Heart-felt – Job 31. RBT Notes, 24th January

Sin pays. Job knows that, whether in this life or the next, our subtle, sly, hidden sins, as well as the broad-daylight, seen by all ones, will all meet the judgement of God. The wages of sin is disaster (vv.1-4). If you know this, you care deeply about how you live. You know that you always live in the Presence of God.

This chapter is Job’s attempt to search his heart for any false way.  Has he cheated others (vv.5-8)? Has he been lustful, and unfaithful (vv.9-12)? Has he cheated his employees, trampled on the poor, abused the disadvantaged (vv.13-23)? Has he put his trust in his riches (vv.24-8)? Has he closed his heart to the needs of others (vv.29-24)?

There a hundred ways to hide from God, and to pursue sin (many thousands, in fact). Job wants to know that his heart is true to God. These words aren’t the workings of a neurotic, sick heart. They aren’t the anxious psychological gnawings of a desperate man, who’s hounding his own mind and soul. This, according to Scripture, is a good thing. We are to examine ourselves, look for sin, identify it and confess it. Confession isn’t just good for the soul, it is essential. If there’s no confession, there’s no faith in the first place. No confession, and no faith – and there’s no salvation.

Believers are broken people. They are not endlessly self-recriminating, perpetually guilty people; but healthy, joyful, believing people. We have big sins. And we have a far, far bigger Saviour.

“The words of Job are ended” (v.40). Of course, Job has nothing more to say. In that, strangely, he can take heart: God loves to come to the broken-hearted. And to them He always has much to say.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Lord, teach me my sins, and draw from me a whole-hearted repentance. I deceive myself, and then I try to deceive You. All-seeing Master, show me what I cannot see, or what I will not see. Show me til I see my sins, and help me so that I see the Cross. This will be enough, for me and for You. Amen.

Confession is Good – Nehemiah 9. RBT Notes, 9th December

Don’t skip over this chapter. It looks grim, of course: “on the twenty fourth day of the same month, the Israelites gathered together, fasting and wearing sackcloth and having dust on their heads” (v.1). Sackcloth has rather gone out of fashion these days. So has confession. In fact, corporate prayer and gatherings of all sorts are also out of favour in the Christian world. But read this chapter closely. Its values may be counter to the Christian culture we live in at the moment. We might discover that our values are wrong. There is much to learn here.

They start with confession. Confession is not good for the soul. Confession is, literally, life-bringing. Confession doesn’t save us from our sins – only Jesus does that – but without confession there can be no salvation. So they listen to God’s Word, and confess their sins in the light of it (vv.2-3). How can they (and how can we) expect God to be serious in blessing us if we are so casual with the sins which offend us?

And then the priests lead the community in praise (vv.5-37). This whole lengthy prayer is a confession of who God is – majestic, worthy of honour (vv.5-6), the covenant-making Lord of His people (vv.7-8), the God who redeemed their forefathers from Egypt and led them through the wilderness (vv.9-15). But focus on God for any time, and we find ourselves facing up to who we are: Israel continually resisted God. The priests’ prayer alternates between great declarations of God’s goodness, generous love and patience with His people, and confessions of the hard-hearted arrogance of His people. Did they deserve His love? Absolutely not. “But in Your great mercy You did not put an end to them or abandon them, for You are a gracious and merciful God” (v.31).

The climax of the prayer is the admission that nothing has changed. God is the same, and His people are. Importantly, the priests recognise that life is very, very tough for this returning community. Even though they have returned from exile, it doesn’t feel like it to them. They are still being exploited, and missing out on the peace and plenty they long for. “We are in great distress” (v.37) – and they know that it is down to their sins.

Can you speak of God’s unfailing goodness to you? Can you speak of you unfailing ability to forget, resist and avoid the Lord? It’s painful, isn’t it, but it’s probably near the truth. God’s children, filled with His spirit as we are, are still disobedient and foolish. “Confess your sins to one another and pray for one another, that you may be healed” (Jam. 5.14). “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness” (1 Jn. 1.9). He will.

 

A Prayer to Pray

Merciful Father, nothing escapes Your eyes. I am a sinner. But I barely know it, and even when I do, I am so slow to grieve, to confess, and to delight in Your grace. Make me sensitive by Your Spirit to the things I want and do which displease You. Teach me a ready confession, and give me an eager grasp on Your grace. Amen

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.

Devastation – 2 Samuel 13. RBT Notes, 17th October

She was exploited, violated and then left to mourn for the rest of her life. He was brutal, lived like a wild animal, and died like one. The story of Amnon and Tamar is one of the Old Testament’s foulest. It’s told in unhurried detail, so that we feel the complete outrage of this rape. Don’t look for deeper meanings or lessons in it; it is what is appears to be, a chronicle of shame.

Amnon commits incest and rape. Tamar is devastated (her pleading ignored by her predator, vv.12-15). His wicked heart is shown to be worse still, since he discards the woman he abused as so much rubbish (vv.15-18). Her life is broken.

The first two men whose reactions we encounter seem to have different responses to Tamar. Absalom tries to comfort her, whereas David is furious (vv.20-22). David, however, fails to work out the justice he should as Israel’s King. His silence is the result of his own personal compromise with Bathsheba. Sin robs us of conviction to do the right thing. Absalom plots Amnon’s death, and will do so, even if he waits for two years before he works out his plan.

Vengeance achieved, Absalom flees (v.38). Still, the king’s heart goes after him. The family is, as God promised, living out the bitter fruits of their father’s sin (cf 2 Sam. 12.10). Sexual ruin and bloodshed follow David’s fall in those areas.

Pity David and his house. Learn from them. Noone can escape sin, not a king, or a prince, and not a poor man, either. We are sinful from our mother’s womb, and we make disastrous choices, and have to live them out (and inflict them on others). You lust, rage, nurse your revenge, and crush others? You need a Saviour. And you have one.

 

A Prayer to Pray

I hide myself in You, Jesus Christ. You alone can shield me from sin’s destruction, and save me from the judgement my sin deserves. Thankyou that You, though pure, became sin for me. You are my hope alone, and I need no other. 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.

 

No Hiding-place – Amos 2. RBT Notes, 2nd June

1.    Who is next on God’s list of Law-breakers (v.4, 6), and what is the suprise here?

2.    Today, we are God’s covenant people in Christ. How do we hear the warning of these verses alongside 1 Peter 4.17 and 2 Corinthians 5.10?

3.    God’s people trampled on sensitive consciences (forcing the Nazirites to break their vows), and silenced preachers (vv.11-12). God therefore promises a ‘car crash’ (vv.13-14). Is this fair? And how do we heed this warning?

 

A Prayer to Pray

God have mercy on me, a sinner. I trample on other people, I shut my ears to Your Word. I spurn Your holiness, and enthrone my sinful desires. Christ have mercy. Bring me to Your feet, as one who knows the taste of repentant tears, and feels the kiss of forgiveness. Amen.