Castlehold Baptist Church

Bible studies

‘Many are the plans in a person’s heart,
   but it is the Lord’s purpose that prevails.
What a person desires is unfailing love;
   better to be poor than a liar.’

At the beginning of this year we all had plans for the year ahead. It may have been holidays, school trips, sports events, music performances or even how we could deal with a situation that lay ahead.

The disruption caused by the Coronavirus pandemic has resulted in many of our plans being changed or cancelled. Some of us may not be used to our plans changing so dramatically, others of us already have had to deal with major changes in our lives.

In the book of Proverbs, Solomon  reminds us that it is God’s plan that will ultimately prevail.

This can be a major comfort when we face uncertainty and change because His plan is good and He wants our lives to play a part of that plan.

This means that, if we ask God to guide us, the plan for our life will also be good. Verse 22 includes three important points that help us to work out what God’s plan involves.

Firstly, we desire unfailing love. Good, healthy relationships are something that we all want and need. We are designed to be in relationships with other people and with God.

Unfailing love speaks of a dependable love that is there for us no matter what happens. God loves us like this.

We see glimpses of this kind of love in other people such as family and close friends. It is in Jesus that we see the ultimate expression of this love when he died for all the bad things we have done and made a way that we could experience this unfailing love for eternity.

The next part of the verse says ‘it is better to be poor than a liar’. It is not saying that having wealth is a bad thing, but that our character and integrity are more important to God than our material possessions.

If our plans compromise our character to gain wealth, we do not find the love that we desire. However, when we seek God, commit our plans to Him and aim to live a life that reflects the unfailing love he has for us, we can be confident that he will direct our paths. Jeremiah 29v11 says “For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the Lord, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future.”

When I first moved away from Australia and into the UK, one of the most challenging things I faced was being able to keep my faith. Up until that point I had always gone to my home church, hung out with my Christian friends, attended a small group, and lived with my family who also went to the same church.  

But after leaving all that to go on my overseas adventure, I struggled to find a new place where I could settle into the things that were important to me. I didn’t find a church for 18 months, I lived with people who didn’t have an active faith (that they made known), and the work lifestyle and environment didn’t encourage Christian living.

Jesus knows how important it is for us to stay connected with each other. He knows that when we come together as a congregation or community there is far more opportunities to look after each other. We can get accountability, we can seek advice from others, we can learn about other people’s experiences, and we can be challenged by different promptings. 

In the same way Jesus wants us to stay close to Him. He wants us to keep Him in the number 1 slot in our list of priorities. It is when we start to stray and try to do things on our own that we start to lose sight of what it means to be a part of the kingdom. Jesus says that those who lose sight, do not produce good fruit, or stray from Him, “… [will be] like a branch that is thrown away and withers; such branches are picked up, thrown into the fire and burned.(V.6)”

When we stay close to God and keep His will, He will shape us, change us, and take away the all the bad stuff so that we continue to produce better fruit. Without Him it would not be possible, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine. (V.5a)”

Fortunately for me I was able to eventually find a church and was better equipped to start investing in my faith again. Christ became a higher priority for me, and God was better able to bless me through my faith in Him.

Do you continue to seek Christ so that you may bear good fruit through Him?

Jesus made it very clear that we should not judge others for what they have done. Although, it should be pointed out that Jesus isn’t telling us to stop the judgements of a court of law, church discipline or legitimate discernment. But He is instead discouraging us from criticising or seeking out the faults within others. More importantly He makes it clear that whatever judgment we accuse others of, will be the same judgement that we will receive before God. “… For with the measure you use it will be measured back to you. (V.38b)”

Jesus instead instructs us to go and forgive others. If we are hurt or mistreated, then forgive them. Instead of judging or calling them out, we must instead give and seek a positive wellbeing for them. Through Christ who loves us, we must show them love so that God may allow them to come to know the error of their own ways and seek forgiveness through Christ. When we forgive, we will be forgiven, and in the same way when we give, it will be given to us (V.37b & 38a).

The danger of judging others is that there are times that we do not see our own faults. My father once told me a story of how he in jest, called out one of his mates for doing something small, funny, and foolish. His mate turned around in return and called out my dad, who, for the last hour and a half had been walking around with a frisbee on his head like a crown, which he had forgotten about. 

Sometimes we do see when others are sinning or doing something wrong, however we must never feel that we are above that person and that we need to correct them. We must ensure that we ourselves do not fall into the same sin or have any other unconfessed sins. As Jesus said when He was brought the woman found in adultery. “let any one of you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her (John 8:7)”

We can be at peace knowing that it is God who will judge us. We only need to be concerned ourselves and not so much of others.

Let us all be a people that seek love first before anything else.

Have you ever thought about how perfect God’s love is? That despite all the bad things that humanity as gone through and done, that He sent His son to come to earth to bring salvation. He looks at us each individually and despite our imperfections still blesses and cares for us. A song I used to sing at church went, “Your love never fails, and never gives up, it never runs out on me. (One thing remains- Jesus Culture”.

As we look through the start of today’s reading, we can see some of the characteristics of Love. That it is kind, it doesn’t envy or boast (its humble), it’s not arrogant, its not rude, it doesn’t insist on its own way, it’s not irritable, or resentful, it rejoices with truth, it bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things and one of the most important (in my opinion) it endures.

We know we can’t buy our way into heaven. We know that we can’t just go around doing good things and being nice to people; expecting to get a free ticket, it doesn’t work like that. However, if we accept God’s gift of love freely, enjoying it and embracing it fully, then as we change to be more like Christ, a side affect can be that we start better loving others. 1 John 4:19 says, “We love because He first loved us”

Through the Holy spirit we are given many gifts and talents. Tongues, prophetic powers, knowledge, and faith just to name a few. But God wishes for us to use these out of love. They are not to be used selfishly or that so we can boast to others. But instead our hearts and motives must be assessed in the ways that we use them. Verse 3 (ESV) reads, “If I give away all that I have, and if I deliver up my body to be burned but have not love, I gain nothing.”

Jesus modelled love in the most perfect way. He was kind, caring, compassionate, was able to correct others so they may not be led astray, and even at the end, He did not resist being put up on the cross to die for our sins. His love endured so that we may one day, be with God in His kingdom.

 

Let us display His love.

defeating giants of our lives.

When I used to work for a supermarket, I occasionally helped others in different departments. I pushed trollies and packed bags on the registers. I stacked shelves and refilled the fresh fruit displays. At times I went into deli and packed different portions meats and salads. Even in the bakery sorting out different doughnuts that had been freshly made that day. Through experiencing each role, I learnt that with each different task, a new skill, or talent had to be learnt for it to be done well.

Paul wants to remind the Christians in Rome that even though all they do different roles they should not be arrogant or overconfident in each role that they have. Your view of your own self should be made in accordance with a realistic measure of faith. God has given each of us different skills and talents to use in accordance of His will. Just like me who didn’t necessarily need to be skilled in every department at the supermarket, it was more important that I had the skills to be able to do the job I was hired for.

But we are not alone in how we work and serve God. “… We, though many, form one body and each member belongs to all the others.” Despite having been given different abilities and tasks, we are all serving the same master. Like different parts of the body that have different tasks, eyes to see, lungs to breath or each individual muscle to help control movement. Each part does its role and remains content with what it does. A foot wouldn’t complain or compare its ability to speak but would consider itself important in its ability to help the body move about.

Those of us who have been given gifts of service, should make the most of being able to serve, those who have been given the ability to teach should use their skill to educate others. Prophecy, exhorting, leading, giving and mercy are all other gifts that we are given to facilitate God’s will on earth and are all individually special in their own way.  

Therefore, we should generously use our gifts and talents to serve God. Each person may have different tasks of varying difficulty and importance. But we can be assured and remain joyous that we are still all serving the same God.

Many valleys and canyons have been formed over thousands of years though the constant water flowing over the top causing erosion. Even a lot of the Isle of Wight’s coastlines are disappearing due to the erosion caused by the wind and tides. But these natural events didn’t just happen overnight. It took time to for the solid rock to be broken down and slowly worn away with each droplet of water and gust of wind.

Despite the fact that we aren’t made of rock and don’t erode in the same way, we can still be corrupted and impacted by little things constantly wearing away at us. Values and beliefs that we have can change or shift depending on our circumstances. It might be easy to say no to a slice of cake on the first day of a diet and maybe even the first two weeks, but the temptation might eventually overcome you in the end.

In proverbs 13:20, it helps us to understand that if we spend time with those who are wise or faithful to God, then as a result, we may become more like them or maintain our beliefs. Have you ever noticed that when we are at church or on a church trip it seems easier to live as a Christian? Its far easier to do it when we are together. However, if we start to spend more time away from other Christians and instead spend more time with people that live in a more secular way, then we may start to see bits of society shine through us instead of Jesus; which as we know doesn’t lead to the Father.

Paul states it very clearly in 1 Corinthians 15:33, “… Bad company corrupts good character.” He wishes for those who follow Christ to realise the error of following those who have no “knowledge of God. (V.34 ESV)” and instead stand firm in what we believe so that we may be loyal and in service to God.

It is still okay for us to have non-Christian friends; However, we should not let them sway our beliefs or values through the ways in which they act. We should seek to be different; a light to the world to draw others towards God, so that they may see the truth and have eternal life with the Father.

defeating giants of our lives.

The story of David and Goliath is probably one of the most well-known stories of the Bible. We see a young shepherd boy named David, face off against a giant, who probably would have been war trained for most of his life. David, as we know from the story, feared God more than he did Goliath and was able to defeat him with a small stone fired from a sling. However, in the lead up to this event, David acted in ways that to the other people of the time would have considered unwise.

Saul, who was the king at the time, had seen battle before. He had pursued the Philistines and freed the city of Jabesh from the Ammonites. He also would have had advisors and other experienced men around to give him advice on the best ways to enter battle. So, you would think that it would have been common sense for David to listen to the advice and knowledge given to him; so that he might be better prepared to enter battle against Goliath. 

But David knew that God would be able to deliver him and the armies of Israel from the hands of the Philistines without the king’s assistance. As a result, David disagreed with King Saul’s advice to not go out and fight the Philistine. David recalled time that God had delivered wild animals into his hands while protecting his father’s sheep and knew that Goliath wouldn’t be much more of a challenge, to him or God.

David again ignored the king’s advice which was to put on the king’s armour. Not only did it not fit him properly, but David also knew that he wouldn’t need it for the fight he was getting into. Everyone including Goliath was expecting to witness a fight of strength, wielding swords, and shields. But David brought a sling to a knife battle (in my head, I picture the first Indiana Jones scene where he shoots the swordsman in the marketplace) and struck down Goliath before he could even get close.

Sometimes we are given advice by others that can be useful. But God through our faith in Him gives us wisdom so that we may clearly see His will and be successful in building His kingdom or defeating giants of our lives.

What if I was to tell you that I have a friend, who’s brother’ girlfriend’s, parent’s, dog groomer, knew someone who was related to someone else, who is married to a person called Sam, who had a kid that was best friends with Andy Murray the British professional tennis player. Well it would probably seem a little farfetched would it?

In the opening part of John’s first letter, John wants to ensure that people understand where he got his knowledge and information from (unlike me, who made up the above statement). He states that, as he was eyewitness observer to the miracles and wonders that Jesus performed, he can validate their truth. “which we have heard, which we have seen with out eyes, which we have looked upon and have touched with our hands… (V.1)” And through this testimony he seeks to protect the integrity of his words. 

John wanted for his word to be trusted by all that read or heard them. He knew that if they learnt and believed what he wrote, then they would receive life through Christ. “… we have seen it and testify to it, and we proclaim to you the eternal life, which was with the Father and has appeared to us. We proclaim to you what we have seen and heard, so that you also may have fellowship with us. And our fellowship is with the Father and with his Son, Jesus Christ. (V.2-3)” 

John writes with an evangelistic approach. He is continuing on with the final commission that Jesus gave to John and the other disciples before He left, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you… (Matt 28:19-20)”.

It is through bringing others to meet Jesus that we can collectively experience the joys that our faith brings. The joy and peace of having salvation from our sins with those (friends and family) who are around us, and the joy that we are able to one day be with the Father.

It is important that we seek to maintain the integrity of our words and character. If we are trustworthy people that spread the word of God through personal experience, would it not be harder for others to doubt His existence?

Imagine coming home from school one day and finding a Tesco express in your living room, a butcher in the bathroom and Burger King in the backyard. The place where you should be able to relax and spend time with your family had been taken away from you and instead used by others to conduct their business. 

In today’s reading we see that the temple was also something that wasn’t working as it had intended to be. A place that should have been a meeting area for people to come worship the Lord and learn about Him. Had been slowly corrupted and turned into a marketplace for those wanting to make money. 

Like us, who probably wouldn’t be too pleased about our residences becoming restaurants. Jesus was also not pleased with the temple becoming a place where people could exploit others and sell things. He sates “My house will be called a house of prayer for all nations? But you have made it ‘a den of robbers (V.17).” 

Jesus then proceeds to cleanse the temple; to purify and clean out all that had tainted it holiness. “He overturned the tables of the money changers and the benches of those selling doves (V.15)” In the gospel of John, it goes as far to say that, “He made a whip out of cords, and drove all from the temple courts, both sheep and cattle”

When we come to spend time with God at church, we must ensure that we are not distracted or tempted to use this time to do anything else. We shouldn’t come with the intention of seeing our friends or having tea and coffee afterwards. But instead we should come with mindset and focus of worshiping the Father. 

Even when we go home and spend some time in private prayer and worship, we should position ourselves where we can best focus on God. A place where we aren’t going to get distracted by our phone flashing up or getting interrupted by people moving about in the same room. Instead we should find a quiet place that allows us to be alone with the Father. 

How do you meet with God and ensure you spend the best time with Him?

Do you remember a time when you were younger, being made to apologise for something, even if you didn’t mean it? I can remember times when I was upset with my siblings, saying something rude or mean and being caught by my parents. Who in return, made me apologise for what I did or what I had said. The truth was, at the time, I was not sorry for how it had affected my siblings but was sorrier for the fact that I had been caught and was now being punished. 

For us to repent and truly be sorry, we must be ready to completely change our ways so that we do not let it happen again. If you found that you were allergic to something, you probably wouldn’t keep eating it. You would probably adjust your diet in a way that now avoids it. In the same way we must equip ourselves to be ready to turn our backs on the things that cause us to sin.

It is through Jesus Christ and the actions that he took upon the cross that we are able to be freed from the sins that we have committed. However, if we learn about the greatness of God and His love for us. But “… deliberately keep on sinning after we have received the knowledge of the truth, no sacrifice for sins is left (Heb 10:26).” For us to be truly sorry, we can’t keep consciously doing what we know is wrong; there needs to be a change of habit.

Therefore, we must strive not to be like the dog who returns to its vomit, or “fools [who] repeat their folly. (Prov 26:11)” Instead we must repent and do a complete 180°. To change the way that we live our life, so that we may please God the father and consciously avoid what is bad.

Do you make your best effort to not repeat the things that you have repented from?

Have you ever asked yourself the question on how you might intentionally live a life that best pleases God? The contents of Romans chapters 12-15 contain some writings that address God’s righteousness in everyday life, but today we are only going to be looking at a small portion of that. 

In the ESV Romans 12:9-21 is titled as “Marks of the true Christian” and it gives us some good pointers that we can use to live a Christ led life.

The first point, which shouldn’t be a surprise, is to Love. Our love must be genuine and pure, not clouded with deceit. We must “… hate what is evil and cling to what is good. (V.9)” Jesus in John 13 commands us to love one another in the same way that He loved us, so that we may be recognised as his disciples (V.34-35) This is best done by avoiding and hating what is bad so there can be no doubt that we follow Jesus.

As we read on a little further, we are given a list of things that we can do to keep doing God’s will with the inspiration of love: Honour one another, never lack zeal (passion), be fervent in spirit, serve the lord, rejoice in hope, be patient in tribulation (suffering), faithful in prayer, and practice hospitality (V.10-13). 

God wishes for us to be active in our faith, to be on the front foot of loving and helping each other. We have the example of Christ Jesus who was sent by the father to die on the cross because he loved us. We can show this love to all, even to those who we may dislike or consider our enemies. It says, “…if your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink…(V.20)” It is showing love to these people that we can overcome what is bad with what is good. Hoping that one day they too will repent and do good in God’s name

The Bible gives us plenty of insight on how we should live in a way that pleases God. Could you say that you show the marks of a true Christian?

Have you ever done something wrong or made a mistake, realised it, and then tried to shift the blame onto something or someone else?

For me, it’s easy to fall into this trap when I play my video games. When I lose it’s for reasons other than myself; the connection was bad, or my teammates weren’t playing their roles well enough. I may even get angry or frustrated, but the blame is rarely on myself. Regardless of whether the fault was mine or someone else’s.

Although the consequences of losing a video game aren’t very high, people make mistakes all the time for we are all sinful beings.

In Genesis 3, we find the first man and woman hiding from God as they had just eaten the forbidden fruit and knew that they were naked. As they were hiding, God called out to them, asking, “where are you? (V.9)” Upon revealing that they were hiding because they were naked, God asked them “Who told you that you were naked? Have you eaten from the tree from which I commanded you not to eat? (V.10)”

Adam at this stage does not admit that he here is solely to blame for what he had done wrong. Instead he tried to shift the blame and responsibility onto someone else. “The man said, ‘the woman you put here with me – she gave me some fruit from the tree, and I ate it.’” Despite the fact that God himself had told Adam not to eat from the tree and had done it anyway. He didn’t immediately take responsibility for his own actions and instead tried to throw someone else into the deep end.

A preacher called Michael Ramsden said in a message I watched the other day, “You cannot receive forgiveness unless you are willing to admit you’ve done something wrong.” If we can’t admit or own up to what we do wrong, then we don’t seek forgiveness. If we seek forgiveness or redemption, then first steps we must take are to repent and apologise.

God loves us and wants us to join Him in the new creation after our time here on Earth. However, we need to be honest with ourselves and with others so that we may be forgiven for all that we have done wrong.

Are you ready to admit when you do something wrong?

At the start of today’s reading we are presented with the idea that there are 2 realms that people are able to be in: the realm of the flesh and the realm of the Holy spirit. The realm of the flesh is a world that is set upon its own desires, things that are temporary and is destined for death. However, we as Christians, have the Spirit of God dwelling inside of us and therefore belong to the realm of the Holy Spirit. 

Although our bodies belong to this world and will eventually give in to death and decay. The Holy Spirit has freed us, breaking the chains that would instead have bound us to death, and instead like Jesus will raise us up to heaven when our time comes.

“Therefore, brothers and sisters, we have an obligation – but it is not to the flesh, to live according to it. (V.12)” Through the spirit, we no longer belong to the flesh, so we should therefore, no longer live like we are. Verse 13 states that “… by the spirit you put to death the misdeeds of the body…” The Holy spirit has given us the freedom and opportunity to free ourselves of the flesh. So, with the holy spirit on our side, we must therefore choose to live in a way that battles our sinful habits and plays a role in the sanctification of our souls.

In the last part of today’s passage, we receive some reassurance (In the ESV: V.15), “For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear…” Instead the Spirit has enabled us to become God’s children. It is through being God’s children that we are heirs to the kingdom of heaven and will receive the promises that the father has made to us. It should also be noted that as we are “…co-heirs with Christ… (V.17)”, we must also be willing to follow in Christs suffering, so that we may also share in His glory, further testifying that we are God’s children

We have been given the gift of life from God; it has freed us and enabled us to play a part in God’s plan. Therefore, we must choose to leave our old life behind and live a new one through the Holy Spirit.

Today’s passage starts with John wishing that Christians would have the confidence and assurance in their salvation. John writes to members of the early church that have seen their churches split over different beliefs and doctrines. He wishes to reassure that those who have remained loyal and kept their belief in salvation through Jesus, to remain doing so. 

John then addresses that prayer is central to a living faith. I feel that this can be broken into 2 points.

The first point that can be made, is in relation to when we ask God for something. Verse 14 states that, “… if we ask anything according to his will, He hears us.” This is not to say that God does not hear all the other prayers we make to Him, but that when we pray to God, He does not give or bless in a way that decided upon by us. it is by God, as His ways are greater than ours (Isaiah 55:8-9). Therefore, it should come as no surprise when we see an answer to prayer when it directly goes along with God’s will.

God is still generous in the ways that He gives and still wants for us to ask Him for all things that we want and need. This is part of us being dependent upon Him and helps us to maintain our faith in Him.

The second point that can be made is the importance of prayer for forgiveness. An important thing to point out is the phrase “…sin not leading to death, (V.16)”. This is a sin that God is willing forgive the person if they seek forgiveness and are ready to repent. This is opposed to those who sin and do not seek forgiveness for it. 

In verse 17 it states that, “All wrongdoing is sin, but there is sin that does not lead to death.” As Christians we must strive to live in a way that is good. However, as humans are imperfect and are bound to fail. It is important that we still pray, ask for forgiveness and be ready to have a change of heart when we sin. God has already given the us keys to salvation through Jesus, we just need to pray and repent.

John wanted us to be completely sure of our salvation through our faith in Jesus Christ. Are you sure of yours?

Have you ever considered how much you have learnt from your parents? Yes, a lot of our formal education is done away from our families at school. But have you ever looked and seen what habits and mannerisms that you have clearly got from your parents? The way you talk or use certain phrases, or even the way that you think about certain topics, will sometimes reflect the views of your parents. My father used to explain to me as, “the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree.”

In coming to accept God as our father we should then recognise ourselves as his children. “For you were once in darkness, but now you are light in the lord. Live as children of light”. We therefore must strive to obtain some of the characteristics of God such as His, goodness, righteousness, and truth. As we ourselves become a light that shines to glorify the Lord (Matthew 5:14&16)

Therefore, as we become children of light, we must not associate ourselves with the products of darkness or the things in our lives that do not bear good fruit. We must instead look into the ways we have previously fallen short and examine them so that we may keep better account of the paths we take in life. So that we may be sure that we always honour God.

We do not need to point out all the ways that we have sinned as God has already taken all sin away from us. However, we should never shame our salvation by bringing glory to sins we have previously committed (V.12). As God has shown us mercy and taken away our sins; He also adds to our testimonies the grace He has shown us for each and every one of our sins (V.13).

In verses 15-17 (and also back in verse 10,) we are instructed to be wise in the way that we compose ourselves and that we must discern what God’s will is and act in accordance with it. This is so that what we do may not be foolish and lead us into sin. But instead lead in a way that pleases and honours God the farther. 

As we do this more often, we begin to resemble God and become a light that reflect Him to others. 

So do we strive to become more like Him?

Have you ever heard of the American athlete, Jim Thorpe who competed in the 1912 Olympics and won 2 gold medals? However, what really makes his story more impressive was that he was wearing shoes that he had found in the bin minutes before the race as his original shoes had been stolen. 

Jim may have wanted the shoes that he had brought with him, but all he needed was something to cover his feet as he competed.

In today’s passage, Paul is writing to the Philippians to thank them for the gifts that they had given him. He explains that it is because of them that he has all that he needs to continue his work and more. “I have received full payment and have more than enough. (V.18a)”

But we can find 2 other points that can come from this passage:

1)            With or without, people giving resources and supplies to Paul. He has learnt the secret to being content and happy with what he has “… whether well fed or hungry, whether living in plenty or in want.” He has found that in order to continue his work ministering to others, a dependence on God is completely necessary and through God all these good works are possible. 

2)            It is good in God’s eyes that we give away or sacrifice the resources and supplies we have, to give to those who are away on mission or building up God’s kingdom. Paul points out that he is not using this letter as a means of asking them to give him more. But instead to give them credit for the offerings that they have already made to God through him. “… They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. (V.18b)”

Something else that can be added, is that God will cater for the needs of those who generously give to Him through the offerings and sacrifices they make. “And my God will supply every need of yours according to his riches in glory in Christ Jesus. (V.19 ESV)

Instead of trying to fill every want and desire that we are presented with, we must instead strive to become more dependent on God to give us all that we need.

How can you have God strengthen you to do all things in His name?

Today’s reading comes from a passage titled Faith in action (NIV). But it doesn’t mean that it’s going to be the basis of the next big blockbuster hit at the Cinema. The passage is all about how people’s faith has been applied by those who have come before us. 

The first verse sets up the rest of the chapter by giving us a quick definition of faith in its Christian application, “Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.” Faith is what keeps us as we wait and hope for God to fulfil the promises, He has made to us.

We can be assured through testimonies those who have come before us, that we are able to see the extent we can trust in God. Through the rest of the chapter we see the phrase, “By faith…” used multiple times giving examples of those who have followed and acted out of devotion for the Lord, trusting in him. 

The First of these examples is in verse 4. The faith of Able, the second son of Adam and Eve, whose job it was to raise and tend the sheep. Part of his role would have been to increase the number of sheep they had so the food wouldn’t run out. However, instead of eating the first new lamb, or adding it into the total number in the flock, Able decided to give it to God as an offering. Able had faith that God would continue to provide for him and his family even after sacrificing it. And through that, his faith is commended now.

In verse 6 it is stated that it is impossible for us to please God when we don’t have faith. But it is through God that we are able to good works, for It is God who gives us the blessings and resources for us to do so. When we act in faith and seek God, He reveals himself and rewards us with salvation, which is his promise to all that believe in him. John 3:16b “… that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

It is though God and our faith in Him that we are able to do good works. 

Are you able to say that all you did in your life as acting “By faith…”?

Have you ever had a really bad teacher? Maybe the teacher couldn’t control the class or did teach the subject well. Maybe they acted in a way that made it seem like they had no passion for their job or didn’t even care on how well you did in tests.
 
When I was at school, I had a teacher that showed characteristics of those mentioned above. Despite the class not generally attracting the most well behaved or academic students, the teacher didn’t make it feel like it was important to study or learn the content. Most of the learning we did was done from iPads and google searches instead listening to the teacher speaking on the subject.
 
Today’s reading was written to address the bad teachings of the priests and prophets of the time. In the previous verses, we read that the people of Israel had become disobedient to God and arrogant in their ways. But it is not them who are completely to blame.
 
Verse 4 points at the priests, who’s role it should be to teach and guide the people towards God, but instead are not acting in the way they should be. We know this because in verse 5 we see that they are consistently stumbling both day and night alongside false prophets. 
 
In verse 6 we read, “My people are destroyed for lack of knowledge;”. Suggesting that the knock-on effect of the bad teachings given by the priests, whom should have been experts in the laws, have caused the people of Israel to sin and turn away from God. 
 
We as Christians are expected to always remember that we are representing God. Despite the fact that not all of us go to university to study and become an expert in scriptures. We still have to remember that there are those, like our friends and families, who will learn about God through the ways we talk and act.
 
We can learn from today’s reading, about how it is important that we honour the knowledge that God has given to us through his written word and never forget that when we go out that we are in fact teaching others what it is like to be God’s people. 
 
Let’s not be bad teachers but instead let’s be good ones.
 
 
 

The marshmallow test is where you put a child alone in a room and place a marshmallow in front of them. This child is told that they can eat it now OR if they wait and save it for when the adult comes back, if they do, they will receive a second marshmallow. It’s a test that is all about delayed gratification, that if they were able to wait and not give into the temptation then they would be rewarded with extra sweets.

Today’s reading is all about making a choice on which path to travel along. It is simply put in Matthew by presenting the image of two gates with two paths on which you can travel.

The first choice is the narrow gate which is hard to find. It is at the end of the path that fewer people have found. There is no deceiving God in pretending to sneak along this path, as Jesus is the only key that can unlock the gate at the end. When the time of judgement comes many will try and enter through this gate, but they will not find a way in for they do not have a relationship with Jesus which is the only way to get the key (Luke 7:24-25).

The second choice is the path that is wide and easy to find. This path seeks to deceive and tempt others to walk along it by advertising it as comfortable and more travelled by others. Along this path, people make their own decisions and seek the instant gratification offered by this life. The gate at the end of this path, however, leads only to destruction and as it says in Proverbs 14, “There is a way that appears to be right, but in the end it leads to death. (V.12)”

God wishes for us to choose the right choice. For us to choose Him, to seek His knowledge, His wisdom and consequently surrender our own. We recognise that His thoughts and ways are better than our own (Isaiah 55:8-9). 

By responding to Jesus’ words, and seeking to enter through the narrow gate, we choose to live with God for eternity.

So are you travelling the path that leads to life?

Have you ever been given an Airfix model? Where you had to assemble all the parts carefully, and then try your luck at painting it to produce the product? Well you might not have but you can probably imagine what I’m talking about. Either way, have you never noticed how it didn’t fall on to the table and make itself? It physically required you to put in the time and effort to carefully construct it.

Paul at the start of today’s reading brings up the point that God has given us a gift. The gift of salvation, which should not be left in the dark and instead that we need to fan it, like a fire, so that it may grow into something that is greater than what we started with. Like how it shouldn’t be left under a bowl so that it can’t be seen (Luke 8:16-18)

Paul then goes onto say that we should not live in the fear of what we believe, and we should be bold in how we respond. Through salvation we have received power, love, and self-discipline, that has been equipped to us so that we may further God’s kingdom. Any of the suffering you endure in His name is credit to the strength and power that He has given you. Therefore, we must not feel scared, guilty, or ashamed when we speak the word of God.

In achieving salvation through the death and resurrection of Christ Jesus, that God has called us to live a life that is holy. We have not achieved this through the individual works that we have done, but because God gave us Jesus, who brought forth the plan of eternal life which God hand planned “…before the ages began.(V.9b)”

At the end of today’s passage in verse 12, Paul describes how he has himself suffered by teaching and protecting the word of God.

However, he feels no shame spending any time in prison as he was righteous (2 timothy 4:6-8) in the sacrifices he had made to his personal freedom. He feared God more and would not compromise His word to make things any easier for himself.

Like the Airfix model we should be proud of the result and not be ashamed of what we have accomplished. So, are we ready to develop our faith and be proud to share it with everybody?

In this passage today Paul charges Timothy with some tasks as he goes forward in his ministry. He also reminds Timothy that we must conduct ourselves in a way that would please God as one day He will return to bring judgement. This Judgement should be of more concern to us that what others think of us. 

Paul in verse 2 lists out 5 tasks that he wants Timothy to complete:

1)            Preach the word

2)            Be ready in season and out of season

3)            Reprove

4)            Rebuke 

5)            Exhort

Paul wants us to go out and spread out the truth, which is word of God and be ready to do that at any time. Part of that will mean that we have to criticise and help correct the faults of the beliefs of others when they have been led astray. Finally, we need to encourage and support those who are on the right path.

In verse 3 and 4 Paul warns that there have been some believers that have sought out teaching that is easier to listen too. That they avoid the teachings that challenge so they may remain living in comfort. Being a Christian means we can’t pick and choose what scriptures to believe or follow.

Paul instructs Timothy in verse 5 to be aware of the lies that people feed themselves so that he may stay clear of them and instead endure in his teaching of what is right. 

In the last parts of this scripture, Paul declares that he knows that he is approaching the end of his life. He states that his death will be like the “drink offering” which illustrates a life sacrificed in service to God, as he is laying down his life for the gospel (V.6).

Paul writes in verse 7, that he has, “… fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith.” And that as he has lived a life (after being reborn) in complete service and dedication to God. Therefore, waiting for him in heaven is a Crown of righteousness that may be attained by all of us should we also fight the good fight and keep the faith.

Can you say with the same confidence that Paul did, that your crown is up there for you too?

Similar to the Hebrews 12, today’s reading marks the conclusion of another selection of scripture. These chapters have been used to say that we will face opposition as Christians from unbelievers and Satan also. 

However, we can be reassured that God is with us. Verse 31 says, “If God is for us, who can be against us?” God is more sovereign and divine than anything that can be brought before us. He chose to send us His son, so that we might have a chance in a world that is only set in directing us towards lies and destruction.

We will sometimes be faced with these lies that can come in the form of doubts within our own conscience or accusations and charges against us. But again, in scripture, we can find comfort in knowing that no truth can be brought to us that firmly stands against God, who is the ultimate “… authority in heaven and on earth… (Matt 28:18)”. We can know and believe that Jesus; died for our sins, was resurrected, and now sits at the right-hand God, interceding with Him for us (V.34).

Paul then lists difficult situations in verse 35, that might be experienced by different Christians. Even through tough times, he points out that there is nothing that can separate Christ’s love from us. Again, in Verses 38 and 39, he lists out things that are not of this world, like the authorities of angelic and demonic forces, or life and death, which again, cannot remove the love that Jesus Christ has shown us.

There are however situations that result with someone suffering or dying as a martyr for their faith (V.36). Fortunately for us living in the UK we have the freedom to live without fear of persecution but at the time this book was written and in other parts of the world now, death is and was far more likely to be experienced. 

Paul writes that anyone who is to go through this was a conqueror though Christ. God takes all the negative things that Christians experience in His name and then turn them into something that is good. (Matt 5:11-12)

We have through scriptures like this, a firm reassurance that that God’s love shows no bounds. So, when we face opposition can we filter out all the lies for what is truth?

Today’s reading is only the final part of a much larger passage. One that looks at all those who have come before us, those who have acted in faith, those who suffered, and those who paved they way so we might learn from them. Like most scripture its useful know to know the context that surrounds it.

This brings us to what we have read today. “…since we are surrounded by a great cloud of witnesses… V.1a)” points backwards to all that precedes it. It is then through the lives of those who came before us, we should be encouraged to let go of all that holds us back. The things that may continue to cause us to stumble in our faith. By ridding ourselves of hindrances to our faith, we will find ourselves better suited to compete in the race towards God. No Olympic runner would attach a parachute to themselves and be burdened as they competed.

The race to us may seem long, but the direction to us should not be unclear. Jesus who came to earth has already come to show us the best way, as He said in John 14:6, “Jesus answered, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” It is through becoming like Him that the direction to the Father presents itself more clearly to us.

Jesus also came to free us from the burdens that we face by taking away all our sin. It is important to never forget the ultimate sacrifice that he took to free us. By dying on the cross He endured the physical pain that was brought by the nails, the insults that were hurled at Him by those who stood by and took on the shame of our sins that we have committed. 

God with all of His love and mercy, chose to be put through pain and suffering, all so that we may one day be with Him in paradise.

Through Jesus, all the sins and burdens that would have been stuck with us have now been released. We can therefore choose to leave them behind and compete without anything to hinder us as we compete in the race towards the Father.

Are we allowing ourselves to have the best chance in the race as possible?

When I was old enough and finally allowed to get a job, I got part time work at a Woolworths (which is a supermarket in Australia). In my time there, I did a few roles but ended up with serving on a register and pushing trollies, which I wasn’t very good at or had a passion for.

There are times that we find that we aren’t motivated or don’t have a passion for what we do. Its sometimes hard to find a job that you love to wake up to go to every day. But that doesn’t mean that we should have a lazy or unenthusiastic attitude about the work we do.

In today’s passage, God tells us the attitude that we should have when we are a slave or worker or if we are the boss and have people working for us. This is given to us over a few points

No.1: Show your boss, manager, or master with respect. God says in verse 6 that we should treat them the same way as you would treat Christ. Don’t slander them or hold a grudge. For us we generally have the freedom to chose who we work for, you probably chose to work there. So, don’t hold a grudge.
No.2: Don’t work hard with the motivation that your boss, manager, or master will show you favour or give you extra. You probably agreed when you first started working to a wage that you are working for, don’t expect more.
No.3: Act as if you are working or serving for God. We know that our reward comes from God in the next life not this one. God judges and rewards us on the good works that we do. If you are only working to serve the flesh, then you will only be rewarded with the temporary things of this world.
No.4: Finally, if you find yourself in a position where you have people that work or serve you. Follow the previous instructions on how you treat them. Because God loves them as much as he loves you and He will judge you all the same.

So, when you go out to work, serve in God’s name, treat others with respect and do not expect any extra favours, for the payment from the Lord is fair and just.

Have you ever looked for or noticed scripture in worship music? It’s a strange question but how often do we think about what it is we sing at church?

When I was looking at today’s passage a song popped into my head that showed some similarities to what we read. Before you read on further, have a listen to “Nothing I hold onto” by Will Reagan and focus on that first verse. Does it sound like what we are reading today?

The song like today’s reading expresses how we must submit to God and allow him to direct us where we go. 

“I Lean not on my own understanding” / “… and lean not on your own understanding (V.5b)”. We acknowledge that our own wisdom is not as great as God’s and therefore is not as reliable.

“My life is in the hands of the maker of heaven” / “Trust in the Lord with all your heart (V.5a)”. In understanding that God is wiser than us, we lay our trust in the fact that He can make better decisions in guiding the way we live our lives.

“I give it all to you God” / “In all ways submit to Him (V.6a)”. Submitting to God is not a surface level thing. We do not just turn up to church on a Sunday and maybe a small group during the week. God wants us to give Him full control of our lives and not do it half-heartedly

“trusting that you’ll make something beautiful out of me” / “… and He will make your paths straight (V.6b)”.  Believe it or not God does have a plan for you, and He does want you to be in a relationship with Him. It is through our relationship with Him that we are better directed through life.

When we worship it’s important to understand why we worship our God and what songs we use to do it. Do you carefully choose the words you use to praise God and in the same way ensure that you don’t say or sing things that don’t glorify God?

Maybe the next time you worship you could ask yourself, is this song praising God in a way that glorifies Him and can it be backed up scripturally?

Up until last year, “The £100K Drop” was a quiz-game show that had the guests physically place prize money on the answer to each question. If the contestants were unsure of the answer to the question, they could instead split the money on the answers that thought would be most likely. The consequence would be the money left on the wrong answer would be lost and dropped down below. If the contestants lost all their money they would be knocked out from the game.

Like the game show, sometimes its not always wise to put all our eggs in one basket. In Ecclesiastes 11, it instructs us to invest in many different ventures.

Solomon, in verse 1 explains there is risk in sending away the crop that you have harvested to be sold off. This would result in not seeing any return for the hard works that you have put into preparing it. Imagine working over a cake all day and then accidently dropping it before it could be served.

To prevent us from losing everything Solomon writes, “invest in seven ventures, yes, in eight; you do not know what disaster may come upon the land.” So that even if troubles come, we may still see the reaping of another investment

Through Solomon’s wisdom, we are also instructed not to give up one what we have planted. “Sow your seed in the morning and at the evening do not let your hands be idle…” If we were to stop watering a flower or ignore the weeds in our veggie gardens, then they would surely fail. But by treating and looking after what has been started, we give it a chance to flourish and bring a ripeness.

In all the investments that are made, there is always risk that they will fail or fall flat. For us there is sometimes risks in speaking out against injustices, or in trying to help someone there is the risk that it might instead encourage them with further bad decisions instead of repentance. However, this passage teaches us that when we act in faith and sow seeds, we may not know what we will face but we also know that “… God, the maker of all things” has it within his control.

Do we sow the fields knowing that God is also at work within them?

As you start to grow older, the ways you think about and use money start to change. I remember when I was 16, living at home and getting my first job, spending most of my money on junk food and other silly things. But as I started to grow older, I realised the importance of saving and spending money on things that I needed. By saving my money I had begun to invest in things that I would need in the future, like a car to travel to work in or furnishings after I moved out of home.

 

In todays reading we are looking at how God wants us to make our investments. Not just financially, but in all the ways that we can give and serve

 

In verse 7, Paul tells the Galatians that they will see a harvest for the seeds that they will sow. God in his fairness rewards His people with the investments they make. Although, God knows our hearts and if we make investments with malice or pettiness then the reaping will not be that of love or joy. God can’t be tricked into thinking that we are trying to good when we know in our hearts that is not true.

 

Instead Paul tells us that we must invest in things that we know will please the Holy Spirt. “… whoever sows to please the Spirit, from the Spirit they will reap eternal life. (V.8b)” We know that God rewards those who follow and serve Him in this life and the next. 

 

As we receive God’s blessing here on Earth, we are expected to redistribute or re-invest it. Sharing what we have been given with others. Paul in verse 9, advises the Galatians not to become weary in sowing a good seed which is doing good works. He says that through their investments they will see a reaping which will show the quality of their work if they stick to doing what they are doing and not give up.

 

Paul finishes this passage by saying that as they continue to follow God, they should keep using the opportunities given to them to look after others and do good works.

 

God will justly reward you with what you have sown. Is what you have invested in, something that you know will please the Spirit of the Lord?

In 2010 a film was released called ‘The Book of Eli’ (rated 15). The film followed the protagonist, Eli, who travels a post-nuclear-war landscape, carrying what we are told is the last remaining bible in the world. As all the others had been destroyed. It is an interesting action/adventure film starring Denzel Washington

Did you know that there are more that 5 billion bibles in the world? Although some people think that that number could be closer to 6.1 billion… That is nearly one for ever person in the world. That is also no counting the apps of your phone or the copies that you can read on the internet.

It would therefore take a tremendous effort to remove the Bible from the world. But that does not mean that people haven’t tried throughout history.

In Russia, during Joseph Stalin’s ruling in the 30s, started campaigning against Christianity amongst other religions. He executed leaders, destroyed churches, confiscated religious texts and bibles, burning as much of them as he could.

In similar times today, churches in countries less free than ours are severely restricted or controlled. Such as in China and North Korea. Where underground churches have formed and are kept secret from the governments. Or countries around the world where at least 8 people each day are killed for being Christians.

“but the word of the Lord endures forever.” The fact that there are still Christians in these places is testament to this passage. Even when people try to take away our freedom and beliefs, God still works in the hearts of those who seek Him.

Its been nearly 2000 years since the New Testament was written and longer still for the Old Testaments. The Bible has survived 2 world wars amongst other things and as it continues to be reproduced, it will be around even longer. The Lord wants everyone to hear His name so that they may know the truth and seek a relationship with Him.

We should continue to thank God for all that he has given us and pray for those who do not have the freedom that we have. We pray for the endurance of their faith, so that they may continue to help those around them to find God.

Have you ever made yourself a glass of cordial or squash and then forgotten about it? And when you found it later the concentrate had started to settle at the bottom of the glass leaving the clear water at the top? What once would have been a nice flavoured drink, has now partly returned to its starting state and maybe gone a little bit stagnant (although I hope you did not leave it out that long…)

We as Christians can sometimes go a little bit stagnant in our faith. We start to skip our daily readings and prayers; we miss a couple of church services in a row at church and we do not check in with out small groups. Before long we start to see ourselves slip away and forget some of the important parts of our faith.

Paul in Hebrews warns the early Christians of this and reminds them that they must strive to continue to develop their relationships with God. 

In Verse 11 (Ch.5) he states that the people that he is writing to, no longer try to understand. They have begun to get lazy and forget what they have learnt before. Consequently, he follows it up with in verse 12 that if they had kept up their momentum and continued the development of their faith. They would in fact be the ones who would teach and Motivate those new to the faith. That is quite an extreme contrast

Paul then says that once we learn the basics and establish our foundations, we should not linger on what we are comfortable with, but instead build up to things with a little bit more substance. He says in verses 12-14 that only an infant consumes milk and we need to mature and grow up into more solid teaching, like the child that grows up to eat solid food.

So today, be prompted to move onto more challenging things so that your faith should grow. Do not settle where you find it comfortable. Move onto something with a little more substance.

Going through school in Australia, there were two days every year that I looked forward to. These days were the school sports days, one swimming and one Track & field. These days, all the students would compete to win points for the house or colour that they were associated with. On track day I was never the fastest, however, in the pool I had a bit more of a chance as it was something I had already been training and competing in.

In today’s passage Paul compares faith as needing to be like someone who trains and competes in a competitive sport. The first way that he does this is in verse 24 by saying that we need to be running as if we want to win the first prize. Nobody enters an Olympic race to with the hope of getting anything less than a podium finish. Months of training and practice all come down to the race for their prize. For us, the prize we compete for is salvation through Christ. So why fight for anything less?

The second part that Paul talks about is the need for training (V.25). Everybody that wants to have a chance at winning, needs to put in the time and effort required to be at their physical best. The same goes for our faith. For us to make it to the end with a running chance we need to work hard to prepare and equip ourselves with the resources it takes to complete the challenge. We can do that by reading scripture and learning more about what it is like to be more like Christ, so we are prepared for what is to come.

The 3rd part of this passage is that Paul says that we must remain disciplined and continue to train ourselves. We must continue to sacrifice parts of our personal lives so that we know what is to come. Paul devotes himself to learning and knowing the rules so that he does not become “… disqualified for the prize. (V.27)”

We must, therefore, develop such a passion for learning about what it is to be like Christ that we suffer for it. There are freedoms and opportunities that we should pass on and instead choose to train for the race with Jesus as the prize.

Are you running with the intention of winning?

Today we are looking at the last part of 2 Timothy chapter 3 titled ‘A final charge to Timothy’. It is here that Paul uses this as an opportunity to encourage and share a final piece of wisdom for Timothy in his own ministry.

Paul starts by recapping to Timothy of all the things he had done and experienced. He used examples of the bad times to remind us that no matter the situation, God had always rescued him from them. 

It is through this that Paul reminds us that our stories and testimonies of how God is working in our own lives that can be used when ministering to others. When speaking to non-believers they sometimes ask for proof, and what better proof are examples of things that we’ve experienced first-hand.

Paul goes on to say that as Christians, wherever we go, we will be challenged and persecuted. We will face those that as they continue to deceive us, will not make it any easier but continue to get worse. Jesus during his time on the earth addressed this by saying, in John chapter 15 “If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. (V.18)” As we become more like Jesus, we will draw the attention from those who wish to persecute us and throw us off course.

In verses 14 to 15 Paul acknowledges the blessing it is to have been raised with scriptures so that Timothy and us alike, may become wise in the word as we develop in our faith. I have spoken before on how important it is that we study scripture so that we may be able to hold ourselves accountable to our own words and actions. 

The Bible is God-breathed and therefore is recognised as having power and authority. It is this power that allows us to do many things through God such as teach, rebuke, correct and train on righteousness. By being equipped with the bible and its teachings we can do good works in the name of Jesus Christ.

Do we allow God to direct our words thoughts and actions? 

Check the scripture, do they line up together?

 

What is the most valuable thing that you have amongst your possessions? I think most of you would consider it to be an electrical device such as a phone or games console. Those who are older might say that their house, their car, or jewellery that might be their most valuable. But as I spoke about in Monday’s devotion, all these things that we see here are temporary.

Once we die, these things that we consider valuable won’t even be worth 1 cent (sorry that’s 1 pence to you British people) to us. Even new top of the range iPhones, which can price over £1000 brand new, only have a 3-year expected life span and only 1 year of warranty. We live in a world that continues to devalue what we physically possess through time and expiration. 

Paul warns us not to seek all that is physical and instead to seek God. He says that we must keep and eye out for those who seek to take from us financially, by deceiving us with what is branded as having value. “watch out for those dogs, those evildoers, those mutilators of the flesh” (v.2).

 By focusing on God and seeking the value that He gives, Paul states that everything he had gained before his conversion (his physical wealth, job and place on the social ladder), started to become less and less valuable to him. He even stated that to him it was all just garbage in verse 8.

The important thing is, all the value that God gives, will never expire. Its something that we get to keep when we die, it does not stay behind like gold or property does. 

All that God desires from us is to follow Him because of the life and value He gives us. Paul says that we must participate in God’s sufferings by becoming like him. We must therefore die to this world and be reborn through Christ.

Seek to “… press on towards the goal to win the prize that God has called me (you) heavenwards in Christ Jesus.”

Did you know that this word has not been made to last? We as a people have made buildings and infrastructure that should last for a long time but one day they too will go. Even the Pyramids of Egypt, which have managed to stay around for about 4500 years, or the massive great wall of China, which has been around for 2300 years, will eventually be gone.

So, it should come as no surprise that one day, you also, will no longer be part of this world, at least in the physical sense. As it says in Genesis chapter 3, “By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.”

Paul, however, does not want us to be discouraged. He writes, “… do not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day”(v16). Although our bodies are to perish, when we have Christ inside of us, we are being renewed for the new heaven and earth when that time comes. 

We should instead focus on how God has prepared what seems to a replacement of this earth with the intention of joining us there. It’s in the final book of the Bible where it says, “Then I saw ‘a new heaven and a new earth’, for the first heaven and earth had passed away, … “(Rev 21:1) and “…look! God’s dwelling-place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them…”(Rev 21: 3).

It’s a fact, our lives and this world is only temporary, however, Paul instructs us to be fixed on the bigger picture. Instead of hanging out for all the negatives, trust and believe in God and we will spend eternity with Him in the new earth. 

Ask yourself, are you living in a way that defines yourself with the temporary or the eternal?

So this reading tells us about the time when Jesus would have travelled each year to Jerusalem with his parents, Mary and Joseph, for the Passover feast. In this particular story Jesus was twelve years old and, probably like most twelve year olds, wanted a bit of freedom from his parents who he was travelling with. 

After the Passover meal, Mary and Joseph started travelling back to Nazareth. They travelled for a day and thought that Jesus was with them, but he was still in Jerusalem. 

Have you ever been alone? Have you ever wandered off without telling your parents?

I know I have!  When I was about 10 or maybe a little younger, I used to go to the supermarket with my parents to do the food shop. We would be about half way round and I would get distracted by something and go off into my own little daydream world.  My parents would walk off thinking that I was following them. When I returned to where they last were and they were no longer there, fear, panic and worry would grip me that I had lost my parents and I would get upset. I would frantically try and find them, running up and down the aisles, knowing that they would be around the next corner. I would have tears in my eyes, worrying that I would never find them again. 

I can’t imagine the worry Mary and Joseph would have been feeling. Imagine travelling a whole day only to find out that your son was still in the place you just left. It took Mary and Joseph 3 days to find Jesus. In Verse 46 it says, “After three days they found Jesus sitting in the temple with the teachers, listening to them and asking them questions.” Even though Jesus was left behind, he used his time to learn from the teachers in the temple all about his Father and develop his understanding and knowledge. Verse 47 says, “All who heard him were amazed at his understanding and answers.” 

Verses 49-50 say, “Jesus says to them, ‘Why were you looking for me? Didn’t you know I would be in my Father’s house?’ But they did not understand the meaning of what he said.” 

Jesus was saying the more time we put into God’s word, the Bible, the better the relationship we can have with him and better understand it in order to teach others about how amazing he is.

What are you doing with all this time you have on your hands at the moment ? 

Why not use this time to talk and build relationships with others and to reconnect with God. 

Time is precious, so use it wisely.

Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect – Romans 12:2 A good way to memorise this – we will break it down into 3 steps

Step 1: Don’t be CONFORMED to this world

The bible says that the world (the current culture, rules and social requirements) is one of our three biggest enemies, and although God is reconciling all things to himself through Jesus and his death, we need to be aware that the things of this world are against God. In fact, Jesus says that we have absolutely no use as Christians if all we do is conform to the world around us (Matthew 5:13).

So, what is this world??

The world is full of temptations that we know to be explicitly wrong – dating Non-Christians, fornication (that word covers a lot! Look it up when you get the chance!), saying anything disrespectful about God. However, these sins are all very easy to spot.

However, being conformed to the pattern of the world can at times, be much more subtle:

• The football loving Christian who has so much training/playing/watching to do that they end up doing so much football activity that they end up giving their heart more to football than they do to God.

• The Christian who is about to get into trouble but thinks of the perfect white-lie to tell to bring short term peace.

• The Christian who spends more time at Christian concerts and listening to atmospheric “worship music” instead of reading God’s word, pressing in through prayer and confessing sin.

Step 2: But be TRANSFORMED by the renewal of your mind

1. However, we don’t just turn from a list of immoral behaviours to a list of moral ones. That’s not what the Law of the Spirit is (2 Corinthians 3:6,17).

2. We can’t just program new laws into our mind, because we know that our minds are deceitful, wicked, ignorant, and desperate to go as far away from God as possible.

3. There is only one way for our mind to be renewed, by the power of the Holy Spirit.  Therefore, we submit ourselves to Him. Here are some of the most effective ways you can submit to God. READ the bible as often as you can, LISTEN to teaching on God’s word & ASK God regularly and without giving up. Submit to Him, so that He will change and renew your mind.

Step 3: THAT BY testing you may discern (work out) the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect

Finally, we have the reason why. It is to work out God’s revealed will – his right and wrong, what is wise and foolish, what is moral and sinful. Not a superstitious will (where you ask God to tell you who to marry or whether he wants you to become a famous singer, but a much more important will). However, by knowing God’s revealed will, you will be able to use the wisdom of that will and apply it to complex modern situations. By knowing these things, you will able to become more like Jesus, and receive a better reward in heaven than anything that this world can offer

Are you ready to set aside the world so that you may Submit and follow God with all your heart?

 

If you asked a builder: what are some of the most important things you need to consider when building a house? I’m sure that the foundations of the structure would be close to the top of their list.

It is the product of bad foundations that can jeopardise the integrity of any project, which can sometimes take, days, weeks, months or even years before the cracks start to show. It is then important that extra consideration for any project, must be given to the foundations so that we can ensure that it won’t negatively affect any future steps taken.

Like a building, it is important that the foundations of our faith are based on God’s word. The consequences of us not having good foundations for our faith, only leads to a life where when tested, will crumble and wash away.

Jesus says in verse 24, “Therefore everyone who hears these words of mine and puts them into practice is like a wise man who built his house on the rock.” God does not lead us astray. Nothing that He came and told us to do was designed to distract, deter or put us in a place where we could do wrong in His eyes. He wishes us to listen to what He says and by doing it, becoming more like Him So that we can one day join Him in the afterlife.

Something that has good foundations will stand against the test of time and will be known for its strength and integrity. Unlike the Leaning Tower of Pisa which is famous for its failure to set up good foundations.

Have you ensured that the way you live your life is the product of good foundations?

Have you ever had a someone come up and tell you a story on something that seemed unlikely? Like they were just at the skatepark, did a triple kickflip on flat and then followed with a quad kickflip straight after… Yeh that’s something I would probably have to see to believe.

That might not be the best example, but what if your partner said to you, lets go and move to the other side of the country to live, because I hear this voice telling me to do so? Would you want proof? 

In Romans 4 we reflect on how it was good for Abraham to not need proof on what God had been telling him to do and it was through his belief that God blessed him in many ways. Not many of us could say that God has promised and blessed us with a nation worth of descendants. 

It is through God’s promises that he makes that we see how truly good and Righteous He is. Enabling Sarah to have a child, Delivering the Israelites to the promised land and most important, sending the messiah who would be the saviour to all of mankind, just to name a few.

The Bible is a track record of all the great things that God has done for the people that follow him. It allows us to use that as evidence that what he has promised, can be trusted to happen. “The words ‘it was credited to him’ were written not for him alone, but also for us… (verse 23-24)” 

As we celebrate Easter as followers of Jesus, we do not need to have seen what has happened to believe. We trust in God’s written word as a statement of what has happened and as a promise of what is to come to all who believe in the resurrection. 

Jesus said to his disciples after appearing to Thomas in John 21, “… blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed.” Look and study God’s word, the evidence is there. Have you found enough for yourself to be without doubt and not to need to ask for signs?

Have you ever tried to justify things that you want of think you need with God? If I had a better paying job, then I could give more. Or if I got the latest Playstation then I could play with my friends and evangelise to them through that?

Sometimes we enter negotiations with God for things that want instead of what we need. God, however, knows the motives of our hearts as it says in verse 3. Yes, you might use that games console to minister to your friends but how often will you play with it by yourself and not do that? God knows better.

This doesn’t mean that we should stop asking for things that we want. Our God is generous in all that He gives to us. Although, He does not waste what he entrusts us with. It is good to ask Him for what we want and need but keeping in mind that He expects us to use what we are given to assist in building His kingdom.

We must however shift our desires away from the possessions and worries of this world. There is only one set of controls for our lives and God wont share that with anyone or anything else. Settle the battles that are within you and humble yourself to allow and trust God to provide for you.

In becoming more like Christ and submitting to God, the things that we once thought me needed become less important. Also, as we start to depend on God and resisting the temptations of the world, its stated that the Devil will flee from us (V.7). Once we are in the light of God the darkness will no longer be able to hide.

“Humble yourselves before the Lord and He will lift you up.” (v.10)

The Bible is full of great advice that all who follow Christ, should seek to understand. In doing so we must live in a way that our actions line up with the way that we use our words.

James in verse 19 says that we don’t need to rush into sharing what we have, we need to take time to listen, learn and understand what it means to follow Christ. Like trying to build a house without foundations, we can’t skip steps as cracks will start to show when we are placed under a little bit of pressure.

God wants us to be people that learn and follow that map that He has given us. The map is designed to equip us with all the skills and practices that allow people to become more resilient in their faith. It can then be through the way the people use their actions day to day life, that Christ can work in others.

If we were to claim that we were Christians but read God’s word and didn’t live in the way that it instructs us to; It would be like buying a Lego set and throwing away the instructions. The reality is that its not going to have the desired effect. The image of God that we have try to represent will become distorted and unrecognisable 

So as Christ followers, we can’t live by the motto “do as I say, not as I do” as that would suggest we don’t live as Jesus did. We, however, need to put our money where our mouth is and be Christians that are ready to be put to the test by practicing what it is like to be Christ every day.

James closes this passage off with a warning that those who learn but do not act in the way that they have been taught have something that is considered worthless. But also mentions that whoever holds true to their faith and acts according will receive the blessings of heaven.

Do you practise what you preach with your words AND your actions?

The passage today is one that gives us warning but also reassurance in God. As followers of Christ, we should not live in fear of the battles we will face, but in the confidence that through thick and thin God will always stand with us.

Two times in this passage, Paul tells us to equip our spiritual armour to ensure that we remain “…strong in the Lord and in His mighty power.”  So that we will be vigilant and ready for what will be thrown against us. He also associates each piece of armour with a different aspect of faith that following God gives us.

The first two are the belt of truth and breastplate of righteousness which can both be related to one’s own integrity. Lying is detestable in the eyes of the Lord (Proverbs 6:16&17) and doing what is morally right whilst also in line with scripture, allows us to be righteous through God.

The third listed piece of armour is the “… feet fitted with the readiness that comes from the gospel of peace”. Where we go to make our stand, we should keep our stance and foundations true. When times are tough do not run or be afraid but remember that “You (God) will keep in perfect peace those whose minds are steadfast, because they trust in you.” (Isaiah 26:3)

The fourth piece of the armour of God is the shield of faith. Those who would have fought with swords and shields would have often had to put their faith in the shield they carried. It was the only thing between them and a slash of a blade or barrage of arrows. Do we have faith that God steps in to protect and provides for us?

The fifth piece is the helmet of salvation. It is through believing in our hearts and mind of the resurrection Jesus that we are saved. If we don’t believe it and know that it is true, then we cannot carry the armour of God. It is important that we protect the head from the invasion of lies and deceit that the enemies like to plant.

The last piece that Paul teaches us is the sword of the spirit, which is the word of God. God has equipped us with his written word that we must learn and study. Using this as the only offensive part of the armour we can rely on the spirit to do the work. We only need to wield the sword and facilitate its work.

With all these, Paul has given us a way to remember and rely upon God in times where we might find the opposition. So, have you equipped yourself with the armour of God and are ready to stand your ground in his name?

The passage of Jesus going into the wilderness is a good one to reflect upon today. It’s in this passage that Jesus spends 40 days in a different form of isolation. In this time Jesus is tested and tempted by the devil who prompts him with things that don’t glorify the Father.

Like Jesus we can be tempted to do that don’t keep God at the centre of our lives, like that new Xbox game I haven’t opened yet or that book I have been meaning to read. With our change of lifestyles, we have found more time to pursue other things to do at home, which is okay, but shouldn’t be at the expense of our relationship with God.

With this in mind, we need to stay vigilant of the enemy as he will put things in front of us that are distractions in the form of solutions to the problems we face. Look at how the Devil tried to tempt Jesus with Bread when he was hungry in verses 2&3.

Don’t allow room for your prayer or bible reading to slip to the back of your priority list as you develop a new daily routine. If we do what it says in Joshua 1:8 by learning and keeping the book of Law (or the bible) on our lips, then we could be like Jesus who turned away temptation with scripture.

Something else that might stand out from the passage is how we can’t get all our sustenance from one source alone. We need to be filled up by God through all interactions with him. Praying, meditating, studying the word and serving one another can all bring us to building a better relationship with the father.

What distractions in your life get in the way between you and God?

These three verses from Joshua can be broken down into 3 different but similar parts:

1) Be strong, courageous, follow the laws of Moses and you will get success (V.7)

2) Learn the law so you can keep the law, and I will give you success (V.8)

3) Be strong and courageous and not scared because God is with you (V.9)

This advice was given to Joshua by God after Moses had died and He had become the new leader of the Israelites. God had told the Israelites that he would give them the promised land but wanted to ensure that they were a nation that followed him first.

The advice that God had given to Joshua was to help set him up in leading a nation to God, as well as into the promised land. The three points from verses 7-9 form a map to direct Joshua into learning about what it is like to put your faith and trust in God.
Like Joshua we are given the map to God in the form the Bible. We should pay attention to the advice in verse 8 and “Keep this Book of the Law always on your lips; meditate on it day and night, so that you may be careful to do everything written in it.” And with doing that God will bring us success and prosperity in this life or the next.

We must be never quick to forget that God keeps his promises and will give us life after death should we pursue him with all our hearts. Remember, take courage and be strong “for the LORD your God will be with you wherever you go.” ( V.9)

Have we followed his directions and are ready to receive his blessings?