Hard hearts – and broken ones – Micah 6. RBT Notes, 25th November

“What have I done to you?” (v.3).

Do you have a problem with God? Has He failed you? Has His grace not been enough? Are His commands a burden? Is your redemption tedious? Is heaven a drag?

Israel was bored of God. And God knows it. He is bringing heaven and earth as His witnesses, that for all He has done for His people, they just can’t rouse themselves to get excited about God, and certainly can’t manage to obey Him (vv.1-2). Just look ahead to verses 9-16. Sin and warning are presented to this lazy people. The Spirit of God brings the same warnings to us. I wonder, are we guilty of just the same sins? Are we slouching our way through life, hard-hearted towards others, cold-hearted towards God, and excited only for our own pleasures? We have been warned.

Beware of how your heart murmurs. Your sighs and complaints say everything about your real spiritual condition. Take some time today: write a list of the things you’ve heard yourself complaining about recently. Then write a list of reasons why you have no mandate to complain – ever. You are a child of God in Christ. He has won you at a great price. You belong to Him, heart, mind and body. Complaining hearts are cold hearts, and need the fire of Gospel grace again.

The heart that knows this, that it belongs to grace, lives in awe. We know that we can bring God nothing, we can earn no favour, we can never out-sacrifice Him, make Him our debtor, or feel that anything we do merits His love. He is the Lord, holy, majestic, awesome. We come, and we worship. Simply that. And then we rise off our faces to go and do His revealed will, in the power of the Spirit, to the praise of the Son: “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God” (v.8).

 

A Prayer to Pray

Oh Lord my God. You are truth, life, righteousness, love and peace. And You give all that You are to me through Your Son. Forgive me granite heart, and break it open in praise and humble thankfulness once more. Teach me to love You, to serve others, to be humble, to delight, really delight, in Your grace. For You are delightful. Amen.

Bathsheba – 2 Samuel 11. RBT Notes, 12th October

All has gone so well. Evidently, though, there is such a thing as “too well” for our hearts. “Too well” might mean too much success, leisure, peace and quiet, fame or wealth. David had all of those. True, he should have enjoyed each as God’s rich gift; but somewhere his heart grabbed them for his own selfish enjoyment, and started on its dark course of self-gratification. When the battles are done and the work is over, and we crave for our rewards, then we are at our most vulnerable. David certainly was.

He took a woman. He knew that the women bathed on their secluded rooftops. His eyes didn’t just wander, they were searching. And they found. Like Adam and Eve, he took the forbidden fruit (vv.1-5), because he refused to believe that God had given him enough.

He took a life. Her husband must be hurried (unwittingly) into bed with her, to be tricked into thinking the conceived child was his. When that fails, he must be eliminated (vv.6-24). His plan worked, and took a life.

He took the greatest risk. He gambles that he can cover up his multiple sins, and let them lie as hidden as his own conscience. He wants others to sleep as easy as he did, as his plans unfolded. He gambles that God would not notice (vv.25-27). Some odds are always too long.

Idolater, adulterer, blasphemer, liar, thief, murderer, and on, and on. “The thing that David had done displeased the Lord” (v.27). Our sins do the same. They are never hidden, never overlooked. Like David’s, they need blood sacrifice for forgiveness.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord God, how near the cliff-edge of sin’s destruction I walk. Open my eyes, Lord, and show me my danger. Grab me while there’s time. Teach me the fear of the Lord as the beginning of wisdom. Please, Lord. Amen.

 

New Life – Acts 3. RBT Notes, 3rd March

Begging isn’t much of a job, but it was a legitimate way to spend your days if you had a disability in the First Century World. So the man Peter and John met that afternoon wouldn’t have been a threat, a nuisance or a freeloader, just another man with a desperately sad story and incurable condition, trying to live as honestly as any other (vv.1-3). In a few seconds his world is transformed, and a city is confronted by the power and the word of Jesus.

Peter and John have little money, but something far, far better than even a whole bag of it: they know that Jesus wants to heal this man (v.6). And He does. Just see him walking and jumping! “And leap you lame for joy”, urged Charles Wesley in his famous hymn. We can. Jesus comes with power, and when He does, we should be “filled with wonder and amazement” (v.10).

mistyflatbwWhen the Colonnade is crowded with astonished people, Peter and John seem quite calm, and they know what they must do. This is the time to declare that God vindicated the very One they had condemned a few weeks before, His servant Jesus (vv.12-16).  Jesus brings healing. More than that, Jesus has the power to forgive. They are to repent. They may have acted in ignorance, but now they must act with the knowledge they have, to turn to the crucified Lord and to seek His forgiveness (vv.17-19).

Peter explains that Jesus is the Prophet Moses spoke of long ago, and He is the Returning One. If they are to be truly part of God’s People, then they must listen to and obey Him (vv.21-23). Exactly the same is true for you and for me. It is not enough to know that God is powerful, or that God has been faithful to our ancestors: we must find our peace with God, and our place amongst His covenant people through repentance and faith in Jesus  (vv.24-26). Accept Him, and we are accepted – and alive!

 

A Prayer to Pray

Father, Your Son has set me free! Thankyou so much for life in His name. In a world where people are starving to find life, please give me the daily bread of Jesus, and the compassionate and believing heart to share Him with others. Otherwise, they will die – and so will I. Amen.

 

 

The Promise – Acts 2. RBT Notes, 2nd March

dw.logo.promise.army.high

 

Pentecost was the Jewish celebration of the wheat harvest. It was also used an an occasion particularly to celebrate God’s gift of His Law to His people. What takes place this Pentecost established that the Gospel of God would go out to all nations, and would signal the in-gathering of a harvest of men and women to God through faith in Christ. This is what the prophets foretold.

It sounds and looks very strange. The disciples are met with the sound of rushing wind, and the fire rested on each of them (vv.1-3). Nor could they stay in silent astonishment: their mouths were opened to speak God’s praises in languages which were totally new to them (v.4). In that moment, the Spirit’s work in coming upon them was clear: they were being set apart and empowered for mission, a mission which was to take them, as their Master had said, right to the ends of the earth (1.8).

All who hear and see are staggered. This isn’t a case of early morning alcohol, since that doesn’t give the instant gift of foreign languages. They hear the wonders of God, but are lost for the reasons for this astonishing event (vv.5-13). They don’t have to wait for their answer. The once-disowning but now-restored Peter speaks up, and what he gives is an incredible sermon, rich in Spirit-given insight into God’s Word and plan. This is the essence of his words:

God is doing a new thing, just as Joel foretold (vv.17-21). God’s Spirit is given to all, that they might know the Lord, and realise that in the uplifting of His Son, God is declaring a new era (as signified by the talk of sun and moon). This is the era of salvation.

God’s salvation is offered to all in Jesus (vv.22-36). He is the One put to death, in a mysterious and foreordained working of God’s purposes, which were fulfilled through human sin. And this Saviour was raised to life, as David was given foresight of. Vital as he was in God’s plan, David was not central, but witnessed to His Lord, Jesus, now enthroned as the Christ.

God is calling all men to be saved (vv.37-41). Peter’s words are sent home by the Spirit of God. His hearers long to know forgiveness for their sins. And three thousand make their response to God’s grace. A once-despised Jesus is now seen to be the hope of all who believe. And this truth shall never change.

This diverse crowd of people, who gathered for a familiar festival, are now being forged into a new community of believers. Read vv.42-47 once more: the Word, Prayer, Radical generosity, Joy, Growth, Outreach – all are timeless marks of the true Christian church. This is the life the Spirit brings, and it’s all discovered in Jesus. What a promise we have.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Dear Lord Jesus, exalted Lord and Saviour of all who believe, my heart is filled with joy to hear again this account of Your Spirit’s coming. I long to know His life more and more in me. Bring me close, to repent of my sin, and to see the life of the people of God. As the old hymn asks, “teach me Your way, Lord.” Amen.

 

Open Door – Revelation 3.7-21. RBT Notes, 5th February

If Jesus has opened up both death and eternal life (1.18), then no situation, crisis, suffering or heartache can remain closed against Him (3.7). Those at Philadelphia are clearly exhausted disciples. Our Master knows this, encourages them (v.8), and urges them to take the opportunities He is opening up for them. Better still, He will open a place in His Father’s Presence to them for ever (v.12). He is coming soon to do that (v.11). It’s not our strength or faith or mind, then that counts; our confidence is in Jesus. He holds the keys.

Light_on_door_at_the_end_of_tunnelMaybe you are a believer who is longing to serve God, and longing to be with Christ in heaven. Some Christians, though, are looking for the door out of the Christian life, and they aren’t always aware of it. Take the church at Laodicea. Like the tepid, unhealthy spring water which ran into the city, believers there were dangerously lukewarm (v.16). They were so confident in themselves, they felt they didn’t need the Gospel. Christ sees a smugness which is trying to push Him away, and which is close to disqualifying them from heaven (v.16). They need to open the door again to their Saviour by a sincere repentance (v.20). Self-sufficiency can lead us to despair, or to complacency. Either way, we need to come back to Jesus.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Father, Your grace in Your Son is amazing! Thankyou that in Him You give without measure. Lift me both from despair and complacency, as you teach me that Jesus is truly mine. Open the door of my heart to Jesus again, today, and may I know His fellowship. Amen.

 

Responsibility – Ezekiel 18. RBT Notes, 13th January

The soul that sins will thrive. Life without God is the best life. Once we can get rid of the ghost of God, once we can shake off that old rumour of a God looking down on us, who needs to be pleased, or appeased, then we can start to live. The sooner we shut our Bibles, close our minds to the notion of objective right and wrong, and start living for our own dreams, then the freer and the happier we’ll be. What are we waiting for?

Ask the people of Ezekiel’s time, and they will tell you, “we tried that”. The people of Jerusalem and Judah knew all about liberty. They had long since ditched the Sunday School lessons, and embraced the fun and freedom of their pagan neighbours. The thing is, it’s done nothing for them. They are sitting there in the open-prison of exile. And it’s no fun. Maybe they should have listened to the preacher, or read their Bibles, instead of making up their minds about The Big Questions by just copying everyone else. Like so many people, the Judeans mistook fun for freedom, and all they got for it was guilt.

Guilt is a horrible thing. No one rests easy when loaded with guilt, whether it’s imagined or real. And people who don’t feel guilty are furious at those who insist that, actually, perhaps they should do. Ch.18 sees Ezekiel defending God’s ways to the exiles, and insisting that God is just, and that – though they deny it – these people are actually guilty before Him.

5366688_orig“It wasn’t our fault”, is the refrain Ezekiel keeps hearing from his countrymen in their exile (v.2). They’re being punished, they insist, for the sins of their forefathers. Are they angry, indignant that they’re suffering and it’s all somebody else’s fault; or are they resigned to their fate, just insisting that life’s not fair and there’s nothing anyone can do about it? Either way, they’re sure that their lives are not a problem of their own making.

“Not so”, God replies, “the soul who sins is the one who will die” (v.4). And Ezekiel will make the case that, far from being the helpless victims of someone else’s sins, they are bearing punishment because they also bear guilt.

As a priest, Ezekiel is a man trained in the Law and its ways. Hear the lawyer in him, then, as he speaks for God. He gives them Case Law, and offers examples of three different lives, all from one family. One man lives righteously, and is blessed in doing so (vv.5-9). His son lives the opposite life, and as he meets the reward of the same Just God, so is punished (vv.10-14). It’s simple, fair, and a powerful example to Ezekiel’s hearers: the Judge of all the earth will always do what is right.

That does not mean, though, that a life that’s begun well might not go to ruin, nor that a wicked life might not be transfigured by repentance and transformation (vv.21-29). God is righteous, So when people point a finger at God, they better be careful in case they end up pointing the finger back at themselves.

In fact, that’s exactly what we should do. “I have sinned” is a good place to begin dialogue with God. “Repent” (v.30) isn’t a command to wallow in guilt, or play a misery game with God. It’s a command to deal with guilt, or rather, to allow God to deal with guilt. Our guilt is real, actual, enslaving, joy-robbing,  and hell-deserving. Deny it, or justify it, and it will kill you, slowly but surely. Come to Jesus, and find it met, atoned for, washed away. The power is His, the coming is yours. That’s your responsibility.

The soul that repents will live, and thrive. Try it.