No Better Question

Today’s readings are Isaiah 11 and Acts 16:16-40.

A week after the passing of Billy Graham, there is little doubt that the question that has been asked by the jailer after he had witness the miracle of the jail doors being open (v26) is a question s that I wished more people would ask.

We read, that at about midnight when both Paul and Silas were praying and singing (vs25-28) and the doors were open wide, such shock struck the jailer that he was prepared to kill himself as he feared the prisoners had escaped. Thankfully there was time for Paul to tell him not to fear as they were all still there. The jailer then called for the lights, rushed in and fell trembling before Paul and Silas.  We read at that point that “He then brought them out and asked, “Sirs what must I do to be saved?”

I am not even sure hat the great Billy Graham could have done better. In fact I am sure he couldn’t. But I am also confident that he would have responded in the same way. Simple and direct, “Believe in the Lord Jesus and you will be saved, you and your household” (v31). Such a question and such a wonderful response that brought a man and his household into faith in Jesus Christ.

In fact as you read these verses you actually discover that the converts from Philippi were a  business man, a slave girl in bondage to an evil spirit and a Roman jailer. Here we see first hand the reality of a new community in Christ being established. Where there were no divisions over race, class or creed.

Today remember that Christ breaks down barriers that separate us and creates a new community for us.

May his name always be praised.

Pastor Barney.

p.s. Thanks Jane for your fellowship in Christ.

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Psalm 106

At first glance of Psalm 106, t I wasn’t sure to be honest, I wanted to dive down into Israel’s sin for 48 verses. It’s largely a lament, a confession, a recounting of Israel’s rebellion. But it is in the way the Psalmist trusts Gods faithfulness in the wake of all that rebellion, where the hope of this Psalm most abundantly springs to life. And it’s a jam-packed Psalm full of so many nuggets to keep coming back too in the days to come.

Psalm 106 sits alongside Psalm 105, complementing each other as they both recount Israel’s history. Both Psalms begin and end with “Praise the Lord”. Psalm 105 looking through the lens of Gods faithfulness to his covenant, and as we will see, Psalm 106 seeing the events through Israel’s rebellion. The Psalm begins with writer bringing praise to God, recognising Gods enduring love and faithfulness. He does this in a humble position in vs 2 & 3:

Who can proclaim the mighty acts of the Lord or fully declare praise?

Blessed are they who maintain justice and constantly do what is right.

These two verses are so profound. They sum up two crucial ways we are to be followers of Jesus and honour God with our lives. Firstly, they point us to strive always to bring God praise; and secondly to live a holy life and to make the world a more just place. They should inspire us.

At the same time, they show a standard we just can’t keep. As much as I can praise God with my lips and my life, as much as I can strive for justice in the way I live, how I spend my money, what goes onto my Facebook page, I can’t be perfect in those things – no one can. Like Paul says in Romans 3, and the author says in verse 6. We have sinned. We can’t live up to the perfection prescribed.  So the writer moves his focus to the Lord – beseeching him for what only he can do.

“Remember me O Lord, O Lord, when you show favour to your people, come to my aid when you save them, that I may enjoy the prosperity of your chosen ones, that I may share in the joy of your nation and join your inheritance in giving you praise” (vs 4 &5)

It’s a prayer of recognition of where the writer stands before God. He cannot make the cut on his own. It’s a prayer of desperation for help, recognition of his own unworthiness. So what does the Psalmist do, he puts his trust in Gods promises, that he can take part in each of these promises given to God’s chosen people.

In my research for this Psalm I have been trying to find out who wrote it, but it’s not super clear. My study bible tells me that it was most likely written by a Levite living in, at a time when exiles to Babylon were returning to the their lands. What gets fascinating is that in vs 6 – 7, the authors language moves from the we (“we have sinned”) to they (“they gave no thought to your miracles”). As he now starts recounting Israel’s rebellion all the way, he aligns himself with the same sin, the same rebellion he and his generation were presently going through. I think then, that this is an appropriate way for us to read this Psalm, to see the things that Israel did, and to recognise that we do they same things. We as a nation of Australia, we as an FAC community and we at Figtree, in our different context.

Here is a scattering of the words statements that I found so relatable to my own walk.

  • They did not remember your many kindnesses (v7)
  • But they soon forgot what he had done and did not wait for his plan to unfold. (v13)
  • They gave in to their craving; they grew envious (v14)
  • They exchanged their glorious God for an image (v20)
  • They forgot the God who saved them, they did not believe his promise. (v21)
  • They grumbled (v25)
  • They yoked themselves (v28)
  • They worshiped their idols (v36)
  • But they were bent on rebellion (v43)

Pausing on each statement my mind cascades to a million places and seasons and times. Reading through each statement evokes so much of my own life – my own rebellion. And I have no doubt that’s the intent for his readers in their own situation. These statements of the sinful outworking’s of the human heart are a reminder of how prone we all are – wherever in history we find our selves.

But – throughout the Psalm, these statements are contrasted by the outworking’s of Gods heart in response to that sin. Throughout this recounting of events, there are a number of instances when God warned his people, and didn’t hold them back from their own sinful desires. As vs 15 says “he gave them what they asked for”.

But in spite all of that, God remained completely faithful, Gods grace over them and in their situation never ceased. As you read through these statements, on the ways we have seen God at work in the same way recently and in the different seasons of our own lives.

  • Yet he saved them for his name’s sake (v8)
  • He led them through the depths as through a desert. (v9)
  • He saved them from the hand of the foe (v10)
  • Many times he delivered them (v43)
  • Yet he took note of their distress when he heard their cry (v44)
  • For their sake he remembered his covenant and out of his great love he relented. (v45)
  • He caused all who held them captive to show them mercy. (v46)

Having pondered all that rebellion, and all of Gods faithfulness throughout – the authors response in the final 2 verses is to ask all his readers to join him in beseeching God in prayer. He asks that God would gather back his people from exile and that they could give their thanksgiving and “glory in your praise” v47. The Psalmist is dreaming of a future when all his people are gathered together, the whole nation of Gods scattered people are boasting and congratulating and worshiping God for what he has done.

As you pray today – take a couple of minutes to dream too of that future when all Gods people are gathered together as one, giving thanks and worshiping him, and giving him getting all the glory. What would that look like? And how does that affect the way we go through our day today?

Things aren’t always what they seem

Todays readings are Isaiah 8:1-18 and Acts 14:1-28

Do you ever find yourself overwhelmed by society and the world in which we are called to live out our faith in Jesus? In Australia it can seem at times that Christians, the Church and Christ himself are being swamped by a headstrong majority who think they know better than God. Whether it be the definition of marriage, the boundary-less possibilities for expressing our sexuality, the rights to abort our babies or determine when we die, the increasing avenues for gambling, our obsession with accumulation and on the list goes; it looks as though God and His people have been left out to dry!

But things aren’t always what they seem. The two readings for today provide tremendously encouraging messages. We need to build our lives on God’s word no matter what society, the world or even some wayward religious leaders might say and do. Both Isaiah and Acts challenge us to look at the world from God’s perspective and to shape our lives by His word.

Isaiah reminds us that the world may huff and puff, like the proverbial wolf, to blow God’s house down. But it is the LORD (Yahweh) and His powerful word which will have the final say. In Isaiah’s day, despite the popularity of forming alliances with the powerful pagan nation of Assyria, as the King and people were (8:6), it is best to stay the course and wait only on the LORD for worldly plans will come to naught. Isaiah 8:10 “Devise your strategy, but it will be thwarted; propose your plan, but it will not stand, for God is with us.”  So the faithful people of God will join the prophet and choose to fear God and not the human powers that currently flex their muscles (8:12): “The LORD Almighty is the one you are to regard as holy, he is the one you are to fear, he is the one you are to dread.”  For he is the one who will bring judgement on the nations and on those within Israel, who align themselves with the nations (8:14b-15). But, for his faithful ones the LORD will be a sanctuary, a holy place, a place of protection and care (8:14a).

Meanwhile in Acts 14 we find ourselves at the back end of Paul and Barnabas’ first missionary journey. A similar pattern continues as we’ve seen before. The good news of Jesus is preached and people, Jews and Greeks, come to faith (14:1). Immediately there is opposition which ultimately leads to Paul and Barnabas fleeing the city under the threat of stoning (14:5). However, apparent defeat is turned into more ministry fruit as now the gospel is preached in Lystra and Derbe (14:6-20). We can notice in this chapter the wonderful synergy of God’s sovereignty and human responsibility in the spread of the gospel throughout the Mediterranean. It is only under the will and power of God’s grace that the apostles’ gospel message is confirmed by the performing of signs and wonders (14:3, 8-10). However, it is not the miraculous which keeps them pressing on in the face of violent opposition and misunderstanding (notice here that the misunderstanding springs from a miracle 14:11ff). No, Paul and Barnabas’ focus is the ‘good news’ and the establishment of churches where authentic discipleship is evident. A discipleship that endures even in the face of the world’s opposition (14:15, 21-25).

Imagine being members of the Antioch church, the sending church of Paul and Barnabas (see Acts 13:1-3, 14:26) and listening to their missionary report. How encouraging to hear of “…all that God had done through them and how he had opened a door of faith to the Gentiles.” Did Paul still have visible cuts and bruises on his face and arms from his stoning in Lystra? Maybe. But they were hearing of answered prayers (13:3), of God’s gospel being preached and making divine unstoppable powerful progress. Christian communities were being planted throughout the Mediterranean. And all this amidst vehement and violent opposition.

Friends, the gospel is still the power of God for salvation. Lost people still need to hear the good news of the dying and rising Jesus. Australians of all ages, races and creeds are coming to faith as you read this blog. Yes, Australian society will still huff and puff and try to blow our house down, but the LORD is our sanctuary and our sovereign powerful partner in mission. Therefore, don’t fear/trust people, rather fear/trust the Lord and speak the gospel boldly and wisely. Ultimately, we will win the day “…for God is with us.” (Isaiah 8:10).

Bear witness to God

Isaiah 6. Acts 12:1-24

My father wrote this devotion on Isaiah 6, some 12 years ago.

Today we read the testimony of one who belongs to a very special company of people; those to whom God has revealed himself in an extraordinary manner: Abraham, Moses, Isaiah,Jesus’ disciples, Paul and the Apostle John. In the year the king died Isaiah saw The King, high and lifted up, and holy. His presence and glory filled not just the temple, but also the whole creation.

The vision did four things for Isaiah. It gave him a sense of God that he never forgot.It convinced him  of his uncleanness, and the uncleanness of his people. It led him to an experience of cleansing. It prepared him for his commissioning  as God’s spokesman to a rebellious and hardhearted people. He was equipped to bear witness to God.

To have experienced God in this way prepared Isaiah for the thankless, difficult, and theologically bewildering role of warning about destruction and exile at the hands of pagan and evil powers that did not worship the Lord. It also enabled him to hold out the promise of a magnificent restoration beyond judgement, because he was speaking the words of the One who was Lord  over all.

The vast majority of us do not see God as Isaiah did, but we are meant to see the God whom Isaiah saw. We are to see him through his eyes, and through the eyes of all those whom God has chosen as the vehicles of his self-revelation.

For a brief moment in time these men of God saw eternal realities that are permanent and unchanging. We are called to live each day with, and by, these realities. We can, by God’s word and Spirit, make the substance of this vision our own. A deep personal sense of God as the Holy One, high and lifted up, will help us to ‘bear witness to God’.

Thanks Dad, for always bearing witness to God.

Here Comes the Son

Isaiah 4:2-5:30

I feel for our farmers. Many, many hours of hard, physical work in all weather conditions. Timing of annual events to ensure the highest quality of the final product. Waiting…. Waiting…. watching for crops to become plump, colourful, healthy and these changes totally dependent on the weather. Drought, flood, hail, dust, gales, greedy insects, the list goes on.

In our reading from Isaiah there are many references to the agricultural world. Everything looks bleak. But then the sun comes out, the approaching good news is mentioned. In this passage there are many references  to the coming of Jesus about which a large number of learned people have written copious words. I like this quote from Matthew Henry: The success of the gospel is the fruit of the branch of the Lord; all the graces and comforts of the gospel spring from Christ. With God’s perfect timing there is no angst here waiting for the best climatic conditions. We thankfully acknowledge Christ’s presence, growing us, shaping us to be the best version of ourselves, transformed to His likeness and not subject to weather conditions but changed in God’s perfect timing.

Acts 11:19-30

As we read in previous chapters in Acts, the first Christians scattered throughout the Roman Empire only preached to Jews. In the immoral city of Antioch, the gentiles were included in the evangelistic talks. Verse 21 And the hand of the Lord was with them, and a great number who believed turned to the Lord. Great fruit, produced again in God’s perfect timing.

We read of Barnabus, one of the leaders, previously known for his generosity (Acts 4:36-37) and his warm acceptance of Saul after he was converted (Acts 9:26-28) being sent to the fledgling church in Antioch. As a respected leader of the church God used Barnabus’ presence to grow and encourage His people.

When he came and had seen the grace of God, he was glad, and encouraged them all that with purpose of heart they should continue with the Lord. For he was a good man, full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. And a great many people were added to the Lord. Two reminders: that any changes in the hearts of people are brought about only by the grace of God and it’s a great idea to encourage each other.

What a great difference it makes to have leaders who are full of the Holy Spirit and of faith. They are the ones who teach, plant seeds, nurture and encourage people to produce great fruit. We can be thankful for our leaders here at Figtree and must remember to prayerfully, and personally, encourage them in their faithful, everyday walk as they remain strong in the Lord.

May we all be open to the leading of the Holy Spirit as He continues to ripen and grow us into people with hearts like Jesus.

 

Acts 11:18

Isaiah 3:1-4:1, Acts 11:1-18


Acts 11:18 (English Standard Version)

18 And they glorified God, saying, “Then to the Gentiles also God has granted repentance that leads to life.”

 


GENTILES GRANTED REPENTANCE; GLORY TO GOD!

Gentiles

Jews and Gentiles don’t fraternise. For a strict Jew to eat with a Gentile is like Tony Abbott joining the Labor Party. Not likely. Yet here Peter discovers that following Jesus is not restricted to Jews. Non-Jews can follow Jesus. Any one can follow Jesus. Jew or Gentile, slave or free, male or female (Galatians 3:28). Circumcised or uncircumcised, Barbarian or Scythian (Colossians 3:11). Rich or poor, healthy or unwell, young or old, Australian or not. Anyone can, but not everyone does.

Granted Repentance

Not everyone does because to follow Jesus means to unfollow all else. To unfollow the world and the flesh and the devil. This is what ‘repent’ means: to turn from anything else and to turn to Jesus. This turning is a gift from God. Repentance is a gift from God. It is a gift from the Father God (Acts 11:17) embracing believing in the Lord Jesus (Acts 11:17) and being baptised with the Holy Spirit (Acts 11:16).

Glory to God!

When Peter’s audience heard this news, they gave glory to God. So should we! Not so much because Gentiles were accepted by Jews – although that is astounding – but because Gentiles were accepted by God, which is better. Anyone who receives the word of God and repents and believes inherits life. Glory be to God!

Two great gifts from God

Our readings today are Song of songs 8 and Acts 9:1-31.

If you’ve made it to the end of Song of Songs and are still not sure what to make of it, you’re not alone. It’s interpretation has been discussed over the centuries by scholars and devoted theologians, without really arriving at a generally accepted consensus. Many of the puritan writers considered the book largely allegorical, of Christ and His bride the church. Others have seen only a love poem, or collection of love poems designed to be read together.

I lean more towards it being a description of passionate love, and romantic intimacy as a good gift from God, yet set against a backdrop of God’s love for his people (the constant garden imagery) and Christ’s love for his church.

In this last chapter, that passion culminates after the slow build through this cycle of poems of longing, and declarations of adoration from both the bride and groom. Chapter 8 serves in some way as a conclusion (yet there is no real conclusion as a story – because it’s not a story), so perhaps rather than conclusion we might say a climax. The intensity is clear:

Set me as a seal upon your heart,
    as a seal upon your arm,
for love is strong as death,
    jealousy is fierce as the grave.
Its flashes are flashes of fire,
    the very flame of the Lord.
Many waters cannot quench love,
    neither can floods drown it.

And here there is a hint that this great gift from God can be all-consuming, and wonderful, but also potentially dangerous.

For me they key to this book is not to try to over analyse it, but enjoy it as poetry, and marvel at the great gifts God has given us in desire for relationship with others, love and marriage, and the gift of sex. All good things for us, when experienced under God as He intended.

Moving from poetry to history, in Acts 9, we come to probably the most significant event outside the resurrection of Christ for non-Jewish, or gentile believers. The conversion of Saul. In the space of only a handful of verses we see the most complete and dramatic turn around in history – the conversion to top all conversions. From still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord to preaching boldly in the name of the Lord. A complete and utter transformation that can only have come from meeting the risen Jesus.

Yes – Jesus grabbed Paul’s attention, with blinding light, a heavenly voice and complete loss of sight. The real transformation though was not on the road to Damascus. Saul has had three days, sitting without sight, contemplating his life, his Damascus road experience, and his future, when we read this exchange between Ananias and God who appeared to him in a vision.

But Ananias answered, “Lord, I have heard from many about this man, how much evil he has done to your saints at Jerusalem. And here he has authority from the chief priests to bind all who call on your name.” But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.” So Ananias departed and entered the house. And laying his hands on him he said, “Brother Saul, the Lord Jesus who appeared to you on the road by which you came has sent me so that you may regain your sight and be filled with the Holy Spirit.” And immediately something like scales fell from his eyes, and he regained his sight. Then he rose and was baptized; and taking food, he was strengthened.

The real transformation in Paul’s live was being filled with the Holy Spirit. It is God who works in us to accept Jesus as Lord and be saved. For us, it is not quite as dramatic, yet it is still God who enables us to respond to His offer of salvation.

The thing that really struck me though as I read this, was the Lord’s response to Ananias’ protest of concern for his safety. For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.

I don’t know about you, but if I was preparing someone to be the key person in my grand plan to reach the nations of the world, I’m not sure I’d try to motivate them by showing them how much they would suffer because of it. And yet this was exactly God’s master plan and strategy – to save the world through Paul and others after him, who would empty themselves, so that they might be filled with God. You see it in the anxious longing of Paul’s letters and his single-minded purpose of proclaiming the Gospel, knowing nothing other than Christ and Him crucified (1 Corinthians 2:2).

Today, I thank Jesus for Paul, and his single-minded submission to the suffering God showed he would endure. Paul’s radical conversion was the lighting of a fire that burns still, so that the Word of God could reach you and I, that we might know the saving power of the cross of Jesus.

I thought you might like to conclude your reflection by listening to this song by Brenton Brown about Jesus, the faithful Word of God, whom Paul proclaimed as a great gift from God to the Gentiles.