Hard Times – Nehemiah 6. RBT Notes, 6th December

Success brings opposition. When you achieve something, don’t be surprised that your achievement rouses hostility from others. The wall’s gaps are filled in, but the hatred of the enemies of God’s people gets more intense. Sanballat and his cronies start to circle, like the wolves they are. And their strategies?

#1 Violence

They want to meet Nehemiah, but he knows that they have dark schemes, and so wisely stays at his task (vv.1-4). Even when they ask him four times, he still refuses (v.5).

#2  Insinuation

Sanballat sends a threatening letter, suggesting that Nehemiah is in the process of rebelling against his Persian governor (vv.6-7). Nehemiah’s response is two-fold: he dismisses this nonsense, and he prays for strength (vv.8-9).

#3 Religious game-playing

A prophet is paid off by Nehemiah’s enemies, and hey presto, has a word from the Lord offering safety, when he’s actually leading Nehemiah into great danger. Luckily, the leader isn’t so foolish as to believe a man just because he writes Reverend before his name (vv.10-13). Nor should we.

All of Satan’s strategies against the church today are pretty much still the same. Which do we especially need to guard against in our situation?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Loving Father, thankyou that You hold me when discipleship s stressful and complicated. Lord, open the eyes of my heart to see and know the dimensions of Your love in Christ, and may I know that, whatever trials and temptations I face, Your love is deep, wide, long and high. Amen.

 

Opposition – Nehemiah 4. RBT Notes, 2nd December

Opposition happens. It’s one of the very few certainties of the Christian life. If, that is, we’re really living the Christian life. A insipid religious hobby will get noone’s back up. But building a life for Jesus, and striving to build a ministry of teaching and sharing His Gospel, will get reaction. And not all of it will be pleasant.

Sanballat was a powerful local pagan. We’ve seen him disturbed at the news that help was on its way for Jerusalem (2.10), and then we hear his mockery (2.19). Now we see that he is “angry and greatly incensed” (4.1). He scorns their efforts, and tells them that the job is far too great for them (v.2). His friend Tobiah joins in, ridiculing their work so far (v.3).

What are your strategies when you’re mocked and threatened as a disciple of Christ?

1. You pray (vv.4-5). God knows, and He cares. Prayer helps you keep your perspective. And Nehemiah entrusts God’s enemies to His purposes.

2. You keep going (v.6). Give up, or even slow down, and you’ve lost. Seek grace, and work with all your heart.

3. Take precautions (v.9). Pray, and guard your work.

4. Don’t resent the difficulties, work with them (vv.10-13). Everyone was feeling the strain, and the workers were anxious and discouraged. Leaders need to listen to their people’s anxieties, and respond to them. Nehemiah does just that.

5. Encourage the workers (v.14). We can all forget that God is in charge when tough times come. We need to remind ourselves and one another – He is the Lord! (v.14). There is everything to fight for, given that He is in charge. And with that conviction and that work we can overcome all opposition (v.15).

 

The work’s not done in a day, though, or in a week. Constant effort, constant vigilance are needed, as well as plenty of plans for when opposition comes again (vv.16-23).

Sometimes when discipleship is costly, you have to ask yourself why you’re living as you do. Why the stress of building a wall in the face of this opposition? Because the Kingdom of God is in the balance. As we serve the Gospel, God is building His Kingdom.

Fight the good fight of faith, in the power of grace.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, I’m more cowardly and weak in my faith than I’ve realised, yet. You’re also more powerful and loving than I’ve yet discovered. You alone can make me strong, and make me stand, as I live for You. Do it, Lord, for Your Glory. Amen.

 

 

 

Truth and its Enemies – Acts 19. RBT Notes, 22nd March

chess-surrounded

 

The Unstoppable Gospel  (vv.1-22)

 The Gospel is controversy. We mustn’t forget that. The claim that God has made Himself known in the God-Man Jesus Christ is one that should shock the world. In Ephesus we see the shock waves of God’s powerful Gospel.

 The key to understanding this episode is to realise that these men who experience the Spirit in this dramatic way were not true Christians until this point. Luke is not teaching us that the Spirit coming upon them was a “second blessing” – no, this is the first, brilliant blessing of the new birth. Telling God you feel wretched about your sins is not salvation, but coming to Jesus is. And this they do, complete with tongues and prophecy (vv.4-7)!

Same Gospel, different city. Paul gets to work, dealing with opposition from Jewish quarters, and setting up ministry so effectively that the Word of the Lord spreads throughout the province (vv.9-10).  So powerful is his ministry of word and deed that many are healed, and some try to imitate him (vv.11-16). In this occult-gripped city, some converts literally burn millions as they put their old lives to the flame (vv.17-19). Only the Gospel can cut people free from fear and greed. Are you enjoying its power?

 

 Money talks – and riots  (vv.23-40)

Whilst these converts gladly leave their false gods and filthy money, others are desperate to cling onto theirs. Do the metalworkers love their goddess, or the profit her worship brings (vv.23-28)? The evidence is that the Gospel is bad for their business, and so their fanatical behaviour which follows appears religious, but is actually driven by financial concerns. Nothing changes. Empty religion can never capture hearts, though sadly money can.

Things quickly escalate, and a riot is suddenly on the verge of erupting. One quick-thinking official clearly has an eye on his own career, as well as the city’s future, so manages to speak reason and disperse the crowd (vv.35-41).

The point is made, though: the Gospel is an almighty affront to our values, comforts and, well, just about everything else! People can ignore it, mock it, or riot over it, but the Gospel challenges everything, and everyone. God’s truth always will.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord God, by Your Spirit You are speaking truth to the world in Jesus. Forgive me when I lose heart because people ignore it. Forgive me, too, when I try to give a Gospel without offence, in the mistaken hope of winning friends for myself, or followers of it. Help me to be live and speak with integrity, and give me confidence when I face opposition and great joy when I see true response to Jesus. Amen.

Keep on Speaking! – Acts 18. RBT Notes, 21st March

The toughest of times call for the best of friends. Paul is taking on a whole new challenge in going to Corinth with the Gospel, the city known for its obsessions with paganism worship, sex, money and power. What would they want with the message of a crucified Lord who calls people to leave those idols and follow Him? Good question. Thereagain, what place is ever going to be ‘likely’ to respond to Christ, with His totally countercultural Gospel?

Paul begins where experience tells him is wisest, settling in with good friends, and then setting out to the place of at least initial interest in his message, the synagogue (vv.1-4). With reinforcements comes a stronger push to preach to the Jews, until opposition forces them out (vv.5-6). But opposition isn’t always God’s sign to move on; sometimes it just means that a new strategy is called for. Paul keeps on watering the seeds of interest, this time in a gentile home, and the church is born (vv.7-8).

A principle we see throughout Acts is that Satan vies to keep up with God’s work. As the Gospel grows, so does opposition to it. So also, though, does God’s encouragement for the workers. Paul is told by god that His peruposes in election stand, even in this pagan city (vv.9-11). There’s no evangelist like a good old Calvinist who gets his encouragement straight from passages like this: heaven will be full, because God has chosen people from the least likely places to discover saving grace in Christ. And yes, persecution hots up, but to God’s praise it is unexpectedly dampened down by the indifference of the local proconsul (vv.12-17).

11875285_480527675454212_824584583_nOne of the worst mistakes leaders make is to think that they don’t need others, and can do it all themselves. Paul treasures all of his friends, and is always eager to work with them. Priscilla and Aquilla do an outstanding job with the zealous Apollos, bringing him to a real understanding of the truth as it is in Jesus (vv.24-26). He in turn takes up the gospel baton, ministering with wisdom and courage. And so the Kingdom spreads; because it must, and because we must always, always keep on speaking.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, thankyou for this wonderful chapter of hard, wise work, real Gospel fruit and many lessons for me in my calling to witness for Jesus. Please keep the Devil from making me lose heart. Please keep me hard at Your work, encouraged by Your promise that You have many You want to save. Amen.

 

 

Problems and Progress – Acts 14. RBT Notes, 16th March

3160855

 

Today we see a three-fold pattern of radical, apostolic ministry. “Radical” is, of course, a vastly overused word today, especially when it comes to ministry. Neverthless, look at what these men are doing, and the pattern that their work lays down for us; what other word would you want to use?

So here’s the pattern, and in it the prescription for our ministries:

 

  1. When persecuted, carry on preaching the Gospel                 vv.1-7

Effective preaching and evangelism always get reactions. Here in Iconium there is belief as well as fury (vv.1-2). Notice that it’s the latter which convinces Paul and Barnabas to stay in the city, since they know that their message is getting through (v.3)! That doesn’t mean, though, that the apostles are seeking a quick promotion to heaven. They’ve proved that they’re no cowards, but reason that they’re more useful to the Lord alive than dead, so take news of further persecution as a sign to leave. Just so, the Holy Spirit makes us brave, and persevering, as well as wise. And there is no such thing as persevering without persecution!

 

  1. When misunderstood, carry on preaching the Gospel          vv.8-20

We quickly get discouraged when people don’t understand the Gospel, and are tempted to give up. Here, deep into pagan territory, misunderstandings were almost inevitable when the Bible’s message is opened up, so when a man is healed by God’s power through Paul, these pagans almost inevitably think that they’ve had a visit from a First Century divine version of Batman and Robin, and prepare sacrifices in their honour (vv.8-13).

Embarrassing; comical? Yes, both; but also a great opportunity, in all the mess, for preaching the Gospel. So here’s God’s truth in Jesus, skilfully presented for pagan ears. Luke either doesn’t give us the full address, or Paul got cut off in the furore before he could open up God’s grace in Jesus. Certainly, the Jews who came into the town knew that the apostles had a message about Jesus for everyone, and they didn’t want any more converts. Again, they come with zeal, and leave with shed blood. They’ll soon learn that their policy is futile: the Gospel and its servants, will carry on – and triumph.

 

  1. When you’ve done your share of the work, carry on preaching the Gospel         vv.21-28

Of course, that’s a misnomer. We have no ‘share’ of the work, if that means we’ve got permission to leave the battle because we’ve wielded the Gospel sword for a while. The Apostles return to places of success as well as hardship, and they carry on their ministry there, preaching, praying, and establishing leadership in the churches. What is the mark of a Christian? We keep on keeping on, believing, serving, preaching Christ.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord of the church, thankyou for the lives which blaze across the Book of Acts, modelling Christ and testifying to His truth. Father, I just long that You will use my life, and empower me to spend it proclaiming the majesty of Your grace. May I never waste a day, and may Your Spirit keep me trusting, serving and sacrificing til Christ comes or calls. Amen.

 

 

Mission Unstoppable – Acts 13. RBT Notes, 15th March

After Peter’s story, it’s now back to Saul, who’s been on mission with Barnabas in Antioch for a whole year (11.25-6). Now as the Spirit guides them, they strike out to the Island of Cyprus.

 

Unstoppable-posterThere, as so often happens in Gospel ministry, they want to share the Good News, but find themselves dealing with opposition, and a very Satanic opposition. Elymas tries to keep the proconsul in the darkness of a Christless life, and his reward is that Paul now puts him into a blindness of sight (vv.8-12). And at that, the proconsul believes (v.12).

 

Paul and Barnabas next make their way deep into the province of Galatia, in modern-day Turkey. Luke records at great length Paul’s sermon, because he wants us to be sure that Paul’s gospel is exactly the same as Peter’s. His whole address exalts Christ as the fulfilment of the Scriptures, the Promised One in whom there is “this message of salvation” (v.26). At its heart is the innocent suffering and full vindication of the Christ in His death and resurrection (vv.26-31). Now exalted in His ascension, He is qualified to bring the forgiveness of sin (v.38).

 

This glorious news is also urgent news: gospel hearers must understand, and must respond (v.40). Many do want to take this message further. What happens next will be the course of much apostolic ministry, interest and outrage (vv.42-45). Still, Paul and Barnabas aren’t thrown by the opposition, not even when it gets worse (v.50). Their Saviour is now in glory, but was once held in derision: so they, and we today, must expect both opposition and saving responses to the Gospel. This is Gospel life. And to follow Jesus means joy and the Holy Spirit (v.52).

 

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord of the Harvest, send me to those who need to hear about Jesus. Give me courage and perseverance in bringing Your truth. Make my heart tender to the lost, but strong in facing discouragement and opposition. Thankyou that Your Kingdom shall never end. Amen.