Monthly Archives: June 2012

Listen to God

The Scriptures are the Word of God,
That holy men of old
By inspiration spoke and wrote,
As spirit power told.

God’s Word is able to make wise,
The one with hearing ears:
The one who strives to understand,
Believing what he hears.

All preconceived ideas must go,
So leave them all behind;
Imaginations of the flesh
’Twill only dull the mind.

Trust in the Lord with all your heart,
To heed the Bible pays;
In all your ways acknowledge Him,
He’ll guide your paths always.

Learn how to pray as did the Lord,
Our need is very great;
His wise example shows the way,
Upon it meditate.

Gwen Marley

Thought For Today

In the Bible it rained for 40 days, they called it a disaster. In England we call it “summer”.In the Bible it rained for 40 days, they called it a disaster. In England we call it “summer”.

In the Bible it rained for 40 days, they called it a disaster. In England we call it “summer”.

Spotted on Angel London Underground Tube Station notice board.

Bitesize Bible Study – The Book of Nehemiah

Who was Nehemiah?

  • Nehemiah was a contemporary of Ezra.
  • He was born in exile and became cupbearer to the Persian king Artaxerxes.

What happens in the book?

  • Many Jews had returned to the land of Israel from exile.
  • The events in the book of Ezra took place about 11 years earlier.
  • The work of rebuilding Jerusalem has slowed down due to external opposition and internal apathy.
  • Nehemiah is sad to hear of this state of affairs and prays for Jerusalem and for the people.
  • The king asks why he is sad and then gives him permission to go to Jerusalem to rebuild it.
  • Nehemiah travels to Jerusalem and once there inspects the city walls.
  • Despite opposition he inspires the people to rebuild the walls.
  • The job is finished in under 2 months.
  • Guards and gatekeepers are established.
  • Following this, Ezra and the priests read the Law to the people.
  • The people confess their sins and rededicate themselves to God.
  • Nehemiah continues his work of reformation.

How was the building work opposed?

  • The building work was mocked – Chapter 2:19
  • Anger was directed at the Jews – Chapter 4:1
  • Enemies plotted to fight against the Jews – Chapter 4:8
  • Enemies schemed to capture Nehemiah – Chapter 6:2

What can we learn from the character of Nehemiah?

  • The book begins and ends with prayer, and Nehemiah is seen throughout to be a man of prayer. He does not carry out a task without praying about it.
  • The prayer is always supplemented with hard work and determination.
  • His work inspired others to work hard as well, and because of this the people together overcame opposition.

 

Next time – Bitesize Book of Esther! 

The Rules of the Race

imageAthletes in any sport have to compete according to a set of rules. These are laid down in a rule book and everyone who competes needs to be aware of them.

Officials, administrators and referees are appointed to ensure that the rules are upheld. All sports have a body that has overall responsibility for the running of that sport.

Total Coverage

These rules exist to make sure that all who compete know what is expected of them: what they can do and what they are not allowed to do. This ensures no misunderstanding and that all compete fairly, having the same opportunity. There is a phrase that is much used today when people talk about ‘a level playing field’. That provides a good summary of what the rules are intended to do, for it would be quite unfair in a competitive field game if one side was playing uphill and the other side had the advantage of playing downhill.

Every aspect of the race, game, jump or throw is covered in the rules, not only when the sport is taking place, but also,

  • how it should start,
  • what should be worn, and
  • how it should finish

The list of rules and regulations can go on and on. If a competitor breaks those rules and tries to gain an unfair advantage, officials are there to decide what penalty should be applied. This generally depends on how seriously the rules have been abused. Once the athlete starts to compete, the rules become second nature to them. It’s not a matter of rigidly following them, but of developing a life of dedicated service to achieve the goal. For example, if there are prohibited sub­stances, including some medication, then the athlete will choose food and medicine accordingly. These become life-long habits.

The Spiritual Athlete

As with the natural so with the spiritu­al athlete – up to a point anyway! The rules of a spiritual athlete are God’s rules contained in the Bible, the Word of God. We, as spiritual athletes, must develop the pattern of behaviour pre­scribed in the Bible if we are to be rewarded. The apostle Paul wrote these words of advice about God’s rule book, when writing to a young disciple:

From childhood you have known the Holy Scriptures, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith which is in Christ Jesus. All Scrip­ture is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in right­eousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work (2 Timothy 3:15–17).

All that we need to be complete and thoroughly equipped is provided for us by God in His Word. The goal that God offers is everlasting life in God’s future kingdom which is to be established on earth. This is explained in more detail elsewhere in this magazine but this is how the Bible – the “Holy Scriptures”, as Paul calls them – can make us wise unto this salvation offered by God. It explains what God is doing to bring about a new society on earth and tells us what sort of spiritual attitude we need to cultivate. Here is the apostle’s comment on his own mental state:

I press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus (Philippians 3:14).

The Starting Line

In both quotations referred to above the apostle Paul refers to the impor­tance of Jesus Christ.

  • In 2 Timothy 3, verse 15, the salva­tion offered to us is through faith in Jesus Christ.
  • In Philippians 3, verse 14, the call of God is in Christ Jesus.

Here we find the ‘starting line rule’. Our race must commence with a faith in Jesus Christ. We can only be saved by believing in Jesus and accepting his teachings.

The Bible tells us that we acknowl­edge our faith in Jesus Christ by being baptised. Every reference in the Bible to baptism is where someone is at an age to understand what they are doing by being baptised. It is a deliberate act and signifies that we knowingly start the race of our lives, trying to follow the example of Jesus in all that we do. The apostle Peter, at the end of the third chapter of his first letter, describes baptism as the answer of a good conscience toward God. It is the right way to start our race and Jesus showed us it is the right thing to do when he was himself baptised.

References to athletes and athletic endeavour are not merely topical, because of the Olympic Games. This is a Bible theme, which itself reminds us that competitive games have been around for a long time, in one form or another. Here’s the apostle Paul again:

No one engaged in warfare entangles himself with the affairs of this life, that he may please him who enlisted him as a soldier. And also if anyone com­petes in athletics, he is not crowned unless he competes according to the rules (2 Timothy 2:4–5).

God’s Rules

What is really interesting is that some of the rules of the race in Christ are dif­ferent from those that apply to an athlete competing in worldly races. We must run according to God’s rules in the Bible, or risk disqualification.

Therefore we also, since we are sur­rounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us lay aside every weight, and the sin which so easily ensnares us, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking unto Jesus, the author and finisher of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and has sat down at the right hand of the throne of God (Hebrews 12:1–2).

Once again we see Jesus as our example in the way we run our race. Notice also that we are to lay aside every weight and the sin that so easily ensnares us. In Galatians chapter 5, Paul gives us a list of what we should

avoid, classing these things as “the works of the flesh”, and then he pro­vides a list of better qualities that we should aim to practice. These positive rules are described as “the fruit of the spirit”.

Now the works of the flesh are evident, which are: adultery, fornica­tion, uncleanness, lewdness, idolatry, sorcery, hatred, contentions, jeal­ousies, outbursts of wrath, selfish ambitions, dissensions, heresies, envy, murders, drunkenness, revelries, and the like; of which I tell you beforehand, just as I also told you in time past, that those who practice such things will not inherit the kingdom of God. But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, longsuffering, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control. Against such there is no law (Galatians 5:19–23).

Running Together

This “fruit of the Spirit” introduces a totally different concept. It’s not all about competition and beating the other athlete. God’s rules mean that we should be seeking God’s righteous­ness, doing what is right and pleasing in His sight. Rather than beat the other athlete, we are to help each other on the road towards the glorious goal of a place in God’s coming Kingdom. Ours should be a life of genuine dedication to God, seeking first His kingdom.

During the ministry of Jesus, a lawyer approached Jesus and asked him, which is the greatest commandment in the law? The response by Jesus gives us a succinct summary of the rules that apply to the spiritual athlete.

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great command­ment. And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbour as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the Law and the Prophets” (Matthew 22:37–40).

So if we are to compete in the race of life according to God’s rules we must start by reading God’s Word, the Bible. If we accept its teaching and we want to follow Jesus Christ in our lives, the start of our race is baptism. That is how we start a new life in a relation­ship with Almighty God, made possible by the saving work of the Lord Jesus. It is a wonderful comfort for us to know that God, who sets the rules, wants us all to succeed. As Jesus said:

“Do not fear, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom” (Luke 12:32).

God has a purpose with the earth He created which involves all those who really want to be part of the future He has planned. For, when Jesus returns to rule as King, he will raise his faithful followers who are now asleep in death and he will give to all those who are judged faithful the wonderful gift of everlasting life in a perfect world.

In that way God will be glorified and His way will be shown to be the right way for all mankind. A loving God asks for our loving response, so that we can spend eternity together.

Teamwork

imageHave you ever watched cyclists racing against each other around a track?

The new Olympic Velodrome in London has already been used com­petitively, when a World Cup competition was staged there, and most of the world’s top track cyclists took the opportunity to get the feel of the track. Perhaps most thrilling are the events where two competing teams start the race spaced exactly opposite each other with half of the circuit between them.

At the starting gun, off they go, with the intention of making up ground on their rivals at the end of the contest, which is raced over a predetermined number of laps. In a crowded stadium with a partisan crowd encouraging their favourites to victory, the excite­ment is palpable!

Working Together

Each team goes out in the order which makes best use of the strengths of their individual members and specta­tors can see the precise difference in each team’s time as they cross the fin­ishing line at the end of each circuit. Whilst racing, the cyclists take it in turn to ride at the front because, due to the slipstream effect, there is less energy used in following. They are riding at speeds of 60 to 80 kph, with only about 20-30 centimetres between the rear and the next front wheel. So if they are not paying close attention to their teammates ahead, it will be only too easy to crash, ending the contest for the whole team. The finishing time may be that of each team’s third rider over the line – but the fourth rider is not forgotten when it comes to the prizes, because he or she has con­tributed to that time by the effort contributed in the earlier stages.

It used to be the case that the most important thing in sport was not the winning but the taking part. Sadly, that ideal has long since been surpassed by the realisation that success can result in huge material rewards. But when you see the camaraderie shared between cycling team members, you can understand the genuine happiness which they feel for each other’s suc­cesses, and the support they give each other when things have not gone so well.

Interdependence

Teamwork is equally evident when you watch a relay race, when success depends so much on the passing of the baton at the end of a runner’s stint. A lack of co-ordination at that point can mean failure for the whole team effort. There is also the so-called “anchor leg”, where perhaps the strongest runner – who may be regard­ed as the leader of the team – has the job of making up any ground lost to the other teams and thereby making a win possible. Trainers can be seen stand­ing on the sidelines, encouraging their charges and passing signals to let them know how they are doing.

They may not be racing, but trainers are an essential part of the team. They have to understand what it is like for the athlete, and many will have partic­ipated in the same sport when younger. They must also understand what counselling and encouragement is required to keep their charges focused, and their morale high. So we see that, while there are different duties and responsibilities, each member is a vital part of the team, runner and helper alike. All have to work together if they are to succeed.

Contributing

Watching sport can be very satisfying and sometimes watchers can make a real contribution. Home crowds are described by athletes as an extra member of the team, because of the boost which comes from their support. But is there anybody watching you and helping you as you compete in the game of life? There most certainly is! The Lord Jesus Christ promised his fol­lowers that he would always be there to help and to will them on, as they make their individual efforts to follow him.

Like the team trainer mentioned earlier, Jesus has been here before and he was completely successful when confronted with the enormous challenges he faced. His life is the perfect example of how to be condi­tioned for every circumstance so as to overcome the distractions and obsta­cles which often impede us.

But there’s a bit more to it than that. Inevitably, athletes fall victim to injuries and, if possible, have to be brought back to fitness again, although that’s not always possible. Jesus, to whom we look as a guide in the competition of life, has, by obedience to the requirements of his Heavenly Father, secured a prize which transcends the normal result of the frailties of our human condition.

The Bible teaches us that, because he never sinned, Jesus could not have been left dead forever. For God is both righteous and loving and so He raised His Son from the dead to newness of life. Jesus now sits on the right hand of God, waiting for the time when God will send him back to earth to establish His Kingdom here.

Meanwhile Jesus is watching us, keeping an eye on our progress, hoping that we can share in the suc­cessful completion of his efforts. As our Guide and Trainer, Jesus has put the work in to get the best out of us. He has explained in the Bible just what we need to do. His ideal is that we all work together for good – for God – using our different strengths and skills to bring glory to our Heavenly Father. By God’s grace, we may receive the prize of eternal life at the return of Jesus.

The Way Ahead

Everyone is different and all of us have something special to contribute. But there is a fundamental choice to be made. Are we going to live just for our­selves, or do we want to share the strength which like-minded individuals can offer, finding the benefits which fellowship can bring? The world would be much less interesting if everybody was the same. God knows this, and the Bible shows that He expects differ­ent types of people to work together, so as to obtain the best results for all. Here’s how the apostle Paul expresses that thought:

“There are diversities of gifts, but the same Spirit … But the manifestation of the Spirit is given to each one for the profit of all … But one and the same Spirit works all these things, distributing to each one individually as He wills. For as the body is one and has many members, but all the members of that one body, being many, are one body, so also is Christ … But now God has set the members, each one of them, in the body just as He pleased. And if they were all one member, where would the body be? But now indeed there are many members, yet one body… that there should be no schism in the body, but that the members should have the same care for one another. And if one member suffers, all the members suffer with it; or if one member is honored, all the members rejoice with it. Now you are the body of Christ, and members individually (1 Corinthians 12:4-27).

Only Believe!

We are not all the same, but we can all be one – together – in Christ. This is how the same apostle summarised that thought when writing to the Gala­tians:

You are all sons of God through faith in Christ Jesus. For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ. There is neither Jew nor Greek, there is neither slave nor free, there is neither male nor female; for you are all one in Christ Jesus (Galatians 3:26–28).

That oneness or unity is not without purpose, as Paul explains elsewhere. When we belong to Jesus – by believ­ing in his saving work and being baptised, so as to associate ourselves with his life’s work – we become members of God’s family and belong to the great work of salvation that has been ongoing ever since the creation of the world.

Family Members

Now, therefore, you are no longer strangers and foreigners, but fellow cit­izens with the saints and members of the household of God, having been built on the foundation of the apostles and prophets, Jesus Christ himself being the chief cornerstone, in whom the whole building, being fitted togeth­er, grows into a holy temple in the Lord, in whom you also are being built together for a dwelling place of God in the Spirit (Ephesians 2:19–22).

When we repent of our sins and are baptised, we become part of the Jesus team. Our handbook is the Word of God, which reveals to us the blessings which will be given to faithful partici­pants. Our example and team coach is the Lord Jesus. Our companions are all those who are running with us in the race of life, helping one another as we journey so that we can all receive God’s gracious gift of everlasting life.