Devotional, day 8

8 Jan 2017

Is Anything Too Hard for the Lord?
Are you facing a seemingly impossible situation in your life? Is there an apparently irretrievable breakdown in a relationship? A serious health issue? An almost impossible challenge in your job? Is there a habit or addiction that you are finding hard to break?

Whatever challenges you may face in the year ahead, nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Abraham was a hundred years old. His wife Sarah was ninety. God promised them a son. They said, in effect, ‘That is impossible’. This is the context of the great rhetorical question: ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’ (Genesis 18:14). The answer is ‘no’. If Sarah could conceive when ‘already very old, and… past the age of childbearing’ (v.11), then nothing is too hard for the Lord.

In our passages for today we see three great challenges that all of us will face in the year ahead. In each of these challenges we need to remember that nothing is too hard for the Lord.

Proverbs 1:8-19

1. Resisting the temptations

Jesus never tells us to withdraw from the world. The challenge is to be ‘in the world’ but not ‘of the world’. We are called to resist the temptations of the world around us.

The book of Proverbs gives practical advice on how to achieve that balance. Don’t let others entice you into sin: ‘If bad companions tempt you, don’t go along with them’ (v.10, MSG). ‘If they say, “Come along with us; let’s lie in wait for innocent blood…”’ (v.11), we are not to give in to them.

When I was practising as a barrister I noticed how many people were led into crime by others saying to them, ‘Come along with us’.

In the midst of the global financial crisis, some banks in the UK defended unethical practices on the basis that other banks were doing the same thing. In the UK, celebrities from the 1960s and 1970s are defending past sexual offences on the basis that the behaviour was common practice at the time.

Don’t be enticed into sin by the fact that everybody else seems to be doing something – evading tax or travel fares, getting drunk or being promiscuous. Don’t follow the crowd: ‘Do not set foot on their paths’ (v.15). Something is not acceptable just because others are doing it. I can’t justify my actions on the basis that it is the way in which the world works.

In the end, if your ‘feet rush into sin’ (v.16), or you go after ‘ill-gotten gain’ (v.19a), it takes away your life. ‘When you grab all you can get, that’s what happens: the more you get, the less you are’ (v.19, MSG).

The enticement of the world is very strong. Yet, ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’

Lord, I pray that in the year ahead you will give me the strength to resist all the temptations of the world and not to be enticed into sin in any way.

Matthew 6:25-7:23

2. Living the Jesus lifestyle

Jesus’ words are the greatest words ever spoken. They are so challenging. For example, he says, ‘Ask yourself what you want people to do for you, then grab the initiative and do it for them’ (7:12, MSG). This golden rule is beautifully simple but seems almost impossibly hard to live out.

The great challenge is putting Jesus’ words into practice. His instructions are clear, but some of the standards seem impossibly high. Yet, ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’

Stop worrying and start living
Jesus commands you not to worry about your life or material things (6:25,28–31). Think ahead, plan ahead, but don’t worry ahead. Trust in your Heavenly Father to provide (v.26). He knows your every need (v.32). Faith is the antidote to worry.
You cannot add a single hour to your life by worrying (v.27). As Corrie ten Boom put it: ‘Worry does not empty tomorrow of sorrow; but it empties today of strength.’

Live in day-tight compartments. Live one day at a time. Don’t borrow trouble from tomorrow: ‘each day has enough trouble of its own’ (v.34b). Make a decision today not to worry about tomorrow. Trust God to provide for you one day at a time.

Sort out your priorities
Jesus tells you to change your ambitions and priorities. Seek God for who he is and not for what he can do for YOU. Like us, God does not want his friends only to be interested in what they can get out of him. He wants you to seek his ‘presence’ not just his ‘presents’.
Take on a new set of responsibilities that are both exciting and challenging: ‘seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness and all these things will be yours as well’ (v.33).

Do not be judgmental
We are not to take pleasure in judging others, not to enjoy seeking out other people’s failings or presuming their actions spring from bad motives. If we knew what people had been through, their sorrow and their suffering, we would not be so quick to judge. Jesus tells us to get our own lives sorted out first. We are to change ourselves before we try and change other people (7:1–5). Rather than sowing harsh criticism and judgment, we are to sow mercy, kindness and love.
Persist in prayer
Don’t be repetitious, but be persistent. Jesus makes wonderful promises of answered prayer (vv.7–8). He promises ‘good gifts’ as you pray (vv.9–11).
Choose to live a radical life
Stay on the narrow road that leads to life (vv.13–14). On the narrow road there is no room for pride, dishonesty, anger, hatred of enemies or un-forgiveness.
Humility is the order of the day. You have to give, to pray, to exercise self-control and seek first the kingdom of God. It is a road of purity, integrity, honesty and forgiveness. It is a road where you are required to ‘do to others what you would have them do to you’ (v.12). You are to show good fruit – by your character, lifestyle, teaching, actions, impact and relationships (vv.15–23).

Lord, as I face the challenge of living the Jesus lifestyle this year, thank you that nothing is impossible with you. Fill me today with your Holy Spirit and help me to live the kind of life that deep down I long to live.

[For a more detailed explanation and application of ‘The Sermon on the Mount’ (Matthew 5–7) see Nicky Gumbel’s book The Jesus Lifestyle : shop.alpha.org/product/182/jesus-lifestyle-nicky-gumbel]

Genesis 17:1-18:33

3. Trusting the Lord in difficult times

The Lord appears to Abraham and lays before him a huge challenge: ‘I am God Almighty; walk before me faithfully and be blameless’ (17:1). Then he makes a wonderful promise: ‘I will confirm my covenant between me and you and will greatly increase your numbers’ (v.2). No wonder Abraham ‘fell face down’ (v.3).

God makes a covenant with Abraham. He promises him the land of Canaan, and also that many descendants and nations will come from him (vv.4–8). This promise is highlighted by God in the name change from Abram to Abraham, as Abraham means ‘father of many nations’ (v.5). God also changes Sarai’s name to Sarah – who was to be ‘the mother of nations’ (v.16). The sign of the covenant was circumcision (v.9 onwards).

God did not just say once to Abraham that he would have a son. He confirmed it time and time again (15:4; 17:16; 18:10). You can expect God to speak to you about major matters in your life and confirm them many times over.

Abraham’s relationship with God is very intimate. God engages in conversation with Abraham. Abraham pleads with him about Ishmael. God’s response is ‘Yes, but…’ (17:19). He says he is not only going to answer Abraham’s prayer for Ishmael, he is also going to do more than Abraham could have ever asked or even imagined (vv.19–21).

The third time that God made this promise to Abraham he sent the ‘three visitors’ (18:1–15). As we read this through New Testament eyes, we can see an image of the Trinity here. It is clear that there are three of them (v.2) and yet it seems they speak as one: ‘Then the Lord said’ (v.13).

Indeed, this is famously illustrated by Andrei Rublev’s painting in 1410 (see below), which reflects the communion of the three angels who visited Abraham and symbolises the tri-unity of God (one God in three persons), and the fellowship of love at the heart of God’s being.

God promises, ‘I will surely return to you about this time next year, and Sarah your wife will have a son’ (v.10). Sarah laughs. She thinks, ‘After I am worn out and my lord is old, will I now have this pleasure?’ (v.12).

It is encouraging that Sarah also had the usual human weaknesses. The Lord says to Abraham, ‘Why did Sarah laugh and say, “Will I really have a child, now that I am old?”’ (v.13). ‘Sarah was afraid, so she lied and said, “I did not laugh”’ (v.15). We all are tempted to lie to get ourselves out of trouble. With the exception of Jesus, the Bible never presents the great men and women of God as faultless.

The Lord’s response is to repeat his promise and ask rhetorically: ‘Is anything too hard for the Lord?’

Lord, thank you that, whatever the issues I am facing in my life, nothing is too hard for you. Help me this year to continue to trust in you.

Pippa Adds

Matthew 6:25

‘Do not worry about your life…’

I have spent far too much time worrying about things in my life – family, illness, what to wear! … I find it difficult not to worry at all. If you don’t worry, it almost seems as if you don’t care. There is a balance between being really concerned and burdened to pray, and being worried. I think the answer is really trusting that God hears our prayers and will act. Hopefully he doesn’t mind us asking lots of times!

Corrie ten Boom, Clippings from My Notebook, (Triangle, 1983)

Andrei Rublev, Holy Trinity Icon 1410, http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Angelsatmamre-trinity-rublev-1410.jpg [public domain]

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible, Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation. Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Devotional, day 7

7 Jan 2017

The Quality of Mercy

I love the word ‘mercy’. I am so thankful that God is a God of mercy. William Shakespeare captured something of the wonder of mercy in Portia’s speech in The Merchant of Venice. She speaks about the ‘quality of mercy’:

‘The quality of mercy is not strain’d,
It droppeth as the gentle rain from heaven
Upon the place beneath: it is twice blest;
It blesseth him that gives and him that takes.’
Act IV Scene I

You are blessed when you receive mercy and you are blessed when you are merciful to others.

Psalm 6:1-10

1. Cry out to the God of mercy

Are there times in your life when you are really struggling and nothing seems to go right? Do you feel ‘faint’ (v.2), ‘in agony’ (v.2), ‘anguish’ (v.3), ‘worn out’ (v.6), ‘groaning’ (v.6), ‘weeping’ (v.6), in ‘tears’ (v.6), and ‘weak with sorrow’ (v.7)?

At times this may be caused by our own sin. At other times, it may be due to bereavement, sudden loss, relationship difficulties, family break-up, sickness, work issues, unemployment or opposition.

David also experienced difficult times but, in the midst of them, he cried out to God for mercy: ‘Be merciful to me, Lord’ (v.2). He knew that God is a God of mercy. He prayed: ‘Save me for the sake of your steadfast love and mercy’ (v.4, AMP).

Sometimes it seems that our difficulties will never come to an end. They seem to go on and on. When we are in a season of battle we cry out like David, ‘How long, Lord, how long?’ (v.3). We cry out for mercy and it does not seem as if God is listening. But he is. There will come a point when you can say with David: ‘The Lord has heard my weeping. The Lord has heard my cry for mercy’ (vv.8–9).

Lord, thank you so much for your mercy. Thank you for ‘your unfailing love’ (v.4). Thank you that you hear my cry for mercy. Thank you that you accept my prayers. Be merciful to me, O Lord.

Matthew 5:43-6:24

2. Be merciful to others as God is merciful to you

Having mercy on others is right at the heart of Jesus’ teaching. ‘Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven’ (5:44–45a). Love is more than showing mercy, but mercy is an essential part of love.

Jesus gives three reasons in the passage why you should be merciful towards those who have wronged you:

First, to have mercy on your enemies is to imitate your Father in heaven – ‘that you may be children of your Father in heaven’ (v.45a). God’s mercy extends to those who are hostile towards him: ‘He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous’ (v.45b).
Second, to have mercy like this marks you out from the world: ‘If you love those who love you, what reward will you get? Are not even the tax collectors doing that?’ (v.46). We tend only to love people who are like us, or whom we like. But you are called to be different. You are called to what Dietrich Bonhoeffer referred to as ‘the “extraordinary”… the hallmark of the Christian’.
Third, there is a connection between forgiving and receiving forgiveness. We cannot receive God’s mercy ourselves and then show no mercy to others. We do not earn forgiveness by forgiving others, but Jesus says that our forgiveness of others is essential to receiving forgiveness from God. ‘You can’t get forgiveness from God, for instance, without also forgiving others. If you refuse to do your part, you cut yourself off from God’s part’ (6:14b–15, MSG). Daily, we need to receive mercy and forgiveness, and daily we need to have mercy and forgive others.
Jesus also explains how you can express this mercy practically in what you do. He highlights the importance of prayer. He tells us to ‘pray for those who persecute you’ (5:44). Praying for your enemies helps you to see them as God sees them. In prayer you stand side by side with them, take their guilt and distress on yourself, and plead to God for them. Prayer is the acid-test of love. Coming into the light of God’s presence reveals the true feelings in the depths of our hearts.

The theme of mercy is also at the heart of the Lord’s Prayer: ‘Forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors’ (6:12). (Of course, there is much besides mercy in this prayer, which we will look at later when we encounter it in the other Gospels.)

When we pray, Jesus teaches us to:

Keep it quiet
‘Find a quiet, secluded place so you won’t be tempted to role-play before God’ (v.6a, MSG).
Keep it honest
‘Just be there as simply and honestly as you can manage’ (v.6b, MSG).
Keep it simple
‘With a God like this loving you, you can pray very simply’ (v.9a, MSG).
Finally, mercy should also be at the heart of our giving. Generosity is a form of having mercy on others. ‘When you help someone out, don’t think about how it looks. Just do it – quietly and unobtrusively. That is the way your God, who conceived you in love, working behind the scenes, helps you out’ (vv.3–4, MSG).

Every time I read the Sermon on the Mount, I am very aware of my own need for mercy. As we read Jesus’ teaching on loving our enemies, giving to the needy, prayer and fasting, and treasures in heaven, I see how far short I fall and my own need for mercy.

Lord, thank you that you are merciful to me. Thank you that you forgive my sins. Lord, help me always to be merciful to others. Help me to pray for your blessing on my ‘enemies’.

Genesis 14:1-16:16

3. Receive God’s mercy through Jesus by faith

Two crucial passages in the Old Testament reading for today point to the way in which God’s mercy is made possible.

Receive God’s mercy through Jesus
It starts with what appears to be a rather strange and disconnected account of four kings defeating five kings. Then the connection is made with Abraham’s nephew Lot being captured by the four kings (14:12) and then rescued by Abraham (v.16). Then mysteriously Abraham, returning from his victory, is blessed by Melchizedek (vv.18–20).
This is expounded in Hebrews chapter 7, which explains that it all points forward to Jesus. Melchizedek’s priesthood is superior to all the other priests in the Old Testament (the Levitical priesthood). Abraham, who was the great grandfather of Levi – who was therefore ‘in his loins’ – gave a tithe to Melchizedek (Genesis 14:20). In other words, Levi recognised the superiority of Melchizedek.

Melchizedek foreshadows Jesus, the great high priest, whose one perfect sacrifice on the cross made it possible for all our sins to be totally forgiven. Therefore, this brought to an end the need for the old priesthood and sacrificial system.

The ‘bread and wine’ (v.18) foreshadow the bread and wine of the communion service. They point to the one perfect sacrifice of Jesus, whose body was broken and whose blood was shed so that you and I could be totally forgiven and receive God’s mercy.

Receive God’s mercy by faith
The account then moves on to God’s promises to Abraham – in spite of the fact that he and Sarah are old and childless, their descendants are going to be as many as the stars they can count. ‘Abram believed the Lord, and he credited it to him as righteousness’ (15:6).
Not only are you forgiven, God in his mercy declared you ‘Set-Right-with-God’ (v.6, MSG). The New Testament often refers to this verse because it shows that mercy, forgiveness and righteousness are obtained by faith – that is, believing God (see, for example, Romans 4:1–5; Galatians 3:6).

It is encouraging to see that, although Abraham is listed in Hebrews 11 as one of the great people of faith, when we look at the original story here you see that his faith was not entirely unwavering.

When their prayers for a child do not seem to be answered, Abraham and Sarah hatch a plot to achieve God’s ends by human means (Genesis 16:1–2). They agree that Abraham should sleep with Hagar and Ishmael is conceived (vv.2–4). One sin leads to another and Sarah ill-treats Hagar (vv.5–6).

This is the first time that God is called El Roi, the God Who Sees (16:13). It is easy to feel that you have been forgotten by God, particularly at moments when, like Hagar, you feel unjustly treated. But knowing that part of God’s character is that he is the God Who Sees, can help you to live by faith. God is a God who finds you in the midst of the wilderness and sees you.

The God Who Sees is a God of mercy. The New Testament suggests that God overlooks the sin of Sarah and Abraham and only remembers their faith (Hebrews 11:11–12).

Lord, thank you for your amazing mercy made possible through the death of Jesus for me. Thank you that he is the great high priest who made the one perfect sacrifice on the cross so that I could receive your mercy. Thank you that I can never earn your mercy but I receive it as a gift by faith.

Pippa Adds

It’s amazing that God credited Abraham with ‘righteousness’ considering all he had been up to (see Genesis 12:10–20).

Dietrich Bonhoeffer, The Cost of Discipleship, NewYork: Touchstone (1995) p.134

C. S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory, (New York: Harper Collins, 2001; Originally published 1949), pp.181–183

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible,
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible,

New International Version Anglicised

Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society

Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company

All rights reserved

‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica

UK trademark number 1448790.

Devotional, day 6

6 Jan 2017

Directions for Life

Pippa and I are often in a hurry. We are not good at planning our car journeys. We often set off in the wrong direction and frequently get lost (even with a satnav!). I don’t know why it has taken me so long to learn the importance of getting good directions and following them.

Many of us are like this with life. We charge off in a hurry. We don’t realise the importance of getting good directions for life. If you follow God’s directions for life, you will enjoy his blessing and bring blessing to others.

Psalm 5:1-12

1. Start each day waiting for directions

When embarking on a journey the best time to get good directions is before you begin.

In this psalm we have a wonderful example of how to begin each day: ‘Listen to my cry for help, my King and my God, for to you I pray. In the morning, O Lord, you hear my voice; in the morning I lay my requests before you and wait in expectation’ (vv.2–3). David is ‘waiting for directions’ (v.8, MSG).

There is something special about beginning your day by laying your requests before God. The whole day has a different dimension as you ‘wait in expectation’ (v.3).

Lord, today I lay my requests before you and wait for directions. Lead me, O Lord. Spread your protection over me. Surround me with your favour as with a shield.

Matthew 5:21-42

2. Study Jesus’ directions for life

There are some general directions that apply to every car journey. They are the rules of the road. In the UK they are found in The Highway Code. Jesus’ directions in the Sermon on the Mount are like a ‘highway code’ for a life of blessing.

Following Jesus’ directions involves a radical lifestyle. He challenges us to be ruthless in dealing with every wrong attitude, thought, word and action.

Our words should be words of blessing, not anger. We must not speak angry words against our brothers and sisters (vv.21–22). ‘The simple moral fact is that words kill’ (v.22, MSG).

We are called to do everything within our power to bless those we have fallen out with (vv.23–26). If we remember a ‘grudge’ a friend has against us, we should go to the friend and try to ‘make things right’ (vv.23–24, MSG). If we encounter an ‘old enemy’ we should ‘make the first move; make things right’ with them (v.25, MSG).

We need to guard what we do with our eyes and our heart. If we allow them to become corrupted then, far from being a blessing to others, we will be rotten ourselves.

Take radical action. It is not simply about the physical act of adultery. Jesus says, ‘Don’t think you’ve preserved your virtue simply by staying out of bed. Your heart can be corrupted by lust even quicker than your body. Those leering looks you think nobody notices – they also corrupt’ (v.28, MSG).

Jesus speaks of the eye as the starting point of adultery. Take radical steps to avoid such a course (vv.29–30). As Job said, ‘I made a covenant with my eyes not to look lustfully at a girl’ (Job 31:1).

Marriage is intended to be a place of blessing one another and a source of blessing for others. This means a life of radical faithfulness within marriage (Matthew 5:31–32). Jesus speaks against using divorce as ‘a cover for selfishness and whim’ (v.32a, MSG).

We are to live lives of radical integrity in which we say what we mean, and mean what we say: ‘Simply let your “Yes” be “Yes”, and your “No”, “No”; anything beyond this comes from the evil one’ (v.37).

Blessing others means blessing even those who do bad things to us (vv.38–42). ‘Don’t hit back at all… No more tit-for-tat stuff. Live generously’ (vv.39,42, MSG). To return evil for good is demonic. To return good for good is human. To return good for evil is the way of Jesus.

Lord, help me this year to follow your directions for life. Help me to be ruthless in dealing with every wrong attitude, thought, word and deed. Thank you for the great blessing of being called by you to be your follower. Help me to spread blessing wherever I go.

Genesis 11:10-13:18

3. Follow God’s directions one step at a time

What I love more than anything when I set out on a long car journey (even better than a satnav), is to have someone in the car with me who knows the directions and will tell me, one step at a time, where I should go. In the journey of life God offers to accompany us and direct us one step at a time into a life of blessing.

This is one of the key moments in the Bible, as God initiates his rescue plan for humanity. The previous chapters have been a tale of ever increasing sinfulness and separation from God. In these verses suddenly everything shifts as God reveals his solution – Abraham!

God promises Abraham: ‘I will make you into a great nation and I will bless you; I will make your name great, and you will be a blessing. I will bless those who bless you, and whoever curses you I will curse; and all peoples on earth will be blessed through you’ (vv.2–3).

God chooses one individual and blesses him, and then one nation and blesses them – but his plan is always that they will pass the blessing on (v.3b). This is key for our understanding of the Old Testament, as it explains why God chose Israel – so that through them the whole world might be blessed.

Ultimately this promise is fulfilled in Jesus. He is the fulfilment of all the promises and hopes of Israel (as we have seen this past week in Matthew’s Gospel), and through him ‘all people’ can be blessed.

This is now God’s purpose for you. The apostle Paul writes, ‘Those who have faith are children of Abraham. Scripture foresaw that God would justify the Gentiles by faith, and announce the gospel in advance to Abraham: “All nations will be blessed through you.” So those who rely on faith are blessed along with Abraham, the man of faith’ (Galatians 3:7–9).

The church is blessed, like Abraham and Israel, not for its own sake but in order to bring blessing to the whole world. If you have been blessed by God, it is not for your own selfish indulgence or self-congratulation; it is in order that you can be a blessing to others.

God calls Abraham to leave his country, his people and his father’s household and go to the land God is going to show him (Genesis 12:1). Abraham did exactly as the Lord directed him (v.4, AMP). He trusted God to direct him one step at a time. He could not have seen the next steps at this time but he trusted God’s promises.

This has been my experience in life. God may give us a general picture of what he wants us to do – but as far as the details are concerned he leads us one step at a time. The life of faith involves following his directions one step at a time.

The journey is not always entirely smooth. Abraham was very much a flawed human being just like us. God blessed him with great wealth (13:1, MSG) and a ‘stunningly beautiful wife’ (12:14, MSG). Nevertheless, in an act of weakness and deception, he allows Pharaoh to take her as his wife (vv.10–20).

Then, after ‘quarrelling arose between Abram’s herdsmen and Lot’s’ (13:7), Abraham decides that there has to be a parting of the ways between himself and his nephew (vv.8–11). Actually, it was not Abraham and Lot who fell out – it was, as so often happens, their followers. The reality of friction in human relationships is very evident.

Lot chose the best land and left Abraham with what looked less good. But, again, God gives Abraham directions. He tells him: ‘lift up your eyes’ (v.14).

God said, ‘I’ll make your descendants like dust – counting your descendants will be as impossible as counting the dust of the Earth. So – on your feet, get moving! Walk through the country, its length and breadth; I’m giving it all to you’ (13:16–17, MSG) .

As Joyce Meyer writes, ‘Instead of becoming discouraged, depressed or angry when people disappoint us, God wants us to lift up our eyes, look around, and trust him to lead us into an even better situation. He wants us to look around and count our blessings instead of focusing on what we do not have. He wants us to fix our eyes on him, not on the work of the enemy, because he has plans to bless us.’

It is only because of the grace of God that Abraham is promised these amazing blessings. The intention was that he would be a blessing to the whole world. Likewise for you. You are called to live under God’s blessing and bring blessing to those around you.

Lord, help me this year to follow your directions, one step at a time, to live under your blessing, and bring as much blessing as I can to everyone around.

Pippa Adds

We all need guidance every day in all the difficult decisions of life. Following a straight path saves us wandering off wasting time and energy: ‘Lead me, O Lord, in your righteousness… make straight your way before me’ (Psalm 5:8).

Joyce Meyer, Everyday Life Bible (Faithwords 2013) p.23

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible,
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible,

New International Version Anglicised

Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society

Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company

All rights reserved

‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica

UK trademark number 1448790.

Devotional, day 5

5 Jan 2017

The Source of all Good Things

People are looking for happiness. They are searching for love. They are desperate for peace. But so often, we look in the wrong places.

St Augustine prayed, ‘Lord… you have made us for yourself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.’ God is the source of all good things.

Psalm 4:1-8

1. The source of joy and peace

So often we seek joy and peace in the wrong places. ‘How long will you love delusions and seek false gods?’ (v.2). We think that money, possessions or success will be the answer. But these are delusions and false gods. David tells us where true joy and peace is to be found – God has made us for a relationship with him (v.3).

We are not promised a problem-free life – the psalm starts with a cry, ‘Give me relief from my distress; be merciful to me and hear my prayer’ (v.1b). David is confident that God will hear, ‘He listens the split second I call to him’ (v.3b, MSG).

God alone is the true source of joy and peace. ‘Let the light of your face shine upon us, O Lord. You have filled my heart with greater joy than when their grain and new wine abound. I will lie down and sleep in peace, for you alone, Lord, make me dwell in safety’ (vv.6b–8).

There is greater joy in the presence of God than there is in material prosperity and luxury. Prosperity, and the apparent security it brings, does not necessarily lead to peaceful sleep. Only in God’s will can we truly ‘dwell in safety’ (v.8).

Lord, thank you for listening when I call to you. Today, I seek you and put my trust in you. Let the light of your face shine on me. Fill my heart with the joy of your presence and grant me peaceful sleep.

Matthew 4:23-5:20

2. The source of blessing and true happiness

According to Jesus, true happiness does not come from all the things that society suggests. It does not come from celebrity, beauty, wealth and possessions. It is not about how you feel. It is not about what you have or even about what you do.

The Greek word used in 5:3–11, ‘makarios’, means ‘blessed’, ‘fortunate’, ‘happy’ – the privileged recipient of God’s favour. Or, as the Amplified version puts it, ‘happy, to be envied, and spiritually prosperous, that is, with life-joy and satisfaction… regardless of their outward conditions.’

In the Beatitudes (‘beautiful attitudes’!) Jesus highlights eight unexpected situations in which you receive God’s favour and blessings.

Be spiritually desperate for God
‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’ (v.3a). The word for ‘poor’ means ‘begging… dependent on others for support’. Here, it means being brought low or weakened to come to the place of realising the need to depend on Jesus. ‘You’re blessed when you’re at the end of your rope’ (v.3a, MSG). The poor in spirit are blessed because, through what Jesus has come to make possible, ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (v.3b).
Weep over your condition
‘Blessed are those who mourn’ (v.4a). Mourn your own sin and the mess in the world around you. Weep with those who weep. It is not wrong to weep and to mourn the loss of those we love. Jesus’ promise is that those who mourn ‘will be comforted’ (v.4b). God’s comfort goes way beyond any kind of ordinary comfort. As Joyce Meyer writes, ‘It’s almost worth having a problem in order to be able to experience it.’
Be content with who you are
‘Blessed are the meek’ (v.5a). The Greek word for ‘meek’ means ‘gentle’, ‘considerate’, ‘unassuming’. It is showing kindness and love for others. It is the opposite of arrogance and self-seeking. It means ‘broken’, not in the sense of a broken glass that is shattered, but in the way that a horse is broken – tamed, strength under control. Through Jesus the meek are blessed – ‘they will inherit the earth’ (v.5b).
‘You’re blessed when you’re content with just who you are – no more, no less’ (v.5a, MSG).

Be hungry for God
‘Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness’ (v.6a). Pursue a relationship with God as your number one priority in life. Pursuing anything else for its own sake ultimately leaves you empty. But the blessing of a hunger for God and his righteousness is that you ‘will be filled’ (v.6b).
‘You’re blessed when you’ve worked up a good appetite for God’ (v.6a, MSG).

Receive forgiveness and be merciful
‘Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy’ (v.7a). Don’t give people what they ‘deserve’, but give them what they don’t deserve. As C. S. Lewis put it, ‘To be a Christian means to forgive the inexcusable, because God has forgiven the inexcusable in you. ’ The merciful are blessed because ‘they will be shown mercy’ (v.7b).
Be completely sincere
‘Blessed are the pure in heart’ (v.8a). This is not just outward purity but integrity, openness, sincerity and authenticity. It is a purity that truly allows us to ‘see God’ (v.8b). A pure heart starts with your thoughts because your thoughts become your words, your actions and your character.
To be pure in heart means to allow others to see us as we are – in all our brokenness and vulnerability. ‘You’re blessed when you get your inside world – your mind and heart – put right’ (v.8a, MSG).

Strive to bring peace
‘Blessed are the peacemakers’ (v.9a). Don’t stir up conflict, but make peace. Jesus, the Son of God, came to make peace for us on the cross (Colossians 1:20). Blessed are the peacemakers ‘for they will be called children of God’ (Matthew 5:9b).
‘You’re blessed when you can show people how to cooperate instead of compete or fight’ (v.9a, MSG).

Expect nothing in return except persecution
‘Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness’ (v.10a). Don’t expect anything from the world in return except criticism. But God is with the persecuted church: ‘theirs is the kingdom of heaven’ (v.10b).
‘You’re blessed when your commitment to God provokes persecution’ (v.10, MSG).

We see here the third way in which Jesus fulfils the Old Testament. We have already seen that Jesus fulfils the Old Testament history (Matthew 1:1–17) and how he fulfils the promises of the Old Testament prophecies (Matthew 1:18–4:16). Now, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus fulfils the Old Testament Law by revealing its full depth and meaning: ‘Don’t suppose for a minute that I have come to demolish the Scriptures – either God’s Law or the Prophets. I’m not here to demolish but to complete’ (Matthew 5:17, MSG).

The American rock singer turned pastor, John Wimber, said, ‘Jesus is insatiable. Everything we do pleases him but nothing satisfies him. I have been satisfied with Jesus. He has not been satisfied with me. He keeps raising the standards. He walks in high places.’ In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus ‘raised the bar’ to the sky, not to bring us down but to lift us up: ‘I’ve put you there on a hilltop, on a light stand – shine!’ (5:16, MSG).

Lord, I long to live by the values of the Sermon on the Mount and be characterised by the Beatitudes. Forgive me for falling short. Help me to live like this in the year ahead. Help us as a community to live like this and to be a light to the world around us.

Genesis 9:18-11:9

3. The source of love and unity

Love covers and protects. It does not seek to expose other people’s weaknesses and faults. It does not delight in other’s misfortunes.

Today’s passage begins with the rather strange account of Noah getting drunk. The fact that he was a righteous man did not mean that he was perfect. Shem and Japheth are commended for ‘cover[ing] their father’s nakedness’ (9:23).

Love and unity go hand in hand. The Tower of Babel is the symbol of disunity (11:1–9). The people said, ‘Come, let us build ourselves a city, with a tower that reaches to the heavens, so that we may make a name for ourselves’ (v.4). This act of pride and power-seeking led to disunity, symbolised in the confusion of different languages in the world. ‘The Lord confused the language of the whole world. From there the Lord scattered them over the face of the whole earth’ (v.9).

The day of Pentecost was the reversal of Babel. The Holy Spirit enables people to say: ‘each of us hears them [speaking] in our native language’ (Acts 2:8). The gift of tongues symbolises the fact that the Holy Spirit reverses the disunity of Babel and unites all peoples and languages.

This is the common experience today as we see the Holy Spirit bringing love and unity across churches, languages and nations.

Lord, may we never seek to make a name for ourselves or our own church, denomination or movement. Rather, may we seek to glorify your name. Pour out your Spirit, O Lord, on the church as on the day of Pentecost. May there be a reversal of Babel. May there be an end to disunity. May your Spirit and the values of the kingdom of God bring love, joy, peace, true happiness and unity.

Pippa Adds

Matthew 4:24

‘People brought to him all who were ill with various diseases, those suffering… and he healed them.’

I am going to pray for anyone I know who is sick or suffering today.

St Augustine, Confessions: Book 1 (Penguin, 1961) p.21

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible,
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)

Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible,

New International Version Anglicised

Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society

Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company

All rights reserved

‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica

UK trademark number 1448790.

Devotional, day 4

4 Jan 2017

Battles and Blessings

I have never forgotten a talk I heard over thirty years ago. The speaker started by saying that the Christian life is ‘battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle and blessing, battle and blessing… battle and blessing…’

At the time I thought, ‘Why is he going on like this? Will it never end?’ But he was making a memorable and profound point. When we are in the battle it is hard to believe that it will ever come to an end. When we are in a period of blessing we sometimes feel it will never end. But life is not like that. There are battles and blessings.

Rick Warren says that he used to think that the Christian life was a succession of battles and blessings, whereas now he thinks of life as being on two tracks. At any given moment in life there are usually blessings, but also battles to face.

He gives the example of the huge blessing that came to him through the publication of The Purpose Driven Life, which became the fastest selling Christian book of all time. It gave him enormous influence. But at the same time he found out that his wife, Kay, had cancer. On one track of his life there was great blessing; on the other track there was a massive battle to face.

Proverbs 1:1-7

1. Learn to steer through battles and blessings

The purpose of the book of Proverbs is stated right from the start: ‘These are the wise sayings… Written down so we’ll know how to live well and right… A manual for living, for learning what’s right and just and fair’ (vv.1–3, MSG). It provides practical wisdom for everyone – both the ‘inexperienced’ and the ‘experienced’ (vv.4–6, MSG).

These Proverbs tell you how life usually works. Generally speaking, people who are godly, moral and hardworking will reap rewards and blessings, but this is not guaranteed here on earth. Proverbs are pragmatic and wise advice learnt from a lifetime of experience.

The purpose of the book is to enable you ‘to steer your course rightly’ (v.5, AMP). Wisdom is the ‘art of steering’ through the battles and blessings of life, and living skilfully in whatever conditions you find yourself. Wisdom, as Joyce Meyer says, is ‘decisions you make now that you will be happy with later’.

Wisdom starts with the ‘fear of the Lord’, which ‘is the beginning of knowledge’ (v.7a). The ‘fear’ of the Lord can be translated ‘reverence’. It means to respect and honour the Lord as God. The most important lesson we can learn about life is to ‘start with God’ (v.7a, MSG).

Lord, help me to learn the art of steering through the battles and blessings that lie ahead. Help me to grow in wisdom. May I honour you today in all that I say and do.

Matthew 4:1-22

2. Learn from how Jesus dealt with battles and blessings

Jesus’ ministry began with the blessing of the Holy Spirit at his baptism but, as so often happens after great experiences of the Holy Spirit, battles immediately follow.

‘Next Jesus was taken into the wild by the Spirit for the Test’ (4:1, MSG). The temptations start with the words, ‘If you are the Son of God…’ (vv.3,6). The devil is tempting Jesus to presume on his identity, and thus to test his Father. Sometimes the devil comes to us and says, ‘If you are a Christian then you are better than others.’ Or, ‘If God forgives everything, it doesn’t matter how you live.’ Respond by following Jesus’ example.

Jesus faced three powerful temptations:

Instant gratification (economic)
There are some things that provide instant gratification but leave us feeling hollow afterwards.
Jesus had prepared by fasting for forty days and forty nights. ‘That left him, of course, in a state of extreme hunger, which the devil took advantage of in the first test’ (vv.2b–3a, MSG). He says to Jesus, ‘If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread’ (v.3b).

Jesus answers, ‘It is written: “People do not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God”’ (v.4). Although ‘bread’ is necessary it is not enough on its own.

Material needs matter, but they can never fully satisfy. There is a deeper spiritual hunger that can only be satisfied by ‘every word that comes from the mouth of God’ (v.4). We need regular spiritual food even more than regular physical food.

Attention seeking (religious)
Next, the devil puts before Jesus the challenge to throw himself off the highest point of the temple. Among other things, this is a temptation to do something dramatic (though not productive) to attract attention.
The devil goaded Jesus by quoting Psalm 91, but it is a verse taken out of context. Jesus countered with a verse that is in context: ‘Do not put the Lord your God to the test’ (v.7).

Wrong means (political)
Third, the devil shows Jesus all the kingdoms of the world and offers them, ‘if you will bow down and worship me’ (Matthew 4:8–9). This is the temptation to be dissatisfied with God himself and to embark on a programme of unscrupulous manipulation to achieve his ends by the wrong means. Jesus responds: “Beat it, Satan!” He backed his rebuke with a third quotation from Deuteronomy: ‘Worship the Lord your God, and only him. Serve him with absolute single-heartedness’ (v.10, MSG).
To each temptation Jesus responds with a verse from Deuteronomy Chapters 6–8. Perhaps he had been studying these chapters at that time. As you study the Bible it reveals God’s character and loving care for you, and deepens your relationship with him. This protects you against the devil’s lies, and helps and equips you to resist temptation when it comes.

At the end of these battles, Jesus enjoyed the blessing of angels who ‘came and took care of Jesus’ needs’ (v.11, MSG). The period of blessing did not last long. Jesus heard that John had been put in prison (v.12). It must have been devastating for Jesus to find out that his cousin had been imprisoned for his preaching.

Jesus was not daunted. He began to preach the very message that had caused John’s arrest: ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is near’ (v.17). He was fearless and courageous in the face of the battles.

Life is not just a matter of defensively seeing off the attacks; there are also positive advances to make. Jesus was on a mission. He began to build his team for that mission calling his first disciples: ‘Jesus said to them, “Come with me. I’ll make a new kind of fisherman out of you. I’ll show you how to catch men and women…” They… dropped their nets and followed’ (vv.19–20, MSG). These were exciting times. The beginning of the ministry of Jesus was a period of great blessing.

Lord, as I face the battles and blessings that lie ahead, help me to follow the example of Jesus. Help me to learn your Word so that when temptation comes I will be able to deal with it. May I be courageous and fearless in proclaiming the message of Jesus.

Genesis 7:1-9:17

3. Learn how others have coped with battles and blessings

Christians should be positive people. We see in this passage, as we do in the entire Bible, that the blessings outweigh the battles. Of the four great themes that run through this passage (and the entire Bible) only one is negative (the fall that leads to the battles). The other three are all about positive blessing.

Creation
Human beings are created in the image of God (9:6b). There is a nobility and dignity about all human life. We are to treat every human being with respect and dignity. ‘From each human being, too, I will demand an accounting for the life of another human being’ (v.5c), for ‘whoever sheds human blood, by humans shall their blood be shed’ (v.6a).
Fall
Noah faced a major battle – the flood and the destruction of almost the entire human race! It rained for forty days and forty nights (7:4) (exactly the same period as the temptation of Jesus). God’s judgment came because of the seriousness of sin: ‘Every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood’ (8:21).
Redemption
Despite the battle of the flood, Noah enjoyed the blessing of God’s love. Even though only Noah and those with him in the ark were left (7:23), as we read this passage through the lens of the New Testament we see that the ark is a picture of being baptised into Christ (see 1 Peter 3:18 onwards). Those who were in the ark were safe. Those who are in Christ are safe.
God blessed Noah and his sons. He said ‘Prosper! Reproduce! Fill the earth!’ (Genesis 9:1, MSG).

Glorification
God made a covenant with them (9:9). Every time you see a rainbow (v.13) it is a reminder of God’s commitment to you, which led ultimately to the cross – the blood of the new covenant. It is an ‘everlasting covenant’ into eternity (v.16).
Lord, thank you that ultimately your blessings will far outweigh the battles. Thank you that one day I will be with you forever and enjoy the even greater blessings of everlasting glorification. Help me to remember that my light and momentary troubles are achieving for me an eternal glory that far outweighs them all (see 2 Corinthians 4:17).

Pippa Adds

Genesis 7:8

Noah was quite old (600 years old!) when he began his life’s work. It is never too late – however old you are.

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible,
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible,
New International Version Anglicised
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society
Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company
All rights reserved
‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica
UK trademark number 1448790.

Devotional, day 3

3 Jan 2017

Walk with God

I love walking. Apparently, it is one of the best forms of physical exercise. Walking for 30–60 minutes a day, five days a week reduces the chances of cancer, diabetes, heart disease, anxiety and depression. It can increase life expectancy too.

Of course, walking is also a means of transport. In the ancient world it was the most common – and for some people the only – means of getting around.

Whether we are walking for physical exercise or as a means of transport, it is one of those activities that is more enjoyable to do with someone else. Walking and talking is a great way to communicate with family and friends.

The point is that we are doing two things at the same time. We are not just taking exercise or travelling. As we walk together we are in communion with one another. Both Enoch and Noah ‘walked with God’ (Genesis 5:24; 6:9). They didn’t just sit, kneel or stand with God (the kind of actions we would often associate with spending time with God), but they were also in communion with God when doing something else. While you are doing other things – working, eating, exercising or relaxing – you can be in communion with God at the same time.

The Bible has a great deal to say about walking with God. It is how we were intended to live. It was only Adam and Eve’s sin that made them hide when they ‘heard the sound of the Lord God as he was walking in the garden in the cool of the day’ (Genesis 3:8).

God’s desire for you is that you walk humbly in a relationship with him (Micah 6:8). This is what Jesus has made possible – for you to walk as Jesus did (1 John 2:6). Now you may stumble from time to time, but one day you will walk with him ‘dressed in white’ (Revelation 3:4).

Psalm 3:1-8

1. Walk with your head held high

David walked with God. But this does not mean that everything was perfect.

This psalm was written during a rebellion by David’s son Absalom that had been partly caused by David’s adultery (see 2 Samuel 12:11). Yet David repented of what he had done, and God forgave him and restored his relationship.

David did not have an easy life: ‘Lord, how many are my foes! How many rise up against me! Many are saying of me, “God will not deliver him.”’ (Psalm 3:1–2). But David cries out to God: ‘But you are a shield around me, O Lord; you bestow glory around me and lift up my head’ (v.3). Like David, bring your fears and requests to God: ‘To the Lord I cry aloud, and he answers me from his holy hill’ (v.4).

In spite of his distressing situation God lifted up David’s head. God does not want you to be downcast – constantly looking at the regrets behind you, the problems around you and the sin within you. Rather, he wants you to lift up your head and see the help above you – to walk with your head held high, and your eyes fixed on him.

David was able to say, ‘I lie down and sleep; I wake again, because the Lord sustains me. I will not fear the tens of thousands drawn up against me on every side’ (vv.5–6). In spite of all the troubles, he seems to have a deep peace – like a lake where there may be rough waves on the surface, but deeper down there is a great stillness.

Lord, I pray for the year ahead that you would help me to walk with you daily in the way of peace, with my head held high, trusting you to supply all I need for the day ahead.

Matthew 2:19-3:17

2. Walk in step with the Holy Spirit

John the Baptist prepared the way for Jesus. Whereas John’s baptism was symbolic, Jesus would ‘baptise you with the Holy Spirit’ (v.12). This prophecy is then dramatically affirmed as the Holy Spirit descends on Jesus as he is baptised (v.16), showing that he is the one John is speaking about, and that he is able to pour out this same Holy Spirit on you and me.

In many ways Jesus’ baptism was different from ours. He did not need to be baptised ‘for repentance’, and he was already filled with the Holy Spirit. John the Baptist was hesitant about baptising him (v.14) but Jesus said, ‘Let it be so now; it is proper for us to do this to fulfil all righteousness’ (v.15).

Jesus identified with us, sinful human beings, right from the start. He did this so that he could bear our sin on the cross for us. As a result, you are able to experience the Holy Spirit in a similar way and walk ‘in step with the Spirit’ (Galatians 5:25). We see here something of what it means to walk ‘in step with the Spirit’:

Get refined in the fire
John said that whereas he baptised with water, Jesus would baptise ‘with the Holy Spirit and fire’ (Matthew 3:11). The Holy Spirit will come like a refining fire to bring power and purity in your life. Knowing the refining fire of the Spirit in this life means that you can be free from the fear of the fire of judgment when Jesus returns (v.12).
Be filled with peace
When Jesus was baptised and came out of the water, ‘heaven was opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and alighting on him’ (v.16). The dove is a symbol of peace that the Holy Spirit brings to your life. The ‘fruit of the Spirit is… peace’ (Galatians 5:22).
Be assured of your adoption
A voice from heaven said, ‘This is my Son’ (Matthew 3:17). Jesus is the Son of God in a unique way. However, the Holy Spirit assures all of us that through what Jesus has done for us, we too are sons and daughters of God: You receive the spirit of adoption. And by him you cry, ‘Abba, Father’. The Holy Spirit himself testifies with your spirit that you are a child of God (see Romans 8:15–16).
Know that you are loved by God
The voice from heaven said ‘… whom I love…’ (Matthew 3:17). The apostle Paul writes that God’s love for you is poured into your heart by the Holy Spirit (Romans 5:5).
Feel his pleasure
The voice from heaven says, ‘with him I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17). Again, it was supremely true of Jesus but as you walk in step with the Spirit, you too can experience this sense of God’s delight and pleasure. I love the moment in the film Chariots of Fire when Eric Liddell says, ‘When I run I feel his pleasure.’
Lord, thank you that you give me your Holy Spirit to refine me, to give me peace, to assure me that I am a child of God, to know your love and to feel your pleasure. Help me to walk ‘in step with the Spirit’.

Genesis 4:17-6:22

3. Walk in relationship with God

Human beings are the pinnacle of God’s creation. God created us to walk in relationship with him. ‘When God created the human race, he made it godlike, with a nature akin to God. He created both male and female and blessed them, the whole human race’ (5:1–2, MSG).

However, sadly the human race went astray: ‘Human evil was out of control. People thought evil, imagined evil – evil, evil, evil from morning to night… it broke [God’s] heart’ (6:5–6, MSG).

Evil starts in our thinking and imagination – that is, in our hearts. It is a case of ‘garbage in, garbage out’. We need to watch not just our actions but also our thoughts, attitudes, motives and imagination.

In the midst of corruption and evil, it is possible to be different and to make a difference. Enoch and Noah are two examples of those who did not go along with the crowd but ‘walked with God’.

‘Enoch walked with God’ (5:22). I wonder whether the birth of his first child had an impact on Enoch. There is something so powerful, amazing and almost miraculous about seeing the birth of our own children. One of my very close friends became a Christian through experiencing the birth of his first child.

It appears that ‘after the birth of Methuselah’ (v.22), Enoch walked faithfully with God for the rest of his life. ‘Enoch walked steadily with God. And then one day he was simply gone: God took him’ (v.24, MSG).

Noah also walked with God. He found ‘grace (favor) in the eyes of the Lord’ (v.8, AMP). In spite of all the evil going on around him, ‘Noah was a good man, a man of integrity in his community. Noah walked with God’ (6:9, MSG). Noah believed God and built a boat, even though it was not raining and there was no water in sight. Noah did exactly what God told him to do (7:22).

Lord, help me to follow the example of Enoch and Noah. Help me to be righteous and blameless in my thoughts, words and deeds, walking with you in a close relationship. Help me, like Noah, to do everything you tell me to do.

Pippa Adds

Genesis 5:18

The average age for starting a family seems to be a little later than it is today. Jared has his first child at 162. This is the opposite of teenage pregnancy!

It obviously took him a long time to prepare for fatherhood. But he did a very good job because his son Enoch walked with God (Genesis 5:22–24).

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible,
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.

Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible,
New International Version Anglicised
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society
Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company
All rights reserved
‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica
UK trademark number 1448790.

Devotional, day 2

2 Jan 2017

First Questions

‘What is your first question going to be?’ I was preparing my cross-examination for one of the first criminal trials in which I was involved when I practised as a barrister. A senior and experienced barrister was helping me prepare. He explained to me the significance of first questions.

Psalm 2:1-12

1. The first question in the psalms is about Jesus

It is all about Jesus. The safest place to be in life is close to Jesus.

Paul, preaching the gospel in Antioch, quotes this psalm. He says, ‘We tell you the good news: What God promised our ancestors he has fulfilled for us, their children, by raising up Jesus. As it is written in the second psalm: “You are my Son; today I have become your Father.”’ (Acts 13:32–33, quoting Psalm 2:7).

It is Jesus who is his ‘anointed’ (Psalm 2:2). The Hebrew word here is ‘mashiah’ (messiah). He is the Christ, the Son of God, whom we are to love: ‘Kiss his Son’ (v.12).

Acts 13 is just one of the many occasions where Psalm 2 is quoted in the New Testament. The psalm’s original context probably concerned a particular situation involving a human King of Israel. Yet, as we read it with a larger horizon in mind, we see that the very first question asked in the psalms points forward in anticipation to Jesus. Why do people ‘conspire’ and ‘plot’ against him (vv.1–2)?

This is exactly what we see happening in the New Testament in relation to Jesus. We see it even in today’s New Testament passage. Right from the start of Jesus’ life, we see rulers gathering together and conspiring and plotting in vain (Matthew 2:3–4).

Yet the psalm ends, ‘Blessed (happy, fortunate, and to be envied) are all those who seek refuge and put their trust in him!’ (v.12b, AMP). With all the storms of life, and supremely the storm of Jesus’ coming in final judgment, the only safe place to be is ‘in him’.

Lord, thank you that as I look to the year ahead and all the potential challenges, opportunities and possibilities, the safest place to be is in you.

Matthew 2:1-18

2. The first question in the New Testament is about Jesus

Appropriately, the first question in the New Testament is also about Jesus. The whole of the Old Testament is fulfilled in Jesus.

The Magi (often referred to as ‘the wise men’) sensed the significance of Jesus’ birth. They asked, ‘Where is the one who has been born king of the Jews?’ (v.2) They sought and found him. When ‘they saw the child… they bowed down and worshiped him’ (v.11). They recognised that Jesus was the fulfilment of all the hopes and dreams of the people up to his birth.

Jesus is the one who fulfils all God’s promises. In yesterday’s reading we looked at one example of such a fulfilment. Today we see three more examples:

  • Place of his birth
    Matthew saw that even the place of Jesus’ birth was prophesied in Micah 5:2. It was out of Bethlehem that the ‘ruler’ and ‘shepherd’ would arise, ‘for this is what the prophet has written’ (Matthew 2:5–6).
  • Exile in Egypt
    When Herod tried to kill Jesus, the family escaped to Egypt (v.13). Matthew writes, ‘So was fulfilled what the Lord had said through the prophet: “Out of Egypt I called my son.”’ (v.15, see also Hosea 11:1).
  • Slaughter of the children
    When Herod ordered the murder of all boys under the age of two (Matthew 2:16), this fulfilled the prophecy of Jeremiah 31:15 (Matthew 2:17–18) (see Pippa Adds).

Lord Jesus, today we want to bow down and worship you. I want to offer you everything I have – my life, my all.

Genesis 2:18-4:16

3. The first question in the Bible is about God’s goodness

Do you ever find yourself doubting whether God’s way really is the best? Do you find yourself wondering whether, even though God says it is wrong, something is worth trying anyway?

God gave to humankind everything they could possibly want. The whole created world was made for us to enjoy. Every possible need was catered for. The pinnacle of God’s creation was human beings. The need for community was solved by the creation of other human beings: ‘It is not good for the man to be alone’ (2:18).

It started with the beautiful gift of marriage – the lifelong union of a man and a woman in which sex, another of God’s beautiful gifts, is to be enjoyed with intimacy and freedom, without guilt or ‘shame’ (vv.24–25).

Yet despite this abundant provision of everything good, human beings looked for something more. Adam and Eve were not satisfied with all the wonderful things God had given them, and they succumbed to the temptation to take forbidden fruit.

The temptation started with doubts about God. Here is the first question in the Bible: ‘Did God really say, “You must not eat from any tree in the garden”?’ (3:1).

Eve’s first mistake was to engage with the serpent in conversation. We are created to converse with God, not the devil.

The devil, in the form of the serpent, fools Eve into thinking that there will be no consequences to her sin – ‘You will not certainly die’ (v.4). He imputes bad motives to God, ‘For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil’ (v.5). It is often the case that you swallow a lie about God, before you swallow forbidden fruit.

The fruit looked ‘good’ and ‘pleasing to the eye’ and ‘desirable for gaining wisdom’ (v.6). This is often how temptation appears. Adam and Eve sinned and, as so often happens, cover-up followed the sin: ‘So they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves’ (v.7).

Lord, thank you for your amazing love for us. Thank you that you have created this wonderful universe for us to enjoy. Forgive me for the times that I have fallen for the devil’s lie that I cannot trust you and that I need to experience things that you have forbidden.

4. The first question God asks in the Bible is about you

Whenever you fall away from your relationship with him, God is always searching for you.

Adam and Eve’s friendship with God was broken. When they heard God coming, they hid (v.8). But God immediately came looking for them, and we find his first question in the Bible: ‘Where are you?’ (v.9) God did not give up on them. He came looking for them, wanting the relationship to be restored.

He says to the serpent that one of Eve’s descendants ‘will crush your head, and you will strike his heel’ (v.15b). Jesus is the one who will crush the head of the serpent. But there will be a cost – ‘you will strike his heel’. We see here the first hint of what it will cost to restore the relationship. On the cross Jesus crushed Satan, but it cost him his life. His blood was shed so that we could be forgiven and our relationship with God restored.

Lord, thank you that you are always searching for us. Thank you that through Jesus I receive forgiveness and my relationship with you is restored.

5. The first question human beings ask is about responsibility

‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (v.8). This is the crucial question for today. Do we have responsibility for others?

The result of the fall is a broken relationship with God. Adam and Eve blamed each other (vv.11–12), and in chapter four we read that their children also fell out with each other. Arguments, quarrelling and falling out with one another began here. It has blighted the human race ever since. Try to avoid arguments. You will rarely win one and they are so destructive.

Cain was angry with his brother Abel. God’s questioning continued: ‘Why are you angry? Why is your face downcast? If you do what is right, will you not be accepted? But if you do not do what is right, sin is crouching at your door; it desires to have you, but you must master it’ (4:6–7).

You will either master sin (now through the power of the cross and resurrection and with the help of the Spirit), or else sin will master you. In Cain’s case it did. He killed his brother (v.8). God asked him yet another question: ‘Where is your brother Abel?’ (v.9a).

In response, Cain asked the first question by a human being in the Bible: ‘Am I my brother’s keeper?’ (v.9b). Cain wanted to avoid responsibility. He was saying, ‘Do I really have responsibility for anyone other than myself?’

The biblical answer is that we do have responsibility for others. We cannot exempt ourselves from responsibility for what is happening around us – in our city, nation and the world. For example, we cannot accept that thousands of children die every day as a result of extreme poverty and simply say it is not our responsibility.

Not only do we have responsibility towards our fellow human beings, but it is our privilege and joy to bring blessing to our friends, family and all those around us, and to make a difference in the lives of as many people as possible.

Lord, help me this year to fulfil the potential I have to make a difference in other people’s lives.

Pippa Adds

Matthew 2:16

‘When Herod realised that he had been outwitted by the Magi, he was furious, and he gave orders to kill all the boys in Bethlehem and its vicinity who were 2 years old and under, in accordance with the time he had learned from the Magi.’

I always feel traumatised when I read this passage. What a terrible thing Herod did to the vulnerable, just because he felt insecure about his own position. Are you ever in danger of putting others down to try and secure your own position?

Scripture quotations marked (AMP) taken from the Amplified® Bible,
Copyright © 1954, 1958, 1962, 1964, 1965, 1987 by The Lockman Foundation
Used by permission. (www.Lockman.org)
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible,
New International Version Anglicised
Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society
Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company
All rights reserved
‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica
UK trademark number 1448790.