Let’s Do This – Nehemiah 3. RBT Notes, 1st December

“The God of heaven will grant us success” (2.20). Brilliant! Bring out the sun loungers, crack open the bubbly, hang up the streamers. Success is on its way. It is. But success in God’s plans means toil. It means people coming together, praying, planning, swallowing their differences and working together in order to achieve something lasting for God. Success means the people of God dedicating themselves to God’s work to achieve something which only hard work and plentiful grace could ever achieve. No toil, no triumph.

Now is the time for work. The chapter is a flurry of activity. In all of the detail, notice these points:

Repair isn’t fun, but it is necessary. Most people like a new project, but very few like having to make an old project good again. That is their call, though. Rebuilding and repair are the key projects. So, a question: are we prepared to make a bad job good? Are we prepared to put in the work to make an old ministry effective again, or a decaying relationship a vibrant one again? That sort of work takes humility and perseverance. Have we got what it takes?

Some people will always be too important. The church has its “nobles”, those who are too important for hard work (v.5). The self-appointed important people never bow to anyone else’s instructions. Unteachability and a proud heart are a blight in the church. Those who stand on their rights never bow to the Saviour.

If you get grace, no job is too low for you. Malkijah’s name was mud – rather, it came to be associated with it . Malkijah rebuilt the Dung Gate (v.14). That’s a dubious honour, isn’t it? There probably wasn’t a queue of people contending for that job. But thereagain, there wasn’t a queue for the Cross, was there?

Enjoy this chapter. Learn from it. And get to work, with others. No job in the Kingdom is unimportant, and none is beneath you.


A Prayer to Pray

Lord of the Cross of shame, fill my cold heart again with love for You, my Saviour and my Master. Lord, that is my prayer, that I might be filled with love for the Lord who undertook everything necessary for my salvation. May I commit myself again in Your Spirit’s power to the work of Your heart, Your Kingdom. Make me a servant, Lord. Amen.

The Counsel of Perfection which we all need – 2 Corinthians 13. RBT Notes, 17th February

Arrogant Christians might not actually be Christians. Nor lazy ones, loveless ones, nor hard-hearted ones. Appearances can deceive, and convictions can be found to be misplaced. Paul, who has spoken so transparently of his love for these Corinthians, extends that love as he urges them to check that they are actually true believers. His test is one we need the courage and integrity to apply to ourselves: “examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves.” (v.5).

He’s not doing that to undermine their faith, but rather, to help them, as he asks them whether they have a real, saving faith. Notice, the test is given to them to encourage a positive assessment (vv.5-6)  – “we are believers” – in order to encourage right behaviour – “we must listen to the Apostle, and live godly lives.” Any Christian who feels that they’re above applying this test to themselves maybe deep down knows that their claim of  Gospel faith isn’t actually real. And, just maybe, they want to resist the test because they refuse to let go of sins they prefer to Jesus Christ.

“Our prayer is for your perfection” (v.9). Paul isn’t depressing or mocking them, saying that he’ll only be satisfied by their sinlessness. Paul is realistic, and gently patient with all he serves with the Gospel. What he’s saying is that he’s striving to see them perfect (the same word in Greek as ‘mature’), and won’t rest until he sees ongoing transformation into the likeness of Christ.

Do we have this ambition for ourselves, and for those we claim to love in Christ? If we do, it’ll make us humble. We will be humbly ready to recognise our sins, and to repent of them. We’ll also be eager to pray for and serve others, as we seek their growth in Christ. “Aim for perfection” (v.11) is not a suggestion for the keen minority in the church, but an apostolic command for all Christians. And for that we will need the grace, love and fellowship of God Himself (v.14).


A Prayer to Pray

Lord God, I am complacent, and arrogant. I ignore my sins so often, and lazily claim to belong to you. Wake me up, Lord. Teach me the Gospel all over again, and bring it afresh to my heart, Spirit of God. Give me all grace to lay claim to You, and to know the embrace of Your love. May I adore the perfection of the Son, and offer myself again to His Spirit’s work. Amen.

Visions, Thorns, and Perseverance – 2 Corinthians 12. RBT Notes, 16th November

Sometimes you have to remind people of your credentials. Of course that’s risky, but every church leader has to deal those they lead who insist that they know best / have more experience / should be the leaders, and so on. They need to be reminded, gently and respectfully, that although you’re a long way from who you want to be, you are God’s servant, appointed by His Spirit.  Paul knows that his strategy could come to nothing, but he speaks of his spiritual experience (“I know a man in Christ” is a reference to himself, vv.2-4). Have those the Corinthians think so highly of ever seen the glories of heaven? But this man has. Maybe he’s worth listening to. This “boaster” is speaking the truth (v.6).

He’s not boasting, though, because he’s broken (vv.7-9). The thorn could be illness, depression, sexual temptation (or even failure), loneliness, or whatever. We don’t know. It’s there, though, and it hurts so much that Paul has prayed for it to be removed three times (v.8). No chance. But every chance of grace. In fact, the awareness of God’s sustaining grace in severe trail has brought Paul to a place of delight in his own weakness, because there, through grace alone, strength is found.

Credentials, then of spiritual experience, suffering and grace, and then the power to perform miracles (v.12). The calling of an Apostle is a complicated one. And then there are the Corinthians. Paul loves them and will gladly sacrifice for them (v.15), but knows that time spent with them will probably be very stressful (vv.20-21). So don’t think that leadership is plan sailing, Don’t be so confident that your leaders are either supermen, or super-disappointments. Pray for them, serve them and serve with them, respect them – and you might discover that the work to which the whole Body of Christ is one of great delight, as well as of lasting fruitfulness.


A Prayer to Pray

Loving Father, thankyou for grace abounding, even when people are difficult and life is painful. Give me the grace of faith and humility. Lord, I can’t change anyone, only You can. Empower me to be a persevering servant of all, and work Your grace, for Your glory. Amen.

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.
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.
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?
A Prayer to Pray
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.

Grace in the Midst of Ruins – Amos 9. RBT Notes, 10th June

1.    God sees everything and everyone, and will bring all to judgement (vv.1-6). How do you sometimes forget this, and how does that show in your life?

2.    What warnings does God have for complacent Israel (vv.7-10)? Is there any grace here for them?

3.   Read the amazing (and unexpected) promise of vv.11-15 alongside Acts 15.12-18. How then is it ultimately fulfilled?


A Prayer to Pray

Father, You dwell with the contrite. In fact, You raise them up, just as You raised Your people from the ruins of their sin through Christ. May Amos’s message live in my heart, to make me humble, to guard against greed and hypocrisy, and to look to You always, the God of hope. Amen.