Bible

Living a Life of Gratitude

Living-a-life-of-gratitude

Prayer and Praise

When our kids were little, we used to drive the whole family north from Melbourne up to Queensland in the summer holidays to visit their grandparents. It was a multiple day trip and one of the things I hated to do was stop for petrol. After all, all those trucks, caravans and slow pokes I had been passing throughout the day, would now be passing me. My wife, Nicole always fills up for petrol with about 1/4 tank remaining. I tend to see how far I can go on a tank of petrol. I’ll never forget one night, as it was getting dark, looking at the red ‘empty’ fuel night wondering if we would make it to the next petrol station (while Nicole was saying, “I told you so!”). I remember telling all the kids in the back seat, “Pray!” Yes, we all prayed for what seemed like an eternity. Thankfully, God had mercy and a petrol station appeared just in time and I said out loud, “Thank you, God!”. After filling up, we headed off again and as we drove on in the silence of the night, I was challenged. I realised that the intensity of our praise did not match the intensity of our prayer! Have you ever experienced something similar? Ingratitude is not that uncommon.

Ten Lepers Healed

In Luke 17:11-19, we have the story of Jesus healing 10 lepers. Jesus is on his way to Jerusalem, travelling along the border between Samaria and Galilee, two places where the people had strong hatred and animosity towards each other. Ten lepers stood at a distance from Jesus as he entered into a village. Biblical leprosy differed somewhat from today’s various skin conditions, but it was a highly contagious disease that required the person to be isolated from other people. Jews viewed leprosy as a punishment for sin or a mark of God’s displeasure. These lepers must have heard of Jesus healing one of the worst lepers in Galilee a few months earlier (see Luke 5:12-16). In desperation, they cried out for mercy. Without a miracle, their situation would remain hopeless.

They knew that Jesus was approachable and when Jesus saw them he did so through eyes of mercy and compassion. Jesus told them to go and show themselves to the priests, as the law required (See Leviticus 14-15). The priest would examine them and then issue a certificate of clearance if they were healed. This was a test of their faith and obedience (much like Naaman of old – see 2 Kings 5). As they went they were healed. Dry scales fell from them, white spots disappeared, a healthy colour returned to their flesh, their disfigured members were restored, and the thrill of new life filled their whole being with incredible joy. They could now return to normal life with their families and friends. Each one of them must have been ecstatic with excitement and gratitude to Jesus.

One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan (vs.15-16). When this man saw that he was healed, instead of going on to see the priest (to be declared clean), he turned back towards Jesus to express his thanks and praise. He lifted his voice in praise as he had done in prayer (vs.13) before going on his way to enjoy his healing. He was the least likely person to come back but he had an attitude of gratitude.

Jesus responded by asking, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner (vs.17-18)?” Feel Jesus’ surprise, disappointment and possibly sadness. Ten had received a blessing but only one took time to stop, break from the group, and return to give thanks to Jesus. The other nine hurried on to be with their families and friends. Jesus said to this one man, “Arise, go your way. Your faith has made you well (or “saved you” - vs.19)." While all ten were “healed”, only one was “saved”, experiencing spiritual healing and wholeness. Nine were healed in their bodies, restored to society but not cleansed of the sin of ingratitude. Only one was cleansed completely.

Lessons for Today

There are so many different and unique applications of this story for us today. Here are a few:

  1. Take time daily to express thanks to God. A ‘quiet time’ of some sort is a terrific way to start each day. Read God’s Word, talk to God and share your requests, but be sure to take time to praise and thank God for his goodness. Make this your pattern for prayer. This is especially important during times of pressure and difficulty when we so easily forget what God has done for us in the past.
  2. Have your guard up against negativity. It is so easy to focus on what is not going well rather than what is. Before long, we can find ourselves grumbling, complaining and whinging. Our words and attitudes affect the atmosphere around us and push away our joy and peace. Stick a thermometer in your mouth and catch yourself when negativity settles in.
  3. Approach gathering together with others to worship God as a priority. Church services are a meeting with God. The singing and worship times aren’t for us. They are an opportunity for us to express our thanks and praise to God as a church family.
  4. Never limit who God might use you to bless. This Samaritan leper was a person living on the margins, away from the general public. Yet Jesus reached out to him in love and compassion. Remember no one is too far from the grace of God. Faith can show up in surprising places, including across common social and racial boundaries.
  5. Keep an attitude of gratitude in all your relationships. Express appreciation to people regularly, say “thank you” and choose not to take anything for granted. Each day is a gift. Any success we may attain is always aided by the help and support of others. Humility acknowledges that God and others contribute to the achievements of our life.

Reflection Questions

  1. Consider the aspects of prayer (asking God for assistance) and praise (thanking God for his help). Which do you think we are better at or do more of?
  2. What two specific things they are most thankful to God for?
  3. In what ways does gratitude affect the atmosphere our our mind and our world?
  4. What could lack of punctuality to church services say about our attitude to the times we have of praise and worship together? Have we made the preaching more valuable to us?
  5. Jesus healed these ten lepers out of compassion. He is still able and willing to heal today. Take time to pray for someone in your world who is unwell.
  6. Jesus also ‘saved’ this man, bringing spiritual wholeness to his life. Take time to pray for friends and family members, that they will experience Jesus’ love and forgiveness.

Stories of Jesus Transforming People’s Lives

Jesus the Transformer

Jesus, THE Transformer

This year our theme is ‘Jesus, the Transformer’. In a world of upheaval and uncertainty, Jesus is our hope. Only he can change a human heart and transform a community and a nation. While on earth, Jesus sought to bring positive change to his world – one life at a time and one story at a time. He is still doing the same today in our time. That’s why our vision as a church over this last 3-year period has been “to see over 10,000 stories of transformation by 2016.” As each one of us engages with our world (through focusing on 1 person to be a blessing to) and connects in community and service, this vision can become a reality.

Gospel Stories

So far this year, we have been working through the Gospels, gleaning insights and inspiration from the stories of Jesus changing people’s lives. [Visit the church web site or phone app to access audio and video podcasts of these messages from our teaching team]

  • Jesus and the Supper (Mark 14:12-26). Jesus calls each of us to the table, where he shares a meal with us, displaying his great love to be demonstrated through his death on the cross.
  • Jesus and Judas (Mark 14:10-11, 43-52). Like Jesus, we may experience betrayal even from those close to us. Through God’s grace we can still offer forgiveness, even if reconciliation isn’t always possible.
  • Jesus and Peter (Mark 14:27-31, 66-72). The story of the denial shows us that we all fall and fail at some time, yet Jesus reaches out to us in forgiving love to free us from guilt and shame, restoring us and commissioning us for kingdom contribution.
  • Jesus and the Outsiders. Jesus was always reaching out to people outside of the racial and social confines and boundaries established by the Jewish religion. This reminds us that no one is too far from the love and grace of God.
  • Jesus and his Mother (John 1:25-27). Jesus’ love and care for his mother, even from the pain of the cross, gives us an example of the importance of honouring our own parents.
  • Jesus and the Rich Young Ruler (Luke 18:18-30). Often there is one thing that stops us from full surrender to Jesus. For this man, it was his wealth.
  • Jesus and the Demoniac (Mark 5:1-20). No one is too far from the freedom that is available to them through Jesus. Jesus is more powerful than any demon, stronghold or destructive habit.
  • Jesus and the Prostitute (Luke 7:36-50). Jesus’ grace is shown to all of us, even those caught in a life of sin.
  • Jesus and the Little Boy‘s Lunch (Luke 9:9-17). When we bring what we have to Jesus, even if it does not seem like much, Jesus is able to use it and multiply it for the benefit of others.
  • Jesus and the Prophet (Luke 7:18-28). Jesus doesn't always do things the way we expect him to. His ways and his thoughts are much higher than our ways and thoughts. This can lead to disappointment if we are not careful. But we must never doubt the faithfulness of God to fulfil his promises - in his way and his time.

Reflection Questions

  1. Which Gospel story so far this year has had the greatest impact on you? Why?
  2. This year we are encouraging everyone to Focus on 1 person who they are praying to come to know Jesus. We can do this practically by seeking to BLESS that person. Review the BLESS acronym and reflect on how this is working in your own relationships. How can your Life Group further apply the Focus 1 strategy for reaching people for Jesus?
  3. The rich young ruler’s wealth kept him from following Jesus. What other ‘one thing’ can hold us back from full surrender to following Christ?
  4. Review the keys to being a great Life Group member. How do you think your group is going so far this year?
  5. Take time to share a story of what God has been doing in your life this year with someone else.
  6. What is your greatest challenge right now? Pray that Jesus will intervene, bringing change and transformation.
  7. Reflect on the six dimensions of the sacred meal and then celebrate communion together with family and friends.

Jesus and His Mother

MaryAs Jesus was dying on the cross, he was not completely alone. There were a small group of people who loved him dearly, right there until his last breath (John 19:25-27). They demonstrated great courage just to even be there. One of them was Mary - Jesus’ mother. I am sure Mary did not always understand her Son, Jesus (what he was up to and why he did what he did) but she always loved him. Her presence there was the most natural thing in the world for a mother. Jesus might be a criminal in the eyes of the Roman government, but he was her son. Imagine the anguish of watching your own son die. The undying love of a mother was on full display at the cross - through the heart of Mary.

Despite the agony he was experiencing with the entire salvation of the world hanging in the balance, Jesus saw his mother Mary and thought of her well-being in the days ahead. He could not entrust her to his brothers, as they did not yet believe in him (John 7:5) and Joseph had most likely passed away. Here was his mother, a widow, alone. He was her eldest son. Would she be okay? Who would look after her? There was John - his beloved disciple but also his cousin (Salome’s, Mary’s sister’s, son). So Jesus committed Mary to the care of John and John to the care of Mary, that these two would comfort each other’s loneliness when He was gone.

Notice Jesus’ care and respect for his mother. It was not uncommon for a crucified person to make a pronouncement or distribute their estate from the cross. Jesus had nothing - no home or possessions … but he had a mother - Mary. The Gospels record important words of Jesus from the cross, such as “My God, My God why have you forsaken me?”, “It is finished!” and “Into your hands I commit my spirit” - all sacred and treasured. But I think these are some of the most moving words Jesus spoke from that cross - demonstrating the love and care of a Son for his mother. Jesus, in his own pain, said, “Please, look after my mother!” One of the last things Jesus did was to ensure that the woman who birthed him, who taught him, and who loved him would have no lack.

Mary herself is an example of a devoted disciple and an exemplary mother. She was favoured by God (Luke 1:26-38), she had a responsive heart to God’s unexpected intentions for her life, she endured great hardship (Luke 2:34-35), and yet she treasured deeply all of the events of her life (Luke 2:19, 51). Not only was she at the cross when Jesus died, she saw him risen from the dead and she was in the upper room praying on the day of Pentecost (Acts 1:14), when they were all filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2:1-4).

No wonder Mary was called “blessed among all women.”

See also: Mother's Day 2016


Showdown in the Desert (pt.2)

Desert

Lessons from Jesus’ Temptation

Yesterday, we looked at Jesus' showdown in the dessert. Today, let's glean a few lessons for our own lives from this story.  

1. We are in a spiritual war.

We live in a spiritual battle zone between God and Satan, the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness. There is no neutral ground. We will either overcome or be overcome. The battle will intensify as history proceeds from this time until the return of Jesus. 

Before the world was created, a number of theologians believe that one of God's archangels was cast out of heaven and thrown to earth because of rebellion. This being became 'Satan' or the devil. In the Garden of Eden, Satan in the form of a serpent, deceived Adam and Eve, leading them to sin and forfeit their inheritance of dominion over the earth (Genesis 3:15-16). All through the Old Testament we see conflict between the “seed of the woman” (the godly line) and the “seed of the serpent” (the ungodly line). 

At the time of Jesus’ birth, King Herod attacked the new-born babies. When Jesus’ ministry begins, he is led into the wilderness where Satan tempts him personally. Throughout Jesus ministry Satan tries to trick him, even through one of his disciples, Peter. On the cross we have the ultimate battle against darkness.

Jesus was revealed to destroy the works of the evil one (1 John 3:8. Acts 10:38). On the cross, Jesus said, “It is finished.” Jesus prayed that the Father would “keep them from the evil one” (John 17:15) and told his disciples to pray, “Deliver us from the evil one (Matthew 6:13).”

The early church portrays a community of people advancing into the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ. Satan attacks and persecutes but does not overcome (Matthew 16:18-19. Romans 16:20).

In Ephesians 6:12, Paul speaks of the struggle (literally a wrestling match) we experience in life against the “schemes (methods or tricks) of the devil” in the spiritual realm. We enter God’s kingdom through much tribulation - pressure and hardships (Acts 14:22).

Revelation 12:1-20 gives us a prophetic picture of a pregnant woman about to give birth to new life - a son who will rule the nations. There is also an enormous dragon representing the devil or Satan. He is standing in front of the woman about to give birth so that he might devour her child the moment it was born. Then there is war in heaven as Michael and his angels fight against the Dragon and his angels. On earth again, we see the dragon pursuing the woman who is taken into the desert ... out of the serpent’s reach. Satan is enraged ... waged war against the rest of the woman’s offspring.

God has a plan and the devil has a plan. We are in the midst of this cosmic battle.

God is always seen as “birthing” something into the world. He is the creator. He is moving forward, taking ground for the kingdom and freeing those oppressed by the devil. God’s kingdom is forcefully advancing - offensive activity (Matthew 11:12). Satan is always seen as seeking to deceive or destroy and to hinder God’s work. Like a thief, he comes to “steal, kill and destroy” (John 10:10).

2. Satan will attack us.

Because we are in a spiritual warfare, we will know what it is to be tempted, tested and come under the attack of the devil. Satan is real and he hates God’s work in our lives. Again, it’s important to realise that not everything bad that happens to us is the devil at work. Sometimes our own sin or foolishness is the cause of our pain. At others times other people can cause us difficulty. Don’t blame everything on the devil! 

Luke 22:31-32. "Simon, Simon, Satan has asked to sift you as wheat. But I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers." NIV

2 Corinthians 2:10-11. If you forgive anyone, I also forgive him. And what I have forgiven - if there was anything to forgive - I have forgiven in the sight of Christ for your sake, in order that Satan might not outwit us. For we are not unaware of his schemes.

Ephesians 4:26-27. "In your anger do not sin": Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. NIV

Ephesians 6:11. Put on the full armour of God so that you can take your stand against the devil's schemes. NIV

James 4:7. Submit yourselves, then, to God. Resist the devil, and he will flee from you.

1 Peter 5:8-9. Be self-controlled and alert. Your enemy the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. Resist him, standing firm in the faith, because you know that your brothers throughout the world are undergoing the same kind of sufferings. NIV 

We are in a spiritual war and we will be attacked, so we need to be alert and on guard. Satan may not tempt us in exactly the same way as he did Jesus, because as we are not the unique Son of God. However, he tries to trip us up and offer us shortcuts that hinder our walk with God.

Tests or temptations are not bad. In fact, they may be sent by God (James 1:2-4). If we are to grow spiritually, we can expect trials. The main issue is our response to the test. Do we look to God to guide us through? Do we trust him or do we reassert our control?  Sometimes opting for comfort means selling our soul to the prince of this world. Our work, our status, our possessions, our family or even our ministry can stand in the way of knowing God. Satan always offers us an easy path without suffering or difficulty. When we lack trust in God, we try to force him to act on our behalf. At times we can attempt to control God rather than follow his leading.

Satan attacks all believers and especially leaders, seeking to destroy them. We must defend ourselves and conquer him in order to be effective ministers. We know that Satan seeks to blind the minds of unbelievers to keep them from hearing or understanding the gospel. He binds them in fear and hopelessness. Satan seeks to attack individual Christians through temptation, doubts, fear, deceit, sin habits and other strongholds. He seeks to hinder them from living in victory and especially from becoming active ambassadors for God’s kingdom. He will use anything from attacks on the mind to demonic spirits, sickness, curses (generational) or emotional wounds (bitterness, inferiority, fear, etc). This is a spiritual war, not fought with physical weapons or in the material plane. The battleground is within us. He is subtle and deceptive.

3. Our enemy targets our weakness.

Our spiritual enemy knows where we are vulnerable and targets his attack there. Satan has “schemes” which he uses to try to outwit us. He prowls around looking for a foothold or for an opportunity to take advantage of us.

Pray about your vulnerable or weak areas. It’s easy to gradually drift and Satan often uses subtle shifts or distractions to trap us. Imagine you’re the devil (just for a moment) or a head demon. Devise a strategy to defeat you! When are you most vulnerable? Build defences in these areas. Strengthen what is weak. Who’s praying for your weakness?

Deception is Satan’s only power over us. He comes as an “angel of light” (2 Corinthians 11:14). He uses the philosophies of the world, sin, riches, pride, idolatry, wrong desires or whatever he can. His plan is to deceive the whole world. He is a liar and the father of all lies and falsehood (gives birth to, sustains, source, author, begins). The lie began in heaven with Satan - he deceived himself (Isaiah 14:12-15). He is the Deceiver (Revelation 12:9; 13:14; 18:23; 19:20; 20:3,8,10. 2 John 7). He is the enemy of the truth. He hates it and there is no truth in him (2 Thessalonians 2:9. 1 John 2:21,22. Acts 5:3,4).

4. We can overcome!

Jesus has already defeated Satan at the cross. We have His authority and His power so we can defeat all the works of the enemy. Jesus Christ in us is greater than he who is in the world. The Second Adam did what the First Adam failed to do. He conquered temptation. He now lives in us and gives us the power to overcome, to escape and to resist the devil.

Jesus overcame the world, Satan and sin even though he was tempted just like us. We overcome by faith - trust and dependence upon Jesus, not our own strength. Christ in you. Let Him live (overcome) through you. As we watch and pray we can overcome temptation.

Mark 14:38. Watch and pray so that you will not fall into temptation. The spirit is willing, but the body is weak." (NIV)

Luke 21:36. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man." (NIV)

Use your weapons and your authority (2 Corinthians 10:3-5. Ephesians 6. Romans 12:1-2) – prayer, the Word, forgiveness and the name of Jesus.

Resist the devil! Flee, stand and fight.

5. Personal victory precedes public victory.

Jesus faces his temptation alone and we only know about it because he must have told his disciples what happened. In order to plunder Satan’s kingdom, Jesus would have to defeat him (Mark 3:22-27) and resisting temptation was the first of Satan’s defeats.

Jesus’ ministry was described like this. “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and … he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him (Acts 10:38 NIV).” Jesus came to destroy the works of the devil (1 John 3:8). 

Like David, we must defeat the “lions” and “bears” in our own lives (personal problems and bad habits) before we can take on the Goliath’s on behalf of a whole nation (1 Samuel 17:32- ). He learned to use his weapons. Jesus overcame Satan then the world.

As we deal with our own personal battles, we gain confidence and strength to help others overcome. By faith we must enter into this victory and storm the gates of hell. People need to be set free from the power of Satan.

Paul’s ministry was much like that of Jesus. God said to him, “I will rescue you from your own people and from the Gentiles. I am sending you to them to open their eyes and turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, so that they may receive forgiveness of sins and a place among those who are sanctified by faith in me (Acts 26:17-18 NIV).”

Jesus wants to help us overcome and be part of his army of warriors who, despite the overwhelming odds, will free many from the clutches of the enemy through the power of the Holy Spirit.

What are your private giants? Are you conquering them? Or do you need help (counsel, accountability, etc)? Have you given in to the lie that you will never overcome?

Conclusion

  1. Are you awake and alert to the spiritual battle we are engaged in?
  1. Are you aware of your weak or vulnerable areas? 
  1. Are you taking steps to guard yourself against the devil so that you can overcome him? 
  1. Do you see the importance of overcoming the enemy? You need it and so do others.

Prayer Points

  1. Pray that followers of Christ will have a fresh awareness and understanding of the spiritual battle that we are in as believers so that we are more awake and alert spiritually. 
  1. Pray that we will have our eyes open to the ways the devil attacks us personally. 
  1. Pray that we will become aware of their own weak and vulnerable areas. 
  1. Pray that we will take practical steps to guard ourselves against the devil in those areas. 
  1. Pray that we will see and believe that we can overcome every attack, temptation and test of the devil. 
  1. Pray that we will see the importance of personal victory so that God can use them to help set others free.

Showdown in the Desert (Pt.1)

Desert

Jesus has prepared well for impacting his world through total surrender, a strong relationship with his Father and the empowerment of the Holy Spirit.

The final aspect of his preparation is a showdown with the devil himself.

Immediately after the “mountain-top” experience at his water baptism, Luke describes Jesus as “full of the Spirit”. The Spirit then “led” Jesus into the desert or wilderness (in comparison to the garden paradise where Adam and Eve were tempted). Jesus fasted (ate no food) for 40 days. During these 40 days he was also tempted or tested by the devil. The three specific temptations recounted by Matthew and Luke seem to have occurred at the close of this period - when Jesus hunger was the greatest and his resistance the lowest.

As Christians, we sometimes face our greatest struggles right after conversion or some act of recommitment, rather than before. This should not surprise us.

God in his sovereignty initiates this time of testing. However, he allows no temptation except which furthers his ultimate purposes. Yet he never directly tempts anyone (James 1:13) and is wholly disassociated from evil. Because the Holy Spirit initiated these temptations, they should be understood not as a defensive struggle but as an offensive attack on the rule of Satan. The kingdom of God had come and the rule of this evil age was now challenged.

This test is similar to the 40 years period that God led Israel through the wilderness to humble them and test them in order to know what was in their heart, whether or not they would keep his commands (Deuteronomy 8:1-5). Also, 40 days and nights recalls the experiences of Moses (Exodus 24:18; 34:18) and Elijah (1 Kings 19:8).

Whereas Adam failed the great test and plunged the whole race into rebellion against God (Genesis 3), Jesus was faithful and demonstrated his qualification to become the Saviour. Jesus shows his moral qualifications as messiah by relying on God and his word, rather than like Adam, reaching for the power that Satan tempts him to take. What Adam as son of God was not, Jesus is. He is ready to minister on behalf of all humanity.

Jesus was also tempted as we are so that he could become our “merciful and faithful high priest” (Hebrews 2:17) and therefore be “able to help those who are being tempted” (Hebrews 2:15; 4:15-16). He becomes a model for us. These were real temptations. Jesus was tempted in every way just like us, yet without sin. Satan tempts Jesus. Jesus resists Satan.

The three temptations are somewhat unusual, in that they don’t appear to be a temptation to real “evil”. In each case, Satan uses a selfish tactic in justifying the action he wants Jesus to take. It was a temptation toward independence.

There are fascinating parallels between these three temptations of Jesus, the three temptations in the Garden of Eden (Genesis 3:6) and the three kinds of temptation 1 John 2:16 lists to summarise “everything in the world.”

“Do not love the world or the things in the world.  If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him.  For all that is in the world - the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life - is not of the Father but is of the world.  And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” (1 John 2:15-17).

1. First Temptation (Luke 4:3-4)

The devil said to him, “If you are the Son of God, tell this stone to become bread.” “Jesus answered, ‘It is written: Man does not live on bread alone’”. 

Satan questioned Jesus’ identity by saying, “If you are the Son of God …”

The devil tempts the Son of God to use his supernatural powers for his own ends. This seemed attractive, as Jesus was very hungry. He tried to get Jesus to use his power and authority to fulfil his own natural desires or appetites. However, Jesus didn’t use his miraculous power for personal benefit. Satan questions God’s provision and care and lures Jesus to act independently of the Father.

“Surely you should feed yourself, Jesus.”

It was not a temptation to a crime or sin in the traditional sense. It is a test as to what kind of Messiah will Jesus be – one who uses his power for his own ends or one who lives in dependence and trust in the Father to provide his needs.

On the cross, Jesus would have the same temptation to use his own powers to “save himself”. A criminal scoffed, “Aren’t you the Christ? Save yourself and us.” Spectators took up the cry: “Let him come down from the cross and we will believe in him .” But even with 12 legions of angels at his disposal, he would not call on them (Matthew 26:53). He would trust instead on the providential care of the Father. For Jesus to save others, he could not save himself. There was no easy, painless path.

This was the “lust of the flesh” and compares to “the tree was good for food.”

Yes, there is nothing wrong with feeding yourself, but when it conflicts with what God has ordained, it is sin.

Jesus conquered Satan’s attack with the “sword of the spirit”, which is the Word of God. Jesus knew the Word of God. It was in His heart and mind. “Your word I have hidden in my heart, that I might not sin against you.” (Ps.119:11). He didn’t discuss, contemplate or reason with the tempter. He gave a decisive “No!”

Jesus relied on his Father for food, not his own miraculous power. Jesus understands that life is more than food and is to be lived in obedience to God. For Jesus, the spirit ruled. His spirit was strong through feeding on God’s Word even though His body was weak through lack of food.

2. Second Temptation (Luke 4:5-8)

The devil led Jesus up to a high place and showed him in an instant all the kingdoms of the world. He said to him, “I will give you all their authority and splendour, for it has been given to me, and I can give it to anyone I want to. So if you worship me, it will all be yours.” Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Worship the Lord your God and serve him only’”.

The kingdoms of the world and their splendour were offered to Jesus if He would bow down and worship the tempter. This was a temptation to power, prominence, fame, fortune, and glory. Satan, as the “prince of this world” and the “ruler of this present age”, had the power to do this. Jesus did not challenge his ability to make such an offer. This is not an attempted deception by Satan to give what he could not.

This was the “lust of the eyes” (appealing to the ego or self) and compared to the fruit being “pleasing to the eye”.

The devil was tempting Jesus to avoid the sufferings of the cross. The temptation offered an easy shortcut to world dominion. It was a “cross-less solution” to the world’s problems. However, Jesus rejected all political concepts of messiahship. The world needed a saviour that would provide forgiveness, reconciliation with God and salvation from future judgement.

“Surely the Father wants you to have authority, so just give me your allegiance.”

Jesus answered emphatically: “Away from me, Satan! (Matthew 4:10)” Resist the devil and he will flee from you! (James 4:7). 

God must be first and only. Love God (Deuteronomy 6:4-5). Let Him be your treasure, your desire and your focus in life. Jesus’ entire focus was on pleasing His Father through worship (relationship) and service (ministry).  His eyes were not on material rewards whatsoever. Jesus’ drive was to do the will of God - obedience to the Father’s commands. His priorities were to worship (love) and to serve (obey) God.

3. Third Temptation (Luke 4:9-12)

The devil led him to Jerusalem and had him stand on the highest point of the temple. “If you are the Son of God”, he said, “Throw yourself down from here. For it is written: ‘He will command his angels concerning you to guard you carefully; they will lift you up in their hands, so that you will not strike your foot against a stone.’” Jesus answered, “It says: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’”.

This may have been a vision-like experience. The temple in Jerusalem had a Royal Porch on the Southeast corner, which loomed over a cliff and the Kidron Valley some 450 feet below. Josephus mentions that just looking over the edge made people dizzy. To cast oneself down from such a height and survive would take divine intervention.

Satan was testing Jesus to test God’s faithfulness. This time Satan quoted Scripture, those he misused or misapplied Psalm 91:11-12. He twists its meaning and uses it for his own purpose. This was a test of presumption - putting God to the “test” (Deuteronomy 6:16). Surely God would care for his own and not let Jesus suffer pain.

“Surely God will protect his Son, so why not try him out?” It is a dare on Jesus’ part to make God rescue him.

This was the “pride of life” and is similar to Satan saying that the fruit was “desirable for gaining wisdom (so as not to die).”

Jesus answered with Scripture as he had on the other two temptations, quoting Deuteronomy. We should marvel at Jesus’ restraint. Why didn’t he just blast Satan away!?

Jesus overcame all three temptations. He was totally dedicated to God’s will and call. He will take only the road God asks him to follow and refuses to take any shortcuts.

Result:

  • The devil left Jesus until an “opportune time”. Satan continues with his testing throughout Jesus’ ministry (see Mark 8:33), culminating in the supreme test at Gethsemane. Jesus is also about to confront demons very shortly (Luke 4:31-44).
  • Angels came and ministered to Him (Matthew 4:11).
  • Jesus then returned to Galilee in the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14) and his public ministry began.

Tomorrow: Lessons from Jesus' Temptation 


Jesus' Empowerment by the Spirit

During Jesus' baptism in water, the Spirit of God descended upon him like a dove (Luke 3:22). This implies a sort of “anointing” for ministry. Jesus was “filled with the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) and was then “led by the Spirit” (Luke 4:1) into the wilderness where he overcame the devil and returned in the “power of the Spirit” (Luke 4:14).

Jesus lived his life by the Spirit’s power. We too need the power of the Spirit to help us live a life of purpose and impact, an abundant joyful and victorious life.

The disciples separated themselves to God, developed a relationship with the father and also received the power of the Spirit on the day of Pentecost. The evidence of this empowering was “spiritual language” (speaking in tongues) and a boldness to witness for Jesus (Acts 2).

Spirit-Powered Living

We have all experienced the frustration of trying to live a good life in our own strength. After all, we all have weaknesses, sinful tendencies, bad habits, wrong desires and good intentions we don’t follow through on. We desperately need the help of the Holy Spirit.

The foundations of the Christian life are seen in Peter's first sermon on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2:38-39).

1. Repentance – a decision to make. This is about new life (conversion) through faith and a relationship with the Father God.

2. Water Baptism – a command to obey.

3. The Holy Spirit – a gift to receive.

The Christian life begins with repentance and faith that results in an inner transformation (salvation, eternal life, being 'born again'). The next step is to be baptised in water, an outward declaration of our allegiance to Jesus Christ. We are also to be filled with the Holy Spirit. These three steps are just the beginning and form a firm foundation for a strong Christian life.

There is now a new life to be lived “in the Spirit”. We are to be filled with the Spirit and led by the Spirit. We are to exhibit the fruit of the Spirit - God's nature and character. We are to be empowered by the Spirit both to overcome the enemy and be witnesses to the life that is in Jesus Christ. So there is much to learn as we begin to grow from “babies” to become mature “sons and daughters of God.”

In the first century, at times people experienced all these things simultaneously. In other cases, these things happened at different times. God deals with each of us in different ways and we all respond differently to His work in our lives.

How are your spiritual foundations?

Further Reading:


Jesus' Relationship with His Father

As Jesus was being baptised, Luke notes that he was praying or talking to his heavenly Father (Luke 3:21). Throughout his gospel, Luke makes a special emphasis on Jesus’ life of prayer – one of close relationship with his Father (Luke 6:12; 9:18, 29; 11:1; 22:41).

After being baptised, the Father spoke to him Jesus and said, “You are my Son, whom I love, with you I am well pleased” (Luke 3:22).

This is probably a private and personal experience between Jesus and the Father. The voice speaks directly to Jesus. Luke does not record any reaction or response from the crowd, as in other cases when such events occur more publicly (e.g. Acts 9).

Jesus has developed a close relationship with his heavenly Father beginning as a child (age 12).  Jesus was obedient and he did those things that pleased his Father.

This statement by the Father indicated that Jesus had:

  1. Identity - “my Son”.
  2. Acceptance - “whom I love”.
  3. Approval - “well pleased”.

This endorsement of the Father is like a personal commissioning of Jesus, not making him something he wasn’t before but recognising that the much loved Son will launch out into actively exercising the authority he possesses.

Jesus’ relationship with his Father was the source of his strength and the foundation of his life. This enabled him to stand firm even when his identity was attacked by others (“If you are the Son of God ...”) and or when others did not accept or approve of him. Jesus was not shaken because he was not dependent on nor did he base his life on the opinions of other people. Jesus' relationship with his Father is the source of his confidence and direction for his ministry.

The relationship that Jesus had with the Father is not for him alone. As followers of Jesus Christ, we are called into the same intimacy and security of the Father’s love.

1. Identity – we are the children of God, his sons and daughters. He is our Father and that makes us special, important and significant ... simply because we are his. We are not slaves or simply servants of God. We are sons, daughters and heirs of the promises.

2. Acceptance – God’s love for us is not based on our goodness or our performance. It is a love given as a free gift, even though it is undeserved. This is the power of grace.

3. Approval – as we obey God and follow his ways, we can also know his pleasure and approval. Obedience pleases God. However, obedience isn’t to be done out of self-effort to try earn God’s love but rather as a response to the grace he already has shown us.

Following Jesus Christ and living God’s way will put us in situations where people may not accept us or give us their approval. They may laugh and even mock us. Unless our roots are deep and strong in the Father’s love, we will falter at those times, compromise our faith and lose our potential impact. May your life be rooted and grounded in the Father’s love (Ephesians 3:14-19), not rejection, insecurity, inferiority or fear.

How?

  • See who you are – a son/daughter not a slave.
  • Believe what God says about you.
  • Take captive every contrary thought and bring it under submission to Christ.
  • Live with this truth as your daily foundation.

Jesus' Preparation for Ministry

Bap

At the age of 30 (Luke 3:23), Jesus began turning his attention towards his ministry to the people His Father had sent him to. Jesus’ preparation for ministry included his baptism in water (Luke 3:21-23), his relationship with his Father, the empowerment of the Spirit (Luke 4:1-2), and his defeat of the devil and his temptations (Luke 4:3-13).

Jesus prepared for 30 years for 3½ years of significant ministry. It has been said, that people today go to Bible College for 3½ years to prepare for 30 years of ministry.

Proper preparation is essential.

Anything significant is preceded by intensive and thorough preparation (often behind the scenes). Things just don't happen. In fact, the quality of the preparation determines the quality and success of events.

  • A delicious meal requires hours in the kitchen when no one else is around.
  • An enjoyable musical performance requires hours of practice and preparation.
  • A superb sports performance demands hours of training and preparation.
  • A doctor spends years studying before he or she ever take the tools and begins to operate (aren’t you glad!).
  • A significant ministry of high impact also requires the same intensity of preparation. God often takes his time.

The better the preparation, the more significant and lasting the impact. So in the spiritual. God prepares by His Spirit and we also must prepare. 

God sent John the Baptist to “prepare the way of the Lord” (Luke 1:11-17, 76-80; 3:1-6) He was God's prophetic messenger sent before the coming of Messiah “to make ready a people prepared for the Lord (Luke 1:27).”

Every significant event in the purposes of God is preceded by a time of intense preparation.

Common Misunderstandings about Ministry:

1. “Ministry is only for people who work on staff at the church”.

This viewpoint misses the fact that every believer is in “full time ministry” wherever they may be – in church, in the marketplace, at school, in the neighbourhood or at home.

2. “Significant ministry just happens.”

This perspective misses the process that God uses to develop us over time and through many life experiences.

3. “You can’t minister until you’re perfect.”

This attitude causes you to keep putting things off until “one day” and this can lead to you missing the opportunities for God to use you today. God doesn’t want you in “school” forever. Yes, we keep learning and growing, but we have to get out there and begin “doing” what we’ve been taught.

What has God been preparing you for?


Jesus as a Child

Jesus

Our church is currently reading through the Gospel of Luke.

Luke gives us some interesting insight into Jesus' self-perception ... as a 12 year old.

Luke 2:41-52. Every year Jesus’ parents went to Jerusalem for the Festival of the Passover. When he was twelve years old, they went up to the festival, according to the custom. After the festival was over, while his parents were returning home, the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem, but they were unaware of it. Thinking he was in their company, they traveled on for a day. Then they began looking for him among their relatives and friends. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem to look for him. After three days they found him in the temple courts, sitting among the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions. Everyone who heard him was amazed at his understanding and his answers. When his parents saw him, they were astonished. His mother said to him, “Son, why have you treated us like this? Your father and I have been anxiously searching for you.” “Why were you searching for me?” he asked. “Didn’t you know I had to be in my Father’s house?” But they did not understand what he was saying to them. Then he went down to Nazareth with them and was obedient to them. But his mother treasured all these things in her heart. And Jesus grew in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man. NIV

We don’t know a lot about Jesus’ childhood or his life before the age of 30 when he began his ministry. We do know that he grew up in a family with other brothers and sisters and he became a carpenter, a trade he learned from Joseph. It appears that sometime between the age of 12 and the beginning of his ministry, Joseph died, as he is never again mentioned with the other members of Jesus’ family. Jesus’ childhood appears to have been very normal like any other Jewish boy of the time.

Jesus at twelve years of age is one year away from accountability as a Jewish boy. At the age of twelve, the instruction of boys became more intensive in preparation for the recognition of adulthood. The Bar Mitzvah of modern times, however, post-dates the time of Jesus by 500 years.

What can we learn from this narrative about Jesus?

1. Children can know God personally.

Jesus at the age of twelve already had a relationship with God to the depth of knowing that God was his Father. This reference to his Father infers an close, personal relationship to God that is foundational to his life (c.f. Luke 10:21-22). This also implies a sense of personal intimacy, identify and significance for Jesus, even as a child.

2. Children can understand spiritual things.

Jesus is among the teachers of the temple – listening, asking questions and giving replies. Even at a young age, he has an amazing knowledge of and ability to engage in spiritual things. Already, he values the pursuit of knowing God and his ways in the world. Children love to laugh, play and have fun but don’t under-estimate their capacity to know and experience God also.

3. Children can know their life purpose.

At the age of twelve, Jesus knew that his life was to be about “his Father’s business”, that he would one day give his whole time and energy to the Father’s work on earth. Yes, he would have to wait for God’s timing and prepare for 18 more years, but this sense of destiny was already there. 

Early on, Jesus understands that he is called to do his Father’s work. Jesus explains his call in his own words and it reflects his self-understanding. He is always about the things of the Father, then and now. In his humanity, he resisted the urge to selfishness and focused on carrying out God’s will for his life.

However, Jesus' ministry has its proper timing and Jesus will wait to launch what he is destined to do. He is not impatient about starting his ministry and will wait until the time is right. He must, of course, wait until the forerunner comes, John the Baptist, before beginning his own task. 

The above description of Jesus didn’t just happen but was a result of his childhood years, which would have included input from family and friends, along with his own personal development.

May we as a community (comprised of parents, churches, community organisations and schools) seek to help kids come to know God personally, to understand spiritual things (God’s perspective on life), and to know their life purpose.


Stories Around the Cross - The Denial

Rembrandt-01

The Denial (Mark 14:27-31, 66-72)

The theme of abandonment overshadows many of the Stories Around the Cross. Jesus was abandoned by betrayal (Judas), by indifference (the disciples sleeping three times in Gethsemane), and by denial and desertion (Peter and the Twelve). When Jesus needed them the most, his friends left him alone. They all participated in the supper (Mark 14:23), they all confessed their allegiance (Mark 14:31), and yet they all deserted Jesus (Mark 14:50).

Peter is as impetuous as ever – opening his mouth first and thinking afterwards. But he is hard to condemn and impossible to dislike. He has demonstrated nothing but reckless courage to this point - drawing his sword in the garden prepared to take on the whole mob and staying near the courtyard in a quiet boldness. We should be amazed at his courage not just shocked at his fall. Every person has their breaking point.

Peter is not surprised by the thought of the defection of the other disciples. Perhaps he even expects it of them. He does not defend their cause but strongly defends his own cause, “I will not! (vs.29)” He sees himself as the exception to the rule; where others fall, he will stand. There’s more than a little self-confidence and pride here. Jesus interrupts his bravado and says, “Today … yes tonight … before the rooster crows twice, you will disown me three times (vs.30).” Peter does not back down. He insists emphatically, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you (vs.31).” Notice that “all the others said the same.”

Peter follows Jesus “at a distance” (vs.54) and eventually there is an escalation of three charges and three denials (vs.66-72). After the rooster crowed the second time, suddenly Jesus’ words flooded through Peter’s mind … and “He broke down and wept.” Humiliated, Peter is overwhelmed with guilt and shame, most likely morphing into sorrow and repentance (unlike Judas who was remorseful but not repentant).

Failure

Have you ever fallen flat on your face? Have you ever disappointed yourself, others or God? Maybe it was a sin, a mistake or a personal failure. Like Peter, you didn't live up to your own expectations or promises. We have all experienced this, at one time or another. Sometimes, over-confidence, arrogance and pride are catalysts. At others times, they are not.

When personal failure occurs, we experience guilt, embarrassment and at times shame. Guilt is the result of a convicted conscience. The Holy Spirit is the one who convicts us and it is always specific and aimed at response – remorse (genuine sorrow) and repentance (change – turning away from sin). Shame is from the enemy and moves us from “I did something wrong” to “I am a bad person”. It involves an ongoing feeling of condemnation and self-loathing, with a general sense of not being good enough. Shame is very harmful and engenders a feeling of unworthiness. This often leads to destructive and negative behaviours.

The Restoration of Peter

In John’s Gospel, we learn some more details about how Jesus took time to restore Peter (John 21:1-19). By a charcoal fire on the beach, bringing back memories of Peter’s denial by a charcoal fire in the courtyard (John 18:18), like a good shepherd, Jesus’ heals the wound of Peter’s denial and failure. Gently, Jesus brings this memory to the surface and heals it with love and forgiveness. Jesus gives Peter a chance to profess his love for Jesus, to affirm everything he has denied – three times. Old failings, old sores, old wounds are healed. Jesus not only forgives Peter but commissions him. It's time for him to be a shepherd, to feed lambs and sheep, to look after them. Jesus is trusting Peter to get back to fruitful work. Jesus is sharing his own ministry with Peter. Jesus is after all the “good shepherd” (John 10).

This is the foundation of all ministry – despite our faults and failures, Jesus forgives us and gives us an opportunity to join him in his work on earth. These are not things we do to earn our forgiveness. It’s all grace from start to finish. They are things we do out of the joy of being forgiven.

The Power of Vulnerability

It speaks volumes both for the accuracy of the Gospels and the humility of the leaders of the early church that Peter’s story of denying Jesus three times, in all its graphic detail, remains there starkly in all four gospels - the same man who confessed Jesus as the Messiah (Mark 8:29). Peter himself is most likely the source of this story. It served as a warning to other Christians who themselves would face persecution that even if the prince of the apostles denied Jesus they might do so also if they were not prepared. Even the best of us can slip and fall, as our human weakness falls prey to strong temptations. Not even the best leader is immune to failure. Nor beyond the promise of grace! We can be honest about our sin … because God’s grace is even greater.

Jesus did not give up on Peter … and he does not give up on us. Who would have thought that Peter’s negative example would have given courage to young and innocent Christians for years afterwards to stand up to questioning, persecution, torture and death rather than deny Jesus. Some even faced lions in the amphitheatre and did not deny their Lord.

Authenticity takes courage and compassion. Everyone around you has the same issues and struggles you do. Perfectionism is often driven by a fear of shame. All this is emotionally unhealthy. It makes your self-worth dependent on the approval or acceptance of others. Vulnerability is the cure for shame. It is the willingness to openly admit failures and weaknesses. It helps you build up resilience to shame and to feel happier about who you are in Christ and what you do have. In fact, the moments we feel most connected to others are usually those in which we have opened up to someone and experienced their empathy. We've all experienced the relief of opening up to others, our problems melting away as we begin to feel understood. This is a truly powerful weapon against shame.

Like Peter, may you know the joy of forgiveness from all sin and failure, of standing unashamed, and of being commissioned to join Jesus in his work on earth. 

Reflection Questions

  1. Think of a a time when you failed or did something that humiliated or embarrassed you. What did it feel like and what have been the affects since that incident?
  2. Compare the difference between guilt and shame. How do we know the difference?
  3. Why are qualities such as openness and authenticity so difficult for us as humans?
  4. What’s the impact of vulnerability? Why is it so powerful? Why do some see it as weakness?
  5. How does being vulnerable help us overcome feelings of shame?
  6. Listen to Brene Brown's TED talks on The Power of Vulnerability and Listening to Shame. What did you learn?
  7. What can leaders (whether parents, teachers, pastors or managers) learn from Jesus in how to create an environment where people can be open and honest about themselves, rather than building a toxic, shame-based culture?
  8. What are some indicators that we have made God's grace the foundation of our life and ministry?
  9. Pray and ask God for complete freedom … from guilt and shame.

[Picture - Rembrandt's Peter Denying Christ]


The Supper

Passover-unleavened-bread-and-wine

Easter is only 3 weeks away and CityLife Church will be presenting a 3-part multi-media experience called The King Is Among Us. Leading up to that time we are sharing three "Stories around the Cross" - the supper, the betrayal and denial. Today we will look at the supper from Mark 14:12-26.

Part of our God-given humanity is the instinct to celebrate significant moments with significant meals (e.g. Christmas, birthdays, weddings, and anniversaries). Sharing a meal bonds a family, a group of friends, a team, a collection of colleagues together. The meal says more than words - about who we are, how we feel about one another, and the hopes and joys we share together. It’s not just about the food; the meal says something, it does something. We become a people who shared that meal together, with all that it meant to us.

The Jewish Passover celebration was such a meal, linking together generations of families around the story that told them who they were - God's people rescued from Egypt. Jesus takes this story and infuses it with new meaning, changing the script to point it towards the work he would do through his death and resurrection. He instituted a new meal - a new supper - for us to connect deeply with him and each other. 

This sacred meal is known by a number of terms including breaking bread, the table of the Lord, communion, and the Eucharist (which means thanksgiving).  Jesus instituted this practice when eating with his disciples just before his death (see Matt.26:26-29. Mark 14:22-25. Luke 22:15-20). Luke shows how the first disciples carried out the instructions of Jesus as they broke bread together regularly (Acts 2:42, 46; 20:7, 11. Luke 24:19, 30). This practice was originally associated with a meal (Luke 22:20. 1 Cor.11:25) but later became a separate celebration. Paul also commented on the Lord’s Supper when writing to the church at Corinth (1 Cor.11:23-26).

Six Dimensions of the Sacred Meal

Partaking in communion is not merely a religious exercise or tradition. It is intended to be a meaningful experience of God and His will for our lives, both personally and as a community of Christ-followers. We must not allow the routine of partaking of communion regularly turn it into a ritual rather than the significant celebration that Jesus intended for it to be. One helpful way to ensure that we retain the meaning of this sacred meal is to explore the breadth of its meaning. As we partake, we should look in at least six directions.

1. Look Backward. In the Lord’s Supper we look backwards to the redemptive work that Jesus accomplished through his death on the cross. His death was not an accident or that of a martyr. His death was a substitutionary one in that he took our place and paid the price for our sins once and for all so that we could be forgiven. This was a complete act of grace and not because of any goodness or merit on our behalf. We can now rest in the finished work of Jesus on the cross knowing that he has done everything that needs to be done for us to be right with God. He suffered for us. His body was broken and His blood was split for our salvation. Communion is a powerful reminder of this foundation of our faith, which is in the finished work of the cross of Jesus Christ. The cross is central to the Christian faith (Gal.6:14. Col.1:20). It may seem foolishness to those who do not believe but may it never be foolishness to the contemporary church (1 Cor.1:18). May we never forget the sacrificial gift of Christ’s life for us!

2. Look Forward. Communion is much more than a morbid recalling of the passion.  Believers “proclaim the Lord’s death till he comes (1 Cor.11:26).” In the Lord’s Supper we look forward to the time when the kingdom will come in full and we will enjoy personal fellowship with Jesus in a celebration meal together. We look forward with confidence each day knowing that our future is secure, whether we live or die. We look forward with joy at his return to earth to right all wrongs and to deliver us from sin and death. We also understand that there will be a day of account where we will be rewarded for the works we have done in this life. Finally, we look forward to a new heavens and a new earth – whether there will be no more sorrow, crying, pain or death (Rev.21:1-4). This accounts for the joy and gladness of heart in which the communion was celebrated (Acts 2:46).

3. Look Inward. Paul reminds us that the celebration of communion is also an important time of self-examination. Those who live in blatant sin when approaching the table are guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord (1 Cor.11:27-28). Communion times can be important occasions of looking inward at one’s heart and holding oneself personally accountable before God. The original Lord’s Supper was partaken of in the context of betrayal and denial. This should serve as a warning to us and a sober reminder to take heed lest we fall. Paul says that some become weak, sick and even die because of not handling this dimension of communion properly (1 Cor.11: 29-30). No doubt, Jesus’ teaching about reconciliation applies here (Matt.5:23-24).

4. Look Upward. The Lord’s Supper also looks upward as we remember that Jesus’ death on the cross and burial in the tomb was not the end of the story. His resurrection seals the fact that Jesus is the Son of God and that his death accomplished our full salvation. We now look up with conviction and joy knowing that the Savior lives and that He is seated at the right hand with the Father interceding for us (Heb.7:25). Jesus is alive! His resurrection is the foundation of our faith and the assurance that we too have been raised from the dead with him to walk in the power of a new life. We are citizens of a new kingdom. We seek for his will to be done and for his kingdom to come in all its fullness.

5. Look Around. Communion is also a time to reinforce the communal nature of this sacred meal. In John’s description of this time in Jesus’ life he includes the well-known story of Jesus taking on the role of a servant by washing the disciples feet (John 13:3-16). It was a powerful reminder of the calling we have to serve one another (Matt.20:20-28). That same evening Peter boastfully declared that he would never deny Jesus, even if the others did. This self-deceptive pride set him up for certain failure. Without others we can so easily fall away. We need each other’s friendship, encouragement, and accountability to stay faithful as we follow Jesus together. Communion is a time to look around and remind ourselves that we need each other. We are one body in Christ, regardless of differences.

6. Look Outward. Finally, there is an outward dimension to the Lord’s Supper. As Paul reflects on the communion, he reminds us that as we partake we “proclaim the Lord’s death” until he comes (1 Cor.11:26). We live in a world where people need to know the good news that Jesus has provided salvation from our sins through his death on the cross. Communion is a time to remind ourselves of those who haven’t heard or responded to this message. As we go from the table, we go with renewed commitment to pray, to love, and to share the good news of Jesus with others as we have opportunity.

As we can see, there is rich and deep meaning to this ancient practice. At communion we are to look backward (to Christ’s death), look forward (to Christ’s return), look inward (in self-examination), look upward (fellowship with God), look around (fellowship with each other), and look outward (to proclaim God’s word to others). May we all experience more and more of God’s amazing love for us as we celebrate communion together.

Sample Reflection Questions

  1. Which direction do you find most meaningful or easiest to look when taking communion?
  2. Which direction is new to you or something you haven’t thought much about?
  3. Discuss the symbolic meaning of the bread and the cup in communion.
  4. In the Old Testament, the entire family partook of the Passover meal together, including the children. What implication does this have for whether children should partake of communion or not today?
  5. Share with your family, friends or Life Group about what communion means to you. Pray for each other and then partake of communion together. 

The God Who Pays Attention

Hairs-on-headJesus tells us that we have a Father who pays attention to our lives - down to the very details.

Matthew 10:29-30. God cares what happens to it (a small canary) even more than you do. He pays even greater attention to you, down to the last detail — even numbering the hairs on your head.

Numbering the hairs on our head (an easier task for some of us than others!) is not a statement of God's mathematical prowess but rather of his caring attention to even the minute details of our life.

The priestly blessing says this:

Numbers 6:24-26. The Lord bless you and keep you; the Lord make his face shine on you and be gracious to you; the Lord turn his face toward you and give you peace.

What would it look like to realise that every moment of every day, God is looking at you - with full attention. And that he is doing so with a smile on his face - shining on you, as it were. Well, it's true!

May you live with that awareness today and may it release amazing love, joy and peace into your heart. So much so, that is overflows onto others around you.


Devotional Bible Reading

Bible-Reading

Every year, we encourage our church to read through the Bible. There are a variety of reading programs available online. This year we will read through the New Testament, as well as the books of Psalms and Proverbs. Visit our church web site for the complete reading program. 

There is a great benefit in using a devotional format for Bible reading aimed at hearing from God daily and responding to his leading. The goal is not to just ‘get through’ your Bible reading but to allow God’s Word to ‘get in’ to your heart and life, bringing about personal growth and positive change.

As you do your daily reading, consider using the following devotional format:

Scripture – write out a verse or two that speak specifically to you today.

Observation – make a note of what you observe in the text. What was happening back 'there and then'?

Application – write out how God’s Word applies to your life. What does this mean to you 'here and now'?

Prayer – write out a prayer of response to what God has said to you.

You can do this by yourself, with your family, with some friends or as part of your Life Group. As you make your time with God and his Word the priority of your day, you will experience a tangible ‘washing of the Word’ in your heart and life.


Living in the End Times

1peterThe apostle Peter wrote this back in the first century:

1 Peter 4:7-11. The end of all things is near. Therefore be clear minded and self-controlled so that you can pray. Above all, love each other deeply, because love covers over a multitude of sins. Offer hospitality to one another without grumbling. Each one should use whatever gift he has received to serve others, faithfully administering God's grace in its various forms. If anyone speaks, he should do it as one speaking the very words of God. If anyone serves, he should do it with the strength God provides, so that in all things God may be praised through Jesus Christ. To him be the glory and the power for ever and ever. Amen.

The anticipation of the end and of Jesus Christ’s return should impact our attitudes, actions and relationships.

How should we live in the “end times”?

  1. Be clear minded. We are to be wise and have a clearly defined sense of purpose. Don’t allow confusion or fuzziness into your mind. Know what’s important and focus on it. Know what’s not important and avoid it.
  2. Be self-controlled. 
  3. Pray.
  4. Love others deeply. Love covers a multitude of sins. Love forgives again and again.
  5. Be hospitable ... and not just because you have to.
  6. Use your gifts (given you by God’s grace) to serve others.
  7. Serve with all your heart. Do your very best so that God may be praised and receive glory through you.

Now that's not just good advice; it's essential living for followers of Jesus Christ.


They Sailed On

Sailing

Right now we are reading through the Gospel of Luke as a church. Each time I read the Gospels, I never fail to see something new about Jesus and the way he brought transformation to people who he came in contact with.

After Jesus calmed the storm, he said to his disciples, "Why can't you trust me?" (Luke 8:25. Message Bible) That's a good question to consider after God brings you through a tough time. 

Luke goes on to say:

Luke 8:26-27. They sailed on to the country of the Gerasenes, directly opposite Galilee. As he stepped out onto land, a madman from town met him; he was a victim of demons. He hadn't worn clothes for a long time, nor lived at home; he lived in the cemetery. Message Bible

I started to move on to the next story but felt to slow down and have a closer reflection on those simple three words - "They sailed on ..."

"They". This speaks to me of team, of community, of friendship, and of partnership. Life and ministry are not to be done alone but with other people. Jesus and others are in your boat. 

"Sailed". There are two main ways to get across a lake - rowing or sailing. Rowing is through our own strength while sailing is a different approach altogether. It's about catching the wind. It requires dependence, proper positioning, sensitivity and discernment. We are to be Spirit-driven people.

"On". We haven't arrived yet. There is more to come - experiences, transformations, miracles and challenges. Although there are times when we need to pause, to rest and to reflect, God's purposes are about moving forward - not backward or staying where we are.

Response:

1. Take time today to encourage three people in your 'boat', expressing gratitude for what they mean to you.

2. Pray for an increase of the Holy Spirit's work and power (wind) in your life.

3. See yourself as moving forward together - with your family, your friends, your small group and your church community.

"They sailed on."


Proverbs 28

Proverbs-Series

Today we glean some more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 28.

Vs.1. The wicked run away when no one is chasing them, but the godly are as bold as lions. 

When you live a righteous life you have nothing to be afraid of.

Vs.2. When there is moral rot within a nation, its government topples easily. But with wise and knowledgeable leaders, there is stability. 

Everything rises and falls on leadership. Good leadership (wise and godly) produces stability.

Vs.4. To reject the law is to praise the wicked; to obey the law is to fight them. 

Keeping the law is a way to stand for righteousness.

Vs.6. It is better to be poor and honest than rich and crooked. 

Righteousness is more important than wealth.

Vs.7. Young people who obey the law are wise; those who seek out worthless companions bring shame to their parents. 

Be careful who you hang around.

Vs.9. The prayers of a person who ignores the law are despised. 

God hears the prayers of the righteous.

Vs.13. People who cover over their sins will not prosper. But if they confess and forsake them, they will receive mercy. 

We all make mistakes. The key is to admit them and then not to keep repeating them. If we cover them up we will not succeed in life.

Vs.14. Blessed are those who have a tender conscience, but the stubborn are headed for serious trouble. 

Maintain a sensitive conscience – it will do you good.

Vs.16. Only a stupid prince will oppress his people, but a king will have a long reign if he hates dishonesty and bribes. 

As a leader, do good to you people, ruling with honesty and uprightness.

Vs.18. The honest will be rescued from harm, but those who are crooked will be destroyed. 

Honesty and integrity protect you from harm.

Vs.19. Hard workers have plenty of food; playing around brings poverty. 

When you are diligent and hard working, you’ll reap ‘plenty’. If you play around you will end in poverty.

Vs.20. The trustworthy will get a rich reward. But the person who wants to get rich quick will only get into trouble. 

Watch out for ‘get-rich-quick’ schemes.

Vs.21. Showing partiality is never good, yet some will do wrong for something as small as a piece of bread. 

Treat people fairly and justly.

Vs.23. In the end, people appreciate frankness more than flattery. 

Speak the truth in a loving way. Don’t be a flatterer who only says nice things.

Vs.26. Trusting oneself is foolish, but those who walk in wisdom are safe. 

Don’t trust yourself – the heart is deceitful. Set up safe guards against your own sinfulness. That is wisdom.

Vs.27. Whoever gives to the poor will lack nothing. But a curse will come upon those who close their eyes to poverty. 

Give generously to the poor. Don’t close your eyes to their need.


Proverbs 21

Proverbs-Series

Today we glean some more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 21.

Vs.1. The king's heart is like a stream of water directed by the LORD; he turns it wherever he pleases. 

God is sovereign and overrules all – even the heart of those in authority.

Vs.2. People may think they are doing what is right, but the LORD examines the heart. 

God evaluates our inner world.

Vs.3. The LORD is more pleased when we do what is just and right than when we give him sacrifices. 

Obedience is the ultimate pleasure to the Lord not worship. In fact, obedience demonstrates love.

Vs.4. Haughty eyes, a proud heart, and evil actions are all sin. 

Even pride in our heart is sin.

Vs.5. Good planning and hard work lead to prosperity, but hasty shortcuts lead to poverty. 

Prosperity results from good planning and hard work. Don’t try to take short cuts!

Vs.7. Because the wicked refuse to do what is just, their violence boomerangs and destroys them. 

We reap what we sow – for better or worse.

Vs.9. It is better to live alone in the corner of an attic than with a contentious wife in a lovely home. 

Good relationships are more valuable than opulent living.

Vs.13. Those who shut their ears to the cries of the poor will be ignored in their own time of need. 

Give to the poor and needy. Don’t ignore them or you will be ignored in your time of need.

Vs.16. The person who strays from common sense will end up in the company of the dead.  

Don’t be foolish in how you live. Follow good common sense.

Vs.17. Those who love pleasure become poor; wine and luxury are not the way to riches. 

An obsession with pleasure and luxury usually result in poverty. Learn to be frugal with your resources rather than spend them impulsively. 

Vs.20. The wise have wealth and luxury, but fools spend whatever they get. 

Wisdom results in wealth and luxury because wise people use their resources with prudence rather than spending whatever they earn.

Don’t devour all you have. Here are 4 things you should not devour:

  1. The tithe – it’s the Lord’s.
  2. An offering – seed to sow.
  3. Emergency funds – for the unexpected.
  4. Savings – investment for the future.

Learn to live on 80% of your income. If you can’t, you either need to generate more income or reduce your expenses.

Vs.23. If you keep your mouth shut, you will stay out of trouble. 

Don’t speak too much. Let your words be few.

Vs.25. The desires of lazy people will be their ruin, for their hands refuse to work. 26 They are always greedy for more, while the godly love to give! 

Desire must be accompanied by diligent action. You have to put in hard work to make your dreams a reality.

Vs.30. Human plans, no matter how wise or well advised, cannot stand against the LORD. 

Again, planning is good but ultimately God’s purpose prevails.

Vs.31. The horses are prepared for battle, but the victory belongs to the LORD. 

Preparation is also good but the outcome is from the Lord. 


Proverbs 14

Proverbs-Series

Today we glean some more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 14 in the Message Bible.

 Vs.1. A wise woman builds her house; a foolish woman tears hers down with her own hands. 

If you are wise you will build something solid, strong and lasting. A fool tears down whatever they end up building. This is a good leadership challenge. Am I a wise or a foolish leader?

Vs.2. Those who follow the right path fear the LORD; those who take the wrong path despise him. 

When you do what is right you show that you fear God. When you choose to do what is wrong you are despising God – thinking lightly of him or mocking his judgment. No wonder the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (see vs.26-27).

He whose walk is upright fears the LORD, but he whose ways are devious despises him.

Have a healthy fear of God by avoiding evil and walking in integrity. The fear of the Lord provides security, safety and life.

Vs.3. The talk of fools is a rod for their backs, but the words of the wise keep them out of trouble. 

Your mouth will either get you in trouble or keep you from it. Be slow to speak!

Vs.4. An empty stable stays clean, but no income comes from an empty stable. 

Where there is productivity there will be messes to clean up. You can’t have it both ways (no problems/messes and productivity).

Vs.6. A mocker seeks wisdom and never finds it, but knowledge comes easily to those with understanding. 

Your attitude often determines how much wisdom you will acquire.

Vs.8. The wise look ahead to see what is coming, but fools deceive themselves. 

Wise people think and look ahead. They don’t just live for the moment. Anticipate the future before it comes. Fools don’t and often end up being trapped or deceived by their short-sightedness.

Vs.9. Fools make fun of guilt, but the godly acknowledge it and seek reconciliation. 

Wise people listen to their conscience and respond to guilt appropriately. Fools ignore this important emotion.

Vs.10. Each heart knows its own bitterness, and no one else can fully share its joy. 

Only you alone know the full extent of what’s happening inside of you – whether it is bitterness or joy. 

Vs.11. The house of the wicked will perish, but the tent of the godly will flourish. 

In the longer term, the godly will flourish and the wicked will be destroyed.

Vs.12. There is a path before each person that seems right, but it ends in death. 

The right path isn’t always the obvious one. Often it is the path ‘less travelled’ by others. Take the high road, the narrow road and the road less travelled. In the end it will make all the difference in the world! What path are you on – the easy path? Our own heart is deceptive. What often seems right to the natural mind can lead to death.

Vs.15-16. Only simpletons believe everything they are told! The prudent carefully consider their steps. The wise are cautious and avoid danger; fools plunge ahead with great confidence. 

Don’t be so gullible! Not everything you are told is true or right. Carefully consider everything you hear and think about each step you take. Wise people are cautious. They don’t plunge ahead foolishly. Give thought - careful planning, consideration and contemplation - to everything you do and every direction you take. This is wisdom and prudence.

Vs.17. Those who are short-tempered do foolish things, and schemers are hated. 

Be slow to become angry and you’ll avoid doing foolish things. 

A wise man fears the LORD and shuns evil, but a fool is hotheaded and reckless. A quick-tempered man does foolish things, and a crafty man is hated.

Anger and foolishness go together.

Vs.21. It is sin to despise one's neighbors; blessed are those who help the poor. 

Be someone who helps the poor and needy. Reach out and do them good.

Vs.22. If you plot evil, you will be lost; but if you plan good, you will be granted unfailing love and faithfulness. 

Makes plans to do good! You will receive unfailing love and faithfulness.

Vs.23. Work brings profit, but mere talk leads to poverty! 

Be a diligent worker not a busy talker! Don't just talk or think about it. Do it. Hard work brings profit and reward.

Vs.26-27. Those who fear the LORD are secure; he will be a place of refuge for their children. Fear of the LORD is a life-giving fountain; it offers escape from the snares of death. 

Fear God. It will be to you a life-giving fountain (giving you true and satisfying ‘life’) and help you escape from the snares of death (the allurements of sin).

Vs.28. A growing population is a king's glory; a dwindling nation is his doom. 

Here is a good leadership proverb – the glory of a leader is a growing group of followers. In contrast, if they are dwindling, it becomes his doom. Leaders are measured by fruitfulness not just faithfulness.

Vs.29. Those who control their anger have great understanding; those with a hasty temper will make mistakes. 

Here it is again – be slow to become angry (see vs.17)!

Vs.30. A relaxed attitude lengthens life; jealousy rots it away. 

Relax and don’t be so uptight. Chill! It does your life good. Don’t be so intense.

Vs.31. Those who oppress the poor insult their Maker, but those who help the poor honour him. 

When we help the poor and needy we honour God. 

Vs.34. Godliness exalts a nation, but sin is a disgrace to any people. 

Influence your nation to become godly. Don’t allow it to become a disgrace.

 


Proverbs 7

Proverbs-Series

Today we glean some more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 7 in the Message Bible.

Dear friend, do what I tell you; treasure my careful instructions. Do what I say and you'll live well. My teaching is as precious as your eyesight - guard it! Write it out on the back of your hands; etch it on the chambers of your heart. Talk to Wisdom as to a sister. Treat Insight as your companion. They'll be with you to fend off the Temptress-- that smooth-talking, honey-tongued Seductress. 

Make sure you value instruction and the words of wisdom. Remember them and put them in practice in your daily life.

Watch out for the Temptress – that smooth talking, honey tongued Seductress. Every young person (and older person), is vulnerable, so get your guard up and have your early warning system activated.

As I stood at the window of my house looking out through the shutters, watching the mindless crowd stroll by, I spotted a young man without any sense arriving at the corner of the street where she lived, then turning up the path to her house. It was dusk, the evening coming on, the darkness thickening into night. Just then, a woman met him - she'd been lying in wait for him, dressed to seduce him. Brazen and brash she was, restless and roaming, never at home, walking the streets, loitering in the mall, hanging out at every corner in town. She threw her arms around him and kissed him, boldly took his arm and said, "I've got all the makings for a feast - today I made my offerings, my vows are all paid, So now I've come to find you, hoping to catch sight of your face - and here you are! I've spread fresh, clean sheets on my bed, colorful imported linens. My bed is aromatic with spices and exotic fragrances. Come, let's make love all night, spend the night in ecstatic lovemaking! My husband's not home; he's away on business, and he won't be back for a month." 

Lessons:

  • Don’t be without sense.
  • Don’t go near the house where seduction lives. Avoid all forms of sexual temptation.
  • If you happen to go by there, don’t turn up the path to their house. If you bump into some temptation, turn and run away quickly.
  • At night time you are most vulnerable.

Soon she has him eating out of her hand, bewitched by her honeyed speech. Before you know it, he's trotting behind her, like a calf led to the butcher shop, like a stag lured into ambush and then shot with an arrow, like a bird flying into a net not knowing that its flying life is over. 

Lessons:

  • Seduction is bewitching. Once you even stop to listen you’ll easily be sucked in.
  • Before you know it you’ll be heading off down the slippery slide to sin.
  • It may feel good for a moment, but in the end you’ll suffer for it. You’ve been lured and trapped.

So, friends, listen to me, take these words of mine most seriously. Don't fool around with a woman like that; don't even stroll through her neighborhood. Countless victims come under her spell; she's the death of many a poor man. She runs a halfway house to hell, fits you out with a shroud and a coffin. 

Lessons:

  • This is serious so listen carefully.
  • Don’t mess with seductive people. Don’t even go near where they are or be lured to just have a look.

My how every person, including myself, needs to hear the warnings of wisdom. 

Proverbs tells us to be on guard against seductive people. Don’t be lured by their spell into their trap. If you do, you’ll pay for it.


Proverbs 31

Proverbs-Series

Today we glean some more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 31 in the Message Bible.

Vs.4-7. And it is not for kings, O Lemuel, to guzzle wine. Rulers should not crave liquor. For if they drink, they may forget their duties and be unable to give justice to those who are oppressed. Liquor is for the dying, and wine for those in deep depression. Let them drink to forget their poverty and remember their troubles no more.

Drinking too much alcohol can be a person's downfall. Either don’t drink at all or be sure to drink in moderation.

Vs.8-9 Speak up for those who cannot speak for themselves; ensure justice for those who are perishing. Yes, speak up for the poor and helpless, and see that they get justice.

Look out for the cause of the poor and needy. Stand for justice.

Vs.10-12 Who can find a virtuous and capable wife? She is worth more than precious rubies. Her husband can trust her, and she will greatly enrich his life. She will not hinder him but help him all her life. 

Oh, the blessing of a wonderful wife! How valuable is she! She can be trusted and she will enrich his life, helping him continually.

Vs.13-16 She finds wool and flax and busily spins it. She is like a merchant's ship; she brings her food from afar. She gets up before dawn to prepare breakfast for her household and plan the day's work for her servant girls. She goes out to inspect a field and buys it; with her earnings she plants a vineyard. 

This woman is a wise home-builder.

Vs.17-19 She is energetic and strong, a hard worker. She watches for bargains; her lights burn late into the night. Her hands are busy spinning thread, her fingers twisting fiber. 

She is also a diligent and productive worker.

Vs.20 She extends a helping hand to the poor and opens her arms to the needy. 

She has a heart for the poor and needy.

Vs.25-27 She is clothed with strength and dignity, and she laughs with no fear of the future. When she speaks, her words are wise, and kindness is the rule when she gives instructions. She carefully watches all that goes on in her household and does not have to bear the consequences of laziness. 

Her other character qualities include – strength, dignity, a sense of humour, wise words, kindness, responsibility and diligence.

Vs.28-29 Her children stand and bless her. Her husband praises her: "There are many virtuous and capable women in the world, but you surpass them all!" 

Her children honour her as does her husband.

Vs.30-31 Charm is deceptive, and beauty does not last; but a woman who fears the LORD will be greatly praised. Reward her for all she has done. Let her deeds publicly declare her praise. 

A woman who fears the Lord is the ultimate value – not charm or beauty. Value her and reward her.


Proverbs 26

Proverbs-Series

Today we glean some more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 26 in the New Living Translation.

Vs.2 Like a fluttering sparrow or a darting swallow, an unfair curse will not land on its intended victim. 

Curses can’t affect you unless there is a reason for them to do so – like a ‘foothold’.

Vs.5 When arguing with fools, be sure to answer their foolish arguments, or they will become wise in their own estimation. 

With fools, you can’t win either way!

Vs.11 As a dog returns to its vomit, so a fool repeats his folly. 

Fools don’t learn from their mistakes. They keep doing the same thing over and over again without gaining any wisdom.

Vs.12 There is more hope for fools than for people who think they are wise. 

Do all you can to gain wisdom but don’t see yourself as ‘wise’. Keep learning and see yourself as someone with more to know.

Vs.13-16. The lazy person is full of excuses, saying, "I can't go outside because there might be a lion on the road! Yes, I'm sure there's a lion out there!" As a door turns back and forth on its hinges, so the lazy person turns over in bed. Some people are so lazy that they won't lift a finger to feed themselves. Lazy people consider themselves smarter than seven wise counsellors. 

Lazy people make excuses. Wise people make decisions and take action.

Lazy people sleep away their time. Wise people rise early and maximise the hours of their day.

Lazy people think they have nothing to learn. Wise people are always hungry to learn more.

Vs.17. Yanking a dog's ears is as foolish as interfering in someone else's argument. 

Don’t get involved in someone else’s argument. Avoid triangulation!

Vs.27. If you set a trap for others, you will get caught in it yourself. If you roll a boulder down on others, it will roll back and crush you. 

In life, we reap what we sow – for good or bad.


Proverbs 19

Proverbs-Series

Today we glean some more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 19 in the Message Bible.

Vs.2. Ignorant zeal is worthless; haste makes waste.

Enthusiasm and passion are terrific but not without knowledge. Energy needs direction and focus. Planning on the front end affects execution on the back end. Ready - Aim - Fire. The 'ready - aim' steps are crucial.  

Vs.3. People ruin their lives by their own stupidity, so why does God always get blamed.

God gets blamed for so many things, yet much brokenness and even evil in the world is simply the consequence of human decision-making. In life, we reap what we sow. It's that simple. Our lives today are in many ways the accumulated result of choices we made yesterday and the choices we make today will determine our future. Decisions, not conditions, determine our ultimate destiny.

Vs.8. Grow a wise heart - you'll do yourself a favor; keep a clear head - you'll find a good life.

A 'wise heart' and a 'clear head' - good advice. That takes time and effort. It also requires solitude and reflection. These can't be developed in the midst of busyness and task addiction. Climb a mountain. Get above the noise and the hustle and bustle of daily life. Connect with God. Review your life. Check the compass (your direction) not just the clock (your speed).

Vs.11. Smart people know how to hold their tongue; their grandeur is to forgive and forget.

Words are powerful. Wisdom follows the old saying: "Engage brain before opening mouth!" Who do you need to fogive today? Tear up those "I owe you" notes. Let it go. You'll be better off.

Vs.16. Keep the rules and keep your life; careless living kills.

God's commands are for our good - not to take the fun out of life but rather for our benefit. Like an owner's manual, we work best when we live God's way. That is true 'holiness' - living life the way God intended it to be lived. 

Vs.17. Mercy to the needy is a loan to God, and God pays back those loans in full.

The way we treat people, especially the needy, reflects our attitude toward God. Who can you be kind to today? What resources do you have that you could share with someone less fortunate?

Vs.20. Take good counsel and accept correction - that's the way to live wisely and well.

Once again, we hear the timeless advice of the importance of listening to counsel and taking in feedback from others. Who's speaking into your life? Are you listening?


Proverbs 12

Proverbs-Series

Today we continue with more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 12 in the Message Bible.

Vs.10. Good people are good to their animals; the "good–hearted" bad people kick and abuse them.

Animal lovers will love this proverb. It's a good reminder that all of God's creation is good and to be treated with care. 

Vs.11. The one who stays on the job has food on the table; the witless chase whims and fancies.

Diligence leads to blessing. Slowly by slowly wealth is built, along with the character to sustain it.

Vs.12. What the wicked construct finally falls into ruin, while the roots of the righteous give life, and more life.

Never judge life in a moment. Life is a movie not a snap shot. Seasons come and go. Day and night. Good times and bad. In the end, serving God pays off. It really does.

Vs.13. Well–spoken words bring satisfaction; well–done work has its own reward.

Our words can bring life or death. Choose them carefully. Hard work is like sowing good seeds. It always reaps great rewards. 

Vs.15. Fools are headstrong and do what they like; wise people take advice.

Once again, we learn the wisdom of taking advice and listening to others, rather than being stubborn and headstrong.

Vs.25. Worry weighs us down; a cheerful word picks us up.

Choose to be around people who lift you up, not tear you down. Then do the same for others.

Vs.27. A lazy life is an empty life, but "early to rise" gets the job done.

Diligence leads to reward and enjoyment. You may not be a natural 'morning person' but making an effort to get up a little earlier each day yields good dividends in terms of productivity. Try it!


Proverbs 5

Proverbs-Series

For our first week of ther new year we continue with more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 5 in the Message Bible.

In this chapter, the wise teacher talks to a young man about the dangers of yielding to sexual temptation (see vs.1-23). How relevant this to every generation. God's ways are best for us but sin always appears in alluring ways, promising more than it ever delivers and always leaving us with painful consequences. 

Vs.3-5. For the lips of an immoral woman (or man) are as sweet as honey, and her mouth is smoother than oil. But in the end she is as bitter as poison, as dangerous as a double-edged sword. Her feet go down to death; her steps lead straight to the grave.

Vs.21-23. For the Lord sees clearly what a man does, examining every path he takes. An evil man is held captive by his own sins; they are ropes that catch and hold him. He will die for lack of self-control; he will be lost because of his great foolishness.

Self-control is one of the key character qualities to develop and is a fruit of God's Spirit within us. It includes the development of the ability to delay gratification. To choose short term pain for long term gain, rather than jump to the 'pleasures of sin' which last only for a moment. Look beyond the moment. See the danger ahead.

All sin has consequences but sexual sin affects us like no other. Overeat and you can repent and curb your food intake the next day. Steal something and you can always return it. Sleep with another person's spouse and the impact will linger on well past the moment. That's why we are challenged so strongly to control our impulses.

Beware of fatal attractions! Sexual sin is never a fall but more often a slide. It begins with seemingly harmless words of affection that lead to emotional attachment. Extra time together is sought, inappropriate words and actions follow, and before you know it you pass the point of no return. That's why it's best to develop an early warning system. Don't see how far to the edge you can get. Stay as far away as possible. Establish some habits of purity of thought and action. You'll be glad you did. 


Sacred Words - Devotional Bible Reading

Bible-reading

Every year, we encourage our church to read through the Bible. There are a variety of reading programs available online. In 2015, we will read through the New Testament, as well as the books of Psalms and Proverbs (download the complete reading program). 

There is a great benefit in using a devotional format for Bible reading aimed at hearing from God daily and responding to his leading. The goal is not to just ‘get through’ your Bible reading but to allow God’s Word to ‘get in’ to your heart and life, bringing about personal growth and positive change. 

As you do your daily reading, consider using the following devotional format:

Scripture – write out a verse or two that speak specifically to you today. 

Observation – make a note of what you observe in the text. What was happening back 'there and then'? 

Application – write out how God’s Word applies to your life. What does this mean to you 'here and now'? 

Prayer – write out a prayer of response to what God has said to you. 

You can do this by yourself, with your family, with some friends or as part of your Life Group. As you make your time with God and his Word the priority of your day, you will experience a tangible ‘washing of the Word’ in your heart and life.

P.S. Visit my previous BLOG post on Bible Reading Tools or our church web site for some other helpful resources.


Proverbs 30

Proverbs-Series

The final week of the year is under way and today we glean some more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Here are a few thoughts from Proverbs 30 in the Message Bible.

Vs.8-9. Give me enough food to live on, neither too much nor too little. If I'm too full, I might get independent, saying, 'God? Who needs him?' If I'm poor, I might steal and dishonor the name of my God.

The value of moderation and contentment are reinforced. When is enough enough? There is much more to life than riches. Jesus echoed this warning when he said, “Watch out! Be on your guard against all kinds of greed; life does not consist in an abundance of possessions (Luke 12:15)."

Vs.13. Don't be stuck–up and think you're better than everyone else.

Pride repels people, as does arrogance. In contrast, humility is attractive. Humility is not thinking less of ourselves but thinking less of ourselves less. It acknowledges that God and others play a huge part in anything we achieve or become. 

Vs.24-28. There are four small creatures, wisest of the wise they are: ants - frail as they are, get plenty of food in for the winter; marmots (a coney or rock badger) – vulnerable as they are, manage to arrange for rock–solid homes; locusts – leaderless insects, yet they strip the field like an army regiment; lizards – easy enough to catch, but they sneak past vigilant palace guards.

All of God's creation speaks - stars, burning bushes and animals. Which animal speaks to you today - the ant, rock badger, locust or lizard? God's wisdom is all around us. 

We are told of Solomon that he was the wiser than anyone else who lived at his time. The writer of the historical book of 1 Kings tells us, "Solomon composed some 3,000 proverbs and wrote 1,005 songs. He could speak with authority about all kinds of plants, from the great cedar of Lebanon to the tiny hyssop that grows from cracks in a wall. He could also speak about animals, birds, small creatures, and fish. And kings from every nation sent their ambassadors to listen." Notice that wisdom was not just a gift of God that he received without effort but also something he acquired through observation and reflection on God's world.

Slow down a little today. Look around you. Observe God's world. What is he telling you today? 


Proverbs 23

Proverbs-Series

This week's wisdom for life comes to us from Proverbs 23 in the Message Bible.

Vs.4-5. Don't wear yourself out trying to get rich; restrain yourself! Riches disappear in the blink of an eye; wealth sprouts wings and flies off into the wild blue yonder.

There is far more to life than money! When is enough enough? I'll never forget going to Africa for the first time with our family back in 2007. We did some ministry there and also visited some orphanages. I'll never forget what one of my children said to me afterwards: "Dad, these people have so little but they are so happy. Back home we have so much stuff but we don't have the same joy." How true. Learn the art of contentment. Be grateful for the breath you are breathing now, for life, for God, for friends, and for meaning and purpose. 

Vs.20-21. Don't drink too much wine and get drunk; don't eat too much food and get fat. Drunks and gluttons will end up on skid row, in a stupor and dressed in rags.

Too much of anything, even good things, starts to control us and we become dependent, or even addicted, to it. There is wisdom in moderation. What has taken a hold of you lately that you need to break free from?  

Vs.22. Listen with respect to the father who raised you, and when your mother grows old, don't neglect her. 

Mark Twain once said, "When I was young I didn't think my old man knew very much but by the time I'd turned 21 years of age I was surprised how much he'd learned in a few years!" How true. The older we become the more we should appreciate our parents. They weren't perfect but they did the best job they could. Each one of them have a story and the more we understand that story the more we will understand our own story and how they have helped to shape it. Continue to honour and respect your parents through each season of life. Remember, they gave you life. 

Vs.23. Buy truth – don't sell it for love or money; buy wisdom, buy education, buy insight. 

Once again, the worth of wisdom is extolled. What are you pursuing? Wisdom is found in a person, Jesus Christ - the personification of wisdom. The apostle Paul declared, "In Christ are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge (Colossians 2:3)." May you find hope, meaning, love, and wisdom in Christ for your life today.


Proverbs 16

Proverbs-Series

It's time to pause and reflect on more wisdom from the book of Proverbs. Today we dive into Proverbs 16 in the Message Bible.

Vs.3. Put God in charge of your work, then what you've planned will take place.

It's so easy do life by ourselves and only refer to God when things are going wrong. Instead, choose to start the day with God and include Him is all you are doing. Ask Him for wisdom and guidance. Make Him your Senior Partner.

Vs.10. A good leader motivates, doesn't mislead, doesn't exploit.

Christian leadership expert John Maxwell once said, "Manipulation is when a leader moves people for personal advantage while motivation is when a leader moves people for mutual advantage." That's a good insight for clarifying our motives. 

Vs.11. God cares about honesty in the workplace; your business is his business.

Everything is spiritual and everything is sacred to God. Don't buy into the dualism that talks about the 'secular' and the 'sacred'. Include God in your work and make your environment a place where kingdom values shine through.

Vs.13. Good leaders cultivate honest speech; they love advisors who tell them the truth.

Honesty is always the best policy. Practice truth-telling. Good leaders always start by defining reality. That takes some robust conversations! 

Vs.16. Get wisdom – it's worth more than money; choose insight over income every time.

Once again, the viture of Wisdom is extolled. What did you learn from your experience of life yesterday? What are you doing to gain more wisdom today?

Vs.18. First pride, then the crash – the bigger the ego, the harder the fall.

Humble people don't think less of themsleves, they just think of themselves less. Be on the guard for pride. Always recognise that God and others are contributors to any success we achieve in life. 

Vs.25. There's a way that looks harmless enough; look again––it leads straight to hell.

Wisdom involves looking ahead to see long-term consequences of choices and actions. It includes the discipline of delayed gratification. Sometimes that means choosing pain now for pelasure later.

Vs.32. Moderation is better than muscle, self–control better than political power.

How is your level of self-control? Are you able to say 'no' when you need to? If not, what could strengthen that muscle. Try some self-denial, including periods of fasting, which help to train and strengthen our will.


Proverbs 9

Proverbs-Series

We continue to today with insights from our Proverb of the week, Proverbs 9, from the Message Bible.

Vs.4-6. Are you confused about life, don't know what's going on? Come with me, oh come, have dinner with me! I've prepared a wonderful spread - fresh–baked bread, roast lamb, carefully selected wines. Leave your impoverished confusion and live! Walk up the street to a life with meaning.

Once again, Wisdom calls out to us. Will we turn aside? Will we listen and learn? A multitude of voices clamour for our attention. So much noise and so many distractions. How easy to walk on by, to get caught up in the busyness and miss the simplicity of Wisdom. It's our choice.

Vs.10. Skilled living gets its start in the Fear–of–God, insight into life from knowing a Holy God.

The fear of the Lord is the awareness that God is always with us. If we could live with this awareness on a constant basis, imagine how much smarter we would be. Think about how infinitely better our choices would be. 

Vs.11-12. It's through me, Lady Wisdom, that your life deepens, and the years of your life ripen. Live wisely and wisdom will permeate your life; mock life and life will mock you.

True Wisdom is seeing life from God's perspective. Knowledge is possession of the facts. Understanding of comprehension of the facts. Wisdom is knowing what to do with what we know. That alone comes from God. Ask for wisdom today. 

Vs.13-18. Then there's this other woman, Madame Whore – brazen, empty–headed, frivolous. She sits on the front porch of her house on Main Street, And as people walk by minding their own business, calls out, "Are you confused about life, don't know what's going on? Steal off with me, I'll show you a good time! No one will ever know - I'll give you the time of your life." But they don't know about all the skeletons in her closet, that all her guests end up in hell.

The Temptress is always at work, seeking to allure us into the dangers of lust. She's so attractive but in the end sin stings and leads to death. Don't take the bait. There's always a hook. Be smart. Walk on by ...


Proverbs 2

Proverbs-Series

Today we continue with our Proverb of the day, Proverbs 2. Reflections are from the Message Bible translation.

Vs. 2. Tune your ears to the world of Wisdom; set your heart on a life of Understanding.

We live in a wordy world. TV, radio, social media, reading material and conversations infiltrate our day whether we want to hear them or not, whether we are listening or not. Words from the sacred text of Scripture also call out, offering us wisdom. The Spirit whispers for us to come aside. Will we hear the call? Will we respond? Wisdom waits ...  

Vs.6-8. God gives out Wisdom free, is plainspoken in Knowledge and Understanding. He's a rich mine of Common Sense for those who live well, a personal bodyguard to the candid and sincere. He keeps his eye on all who live honestly, and pays special attention to his loyally committed ones.

God created everything and knows everything about everything. Why wouldn't we come to Him for advice about how to live well and as the answer to our many questions? So often other louder voices and brighter lights distract us and capture our attention. Foolishness prevails in our world. Turn to God afresh today. He is the source of life and of wisdom. 

Vs. 11-13. Good Sense will scout ahead for danger, Insight will keep an eye out for you. They'll keep you from making wrong turns, or following the bad directions. Of those who are lost themselves and can't tell a trail from a tumbleweed.

It's been said that we should "live and learn". It is true that we often learn from poor decisions as we reap the painful consequences of unwise choices. Yet why not learn from God's Wisdom and see the ramifications of potential decisions before we make them? That's what the wisdom of Proverbs seeks to impact ... if only we will listen. 

Vs.20. Join the company of good men and women, keep your feet on the tried and true paths.

Who are you hanging out with? Who is influencing you? We often become like the people we spend the most time with. Yes, seek to have a positive influence on all people but make wise people your mentors, models and heroes. You'll be glad you did.