Tuesday, 31 July 2018

Praying Through God’s Word: Amos

AMOS

1:1-2:16
‘The Lord roars.’ ‘The Lord thunders’ (Amos 1:2). We thank You, Lord, that Your Word comes to us from above – ‘The Lord will roar from on high.’ You speak to us from heaven – ‘He will thunder from His holy dwelling.’ We dare not ignore Your Word. Your Word comes to us as a Word of warning – ‘He will shout against all who live on the earth’ – and a Word of judgment – ‘He will bring judgment on all mankind.’ You’re calling for our attention: ‘Look! Disaster is spreading from nation to nation; a mighty storm is rising from the ends of the earth.’ You’re speaking to us about Your ‘fierce anger.’ You’re calling us to turn from our sin. Help us, Lord, to return to You and hear Your Word of salvation: ‘I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 25:30-32,37; 31:34).
3:1-5:5
‘You only have I chosen… therefore I will punish you for all your sins’ (Amos 3:2). Along with the privilege of being ‘chosen’ to belong to You, Lord comes the responsibility of living as Your servants. Teach us not to take Your Word lightly – ‘The lion has roared – who will not fear?’ (Amos 3:8). You speak to us very directly about the way we are living – ‘You have not returned to Me’ (Amos 4:6,8-11). Help us to take You seriously: ‘Prepare to meet your God’ (Amos 4:12). You’re calling us to ‘seek You and live’: ‘Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake His way and the evil man his thoughts, Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon’ (Amos 5:4; Isaiah 55:6-7).
5:6-6:14
‘Seek the Lord and live’. ‘Seek good, not evil…’ (Amos 5:6,14). Those who truly seek You, Lord, are to live a godly life. You see right through hypocritical religion. You are is not pleased with it: ‘I hate your show and pretence – your hypocrisy of ‘honouring’ Me with your religious feasts and solemn assemblies… Away with your hymns of praise – they are mere noise to My ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is’ (Amos 5:21,23). You’re looking for true obedience: ‘a mighty flood of justice – a torrent of doing good’ – ‘Let justice flow like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’ (Amos 5:24). You speak to us, Lord, about our sins – ‘Many and great are your sins. I know them so well’ – so that we might learn to ‘hate evil’ and ‘love good’ (Amos 5:5:12,15).
7:1-9:15
‘That’s enough, prophet! Go back to Judah and do your preaching there… Don’t prophesy here at Bethel any more’ (Amos 7:12-13). We thank You, Lord, that Amos was a faithful preacher of Your Word. How sad, sinful and shameful it was that his hearers wanted to get rid of him! This was the beginning of a time of great darkness: ‘The days are coming when I will send a famine through the land – not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the Word of the Lord, but they will not find it’ (Amos 8:11-12). There were dark times ahead – but You, Lord, were looking beyond them to a brighter future: ‘I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel’ (Amos 9:14). ‘Restore us again, O God of our salvation…’ (Psalm 85:4-7).

To Understand History, We Need Revelation.

Warning against "the danger of going outside the sphere of faith into the area of observation", G. C. Berkouwer disputes the legitimacy of interpreting the ways of Providence on the basis of facts" (The Providence of God, pp. 164-165). He aims to guard against the possibility that "everyone according to his own prejudice and subjective whim (can) canonize a certain event or national rise as a special act of God in which He reveals and demonstrates His favour" (p. 164). Acutely aware that "the interpretation of an historical event as a special revelation of Providence too easily becomes a piously disguised form of self-justification" (p. 166), Berkouwer insists that "no event speaks so clearly that we may conclude from it a certain disposition of God - as long as God Himself does not reveal that His disposition comes to expression in the given event" (p. 170). Concerning events in the history of Israel, which are recorded in Scripture, Berkouwer writes, "The Divine disposition is, indeed, revealed in these events. But  it is the word of revelation which  explains them" (p. 171). Concerning the interpretation of contemporary events, he warns, "we have not been given a norm for explaining the facts of history... in the absence of a norm only an untrustworthy plausibility remains" (p. 171).  Using insightful exegesis of Scripture, Berkouwer warns against a misguided interpretation of contemporary events. Commenting on the words, "Have not I brought up Israel out of the land of Egypt, and the Philistines from Caphtor, and the Syrians from Kir?" (Amos 9:7), he writes, "the fact of the exodus may not be used as basis, isolated from revelation and seen by itself  from which to draw selfish conclusions about God's dispositions... As a mere historical fact, the exodus puts Israel on the same level with other nations. But accompanied by a proper faith in God, it constitutes a challenge and, given the proper response, further blessings" (p. 176).

A New Direction In Life

Amos begins with a humble description of himself - "one of the sheep farmers" (Amos 1:1). Being a prophet of God has nothing to do with  what we are in ourselves. It's all about God. It's all about His grace and His call. Looking after sheep - This is such an apt description of the ministry of a pastor. "The Lord roars from Zion" (Amos 1:2). These words make us think of a lion. This could be terrifying for sheep. Think of the lion - Aslan - from "The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe" (C S Lewis). It's a picture of Christ. His voice is more than a roar. It's the voice of love. The "roar" speaks of authority. The greatest authority is the authority of love. How does the Lord command our respect? He loves us. As we learn to appreciate His love, we learn to love Him. Our love for Him is inspired by His love for us. As we learn to love Him, our obedience to Him increases in strength. "The Lord has said this" (Amos 1:15). The prophet's voice is to be an echo of the Lord's voice. We speak because God has spoken.
"I brought you out of Egypt..." (Amos 2:10-11). God had done great things for His people. Sadly, this is followed by "You made the Nazirites drink wine. You commanded the prophets to stop prophesying." God has been good to us. How are we reacting to His love? Are we being changed by His love? His love is not only a gift to be received. It's a power to make us more like Him.
Privilege and responsibility (Amos 3:2). "The Almighty Lord has spoken. Who can keep from prophesying?" (Amos 3:8). God's Word is not to go in one ear and out the other ear. It's to change us. It's to equip us for living as His people and being His witnesses.
"And still you didn't return to Me, declares the Lord" (Amos 4:8-11). What does God say to people who keep on refusing to return to Him? This is what He says: "Prepare to meet your God" (Amos 4:12).
"Search for Me and live! ... Search for Me and live!" (Amos 5:4,6). Life can be tuned around. This isn't something that we can do for ourselves. It must done for us by the Lord. "Search for good instead of evil so that you may live" (Amos 5:14). The Lord gives us a new direction in life. When we read of the call to conversion, we must remember that we cannot answer this call in our own strength. The strength that we need must be given to us by the Lord.

God speaks to us from heaven. We dare not ignore His Word (prayers based on the book of Amos)

Amos 1:1-2:16
‘The Lord roars.’ ‘The Lord thunders’ (Amos 1:2). We thank You, Lord, that Your Word comes to us from above - ‘The Lord will roar from on high.’ You speak to us from heaven - ‘He will thunder from His holy dwelling.’ We dare not ignore Your Word. Your Word comes to us as a Word of warning - ‘He will shout against all who live on the earth’ - and a Word of judgment - ‘He will bring judgment on all mankind.’ You're calling for our attention: ‘Look! Disaster is spreading from nation to nation; a mighty storm is rising from the ends of the earth.’ You're speaking to us about Your ‘fierce anger.’ You're calling us to turn from our sin. Help us, Lord, to return to You and hear Your Word of salvation: ‘I will forgive their wickedness and will remember their sins no more (Jeremiah 25:30-32,37; 31:34).
Amos 3:1-5:5
‘You only have I chosen... therefore I will punish you for all your sins’ (Amos 3:2). Along with the privilege of being ‘chosen’ to belong to You, Lord comes the responsibility of living as Your servants. Teach us not to take Your Word lightly - ‘The lion has roared - who will not fear?’ (Amos 3:8). You speak to us very directly about the way we are living - ‘You have not returned to Me’ (Amos 4:6,8-11). Help us to take You seriously: ‘Prepare to meet your God’ (Amos 4:12). You're calling us to ‘seek You and live’: ‘Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. Let the wicked forsake His way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon’ (Amos 5:4; Isaiah 55:6-7).
Amos 5:6-6:14
‘Seek the Lord and live’. ‘Seek good, not evil...’ (Amos 5:6,14). Those who truly seek You, Lord, are to live a godly life. You see right through hypocritical religion. You are is not pleased with it: ‘I hate your show and pretence - your hypocrisy of ‘honouring’ Me with your religious feasts and solemn assemblies... Away with your hymns of praise - they are mere noise to My ears. I will not listen to your music, no matter how lovely it is’ (Amos 5:21,23). You're looking for true obedience: ‘a mighty flood of justice - a torrent of doing good’ - ‘Let justice flow like a river and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream’ (Amos 5:24). You speak to us, Lord, about our sins - ‘Many and great are your sins. I know them so well’ - so that we might learn to ‘hate evil’ and ‘love good’ (Amos 5:5:12,15).
Amos 7:1-9:15
‘That’s enough, prophet! Go back to Judah and do your preaching there... Don’t prophesy here at Bethel any more’ (Amos 7:12-13). We thank You, Lord, that Amos was a faithful preacher of Your Word. How sad, sinful and shameful it was that his hearers wanted to get rid of him! This was the beginning of a time of great darkness: ‘The days are coming when I will send a famine through the land - not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord. Men will stagger from sea to sea and wander from north to east, searching for the Word of the Lord, but they will not find it’ (Amos 8:11-12). There were dark times ahead - but You, Lord, were looking beyond them to a brighter future: ‘I will restore the fortunes of My people Israel’ (Amos 9:14). ‘Restore us again, O God of our salvation...’ (Psalm 85:4-7).

Our Own Words? or God's Word?

“Since we have heard that some who went out from us have troubled you with words, unsettling your souls … Now Judas and Silas, themselves being prophets also, exhorted and strengthened the brethren with many words … Paul and Barnabas also remained in Antioch, teaching and preaching the word of the Lord” (Acts 15:24,32,35).
There was a problem. There needed to be a response. Whenever God’s people are being “troubled” and “unsettled” by those who speak their own “words” rather than the Word of the Lord, what are we to do? We must pray that God will raise up “prophets” who will preach the Gospel and teach the Word of God, strengthening the faith of God’s people and leading them into a closer walk with God.

Preaching God's Word: Acts


Waiting On The Lord, We Renew Our Strength.
Jesus tells His apostles, ‘the Holy Spirit’ will ‘come upon you’ (Acts 1:11, 8). He gives them His Word of promise: ‘I send the promise of my Father upon you’. He gives them His Word of command: ‘stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high’ (Luke 24:49). They wait upon the coming of the Holy Spirit. They cannot fill themselves with the Spirit. They can only ‘be filled with the Spirit’ (Ephesians 5:18). Waiting for the Spirit, the apostles ‘devote themselves to prayer’ (Acts 1:14). They do not earn the Holy Spirit as a reward for spending much time in prayer. Waiting on God, their strength is renewed as they receive God’s gift (Isaiah 40:31; Luke 11:13).

* Christ's disciples were concerned about the restoration of the kingdom to Israel (Acts 1:6).

He was preparing something better for them. They were to take the first steps in bringing the message of His love to the ends of the earth.

* "You shall receive power ... " (Acts 1:8) - the power of the Holy Spirit

This is the fulfilment of the promise given by Jesus in John 7:37-39.

Through the power of the Holy Spirit, there are "rivers of living water" flowing into our hearts and out from our hearts.

* Jesus is coming again (Acts 1:11).

Our ministry is empowered by the Holy Spirit as we learn to live in the light of eternity.

Our spiritual weakness comes from our failure to live as those who are eagerly awaiting the Return of our Lord Jesus Christ. Our spiritual strength comes from this - Jesus has given us His promise: "I will come again and receive you to Myself" (John 14:3).

Drawing our attention away from our own weakness to the Lord's strength, the Holy Spirit equips us for the great work of proclaiming the Good News of salvation.

* "These all continued with one accord in prayer" (Acts 1:14).

At the heart of every true work of God, there is prayer. Without prayer, there is no blessing.
There's a vital connection between prayer and blessing. We must, however, always remember that the blessing is given by God. It is not earned by us.
God's promise of blessing comes with the call to prayer (2 Chronicles 7:14). In prayer, we look to God to fulfil His promise. As we pray, let us always remember this: The grace comes from God. The glory goes to God.

The Word of God and the Spirit of God in Acts 2

“When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place” (Acts 2:1).
“Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised …” (Acts 1:4-5).
In Acts 1:8, we have the promise of God and the call to mission.
God’s people pray (Acts 1:14). They are waiting on the Lord, trusting that He will fulfil His promise: “Those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength” (Isaiah 40:31).
Notice that the Holy Spirit is God’s gift (Acts 1:4). The disciples are not being rewarded for their commitment to prayer. They are waiting upon the Lord who sends the Holy Spirit as the gift of His grace.
* The coming of the Spirit is like “wind” and “fire” (Acts 2:2-3).
- The wind of the Spirit comes from heaven.
- The fire of the Spirit rests on the disciples.
* The coming of the Spirit leads to mission.
- The Gospel is communicated to many people who have gathered in Jerusalem from many different places (Acts 2:5-11).
People are puzzled. They look for a human explanation (Acts 2:12-13).
The real explanation is spiritual (Acts 2:14-21).
* When God pours out His Spirit (Acts 2:17), the promise of salvation (Acts 2:21) is emphasized in the preaching of the Gospel.
* When God pours out His Spirit, the preachers of the Gospel keep Christ at the centre of their preaching (Acts 2:22).
* When God pours out His Spirit, the Story of Jesus is told – His “miracles, wonders and signs” (Acts 2:22), His crucifixion (Acts 2:23), His resurrection (Acts 2:24), His exaltation to the right hand of God (Acts 2:33).
The Story of Jesus is the Story of God’s love.
We hear this Story and the Holy Spirit works in our hearts to draw us to the Saviour.
* When the Holy Spirit is poured upon us, He prompts us to ask the question, “What shall we do?” (Acts 2:37).
We can only ask this question when we are “cut to the heart.”
This is the work of the Holy Spirit.
When we hear the message of salvation, preached in the power of the Holy Spirit, we are moved by the Spirit to ask the question, “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts 16:30).
This is the question of salvation.
- The question comes from God. He puts it into our hearts.
- The answer comes from God. He speaks to our hearts.
God’s answer – the answer of salvation – is spoken by Peter in Acts 2:38-39.
- It is the call for conversion.
- It is the promise of salvation.
We are to come in faith to Jesus, confessing our sin and receiving His forgiveness.
When Peter preached the Gospel on the Day of Pentecost, three thousand people put their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.
The numerical growth – “three thousand were added to their number that day” (Acts 2:41) – was accompanied by spiritual growth – “the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:47).
The spiritual response of the new believers of the new believers is described in Acts 2:42.
A key word, in the final verses of Acts 2, is “together” (Acts 2: 44, 46).
This spiritual response – unity in Christ, trusting Him as Saviour, commitment to Him as Lord – arises out of the powerful presence of God among His people (Acts 2:43).
Let us pray that God will be among us – in power and in love – and let us pray that our lives will be filled with His power and His love.

Acts 2:37-38

A number of years ago, I enjoyed a very pleasant afternoon, walking along the beach at Millport on the island of Great Cumbrae. Some parts of the beach were quite rocky. I had taken on the responsibility of making sure that my 4 year old nephew didn’t fall and hurt  himself on the rocks. “Make sure Jamie doesn’t fall and hurt himself” – This seemed to be the main thing on my mind. Jamie had other things on his mind.
As we walked across the rocks, Jamie kept asking questions. It was one uestion after another. As soon as I had answered one question, Jamie followed it up with his next question.
Why? Why? Why? From early childhood, we ask questions. From early childhood, we are looking for answers.
This morning, we are going to think about a question and an answer.
 * The question is our question: “Brothers, what shall we do?” (v. 37).
 * The answer is God’s answer: “Repent and be baptized, every one of you, in the Name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.”
The question concerns our response to the Gospel – “What shall we do?”
The answer is given to us by God – “This is what you are to do?”
We begin with the question.
Where does this question come from? – It comes from God.
His Word is preached. His Spirit is at work.
Following on from the preaching of God’s Spirit in the power of God’s Spirit, we read this, “When the people heard this, they were cut to the heart” (v. 37). This is where the question comes from. God has put it into our heart. Through His Word and His Spirit, he leads us to ask the question of salvation: “What must I do to be saved?”
The question is our question. The answer must always be God’s answer. We ask the question. We cannot give the answer. In ourselves, there is no answer. We are “far off” (v. 39).
We know about our sin, but we cannot give to ourselves the forgiveness of sin.
We know about the emptiness in our lives, but we cannot fill our own hearts with the presence of the Holy Spirit.
We can only come to God in our sin and our emptiness.
We come in our sin, praying for God’s forgiveness. We come in our emptiness, praying that God will fill us with His Spirit.
When we come in our sin and emptiness, God speaks His answer.
The question is asked, “What are we to do?” God’s answer begins with a call for repentance and baptism – “Repent and be baptized.”
If we were to read no further than the words, “Repent and be baptized”, we would miss a great deal of what God is saying to us here. “Repent and be baptized” is only the beginning of God’s answer. We must go on from there. As we read the remainder of verse 37, we learn that
(1) God’s answer is addressed to every one of us.
(2) God’s answer comes to us in the Name of Jesus Christ.
(3) God’s answer comes to us with the promise of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
 (1) God’s answer is for every one of us. He doesn’t say to some of us, “You need to repent” and then turn to others, saying, “You won’t need to repent. You’re good enough already.”
To every one of us, God says, “Repent and be baptized”. To every one of us, He says, “Leave your old life behind. Step out into the new life with Jesus Christ as your Saviour and Lord.”
  (2) God’s answer comes to us in the Name of Jesus Christ.
“What are we to do?” – Before we think of what we are to do, we must think about what Jesus Christ has done for us. This is the Good News. Jesus Christ has taken our sins upon Himself. He has died for us so that we might be forgiven by Him.
We must never begin with the call for repentance and baptism. We must always begin with Jesus Christ – “the Son of God loved us and gave Himself for us” (Galatians 2:20).
“What are we to do?” – The first thing we must do is this: we must look away from ourselves to Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
When we turn our eyes on Jesus and keep our eyes fixed on Him, we will never  think of our repentance and baptism as ‘good works’ we have done, ‘good works’ by which we make ourselves acceptable to God.
The Name of Jesus Christ is the Name of our salvation. It is in Him that we are called to repentance and baptism. It is through the power of Jesus Christ, the risen Lord, that we are able to put the old life behind us and begin the new life of the Spirit.
At the heart of God’s answer to our question, there is “the Name of Jesus Christ.”
In His answer to our question, God speaks to us of repentance and baptism. He speaks of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit. Above all else, He speaks to us of His Son, our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
 (3) In Jesus Christ, God’s answer comes to us with the promise of the forgiveness of sins and the gift of the Holy Spirit.
 * Through faith in Christ, we put the old life behind us. Our sins are forgiven. We receive the gift of the Holy
Spirit.
 * Through faith in Christ, we receive the strength we need to live as men and women who love God.
 * Through faith in Christ, we receive the strength we need to maintain our confession of faith – “Jesus Christ is Lord.”
We ask the question, “What are we to do?” God gives the answer - “Repent and be baptized.” We lay our old life before the Lord. We invite Him to come and change us. He comes in forgiving love. He comes in transforming power.
Once we have put our faith in Christ, everything changes - “If any one is in Christ, he is a new creation. Old things have passed away. Everything has become new” (2 Corinthians 5:17); "It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me" (Galatians 2:20).
There is a change of direction in our life. This change of direction is described for us in Acts 2:42 - “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer.”
Our priorities change. Life is no longer centred upon ourselves. It is centred upon Christ.
Christ has given us life – abundant life, eternal life. Let us live this life for Him, giving all glory to Him and taking no glory for ourselves.
Let us not speak so much of our repentance and baptism. Such things can never be anything more than our response to His love. Let us learn to look away from these things and rejoice in our Saviour, saying with the Apostle Paul: “God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ” (Galatians 6:14).

The persecutor becomes the preacher.

The name, "Paul", speaks to us of God's amazing grace. Before his conversion, he was "Saul." By the grace of God, he became Paul. He was "called" by God. The great turnaround in his life came when he heard the voice of Jesus. It was  a question about the way he was living - "Saul, Saul, why do you persecute Me?" (Acts 9:4). This was not only a call to stop persecuting Christ. It was also a call to start preaching Christ. The persecutor became the preacher. God's call comes to us in the power of the Holy Spirit. We are called to salvation. We are called to service. We have been saved by the Lord. Let us serve the Lord. In this life of salvation and service, we learn, again and again, of the faithfulness of God (1 Corinthians 1:9). We dare not ever think of ourselves as great servants of God. We must always think of God as the God of great faithfulness (Lamentations 3:23). In His great faithfulness, God gives us His great strength so that we might live as His faithful servants (1 Corinthians 1:8). 

Acts 20:17-38

What's so different about the 21st century?
In so many ways, the 21st century is completely different from the 1st century.
With our computers, we can listen to a sermon from the other side of the world. We can listen to it and we can watch it being preached - as it happens, live!
This is so different from life in the time of Christ and His Apostles.
Very different - Yes! - but is it completely different?
Can we, in the 21st century, afford to ignore the voices which speak to us from the 1st century? We search for a model for Church life, a model for ministry, in the 21st century. We learn about modern methods of communication. Still, we are faced with the question - Have we listened to what the Lord Jesus has to say to us?
When I was a young student at Stirling University, I took the members of our Christian Union Committee to hear my Minister, the Rev George Philip. We were thinking of asking him to speak at our Christian Union Conference. He preached on the third verse of the letter of Jude where we are exhorted to 'contend earnestly for the faith once for all delivered to the people of God'.
As we listened, our hearts said, 'Yes. This is it. This is the message for today. This is the message we need to hear. This is the message we must never forget.'
As we seek the way forward, God's way for the 21st century, are we beginning to see that the way forward begins when when we go back to the Word of God, back to the Saviour, back to His Apostles?
What a wonderful model for ministry we have in Paul's message to the Ephesian elders! Here is a man who demands our attention. Here is a man who compels us to listen. He is a man of his own time, a man from the 1st century, yet his message is for our time. It is a message which calls us to take God seriously. It is a message which calls us to listen carefully to God's Word. Paul calls us to centre our lives on Christ. He calls us to commit ourselves to prayer.
Paul's ministry was a helpful ministry. It was a Gospel ministry. His ministry was a teaching ministry and it was a prayerful ministry.
  (1) Paul's ministry was a helpful ministry. He tells us, in verse 20, that 'he kept back nothing that was helpful'. In his public preaching of God's Word and in his pastoral work in the homes of the people, Paul prayed that his ministry would help the people to grow in their knowledge of God, their love of God and their service of God.
Why was Paul's ministry such a helpful ministry?
It was helpful because it was real. He was a man living in the power of Christ's resurrection, a man who could truly say, 'For me, to live is Christ' (Philippians 1:21).
His ministry was helpful because it was a ministry of fearless preaching, faithful pastoral work and fervent prayer. Paul was fearless as he preached God's Word to the people. He was faithful in the ministry of bringing Christ to the people in their own homes. He was fervent in prayer as he asked God to bless the people.
Returning to Dunfermline reminds me of an occasion when I spoke at the Presbytery. The Rev Dr Gordon Jenkins was about to take up a position in Edinburgh. I had been asked to pay tribute to his ministry at the North Parish Church, Dunfermline. Gordon was an enthusiastic supporter of Dunfermline Athletic. I used the letters of the team's nickname, the Pars, to describe Gordon's ministry. It was Preaching Anointed by the Renewing Spirit.
Preaching Anointed by the Renewing Spirit - this is where the helpfulness comes from. It comes from above. It comes from the Lord.
When we have done all that we can do, we must look away from ourselves to the Lord and say, 'It is not by might. It is not by power. It is by the Spirit of the Lord' (Zechariah 4:6).
When we look at all that has been achieved, we must learn to look away from ourselves to the Lord and say, from the heart, 'This is the Lord's doing and it is marvellous in our eyes' (Psalm 118:23).
This is helpful ministry - ministry which serves the purpose of God's salvation, ministry which depends on the presence of God's power, ministry which maintains the priority of God's glory. This is helpful ministry - bringing Christ to the people, bringing the people to Christ.
Helpful ministry - it is ministry that never forgets to say, 'Our help is in the Name of the Lord' (Psalm 124:8).
 (2) Paul's ministry was a Gospel ministry. In verse 24, he describes his ministry. He tells us that he 'received this ministry from the Lord Jesus'. He tells us that it is a ministry of 'testifying to the Gospel of the grace of God'.
What is the Gospel? - It is the Good News: Christ has died for our sins, Christ has risen from the dead (1 Corinthians 15:3-4). Is the preaching of the Gospel simply the announcement of these facts? No! It is more than that. There is also the challenge of the Gospel, the call to repentance, the call to faith (v. 21).
    God is not only telling us something. He is asking us something. Will you repent? Will you believe?
God is saying something to us - 'This is My beloved Son with whom I am well pleased. This is My beloved Son. Listen to Him'. He is also asking us to say something to Him - 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner' (Luke 18:13).
This is the prayer of repentance. This is the prayer of faith. We turn from sin. We turn to God. We take our sin to Jesus. We trust Him for forgiveness.
To every one who hears the Gospel, the question is asked, 'What will your response be?'   
As I look back over my own spiritual journey, I am forever grateful to those who impressed on me the need to make my personal response to Jesus Christ. It was not enough to say, 'God so loved that He gave His only Son' (John 3:16). There needed to be something more personal - 'the Son of God loved me and gave Himself for me' (Galatians 2:20). It was not enough to say, 'Jesus Christ is the Saviour of the world' (John 4:42). There needed to be the personal confession of faith - 'Jesus Christ is my Saviour'.
Paul was a faithful and fearless preacher of the Gospel. If, in our generation, we are to follow his example, we must not hesitate to impress upon the people the necessity of 'repentance towards God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ' (v. 21).
Earlier this year, I had the privilege of attending a service conducted by the Rev Dr Sam Hosain who has recently retired after thirteen years of fruitful ministry at John Knox Church in Stewarton, near Kilmarnock. In his sermon, Dr Hosain directed our attention to three verses in the letter to the Hebrews: 'without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins' (9:22), 'without faith it is impossible to please God' (11:6), 'without holiness no-one will see the Lord' (12:14).
In these three statements, we have the key features of Gospel ministry:
  First, we are to hear the Gospel - the Good News that Christ died for our sins;
  Second, we are to believe the Gospel - 'Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved' (Acts 16:31);
  Third, we are to live the Gospel - Christ has died for us. Now He calls us to live for Him.
This is Gospel ministry - hearing the Gospel, believing the Gospel and living the Gospel. May God help us to be faithful to His Gospel - in our hearing, in our believing, in our living.
  (3) Paul's ministry was a teaching ministry. In verse 27, Paul reminds the Ephesian elders that 'he had not hesitated to proclaim to them the whole will of God'.
In his book, Evangelism in the Early Church, Michael Green emphasizes the importance of 'teaching evangelism' (pp. 204-206). At the very beginning of the book, he speaks of his own commitment to both evangelism and teaching. His words, written in 1970, are still very relevant to our 21st century Church. This is what he says, 'Most evangelists are not very interested in theology; most theologians are not very interested in evangelism. I am deeply committed to both' (p. 7).
Deeply committed to both evangelism and teaching - what a good description of Paul's ministry! His ministry was a Gospel ministry, calling on men and women to come to Christ in repentance, to come to Christ in faith. His ministry was also a teaching ministry. He did not rest content with inviting people to make a new beginning with Christ. He called them to go on with the Lord. He called them to press on to maturity.
God has so much to say to us. There is so much more than the call for conversion. The Lord is calling us to walk with Him all the days of our life. True conversion is not just a one-off event. It is a lifelong experience of divine grace, a lifelong experience of turning to God in repentance, a lifelong experience of learning to trust in our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ.
If this lifelong experience of God's salvation is to grow strong in our hearts and lives, we need 'the whole counsel of God'. We need solid teaching from the Word of God.
  We need teaching which rebukes us when we move away from the paths of righteousness, teaching which corrects us, calling us back into the paths of righteousness.
  We need teaching which will lead us in the paths of righteousness, teaching which will keep us walking in the paths of righteousness.
During the late 1990s, I began writing Daily Bible Reading Notes. The full set of notes covers the whole Bible - from Genesis to Revelation. In introducing these notes, I wrote,     'Welcome to an exciting ... journey of discovery. On this journey, you will visit places you know well. You will also travel to places you hardly know at all. They will be places of blessing - places where you will meet with God and be blessed by Him ... May God bless you richly as you journey with Him to the many places of blessing found in His Word.'
The Christian life is a journey. On this journey, we are travelling with God and we are travelling in faith. On this journey, God has a plan for us. It is His perfect plan. He wants us to grow  - in our knowledge of Him, in our faith in Him, in our love for Him.
God does not want us to remain 'babes in Christ'. He does not want us to remain content with 'the milk of the Word' (1 Peter 2:2). He wants us to move on to 'solid food' (Hebrews 5:12-14). He has given us 'the whole counsel of God' so that we can grow more and more like Christ, so that we can bring more and more glory to God.
We must never rest on our laurels. When the challenge of God's Word comes to us, calling us on to maturity, we dare not say, 'I'm a believer' as if that was the end of the matter. When God is calling us on to maturity, He is not asking, 'Are you a believer?' He is asking, 'Are you a growing believer? Are you growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ?'
On this journey with God, this journey of faith, this journey of spiritual growth, may our whole life - in the 21st century - be a living echo of this great prayer from the 13th century: 'Day, by day, O dear Lord, three things I pray, to see You more clearly,  to love You more dearly, to follow You more nearly, day by day'.
  (4) Paul's ministry was a prayerful ministry.  Paul did not only speak to the people. He also spoke to God. He spoke to the people for God and he spoke to God for the people. In his message to the Ephesian elders, Paul said, in verse 32, 'Now I commit you to God'. At the end of his message, 'he knelt down with all of them and prayed' (v.36).
Paul was a preacher. Paul was a pastor. Paul was a man of prayer. He prayed for the people. He prayed with the people. He prayed that they would receive God's grace. He prayed that they would know that all of their sins had been forgiven. He prayed that they would grow strong in their faith. He prayed that they would be sanctified, that they would live a Godly life, a Christ-like life, a Spirit-filled life, a life which brings glory to God.
How are we to live the kind of life which brings glory to God? - In his prayer for the Ephesians, Paul points us in the direction of a life that is full of God's blessing: 'I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ, and to know this love that surpasses knowledge - that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God' (Ephesians 3:17-19).          
Get to know how much the Lord loves you and you will be changed by His love. As you think of the Lord's great love for you, you will want to love Him more. The story of your life will be 'Loving Him who first loved me.'
God calls us to worship Him. He calls us to walk with Him. He calls us to be His witnesses. He calls us to be His workers. Can we ever hope to live such a God-centred life? We cannot do so in our strength. Without Christ, we can do nothing. With Christ, everything changes. We become a new creation in Christ Jesus. We receive new strength.
Paul speaks about this strengthening when he prays for the Ephesians: 'For this reason I kneel before the Father ... I pray that out of His glorious riches He may strengthen you with power through His Spirit in your inner being' (Ephesians 3:14, 16).
Paul was a man of action. He travelled from place to place, preaching here and preaching there. This is not, however, the full story of Paul's life. We must always remember that he was a man of prayer. From Paul's ministry, we learn this great lesson: 'The prayer of a righteous man is powerful and effective' (James 5:16).
There is such a clear connection in Scripture between prayer and blessing. We ask, 'Why is there not much blessing?' James tells us - 'You do not have because you do not ask God' (James 4:2). We wonder, 'How can we receive more of God's blessing?' Jesus tells us - 'Ask, and it will be given to you' (Matthew 7:7).
If we are to see God's blessing in our worship and witness, in our walk with God and our work for God, we must come to the Lord with this request, 'Lord, teach us to pray' (Luke 11:1).
We have looked together at the ministry of the Apostle Paul - a helpful ministry, a Gospel ministry, a teaching ministry, a prayerful ministry. May God help us to learn from this ministry. May we learn the great lesson contained in 2 Chronicles 7:14 - 'If My people, who are called by My Name, will humble themselves and pray and seek My face and turn from their wicked ways, then will I  hear from heaven and will forgive their sin and heal their land.'      

The Upward Look And The Outward Look

God is calling us to move forward into His future. He's calling us to move forward with Him. He's calling us to move forward for Him. How are we to move forward with God? How are we to move forward for Him? If we are to move forward with God and for God, we must listen to those who have gone before us, and we must learn from them. Let us look back to the prophets and the apostles. Let us look back to our Saviour, the Lord Jesus Christ. Let us listen to them. Let us learn from them.
We begin with one of the prophets - Jeremiah. After that, we will look at the apostles, at the beginning of the book of Acts. Then, we will listen to Jesus, our Saviour, and we will learn from Him. After we have learned from the apostles, the prophets and the Saviour, we will return to the question: How are we to move forward with God and for God.
Jeremiah 1:4-8
Jeremiah's call to serve God seems to come as a bolt from the blue. He was completely taken aback. He was surprised. He was shocked. He was totally unprepared for this. He didn't know how to handle this. What was he supposed to say? What was he supposed to do?
To Jeremiah, it may have seemed completely new, but this was not new to God. He had been planning it for a very long time. God had a great future planned for Jeremiah.
Jeremiah looked at the past and the present. He said, "There's nothing special about me. I am only a child" (Jeremiah 1:6). God was already looking on to the future. He said, "Jeremiah, you will be a prophet to the nations" (Jeremiah 1:5).
We look at what we are. God is already looking at what we are going to become.
Jeremiah said, "I do not know how to speak" (Jeremiah 1:6).
God said, "You must go to everyone I send you to and say whatever I command you" (Jeremiah 1:7). We look at what we can't do. God says, "This is what I am going to do." God says, "I am going to do a mighty work in you. I am going to do a mighty work through you."
What do we see in the call of Jeremiah? - We see the upward look and the outward look.
 * Jeremiah is looking up to the Lord. He is receiving his message from the Lord. He was a man with a message.
 * Jeremiah is looking out to the world. He is taking his message to the people. He was a man with a mission.
The upward look and the outward look - this is what we need today. We are not only to be the Church within these walls. We're to the be the Church without walls. We're to be the Church that is reaching out beyond these walls.
Acts 1:4-8
At the beginning of the book of Acts, we see the importance of the upward look and the outward look. We need both - the upward look: looking up to God, and the outward look: looking out to the world.
The book of Acts begins with waiting on the Lord - "wait for the gift My Father promised" (Acts 1:4). It moves on from there to witnessing to the world - "you will be My witnesses" (Acts 1:8).
There is, however, something else - something which lies between the waiting and the witnessing.
Here it is, in Acts 1:8: "you will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you."
Acts 1 is the beginning of a journey.
This journey begins in Jerusalem: "Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift My Father promised" (Acts 1:4).
The journey does not end in Jerusalem. It goes out to "the ends of the earth" - "you will be My witnesses in Jerusalem, and in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth" (Acts 1:8).
Waiting on the Lord and witnessing to the world - we need both, not one without the other. It's not to be all waiting and no witnessing; and it's not to be witnessing without waiting.
We must never forget the call to worship - but we dare not think that the call to serve the Lord is about nothing more than what happens within these walls of the Church. We're called to be a worshipping Church - and we're called to be a serving Church, a Church without walls, a Church that reaches out with the love of Jesus Christ, our Saviour.
When we gather for worship, we should pray, "Lord, give us the upward look. Help us to reach up to You." We should also pray, "Give us the outward look. Help us to reach out for You."
Mark 1:34-38
Jesus was a Man of prayer. He was also a Man among the people. God heard His prayers - and "the common people heard Him gladly" (Mark 12:37).
In Jesus, we see the upward look and the outward look: looking up to God and going out to the people.
If we are to be true followers of Jesus, we must do what Jesus did - praying to God and working for God.
We must look at the life of Jesus, and we must pray, "Lord, help me to become more like Jesus."
In Jesus, we see both spiritual commitment and social concern, not one without the other.
How are  we to move forward with God and for God?
Our social concern is to be grounded in our spiritual commitment. It is to be shaped by our spiritual commitment. We are to tell people that Jesus loves them. We are to show them that Jesus loves them. We are to love people because we love Jesus. Our social concern is to be a way of expressing our spiritual commitment.
In today's Church and today's world, we need this loving and powerful combination - spiritual commitment and social concern.
 * Our spiritual commitment is always more than a spiritual commitment.
 * Our social concern is always more than a social concern.
We're called to understand the Word of God and to change the world of men and women.
We're to be set apart for God, but we're not be set apart from people.
God is calling us to believe the faith and to live the faith. We are to people who believe the Gospel. we are to be people who live the Gospel.
Let us pray for wisdom to know God's will and courage to do God's will.
Let us give ourselves to Jesus.
He will make the difference in our life - our whole life, not just a part of it.

Making Decisions? or Making Disciples?

“Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, ‘Let us go back and visit the believers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing.’” (Acts 15:36). 
We begin with making decisions – but we don’t end there. We must go on from there to making disciples. Making a decision for Christ is just the beginning. Growing into a disciple of Christ – this is God’s calling for the whole of our life’s journey.

Praying Through God’s Word: 3 John

What kind of influence do we have on other people? Do we do a lot of good? Do we do a lot of harm? These, Lord, are questions that we need to ask ourselves. They are questions that You are asking us. They are questions that demand an honest answer. They are questions that call for a change of direction – for a life that is less centred on ourselves and more centred on You. Give us grace, Lord, to rise to the challenge of being a good influence – not a bad influence.

Praying Through God's Word: 2 Timothy

2 Timothy 1:1-2:7
Lord, we’re not to keep Your Word to ourselves. You’ve given us the “Gospel.” Help us to share it with “faithful” people who will “pass it on to others” (2 Timothy 1:11,13 & 2:2).
2 Timothy 2:8-3:9
Help us, Lord, to “remember Jesus Christ, risen from the dead” (2 Timothy 2:8). Jesus is the living Lord.  Help us never to forget this. When we’re tempted to forget Him, help us to remember why He died. “He died that we might be forgiven. He died to make us good, that we might go at last to heaven, saved by His precious blood.”When we’re tempted to forget Him, help us to remember that He’s alive today – and He lives in us. Help us to say, in our hearts, “I must decrease. Christ in me must increase” (John 3:30).
2 Timothy 3:10-4:22
We thank You, Lord, for “the Holy Scriptures which are able to make us wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus” (2 Timothy 3:15). Help us to “preach the Word” in the power of “the Holy Spirit” (2 Timothy 4:2 & 1 Peter 1:12) – and help us to remember this: When all our words have been spoken, Your Word remains “the living and abiding Word of God” (1 Peter 1:23). When all our words have been spoken, the ministry of the Holy Spirit continues. Through His ongoing ministry, Your Word is “written” in the “hearts” of those who have heard the Word preached (2 Corinthians 3:3). Thank You, Lord, for the Holy Scriptures – and the Holy Spirit.

Holy Saviour, Holy Scriptures, Holy Spirit

2 Timothy 3:10-17
God comes to us in our Holy Saviour, through the Holy Scriptures and by the Holy Spirit.
When God comes to us, in love, we are changed by His love. His love creates in us love for Jesus, God's Word and holy living. These changes in us come from the God of love. In love, He shows us how we are to live. He calls us back from ways that dishonour Him. He leads us into ways that will bring glory to Him.

Chapter 3, Verse 16: The Saviour, The Scriptures, The Spirit

John 3:16 – The Saviour
2 Timothy 3:16 – The Scriptures
Colossians 3:16 – The Spirit

Let us come to the Saviour. Let us read the Scriptures. Let us worship God in Spirit and in truth.

Praying Through God's Word: 2 Thessalonians

2 Thessalonians 1:1-2:12
Lord, we thank You that Your Son, Jesus, is coming again. For “all those who have believed”, “the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” will be a great Day, the Day of celebration, the Day of our salvation, the Day of “our being gathered together in Him” (2 Thessalonians 2:1 & 1:10). It will also be a Day of judgment for “those who do not know God and do not obey the Gospel of our Lord Jesus” (2 Thessalonians 1:7-8). You speak to us about the future – about salvation and judgment. You’re inviting us to have a heart-to-heart talk with You. From Your heart, You speak to us of Your love for us – and “Your desire for us to be saved” (John 3:17 & 2 Peter 3:9). Help us to say, from our hearts, “Yes, Lord. I believe in the Lord Jesus. I trust in Your promise – ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus, and you will be saved'” (Acts 16:31).
2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:18
“Now may the Lord of peace Himself give you peace at all times and in all ways” (2 Thessalonians 3:16). Where does true peace come from? It comes from You, Lord. You are “the Lord of peace.” Peace doesn’t depend on good things happening to us. It doesn’t come to us because we have plenty of the good things of this world. Real peace is Your peace. Help us, Lord, to “be still and know that You are God” (Psalm 46:10).

God's love, God's call, God's glory

2 Thessalonians 2:13-3:5
God's love, God's call, God's glory (2 Thessalonians 2:13-14)
"the traditions" (2 Thessalonians 2:15): Who is behind the tradition? If it's the Lord, we have something that's more than a tradition. Who does the message come from?  - It comes from the Lord. That's why we must "stand firm."
Eternal encouragement for here-and-now (2 Thessalonians 3:16-17).
Contrast "not all have faith" (2 Thessalonians 3:2) and "the Lord is faithful" (2 Thessalonians 3:3).
"He will strengthen and guard you from the evil one" (2 Thessalonians 3:4) - "The Lord bless you and keep you" (Numbers 6:24).
"May the Lord direct your hearts to God's love and Christ's endurance" (2 Thessalonians 3:3). When the Lord is at work, He becomes the chief focus of our attention. It's His love and endurance that inspire us to keep on loving Him and serving Him.

'He's a great guy.' We like it when people say this kind of thing about us ...

2 Samuel 16:1-23
'He's a great guy.' We like it when people say this kind of thing about us. It makes us feel good about ourselves. What do You think of us, Lord? Yours is the one opinion that really matters. What does it mean to be truly 'great'? Do we want to be called 'great'? or Do we want to give all the glory to You? We know, Lord, that we'll never love You with a perfect love. Your love is the only perfect love. Help us, Lord, not to get discouraged, when we let You down. Lift us up, Lord. Make our love for You more real and more true, more life-changing and more pleasing to You.

God's Way To Revival

2 Samuel 15:1-37
There is a great difference between human popularity and divine approval. Here, we have human popularity - ‘The conspiracy grew strong, and the people with Absalom kept increasing’(12). In Acts 5:14, we have divine approval - ‘More than ever believers were added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women’. Conspiracy involves man seeking to get his own way. Revival comes when we ‘let go and let God have His wonderful way’. ‘Carry the ark of God back into the city’(25). In the ark of God, we have the Word of God among the people of God. If the people of God are to enjoy the blessing of God, they must live according to the Word of God. We organize things to suit ourselves. This is conspiracy. God is not in it. Look to God. Listen for His Word. Live in the light of His Word. This is God’s way to revival.

Learning From God's Word: 2 Samuel

2 Samuel 1:1-2:32
Here, we read here about the end of Saul's reign and the beginning of David's reign. For Saul, the end was tragic: "See how the mighty have fallen!" (2 Samuel 1:19,25,27). David's reign marked a new beginning. God is gracious. He gives us a new beginning when we have made a mess of things. He is the God of hope. He leads us out of our failure and into His victory.

2 Samuel 3:1-5:25
In 2 Samuel 2:1-7, we read of David becoming the king of Judah. In 2 Samuel 5:1-5, we  read of him becoming the king of Israel. Behind the story of David, there is the story of God at work: "The Lord was with David." "The Lord had established him as king of Israel and made his kingdom famous for the sake of Israel, the Lord's people" (2 Samuel 5:10,12).

2 Samuel 6:1-8:18
David worships God - "I will celebrate in the Lord's presence", "You are great, Lord God. There is no-one like You, and there is no other god except You" (2 Samuel 6:21; 2 Samuel 7:22). David trusts God - Almighty Lord, You are God, and Your words are trustworthy" (2 Samuel 7:28). David obeys God - "David ruled all Israel. He did what was fair and right for all His people" (2 Samuel 8:15).

2 Samuel 9:1-10:19
"God's kindness" (2 Samuel 9:3) - God has shown kindness to us. we are to show His kindness to others. "Be strong" (2 Samuel 10:12) - We are to be strong in the strength of the Lord. We are to strengthen others, Strength and kindness - God will give us the strength to be less self-centred and more other-centred and God-centred.

2 Samuel 11:1-12:31
A summary of the shameful and sinful events of chapter 11 is found in the final verse (2 Samuel 11:27) - "The Lord considered David's actions evil." Chapter 12 is mainly a record of the consequences of David's sin. At the end of the chapter, there is a ray of hope - the birth of a son, Jedidiah, whose name means "the Lord's Beloved." God's love is greater than our sin.

2 Samuel 13:1-14:33
The theme of these chapters is sin - rape, murder, deception. This realistic account of human behaviour highlights the sin which separates us from God. This shows us very clearly our need of salvation. We need the Lord's saving grace in our lives if we are to kept from going further along the road of sinful living. By His grace, He saves us, forgiving our sin and calling us to walk with Him on the pathway of holiness.

2 Samuel 15:1-16:23
It's a very human story. It's just like our life today. We read it through. We think about our own life. We as, "Where is the Lord in all of these events?" We need to maintain the Lord's priorities - "God's ark" among us seeking His favour, honouring His servant (2 Samuel 15:25; 2 Samuel 16:18) - if we are not to lose sight of Him and be swept along by events that do not seem to  give us any real sense of the purpose of God being fulfilled in our lives. When God seems far away and we can't see Him at work, we must keep on believing in His presence and power. We walk by faith, not by sight.

2 Samuel 17:1-19:43
In these chapters, we read of Absalom pursuing David (chapter 17), David defeating Absalom (chapter 18) and David being restored to the throne (chapter 19). At the heart of these very human events concerning conflict within the nation, we must see the outworking of God's purpose. This is expressed in 2 Samuel 18:28 - "May the Lord your God be praised. He has handed over the men who rebelled against "Your Majesty." As the king is called "Your Majesty", we must never forget that there is an even greater King, an even greater Majesty - The Lord is King. We worship His Majesty.

2 Samuel 20:1-21:22
In this description of various incidents, there are many names. We should not, however, overlook the spiritual dimension. We must respect the Lord and His servants (2 Samuel 20:19). "God answered the prayers for the land" (2 Samuel 21:14) - We must seek the Lord's blessing, looking to see these words being fulfilled in our generation.

2 Samuel 22:1-51
David sings his song to the Lord. It is a song of praise, a song which exalts the Lord, giving glory to Him. At the heart of David's song of praise, there is a particularly rich section, full of precious statements of faith: "God's ways are perfect" (2 Samuel 22:31); "Who is God but the Lord?" (2 Samuel 22:32); "God arms me with strength" (2 Samuel 22:33); "He makes my feet like those of a deer" (2 Samuel 22:34) ; "He trains my hands for battle" (2 Samuel 22:35) ; "You have given me the shield of Your salvation" (2 Samuel 22:36); "You make a wide path for me to walk on so my feet do not slip" (2 Samuel 22:37). These great verses jump out from from the particular historical circumstances from which David is speaking. They speak to us as words which jump across the centuries. these words become our confession of faith as well as David's.

2 Samuel 23:1-24:25
David's work was intended by God to bring blessing to the people. He was "raised up" by God (2 Samuel 23:1). "The Spirit of the Lord spoke through him" (2 Samuel 23:2). David's influence on the people was not always a good one. He "sinned" against the Lord, bringing judgment upon the nation (2 Samuel 24:10,15). Sin and judgment are not, however, the last word concerning God's dealings with the people - "So the Lord heard the prayers for the country, and the plague in Israel stopped" (2 Samuel 24:25). The Lord's servants are not perfect. There is sin in us and this affects our usefulness in God's service. God is greater than His servants. His grace reaches out to men and women through very inadequate servants: "We have this treasure in earthen vessels." Why? - "To show that the transcendent power belongs to God and not to ourselves" (2 Corinthians 4:7).

Faith, Holiness, Worship And Witness

"Come to him ... be yourselves built into a spiritual house" (1 Peter 2:4-5). This speaks to us of personal conversion and life in fellowship with God's people. The life of holiness, to which we are called, is to be lived in fellowship with God's people. We are to encourage one another to live a godly life. Our growth in grace is strengthened as we worship the Lord together.  At the heart of our life together, there is worship - and there must also be witness. 
  (1) "Come to him" - This is the way of entering God's kingdom. Have you come to Christ and entered  God's kingdom? Let this question really reach your heart today. Be sure to answer it with  faith - not an empty profession of faith, but a real, living faith.
  (2) Once you have come to him, you are to be built into a spiritual house.
 * God has given us so much - "His divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life through our knowledge of him who called us by his own glory and goodness" (2 Peter 1:3).
 * Why? - so that "you will receive a rich welcome into the eternal kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 1:10).
 * How is this done for us? - Through growth in grace: "For this very reason, make every effort to add to your faith goodness; and to goodness, knowledge; and to knowledge, self-control; and to self-control, perseverance; and to perseverance, godliness; and to godliness, mutual affection; and to mutual affection, love" (2 Peter 1:5-7). 
 * What difference does this make? - "For if you possess these qualities in increasing measure, they will keep you from being ineffective and unproductive in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ. But whoever does not have them is nearsighted and blind, forgetting that they have been cleansed from their past sins" (2 Peter 1:8-9). That's why it's so important that we "make every effort to confirm our calling and election" (2 Peter 1:10).
 * Every day is another opportunity for repentance. Every time you hear the gospel, God is calling you to repentance - "The Lord is not slow in keeping his promise, as some understand slowness. Instead he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
 * Every day is another opportunity for living a godly life, making progress in the way of holiness - "Since everything will be destroyed in this way, what kind of people ought you to be? You ought to live holy and godly lives" (2 Peter 3:11).
  (3) Being built into a spiritual house involves being a witness for Christ - "Earnestly contend for the faith which was once for all delivered to the saints" (Jude 3). In today's world, we face many challenges to our faith. Let us commit ourselves to being Christ's witnesses.

God Is Preparing For Us "A Rich Welcome Into The Eternal Kingdom Of Our Lord And Saviour Jesus Christ."

2 Peter 1:1-2:10a
God ‘has given us His very great and precious promises’(1:4). God has a great purpose for us. He is preparing for us ‘a rich welcome into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’(11). The pathway to heavenly and eternal glory is not an easy one. Often, we will be tempted to settle for being ‘ineffective and unproductive in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ’. There will be many distractions, drawing our attention away from Christ. We must keep our eyes on Him if we are not to become ‘blind and short-sighted’. We can so easily forget the most important thing - we have been ‘cleansed from our old sins’. It is so important that we keep looking to Christ, remembering what He has done for us and giving thanks to Him (1:8-9). ‘The Lord’ will not fail us in our ‘trials’(2:9). Let’s not fail Him! 

2 Peter 2:10b-3:18
‘Grow’ in Christ and give ‘glory’ to Him. Centred on ‘our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ’, our life is filled with ‘grace’ and ‘glory’. From Him, we receive ‘grace’- ‘From the fullness of His grace we have all received one blessing after another’. From Him, we receive ‘glory’- ‘I have given them the glory that You gave Me’(3:18; John 1:16; 17:22). Where does this life of grace and glory begin? It begins with God. In ourselves, there is sin. In Him, there is salvation. ‘He is patient with us’. He waits for us to ‘come to repentance’. He shows us our sin so that we might learn to look to our Saviour - ‘Godly sorrow brings repentance that leads to salvation’(3:9; 2 Corinthians 7:10). Turn to the Lord. Let it be real. Let Him lead you in His pathway - the pathway of grace and glory.

Our Sin And God's Salvation

"Since all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God, they are justified by His grace as a gift, through the redemption which is in Christ Jesus" (Romans 3:23-24).

Here, we read about our sin and God's salvation. Once we have received God's salvation, we must not forget about our sin. We have been saved by God's grace - but we are always sinners. Our sin has been forgiven - but our sin is still there, trying to get the upper hand, trying to keep us from "growing in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ" (2 Peter 3:18). How are we to grow in Christ? We rejoice in His gift of the forgiveness of our sins - but will we grow in Christ by forgetting that we are sinners? When we come to the Cross of Christ, two things are revealed to us - our sin and God's salvation. The revelation of our sin does not end when we receive God's gift of forgiveness. In love, the Lord keeps on showing us how far we have fallen short of His perfect holiness. He shows us our sin so that we might appreciate His salvation and learn to walk with Him on His "Highway of Holiness" (Isaiah 35:8). 

Praying Through God’s Word: 2 Peter

2 Peter 1:1-2:10a
We thank You, Lord, for Your “very great and precious promises” (2 Peter 1:4). You’re leading us on, with Yourself, to “a rich welcome into the eternal Kingdom of our Lord and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 1:11). The pathway to heavenly and eternal glory will not be easy – but we’re not alone. You’re with us, every step of the way. You will not fail us in our “trials” (2 Peter 2:9). Help us not to fail You!
2 Peter 2:10b-3:18
Help us, Lord, to “grow” in Christ – and to give “glory” to Christ (2 Peter 3:18). How can we live without Your grace? Why should we not give glory to You? Grace comes from You. Glory belongs to You. The grace is Yours. The glory is Yours. Teach us to give thanks for Your grace. Teach us to give You glory in all that we do.

“Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18).

Seeking to grow in our understanding of God’s Word is important. We need to move from there to ask the question: Why are we seeking to increase our understanding of God’s Word? We are to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ” (2 Peter 3:18). An increase in knowledge is to be accompanied by growth in grace. 
We can easily get ourselves confused when we’re reading the most difficult parts of God’s Word. That’s when we need the reminder: God calls us to obey His Word –– “Blessed is he who reads and those who hear the words of this prophecy, and keep those things which are written in it; for the time is near” (Revelation 1:3).
When we start thinking that we’ve made some progress in mastering the Bible’s difficult passages, we need to be reminded that God calls us to love Him and to love our neighbour – “Knowledge puffs up, but love builds up” (1 Corinthians 8:1).
We must never forget the words which follow the call to grow in Christ – “To Him be glory both now and for ever” (2 Peter 3:18). In all our study of God’s Word, may we always say, “He must increase, but I must decrease” (John 3:30).

Help us, Lord, to listen to Your Word.

2 Kings 19:1-37
“Do not be afraid because of the words you have heard” (2 Kings 19:6). Help us, Lord, to listen to Your Word. When the world’s voice seems to be so loud, help us to hear Your voice. Help us to hear Your Word of encouragement: “The zeal of the Lord will do this” (2 Kings 19:31). When fear threatens to overwhelm us, help us to remember that You are “able” (Daniel 3:17) – “able to help those who are tempted” (Hebrews 2:18), “able to provide us with every blessing in abundance” (2 Corinthians 9:8), “able to do far more abundantly than all we ask or think” (Ephesians 3:20).

Praying Through God’s Word: 2 John

“Look to yourselves, that you may not lose what you have worked for, but may win a full reward” (2 John 8). Your work is at stake. Your glory is at stake. Help us, Lord, to keep on going. Help us not to give up. How dare we take it easy when You’re calling us to be earnest? Help us to be more committed to You. Your work will suffer, if we are half-hearted. Lord, help us to love You and serve You with our whole heart.

Before We Ever Think Of Giving Ourselves To God, We Must Look At All He Has Given To Us.

2 Corinthians 7:2-8:7
We may face difficult circumstances. We may experience much suffering. In all of this there is one thing we must never forget: ‘God… comforts the downcast’(7:6). He lifts us up when we are down. He enables us to ‘excel in everything - in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness, in love, in giving’(8:7). How are we to excel in everything? We must ‘give ourselves to the Lord’(8:5). Everything else flows from this. We are to ‘give ourselves in devoted service to others’(12; 8:4-5). Where does this spirit of ‘rich generosity’ come from? It comes from God, from ‘the grace that God has given’ to us (8:1-2). It comes to us as we give ourselves to Him. Before we can ‘excel in this grace of giving’, we must receive ‘from His fullness, grace upon grace’(8:7; John 1:16).

2 Corinthians 8:8-9:15
How are we to be ‘cheerful’ in giving ourselves to the Lord (9:7)? How are we to be confident that ‘God is able to provide us with every blessing in abundance’(9:8)? Before we ever think of giving ourselves to God, we must look at all He has given to us. We look away from ourselves to the Lord Jesus Christ: ‘You know the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ…’(8:9). We look at Him and we say, in our hearts, ‘Thanks be to God for His indescribable gift!’(9:15). Can our giving to Him even begin to compare with His giving to us? We give to Him as those who have first received from Him. In his giving, we see His love. Our giving expresses our love, our response to His love: ‘We love because He first loved us’(1 John 4:19). Rejoice in His love. Thank Him- for ‘every blessing in abundance’!

"My Grace Is Sufficient For You.’

2 Corinthians 10:1-11:15
We are engaged in warfare. Is it ‘worldly war’? Do we use ‘worldly weapons’? No! It is spiritual warfare. God has given us His weapons (10:3-4). Our enemy is ‘Satan’- ‘the god of this world’(11:13-15; 4:4). We face him with ‘the whole armour of God’, with ‘the Gospel of peace’(Ephesians 6:11,13,15). We are not fighting for ourselves. We are not fighting in our own strength. The battle is the Lord’s. He is our Strength. Without Him, we fail. With Him, there is victory. Everything is centred upon the Lord. We are to have, ‘a sincere and pure devotion to Christ’(11:13). We are to ‘boast of the Lord’(10:17). We are to seek the Lord’s commendation (10:18). Be devoted to the Lord. Give glory to Him. Seek His approval. These are the things that really matter, the things we must never forget.

2 Corinthians 11:16-12:10
‘My grace is sufficient for you’(9). These are tremendous words! Believe them. Apply them to yourself. Let the strength of the Lord come to you as you reflect on these great words. God is speaking His Word to you. Whatever is going on in your life, whatever difficulties you are facing, God’s Word is still the same: ‘My grace is sufficient for you’. Do you think God will let you down? Don’t believe it - not even for a moment! It is a lie of the devil. It’s ‘as old as the hills’. Way back in Genesis 3:1, Satan was spreading doubt: ‘Did God say?’. God says, ‘My grace is sufficient for you’. Satan comes along and says ‘Surely you don’t believe that!’. ‘When the howling storms of doubt and fear assail, By the living Word of God I shall prevail’(Redemption Hymnal, 261). Did God say? - Yes! He did say!

2 Corinthians 12:11-13:14
‘The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all’(13:14). We have often heard these words spoken. Here, we are reading them in the Word of God. How often do we think about these words? What do they mean? These are life-changing words. Through ‘the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ’, we become ‘rich’- ‘blessed in Christ with every spiritual blessing’(8:9, Ephesians 1:3). ‘In love God has destined us to be His sons through Jesus Christ’(Ephesians 1:5). How do these blessings become ours? How do we become God’s children? We hear the Word of truth, the Gospel of our salvation. We believe in Christ. We are sealed with the promised Holy Spirit (Ephesians 1:13). Such great blessing - ‘the Spirit is poured upon us from on high (Isaiah 32:15)! 

Two Men With The Same Name

Two men with the same name – Saul, the first king of Israel, and Saul of Tarsus, the persecutor of Christ and His servants.
In both stories, we read of a new man.
* In the case of Saul, the first king of Israel, David was the new man. Saul was rejected. He was replaced.
The Lord said to Samuel, “How long will you mourn for Saul, since I have rejected him as king over Israel? Fill your horn with oil and be on your way; I am sending you to Jesse of Bethlehem. I have chosen one of his sons to be king … So Samuel took the horn of oil and anointed David in the presence of his brothers, and from that day on the Spirit of the Lord came upon David in power. Samuel then went to Ramah” (1 Samuel 16:1, 13).
* In the case of Saul of Tarsus, it was very different. Saul became the new man. He became Paul the apostle. He was saved by the Lord. His life was transformed by the power of Christ’s love. He became a new creation in Christ Jesus. He had this great testimony: “It is no longer I who live but Christ who lives in me.” (Galatians 2:20).
- We don’t need to be like Saul, the first king of Israel – castaway, laid aside as of no further use (1 Corinthians 9:27).
- Each of us can be like Paul the apostle. In 2 Corinthians 5:17, we have more than Paul’s own testimony. we have a call to each one of us. God is calling us to be transformed by the power of Christ’s love. He is calling us to become “a new creation in Christ” – “If anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation. The old has gone. The new has come!”

"Now is the day of salvation" (2 Corinthians 6:2).

In our thinking about the Lord’s Return, it is very important that we do not forget that the decision between salvation and judgment is one which must be made here and now. The Bible speaks of the Day of the Lord’s Return as a Day of salvation for the Lord’s believing people. The Lord’s Return will also bring a Day of judgment for all who turn their backs on the Saviour. The Bible also speaks of another day of salvation, another day of judgment. That day is today. This is precisely what Paul says in 2 Corinthians 6:2 - “Now is the day of salvation.” Now is the time for making your decision for Christ. Now is the time for faith in the Saviour. Jesus underlines the importance of our present response to Him. He does this, in John 3:18, when He speaks of those who are already under judgment because of their unbelief: “he who does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the Name of the only Son of God.” The Lord awaits for our response now. May God help us to put our trust in His Son, Jesus Christ. May God help us to await Christ’s Return with joyful expectation.

God's light is the light of love and the light of life.

2 Corinthians 4:1-18
Note 2 Corinthians 4:6 - The light of God shows us that we are in darkness, and it calls us out of the darkness, and into the light.
Where do we see the light of God? - In Christ.
His light is the light of love and the light of life. Love reaches us. It leads us to the light. The light guides us, and changes our way of living. The light says, 'There's something better than the life you're living.' The new life is eternal life (2 Corinthians 4:16-18).
In the Old Testament - Beyond the wilderness, there's the promised land.
God has a great purpose for us. He changes us here-and-now, and He's preparing us for His eternal glory - (a) I saw the light; (b) I'm walking in the light; (c) I'm looking forward to the light (Revelation 22:5).

Sunday, 29 July 2018

Jesus Is Our Best Friend.

2 Corinthians 10:1-6
"the gentleness and graciousness of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:1);  "the obedience of Christ" (2 Corinthians 10:5).
What's the connection between the two? - We learn to obey Christ, as we learn to love Him. We learn to love Him, as we learn how much He loves us.
"What a Friend we have in Jesus" - He's not a far away God who doesn't care about us. He's our best Friend. When we learn to see Jesus as our best Friend, we will not find it a burden to live in obedience to Him. Beyond the obligation of obedience, there is the privilege of obedience.

A Word Of Encouragement

How do we react when things don’t seem to be going very well? We all need the encouragement of God’s Word: ‘Thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumph’ (2 Corinthians 2:14).

Help us, Lord, to keep on believing that the time of Your blessing may not be far away.

2 Chronicles 35:20-36:23 
Lord, we've read good things about King Josiah (2 Chronicles 34:15,33) - but it wasn't all good: "He did not listen to the words of Neco from the mouth of God ... " (2 Chronicles 35:22-24). After Josiah's time, there was terrible spiritual decline (2 Chronicles 36:1-2 / 2 Kings 23:31-32; 2 Chronicles 36:,5,9,11-12). We think of today's world. We wonder, "Is there any hope for the future?" Help us to draw encouragement from this: "The Lord stirred up the spirit of Cyrus, king of Persia ... to build Him a house at Jerusalem" (2 Chronicles 36:22-23). - and help us to say to our neighbours, "Let us go to the House of the Lord" (Psalm 122:1). Help us, Lord, to keep on believing that the time of Your blessing may not be far away.

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