November 3rd 2019: Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edwards-Nov 2019The commandment most frequently broken is the 9th. This commandment states, “You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour,” (Exodus 20:16). The reason why it is the most deliberately ignored commandment is this word translates as ‘false testimony,’ not just committing perjury. It is a word that means speaking anything useless, worthless and unfounded. It is speech full of innuendo, slander, gossip and lies.

The way we use our limited vocabulary to constantly break this commandment is an affront to God, and is a cause of much devastation in the world. A few words can destroy a relationship, a job, a reputation. James 3 warns of this destruction, of the destruction the tongue can do. It is a small part of the body but it makes great boasts. The 9th commandment deals with the great many sins of the tongue.

Whilst we’ve been accustomed to lies playing a great part in our lives – politicians, advertising, tradesmen who say they will be with you at 8 a.m. the next morning but don’t turn up, the truth is it is not just other people who lie, it is me and you. We are all educated in the art of lying. A central part of our fallen nature is to lie as we follow the example of Satan (John 8:44). We may say ‘honesty is the best policy’ but we don’t live by that. There is a story that George Washington, as a young boy, on receiving an axe used it liberally. One day he took the hatchet to a beloved tree. It was so badly damaged that it could only die. Washington’s father asked who had done it. George replied, ‘Father, I cannot lie, it was me.’ The father embraced him and said his honesty made up for his action. This story about honesty, however, is not at all honest. It is a lie! It never happened.

We are all aware of what it means to lie, but we often justify its significance claiming it is necessary, only a white lie or we are only being economical with the truth. We can become so accustomed to lying we no longer recognise when we are doing it. We use lies to cover up embarrassment. However may justify it, a lie remains a lie. The uncomfortable truth is by nature and practice we are all liars – some more accomplished than others. What is more, we can become so used to telling lies we no longer realise when we are doing it. We convince ourselves we are justified.

The remedy to lying is to have a conscience that is welded to the truth. We must be godly, like God, whose word is truth (Titus 1:2). We are to be like Him. The only way we can be like God is to be united by Christ in faith. We need to be guided by the Holy Spirit, shaped by the teachings of God’s word so we can become godly. We will never be perfect until that day we are called home to glory. We can never be perfect in this world. We are to pray for the enabling of the Holy Spirit as we commit ourselves to truthfulness in all our ways.

Slander and gossip. We all recognise slander as wrong yet we’ve all done it at some time or another. The Bible forbids it (James 4:11). The Bible also forbids gossip on the same basis. Slander and gossip are both relatives. They are often found together. Gossip is never totally true. There is often a grain of truth, but it’s always wrapped in layers of half-truths. Gossiping is lying, worthless, unfounded, idle speech that is destructive. The book of Proverbs has quite a few references to gossiping and its effect (Proverbs 11:13, 16:28, 26:20).

The best way to stop a quarrel is very easy. Stop speaking. It’s as easy as that. It is a grievous sin to slander and blacken another’s character through gossip. It is amongst the most dangerous and damaging of human activities. In engaging in it we break the 9th commandment. It is particularly sad that among Christians so much gossip is found. We have so much to speak of together – of God and His grace to us in the Lord Jesus Christ. How much more should we fill our conversations with glorious, heavenly thoughts rather than gossip? If we must speak of others, do so as little as possible and be totally sure we are speaking the truth. We must never speculate or give way to innuendo. Instead, we must give way to truth (Zechariah 8:16).

Scripture is always concerned that there be two or three witnesses to any accusation (Deuteronomy 19:15, Matthew 18:16, 1 Timothy 5:19). A good rule is if you haven’t spoken to the person concerned, don’t speak about it to anyone else.

Flattery and favouritism. One way to ensure lies are perpetuated is to show favouritism (Exodus 23:3). We are not to be people who show favouritism. There is a type of lie people wouldn’t recognise as so – the silent lie, the keeping quiet because you don’t want to upset a friend, not saying something in relation to someone you know who can promote your own cause (Leviticus 5:1). Equally, we are to avoid flattery – so we might gain an advantage (Psalm 12). It is a very subtle lie when we excuse some and condemn others for doing the very same thing, or highly praise some and not others. This is bearing false witness. We are to remind ourselves that all are created by God in His image and all are to be treated equally. Even if someone is our enemy we are to love them (Romans 12:17). The remedy for flattery and favouritism is respect and fairness for all. This is especially true in our church life. There have been many a minister who has made the grave mistake by showing favouritism to some in the congregation. It leads to division in the congregation. Whilst it is true for preachers, it is also true for everyone in a congregation. It is the responsibility of all Christians to avoid even giving the impression of favouritism.

Religious lies. This, perhaps, is particularly offensive to God. The third commandment warns of this. How evil it is to anyone to prophesy falsely in God’s name, not only to lie before God but to lie in God’s name. That is why in the Old Testament the penalty for this was death (Zechariah 13:3). There are many today who practice false prophesy, saying ‘In the name of the Lord …’ saying do what they suggest because it is the Lord’s will. It is not the will of the Lord at all. I doubt such people are conscious of the evil they are doing. Some manipulate people, knowing full well it is not the Lord who has spoken at all. That is a terrible, terrible thing. They are lying in the Lord’s name.

When we are sharing what the Lord has done, good things, perhaps we embellish it to make it better. It is not a good thing. The most dangerous day of the week for religious lies is Sunday (Acts 5:3). On Sundays we are tempted to pretend I have a piety and spiritual life I do not possess. Singing hymns of praise, singing wonderful experiences of Bible truths is wrong if we don’t mean it at all. Perhaps the biggest lie of all is when we abuse the name of God. We must always remember God sees everything and knows everything. We cannot deceive Him so why should we be so foolish to do so?

The remedy: Stand in awe of God, be slow to speak, ready to hear Him speak and quick to obey.

Forgiveness through Christ’s death on the cross. Our Saviour died on that cross as a direct consequence of lies (Mark 14:56, Luke 23:2). The lies which sent Jesus to the cross are my lies and my breaking of the 9th commandment. He loved me so He willingly bore the punishment for my lying mouth and heart, that I might be forgiven of all these sins. The God of all truth desires to save me from my sin and sent His beloved Son to die that I should be truly forgiven. Praise be to the Lord. What a Saviour! “I am the way, and the truth, and the life.” (John 14:6).

October 27th 2019: Chris Benbow

chris benbow Oct19Have you ever wondered, ‘God, what are doing?’ We all live our lives and sometimes things go spectacularly wrong. We wonder why everything is a mess. Where is God then? We ask, ‘God, what are you doing?’ We see on the news wall to wall coverage of news which confuses us. Brexit. What is going on! Perhaps, it’s another situation in the Middle East. We may look at Syria and exclaim, ‘Where is God in that?’ Maybe it is not so much an international situation but a personal one. We have all experienced crunch points. We have all been through them, are going through them or will go through them. So often we wonder, ‘What are you doing God? Why is this happening?’ If you’ve ever wondered this question, you’re not the first to wonder that.

Let me re-introduce you to a man named Habakkuk. He was a minor prophet. The book of Habakkuk is only three chapters long. May be our spiritual pride boasts how quick we can find Habakkuk. He is a ‘minor’ prophet because of the length of the book, not the prophet himself. The book is equally rich in teaching.

Who is the man, Habakkuk? He was an Israelite, a prophet. Habakkuk was living in Israel in the waning years of the Syrian empire. The Assyrians were a nasty bunch.  The Israelite nation is ruined by Assyrian oppression. Good news is mocked, evil is celebrated. Habakkuk is saying, ‘God, what are you doing?’

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help,
    and you will not hear?
Or cry to you “Violence!”
    and you will not save?”
Habakkuk 1:2

Habakkuk has been calling on God but nothing is happening. The good guys are losing and the bad guys are winning. If sin bothers you, it bothers the Lord a whole lot more. Habakkuk stands in ruins, seeing his leaders take bribes, seeing destruction around him. The law is paralysed. He wants justice. He asks what the Lord will do. The Lord Almighty answers, saying, ‘You don’t even know the half of it! There are plans in motion you have no idea about,

“Look among the nations, and see;
    wonder and be astounded.
For I am doing a work in your days
    that you would not believe if told.”
Habakkuk 1:5

Habakkuk thought things were bad but God says, ‘Just wait till the Chaldeans come!’

For behold, I am raising up the Chaldeans,
    that bitter and hasty nation,
who march through the breadth of the earth,
    to seize dwellings not their own.
They are dreaded and fearsome;
    their justice and dignity go forth from themselves.
Habakkuk 1:6-7

You can almost see Habakkuk thinking, ‘I wish I hadn’t asked now!’ In the ancient world the king was the most powerful person, yet these strong, reckless Chaldeans laughed at kings (Habakkuk 1:10). That’s not the answer Habakkuk wanted to his prayers – more evil, pagan conquerors. How can a good God send a bad thing? Hurting can be unpleasant but for a greater good. The Israelite corruption caused a lot of pain. The scalpel was the Chaldeans. Habakkuk doesn’t like what he is hearing.

We read of Habakkuk’s second appeal to God (verses 12-13). Habakkuk’s argument is why punish a less wicked nation, Israel, with a worse kind, the Chaldeans? Why is mankind left to his own wickedness? The Chaldeans prided is their strength. Habakkuk wants to know how long the judgement will last for. He finishes his appeal by awaiting God’s reply. He goes to the watch tower (Habakkuk 2:1). His argument is this: why punish the evil of Israel with a greater evil, the Chaldeans? The Lord answers. “The righteous shall live by his faith,” (Habakkuk 2:4). We don’t know what God is always doing but we trust God. God sees everything perfectly and we cannot understand that picture from the bit we have.

The Lord continues by proclaiming a judgement – five woes. That’s a lot of trouble! The Lord is in His holy temple. Israel has sinned. God had judged this by using the Chaldeans. The Chaldeans have sinned. God will judge them too. Israel will answer to God for its sin, the Chaldeans will answer to God for their sin too. We all stand before God to give an account.

How does Habakkuk respond? He reveres the Lord. He pours out his praise, his adoration for who God is (Habakkuk 3:2-6). Isn’t our God a great God! Habakkuk’s problems haven’t gone away. He still has questions but he’s beginning to realise a little more about who God is. He finishes his book by saying, ‘God, I don’t know what you’re doing but I know you are good, righteous and holy.’ (Habakkuk 3:17-19).

Ultimately, everyone will give an account. We know, “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16). We know, “The righteous shall live by his faith,” (Habakkuk 2:4).

October 20th 2019: Gaius Douglas

Gaius-March19‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him. Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is. And everyone who has this hope in Him purifies himself, just as He is pure.’
(1 John 3:1-3)

Moses was so blessed to be in the presence of God and God was pleased to bless him and the people of God. Do we ask God to show us His glory? Do we feel bold enough to pray to God and ask Him to show us His glory? Those saints who have died in Christ are in the presence of the Lord. We have the privilege of being able to see the Lord face to face – one day it will be a reality. How blessed! The Lord says, ‘Because I live, you will live also’ (John 14:19).

‘Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God!’ (1 John 3:1). We see something remarkable, wonderful. John is focusing upon God’s love, it is all about the love of God. “How deep the Father’s love for us, how vast beyond all measure, that He should give His only Son to make a wretch His treasure.” (Stuart Townend).

The four gospel writers bring us characteristics of Jesus Christ. Matthew speaks of the King, Judaism and Christianity. Mark speaks of the Servant King. Luke speaks of the manhood of Christ. John is totally different to the other gospel writers. He is the one who leaned upon His bosom, listening to His word. John speaks of the son-ship of God. The gospel of John records a wonderful verse, “For God so loved the world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.” (John 3:16). John saw something of God’s wonderful love and wants to share it,  His immeasurable, divine love, “Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called children of God! Therefore the world does not know us, because it did not know Him.” (1 John 3:1).  

John says, ‘Behold,’ – take notice, consider. “Behold, My Servant shall deal prudently;
He shall be exalted and extolled and be very high,” Isaiah 52:13. In Isaiah 40-45 we see a similar word, ‘Look.’ He wants our attention to be drawn to the man, Christ Jesus. What manner of love? Divine love. It comes from God alone, God is love, “He who does not love does not know God, for God is love,” (1 John 4:8). That’s the essence of Him. We have been loved with that great and wonderful love. God the Father has this great love for His children that we should become the sons of God. We have been brought into the family of God. We are more royal than royalty. We have been made children of God. God actions then take us, we have been adopted into the family. We have been brought into this relationship out of love. It is a divine love. Relish it! Enjoy it! It means we can come into His presence anytime.

We are accepted in the Beloved. There is no comparison (Isaiah 40). His love is matchless. It can’t be compared to anything we know. For each of us who has been loved with that great love, we know it. Regardless of where we are, we know we are loved and no-one can take it away.

His love is boundless. There are no barriers, nor boarders. He is infinite. His love is infinite. His love is so great, so vast. “From everlasting to everlasting, You are God, “(Psalm 90:2). His love has no beginning or ending. “The Lord has appeared of old to me, saying: “Yes, I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore with lovingkindness I have drawn you,” (Jeremiah 31:3). His love draws us. 1 Corinthians 13:13 tells me this, faith and hope will cease, but love will abide forever. “And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”

His love is a transforming love. If we know the Lord Jesus Christ we have been transformed. Every day we are being transformed by His loveliness, His beauty, His glory. He brings us into the wonder of His graces (Ephesians 2). What we were before, love has transformed us. By nature we are dead in trespasses and sin. We were haters of God. But now we have been saved by grace, by His precious blood, we are being made more like Him. There is a lovely picture of this in John 3, in Nicodemus, who came in the night to talk to Jesus. John 19 speaks of two disciples, two secret disciples: Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea. They hid their Christianity in Christ, yet He loved them. They came out and asked for Christ’s body. They were no longer in hiding. The love of God is so overwhelming it just transformed them. This is only shown by John.

God’s love is an unquenchable love, “Many waters cannot quench love, Nor can the floods drown it, (Song of Solomon 8:7). Regardless of what we go through, the love of God is more powerful. Scripture tells me love is stronger than death, it overpowers death (Song of Solomon 8). The more we drink of it, the more we want. God’s Word will satisfy us.  Take this unquenchable love from the one who has designated glory to us. I have a reserved place in heaven. Have you? Satan will never be able to take away the love of God. And he tries.

God’s love is a conquering love. He is victorious. He bore our sins on Calvary’s tree, made them His own. O praise the Lord for His wonderful love, in bearing our sin. He was taken to a tomb, where the wonderful words of the angel were heard, “He is not here; for He is risen,” (Matthew 28:6). “These things I have spoken to you, that in Me you may have peace. In the world you will have tribulation; but be of good cheer, I have overcome the world” (John 16:33) – that’s love! Nothing can touch us. That’s the power of love.

It is a forever love. For ever and ever and ever. Do not be afraid of it. I am not earth-bound. I do not belong here. He has promised He will take us to be with Himself. So often we try to put roots so firmly in this world. Go to the place where there is love, “In my Father’s house are many mansions; if it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you,” (John 14:2). Love will never end. It is inexhaustible, “Father, I desire that they also whom You gave Me may be with Me where I am, that they may behold My glory which You have given Me; for You loved Me before the foundation of the world” (John 17:24).

October 17th 2019 – Harvest: Alan Davison

Alan Davison-Harvest Oct 19Matthew 13:24-30, 36-43.

Harvest is a time of year that means less to us as a society now than it used to. The easy access to food through supermarkets has removed us from the link with farmers. During the time the Bible was written most people depended heavily on farming. Jesus, in His ministry, used many illustrations that came from farming. There are 60 instances of the word ‘harvest’ listed in one concordance. Around half the references are concentrated in the gospels and spoken by the lord Jesus Christ Himself. The Bible speaks of harvest in four main ways; it can be:

  1. A physical harvest
  2. A moral harvest
  3. A spiritual harvest
  4. A final harvest

 

  1. God, as our Creator, knows what we need. Because of His love for us God blesses us with what we need to eat. Mark 4:26-29. We are to labour too. There are things the farmer needs to do – sow, wait and harvest. There are things also out of his control – the seeds growing, weather etc. The labour of men gathers the provision of God. The Bible is clear everything we do comes out of everything God provides.
  2. The Moral Harvest (Hosea 8:7)

Israel once again turned its back against God. The people abandoned the faith it once held. Psalm 73. People in positions of authority have gained illegally at others expense. Frustratingly, while evil may succeed here on earth, there will be a reckoning after death. Our actions will have consequences. We will be called to account before God’s judgement throne, then we will have a moral harvest.

  1. A Spiritual Harvest.

Jesus feeds spiritually. “My food is to do the will of him who sent me and to accomplish his work. Do you not say, ‘There are yet four months, then comes the harvest’? Look, I tell you, lift up your eyes, and see that the fields are white for harvest.” (John 4:34-35). We want to follow our Lord’s command, yet we’re doing so in a culture that has largely rejected God. There is pressure not to evangelise.

  1. A Final Harvest

The Parable of the Tares and Weeds. Jesus tells this parable because He wants to make it clear to people that there will be a harvest at the end of time. The age He refers to is now. It will be the death of all we know now, but also a renewal, new heavens and a new earth. Hebrews 2:14-15. As human beings we should fear death unless we come to Jesus. The author Terry Pratchett was an atheist and advocate of euthanasia. He died in 2015. In 2007 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. He includes death as a major character in his writing, portrayed as a rather serious character, the grim reaper. He was quite naïve. Coupled with death he has a portrayal of the afterlife, where everyone goes to the same place, a place of nothingless, where all go, regardless of beliefs. It is a place where there will be no moral harvest. Pratchett was knighted, therefore he needed a family motto. It was ‘Don’t fear the reaper.’ It shows us what the atheist hopes for – nothing. Yet he benefitted from all God provided. He tried to avoid the moral harvest and rejected the spiritual harvest.

Jesus makes it clear there is a final harvest coming. It is vitally important to be a child of God. In this parable the field is the world. What are the implications for the entire world? Jesus sows seeds of righteousness – those who believe in Jesus as Lord and Saviour. The devil comes along and sows tares – a weed called darnel. Darnel produces a poisonous fruit. If you eat enough darnel it will be fatal. As it grows it looks just like wheat until the fruit comes. At that point it becomes distinguishable. While a weed, darnel needs to be cultivated alongside crops for it to grow.

Matthew 5:45. God sustains His creation so that even those who don’t believe, continue to live. There are those in our world today who mock God. Jesus continues the parable with telling us the angels (reapers) are to gather the crop. This is Jesus’ focus. At the end of time there will be a separation – only into two groups: one group, children of the wicked one, the other, children of God. The group you are separated to depends solely on your view of Christ. Too many people are convinced there is a third group – agnostics. Look again at scripture. There are only two groups. If you are not God’s, by default you are Satan’s. The children of the wicked one will be cast into fire, into hell. It is Satan who owns them (verse 39-41). They practice lawlessness. This simply means that they rebel against God and His Word. They choose to go their own way, or so they think. Our culture tells us of heaven but not hell. Jesus often spoke of hell, in fact He spoke more of hell than heaven. He tells us there will be a wailing in hell – suffering, and gnashing of teeth – eternal regret. If you have accepted Christ, you are one of the children of God – to be chosen by God, nurtured, kept, and protected by Him. You are adopted into His family, thus having a share in God’s inheritance. You are called righteous. On that final day we will be God’s harvest at the end of the age. Will you be gathered into God’s eternal barn?

October 13th 2019: Darrin Gilchrist

Darrin Gilchrist-Oct 19 -dThe parable of the Sower – Looking at saving faith.

Often the emphasis of this parable is put on the wrong place. It is not really the parable of the sower but the parable of the soils. We will be looking at the only kind of faith that leads to salvation. Therefore, there is a kind of faith that doesn’t lead to salvation. The end of Matthew chapter 12 and into the beginning of Matthew chapter 13 gives us the background to this parable. Until this point, Christ has been preaching the Kingdom of God is here. He has been preaching about the good news that God has determined to put right the damage sin has caused. As a man, Christ is walking around seeing destruction all around Him. Sin and selfishness has destroyed us. We can’t hide it. It’s ever before us. Christ came into the world and said His Father had sent Him to restore us. How is this restoration to happen? Christ says the way He will do this is to make a new creation. The old creation is destroyed by sin, God will regenerate a new humanity. Through God working salvation and redemption in our lives, one day this world will be folded up and a new heaven and earth will be.

How proud we are by nature. We are glad to see young people in our church but young people are not our hope. If there is genuine restoring in our land of the gospel, we will not be able to say man has done this, only God. The ways God will do this is to redeem us. Matthew, as a writer, does something interesting. The Kingdom Christ has been going around telling people about, He brings to bear. Matthew records a series of miracles, for example the blind man being healed. The man became blind because sin is in this world. Christ has been going around teaching about the power of this kingdom. Christ demonstrates this power in healing, He brings power to bear upon their lives. This power can do far more than physical healing, it can heal the soul. Christ, by entering into this living experience, restores what sin has done. Christ has a series of calls He makes to different people. He brings the power of the Kingdom to bear on people’s lives. He calls them to follow Him. In the midst of doing this, some entrusted their lives to follow Him but others rejected Him and others remained neutral. The question arises, if you saw the things He did, why isn’t the entire world following Him? Christ has to explain to His followers why there are different responses.

‘That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the sea’ (Matthew 13:1). This begs the question, ‘What day was that?’ Why does Matthew record that day? It’s because of what he records in Matthew 12:46, ‘While he was still speaking to the people, behold, his mother and his brothers stood outside, asking to speak to him. But he replied to the man who told him, “Who is my mother, and who are my brothers?” And stretching out his hand toward his disciples, he said, “Here are my mother and my brothers! For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother.”

Here Jesus was in a house speaking to people. Even those closest to Him were obstacles to what He wanted to do. Jesus says all who follow Him are His closest kin. That same day He went out of the house. He will not be stopped from doing what He wants to do, even obstacles from His closest family. He went out and sat by the sea, then speaks this parable. He is teaching His disciples and followers why different responses are happening. He is preparing them for different responses they will have when He returns to heaven. Just like their Master, they will have different experiences and need to be prepared.

The Parable of the Soils is a very simple parable. Jesus compares different people and their different responses to the proclamation of the gospel, to different types of soil. All of mankind falls under one of these categories.

  • The rock hard soil.“A sower went out to sow. And as he sowed, some seeds fell along the path, and the birds came and devoured them” (Matthew 13:3-4). The path is rock hard, people have walked on it and it is compacted. The birds devour the seeds. This is explained in verse 19, “When anyone hears the word of the kingdom and does not understand it, the evil one comes and snatches away what has been sown in his heart. This is what was sown along the path.”
  • The second soil is shallow soil. The seeds sprang up but because there was no depth to the soil, they had no roots and withered away. “Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and immediately they sprang up, since they had no depth of soil, but when the sun rose they were scorched. And since they had no root, they withered away.”
  • There is a thorn-infested soil, “Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them.” (Matthew 13:6-7).
  • Finally, there is good soil, “Other seeds fell on good soil and produced grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty.” (Matthew 13:8).

75% of people who hear the message are not very promising, 25% are. This is what we’re taught to expect. There’s no room for despair. There’s nothing glamorous about us, we represent such a small part of the population. Yet we’re used by God! We’re insignificant but we are to do significant work. All glory to God. There is good soil which produces grain.

We see the kind of faith that leads to salvation. Do we have the kind of faith that leads to salvation? There is a great picture of this in John’s gospel, chapter 2. John says many heard what Jesus said and believed but there is a kind of faith that is not saving. They were interested in what they could get out of Jesus. Have you come to Him?

What is the kind of faith that saves?

  • It is faith that receives the word of God, it takes it in, it is receptive to God’s voice, not just His word. The voice is the power of the Holy Spirit speaking through the Word. Saving faith does not allow the enemy to come to carry it away. There will be a carefulness in how you treat the Word, a desire for the Word and practical application. So much Christianity today allows things just to remain on the surface. Saving faith takes what God says seriously. God is serious, serious joyfulness. Are we receptive to God’s Word, no matter what it says to us? What about when the Word of God comes to you and it goes against the grain? Will you disregard it, and so your faith remains on the surface only? Sarah laughed when she was told she would have a baby beyond child-bearing age. Yet God brought life out of the death of a dead womb. He did the same with Elizabeth. Saving faith receives the Word of God.

  • Saving faith endures. Other seeds fell on rocky ground and didn’t have roots. Unlike the seeds that landed on the hard path, this seed lands on soft soil but it is shallow. Are you a shallow Christian – very promising at first but when heat is applied you are unable to stand the heat? Saving faith is rooted, it endures, it keeps on going. The heart that is able to be penetrated by its seed so it grows. When God’s Word comes it alters everything. There is a constant awareness that what God says is the only thing that matters. It can withstand the heat. Plenty of Christians who respond immediately to the gospel are thrown into the baptismal pool without looking to see if roots have been laid down, or if it is just shallow soil. Saving faith proves itself in time.
  • Saving faith is unobstructed. That is not to say we don’t have challenges. The soil of verse 7 has obstacles and no-one takes time to get rid of them. Are there other things in our life that clutter us? Saving faith isn’t overcrowded by things of this world. Is Jesus the number one, the only one, in an undivided heart? Saving faith is pure. Christ governs and dictates everything in your life. You need pure soil if you’re to have growth. You need to make the soil receptive. You need to plough. Jeremiah is commanded to put the plough to the soil. There needs to be a work that happens if the soil is to be receptive. It’s the kindness of the Lord that leads to repentance. Is Christ your delight or do other things crowd Him out?
  • Saving faith is fruitful (verse 8). It multiplies. There is a fruitfulness. Saving faith will produce saving benefits for others. Saving faith is alive, it’s active, it brings about other graces. When is the last time anyone has been affected by your witness to Christ? Saving faith is to be fruitful no matter how great or small that fruit is to be. Saving faith doesn’t mind if it produces even the smallest fruit. Saving faith is alive and has an impact. It’s fruitful. Do we have a fruitful faith?

September 22nd 2019: Mike Viccary

mike viccary - sept 19bZechariah 1:1-6 A word on Repentance

Zechariah was a close contemporary of Haggai. Verse 1 tells us whom the Lord used to convey this vital message, “In the eighth month, in the second year of Darius, the word of the Lord came to the prophet Zechariah, the son of Berechiah, son of Iddo.” If you glance back at Haggai you will find that he prophesies in the second year of Darius as well. The important dates in Haggai are as follows:

day month year What happened
1 6 2 The word of the Lord comes to Haggai (1:1)
24 6 2 The people began work on the house of the Lord (1:14b,15)
21 7 2 The word of the Lord comes to Haggai (2:1)
24 9 2 The word of the Lord comes to Haggai (2:10)
The foundation of the temple was laid (2:18)
The word of the Lord comes to Haggai (2:20)

 

Zechariah receives his word from the Lord in the 8th month of the 2nd year of Darius, so somewhere between Haggai 2:9 and Haggai 2:10 in about 520 BC. At this point the work is on-going but not yet finished. It will be helpful to review the history from the time of destruction of Jerusalem to the completion of the temple by the exiles on their return.

  • Jerusalem destroyed and captives taken to Babylon in 586 BC.
  • Exiles return in 536 BC.
  • Work begins in the second year 535 BC (Ezra 3:8, Ezra 4:24, Ezra 5:1-2).
  • Haggai and Zechariah receive words from the Lord in the 2nd year of Darius or 520 BC.
  • The temple is finished in the 6th year of Darius or 516 BC exactly 70 years after the destruction of Jerusalem and the deportation of the Israelites (Ezra 6:14-15).

Thus Zechariah is co-prophet alongside Haggai encouraging the work of rebuilding the temple. However, whilst Haggai seems to be encouraging the external work and the rebuilding programme, Zechariah’s prophetic word is aimed at the hearts or an inner work. That is not to say that Haggai was not concerned with heart work, but that his words were encouragements to build and work in the world as applications. Whereas Zechariahs’ focus was on the inner life as can be seen by the style of the prophecy with its visions and pictures and its burdens and oracles – Haggai is much more plain speaking and practical.

Our text acts as the introduction of the book and we shall draw four main themes as follows:

  • The Lord of hosts is a God of wrath.
  • True life is a life of repentance.
  • Pay attention to your history!
  • The power of the Lord’s word OR the faithfulness of the Lord.
  • The Lord of hosts is a God of wrath:
    “The Lord has been very angry with your fathers (Zechariah 1:2). Imagine the situation Zechariah witnessed and saw. The temple was in the process of being built but was nowhere near as majestic as the former one that was destroyed. All around in the city and surroundings were the evidence of the destruction wrought by Babylon under Nebuchadnezzar (see commentary of H.C. Leupold, Exposition of Zechariah, p.22).

Now verse 2 literally rendered is as follows: Angry was the Lord towards your fathers, with anger. The word ‘angry’ comes before and after, like bookends that surround the people – hence the emphatic ‘very angry’ in the NKJV. How is it that God can be angry? Isn’t He above this? We need to be careful that we do not transfer human views of anger to God – He is not capricious / vindictive / doesn’t lose control (see summary of God’s wrath by John Stott, ‘The Cross of Christ’).

Why was God angry with the fathers? The answer comes in verse 4, ‘Do not be like your fathers, to whom the former prophets cried out, ‘Thus says the Lord of hosts, Return from your evil ways and from your evil deeds.’ But they did not hear or pay attention to me, declares the Lord.’ They would not listen to the Lord. Jeremiah (and other prophets) give us precise details of how this worked out but essentially this is the reason for God’s anger.

Is such a response fair? Well, we need to remember who God is and who we are! Here in our text are three explanations for God’s anger:

  • He is ‘Lord’ (YHWH). He is the self-existent One – the I AM. We are the created ones, dependent, reliant and not self-existent.
  • He is ‘Lord of hosts.’ This title is found 46 times in Zechariah. It occurs mostly in Jeremiah (71) and Isaiah (53) but these are much longer books. It also occurs 24 times in Malachi. The essential meaning is that God is Commander-in-Chief over all armies! All answer to Him! We are brought to consider the Lord’s sovereign power over all His works of creation. As Commander-in-Chief He has the power to execute His plan perfectly without any opposition. Whilst He allows opponents to do their worst, they do not realise that they are doing what God requires because He always makes good come from evil. Think of Exodus and Pharaoh! Think of Christ on the cross – taken by wicked men but fore-ordained of the Father.
  • He brings / offers the word of the Lord. This points us to two things – first the revelation pf God which is 100% true, and second the Lord Jesus Christ, who is ‘the way, the truth and the life.’ (John 14:6). Now God’s word, the word of the Lord, will never fail. In fact, in our text we are told it will ‘overtake the fathers and prophets.’ Thus, from these three basic ideas, we note that God is: true, right, perfect, pure and holy. Thus, to not listen to God is tantamount to supreme folly. God is:
  • Affronted that we do not listen to what is true, right, perfect, pure and holy.
  • Horrified that we opt for sin, error, evil and all that which is other than what God would bring and suggest.

Would not a parent express the same indignation at a toddler who says, ‘No’ when asked to eat up their food and instead sprays it around the room onto carpets, walls and all over themselves and you? Would not a father be angry when his teenage son defies the best advice and goes off to binge, indulging in drink, drugs and loose living, only to end u on the run or in hospital? The Lord is very angry when people do not listen to Him.

Of course, God has other attributes. God is:

The God of love (2 Corinthians 13:11)
The God of glory (Acts 7:2)
The God of patience (Romans 15:5)
The God of hope (Romans 15:13)
The God of peace (Romans 15:13, 16:20)
The God of all comfort (2 Corinthians 1:3)
The God of all grace (1 Peter 5:10)

The Lord is also is described as the God who is:

true (John 3:33)
faithful (1 Corinthians 1:9)
holy (1 Corinthians 3:17)
a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29)
light (1 John 1:5)
love (1 John 4:8, 16)

None of these attributes are contrary or contradict the fact that God is a God of wrath. Consider these scriptures: John 3:36, Romans 1:18, Ephesians 5:6, Colossians 3:6, Romans 2:5, 1 Thessalonians 5:9. Ezra puts it like this, “The hand of God is upon all those for good who seek Him, but His power and His wrath are against all those who forsake Him, (Ezra 8:22b). The holy and pure God dwells in unapproachable light (1 Timothy 6:16) and He is a consuming fire (Hebrews 12:29). He will consume utterly anything which is tainted with evil, sin or error. Think of it like this: if you had painted a perfect picture or baked a beautiful cake and decorated it, or if you had built a superb garden, what would you do or feel if someone wanted to scratch your picture, poison your cake, or overthrow your garden? We are God’s workmanship. We have ruined it, His picture, His garden! Sin, iniquity, error, transgression do this. They spoil and maim, they ruin and break up. Would that be acceptable to you? Or would you not be angry?

  • True life is a life of repentance.
    ‘Therefore say to them, ‘Thus declares the Lordof hosts: Return to me, says the Lord of hosts, and I will return to you, says the Lord of hosts’ (Zechariah 1:3).
    There are two key thoughts in verse 3 and they are quite clearly stated. The first is the command for the people to return to the Lord, and then there is the consequence, outcome or fruit – the Lord will return to the people. Before we go any further we must pause and declare the great grace and mercy of God here. The fathers (and all mankind, including us) do not listen to God. We are under His wrath. But He does not pour this out immediately! Isn’t that remarkable? Think of the countless warnings God gave to the people in Israel and Judah. Or think of the warnings the Lord gave to Pharaoh. Or what about the people in Noah’s day. The Lord gave ample warning that He would one day come and bring judgement for wickedness and sin. There have been many temporal judgements on the world or on nations, or even on individuals, and these act as warnings to us. One day there will be a final reckoning! We stand at that point in history where we can look back and see that God has poured out His wrath on the sinless substitute, Christ Jesus, at Calvary, and such propitiation (the diverting of wrath from us to another) is available.

 

The word rendered as ‘return’ in verse 3 means to ‘turnabout’ and signifies repentance – a change of mind and direction. You were walking in one way with one aim and purpose, but then you about face and walk in the opposite direction with a diametrically opposed way of thinking. Now verse 3 may appear to be somewhat of a surprise!

 

The Lord of hosts is calling the people who returned from Babylon to return to Him i.e. to repent. Now you may be thinking: wouldn’t those who came back from Babylon in 536 BC have been ones who wanted to see the Lord vindicated and glorified? Would not these be the zealous ones who sought the Lord rather than those who were left behind and settled in Babylon? Are not these the ransomed of the Lord who returned to Jerusalem with singing as prophesied by Isaiah? (Isaiah 53:10, 51:11). Perhaps. But we err greatly if we think that repentance is a one-off affair at the start of our walk with God. There are two things we need to bear in mind here:

First, our natural tendency / inclination is to drift from God. We can see this in a number of ways:
(a) think of the many exhortations to wake up, rouse yourself, stir up your gift and so on. If we did not drift away there would be no need for these calls.
(b)  think of the many calls to ‘keep.’ For example:

  • Keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace (Ephesians 4:3)
  • Keep yourself pure )(1 Timothy 5:22)
  • Keep oneself unspotted from the world (James 1:27)
  • Keep yourselves from idols (1 John 5:21)
  • Keep yourselves in the love of God (Jude 1:21)

(c) consider the scripture in Hebrews 2:1-3a.

(d) consider the sad and sorry fact that we continue to sin (even though we do not want to as believers). Read Paul’s testimony in Romans 7:18-25.

(e) Finally, hear the words of the apostle John in 1 John 1:8-10).

We sin, we struggle / wrestle with the flesh, we forget, we drift and we are assailed by Satan and the world. Such a state of affairs means that we should often repent. We need to draw near to God, come back to Him, forsake our sin, do everything we can to remember what God has done, fight the devil and the world, realign ourselves in accordance with God and His ways. We need to repent!

But there is another aspect to repentance which I fear is sorely missing today. It ought to be at the forefront of our evangelism. Second: repentance is the flip0of-faith. If faith is the ‘heads’ on a coin, repentance is the ‘tails.’ We are perhaps guilty of over-emphasising faith – trust in God. If we look at the message that Christ declared at the start of His ministry, we find that the emphasis is rather on repentance, (Matthew 4:17, Mark 1:15, Matthew 9:13, Mark 2:17, Luke 5:32).

Repentance focuses our thought on turning around from our current course. We are going astray, walking down the wrong path, and not following the path of righteousness. Wherever repentance and faith are found together in Scripture, in all cases, repentance comes first: (Matthew 21:32, Mark 1:14b-15, Acts 19:4, Acts 20:21, Hebrews 6:1). We need to stop, re-consider, think again, and change our course of action – and that is where faith comes in. Asking a person to put trust in God whilst they are walking in the wrong way, that is, away from God – is not likely to succeed. We need to call people to turn around before they can place trust in God!

When we see God in all His holiness and purity and it causes us to tremble and quake, and we think, ‘What am I doing? I must be mad to pursue this sinful way!’ Then we think again and turn our lives from the old ways we have been pursuing – this is repentance towards God (in His holiness) and from dead works (our old sinful way). But then we also see Christ, and especially Him on the cross bearing our sin. When we see Him dying and rising we love Him and run to Him for help and salvation – this is faith in Jesus Christ.

(b) The Lord returns! Verse 3 is quite clear on the process. When a person responds to the command of the Lord to return, He will return to them. We get a clear picture of this if we look at the parable of the prodigal son (Luke 15:11f). I’m sure you remember the story. The younger of the two sons wanted to have the inheritance from his father before the father died. He took it and went and spent it all on loose living. Ending up in a pigsty, eating the pigs’ food. But we then read that ‘he came to himself’ (Luke 15:17), that he decided to go back to his father saying that he had ‘sinned against heaven and before’ his father (Luke 15:18) and that he humbled himself, requesting to become ‘one of your hired servants’ (Luke 15:19). So the younger son arose and set off to return to his father, but then we read: ‘but when he was still a great way off, his father saw him and had compassion, and ran and fell on his neck and kissed him’ (Luke 15:20). Isn’t that wonderful?

The same basic truth / ideas is expressed more clearly by James, ‘Draw near to God and He will draw near to you’ (James 4:8). Such a statement is easy to repeat and grasp, especially with the story of the prodigal son we have just considered. However, it is important to give the statement its true context. James begins by pointing out that wars and fights come because of selfish lusts and desires and because we have a worldly and fleshly inclination but the Holy Spirit years within us jealousy. He then states that God is with the humble and lowly giving grace but He resists the proud – which thought seems to be an allusion to several OT and NT Scriptures (Job 22:29, Psalm 138:6, Proverbs 3:34, Matthew 23:12, 1 Peter 5:5). Following this we read a series of 7 exhortations of which the third is the one we noted. These exhortations start with the word ‘therefore.’

Therefore:
(1) submit to God
(2) Resist the devil and he will flee from you
(3) Draw near to God and He will draw near to you.
(4) Cleanse your hands, you sinners and
(5) purify your hearts, you double-minded.
(6) Lament and mourn and weep! Let your laughter be turned to mourning and your joy to gloom.
(7) Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and He will lift you up (James 4:7-10).

It is clear from what James says that the essence of these imperatives is the nature of repentance. We need to humble ourselves by stopping our independent autonomous lifestyle, put on our armour of faith against the devil and avail ourselves of the cleansing power of the Cross and Christ. Now all that we have said is a part of our daily lives. Life is one of repentance from sin, error, evil and faith towards God and Christ.

  1. Pay attention to your history!

Zechariah 4-6. A view or reading of church history is often played down or ignored in many circles. Sometimes for very dubious reasons. But we ought to be students of church history  is clear when you look at the length of time it took the Lord to reveal Scripture to us. Also we consider testimony to be an important tool or witness to faith – and church history is just that – testimonies of believers through the ages. Now these verses help us to understand how to read church history. We can consider the following lessons:

  • Beware of your traditions.
  • The reluctance to repent (or the need to always reform)
  • Do not trust to mere men – trust in the word (the problem of personalities)

 

  • Beware of your traditions. In verse 4 we hear an exhortation: “Do not be like your fathers.” It is natural to follow in the footsteps of fathers (and mothers). How often do you hear someone say, ‘He sounds just like his father!’ As Christians we are equally prone to follow in the footsteps of our forebears – our fathers in the faith. You may think this is a good thing but that is not necessarily the case Do you wonder why I say this? Have I gone mad? NO! Let me explain what I mean. We have fathers in the faith – believers who have gone before us and have walked the walk of faith before we came on the scene. Where can we see their walk of faith we ought to glory and rejoice and we ought to seek to emulate them. But where we see their faults and failings we ought to avoid these like the plague. But what do we do? Well in practice we simply continue the traditions that have been handed down. We are lazy and do not think deeply. In a lot of cases these traditions are time-bound and do not necessarily pass well from one age to the next. The fact is that God has no grandchildren and each generation must seek to follow the Lord afresh. That does not mean we ignore or belittle those who have gone before us – NO! But we live in this age and we must endeavour to follow Christ in this age. The truths and principles of Scripture NEVER CHANGE. But the application does change.

 

  • The reluctance to repent (or need to always reform). Their fathers had the same privileges and advantages as the people in Zechariah’s day. They had the prophets who brought God’s word through preaching, and therefore they could hear what God had to say. They heard the call to repent from the Lord through the prophets (verse 4). But they did not act on this, they did not combine it with faith. They did not listen intelligently and they did not prick up their ears and do what was needed. I think the main problem is that we naturally assume that we are like trains which can only go forwards or backwards. Once we have ‘repented’ we think that all the work is done with. Instead we ought to realise that we are like a house that has fallen into great disrepair and need much renovation. When we are converted it is like being translated from one kingdom to another (Colossians 1:13). When we are born again it is like being a new creature with a new vision (John 3). But nobody goes from sinner to 100% fit for heaven overnight. There is a long proves of sanctification and we are all WOPs – works in progress. This means that for a long time we have to have our flooring replaced – our ground and foundation. We have to change our minds and allow the Lord to choose the pattern and structure for the floors of our lives. When that is done perhaps there is some time to allow it to settle but then the walls need repairing and repainting so that when people come to visit there is something good to see instead of cracks and mould, or peeling paint. Thus we need to always be ready to reform.

We need often to repent. Think on these verses: Romans 12:1-2, 2 Corinthians 4:16, Ephesians 4:20-24. Our minds, our inwards man needs to be renewed on a daily basis. Their fathers refused to do this! The Pharisees of Jesus’ day refused to reform and repent. Hebrews 4 is a warning about those who wandered in the wilderness and refused to obey God when it came time to enter the Promised Land. Are we the same when we hold onto outmoded forms and rituals? I think the great problem can be summed up like this: it is one of comfortableness and a settled nature. (See Zephaniah 1:12). The prophet Jeremiah spoke in a similar way concerning Moab (Jeremiah 48:11). Have we become too comfortable, predictable and unaware of God’s will and ways? (See what the Lord looks for in Isaiah 66:2, Isaiah 57:15, Philippians 2:5-8). Now the nation as a whole, and the kings and nobles in particular, did not repent even though Jeremiah made repeated calls from the Lord for them to do so. Nevertheless there were some who did. I am thinking of the likes of Daniel and others who were taken into captivity. Thus our text points to these as ones who turned back to follow the Lord (Zechariah 1:6). It may be worth looking at Daniel’s prayer in your own time – see Daniel 9:1f. In concluding this part – have a view of church history to see how people repented and reformed.

  1. The power of the Lord’s word or the faithfulness of the Lord. (Zechariah 1:5-6). The wrath of God leads us to repentance which is simply demonstrated throughout church history. Now we consider what does not alter. In verse 6 we have a contrasting word ‘yet.’ So in stark contrast to the fathers and the prophets we have God’s word. All men die. Even the good ones like prophets (Job 14:1-2, James 1:11). IN stark contrast the word of God lasts forever (Isaiah 40:6-8). IN our test it is put differently (see verse 5). It is sad to reflect that those who have gone before are truly gone. Some may think that they can ‘live on’ in their work, achievement, their monuments and so on. But these do no disguise the fact that they are in fact no longer here with us. We ought to realise that we are not all that.

But there is something which does last! The words and statutes of the Lord. Notice how this is put. First they are God’s, that is, they belong to God. They are ‘My words and My statutes.’ We must be very careful to recognise the origin of these words here. How sad it is that many simply consider these as the words of mere men scrambling around trying to make sense of things. What does God have to say? Read Isaiah 66:2. Do we tremble at God’s word? Really? Now this means we ought to be careful to look into the words of Scripture carefully.

Second, they are words and statues command by the commissioned. In other words, these words and statutes are not to be played around with or altered or held in contempt. No! They must be faithfully passed on. They must be held as dearly and as precious as the One who brought them into being. The prophets are given the title ‘My servants.’ A servant does not initiate things or produce a message from himself! No! He takes what he has been given and passes it on faithfully. But the prophets died. Just as the father did. So …

Third. They are the words and statutes that overtook the fathers and the prophets. God’s word is much more than simply long-lasting. It is eternal (Psalm 119:89). Such a though is obvious when you think about it. The eternal God can only utter words which are eternal. What God says is true and always will be. God never needs to qualify, adjust, correct, amend or alter anything He says at all. He has no plan B.

Contrast this with man’s words and statutes. How often do we have to alter or change our words and statutes? Think of the re-structuring of institutions such as education. One year a set of ‘words’ and ‘rules’ prevails as the guide for teaching and the next a new set is rolled out. Or think of government. One government lays its plans for legislation and the next repels and alters those laws in conformity with a new way of thinking! God’s words when once spoken, and God’s statutes when once written down, last for eternity. They are reliable, trustworthy and faithful. This last point is worth dwelling on.

Fourth. The words and statutes of God are immutable – they will never change. Here we are brought face-to-face with the faithfulness of God. We tend to think of faithfulness as something that is always positive. When we say someone is reliable, or trustworthy, what we mean is that they are on our side, they agree with our way of thinking. But true faithfulness is that quality or remaining true to your word. This means that when the Lord warns us of the consequences of wrong actions we can be absolutely sure that these will result. (See Deuteronomy 28. especially verses 33, 36 and 37).

Final Thoughts:

  • God, the Lord of hosts, the Almighty, Holy One of Israel is angry – very angry – about sin, rebellion and evil

 

  • Repentance is a first course of action for all. Repentance and faith, coming back to the Lord daily, frequently (Matthew 11:28).

 

  • The history of the true church is one of reform – repentance, turning back to the Lord. Revival.

 

  • God’s word will outlast all of us! Ours is a passing moment in history. But God’s word will continue forever.

 

  • Will we continually come back to the Lord and His word?

 

September 29th 2019: John Funnell

John Funnell-sept19Luke 19:1-10

Winter is coming. Christmas is near. Some people love Christmas. We all know the story of A Christmas Carol by Charles Dickens. I haven’t read the book, but have seen the film. To me, Ebenezer Scrooge is Michael Caine! He was a wealthy, yet tight-fisted man. He treated Bob Cratchit and his family very badly. Through various ghostly and spiritual influences, Scrooge miraculously turns into a wonderful philanthropist. Everyone is happy. It’s a classic tale.

Many people see this story as quite similar to the story of Zacchaeus. Jesus turns a wealthy tax collector into a nice, generous person who gives half of what he earns to the poor. However, such a simplistic interpretation doesn’t do it justice. It limits us to read it as part of the crowd, who see Zacchaeus as a known sinner (verse 7). Once Jesus gets involved he becomes a generous Christian.

Viewing this story from the perspective of the crowd is limiting. Step back from the crowd and stop being simply a spectator. What truly matters is the viewpoint of Jesus, looking at this through Jesus’ eyes.

Jesus ignores the crowd. They swarm around Him yet He goes straight for the man in the tree. Why Zacchaeus? Dr. Luke provides us with many clues why. The crowds ‘pressed onto Jesus’. Why? Because they had heard God in flesh was there. To them, Jesus was an A-Lister celebrity. Zacchaeus was one of the people who wanted to see Jesus. Yet he had a problem; he was too short and couldn’t see over the heads of the crowd. His view is blocked. The detail of him being short didn’t need to be added. There must be a reason Dr. Luke added it to the narrative.

The Greek word for ‘short’ is interesting. It is not just used to describe height but also age. In John 19 we read of the blind man who was healed by Jesus. The Pharisees were not happy. His parents were called into court to be quizzed. Yet his parents say he is of age and can answer for himself. The same Greek word for age is used as to describe short. We see this again in Hebrews 11:11 when Sarah is described as beyond child-bearing age. It’s the same Greek word again. Dr. Luke adds the adjective ‘short’ because Zacchaeus was short but also because the word describes his status, especially in a society where age and status matter in a community. Dr. Luke added it not just to explain why he couldn’t see, but also to show Zacchaeus has a lowly status in his community. Zacchaeus’ ultimate problem was not his height but his family and friends had flocked to see Jesus and had left him behind. That’s the tragedy that sits behind the narrative. Zacchaeus was left behind by his community, abandoned by friends and family. He had no status. He was lost. Zacchaeus was all alone and without a loving community to guide him. Perhaps this is why he went down the wrong path and became a tax collector to Rome?

He climbed a fig tree – a symbol of prosperity. Fig leaves are a symbol of covering sin. Zacchaeus is trying to rise above. Jesus finds him in his sin, lonely, hiding up a fig tree. ‘And when Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said to him, “Zacchaeus, hurry and come down, for I must stay at your house today.”’ (Luke 19:5). Jesus calls out to Zacchaeus by name. He calls him down and reconciles him with his community. Jesus makes a public statement that he is a son of Abraham. He tells the crowd he is one of them. Zacchaeus is restored. Hallelujah!

‘And Jesus said to him, “Today salvation has come to this house, since he also is a son of Abraham.”’ (Luke 19:9).

 Jesus can come into the life of any person who has been outcast and left out by his community. He can bring them back into his community. This is a story about Christ, come into the world, coming to seek the lost. Hallelujah! “For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.” (Luke 19:10)

As Jesus was walking down the street He didn’t see what the crowd saw, He saw a broken man, trying to lift himself above his community, yet hiding. So Jesus came and He personally called him by name. And what did He do? He loved him. For the first time in a long time Zacchaeus knew he was loved. We see repentance. He gave half of his possessions to the poor. Zacchaeus gave freely and joyfully because He knew the overwhelming and overflowing love of Christ. Friends, the good news, the best news, is that Jesus’ love can do the same for us today.

If you have times when you feel low, exhausted, ashamed, overwhelmed, convicted by the weight of your sin, please know that Jesus is here for you. He will never ignore you for the crowd. He will call you by name. He’ll say, ‘My dear brother, my dear sister, ‘I love you.’ The creator of all time, space and matter says, ‘I love you.’ He says, ‘Come down from the tree of tiredness and shame, come down to your community, your church. I don’t care about your past, what anyone else thinks of you, I just want you. All that shame I buried at the cross.’

The call today to Christians and both non-Christians alike is ‘will you come down from your hiding place and take Jesus home with you, just like Zacchaeus? Will you let Jesus transform your life with His love? Today, salvation has come to the home. Will you take it?

September 15th 2019: Alan Davison

Alan Davison - Sept19‘Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord, so walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught,
abounding in thanksgiving.’

Colossians 2:6-7

There are a lot of things in our lives we learn but we hope we will never have to do again. Sometimes, some believe they need to hear the gospel, respond to it be saved, but then think they don’t need to carry on with it. They believe they don’t need daily repentance, they don’t need to continually come back to Jesus.

The Church at Colossae was doing quite well. Paul had not been there but had received detailed reports from Epaphras (Colossians 1:7-8). However, Paul was concerned that the Colossians were under threat of false teachers coming in and belittling Christ. Some of the false teachers were on about needing special knowledge. None of this really matters if all they offer is ‘something’ and Christ. Paul’s concern is that persuasive words might have the Colossians looking for something else. Paul is writing to Christians, reminding them the gospel is the foundation upon which they are to dwell.

‘Therefore, as you received Christ Jesus the Lord.’ Paul says the Colossians have received Christ Jesus. The gospel is an invitation to all. It gives ‘all the treasure of wisdom and knowledge’ (Colossians 2:3). For us to be aware of the preciousness of Christ we have knowledge of Christ but also wisdom to go on in the faith. Paul commends the Colossians for their order and steadfastness (v5).

1 Chronicles 12:38: all these men of war came to Hebron with a loyal heart. They knew their place in the line of battle. They also had loyal hearts. They were steadfast in the cause. We need both of these attributes.

Paul ends the 6th verse with ‘The Lord.’ He emphasises a lofty view of Christ. He wants the Colossians, and us, to come back to the fact that Jesus is Lord. They and we are to continue in Him. We must come to Christ and Him alone. There are no other qualifications. We don’t need anything else. Acts 16:30-31. Don’t over-complicate the gospel.

‘So walk in him, rooted and built up in him and established in the faith, just as you were taught, abounding in thanksgiving’ (Colossians 2:7). This is Paul’s slogan for Christian living. We know the Jews used this to behave in a morally upright manner. To accept Christ is not only to know about Him, it’s also to accept Christ Himself. We’re in a living relationship with Christ, we’re in Christ.

Our walk is to be rooted and built up. Start with a firm foundation – Christ. Draw spiritual nourishment from Christ (v 19). We are to meditate on God’s words as we seek to walk. Once we have settled on a foundation, then we need to build upon it. It’s an ongoing process. Seek to build on the foundation of Christ under His leadership. The building process can and will take time.

A proper building requires patience. God has a great deal of patience with His children and knows how much we can handle at a time. Jesus is perfect but we don’t always hold on to Him as we should. So we seek to strengthen our faith and increase its tenacity under the guidance of the Holy Spirit and the power of Jesus Christ. The more faith we have in Jesus, the less we will struggle on in ourselves and the more we will come to Him in prayer. We retain the same gospel principles and seek to put these into practise.

In our spiritual lives we can all go through periods when we go spiritually off the boil. We need to look back at the basics, look back at the foundation, how far we have come. Paul ends by saying we should do all this ‘abounding in thanksgiving.’ Such a thankfulness speaks of God rather than ourselves. It is of joy. If we do struggle, look to the cross and marvel at His grace. 

September 8th 2019: Owen Jones

Owen Jones-Sept19‘But Ruth said, “Do not urge me to leave you or to return from following you. For where you go I will go, and where you lodge I will lodge. Your people shall be my people, and your God my God. Where you die I will die, and there will I be buried. May the Lord do so to me and more also if anything but death parts me from you.”’ (Ruth 1:16-17)

Mother-in law and daughter-in-law relationships are not the easiest of relationships to sustain. In this story of Ruth and Naomi some people may ask was it right for Naomi and her husband to leave Bethlehem to go to Moab. There was money in Moab – but when they got there, there was trouble. Providence is a great and glorious doctrine of scripture. Naomi lost her husband and two sons. How did Naomi feel? Have you ever received visitors after a bereavement who mean well but their pearls of wisdom only add to your misery? Naomi tried to persuade her daughters-in-law to go back to their home (v8) but they wept at the thought of this (v14). Orpah returned, Ruth was encouraged to go back. It is a very touching situation.

The text shows these two women stuck together, becoming part of the family history of Jesus. Things happen for a reason. God has only one purpose – His will. This morning we will develop two themes: (1) what one woman expresses and (2) what one woman experiences. Naomi expresses what she feels and Ruth experiences coming to faith.

  • Naomi expresses how she feels (verses 16-17). She had mixed feelings. Our first heroine never lost the sense of Yahweh’s loving kindness, yet she bares her soul. In all she has gone through God shows His loving kindness (Psalm 63:1, 1 John 4:10-11). Even in her grieving Naomi felt that love towards her. Later Boaz told Ruth he knew all about the love she showed Naomi, she was the talk of the town (Ruth 2:11). You may be going through the most difficult time of your life. Thank God His loving kindness is felt, known and experienced.

There is a paradox here. Naomi bares her soul. As we read the story we see how Naomi felt. She wept aloud (Ecclesiastes 3:4). There is a sense of loss. She felt God was her enemy (v13) that God was out to get her. Is it possible that a child of the Covenant could feel this? Well, here’s an example. She had suffered not only the loss of her husband but also her two sons. The future looked bleak. She was penniless, aging, feeling betrayed. Yet at the same time she knew the loving kindness of God. Do you sometimes feel that everything is against you, yet you still come to church, read the Bible? Can you have mixed feelings when going through the valley of the shadow? Yes! David prayed, in a sense of desolation (Psalm 22:1). This was David’s lament. Someone else prayed such a prayer on the cross, but it began ‘My God’. He still had faith!

As the British abroad we have a traditional picture of never complaining, having a stiff upper lip. As a Christian is there ever that aspect of calling on God, ‘Why?’ Do you weep aloud? Do you feel your trouble is worse than others? Face this situation bravely, spiritually, honestly.

  • Ruth experiences coming to faith (Ruth 1:16-17). Here is spiritual conversion, Old Testament style. She is speaking as a young woman that’s come to know or coming to know God. Such an experience can take place when there is trouble. Ruth saw something in the life of her mother-in-law; Naomi loves Ruth even though she was a Moabitess. Though Naomi was widowed and penniless, she possessed something Ruth wanted – faith. At funerals every one of us is presented with our destiny, where earthy life culminates. This woman comes to the Lord in the depth of misery. Naomi tells her to go back but Ruth is drawn from Moab, from gods to the loving God her mother-in-law enjoyed. Do you know what it is to find God, to find Christ, to come to Calvary by faith?

Ruth was to become a proselyte – a rebel becoming a Jew. The glory is when you become a Christian you belong to the people of God, you become part of the royal priesthood (1 Peter 2:9). This is what happened to Ruth. Ruth and Naomi belonged to the same family, they walked together (v17). In Roch, will you leave the world and cleave to Christ? Will you cease to walk in darkness and come to the light of Christ? Perhaps tragedy has crossed your path recently or years ago and you still can’t get over it, yet you still know something of the loving kindness of God? Have you ever felt like Naomi felt, knowing the loving kindness of God yet things happen you don’t understand? Yet God is graciously refining you gold in a furnace, ultimately for His glory and your well-being.

September 1st 2019: Gareth Edwards

Gareth Edwards Sept 2019Luke 7:36-50, Exodus 20:14

An addition to the Authorised Version of the Bible in 1631 earned the printer a significant fine of £350 imposed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. Its problem – it omitted one word out of that particular print, the word ‘not’ from the seventh Commandment. It read, ‘You shall commit adultery.’ For that, the version of the Bible became known as the ‘wicked Bible.’ In our study of the seventh Commandment we are certainly not going to leave out ‘not!’ Today, of course, such an oversight might be rewarded. A university lecturer asked a class if they could downsize the Ten Commandments, which would they leave out. The majority said the seventh commandment.

We live in an age there where marriage is under constant attack; people are living together, having affairs, making it seem justifiable. People regard the seventh Commandment as outdated. A positive assertion of marriage is needed all the more today because it is so widely disregarded. God’s way is the right way, God’s way is the best way.

  1. The attack upon marriage and the promotion of promiscuous behaviour.

We are told that adultery and other forms of sexual immorality are natural, normal and necessary. The Bible states from the beginning God intended all sexual activity to be between one man and one woman within the context of marriage (Genesis 2:24).

Man was not created to be like the animals but to enjoy a single, committed relationship for life. The very word adultery means a violation of marriage by breaking commitment (Leviticus 20:10). Although God often showed mercy to such sinners, the severity of punishment reveals the severity of the crime.

Following on from the lie that adultery is natural, there is the additional lie that adultery is normal. Television, newspapers and magazines are constantly filled with adultery. But adultery is abnormal to God’s purpose. He reserves His strongest words for it (Jeremiah 5:7-9). The consequences of adultery and promiscuity are far reaching: the devastation of partners, the great emotional cost for children, the cost to state in terms of the price of divorce in our land. The Lord reserves the most serious warnings for any who believe such behaviour is normal.

The ultimate excuse for adultery is the spouse no longer loves his or her spouse and finds greater happiness in the arms of another. This is based on the mistaken belief that love is just an emotion that comes and goes. It goes against Biblical teaching in which one gives oneself exclusively to one other, irrespective of the ebb and flow of feelings. Real love is not self-seeking, it is self-sacrificing (Ephesians 5:25). Many times those who have seen adulterers’ promiscuity as the road to happiness have found it as the road to ruin.

The sanctity of marriage and rejection of sexual acts outside marriage is normal, natural and necessary. Satan seeks to destroy and damage the God-ordained order for family and individuals. The Lord Jesus Christ cites adultery as the grounds for gaining divorce (Mark 10). It is sad that Christians fall for the lie. It is best seen in ministers who have committed adultery but are allowed back into the pulpit. Sin, of course, is forgiven and the minister should be received back into the fellowship of the church. But by his infidelity to his wife, they have barred themselves from preaching. 

  1. The deceitfulness of adultery.

For many this Commandment has no fear because we can honestly say we have never committed adultery, we have been faithful to our husband or wife. However, that is to ignore the seed of adultery that is found in our hearts. All of us, in some way, have been guilty of weakening our marriages. The scriptures point us to the way sexual activity prior to marriage breaches the seventh Commandment. The abuse of the gift of our sexuality before marriage deprives a future wife or husband (1 Corinthians 6:9-10, 18). Today many people believe that having many partners is not wrong, provided they are one at a time. There are many problems that conflict marriages because of sexual activity outside, prior to marriage.

People can engage in marital unfaithfulness. They may enjoy sexual fantasy in viewing inappropriate material, flirting with the opposite sex. This weakens marriage too, even if there is no acting on the thought. The scriptures call us to be pure in thought and action. We are to guard our minds from all immorality (Philippians 4:8). God knows what we feed our minds on.

There is the problem of inappropriate thoughts. This is what Jesus meant when He said, “I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart,” (Matthew 5:28). Accordingly, there is no-one here this morning who is not guilty of breaking the seventh Commandment. When we condemn the actions of others which we find obscene and sickens us, remember we too have been guilty of obscenity which sickens Him. We too need forgiveness. There is help at hand in the Lord Jesus Christ.

The grace of God for adulterers is best seen in three women who broke the seventh Commandment:

           The woman of Samaria (John 4:1-26)
         The woman, believed to be Mary Magdalene, who scandalised the Pharisees                      (Luke 7),
          The woman caught in the act of adultery (John 8:1-11).

            What do we see in each case?

  • Whereas others were keen to condemn these women, Jesus did not. On the contrary, He deals with them as if they were respectable.
  • He forgives their sin, bringing them freedom from the penalty of sin.
  • He changed their lives, transforming them into disciples who loved righteousness. He establishes a new relationship in their lives with God and God’s law.
  • The Saviour remained faithful to them, even going to die on the cross to pay the price of their sin.

There is no doubt they continued to fail Him, even as we do, but He never forsook them, even as He never forsakes us.

The good news, the gospel news, then is there is forgiveness for adulterers and those with promiscuous behaviour, to those who repent. Forgiveness is available to all who turn to Christ. But it also involves sinning no more. In God’s power they must flee from the sin of the past and not repeat it. You can’t continue in the old ways. People who do are not truly born again.

  1. Marriage is used in the Bible as a picture of the relationship between God and His people. That’s a sobering challenge to those of us who are married. Are our marriages a picture of the relationship between God and His people? Do we reflect the union of Christ and the Church? We may not commit physical adultery but there may be nastiness, attitudes that don’t speak of a commitment of love.

Even amongst Christians there are those who defile their marriage with pornography, who seek to use their partner in the porn of their own sordid experience of sinful immorality. Praise be to God, not only in their forgiveness, not only in their restoration, there is also the complete, never-ending commitment of the Lord Jesus Christ to each and every one of us that can never be broken. He will never forsake us, He will never abuse us. He will never cease to love us. He will also be to us our heavenly spouse who has sacrificed Himself for our eternal good.

The seventh Commandment does have a ‘not’ in it, it’s not left out. It is there for the glory of God, the good of His people and the good of all mankind.