Reflections from 9th May 2020
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.