Hear This – Job 27. RBT Notes, 19th January

Hear this. Job is a man on the edge. Maybe you’ve not been close to faith’s precipice. Not yet, anyway. Listen carefully to Job’s turmoil, and be careful not to judge. His friends did, and they’re going to find out soon enough what the Almighty thinks of their words.

What does God think of Job’s words, and his tears? What do you think? It takes faith to cry to heaven, and it takes faith to look into your heart and to see that, sinner though you are, there is no one sin of yours for which heaven has collapsed in retribution upon you. In fact, for us as Christian believers, we know that we will never be judged for any of our sins, no matter how serious and hideous they are. Christ has paid for them all.

Job’s are strong words, aren’t they? “God has denied me justice”, and He “has made me taste bitterness of soul” (v.1). Job is bitter, all the more so because his friends are trying to force him into a confession which he doesn’t have – “I will never admit that you are in the right” (v.5). Self-righteous Job? I don’t think so. Here is a man who knows that God alone is righteous, and that there is no righteousness in confessing what you aren’t guilty of, just to win friends and influence them – and maybe try to influence God Himself, too.

Job knows all that his friends know about God and His justice, as well as about man and his wickedness. It is because he does that he sees their advice for what it is – “meaningless talk” (v.12). The wicked will die, the grave will swallow them, however comfortable and happy their lives are. Job knows that for sure (vv.13-23).

You really can have a great theology and also a terrible life. You can believe true things about God, and live by them, and never see the blessings this side of eternity which you want for yourself, your family, church or world. Job’s example teaches us to be very careful about drawing hard and straight lines between what we have in life and how we stand before the Almighty. God is God. He gives or He withholds, He answers prayer as we long for Him to, or He chooses not to. What we must do is to fix our hearts on the Gospel truth that He has not withheld His best, His Son. Because we are safe in Jesus, we are safe even when life is disappointing or even crushing. There is a happy land. There is a Master who will reward our faith, if we do not give up. Do you believe Him?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, my faith often sags. I look at what others have, and my heart snarls, not celebrates. I look at the much more that I want in life, and so often complain about what I do not have. Enough, Lord: teach me to treasure Your love in Your Son. Teach me to be content in Him. Do this, by Your Spirit’s power, to Your Glory, I pray. Amen.

 

The True Builder – Nehemiah 13. RBT Notes, 15th December

It takes a few weeks to build a wall. It takes a lifetime to build a community. Churches can be planted quickly, but real churches – living, authentic and sacrificial communities of Christians, take years and years to build. That work takes skill, patience, a willingness to press on through failure, setbacks through disloyalty and disinterest, and in it all, it takes the ever-present power of God’s grace.

And real communities are built on honesty and integrity. The years have moved on, and Nehemiah has had to be away from the community. What he unearths when he gets back is far from encouraging. Yes, the people have listened to God’s word, and have made big decisions about being serious in obeying it (vv.1–3). By the way, don’t mishear the command as sanctioned racism, that that community should be one of Israelites only – God purposed back then a people who would be true to Him in their marrying within their people, before He would send one who would be the Saviour of people of all races. If our first steps in obedience are not purposeful, what hope do we have that He will build in and through our own lines?

Nehemiah discovers that there is compromise in the community. Eliashib was best buddies with Tobiah, and allowed this pagan enemy of God to have all that he wanted in the temple (vv.4–5). Then Nehemiah steps in, and deals with this decisively (vv. 8–9). But that is not all that he discovers. The Levites and singers were unpaid, so understandably went off to earn their living (v.10). Nehemiah establishes new officials, and can only hope that these problems are solved (v.13).

If only. The sabbath is being desecrated, and Nehemiah has to get involved, ensuring that business stops for the sacred day (vv.15-22). The strain is, unsurprisingly, showing. When Nehemiah can see that some of the men in the community are raising children who speak in a pagan language, he explodes with rage (vv.23-28). Model leadership behaviour? Not by modern standards, and probably not by ancient standards, either. But just as Nehemiah drives one of these disobedient men away from him (v.28), we could say that their behaviour drives their leader to this rage. Authentic spiritual leadership can be exhausting, and lonely. Nehemiah is only human. And the community, after all, are only a bunch of sinners. Why should be expect any more from them?

A man would come, though, who would lead the people of God. He would provide them with walls of salvation. He would serve them to the extent of being driven to the cross, His beard pulled out. He would suffer and die on that cross, not to win one ethnic people, but people from all the nations on earth. Now today Jesus fills us with His Spirit, empowers to be dead to sin and alive to righteous, godly living. We will fail. We will let Him and each other down. He will lift us up again, and privilege us with the calling to build with Him for His community.

 

A Prayer to pray

Father, thankyou for Nehemiah. Thankyou for the strength, faith, courage and lvoe which You gave to Your servant. Thankyou, too, that he makes me look up to Jesus, the true Builder of God’s people. Help me to serve my community, to be humble, patient, faithful hardworking. And build a dwelling-place for Your glory in our church, Lord. 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.

Persevering through Pain – 2 Samuel 16. RBT Notes, 20th October

The past has a way of catching up on us. We feel we’ve come to terms with old feelings, old loves, old enemies, and that all is changed. But then one day we discover that the past never vanished; it just went into hiding for a while.

This power-shift between Absalom and David causes the past to surface. David has a sudden reminder of Saul’s family, as the servant Ziba brings him unexpected gifts for the journey (vv.1-2). His joy is tempered with deep sadness, as he learns that Mephibosheth, Saul’s grandson and recipient of so much of David’s kindness, is betting on Absalom to return his own family’s wealth to him (vv.3-4). One of life’s hard lessons is that love does not secure loyalty.

Next is an extraordinary scene, with Shimei ranting and screaming at David (vv.5-14). Like Mephibosheth, Absalom’s challenge to the king is his chance to settle old grievances. David’s reaciont? He appears either as man of humble faith, or as a broken man whose courage has failed him. Both are likely to be the case. David is holding onto what was once his bright faith in happier days, but knows that he’s no longer the man who can cope with conflict. His heart will break further, when he learns of Absalom insulting him in one more public and shaming assault on his rule (vv.15-23).

Life is painful, and those we try to love bring us most pain. Jesus Christ knew the pain of desertion. He witnessed friends seeking old loves and loyalties, when the pressure got too much. His Word warns us of our vipers’-nest hearts, and cautions us against complacency. Before we disgrace ourselves, and our King, when temptation comes we must “put on faith and love as a breastplate, and the hope of salvation as a helmet” (1 Thess. 5.8). Jesus Himself did.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Spirit of God, I barely know my heart. And how my heart gets broken, tempted and distracted. Fix my eyes on Jesus, who will never disappoint me. Keep me humble and close to Him, pressing on to the end. Amen.

This God Speaks – Amos 1. RBT Notes, 1st June

amos2

 

1.     God is a pussycat; God doesn’t really care about justice; faith is a waste of time. How does this chapter challenge those false positions? Which challenge do you especially need?

2.    God’s judgment ranges throughout all the nations who opposed Israel. Is His response to their violence mean, vicious, or just, and why?

3.    How does God’s care and jsutice for His people encourage you to press on in faith in Christ?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Sovereign Lord, what You declare, You will bring to pass. Give me grace to beleive Your promises, and to show my belief by persevering obedience to Your Son. Teach me to be one who trembles at Your Word, and to love it all of my days. Amen

Same sins, but same grace! Psalm 106. RBT Notes by Graham Thomson

forgiving-ourselves

 

1. This Psalm was probably used first during the exile in Babylon. Why was it useful for the congregation to remember the sinful history of their people (6-46) and confess it to each other, and the Lord at that time? In what ways may it be helpful for us to to follow their example now?

2. How do the reminders of vv. 1-3 and vv. 43-46 give them hope to pray the prayers of vv. 4-5 and v. 47? How might we remember God’s ‘mighty acts’ in Jesus, and have confidence to pray the same prayer?

3. In what ways can reminding yourself, and others, of God’s grace in our individual and corporate lives, despite our sinfulness, help us to live more confident Gospel-filled lives, individually and together, today?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Father, thankyou for Your mighty acts of grace through the Lord Jesus Christ. I confess, Father, that I am a sinner who regularly turns away from You. And yet I thank You that You are gracious and, united to Jesus, I stand righteous, forgiven, and loved before You. Please give me grace to rest in that grace, and to hate my sin as You do. Amen.