All in this together – Galatians 6. RBT Notes, 23rd December

People of the Spirit? People called to express their faith in love? Then those people need to know the specifics of Spirit-led loving. Here, Paul gives us four:

1. Hold out grace to the broken sinner (v.1). Paul has restoration in view. That is only possible where there’s repentance. Where there is after sin, we need to work out how to bring that believer back into fellowship with the church, and that’s not highhandedly, but sensitively and carefully. Do we harbour grudges, or are we, as our Master taught us, willing to forgive seventy times seven times?

2. Serve each other (v.2). Kingdom life is shared life. Don’t be lazy, or exploit others (carry your own burdens, if you can, v.5), but don’t remove yourself from others’ needs. You were saved to serve. Are you serving?

3. Stay humble (v.3). Nothing has the temptation to puff us up like service. We serve, and we are tempted to feel smug and important. Servants are nobodies, and they never will be anybodies, at least, not this side of heaven. Remember this.

4. Thank the preacher (v.6). Go on, do it.

This is the Cross-centred life. Avoid it, and you will end up serving yourself, affectively sowing for this world’s uncertain and fleeting rewards. Such efforts come with a massive health warning (v.8). Instead, invest your life in serving other people in the name of Christ – that alone is work guaranteed to blossom in eternity (vv.9-10).

Paul closes with a final appeal, and a final warning (vv.11-18). These Galatians need to make a decisive break with their false teachers and their false message. They need to embrace the Cross: persecution will come with it, but Jesus will be theirs. Life will be hard, but it will be real life, given and guided by the Holy Spirit, a world away from empty religion.

The Letter to the Galatians is a gift. Through it God calls His church to stay close to Jesus, and to Him alone. In Him is life, and that life is the light of men.


A Prayer to Pray

Father, thankyou for the gift of Your radiant, triumphing Son. Please show me where I am tempted to slip into the rules of men, away from the freedom of Your grace. And may His life-giving death mean more and more to me as the years go on. Amen.


God’s True Community – Nehemiah 11. RBT Notes, 13th December

It’s all well and good building a city wall, and building the city, but it’s in vain unless people live there. Don’t picture Nehemiah’s Jerusalem as a hub of commerce and leisure. This city is just getting on its feet again. Life there is hard. Community, business, leisure, all will need to be started over. You could say, it would be easier to be a farmer living in one of the towns outside of the city, with your land and the opportunity to make money from it all close at hand, than a man working out how to survive in Jerusalem. This explains why it is that they had to call for volunteers to live in the city (v.1), and why those who did were commended by the people (v.2).
Reflect on this a little. These men and their families who are listed throughout the chapter are putting people over profit. They are putting the needs of building God’s kingdom above their natural desire for personal comfort and their own ambitions. They are saying no to the natural and entirely justifiable desire to earn a better living from the land, and are opting for the hard life of building a community according to the purposes of God.
Challenging? It should be to us as Christians. The parallels are clear with our discipleship, aren’t they? The kingdom depends on the sacrificial living of its servants. We can choose to live lives focused on personal gain or convenience – the Spirit will allow us to do that, but that is not His will, nor is it the work He delights to fill with His guidance and power. And on the last day, what will be giving account for? A life lived for others, or a life jealously guarded for ourselves, even for ourselves and our family? Heaven help us to trace the beauty of the servant life of the Lord Jesus Christ, and to beg for his Spirit to empower us for living for Him and His kingdom.
One man stands out in particular in this list: Mattaniah is the director who led the people in thanksgiving and prayer (v.17). His job, you might say, was joy, and urging others to find and sing out their joy in God’s covenant grace. As priests of the new covenant, we have the same commission: joy is there in Christ. Joy is discovered in serving Him, putting ourselves at a stretch for Him, and seeking to enrich others through our self emptying. This is the upside-down kingdom we are privileged to belong to. Make sure that you long to find grace in Christ, so that you may share  the riches of that grace with others.
A prayer to Pray
Lord, You were rich beyond all splendour, all of love’s  sake became so poor. And Your Word says that You left me an example, so that I may walk in Your footsteps. Fill me with a desire to bring lost people to Yourself, and to help to build a people into one body. Give me a driving ambition to serve Your people. Empower me to make that sacrifice. Amen.

In the End – Micah 7. RBT Notes, 28th November

The end has come. Micah sees God’s judgment fall on His disobedient people, as they are given over to their sin. Micah feels like a man expecting harvest, only to find the leftovers noone wants (v.1). His society is wasted – violent, vicious, corrupt, godless, perverted (vv.2-6). God has given them over to what their hearts lust for. This is His judgment, then as well as now.

This is our society. For His people, complaining achieves nothing. Capitulating to its values brings God’s displeasure. We are called to the daily discipline of going back to God in Christ, seeking Him, trusting Him, going deeper into His Word, and resting in His power: “I watch in hope for the Lord” (v.7). Then, rather than complaining about our world – and possibly not really actually caring about it – we start to feel deeply for our lost world, to pray for it, and to long to bring the Gospel of grace to it: “my God will hear me” (v.7).

With that prayerful attitude comes a strength of conviction. We depend on Him as never before. Yes, we become more aware of our own sins (vv.8-9), we also become more and more aware of the the awesome power of God, both to come in forgiveness and restoration, and in final judgment (v.10). Living with God is not easy, and sometimes far from comfortable: but living with Him is living in reality. And only a fool wants to live in his own pretend world.

For those who come to the Cross, and live close to it, there is a world of mercy to enjoy. Evil will be judged and grace will overflow to those who confess their sins (vv.11-13). Grace will triumph, as the Spirit will draw men and women to the exalted Saviour, Jesus Christ (vv.14-17). Just marvel at the scope of this anticipated grace, which makes pagans into believers, and snakes into servants (vv.16-17).

And finally, revel in the glorious declaration of all that God is in Jesus Christ, in vv.18-20: He is forgiving, and so merciful and compassionate. He is the triumphant destroyer of all of our sins. His love and promises are utterly faithful.  His Kingdom shall never end. His is the power and the glory, for ever. Amen.


A Prayer to Pray

Lord God, mighty Lord, majestic Saviour, loving Shepherd of Your sheep, thankyou for this vision of Your immense power, and Your transforming love. Lord, I confess that I need Your transformation. Teach me to love You, to feel my need of Your grace moment by moment. As as I tremble before all that You are, empower me to take Your Gospel word to those who need to discover Your compassion in Your Son. Amen.

Love’s Labours Last – 2 Corinthians 8. RBT Notes, 10th November

How low will love for God send you? How much will you give up, go without, embrace and suffer? We serve an amazing God. Only our willingness to sacrifice for others in His Name shows if we’re really serving Him – and therefore, loving Him.

“I want to test the sincerity of your love” (v.8). We’re not above having our priorities and habits tested, are we? We don’t go on the defensive just because we’re asked to do hard things for the sake of the church, do we? If we do, it might be that our hearts are more full of self-justifying (and self-preserving) pride than they are full of love for Jesus Christ.  Take a look around you at those who are truly serving the Kingdom of God, and then take a look at yourself. You might learn something important.

The Macedonians believers were poor, but they weren’t trapped in their poverty – they gave out of it to benefit others, such was their love for Christ (vv.1-5). We should be challenged. Above all, the example of Christ is our supreme challenge, the Saviour who gladly left all of His riches in order to give Himself for others. Through His poverty, the dying love of that abandoned man, we have become rich (v.9).

So do it, won’t you? Serve, give, live the life. Refuse to be a fake, refuse to compromise, to cosset your life with stuff, money, comforts and distractions. Live this Gospel. Live it with others, and for others. God is not screwing your money out of you. No Christian leader of any integrity should ever try to do that. But don’t be mistaken: any authentic Pastor or leader is calling you to deep Gospel sacrifice, whilst striving to live it out, too. The Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ, is calling and empowering You to live out His sacrificial life. It starts with small things, it’s always focused on people, and its aim is always the Glory of God. Only that life and its work will last. Live for anything else, or in any other way, and you might only have yourself to blame if that life you so love will slip through your fingers, to your eternal shame.


A Prayer to Pray

Lord, You were rich beyond all splendour, all for love’s sake became so poor. This is my God, in Whose sweet praise I all my days could gladly spend. Lord of the Cross of shame, fill my cold heart aflame, with love for You, my Saviour and my Master. Kindle a flame of sacred love upon the altar of my heart. Amen.


Bless, and do not Curse – 2 Samuel 8-9. RBT Notes, 11th October

A king without a kingdom is an imposter. So is a King without enemies. Though our modern sensibilities take offence at enemies, battle and bloodshed, they were facts of life in Bible times, and certainly for King David. David faces them, because he is the king, and he is successful. North, south, east and west, the King’s enemies are defeated (vv.1-6), because “the Lord gave David victory wherever he went” (v.6). His statement of Psalm 118.43-45 is especially true of this period of his life: “You have made me the head of nations; people I did not know are subject to me. As soon as they hear of me, they obey me; foreigners cringe before me. They all lose heart; they come trembling from their strongholds.”

This wise king is also merciful. “Is there anyone still left of the house of Saul to whom I can show kindness for Jonathan’s sake”, he inquires (2 Sam. 9.1). David has no war with Saul’s line, but has been showing Saul’s house forgiveness and welcome since his death. Now he meets Jonathan’s son, Mephibosheth. And he graces him. Reconciliation, land, fellowship, all shown to a man undeserving of David’s favour and, due to his disability, unable to work to look after himself (vv.7-13).

This is the Gospel, and the King of the Gospel. The undeserving are brought to the King’s house, not to find judgment but mercy, and the riches of shared love. King Jesus gives His love to the helpless and undeserved, and welcomes us into His Kingdom, His home and His heart. Our King delights to show mercy. This is the wonder of the Cross.

“Bless and do not curse” (Ro. 12.14) is the grace of the Gospel, and it is the way of David’s discipleship, and of ours.


A Prayer to Pray

Lord, teach me to be a disciple, brave to fight battles as I should, braver still to live in forgiveness and friendship. Teach me to live as Jesus did. Amen.

Judgement – Psalm 94. RBT Notes, 16th May

1.   What do people who reject God forget about Him, and what do they need to remember (vv.4-11)?

2.   What do believers who are struggling need to remember about God (vv.12-19)?

3.    Does the thought of God’s judgement scare you? Why / Why not?  Spend some time reflecting on vv.20-23 in the light of the Cross.


A Prayer to Pray

Lord, as the old prayer asks, make me as holy as a pardoned sinner can be. So often I forget that You have judged my sin at the Cross, and so I can praise You; and I forget that You will judge all sin at the end of Time, so I can rest confident in You. Write these truths on my heart, so that I truly believe in You, and strive to live a holy life, trusting and obeying You. Amen.