Monday, 21 November 2011

Are you a jealous person?

It is little wonder that jealousy is known as "the green-eyed monster", for it is indeed a dangerous and sinister force that can damage and weaken the testimony of the Lord's people. As we read through First Samuel we can see that Saul himself seems to have fallen victim to its destructive influence.

green eyes

Notice how that in 1 Samuel 13 that the victory that Jonathan had won over the Philistine garrison at Gera quickly becomes Saul's victory:

"And Jonathan smote the garrison of the Philistines that was in Geba, and the Philistines heard of it. And Saul blew the trumpet throughout all the land, saying, Let the Hebrews hear.

And all Israel heard say that Saul had smitten a garrison of the Philistines..."

How easy it was for Saul to twist the message so that the people were under the impression that it was his hard-fought victory! We see this again of course, famously in chapter 18 after David had defeated Goliath:

"And the women answered one another as they played, and said, Saul hath slain his thousands, and David his ten thousands.

And Saul was very wroth, and the saying displeased him; and he said, They have ascribed unto David ten thousands, and to me they have ascribed but thousands: and what can he have more but the kingdom?

And Saul eyed David from that day and forward"

Saul's attitude seems churlish and petty, but I think this is perhaps more common than we think amongst the people of God today! I know this because I have witnessed it myself, whether it be a spirit of bitterness or a sly comment that is meant to take away from a fellow brother or sister's good work. At the heart of it is jealousy, that someone else should be progressing and being used of God instead of us! Our pride and flesh puffs up and we feel aggrieved and sorry for ourselves, and just like Saul here our thoughts turn dark and destructive as the flesh takes hold and gets the better of us.

Just look at how this unsavoury part of Saul's character festers and takes root, soon he is hurling javelins at David in fits of rage and experiencing wild mood swings. I'm not sure a true believer would go this far (!) but it surely shows us the ultimate end of such an unhealthy attitude! God give us the necessary grace in our lives to have a right outlook and right relationships with our fellow believers.

Remember that Paul speaks much about pride and jealousy in his letter to the Corinthians:

Paul warns - "that no one of you be puffed up for one against another"

And again he exhorts the believers - "Love suffereth long, and is kind; love envieth not; love vaunteth not itself, is not puffed up,

Doth not behave itself unseemly, seeketh not her own, is not easily provoked, thinketh no evil;

Rejoiceth not in iniquity, but rejoiceth in the truth;

Beareth all things, believeth all things, hopeth all things, endureth all things..."

I think these verses are most challenging, may God help us to realise their import in our own lives!

Yours in Christ, Mark

Sunday, 6 November 2011

Saul: Outwardly Good, Inwardly Bad

I wonder if our inside matches our outside? What I mean by that is that it's very easy to put on a front and appear spiritual on the outside, to be at the meetings and look the part etc. But what about on the inside, where it matters? Do we have a love for the Lord? Do we have an interest and passion for the things of God? Are we concerned with living a holy life, where Christ comes first?

I want to look at Saul's early life to show you what I mean.

[caption id="attachment_205" align="alignleft" width="193" caption="The important lesson with Saul is not to judge people on their outward appearance, a bit like books by their covers..."]a pile of books[/caption]

Directing our attention to 1 Samuel 9, this chapter introduces us properly to Saul, the first king of Israel. It is important to note that despite Saul's weaknesses and failures that he was God's choice for the people at that time, v16+17 of this chapter would make that clear I feel. Let's look at a few things in this chapter and make some applications to Saul and learn some lessons.

Saul and the asses

Whereas David is associated with sheep when we first meet him,(a picture of his gentle & caring shepherd character) Saul on the other hand is associated with asses. These beasts are wild and unruly, stubborn and belligerent. Looking at Saul's later life, it's not heard to see similarities between the two! It is not clear that Saul himself lost his fathers asses (that would be conjecture, although a possibility!) what is clear is that Kish felt it wise to send Saul with a servant to handle the task. In the light of Saul's attitude later on, perhaps Kish knew his son's character better and didn't trust him by himself to do it!

See in v5 how easily Saul gives up, it certainly comes across in the text that Saul seems to be looking for an excuse to go home! He again looks for excuses in v7, anything to get out of continued searching! As I read this I certainly found this challenging in relation to my attitude to hard work in my Christian life, and my work within the assembly - do I shy away from hard work, or am I a 'fellow-labourer'  as Paul would say?

Saul meets Samuel

In fact, the servant seems to show more drive and determination than Saul! He shows a willingness and resourcefulness to get the job done, and also a good deal more spiritual discernment. Note that it is the servant who knows about the man of God (Samuel), Saul certainly didn't he didn't even know him when face to face with Samuel in v18! The servant knew where Samuel lived and he also had something to give him, Saul on the other hand was ignorant and totally unprepared. Don't forget that Samuel was long-established as a prophet, priest and judge in Israel (see chapter 3:20 and 4:1) and the scriptures tell us that he judged Israel all the days of his life, so for Saul to be completely oblivious to this shows a real lack of interest and spirituality I would judge.

It seems as though God chose Saul to show the people that rule by man instead of God was going to be far from perfect. Also, by choosing someone physically impressive to lead them was also wrong thinking. The people of God needed strong spiritual leaders (and we still do!) and Saul was not that. Saul was externally very impressive, verse 2 makes that clear! But as God later said to Samuel when selecting David, "man looks on the outward appearance but the Lord looks upon the heart..." God had a different set of criteria, and Saul's failure would lead to God installing David instead, a man after his own heart.

The Lord challenge our hearts as we strive to be internally what we appear to be externally!

Yours in Christ, Mark

Friday, 28 October 2011

"make us a king"

Our article today focusses on the disappointing desire of the people of God to prefer the rule of man to the direct rule of God.

The situation is like this: Samuel is now old and sadly his sons are rebellious and do not follow in his ways. Unfortunately it appears that it took the people to point this out to Samuel, as there is no mention of their behaviour previously. It presented a problem to the people as they were not sure what would happen when Samuel died, perhaps they were selfishly thinking, "what's going to happen to us? Who is going to judge us then?"

Quite wrongly they make their request - "make us a king to judge us like all the nations" 1 Sam 8:5

A crown

After all they had experienced, after all the history of divine blessing, guidance and provision they no longer want God to rule over them.It seems that they no longer appreciated that they were different and distinct from the nations. They seem to have forgotten that God singled them out for blessing and separated them to himself: "for thou art an holy people unto the Lord thy God, and the Lord hath chosen thee to be a peculiar people unto himself, above all the nations that are upon the earth" Deut 14:2

Let us be clear that this is exactly what they were insinuating, for the request displeased Samuel, and God made it clear to him that "they have not rejected thee, but they have rejected me, that I should not reign over them" 1 Sam 8:7

Remember that the people had tried this once before, in the book of Judges chapter 8 the people approach Gideon - "rule thou over us... for thou hast delivered us from the hand of Midian" and we recall the wise and magnanimous response of Gideon, which is useful to remember here - "I will not rule over you... the Lord shall rule over you"

Of course, we know what happened, God gave them what they wanted and so began a line of kings marked largely by failure, weakness and wickedness. Even the best of the kings failed at some point, as they were only sinful men at the end of the day, just like us! The kings basically teach us that man is a poor substitute for God, and as the Psalms say - "It is better to trust in the Lord than to put confidence in man"

I am sure most of us will understand that one day there will be a perfect king who will reign in righteousness, the king of kings and Lord of Lords, our blessed Lord Jesus Christ! Isaiah 32:1 and Psalm 24 would make this clear to us.

Going back to our account in 1 Samuel 8 though, we would apply the broad lesson to ourselves today and ask ourselves the following searching questions:

  • Do we honour men more than we honour God?

  • Do we value and respect the thoughts and opinions of men more than the truth of the Word of God?

  • Do we prefer to identify ourselves with fellow-men or with God?

  • Do we appreciate the fact that we ourselves are distinct and different from the world, that we are sanctified positionally and separated unto God?

Let us be challenged by the import of this sad account in the nation's history.

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Lessons concerning the ark (1 Samuel 6)

The ark is sent back by the Philistines following 7 months in their land. They send it back on a cart pulled by 2 dairy cows and it makes its way to Bethshemesh, west of Jerusalem. The men of Bethshemesh rejoice to see the ark return to them and show their joy by offering a sacrifice to God there and then using the cows and the wood of the cart.

There can be no doubting that this was an admirable and appropriate response - they were so glad to see that which spoke of the things of God again, that they spontaneously made sacrifices to God using the available materials to hand! They didn't wait, they didn't put it off, they didn't go home to do other things first! Their hearts were ready to worship there and then and they wouldn't let anything get in the way of that. This should speak to us today...

Are we slow to worship? Of course we are not solely talking about on a Lord's Day morning, for worship can be given at any time! Are our hearts in a state of readiness to worship?  Do we let other things get in the way of giving worship? Are we too lazy to worship, or to prepare to worship? Perhaps for the younger men who may be reading this - are you too self-conscious to worship publicly? Too concerned with what others may think of your contribution? Let me encourage you in this: prepare something simple, that your heart is taken up with and go for it. "Just do it" - as the Nike slogan says. If your nerves or insecurity is stopping you from publicly worshipping, then let me tell you, the best remedy is to take the plunge or forever sit in silence! What a tragedy this would be, but very sadly it happens.

[caption id="attachment_198" align="alignleft" width="264" caption="An aerial shot showing some ancient ruins at Bethshemesh"]Bethshemesh[/caption]

The attitude of praise from the men of Bethshemesh stands in stark contrast to what happened next. For some reason, which is not given or described, the men of Bethshemesh decide to look into the ark. Did they not know there would be consequences? Did they do it out of ignorance? Or did their curiosity get the better of them and cause them to knowingly disobey the commandment of God? We do not know, but the holiness and righteousness of God demanded that there be judgement for such a transgression, and he smote the men of Bethshemesh so that 50,070 lost their lives.

Here is what I learn from this; praise and worship is good and needful, but we must also be knowledgeable of God and his ways. We should always show reverence when handling the holy things of God and be obedient to his Word! What does Samuel later say to Saul in chapter 15:

"Hath the LORD as great delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices, as in obeying the voice of the LORD? Behold, to obey is better than sacrifice, and to hearken than the fat of rams."

We do well to heed the lessons of 1 Samuel 6 - Worship is vital, it should be spontaneous, natural and also genuine and from over-flowing hearts. However we must also recognise that we deal with a holy and a righteous God when we come into God's presence, and we handle holy things when we handle his Word. But moreover, God values more than anything else obedience to his Word and a willingness to do his will, to honour him and put him first in our lives.

God give us help and discipline to put this into practice in our lives.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Thursday, 13 October 2011

Lessons concerning the ark (1 Samuel 5)

Moving on from chapter 4 I think there is also a strong challenge to our hearts concerning the ark in chapter 5. Once again the picture is of the ark as the things of God in our lives, and this time we break into the story with the ark captured and in the land of the Philistines.

Chapter 5 - The Ark is Demoted

The ark is taken by the Philistines to Ashdod and into the temple of Dagon where it is placed by the statue of Dagon. Most of us will know the story; in the morning the idol had fallen on its face before the ark, and on the second day it had fallen to the earth with its hands and head cut off!

[caption id="attachment_195" align="alignleft" width="220" caption="Dagon - Fish god of the Philistines"]Dagon - Fish god of the Philistines[/caption]

The Philistines had made the mistake of demoting the ark (symbolic of the power, glory, holiness and grace of God!) to an object to be placed alongside their heathen idol Dagon. I wonder if we too are sometimes guilty of the same? What do you mean, I hear you say? Well, I believe that we believers can also be guilty of idolatry in our lives! An idol can be anything that we have promoted in our lives that takes a disproportionate amount of our time, resources, affections and interest. It is something that takes the place of God in our lives, and assumes the dominant object in our hearts affection. It can be something in our life that we value and treasure above everything else, it can be an object, an interest, a sport or a passion/hobby. Remember the words of God himself - "Thou shalt have no other gods before me... for I the LORD they God am a jealous God"

God is jealous of our time and attention, he wants to be number one in our lives, and what's more he deserves to be, for he has intervened in grace and saved us from judgement and hell! He has bought us with a great price, the precious blood of his dear Son, and we belong to Him and He is our Lord and Saviour. Dare we relegate God to just another 'interest' or just another 'hobby' in our lives? As we look around churches today, perhaps we can see examples of people who have done just that. They don't see God as any more valuable or important in their lives than all the other things they are interested in, in fact in many cases the things of God have sadly slipped WAY down the pecking order. How tragic!

I think this is extremely challenging for myself as I survey my own life and how I spend and divide my time and resources!

I am glad that God reminds us of the futility of idols in His Word, and perhaps we should consider this as we assess our own interests and priorities in life:

"The idols of the heathen are silver and gold, the work of men's hands. They have mouths but they speak not; eyes have they, but they see not; They have ears, but they hear not; neither is there any breath in their mouths. They that make them are like unto them: so is every one that trusteth in them." Psalm 135:15-18

I believe God shows this in our passage in 1 Samuel, as it is interesting that Dagon's head and hands were severed as he lay face down before the ark! Here was God demonstrating to one and all that Dagon was empty, hollow, subservient to the ark and the power of God, he had neither intelligence (the head) or power (the hands).

May God preserve us from modern-day idolatry and unhealthy interests and unbalanced priorities! May we take up the challenge and reassess our priorities and ambitions and may they be for the things of God and his Son the Lord Jesus Christ. May we never demote the things of God in our lives in favour of earthly interests or worldly pursuits.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Tuesday, 11 October 2011

Lessons concerning the ark (1 Samuel 4)

Summarising these chapters 4 through to 6 in 1 Samuel, I notice that the ark of the covenant is prominent and there are 3 simple but challenging lessons we can learn here.

The ark speaks powerfully of the things of God, it represented Gods presence with his people at this time and spoke of his glory, it spoke of worship, priestly service, the Law and his provision for them.

Chapter 4 - The Ark is Lost

Here is a sad event. The people call for the ark to be brought to the battle with the Philistines, and it is clear that they had demoted it to nothing more than a weapon, a symbol of military might and power to serve their purposes.

"let us fetch the ark... it may save us out of the hand of our enemies"

They did not seek Gods help or presence, and crucially they showed no faith in God. They simply rushed to use the ark as a mere object or tool! Perhaps there is a danger for us too to view the things of God in this way? Are we simply taken up with the things of a God as an 'object' in our lives to serve our purposes? A tool that we simply refer to when we are in need of help or a 'boost'? Do we forget the person and character of God and our personal relationship with him? Have we lost the true enjoyment and appreciation of the things of God?

Look at the fallout from this towards the end of the chapter. Although the spiritual condition of the land was poor at this time, it seems there were individuals who felt the huge sense of loss. Eli, the ageing priest who had in many ways failed to be a strong spiritual character and lead by example, falls backward off his chair at the news that the ark had been lost. Note that he was also given bad news about his 2 sons, but it is the news regarding the ark that evoked such a powerful reaction! Finally, note the tragic case of the wife of Phinehas, who went suddenly and violently into labour and lost her life as a result of hearing the news regarding the loss of the ark. Her reaction to this awful news seemed to be the main reason she calls her soon to be orphaned child Ichabod, as the glory had departed from Israel - the ark was a symbol of the glory of God! She clearly far more spiritual than her wicked husband Phinehas, and there is a lesson here too in wisely choosing our husband or wife!

[caption id="attachment_190" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The Ark of the Covenant - It spoke of God and his wonderful character"]Ark of the Covenant[/caption]

I wonder if we put similar value and regard on the things of God in our lives? Of course I know we don't have a physical symbol like the ark to treasure and hold dear but we are using this as a picture of our enjoyment of the things of God in all the forms that this can take. I challenge myself; Do I have a driving passion for the things of God? If these things were taken from me would I too be heartbroken and devastated? Notice that in both examples the news of the loss of the ark ultimately caused their deaths! They were nothing without the ark, there was no life without it! Simply put; if we lose the value of the things of God it will ultimately lead to spiritual death. We become empty and shallow Christians, no good for worship or service. We may go through the motions but ultimately we have lost the heart and soul of our Christian lives.

May the Lord challenge our hearts in this matter.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Samuel's spiritual growth

As we move on into First Samuel we can chart the growth and development of the boy Samuel. It is of course encouraging to see that he not only grew and developed physically but that he also grew spiritually in the things of God!

Let's look at this from the text.

2:11 "And the child did minister unto the LORD before Eli the priest."

When Samuel was a child he served as a child, and here we see that he humbly serves under Eli, assisting in the daily duties in the tabernacle at Shiloh. He was just a child the verse reminds us, but he was still able to serve the Lord in a simple way! Our spiritual or physical age is no barrier to simply serving God. However, it would not have been appropriate for the child Samuel to have started lecturing the people and preaching at them, so as a young boy he serves God in a simpler way until such time that he has grown spiritually in order to take on a more public responsibility for God.

This verse is also poignant as it mentions that Elkanah his father went home to Ramah where the family home was, but Samuel of course stayed and served the LORD in Shiloh. It must have been hard for parent and child alike to be separated, but what an opportunity for Samuel to serve God! What a lesson for us, it is necessary sometimes to separate ourselves in dedication to the things of God, to study and learn more of him in order to grow spiritually. Sometimes this will mean that we have to spend less time with other legitimate things in order to spend time with the Lord, but he will reward them that honour him in this way.

2:26 "And the child Samuel grew on, and was in favour both with the LORD, and also with men."

Here we see that Samuel's spiritual growth is beginning to have an effect on those around him! The people can see that there is something different and appealing about this boy Samuel. His attributes are beginning to shine through, and his growth is recognised by God and the people. Of course we shouldn't strive to impress those around us with spirituality or make an outward show of 'all the things we are doing for God', but people in our churches or even in secular circles should be able to see that there are signs of spiritual life, and there should be a testimony for God.

This too is proof that the simple service in the Sanctuary has had an effect on our lives and that we are developing spiritually. The years Samuel spent serving Eli had a positive effect on his life as he was serving God and learning more about him.

3:19-21 "And Samuel grew, and the LORD was with him, and did let none of his words fall to the ground. And all Israel... knew that Samuel was established to be a prophet of the LORD... the LORD revealed himself to Samuel..."

The LORD blessed Samuel, he was with him and fulfilled his purposes and will through him. This is what is meant by "and let none of his words fall to the ground". In other words, God fulfilled his prophecies that were spoken by his servant Samuel. God saw fit to actively use and work through Samuel! The same can be said of us if we apply ourselves to the things of God and grow spiritually.

Here we see the ultimate fulfilment of  what we spoke about in our previous point - all Israel, from the very north to the very south of the country, knew that Samuel was going to be something for God. May we strive to merit the same reputation, by growing spiritually and being an example to others!

The LORD revealed himself to Samuel - what a tremendous privilege and blessing, but one that can be ours as well! By growing in grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ, he will reveal himself to us if we live closely with him day by day and apply ourselves to his Word.

4:1 "And the word of Samuel came to all Israel."

Here we see Samuel fully moving into a public sphere of ministry now, and his words come to all the people. Please note that he has grown substantially, I would judge that he is certainly no longer a child! He has served faithfully in the tabernacle all those years, humbly and simply, yet quietly and obediently. This was a crucial stage in Samuel's growth and development, and so it must be for every believer! We cannot expect to launch ourselves into public service if we have not grown spiritually, and known God in the Sanctuary first. Even the Apostle Paul, who went into public service very soon after conversion, still spent several days (without sight and without food and drink) engaged in prayer to God!

7:15-17 "And Samuel judged Israel all the days of his life. And he went from year to year in circuit to Bethel, and Gilgal, and Mizpeh, and judged Israel in all those places. And his return was to Ramah, for there was his house; and there he judged Israel; and there he built an altar unto the LORD."

Finally here we see firstly, the faithfulness of Samuel, that he judged Israel ALL the days of his life. What a commendation and testimony! We also see something of his constant service and activity, for he travelled through the area on a constant circuit serving God in the locality. Please note that these places were all fairly local to where he lived in Ramah. He didn't travel to places hundreds or thousands of miles away which would have taken him far away from his home town, he certainly had a burden for Ramah and the nearby cities and towns. I think this is possibly relevant for us today, to have a burden primarily for our localities and the place where we live. However I fully appreciate that modern methods of transport make it far easier for those of us engaged in public service such as preaching to travel around and get to places further afield without detriment to our local assemblies or our families!

I think it's touching that Samuel set up home in Ramah, the place where he was born and where his parents home was. I'm not saying there is a lesson here for us to stay where our parents live, as God will move people wherever he will to serve him! I do think though that it is touching that Samuel returned to Ramah from Shiloh after he had fully grown and matured, to operate and serve God in his home town. No doubt his parents would have been thrilled to have him close by and to see their son fully grown and serving God in such a way! There can be no doubt that it is encouraging to see younger ones growing in the things of God, and never underestimate how encouraging this is for older believers!

May the Lord bless as we apply ourselves to our own spiritual growth and development.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Thursday, 29 September 2011

Samuel - A chosen servant

There can be no doubt that Samuel was chosen by God to fulfil his purpose and do a work for the Lord. In chapter 3 of 1 Samuel however, there is also no doubt that there was nobody else suitable for this role, so God had to raise someone up!

"And the word of the Lord was precious in those days; there was no open vision"

At this period of history we are in-between the times of the judges and coming into the time of the kings. As the scriptures states, there was no open vision and the word of the Lord was scarce and rare. The spiritual state of the land was poor at this time, and this malaise had clearly spread to the priesthood, who should have known better.

In the first chapter we see that Eli the priest shows a lack of spiritual discernment with Hannah, as he assumes that somebody praying earnestly must be drunk! Now we learn that his eyes waxed dim, and this perhaps didn't just refer to his physical senses but also his spiritual senses too. We learn that his sons were behaving wickedly in their priestly office, yet Eli did little to control or rebuke them. Also Eli failed to recognise that it was the Lord's voice calling the child Samuel, he clearly wasn't used to hearing God's voice!

[caption id="attachment_186" align="alignleft" width="180" caption="Samuel is awakened by God's voice calling him"]Samuel listens to God's voice[/caption]

I think Eli had become comfortable and familiar with 'the way things were' around him. Maybe the spiritual state of the nation had worn him down, and begun to take a toll on his own spiritual verve. This should be a challenge to ourselves, that we should not become desensitised to the evil in the world around us and even become familiar with it and allow the standards of the world affect our Christian testimony. How easy it is to become embroiled in the world and become characterised by it's ways!

Little wonder then that God chose to bypass Eli and seek a fresh start in the young boy Samuel. It always encourages me that God chose to reveal his mind and purpose to a child! It teaches me that maybe God isn't looking for people who know it all, or who are great achievers in their own right, but simply someone who will obey his voice and be zealous and eager to serve and is teachable like a child. This should be a lesson to us, how teachable are we? How wiling and zealous are we in his service?

The chapter contrasts 2 individuals: Eli and Samuel, the old and the new, the outgoing failure and the incoming promise!

The challenge for us is to emulate Samuel, and to be looking for God's voice and be obedient to it. We must surely also avoid the pitfalls as shown by Eli, to never become people of comfort and leisure in this world and have our spiritual senses dulled.

Yours in Christ, Mark


Friday, 26 August 2011

Hannah - A godly woman

We mentioned in our previous post that Hannah is a lovely Bible character and as we move into chapter two of Samuel there are some lovely observations we can make...

We finished our thoughts last time by looking at Hannah's thankfulness and praise for answered prayer concerning a child, and this continues into chapter two. The first 10 verses are Hannah's praise and thanksgiving to God and these verses stand in stark contrast to the bitterness and sorrow of chapter one. I think this is important, as life can be just like that; elation and happiness one minute, when you feel indestructible and that nothing can go wrong, and then everything can go wrong and events can combine to leave us feeling helpless, worried and in despair!

What I think this sequence of events in 1 Samuel shows us is to get into a routine of bringing things before the Lord, and when we see answer to prayer or experience blessing, to immediately give thanks to God and acknowledge his goodness and guidance in our lives. Unfortunately I find I am very quick to bring something before God in time of need, but a lot less quick to give thanks when he answers prayer and I see his hand in my life!

Hannah shows a tremendous knowledge of God in her prayer, so much so that it was a challenge to me. The way she prayed bore the hallmarks of a woman that lived close to God and obviously communicated regularly with God, so that her prayers expressed a knowledge of the character and attributes of God! Surely we who have the full scriptures and have been saved by the grace of God and indwelled by the Spirit should also be able to pray in the same way? A case in point is her acknowledgement of the sovereignty of God in verses 6 and 7. She confesses that it is God that controls life and death, and God can make men poor and rich as he wills, just as he can exalt or humble a man. What a lesson this is, and what grace to accept Gods will in these matters!

v19 is lovely. Every year Hannah came up with her husband and would bring Samuel a new coat. I had never given this much thought before, but I realise now that this must surely have been very difficult for her, as it seems as if this yearly visit was the only time she got to see her soon whom she had given to the Lord. Each year the coat would have been made a little bigger, and as she made and prepared it in the home ready for the yearly journey it would have been a constant reminder of her noble sacrifice, but also the great blessing she had been given from God. I think therefore it is lovely that God saw fit to further bless Hannah and give her 3 sons and 2 daughters, as I think this godly woman would have been an excellent mother from what I can see in these chapters. She was a spiritual woman who put God first in her life, and experienced great blessing as a result. It put me in mind of the scripture:

"Them that honour me, I will honour"



Tuesday, 9 August 2011

Meditations on 1 Samuel

Hello fellow believers, the last 3 weeks have been manic and I have been involved in other things and so haven't been able to post here for some time! My apologies.

I have been beginning to read 1 Samuel and I intend to go through these books to 2nd Chronicles and see what can be learned from the times of the Kings of Israel and Judah. Already through reading the opening chapters of Samuel I have found much profit and benefit, and I commend the further study of this book to you!

Some Opening Remarks and Observations...

The book opens with a number of things:

  • A divided family

  • A godly woman

  • Worship and sacrifice

  • Men who didn't understand or who should have known better

  • Earnest prayer and a heavy heart

  • Answered prayer and a thankful heart

The first 8 chapters of Samuel record the move from Theocracy (God ruling the people) to a Monarchy (a man ruling the people for God). This was part of a general downward trend of rebellion and departure.

If we look at Hannah briefly we see here a lovely Bible character. Her name means "grace" and we can certainly see this godly characteristic borne out in her life here in the first chapter! She is in a very difficult situation, with her husbands attentions and affections divided (although he had a preferential spirit towards her) yet she exhibits long-suffering, grace and meekness. She turns her sorrow and hardship into an opportunity for earnest prayer to her God. What an example for us here! If only we would turn our struggles and trials into prayer, rather than a negative spirit or bitterness and anger.

Hannah praying earnestly

The abundance of Hannah's sorrow (v6-10) is matched by the abundance of her prayerfulness (v10-13), and also by the abundance of her sacrifice (v24-28). In actual fact when you look at the closing verses of the first chapter, we see that Hannah gave back to God all that she had been given by God (her son Samuel). It is a challenge to ourselves: do we give back to God when he answers our prayers? We should be thankful and praise God when he hears our cry and answers our prayer!

"for this child I prayed" - what a story is wrapped up in those words!

Hannah was experiencing the blessed position of being in communion and fellowship with God, something which is available to each and every one of us as believers. She had experienced sorrow and deep need, she had committed it earnestly and solemnly to God, and God had answered her prayer in a wonderful way! She was now free and generous in her praise and thanksgiving to God, having been blessed so.

Might we follow the godly example of Hannah and "take it to the Lord in prayer" so that we too might experience blessing at the hand of God and enjoy a living and real relationship with him.

Yours in Christ, Mark


Monday, 18 July 2011

The 'thirds' of scripture... (part 3)

Welcome again fellow believer to the blog and in particular to the final part of our look at the 'thirds' found in scripture. Today we are looking at the 'third watch'.

The third watch - Luke 12:38

I realise that we are lifting these verses slightly out of context and from their proper application, but I feel that they can equally apply to saints who await the soon coming return of the Lord Jesus to the air! I think there are lessons and applications for us here that are fair to make.

Under the Jewish system, the third watch of the night was also the last watch of the night before morning, from 02:00 to 06:00. The night had been long and dark and the watchers would be tiring and weary, but there were signs of morning approaching! My fellow believer, I can't think of a better picture of today, as we look around this sorry world as evil abounds on every corner, doesn't it feel like we are in the third watch of the night? There can be no doubt that there is much unrest in the world, and we are living in dark and difficult days of testimony, surely the Lord will come soon as he promised in his Word!

"surely I come quickly" Revelation 22:20

If we read the previous verses the Lord speaks about those servants who are waiting and watching for their Lord to return. There are 2 things that the Lord mentions about these waiting and watching servants:

"Let your loins be girded about, and your lights burning"

In Bible times the loins being girded would mean that the person was ready for activity and movement, as their garments and robes were long and flowing and needed to be girded in order to do serious activity! As we wait and watch for the Lord we should be active in service, ready to move and do his will.

The lamps burning would speak of the light of testimony, as the scriptures often refer to a testimony being a light, whether it be individual or collective as an assembly. In these dark days in which we live, surely it is even more imperative that our light of testimony burn all the more brighter to bring glory and honour to God and be a witness and beacon for the lost world around us! If this shows us anything, it is that our testimony is of great importance and interest to the Lord. He delights in it and it brings glory to him. We challenge ourselves - what state is our testimony in, both individual and collectively?

Finally, by way of encouragement we notice that there is blessing for those faithful and expectant servants:

"And if he shall come in... the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants"

Surely this would point us on to a future day of appraisal and reward for the believer, or as it is called the Judgement Seat of Christ:

"For we must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ; that every one may receive the things done in his body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" 2 Cor 5:10

As we leave this rich and profitable mini-study, let us leave ourselves with these challenges:

Our life and testimony down here does matter! The Lord is looking for it and will bless faithful servants in a future day. Are we content to coast along, to settle for spiritual mediocrity?

The time is short, the Lord is soon coming, we are in the third watch - how will be found?

Thursday, 14 July 2011

The 'thirds' of scripture... (part 2)

Welcome to the third part of our thoughts concerning these fascinating 'thirds' found in the gospels. I hope you have enjoyed the thoughts so far and found them productive and stimulating. If you have, then please leave a comment for me so I know you have!

The third day - Matt 16:21

Praise God we can move on from talking about the third hour and think about the third day when Jesus rose from the dead! We do not remember a dead Saviour today but one who rose mightily from the dead and ascended and is alive at God's right hand today. Of course in his resurrection we see the divine plan of salvation and the sovereign will of God being revealed and worked out. The resurrection showed that God was well pleased with the work of his Son, the price for sin had been paid, and it showed he had triumphed over death, 'sheol' and the grave! The resurrection glorified God and proved to all that his was a victorious death and that he had fully completed perfectly all that he had set out to do. He had prophesied regarding his death, burial and resurrection and all had come to pass as he had said.

The resurrection of the Lord Jesus also has further implications for the believer;

1. It speaks of our new life in Christ - Romans 6

"like as Christ was raised up from the dead by the glory of the Father, even so we also should walk in newness of life"

A fellow believer reminded me recently; "we easily accept and remember the truth that Christ died for us, but it's very easy to forget that we also died with Christ!" How true - Our "old man", that is to say all that we were in Adam was crucified with Christ on that cross. When we got saved we were born again, we were made a new creature, these are all scriptural terms to describe what happened when we repented and trusted Christ as Saviour! We who were once dead in trespasses and sins were given a new life, a spiritual life that we never had before. Of course baptism is a picture of this - Our old man was crucified with Christ and buried, and we 'arose' with new life, ready to serve God!

I wonder if we were to take assessment of our Christian testimony, could we say that we were walking in " newness of life"?

2. It speaks of our future life with Christ - 1 Cor 15

This passage makes clear that if Christ is not risen, then our faith is vain or empty and we are of all men most miserable! The truth of the resurrection is vital to our faith! I like the words of assurance in this passage however:

"but now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept"

"Christ the first-fruits, afterward they that are Christ's at his coming"

These verses tell us that because Christ has risen, we can be certain that our bodies too will be raised from the dead when he returns to the air in the event that we call 'the rapture'. Death is certainly not the end of the story for the believer!

"For the Lord himself shall descend from heaven with a shout... and the dead in Christ shall rise first: Then we which are alive and remain shall be caught up together with them in the clouds, to meet the Lord in the air, and so shall we ever be with the Lord. Wherefore comfort one another with these words"

So we can see that there is a wonderful future for the believer, whether we die or not and it is all founded upon the resurrection of Christ, so we can have assurance when we talk about these things!

I hope these thoughts have been an encouragement to us. Next time we will look at the final 'third' that I want to consider, can you guess what it might be? If you feel like chancing your arm, leave a comment!

Yours in Christ, Mark


Tuesday, 5 July 2011

The 'thirds' of scripture... (part 1)

Greetings once again fellow believers, and thanks for visiting the blog! Recently I have been thinking about a series of references to 'third things' in the scriptures, in particular in reference to the Lord Jesus.

A third time - Matt 26:44

We read this verse and the preceding portion and it surely reveals something of the depth of suffering of the Saviour as he endured that agony in the garden of Gethsemane. "his soul was exceedingly sorrowful, even unto death"

We read that he took with him into the garden Peter, James and John and he charged them to "watch and pray with me". There was a desire for fellowship and companionship with his disciples! Yes there were times when he would be alone and there were things that they could not possibly share in, but the fact that the Lord wanted them with him teaches me this. The Saviour has always desired fellowship with his believing people, whether in the past while he was here, or in the present when he assured us of his presence with us in the gatherings "...there am I in the midst of them" A joyful thing to consider is that he wants us to be with him in a future day as well! "I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am; that they may behold my glory" What a wonderful prospect, that we shall be in heaven with him!

Unfortunately the disciples prove that men are far better at sleeping than they are praying, and the Lord returns 3 times to find them asleep. How true this is of us, we are far better at taking our leisure than concentrating our hearts and minds upon the Lord! On the third time, the Lord tells them that the time and opportunity for watching and praying with him was over for the time had come that he was going to be betrayed. This is solemn, the disciples had a unique and privileged opportunity to watch and pray with their Lord, yet they had missed out and now the opportunity was gone! We should be careful of this, as we too have a limited opportunity to watch and pray whilst we serve him down here, the day of grace will soon draw to a close and our earthly testimony will soon be over! The Lord takes delight in the simple things ("could ye not watch with me one hour?") can we do simple things faithfully for him down here? Let us challenge our own hearts.

The third hour - Mark 15:25

As we read this short yet solemn verse we marvel once again at the gospel writer's economy of words. Just 10 words are used to summarise the death of the Lord Jesus Christ! We remember with interest that John could tell us that limitless volumes could be written about the person and work of the Lord Jesus, but the death of the Saviour is here summarised in just 10 brief, simple words; "And it was the third hour, and they crucified him" The most significant event in man's history, when man took the very Son of God, the one who was God manifest in flesh and nailed him to a cross and put him to death!

Only Mark records the time that they crucified the Saviour, the third hour (9am). I find this poignant that the gospel writer most concerned with the movement and activity of the Saviour records the time of his final movement, his final act in going to the cross of Calvary.

We would remind ourselves afresh of the personal application of that third hour, when the Saviour gave himself for us, each individual that have trusted him and that read this blog now!

"Calvary, O Calvary,
Mercy's vast unfathomed sea!
Love eternal, love to me,
Jesus we adore thee"

Next time we will consider the final two 'thirds' that I have been considering, and we trust that this little study will profit us all, and cause us to praise God afresh and lift our hearts in exhortation and encouragement.

Yours in Christ, Mark




Wednesday, 29 June 2011

Nehemiah - parting shots

Our final post from the book of Nehemiah for the time being is going to be from the second part of the book which is concerned with the rebuilding of the people, following the reconstruction and repair of the walls of Jerusalem.

We can see in chapter 8 the reading of the Word of God and the results that followed. There are lots of relevant and practical lessons to be learned here and perhaps the most important lesson is that if we are going to accomplish anything for God, if we are looking to rebuild ourselves as a people then it must all start with a resolve to learn the truth from Gods Word!

Lets make a fe observations from the preparation and attitude of the people as they approached God's Word under the leadership of Nehemiah and Ezra the scribe.

"The people gathered themselves together as one man"

The people were united in this great exercise and so they gathered themselves together to hear what the Word of God had to say. They had experienced unity in the building work, now they were experiencing unity in the reading and enjoyment of the Word of God. Later on they would have unity in worship as they lifted their hearts and voices to God in praise."Behold, how good and how pleasant it is for brethren to dwell together in unity!" We would draw a challenge from this; if we want to serve, learn and worship God as a local assembly of believers then we need to be in unity and 'gathered together'. One of the implications of this is that we need to be present at the gatherings of the people of God! All too often we can slip into bad habits and find ourselves enjoying the things of the world rather than the things of God. We must be at the gatherings of the Lord's people if we are able!

They gathered at the Water Gate

This is poignant as flowing water is almost always a picture of the Holy Spirit! When we read the scriptures as believers we do so with the help of the Holy Spirit, of whom the Lord said;  "he will guide you into all truth"

Ezra reads the book of the law to the people

"And Ezra the scribe stood upon a pulpit of wood, which they had made for the purpose"

Note that Ezra stood upon a pulpit of wood. This was a raised platform that had been built for the purpose, teaching us that thought and preparation had gone into this exercise! We too should strive to create conditions that are conducive to the reading and study of the Word of God whether collectively or privately in our own lives.

"And the ears of all the people were attentive unto the book of the law"

This should be a real challenge to ourselves who are privileged enough to possess the full canon of scripture, just how attentive are we to it? Have we grown too familiar to the Word of God so we just let it wash over us without any impact or giving it due attention? These people only had the first 5 books of the Old Testament possibly, yet they gave their full attention to it!

Note the reverence to Gods Word as well. When Ezra opened the book the people stood up, a mark of reverence and expectancy as they waited on the Lord.

"...caused the people to understand the law... So they read in the book in the law of God distinctly, and gave the sense, and caused them to understand the reading"

It is interesting to see that there were specific men that made sure that the people understood the reading. What a valuable service they performed! I would take this opportunity to fully endorse the scriptural pattern and example of gifted men expounding and teaching the Word of God to believers. There is no substitute or better way of teaching a group of believers than using god given gift to do so. If we want to learn and grow then consecutive teaching from the word by gifted men is fundamental.

Let's have a look at the results of the reading

It was clearly a profitable exercise for they return for a second day! Surely this testimony to the spirit and desire of the people and the effect the Word of God was having in their lives. This should be a challenge to our hearts.

God rewards the people by giving them more, they learn about the Feast of Tabernacles. This teaches me that God rewards us for our diligence in the study of his Word. If we invest time and effort in our study and show willingness to apply it to our lives, God will keep on giving and increase our profit. The Saviour himself said: "with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you: and unto you that hear shall more be given"

What was the result of the peoples obedience to God's Word?

"And there was very great gladness" There is a lesson for us here - obedience to God's Word brings joy! We probably already associate joy with obtaining salvation: "joy shall be in heaven over one sinner that repenteth" However there is also joy in our Christian lives when we heed God's Word and obey it. God will bless us when we honour him: "them that honour me I will honour"

We trust that we too will seek to emulate the exercise and spirit of the people in Nehemiah's day! This is a lovely, positive book and it documents a great period of revival amongst the Lord's people. Surely we should seek to learn from it therefore and apply these lessons to our lives.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Tuesday, 21 June 2011

"This man"

We gather every Lord's Day morning to remember the Lord Jesus and we realise that we are able to do this because he came into this world as an actual and real man. He was a physical man, one whose pathway we can trace, one whose words could be heard, his actions could be witnessed, and his impact and presence could be felt by the men of the day around him.

With this in mind we love what the scriptures have to tell us about "this man"...

"this man was the Son of God"

Although we delight in remembering the perfect humanity of the Lord Jesus, it is with fresh wonder that we remember that the man who stood before those people of the day, the one who walked amongst them and could be heard, touched and felt was the very Son of God! This is a truth that is often challenged in the world, but we must stand for the truth, that the man Jesus Christ is the Son of God!

"never man spake like this man"

Of course our Saviour was so different from all other people. He was unique, people had never met anyone like him before or since! We recall his words, and remark how they must have differentiated him from all other men. Even as we ourselves go about our daily lives, we can surely appreciate how wicked and filthy the conversation of this world is! How refreshing it must have been to hear the lovely words of the Saviour as he spoke! Words of grace, truth, wisdom, power, authority, compassion and love. His words bore all the characteristics of heaven and the Godhead.

"whence hath this man this wisdom or these mighty works?"

Our reference reminds us that not only were his words unique, but so were his deeds. He was characterised by wisdom and mighty works! Works that brought glory and pleasure to his father God, and that were motivated by mercy, grace and compassion. Man can often display mighty works of power, but rarely are they aligned with wisdom, and very rarely motivated by mercy, grace and compassion but often by self, greed or anger.

"I find no fault in this man... this man hath done nothing amiss"

We earlier commented on the perfect humanity of our Lord Jesus and we do well to reiterate that the Saviour was perfect! He was sinless, spotless, holy before God for he was God. We remember once again that he could not sin, neither could he be marred or tainted by it as he moved amongst the wickedness of this world. As his life came under constant scrutiny, there were those were caused to remark on his sinlessness.

"Morning by morning
Thou didst wake,
Amidst this poisoned air;
Yet no contagion touched Thy soul,
No sin disturbed Thy prayer"

"we will not have this man..."

But even as they witnessed this blessed one as he lived amongst them, a perfect man who lived a righteous and just life and who brought blessing to others, the verdict in the final analysis was "we will not have this man...". They rejected him! We remember that the prophets would speak of him saying that he would be despised and rejected of men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief. John would record that he came unto his own and his own received him not. How incredible that the very Son of God, he who was God manifest in flesh should ever taste rejection, hatred and cruelty at the hands of his creatures!

"but this man, having offered one sacrifice for sins forever, sat down at the right hand of God"

We come to the cross, the place where he would give his life for us, the place of death. We thank God that we as believers are called to appreciate the tremendous truth of the sacrificial death of the Lord Jesus at that cross, we have come into the good of that once and forever work! As the Saviour hung on that cross the world saw this as failure, they had defeated him, they were putting him to death on that cross. Of course this was not defeat though, this was victory, as the Lord completed the work that had been given him to do, to pay the price for sin and make a way of salvation. That work of his at Calvary is perfect and complete, it was a priestly work as he offered up a sinless spotless sacrifice that day, a sacrifice that fully dealt with sin, not just for a while but once and for all! The priest was not permitted to sit whilst he served, but the Lord Jesus had finished that work forever, so he sits now at the right hand of God.

We have such a wonderful Saviour that we should rejoice to praise and worship him! "This man" is our Saviour, and "this man" is our Lord. We trust these simple thoughts today will be  blessing to us all.

Yours in Christ,


Monday, 13 June 2011

Feet - A few thoughts are afoot...

Just a few short thoughts on the strange but interesting subject of feet from the scriptures today, no doubt you can build on or adapt these thoughts yourselves, all comments welcome!


1. Mark 5:22 "And, behold, there cometh one of the rulers of the synagogue, Jairus by name; and when he saw him, he fell at his feet"

His attitude showed humility, despite being a ruler of the synagogue! It showed that he was conscious of his deep need, and showed a repentant spirit before the Lord. When we first come to the Saviour we must be willing to take the lowly place as we acknowledge our sinful condition before a holy and a righteous God, and ask him for forgiveness and salvation. Only then can blessing be given!

2. Luke 7:38 "...And stood at his feet behind him weeping, and began to wash his feet with tears, and did wipe them with the hairs of her head, and kissed his feet, and anointed them with the ointment."

Shows humility in worship, she pours out her heartfelt worship and adoration for the Saviour. Surely this is a model or example for true worship! Surely this is what brings delight and pleasure to the heart of God, as we pour out our hearts worship and praise upon his Son! We challenge ourselves: How much effort do we put into our worship? How much time? Does it affect us like it did this woman? Does it mean this much to us? Oh to capture something of this spirit in our worship both collectively and individually!

3. John 13:5 "After that he poureth water into a bason, and began to wash the disciples' feet, and to wipe them with the towel wherewith he was girded."

We marvel again at the humility of the Saviour, the perfect servant! He teaches the disciples a valuable lesson, they had often been arguing who was the greatest, jockeying for position amongst themselves. Here before them was the greatest one that had ever walked the face of the earth, the very Son of God, God manifest in flesh - yet here he was bowing before them and washing their feet with basin and towel. The cross must have been weighing heavy on his mind at this point, yet he takes this lowly step for the ones he loved.

4. Luke 24:39 "Behold my hands and my feet, that it is I myself: handle me, and see; for a spirit hath not flesh and bones, as ye see me have."

Here we see the humility of the Cross sufferings, they pierced his hands and his feet! Here however was evidence of his death and crucifixion, seen in the nail prints in his hands and his feet. His was a sacrificial death for us all on the cross of Calvary, and we remind ourselves afresh of this wondrous truth! The nail scarred feet also proved that here standing before them was the risen Lord. The one who had been on the cross, died and was buried was the very same one standing before them in the room! here we have a lovely sign of victory and triumph, the work was perfect, finished and complete, praise him!

5. Acts 16:24 "Who, having received such a charge, thrust them into the inner prison, and made their feet fast in the stocks."

Now we are reminded of the humility of the saints - the sufferings endured in service, and the hardship and persecution for the testimony and furtherance of the Gospel. The Lord could say; "Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, (death internally to self) and take up his cross, (death externally to the world) and follow me" Let us remind ourself of the reproach that we should bear in this world - the reproach of the cross, we are associated with that man of Calvary!

6. Romans 10:15 "And how shall they preach, except they be sent? as it is written, How beautiful are the feet of them that preach the gospel of peace, and bring glad tidings of good things!"

Here we are seeing the humility of the preacher or evangelist engaged in the spread of the Gospel. What a blessed privilege and opportunity we have to serve and preach the good news of the gospel of peace! It is a message from God entrusted to us to spread to others, whether publicly from the Gospel platform or in the streets, or individually bearing witness and testimony to our friends, family or colleagues. We remind ourselves of the responsibility of this service as well, which should always challenge to our hearts. It is a solemn responsibility, and we should seek to spread the Gospel with humility toward God, dignity, clarity, simplicity and in the power of the Holy Spirit.

We trust these simple thoughts will encourage us and challenge our hearts.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Wednesday, 8 June 2011

"What shall I do...?"

"What shall I do...?"

I thought by looking at this little question in the New Testament there is a little framework here for a Gospel meeting, I trust these thoughts are a blessing to us.

Mark 10:17 - "what shall I do that I may inherit eternal life?"

This is a common question that we hear men asking, and men down the centuries of time have desired to have eternal life, the concept is well sought after! Many people have their own ideas about this, and many people are doing various things in the hope of obtaining eternal life. We need to be clear about the gospel message, we should be very wary of what was called in Galatians "another gospel" as there are many messages in the world today that purport to be Christian but we should tell people to hold it up to the light of scripture and see how it compares to the truth of God's Word! The simple gospel message remains unchanged over the last 2000 years - repent, and believe.

Luke 12:17 - "what shall I do because I have no room where to bestow all my fruits?"

Again this is also relevant for today, as we live in a materialistic world, a consumer society. Some people sadly care nothing for their soul's salvation, their eternal destiny, or about God and the sacrificial death of his Son on the cross for them. Some people are merely concerned with the things of this world,how they can increase their goods, their wealth and their social standing. This is tragic as they will go through life and miss out on God's salvation and find ourselves in a lost eternity! Note that God is appalled at this mans attitude - "thou fool..." The things of this world are temporal and cannot fully satisfy our souls like God can! The Lord Jesus said "what shall it profit a man if he gain the whole world yet lose his own soul?" The awful cost of only valuing the temporal and material things in life!

Luke 20:13 - "what shall I do, I will send my beloved son"

We praise God that here was a time in this world's history when he                   sent his Son into this world - God manifest in flesh, the wonder of it! It was the only solution to the sin problem, and only his sacrificial death could satisfy a holy and a righteous God. His divine plan was for him to die at the cross of Calvary, and there bear our sin in his body on that tree, that he might die the just one for the unjust ones in order to bring us to God. We thank God for that death of his on Calvary!

"Oh, wondrous cross! Oh precious blood!
Oh death by which I live!
The sinless One, for me made sin,
Doth now His wondrous heart within,
Eternal refuge give."

Matthew 27:22 - "what shall I do with Jesus which is called Christ?"

Here is the plea of the Roman governor Pontius Pilate to the Jews. It is a question that we must all surely answer for ourselves in our lifetimes, however long that may be. Some may outright reject him, as the Jews did 2000 years ago; others may choose never to address that question, but by doing so they face the prospect of standing before him as their Judge and they will be judged for their sin in that case. The Gospel demands a response from the hearts of men and women and as people depart from our Gospel meetings they will have responded to that message; either to repent and trust Christ as their Saviour for eternal life with him in heaven, or to neglect or reject the good news of the gospel and put it from their minds. But we do so to our eternal cost! The Bible says:

"Now is the accepted time..." 2 Cor 6:2

"Choose life..." Deut 30:19

Yours in Christ,


Sunday, 29 May 2011

"Why are they not like us...?"

"Then the Pharisees and scribes asked him, Why walk not thy disciples according to the tradition of the elders, but eat bread with unwashen hands?" Mark 7:5

The question that was really asked if we boil it down in Mark 7 was "why are they (the disciples) not like us?"

This is what the Pharisees were ultimately driving at - why are the disciples of the Lord Jesus not like them, or the other people of the day? I personally find this a challenge, as the same question is still asked of us today; why are we not like the rest of the world?

[caption id="attachment_147" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="Chalk and cheese; the believer and the world"]chalk and cheese[/caption]

People will often challenge us regarding our beliefs and our way of life, just as they did in the Lord's day so it behoves us to be ready when faced with this particular line of questioning! Do we know our Bibles well enough to be able to point out from scripture why we believe what we believe? Would we be able to tell another friend, colleague or relative the Gospel message if we were faced with that situation? Are we as believers filled with conviction regarding the manner of our gathering and the testimony of the local assembly?

The world will question and attack our beliefs, it will seek to fill our heads with doubts and undermine our faith, just as Satan did in the Garden of Eden. We should seek to fill our hearts and minds with the Word of God and be ready and able to give answers to them so that we might turn the tables and challenge them about their way of life and their standing before God!

We trust this short challenge will provoke a reaction within our hearts.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Thursday, 26 May 2011

"Be Opened!"

Today we are going to come away from Nehemiah again to look at some thoughts from the Gospel's. As you know we have been looking into Mark's Gospel and the other day I was looking at the occasion in Mark chapter 7 where the Lord opened the ears of the deaf man. It got me thinking of other things that were opened in connection with the Lord's earthly ministry, and there are 7 detailed below for our mutual benefit.

1. The heavens were opened (Mk 1:10)

At the outset of the Lord's public earthly ministry the heavens were opened and the declaration was made; "this is my beloved son, in whom I am well pleased"

2. He opened the Book (Luke 4:17)

Soon after the Lord began his public ministry we see that he goes into the synagogue and opens the Book, demonstrating his perfect knowledge and mastery of the Word of God.

3. He opened his mouth to teach them (Matt 5:2)

The Lord was always ready to teach the people, and he did so with words of truth, wisdom, power and authority.

4. His ears were opened (Mk 7:35)

The Lord blessed those around him, and was motivated by love and compassion for the creatures of his hand. On this occasion he said "Ephphatha, that is, be opened" and the ears of that deaf man were opened and the string of his tongue was loosed!

5. And their eyes were opened (Matt 9:30)

We could look at this account or Mark 8, or John 9 and we would see that the Lord was able to open eyes that had never seen the light of day. How blessed it must have been for those individuals to firstly see the face of the Saviour, the one who had healed them and transformed their lives! For us we will have to wait until we are in the glory - "they shall see his face"

6. The graves were opened (Matt 27:52)

As the Lord gave his life on the cross the graves were opened and many rose from the dead, giving us a foretaste of what will happen when the Lord comes to the air; "the dead in Christ shall rise first"

7. Luke ch 24

The scriptures record 3 things were opened in Luke chapter 24:

a) Opened Eyes: As the Lord broke bread in the home of those two saints on the road to Emmaus, the scriptures say that their eyes were opened and they knew him. That word knew means that they recognised him due to some distinctive feature or mark. It has been speculated that perhaps these two saints were among those who were fed by the Saviour and witnessed him breaking bread and recognised the way in which he broke it. Perhaps, but how nice that he should open their eyes that they might recognise him!

b) Opened Scriptures: The Lord opened their eyes so they would recognise him and be encouraged by his presence, but he opened the scriptures to them so that they would be edified and instructed about him. So it is for us, we need to seek his presence and person but we also need to learn about him from his Word!

c) Opened Understanding: Finally, the Lord appears to his disciples when they too were breaking bread! It seems that the person of the Lord Jesus is inextricably linked and associated with the breaking of bread. All the more reason therefore for us to be there and participate! He opens their understanding so they can fully understand the scriptures, this reminds me of the role of the Holy Spirit who will guide us into all truth and teach us all things.

I am sure there is much that could be added to this study, I trust that these few simple thoughts will be to our mutual blessing.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Thursday, 19 May 2011

Nehemiah - Keep good company!

We have been learning that Nehemiah was an extremely wise man, who lived close to God, prayed often and knew the Word of God. By the time we get to chapter 7 the building work is complete and Nehemiah turns his attention now to rebuilding the people;

"Now the city was large and great; but the people were few therein..."

Notice that we have a similar phrase in chapter 4 but here it is in relation to the building work: "the work is great and large..." this distinction marks the 2 separate sections of the book as mentioned in our introductory remarks a few weeks ago. In chapter 7 we see that Nehemiah appointed two men to help him in this his second task, rebuilding the people.

  1. Hanani - His name means 'gracious' and this is indeed a needful characteristic among the people of God! We are told he was Nehemiah's brother, but this is a loose term used to describe any close male relative or even a friend. Chapter 1:2 says that he was "one of my brethren" and on this occasion he was the man Nehemiah turned to for a trustworthy report. It stands to reason then that Nehemiah turns to this man again for help in chapter 7.

  2. Hananiah - His name means 'God has favoured' and we have a lovely description of this man in verse 2: "for he was a faithful man, and feared God above many". What a lovely testimony! Nehemiah had clearly noted and marked this man as one who was godly, faithful and who put the things of God first in his life. Oh that we might be challenged and seek to be known like this man was!

We are beginning to see that Nehemiah surrounded himself with good men that were faithful, honest, trustworthy and reliable. Men that would benefit the work and prosper the testimony there in Jerusalem, amidst the opposition and times of trial. I don't think it is too much of a stretch to apply this to ourselves in our day. Challenge - We live in difficult and dark days, so all the more reason to keep good company! We should endeavour to surround ourselves with godly people who are spiritual and have a care and concern for us and also the things of God. These people will help us and encourage us in the things of God, so that we might all have a strong testimony and continue in the things of the Lord.

I remember the words of the apostle Paul in 2 Tim 2:2: "the same commit thou to faithful men, who will be able to teach others also". We have plenty of New Testament Hananiah's;

  1. Cornelius (Acts 10:22) "a just man, and one that feareth God, and of good report among all the nation of the Jews"

  2. Ananias (Acts 22:12) "a devout man, having a good report"

  3. Elders (1 Tim 3:7) "moreover he must have a good report of them which are without"

  4. Demetrius (3 John 1:12) "hath good report of all men... you and we also bear record..."

Might we in the first instance strive to be individuals of whom it can be said that we are faithful and fear God above many, but also that we might challenge ourselves in relation to our circle of friends - are they believers? Are they like-minded? Do they help us positively in the things of God? Are they faithful and true to the things of God?

These are searching and challenging questions, but I trust that we might once again be instructed by the lessons we learn from Nehemiah.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Thursday, 12 May 2011

Nehemiah's 'Needs Assessment'

Welcome once again, and we are back in Nehemiah and in particular chapter two. Here we see him performing a night-time site survey under cover of darkness. There are simple lessons here that we can apply to our spiritual lives, so this post is a quick simple challenge to us all.

We might ask, why at night? I believe this was wise of Nehemiah, for he didn't want to court controversy and create arguments at this early stage of his plan, and he certainly didn't want to alert the many opponents of the people of God to his intentions to rebuild the walls of the "rebellious city" (Ezra 4). So at this stage the work was still very much a burden on only Nehemiah's heart; "neither told I any man what God had put in my heart"... Later he will share his vision and burden with the people; "then said I unto them..."

Essentially what we are seeing here, as Nehemiah surveys the site of Jerusalem at night by donkey, is a needs-assessment exercise. He is taking

[caption id="attachment_139" align="alignleft" width="252" caption="A plan of Jerusalem in Nehemiah's day, showing the wall and the gates etc"]A plan of Nehemiah's Jerusalem [/caption]

stock of the current situation and appreciating what was going to be needed as he weighed up the job ahead. I learned a valuable lesson from the actions of Nehemiah here - do we ever perform needs assessments in our churches/assemblies, or even within our own Christian lives? Surely it would be a good idea every now and then to take a look around (whether it be in our local assembly or in our own life) and take stock and ask ourselves some challenging questions:

What is the condition of things? What are the needs? What needs to be done?

I believe that by doing this we can appreciate the reality and state of our testimony, whether collective or as individuals and we can address areas in need of 'rebuilding'. The book of Nehemiah is really about the rebuilding of a testimony, if we look at it that way!

Just some quick thoughts but I trust a challenge and help to us all.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Saturday, 7 May 2011

Nehemiah - Essential Lessons in Prayer

So here we are, back in Nehemiah following a brief diversion into Mark's Gospel! Today we are going to look at the subject of prayer in the book of Nehemiah. It is possible for us to get used to praying in a certain way, as if there is almost a template for prayer but I believe there are 5 different types of prayer in Nehemiah, and we can learn some lessons by looking at this. For Nehemiah, prayer was a natural and essential part of his life seemingly, and I have found it immensely challenging looking at this and encouraging myself in this matter. Nobody is perfect and I have found it inspiration looking at this man and wanting to catch hold of something of his spirit and zeal!

1. "I beseech thee O Lord God of heaven" (ch 1:4-11)

This is a formal prayer where Nehemiah addresses God humbly and reverently. It is a heartfelt plea, genuine and sincere it even has a repentant ring to it. The lesson is that there is a time for formal prayer, when we address God in this way and present ourselves to God. Note that Nehemiah prays with tears, it meant so much to him! It came from deep within his soul and he poured out his heart with tears. This should be a challenge to us, our prayers should mean something and should have feeling behind them.

2. "So I prayed to the God of heaven" (ch 2:4)

Here we see Nehemiah praying briefly to God, presumably for strength and help before he addresses king Artaxerxes, probably the most powerful man on the planet at that time. We are not told what he says, but it's not important. What is important is that in this most delicate of moments he turns to God for help! We should not be afraid to quickly turn to God and commit ourselves to him for help and guidance in times of crisis. Prayer doesn't have to be long and detailed, here Nehemiah shows us another side to prayer.

3. "Nevertheless we made our prayer unto our God, and set a watch" (ch 4:9)

The New Testament lesson here is Watch and Pray, the lesson the Lord taught the disciples (Matt 26, Mark 13). Sometimes prayer and action must go hand in hand! Here we see the sovereignty of God and human responsibility twinned together. Sometimes we are too willing to pray to God but then do nothing about it, when sometimes we need to show willing as well.

4. "Think upon me my God for good, according to all that I have done for this people" (ch 5:19)

In this instance we have a prayer for personal blessing as he commends his work to God. We must always remember to commit our service whatever it may be to God, he will judge the work of his people and the motives behind it and he will bless it accordingly.

5. "My God think thou upon Tobiah and Sanballat according to these their works" (ch 6:14)

In contrast to the previous example we also need to learn to leave our grievances and enemies with the Lord! Nehemiah commits his enemies to God and leaves the matter with him. It put me in mind of the apostle Paul (2 Tim 4:14) when he could commit the matter of Alexander the coppersmith and leave it with the Lord. "Vengeance is mine, I will repay" (Rom 12:19)

This little study shows us that there are many different types of prayer, and Nehemiah was a man that prayed regularly and in all different ways. Challenge - Let us cultivate our prayer life in this way, addressing God at different times, in different ways and with all our needs and requests!

Yours in Christ, Mark

Tuesday, 3 May 2011

Some short but vital lessons from Mark (2)

Last time we looked at some simple lessons from Mark's account of the feeding of the 5000. Today we will be looking later on in the chapter at the account of the Lord walking on water, and see what we can learn from this.

Jesus Walking on Water (Mk 6:45-52)

The Setting for the Miracle

"And straightway he constrained his disciples to get into the ship, and to go to the other side... And he saw them toiling in rowing; for the wind was contrary unto them"

The disciples are rowing together in the boat in the midst of the sea, and the Lord is alone on the land. The wind is against them and they are "troubled and tormented in their rowing" (amplified version). The picture to me is of a group of believers toiling in the work of the Lord in a contrary environment, where everything seems to be against them! Sound familiar? The disciples were right to be there, for the Lord had told them to do so, they were obediently doing his will. Challenge: Doing the will of the Lord doesn't necessarily mean it is going to be easy, there may well be toil and much frustration!

[caption id="attachment_134" align="alignleft" width="300" caption="A view across the Sea of Galilee, a few waves so perhaps a bit calmer than in Mark 6"]A view across the Sea of Galilee[/caption]

A Case of Mistaken Identity

The Lord sees them in their struggle and goes to them, he presents himself to them walking upon the water. I found it interesting that it says he "would have passed by them" and it reminded me of the road to Emmaus where it says "he made as though he would have gone further". What I learn from this is tha he is looking for a response from his people, a desire to be with him, a cry for help in time of need! By responding and asking the Saviour to be with us and help us we receive blessing, help and encouragement, just like the disciples here.

But the disciples were weak in the flesh and low in faith and they do not recognise the Saviour, believing him to be a Ghost! This is a classic case of mistaken identity as with Mary Magdalene in the garden of the tomb. She too was weak in the flesh at that time, stricken with grief and believing the Saviour to have been taken (and not risen as he said he would) in her low state she mistook the Lord for the gardener. The point is this; it is easy to become weak in the flesh, to let our environment and surroundings get on top of us or to let emotions and trials cloud our way. In times like this it is easy to lose sight of the Saviour or to miss him when in reality he is always close to us! In both our examples here the Lord was very near but they nearly missed him and the blessing, help and encouragement he offered with his presence. Challenge: Are we constantly looking for the Saviour? If we search the scriptures we will find him, he will speak to us through his Word.

A Moment of Revelation and Blessing

Here we have a lovely moment in scripture, where the Lord reveals himself to his disciples and reassures them. It is interesting to see how he chose to address them, in the original the words are: "Take heart! I AM!" The 2 Greek words for "it is I" read as "I AM" and this takes us right back to the Old Testament title for Jehovah used in Exodus 3:14 to encourage Moses as he prepared himself for service. The Saviour chose this moment to remind them that the Jehovah of the Old Testament is the Christ of the New Testament, and there can be no greater encouragement than this! The same revelation is made to those guards who came to arest the Lord in the garden in John 18, when the Lord says "I am He" it is the same 2 Greek words, the New Testament equivalent of I AM. We can see the effect that it had upon those soldiers, as they went backward and fell to the ground in awe!

How it should encourage us to appreciate afresh that the one in whom we have put our trust is the almighty creator God, the eternal one, the all powerful Jehovah of the Old Testament!

"I am the LORD, I change not" (Mal 3:6)

Friday, 29 April 2011

Some short but vital lessons from Mark (1)

Dear fellow believers, today we are taking a short break from Nehemiah to have another short look at some lovely pictures and lessons from Mark's Gospel. As you know we have been looking at this lovely Gospel this year and I have been enjoying studying this book, so I thought it would be nice to share some observations once again for our mutual blessing.

This is a TWO PART post looking at two incidents in Mark ch 6.

The Feeding of the 5000 (Mk 6:32-44)

[caption id="attachment_130" align="alignright" width="300" caption="The countryside by Galilee"]The countryside by Galilee[/caption]

The Setting for the Miracle:

At the outset to the miracle, it is the disciples that set the scene: "this is a desert place and the time is far passed". This is an observation which is true of our arena of service today also. This world is indeed a desert place, it can sustain no spiritual life on it's own, we must look to the Lord for our spiritual sustenance in a place such as this. The time is also far passed - how often have we commented that we are surely living in last days! The day of grace will soon draw to a close as we look at the state of the world around us, the Lord will not tarry long, so we must 'redeem the time' and seize the opportunity for service while we have it!

Two Sets of Responses:

It is interesting to once again compare the response of the disciples to the response of the Lord Jesus to this situation. In response to the multitudes lingering at the end of a long and busy day they said to the Lord "Send them away" They looked to the Saviour to send these people away! It is interesting therefore to notice the response of the Lord, as he counters this with "Give ye them to eat" He asked them to provide the solution, full knowing that they could not. He was causing them to see the reality, that they needed to look to him not to callously send them away but to supply the solution and meet the need as only he could. How true this is of ourselves sometimes, as we ask the Lord to take a certain situation away from us, yet sometimes the Lord wants us to ask him to help us and meet our need to sustain us through the situation. We can also look at it another way; they were asking the Lord to do something, whereas the Lord turned it back on themselves to do something. This also can be a lesson for us, to learn that sometimes we need to not only just pray and leave it with the Lord but that on certain matters we need to take action as well! For example when we pray that people will come into the gospel meetings, it is often the case that we ourselves never ask or bring people into the hall to hear the gospel! Let us challenge our hearts with this.

The Fragments that Remained:

The scriptures tell us that on this occasion there were 12 baskets of fragments gathered up. In Mark ch 8 we see the feeding of the 4000 where there were 7 baskets of fragments gathered. It is interesting to learn that there are 2 different Greek words used here for 'basket', and in this we see 2 different lessons regarding the wonderful provision of the Lord Jesus Christ for his people.

Mark ch 8: Here the word 'basket' implies a very large, circular/cylindrical shaped basket often made of reeds. These baskets were so large that we read of such an item being used in Acts ch 9 where the Apostle Paul is concealed in one as they lowered him down over the city wall of Damascus. As there are 7 baskets in this account, we can see something of the complete, perfect and abundant provision of the Lord Jesus. All our need can be met by him and found in him!

Mark ch 6: In our account here a different word is used for 'basket' which really means a smaller, hand-basket probably made of wicker which would contain a certain measure of capacity. As there are 12 gathered, this would work out as one for each disciple and this shows me something of the daily provision of the Lord for his people. Surely we should look to him daily to meet all our needs, spiritual or otherwise! Let us challenge ourselves - do we come to him for our daily provision from his Word?

We trust these simple lessons will be of benefit to our hearts.

Yours in Christ, Mark

Monday, 25 April 2011

Nehemiah - the opponents and their methods

Dear fellow believers, a couple of days ago we looked at the 3 ringleaders of the opposition to this great work. Now let us look in closer detail at the tactics they employed as they sought to diminish and destroy the work of God.

1. Mockery (2:19 – 4:1)

"He was furious and very indignant and mocked the Jews"

It's a simple strategy, but it's one that has been used down through the centuries. The world will always mock the people of God, but Nehemiah is not to be deterred from the work by the words of men, no matter how harsh!

2. Intimidation (4:7-8)

"They became very angry. And all of them conspired together to come and attack Jerusalem and create confusion"

Here we see the different parties collaborating together to produce an allied front against the people of God. Look at the geography and it is easy to see the effect they were trying to achieve - Sanballat brought his people from the north, Geshem the Arabian came from the south, Tobiah is an Ammonite which is to the east, and finally the Ashdodites were from Philistia which is to the west. They quite clearly sought to demonstrate their might by surrounding Jerusalem, in an attempt to strike fear into the hearts of those engaged in the work. The world still does the same, seeking to thwart the work of God by intimidating saints so that we may well think twice before raising our voice in testimony or witness to God.

3. Diversion and Distraction (6:2-4)

4 times over in this portion we read "come let us meet" and this marks a change in tactic. Here they turn to subtlety, they appeal to diplomacy in a non-confrontational way they say "come on, let's talk about this, lets see if we can work together" but Nehemiah will not be distracted from the work and he knows that any involvement with these people will lead to compromise and the failure of the project. We should never be enticed into partnering with the world to accomplish anything spiritual, and sometimes this will be how the devil will seek to sabotage our outreach. It may all seem very appealing but we should remember that God does not need to use the world to help him in his work!

4. Slander and Lies (6:5-9)

"It is reported... according to these rumours..."

Here the enemies carry out a 'smear campaign' in their efforts to thwart the work! Of course everything they said was lies, a complete fabrication but one that could have done much damage nevertheless! Once again they were trying to paralyse the work through fear, the lies they were spreading were malicious and threatening. "for they all made us afraid, saying that their hands shall be weakened from the work, that it be not done". But Nehemiah is not a man to be motivated by fear and in the face of adversity he simply asks the Lord to strengthen their hands!

5. Deception (6:10-13)

"And lo I perceived that God had not sent him..."

Here subtlety was once again at work for they hired a man to be a secret informer and to plant ideas and sow the seeds of doubt from the inside. The man they chose was Shemaiah a Jew and a man who clearly was manipulated by fear as Sanballat was easily able to manipulate him. He spun Nehemiah a story about an assassination plot in an attempt to deceive him into ceasing the work, but Nehemiah replied "should such a man as I flee?" and you can almost detect the indignation in his voice! Here was a man with godly wisdom and perception to see the ploys of the enemy and with the courage to withstand and continue in the work of the Lord.

Oh that we might learn from this great man Nehemiah, a man who triumphed through adversity in difficult days! We too can accomplish a work for God despite the opposition we may face along the way. The enemies are the same and they haven't changed their strategies, but Nehemiah proves that victory and success are still possible if we are strong and trust in God.

Yours in Christ, Mark

1 Kings 19: Elijah and God

I was listening to a podcast the other day which was speaking about 1 Kings 19 and it reminded me of how very relevant this passage is to ou...