The Weight of Glory – 2 Corinthians 4 – RBT Notes, 4th November

If the Gospel changes people like nothing else can, then its servants have no reason to lose heart in ministering it. No reason at all (v.1). Nor do we have any reason to resort to shady dealings in Gospel service (v.2).

But if the Gospel is so powerful, why does it look so powerless, as our hearers often reject it, and as we go through so much trouble in proclaiming it? Well, says Paul, Satan is hard at work, blinding people to it (vv.3-4). It’s not a clearer sermon people need, ultimately, or a more compelling witness: it’s the work of the Spirit, doing the very work God did in creation, shining light into darkness, this time the darkness of sin-blighted and Satan-blinded hearts, to show them Jesus in His glory (vv.5-6). And He loves to do just that.

So, Satan is at work, but God is stronger. What about us? Every Gospel servant discovers, sooner or later, just how weak she or he is. The Gospel is the treasure, not us. We are like the clay jar – cheap, fragile, and feeling distinctly disposable, knocked about, and pretty worthless (vv.7-9). We’re called to suffer as we serve, just as Jesus did. As we live out His life (and only as we do so), we find the power of the Spirit working in and through us; not crushed, not despairing, not abandoned, not destroyed. God is holding onto us. And we are bruised so that others find life in Jesus. Gospel service is “we die, you live” (v.12).

So, do not lose heart. Eternal glory will come, and will far outweigh our troubles. Dare we believe that our problems, real as they are, are actually “light and momentary” (v.17)? It depends if we’re feeling the pressing weight of heaven. We should, and we must. One day heaven will be here.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, my trials knock me down. Lift me back up. Lord, I lose perspective, and so I lose hope. Please drive the truths of this precious chapter into my heart. Feed me with its truths. Teach me that the reward is almost in sight, and help me to press on in Gospel sacrifice until the Day comes. Amen.

Feel the Burn – Amos 7. RBT Notes, 8th June

cropped-1190-weight-bar-facebook-cover

 

1.    What are the lessons for us about prayer, punishment and grace in the two visions of vv.1-6?

2.    How do vv.7-9 remind us that God will not compromise His holiness?

3.    How is Amos’ experience of the stress and cost of ministry a foreshadowing of the life and work of the Lord Jesus (vv.10-17)? And how does 2 Timothy 3.12 tie our lives to this suffering?

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord God, teach me to care about Your Kingdom, and make me into a disciple of courage. So shape me, that suffering doesn’t surprise me when it comes, and that sacrifice and loss will never move me from my commitment to the Lord Jesus. For His sake, amen.

No Compromise – Acts 20. RBT Notes, 23rd March

700x300-hands-470x225

 

The Gospel is not going away. There will be periods of history and places in the world where is it angrily resisted (as in Paul’s world), and places where it will be mocked and ignored (as in ours). Our calling is not to lose our nerve, or our heart. The Gospel will outlive our culture and our own lives. The only worth of our lives, ultimately, is in whether we have loved it, believed it and passed it on.

Paul is compelled by the Gospel. There is no resting up after Ephesus, but after more work in Macedonia and Greed (and more attempts on his life, v.3), he’s working his way east with his heart set on Jerusalem (vv.1-6). Poor old Eutychus is one of the many surely who couldn’t keep up with Paul’s zeal to expound the Scriptures, and a sermon turns unexpectedly into a miraculous resuscitation exercise (vv.7-12).

Next, Luke records one of Paul’s great sermons, here to the leaders of the church in Ephesus. His words are searching, and instructive. Here are his key lines of thought, as he explores true Gospel ministry for all times:

There is one message for all (vv.18-21). Paul does not speak different words to different people. All need to hear the same truth about Jesus. Repentance and faith are never popular demands, but God has given us no other mandate. Stick to this.

Authentic ministry is cross-shaped (vv.22-24). What do you value in life, and what would you give your life for? Paul knows that life’s worth (his own as well as ours) is measured in giving it up for Jesus Christ. His life’s direction is Christwards, and he knows that living for Him means suffering for Him. Do we have the same perspective, and passion?

Ministry is never free from responsibilities, or dangers (vv.25-31). The wolves are coming for the sheep, is Paul’s warning (v.29-31). Do you recognise them? With their glinting smiles, they want your allegiance, money, unquestioning obedience and anything else you might be unwise enough to surrender to them. Don’t. They slaughter the sheep and oppose Christ (v.29). Jesus shed His blood for His church; don’t allow any of His sheep to be torn apart by false teachers.

God really can be trusted (vv.32-38).  He really can. Paul leaves this tearful scene committing them to the trustworthy God (v.32). They can trust Him for the church, and Paul can entrust to Him his own life, though he knows he is facing hardship and probably worse. Trust Him, and lay yourself out in sacrifice, is what Paul is modelling, and urging upon us all. Jesus really is worth it. Refuse to compromise.

 

A Prayer to Pray

No, Lord, I don’t want to compromise. Please give me such a vision of Jesus and His mighty sacrifice for me that I will ransack my heart, searching for whatever it is You are asking for, and bringing it gladly to  Your throne. May love be the fuel for the sacrifice – and may I be the offering. Amen.

Searching Issues – Acts 15. RBT Notes, 17th March

Spotlight

 

Everyone likes the idea of church growth, until the reality kicks in. New faces at church bring new needs, different lifestyles, other perspectives, differing cultural backgrounds, and the inevitability of convictions being shared which don’t square with the Bible. Are these visitors from Judea to the church at Antioch real but misguided believers; or are they were unconverted troublemakers, seeking to destroy the work of God (v.1)? One thing is sure: church growth brings difficulties, from people in their sheer complexities, as well as from Satan, with his one aim of opposing the Gospel.

True leadership means handling problems. In fact, leadership that can’t or won’t deal with problems isn’t leadership at all! This new debate about circumcision catches Paul and Barnabas off-guard, and after some tense debate, they realise that they need help (v.2). They have great news of gospel growth in pagan territory to share with believers, and then their hearts must have sunk as they had to face the issue of Gentile Christian identity, now fast becoming Jerusalem’s hottest potato (v.5).

What follows is a beautiful harmony of biblical convictions about God’s mission in His Son to the world. Peter, Paul, Barnabas and then James all speak up. They’ve all come to learn from Scripture, as well as to see in the church, that God loves the nations, and is reaching them in His Son (vv.6-18). They’re realistic, too, that a mixed Jew-Gentile church must be a place for accommodation of backgrounds. Jews must deal with their own cultural conditioning, and not “make it difficult for Gentiles who are turning to God” (v.19 – maybe the church breakfast could possibly serve bacon rolls?); just so, converts from paganism must leave those practices in their old lives, and not bring offence to Jewish background believers (vv.20-21 – no church lunch offerings straight from the pagan Temples, then). The Jerusalem church agrees on this plan, and send their message and workers off (vv.22-35). On this nothing less than the future of God’s work depends.

If the church is to succeed in its mission in any age, it must be deliberately careful about serving its people, whoever they are. There is no room to erect cultural barriers, just because some believers enjoy living behind them.  How we dress, what we sing, when we meet, the personal lifestyle choices we parade as being “true discipleship”, can so easily become our gospel essentials, which cause confusion and bring offence. The church will always be a place where there are disagreements – even amongst Spirit-filled leaders of the highest calibre (vv.36-41); but our calling is to do everything we can to remove difficulties. God’s truth in Jesus is for all.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, please show me where I am getting in the way of Your work. Show me where my preferences are not Yours. Give me the integrity to get rid of what does not promote Your truth in the church. Help me to serve others in love. 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.