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)

1 Kings 19: Elijah and God

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