Reflections from 9th May 2020
Wednesday 24 June 2020 – Esther 4
Think of a situation you have faced, perhaps recently, when you were afraid. You knew the outcome could be really hard for you. How did you respond to the challenge?
Read Esther 5:1-4. Esther is in real danger of losing her life. It all depends on the whim of a capricious, all-powerful king who believes he is a god.
How does Esther prepare to meet the king? (Esther 4:15-16; 5:1a; 5:4b) What is her strategy for pleasing the king? What does she do that suggests she has confidence that Xerxes will accept her invitation? What do her actions reveal about her faith in God?
Getting safely into the throne room is only the first step in Esther‘s perilous journey. The king she is petitioning is the king who was impressed by Haman’s plot (Esther 3:10-11). Could this be because he is an anti-Semite himself? If he learns that Esther is a Jew will his attitude to her change? How is she to make him see the matter differently? Does this give us a deeper insight into her fear when Mordecai told her she must intervene (Esther 4:9-11)? She needs divine protection when she enters the king’s presence, but she also needed divine wisdom when she was planning how she was to speak to him.
Read Esther 5:5-8. Esther’s plan is designed to intrigue the king. It is clear from the way he questions her (v3) that Xerxes realises only something very weighty would make her risk coming to him uninvited. It was not really to be expected that she would disclose it in front of all the court at this formal state occasion. Her reply seems an anti-climax but it probably follows the protocols, just as the king’s apparently extravagant offer (v3 & v6) is probably a courtly formula. The inclusion of Haman in Esther’s invitation, and Xerxes’ unquestioning acceptance of this, suggests that Haman is a recognised intimate of the king.
After the banquet it comes as a surprise that Esther again postpones telling the king the real reason for her petitioning him. Her strategy is deep. When you read the rest of the story you realise that it is deeper than she realises! She could not possibly have anticipated the amazing events of the next 24 hours before her second dinner date, and how crucially those events will support the final outcome. These developments, involving Haman and Mordecai, are not coincidences. God is in control of events. Was he also the author of Esther’s strategy? Did the three days of fasting and praying result in a plan that came from God, and therefore a courage that came from God?
Do you sometimes feel that your problems are overwhelming and insoluble? God is not limited by our ability to think of ways to sort them out! Think back to some of the unexpected ways he has answered your prayers in the past. Expect him to do amazing things now, and be bold in your praying. Then be courageous in your actions.
Prayer: Dear Lord, thank you that you are faithful. You never let me down. Thank you that however alone and lost I feel, I am never out of your reach and protection. Teach me to pray and to expect you to answer my prayers. Give me the courage to act in response to your leading. Amen.
Monday 22nd June 2020
Prayer – a Priority? (cont.)
Following on from our last Reflection, here are a few more practical thoughts which might enrich our prayer lives.
4. Meditate on God’s Word. It is a good idea to begin by asking God to, “Open my eyes, so that I may see wonderful truths in your law.” (Psalm 119 v18) and you can tell Him, “I will keep your law in my heart” (v10). As you read the Bible passage, do so slowly allowing the words to feed your soul. Repeat any significant phrases turning them over and over in your mind. Maybe you will want to commit some verse or phrase to memory so that it becomes a permanent part of your life. If you are reading about some event, for example an incident in the life of Jesus, put yourself into the scene, ask questions and be a part of what was going on. Read Psalm 1:1-3 and be encouraged – v3 tells you what you will be like!
5. Listen to the voice of God. This is vital. Jesus reminds His hearers that, “Man lives by every word from the mouth of God.” (Matthew 4:4). Isaiah said that, “He wakens me morning by morning, wakens my ear to listen like one being taught. The Sovereign LORD has opened my ears – “(Isaiah 50:4-5). Is that true for me?
(a) We can hear what God wants to say to us through the Bible (Psalm 119:103-105), and Paul tells us that “All scripture is profitable for teaching” (2Timothy 3:16).
(b) We can listen to what God has to say through nature. Read Psalm 19:1-4.
(c) God also speaks to us by the voice of His Holy Spirit. See Nehemiah 9:20; John 14:26 and 1John 2:27.
(d) Other people may also bring words from God to us, “The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life” (Proverbs 13:14). Am I listening in every circumstance?
6. Learn to speak. We may be used to praying silently when other people are in the room (e.g. Hannah at Shiloh 1Samuel 1:12-13), but when Jesus is teaching His disciples He tells them, “When you pray say –“(Luke 11:2). James explains that, “You do not have because you do not ask” (James 4:2) where the word used means to verbalise your request. Of course we are to avoid hypocrisy and repetitious babbling (Matthew 6:5-8), but it often helps focus and concentration if we speak out our praying.
7. Keep learning! In Luke 11:2 the disciples ask Jesus, “Lord, teach us to pray”. This is after more than two years of discipleship training by Jesus!! They had observed Jesus, they had heard His teaching, they had even been out on missions (the 12 in Luke 9 and the 72 in Luke 10), but they still want to learn to be better at prayer.
Is that my attitude? Do I really want to keep improving my prayer life?
A Prayer: Loving Father, thank you that you want to have meaningful conversations with me all the time. Please show me how my prayer life can be richer and help me apply the lessons you teach me. Amen.
Friday 19th June 2020
Prayer – a Priority?
In the last Reflection we noted that one of the effects of the pandemic was that prayer had become a new priority for many people.
Is it a priority for you?
History shows that times of Christian revival frequently follow the combination of two things – some sort of cataclysmic upheaval and a significant growth in prayer. The Corona virus has caused the upheaval, now for the prayer!
“More things are wrought by prayer than this world dreams of” (Alfred Lord Tennyson)
Two recent books that will encourage your journey in prayer are “How to Pray” by Pete Greig, and “The Discipline of Intimacy” by Charlie Cleverly. Highly recommended!
Here are a few practical thoughts which you might find helpful.
1. Make it Regular. Choose your ‘sacred place’ (Reflection – May 22nd) and a suitable time, and then keep to it. There are good reasons for having a prayer time in the early morning if that is possible in your household – see Psalms 5:3; 57:8; 130:6; 119:147. Isaiah recognised the need for God’s strength morning by morning (Isaiah 33:2), and it was the practice of Jesus Mark 1:35.
2. Be Still. In a busy life, press the pause button! Psalm 46:7-11 reminds us of the authority and strength of the LORD Almighty. It is good to reflect on that and to absorb the truth that “He is with us” (vv7, 11). See Psalm 95:1-7. Note the repeated encouragement to “Come”, and the increasingly close relationship until we know we are His sheep (v7). Take time to be aware that you are in His Presence.
3. Love is at the Heart of the Relationship. See Psalm 113:13-14. God is a compassionate Father who understands our frailties, and Jesus taught us to pray to “Our Father in Heaven” (Matthew 6:9). Jesus was using an intimate word for Father and He has passed on that close relationship to us by His Spirit (Galatians 4:6). God draws us into His Presence “and His banner over me is love” (Song of Solomon 2:4). We remember that the first and greatest commandment is not that we should respect God or serve Him, but that we should love Him! (Matthew 22:36-38). “As a bridegroom rejoices over his bride, so will your God rejoice over you” (Isaiah 62:5). That love lies at the heart of prayer, and it will enrich our prayer life if we are aware of it each time we come to pray.
Write a letter or poem of love to your Heavenly Father for Father’s Day.
A Prayer: Loving Father thank you that you know me completely – all my weaknesses and failures – and you still love me unconditionally. Help me to really grasp that truth and to live in the light of it all the time. Amen.
Wednesday 17 June 2020 – Esther 3
The Book of Esther is an account of how, when the People of God were threatened with total annihilation, God rescued them. God is never named but He is there all through the story. We need to recognise Him in it.
Can you remember a time when you found it a struggle to do what was right? When doing what was right would be costly? What was the outcome? How did it affect you?
Read Esther 4:1-3. How did the Jewish people react to the annihilation that they faced?
(Note: Sackcloth and ashes were the normal way to express grief, terror and repentance. Fasting implies prayer.) Our nation has also had times of turning to God in a spirit of repentance and prayer (for example at the time of Dunkirk in 1940 – the prayer was followed by the miraculous evacuation of troops made possible by extraordinary weather conditions). Is this a time when the nation should be doing so again? What about the Christians – are we serious about repenting on behalf of our nation when we ask God for deliverance?
Read Esther 4:4-17. Esther in the royal harem was not completely cut off from the world. She had news through her servants, who must have known that she had a bond with Mordecai. (The fact that Esther and Mordecai are related is still secret.) With no idea of the reason for Mordecai’s distress Esther tries to help him, but it is soon clear there is a deep problem (v4). To find out what it is Esther has to trust Hathach completely, as a go-between. As a result Esther learns of the edict against the Jews, and that Mordecai wants her to use her influence with the king to save the Jews.
What did Esther feel at this news? Relief that no-one knew she was a Jew? Terror at the demand Mordecai was making on her? He did not know that she was unlikely to have any influence with the king; indeed, since she appeared to be out of favour, seeking an audience uninvited was likely to lead to her death (v11). So Esther tries to refuse the request. Mordecai’s reply is very straight. The future of the whole Jewish race (God’s people of the Promise) is at stake. Mordecai believes that whatever happens God will rescue the Jews, but it is surely not a coincidence that Esther, a Jew, has been given such a significant role, at “such a time as this” (v14). Finally Esther understands she has to accept the challenge – it is God who has put her in this situation – just as He put Joseph in a key position where he, too, could save thousands of lives. Read Genesis 45:5-8.
Esther knows she can’t do it alone. So she summons all the help she can through Mordecai. She wants him and all the Jews in Susa to fast (and pray) with her. A three day fast, day and night, is a very serious commitment. Do you find that being afraid makes you turn to God for help? As Christians we are not alone: Jesus has promised to be with us always, and we belong to a family whose support we can call on as Paul did: Romans 15:30,31.
Prayer: Lord God, our Heavenly Father, thank you that you are the Lord of lords; nothing surprises you or takes you off guard. Thank you that all things are under your control. Thank you that you ask us to work with you in bringing in your kingdom. Forgive us for the times we have shied away from the tasks you have given us, and teach us to rely on your strength as we work with you. Amen.
Monday 15th June 2020
What is God Doing?
Jesus warns his friends that, “In this world you will have trouble.” (John 16:33) But His very next sentence gives them encouragement. What is it?
We are in the middle of a devastating global tragedy. The Corona virus has taken the lives of over 200,000 vulnerable people, it has wrecked economies and it has spread terror around the globe. In our fallen world this awful pandemic was intended for evil by Satan, but God can “turn it into good, in order to accomplish what is now being done: the saving of many lives.” (Genesis 50:20). What is God doing?
1. Practical Achievements
* About 1,000 homeless people in London were provided housing in 48 hours.
* The Nightingale Hospital was built in nine days.
* Thousands of orphans have been located with families as orphanages closed.
2. Personal Impact
* People are recognising their own vulnerability, and repenting of self-confidence.
* People are reorganizing their priorities as they discover that much of their lives had been taken up with the trivial.
* It has become clear that there is no security in this life so there is a real spiritual hunger. Where will folk find security? Read Psalm 4 and meditate on v8.
* We are changing our way of thinking about other people and their roles in life. We now applaud not the celebrities, but the hospital staff, the Doctors and Nurses, the Carers and Cleaners.
We appreciate afresh the shop workers and delivery drivers.
“Now we can give thanks to our God for you” 1Thessalonians 3:9
3. Spiritual Impact
* 3.3 million people in the UK have newly turned to prayer (see Tear Fund survey)
* There is a surge in the number of people attending church services online.
* A recent Guardian headline was “Young People Lead Resurgence of Faith”
* There have been new sounds of worship. Think of how Tim Hughes’ choral version of The Blessing has reached millions of hearts and homes.
4. Lessons Learned
* The Church is reminded of its prophetic and priestly role to speak and act for God.
* Prayer has become the top priority. See the promise of 2Chronicles 7:14.
God wants us to spend time with Him. He enjoys our company.
* We know the source of hope and joy and peace - Romans 15:13; John 14:1,27, and can share the good news with a worried world.
A Prayer: Loving Father, thank you that you are bringing so many good things out of this terrible pandemic. I pray that many lives will be saved, that your Kingdom will grow, and that I will get closer and closer to you. Amen.
Friday 12th June 2020
We live in world full of anger. People are angry with God, with political leaders, with family members, and even with themselves. They are made angry by injustice, by inequality and by frustration and pain. What is the Christian answer to these things? What principles apply in God’s Kingdom? So far we have thought of Equality and Humility: today we consider Honesty.
(a) Hypocrisy is pretence and the very opposite of honesty. It is totally unacceptable! The way that the Pharisees did many pious things in an ostentatious way so that they would be praised by all the onlookers was roundly condemned by Jesus. In Matthew 23 Jesus warns them how terrible the judgement will be for them because they don’t practice what they preach (v3); their goal in life is to be honoured by people (vv5-7); they follow the minutiae of the law but neglect justice, mercy and faithfulness (vv23-24); and they are full of greed and self-indulgence (v25). In blunt terms Jesus describes them as “blind guides” (v24), “whitewashed tombs” (v27), and “a brood of vipers” (v33).
You can find some more examples of their hypocritical behaviour in Matthew 6:2,5,16.
The hypocrisy of the Pharisees over their interpretation of the commandment to keep the Sabbath holy was a major issue for Jesus. Read Mark 3:1-6 and note the words used to describe how Jesus felt about their attitude (v5).
Jesus cautions that hypocrisy is insidious: it can so easily creep into our behaviour. Jesus describes it as like yeast – Luke 12:1-3 – and warns that it will be exposed for all to see. Can you think of any recent public acts of hypocrisy? Ask the Lord to show you if there is any hypocrisy in your life. What will you do about it?
(b) True honesty will require that we follow the spirit of the law, not just the letter. In Matthew 5 Jesus taught that unjust anger would get the same judgement as murder (vv21-22) and that lust was as bad as adultery (vv27-28). In the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37) Jesus makes it clear that our neighbour is not limited to the one for whom we have a covenant obligation (as the scribes taught). To love our neighbour is to love whoever we come across. It is our willingness to love that matters. (Romans 13:10; Galatians 5:14). Paul warns that the old way of trying to keep the letter of the Law ends in death, but the new way of the Spirit gives life (2 Corinthians 3:6).
(c) If we are truly honest we will admit our errors, both to God and to other people. The Psalms encourage us (e.g. Psalm 32:5) and Proverbs 28:13 tells us that is the way we will find mercy. Do I sometimes find it difficult to admit that I am in the wrong?
A Prayer: Loving Father thank you that I am your child. You know me completely and love me unconditionally. Thank you that I don’t need to pretend anything, but can live a life of freedom, openness and honesty. Please help me to do that. Amen
Wednesday 10 June 2020 – Esther 2
How many times must I forgive my brother?
Read Esther 3:1-6. “After these events” – it was 4 years later.
No reason is given for Haman’s extraordinary promotion. He is clearly a very unpleasant character, but why was Mordecai so determined not to bow down to a man who had power to destroy him? It was not obedience to the second commandment (Exodus 20:4) – the Jews were willing to bow down to kings and other persons of rank (1 Samuel 24:8; Genesis 23:7). It seems likely that Mordecai’s actions were part of the ongoing bitter feud between his people (the Jews, particularly the Benjamites) and Haman’s people (the Agagites, or Amalekites). The Amalekites had attacked Israel after their flight from Egypt (Exodus 17:8-16). Later King Saul (from the tribe of Benjamin) had wiped out almost all the Amalekites, including their king, Agag (1 Samuel 15). Remnants of the tribe must have ended up in Persia, 500 years later, and the bitter hatred is still present. When Haman hears that Mordecai refuses to bow down to him, and that Mordecai is a Jew, he plans revenge not just on Mordecai but on his whole people.
Blood feuds between families can cause terrible suffering for generations. We are Christians – we would never hold onto hatred and bitterness like that! Are you sure? Is there anyone you have not forgiven for some way in which they have hurt you or your loved one in the past? Jesus taught us to pray “forgive us our sins for we also forgive everyone who sins against us” (Luke 11:4). Our forgiveness by God is dependent on our willingness to forgive (Matthew 6:14-15) – we cannot hold onto grudges, nothing is “unforgiveable”.
Search your memory. Is there anyone you have not forgiven for what they have done to you or yours? Ask the Holy Spirit to give you a real love for them and to help you to forgive them completely – this is impossible without his power. Now pray for God to bless them.
Read Esther 3:7-11. Haman’s plot is precise and careful. He starts by getting the astrologers to select a suitable day (v7), 11 months later so he will have plenty of time to get all the details right as he plots the genocide of the Jews throughout the huge Persian Empire. He starts by feeding “false news” to the king – a clever blend of truth (that “certain people” have different customs) and lies (they do not obey the king’s laws). He omits important details (their name) and backs up his request with the offer of a huge gift, equal to about 2/3 of Persia’s annual income, to come partly from the plunder presumably. Xerxes accepts without any questions. Does this give us any clue as to why he promoted Haman in the first place? What does it tell us about Xerxes’ character?
Read Esther 3:12-15. Haman is a very skilled administrator. The plan to annihilate the Jews, including Moredecai, is detailed, complete and unstoppable – Haman has issued an edict in the king’s name, sealed with the king’s ring and therefore unchangeable (Esther 8:8). There is one thing that Haman failed to consider in his plan, because it was a secret.
Haman was unaware that the queen was a Jew.
Prayer: Lord God, our Father in heaven, thank you for the way you constantly watch over me and care for me. Thank you for your forgiveness freely given to me. I pray for a loving, forgiving heart like yours. Holy Spirit I ask you to renew my mind and remove any bitterness. In the name of Jesus who died to make my forgiveness possible. Amen.
Monday 8th June 2020
As followers of Jesus we pray, “Your Kingdom come - - “ into an angry world. What Kingdom principles do we want to see applied? On Friday we looked at Equality. Today we consider Humility.
(a) Paul tells us that we should not act out of selfish ambition (Philippians 2:3), but always consider others better than ourselves (v4). He urges us to have the same mind-set as Jesus (vv5-8): humble and walking the path of obedience to God the Father. In some cultures humility is considered a weakness, but as we look at the life of Jesus we see confidence and strength.
Can you think of a recent example where humility has removed anger?
In what way will the meek be blessed? Matthew 5:5
(b) Humility is not just an attitude of mind: it is a way of life which influences practical action. See the story of Jesus washing the soiled and smelly feet of His disciples – John 13:1-17. He tells them that He is setting them an example (v15). He is demonstrating that Leaders should be Servants.
What does Jesus promise if they follow His example? (v17).
(c) Isaiah 5:21 warns us, “Woe to those who are wise in their own eyes - -“, and Moses admonished the Israelites, “You shall not do according to all that you are doing here - - every man doing what is right in his own eyes.” (Deuteronomy 12:8). This lack of humility where everyone “did what was right in his own eyes” was a constant problem in the time of the Judges (e.g. Judges 17:6; 21:25). In the parable that Jesus told, it was humble tax collector and not the self righteous Pharisee who was right in God’s eyes (Luke 18:9-14). Why is it so hard to admit when I am in the wrong?
(d) People often want to justify their words or actions if some error is pointed out to them. They want to argue their case, like the lawyer who asked Jesus a question in Luke 10:29. But self-justification is usually counter-productive and only serves to inflame
an angry situation. What did Jesus say about this in Luke 16:14-15? God knows the truth and that is what really matters.
(e) Instead of trying to justify ourselves, a humble alternative would be to give a gentle answer – Proverbs 15:1. Other verses in Proverbs encourage the quiet approach
(e.g. 15:23; 18:13 and 24:26). (I love that last one!)
A Prayer: Dear Father thank you for the amazing humility of Jesus. Please give me a loving servant heart like His. Amen.
Friday 6th June 2020
Jesus in an Angry World
The world is in the grip of anger. Americans are angry at the murder of an unarmed black man by a white police officer, and/or at the violence in the ensuing riots, and/or at the threatened escalation of the violence by some in authority. The people of Hong Kong are angry at the removal of some of their liberties by the authorities in Beijing; and those in Beijing are angry at the resulting riots and the comments of some world leaders. Here in UK there is anger at the goings of Mr. Cummings. In other countries it is the oppression of women, or the poor, or the disabled that causes anger.
As the people of Jesus, what do we say to an angry world?
What principles can we agree on? (We will look at one today and others later.)
(a) Our Creator made us equal. See Genesis 1:27 - we are all made in His image. Of course we have different appearance, gender, ability and role in life, etc. – they are all part of life’s rich pattern – but in God’s purpose and design we are all equal in His sight.
Paul sums it up neatly in Colossians 3:11.
What are the consequences of that? Colossians 3:12-14
(b) Since we are equal it is therefore wrong to try and dominate others. One of the consequences of the Fall has been the desire for mastery over other people (think: Cain or Saul or Herod). How did Jesus expect His followers to live? Luke 22:24-26.
(c) Since we are equal, rulers or leaders are not above the law but are subject to it just like everyone else. God gives a strong warning through His prophet Isaiah to any who have “rejected the law of the LORD Almighty and spurned the word of the Holy One” (Isaiah 5:24). Ezekiel 22:23-29 brings an even stronger warning to the leaders of the people - the princes (v 25); the priests (v 26); the officials (v 27); and the prophets (v 28).
There is not one law for the rich and influential and another for the rest!
(d) Because we are all equal, we are all free. Any system that treats people as slaves must be wrong. In addition, those who belong to Jesus have been set free from any condemnation (Romans 8:1). We know who has set us free (John 8:36); the purpose of our freedom (Galatians 5:1); and where we will find it (2 Corinthians 3:17).
We also know that we are not to abuse our freedom (Galatians 5:13).
If this principle of equality were to be universally recognised and applied, many of the anger spots in the world would disappear! Are we demonstrating this to a troubled world in our own actions and relationships?
A Prayer: Loving Father, thank you that we are all made in your image. Thank you for the rich diversity in your world. May that be a source of joy and unity, and not division. Amen.
Wednesday 3 June 2020 – Esther 1
Background to the story: Xerxes (Ahasuerus, 486–465 BC) was the son of Darius. He reigned over the huge Persian Empire extending from Pakistan to Ethiopia. Judah was one of the countries under Xerxes’ rule and many Jews still lived in exile where their families had been taken in 597 BC when Jerusalem was destroyed, having chosen not to return to Jerusalem when this was permitted by Cyrus in 538 BC. Xerxes’ court was in Susa (in Iran), where his father had built a magnificent palace complex. His lifestyle was lavish, reflecting his immense wealth and power.
In 483/2 BC Xerxes assembled all the nobles and military leader from the provinces of the Empire, perhaps to plan new military conquests, and displayed his wealth and majesty for 180 days. This culminated in a 7 day lavish, ostentatious banquet for all those assembled plus guests from Susa. Queen Vashti hosted a separate banquet for the women. On the last day the king, well lubricated by now, summoned Vashti so he could show off her beauty to his male guests. She refused. The enraged, humiliated king consulted his advisory council who decided Vashti should be banished – not only had she shamed the king, but she had disobeyed her husband, setting a terrible example to all women. A new better queen should be chosen in her place and a decree issued throughout the Empire proclaiming “that every man should be ruler over his own household”.
Read Esther 2:1-14. It was several years later before the king sought his new wife. In between he had been busy with wars against the Greeks. A young girl called Esther was chosen to enter the beauty competition that had been planned to enable the king to select his ideal queen.
What do we know about Esther’s family history? (vv5-6)
Neither Esther nor Mordecai had any choice. Esther was in total (tough luxurious) lockdown for life, and spent a whole year being beautified ready for the selection process. She was cut off from her family and friends, and the life she knew. Her future was to become either the queen or one of hundreds of concubines who would never marry (v14). Can you imagine how this felt for her?
Esther, on Mordecai’s advice, concealed her identity.
Why do you suppose Mordecai gave her this advice?
Read Esther 2:15-18. Esther was not just a pretty face.
What other aspects to her character do you find? (vv 9,10,15 Proverbs 13: 1&3)
Mordecai was probably an official in the civil service. He sat at the king’s gate where he held audience and had access to the palace, so he could get news of Esther. He learned of a plot to kill the king and warned the palace through a message to Esther. His name was recorded in the Persian Court Chronicles (Esther 2:19-23). Plot Spoiler: this is very relevant later in the story.
Prayer: Heavenly Father, thank you for the encouragement in this story. Esther’s life was totally disrupted, and she had to wait for a very long time before she could see the wonderful purpose you had in what happened to her. Help me to trust you for my future. Amen.
Monday 1st June 2020
God with us and in us
Right from the very beginning it was God’s plan to have an intimate relationship with the human beings whom He had made in His own image.
“The man (Adam) and his wife heard the LORD God as He was walking in the garden in the cool of the day” (Genesis 3:18).
God met with faithful Abraham and talked with him about family and local issues. No wonder Abraham was called God’s friend (James 2:23), and his descendants experienced a special bond with the LORD (Isaiah 41:8-10).
While God was leading His people out of slavery towards the Land of Promise, He wanted everyone to know that He was with them. He instructed Moses to erect the Tent of Meeting (Tabernacle) in the middle of the encampment (Numbers 2:2). God’s Presence was evident from the Cloud over the Tent in the daytime and “what looked like Fire” at night – Numbers 9:15-18 (Another Fire that does not burn,) When they were on the move, the Ark of the Covenant led the way, with the dismantled Tent and its furnishings in the middle of the procession. (Numbers 10:33-34). God showed that He was leading the people, but always in their midst.
When Solomon’s Temple was complete, and the Ark installed in it, God demonstrated again that he was present with His people by the Cloud (1 Kings 8:10-12). But Solomon also recognised that God’s Presence was not limited to the Temple (1 Kings 8:27-30).
By the time of Jesus, Herod’s Temple was still being completed on Temple Mount. (It was completed in AD 64 – just in time for it to be destroyed by the Romans in AD 70! This destruction was foretold by Jesus – Matthew 24:1-2). Jesus indicated that He was greater than the Temple (Matthew 12:6) and that He had come to replace the Temple (John 2:18-22). He was the very expression of God in human form, and had come to dwell among His people (John 1:14). (The word used for “dwell” here implies permanence, and has the same root as the word “Tent”!) As Jesus died and proclaimed that His mission had been accomplished (John 19:30), the veil in the Temple was torn in two from the top to the bottom (Mark 15:38) indicating that anybody now has free access to God’s Presence: there is no longer any barrier.
At the Last Supper, Jesus had promised His friends that He would send His Spirit to them so that “– He lives with you and will be in you” (John 14:17); and that He and the Father “- will love you, and come to you and make our home with you” (John 14:23). See how Paul expresses it – 1 Corinthians 3:16; Ephesians 2:22; 2 Timothy 1:14.
Let this truth sink in - God loves you, and lives with you and in you.
A Prayer: Loving Father, thank you that love me and make your home with me. Please fill me every day with your Presence, and help me to listen to your Spirit in me. Amen.
Friday 29th May 2020
Power and Confidence
In our Monday Reflection we thought about Grace expressed in forgiveness, now we consider its impact on our power and our confidence.
Grace is Power
Grace has the power to change us. When we are sure that we are not condemned, that no judgement or guilt can hold us back, then we are free to be truly ourselves. And that is powerful.
See what happened to Peter. At the Last Supper Peter had boasted that he would be more faithful to Jesus than all the other disciples (Matthew 26:33). But a few hours later, while the trial of Jesus was taking place and the pressure was on him, he denied three times that he even knew Jesus! (Read Luke 22:54-62). Note how bitterly he regretted his failure (v62). Jesus enabled Peter to fully experience the grace of forgiveness (Read John 21:15-19). He was then entrusted with new responsibilities.
As a result he became the powerful leader of the Apostles we read about in Acts chapters 2-5 and 10-12.
Saul was a very strict Pharisee – highly intelligent and well trained. He saw the followers of Jesus as a threat to Judaism so he set about systematically capturing the people of The Way. Some were put in prison, and some killed e.g. Stephen see Acts 7:57-58. Saul was wonderfully converted (read Acts 9:1-19), but what he had done to Stephen and others burdened his conscience (see Acts 26:9-11). By the grace of God he was totally forgiven and all the burden of guilt was removed. He was set free to become the powerful Apostle Paul. Grace is power.
Do you know the power of grace setting you completely free?
Grace is Confidence
We were designed to live in joy! “This is the day that the LORD has made. We will rejoice and be glad in it.” (Psalm 118:24). In John’s account of the Last Supper, Jesus repeatedly tells the disciples of His joy that He was passing on to them. (This is most remarkable when Jesus knew what would happen to Him in the next few hours!)
See John 15:11; 16:22-24; 17:13. How can we have joy in a fallen world where there is so much pain and suffering – war, disease, poverty, injustice, heartache? Joy is different from happiness. Joy comes from the confidence of knowing that all will be well when all the evidence points to the contrary. Think of the joy of Mother Theresa caring for the lepers and the poorest of the poor in downtown Calcutta. Think of the joy of Jackie Pullinger bringing good news to the drug addicts in the streets and opium dens of Hong Kong. They faced the deep horrors of life, but grace gave them the confidence to know that God reigns and will bring good out of evil. See Habakkuk 3:17-19
A Prayer: Loving Father thank you for your grace giving me power and confidence in the midst of the mess of a fallen world. Please fill me with the Spirit of Jesus so that my life reflects His joy. Amen.
Wednesday 27th May 2020
Read Ruth 4:1-4 The town gate was where all business was transacted. Boaz went there to look out for Naomi’s nearest kinsman. When he sees him he calls him over for a chat, and then makes sure there are witnesses there, too.
I wonder whether Boaz and Naomi had talked together before this. There hadn’t been much time for discussion, since Boaz had promised Ruth to investigate the matter “in the morning” (Ruth 3:13,15) He uses a carefully thought out strategy to try and ensure things work out the way he wants. But it is risky.
Boaz does not mention Ruth at first. He talks to the nearest kinsman about a field that Naomi wants to sell – perhaps because she needs the money to live on? The land is in danger of being lost to Elimelech’s family unless the near kinsman buys it. He has the right to first offer as the goel. He jumps at the suggestion. Does he see this as a potential bargain that will boost his own estate? He is not likely to be required to take on the other part of the responsibility of a goel – marrying Naomi to give her a son to carry on Elimelech’s name. Naomi is too old for that to be a possibility.
Read Ruth 4:5-8. Now Boaz explains that the kinsman does indeed have a second responsibility as goel – not to Naomi, but to Ruth, the widow of Elimelech’s heir. The kinsman backs off immediately! If he marries Ruth any son she has will, by law, be counted as Mahlon’s son, and the field will belong to Elimelech’s heirs, not to the kinsman’s family. He risks losing the money spent on buying the field and on caring for Ruth. In addition he could jeopardise his own property: if he has no other son of his own the heir to Mahlon might also be the heir to the whole of the kinsman’s estate.
The way is now open for Boaz to do what he wants: to marry Ruth himself. His risky strategy has paid off. Read Ruth 4:9-12. He has made sure it is all done correctly and legally. Are there still risks in what Boaz is doing? As a Christian is it sometimes right to take risks?
But Boaz is concerned to do what is right. What a lovely blessing the elders pronounce on him! (Perez, an ancestor of Boaz’s had done great things for the tribe of Judah.)
Read Ruth 4:13-22. The writer of the book of Ruth knew that the elders’ blessing had been fulfilled in that Boaz and Ruth’s son, Obed, was to be the grandfather of King David. What he did not know was that all the nations on earth were to be blessed through Jesus, “great David’s greater son”. What blessings came from Boaz and Ruth both taking risks in order to do what was right and loving. Ruth did not just receive her rights under the law; she also received so much more – grace upon grace.
Prayer: Lord Jesus, my Redeemer, I thank you for your love and generosity to me when I was helpless and had no rights at all. Thank you for the grace I experience daily as you pour out your love on me. Help me to see how I can love someone today with the love I have received. Amen.
Monday 25th May 2020
Grace be with You!
The phrase, “Grace be with you” was a common cliché in the first century AD. It would be used in trivial conversation, by friends meeting in a pub, or at the end of any letter. But Jesus and His followers have transformed it into a new reality. Grace comes into our everyday lives to make things good even when they seem all bad.
Grace is the word to explain what God brings to our imperfect broken world.
It does not prevent dementia or cancer, or make us wealthy and successful, but it does enable us to face our sadnesses, and still know deep down that God will work His good purposes in us and through us.
That is why Paul (e.g. Colossians 1:2; 1 Corinthians 16:23); Peter (1 Peter 1:2); and John (2 John 3) all use that phrase, or something like it, to begin or end their letters.
Grace means Forgiveness, Power and Confidence..
Grace is Forgiveness
We read exhortations to be like Jesus (e.g. Philippians 2:1-8) and see that we don’t match up to that! We don’t even live up to our own expectations for ourselves. So we see ourselves as failures, and feel condemned. That is what religion without grace does for you!
The religious Pharisees were very critical of Jesus and His followers because they didn’t match up to the rules as they interpreted them. They found fault with the teaching of Jesus (Matthew 15:7-12); with the things they did on the Sabbath, like healing (e.g. Luke 6:6-11) or eating corn in the field (Matthew 12:1-8); with their failure to wash enough (Matthew 15:1-2), and with the sort of company that they kept (Mark 2:15-17). Complaints, criticisms and condemnation!
Have you ever heard anyone say something like, “I’ll never be able to forgive myself for what I’ve done”? Or do you criticise yourself for your mistakes and inadequacies? It is clear that religion is not the answer for us, because it only highlights our failures and hammers us even more. But grace sets us free from that entire burden.
Read the story of the “sinful woman” (Luke 7:36-50). The One who was “full of grace” (John 1:14) removes the guilt and set the woman free to “go in peace”.
Grace is wholly liberating. Have you experienced His grace and that total liberation?
Is Romans 8:1 true for you? Grace has forgiven, so there is “no condemnation”.
A Prayer: Loving Father thank you for your amazing grace. Thank you that it sets me free from all real or imagined guilt. Please help me to live in the freedom of this truth. Amen.
Friday 22nd May 2020
Your Sacred Place
Read Acts 2:1-4 what two images of the Holy Spirit are given here? Notice that the sound of the wind “filled the whole house” (v2) and that the flames were there before they “separated and came to rest on each of them” (v3). The Spirit of God was evident in the place before He was evident on the disciples.
The tongues of fire rested on people but did not burn them. Can you think of another occasion when the flames of God’s Presence did not cause burning? Exodus 3:1-6.
In both cases the “tongues” of fire prepared God’s messengers to speak.
(Exodus 4:10-12; Acts 2:4-11).
The Tent of Meeting is another example of God’s Presence in a particular place. See Exodus 33:7-11. How was God’s Presence demonstrated in this case? (v9) What happened in the Tent? (v11a) isn’t that lovely! Notice where the sacred place was located (v7a). When Jesus teaches His followers about prayer, where does He say that they should go? (Matthew 6:6). Where did Jesus go? (e.g. Mark 1:35; 6:46).
Where is your sacred space? A special room? A particular chair? The shed? In the car? On a walk?
Bethel (“House of God”) was a noted sacred place 12 miles north of Jerusalem. It is mentioned more times in the Old Testament than any other town apart from Jerusalem.
Genesis 12:8 Abraham builds an altar there and worships the LORD.
Genesis 13:3 Abraham returns there and reorders his life after his visit to Egypt where his shameful lies caused so much harm (Genesis 12:10-20).
Genesis 28:10-22 Jacob begins his life of faith there, and hears the promises of God (vv14-15). What is his conclusion? (v17). He makes his promises to God (vv20-22).
Genesis 35:6-15 Jacob gives thanks for his safe return (vv6-7), he listens to God and God changes his name/character.
Judges 20:18 The Israelites go to Bethel asking for wisdom.
2 Kings 17:28 The Assyrians ask a priest to go to Bethel to instruct gentiles how to worship the LORD.
A lot happened at that sacred place!
What’s happening at your sacred place?
A Prayer: Loving Father thank you that you want to be at the heart of my life. Help me to listen to you in the quiet place and allow you to shape me. Amen
Wednesday 20th May 2020
Read Ruth 2:20 & 3:1,2a It was fortunate for Naomi and Ruth that they arrived in Bethlehem at the beginning of the harvest, but when their grain was used up it would be very difficult for them to eke out a living. Naomi is like a parent to Ruth and realises she has the responsibility to see Ruth settled and protected. Boaz is a “close relative” or “near kinsman” (in Hebrew a goel) of Elimelech, Naomi’s husband. Goel (or protector) has a technical meaning in Hebrew law. The “next of kin” or “guardian redeemer” had the right and duty to buy back (or redeem) the land or person of someone who through poverty had been forced to sell their inheritance, or even themselves (Leviticus 25:25).
This Hebrew law is based on the relationship of love Israel has with God as his covenant people. Israelites are to treat people in the community as God has treated them.
Read Deuteronomy 15:5 – God redeemed Israel from slavery in Egypt.
Read 1 Peter 1:18– We are redeemed (from slavery to sin) by Jesus’ precious blood. We are God’s covenant people. What does that imply about our responsibility? Just to our family? Or to the Christian family? Or to others?
Read Ruth 3:2-5. Naomi has a plan to give Ruth a secure future. Because of her marriage to Mahlon, Elimelech’s son, Ruth has the right to claim the protection of a near kinsman of her husband. But Naomi’s plan is risky. Ruth could ruin her reputation. To us her behaviour looks very strange, but Ruth is following Hebrew tradition: it is the place of a servant to lie at the master’s feet; and to draw part of a near kinsman’s mantle over oneself was the legal way to claim protection and redemption. Ruth was prepared to obey Naomi (in a culture quite different from her own) and take the risk. What does this add to your understanding of Ruth’s character?
Read Ruth 3:6-18. It turns out that Naomi hadn’t got it quite right. Boaz was not the nearest kinsman! So he did not have to play the part of the goel. However Boaz is more than just a kinsman. His response shows he has clearly understood that Ruth is asking for marriage. What does his reaction reveal about his character? In what ways is he taking a risk?
Prayer: Heavenly Father, in your love for me you have reached out and rescued me, and given me your protection. Please show me today how I can reach out to someone who needs to know your love, even if that feels risky for me.
Monday 18th May 2020
Journalists have been using the adjective “apocalyptic” to refer to the events surrounding the Covid-19 crisis. They are meaning something terrifying, like the end of the world scenes described in the last book of the Bible. See Revelation 1:1. In English translations this book begins “The revelation of - -“. The Greek word in the original text is “apokalupsis” which means “exposing”, “unveiling” or “revealing”, but our word “apocalyptic” has come to imply something utterly horrifying.
Towards the end of the first century AD the Christian Church was going through some tough times. It was suffering and confused. Jesus encourages them by revealing to them His plans for the future right up to the time of His return to planet earth. He does this via a series of visions given to the Apostle John while he was in exile.
Who will be able to understand these divine secrets? See Daniel 12:8-10.
Read Revelation chapter 4. What is your reaction to reading those verses? The word “throne” is used over 40 times in the Book of Revelation! The message we are to grasp is that God is on the throne. He is in control. He knows what He is doing, and He will work all things for good (Romans 8:28). The world is not going to end with a nuclear holocaust or a pandemic! It will not end with a funeral.
How will it end? See Revelation 22:12-13; 16-17.
When we go through tough times this hope is - - - ? (Hebrews 6:19).
Because we have this hope we are exhorted to be joyful (Romans 12:12), and indeed to overflow with it. (Romans 15:13). So this is something which will be evident in our lives.
How do we do this in practical ways? (a) Jesus tells us to concentrate on today, and don’t worry about what might happen tomorrow (Matthew 6:34); (b) Focus on things that are true, lovely, etc. (Philippians 4:8) and turn your back on the media outlets which peddle doom and gloom; (c) Keep in touch with friends and family by phones and apps (Proverbs 17:17) but don’t spend your time talking about Covid-19; (d) Spend time with God in prayer.
You might find it helpful to meditate on scripture, e.g. Psalm 91.
A Prayer: Heavenly Father thank you that you are on the throne and in control of what is happening. Thank you that you will bring good out of the present situation. Please fill me with your Spirit so that my life reflects hope and joy. Amen.
Friday 15th May 2020
From Heartbreak to Hope
In our English translations of the Bible, the shortest verse is John 11:35, but in the original Greek the shortest verse is 1 Thessalonians 5:16.
Do these verses appear to be conveying contradictory ideas?
How would you resolve the apparent differences?
You can read the story of the illness and death of Lazarus in John 11:1-17. It is clear the Jesus does not rush to the bedside of His sick and dying friend (vv 4-6) because He has a greater plan in mind. He knows what He will do. He also knows the grief that His dear friends Martha and Mary will go through, but He waits before He goes to see them.
What is your reaction to that?
Do you think Jesus should have spared them the grief?
Jesus eventually turns up in Bethany after Lazarus has been dead for four days! In the conversation that follows (John 11:18-37), first Martha (v 21) and then Mary (v 32) gently reproach Him for not coming sooner and saving the life of their brother. The sisters and their friends are crying, and “His heart was touched and He was deeply moved” (v34 GNB). Then “Jesus wept” (v 35)).
If Jesus knows how He is going to fix the problem, why does He weep?
It was prophesied that the Messiah would be a “man of sorrows and acquainted with grief” and that, “Surely He has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows” Isaiah 53:3-4.
Because He has personally experienced the deepest heartbreak, He would be the One who would “– bind up the broken-hearted” Isaiah 61:1. His heart breaks for the broken-hearted: His heart breaks with the broken-hearted. He shares our griefs. Even if He does not bring a quick fix, we know that God cares deeply about our pain.
C. S. Lewis wrote in ‘The Problem of Pain’ “God whispers to us in our pleasures, speaks in our conscience, but shouts in our pain: it is His megaphone to rouse a deaf world.” God does not cause the pain, but He can use it to bring good. (See how Joseph understands all the bad things that had happened to him in the light of God’s sovereignty Genesis 45:4-9). God did not make the virus, but as we are being shaken by it, He can shape us. As we are driven to our knees, we become more powerful. In the heartbreak there is hope. That’s why we can “- always be joyful”.
A Prayer: Loving Father thank you that you share our griefs and carry our sorrows. Thank you that you bind up the broken hearted. Thank you that you bring good out of evil. Please give me confidence in this so that I can always be joyful. Amen.
Wednesday 13th May 2020
Acts of Kindness & Generosity
Read Matthew 1:5. This is one verse from the genealogy of Jesus, with which Matthew starts his gospel. Of the three ancestors of Jesus mentioned here, Boaz is a key character in the story of Ruth.
Read Joshua 2:1-9 & 12-15 to find out more about his mother, Rahab, Her life was saved (she was redeemed) as a result of an act of kindness to strangers, because she trusted in God (Hebrews 11:31).
Read Ruth 1:22-2:17. The barley harvest was in April. The harvesters were men who cut the stalks using hand sickles, and women who followed and bound the stalks into sheaves. The Law of Moses instructed landowners to leave what the harvesters missed for the poor, the alien, the widow and the fatherless to glean for their needs (Leviticus 23:22 & Deuteronomy 24:17-19) What is the reason God gives for being kind and generous to those who are stuck (enslaved) in poverty?
Naomi and Ruth were very poor. Ruth was an alien. Gleaning was one way they could survive, so Ruth offered to try it. By chance she found herself in the fields of Boaz who was very generous to her. What reason did he give for his generosity? (vv 11,12)
Think about Boaz’s background. Is there a link between his awareness of his mother’s experience and his treatment of another alien, Ruth?
Read Ruth 2:18-23 When Ruth had set off to go gleaning Naomi had not told her to go to Boaz’s fields. Naomi does know that Boaz is a relative of her husband. Was she not aware that he was a rich farmer? Or was she so sunk in bitterness and despair that she was unable to even look for a glimmer of hope in her situation?
Look at Naomi’s prayer for Ruth in Ruth 1:8 and Boaz’s prayer for her in Ruth 2:12.
Ruth had an unusually large amount of grain (5 gallons) for one day’s gleaning.
Were these prayers being answered? Hope starts to return to Naomi as she recognises that God “has not stopped showing kindness”.
Think of some of the ways in which God has been generous to you. How do you respond to his kindness?
Jesus said “Freely you have received, freely give.” (Matthew 10:8)
Read the challenge God gives in Malachi 3:10,11
What can you do now to return thanks to God by using generously what he has given you?
A Prayer: Thank you Heavenly Father for your overflowing love and generosity to me. Please show me how I can use what you have given me to benefit others. Help me to use my skills, belongings, money to bless someone else with your love. Amen.
Monday 11th May 2020
We are called to be peacemakers, but how do we do that? What principles guide us?
Patience “Love is patient and kind” (1 Corinthians 13:4). Patience is the very first virtue used to describe agape love. What does this tell us?
“The fruit of the Spirit is - - patience - -“(Galatians 5:22). The work of peacemaking is going to require the involvement of the Holy Spirit and the operation of self-giving love. Very often there will be no quick fix. Peacemaking takes time and you will need to commit to it for the long haul. But remember the Spirit of Jesus is in this with you.
Arbitrate God is looking for someone who will stand in the gap, and pray and find a solution (Ezekiel 22:30). Jesus was a mediator (1 Timothy 2:5) so we are following in His footsteps.
(You might like to read the story of the mediation by the wise woman of Tekoa (2 Samuel 14:1-20).)
We will need to listen to both sides without preference. Listen without lecturing!
Talk quietly It is important that the conversation does not become heated. A gentle approach is essential (Proverbs 15:1).
Intercede Acknowledge right from the start that our own common sense may not be sufficient, and that we need God’s wisdom and the presence of the Holy Spirit in our discussions (James 1:5). Much of the work will be done in our private place of prayer.
Expect an answer Jesus told parables to emphasise the importance of perseverance
(e.g. Luke 11:5-10). We know that “love endures all things” or “- always perseveres” (NIV)
(1 Corinthians 13:7), so do not be discouraged or give up.
Network “The LORD was my support” (Psalm 18:18) but in addition we will often benefit from the support and wise advice of others (as John did in 3 John 8). Who else with relevant experience can help in this situation? Get them on board.
Confront It is important that issues should be dealt with and not swept under the carpet. See the account of how Paul confronted Peter over his inconsistency surrounding the Law and gentile believers (Galatians 2:11-14). However, as we confront issues it will be done in gentleness and compassion.
Explore all options. Very often people adopt an uncompromising position because they have not fully understood all other possibilities. Examine alternative solutions together.
See 2 Timothy 2:7 “Reflect on what I am saying, for the LORD will give you insight into all this.”
See also Proverbs 28:5 and Job 32:8.
A Prayer: Heavenly Father thank you that you have called me to be a peacemaker. Please give me compassion and wisdom as I do this, and rejoice in following Jesus my Peacemaker. Amen
Saturday 9th May 2020
Blessed are the Peacemakers
When Jesus died, He gave His body to Joseph – His clothes to the soldiers – His mother to John – and His spirit to His Father.
What did He give to His followers? (John 14:27; 16:33).
God is a God of peace (1 Corinthians 14:33); Jesus is called the Prince of Peace (Isaiah 9:6); a fruit of the Holy Spirit is peace (Galatians 5:22) and we are called to let peace rule in our lives (Colossians 3:15).
So why is there so little peace in the world?
Someone has calculated that over the last 4,000 years of history there have been only 300 years of peace (and that was mostly uneasy!)
Humans have been designed to be peaceful, but they are not at peace!
There is a lack of peace in individuals (think of the number of suicides each day) – in families (think of statistics for domestic abuse) – in communities (think of cruel gossip on social media) – in nations (how many countries have a civil war right now?) – and internationally (North and South Korea, and India and Pakistan are just two examples of countries where there are frequent border clashes).
“God has called us to live in peace” (1 Corinthians 7:15); but people do not know the way of peace (Isaiah 59:8).
This is why God sent Jesus to bring reconciliation (Colossians 1:19-20) and why the task of bringing peace has been handed on to us, His followers (2 Corinthians 5:18-20).
What is the blessing that Jesus pronounced on the peacemakers (Matthew 5:9)?
But we cannot be peacemakers until we know the peace of God for ourselves. How do we get that (Isaiah 26:3-4)?
Do you experience “perfect peace” in these days of turmoil? If not what will you do about it? Read Psalm 27. Where does David want his daily dwelling place to be (v4)? Because of the work of Jesus Christ where is our location now? See Ephesians 2:6.
How does this help in our task of being peacemakers?
Where can you be a peacemaker now – in your family? – in your community? – on a wider front? How will you set about that? (A later Reflection will look at this issue.)
A Prayer: Loving Father, please bless us with a deep peace in our own lives. Thank you that you entrust to us the task of being peacemakers. Please give us insights about where we can bring peace to others, and wisdom about how to do it. Amen.