Friday, 29 August 2014

Search The Scriptures: Exodus

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, 28 August 2014

Praying Through God's Word: Jeremiah

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

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

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

Sunday, 24 August 2014

Search The Scriptures: Luke's Gospel

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

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

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

Search The Scriptures: Mark's Gospel

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

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

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

Search The Scriptures: Matthew's Gospel

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

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

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

    

Saturday, 23 August 2014

The Use of the Bible in Evangelical Preaching Today

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

Daily Devotional Readings: Year One - January

1st January: Psalm 119:105-112
We begin the year with the words of verse 105: 'Your Word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path'. This a great text with which to begin the year. It is a great starting-point for these studies in God's Word. As we journey through life with God and His Word, we discover that there is a Word from the Lord for every part of life's journey. There is never a time when God has nothing to say to His people. Sometimes, He speaks to us from places which seem rather unlikely. As we explore His Word, we learn that He is the true and living God, ever ready to bring to us something new, something fresh, something that will send us on our way rejoicing, something that will strengthen our faith, something to deepen our commitment to Christ, something to increase our love for the Saviour. As we receive God's Word - 'a lamp to our feet and a light to our path' - we are to pray, 'renew my life, O Lord, according to Your Word' (107).
2nd January: Psalm 23:1-6
Turning to 'the Shepherd Psalm', we focus our attention on verse 5: 'You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies. You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows'. We are to feast on God's Word. We are to be filled with God's Spirit. The 'table' is the place of feasting. 'Oil' is a symbol of the Holy Spirit. As we feast on God's Word, we will have good cause to say, again and again, 'God is good': His 'goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life' (6). The Lord never fails us. He always comes with His life-giving Word, the Word of life, through which our life on earth becomes the beginning of life eternal, the pathway to a life in which the fullness of God's love will be revealed in a way that we can hardly begin to imagine: 'I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever' (6). This is what Christ is preparing for us (John 14:2)!
3rd January: Psalm 42:1-11
As we read God's Word day-by-day, we are to pray for an increase of our desire for God: 'My soul thirsts for God, for the living God' (2). This is the spiritual experience, referred to in verse 7: 'Deep calls to deep'. This is what Paul speaks of in 1 Corinthians 2:10 - Through His Spirit, God is at work in us, revealing to us 'the deep things of God. God has given us His Spirit for this reason - 'that we may understand what God has freely given us' (1 Cor.2:12). God wants us to explore, with Him, the meaning of the great salvation which He has so graciously provided for us in Jesus Christ. Learning of God's salvation, we will say with the Psalmist, 'I will yet praise Him, my Saviour and my God' (11). This song of praise will grow strong in both our personal devotions - 'a prayer to the God of my life' (8) - and our public worship - going 'to the house of God' (4).
4th January: Genesis 1:1-3
'Genesis' means 'beginning'. These opening verses challenge us to get our priorities right - (a) The priority of God (1). God comes first. Before anyone else is mentioned, He is there. (b) The priority of God's Word (3). God is the first to speak. Before any human word is spoken, there is the Word of the Lord. (c) The priority of God's Spirit (2). All was 'empty', all was 'darkness', yet the 'Spirit of God' was at work, and transformation was set in motion. Here, we have God's priorities, set out in the Bible's first three verses - Putting God first and listening to His Word, we are to pray for the moving of God's Spirit, 'hovering over' our lives to transform them. For those who make God's priorities their own, there is a promise of great blessing (Psalm 1:1-2). It is the great blessing of knowing Jesus Christ, our Saviour, as 'God with us' (Matthew 1.23).
5th January: Genesis 1:4-13
God speaks, and it is done (3,6-7,11). God is pleased with what He has done (4,10, 12). This is the pattern of God's original creation. It is to be the pattern of our life as a 'new creation' (2 Corintinians 5:17). God speaks to us and we say, 'Your will be done' (Matthew 6:10). We say, 'let it be to me according to Your Word' (Luke 1:38). God looks on such obedience, this 'walking in the Spirit' (Galatians 5:16, 22-23), and He sees that it is 'good' (Micah 6:8). In these verses we read of the separation of the light and the darkness, the separation of the waters and the dry land, and the fruitfulness of God's creation. There are lessons for us here. We are to 'walk in the light' (1 John 1:7). We are to to the Spirit's 'living water' flow in us (John 7:39-39). Walking in the light, letting the living water flow - this is the way of fruitfulness.
6th January: Genesis 1:14-25
The Bible's opening chapter is a great hymn of praise, emphasizing that all things have been created for the glory of God (Revelation 4:11). Nothing can be permitted to distract our attention from the Lord. He alone is worthy of worship. The creation of the 'lights' makes no reference to the sun and the moon. These were worshipped by neighbouring peoples. They are not gods. They are simply 'lights'. Our worship is to be given to God alone. The waters teemed with living creatures. The land produced living creatures. Here, we have a picture of life. There is life where the living water of the Spirit is flowing freely among God's people (Ezekiel 47:5-9). This water brings life to the land (Ezekiel 47:12). Moving with the flow of God's Spirit, we are to pray that 'the water of life' will flow freely 'for the healing of the nations' (Revelation 22:2).
7th January: Genesis 1:26-2:3
We now come to the creation of humanity, male and female. Our creation is described in a distinctive way - created in the image of God (26-27). We are different from the rest of creation. We have been given dominion over 'all the earth' and 'every living creature' (26,28). We are different from God. He is the Creator. We are His creation. Created in God's image, we have been created by Him and for Him. Though we have sinned (see Genesis 3, Romans 3:23), now - in Jesus Christ - we have begun to live as a new creation (Ephesians 4:22-24; Colossians 3:9-10). The Bible teaches us that Jesus Christ is God (John 1:1) and that 'all things were created by Him and for Him' (Colossians 1:16). This is the Saviour who is at work in us, enabling us to live as a new creation! Creation has been 'completed' (2:1). Salvation will be completed (Philippians 1:6)!
8th January: Genesis 2:4-14
We read of 'the breath of life', producing 'a living being' (7). Separated from God through our sin, we have become spiritually dead (Ephesians 4:18; 2:1), we have been 'born again', 'born of the Spirit'. This new birth is brought about by the breath of life, the wind of the Spirit (John 3:5-8). As the river watered the garden (2:10), so our lives are to be watered by 'the river' which flows 'from the throne of God and of the Lamb' (Revelation 22:1). As we read of the 'tree' which features in our fall into sin (2:9; 3:2-6), our thoughts turn also to the 'tree' which forms the foundation of our salvation - Christ 'Himself bore our sins in His body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness' (1 Peter 2:24). In our hearts, we say, 'God forbid that I should glory save in the Cross of our Lord Jesus Christ' (Galatians 6:14).
9th January: Genesis 2:15-17
We noted, in 1:1-3, the importance of getting our priorities right - God, God's Word, God's Spirit. Here, we emphasize the importance of these priorities. We are under God. We must remember that He is God (15). We are to obey God's Word (16). Here we learn that the act of obedience is an act of freedom. In Christ, we are set free to obey God. God says, 'You are free to eat from any tree in the garden'. He does not then say, 'You are free to eat from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil'. He says, 'You must not'. The act of disobedience is not an act of freedom. By choosing the way of sin, we show that we are in bondage. We are not free. We are the captives of sin, and we need to be set free - by Christ (John 8:32,36). We come to know God, choosing good rather than evil, as we follow the way of God's Spirit (Galatians 5:16; Hebrews 5:14).
10th January: Genesis 2:18-25
We come here to the creation of woman. Her creation is bound up with the creation of man. She is created from man's 'rib' (21-22). The 'rib' is taken from his side, emphasizing that man and woman are to be together, side-by-side, not one in front of the other. The 'rib', rather than the head or the feet, emphasizes this togetherness rather than any superiority-inferiority relationship. The 'rib' is close to the heart. Woman is close to the heart of man. Both are close to the heart of God. The contrast between humanity and the animals is again clear. Among the animals, there was 'no suitable helper' for the man (20). The animals had been 'formed out of the ground' (19). Humanity has come from 'the breath of life' (7). Like the animals, we come from 'the dust of the ground', but there is more: the Breath of God, created in His image to glorify Him!
11th January: Genesis 3:1-5
We have read about the beginning of creation (1:1). Now we come to the beginning of sin. In these verses, we have temptation. Note that temptation is not sin. It only becomes sin when we do what the tempter suggests (6). Temptation comes from 'that ancient serpent called the devil or Satan' (Revelation 12:9). Satan reverses the priorities of God, God's Word and God's Spirit. God is 'our Father' (Matthew 6:9). Satan is the father of lies (John 8:44). Satan quotes and questions God's Word (1). He not only questions God's Word . He contradicts it (4). Satan is spiritual, an evil spirit. We must be aware of his schemes, and , in Christ, we must take our stand against his schemes (2 Corinthians 2:11; Ephesians 6:11). When Satan says, 'Did God really say?' (1), we must wage war for God, filled with His Word and Spirit (2 Corinthians 10:3-5).
12th January: Genesis 3:6-9
Once we were innocent. Now we are guilty. The story of Adam and Eve is repeated over and over again. This is our story as well as Adam and Eve's story. Even in the face of sin, we see something else. We see the God of love, seeking to restore the fallen to Himself. In His words, 'Where are you?', we catch an early glimpse of the Gospel of salvation: 'the Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost' (Luke 19:10). Adam and Eve had lost their way. Now, God was looking for them to bring them back to Himself. In the question, 'Where are you?', there is the searching question, 'What have you done?', but there is also the passionate appeal, 'Will you not return to me?'. This is the call of mercy: 'Softly and tenderly, Jesus is calling, Calling, "O sinner, come home"' (Sacred Songs & Solos, 414). Our loving Father is waiting patiently to welcome the returning prodigal (Luke 15:20).
13th January: Genesis 3:10-15
Having chosen the way of sin, we are 'naked' and ashamed (10). The Gospel teaches us that 'there's a way back to God from the dark paths of sin'. We can be clothed with the righteousness of Christ. We can bring the 'filthy rags' of 'our righteous acts' (Isaiah 64:6) to God, and we can exchange them for the perfect righteousness of Christ (2 Corinthians 5:21). Putting our trust in Christ, we need not be ashamed in God's presence (Romans 10:11). There must be no 'passing the buck' - the man blaming the woman, the woman blaming the serpent (12-13). We are to confess our sins and receive God's forgiveness (1 John 1:9). This forgiveness comes to us through the Cross where the suffering Saviour becomes the victorious Victor and the subtle serpent became the defeated devil. This is the message of verse 15: through the Cross, God has provided for us a full salvation!
Tues. 14th January: Genesis 3:16-24
Sin has consequences. Human life could never be the same once sin had entered it. The effects of sin can be seen in the whole of life. The most profound effect of sin is summed up in verse 22. We cannot reach out our hands and take hold of eternal life. There is no way to heaven which begins with the word 'I'. We must begin with God - 'God so loved the world...' (John 3:16). No sinner can open the door of heaven: 'Christ only could unlock the gate of heaven, and let us in'. Sin leads not to heaven but to 'death'. If we insist on trying to get to heaven by our own good works, we will earn our 'wages' - 'the wages of sin is death'. Come as a sinner to Jesus. Come to Him, saying, 'Nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy Cross I cling' ( Church Hymnary, 83). Look to Him alone for salvation, and know the truth of God's Word: 'the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord' (Romans 6:23).
15th January: Matthew 1:1-17
From the beginning of the Old Testament, we move to the beginning of the New Testament. This may be the beginning of the New Testament, but it is not the beginning of God's revelation. It is not the beginning of His redemption. The birth of Christ is the continuation of the history of salvation, recorded in the Old Testament. Matthew takes us back to Abraham (1-2; Genesis 12:1-3). Recalling the great events of the Old Testament, he takes us through forty-two generations. This history is the story of God's grace. We may illustrate this with two striking examples. Rahab (5) was a 'prostitute', yet, by the grace of God, through faith, she also takes her place with the people of God (Hebrews 11:31; Ephesians 2:8). The story of David and Uriah's wife (6) is a story of deceit (2 Samuel 11) - 'where sin increased, grace increased all the more' (Romans 5:20)!
16th January: Matthew 1:18-25
The birth of Christ is a fulfilment of prophecy: 'The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a Son, and they will call Him Immanuel' (23; Isaiah 7:14). Christ is 'God with us'. He was born through the power of the Holy Spirit (18,20). He is still 'God with us', when we are 'born of the Spirit' (John 3:5). Some people do not believe what the Bible says here. They do not like the idea of a 'virgin birth'. The Bible gives no encouragement to such unbelief. Matthew simply says, 'This is the way it happened' (18). In view of the amazing thing God was doing - sending His Son to be the Saviour of the World - why should we doubt that God took things out of man's hands and worked in His own miraculous way? We rejoice not only in the miracle but also in its saving purpose: 'He will save His people from their sins' (21).
17th January: Matthew 2:1-6
We think of this chapter as 'the story of the wise men'. It is not so much about the wise men. It is about Jesus. He is the central character. We are not told how many wise men there were. The word, 'three' does not appear (1). We are not told their names. We are not told exactly where they came from - just, they came 'from the East' (1). The important thing is that they made their journey. They came, seeking Jesus: 'Where is he...?'. They came 'to worship Him' (2). The wise men were led to Jesus not only by 'His star' (2) but also by the Scriptures. When asked where the child was to be born, they answered by quoting from the Scriptures (5-6; Micah 5:2). Wise men are still led to Christ through the Scriptures. Reading the Scriptures, we become wise for salvation as we find Christ who is our Wisdom (2 Timothy 3:15; 1 Corinthians 1:30).
18th January: Matthew 2:7-12
Bethlehem was a 'little town'. Humanly speaking, it did not have any great importance. Its importance is derived from the fact that it was the birth place of our Saviour. When we think of Bethlehem, we do not think so much of the place as the Saviour who was born there. Herod says that he wants to go to Bethlehem to worship Jesus (8). Satan was speaking through Herod. Satan has no intention of worshipping God, and neither had Herod. Satan 'comes only to steal and kill and destroy'. Christ comes to give 'life...to the full' (John 10:10). As the story unfolds, it becomes clear that Herod was not a worshipper of Christ but a servant of Satan. The wise men worship Jesus, then they return to their own country. We know nothing about their return journey, their destination or their life in their own country. Their whole purpose was to point away from themselves to Jesus.
19th January: Matthew 2:13-23
The story unfolds according to God's saving purpose and not Herod's Satanic schemes. Herod dies. Jesus lives. The purpose of man is defeated. The purpose of God prevails. Jesus' time in Egypt is full of prophetic significance (15; Hosea 11:1). Egypt was the place of bondage. God turns everything around, making it the place of protection (Exodus 1:11; 13-15). The emphasis is not on the place. It is on what God is doing, as He fulfils His purpose. From Bethlehem to Egypt and then to Nazareth - the young Jesus is being taken from place to place - all in the perfect plan of God. Again, the emphasis is not on the place but on God's purpose. Nazareth was a humble place, dignified by the fact that God chose it to be the home of His Son. Our concern is not with wise men or famous places. 'Turn your eyes upon Jesus'. 'Stand amazed in the presence of Jesus'.
20th January: Psalm 1:1-6
As well as journeying through the Old and New Testaments, we will read a Psalm at fairly regular intervals. The first Psalm contrasts two ways - the way of the Word and the way of the world, the way of blessing and the way of judgment. Encouraging us to build upon the solid foundation of God's Word, the opening Psalm sets the tone for what is to follow. To whet your appetite for the Psalms, here are some early lessons: stability in the Lord (1:1-2); service for the Lord (2:11); salvation of the Lord (3:8); sanctification from the Lord (4:4-5); singing to the Lord (8:4); strength in the Lord (9:9). These are some of the blessings promised to those who 'delight in the law of the Lord' (1-2). With a God like this - full of so much blessing for us - what else can we do but rejoice in Him?
21st January: Genesis 4:1-5
The name of Abel appears among 'the heroes of the faith' (Hebrews 11:14). The story of Abel is a story of grace, faith and obedience. Abel's sacrifice was a blood sacrifice while Cain's was a fruit sacrifice (3-4). The blood sacrifice points forward - via the Old Testament sacrificial system - to the greatest sacrifice of all - 'the blood of Jesus Christ cleanses us from all sin' (1 John 1:7; Hebrews 9:12). The blood sacrifice points to salvation by grace - 'without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness' (Hebrews 9:22). Abel's sacrifice was an act of faith: 'By faith Abel offered a better sacrifice than Cain did' (Hebrews 11:4). The blood reminds us that true faith is always faith in Christ and never 'faith' in anything we can ever offer to God. Abel was obedient, bringing 'the firstborn' to God. 'In the course of time Cain brought some...'.
22nd January: Genesis 4:6-16.
In the story of Cain, we see the development of sin. Jealousy leads to anger, and anger leads to murder. In this story, we see ourselves in the 'mirror' of God's Word. Here, God emphasizes our exceeding sinfulness - 'The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt' (Jeremiah 17:9). Our sinfulness leads us away from 'the presence of the Lord' to 'the land of wandering (Nod)' (16). This is the work of Satan in our lives - Genesis 4 is an extension of Genesis 3. Even in the land of wandering, the hand of God is upon us. This is the meaning of 'the mark of Cain' - 'so that no one who found him would kill him' (15). Even in our wanderings, God is waiting in mercy for us to make our way back to Him by coming in faith to Jesus Christ our Saviour. Even when 'sin' is a good bit more than 'crouching at the door', it can be 'mastered' through Christ (6; Hebrews 7:25).
23rd January: Genesis 4:17-26
The story of Cain and Abel is a continuing story. Abel died, yet 'by faith still speaks, even though he is dead' (Hebrews 11:4). Cain 'went out from the presence of the Lord'. He became 'a restless wanderer' (14,16). What a contrast there is between these two brothers! For Abel, there was glory in the presence of the Lord - 'By faith he was commended as a righteous man' (Hebrews 11:4), he was 'justified by faith' (Romans 5:1). Cain was quite different. Far from God, he had no peace. He was haunted by his sins. What does God's Word say to us about Cain? - 'Do not be like Cain, who belonged to the evil one and murdered his brother...because his own actions were evil and his brothers were righteous' (1 John 3:12). Cain's sinful influence continues. We must be on our guard. The chapter ends with hope: 'At that time men began to call on the name of the Lord' ( 26).
24th January: Genesis 5:1-17
From the story of Cain - taking God for granted (the opposite of grace), approaching God proudly (the opposite of faith), rebelling against God (the opposite of obedience) - , we come to a list of names and numbers. In this first part of the chapter, there is nothing of any note. Perhaps, this is the significant feature of this long list of names. There is nothing considered to be worthy of special note, except the length of their lives. What a sad reflection on the value of a life when all that can be said is this: He lived, and he died! What we must remember is this: the quantity of our years is less important than the quality of our living. How long we live is less important than how well we live. We have been 'created...in the likeness of God' (1), yet so often we miss out on this spiritual dimension. We have been 'blessed' by God (2) - 'Count your blessings'.
25th January: Genesis 5:18-32
In this second part of the list, two names get a special mention - Enoch and Noah (22,24,29). The reference to Enoch is the more memorable of the two. Enoch's life was characterized by grace, faith and obedience. The life-story of so many others could be told without reference to God. Enoch's story was the story of God at work in his life. So many life-stories end with the words, 'he died'. Enoch's life on earth points beyond itself (24). Enoch had 'walked with God' (22, 24 ). Building his life upon the God of grace, Enoch had, by faith, stepped out of this present world and into 'what we hope for', 'what we do not see' (Hebrews 11:5,1). What a testimony Enoch left behind him! Not much is said about him, but what power of the Spirit of God there is in these few words! The reference to 'the Lord' in Noah's life (29) prepares us for what is to come (chs. 6-9).
26th January: Matthew 3:1-12
This chapter begins with 'John the Baptist' (1). It ends with our Lord Jesus Christ concerning whom the Voice from heaven says, 'This is my Son, whom I love; with Him I am well pleased' (17). Once John had served his purpose, once he has pointed away from himself to the Lord Jesus Christ, he retreats into the background. This is how it must always be. We point to One who is 'more powerful' than ourselves (11; Romans 1:16). With John, we must learn to say, 'Christ must increase, I must decrease' (John 3:30). The contrast between John and Jesus is highlighted in verse 11 - ' I baptize with water... He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire'. This is still the contrast between the preacher and the Saviour - We preach the Word. He sends the power. Still He says, 'You will receive power when the Holy Spirit comes on you; and you will be my witnesses' (Acts 1:8).
27th January: Matthew 3:13-17
Considering the contrast between Jesus and John - John is not fit to carry Christ's sandals (11) - , it is quite remarkable that Jesus submits Himself to baptism by John. Why does He do this? Jesus gives us the reason in verse 15: 'it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness'. When Jesus uses the word 'proper' (or fitting), does He use it to mean 'according to convention'? No - He means that 'it is fitting' into God's perfect plan of salvation. It is part of His perfect obedience to the Father. It is part of what is involved in His giving Himself for us as 'the Righteous for the unrighteous to bring us to God' (1 Peter 3:18). As well as directing us to the Cross, Jesus' baptism directs to Pentecost - the descent of the Spirit (16; Acts 2:1-4). Christ died for us. The Spirit lives in us. Jesus 'fits' our need perfectly!
28th January: Matthew 4:1-11
God the Father has declared Jesus to be His Son (3:17). Now, the devil challenges God's Word: 'If you are the Son of God...' (3). The Spirit has descended upon Jesus (3:16). Now, the devil uses his power in an attempt to defeat Jesus. The devil sows seeds of doubt; the 'if you are...' approach is just the same as his 'Did God really say?' method used in Genesis 3:1. The devil is 'crafty' (Genesis 3:1). He comes to Jesus, quoting from the Bible (6; Psalm 91:11-12). His real goal becomes clear in verse 9 - he wants Jesus to 'bow down and worship' him. In Jesus' victory over the devil, we see the importance of Scripture - 'It is written' (4, 7, 10). We learn that true life comes from God (4), true safety is found in God (7); and true worship is given to God (10). When the tempter comes, we must stand on God's Word: 'every Word that comes from...God' ( 4).
29th January: Matthew 4:12-17
Having overcome His enemy, Jesus begins His ministry. Satan will be back - Luke ends his account of Jesus' temptations with these ominous words, 'When the devil had finished all this tempting, he left until an opportune time' (4:12). Satan will try again, but - for now - he has failed to stop Jesus setting out on His ministry, a ministry which brings light into the darkness. The light is shining brightly - 'the Kingdom of heaven is near' (17). Jesus' ministry is viewed as a fulfilment of Old Testament prophecy (15-16; Isaiah 9:1-2). The prophecy had been given: Death will be overcome, men and women will be delivered from 'the shadow of death'. Now, in Christ, the prophecy has been fulfilled: by His death, Christ has destroyed 'him who holds the power of death - that is, the devil' and He has set 'free' those who live in 'fear of death' (Hebrews 2:14-15).
30th January: Matthew 4:18-25
Christ's victory over the world was won for us (1 John 3:8: 5:4-5). Jesus was not a loner. He was a team leader: 'From victory to victory His army He will lead' (Church Hymnary, 481). At the very outset of His ministry, He set about putting together His ministry team. Peter, Andrew, James and John were the first four disciples. He called them to follow Him. His call was both gracious and demanding. It is gracious because it is the Saviour who calls us: 'Follow Me'. It is demanding because He calls us to follow, to submit to His Lordship: 'Follow Me'. These men were called to a new kind of 'fishing' (19). Jesus' ministry reached 'great crowds' through His 'teaching ...preaching ...and healing' (23-25). This chapter sets the scene for Jesus' ministry. We see the Word of the Lord triumphant over Satan, fulfilled in Christ, and effective in the lives of the disciples and the crowds.
31st January: Proverbs 1:1-7
Scripture speaks of different kinds of 'wisdom'. In Proverbs, wisdom is closely associated with godliness. In Ecclesiastes, wisdom - viewed as mere human intelligence - is described as 'meaningless, a chasing after the wind' (1:12-18). This contrast is continued in the New Testament, where Paul describes Christ as our 'Wisdom', contrasting this Wisdom with 'the wisdom of the world' (1 Corinthians 1:18-25,30). The purpose of Proverbs is set out in its opening verses. Notice the vital connection between 'understanding' and 'doing' (2-3). We are to be 'doers' as well as 'hearers' of God's Word (James 1:22). We are to 'keep what is written' in God's Word (Revelation 1:3). The great theme of Proverbs is stated in verse 7: 'The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge'. Christ is our Wisdom. We will never be wise unless we build our lives on Him (Matthew 7: 24-27).