How great is the goodness you have stored up for those who fear you.
You lavish it on those who come to you for protection, blessing them before the watching world. (Psalm 31:19 NLT)
This week, I have been reading again of Abraham, one of the most well known and well loved men in the Old Testament. Chapters 11 to 25 of Genesis chronicle his life.
In Genesis 12:2 we read that Abraham is both the receiver of and the instrument of blessing:
I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing.
We also read that he was a devout man. On a number of occasions, we read of him building altars to God. For example, the first was an altar of gratitude and praise:
The Lord appeared to Abram and said, “To your offspring I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the Lord, who had appeared to him. (Genesis 12:7)
We also observe that Abraham was a gracious, noble and generous man. A time comes when Abraham separates from his nephew Lot to resolve a dispute between their respective workers. Abraham nobly allowed Lot first choice of the land, knowing that he would choose what looked like the best for himself. And Abraham would, some time later, prove himself to be loyal to this same nephew who, through his own unwise choices, found himself in a city, besieged, overcome and its inhabitants taken captive by the enemy. Abraham bravely pursued the attackers and:
He recovered all the goods and brought back his relative Lot and his possessions, together with the women and the other people. (Genesis 14:16)
And of course, he was a man of obedience, willing to give to God his most precious possession, the life of his own son.
However, Abraham was a man who sometimes fluctuated between faith and fear. When he wandered into territories occupied by other settlers, he adopted a strategy of deception to protect himself. In his own words, speaking of Sarah, his wife, he said:
And when God had me wander from my father’s household, I said to her, ‘This is how you can show your love to me: Everywhere we go, say of me, “He is my brother"'. (Genesis 20:13)
Abraham foolishly used deception rather than trusting in God, running the risk that others would commit adultery, a capital offence in the Near East, as well as potentially costing him his life.
Living by faith takes courage, determination and perseverance. There were times when Abraham leaned on natural rather than spiritual defences.
As I was meditating , on the fluctuations in Abraham’s faith, I felt a gentle whisper come and say to me, “I can do much better than that for you!”
Wonderful as Abraham’s faith was, God has an even deeper place of faith for us: a place where we find our feet are firmly embedded in the rock of faith, not just on it, and we will not walk away from that rock to seek another place of refuge when the storms of life assail us.
When facing challenging circumstances, rather than allowing faith to fizzle out, you let it take wings and sore upwards as you pray;
Lead me to the rock that is higher than I. For you have been my refuge, a strong tower against the foe. (Psalm 61:2,3)
If God is opening that door to you today, don’t hesitate to walk through what seems such a narrow door, but leads to wide places of blessing and fellowship with God.
Remember the goodness of God in the frost of adversity (C H Spurgeon)
Noah did everything just as God commanded him. (Genesis 6:22)
The story of Noah is one of the most familiar stories in the Old Testament. The older generation were brought up hearing it in Sunday school, in school and sometimes at home. Familiarity with stories such as these can cause us to read over them with haste, not taking time to think as we read, not appreciating what actually happened.
Noah lived many hundreds of miles from any large body of water. He would not have known what it was to stand at the ocean’s shore, viewing water stretching as far as the eye could see. Did he even know that oceans existed? Yet, when God spoke to him, asking him to build an ark which, in today’s terms would be seven stories high and one and a half football fields in length, we read that:
"Noah did all that the Lord commanded him." (Genesis 7:5)
This act of obedience and faith can often be under appreciated. One writer once said,
“We need to be fully aware that Noah's salvation was ultimately God's doing, but we should also thoroughly and thoughtfully consider that Noah was fully involved with God in carrying out all that God told him to do.”
This means that Noah had made a deliberate decision, gigantic in proportion and seeming preposterous as it was, to obey God. Obedience was paramount in his life. As Spurgeon said:
“Obedience is the highest practical courage.”
As we read though scripture, the importance of obedience is reiterated.
Obedience and victory go hand in hand.
This year shall we make a commitment to start as we mean to go on? Shall we decide to obey God in 2023, resolving todemonstrate the ‘highest practical courage’. Let us remember and put into practice the words of Mary to the servants at the Wedding Feast of Cana in John 2:5:
““Whatever He says to you, do it.”
For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.
There are many fallacies that are perpetuated in society that have their roots more in generalities than realities. One fallacy is that women are more romantic than men. We tend to think that it’s only women who enjoy hearing about a recent love match, but, I have noted the comments of men when they hear of their best friend’s engagement, an old pal’s forthcoming wedding or news of a new love match on the wind. Additionally, how many books, songs, poems, plays and films have been made about love and love stories… and not all are written by women? Love transcends gender barriers, race barriers, and even age barriers.
For many people these past weeks, without perhaps realising it, their thoughts have been centred around the greatest love story of all times. This love story is summed up in one verse in John’s gospel and is relevant to us all. It says:
“The Word became flesh and made his dwelling among us.”
(John 1:14 )
Billy Graham once said “I suppose the most misused word in all the English language is the word ‘Love.’ But, you know, the whole Bible is a love story; God’s love affair with the human race.”
On that night in Bethlehem 2000 years ago, when an angel adorned the skies of earth with its beauty and its light proclaiming ‘I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people’ (Luke 2:10), the greatest love story of all times was being heralded and would soon be on display for all creation to witness.
It’s a fallacy to think that Jesus just came for sinners, just for the poor, just the needy… the greatest love story of all times, encompasses every human being of every era, on every continent.
As we stand at the threshold of a new year, let us, with great anticipation, commit ourselves to getting to know this One who wrote, produced and was the central character in the greatest love stories of all time.
A very Happy and blessed New Year to you all.
So then, welcome him (Epaphroditus) in the Lord with great joy, and honour people like him, because he almost died for the work of Christ. He risked his life to make up for the help you yourselves could not give me. (Philippians 2:29-30)
When we think of people gambling, images of casinos, betting shops and online sites come to mind. We hear stories of men and women who have lost family, friends, possessions, houses and cars as a result of gambling. However, has it ever occurred to you that, if you are walking with God, in obedience to Him, that you too are a gambler? The difference is, you are not going to lose in God’s gambling arena, you always emerge a winner.
While reading a commentary on Philippians 2, with reference to Epaphroditus who ‘risked his life’ to help Paul, the writer noted: ‘Risk is a gambler’s word. It means that Epaphroditus risked everything on the turn of the dice. He gambled his life to help Paul’.
We read of many other people who similarly ‘gambled’ their lives in order to obey God. One of these was Mary, the mother of Jesus.
In her mid-teens when she received the visitation from the Angel Gabriel, Mary had a choice to make.Luke 1:29 tells us that:
“Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be.”
This was no ordinary messenger with no ordinary message. This message would change Mary’s life forever, if she accepted. Mary would be gambling her reputation, and even her life if she accepted this honoured position. And that’s exactly what she did.
“I am the Lord’s servant,” Mary answered. “May your word to me be fulfilled.” (Luke 1:38)
In her youth, she risked everything she had ever held dear to her to become the mother of the Saviour of the world. Likewise Joseph, an upright man, risked his reputation and all his hopes for their future by taking Mary to be his wife. He accepted this gamble, taking Mary to Bethlehem with him and becoming her husband.
In the light of history, we see what blessing poured on Mary’s life, on Joseph’s life and on the lives of all mankind as consequence of their risk.
I’ve never been in a casino but I have watched the scenes in old films. A group of people are gathered round the roulette wheel. Some have placed bets; they are totally committed. The others are watching what unfolds; they are merely onlookers. If we are to know God, really know Him; if we are to walk so closely with Him so that we hear even the whisper of his voice, we have got to be willing to be totally committed, not merely an onlooker. After weighing up what God is offering us against what we could seemingly lose, we decide every time to take the ‘risk’ and obey him. It’s the safest risk we will ever take in all our lives.
This Christmas season, will you follow the example of Mary and Joseph and make a decision to take that risk that you have been putting off for so long. By following and obeying Jesus, we are winners every time.
Rejoice always, pray continually, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus. (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)
Every year, on the fourth Thursday in November, the USA celebrates a festival called ‘Thanksgiving’. It’s origins lie in the sailing of a ship called the Mayflower in 1620 which left Plymouth harbour in the south of England carrying 120 religious separatists who were looking for a land where they could freely practice their faith without fear of persecution.
After landing and settling in the ‘New World’, the first ‘Thanksgiving’ was celebrated by the Pilgrims in October 1621, after having gathered in their first harvest. Thanksgiving celebrations were practised on and off for over two hundred years until, in 1863, President Abraham Lincoln, “proclaimed a national day of "Thanksgiving and Praise to our beneficent Father who dwelleth in the Heavens”, calling on the American people to also, "with humble penitence for our national perverseness and disobedience .. fervently implore the interposition of the Almighty hand to heal the wounds of the nation…” (Wikipedia)
Unfortunately, the attitude of gratitude that marked the early Pilgrims has given way to an attitude of ingratitude and sense of entitlement which has permeated not only American society but the society of the Western world and, if we’re honest, much of planet earth. It has become one of the greatest pandemics of our age.
Charles Spurgeon taught that it was “ ‘A heavenly thing to be thankful.’ After all, it was gratitude which ‘ought to teach us the divine object of grace.’ He longed for his heart to burn with the ‘sacred flame of thankfulness.’
Billy Graham preached that ‘nothing turns us into bitter, selfish, dissatisfied people more quickly than an ungrateful heart. And nothing will do more to restore contentment and the joy of our salvation than a true spirit of thankfulness.’ He also went on to say, “From one end of the Bible to the other, we are commanded to be thankful.” Here are two of these commands:
"Enter his gates with thanksgiving and his courts with praise; give thanks to him and praise his name." (Psalm 100:4-5)
"Sing and make music from your heart to the Lord, always giving thanks to God the Father for everything, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ."
Elsewhere we read;
“One of the best things about thankfulness is that the more you choose it, the easier it gets. The more you profess gratitude, the more you notice things to be grateful for. The thankfulness muscles respond to exercise!” (www.worldvisionadvocacy.org)
Are there some muscles of thankfulness that you need to start exercising today? If so, don’t wait. Remember that…
“This is the day that the LORD has made; let us rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24)
Let’s get exercising!
We use the weapons of righteousness in the right hand for attack and the left hand for defence. (2 Corinthians 6: 7)
Dr Dave Walker is a retired, eminently successful anaesthetist. As an adult, while working in theatres and ICU, he began to seek for God. After his dramatic encounter with Christ which changed his life and, he began to pray with his patients, often seeing miraculous results. Some of these are recorded in the book ‘God in the ICU’.
One fascinating story which he tells in his book actually does not involve a physical healing . He recounts a time when a new chief had been appointed over his department. Unfortunately for Dr Walker and the staff, the new chief was very curt with his new team. He was argumentative, made unkind remarks about others and created a tense atmosphere wherever he went.
Dr Walker, although a Christian, decided to fight back with worldly weapons of criticism and backbiting. In his own words, he embarked upon a ‘character assassination ’ of his colleague. He criticised his relationships with other people. He criticised the decisions he made. He even tried to criticise his surgical skills.
Then one day, as he was reading his Bible, Dr Walker read the following words:
Bless those who persecute you. Bless and do not curse... If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him a drink. For in so doing, you will heap burning coals on his head. (Romans 6:14, 20)
Dr Walker had no desire whatever to ‘bless” the one who was persecuting him, and others, however, reluctantly, out of an act of his will rather than his heart he began to use weapons of righteousness to fight his enemy rather than weapons of unrighteousness.
One day, he saw that his colleague had had no time to go out to buy lunch in-between his cases. Dr Walker bought him lunch and handed it to him.
On ward rounds, Dr Walker asked his colleague what decisions he had made regarding the care of a patient. Dr Walker then recorded these as orders for the staff. He then invited him to lunch and learned that he was married and had a family. He also learned that the man had had a difficult upbringing yet, underneath all the brash exterior he had a soft, caring heart.
In a few weeks the men became firm friends. Their operating times became a pleasure and they developed a mutual trust which enabled them to speak into each other’s lives.
A year later, the chief became terminally ill and, with only months to live, he bade farewell to his colleagues at the hospital. Dr Walker and others gathered around him and prayed for him. One week later he gave his life to Jesus Christ and shortly afterwards died.
As I listened to this story, I became aware how tragically different the ending of this story could have been if Dr Walker had not chosen his weapons carefully. It can be easy to fight back with unkind words, sarcastic remarks, curt statements. It takes effort and, as Dr Walker discovered, a sheer act of will, to choose different weapons, weapons that will heal rather than harm. I wonder what stories in our lives could have had a different ending if we had only chosen our weapons more carefully.
Let this be a reminder to us today to choose our weapons carefully and to make sure they are ‘weapons of righteousness’.
If you then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:13)
In his ‘Book of Mysteries’, Johnathan Cahn draws our attention to an ancient Jewish tradition and explains its significance for us today.
Over the centuries, weddings have been very important celebrations. In ancient times in Israel, wedding preparations were rather different from today. During the days of the betrothal, the bride and groom lived in their separate homes with their families, eagerly awaiting the great wedding day. During this time there was limited communication between the bride and groom. However, there was a custom that enabled the groom to send the bride a gift. It was a small token of his love for her. In Hebrew, this gift was called the ‘mattan’. The mattan would assure the bride that her groom had not forgotten her, he was preparing a place for her, and one day he would come and bring her to his home. They would then be together for the rest of their lives.
Interestingly, there is a date once a year in the Biblical calendar when Israel celebrates the feast of Shavuot. This is the time when when they remember the Law that was given to Moses on Mount Sinai. The children of Isreal considered the Law to be God’s gift to them so Shavuot became known as the Day of Mattan, the Day of the Gift.
In the New Testament, we read that this festival was celebrated shorty after the death and resurrection of Jesus. For Shavuot, as well as other major Hebrew festivals, tens of thousands of Jews from lands near and far, make their way to Jerusalem. We read of a particular Shavuot in Acts 2 when around 120 followers of Jesus were gathered together in an upper room in Jerusalem. On Shavuot, the Day of Mattan (also known as Pentecost), we read these thrilling words:
When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. All of them were filled with the Holy Spirit and began to speak in other tongues as the Spirit enabled them.” (Acts 2:2-4)
This was the Mattan, the gift that Jesus had spoken about in Acts 1:4,5:
On one occasion, while he was eating with them, he gave them this command: “Do not leave Jerusalem, but wait for the gift my Father promised, which you have heard me speak about. For John baptised with water, but in a few days you will be baptised with the Holy Spirit." (Acts 1:4,5)
Jonathan Cahn says:
“It means that the Holy Spirit is The Mattan, the gift that the bridegroom gives to the bride… the Spirit is given as the Bridegroom’s love for the bride, to encourage us in the days of our betrothal and separation, to assure us of his pledge, to bless us, strengthen us and beautify us”
I pray that today, we will all as deeply appreciate God’s Mattan to us, as the bride in ancient days appreciated the mattan from her groom.
For here we do not have an enduring city, but we are looking for the city that is to come. (Hebrews 13:14)
Many of you will be familiar with the Bible verses below. They are representative of hundreds more like them and they all have one thing in common. Let’s look at the verses and find out what links them all.
And the God of all grace, who called you to his eternal glory in Christ, after you have suffered a little while, will himself restore you and make you strong, firm and steadfast.” (1 Peter 5:10)
The Lord your God is with you, the Mighty Warrior who saves. He will take great delight in you; in his love he will no longer rebuke you but will rejoice over you with singing. (Zephaniah 3:17)
There is surely a future hope for you, and your hope will not be cut off. (Proverbs 23:18)
For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord, plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. (Jeremiah 29:11)
The thing that interests me is that these are all examples of verses that God has used to speak to His children, over many centuries, in times of difficulty and need. They encourage and give renewed hope and strength to the buffeted soul. They have inspired struggling saints to press on and not give up hope. They have breathed new life into the weary and oppressed. They have brought a sense of His love and compassion to our hearts.
However, there’s a danger that, focussing on the ‘here and now’, we miss something far greater that God wants to reveal to us. As we read these verses, God also wants us to look beyond to the ‘there and then’, because these verses have an even greater hope, and even greater promise in them than just for the present time. They are not just for now…they are for eternity.
Let’s look at these verses again, and instead of thinking of them in the ‘now’, let’s think about what they teach us about what eternal life with Christ will be like in Heaven.
1 Peter 5:10 tells us that God himself will restore us and make us strong but, as wonderful as it is to receive strengthening from the Holy Spirit here and now, we will never be stronger or firmer or more steadfast than we will be with Christ in His ‘eternal glory’. No more wavering, no more stumbling. We will be eternally ‘strong, firm and steadfast’.
Zephaniah 3:17 tells us that the Lord will delight in us and rejoice over us with singing. Can you imagine that? If Christ rejoices over us with singing while we are on earth, how more so when we are in Heaven? What a glorious thing it will be to hear that jubilant song from His own lips!
In Proverbs 23:18 we hear that our future hope is sure. I don’t know about you, but I’m shouting “hallelujah” to that one. My hope of seeing Him one day face to face ‘will not be cut off’!! That is something to rejoice about.
Jeremiah 29:11 declares that the Lord plans to prosper us and give us hope and a future. What brighter, more prosperous future could we have than living forever in Heaven with Christ? That beats any future we may have now.
As Spurgeon said:
“Christian, meditate much on Heaven, it will help thee to press on, and to forget the toil of the way”.
With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. (Isaiah 12:3)
At sundown on 06 October 2022, Jews all over the world began the celebration of the Feast of Tabernacles, known as Sukkot.
Sukkot was one of the three pilgrimage festivals, the others being Passover and the Feast of Weeks/ Pentecost. During these feasts, up to AD70 when the Temple was destroyed, Jews from all over Israel and lands beyond, would gather in Jerusalem to worship God.
Sukkot commemorates the 40 years the children of Israel spent wandering in the desert after leaving slavery in Egypt. It’s an eight-day festival that begins at sundown on the first day of the feast and it’s all about giving thanks for the autumn harvest. On one such Sukkot celebration, on the eighth day of the feast, Jesus stood up and proclaimed these words:
“If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. He who believes in Me, as the Scriptures said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water.’ (John 7:37-39)
To non- Jewish ears, this sounds a strange statement, but to Jews it was astonishing.
In Israel, where rain only falls on average about sixty days during the rainy season, people were keenly aware of water sources and water quality. Springs and rivers that ran all the year were few. They relied on cisterns to catch and store the winter rains and wells to tap underground tables.
In Jewish culture the water that was stored in wells or cisterns was called ‘dead water’ whereas water that flowed in rivers or springs, and rainfall, was ‘living water’. Since it came directly from God it was precious and it was this ‘living water’ that was used for ritual washing.
This ‘living water’ was also used during the feast of Sukkot on the first seven days of the feast. Early in the morning, followed by thousands of people, the priests would make their way down to the Pool of Siloam which was fed by the Gihon spring, a source of living water. Interestingly, several rabbinic traditions identified the Pool of Siloam as the Messiah’s Pool.
A priest would draw water from this pool of living water each morning and, in procession, carry it up to the altar in the Temple and pour it out on the altar in front of all the people. However, on the last day of the feast, this water drawing ceremony did not take place. It was on that day that Jesus stepped forward and beckoned to anyone who was thirsty to come to Him for living water. Although not fully comprehending how He could do this, a sense of longing and anticipation must have risen up in many a weary soul; a true heartfelt longing for what this man from Galilee had to offer. That same proclamation made by Jesus on the last great day of the feast of Sukkot, comes down to you and me today. Spurgeon once said:
“I will give to him that is athirst of the fountain of the water of life freely,” is an invitation to drink, and it will be wise on our parts to accept it at once, and drink to the full.”
When He saw the crowds, He was moved with compassion for them. (Matthew 9:36)
Many of you will have had the experience where the Holy Spirt draws near and reveals to you a particular facet of the person of Christ with new depth and reality. I experienced one of these moments recently.
I had been watching a video where we see Jesus being faced with a woman who is brought to him, having been caught in the act of adultery. It is followed by the scene where Jesus is sitting by a well in Samaria and a woman of ‘ill repute’ approaches the well to draw water. In both cases, we see women who were despised and rejected by others. Their contemporaries, looking only at the surface, distain them. The first woman was to be stoned to death while the second was living a life filled with rejection, cut off from fellow human beings. Then Jesus comes along. In quiet compassion and kindness, He gave both women a chance of a fresh start.
These are not the only times where we observe Jesus’ compassion for mankind. In Matthew 11:28-30 we read these beautiful words:
“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”
The NLT Study Bible footnotes explain that, “In contrast to the ‘yoke’ of religious leaders, Jesus’ yoke is easy and light, not because it is less demanding but because the power of the Messiah (by the Holy Spirit) makes it possible.”
The footnotes also remind us that the Pharisees placed heavy burdens of religious observance on the Jewish people. As well as expecting adherence to the 613 commandments mentioned in the law of Moses, an 'oral tradition’, replete with hundreds of extra rules that expanded on the already existing ones, was also added to these. No wonder the people were burdened and heavy laden!
Now Jesus walks onto the scene and we read the following, “People are invited to enter into a relationship with a humble and gentle teacher.” (NLT footnotes)
Sometimes the burdens we carry in life are caused by our own sin. Other times it’s simply life’s circumstances. But whatever the situation, and whoever we are, whether women, or sinners, or lepers, or children, or the sick, or spiritually needy, Jesus’ compassion is poured on us all.
The hymn writer William Cowper once said,
“Man may dismiss compassion from his heart, but God never will”.
Whatever your situation, remember that Jesus was“moved with compassion.” (Matthew 20:34) when faced with human need. Bring Him your need today for He has compassion on you too.
Pauline Ann Anderson
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