As God said

“In those days Caesar Augustus issued a decree
 that a census should be taken
of the entire Roman world”
(Luke 2:1)

Reflection:
Caesar ordered something that affected the entire Roman world. God ordained it in order to affect the entire creation.

Caesar Augustus reigned over the Roman empire from 30 BC to AD 14. He decided that a census should be taken throughout his empire. This was not a regular occurrence but the first of its kind – and taxation was probably the reason behind it. The consequence was that people travelled to their own town to register, and this involved Joseph going to Bethlehem, ‘because he was of the house and line of David.’

Joseph did not need to take Mary with him but he obviously decided or agreed to do so. We know that she was in the advanced stages of her pregnancy and he may not have wanted to leave her behind in view of the Lord’s commission to him.

These two men, Caesar and Joseph, were both involved in Mary’s being in Bethlehem when Jesus was born there – just as the prophet had foretold.

  • “But you, Bethlehem Ephrathah, though you are small among the clans of Judah, out of you will come for me one who will be ruler over Israel, whose origins are from of old, from ancient times” (Micah 5:2)

Caesar, who would not have known of the prophecy or of Mary and Joseph, issued a decree that had to be obeyed. Joseph, as a husband, took the decision that Mary should accompany him. In this way the prophecy was fulfilled and God’s will achieved.

In just such seemingly unrelated and small details is the hand of God at times to be revealed. He is indeed able to direct the thoughts and decisions of people in order to achieve His will, and He is able to work in all things to the good of those who love Him and who have been called according to His purpose (Romans 8:28)

Response:
Trust God to guide and lead you in the way that you should go (Psalm 32:8)

Prayer:

Lord please have Your hand on my life so that whether I am aware of it or not I will live and act as You wish, Amen.

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Jesus sat down

“But when this priest had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins,
he sat down at the right hand of God”
(Hebrews 10:12)

Reflection:
When Jesus had ascended into heaven – after His death and resurrection –  He sat down at the right hand of God.

The first insight we get from this is that He – like God on the seventh day of creation – was now resting. He had done what He had set out to do and, as He had said from the cross, it was now finished.

 “After he had provided purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty in heaven” (Hebrews 1:3)

The priests of Israel continued their ministry every day of the year and, as no chairs were provided in the temple, they stood at all times. Jesus, our great high priest, having offered the one, perfect and sufficient sacrifice of Himself, was not required to do anything further in this regard– and so He sat down.

What God had taught us through the prophet Isaiah was shown to be true of the Living Word, Jesus Christ.

“so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:11)

Prayer:

Thank You Father that no further action is required on Your part to provide for the forgiveness of our sins and to open the way for us to come into Your presence. It has been done. Amen.

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Beginning of Wisdom

“The fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom;
all who follow his precepts have good understanding.
To him belongs eternal praise”
(Psalm 111:10)

Reflection:
True wisdom is only to be found in God and comes from Him.

He is the one, true God – of unapproachable holiness, absolute power and authority, and unquestionable love and grace. He conceived and created all things and sustains them by the power of His word. He has a plan and a purpose that He is working out and which He will achieve just as He intended – despite the efforts of man and Satan to take control.

He alone knows and understands all things – for all things are His creation and point towards Him. His are the natural and spiritual laws which govern His creation. What He has done will never be undone. What He will still do will stand forever.

Against God alone has humankind sinned – and in God alone is the forgiveness of sins and the salvation of sinners.

“If you, O LORD, kept a record of sins, O Lord, who could stand? But with you there is forgiveness; therefore you are feared” (Psalm 130:3-4)

Any wisdom that does not acknowledge God or submit to Him is, at the very best, incomplete. It would amount to a collection of truths that fail to discern the Truth. That Truth is not a concept or an understanding but a Person – Jesus Himself. He criticised the Pharisees for having searched he Scriptures and for having failed to perceive that they pointed to Him.

Solomon’s great wisdom was given to him by God – and James tells us that if we lack wisdom we should ask God for it. For, as Proverbs tells us,

“The LORD gives wisdom, and from his mouth come knowledge and understanding” (Proverbs 2:6)

    All this makes the Scriptures of great importance for they contain the story and directives of God’s dealings with His people. And as David proclaimed these directives are of great value.

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path. I have taken an oath and confirmed it, that I will follow your righteous laws” (Psalm 119:105-106)

Response:
Stand in holy awe of God and of the value of His guidelines for living

Prayer:

Holy and Eternal Father, please give to me the wisdom to turn to You and to seek Your will and ways for my life and living, and the discernment to recognise them. Amen.

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Rich Food

“Take to heart all the words I have solemnly declared to you this day …
They are not just idle words for you–
they are your life”
(Deuteronomy 32:46-47)

Reflection:
Moses addressed the Israelites a final time just before he died. He passed on to them God’s instructions, and ended with these words. Their challenge and warning is still valid to us today as we read Scripture and look into the teachings of God through His Son and through the apostles as well.

Our God does not use words lightly and without real meaning and significance. In fact He expects His words to be heard and to have a life-changing effect. This is what He said through the prophet Isaiah,

“As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it” (Isaiah 55:10-11)

Jesus put it as strongly, but in a more personal way, when He said,

“Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” (Matthew 4:4)

And the greatest of the kings, David, wrote,

“Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light for my path” (Psalm 119:105)

Notice that the emphasis is not on God’s words as a litany of life-spoiling ‘donts’ but rather on life-feeding and life-enhancing aids. Walking in God’s ways brings God’s blessings – and very clearly in a way that the world cannot give. Walking in the ways of the world not only avoids His blessings but is a rejection. Walking in response to God’s directions affirms and honours Him, whilst deepening our relationship.

Response:
We should check ourselves against God’s commandments and teachings – are they foundational to our lives and living?

Prayer:

Lord God, please help me to give to Your words the honour and obedience that they deserve, for Your Name’s sake. Amen.

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And God said

“Let me hear of Your loving kindness in the morning,
for in You I put my trust”
(Psalm 143:8)

Reflection:
On Monday I went for blood tests for a condition that had all the possibilities of turning out to be very nasty. The results were due the next day but were delayed until Wednesday morning. On Tuesday night whilst praying these words from the psalm reached out to me in a special way,

“Let me hear of Your loving kindness in the morning,
for in You I put my trust”

They seemed to reach into my spirit where I embraced them and held on to them. In the morning, despite the occasional twinge of anxiety from which I chose to turn away, they remained with me. And eventually the news came that there was in all probability no condition that could not treated with medicines. Praise God indeed – or with a bit more enthusiasm, “Yay God!”

It is so special when God gives us a word, speaking into our situations. It underlines the importance of being close to Him, open to Him and in conversation with Him. This God of everlasting love is concerned about us as individuals and so often has a word for us of ‘strength, encouragement and comfort.’ (1 Corinthians 14:3) And the word that we have in Scripture is still a living word which He uses to speak to us and into our situations today.

Response:
Involve God in conversation about Your affairs and read His word expectantly.

Prayer:

Help me to be open to You Lord, to be alive to the possibility of Your speaking to me and to hear You when You do. Amen.

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(Photo: (c) Catherine Bondonno)

Are You?

“The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for false evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death”
 (Matthew 26:59)

Reflection:
Surely this is one of the most damming sentences in Scripture. The religious leaders, responsible for the spiritual welfare of God’s chosen people, were seeking lies – or ‘alternative facts’ – which they could then use as a reason for having Jesus executed. It is small wonder that He had exclaimed earlier,

“Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness”  (Matthew 23:27-28)

And surely that is one of the most terrible judgements that could be handed down from God to the shepherds of His flock.

Jesus did not have much to say to them because He knew what they were after. It was not the truth but an excuse to have Him crucified. So even when He was asked to comment on some of the allegations made against Him He remained silent. It was only when the high priest called on Him to respond to his direct question that He answered.

“But Jesus remained silent. The high priest said to him, “I charge you under oath by the living God: Tell us if you are the Christ, the Son of God.” “Yes, it is as you say,” Jesus replied. “But I say to all of you: In the future you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven.” (Matthew 26:63-64)

This was what the high priest was looking for – not because it was the truth or something definite that they could debate with Him. It was a blasphemy deserving of death – unless of course it was true. That however did not cross their minds – notwithstanding His teaching and His miracles.

They were unanimous in their judgement.

“”He is worthy of death,” they answered. Then they spit in his face and struck him with their fists. Others slapped him and said, “Prophesy to us, Christ. Who hit you?”  (Matthew 26:66-68)

And when they had finished with the Son of God they bound him and led Him to the governor, Pontius Pilate. How do I treat Him?

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(Picture: Gerrit van Honthorst – National Gallery)

Prepare the way

2016-12-14

“He will go on before the Lord, in the spirit and power of Elijah
 … to make ready a people prepared for the Lord.”
(Luke 1:17)

Reflection:
Suddenly, after all the prophecies, after the centuries of silence and all the waiting, something was happening. The world would have been in total ignorance of it – even the religious leaders were unaware. But on a certain day when Zechariah was on duty in the temple – having been chosen by lot to burn the incense before the Lord – the angel Gabriel appeared to him.

At one level the message that Gabriel brought was God’s answer to the prayers of Zechariah and his wife Elizabeth for a child. However it was far more significant than that. Here was announced the birth of a child who would turn out to be the promised Elijah.  He would prepare the way for the coming of the Lord Himself.

The message that John brought was clear and simple.

“Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near”  (Matthew 3:2)

It was sin that had separated men and women from God. God’s solution was about to appear but there was an essential response needed from the people – individually and together they were called to recognise and repent of their sin. John warned of the judgement still to come but there were those who would not hear or respond to his message.

If it was John’s ministry to call people to repentance it was so that the Lord could exercise His ministry of salvation. This John also made clear as he taught,

  • “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! “ (John 1:29)
  • “He .. will baptize with the Holy Spirit.’ (John 1:33)

This teaching made clear the essential work and ministry of the Lord Jesus. Firstly He would take away our sin and secondly He would give to us the Holy Spirit.

Each one of us has something of the ministry of John the Baptist. For as we await the second coming of our Lord we too are called to prepare the way by helping to ‘make ready a people prepared for the Lord.’ This is what the Great Commission is all about.

Question:
Would anyone thank God for my witness?

Response:
I have a gospel to proclaim – and the sweet news of a Saviour’s birth.

Prayer:

Lord Jesus, please help me to treat You as Good News – not a good secret. Amen.

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Called

2016-12-06

“I will bless you … and you will be a blessing. …
And all peoples on earth will be blessed through you.”
(Genesis 12:2-3)

Reflection:
The Messiah to come would be a descendent of Eve. He would also be a descendent of Abraham.

Abraham was the first of the three great patriarchs of God’s chosen people – the people of the covenant. To him God gave these significant promises –

  • I will bless you
  • You will be a blessing
  • All people will be blessed through you.

The blessing that was to flow from Abraham to ‘all people” was not the land that God also promised. It was a seed or descendent of Abraham in and through whom God’s promises were to be fulfilled. And Paul writing to the church in Galatia makes it quite clear that this blessing was in fact to be the Messiah.

  • “The promises were spoken to Abraham and to his seed. The Scripture does not say “and to seeds,” meaning many people, but “and to your seed,” meaning one person, who is Christ” (Galatians 3:16)

It is through our union with Christ by faith that we become recipients too of these promises and blessings.

  • “If you belong to Christ, then you are Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise” (Galatians 3:29)

God called Abraham out of nowhere as the start of His establishment of a covenant people with whom He would journey into the future. Very clearly He shows that His actions are built around His purpose and plan for a Saviour – as He had prophesied in Eden. The Messiah is implied  here as God continues also to lay down the human line of Jesus which would establish Him as truly the Son of Man.

Question:
Do I realise that I too am blessed – and a blessing – and a revelation of God?

Response:
God called me to be a part of His purpose

Prayer:

Lord God, please help me to acknowledge and respond to Your call – and to walk with You in trust and love as You lead me forward. Amen.

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Living Word

2016-10-28

Jesus answered, “It is written:
`Man does not live on bread alone,
but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.'”
(Matthew 4:4)

 

Reflection:
Reading this passage again recently I was struck by the way Jesus said ‘every word.’ It reminded me of the account of a Christian author who told of the time God remarked on all the passages that he had highlighted in his Bible and commented, “I wrote the other bits as well!”

Paul writing to Timothy said – of what would then have been the Old Testament Scriptures –

“All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17)

Our understanding and belief is that this now refers to the New Testament writings as well. The whole Bible therefore is seen to be written under the influence and guidance of the Holy Spirit. This is the written account of the ‘every word’ to which Jesus would have been referring.

It is the centre against which everything else must be assessed. It contains the most complete self-revelation of God that we will find as well as a complete revelation of humankind – as they were, they are and will be. Here are God’s plans and purposes as He has disclosed them, God’s blessings and how to receive them, and God’s warnings and how to avoid the danger areas.

Here is the Way of Life, and of Love, of Purpose and of Fulfillment, of Forgiveness and Redemption, of Healing and Hope. (The Way the world has forsaken – and look at the state it is in!)

It is also the greatest love-story ever told – and if we have failed to grasp that truth then we have failed to understand what it is all about.

To restrict ourselves to bits and pieces, or even to one or two books, is to miss out on the grand sweep and extent of the revelation, the awesome detail and scope of God’s purpose and plan, the height, depth, width and breadth of His love, the horror of sin and the wonder of forgiveness, the frailty and fickleness of man and the commitment and faithfulness of God, to skirt around the fringes of His majesty and to only paddle in the shallows of His intimacy, to miss out when we need different parts of His provision for different aspects of our journey – it is to impoverish ourselves and others when so much of what we need is right before us.

The most useful programme that I have used is the one developed by the Scottish minister Robert Murray McCheyne (M’Cheyne). It is designed for reading the Bible in one or two years by reading one or two chapters every morning and evening.  The one year programme starts with Genesis and Matthew, and Ezra and Acts – the four great beginnings.  There is a free version which comes with the Bible Apps from Olive Tree Bible and YouVersion.

Response:
I can do this – 15 minutes twice a day

Prayer:

Lord God, please open Your Word to me – and me to Your Word – and may it live and bear fruit in me. Amen.

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Start Digging

2016-10-24

“This is the meaning of the parable:
The seed is the word of God”
(Luke 8:11)

 

Reflection:
A wonderful thing about Scripture is the way that it talks into our lives at all stages and in all ages.

Jesus told the parable of the Sower. The seed, as the Word of God, is sowed generously across the field. It falls onto hard paths, rocky areas, thistle and weed patches as well as onto open and receptive ground. Here is grows freely and achieves its purpose.

As I was reading it again recently I was struck by the truth that the field is me. Within the boundaries of my  life  are hard and unreceptive areas where the word has not penetrated, rocky and superficial areas where the word although attractive has not established a foothold, thistly and weed infested patches where life just crowds it out and some open patches waiting for more of it and receptive to it.

If all these areas where the same size that would mean that three-quarters of my life was not properly open to the Word of God. Even if the ‘good ground’ is by far the largest area then there are still three significant patches that are not responsive to God –  although He is still speaking to them. It’s quite a challenging thought and, of course, explains somethings about my life!

What now? Well for me the obvious step is to ask the Lord to show me where these non-receptive areas are -and then to ask for His help in addressing them. In terms of the parable the hard paths need some ploughing, the rocky areas need to have the rocks removed and the thistles need to be located and weeded out. It’s a question of looking at my priorities and the way that I think and live and making the adjustments that are called for.

The Good News is that it is not merely a question of getting rid of some barriers to a better life but of replacing them with what is better. Some of the rocks might prove quite challenging and resistant but as we persevere with God they will give way, and what a blessing that will prove to be.

The Proverb has is right – “Trust in the Lord with all you heart”, not just some of it.

Response:
Get into your field today – and do some prayerful digging with the Lord. He has some new flowers for you.

Prayer:

Lord thank You that You sow Your seed in all the areas of my life. Please help me to prepare all of them for You. Amen.

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