah 29:11; Jeremiah 31:17; Romans 15:13).
Jeremiah 5:10-6:8
‘A horrible and shocking thing has happened in the land: The prophets prophesy lies, the priests rule by their own authority, and My people love it this way’ (Jeremiah 5:31)! Sometimes, Lord, people are happy to listen to ‘prophets’ – so long as their preaching isn’t too challenging. They’re happy to attend the services conducted by ‘priests’ – so long as nobody expects them to change their way of life. They don’t want ‘prophets’ and ‘priests’ who take Your Word seriously. Help us, Lord, to be serious about preaching Your  Word. Help us to be serious about living in obedience to Your Word. This won’t be popular. We won’t be didn’t give people what they want – but we’ll be giving them what they what they need. We’ll be challenging them to ‘get real’ with You, Lord. Help us, Lord to do what You want us to do – not what other people want us to do.
Jeremiah 6:9-30
‘Their ears are closed… The Word of the Lord is offensive to them; they find no pleasure in it’ (Jeremiah 6:10). Sometimes, Lord, we feel like we’re ‘hitting our head off a brick wall’. So few people show any real interest in hearing and obeying Your Word. It seemed like Your Word is ‘going in one ear and out the other.’ It would be so easy for us just to ‘settle down’, to start ‘taking it easy.’ This is what so many people do: ‘They dress the wound of My people as though it were not serious. “Peace, peace”, they say, when there is no peace’ (Jeremiah 6:13-14). Help us, Lord, to be faithful to You – not to settle for being popular with those whom ‘the Lord has rejected’ (Jeremiah 6:30).
Jeremiah 7:1-8:3
‘Stop believing these deceitful words, “We are safe! This is the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord!”’ (Jeremiah 4:4). Help us, Lord, never to allow the place of worship to become more important than the Person we worship. We worship You, Lord. May we not talk a lot about ‘the Church’ – and never speak of Christ! May we not become more concerned about ‘the Church’ looking good than we are about what You, Lord, see when You ‘look at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7)! Deliver us, Lord, from self-centred talk – ‘I love my Church. I never miss my Church. I always support my Church’. Help us to see that there’s a great deal of ‘I’ in this kind of talk – but Christ is conspicuous by His absence! May there be less ‘Look at what I have done for my Church’ and more ‘It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me’ (Galatians 2:20).
Jeremiah 8:4-22
‘Wise people are put to shame, confused, trapped. They have rejected the Word of the Lord. They don’t really have any wisdom’ (Jeremiah 8:9). Deliver us, Lord, from thinking that we’re smart. Keep us from becoming wise in their own eyes. Deliver us from the ‘know it all’ attitude. May we not have an answer for everything – except the most important question, the question of salvation: ‘What must I do to be saved?’ Deliver us from knowing know so much – yet knowing so little about what really matters! ‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved’ (Jeremiah 8:20). Keep us, Lord, from becoming so obsessed with getting on in the world that we make no time for You. When, Lord, we’re getting too busy enjoying all the pleasures of this world, help us to remember Jesus’ words: ‘What good will it do you if you gain the whole world – and lose eternal life?’ (Matthew 16:22).
Jeremiah 9:1-26
We read, Lord, about those who are ‘circumcised only in the flesh.’ They remain ‘uncircumcised in the heart’ (Jeremiah 9:25-26). Teach us, Lord, that salvation is not a matter of outward conformity to religious rituals. What we need is ‘circumcision of the heart, by the Spirit’ (Romans 2:28-29). Help us to remember Jesus’ words: ‘You must be born again’ (John 3:7). Help us to see clearly that even when we’ve been ‘brought up in the Church’, we still need to open our hearts to Christ. Even when we’ve heard Your Word preached many times, we still need to be born again through the power of ‘the Spirit of the living God’ (2 Corinthians 3:3). Teach us, Lord, that our religious rituals mean nothing if, in our hearts, we remain unconverted: ‘Neither circumcision nor uncircumcision means anything; what counts is a new creation’ (Galatians 6:15).
Jeremiah 10:1-25
‘The Lord is the true God; He is the living God, the eternal King’ (Jeremiah 10:10). Can there ever be anything more important than worshipping You, Lord? We know the answer as soon as we ask the question! Very often, our lives gives a very different answer. We have taken our eyes off You, Lord. We have forgotten that You are the true and living God. We sing the words, ‘O Lord, Thou art my God and King… Each day I rise, I will Thee bless…’ – but they have a hollow ring about them! Help us, Lord, to make a real commitment of our life to You: ‘Teach me to live, day by day, in Your presence, Lord… Teach me to praise, day by day, in Your Spirit, Lord… Teach me to love, day by day, in Your power, Lord… Teach me to give, day by day, from my wealth, O Lord…’ (Mission Praise, 627).
Jeremiah 11:1-23
Lord, You speak Your Word to us. You call us to obedience. You say to us, ‘Obey My voice.’ Often, Lord, the story of our life is summed up in the words: ‘They did not listen or pay attention. They did not obey’ (Jeremiah 11:7-8). Your Word is not just ‘something to think about.’ When You call us to obedience, we’re not to say, ‘I’ll think about that later.’ ‘Now’ is the time for obedience to Your Word: ‘Obey now the voice of the Lord’ (Jeremiah 38:20). Help us, Lord, not to put this off until tomorrow. You’re looking for our obedience today: ‘Today, when you hear His voice, do not harden your hearts’ (Hebrews 4:7). When, Lord, we’re deeply involved in religious ritual – ‘burnt offerings and sacrifices’ – , You say to us, ‘To obey is better than sacrifice’ (1 Samuel 15:22). Help us, Lord, to see that obedience involves our whole life – not just ‘never missing a service’!
Jeremiah 12:1-17
‘“If any nation does not listen, I will completely uproot and destroy it”, declares the Lord’ (Jeremiah 12:17). When, Lord, we are challenged by Your Word, help us not to look out to the world and say, ‘That’s what’s happening “out there”’. Teach us to look into our own hearts. Help us to ask, ‘What’s happening  “in here”?’ Teach us to pray, ‘Search me, O God, and know my heart’ (Psalm 139:23). When the searchlight of Your Word begins to shine on our lives, it becomes clear that ‘all is not as it seems’: ‘They speak well of You with their lips, but their hearts are far from You’ (Jeremiah 12:2). Our situation seems hopeless. We cannot change ourselves: ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots? Neither can you do good who are accustomed to doing evil’ (Jeremiah 13:23). We thank You, Lord, that You speak to us Your Word of hope. We can be changed. You can change us: ‘I will give you a new heart’ (Ezekiel 36:26).
Jeremiah 13:1-27
‘These wicked people, who refuse to listen to My words, who follow the stubbornness of their hearts and go after other gods to serve and worship them will be… completely useless’ (Jeremiah 13:10). Lord, Your Word challenges us to think seriously about ourselves: Am I on the way to becoming ‘completely useless’? Each of us must think about what’s been happening in our lives? – ‘Where is the blessedness I knew when first I saw the Lord? Where is the soul-refreshing view of Jesus and His Word? What peaceful hours I once enjoyed! How sweet their memory still! But they have left an aching void the world can never fill.’ Teach us, Lord, for real change – for ‘a closer walk’ with You: ‘Return, O Holy Dove!… The dearest idol I have known… Help me to tear it from Thy throne, and worship only Thee. So shall my walk be close with God…’
Jeremiah 14:1-22
In ourselves, Lord, there is sin – ‘O Lord… we have sinned against You’. In You, Lord, there is salvation – ‘O Lord our God… our hope is in You’ (Jeremiah 14:20,22). In You, Lord, there is no sin – ‘You are too pure to look on evil’ (Habakkuk 1:13).  In ourselves , there is no salvation. We are ‘spiritually dead because of our disobedience and sins.’ We need to be ‘made alive’. How can this happen? It is not something we can do for ourselves. The new birth can only be received as Your gift. Help us to stop trying to save ourselves. It cannot be done. Salvation cannot be earned. It is Your gift. It must be received by ‘faith’. Teach us to look away from ourselves to Christ. In Christ, we see Your ‘great love for us.’ Through receiving Christ as Saviour, we are ‘born of God’ (Ephesians 2:1,4-5,8; John 1:12-13). ThankYou, Lord, for such a great Saviour and such a great salvation.
Jeremiah 15:1-21
Lord, some of our problems come from outside of ourselves. Other people cause problems for us – ‘This people will fight against you’ (Jeremiah 15:20). Some of our problems come from within our own hearts. Our own sins cause problems for us. There are ‘fightings and fears within’. We are ‘tossed about with many a conflict, many a doubt.’ Help us to tell You all about it – how it really is. ‘Just as I am’ – This is how we must come to You, Lord. Our ‘fightings and fears’ do not simply disappear the moment we pray, ‘O Lamb of God, I come.’ We do, however, have Your promise: ‘They will fight against you, but they will not overcome you’ (Jeremiah 15:20). We thank You, Lord, that You will lead us in the way of victory (Colossians 2:8-10).
Jeremiah 16:1-21
‘O Lord, my Strength and my Stronghold, my Refuge in the day of trouble, to You the nations will come from the ends of the earth… They will know that My Name is the Lord’ (Jeremiah 16:19,21). Give us, Lord, a faith that is personal – The Lord is my Strength, my Stronghold, my Refuge. Teach us that our faith must not be private. It is not to be kept to ourselves. There is to be no ‘us and them’ attitude. We are not to have a ‘we are the people’ attitude. The Gospel is for the nations. Help us not to say, ‘I’m okay. That’s all that matters.’ The Gospel is to be taken to the ends of the earth. Help us to reach out to others – to share the Gospel with the people we meet. Help us, Lord, to tell people what You have done for us. Help us to tell them what You can do for them. May we let them know how much You love them. May they come to know that our God can be their God too.
Jeremiah 17:1-27
‘The Lord’ is ‘the Fountain of living water’ (Jeremiah 17:13). You say to us, ‘With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation’ (Isaiah 12:3). We can be ‘like a tree planted by water’, a tree that ‘does not cease to bear fruit’ (Jeremiah 17:8; Psalm 1:3). You speak Your Word to us: ‘“Where is the Word of the Lord?” Let it come!’ (Jeremiah 17:15; Psalm 1:2) You bring Your salvation to us: ‘Save me, and I will saved’(Jeremiah 17:14; Psalm 1:6). You give Your blessing to us: ‘Blessed is the man who trusts in the Lord’ (Jeremiah 17:7: Psalm 1:1). We rejoice in Your ‘eternal love.  We drink from ‘the streams of living waters’ – and we discover that ‘grace,… like the Lord the Giver, never fails from age to age.’ Help us, Lord, to press on to our heavenly and eternal glory: ‘In Your presence is fullness of joy. At Your right hand are pleasures for evermore’ (Psalm 16:11).
Jeremiah 18:1-23
‘The pot he was shaping from the clay was marred in his hands, so the potter formed it into another pot, shaping it as seemed best to him’ (Jeremiah 18:4). Lord, this is what You're doing in our lives. You are ‘the Potter’. We are no more than ‘jars of clay’ (Jeremiah 18:6; Isaiah 64:8; 2 Corinthians 4:7). Our lives are ‘marred’ by sin. Often, we feel like giving up on ourselves. We thank You, Lord, that You never give up on us. You look beyond what we are now. You see what we will become. You are preparing us for ‘eternal glory’. ‘We are being renewed day by day’. ‘We are being transformed into His likeness with ever-increasing glory’ (2 Corinthians 4:16-17; 2 Corinthians 3:18). ‘Jesus, You are changing me. By Your Spirit, You’re making me like You... You are the Potter and I am the clay. Help me to be willing to let You have Your way...’ (Mission Praise, 389).
Jeremiah 19:1-20:6
‘Listen! I am going to bring on this city and the villages around it every disaster I pronounced against them, because they were stubborn and would not listen to My Word’ (Jeremiah 19:15). Lord, You're warning Your people. You're calling us back from the way of sin and disobedience. You're calling us to return to You. You're looking for people who will take You seriously. You're calling us to live in obedience to Your Word. You're calling us to worship You with the dedication of our lives and not only the words of our lips. Sometimes, we wonder, ‘Will Yoour blessing be lost forever? Is there a way of rediscovering Your blessing in our lives?’ ‘There’s a way back to God from the dark paths of sin. There’s a door that is open and you may go in. At Calvary’s Cross is where you begin, when you come as a sinner to Jesus’ (Mission Praise. 682).
Jeremiah 20:7-18
‘Cursed be the day I was born!... Why did I ever come out of the womb to see trouble and sorrow and to end my days in shame?’ (Jeremiah 20:14-18). Lord, we read about Jeremiah. We see that he is deeply depressed. He has been preaching Your Word. He’s getting nothing but abuse in return: ‘The Word of the Lord has brought me insult and reproach all day long’ (Jeremiah 20:8). We thank You, Lord, that he didn't stop preaching. He kept on going. He felt like giving up: ‘If I say, “I will not mention Him or speak any more in His Name”’. We thank You, that he was driven on by a greater Power - ‘His Word is in my heart like a fire’. No matter how much he tried to keep silent, he could not do it (Jeremiah 20:9). We thank You, Lord, that he moved forward in triumphant faith: ‘The Lord is with me like a mighty warrior’ (Jeremiah 20:11). We thank You that he called upon Your people to worship You: ‘Sing to the Lord! Give praise to the Lord!’ (Jeremiah 20:13). Help us, Lord, to keep on worshipping You and witnessing for You - especially when the going gets tough.
Jeremiah 21:1-14
‘Perhaps the Lord will perform wonders for us as in times past...’ (Jeremiah 21:2). Lord, we read about "times past" - and we say, "That was then. What about now?" Help us never to assume that You will always bless us. May we never forget that yesterday’s blessing belong to the past. Teach us not to live in the past. Keep us from saying, ‘He has blessed us in the past. He will keep on blessing us.’ Help us to ask ourselves the searching question, "Do we really want to keep on enjoying Yours blessing? Help us to keep on seeking Your blessing. If, Lord, we do not seek You, there will be no promise of blessing. We will hear a very different Word from You: ‘I have determined to do this city harm and not good... I will punish as your deeds deserve’ (Jeremiah 21:10,14). May we never take Your blessing for granted. May we never forget that we could be ‘in for a rude awakening’ - if we do not start seeking You, Lord. Help us to start seeking You today: ‘You will seek Me and find Me when you seek Me with all your heart’ (Jeremiah 29:13).
Jeremiah 22:1-30
We thank You, Lord, that Jeremiah kept on speaking to people who had given up on worshipping You (Jeremiah 22:9). His message was clear: ‘O land, land, land, hear the Word of the Lord?’ (Jeremiah 22:29). Lord, You're speaking Your Word to us. Are we listening? You're looking for people who will listen to You. You want us to pay attention to Your Word. Your Word is like ‘the sound of a trumpet.’ It demands our attention. Many people say, ‘We will not listen.’ Your Word shows us ‘the good way’ and calls us to ‘walk in it.’ Many people say, ‘We will not walk in it.' What about us, Lord? What do we say to You? What is our response to Your Word? We thank You, Lord, for Your Word of warning: ‘I am bringing disaster on this people... because they have not listened to My Word.’ May we not bring this judgment on ourselves. Help us to listen to Your Word and walk in Your way (Jeremiah 6:16-19).
Jeremiah 23:1-20
‘Woe to the shepherds who are destroying and scattering the sheep of my pasture!’ (Jeremiah 23:1). Help us, Lord, not to be like the false ‘prophets’: ‘They speak visions from their own minds, not from the mouth of the Lord.’ What were these false ‘prophets’ saying? - ‘They keep saying to those who despise Me, “The Lord says: You will have peace.” To all those who follow the stubbornness of their hearts, they were saying, “No harm will come to you”’ (Jeremiah 23:16-17). Lord, You're calling us to be faithful. It will not be easy. Often, we will be tempted to ‘take the easy way out.’ We will feel the pull of the world: ‘Just be the same as everybody else.’ When we feel that we are being pulled towards the ‘easy’ option, show us, Lord, that there is something else we must never forget: The 'easy' option is also ‘the broad road that leads to destruction.’ Help us to keep on following Christ on ‘the narrow road which leads to life’ (Matthew 7:13-14).
Jeremiah 23:21-40
‘I did not send these prophets, yet they have run with their message; I did not speak to them, yet they have prophesied’ (Jeremiah 23:21). Before we can speak for You, Lord, we must take time to listen to You. Teach us that we dare not attempt to speak for You if we are not prepared to spend time listening to You. Everything could have been so different - if ‘these prophets’ had taken time to listen to You: ‘If they had stood in My council, they would have proclaimed My words to My people and would have turned them from their evil ways’ (Jeremiah 23:22). Lord, You don't force us to listen to Your Word. You invite us to listen. The choice is ours. We can allow other things to become more important than spending time with You. Help us, Lord, never to become ‘too busy’ for the ‘one thing’ that is more important than anything else - listening to Your Word (Luke 10:41-42).
Jeremiah 24:1-25:14
Lord, we wonder, "Can our lives be changed?" You say to us, " Yes! They can be changed. I can change them: ‘I will give them a heart to know that I am the Lord.’ This, Lord, is no superficial change. This is real change, change which makes a difference. It's a change of heart: ‘they shall return to Me with their whole heart’ (Jeremiah 24:7). Lord, we wonder, "How are we changed?" You tell us, 'I will change you': ‘I will put My Spirit within you, and you shall live’ (Ezekiel 37:14). We become new people - ‘alive to God in Christ Jesus’ (Romans 6:11). This is the great change, the change that makes all the difference. It’s not just a little change here and there. It’s everywhere. No part of our life remains the same. Every part of life is changed. When there’s a real change of heart, everything changes - ‘all things have become new’ (2 Corinthians 5:17). ‘Change my heart, O God...’ (Mission Praise, 69).
Jeremiah 25:15-38
‘I am beginning to bring disaster on the city that bears My Name’ (Jeremiah 25:29). We thank You, Lord, for the privilege of being Your people. With this great privilege, there is also the great responsibility of living as Your people. We are not to be Your people in name only. We are to live the life of Your people. Help us, Lord, never to think that we can enjoy the privilege of being Your people, if we are not prepared to bear the responsibility of living as Your people. Teach us that privilege and responsibility belong together: ‘You only have I chosen of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your sins’ (Amos 3:2). We cannot say, ‘I belong to You, Lord’ and then live whatever way we like. We have been ‘raised with Christ.’ We have received new life through faith in Him. Help us to keep on living this new life: ‘Set your hearts and minds on things above, not on earthly things’ (Colossians 3:1-2).
Jeremiah 26:1-24
‘He has spoken to us in the Name of the Lord our God’ (Jeremiah 26:16). We thank You, Lord, that Jeremiah was Your true servant. We need people like him today. He was faithful. He was unashamed of You. He was unafraid to speak up for You. We see this same faithfulness in Christ’s apostles: ‘Day after day, in the temple and from house to house, they never stopped teaching and preaching the Good News that Jesus is the Christ’ (Acts 5:42). We could do with people like that today, people who are enthusiastic about sharing the Gospel, people who are eager to win others for Christ. We, Lord, can become people like that. You can make us like that - if we let You! As we hear Your Word in Church, as we read Your Word in our own homes, may we pray that You will give us the strength to share, with others, the Word You have given to us.
Jeremiah 27:1-22
‘They will be taken to Babylon and there they will remain until the day I come for them. Then I will bring them and restore them to this place’ (Jeremiah 27:22). Lord, You had a great purpose for Your people - but they had to wait for Your time. You have a great purpose for us. Christ is preparing a great ‘place’ for us: ‘In My Father’s House are many mansions... I am going there to prepare a place for you’.  We thank You that Christ has promised that He will return to take us to that great ‘place’: ‘I will come again and will take you to Myself, that where I am you may be also’ (John 14:2-3). We rejoice in this: Christ is coming. Help us to wait patiently for Him. Teach us to wait for His time, the time of His Coming, the Day when He comes for us. We thank You, Lord, that You have not forgotten Your promise. He will come ‘to save those who are eagerly waiting for Him’ (Hebrews 9:28).
Jeremiah 28:1-17
‘Listen, Hananiah, the Lord has not sent you, and you have made this people trust in a lie’ (Jeremiah 28:15). Lord, there is such a difference between those who wait on You for Your strength and those who rush ahead in their own strength! Your Word warns us against trying to serve You in our own strength: ‘Even youths shall faint and be weary, and young men shall fall exhausted’. If we are to be true servants of the Lord, we must learn to wait upon the Lord and receive His strength: ‘Those who wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength’. What a difference the strength of the Lord makes - ‘They shall mount up with wings like eagles, they shall run and not be weary, they shall walk and not faint’ (Isaiah 40:30-31)! Teach us to exchange our weakness for Your strength - then we will truly be ‘sent’ by You and will speak Your truth.
Jeremiah 29:1-32
‘I know the plans I have for you... to give you a future and a hope’. Lord, this was Your long-term purpose for Your people. It was important that they did not lose sight of this. There would be ‘seventy years’ of captivity in Babylon (Jeremiah 29:10-11). At times, they must have wondered, ‘Will this ever end? Is there really something better still to come?’ Our life on earth may sometimes seem like the ‘seventy years’ in Babylon: ‘The length of our days is seventy years... yet all they bring us is trouble and sorrow’! We wonder, Lord, ‘Is there a glorious future still to come?’ In our times of ‘suffering’ and ‘sorrow’, teach us to draw our ‘strength’ from Your Word. May we look forward to ‘the Day’ when Christ ‘comes to be glorified in His holy people and to be admired in all who believe’ (Psalms 90:10; 119:28; 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5,10).
Jeremiah 30:1-24
‘I am with you to save you’. This, Lord, was Your Word to Your people. You assured Your people that their ‘captivity’ in Babylon would not last forever. You gave Your promise to them: ‘I will restore the fortunes of My people... I will bring them back to the land which I gave to their fathers’ (Jeremiah 30:10-11,3). ‘I am with you to save you’. This is still Your Word to us. You tell us that our ‘captivity’ will not last forever. Christ has died to ‘free those who all their lives were held in slavery by their fear of death’. Help us, Lord, to look beyond our earthly life. Give us a life-changing glimpse of our glorious future - ‘Death’ will be ‘swallowed up in victory’. ‘Thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ’. Let us ‘be steadfast, unmoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord, our labour is not in vain’ (Hebrews 2:14-15; 1 Corinthians 15:54,57-58).
admired in all who believe’ (Psalms 90:10; 119:28; 2 Thessalonians 1:4-5,10).
Jeremiah 31:1-20
‘I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with loving-kindness’ (Jeremiah 31:3). So often, Lord, we have been like ‘the prodigal son’ (Luke 15:11-24). We have walked away from Your House. We have wandered off into ‘the far country’. We feel that we are far from You, yet still You draw near to us. You, Lord, are at work in our hearts. You are bringing us ‘to our senses’. You are reminding us of Your love. You are drawing us back to Yourself. In love, You are calling us home again. You are speaking to our hearts. You are saying to us, ‘I have loved you with an everlasting love’. As Your love reaches our hearts, ‘the prodigal son’ becomes ‘the returning son’: ‘Father, I have sinned against heaven and against you. I am no longer worthy to be called your son’. ‘Bring me back, let me come back, for you are the Lord my God!’ (Jeremiah 31:18).

Jeremiah 31:21-40  
‘Set up road signs; put up guideposts. Take note of the highway, the road that you take’ (Jeremiah 31:21). Lord, it’s so easy, for us, to take a wrong turning. We lose our sense of direction. We get confused. We're not sure which way to go. We get lost. We're getting more and more lost all the time. We can’t find our way back home again. We need someone who knows the way to come and be our guide. We wonder, "Is there someone who can get us on the right road again? Is there someone who can guide us safely home?" We thank You, Lord, that You have answered our question. Your answer is "Yes!" We thank You that Jesus is ‘the Way, the True Way, the Living Way’ (John 14:6). We thank You for Jesus - our Guide and our Saviour.
Jeremiah 32:1-25  
‘Nothing is too hard for You’ (Jeremiah 32:17). Lord, we face many difficult situations. What are we to do when we feel we can take no more? Help us to remember You. Nothing is too hard for You. Help us to remember Your promise: ‘The Lord is faithful, and He will strengthen and protect you from the evil one’ (2 Thessalonians 3:3). May we hear the voice of Jesus, calling us to follow Him. May we hear His word of warning - ‘the way is hard.’ May we also know that He is our loving Saviour. He does not leave us to go it alone. We thank You, Lord, that Jesus gives us His strength - ‘My yoke is easy and my burden is light’ (Matthew 4:19; 7:14; 11:30). We thank You, Lord, 
Jeremiah 32:26-44
‘I will bring them back to this place’ (Jeremiah 32:37). Lord, You're bringing us into Your ‘place.’ You're bringing us close to Yourself: ‘They will be My people, and I will be their God’ (Jeremiah 32:38). You're bringing us into the ‘place’ of obedience: ‘I will inspire them to fear Me, so that they will never turn away from Me’ (Jeremiah 32:40). You're leading us to the ‘place’ of blessing: ‘I will give them singleness of heart and action, so that they will always fear Me for their own good and the good of their children after them’ (Jeremiah 32:39). Sometimes, Lord, our life seems like ‘a desolate waste.’ Help us never to lose sight of Your purpose: ‘I will rejoice in doing them good and will assuredly plant them in this land with all My heart and soul’ (Jeremiah 32:43,41). We thank You, Lord, that You will not leave us in our ‘desolate waste.’ You will lead us to a better ‘place’ - the ‘place’ of obedience and blessing.
Jeremiah 33:1-26
‘I will bring Judah and Israel back from captivity and will rebuild them as they were before. I will cleanse them from all the sin they have committed against Me... Then this city will bring Me renown, joy, praise, and honour before all nations on earth...’ (Jeremiah 33:7-9). What great blessing lay ahead of Your people! Lord, You were pointing Your people to the place of blessing: Jesus Christ - ‘the righteous Branch from David’s line’ (Jeremiah 33:15-16). We thank you that 'in Christ’, we have ‘every spiritual blessing’: ‘No eye has seen, no ear has heard, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love Him’ (Ephesians 1:3; 1 Corinthians 2:9). We thank You, Lord, that You have so much blessing to give to us. Help us to come to You and receive Your blessing: ‘Call to Me, and I will answer you; I will show you wonderful and marvellous things that you know nothing about’ (Jeremiah 33:3).
Jeremiah 34:1-22
We read, Lord about slaves being ‘set free.’ We think, "This is great!" Then, we read about things going wrong - ‘Afterwards they changed their minds and took back the slaves... and enslaved them again’ (Jeremiah 34:8-11). What, Lord, do You have to say about this? - ‘You have turned round and dishonoured Me... You took back the slaves... You forced them into slavery again... You have not obeyed Me’ (Jeremiah 34:16-17). We thank You that Jesus isn’t like these slavemasters! He doesn’t only promise us freedom. He gives us our freedom: ‘If the Son sets you free, you will be free indeed’. He doesn’t come to us with ‘a pack of lies’ - promising this, that and the other, and then breaking every promise. We thank You that He sets us free with His Word of truth - ‘You shall know the truth, and the truth will set you free’ (John 8:36,32; Psalm 119:45).

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Search The Scriptures: Luke's Gospel

This is the beginning of the notes on Luke’s Gospel. I will add more notes.

“You will know that what you have been told is true” (Luke 1:4). Historical truth underlies the spiritual truth through which the Spirit brings home to our hearts the meaning of the Gospel. Without the historical truth, there is no Gospel. The Gospel is not based on myth. It is God’s testimony to His truth: truth - unchanged, unchanging and unchangeable. The historical truth of the gospel is not something that we can set aside, as we search for some deep meaning, which is independent of historical truth.

“He will prepare the people for their Lord” (Luke 1:17). Before the people could come to Jesus, they needed to come to John. The role of the witness is to lead people to Jesus. They come to us with the question, “What do you have to say?” As they listen, they become less interested in what we have to say and more concerned with hearing the Word of the Lord. What is it that leads people beyond the words of man to the Word of God? “He will be filled with the Holy Spirit” (Luke 1:16).

Search The Scriptures: Mark's Gospel

This is the beginning of the notes on Mark’s Gospel. I will add more notes.

“Good News” - “the forgiveness of sins” and “baptism with the Holy Spirit” (Mark 1:1,4,8). This Good News is centred on Jesus Christ, God’s beloved Son (Mark 1:11). Jesus was empowered by “the Spirit” (Mark 1:12). He comes to us with “the Good news of God” (Mark 1:14). He calls for our response - “Change the way you think and act, and believe the Good News” (Mark 1:15). Where does this change come from? It comes from the Good News. This is what changes us. By becoming Christ-centred (following Jesus), we become less self-centred and more other-centred. Jesus teaches us “how to catch people instead of fish” (Mark 1:17).

“He taught them with authority” (Mark 1:22). We need both - the teaching and the authority. It is the teaching that gives the authority. We are taught by the Lord. We speak with the authority that comes from this: God’s Word is truth. When we know that the revelation has come to us from the Lord, we are able to understand and communicate God’s Word of truth. This is not about our level of understanding or our ability to communicate. It’s about the Lord, making Himself known to us and enabling us to share His Word with others. What do we have to share with others? We have “Good News” (Mark 1:38-39). “People kept coming to Him from everywhere” (Mark 1:45). Lord, give us such blessing in our day.    

Search The Scriptures: Matthew's Gospel

This is the beginning of the notes on Matthew’s Gospel. I will add more notes.

Jesus was also called Emmanuel (Matthew 1:23). Emmanuel means ‘God with us.’ This is the great message that comes to us from the first chapter of the New Testament. God has not remained in heaven. He has come to earth. Along with the Name, Emmanuel, there is the better - known Name - Jesus. The Name of Jesus means “He saves” (Matthew 1:21,25). In the two Names - Emmanuel and Jesus, we have the Good News of our salvation. God has come to earth - that’s the meaning of the Name, Emmanuel. He has come to save us - that’s the meaning of the Name, Jesus.

The wise men did want to worship Jesus (Matthew 2:2). Herod said that he wanted to worship Jesus (Matthew 2:8). What a difference there is between saying that we want to worship Jesus and really wanting to worship Him. This highlights the conflict between false religion and true worship. Religion may say the right things, but, if we don’t really mean what we say, our words will not make any difference to the way we live. This kind of religion is worthless. What does God say to us about this kind of religion? - “God warned them in a dream not to go back to Herod” (Matthew 2:12). God is still warning His people to steer clear of empty religion. When we come to the Lord, we must not come with empty words - words that we don’t really mean. Our worship is to shape our life. How is our worship to change our way of living? Real worship arises out of salvation. This is very different from religion. Religion says more about ourselves than it says than it says about our Saviour. Salvation is not about us. It’s about Jesus, our Saviour. When He is the focus of our attention, we will learn to worship Him and live for Him.

    

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Use of the Bible in Evangelical Preaching Today

If you want to read the list of footnotes, which accompanied the original article, click on this link – The Use of the Bible in Evangelical Preaching Today.
_________________________________
Ernest Best was Professor of New Testament at the University of Glasgow. Robert Davidson was Professor of Old Testament at the University of Glasgow. The late George Macleod was the Founder of the Iona Community. Each of these men has exerted a significant influence on the ministry of the church of Scotland. Comments made by Best, Davidson and Macleod provide an appropriate point of departure for this short study concerning contemporary preaching. In his book, From Text to Sermon, Best writes, ‘The preacher … ought to avoid merely using the text as a jumping-off for what he wants to say.’ 
When invited to introduce a former student Rev. Fraser Aitken to his first charge, Neilston Parish Church, Davidson preached from Ephesians 3:8, concerning Paul’s description of his ministry in terms of preaching ‘the unsearchable riches of Christ’. Macleod’s book, Speaking the Truth in Love, contains this arresting remark concerning ‘preaching’ which, though it ‘may be without doctrinal error hardly stirs a soul’. Taken together, these three comments highlight three essential features which must surely characterize evangelical preaching in every generation. Our preaching should be grounded in Scripture, centred on Christ and empowered by the Spirit. The Scriptures, the Saviour and the Spirit here we have a ‘threefold cord’ that cannot be broken. By stressing the importance of the Bible for contemporary preaching we are not simply being ‘traditional’. We ground our preaching in Scripture because we find Christ in the Scriptures (Lk. 24:27; Jn. 5:40; 2 Tim. 3:15). We do not base our preaching on Scripture simply because we wish to be ‘Biblicists’. We preach from Scripture because the Spirit points us to the Son through the Scriptures (Lk. 24:2; Rom. 10:17). This ‘threefold cord’, the Scriptures, the Saviour and the Spirit, must be preserved if contemporary preaching is to be truly evangelical. Today’s preachers are, like Paul, called to ‘preach the unsearchable riches of Christ’. Our situation is not however precisely the same as Paul’s. We are to preach the Word of God ‘as addressed to modem man’.  This application of the gospel to the situation of modem man requires to be handled in a careful and sensitive manner. We dare not remain locked in the past if we are to speak a word which has genuine relevance for the present day. On the other hand, the threat of modernism’ is real. We can be so easily ‘squeezed into the mould of the world’s way of thinking’, rather than allowing our minds to be renewed by ‘the living and abiding word of God (cf. Rom. 12:1-2 J. B. Phillips; 1 Pet. 1:23). Where modern thinking is accorded an undue importance, the gospel can be seriously distorted. This kind of distortion takes place in the theologies offered to us by Rudolf Bultmann and Paul Tillich. Commenting on Bultmann’s theology, G. C. Berkouwer writes, ‘The fact that he proceeds from a pastoral and missionary motive namely, to preserve modern man from rejecting the New Testament because of its mythical structure – does not diminish by one iota the theological presumption of this undertaking’. K. Hamilton describes Tillich’s theology thus: ‘Jesus Christ and the biblical revelation have been fitted into a structure already complex without them.’ One particularly serious consequence of this type of theological reductionism is selectivity in the use of Scripture. This may be illustrated with particular reference to the theology of Bultmann. Discussing Bultmann’s exegetical procedure, N. J. Young offers a penetrating analysis. Bultmann’s norm for understanding the New Testament is the theology of Paul and John as interpreted by Bultmann. Those parts of the New Testament which do not accord with Bultmann are not given careful attention. Paul and John, as well as the rest of the New Testament, are treated in this way.This method of exegesis, ‘in which a variety of views are acknowledged, but only one selected for attention, leaving the others virtually ignored’is particularly noticeable when he discusses Paul’s eschatology. He acknowledges that there is evidence that Paul does have an ‘apocalyptic eschatology with its expectation of a cosmic catastrophe’.Nevertheless, Bultmann pays no further attention to this aspect of Paul’s eschatology. What are we to make of this approach to the New Testament? This is what Young says: ‘If some parts of the New Testament prove to be impervious to a particular hermeneutical approach … it may be because the hermeneutical approach is not adequate for the task, not because it claims too much.’Young contends that there is a better way than Bultmann’s way. ‘A proper recognition of the diversity of the New Testament witness… makes unnecessary Bultmann’s attempt to achieve harmony by silencing those voices which appear to him to be off-key.’Best makes this point more positively without any direct reference to Bultmann’s theology. ‘Christ is greater than any single description of him, and we need the variety we have in the New Testament.’What relevance does this discussion of Bultmann’s selective exegesis have for the preacher? N. Weeks, clearly alluding to the kind of theology propounded by Bultmann, makes an astute and most important observation: ‘The belief that modem man cannot understand biblical concepts becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy. If we believe that men cannot accept such truths, then we will not preach and teach them. Hence they will not be received because faith comes by hearing the word preached. If we would preach the ‘whole counsel of God’ from the pulpit, there must be a thorough searching of the Scriptures in the study. Selective exegesis can never be a real option for those who would seek to ground their preaching in the Scriptures. To dissociate ourselves from Bultmann’s method of reading the New Testament is not to involve us in stepping back from the complexities of biblical interpretation. Rather, we stress that the complex business of biblical interpretation will never permit one particular line of interpretation to take a stranglehold over our thinking. Whenever a particular method of interpretation dominates our thinking, it becomes our authority. Scripture the authoritative Word of God is then moulded to fit what we think it should be. The interpretation of Scripture is not to be separated from the authority of Scripture. Divorced from an authoritative Word from the Lord, biblical interpretation can become a very confusing business. We are not, however, forced to choose between a real involvement in the complex issues of biblical interpretation and a naive biblicism which refuses to get involved with the difficult questions. It has been said that ‘the Bible is like a pool in which a child can wade and an elephant can swim’.There are many areas where differences of interpretation can leave us quite confused. Nevertheless, we are still able to affirm that Jesus Christ is the centre of the biblical message. We are still able to experience the power of the Holy Spirit as he leads us to Christ through the Scripture. By refusing to align ourselves with Bultmann’s approach to the New Testament we are not dissociating ourselves from his concern with relevance. We are, however, stressing that there is another concern to which we must give careful attention faithfulness: ‘In seeking for relevance we must not renounce faithfulness.’We must not set relevance and faithfulness over against each other, as though we are forced to choose between them be faithful at the expense of relevance; be relevant at the expense of faithfulness. Relevance and faithfulness belong together. Relevance is not to be divorced from faithfulness but grounded in faithfulness. God’s Word is seen to be ‘the living and abiding word of God’ as God’s people believe it to be and proclaim it as ‘the living and abiding word of God’. The faithfulness which is ever relevant involves a real commitment to walking in the Spirit as ‘ministers of a new covenant, not in a written code but in the Spirit; for the written code kills but the Spirit gives life’ (2. Cor. 3:6). J. Veenhof, expounding the relationship between the Holy Spirit and the Holy Scriptures, emphasizes that it is the Holy Spirit who binds faithfulness and relevance together. He ‘makes it clear that this ancient word never becomes antiquated but is permanently relevant’.This relevance is always a matter of something more than mere words. Our lives as well as our words must be faithful to the Word of the Lord. Faithfulness and relevance do not belong only to the study and the pulpit. There is a life to be lived in the world as well as a sermon to be preached in the church. Our lives are to be a ‘letter from Christ’, ‘known and read by all men’ (2 Cor. 3:2). In the pulpit, faithfulness and relevance are to be held together. In the study authority and interpretation are to be held together. If, in the study, Scripture is not honoured as the authoritative word of God, there will not be faithful preaching from the pulpit. A commitment to faithfulness carries with it a concern for relevance, since God ‘is not God of the dead, but of the living’ (Matt. 22:32). He is the living God and his Word is to be proclaimed as the living Word. If we are to speak a word of relevance, we need to interpret God’s Word for this generation. It is not sufficient to affirm the authority of the Bible, if we do not give serious consideration to understanding what God is saying to the world of today. The preacher, who seeks both faithfulness and relevance, will seek to understand the relationship between authority and interpretation. In the preface to his book, A Theology of the New Testament, G. E. Ladd writes, ‘All theology is a human undertaking and no man’s position can be considered final.’
However strongly we affirm the authority of Scripture, we dare not elevate our own theological understanding to the level of Scripture itself. When we recognize clearly the distinction between authority and interpretation, we will not be afraid of interacting with theological perspectives different from our own. We need openness without a loss of the divine Word. We need not make the ideal of ‘open-mindedness’ so prominent in our thinking that we end up empty-minded, with no clear conviction concerning the divine Word. Nevertheless, we must surely welcome the kind of openness described by G. C. Berkouwer in the foreword to his book, A Half Century of Theology: ‘A curiosity that works itself out in passionate study and serious listening to others promises surprises, clearer insight, and deeper understanding no matter from which direction they came.Our interpretation of the vital relationship between authority and interpretation is directly connected to our understanding of the dual character of Scripture as both the Word of God and the words of men. Scripture speaks to us with authority because it speaks to us as the Word of God. The study of Scripture involves us in the complex business of interpretation, since it speaks to us as the words of men, words written at various times and places by many writers. E. Schillebeeck describes the dual character of Scripture in a helpful way: All human speech about what comes ‘from above’ (‘it has been revealed’) is uttered by human beings, i.e. from below … However human it may be, this language is not an autonomous human initiative.G. C. Berkouwer offers an insightful perspective on Scripture as both Word of God and words of men. He describes ‘scripture’ as ‘the human witness empowered by the Spirit’.He stresses the divine origin of this witness: ‘This witness does not well up from the human heart but from the witness of God in which it finds its foundation and empowering as a human witness … This Scripture finds its origin in the Holy Spirit, who is the Spirit of Christ, and witnesses of him through the human witness.’Berkouwer emphasizes that this ancient word speaks with relevance to every generation: ‘These witnesses are not ‘lifted out’ of their time and milieu, but as living witnesses could interpret in their era what was destined for all times.’He helps us to understand both how we are to approach Scripture and how we are not to approach Scripture: ‘Believing Scripture does not mean staring at a holy and mysterious book, but hearing the witness concerning Christ.’It is within this context of a human yet divine, ancient yet permanently relevant witness concerning Jesus Christ that we are to understand our confession of faith. The Bible is the Word of God: ‘The respect for the concrete words is related to this and the ‘is’ of the confession points to the mystery of the Spirit, who wants to bind men to Christ through these words, through this witness.The faith with which we are to receive God’s word has been well described by Calvin: ‘The word is not received in faith when it merely flutters in the brain, but when it has taken deep root in the heart.’From Berkouwer and Calvin the preacher can learn much. Faithful, relevant, authoritative preaching is preaching which focuses upon Christ, preaching which is empowered by the Spirit, preaching which calls for faith that takes deep root in the heart. With this understanding of preaching, we will take care to hold doctrine and experience together. J. 1. Packer emphasizes that ‘revelation is … much more than propositional’.E. Schillebeeckx emphasizes that ‘the right propositional understanding of revelation … must be kept in a right relation to the experience with which this propositional language is associated’.Developing this theme further, Schillebeeckx describes Scripture as the point of contact between the spiritual experience of the biblical writers and today’s readers and hearers who are now being invited by Scripture to enter into the same experience of the living God: ‘As a testimony to the experience of those who created it Scripture is an offer a possibility that this experience can be extended to others’.There is the relationship between the words of Scripture and the power of the Spirit. Rightly understood, the words of Scripture are not mere words. They are words which speak with power. Jesus makes this point within the context of his own ministry. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life (Jn. 6:63). Paul, like Jesus, could not conceive of ministry as a thing of words only. True ministry is ministry empowered by the Spirit: ‘My speech and my message were not in plausible words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power’ (1 Cor. 2:4): ‘Our gospel came to you not only in word, but also in power and in the Holy Spirit and with full conviction’ (1 Thess. 1:5).
In our preaching of God’s Word today, we must  pray earnestly for this dual ministry of the Spirit: “The Spirit … opens up the Scripture to us and ‘opens’ us to the Scripture.”
Being opened up by the Spirit to the Scripture can be an uncomfortable experience. Where the Word of God is preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, we have the situation described in the letter to the Hebrews; “The Word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword … discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart. And before Him no creature is hidden, but all are open and laid bare to the eyes of Him with whom we have to do” (4:12-130.
Scripture does not only speak of salvation. It also speaks about sin. Scripture does not only speak of the love of God. It also speaks about the holiness of God. When Jesus spoke of the ministry of the Holy Spirit, He said this: “When He comes, He will convict the world concerning sin and righteousness and judgment” (John 16:8).”
There are uncomfortable truths concerning which the Lord Jesus says, “He who has an ear, let him hear what the Spirit says to the churches” (Revelation 2:7,11,17,29; 3:6,13,22).
If we would be faithful preachers of God’s Word, we must preach what people need to hear, and not simply what they want to hear. This is not only the way of faithfulness. It is also the way of relevance. Those who seek relevance at the expense of faithfulness turn out to be irrelevant. Their shallow ans superficial preaching turns out to be no real substitute for “the living and abiding Word of God” through which alone the hearers can be “born anew” (1 Peter 1:230. Before we can truly appreciate the grace of God in the gospel, we must understand that “there is no human solution to the human problem.” This can be a painful experience. we do our hearers no favours if we pay little attention to the uncomfortable truths of God’s Word. G. C. Berkouwer ends his discussion, “The Voice of Karl Barth” with these words: “He discovered the powerful witness of the ‘tremendous’ word that always speaks against us so that we can learn to stop speaking against it.”
To appreciate Barth’s emphasis on the centrality of Christ, we must first hear the Word speaking against us. Concerning the message of the Bible, Barth writes; “”The Bible says all sorts of things certainly; but in all this multiplicity and variety, it says in truth only one thing – just this: the name of Jesus Christ.”
In the presence of Jesus Christ, we learn that we are sinners, but we also learn that Christ loves sinners. Unlike the Pharisees, who despised ‘sinners’, Jesus Crist “receives sinners” (Luke 15:2). In the presence of Christ, we encounter both perfect holiness and perfect love. In Christ, we discover “an unmerited abundance of love.” This love leads us to a special kind of obedience – the obedience of love: “We love because He first loved us” (1 John 4:19). In Christ, we face the claim of love upon our lives. This living presence of Christ, inviting us to receive salvation and calling us to embark on the pathway of discipleship is the depth-dimension of preaching. On the face of it, preaching involves a preacher giving an address to a congregation. There is, however, something much deeper than that going on when the Word of God is preached. In an article entitled, “Biblical Theology and Preaching”, D. G. Miller highlights this depth-dimension of preaching: “In a real sermon … Christ is the preacher. The preacher speaks through the preacher … The biblical view of preaching is to confront men with the question, “What think ye of Christ?” And out of this question, to have the encounter shift into the dimension of a personal confrontation by Christ, who himself asks, “Who do you say that I am?” This is the unique task of the Christian preacher.”
Describing further the purpose of preaching, Miller continues: “Preaching must always be for decision. Our aim is not merely to inform the mind, to stimulate the feelings so that men have a rather pleasant emotional experience: it is rather to strike directly at the will with the demand for decision … until we have confronted men with the issue so that they either have to surrender or rebel further, to accept it or reject, believe or disbelieve.”
This decision concerning Jesus Christ is also a decision concerning the meaning, purpose and direction of our own lives – “Deciding about him is at the same time deciding about ourselves.” As we hear the story of Jesus Christ, the Word of God tells us the story of our own lives – what we are and what we can become. The call for decision is a call to leave behind what we are in our sin, and move on to what we can become in Christ.
If evangelical preaching is to make a significant impact on today’s world, it dare not rest content with giving theological lectures. stressing the relevance of the Bible to our life today, D. E. Stevenson describes the Bible as “a hall of mirrors” and offers this advice: “Look into it properly and you will see yourself.” The preacher dare not place himself far above the people, preaching a message which goes over the heads of the people. The preacher, no less than his hearers, must sit under the Word of God. If he is to preach a message which is relevant to the life of his hearers, he must first find in Scripture a Word that is relevant to his own life. This involves much more than being an academic theologian who seeks intellectual stimulation from his study of the Bible. The preacher is not to remain a stranger to the people. He dare not speak as a theologian, proud of his education yet detached from his hearers’ life-situation. The preacher is to be a friend to his hearers. He lives among them. He meets them in the streets and at the shops. He visits them in hospital and at home. He teaches their children at school. He hears about and shares the joys and concerns of the community in which he lives. Within this very human context, the pulpit must not become an ivory tower of irrelevance. Though not merely human – he is an “ambassador for Christ”, bringing to his hearers “the message of reconciliation” (2 Corinthians 5:19-20), the preacher must not ignore the very human context in which the Word of God is to be preached. In preaching from the Scriptures, he proclaims a Word which transforms the present, and not merely a word that belongs to the past. The preacher, who is sensitive to the pastoral relationships which exist between himself and the people, will not preach messages which could be preached anywhere and at any time. He takes account of the particular situation into which he is called to preach God’s Word. He seeks to hear and to speak the Word which God wants to speak to this people at this time. The method of preaching will vary from sermon to sermon, from one series of sermons to another. The manner in which we preach remains constant. It is to be preaching grounded in the Scriptures, centred on the Saviour and empowered by the Spirit.
Such preaching has relevance, not only for the Church but also for the world. The Gospel cannot be kept within the ‘four walls’ of the Church. Paul described the Gospel in this way – “The Gospel for which I am suffering and wearing chains like a criminal.” He then went on to say, “But the Word of God is not bound” (2 Timothy 2:9). Sometimes, the preacher will feel like Paul – imprisoned within his circumstances. he may feel imprisoned within a clerical strait-jacket. He may feel imprisoned within the limitations of being only one man, able to do so much and no more. Like Paul, however, the preacher can lift up his eyes to the Word of God, which is able to break free from such imprisoning limitations. When the Word of God is preached, it is not simply a proclamation by one man within the ‘four walls’ of the Church. It is a proclamation which reaches out into the world. It is carried by the hearers into their life-situations. this fact encourages the preacher to believe that the message he preaches may be just the spark which sets the Church on fire with a real desire to pass on the Good News of Christ’s love to the needy world. The possibility of being the spark, which lights a fire, gives the preacher greater boldness. It assures him that his preaching is not as insignificant and ineffective as he may sometimes feel it is. there is, however, a humbling factor here. The preacher receives boldness in the answer to the prayers of God’s people: “Pray … for me, that utterance may be given me in opening my mouth boldly to proclaim the mystery of the Gospel” (Ephesians 6:18-19). There is no true boldness in preaching without the prayers of faithful men and women who call upon God on behalf of the preacher.
With the supporting prayers of God’s people, the preacher goes into the pulpit. Through the continuing witness of God’s people, the preached word goes beyond the pulpit into the world. The preacher is one among many within the fellowship of the Lord’s people. His ministry is significant, but so also is the ministry exercised by others. As we consider the relationship between the pastor and the people, we must never forget that the spark which gets the fire going is the power of the Holy Spirit. In all the works of ministry – the ministry of the preacher and the ministry of the people, there is something we must never forget: “We are servants of the word and not its masters … Not only are we servants of the word … we are unprofitable servants.”