May Devotional by Steve Abbott

Introduction

This month my reflections will centre on the Romans reading, given it is so rich with content and worth more detailed attention. Through the pen of Paul, this passage forms part of the Holy Spirit’s unfolding of the implications of the glorious powerful gospel (see Romans 12:1-2 ‘In view of God’s mercy offer your bodies as a living sacrifice…’). The final verse, 12:21 ‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’, could almost act like a summary principle for the whole passage. It also immediately brings to my mind the great prayer of Jesus in John 17 and in particular verse 15, ‘My prayer is not that you take them out of the world but that you protect them from the evil one.’ Both Jesus and the Spirit intercede on behalf of Christians, so we can almost certainly be sure that Jesus and the Spirit are praying the contents of Romans 12:9-21 into our lives. This reflects the will of God for us as we live in a fallen, sinful society, which is broken and corrupted at its very core.

The passage seems to seamlessly move from providing godly guidance for the internal life of the community of faith as well as its external engagement with those who are outside faith in Christ. This of course makes perfect sense, for Christians ought not to divide their life into sacred and secular partitions. The ‘other-person centred love’ we exercise within the life of the community of faith (12:9-13) needs also to be mirrored in our relationships with those who are not yet Christians (12:14-21).

It is clearly strategic for effective gospel ministry that believers demonstrate an attractive caring concern for each other, reflecting something of the graces of the gospel: sincere love and goodness (12:9); mutual devotion and honour (12:10); generosity and hospitality (12:13). With its myriad of ups and downs, Christians face life with a different set of values than unbelievers. Christians know the sovereign Lord has everything in His control, therefore we are to never lack in zeal for the things of God. We maintain our spiritual energy as we serve the Lord in any and all circumstances. Despite the challenges of normal life and opposition to our faith, we can remain joyful in hope, patient and prayerful (12:11-12). The gospel, ‘God’s mercy’(12:1) is to tangibly shape how we live together in Christ and also how we respond to the hardships which life may throw at us. We show the world a better divine gospel way to approach life.

This of course doesn’t change when we engage with those still outside of the faith community, even those who stand opposed to us and may physically or emotionally choose to intimidate us (12:14, 17, 19-21). Christians are never to forget they were once themselves enemies of Christ and needed God’s grace. Therefore, we ought to treat everyone equally, bless not curse our enemies, celebrate and mourn with them according to the turn of events in their life and not repay evil with evil (12:14-17). There is a concern to live in harmony and at peace with all people, while recognizing not everyone will respond in kind (12:16, 18). Christians know that God will ultimately bring justice and we can leave that to Him and His timing (12:19). Indeed rather than retaliate, Christians move forward with Gospel grace, providing for the needs of their enemies so that they might cause them to change their stance. That is, Christians overcome evil with good (12:20-21). In my view, by quoting Proverbs 25:21-22, Paul reflects what Peter teaches in 1 Peter 2:11-12 ‘Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and exiles, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.’The open living out of our faith exercising gospel graces may lead some of those who oppose us to personal trust in Jesus, whereby they glorify God. Could there be a more dramatic demonstration of evil being overcome by good?

My dear sisters and brothers, may we ensure that both inside and outside the church fellowship, all our relationships are marked by a commitment to fulfill Romans 12:21‘Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good’.

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To disobey and die or walk in Christ and live.

Today’s (We 04/11/2015) faithful daily readings are Jeremiah 34 and Romans 12: 9-21

God uses those He sends to be with us and walk with us and in today’s two passages to provide us with directions or patterns for us to live by.  For our Old Testament reading Jeremiah was that person sent to prophecy and witness to the Israelites and their King.  For our New Testament reading God has sent His Holy Spirit to minister to His chosen people who believe in Jesus Christ as our personal saviour.

Time and again we see Jeremiah making clear to those who live in Israel and particularly Jerusalem what is to happen to them as God exercises judgement against them for their disobedience. Here again Jeremiah predicts the carrying off to Babylon of the King Zedekiah and the Princes. For this prophecy he is imprisoned and Zedekiah, together with the people, swear a covenant with God to resile from their sinfulness by releasing the slaves who should have been released after seven years.  This is sworn in the custom of the day by walking between two halves of a sacrificial animal.  But that’s not how the people keep this new covenant with God. They rebel and re-engage their slaves.  The King fails to act to enforce the promise in this covenant that included the people..

God responds.  Jeremiah is commanded to inform the King and all the people that they will not leave Jerusalem,  but the Babylonians who had the city previously under siege, will return to take the city and will put them all to the sword.

Conversely, the Romans passage lists the marks of a Christian.  This passage sits in contrast to the behaviour of Zedekiah,  the princes and the people who acted in their own selfish interests and in doing so, failed God.  Did you read this Romans passage?   Concise, direct language about how we are to live together.   So our path is clear, to follow God and behave as Christians.

Lets have a look at this whole passage sentence by sentence.  (You’ll perhaps recall using this method in secondary school to study prose and poetry.)  This approach is useful here to help us fix in our minds the detail of how we are to live.  Otherwise we tend to read passages like this as if they are a set of instructions for a new gadget; only needed to get the gadget started and then only referred to again when something goes wrong.  (If we can find the booklet!)

Love in action  (NIV-UK 2011)

Love must be sincere.

Hate what is evil; cling to what is good.

10Be devoted to one another in love.

Honour one another above yourselves.

11 Never be lacking in zeal, but keep your spiritual fervour, serving the Lord.

12 Be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.

13 Share with the Lord’s people who are in need.

Practise hospitality.

14 Bless those who persecute you; bless and do not curse.

15 Rejoice with those who rejoice; mourn with those who mourn.

16 Live in harmony with one another.

Do not be proud, but be willing to associate with people of low position.

Do not be conceited.

17 Do not repay anyone evil for evil.

Be careful to do what is right in the eyes of everyone.

18 If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.

19 Do not take revenge, my dear friends, but leave room for God’s wrath, for it is written: ‘It is mine to avenge; I will repay, says the Lord.

20 On the contrary: ‘If your enemy is hungry, feed him;

    if he is thirsty, give him something to drink.

In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.

21 Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

A prayer:  Dear Lord and Heavenly Father, I commit to walk in these ways as a follower of Jesus and one of your children.  Help me refresh and recall these precepts in my heart and mind so that I may walk humbly and faithfully before you and with my sisters and brothers.  I ask these things so that your holy name may be glorified through our Saviour Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Glenn

 

Would the real Messiah please stand up!

Luke 7:18-23

Why did John the Baptist ask Jesus to confirm who he was? I guess the easiest answer is because who Jesus really is, is really important! 🙂 Some people thought he was a prophet. Other people thought he was a trouble-maker. Some people thought he was demon-possessed and a few others thought he was God in human form – God’s Son.

John heard about Jesus’ miraculous healings – and apparently asked Jesus straightaway if he was the “Expected One”. John had sent messengers because was already in prison at this time. His greatest ministry in his whole life was to point to the Christ – indeed it was the greatest ministry of any mere mortal – and John had already testified to Jesus’ divinity at the time he baptized him. So I always assumed that John the Baptist had already known who Jesus really was. Maybe his expectations of the Messianic ministry that came next were being confounded by Jesus’ humble and gentle treatment of the rebellious creatures on earth. Remember John’s preaching style was very direct: “you brood of vipers!” Even though Jesus had and has all authority to condemn sinners he has kept choosing to restrain himself even today. So perhaps John was really confused about God’s big plan to show grace towards nasty people. Jesus later refers to John as the opposite of a “reed swaying in the wind” so he is clearly not a pushover and entirely the sort of person who would hammer home a point. I do not think John’s faith or personality would have been easily dissuaded or discouraged. One could even suppose that John was tactfully prompting Jesus to start taking forceful action, so to easily release John from prison!

Whatever John’s reasons for asking were, Jesus’ answer also strikes me as a little odd. John had just heard reports of the miracles and Jesus instructs his messengers to go back and report the miracles again! But not just any report – it’s shaped to identify Jesus against the silhouette of Isaiah’s prophecies (Isaiah 35:5-6; Isaiah 42:6-7; Isaiah 61:1-3). So the value of that specific message was heavily reliant on its subtext: I am doing exactly what Isaiah prophesied the Messiah would do. I am sure that was a very encouraging response to hear in the dreadful suffering of an ancient prison. I notice that Jesus omitted the part about setting captives free – probably a wise move when the message would be delivered in front of prison guards! Maybe Jesus emphasized the first half of that reference to imply the latter half about bringing freedom?

I for one am glad that resurrection, healing and liberation tend to follow my Jesus around every day. When I seem to lose patience with the messed up ways of this world and feel like questioning our all-powerful God about why He allows so much decay and destruction to continue, this passage gives me hope – that it’s all part of a much bigger plan for grace to triumph. When good people are in prison, who is blessed? It is us who draw nearer to Jesus and do not shrink away from him.

Matthew

Acknowledgment – I have been richly blessed by a sermon on this passage titled “Who’s Who” by Neil Chambers given at Bundoora Presbyterian Church, Melbourne which is available for podcast.

The old is renewed

FDR for 29/12/2013
Today’s reading is Psalm 1

As we transition towards a new year we are refreshed by what we read again.

Yesterday, Matt brought to our attention the conjunction of the old promises and Biblical descriptions of a new Messiah into the careful research and recording by Luke, of Jesus’ direct connections with the one true God and His presence here on earth with us. The image of God speaking at Jesus’ baptism by John the Baptist and claiming Jesus as His Son speaks strongly of this living eternal connection and the truth of “God with us” or the word ‘Immanuel’.

Yet today, before us is another ancient writing and the first of these life changing Psalms.

Take a moment to read this Psalm again:

1 Blessed is the one
who does not walk in step with the wicked
or stand in the way that sinners take
or sit in the company of mockers,
2 but whose delight is in the law of the Lord,
and who meditates on his law day and night.
3 That person is like a tree planted by streams of water,
which yields its fruit in season
and whose leaf does not wither –
whatever they do prospers.

4 Not so the wicked!
They are like chaff
that the wind blows away.
5 Therefore the wicked will not stand in the judgment,
nor sinners in the assembly of the righteous.

6 For the Lord watches over the way of the righteous,
but the way of the wicked leads to destruction.

Two ways to live.
In the knowledge and acceptance of Christ as your and my Saviour. In this Psalm defined in verses 1 to 3.

Or without acceptance of Christ (v 4 and 5) and be judged as if we are chaff and blown away in the wind. In today’s imagery, to be blown off the lawn as useless and as hopeless as lawn clippings that cannot be collected.

Verse 6 defines our course after we choose between Jesus or choose to live our earthly lives without Him.

Have you made a choice? A choice between living with the Lord watching over you or living with destruction as your judgement.

For me, I choose Christ.

The triumph of the King in the agony of the cup

Today’s Readings are Luke 22:39-46 and Deut 14

How marvellous! How wonderful!

And my song shall ever be:

How marvellous! How wonderful

Is my Saviour’s love for me!

The words of this beautiful hymn came to mind as I was reading through Luke 22:39-46. There is something truly marvellous, wonderful, and awe-inspiring about this moment in the garden isn’t there? It is here that Christ is preparing to bear upon Himself the cup of God’s wrath towards sinners, it is here that He endures the silence of His Father for our sake, and steels Himself for the suffering that was to come on the cross, that we might be reconciled to God, and so bring glory to his name. How wonderful indeed is my Saviour’s love for me!

But at that same time as I’m left floored by Christ’s love, I also want to stand up and shout at the injustice of it all! This is a terrible moment for our Lord. His agony is palpable – He was literally sweating drops of blood as He contemplated the horrific nature of the suffering in front of Him. I tremble at the thought of the enormity of His task – the depth of the pain and suffering He would have experienced is beyond comprehension. And He didn’t deserve it! We did! Oh how amazing is your grace Lord Jesus.

Thinking on the victory that Christ achieved in agony, the triumph He won through tragedy, should lead us to our knees in worship. My prayer is that today we would be freshly amazed at the love of our Saviour in Gethsemane.

Lord Jesus, we thank you for drinking the Cup!

Daniel Budd

We are exhorted when we see Christ exalted

Today’s life journal readings are Ezekiel 1-3 and Revelation 2

In Revelation 2, John records four personal letters from Jesus Himself to each of the churches in Ephesus, Smyrna, Pergamum and Thyatira. These are the first of seven churches who are personally addressed in the Revelation to John (the churches in Sardis, Philadelphia and Laodicea are addressed in chapter 3). While each letter is unique in many ways, there are some striking parallels between all four. Three similarities stand out in my mind. In each letter:

1. Jesus is exalted – Jesus is “him who holds the seven stars in his right hand and walks among the seven golden lampstands” (v. 1), “him who is the First and the Last, who died and came to life again” (v. 8), “him who has the sharp, double-edged sword” (v. 12), and “the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze” (v. 18). What a magnificent picture we receive of our Saviour in this chapter, one that echoes the glorious revelation given to John in chapter 1 (see 1:12-18). These last two chapters declare boldly to us who John’s revelation is all about – it’s all about Jesus.

2. The church is exhorted – Jesus, in various ways, both encourages and rebukes the churches in this chapter. In each case, He does this first by telling them who He is (see above). Isn’t this amazing? By beholding Christ in His glory, the churches will naturally be comforted or criticised, or perhaps both. For this holy and righteous one “knows” them intimately (v. 2, 9, 13, 19), nothing is hidden from Him, and in light of this, He exhorts them to persevere in holy living.

3. A blessing is promised“The one who is victorious” will receive eternal blessing, says Jesus. This incredible promise appears at the end of each letter. But who is the one who is victorious? He is simply the one who perseveres to the end. The Christian life is a battle for holiness, a constant war against our own sinful desires, and the influence of the world and the evil one. Victory is assured, however, when the Christian remains true to their faith, and by the grace of God perseveres through the battle. This the true Christian will do, and the result will be triumph over his enemies (see 12:11, 15:2), and rewards far greater than anyone can comprehend (v. 7, 11, 17, 26-28).

So what can we take from this passage this morning? I think this chapter makes it clear that when we see Jesus exalted, we are exhorted. So be encouraged, like these early Christians were, to look to Christ constantly for your encouragement and motivation to live a godly life. Remind yourself of the holy character of Jesus, and of His love for you made manifest in His death on the cross. Preach the gospel to yourself today, and, remembering the promises that Jesus has given for those who persevere, strive to live each moment in a way that is pleasing to Him.

Daniel Budd

(The Setting of Revelation – “to the seven churches in the province of Asia” (1:4) – © ESV Study Bible)