Obedience before Motivation

Today’s Reading: Luke 20:41-47, Haggai 1

Today is the first of two days looking at the short book Haggai.

The book of Haggai is addressed to the faithful Israelites who had returned from Babylon to the Promised Land after the exile. Haggai’s oracles take place in 520BC 19 years after the resettlement. What they encountered on their return was unrelenting difficulty. Haggai’s message in Chapter 1 was intended to stir them into action.

 

The Exiles: Not yet, I’m Busy

It seems the returned exiles were more focused on re-establishing their families, their households and their livelihoods than they were on rebuilding the temple. They left Babylon full of righteous fervour and enthusiasm for temple building. However, 18 years on after meeting heavy opposition to their construction efforts under Kings Xerxes and Artaxerxes (Ezra 4), the rebuilding had stopped. They had lost their enthusiasm for temple building and were caught up in just “making ends meet”.

“These people say the time has not yet come to rebuild the house of the Lord” v2

 

The Lord’s priorities.

Jesus said “Seek first his kingdom, and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well” (Matthew 6:33).  Haggai’s clear message to the exiles echo’s Jesus Words spoken hundreds 500 years later.

God rebuked them because they had their priorities wrong. The people thought that their economic circumstances – their poverty – prohibited religious activity, whereas Haggai proclaimed that their economic plight was caused by their lack of commitment to God. His message to the Israelites was “Build the temple first – Honour God first – get your priorities lined up with God’s priorities – and he will bless your hard work and establish your success himself”

When the Israelites heard the Word of the Lord, and they obeyed it, their fortunes changed.

 

Obedience before motivation

I find it interesting that God moved in their lives to motivate them to build the temple in response to their obedience. It was only after they obeyed that  ..

… the Lord stirred up the spirit of Zerubbabel the son of Shealtiel, governor of Judah, and the spirit of Joshua the son of Jehozadak, the high priest, and the spirit of all the remnant of the people. 

God demanded their obedience to His Word as their first priority. And when they obeyed he provided the motivation and resources and determination to get it done. In other words – they obeyed even though they didn’t feel like it!

 

The 21st Century Christian: Not now, I’m busy.

I find it hard to criticise these hardworking Israelites. They had tried to rebuild the temple and had been stopped under heavy opposition. It seems sensible to me, even responsible to work hard – to provide your family – to establish your livelihood having been uprooted and carried everything you owned on the back of a camel to resettle in a new land.

It’s busy being me!  Being a dad / father / worker in 21st Century Australia is time consuming – sometimes all-consuming. There are weddings and school fees and career and family and a host of other things to do. However it would seem the message to me from Haggai today is if in doing these good things I neglect the best thing – obedience to God – I am missing the point and missing the fantastic plan God has to use and bless me and my family, for his glory.

Pray that today God would “Stir up our Spirit” to obey and seek His Kingdom as our first priority today.

Peter.

 

 

Advertisements

Simeon and Anna – Waiting for God

Readings today: Numbers 8-9, Luke 2:22-40

In the passage in Luke 2 we get a snapshot of the lives of two faithful old saints who waited for the Lord to answer their prayers for decades and how God answered their prayers in the most amazing and unexpected fashion.

 

Simeon (the just and devout)

The bible doesn’t tell us a lot about Simeon. He is only mentioned in Luke where he is described as a man living in Jerusalem, who is “just and devout”. Luke records that God had appeared to him in a dream and made him a promise- the promise that he would not die until he saw the saviour.

So, when the story begins, Simeon has been waiting for his earnest prayers to be answered for some time. We don’t know how long he has been waiting, nor do we know how old he is, but we can assume he was elderly from his prayer that he can now die knowing that God has fulfilled his promise.

I wonder what his friends and family thought of Simeon. As the years rolled by and Simeon continued to wait and hope as others got on with their lives around him, I wonder how many of them wrote him off as a silly old fool. Did they think his prayers were simply wishful thinking?

Yet, Simeon’s faithful prayer vigil is recorded for all time in the gospel of Luke as this faithful Old Testament style believer had his dreams and hopes fulfilled when he first looked into the eyes of the 6 week old baby Jesus.

 

Anna the Prophetess

Like Simeon, the only details we know about Anna we get from this passage. The commentators seem to be unsure of her age (is she 84, or 84 years widowed!). Regardless it is clear that she is very old and has been waiting and praying earnestly for the saviour for a very long time.

What must Anna have thought decade after decade as Israel’s moral decline continued without hope of a saviour in sight. Surely she must have been discouraged by her unanswered prayers. How many times must she have been tempted to give up on God. How many times must others have looked at her life – so old, so many years alone, so many years prayers unanswered – and thought of her as someone to be pitied.

Then, unexpectedly and in a most miraculous way, God answered Anna’s prayers. Like Simeon, faithful Anna’s name will be remembered in eternity. Forever God’s people will read the story of this long-suffering saint and praise her faithfulness and perseverance – and praise God for answering her prayers.

 

God – the promise keeper.

God did not forget old Simeon and Anna. God honoured their faithfulness in spectacular fashion – in coming to earth as a baby and letting them welcome him at the temple!  He kept his promise to them and He blessed them in ways they could never have imagined

No doubt both Simeon and Anna would have been familiar with the Old Testament Psalms and may have been encouraged to persevere by the words of Psalm 130

 

5 I wait for the Lord, my whole being waits,
    and in his word I put my hope.
6 I wait for the Lord
    more than watchmen wait for the morning,
    more than watchmen wait for the morning.
7 Israel, put your hope in the Lord,
    for with the Lord is unfailing love
    and with him is full redemption

Both of these old saints waited on the Lord, and they were rewarded by experiencing His unfailing love and finding themselves in the front-row seat as his plan for full redemption played out in the birth of Jesus.

 

Today

Be encouraged in prayer. If you have been earnestly praying for years for God to act in the life of a loved one, or to resolve some long-standing burden, know that God is faithful and answers our prayers.

 

Peter

 

A Life Worthy

Today’s readings: Ephesians 4:1-16, Ecclesiastes 8

Today I thought it might be helpful to spend sometime meditating on just one of the verses from the 2 chapters to read today.

“Be completely humble and gentle; be patient, bearing with one another in love.” Ephesians 4:2

Paul encouraged the Ephesians to adopt these four character traits in order to live a life worthy of their calling. As I considered these over the past day or so I couldn’t help but meditate on how Jesus perfectly modelled them for us.

Jesus is completely humble

Jesus created the World. He owns it. He rules it. When he was abused and misunderstood, when he was whipped and beaten, he could have blown them away in a fashion more fantastic than any Avenger in a Marvel movie.

And yet he didn’t. He laid down his rights. He let the little children come to him. He commended and comforted the widow. He brought peace to the demon possessed.

He did not trumpet to the world how good he was or thunder about how much respect they should have shown him. He did not jump up and down on the spot and tantrum about his rights. He was selfless and served to the point of death, even death on a cross.

O Lord, today I want to live a life worthy of my calling – I want to be more humble like Jesus.

Jesus is completely gentle

“Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. … For I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your soul”. Matthew 11:28-30

Jesus is not gruff. He will not crush a broken spirit or a bleeding heart. He will not judge a repentant sinner. He is not sarcastic. He is gentle.

I am not completely gentle. I get worked up about those with whom I disagree and get angry. Even if it doesn’t come out of my mouth (as it too often does) inside I rage with righteous indignation about kids not doing their chores, work colleagues who just “don’t get it”, drivers who abuse cyclists and SSM campaigners – just to name a few.

O Lord, today, I want to live a life worthy of my calling – I want to be gentle like Jesus.

Jesus is completely patient.

How many Christian’s did Saul kill before Jesus saved him? How many men did Rahab sleep with before God saved her from Jericho? How many excuses did Moses use to avoid conflict with Pharaoh when God called to him from the burning bush? How many Africans did John Newton sell into slavery before God revealed his Amazing Grace?

Peter asked “How many times should I forgive a brother who sins against me, 7 times?” Jesus answer: 70 times 7!

I get annoyed when I am lined up in the Coffee queue, or I have to wait for the next train. Yet I have lost count of the times Jesus has heard me confess the same set of sins or have to learn the same lessons over again.

O Lord, today I want to live a life worthy of my calling – I want to be more patient like Jesus.

Jesus completely bears with us.

See Jesus weeping with Martha and Mary when Lazarus Died. See how he sympathised with the woman who had been bleeding for 20 years. Watch him comforting the grieving parents whose young son had just died. See how he fed the hungry thousands on the hill side. Watch him befriend lonely Zacheus. Hear him reassure the guilty thief who died beside him on the cross.

Oh Lord. I want to live a life worthy of my calling – Help me to bear in love with those that cross my path today.

Amen.

Peter.

 

The Greatest Commandment

Today’s Reading:  Judges 2:1-3:6, Matthew 22:34-46

Have you ever tried to surf? I did.

Every Christmas my family would head up the coast and spent weeks camping at a place called Bateau Bay where we would spend long hot summer days down by the beach. Like all young blonde Aussie boys I wanted to surf. So, one Christmas mum and dad bought me a Styrofoam surf board and my surfing career began.

What looked so simple (and seemed to be so simple for all the other young blokes) turned out to be impossible for me. I just couldn’t stand up on that board no matter what I tried. Over time the other guys graduated to fibreglass boards and then to Shelly’s – the surf beach around the corner. But I stayed stuck at Bateau Bay – the boy who could not surf.

Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your mind, and all your soul.

When the Pharisee’s asked the question “What is the greatest commandment” they may have expected something more complicated from Jesus – something more involved. Instead Jesus responded with a short simple statement: Love the Lord your God  as No.1!

At face value it sounds simple. Certainly the statement is easy enough for the youngest child to understand. However, while Jesus command might roll off the tongue mastering a wayward heart is something else entirely.

This simple command is impossible to do.

And it gets harder. As Jesus goes on to explain in verse 39 the outworking of loving God is to love others as ourselves. I find I am so hopelessly self-absorbed that I even have difficulty loving the one person on the planet I hold dearest in the world – my wife. What hope have I of loving my neighbour – a complete stranger – or worse – loving those who hate me?

Clearly the ancient Israelites had difficulty giving God rightful place in their lives too. The summary passage in Judges 2 and 3 this morning describes the endlessly repeating cycling of rebellion – judgement – salvation – restoration, over and over again, generation after generation, as the Israelites tried and failed to serve God in their own strength.

We, like the Israelite’s, are addicted to sin. The First commandment is simple to say but impossible to do. Trying to be “good enough” will never be “good enough”.

The flawed surfer

Decades after I had given up any hope of a professional surfing career I discovered why I was never able to surf. My well-meaning parents had bought me a board without a fin! My surfing career was flawed from the outset – doomed to be a lowly body boarder all of my days!

Likewise we have no chance of completely loving God because we are hopelessly flawed.  Our sin-addicted hearts will never allow us to completely serve God and love others. We will always fall short of Jesus first command.

We need to be born again. We need a new heart. We need a supernatural intervention. And the great news is that we can have that new start in Jesus.

A new Heart

Praise God for Jesus. Thank God that while we were still His enemy, he sent Jesus to pay for our sin, to put his spirit in our hearts, and start the work of giving us a new heart – changing our affections and desires to incline toward him.

Because of Jesus we can know what it is to “delight in the Lord” not simply obey him out of duty.

Because of Jesus we can know the unspeakable joy that comes in serving the Lord free from guilt and shame.

Because of Jesus, while we are far from perfect, what can experience what it is like to love others self-sacrificially as Jesus loved us, and return to Him again again for forgiveness and strength when we fail.

What is impossible with man is possible with God. God can change us – and He does.

This morning.

Praise God for sending his son Jesus to die for us. Thank Him for the new heart he places in those who trust Him. Pray that he might continue to change us so that we may love Him wholeheartedly.

A True Friend

Today’s reading: 1 Samuel 18, Revelation 8-9

It cannot be by accident or random coincidence that in 1 Samuel 18 the writer of Samuel contrasts the relationship of two men – a father and a son – to the same person David, in the same chapter, in the course of telling David’s story.

So, some reflections this morning on the nature of true friendship from the contrasting stories of Jonathan and his Dad.

True friendship is other-person centred.

David and Jonathan’s friendship is built on other-centred love. In verses 3-4 we read that Jonathan “loved David as himself”. The act of giving away his robe, sword etc is evidence of this (noting that at this time David was a shepherd from the “sticks” while Jonathan was a sophisticated rich prince from the big city, perhaps explaining why David would need these items if he was to enter the service of the King).

In contrast Saul’s relationship with David is entirely self-seeking. He perceives young David to be a threat and uses his power to manipulate circumstances to keep David out of the limelight. Rather than lead, mentor and guide the promising young warrior Saul surrenders to self-centred jealousy and manoeuvres and plots to ensure that his own position is secured in the minds of the people of Jerusalem, even plotting David’s death (vs 11,17 ).

Philippians 2 provides a great guide to Christian friendship

“Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others”. (Phil 2:2).

True friendship, like David and Jonathan’s, is not based on getting your needs for companionship, approval, and validation met by someone else – it is based on other-centred acts of devotion.

True friends keep their word.

In verse 3 Jonathan makes a covenant of faithfulness to David and he remains faithful to it as we will read as events unfold in the rest of 1 Samuel.

Saul however breaks his word promising his daughter Merab to David, only to change his mind only verses later (vs 19)

God is faithful. He keeps his promises.

“The one who calls you is faithful. And he will do it!” (1 Thess 5:24)

Christian friends reflect their father’s character when they keep their word to each other.

True friends are prepared to go out of their way for each other.

Throughout his lifetime Jonathan played a dangerous game maintaining his loyalty to David while also honouring and respecting his father the King. This often placed him in a difficult situation. As the story unfolds in the chapters that follow we will read how Jonathan puts himself “in harm’s way” many times to protect his friend.

Jesus said “Greater love has no one than this, that he lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do as I command” (John 15:13-14)

Jesus willingly laid down his life for us. In doing so he modelled true friendship to us.

Jonathan was prepared to put himself at risk for his friend David.

Are we prepared to give up our time, our money, perhaps even our personal safety for our friends?

How are you going?

In the busy world we live in it can be tough keeping our friendships invigorated and fresh amongst all the other competing pressures of life. As I have read this chapter over the past few days I have been challenged to reassess how much effort I am putting into my friendships and whether I am more interested in receiving than delivering a blessing to my mates.

Pray

Lord, you have demonstrated to us what true friendship is all about by dying on the cross for us while we were your enemies. Teach me how to be a true friend to my Christian mates, just as you have been to me.

 

Faith based on promises kept

Today’s Reading 1 Chronicles 17 and 1 Corinthians 11:2-16

Has God ever answered your prayers with an emphatic “NO”. David certainly knew the feeling.

David – A prayer answered with promises made.

In the reading from 1 Chronicles 17 this morning we read how David, moved by the fact that the temple had yet to be built in Jerusalem, asked God for permission to build it. The answer from God through the prophet Nathan was a clear “No”. Instead God’s answer to David took for the form of a promise:

  • That his son would build the temple (not him)
  • That he would have a descendant that would reign over a kingdom that would last forever!

Daniel – A prayer unanswered and promises made.

Our church has just finished a teaching series on Daniel. Coincidentally 42 teenagers, 6 of their leaders and a handful of house parents attended a weekend of worship, teaching and fellowship with 2000 other teenagers from across NSW at KYCK17 in Katoomba, where we received teaching on the book of Daniel.

Separated by distance and time, we read in Chapter 10 how Daniel, like David, was moved to pray to God, this time for the rebuilding of God’s temple in Jerusalem (the temple that David’s son Soloman built!)

In a similar way to the answer to David’s prayer in 1 Chronicles 17, God’s answer is unexpected. In Daniel 11 and 12 God responds in a vision with a very specific list of kings and world events that would ensue before God would rebuild his kingdom – not the restoration of the old template in Jerusalem that Daniel had asked for – but the final victory over sin and death and the coming of the true King who would raise His people from death to eternal life.

Faith based on promises kept.

Both David and Daniel receiving amazing and unexpected promises from God as a result of their prayers – yet neither of these me saw these promises fulfilled.

We did!

We know that God fulfilled the promise the David and his son Solomon did build the temple. We know that a king did rise from David’s line and his kingdom will last forever: Jesus. We can trace the line of Kings in Daniel 11 to figures in Ancient history, from Alexander the Great to King Herod – and we know that God made the final atonement in the death of Jesus on the cross – as promised to Daniel 500 years before it happened,

In the words of one of the speakers at KYCK on the weekend

“We do not have a faith based on promises made – We have a faith based on promises kept!” Brett Middleton, KYCK17,

We know that God has delivered on his extraordinary promises to these two Old Testament Saints – and we know that God will deliver on his promise to us – to save us from God’s wrath through the atoning death of His Son, and to raise us up to life to live forever with Him when Jesus returns in Glory.

Today

Thank God that He is a promise keeper. Thank God that he kept the promise made to David and Daniel. Thank God that we do not need “blind faith” in order to trust Him, that we can point to promises made and kept over, and over again in His Word the Bible. Prayer for Jesus return and praise Him that he will keep his promise to us to raise us up from the dead to new life on the last day. Amen

 

 

Called to repay evil with blessing

Today’s Readings: 1 Peter 3:8-22, Proverbs 19

There is a tonne to think about and meditate on in our two passages this morning. However I would like to focus on just 2 verses today – 1 Peter 3:8,9

We are called.

There are many references in the New Testament to the calling given to those who follow Jesus. Many of these “callings” are wonderfully good news! We are called to belong to Jesus Christ (Rom 1:6), Called to be His Holy people (1 Cor 1:2 ) Called “children of the living God” (Rom 9:26). Called to be free (Gal 5:13).

However, here in 1 Peter 3 (and 2) we are told we are called to something else entirely – we are called to repay evil for good.

Finally, all of you, be like-minded, be sympathetic, love one another, be compassionate and humble. Do not repay evil with evil or insult with insult. On the contrary, repay evil with blessing, because to this you were called so that you may inherit a blessing. (1 Peter 3:8,9)

This is tough!

Peter is teaching that when we are insulted we should bless. When someone lies about us we should bless. When we are deeply hurt we should bless. We should even bless those who don’t like us.

Peter’s teaching is not new. Jesus also “called us” to repay good for evil. In Matthew 5:38-48 Jesus teaches that we should not “take an eye for an eye” rather we should love our enemies, and pray for those who persecute us! – we should repay blessing for evil.

Radically Different

This is radical. Our natural inclination is to strike back – to seek retribution and justice – to be vindicated – when we are attacked or hurt or insulted. I find myself wanting to do this all the time – in my relationships at home, at work – I want to have the last word when I have been attacked. Yet, Jesus tells us to bless those who have wronged us and not to hit back.

The good news is that Jesus knows how to do it!

In the gospels we see Jesus mercy and blessing poured on those who dislike and reject him over and over again. Perhaps the best example is the picture of Jesus hanging on the cross asking God to forgive those who have hammered the nails through his wrists

Jesus even repays us with blessing for our evil. We lived in rebellion to Jesus, living as his enemy, and we continue to sin everyday of our lives. And yet Jesus repays our evil with his blessing by dying on the cross to purchase our salvation and bring us into daily relationship with our magnificent gracious God.

For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, to bring you to God (1 Peter 3:18)

Jesus provision and the promise!

While it is impossible for us to repay evil for good in our own strength, is it encouraging to know that the spirit of Jesus is living within us transforming us to be more like him, so that we too will grow to be ever more merciful and be able to repay blessing for evil as he did.

This calling comes with a promise. 1 Peter 3:9 teaches that if we fulfil our calling to bless others, we ourselves will inherit a blessing from God.

Prayer Today.

Let’s pray today that Jesus would change us and teach us how to love like he loves – so that we might fulfil our calling to repay evil with blessing, and inherit the rich blessing he has promised