Open Hearts – 2 Corinthians 7. RBT Notes, 9th November

Every true Christian hates differences or misunderstandings to come between them and fellow believers. We’ve all lost sleep as we’ve worried over whether someone in church is avoiding us, or talking about us behind our backs. And no, this sort of worry doesn’t necessarily mean that we are weak people-pleasers who need to grow some backbone – as well as a stronger faith. This could actually be the sign of a Spirit-given love for other people, which hates to see precious relationships grow cold.
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Paul sees it like that. “Make room in your hearts for us” (v.1) isn’t the trickery of a con-man, nor the whimper of a needy man. Paul declares his love and integrity (vv.1-7), because he wants the Corinthians to love and trust him. When trust breaks down in churches, love soon goes the same way. And when love goes, well, then we may as well just close the doors and give it all up.
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Notice, that love for Paul doesn’t mean that he avoids confrontation, nor should it for us. He refers to a letter where he had told some hard truths which hurt them (v.8). He’s not feeling guilty for that, though it can’t have been easy for him. In fact, he takes comfort that the truth led to repentance and change in the church, which was Paul’s purpose (vv.9-13). The challenge to us is clear: do we love people enough to that we speak the truth in love, when those words might be rejected, and when we might be rejected, too?  Avoiding saying hard things when they’re needed, isn’t love, it’s insincerity, and it’s verging on a form of hatred, as we put our own peace and comfort at the top of our priority list. Does this uncomfortable truth give us anything to repent of?
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A Prayer to Pray
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Lord, I am a man of unclean lips. I listen to how I often complain and criticise, boast and serve myself with my words. And I listen for brave words where I say hard but necessary things for Your our honour – but I hear so few. Cleanse my sin, Lord, it is great. Pardon me, and put truth and love on my lips. Make me a servant of Your grace, for Your sake. Amen.

This one was born in Zion – Psalm 87. RBT Notes, 7th May, by Graham Thomson

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1. Why does the psalmist celebrate the fact that God has chosen and loves Zion (vv. 1-3)?  Where does God promise to dwell and shower His love upon people today, and why should we celebrate that fact?

2. The psalm looks forward to the time when God’s people will not just be ethnic Israel but drawn from every tribe and tongue and nation (vv.4-7).  How should the fact that people from nations opposed to God will be said to be born in Zion (v. 4) give us confidence in our own lives, and as we speak to others about Jesus?
3. How does the certainty of vv. 5-6 help us to join in the praise of the people in v. 7?  In what specific, concrete ways can you live out that confidence and praise today?
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A Prayer to Pray
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Father, I thank You that You have chosen me in Jesus to be part of Your people and that my name is written in the Book of Life.  I thank You that You are building your Church and that nothing can seperate Your people from Your love.  Please forgive me when I doubt Your love for me, and give me confidence to live as one forever united to Jesus. Amen.

The Glory of the Church – Ezekiel 42-45. RBT Notes, 29th January

You can have all the religion you like, but without God it is only an empty shell. You can have a fine building, all ready for use (40-41), and you can make ample provision for its workers (the priests, 42). If that’s it, though, well, that’s it.

Buildings can’t ultimately achieve anything. It all depends on who is in them. If God is there in His glorious grace, and if people are there, seeking and trusting in that grace, then suddenly the charade of religion is shown for what it is, as people instead come to taste the reality of a God who saves and dwells with His people.

So this is what Ezekiel starts to see: the glory returns. God, who left His temple to its Babylonian judgment, is coming back to this new temple-community (43). With roaring voice, and a glory which shines out across the land, He comes, and all Ezekiel can do is worship (vv.1-3). The voice speaks, and it is the voice of Ezekiel’s companion, the shining one who has been showing him the temple, surely the Second Person of the Trinity Himself. Here, He declares, He will live forever (v.7). But who can endure the Day of His Coming? Only those made pure. The prophet is promised that He will dwell among a purified people, and so Ezekiel is told to take the message to his countrymen, that they are to be pure for their Lord (vv.9-12).

Purity comes from where, though? It comes from sacrifice, sacrifice to cover the guilt of all our sins and to bring cleansing. For that you need an altar (vv.13-18), an offering (v.19-25), and someone to offer sacrifice on our behalf (v.27, 44.1-31). In fact much of ch.44 reads like a repeat of the instructions to the priests in Leviticus. Afterall, God’s purposes have never changed, because God never changes.

How God achieves His plans can change, though. We look back on these chapters, and we know now that the altar is the Cross, the sacrifice is a man, and the offerer, the One who offered Himself. Jesus came to purify a people for His very own, eager to do what is good (Titus 2.14). That is where glory shines. And glory still shines, and indeed, shines ever more brightly, amongst a people who have been gathered around that cross, to bask in its forgiveness and to live its life together. Afterall, that message of grace will one day conquer the world. And heaven? Heaven is a celebration of grace, forever, and in Christ for all (ch.45). This is our glory.

 

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God’s New Community – Ezekiel 40-41. RBT Notes, 28th January

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Now for the part that you probably won’t read. People don’t. What should have been an exciting, gripping climax turns into a protracted, uninteresting whimper. We want hope and life, but we get architectural plans. Ezekiel, this might be what you’re interested in, and what you understand. We’re just not your sort of people, though. Maybe we should leave at this point.

Don’t. Ezekiel knows what he’s doing. More than that, God knows what He’s doing. He gave the vision, afterall. If we have the humility, and the patience, we’ll discover here not a dusty set of building plans, but a blueprint for a new community. In all of these details of walls, cubits, alcoves and jambs in ch.’s 40-41, God is actually starting to lay out the shape of His building-project. And that is one in which Jesus is at the centre and we, His people, sr being put into place, right according to God’s plans.

Twenty five years into his ministry, where he has seen hope die, dreams crushed, and his precious city of Jerusalem and its temple torn apart by the Babylonians, Ezekiel has a vision. In it he is taken to Jerusalem (though Ezekiel isn’t explicit, He wants us to join the dots, so to speak, vv.1-2). There he sees the shining man he saw a quarter of a century before (cf ch.’s 8-11). There is no time for Ezekiel to fix his attention on him, though: he must record all he sees and hears. And what he is seeing is the future.

So read the chapters, and no, you’re not in sin if your skimread them, or hardly begin to make sense of them. Some of the details of  of this Temple don’t strictly make sense, with walls and gates at places out of proportion with each other. The following two points, though, are for us to linger on:

 

God has no Plan B, because His plans are on track.

Ezekiel’s vision is of a temple which in almost all of its details is the same as the one Solomon built. Walls, courts and altars all underline that God is still calling people to approach Him, trusting in a sacrifice for the forgiveness of their sins, and looking to God to show mercy. God has not changed how He deals with sinners. Ezekiel’s vision tells us that mercy is still available for all who come. This is a mercy which we now look to Christ, our Great High Priest, to bring to us. God’s plans are fulfilled in Him, and this vision is part of that plan coming to its climax.

 

The Temple is empty, but one day it will be crowded.

 Where are the priests, sacrifices, and worshippers? They’re all strikingly absent. Ezekiel just has the blueprint to work with. Now, though, the house is full. The Great High Priest has offered Himself, and His sacrifice, given at the Cross, opens God’s House to all who come. And God comes to us, to work in us by His Spirit, cleansing and renewing, as Ezekiel already prophesied.

Don’t look for a physical building today when you are seeking God. He is seeking worshippers who will worship Him in Spirit and in Truth (John 4.24). “As you come to Him, the living Stone—rejected by men but chosen by God and precious to Him— you also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house to be a holy priesthood, offering spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1 Peter 2.4). This is the community Ezekiel is getting God’s people ready for: this is the church, and it will be crowded with worshipers throughout the world.