Word for the Day Archive 8

31st March 2021

Today's spoken Word for the Day from Graham Carpmail can be heard here. It is based on John 15:1-17 and John 14:9-21.

30th March 2021

From Rev Neil Martin

1Timothy 3:14-16

14 Although I hope to come to you soon, I am writing to you with these instructions so that, 15 if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. 16 Beyond all question, the mystery from which true godliness springs is great:

He appeared in the flesh, was vindicated by the Spirit, was seen by angels, was preached among the nations, was believed on in the world, was taken up in glory.

Does it matter how I live?

In chapter 3:1-13 Paul talks to Timothy about how those in leadership are to deport themselves. I believe that vs 14-16 have a wider consideration than simply for leaders in the church. I think in vs 15 Paul is not challenging just leaders, rather he is challenging all of us. How do we live? Do we live with integrity? I am writing to you with these instructions so that, if I am delayed, you will know how people ought to conduct themselves in God’s household, which is the church of the living God, the pillar and foundation of the truth. How we live matters, because how we live reflects on the One for whom we live.

This is a common idea for Paul to expand on; in 2 Corinthians, Paul puts forward 2 ideas on this subject to the Corinthian Church. The first is found in chapter 3 verse 2, where he talks of us as living letters: You are our epistle written in our hearts, known and read by all men. The second is that we are ambassadors for Christ. In 2 Corinthians 5:20 it says this: We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: be reconciled to God.

This is the challenge of living before people as Jesus’ representatives here on earth. We are letters that can be read. How we live shows people what weight we put on things, and what, and who, we consider to be significant. What do we even value? It is often said that people may not have read the Bible but they will be reading you. This idea of living in front of people is repeated so often in Scripture because it is the truth. So often, when people share what drew them to Jesus, it’s the same thing: They saw something different in the life of someone that they knew followed Jesus.

Your challenge today is to be a living epistle.    

 

29th March 2021

From Rev Ralph Hanger

Palm Sunday

The feast of Passover was an important time for Jews and many people wanted or felt obliged to keep it in Jerusalem.  The significance of it was, of course, that in it they remembered the time when God rescued them from being slaves in Egypt.  In Jesus’ time they were not slaves in Egypt but many felt that they were slaves in their own land with the cruel oppression of the Roman rulers.  Mixed up in all of their memories and stories of that time they also had the prophets who had declared that a Messiah would come and set them free from slavery.  Many therefore expected a coming Messiah to free them from the Roman rulers.

The Romans were also very much aware of this, having cruelly put down a number of revolts over the years.  Although they allowed the Jews to keep this festival, they also kept a careful eye over what was going on.  For this reason the Roman ruler, who did not normally live in Jerusalem, came to Jerusalem and would have brought with him a cohort of Roman soldiers ready to quell any sign of rebellion during this feast time. They would have entered Jerusalem from the West with a great fanfare of trumpets and show of power and might, just in case these Jews did not realise who was in charge there.  The Roman barracks were situated almost on the wall of the Jewish temple where so much would be going on in preparation for the Passover.

Meanwhile, on the other side of Jerusalem, a very different entry was underway.

For nearly three years now there had been this Rabbi travelling around the country talking about the kingdom of God, performing amazing miracles and making claims about who he was.  Initially he had shied away from anyone who tried to make him King or who claimed that he might be the messiah, the one God had chosen to bring freedom to his people.  He had continually been saying that his time had not yet come.  You may remember that at the wedding at Cana in Galilee he had told his mother that his time had not come and on more than one occasion the religious leaders had tried to arrest him but had been unable as his time had not yet come.

Things were beginning to change now and this Jesus seemed to be setting his sights on being in Jerusalem at the time of this feast when the Jewish national fervour would be at its height. With all this background, Jesus adds to the excitement by getting his disciples to set him up to ride into Jerusalem on a donkey.  This was from the east.

Not only was this a complete contrast to Pilate’s entry into Jerusalem on horses with its show of power and might, it was a clear indication that he was fulfilling a well-known prophecy by the prophet Zechariah a few centuries before. Zechariah 9:8 -13. This prophecy clearly speaks of a time when God will ‘defend my house from marauding forces’.  It speaks of a time when chariots will be removed from Ephraim and war-horses from Jerusalem, the battle bow will be broken and peace will be proclaimed to the nations.  It was a very welcome prophecy to a people under strict and cruel control in their own land.

All this, according to Zechariah, would be connected with their righteous king, gentle and riding on a donkey.

With all this in mind you can see why people got excited and started waving branches and shouting out

‘Hosanna to the Son of David’

‘Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord’

‘Hosanna in the highest’ Hosanna is a chant which speaks of salvation.

God had promised that the coming king would be an ancestor of David.

Hearing these things many joined in in welcoming this messiah who they expected to bring them freedom from Roman oppression.

Quite a contrast between these two entries to Jerusalem.  One designed to be a show of strength and power to bring fear to those who saw it and the other, possibly equally or even more noisy, but centred on gentleness and hope.

Which of these proved the more effective?  On the surface it might seem that the Roman entry was most successful.  After all, within the week, the direction of the crowd had changed and they were crying out for Jesus to be crucified. Power had won.

The worst the Romans and Jews could do was the Crucifixion. This was the Romans most serious punishment for rebellion. On Easter Sunday, however, Jesus rose from the dead proving that his way was superior to the power of force and might.

It is fascinating to think through the differences between these two entries to Jerusalem.  It is more interesting to think through why the crowds changed their minds about Jesus.  Why do you think it was?

 

26th March 2021

From Rev Ian Macnair

DOUBLE ENTRY ACCOUNT

In the last week before Easter Jesus went in and out of Jerusalem on a daily basis but Luke’s Gospel draws attention to two entries in particular, the first and the last.

He records certain similarities. Each time two disciples were sent on ahead with specific instructions. They were told what they were looking for and what they were to say to the owners, in one instance the owner of a donkey, in another the owner of a house. Each time some particular preparation had to be made.

But there the similarities end. Most striking is the difference between the accounts.

At his first entry Jesus arranged things so as to gain the maximum publicity. At the second entry he took care to ensure the maximum secrecy.

The first occasion was the fulfilment of a specific prophecy.

See, your king comes to you,
righteous and victorious,
lowly and riding on a donkey.

The second occasion was the fulfilment of a different prophecy.

He was pierced for our transgressions,
he was crushed for our iniquities;
the punishment that brought us peace was on him,
and by his wounds we are healed.

When he entered the city the first time he condemned the religious leaders of the day.

When he entered the city the last time it was to be condemned by those religious leaders.

On the first occasion he presented himself to Israel as the Davidic King and was rejected.

On the last occasion he presented himself to God as the Passover Lamb and his sacrifice was accepted.

Two roles: Davidic King and Passover Lamb.

They seem so different, almost incompatible, but Luke is showing that they belong together. The glory of the King was to be accomplished through the suffering of the Lamb.

When Christ entered Jerusalem in public both he and his kingdom were publicly rejected.

However, when Christ entered Jerusalem in secret the kingdom was set up, as it were, secretly. A new covenant was made, fulfilling Old Testament prophecy, sealed with the shedding of blood. We are privileged to be part of that secret kingdom, established in human hearts.

From time to time people attempt to establish a Christian kingdom in social or political terms but that is doomed to failure.

We do not yet see the rule of Christ over the nations of the world but we can know the rule of Christ in our hearts and lives, conquering sin and establishing righteousness. And we can celebrate the sacrifice that made it possible as we break bread and share wine at the Lord’s Table.

In the final book of the New Testament we are permitted to see the worship of heaven.

Then I saw a Lamb, looking as if it had been slain, standing at the centre of the throne.

Worthy is the Lamb, who was slain, to receive power and wealth and wisdom and strength and honour and glory and praise!

For further reading: Luke 19:28–40; 22:7–20;  Revelation 4 – 5

 

25th March 2021

From Iain Colville

Hebrews 9 (J.B. Phillips)

1-5 Now the first agreement had certain rules for the service of God, and it had a sanctuary, a holy place in this world for the eternal God. A tent was erected: in the outer compartment were placed the lamp-standard, the table and the sacred loaves. Inside, beyond the curtain, was the inner tent called the holy of holies in which were the golden censer and the gold inlaid ark of the agreement, containing the golden jar of manna, Aaron’s budding staff and the stone tablets inscribed with the words of the actual agreement. Above these things were fixed representations of the cherubim of glory, casting their shadow over the ark’s covering, known as the mercy seat. (All this is full of meaning but we cannot enter now into a detailed explanation.)

6-7 Under this arrangement the outer tent was habitually used by the priests in the regular discharge of their religious duties. But the inner tent was entered once a year only, by the High Priest, alone, bearing a sacrifice of shed blood to be offered for his own sins and those of the people.

8-10 By these things the Holy Spirit means us to understand that the way to the holy of holies was not yet open, that is, so long as the first tent and all that it stands for still exist. For in this outer tent we see a picture of the present time, in which both gifts and sacrifices are offered and yet are incapable of cleansing the soul of the worshipper. The ceremonies are concerned with food and drink, various washings and rules for bodily conduct, and were only intended to be valid until the time when Christ should establish the truth.

11-14 For now Christ has come among us, the High Priest of the good things which were to come, and has passed through a greater and more perfect tent which no human hand has made (for it was no part of this world of ours). It was not with goats’ or calves’ blood but with his own blood that he entered once and for all into the holy of holies, having won for us men eternal reconciliation with God. And if the blood of bulls and goats and the ashes of a burnt heifer were, when sprinkled on the unholy, sufficient to make the body pure, then how much more will the blood of Christ himself, who in his eternal spirit offered himself to God as the perfect sacrifice, purify your souls from the deeds of death, that you may serve the living God!

15-20 Christ is consequently the administrator of an entirely new agreement, having the power, by virtue of his death, to redeem transgressions committed under the first agreement: to enable those who obey God’s call to enjoy the promises of the eternal inheritance. For, as in the case of a will, the agreement is only valid after death. While the testator lives, a will has no legal power. And indeed we find that even the first agreement of God’s will was not put into force without the shedding of blood. For when Moses had told the people every command of the Law he took calves’ and goats’ blood with water and scarlet wool, and sprinkled both the book and all the people with a sprig of hyssop, saying: ‘This is the blood of the covenant which God has commanded you’.

21-22 Moses also sprinkled with blood the tent itself and all the sacred vessels. And you will find that in the Law almost all cleansing is made by means of blood—as the common saying has it: “No shedding of blood, no remission of sin.”

23-28 It was necessary for the earthly reproductions of heavenly realities to be purified by such methods, but the actual heavenly things could only be made pure in God’s sight by higher sacrifices than these. Christ did not therefore enter into any holy places made by human hands (however truly these may represent heavenly realities), but he entered Heaven itself to make his appearance before God as High Priest on our behalf. There is no intention that he should offer himself regularly, like the High Priest entering the holy of holies every year with the blood of another creature. For that would mean that he would have to suffer death every time he entered Heaven from the beginning of the world! No, the fact is that now, at this point in time, the end of the present age, he has appeared once and for all to abolish sin by the sacrifice of himself. And just as surely as it is appointed for all men to die and after that pass to their judgment, so it is certain that Christ was offered once to bear the sins of many and after that, to those who look for him, he will appear a second time, not this time to deal with sin, but to bring them to full salvation.

 

In Chapter 9, the writer builds upon the theme of the new covenant and Jesus’ ministry superseding the old covenant.  Here, the focus shifts to the Old Testament system of worship and the Tabernacle, which have been superseded by Jesus’ role as a greater High Priest, who shed His own blood to achieve our eternal redemption.

The writer begins with a description of the Tabernacle, the temporary, mobile place of worship instituted in Exodus 25-27, highlighting the splendour of the golden altar of incense and the ark of the covenant (v1-5).  But the beauty of these craftsmanship of these items pales in contrast to the greater and more perfect sanctuary into which Jesus entered – the very presence of God Himself (v11, 24).

Next, the writer emphasises that the old system of worship required the repeated shedding of blood to cleanse the people from their sins (v6-10).  But, again, how much more effective is the blood of Christ shed for each of us, that we might receive the promise of our eternal inheritance as we are set free from our sins (v11-15, 23-28).

The old covenant was an imperfect illustration of what was to come, limited to an outward cleansing, where as the new covenant, through the blood of Christ, cleanses our human conscience of guilt, enabling us to “serve the living God” (v14).

The contrast between the old and new covenants is like a film that changes from black and white to glorious Technicolor, or the transformation of a rough, pencil sketch into a beautiful painting.

As we’ve become used to the ‘Groundhog Day’ nature of life in lockdown, especially through the greyness of the winter months, we might have become accustomed to seeing the world and our lives in monochrome. 

If you recognise that your worship has become monotonous or lacklustre in recent months, why not ask Jesus to give you a new sense of awe and wonder before your Heavenly Father, that you might see more clearly the heavenly reality of all that Jesus has accomplished for you.

As Spring brings a new release of colour into the natural world around us, and as we prepare for Easter, let’s consciously seek to rediscover the glorious riches of Jesus’ work on the Cross and His resurrection. 

 

24th March 2021

Graham Carpmail's spoken Word for the Day is based on Proverbs 23:12. You can find it here.

23rd March 2021

From Rev Neil Martin

1 Timothy 3:1-7

Here is a trustworthy saying: whoever aspires to be an overseer desires a noble task. Now the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. He must manage his own family well and see that his children obey him, and he must do so in a manner worthy of full[a] respect. (If anyone does not know how to manage his own family, how can he take care of God’s church?) He must not be a recent convert, or he may become conceited and fall under the same judgment as the devil. He must also have a good reputation with outsiders, so that he will not fall into disgrace and into the devil’s trap.

Having discussed inappropriate ambition in my last word for the day, we now come to appropriate aspiration and ambition: Leadership of God’s people within His Church. This might seem odd to us, after all in our previous devotion, Paul was remonstrating with Timothy that people in Church were arguing and trying to push their opinions on each other. They were arguably trying to forcibly lead. Yet now we find he is saying that someone who seeks to lead others is seeking after a noble thing. This seems to be contrary to say the least.

Paul’s encouragement, however, comes with a series of provisos. The overarching proviso is that if we seek to lead, we need to develop the character that is worthy to lead. Whilst society seems to have moved away from the need for character in leadership, favouring charisma, Scripture puts a higher premium on the character of the person who leads over the gifts of the person who leads.

Notice the personal qualities that come first, the overseer is to be above reproach, faithful to his wife, temperate, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable. You must have a good reputation to lead, be faithful to your spouse, reliable to your loved ones, in control of yourself and your tastes, welcoming and caring of others. All of this is character based, before we come to our first gift: able to teach. Then after the gift again we come to issues of character: not given to drunkenness, not violent but gentle, not quarrelsome, not a lover of money. In other words, character is more important in the person who leads than the gifting of that leader.

For those who lead, there is an immense challenge that lands at our feet. Are these qualities expressed in who we are, and how we lead? Equally, the challenge is a wider one: Do we desire to serve and take responsibility? Are you willing to ask whether God is calling you to lead? We are currently looking for new people to serve as deacons and church officers, and it can be easy to step back and leave someone else to carry the responsibility, yet might God be calling you to step forward?

 

22nd March 2021

From Rev Ralph Hanger

Priorities

Do you remember the old schoolboy joke – How many days belong to each year? Answer – 325, the other 40 are only Lent!  If we are honest, that is just about how seriously some non-Conformists, like us Baptists have tended to take Lent each year.  Sometimes, however, we have allowed our distaste for ‘religious rituals and festivals’ or ‘organised’ religiosity to cause us to ‘throw out the baby with the bath water’.

According to Wikipedia, The purpose of Lent is the preparation of the believer for Easter through prayer, doing penance, mortifying the flesh, repentance of sins, almsgiving, simple living and self-denial.’ And ‘is traditionally described as lasting for 40 days, in commemoration of the 40 days Jesus spent fasting in the desert,’.  Others have called it a sort of spiritual spring cleaning.

In today’s world, the extremes of ‘doing penance and mortifying the flesh’ don’t fit in with our understanding of the fact that our salvation and relationship with God are not ‘earned’ but are a gift from God based on the finished work of Jesus on the Cross. ‘Repentance of sins,  almsgiving and simple living’ are part of our lives for 365 days a year, not just 40. The concept of a spiritual spring cleaning at this time, however, may indicate the benefit of concentrating on these elements, especially in preparation for Easter.

That leaves us with self-denial.  This is something which is widespread.  What are you giving up for Lent?  is a frequently asked question. For some of us, this may be the nearest we get to fasting – abstaining from food or drink (or something else) for a period of time.  A very common item for folk to give up for lent used to be chocolate.  Sugar, sweets, TV are other things known to be ‘given up’ for Lent.  The significance of this to us can often be seen in what it is that is involved.  Some see it as a means of self-discipline, others as a means of easing one off a particular item which is proving unhelpful.

Neil reminded us yesterday, however, that fasting is not just giving something up for a period, but giving something up in order to use that time for prayer.  In the Bible Fasting and Prayer go together. To give one thing up for another indicates priorities.  As we, as a church, have a day of prayer and fasting on Saturday to seek out what God wants for us as the church moves on to its next phase of life, what are we going to ‘give up’ for those 24 hours so that we can spend more time praying?  It may be food (but remember what Neil said about those with dietary or health problems.)  On the other hand, it could be TV or Facebook or digital games or … … .  If we say we cannot give anything up for 24 hours in order to pray for the church, what does this say about priorities?

 

19th March 2021

From Rev Ian Macnair

FOCUS ON THE CROSS (2)

In the Gospel accounts we find a further perspective with which to sharpen our focus, the lens of irony.

The written notice of the charge against him read: THE KING OF THE JEWS.

The Jewish authorities didn’t have the power to issue a death sentence. They had to convince the Romans that Jesus was a danger to Roman authority. That’s why when they brought him to Pilate Jesus was accused of claiming to be the king of the Jews.

This title crops up again and again: the king of the Jews, the king of the Jews.

That’s why the soldiers dressed him in a purple robe, crowned him with a crown of thorns and paid him mock homage.

But the irony is that he really was the King of the Jews, their promised Messiah.

Those who passed by hurled insults at him, shaking their heads and saying, ‘So! You who are going to destroy the temple and build it in three days, come down from the cross and save yourself!’

Again, there’s irony here, because it was the temple of his body that was being destroyed and in three days he would rise again.

In the same way the chief priests and the teachers of the law mocked him among themselves. ‘He saved others,’ they said, ‘but he can’t save himself!’

Without realising it, they were expressing the truth. It was only in laying down his own life that he could offer salvation to everyone.

And just one more lens through which to view the cross. There is evidence of victory.

What was the finale to this dramatic event?

With a loud cry, Jesus breathed his last. The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion, who stood there in front of Jesus, saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’

Jesus’ last act on the cross was a loud cry, not a cry of defeat but a cry of victory. ‘It is finished.’ Everything has been fulfilled, all God’s plans, all God’s promises.

What seemed like Satan’s greatest victory was Satan’s greatest defeat. All that was needed for our salvation has been accomplished.

And a sign was given. It was given to the Jews. The curtain of the Jewish temple was torn in two from top to bottom. That huge, heavy curtain seeming to represent access to God’s presence actually served as a barrier, keeping people out.

But now it had been literally torn open, not from bottom to top, as if allowing us to storm God’s presence, but from top to bottom, God himself making the way open – through the sacrifice of Christ on the cross.

The Gospels make it clear that Jesus is not only a Jewish Messiah but a Saviour for the world.

How appropriate that the testimony to that should come from a Roman soldier – and not just any soldier but the centurion who had witnessed everything.

‘Surely this man was the Son of God!’

 

18th March 2021

From Liz Martin

26 Such a high priest truly meets our need – one who is holy, blameless, pure, set apart from sinners, exalted above the heavens. 27 Unlike the other high priests, he does not need to offer sacrifices day after day, first for his own sins, and then for the sins of the people. He sacrificed for their sins once for all when he offered himself. 28 For the law appoints as high priests men in all their weakness; but the oath, which came after the law, appointed the Son, who has been made perfect for ever.

Now the main point of what we are saying is this: we do have such a high priest, who sat down at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in heaven, and who serves in the sanctuary, the true tabernacle set up by the Lord, not by a mere human being.

Every high priest is appointed to offer both gifts and sacrifices, and so it was necessary for this one also to have something to offer. If he were on earth, he would not be a priest, for there are already priests who offer the gifts prescribed by the law. They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: ‘See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.’ But in fact the ministry Jesus has received is as superior to theirs as the covenant of which he is mediator is superior to the old one, since the new covenant is established on better promises.

For if there had been nothing wrong with that first covenant, no place would have been sought for another. But God found fault with the people and said:

‘The days are coming, declares the Lord,
    when I will make a new covenant
with the people of Israel
    and with the people of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant
    I made with their ancestors
when I took them by the hand
    to lead them out of Egypt,
because they did not remain faithful to my covenant,
    and I turned away from them,
declares the Lord.
10 This is the covenant I will establish with the people of Israel
    after that time, declares the Lord.
I will put my laws in their minds
    and write them on their hearts.
I will be their God,
    and they will be my people.
11 No longer will they teach their neighbours,
    or say to one another, “Know the Lord,”
because they will all know me,
    from the least of them to the greatest.
12 For I will forgive their wickedness
    and will remember their sins no more.’

13 By calling this covenant ‘new’, he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear.

The story of Scripture, if read a certain way, could seem a little depressing: God reaches out to humans; humans are initially drawn to God; God gives humans a standard; humans reject God. And this pattern is repeated over and over, in both Old and New Testament. We never seem to learn! Even the mistakes we make are fundamentally the same, though often packaged differently. Even though God repeatedly reaches out with His goodness, His law, Himself, we think we can do it better by ourselves. In Exodus, God established a system for worship, for atonement, for living based around the tabernacle, and the priests, and high priest, who served there. The priests would mediate God’s law to the people, and they would respond. Consistently, however, the people went their own way, and so God promises through His prophets that He will make a new covenant, not external, written on stone, but internal, written on their hearts. Even with this promise, the people still fell back into old patterns, believing they could do it their own way. Paul’s letter to the Galatians is a reminder to us of this: After beginning by means of the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by means of the flesh? (Galatians 3:3) In the words of a favourite hero of mine, it’s not difficult to imagine Paul, let alone God, head in hands, muttering, ‘Oh, good grief!’

But thankfully God doesn’t give up, He is not Charlie Brown, and the narrative of Scripture can be read in another, arguably better, way. Although the law is consistently described in Scripture as good, and even Jesus upholds it as such, there is a recognition that it lacked something. To return again to Galatians, it was the guardian put in place until adoption to sonship could be completed. It had always been God’s plan to engrave His covenant on our hearts, through the Spirit, mediated by the true high priest, one who ‘who truly meets our needs’ (Heb. 7:26). And so, the old covenant is superseded by the new, an external law becomes internal, human effort becomes Spirit-infused, and we are born again, with the capacity to live a new life, though sometimes it takes us a while to adjust.

All this points again to the idea that Jesus is better, better than anything else in all creation, better than systems and plans, better in every way. And it is Jesus who declares that for those who are in Him, there is no condemnation, but rather freedom from sin and death (Romans 8), a future hope outweighing all earthly struggles which cannot perish, spoil or fade (1 Peter 1). Only by remaining in Jesus can we be free of the old way, and know true transformation. Because we are called to more, to lift our heads above this world and its trials, to see Jesus, high and exalted, seated at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven, and to continue on in worship and service until the day we see Him face to face, when all things are made new. Hallelujah!

 

17th March 2021

Our spoken Word for the Day with Graham Carpmail looks at how we cope with "tight squeezes". You can hear it here.

16th March 2021

From Rev Neil Martin

1 Timothy 2:8-15

Therefore I want the men everywhere to pray, lifting up holy hands without anger or disputing. I also want the women to dress modestly, with decency and propriety, adorning themselves, not with elaborate hairstyles or gold or pearls or expensive clothes, 10 but with good deeds, appropriate for women who profess to worship God.

11 A woman should learn in quietness and full submission. 12 I do not permit a woman to teach or to assume authority over a man; she must be quiet. 13 For Adam was formed first, then Eve. 14 And Adam was not the one deceived; it was the woman who was deceived and became a sinner. 15 But women[c] will be saved through childbearing – if they continue in faith, love and holiness with propriety.

Sometimes we read of the New Testament Church, and it can seem so far away from our British 21st century expression of church. Picture the scene in the Ephesian Church: The men are coming in and engaging in stinging argument and debate, hands are raised against each other in scorn and threat. Then, on the other side of the room, we see the ladies standing, engaged in a heated competition of hair and clothes, with gold braided through their hair and a discussion of fabrics and material. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a display like that in a 21st century British Church. Yet I can guarantee that we have seen the same thing, differently displayed.

What we are seeing is a competition. They are all competing, ambitious to be seen and admired. The men are ambitious to be seen and regarded for their intellectual prowess; the women are ambitious to be seen and admired for their physical beauty and dress sense. The truth is, they are all in competition against one another. Competition is something I’m sure we’ve all seen in Church. Certainly often, though not by any means always, when you get a group of ministers together, two forms of competition emerge: ‘My Church is the best there has ever been’; ‘My Church is the worst that has ever been’. Or some form of this. Competition exists as people seek for their's to be the voice that is heard, listened to and heeded. Although it is expressed differently today, I would argue that competition is most definitely still with us in the Church.

Although Paul is not arguing that competition is inherently bad, he does raise the question: What are you competitive about? Instead of competitive arguers, Paul wants competitive pray-ers and peace-makers. (That might be a challenging sport to film!) Instead of competition over appearance, he wants a competition over kindness and service.

What are you competitive for? What gets your competitive hackles rising? Is it a good thing or a bad thing? Are you a competitive pray-er or a competitive argue-er? Are you competitive over perception or over the reality of good works? I don’t really believe that God envisages a Church with score boards of people competing: 16 feet washed, 10 meals provided this week etc. Rather there is the call to commit to doing things that really matter, the substance not the shadow. To be competitive to shine, in His service not our own.

What about verses 11 to 15, the issue of women in Church, and their role and place? These devotions are a Word for the Day, they are not a sermon series or a book. To deal with verses 11 to 15, you need, in all honesty, significantly more time and space than I have here to deal with it. If you want to read on this subject, a useful starting book of the different perspectives held is published by Zondervan called: Two Views on Women in Ministry (Counterpoints: Exploring Theology).

 

15th March 2021

From Rev Ralph Hanger

What can I do about it?

When was the last time you saw something on the news and thought to yourself ‘That is so very wrong and sad, but what can I do about it?’ We hear of the difficulties of poor people in parts of Africa or children starving in Yemen or abductions in Nigeria or of environmental disasters or global warming or …or … or… . If it was happening on my doorstep or in Coventry or even in UK perhaps I could have a say in what was happening and even then my voice would probably not be heard.   Does this let us of the hook?  We cannot all be in the situation that Nehemiah was in.  If you remember, he asked for news of Jerusalem, his ‘home’ city, even though he had probably never lived there as the people of Israel were in exile.  Nonetheless the news of devastation sent him into a period of mourning, fasting and praying.  The news of what is happening in places like Yemen, Mozambique and Syria should have something of the same effect on us.  It is devastating, especially for those living there.

Nehemiah, however, was in the positon that when God answered his prayer, the king sent him to go and do something about it.  We may not be in that place individually.  There are those, however, who are able to go and do something about these situations.  On his own, Nehemiah could do nothing about the situation.  With God’s help, as he answered his prayers, and the king’s provision of resources Nehemiah was enabled to go to Jerusalem and do something about the situation. Our prayers to God and provision of necessary resources can enable those who can go and do to do just that.  One of these groups who do get involved in a wide range of very difficult situations over the last 75 years is Christian Aid.  With skills and resources God has put in their hands they have been used to bring many out of poverty and to stand up for justice in a host of situations.

As we celebrate Christian Aid week and do what we can to support let us give thanks for all that has been achieved in God’s name in the past and help provide the resources of prayer and finance they need to go into the future on our behalf to make a stand for God in some of these very hostile places and situations.

See some of you at the Christian Aid lunch later.

 

12th March 2021

From Rev Ian Macnair

FOCUS ON THE CROSS (1)

Crucifixion was a horrific form of capital punishment, designed to inflict the greatest suffering and pain, humiliation and shame. It was designed as the greatest deterrent to rebellion and lawlessness.

Ancient literature contains no lurid descriptions of its agonies. Its horrors were not talked about in polite society.

The crucifixion of Jesus Christ is recorded in all four Gospels but without any gruesome embellishments. We are told simply, ‘They crucified him.’

This is the mystery at the heart of the Christian faith, the horror at the heart of the good news.

And yet in the Gospels everything points to the cross.

I had my eyes tested recently. I had to look through a series of lenses in order to focus correctly.

I think that’s what the Gospels do, offering several perspectives, several lenses, through which to focus on the cross.

The first is the lens of history.

We’re given a time line of events which took place during the crucifixion, what people were saying and their reactions to Jesus: condemned criminals who were crucified on either side of him, bystanders who insulted him, chief priests and teachers of the law who mocked him, not forgetting the words which Jesus himself spoke.

Why these particular words and events?

We’re used to scholars dissecting the Bible and finding all sorts of special meanings behind the text which are not immediately obvious.

But the first lens we must use is the most basic. It’s the lens of history.

This is not fake news. This is what actually happened. It’s not fiction or fable but fact.

Critics will draw attention to differences in the accounts of the four Gospel writers but it’s these slight differences that make their accounts more reliable, not less so.

What we are dealing with in the Gospel record of Jesus’ death on the cross is a matter of history. It actually happened.

A second perspective is the lens of prophecy.

Several details are foreshadowed in the Old Testament.

Psalm 69:21, ‘They gave me vinegar for my thirst.’

Psalm 22:18, ‘They divide my garments among them and cast lots for my clothing.’

Isaiah 53:12, ‘He was numbered with the transgressors.’

It would be easy to miss these and other allusions. They’re not given any special emphasis.

But they remind us that, behind the very human events – we might say the very inhuman events – behind the definitely historical events, there is evidence of God’s plan and purpose.

When the Apostle Peter was preaching to the crowds at Pentecost this is what he told them:

God knew what would happen, and his prearranged plan was carried out when Jesus was betrayed. With the help of lawless Gentiles, you nailed him to a cross and killed him. But God released him from the horrors of death and raised him back to life, for death could not keep him in its grip.

Christ’s death on the cross really happened and, mysteriously, was actually part of God’s plan.

 

11th March 2021

From Iain Colville

Hebrews  6 v13- 7 v28 (J.B. Phillips)

6 16-20 Among men it is customary to swear by something greater than themselves. And if a statement is confirmed by an oath, that is the end of all quibbling. So in this matter, God, wishing to show beyond doubt that his plan was unchangeable, confirmed it with an oath. So that by two utterly immutable things, the word of God and the oath of God, who cannot lie, we who are refugees from this dying world might have a source of strength, and might grasp the hope that he holds out to us. This hope we hold as the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of God himself in Heaven, where Jesus has already entered on our behalf, having become, as we have seen, “High Priest for ever after the order of Melchizedek”.

7 1-3 Now this Melchizedek was, we know, king of Salem and priest of God most high. He met Abraham when the latter was returning from the defeat of the kings, and blessed him. Abraham gave him a tribute of a tenth part of all the spoils of battle. (Melchizedek means “king of righteousness,” and his other title is “king of peace”, for Salem means peace. He had no father or mother and no family tree. He was not born nor did he die, but, being like the Son of God, is a perpetual priest.)

4-10 Now notice the greatness of this man. Even Abraham the patriarch pays him a tribute of a tenth part of the spoils. Further, we know that, according to the Law, the descendants of Levi who accept the office of priest have the right to demand a “tenth” from the people, that is from their brothers, despite the fact that the latter are descendants of Abraham. But here we have one who is quite independent of Levitic ancestry taking a “tenth” from Abraham, and giving a blessing to Abraham, the holder of God’s promises! And no one can deny that the receiver of a blessing is inferior to the one who gives it. Again, in the one case it is mortal men who receive the “tenths”, and in the other is one who, we are assured, is alive. One might say that even Levi, the proper receiver of “tenths”, has paid his tenth to this man, for in a sense he already existed in the body of his father Abraham when Melchizedek met him.

11-14 We may go further. If it be possible to bring men to spiritual maturity through the Levitical priestly system (for that is the system under which the people were given the Law), why does the necessity arise for another priest to make his appearance after the order of Melchizedek, instead of following the normal priestly calling of Aaron? For if there is a transference of priestly powers, there will necessarily follow an alteration of the Law regarding priesthood. He who is described as our High Priest belongs to another tribe, no member of which had ever attended the altar! For it is a matter of history that our Lord was a descendant of Judah, and Moses made no mention of priesthood in connection with that tribe.

15-17 How fundamental is this change becomes all the more apparent when we see this other priest appearing according to the Melchizedek pattern, and deriving his priesthood not by virtue of a command imposed from outside, but from the power of indestructible life within. For the witness to him, as we have seen, is: ‘You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek.’

18-19 Quite plainly, then, there is a definite cancellation of the previous commandment because of its ineffectiveness and uselessness—the Law was incapable of bringing anyone to real maturity—followed by the introduction of a better hope, through which we approach our God.

20-21 This means a “better” hope for us because Jesus has become our priest by the oath of God. Other men have been priests without any sworn guarantee, but Jesus has the oath of him that said of him:

‘The Lord has sworn and will not relent, You are a priest forever according to the order of Melchizedek’.

22-25 And he is, by virtue of this fact, himself the living guarantee of a “better” agreement. Human High Priests have always been changing, for death made a permanent appointment impossible. But Christ, because he lives for ever, possesses a priesthood that needs no successor. This means that he can save fully and completely those who approach God through him, for he is always living to intercede on their behalf.

26-27 Here is the High Priest we need. A man who is holy, faultless, unstained, beyond the very reach of sin and lifted to the very Heavens. There is no need for him, like the High Priest we know, to offer up sacrifice, first for our own sins and then for the people’s. He made one sacrifice, once for all, when he offered up himself.

28 The Law makes for its High Priests men of human weakness. But the word of the oath, which came after the Law, makes for High Priest the Son, who is perfect for ever!

An anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast

In today’s passage, the writer to the Hebrews returns to pick up his theme that Jesus is a high priest of the order of Melchizedek. I appreciate this is rather lengthy section but it really is worth reading this in its entirety.  

First, the writer emphasises the reliability of God’s promises of hope (6 v13-20). This is a hope that’s “the utterly reliable anchor for our souls, fixed in the very certainty of God himself in Heaven…” (6 v19). This verse is probably more familiar in the King James version, chosen by William Smith as the basis for the BB motto: “Which hope we have as an anchor for the soul, both sure and steadfast…

In these uncertain and changing times, isn’t it refreshing and sustaining to be able to cling onto the promises of God and the hope of our salvation in Jesus? I wonder what promises of hope have provided you with an anchor over these last 12 months? Let’s give thanks that we have anchor of hope that is rock solid and utterly reliable.  

Next, the writer explains the greatness of the mysterious priest-king Melchizedek in comparison with Abraham and his superiority over the Old Testament priests who would ultimately be descendants of Abraham (through Levi and Aaron) (7 v1-11).  Finally, the passage reaches a crescendo as the writer explains how Melchizedek foreshadows Jesus’ perfect and all sufficient priesthood and sacrifice (7 v12-28).

I’m struck that the writer finds so much to draw out of the incomplete picture of Melchizedek which is presented within 3 verses in Genesis 14 v18-20 and one more verse in Psalm 110 v4. How often do we wrestle with the frustrations of incomplete data, an unclear and partial picture, or a jigsaw puzzle with missing pieces?  We might do our best to extrapolate or fill in the gaps in our knowledge but so often we struggle to make sense of what we see in the world around us. Let’s be encouraged that we can trust Jesus fully for all that we can’t understand. Perhaps we need to recognise too that our faith has the chance to blossom amid uncertainty and an absence of understanding. As our faith grows, we learn to recognise and hold onto the hope that cannot be shaken.

In contrast to that uncertainty, Jesus is described as “the living guarantee” of a better hope that we can find in His new covenant (7 v22) because, in His sinlessness, He has “made one sacrifice, once for all, when he offered up himself” (7 v26-27).  I know I seem to end on the same note every time, but once again, the only appropriate response is to offer Jesus our thanks, praise and worship as we humbly reflect upon these amazing truths.

 

10th March 2021

Today's spoken Word for the Day from Graham Carpmail is based on Habakkuk Chapters 1 and 3. You can hear it here.

 

9th March 2021

From Rev Neil Martin

1 Timothy 2:1 – 7

I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people – for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives in all godliness and holiness. This is good, and pleases God our Saviour, who wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. For there is one God and one mediator between God and mankind, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all people. This has now been witnessed to at the proper time. And for this purpose I was appointed a herald and an apostle – I am telling the truth, I am not lying – and a true and faithful teacher of the Gentiles.

One of the things I have to think about at times when I write these words for the day is to make sure that they are not sermons for the day. This is one of those passages that lends itself to a sermon, particularly when we have verse 1 which says I urge, then, first of all, that petitions, prayers, intercession and thanksgiving be made for all people. Four different expressions of prayer, a sure phrase geared for a sermon if ever there was one.

Four different types of prayer raises an obvious question: Is there a difference between them, or is Paul just trying to emphasis a point by mere repetition?  Having looked briefly into it, I believe there are four different types that Paul is mentioning. Firstly, with petition, we have the idea of a prayer of need, asking for something that is needed either for yourself, or someone else. This is an entreaty to the One able to meet your need. Secondly, we have the idea of prayers that carry the idea of an intentional and determined act. This is similar to the idea that Jesus gives in Matthew 6:6: when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray, as a physical act of intent and focus. Thirdly, to intercede is the idea of holding someone up and bringing them to God the Father in intimate conversation. This is the idea of mutual importance: this person matters to us. Lastly, we have thanksgiving, and I think you can guess that one.

Why are there so many different types of prayer? I think it’s because we carry a responsibility to pray for so many different people that we interact with. Some are those that we never meet, but who have an impact on our lives: for kings and all those in authority. Then there are those who we know need Jesus, as He wants all people to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth. We can also bring our own needs, and the needs of those we love and care for, in intercession. Lastly, we need to engage in thanksgiving, because there is always much to be thankful for.

So take some time today, be deliberate, and pray for those you know need Jesus, or who have a need of any kind. Pray for those who will interact with our lives and give thanks for God’s closeness to us.

 

8th March 2021

From Rev Ralph Hanger

What can I pray for ….?

Have you ever promised someone that you would pray for them?  I am sure you have.  Quite often there will be a specific situation like an illness or an accident or a problem with a family member or a difficult situation at work.  When that happens we know what the need is and we pray into that situation that the Lord would intervene and do what we ask for.  What happens when that situation has cleared up or been dealt with, do we stop praying for them?  What about friends or family or church workers or missionaries who we know we should be praying for but do not know of specific needs that we know of?  How do we pray for Paul and Christine in Uganda or Pastor Roberts in Liberia?  In these cases it is very easy to give up praying for them as we do not know what to pray for.

A couple of weeks ago in the Lent Bible study we spent some time looking at the prayers that Paul said he used for the Christians in other churches as he was travelling around.  Some of these people he knew well like the Christians at Ephesus, where he had spent a long time.  Some he had spent a little time with as the church was first formed, such as the church at Thessalonica.  Others, like the Christians at Colossae, he had probably never met. Yet he never gave up praying for them.  To the Ephesians he wrote ‘I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayer’ (Ephesians 1:16). ‘We constantly pray for you’ he told the Thessalonians (2 Thessalonians 1:11) and to the Colossians he wrote ‘since the day we heard about you we have not stopped praying for you’ (Colossians 1:9).

Fortunately for us, in each case he went on to tell his friends what he was praying for them.  We had a good time studying these things together in the Lent study. (Notes are still on the website if you want to look at them in more detail!)  It was interesting to see what Paul’s heart was for the development of these Christians.  His concern for the Ephesians was that they would be given the Spirit of wisdom and revelation and that the eyes of their hearts would be opened (Eph 1:17 & 18) and he prayed that the Colossians would be filled with the knowledge of God’s will through all the wisdom and understanding that the Spirit gives (Col 1:9).  Why did they need this knowledge? – To know the Father better Paul says in Eph 1:17 – to know the hope, riches and power available to them Paul wrote in Eph 1:17, 18, 19 and – to live a life worthy of the Lord he told the Colossians (Col 1:10.  This idea was taken up as he told the Thessalonians that he prayed for them ‘that our God may make you worthy of his calling’ (2 Thess 1:11-12).  There’s something we can pray for anyone for whom we are concerned.

Paul also prayed for both the Ephesian and Colossian Christians that they should have power. He prayed for the Colossians that they would be ‘strengthened with all power … that you may have great endurance and patience’ (Col  1:11).  The reason he prayed for the Ephesians to be strengthened with power so that Christ would dwell in their hearts through faith (Eph 3:17).  The incredible thing that Paul claimed in Eph 1:19-20 is that this power which Christians have in them by the Spirit ‘is the same strength that [God the Father] exerted when he raised Christ from the dead’ !!  Wow!!!  There is something to pray about for those we love and are concerned for.

Someone in the study said that she had been encouraged to put the person’s name into one of Paul’s prayers. Let’s try this, praying for "Fred" in the light of Colossians 1:9-11 ;-

I continually ask God to

fill Fred with the knowledge of his will

through all the wisdom and understanding that God gives

so that Fred may live a life worthy of the Lord

and please him in every way

bearing fruit in every good work

growing in the knowledge of God,

being strengthened with all power

So that Fred may have great endurance and patience

Giving joyful thanks to the Father.

 

Something to try next time you cannot think what to pray for someone.

 

5th March 2021

From Rev Ian Macnair

A SPIRITUAL CHECK-UP (3)

We return once more for an appointment with Doctor Jesus, a follow up to his examination of eyes, ears and heart.

Jesus wants to look at your tongue.

‘Out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks’ (Matthew 12:34).

You can have a fiery tongue. ‘The tongue is a small part of the body, but it makes great boasts. Consider what a great forest is set on fire by a small spark. The tongue also is a fire, a world of evil among the parts of the body. It corrupts the whole body, sets the whole course of one’s life on fire, and is itself set on fire by hell’ (James 3:5, 6).

You can have a false tongue. ‘Each of you must put off falsehood and speak truthfully to your neighbour, for we are all members of one body’ (Ephesians 4:25).

You can have a foul tongue. ‘Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen’ (Ephesians 4:29).

You can have a foolish tongue. ‘Nor should there be obscenity, foolish talk or coarse joking, which are out of place, but rather thanksgiving’ (Ephesians 5:4).

In this, as in everything. Jesus is our example. When he opened his mouth in the synagogue at Nazareth we read, ‘All spoke well of him and were amazed at the gracious words that came from his lips.’

Jesus wants to test your reflexes.

Again Jesus himself is our example. ‘When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly’ (1 Peter 2:23).

When Paul and Timothy wrote to the Colossians (1:9–11) their prayer focused on three things.

They prayed about thoughts. ‘We have not stopped praying for you and asking God to fill you with the knowledge of his will …’

Then they prayed about actions. ‘And we pray this in order that you may live a life worthy of the Lord and may please him in every way …’

Finally they prayed about reactions. ‘So that you may have great endurance and patience, with joy, giving thanks to the Father …’

Three key areas of our lives: our thoughts, our actions – and our reactions.

You can control your thoughts. You can control your actions. But what about those things which are beyond your control? What about suffering? What about the things that other people do to you, the things they say about you? How do you react? Is it with endurance, with patience, with joy, with thanksgiving?

The bad things in life test our spiritual reflexes.

In John chapter 5 we find the miraculous healing of a man who had been an invalid for 38 years. The key question is in verse 6. When Jesus saw him lying there and learned that he had been in this condition for a long time, he asked him,

‘Do you want to get well?’

 

4th March 2021

From Liz Martin

Hebrews 5:11-6:12 NIV

We have much to say about this, but it is hard to make it clear to you because you no longer try to understand. In fact, though by this time you ought to be teachers, you need someone to teach you the elementary truths of God’s word all over again. You need milk, not solid food! Anyone who lives on milk, being still an infant, is not acquainted with the teaching about righteousness. But solid food is for the mature, who by constant use have trained themselves to distinguish good from evil.

Therefore let us move beyond the elementary teachings about Christ and be taken forward to maturity, not laying again the foundation of repentance from acts that lead to death, and of faith in God, instruction about cleansing rites, the laying on of hands, the resurrection of the dead, and eternal judgment. And God permitting, we will do so.

It is impossible for those who have once been enlightened, who have tasted the heavenly gift, who have shared in the Holy Spirit, who have tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age and who have fallen away, to be brought back to repentance. To their loss they are crucifying the Son of God all over again and subjecting him to public disgrace. Land that drinks in the rain often falling on it and that produces a crop useful to those for whom it is farmed receives the blessing of God. But land that produces thorns and thistles is worthless and is in danger of being cursed. In the end it will be burned.

Even though we speak like this, dear friends, we are convinced of better things in your case – the things that have to do with salvation. God is not unjust; he will not forget your work and the love you have shown him as you have helped his people and continue to help them. We want each of you to show this same diligence to the very end, so that what you hope for may be fully realised. We do not want you to become lazy, but to imitate those who through faith and patience inherit what has been promised.

This passage in Hebrews is possibly one of the most complex, and yet surprisingly simple, passages in Scripture. Complex because it deals with the consequences of spiritual immaturity, apostasy, and the age-old question of whether it is possible to lose one’s salvation, yet simple because the author lays it out, and gives a solid challenge with it. Some passages in Scripture are our go-to passages for comfort and encouragement. I would guess this passage isn’t one of them. Yet it actually has much in it to encourage us.

The first point of encouragement is concerning maturity. Maturity is the end goal of our faith in this life, it’s something from this passage, and Paul talks a good deal about spiritual maturity in his letters, so clearly it’s something we need to pay attention to. If repentance, faith, baptism, prayer and judgement are the basics of the faith, clearly maturity moves us on from these ideas. It’s good to go back over the basics, to check ourselves prayerfully, and to remind ourselves of them, but they are not the markers of a mature believer, they are markers of an infant. It would take more than a short word for the day to fully explore the topic of Christian maturity, but to take two markers of maturity from the passage: how acquainted are we with teaching about righteousness, and have we, by constant use, trained ourselves to distinguish good from evil? (As an aside, I would heartily recommend reading J. Oswald Sanders, In pursuit of Maturity). The encouragement here lies in the writer’s confidence that, although they currently seem to no longer try to understand, he does hope for better things for them (6:9). It’s never too late to take stock and reset.

The second point of encouragement is again a bit counter-intuitive. Whilst the passage at the start of chapter 6 is in many ways troubling, and rightly so, it gives us chance to once again examine our own lives, to see whether we are in danger of falling away, or, more accurately, deliberately walking away from the truths we once held. It’s good to remind ourselves that we have been enlightened, we have tasted the heavenly gift, shared in the Holy Spirit, tasted the goodness of the word of God and the powers of the coming age. Let’s commit to persevering in them. But for me, there is also an encouragement to pray. To pray for those who have not yet experienced these things, and the life that only Jesus can give. And how much are we in need of His life at the moment? But also to genuinely pray for those who are at risk of walking away. It’s hard to sit in judgement of a person for whom we’re genuinely praying. And, as we know from James, and from our own experience, prayer changes things, because we pray to One who listens to and acts in accordance with our prayers.

So let’s make the pursuit of maturity, and prayer, our ongoing goals as we live out our lives for Jesus.

 

3rd March 2021

Today's Word for the Day from Graham Carpmail is based on John 17 and Luke 2. You can hear his thoughts here

 

2nd March 2021

From Rev Neil Martin

1 Timothy 1:18-20 

Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well, 19 holding on to faith and a good conscience, which some have rejected and so have suffered shipwreck with regard to the faith. 20 Among them are Hymenaeus and Alexander, whom I have handed over to Satan to be taught not to blaspheme.

There is a repeated idea found in Timothy that pops up several times in chapter 1. It pops up again in vs 18: Timothy, my son, I am giving you this command in keeping with the prophecies once made about you, so that by recalling them you may fight the battle well. That repeated idea is one of calling and identity, being who we are called to be. For example, Paul starts his letter to Timothy by identifying himself using his role and title as apostle and his relationship to Timothy. In v18 Paul is once again reminding Timothy of who God has called him to be. Yet this is a much wider theme to be found in Scripture.

As we look throughout Scripture, we find again and again that wonderful truth that our God is a God who gives life to the dead and calls into being things that were not (Romans 4:17). God is the One who called Gideon a mighty warrior, (Judges 6:12) when he was nothing of the sort. Or Abraham, of whom Romans 4 speaks, as the father of Nations when he was an old man with a wife who was passed child-bearing age.

This raises the question: what has God said of you? Are there things that He has called you to in the past? Have you taken them with faith? Do you need to remind yourself, as Timothy did, of what God has made said to you?

We also have a warning that should we not operate with faith and a good conscience we will run into problems. It is not enough to believe, there must be action to accompany that belief. A changed life, as James reminds us in James 2:17, is one such evidence of belief; faith by itself, if it is not accompanied by action, is dead.

So, mighty man (or woman!) what has God called you to? Is there a mountain to claim, or a vision yet to fulfil? How will you operate in ongoing faith to see these come to pass?

 

1st March 2021

From Rev Ralph Hanger

Prayer Battery

Do you remember who Rhoda was in the Bible?  There is only one reference to her in Acts, so her name may have slipped your memory but you probably have not forgotten what she did.  She was only a servant girl and possibly not a terribly experienced one because she got so flustered when a miracle happened that she did not do the right thing.  The story is in Acts 12.

Herod had started a time of persecution of Christians.  He had James, brother of John killed and had Peter arrested and firmly ensconced in prison with so many soldiers guarding him, that even if he could get the chains off his wrists there was no way out of prison for him.  As he went off to sleep that night he must have wondered what the next day would bring.  The rest of the Christians in the church would have been thinking the same thing.  However, Acts 12:5 tells us that ‘Peter was kept in prison, but the church was earnestly praying to God for him’.  I wonder what they were praying for?  In those circumstances, I think I would probably pray for Peter’s peace of mind in prison and that Herod would change his mind and release Peter before too long.  I don’t think there is any way I would have been praying for what did happen. As it happens, even Peter was taken by surprise.

Even though Peter was bound by two chains and sleeping between two soldiers with another 14 of them around to guard him, an angel came, released him from his chains, led him past all the soldiers, opened the large prison iron gate and left him standing in the street a little way from the prison.  Somewhat bemused Peter made his way to the house of one of the many Marys in the church.  Inside Mary’s house a prayer battery was operating.  This was where the Christians had gathered to pray.  Hearing the knock on the door a concerned hush might have come over them.  Remember Herod had started a persecution of Christians and this could have been soldiers coming for them.  They tried to do the natural thing and sent a servant to the door to find out who it was.  They did not expect the servant, our friend Rhoda, to coming rushing back with the message ‘Peter is at the door’ (12:14), but she had not opened the door to let him in.  No matter how hard she insisted she had heard his voice, they said she must be ‘out of her mind’.  Peter was well and truly locked up in prison.  Imagine their shock when they eventually opened the door and found Peter standing there!!!!

There was a crisis.  The church prayed.  God answered their prayer, even if it was in a way that they had not and could not have anticipated.  Who was this story about?  Not really Rhoda, although you can understand how she got so flustered that she failed to open the door.  She played her part.  It was not really about Peter, although he was saved from death and for ministry.  He played his part.  Even though the church played their significant part in earnest, combined prayer, they were not the key players.  In the centre of it all was God working out his plan.  It was God who saved Peter from death when James was killed, who sent his angel to release Peter and who answered their earnest prayer for Peter – in his way.

What is the significance of this for us today?  After the service, yesterday, David asked us as church members to pray.  Do you remember what for?  It was for the deacons’ meeting this evening.  There may not be anyone in prison, but the deacons have an extremely important and possibly tricky topics to discuss on our behalf.  What is ‘church’ going to be like when we start getting together again after the pandemic restrictions.  Most of us will not be part of those discussions but we all need to be part of them.  No. Not by lobbying and saying what we would like to happen.  Like the early church we need to be praying for those who are making the decisions.  We cannot meet and pray together whilst the deacons meeting is going on, but we can pray.  Can we ALL agree to spend some time today praying for that meeting?

If you are not sure what to pray, perhaps we can get some pointers from Paul’s prayer in Ephesians 1:17 that we studied at the Lent Study last week

(Please excuse the liberty being taken with the original)

‘asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father may give the deacons the Spirit of wisdom and revelation so that they may know him better. –praying that the eyes of their hearts may be enlightened, in order that they may know the hope (for the future of the church) to which he has called them, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people (‘God’s work done in God’s way will never lack the resources it needs’ -nmHudson Taylor) and his incomparably great power for us who believe (if God could release Peter from prison what can he not do for QRBC in the future).

 

26th February 2021

A SPIRITUAL CHECK-UP (2)

We return to the surgery of Doctor Jesus today. Sometimes the symptoms of spiritual ill health are not so obvious and we need a more thorough examination.

Jesus wants to test your eyes.

In Ephesians 1:18, 19 Paul says, ‘I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and his incomparably great power for us who believe.’

How is your spiritual vision? Can you see beyond the things of this earth?

Jesus wants to examine your ears.

 ‘If anyone has ears to hear, let him hear. Consider carefully what you hear’ (Mark 4:23, 24).

How much do you want to hear? Are you really listening?

‘Take note of this: Everyone should be quick to listen, slow to speak and slow to become angry’ (James 1:19).

So often we are the opposite of this: slow to listen, quick to speak, quick to become angry.

I don’t know if you’ve ever noticed, but when God created us he gave us two ears but only one mouth. There’s a reason for that.

Quick to listen. How is your spiritual hearing?

Jesus wants to sound your heart.

‘The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it?’ (Jeremiah 17:9)

Beyond cure: that doesn’t sound a very promising prognosis, does it. But there’s more: ‘I the Lord search the heart and examine the mind, to reward each person according to their conduct, according to what their actions deserve.’

‘People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart’ (1 Samuel 16:7).

‘A person may think their own ways are right, but the Lord weighs the heart’ (Proverbs 21:2).

Jesus said, ‘For it is from within, out of a person’s heart, that evil thoughts come – sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, lewdness, envy, slander, arrogance and folly. All these evils come from inside and defile a person’ (Mark 7:21–23).

The heart of the human problem is the problem of the human heart. It is a condition that’s beyond cure. But what is impossible for us is possible with God.

Through the prophet Ezekiel (36:26) God says, ‘I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.’

On the 4th of December 1967 the headline in the morning papers was ‘First human heart transplant’. But they were wrong. It wasn’t Dr Christiaan Barnard who performed the first human heart transplant. It was the Lord.

We need to pray with David the prayer of Psalm 51:10, ‘Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.’

 

25th February 2021

From Iain Colville

Hebrews 4 v14- 5v10 – Word for the day

(From the NRSV)

14 Since, then, we have a great high priest who has passed through the heavens, Jesus, the Son of God, let us hold fast to our confession. 15 For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore approach the throne of grace with boldness, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.

​51 Every high priest chosen from among mortals is put in charge of things pertaining to God on their behalf, to offer gifts and sacrifices for sins. 2 He is able to deal gently with the ignorant and wayward, since he himself is subject to weakness; 3 and because of this he must offer sacrifice for his own sins as well as for those of the people. 4 And one does not presume to take this honour, but takes it only when called by God, just as Aaron was.

5 So also Christ did not glorify himself in becoming a high priest, but was appointed by the one who said to him,

               “You are my Son, today I have begotten you”;

6 as he says also in another place,

“You are a priest forever,
according to the order of Melchizedek.”

7 In the days of his flesh, Jesus offered up prayers and supplications, with loud cries and tears, to the one who was able to save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. 8 Although he was a Son, he learned obedience through what he suffered; 9 and having been made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him, 10 having been designated by God a high priest according to the order of Melchizedek.  

This is not just any High Priest, this is a Great High Priest…

In today’s passage, the writer again picks up the theme of Jesus the Great High Priest, whetting our appetite for the more detailed explanation which is to follow in chapter 7 and the subsequent chapters.

For now, the writer encourages his readers to grasp hold of all that Jesus offers and represents as our Great High Priest.  In my head, these verses have the feel of one of those Marks & Spencer adverts, “this is not just any High Priest, this is our Great High Priest”!

First, in Jesus the Son we have this supercharged High Priest who has not just entered the holiest part of the earthly Temple but who has entered God’s very presence in heaven.  Because he is so great a High Priest, the writer says “let us hold fast to our confession” (NRSV) or “hold firmly onto the faith we profess” (NIV) (v14). We don’t need to be like the wilderness generation because our Great High Priest is so much more than the priests of the Old Testament.

Second, our Great High Priest is the incarnate Jesus who, having endured the same temptations we face, did not yield to those temptations and was without sin (v15).  Within the Old Testament priesthood, only the High Priest was permitted to enter the most sacred part of the Temple on one day each year.  God is no less holy than in the Old Testament, but Jesus is the ultimate High Priest.  Because of Jesus’ obedient sacrifice and victory over temptation, we can be confident that we have the right to enter the presence of God Himself, where He will hear us and minister to us with His mercy and grace (v16). 

In v1-10 of chapter 5, the writer continues to compare and contrast the old High Priests with Jesus the Great High Priest.  Both were to represent the people before God, offering sacrifices for sins (v1, 7) and both were to have compassion for their people and to identify with their humanity (v2, 8 and 9). But once again the writer emphasises that Jesus is so much greater, and His ministry so much more effective, than the temporary sacrifices of old High Priests, who were limited by their sinfulness. In contrast Jesus, the Son and Priest, was made perfect and “became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him” (v9).

And so how might we respond to these amazing truths?  First, let’s give thanks that we have the superlative Great High Priest described in this passage.

Next, I’d encourage you to take time to exercise your rights of access to the “throne of grace” with boldness. Find some space today to enter God’s presence in prayer and worship. Ask Jesus, your Great High Priest, to minister to you in mercy and grace, and to strengthen your faith.

Unlike the M&S adverts, your right to approach God isn’t a time-limited offer or a ‘one time only’ deal. Because of Jesus’ saving work as our Great High Priest, we can regularly and freely meet with our heavenly Father in prayer and worship, so let’s do so rather than to take this privilege for granted.

24th February 2021

Today's spoken Word for the Day from Graham Carpmail looks at the issue of loneliness. You can hear it here.

23rd February 2021

From Rev Neil Martin

1 Timothy 1:12-17

12 I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who has given me strength, that he considered me trustworthy, appointing me to his service. 13 Even though I was once a blasphemer and a persecutor and a violent man, I was shown mercy because I acted in ignorance and unbelief. 14 The grace of our Lord was poured out on me abundantly, along with the faith and love that are in Christ Jesus.

15 Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst. 16 But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life. 17 Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

I once read that there are 2 words that are responsible for more sadness and sorrow than any others; that there are 2 words which carry a weight of crushing burden. Those 2 words? “If only.” These words sum up the sense of weighty regret. That feeling of lament for how things have turned out. “If only I hadn’t said that”, “If only I had done that”. Paul is a man whose life should have been full of “if only”.

“If only I had stayed in Ephesus to be there when the trouble-makers had come.” “If only I hadn’t trusted Demas” (2Tim 4:10). “If only I hadn’t rejected John Mark and split my partnership with Barnabas” (Acts 15:36-40). If only, if only, if only.

Paul, in this passage, arguably looks at his biggest “if only”, his greatest mistake. A mistake that cost a good man his life. “If only I hadn’t encouraged and approved in the murder of Stephen” (Acts 6-7). Except his response is not “if only”. He recognises the weight and the horror of what he has done - Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners – of whom I am the worst (vs15) - yet he also recognises that there is mercy. Not only is there mercy, but forgiveness; and not only forgiveness but renewed purpose. I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his immense patience as an example for those who would believe in him and receive eternal life (vs16).

“If only” is a heavy phrase, yet it serves no purpose. It serves no purpose because no matter how much we may wish we could, we cannot change the past. Yet the future is not set. Paul recognises the horror of what he has done, has confessed it and repented. He owns his past - he is the chief of sinners - yet he is forgiven.  This is why he can state so powerfully: Now to the King eternal, immortal, invisible, the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

What are your “if only”s?

Are there things that you need to bring and lay at Jesus’ feet? To ask His forgiveness for, and then give thanks in faith that forgiveness was won by Jesus at the cross, so that like Paul you, too, can say: to the only God, be honour and glory for ever and ever. Amen.

 

22nd February 2021

From Rev Ralph Hanger

Somewhere in my papers around the house I have a description of the Bible which meant a lot to me when I first came across it, years ago.  I wish I knew where it was so I could share it with you ‘verbatim’.  As I don’t know where it is I shall just have to tell you about it.  It describes the Bible as portrait.

In any portrait of a person there are three things – the background, the person and the clothes the person is wearing.  All are important to make the portrait complete.

The background of the portrait gives the context for that person with important items or places or scenes relevant to the character in the portrait.  They are not the main part of the picture but they point towards the main figure explaining relevant things that make the central figure who he/she is.  The Old Testament does this for us.  It provides the background and circumstances for our principle central figure.  In the books of the Old Testament we learn of the reason why our central figure was necessary and all the preparations that were made for his appearance.

In the middle of all this background we have portrayed the central figure.  This is who the whole portrait is about.  This person is found in the Gospels. Jesus. He is the one who at the centre of all things.  The One - whose coming was heralded by angels and seen in the stars by wise men.  The One -who was fully God and yet fully man.  The One - who gave us a glimpse of the character of God, Himself, as he lived among people, treating young and old, fit and degenerate, rich and poor, haves and have-nots as though they all mattered and were important. The One – who showed love and compassion to the sick and needy.  The One – who gave his life to bring us forgiveness and to open the way for us to the presence of God.  The One – who God raised from the dead to give us the promise of life eternal.  This is the One who is the subject of this Bible portrait.

But then any character in a proper portrait is dressed in an appropriate way with relevant items in their hands or about their body which in themselves explain more about them.  These various accoutrements emphasise different aspects of the person’s character and position and how others may relate to him. This where the rest of the New Testament comes in as the books of Acts and then the various letters explain what it was that Jesus did for us and how He affects our everyday lives.

Then, explains the note that I have lost, as we study the portrait with its background and its affects, the living Lord Jesus comes out of the pages and meets us at our very points of need.

Neil said in yesterday’s sermon that ‘the Bible is great book that is well worth getting into’.  He is so right.  As we study the Bible in the ways he was explaining, finding out what it meant to the first listeners or readers and allowing God to speak to us through it, we find ourselves falling more in love with the central character, wanting to worship, thank and serve Him more.

 

19th February 2021

From Rev Ian Macnair

A SPIRITUAL CHECK-UP (1)

Today Doctor Jesus invites us into his surgery. ‘It’s not healthy people who need a doctor, but people who are sick’ (Luke 5:31).

The good news is that we don’t have to wait for an appointment with this GP (Good Physician).

Here are prescriptions for some more obvious symptoms of spiritual ill-health.

Symptom #1 – a severe swelling of the head

This condition often occurs in young people, but it can attack at any age, and even those who are spiritually mature are susceptible to pride.

The Old Testament king Uzziah suffered from this complaint. He was just 16 when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem for 52 years. As long as he sought the Lord, God gave him success. But after he became powerful, his pride led to his downfall. He was unfaithful to the Lord his God (2 Chronicles 26).

The prescription – 1 Peter 5:5. ‘Young men, be submissive to those who are older. All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.’

Symptom #2 – a stiff neck

Perhaps this is an ailment that older Christians are more prone to: inflexible, stubborn, unwilling to admit when we’re wrong. It is a serious condition, and the consequences of it are described in Proverbs 29:1. ‘Someone who remains stiff-necked after many rebukes will suddenly be destroyed – without remedy.’

The prescription – 2 Chronicles 30:8. ‘Do not be stiff-necked, … submit to the Lord. … Serve the Lord your God.’ The key concepts here are submitting and serving.

Symptom #3 – skin trouble

This can be a terrible physical condition but there is such a thing as spiritual skin trouble, when your skin doesn’t seem to be as thick as other people’s. Those who suffer from this condition are quick to take offence and slow to forgive. They wallow in self-pity. They imagine that everyone is criticising them. They are suspicious and ill at ease. They’re not sufficiently thick-skinned.

The prescription – 1 Corinthians 13:5, 7. The Living Bible translates it like this: ‘Love is not irritable or touchy. It does not hold grudges and will hardly even notice when others do it wrong … If you love someone you will always believe in him, always expect the best of him and always stand your ground in defending him.’

Symptom #4 – a loss of appetite

This is often a symptom of illness. A healthy Christian has an appetite for God’s word. It is described as milk and meat, bread and honey: substantial but not stodgy, sweet but not sickly.

The prophet Amos spoke about a famine (8:11), ‘not a famine of food or a thirst for water, but a famine of hearing the words of the Lord’.

Spiritual ill health is marked by a loss of appetite for righteousness: doing the right thing, saying the right thing, thinking the right thing.

The prescription – Matthew 5:6. ‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be satisfied.’

 

18th February 2021

From Liz Martin

Let us then be eager to know this rest for ourselves, and let us beware that no one misses it through falling into the same kind of unbelief as those we have mentioned. For the Word that God speaks is alive and active; it cuts more keenly than any two-edged sword: it strikes through to the place where soul and spirit meet, to the innermost intimacies of a man’s being: it exposes the very thoughts and motives of a man’s heart. No creature has any cover from the sight of God; everything lies naked and exposed before the eyes of him with whom we have to do. Hebrews 4:11-13, J. B. Phillips.

‘Let us then be eager to know this rest for ourselves, and let us beware that no one misses I through falling into the same kind of unbelief as those we have mentioned.’ The writer to the Hebrews encourages eagerness to know this rest. I don’t know about you, but to me, the word ‘eager’ has a sense of energy to it, an urging to action; it’s an emotive word, one that spurs us to move. Are we eager for the rest that God offers? And if we are, do we also heed the ‘beware’; watching to make sure we don’t miss the promised rest through following the example of the faithless and disobedient?

I like that the J B Phillips paraphrase doesn’t pause after this, but steams straight ahead into probably a well-known verse. The word of God is alive and active, sharper than a double-edged sword. Now whether the author is alluding to Jesus as the living Word, spoken of by John, or whether he is referring to Scripture is slightly splitting hairs. We need to be intimately connected to both. Scripture without Jesus is dry and legalistic. Jesus without Scripture is likely to become wishy-washy and vague, and god-man made in our own image.

As we come to Scripture in prayer, we need to remember that it is a living word, capable of cutting keenly; if he were writing today, he might use the image of an expert surgeon coming to bring healing through his razor sharp scalpel. It’s that stark an image. We remember that as we come to Scripture that we lay ourselves bare, trusting that God is able to accomplish His purposes, to hone, prune, shape, and heal us. And this is no mere superficial process, it cuts to the heart and soul of who we are. We may be able to fool other people, we may even be able to fool ourselves at times, but if we come to God honestly in His word, we cannot fool Him.

This is a challenge that, like a good stretch first thing in the morning, does us good, but may be a bit uncomfortable. Dare we risk coming to God’s word open and exposed, allowing Him to lay us bare? Yet, we know that, as we do so, we enter the presence of the living Word, who gave His all that we may know, and live in, His freedom, and life in all its fullness.

 

17th February 2021

Today's spoken Word for the Day from Graham Carpmail can be found here

 

16th February 2021

1 Timothy 1:3-11

When you are called to do hard things.

One of the messages that gets thrown around the Church at large at the minute, in both sometimes spoken, but more often unspoken ways, is this: Jesus wants to call you to something safe, comfortable and easy. For example, often in books I read, I am repeatedly told that I must love myself, cherish myself and care for myself. Which is, of course, fine. Depending on what is meant by this. Does it mean that we should take pleasure in who God made us, rejoice in the world that He gave us, and the people that we have around us? Or does it mean we should protect ourselves at all times, put ourselves, and our agenda, always at the top of the list? One of those ways will lead to an open life of thanksgiving, the other will lead to a non-life, a selfish, petty life, as we guard what is ours against all others, and anyone who would seek to infringe on it.

There is a subliminal message that following Jesus will not be costly really, but rather a doddle. That we can make a brand of Jesus, and Church, that will appeal to all without causing offense. That we can take up our cross, but that it will neither hurt us, nor cause us trouble, nor cost us money, time, or sleep. That we can have a life plus; that is, a life with Jesus and yet live as we wish. If that is the case, what do we make of poor Timothy? One of Paul’s favoured disciples, his reward is to pastor a Church that is riven with false teaching and error. His job is to challenge and confront people who are probably physically older than him (1 Tim 1:3 + 4:2), and are more numerous, all while Paul is off somewhere else. Not exactly his best life is it? Not least because it’s not hard to argue that he’s not really a lover of confrontation. We don’t tend to encourage people who relish confrontation, saying that the Spirit God gave us does not make us timid. (2 Tim1:7) Yet this is his call; this is his charge.

Sometimes God does call us to hard places, to difficult people, challenges and situations. It doesn’t mean that He doesn’t love us or care for us. Rather, He is inviting us to join with Him to make a difference, to stand with Him in bringing His kingdom to earth. This can be a costly, sacrificial task at times, yet it is one that will reap eternal rewards. If you are enduring through a hard place or time, be encouraged: you are not forgotten or abandoned. God is at work in our midst.

 

15th February 2021

From Rev Ralph Hanger

Mea Culpa

Why was there no Word for Today from me last week?  After Neil’s sermon on Sunday it is confession time.  I am ashamed, but I forgot.  Sorry David! I have no excuse, I just plain forgot.  I hope forgiveness is in the air!

When I looked back at why I failed to write the Word for Today I find several lessons.  I am not excusing myself.  I usually write Monday’s Word after Sunday’s service, in case there is something in the service which prompts my thinking – so it is my Sunday afternoon commitment.  We recently bought a new slide scanner and have begun the seemingly unending task of digitalising the boxes and boxes of slides we took in Malawi and since then.  In lots of ways it is great fun – pictures of all kinds of situations  - friends we had almost forgotten, children at various stages of development – relatives – colleagues – Jane in her youth and earlier. ‘Do you remember this?’ has been the most frequent call from the office! We have so much to be thankful for but it has been so easy to get so caught up in the past, that current commitments have got lost.  Hence the lack of my Word For Today last Monday.

That probably says something about the current task facing the church as we are considering the question ‘What is church supposed to look like when we open up again?’  We have a lot to thank God for in the past, but we must resist the temptation to look back at what has been happening so much that we fail to see the current and future challenges.  It is good looking back and learning from the past but we do need to be open and ready to embrace the present realities of what it means to spread the Good news of Jesus in today’s world here in Coventry.

Hopefully I can learn both the lessons of being better organised and not being too focussed on the past that I miss the present and future.

Actually this week’s sermon, which produced quite a few comments in the after church chat, did stir up quite a few thoughts.  One or two people shared the ways they are using to read the Bible this year, which was both helpful and encouraging.  Neil stressed the importance of both getting to know what the Bible has to say and also to put it into practice.  What other help can we give to one another to encourage the regular study of God’s Word?  How can we improve what we are doing?   If you have any ideas, we would love to hear from you!  In the meantime, I hope we will see some more of you who enjoy the interactive form of Bible study, during the Lent Bible studies on Thursday evenings!

 

12th February 2021

From Rev Ian Macnair

 LOOKING FOR THE PERFECT CHURCH?

According to C H Spurgeon, if you find the perfect church, don’t join it. You’ll only spoil it.

But if you are looking for the perfect church you’re in good company. Jesus is too. And Paul tells us exactly what Jesus is looking for in Ephesians chapter 5.

A submissive church. ‘Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ’.

We tend to ask, ‘What denomination does the church belong to?’ But far more important than ‘what’ it belongs to is ‘who’ it belongs to. The way to move further along the road to perfection is to ‘find out what pleases the Lord … understand what the Lord’s will is’.

A saved church. ‘Christ is the head of the church, his body, of which he is the Saviour.’

Paradoxically, the perfect church is not full of perfect people. It’s full of sinners, people who need forgiveness and salvation. ‘In Christ God forgave you.’

Consequently we are to forgive each other, ‘just as in Christ God forgave you’.

A loved church. ‘Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her’.

It will soon be Lent, when we will be encouraged to give something up. Selfishness and self‑centredness would be a good start.

A holy church. ‘…to make her holy’.

Holiness is a status. We are made holy by belonging to Christ. When children go to school they put on the uniform. It’s not earned or based on merit. The school itself gives its pupils this status. That’s how holiness begins.

It is also a process by which ‘we become what we are’. We are cleansed by ‘washing with water through the word’. It comes about as God’s word works in our hearts and minds, making us aware of sin and creating a desire for righteousness.

A radiant church. The NIV has done a good job of translating verse 27.

Paul talks earlier of ‘glory in the church’. The contrast with the world is unmistakable. There is an attractiveness about true holiness. The devil’s lie is that holiness is dull and unattractive. The opposite is the truth.

A nourished and cherished church. ‘No one ever hated their own body, but they feed and care for their body, just as Christ does the church.’

The language used here is used more often of raising children, providing for them, feeding them, making sure they develop and grow to maturity. It is also a husband’s responsibility in looking after and caring for his wife.

In a far greater way, Christ does this for his church. He provides for us with food for the soul, spiritual nourishment from the Bible.

He protects us in a spiritually dangerous world, where temptations are all around. Only by staying close to the Lord can we find protection from that danger.

The perfect church. Is it possible?

Yes. But only when we accept and reflect the perfection of Christ, experiencing his headship, his forgiveness, his love, his holiness, his radiance, his protection and provision.

 

11th February 2021

From Iain Colville

Hebrews 4 v1-11 (J. B. Phillips)

1-4 Now since the same promise of rest is offered to us today, let us be continually on our guard that none of us even looks like failing to attain it. For we too have had a Gospel preached to us, as those men had. Yet the message proclaimed to them did them no good, because they only heard and did not believe as well. It is only as a result of our faith and trust that we experience that rest. For he said: ‘So I swore in my wrath, they shall not enter my rest’; not because the rest was not prepared—it had been ready since the work of creation was completed, as he says elsewhere in the scriptures, speaking of the seventh day of creation, ‘And God rested on the seventh day from all his works’.

5-7 And in the passage above he refers to “my rest” as something already in existence. No, it is clear that some were intended to experience this rest and, since the previous hearers of the message failed to attain to it because they would not believe God, he proclaims a further opportunity when he says through David, many years later, “today”, just as he had said “today” before. ‘Today, if you will hear his voice, do not harden your hearts’.

8-10 For if Joshua had given them the rest, we should not find God saying, at a much later date, “today”. There still exists, therefore, a full and complete rest for the people of God. And he who experiences his real rest is resting from his own work as fully as God from his.

11 Let us then be eager to know this rest for ourselves, and let us beware that no one misses it through falling into the same kind of unbelief as those we have mentioned.

 

In Chapter 4, the writer to the Hebrews turns his focus to the long-promised ‘rest’ which initially awaited the Old Testament people of God when they entered the Promised Land. This was to be a place flowing with milk and honey, where there was security and peace in the presence of God (see eg Exodus 33 v14 and Deuteronomy 12 v9, 10).   

As the writer explains using quotations from Psalm 95, most of what became the ‘wilderness’ generation disobeyed and did not believe the promises about the Promised Land. As a result, God’s judgment was that tragically, they would not enter into God’s rest or the Promised Land (see v 1-3 and Numbers 14).  Once again, the writer warns his readers that that we need to take care not to fall into disbelief or disobedience, lest we too face God’s judgment like the wilderness generation (v1, 11).

But the writer equally makes clear that the promise of “entering God’s rest” is still open and available today to those “who have believed” God’s promises (v1, 3).

Just as God rested on the Sabbath at the end of his 6 days of creation (Genesis 2 v2, 3), the rest available to us is a place of eternal rest and Sabbath (v9, 10) – a spiritual place where our earthly labours will cease and where there will be celebration, blessing and worship, a place to dwell in God’s presence.  

This is the same rest that is promised in Jeremiah 6 v16: if you find, and follow, the ancient paths of righteousness and wisdom, “you will find rest for your souls”.

There’s a challenge here for us to examine ourselves and our direction of travel:

Are we tempted to stray into disobedience and disbelief, like the wilderness generation? Currently barred from many of the places that we long to visit, perhaps we might begin to identify with the generation who wandered the desert, prohibited from entering the Promised Land. 

But the writer to the Hebrews (along with the Psalmist in Psalm 95) calls us to hold onto the promises of hope and to continue our pilgrimage following God’s ancient paths of wisdom and right living towards God’s eternal rest.  We will one day return to worship together in the chapel but that’s not the ‘promised land’ that awaits us.  By keeping our eyes fixed and focussed on Jesus, and our feet on the ancient ways of righteousness, we can hold onto the hope of a much greater and better promise that we will, one day, enter into God’s presence. 

And finally, let’s not forget to be alert for foretastes of God’s eternal rest, perhaps to be found in unusual and unexpected places, in times of solitude or with our immediate households, in times at home or on local walks, where we might discover that Jesus is with us for a moment of rest for our souls. 

 

10th February 2021

In today's spoken Word for the Day Graham Carpmail asks "Does God Care? You can hear it here

9th February 2021

From Rev Neil Martin

1 Timothy 1:1-3

1 Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus by the command of God our Saviour and of Christ Jesus our hope.To Timothy my true son in the faith: Grace, mercy and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord.

Let me start today with asking you a simple question: who are you? It’s a powerful question to be asked. How would you describe yourself? How do you define yourself? Would you use your title Mr or Mrs or Dr, maybe? Or would you give your profession? Or maybe you would identify yourself by a family role instead, ‘I’m Dave’s mum/dad’. Maybe you wouldn’t use any of those methods at all, you’d just use your name, or maybe even a nickname? I always think Paul has a slight advantage, as he gets to use a name, role and job description all in one.

Firstly, he is Paul, not Saul, yet we know that Paul is not ashamed of his Jewish heritage and background. He values his heritage immensely (see Romans 9) yet he doesn’t want it to be a barrier between him and those he is trying to reach. He embraces the Greek variation of his name to make one less barrier when he approaches the Roman world. This is his priority to present the Kingdom: listen to his words from 1 Corinthians 9:22+23.  I have become all things to all people so that by all possible means I might save some. I do all this for the sake of the gospel, that I may share in its blessings.

His priority is what he understands his role to be. He is an apostle, a messenger; he considers his message to be more important than anything, whether that is his status, his national identity, his rights and privileges. His message is Jesus and His resurrection; that is the burning centre of his understanding and identity. After all what other message carries such possibility of hope, such joy and such eternal promise?

Secondly, we find how he understands Timothy. Timothy receives one of the warmest commendations possible: Timothy, my true son in the faith. Now that’s a commendation, because what he means is that Timothy is just like him: a mini Paul. He recognises his fingerprint in how Timothy acts, and how Timothy thinks, in what Timothy lives for, and what Timothy cares for.

These simple verses come with an immense challenge for us. What is the primary message of your life, what are you conveying? So, we start, and end, with a question: what does your life convey, what is your message?

 

8th February 2021

From Coral Lynes

Peace and Tranquility

Philippians chapter 4 verses 4-7

“Rejoice in the Lord always.  I will say it again:  rejoice!  Let your gentleness be evident to all.  The Lord is near.  Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.  And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus”

I have been drawn again and again to this chapter of Philippians, and these particular few verses remind me of a choral part of the Bell Anthem by Henry Purcell, which required much practice when learning the parts, but which we sang as a Choir more than once well over 30 years ago.  However, I am sure I’m not alone in remembering our valiant efforts and the patience of Pauline, our choir leader, as she gently guided us through the parts. The words in the anthem were slightly different from the verses above; for instance, 'moderation' was used instead of 'gentleness', 'supplication' for 'petition' and there were other examples, which most likely reflect how the meanings of words change through time.

When studying the scriptures and at other times, I am often reminded of songs/hymns which seem to me to reflect what the passage is saying.

“Rejoice the Lord is King” written by Charles Wesley sung to music by Handel is a very old hymn but has some encouraging words still relevant for today. 

Graham Kendrick’s “Rejoice, rejoice” is a lively song from the times when we were involved in “Make Way” marches round Coventry.  I find the words of this song uplifting, encouraging and worth pondering on.

God is working his purpose out in us and through us. Thank God he is able to turn our weaknesses into his opportunities. 

Dear Lord, as we go through difficult times help us to remember to praise you.  Amen

 

5th February 2021

From David Depledge

Learning from King David (3)

In my last two contributions we looked at 2 Sam 5:22-25 and were seeking to learn from how King David dealt with the problems he faced. Firstly he listened to God and then he waited for God’s timing and then:-

David acted in obedience to the Lord.

At the appointed time, in the appointed way, David stepped out boldly and attacked the enemy. (The issue of how difficult we find the violence in the Old Testament is beyond the scope of this devotion!). Faith without works is dead. In other words, so-called faith that takes no action is a dead faith. James 2:18 “But someone will say, ‘You have faith; I have deeds.’ Show me your faith without deeds, and I will show you my faith by my deeds.”  Our Faith is seen by the action we are willing to take.

Perhaps the most significant words in our reading are found at the end of verse 24, “For then the LORD will go out before you to strike the camp of the Philistines.” This is why David listened to the Lord. This is why David waited on the Lord. David did not want to take on his problem by himself. He knew the key to victory is the presence of the Lord. Without that presence we are weak as anyone else.

We see the same conviction in Moses: Ex 33:15-16   “Then Moses said to him, ‘If your Presence does not go with us, do not send us up from here. How will anyone know that you are pleased with me and with your people unless you go with us? What else will distinguish me and your people from all the other people on the face of the earth?"

The one thing that should distinguish the Church from other institutions is the Presence of God. A church run on human energy alone is no light at all. It is God’s presence activating us and shining through us that makes us the Church.

Listening and waiting for God might leave people asking, “What are you going to do besides pray?” The correct answer is, “Nothing until we have prayed! We must first listen to the Lord; then, act at His command.” One side of faith may appear on the surface to be passive and indecisive; but actually we are engaged in seeking the Lord and listening to Him. One side of faith is called waiting. It is unwilling to act without the command. The other side of faith is obviously active. As soon as the light turns green, it moves and it moves boldly. It moves in the confidence that God is also working with us. It moves knowing the results will be supernatural because the supernatural God is bringing them about. That is what brings resolution to our problems.

The frustrating thing about human nature is: (1) when it’s time to wait, we’re tempted to act presumptuously and (2) when it’s time to act, we’re tempted to draw back in timidity. Naaman was healed of leprosy when he dipped seven times in the Jordan River at God’s command (2 Kings 5:14). Without that action there would have been no healing. The woman with the issue of blood was healed when she touched the hem of Jesus’ garment. She acted in faith. Jesus told the blind man (John 9:7) “… ‘Go, wash in the pool of Siloam’ So he went and washed, and came back seeing.” When the command to act comes, genuine faith acts!

The pattern of David’s response in our text is applicable to any problem.

Firstly David enquired of the Lord and listened to the answer. He went to God in prayer about the matter. He did not assume that he already knew what to do, even though he had successfully faced similar problems in the past.

Secondly David waited on the Lord. He waited until He heard from God concerning the strategy. God told him what the sign would be that would let him know the right timing. David waited until he heard the sound of marching in the tops of the poplar trees. (2 Sam 5:23)

Thirdly David acted assertively once he knew he was in the will of God. He boldly attacked the problem using the God-given strategy. And God gave him victory. Everything David did, he did because he had been trained in the school of humility. Every step he took was based on faith in God and his dependence upon God.

I hope we will be able to apply all this to any problem we are facing in our lives. Where are you in this process?

  • Do you need to enquire of the Lord for His strategy?
  • Are you prayerfully waiting on the Lord for His go ahead? Don’t lose heart; your day will come.
  • Do you need to step out in faith and take action?

 

 

4th February 2021

From Liz Martin

Hebrews 3 NIV

Therefore, holy brothers and sisters, who share in the heavenly calling, fix your thoughts on Jesus, whom we acknowledge as our apostle and high priest. He was faithful to the one who appointed him, just as Moses was faithful in all God’s house. Jesus has been found worthy of greater honour than Moses, just as the builder of a house has greater honour than the house itself. For every house is built by someone, but God is the builder of everything. ‘Moses was faithful as a servant in all God’s house,’ bearing witness to what would be spoken by God in the future. But Christ is faithful as the Son over God’s house. And we are his house, if indeed we hold firmly to our confidence and the hope in which we glory.

Warning against unbelief

So, as the Holy Spirit says: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, 8do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion, during the time of testing in the wilderness, where your ancestors tested and tried me, though for forty years they saw what I did. 10 That is why I was angry with that generation; I said, “Their hearts are always going astray, and they have not known my ways.” 11 So I declared on oath in my anger, “They shall never enter my rest.”’

12 See to it, brothers and sisters, that none of you has a sinful, unbelieving heart that turns away from the living God. 13 But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called ‘Today’, so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. 14 We have come to share in Christ, if indeed we hold our original conviction firmly to the very end. 15 As has just been said: ‘Today, if you hear his voice, do not harden your hearts as you did in the rebellion.’

16 Who were they who heard and rebelled? Were they not all those Moses led out of Egypt? 17 And with whom was he angry for forty years? Was it not with those who sinned, whose bodies perished in the wilderness? 18 And to whom did God swear that they would never enter his rest if not to those who disobeyed? 19 So we see that they were not able to enter, because of their unbelief.

 

The writer to the Hebrews continues with a great encouragement, addressing us as brothers and sisters who share in the heavenly calling, and this is followed by a thought which is echoed, perhaps more famously, in Hebrews 12: fix your thoughts on Jesus. If you are anything like me, the battle to follow Jesus is fought nowhere more fiercely than in my mind. And so it is of great encouragement to be reminded that I have a choice, fix your thoughts on Jesus, and that I have an advocate. When Jesus is placed like a permanent fixture in our minds, at the forefront of everything, as a filter for thoughts that seek a resting place in our minds, all thoughts must pass through Him, who is our apostle and high priest (v 1)

Secondly, the author focusses on Jesus, and His faithfulness, this time comparing Him not to angels, but to Moses, the one who was faithful as a servant. In the same way that Jesus is superior to angels, God’s messengers, Jesus is superior to Moses, God’s servant. And yet Jesus Himself came to serve, which seems a bit topsy-turvy, yet showing us the greatness of faithfulness in responsibility, service and sacrifice.

Thirdly, the warning that follows is yet again to remain faithful, to not fall away, but to hold fast to our confidence and hope. The more I walk with Jesus, the more solid I realise He is, and everything else is revealed as less than. Whatever hopes we have, whatever we lean on or look to, wherever we put our faith, all of it pales into insignificance in comparison with the promise held in Jesus: Christ in us, the hope of glory.

Finally, for all the wealth there is in meditating on His goodness and faithfulness, no matter how much peace comes through Christ, there is still a warning. We need to be careful to follow it through. The writer to the Hebrews knows what we are like; he knows what humans have always been like. He knows that the temptation is always there for us to replace the glory of God for images of created things, to choose our own way, and follow the brightness of sin. If evil presented itself always as evil, we would be quick to reject it, but as one of my favourite authors put it: "You think evil corrupts men by saying 'come with me & I will turn you into a merciless killer & damn your soul for eternity'? Who would agree to such a bargain? Evil corrupts by promising us what we want, & tell us that it is good...” This is what the Israelites failed to understand, and so they fell away time and time again; they wandered away from the source of all good, and into idolatry, faithlessness and rebellion. It can be easy for us to judge, but so often we are the same. Whether it is decrying the state of society, and falling into superiority and judgement, or so absorbing the values and passions of our culture so as to lose all sense of holiness, or, more probably something in between, we too are in danger of falling away. We are not so different from our spiritual ancestors of old.

So, what’s the answer? Simply put, fix your thoughts on Jesus, your apostle and high priest, who alone is faithful in God’s house. Cleave yourself to Him in all you do, hide His word in your heart, love God and others, help each other to stand firm in the faith every day (v 13 Phillips), and we will enter into true rest, that only God can give. And what a rest that will be.

 

3rd February 2021

Today Graham Carpmail speaks about completing the job in our spoken Word for the Day which you can hear here

2nd February 2021

From Rev Neil Martin

Ephesians 6:21-24

21 Tychicus, the dear brother and faithful servant in the Lord, will tell you everything, so that you also may know how I am and what I am doing. 22 I am sending him to you for this very purpose, that you may know how we are, and that he may encourage you.

23 Peace to the brothers and sisters, and love with faith from God the Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. 24 Grace to all who love our Lord Jesus Christ with an undying love.

I wonder if you’ve ever felt unappreciated, if you feel like you’re not recognised, or that other people get noticed more than you? It can happen in Churches at times, where some people will get recognised and thanked profusely for a very small matter, and others who make much bigger sacrifices can be ignored. It’s not a nice feeling to be overlooked, it can make you feel small and insignificant. Yet it can happen, even with the best intentions. So let me ask you a question to show what I mean. How many of you have ever spotted Tychicus before? If you say you’ve noticed him before, I have a question to test this. So, no cheating by looking up the answer, but how many times is he mentioned in the New Testament?

Would you be surprised if I said he is mentioned 5 times in the New Testament? Besides the reference in Ephesians, he’s also mentioned in Acts 20:4, Colossians 4:7Titus 3:12 and 2 Timothy 4:12. This faithful friend of Paul is mentioned 5 times. If I asked if you’d heard of Simeon, who is mentioned once in the New Testament, I suspect your response would be, yes. Simeon does one thing, albeit quite significant, and disappears, whereas Tychicus is sent from place to place, speaking and working on Paul’s behalf to encourage the Church. Poor Tychicus!

Except I don’t believe it is poor Tychicus, because his work is not unseen, nor is it not noted. Whether he is spotted by us or not, he stands as a type to encourage us. For we may feel missed, our efforts may go unnoticed and unremarked by others, yet they are not missed by the One whose judgement matters. I offer you this encouragement from Matthew 6:3+4. [W]hen you give to the needy, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing, so that your giving may be in secret. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. God is not blind to what you have done for Him; He has seen, and noticed, and a reward is assured.

 

1st February 2021

From Rev Ralph Hanger

It is interesting how David Attenborough and Chris Packham, prominent naturalists of our time, have been used to increase my faith in recent weeks.  I don’t know if you have watched either Winter Watch (or its sister programmes at the right time of the year – Spring Watch and Autumn Watch) or A Perfect Planet during the last few weeks.  I have found them fascinating and awe-inspiring, if a little frustrating.  The sheer volume of fascinating facts that are produced about nature and the way different animals and plants flourish in their different environments is quite amazing.  Watching and listening to the amazing things that have been found out about the way plants communicate or birds co-operate or sea horses care for their young just fills me with greater wonder for the world in which we live.  The interesting thing for me has been the sense of awe and wonder that both David Attenborough and Chris Packham have recently introduced as they have sought to get us to engage with nature.  These are scientists of a high calibre and some standing, but as they describe what they and others have found out about nature, they are filled with an immense sense of wonder at the incredible way things have developed and the ways they work together.  As far as I know neither of these gentlemen profess to believe in God but they attribute their sense of awe to mother nature and the way she works.  For me, however, it has just increased my appreciation of the God who lies behind all this creation and put into place systems and laws that we are just beginning to scratch the surface of in our research.

David Attenborough speaks of the unique balance of natural forces which exist on planet earth, which enable life to exist.

  • The energy from the sun which powers the living world
  • The weather systems that transport fresh water around the globe
  • The powerful ocean currents that circulate life’s essential nutrients
  • And so on.

Everything in its place, fulfilling the functions needed for life to exist.  All this is clearly explained in Genesis 1 as God created it all and then in verse 31 we read God saw all that he had made and it was very good. In no way does Genesis tell us how things were made.  It is not a scientific textbook and those for whom these statements were originally intended would not have understood if it had been. It just tells us that God was behind all of this orderly creation and it was all good.  Scientists today are just learning about the orderly way God ‘created’ everything for its role and function.  The more we get to know about it, the less possibility that it all happened by chance and the greater the confirmation of a great God behind it all.  If you just listen to the language used by these scientists as they speak in awe and wonder at it all.  They speak of purpose and that it is as if developments came from conscious thought.

The sense of David Attenborough’s current series of A Perfect Planet is interesting.  He has basically commented that the planet was perfect in the way it was working together until the development of humankind and that all the woes and threats to life itself found today have been caused by humans.  This is where we part company, a bit, with David’s theories.  The Bible teaches us that when humans were first on this planet, they were part of the original ‘good’ creation.  It was when sin entered the world through human beings that things started to go wrong.  Genesis 3 shows us that not only did sin create a barrier between humans and their Creator, but even nature was affected Genesis 3:17-19.  Much later Paul wrote about this in Romans 8:19-22 showing how the entrance of sin into the world through humans affects the whole of creation, resulting in all the diseases and other things that afflict us today.  We are so grateful that God, Himself made the way for this basic principle of sin to be dealt with.  Not only can we as human beings come to know the Creator again, through the removal of sin and its consequences, but ‘creation itself will be liberated from its bandage to decay’  Romans 8:21.  Exactly what this means in practical terms, I have no idea, but when I look in awe and wonder at creation around us, I can only imagine just how magnificent the truly perfect Creation will be.  Wow!!!.  In the meantime I just join David Attenborough, Chris Packham and all the others and try to appreciate the intricacies of nature and (for me, anyway) admire and worship the God who is behind it all.