And Joy Everlasting- Nehemiah 8. RBT Notes, 8th December

The wall’s up, and people’s heads are soon down in the stuff of life. Houses need to be built, wells dug, orchards planted, fields ploughed up and sown, children looked after and taught. And on and on. Life is never still, never without its demands, and there are never enough hours in the day. Busyness is as old as time, and our lack of time.

In life’s busyness we fight for time. We must fight for the time to listen to God’s Word. If we don’t, the thistles and thorns of work and worry will choke our souls. Our souls need time, time for the Word. The jobs will have to wait, and some jobs need a careful and principled neglect.

So God’s people come together (8.1). Ezra is called to bring out the Law of Moses, and to read it before the community, and what a reading, from dawn to lunch! Also, what a rapt attention (v.3). People know that these are not just words – they are, as Moses said, “your life” (Deut. 32.47).

God’s Word brings joy and sorrow. Joy, in that we see the grace of God once more; but sorrow, in that we see how we disobey that Word, consciously and unconsciously. The people praise God with their preacher (v.6), but there are tears, too (v.9). Maybe this community was feeling as they needed to the weight of God’s anger which had swept their parents’ generation off to exile as the punishment for their sins.

Nehemiah, like any good leader, is alive to the feelings of his people. He speaks up, with tender words, and wonderful counsel. He knows that God is a God of grace. He knows that the joy of the Lord – joy shared and tasted by grace – is our only lasting and real strength (v.10). He calls his people to rest and rejoice.

This is the true joy of God’s Word. Are you experiencing it? When our hearts enthrone the Lord as He truly is, and bow before Him, relying on His mercy alone in Christ, there is always joy. Faith comes through hearing God’s Word, and through understanding it. Ezra had devoted himself to being an expert student and teacher of Holy Scripture (Ez. 7.10), and he and Nehemiah were totally committed to the people grasping the grace of God in His Word. What servants. In fact, apostolic ministry has exactly the same mandate, to be workers with God’s people for their joy (2 Cor. 1.24).

Enjoy the scenes of festivity in vv.12-18. The community celebrates the feast of tabernacles – the first time for many years (centuries, in fact, v.17). They are rediscovering the joy of being God’s people, and obeying His Word. God has no other will for our lives. We should have no other ambition, either.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord God, what a world of joy awaits me as I bow before You. What a world of misery I stumble through when I focus on myself. Lift my eyes, my heart, my mind, Father, to Your care and loving authority in my life. Teach me to tremble at Your Word. Amen.

Truth for Life – Micah 2. RBT Notes, 21st November

Oh, the mistakes we make about God. And that’s not the world. The world in its wisdom does not know God; the church, in her foolishness, often mirrors the same ignorance. Micah brings the sins of God’s people up against them. Will they acknowledge them, and turn to their God? And if these sins are ours, will we?

The greedy…will lose all they have  (vv.2-5)

Some of us live to get. We plan, sacrifice, risk, coerce and exploit, all to get more and more. Even when people are trampled (reputations, needs, rights) we plough on, intent on our own ambitions (vv.1-2). Love your neighbour isn’t an option for the less-busy. It is an imperative for all. Without such love, we show that we do not know God, and we do not enjoy His favour. A church without love will end in misery and failure, with God Himself to answer to (v.5).

The liars…will be silenced  (vv.8-11)

Micah is feeling the pressure from false prophets. God’s messengers are always outnumbered by the religious majority, with their learned and applauded speakers. Gospel men are derided by liberal preachers, written off as gloomy, intolerant, out of date and irrelevant. Let the church deride or pity, those who know the God of the Word will preach His Word (vv.6-7). Micah is standing on God’s Word, so he will certainly speak it. And yes, it is a hard word, that God is opposed to the lies proclaimed in His Name. The religious leaders of Micah’s time are presiding over social disintegration (vv.8-10) and are happy to be the mouthpieces of a corrupt society (v.11). Micah knows better – God’s Words do good to those who are upright. The truth brings division. One day noone will be able to oppose, least of all the disobedient church.

The followers…will be saved  (vv.12-13)

In the gathering international crisis which Israel is to face, Micah says that the nation’s only hope is God Himself. He is the Good Shepherd, Who alone can and will lead His people to safety (v.12). He is the only Saviour.

And His truth is unchanging. The Good Shepherd, the Lord Jesus Christ, is calling an often wayward church to come back to Him. He alone knows where green pastures are. And yes, His love alone restores our souls.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, You alone have the words of eternal life, and show the path to life. Outside You there is only decay and death. Teach my heart to mistrust my wandering heart, to doubt its voice and to seek the wisdom of the Son. I know that in Him is life. 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.

 

 

Saved to Serve – Acts 9. RBT Notes, 10th March

caravaggio_paul_jl
g
“I believe in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life.” Never overlook this precious statement in the Apostles’ Creed. On it you can build your faith, your ministry, and your confidence in all times, especially when faith burns low and ministry is tough.
h
 h
And then believe that the Holy Spirit can reach anyone. Let the conversion of Saul of Tarsus teach you His power. This man was sent to Damascus with arrest warrants. He left with his own life in danger, having received a mandate to preach the Gospel. He went there “breathing out murderous threats” (9.1), and came back on fire with love for Christ. The Holy Spirit’s power can no more be anticipated than it can be limited.
h
 h

Saul takes a fall

 h
The Lord whose people he was trying to persecute is the Lord whose glory puts him in the dust (vv.1-5). Does in his heart of hearts Saul already know that is Jesus? I suspect so. Jesus has his man cornered and cowering. Saul is broken: his pride, his beliefs, his career are all in tatters. Grace knocks us down.
h
 h

Two men alive in Christ

 h
Ananias is terrified. A prayer time is turned into a commission to meet a murderer (vv.10-15). He must meet Saul, but he is told that he will be God’s instrument for his transformation. More than that, Saul will be God’s instrument for bringing the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ to the pagan nations. He had seen that glory, and soon, alive in Christ, others would see it through his ministry.
h
 h
Zeal in the Holy Spirit
h
Now for Saul it’s sight after blindness, and zeal for Christ replaces hatred of Him. He prays, and now he preaches, to everyone’s astonishment (vv.20-23). And to the rage of many: Saul flees for his life, but nothing will silence him. The church can barely believe that this persecutor is now a fervent preacher of Christ, but no one can deny his powerful ministry (vv.26-30).
h
 h

Over to you, Peter

h h
Luke shows us that God now has His man for the Gentiles, but Luke hasn’t forgotten Peter. He is also travelling, and is healing and preaching (vv.32-34). We might think of the healings of Jesus Himself which are similar to these two episodes (very obviously, Acts 10.36-43 and Mark 5.35-43). What Jesus began to do and teach (Acts 1.1), His apostles now have His Spirit to continue. A church filled and led by His Spirit is ready to shake the world. Are you?
h
 h
A Prayer to Pray
hh
Come, Holy Sprit, fill me with Your life, Your love, Your zeal, Your wisdom. Take the scales of self-love and unbelief from my eyes, show me Jesus. Make me His living sacrifice, for His praise sake. Amen.

Faithful, and Fearless – Acts 4. RBT Notes, 4th March

The life of the authentic church is marked by four things: preaching, persecution, prayer and practical generosity. Our chapter today is a snapshot of  life in the Spirit, with lessons for all believers.

FearlessJesus is a controversy. If we think otherwise, we’re either not thinking about the real Jesus, or we’re not living the real Christian life; or probably both. The Book of Acts plunges us back into the controversy which is Jesus, and urges us to live for Him with a wise boldness.

Peter and John must have known that healing and preaching in Jesus’ name would mean persecution for them for the sake of Jesus’ name. So when the crowds came running, they must have known that trouble was racing to meet them, too. And it did. They were put in jail for their troubles – though five thousand men know the loosening of the chains of sin (vv.1-4).

The religious leaders know exactly what the Apostles were doing, so more fool them when they have to listen to Peter’s Spirit-filled proclamation of Jesus (vv.5-7). He tells them what they must have been dreading to hear, that the power of Jesus Christ healed this man, and that He, though rejected by them, is God’s only appointed Saviour (vv.8-12).

Just think about the courage of Peter and John. In a city which idolised religious learning, these “unschooled, ordinary men” (v.13) spoke up, and spoke into the faces of men who had crucified their Lord, and who hated their message. The facts, though, silenced them (v.14). And no threats or commands can silence the church and her message: “we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard” (v.20).

After the Gospel is preached, the believers now pray: they are joyfully convinced that their Jesus is Lord, and realistic that the world will rage against Him – and none of that without the Sovereign will of God (vv.24-28). Now they pray for God’s power, for their ministry to be emboldened, and for grace to save lost people in Jesus’ Name (vv.29-30). And where prayers like that are prayed, God will be at work (v.31).

God will be at work within the true church, too. As the Gospel brings more converts, so the Gospel unlocks believing hearts in acts of incredible generosity (vv.32-37). As Christians, we want to lay our lives before the cross, to share all that we are and all that we have in true service of the Gospel. He only is worthy of all.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Search me, O God, and know my heart. Give me that thrilled, captivated joy in knowing that Jesus is Lord. Give me boldness, boldness to speak, to pray, to risk and to sacrifice. Shake what I hold dear, that I may hold Jesus most dearly of all. Amen.