- Fear and Safety
“The mountains quake before him and the hills melt away. The earth trembles at his presence, the world and all who live in it. Who can withstand his indignation? Who can endure his fierce anger? His wrath is poured out like fire; the rocks are shattered before him. The LORD is good, a refuge in times of trouble. He cares for those who trust in him” (Nahum 1: 5 – 7)
This is such a thing as a healthy fear of God. Moses commanded the Israelites to “Fear the LORD your God, serve him only” in Deuteronomy 6: 13. God reveals His fierce anger and is not reticent in letting us know that He is a God of wrath.
Yet the Lord is also kind and patient. God has shown us another side to His heart. We are told that “The LORD is gracious and compassionate, slow to anger and rich in love”, (Psalms 145: 8).
How might we hold these apparently opposing truths together? How might we dwell in the peace and security of the Father’s love at the same time as acknowledging His right to unleash His anger?
I think part of the answer may lie in this reading from the prophet, Nahum. One of the minor prophets in the Old Testament, he recorded God’s words against the Assyrian Empire before its downfall in 612 BCE, particularly its capital city, Nineveh. To those in opposition to God, “The LORD is a jealous and avenging God” (Nahum 1: 2); but to those who trust Him, He is a refuge, a good and caring God”.
Can God be both? Absolutely! For many though, a question can still hang unresolved: how might I live in both fear of God and safety in His refuge? Can we be both scared of God and secure in His love at the same time?
A deeper study is needed to unearth everything that Scripture says about the question, but, for the purposes of a short devotion, Nahum offers some help.
First of all, the Lord is good (Nah 1: 7). This is a fundamental truth as we consider the many facets of God’s character. He is good. He has always been good. He may deal with sin and rebellion, but that never contradicts the goodness that defines the core of His being. God is a good God, and we can build our lives on that simple truth.
Second, he is a refuge in times of trouble. This also speaks, I believe, albeit indirectly, of His mercy. Whether we have sinned or are a victim of attack, he offers safe shelter. The Lord loves to both forgive and protect. But to those who willingly oppose Him, to those whose hearts are closed to repentance, He will act according to His wise judgement.
Third, He cares for those who trust Him. We don’t fear evil from someone who lovingly takes care of us. God doesn’t pour out His wrath on those who put their trust in Him. He may lovingly discipline us. We may sin at times and continue to fall short of his best for us, but He is always committed to responding as a good, loving Father to every penitent and trusting heart.4m | Mar 4, 2024
Nobody likes failing. We enjoy success; we like to achieve things, especially if others notice and cheer us on. So, what does the Bible teach us about success or being successful?
In the Old Testament, we learn of individuals finding success as they prayed and trusted God for help. Abraham’s servant found success in finding a wife for Isaac. We are told that Joseph was successful in everything he did in Egypt – even during his years in captivity. The book of Proverbs tells us that The Lord “holds success in store for the upright” (Prov 2: 7)
Interestingly, the word doesn’t exist in the New Testament!
However, the New Testament does have a lot to say about fruitfulness.
Now, the New Testament doesn’t suggest that success is a bad thing (God often does help us to do things well), but the New Testament’s emphasis on fruitfulness does show us (as members of the body of Christ) how our Father in Heaven invites us into His purposes and how He loves it when we bear fruit for the Kingdom of God.
Jesus put it like this: “This is to my Father’s glory, that you bear much fruit, showing yourselves to be my disciples” (John 15: 8).
What is the fruit he wants us to bear? What does it look like?
One obvious answer is found in Paul’s letter to the Galatians 5: 22, “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.” God wants to grow and develop those characteristics in our hearts, and it is an ongoing process throughout our lives.
How does He do it? Well, one way is through difficulties, trials, challenges, suffering. James 1: 2 – 4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance. Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.”
That sounds like good, spiritual fruit to me.
The second type of fruit is together fruit. God wants churches (or Christians working together) to be fruitful.
In Mark chapter 4, we read the famous parable of the Sower, the analogy of sowing God’s Word into different environments. Verse 20 is a description of fruitfulness: “Others, like seed sown on good soil, hear the word, accept it, and produce a crop—some thirty, some sixty, some a hundred times what was sown.”
A few verses later, Jesus shares another parable. “This is what the kingdom of God is like. A man scatters seed on the ground. Night and day, whether he sleeps or gets up, the seed sprouts and grows, though he does not know how. All by itself the soil produces grain—first the stalk, then the head, then the full kernel in the head. As soon as the grain is ripe, he puts the sickle to it, because the harvest has come.”
When the kingdom of God is present, when God’s Word lands on good soil, there is fruitfulness. There is natural growth. Sometimes, we may not even be able to explain it. But it happens.
When the soil of believers serving the Lord together is right, in a good and healthy environment, the plant will just grow naturally, and healthily – first the stalk, then the head…
Fruitfulness.5m | Feb 25, 2024
- The Scars of God
Today’s story, written by the disciple John, takes place just after Jesus has risen from the dead.
“Now Thomas (also known as Didymus), one of the Twelve, was not with the disciples when Jesus came. So the other disciples told him, “We have seen the Lord!”
But he said to them, “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe.”
A week later his disciples were in the house again, and Thomas was with them. Though the doors were locked, Jesus came and stood among them and said, “Peace be with you!” Then he said to Thomas, “Put your finger here; see my hands. Reach out your hand and put it into my side. Stop doubting and believe” (John 20: 24 – 27).
My wife and I had the privilege recently of seeing the Christian band “We are Messengers” in concert. One song stood out for me. The chorus goes like this:
It's in the empty tomb
It's on the rugged cross
Your death defying love
Is written in Your scars
You'll never quit on me
You'll always hold my heart
'Cause that's the kind of God You are
(Songwriters: Phil Wickham / Darren Mulligan / Kyle Williams. God You Are lyrics © Centricity Music Publishing, Be Essential Songs)
Jesus had scars. He used them to prove to Thomas that He was the one who had been crucified, and that He had clearly risen from the dead. The scars of Jesus revealed a story of life, suffering, death and new life.
Most of us have scars. Sometimes we can even be a little proud of them as we re-tell the story of this operation or that sports injury. But some scars we keep hidden and we wish they would go away.
We know something of the emotional toll that the crucifixion brought upon Jesus. The night before. “He took Peter and the two sons of Zebedee along with him, and he began to be sorrowful and troubled. Then he said to them, “My soul is overwhelmed with sorrow to the point of death. Stay here and keep watch with me.”
Going a little farther, he fell with his face to the ground and prayed, “My Father, if it is possible, may this cup be taken from me. Yet not as I will, but as you will” (Matt 26: 37 – 39).
We don’t know if Jesus had emotional scars, but we do know that He experienced the enormity of both physical pain and emotional stress. The amazing this is, He didn’t have to. He was God. But he revealed His love for us by enduring those things. The scars he showed Thomas that day were not just proof of life but proof of love. God’s love was written in those scars.
So, what do we do with our scars, especially the painful ones? The ones inside.
First, talk about them to Jesus. He knows what physical pain looks like and when it comes to fear, dread, betrayal, hurtful words… the list goes on, He gets it. Take time bringing them to Him.
Then as you share those burdens with Him, remember His scars and the reason for them. His scars happened because the Father wanted you to know how much he loves you. And He is with you right now as you process your own scars with Him right next to you.5m | Feb 18, 2024
- The Kindness of God
There is no denying that the first king of Israel, Saul, failed to model humble obedience to God. After the prophet Samuel had given clear instructions to wait for him in Gilgal, the impatient king presumed to take on the office of priest and offer a sacrifice, something only Samuel should do.
Then, following a victory against the Amalekites, Saul failed to follow simple instructions concerning the spoils of war. Later, after Samuel’s death, Saul, still king but desperate to hear guidance from God as he and his men faced another Philistine threat, sought help from a medium, knowing full well that such practices were against God’s law.
In one of the strangest stories in the Bible, God permitted the medium to arrange a conversation between the recently departed Samuel and Saul. But it was not a pleasant one for Saul. The prophet reminded the king that God’s judgment had already decreed a new king will arise from a different family line. Saul’s royal line will start and finish with him.
He went on to say, “Because you did not obey the LORD or carry out his fierce wrath against the Amalekites, the LORD has done this to you today. The LORD will deliver both Israel and you into the hands of the Philistines, and tomorrow you and your sons will be with me. The LORD will also give the army of Israel into the hands of the Philistines” (1 Sam 28: 18 – 19).
This may seem like a story about God’s judgment, but I think it grants us a revelation into His kindness. Let me explain.
First, note that Saul was still king the day before his impending death. Even though God had previously made clear that the king’s reign would come to an end, He spared Saul the embarrassment of a public demise. He allowed Saul to continue in ministry until the day of his death.
Second, when Samuel informed Saul that he and his sons would die the next day, he made it very clear that they will be “with me”. They will die and be in paradise. Even his army will only be captured for a season. They are and will be still called the “army of Israel”.
God may be a judge, but He is also kind. God is unafraid to confront and deal with sin in our lives, but He is full of goodness and compassion. David reminded us in Psalm 30 to “Sing the praises of the LORD, you his faithful people; praise his holy name”, and then gives a great reason why:
“For his anger lasts only a moment,
but his favour lasts a lifetime;
weeping may stay for the night,
but rejoicing comes in the morning” (Ps 30: 4 – 5).
I believe God would rather share his love than His discipline. Like any good parent, He will deal with sinful attitudes and behaviours, but only to bring about the goals of righteousness, transformation and reconciliation.
The prophet Jeremiah gave us a glimpse into the heart of God, when the Lord spoke through him to a disobedient nation saying, ““I have loved you with an everlasting love; I have drawn you with unfailing kindness” (Jer 31: 3).4m | Feb 11, 2024
- When you feel confined
“Jeremiah was put into a vaulted cell in a dungeon, where he remained a long time” (Jer 37: 16)
“When two years had passed, Felix was succeeded by Porcius Festus, but because Felix wanted to grant a favour to the Jews, he left Paul in prison” (Acts 24: 27).
“Joseph’s master took him and put him in prison, the place where the king’s prisoners were confined” (Gen 39: 20). “When two full years had passed…” (Gen 41: 1).
I don’t know what it feels like to spend a night (or longer) in jail, but I do have some experience of feeling confined. At least in the sense of experiencing restrictions, either because doors of opportunity were not opening or because the organisation I was working for seemed reluctant to release me into new things. Or even hear new ideas and perspectives.
I am guessing that you might have lived through something like that too. Most people have.
Many years ago, I felt a call into Christian ministry, but a long time passed until I found a place where others around me confirmed that call and encouraged me to step out. I would sometimes wake from a dream where I am about to preach to a congregation (or lead them in worship), but then something happens to stop it at the last minute. Several guitar strings break at once, or traffic stops me from arriving at the venue on time.
I guess my sub-conscious mind was reflecting the feeling that life was forcing me to wear a straitjacket. I had so much to give but nowhere to express it. I felt confined.
I remember listening to a sermon by the great UK preacher, Terry Virgo, around that time. He was speaking from Isaiah 49 and drew attention to verse 2: “God concealed me in His quiver”.
Ps Virgo felt the Lord wanted to say that we are created as God’s arrows. We are made for flight and action. We are designed to have the greatest impact on a world desperate to know God’s love and truth. But there are seasons in our lives when He deliberately conceals us in His quiver. For a time. It might be a long time.
I wonder how Paul and Jeremiah and Joseph each felt when they were imprisoned. Paul was on his way to Rome, and we might imagine him penning some of his most important letters whilst in the jail cell. But he didn’t. In fact, we have no idea how he spent the time.
Occasionally Paul had opportunity to speak of his faith before Roman officials and Jeremiah occasionally spoke to messengers from the king enquiring about the threat of Babylonian invasion. But the rest of the time – who knows?
The other thing Terry Virgo said was that the archer in ancient times sometimes wore his quiver over his chest. The arrows were next to the archer’s heart. We may never know why God confines us for a season, but we do know that we are never far from His heart, and he will shoot the arrow when the time is right.5m | Feb 4, 2024
- Why worship God?
There are an infinite number of reasons, of course, but let me share four - the Four I’s.
First, because we are Impressed with Him.
Alisa Camplin is an Australian aerial skier who won gold at the 2002 Winter Olympics. An excerpt from a newspaper article at the time said:
“Camplin’s passage to the Olympics involved seven years of hard labour, with a procession of increasingly difficult somersaults and some awful accidents. She broke her collarbone and a hand, separated her shoulder, dislocated her sternum twice, ripped her hip flexor out of her groin, broke both ankles, tore her right knee and cracked 12 ribs. But after she soared through two perfect triple twisting double somersaults to win the Olympic gold medal at Deer Valley, she felt all the agony had been worthwhile. In 2002/3 she won the World Championship and the World Cup title.”
Impressive huh? And it is easy to shower her, and others like her, with well-deserved praise. Therefore, how much more should we be impressed with God?
Light travels at 300,000 km/s, so it can travel around the world during the click of a finger.
Light needs just 1 second to get to the moon and 8 minutes to travel to the sun. It would take a day for a flash of light to reach the edge of our Solar System and, at the same speed, 4.3 years to get to the nearest star (Alpha Centauri).
After that, it would be 2 million years to find the nearest galaxy.
There are billions of Galaxies. God’s universe is very big. To say we are impressed with God is an understatement at best but that is our first ‘I’.
Why worship God? Second: Because his love is Infinite. “…the steadfast love of the LORD is from everlasting to everlasting on those who fear him” (Ps 103: 17).
And look at the quality of that love. Paul attempted a summary in his beautiful description of love in 1 Corinthians 13, often read at weddings: “Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. 5 It does not dishonour others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. 6 Love does not delight in evil but rejoices with the truth. 7 It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres” (1 Cor 13:4 - 7)
And that love is for all time. Forever. God’s love towards us is infinite.
The third “I” and reason to worship God is that He Identified with us.
Jesus, “made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
8 And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death —
even death on a cross!” (Phil 2:7-8).
The same writer, Paul also wrote: “God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us” (Rom 5:8).
Jesus humbled himself to become human, even submitting to the taunts and nails of those he had created in order that he might die in our place. He identified with us by stepping into the mud with us, and he did that to save us from it.
If these reasons weren’t enough, the fourth reason to worship God is because he is Intimate.
“I will never leave you; I will never abandon you” (Heb 13 v 5).
“And I will be with you always, to the end of the age" (Matt 28 v 20)
“Even if I go through the deepest darkness, I will not be afraid, LORD, for you are with me” (Ps 23: 4).
Intimate means ‘close. Very close. The Lord is never far away. And always worthy of our worship.5m | Jan 28, 2024
- Two Powerful Prayers
We all know that prayer is important; that regular time in the Lord’s Presence is as vital as food or oxygen. But occasionally we might find our minds going blank and wondering what to pray about. If that ever happens to you, Scripture – God’s Word comes to the rescue.
Today, we are going to look at two occasions when the Apostle Paul allowed us into His prayer closet. In each case, he tells us what is on his heart to pray. These can guide us in our conversations with God too. From each passage, I have constructed my own prayer. Maybe the Lord will inspire you to do the same – either a prayer for yourself or one for others in your care.
The first one is from Ephesians 1:16-19 (CSB)
“I never stop giving thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, would give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened so that you may know what is the hope of his calling, what is the wealth of his glorious inheritance in the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power toward us who believe, according to the mighty working of his strength”.
Here is a personal prayer based on this: “Lord, I want to know you better. As I read and meditate on your Word, please fill me with the Spirit of wisdom. Please deepen my understanding of You with revelations of holy truth. Let the eyes of my heart be opened to all that you might reveal to me – the depths of future hope, a clearer grasp of your calling and will; and the riches of all that is available to us though faith. And Lord, let me not limit you by small thinking. Your power and strength are infinite and mighty. Amen”
The second passage comes from Colossians 1: 9 – 12 (CSB). It is similar to the first, but it has some important additions.
“For this reason also, since the day we heard this, we haven’t stopped praying for you. We are asking that you may be filled with the knowledge of his will in all wisdom and spiritual understanding, so that you may walk worthy of the Lord, fully pleasing to him: bearing fruit in every good work and growing in the knowledge of God, being strengthened with all power, according to his glorious might, so that you may have great endurance and patience, joyfully giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the saints’ inheritance in the light” .
Here's a prayer on behalf of a group of people: “Lord, please fill us with the knowledge of your will. Our heart’s cry is to do the things you have called us to do. We ask this because we want to live lives that are pleasing to you; lives that bear good fruit in the places you have put us.
And Lord, we pray that we can keep growing in our knowledge of you. We ask that you might mould us and strengthen us to the shape you want us to be, that we might become people of endurance, patience and great joy. Amen”.4m | Jan 22, 2024
- Stop Trusting in Mere Humans
“Stop trusting in mere humans, who have but a breath in their nostrils. Why hold them in esteem?” (Is 2:22).
We do rely on people, don’t we?
And, to a certain extent, rightly so. Children and infants need their parents to provide for them and nurture them. In fact, any successful group of adults, from professional footballers to military units to an orchestra playing a symphony need each other to achieve the goal or create a greater whole.
God made us to exist and function, flourish and grow in the context of community. Family. Team. Paul goes further to describe our life together like a human body: “the body is not made up of one part but of many” (1 Cor 12: 14).
He goes on: “God has put the body together, giving greater honour to the parts that lacked it, so that there should be no division in the body, but that its parts should have equal concern for each other. If one part suffers, every part suffers with it; if one part is honoured, every part rejoices with it” (1 Cor 12: 24 – 26).
God has created humans to be connected, especially in local churches. We are to love and serve one another, sharing in each other’s sufferings and difficulties as well as our joys. The Lord provides leaders for us, whom we are exhorted to treat with respect: “The elders who direct the affairs of the church well are worthy of double honour, especially those whose work is preaching and teaching” (1 Tim 5: 17).
So, with all of that in mind, the phrase at the end of Isaiah 2 above, might seem a little puzzling. Stop relying on humans and definitely don’t hold them in high esteem!
Isaiah is prophesying to a people who have become proud, worshipping idols and relying on their own resources and abilities. But the Lord almighty has already planned a day when the people of God will learn humility. The Presence of the Lord will remind them to fear Him once again.
No longer will they rely on themselves or foreign nations to do the things only God can do.
There is nothing wrong with honouring others if we honour God more. There is no sin in trusting a brother or sister to play her part in the team as long as our ultimate trust in life is in our Father in heaven. And there’s no shame in receiving praise for a job well done as long as you know it was the Lord’s Grace and provision that got you there.
How heavily do you lean on others? Those who have but a breath in their nostrils. A breath that God can call home at any moment. Paul’s picture of a human body speaks of giving more than receiving. Loving others. Serving others. Sharing in their sufferings. Honouring those who preach and teach. Giving out rather than relying on. Valuing those whom God gives us, rather than esteeming a person in the place of God.4m | Jan 16, 2024
- Satisfaction. Fruitfulness. Creativity.
“When I fed them, they were satisfied; when they were satisfied, they became proud; then they forgot me” (Hos 13: 6)
How would you describe your faith when things are going well for you?
When the bills are in and I have no money, when that relationship is tense again, when another deadline is looming and I don’t know how to fit everything in, it is easy to pray. I can find the scriptures that promise He will provide my needs, I know what James says about asking God for wisdom, and God has shown me that if I seek His Kingdom first, particularly with my time, then He will take care of everything else.
When I need God, He is there. He is faithful. And He doesn’t let me down.
I wish I could say that I have the same drive to seek the Lord’s face when life is good. When I have no need for Him. I wish I had the same passion – all the time - to gaze upon the beauty of the Lord, just because He is amazing; just because I love being with Him.
Why are there days when I have to make myself do that? Even though I love God with all my heart.
Hosea’s prophetic word to Israel in the 8th century BC reveals something of their (and our) human nature. The prophet was instructed to “Go, marry a promiscuous woman and have children with her” (Hos 1: 2), and that arrangement would mirror the relationship God had with His people.
When the people needed God and called out His name, He was there for them because He loved them, but more often than not, “a spirit of prostitution (was) in their heart”. The prophet lamented, “they do not acknowledge the Lord” (Hos 5: 4).
The book of Hosea is an intense and painful read. The Lord sees those he loves, the children of Israel, like a person who is sick, with painful sores, plagued with a disease of his own making. But whenever God healed him, the sin in his heart remained deeply entrenched. And even when calamities returned as a result, the nation preferred to look everywhere but God for help. They didn’t always turn to Him. They were unfaithful to the One who created them, provided for them, and loved them.
I know that my relationship with God today is very different to ancient Israel’s, not least because Jesus took my sickness and sores – that is, my sin – and crucified them to the cross. Israel in Hosea’s day was headed towards judgment by the hand of Assyria, while we, as followers of Jesus are on a journey towards life with Him.
But I cannot escape the fact that it is still, sometimes, a battle to be wholly devoted to Him. I am being transformed, by the grace of God, but my heart can easily become satisfied. And proud.
When things are going well, I conclude it must be something I’ve done. I rejoice in the win and feel very smug. When it comes to prayer, I can’t think of anything I need today, so it will be a short prayer time.
Back in the 8th century BC, the Lord in His infinite love and mercy, continued to call his people to him, despite their fickle relationship with Him. He longed for the day when He could “heal their waywardness and love them freely…” (Hos 14: 4). A new relationship where the Lord will “be like the dew to Israel; (who in turn) will blossom like a lily” (v 5).
A new relationship when fruitfulness will lead to thankfulness and new beauty and creativity. Perhaps that is the better direction to go when I have run out of things to ask for, when life is going well. An even deeper relationship with God defined by thankfulness and creativity.5m | Jan 9, 2024
In his excellent book, Truth on Fire, Adam Ramsey writes,
“If there was no resurrection, then the payment Jesus made as the sacrifice for our sins was rejected. If there was no resurrection, then the whole Bible was written by liars or lunatics. If there was no resurrection, then there is no hope.”
I’m so glad that the resurrection was real.
Today, let us remind ourselves of its glorious truth.
Starting at Pentecost, the resurrection dominated the preaching of the Apostles: “Fellow Israelites, listen to this: Jesus of Nazareth was a man accredited by God to you by miracles, wonders and signs, which God did among you through him, as you yourselves know. This man was handed over to you by God’s deliberate plan and foreknowledge; and you, with the help of wicked men, put him to death by nailing him to the cross. But God raised him from the dead, freeing him from the agony of death, because it was impossible for death to keep its hold on him” (Acts 2: 22 - 24).
In just a few words, Peter has said it all. “Jesus – the one from Nazareth, you know him! You know the miracles he did. Even though you put him to death, it was all part of God’s great plan to conquer death.”
Peter said the same thing to astonished witnesses of a lame man’s healing at the Temple Gate in the next chapter of Acts. “You killed the author of life, but God raised him from the dead” (Acts 3:15) and then to the household of Cornelius: “We are witnesses of everything he did in the country of the Jews and in Jerusalem. They killed him by hanging him on a cross, but God raised him from the dead on the third day and caused him to be seen” (Acts 10: 39 - 40).
News of the mighty miracle resounded throughout the ancient world as believers travelled far and wide, taking the news with them. The persecutor, Saul became the Paul, the loudest witness and proclaimer: “Fellow children of Abraham and you God-fearing Gentiles, it is to us that this message of salvation has been sent. The people of Jerusalem and their rulers did not recognize Jesus, yet in condemning him they fulfilled the words of the prophets that are read every Sabbath. Though they found no proper ground for a death sentence, they asked Pilate to have him executed. When they had carried out all that was written about him, they took him down from the cross and laid him in a tomb. But God raised him from the dead,” (Acts 13: 26 - 30)
And as Paul, and others, continued to share this stunning truth, the profound implications of it created a hope beyond their wildest dreams. The early writings exploded with celebration:
“He was delivered over to death for our sins and was raised to life for our justification”, wrote Paul to the Roman church in chapter 4: 25, and then to the Corinthian church: “By his power God raised the Lord from the dead, and he will raise us also” (1 Corinthians 6:14).
Peter also marvels at the life to come: “Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, and into an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade” (1 Peter 1: 3 – 4).
Amen. Christ is risen. He is risen indeed.5m | Jan 2, 2024
- May His face shine upon you...
“May God be gracious to us and bless us
and make his face shine on us—
2 so that your ways may be known on earth,
your salvation among all nations” (Ps 67: 1 – 2).
The imagery of God’s face shining on us signifies His kindness towards us or His favour – that is, His joy, light, peace and prosperity into our lives.
Having said that, the first two lines of this psalm, makes the psalmist’s prayer sounds rather selfish doesn’t it! “Lord, bless us. Lord, be gracious to me”. “Lord, it doesn’t matter about anyone else, just pour out your blessings and good things on me.”
But we only need to read the second verse to see that the two are connected: “so that your ways may be known on earth, your salvation among the nations”.
The psalmist is praying for the Lord’s blessing, for the benefit of the nations around them. So, too, can we pray for the Lord’s blessing for the benefit of those people around us. As we walk in fellowship with Him, living in His light, drawing on His daily grace, we can pray that the presence of a Holy God may be noticed by our neighbours. Our family. Our place of work.
In other words, God’s “ways” become visible, because the one submitted to the Lord lives differently to her peers. She knows the love and favour of her Father in heaven and so her demeanour, her choices, her language speak daily of realm where the Lord reigns and where His love and influence bring life and peace.
As we live in the grace of God, under the warm light of his face, those in darkness may sense the gulf between their world and ours, even if they can’t articulate why or what it is. And wouldn’t it be great if that gulf, along with the demonstration of His ways in plain view through the life of God’s child stirred a cry for help from the unbeliever?
“Lord, if you are there. I want what she’s got. Let me experience that joy and peace that seems to radiate from her. She talks of being saved, please give me that salvation too”.
“The Lord’s face shone on Moses with unique effect: ‘When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the LORD’” (Ex 34: 29).
Our faces may not glow from reading God’s Word or because we have spent time with Him in prayer, but we should expect His Presence to change us. And that change to be noticed by those in our orbit. Paul reminds us that we leak the aroma of Christ (in 2 Cor 2: 15) and Jesus told his followers that they were the light of the world (Matt 5: 14).
We are the vessels God chooses for His ways to be known on earth, a beacon of hope for the nations.4m | Dec 17, 2023
- In Christ
In Romans 8: 1, Paul tells us that “there is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus”. Writing to the Corinthians: “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here!” (2 Corinthians 5:17)
In Christ Jesus. What does that mean?
Paul also speaks of us being with Jesus: “And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus” (Ephesians 2:6). And we have a third point of view with the revelation that Christ is also in us: “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory” (Colossians 1:27).
Professor N.T. Wright, referring to Paul’s writings says, “Jesus of Nazareth is the Messiah God promised to Israel. If that is so, (Paul) can see all those great narratives from Scripture, rushing together to one point, so that now, in and through Jesus himself, it has all come true and it will all come true.”
The entire span of history, from Genesis to Revelation, the Patriarchs, the Exodus, the Promised Land, the Exile; the promises of one to come – a Messiah, God’s law written on human hearts, a new and powerful work of the Holy Spirit; all are fulfilled in and though the life and death and resurrection of our Lord Jesus Christ. It is in Christ’s life, death and resurrection that the great plan of salvation is complete.
When we believed the Gospel story and confessed our sins through a simple prayer, we became part of the new creation of God’s family with Jesus as the head. We were caught up in the new assembly of God’s redeemed people. Our lives became entwined into the great story of Jesus bringing everything together towards the promise of God dwelling among His people.
When Paul reminds us that we are in Christ, one of the truths he is imparting to us is that we are in His story and now part of His eternal purposes. We are no longer lost or “dead in our transgressions and sins” (Eph 2: 1). Forgiven and cleansed, we are adopted, never to become unadopted. Where He goes, we go. We have joined the Glory train en route to a new Promised Land with him.
When Paul declares that we are with Christ, he is pointing out that we now occupy the same spiritual ground and authority that our spiritual head holds. Christ is seated in the heavenly realms, raised to the right hand of the Father. He has lifted us to the same position. Our prayers therefore carry weight and authority.
When Paul speaks about Christ being in us, he is describing the presence of Jesus, through the Holy Spirit in our very souls. Every day. Every moment.
No wonder Paul needs different ways of describing the earth-shattering truths of our new relationship with Jesus. In Christ, with Christ, Christ in us – all elements of a beautiful tapestry depicting our rescue from spiritual death to becoming children of God.5m | Dec 11, 2023
- Return to the Place of Rest
Recently I woke up feeling anxious. I made myself a coffee and mulled it over, trying to work out where the anxiety was coming from.
It didn’t take long. I remembered a conversation the previous day that had left me unsettled and I also found myself reflecting on an email that was sitting in my inbox.
God has been showing me of late that I need to stop. Regularly. At least once a day and this was reinforced by a Psalm, I found myself reading. Psalm 116: 1 – 7 says this:
“I love the LORD, for he heard my voice;
he heard my cry for mercy.
2 Because he turned his ear to me,
I will call on him as long as I live.
3 The cords of death entangled me,
the anguish of the grave came over me;
I was overcome by distress and sorrow.
4 Then I called on the name of the LORD:
“LORD, save me! ”
5 The LORD is gracious and righteous;
our God is full of compassion.
6 The LORD protects the unwary;
when I was brought low, he saved me.
7 Return to your rest, my soul,
for the LORD has been good to you.”
The author sounds like he was once in terrible trouble, close to death and overcome with distress and sorrow. But the Lord saved him. He heard the psalmist’s prayer – his cry for mercy and now his heart is full of gratitude.
It is the last verse that struck me though, where he speaks to himself – to his soul: “Return to your rest, my soul, for the LORD has been good to you.” Return to your rest.
God created us to be children of God. He redeemed us by the precious blood of His Son, Jesus through His death on the cross so that we are at peace with Him. We are welcome in his Presence and in His family. We are created to be people at rest in God’s presence.
I believe therefore that this our default position, our factory reset if you like. In normal life, under everyday conditions we are designed to be at rest in God.
Circumstances disturbed that rest for the Psalmist, and he was temporarily torn away from it. So, at the end of his ordeal, he takes control of this thoughts and his emotions and commands himself: “Return to the state of rest that God has given you”.
How does he do that?
I believe a clue is found in the second half of that verse: “for the LORD has been good to you.” He is appealing to his mind and his memories to remember the goodness of God. “Soul! You can return to your place of rest because you know God takes care of you. Has always taken care of you. You don’t need to carry anxiety. There is no need to worry about tomorrow, about this or that possibility because your Father in Heaven is a good God; a faithful God.”
I’m happy to say that it didn’t take long for the anxiety to leave me that morning, particularly when I re-focused my thoughts on God’s goodness.4m | Dec 4, 2023
- What would you say to your younger self?
Thanks to everyone who read my article “Things I would say to my younger self” (or listened to the podcast, “4-minute Devotions – the Podcast”)
Many of you have written back to say what you would say to that younger version of you, if you had the chance. There were so many good responses. Here are some of the ones that stood out for me.
First, a few made me laugh: “Just dance” quipped Gennie from Angeles City, Philippines while Brian from Northampton, UK expressed what might have been a recent regret, plaintively writing, “Don’t dispose of or delete any notes/assignments, essays, sermon notes, or any similar material when you retire or move house.” I’ve been there, brother, message received!
Yvette must have been emerging from a full-on morning of school run chaos when she typed, “Four kids is too many kids!!” (she wrote to me later to tell me how much she loves each one of them).
There were some who felt they would not send any message to their younger self, reminding us that it is often in the most difficult times when we don’t know what to do, that we learn to seek God’s wisdom and trust in His sovereignty. Receiving a message from the future with detailed instructions of how to survive the crisis would deny us the opportunity to experience the Lords leading and faithfulness.
An excellent point of course, but, for the rest of us who didn’t think of that: “It's never too late to repent, and it's never too late to admit that our ideas and plans and schemes get ahead of God's will in our lives sometimes. Stop – Pray - Be still - go to the Word of God and wait for the leading of the Holy Spirit. Read the Word and then Do It!”, said Dave from Springfield, Tennessee
Steve (from Camp Verde in Arizona) had a list:
· Don’t be so lazy. You have potential use it.
· Be more disciplined.
· Listen to God’s call when He calls you the first time.
· Your parents have been where you are, listen to them. Like God, they want what’s best for you.
Vernon from Ansbach, Germany (Deutschland) had a longer list:
o Life is very brief, regardless of how long you live.
o Every moment of life is a precious gift. Don't squander the gift of life.
o Older people might look different, but they think and feel much the same way as you do.
o Find a spiritual discipline that is meaningful and relevant to you. Practice it daily.
o Seek opportunities to spend time with the dying and terminally ill. They have much to teach you.
o When you make a mistake or hurt another person, apologise, and say, "I'm sorry."
o Avoid intoxicants. They numb your spiritual awareness.
o Remember that everyone you meet is carrying one or more heavy burdens.
o Anger is usually caused by fear.
o Tell the people you love that you love them.
Clive from Newry, Northern Ireland would tell his younger self to “read more, think more, love more, believe more, question everyone and everything more. But most of all, play more!” And David from St Austell in the UK would want the one who trod the paths before him to “take more calculated risks”.
Thanks to all who contributed, Sorry I couldn’t include everybody’s.
But let me finish by stating the obvious: we cannot change the past. We can, however, “Listen to advice and accept discipline, and at the end you will be counted among the wise” (Prov 19: 20)5m | Nov 27, 2023
- Things I would say to my younger self
I wonder if you have ever wanted to jump into a time machine and try to reverse a decision you have made in the past. Or plant an idea you wish you’d had back then.
If you could send a message to your younger self, what would you say? What Godly advice would you give?
Here’s my thoughts. Warning Mr younger self – this could be confronting!
1. Don’t be so sensitive!
2. Be true to who you are; share your heart from time to time but never play the victim.
3. You can be a real idiot sometimes, can’t you? You know that!
4. Take responsibility for the decisions you have to make but listen to alternative perspectives. If the decision is a big one, actively seek out the wisdom of others. Especially those who might know stuff.
Now, remember this…
5 Trust in the LORD with all your
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight (Prov 3: 5 – 6)
5. It’s not a case of whether you can trust God, it is more about whether you choose to. God is not limited, but you are. You are limited in your imagination to really grasp how big and powerful God is; how wise and loving and kind He is. So, stop basing your faith on your tiny knowledge and understanding. Base it on the truth of God’s Word.
5 Trust in the LORD with all your
and lean not on your own understanding;
6 in all your ways submit to him,
and he will make your paths straight.
6. Stop being such an idiot (I know we have already had that one!)
7. Remember that human beings are complicated (like you). They are never black and white, and you have not taken the journey that they have been on. In fact, cut them some slack, because some people will do that for you when you least deserve it.
8. God will send you people who will be a blessing, people who will challenge you and some who will do both. Treasure each one.
9. At this stage, I don’t know how things will end, but aim to finish well. All the best Christian leaders are saying this: be consistent, show up. Whether you find yourself thirsty in the desert or swimming in the season of miracles, keep the daily disciplines (of love, faithfulness, prayer and God’s Word) until your time is up.
10. In all things, your number one priority is that The Lord’s name is glorified. Pray for this, that in times of challenge, heartache, conflict, misunderstandings and even betrayal, your response to each will be one that is honouring to God.
I wonder what messages you would send to your younger self.4m | Nov 20, 2023
- The Lord is...
Who is the Lord to you?
I don’t mean that we can make up a picture of Him, some sort of imaginary concept; some abstract thing where one might say, “this is what the idea of God means to me”.
I mean, which aspects of the Father’s love, mercy, beauty, and power have we known by experience to be true? Which attributes of God’s character as revealed in Scripture have particularly touched and shaped your life so far?
In other words, as you reflect on times in your life, when God came through with peace, or provision, with direction or help, who was He to you in those seasons or moments?
After the Lord parted the Red Sea, destroying the Egyptian army who were bent on killing the Israelites, Moses and his people sang, “The Lord is my strength and my defense; he has become my salvation” (Ex 15: 2)
When the Lord delivered David from the hands of all his enemies he sang, “The Lord is my rock and my fortress and my deliverer” (2 Sam 2: 22)
When David took a moment to reflect upon the Lord loving care for him, he wrote, “The Lord is my shepherd” (Ps 23: 1)
In an uncertain world, with superpowers pitted against each other, the prophet Nahum reminded God’s people that “The Lord is good, a refuge in times of trouble” (Nahum 1: 7).
When Paul wrote to the Philippian church, encouraging them not to submit to anxiety but in every situation bring their needs and requests to God, he began by remining them, “The Lord is near” (Phil 4: 5).
We learn who the Lord is by His effect on our lives. Yes, we can read that “The Lord is my portion and my cup” (Ps 16: 5) or hope in the promise that for those who refuse to let the Lord’s wisdom out of their sight, “the Lord will be your confidence” (Prov 3: 26 ESV). But there is another, deeper dimension to “Knowing the Lord” or knowing who He is when He graciously allows us to experience His working in our minds, hearts, homes and lives. In all our comings and goings.
Who is the Lord to you? How have you experienced Him so far?
It is good to stop and think about that. To remember moments, like opening the page of an old photograph album and smiling at a memory. And then give thanks. To enjoy His presence in that moment. To be His child. Safe. Secure. The Lord is my light and my salvation; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life; of whom shall I be afraid? (Ps 27: 1)
The Lord is. He is Present, Holy, Almighty, Kind. Full of love.
He is real. Alive.
He is Interested in you. In everything about you.
And He is active in His World. Carrying out His will.
Because He is God. He is the Living God. The Lord is… God.4m | Nov 13, 2023
- He who began a good work in you
“… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” (Phil 1: 6)
Harassed by a demon-possessed slave girl, beaten with rods and then thrown into prison, I don’t think anyone would say that Paul’s experience of planting a church in Philippi was an easy one. But the powerful conversion of a local business lady, Lydia, and her whole household; Paul’s miraculous release from jail and the conversion of the jailer and his household, revealed the presence and power of a mighty God.
No wonder Paul was able to remind the Philippian church that their humble beginning was a good work of the Lord. And if He did a good work back then, He is more than able to continue doing a good work today and into the future.
The same promise belongs to you and me, so what sort of ways might God continue His good works in and through us?
First, He can change us to be more like Jesus. “And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit (2 Cor 3: 18)
God loves us so much that he wants our unique personalities to reflect the love and character of His Son. The more we become like Him, the more His glory is revealed in us.
How do we become more like Him? Jesus spoke of us being branches in His vine. Every vineyard owner wants to see grapes of the highest quality, so she tends to the plant, making sure it has all the nutrients it needs. And she prunes it.
According to John 15: 2, Jesus “cuts off every branch in (him) that bears no fruit, while every branch that does bear fruit, he prunes so that it will be even more fruitful.”
The hardships of life, the challenges, even the pains and sorrows are not wasted in God’s economy. The Lord uses them to prune, in order that the work He began in us may find completion. In order that we may become like Him.
But there are things we can do to contribute to the process. “Remain in me”, Jesus continues, “No branch can bear fruit by itself; it must remain in the vine” (John 15: 4). “Stay close to me”, he seems to be saying, “and then pray bold prayers”. “If you remain in me and my words remain in you, ask whatever you wish, and it will be done for you” (John 15: 7). It is to the Father’s glory that we bear spiritual fruit in our lives – “so ask of me what you need”, He says.
No wonder Paul encouraged the Philippians by saying “I press on to take hold of that for which Christ Jesus took hold of me. Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: Forgetting what is behind and straining toward what is ahead, I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenward in Christ Jesus” (Phil 3: 12 – 14).
The Lord will complete the work He started in us. He will transform us to be more like Him. He will make us fruitful, but we need to cooperate with him by doing everything we can to run the race that is in front of us, staying close to Jesus, sparing no request back in our prayers, and holding on in faith when His secateurs do their pruning work.5m | Nov 6, 2023
- Yet not I but through Christ in me
“Lord, you establish peace for us;
all that we have accomplished you have done for us” (Is 26: 12).
At the risk of taking a verse out of context, something strikes me every time I read this line in Isaiah.
We celebrate human accomplishment – a new Olympic record, a heart-stopping performance on stage, a child raised in poverty earning her first million. There seems to be no limit to what we can achieve when we put our minds to it.
But when you think about it, despite the grueling months of training and focus, despite the sleepless nights and long days of hard work, and don’t even mention the knockbacks and disappointments that plagued you on the way to success, can we really say that I or that person got there entirely by our own skill or determination? Do we deserve all the glory?
Don’t get me wrong; achievements should be celebrated, and we all need encouragement along the way but where does God fit in the awards ceremony or on the Olympic podium?
At a time when God’s people trusted in their own strength or in the empty promises of human allies rather than their Creator and Redeemer, Isaiah calls them to remember who they are. They are citizens of a different city; they are children of the living God. Yet many chose to exalt themselves rather than look upon the One who is The God of Israel. That the Lord has revealed His grace and majesty throughout the known world made no difference to those who could not see it. Or didn’t want to see it.
Eph 2: 8 – 10 reminds us that “it is by grace you have been saved, through faith —and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— 9 not by works, so that no one can boast. 10 For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.”
Our creation and salvation are gifts. Undeserved and unmerited. We contributed nothing to the deal. We literally are God’s handiwork. That ability you have to play a musical instrument, the instinct you have developed to make that deal and hold back on the other; the fitness level you have worked so hard to achieve – it’s a gift. We may have honed and practiced it and we may have found the inner strength to keep going when another barrier got in the way, but who gave us the raw materials to begin with?
Who set up that friend to encourage you just when you needed it? Who opened that opportunity when it seemed all doors were closed?
“Lord, you establish peace for us;
all that we have accomplished you have done for us”.
No achievement is absent from God’s provision. We play a part, but we cannot accept the glory that belongs to our creator and saviour. As much as we might enjoy the applause, as the song reminds us: “yet not I, but through Christ in me”.4m | Oct 30, 2023
- God sees what you can become
The disciple John is often described as ‘the one who Jesus loved’. In his own book, he describes himself that way 6 times (for example, in John 13: 23). Most people agree that John was the youngest of the 12 disciples and the others were therefore like big brothers to him. There are hints of that, even a few years on, in key stories in the early chapters of Acts where another older disciple is taking the lead.
So, Jesus would also have been an older brother John looked up to, especially as his rabbi and teacher, and therefore it is not surprising if Jesus had a special affection for him.
In that kind of relationship, not only would Jesus have been especially protective of him, but he might also see what John could become. Have you ever wondered why Peter, James and John were chosen for some missions that the other nine disciples were not? (For example, to accompany Jesus on the mount of transfiguration in Mark 9).
I want to suggest that from the first time Jesus met John he saw what John could become.
What was John like as a young man following Jesus? He was passionate for the things of God – even before he met Jesus, it is very possible he was already following John the Baptist. He continued in his enthusiasm as a student of Jesus, although he might have been a little too zealous in his black and white judgment of others, for example suggesting fire from heaven upon a village that gave an unwelcome reception to Jesus.
Searching other Scriptures, we find that John was ambitious – to serve God, for leadership, for a position. But with a distinct lack of wisdom (and humility). In Mark 10: 37, he and his brother James had no qualms asking for the top positions in the life to come.
And yet Jesus loved him! He was the one who Jesus loved. He saw through the immaturity, looked past the rough edges because he knew his life could change. Jesus knew what John could become.
Just like He sees what we can become. How our lives can change.
When we start looking at John later in life, we see some contrasts to earlier behaviours and attitudes. For example, in Gal 2: 9, John is now a respected leader – a ‘pillar’ or column. A strong support. In his letter that we call 1 John, we find the one who had once wanted to call down fire from heaven, now makes an impassioned plea to those in his care to love one another (in 1 John 3: 11).
What made the difference? Obviously, Christ’s death and resurrection and then a new age of the Spirit starting in Acts 2, but the internal workings of the Holy Spirit in the heart of John are visible only to the Lord. What joy it must have been for Jesus to witness the beginnings of transformation while with John on earth and then continue throughout his life. Until the day he can be entrusted to write, not only one of the four gospels, but be the recipient of God’s most powerful prophetic message in the book of Revelation.
God sees what you can become too.5m | Oct 23, 2023
The Bible is full of stories of repentance leading to forgiveness and a new start.
Take Jonah, for example. God spoke his Word to him. It was very simple – ‘go to Nineveh and preach against it; tell them my judgment is coming’. But Jonah didn’t think that was such a great idea and he rebelled – by 180 degrees, in fact. He ran (and sailed) in the opposite direction in the hopes he might find somewhere away from the Lord’s presence. So, God had to do some careful persuasion.
A great storm came upon the boat, and we all know the story. At Jonah’s request, the sailors tossed him into the ocean and the wind and waves died down. Jonah was swallowed by a large fish, where he remained for three days and three nights.
It was here that Jonah learned how to repent, and in particular, how to repent with prayer. In graphic detail, he describes, in Jonah chapter 2, the moment of sinking in the ocean, becoming entangled with seaweed and unable to find his way back to the surface. He was pretty sure he was going to die.
Sometimes, God allows distressing things to happen in our lives when we disobey him. Why? In order that we might call upon his name and return to him. Jonah knew he had messed up while he was still on the boat, but it was only in the dangers of the open sea that he called out for help. And it was only in his suffocating imprisonment in the fish that true repentance began to occur.
Jonah probably spent a great deal of time in tears and this chapter reveals a man in fear, deep sadness and regret. Repentance with God can sometimes begin with an honest conversation about how you feel right now or how you felt in a moment back then. But we must go deeper if we are going to allow God to bring healing and birth spiritual fruit in us.
Surprisingly, Jonah is also thankful. He is thankful for God’s mercy and faithfulness towards him despite his earlier decision to run away. Giving thanks in times of reflection is an important part of recognising God’s sovereignty in all things. When we give thanks, we are acknowledging that only God has all the power and authority. He is the one who forgives and blesses, and only he can create good out of the bad.
Verse 7 seems to signal a turning point: ‘When my life was ebbing away, I remembered you, Lord, and my prayer rose to you, to your holy temple’. Jonah had probably been praying non-stop from the moment the fish swallowed him, but at this point, his prayers seem to change direction. He speaks of remembering and praying towards God’s holy temple.
What does he remember? Perhaps it was his failure to obey the Lord’s instructions, but then God’s holiness hits him with new understanding. God hates sin and cannot live with sin. Yet, despite that, God has allowed Jonah to enter into his holy presence and receive his forgiveness. It is an awesome moment of both humility and restoration. Jonah deserves separation from God, yet God has engineered circumstances to draw a rebellious man into his very presence so that his heart can be changed.
Jonah’s next response is to worship. He talks about offering sacrifices with songs of praise. As we imagine Jonah in a dark, slimy fish’s stomach, we hear a solitary voice singing! There is music in his heart and a deep compulsion to worship his Father in heaven. Despite his circumstances, the man has found peace and he now knows, deep in his heart, who his saviour is.
Lastly, we find this curious phrase, ‘What I have vowed I will make good’ (in verse 9). This is likely Jonah’s way of saying that he will now turn back 180 degrees and follow God’s commands. He will seek to obey him from now on. He will go to Nineveh as God instructed him and he will do what God wants him to do. This is true repentance - a re-commitment and a reorienting of the heart to full submission to the Lord’s purposes.
Today’s devotion was an excerpt from my book Looking Back to Move Forward: embracing setbacks for greater fruitfulness, available through Amazon and all major outlets or my website www.terrynightingale.com6m | Oct 16, 2023