• 3 tips for trusting God (part 2)

    “Trust in the LORD with all your heart

    and lean not on your own understanding;

    in all your ways submit to him,

    and he will make your paths straight” (Prov 3:5-6).

    In the first 4-minute devotion in this series, we said that our trust in the Lord during difficult situations, sometimes needs to move from our heads to our hearts. It is one thing to declare our faith in God and meditate on His promises, which are both good things to do during life’s pressures, but it is another to find a heart at peace throughout the ordeal.

    We suggested one thing that might help: to think on those of God’s attributes that particularly speak to the human heart. For example, God is kind, and His everlasting kindness is always directed towards us. And God is faithful. God keeps His covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love Him and keep His commandments. As spiritual descendants of God’s chosen people through faith in the risen Christ, His faithfulness will always reach to us.

    The second instruction in this short proverb is to “lean not on your own understanding”. In other words, look beyond the limits of your thinking and imagination. I have found that simple trust in God during challenging circumstances can be easily killed when I allow my mind to wander. When I think I understand every part of the situation; when I cannot see a way through, when I make assumptions about other people. When I put too much confidence in my own understanding of what is going on.

    A friend of mine tells the story of working with a person whose attitude towards him seemed uncaring, rude, and even, at times, hostile. He wondered what he had done to offend him and even became afraid of “saying the wrong thing”. He felt he had to “walk on eggshells” around him. He struggled to come to terms with the thought that a Christian brother would behave like this workmate.

    Until, one day, he realised that his partner was displaying some symptoms of a mental health condition. A well-known neurological disorder. The man wasn’t meaning to be rude; his brain was just wired differently. With a little more understanding of the situation, my friend was able to pray for a new perspective and trust God for a way forward.

    When we focus only on what we think we know, when we forget to question our assumptions, when we believe we have all the facts (when we don’t), it is easy to lean on our own understanding, instead of trusting God to solve the puzzle from the view He has of the bigger picture.

    “Trust in the LORD with all your heart

    and lean not on your own understanding;

    in all your ways submit to him,

    and he will make your paths straight”.

    Seeking the Lord for His understanding is so much better than making judgments with only a handful of the facts.

    4m - Jun 16, 2024
  • 3 tips for trusting God (part 1)

    “Trust in the LORD with all your heart

    and lean not on your own understanding;

    in all your ways submit to him,

    and he will make your paths straight” (Prov 3:5-6).

    Christians can, on occasion, find it hard to trust God in the situations that they face. It is not that God is not trustworthy, more that we can sometimes struggle to look away from the things that make us anxious, to a place where we rest in the peace that God wants to give us.

    Today’s two verses from the Book of Proverbs give us three instructions that I believe help us to obey Jesus’ teaching in Matt 6 when he said, “do not worry about your life” (Matt 6: 25).

    First, “trust in the Lord with all of your heart”. If you have been a follower of Jesus for any amount of time you will have read many verses that tell us, or encourage us, to put our trust in God. We can speak out our faith in God in difficult circumstances and we can read stories of others who have remained steadfast, hanging on to the promises of the Lord through life’s challenges.

    But sometimes the concept of trust stays in our heads (that is, “I know I need to put my faith in God in this situation, so I’ll just keep saying the verses”) but it doesn’t reach our hearts. God wants us – you, to trust Him from the depths of your heart. How do we do that?

    I am still learning this, but I find it helpful to think about those attributes of God’s character that particularly speak to the human heart. Here are a couple that speak to me:

    First, God is kind. Following the Lords severe judgment of the nation of Israel by way of their Babylonian captivity, He made this promise to His children through the prophet Isaiah,

    “In a surge of anger

    I hid my face from you for a moment,

    but with everlasting kindness

    I will have compassion on you,”

    says the LORD your Redeemer (Isaiah 54: 8).

    God is a God of compassion, and His everlasting kindness is always directed towards His people – towards us. Therefore, He will treat you kindly in your situation.

    Second, God is faithful. What does it mean that God is faithful? Deuteronomy 7: 9 reminds us that “…he is the faithful God, keeping his covenant of love to a thousand generations of those who love him and keep his commandments.”

    A thousand generations is a very long time. If five generations is about a hundred years, then a thousand must be at least two hundred times that. As Christians, our spiritual roots come from God’s chosen people in the scriptures, way back in history. And Christ himself. Jesus perfectly loved His Father and kept His commandments. Therefore, God faithfully keeps His covenant of love to Him and therefore, also to us.

    In other words, God is faithful to us because He is faithful to His Son and to His people. And so, God will be faithful to you, in your situation. He will not let you down. He sees it all and knows how to work it out.

    Therefore, you can trust Him with all of your heart. And the promise is: He will make your paths straight. We don’t need to be zigzagging all over the shop trying to find peace or struggling to make a decision. We can trust Him with all of our heart. 

    4m - Jun 9, 2024
  • If the Lord had not been on our side

    “If the Lord had not been on our side— let Israel say — if the Lord had not been on our side when people attacked us, they would have swallowed us alive when their anger flared against us; the flood would have engulfed us, the torrent would have swept over us, the raging waters would have swept us away. Praise be to the Lord, who has not let us be torn by their teeth. We have escaped like a bird from the fowler’s snare; the snare has been broken, and we have escaped. Our help is in the name of the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth” (Ps 124: 1 – 8)

    I wonder if you have ever pondered a memory where, on reflection, if God hadn’t answered that prayer, if that thing hadn’t happened, if that person hadn’t arrived when they did, your situation might have turned out very differently.

    Sometimes we only see the hand of the Lord when we look back afterwards.

    I remember a time, when for a long season, I couldn’t work out what God was doing. A couple of people, good people, misunderstood my reasons for a decision that I made, and they began to think the worst of me. I tried to explain what was going on, we had several conversations, but things just went from bad to worse.

    There isn’t space here to tell the whole story, but as things continued to go pear-shaped, I struggled to discern what God was up to. Until I realised (very slowly) that The Lord had plans I knew nothing about. New plans for me and new plans for the others involved in the situation.

    Now, when I reflect on that portion of my life, I realise, like the psalmist, that if the Lord hadn’t been on our side (or “for us”, as he promises in Rom 8: 31: “If God is for us, who can be against us?”), if He hadn’t granted me wise counsel form another brother at just the right time, if circumstances had played out differently, well… I dread to think how things might have turned out.

    But the truth is, God fulfilled his purposes, and He answered prayers, even though some answers were unexpected. He made me realise how much I needed Him, and He challenged me on a few things too.

    If the Lord hadn’t been on my side, if (with His help) I hadn’t clung to His promises, remembering that He is the Maker of heaven and earth (and so can do anything), I might not have seen the victory. I might have missed the new thing He was creating.

    When stuff happens, it is easy to take our eyes off the Lord, to forget that as His children, He is “on our side”. It may take a while to realise that he is readjusting some plans and expectations, so that “our side” is shaped to His purposes, but He will keep us safe in the battle that gets us there.

    Remember: The Lord is on your side. And His purposes in your situation are good purposes.

    4m - Jun 2, 2024
  • Show me your ways, teach me your paths

    “Show me your ways, LORD,

    teach me your paths.

    Guide me in your truth and teach me,

    for you are God my Savior,

    and my hope is in you all day long” (Ps 25: 4 – 5).

    I don’t know if David intended this when he wrote Psalm 25, but it seems to me there is a big difference between God’s Ways and His Paths.

    The phrase “God’s Ways” in the Scriptures can refer to several things. It might be His plans or his actions, or His decisions, but it is always related to His character. His ways are who He is, seen by what He decides to do (or not do). It describes how His principles shape His will; how His wisdom drives His judgments and choices.

    If we were to liken these descriptions to a human analogy, God’s ways are like the rules and principles of safe driving - the rules of the road or Highway Code as it is referred to in some countries. With that picture in mind, God’s paths can be His directions to your destination.

    When we pray, “show me your ways” we are asking Him to reveal to our minds and hearts how we can drive our lives within the wise and safe boundaries of His will and within the principles of His Word. When we pray, “teach me your paths”, this overlaps with a desire to know His ways, but it is also asking for specific guidance.

    “Lord, what is my destination?” “How do I get there?” “Do I go the long way round, or is there a shortcut?” “Is there a blockage in the road some distance away that I don’t yet see?” “Do I turn left here or right?”

    Sometimes I think I need to pray something like, “Lord, teach me to recognise your paths”. The Lord doesn’t need to change the way He speaks, but I need to learn to how hear and discern His voice better than I do. If I am driving the car of my life too fast, the Lord’s directions to take a slow detour may not be heard above the roar of the engine.

    The Ways of the Lord are referred to four more times in Psalm 25. God instructs sinners in His ways and the humble are taught His way. The ways of the Lord are loving and faithful and those that fear the Lord are given first-hand instruction as to the ways they should choose.

    Our loving Heavenly Father has much to teach us on our journey towards His destination. He wants to transform our minds and our characters to be more like His, so that while driving safely, we move with passion and purpose. He also wants to teach us how to read His map, what speed to drive down each part and where and when to stop and take a break.

    Sometimes we may come to a fork in the road and wonder which way to go. He may whisper “this way” to those who can hear, or He may say, “You choose. You know my ways, I have equipped and empowered you to make good decisions”. 

    4m - May 26, 2024
  • Growing and Building Together

    In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, he famously lists the essential offices that leaders carry in churches under his care – people who serve as apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers. Their purpose? “To equip his people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God and become mature, attaining to the whole measure of the fullness of Christ.”

    God wants his people to be mature in their faith, full of Christ, equipped for every task, “Built up”.

    The apostle continues: “Then we will no longer be infants, tossed back and forth by the waves, and blown here and there by every wind of teaching and by the cunning and craftiness of people in their deceitful scheming. Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph 4: 11 – 16)

    I want you to notice that although we rightly celebrate and honour the role of apostles, prophets, evangelists, pastors and teachers as they equip us to serve God, mould us towards unity and increase our knowledge of Jesus, the responsibility for growth also lies on us.

    Paul tells us we can grow by speaking the truth to each other in love, and we can grow by building up one another in love. Paul sees growth as a together activity. Within a community that is soaked in love.

    Like a human body, the parts of Christ’s body cannot exist on their own. We are joined to each other, “held together by every supporting ligament”. We grow in our faith as a unity. Together. Together in love.

    The body of Christ “grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work”. I can convince myself that I am growing in my faith as I study Scriptures on my own. That is an important part of my day, but if I only read God’s Word in solitude, I don’t hear the insights of those who are different to me. I miss the joy of seeing a verse impact a friend in a new way, and I’ll lose the benefit of a brother’s Godly challenge as he speaks the truth in love.

    I can try to be brave as I face life’s challenges, seeking the Lord for help, waiting for His promises to come to pass. But on my own will never be enough. There will always be something missing. As God’s children, we are joined, held together, which means my tears become your tears and your sorrows become mine. The new creation of God’s people under Christ as the head, and shepherded by his appointed leaders, still needs to “build itself up in love, as each part does its work”.

    Building and growing is not a solo activity in the New Testament. It requires the challenge of sharing my life with others; opening up when I’d rather face the darkness alone. Finding the work Christ wants me to do to strengthen his body in the place where he has called me to serve alongside others. 

    5m - May 19, 2024
  • Faithful in small things

    After Joseph (of technicolour dream coat fame) had been in an Egyptian prison for some time, we read that he had an unusual conversation with two of Pharaoh’s officials.

    Both had been forced into custody following an offense with their master and one morning they woke up, each one remembering a vivid dream. As they relayed their dreams to the young Hebrew, Joseph was able to interpret them. With chilling accuracy.

    Within 3 days, the Egyptian king called for his officials to be released from their chains, one being restored to his original position in the court, the other to be executed. Joseph’s predictions had not only come true, but they were correct even to the details as to how the executed man will die.

    Joseph was not a popular brother growing up among members of his family. He was clearly daddy’s favourite and there were times when humility and wisdom might have gone a long way. Some would likely have called him arrogant, but one thing rings clear throughout the biblical narrative and that is that he had a call on his life. God had purposes for him, and he knew it.

    So, when he found himself confined in a foreign jail, he must have wondered about God’s plans for him. Were they all in his imagination? Were the dreams he had as a teenager just silly dreams, meaning nothing? Did hope evaporate years ago?

    One thing that impresses me, though, about Joseph in this story is his attitude to God and his attitude to others. As hard as it must have been from him to live for so long in basic prison conditions, he does not appear to be self-focused. It is Joseph who notices that Pharaohs officials are troubled as they reflect on their respective dreams. He then takes the trouble to ask, “Why do you look so sad today?” (Gen 40: 7).

    When they told him their predicament that they knew of no-one to help them understand their dreams, Joseph was quick to offer help.

    But he was also quick to give glory to God. “Do not interpretations belong to God? Tell me your dreams.” (Gen 40: 8).

    Joseph could have made any number of self-serving decisions that day. He could have been so absorbed in his problems that he failed to notice burdens others were carrying. He might have seen the concerned looks on the faces of his fellow prisoners but then choose to look away and ignore them. He might have helped them interpret the dreams but then claim that his skills came from his own cleverness and greatness.

    Instead, Joseph, chose to care for those around him and give glory to God. I think God saw that. I think God saw that Joseph was faithful to sense The Lord’s promptings away from the limelight and do His will.

    On that day, the favourite son of Jacob was faithful in small things, and if you know the end of the story, we know that God eventually trusted him with a ministry the size of the nation.

    The master in Jesus’ Parable of the Talents says to one of the servants, “Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!” (Matt 25: 21)

    I believe that is the heart of God towards us as we seek to be faithful to Him in the small things of life.

    5m - May 12, 2024
  • The Patience of God

    “Then the LORD said to Abram, “Know for certain that your offspring will be sojourners in a land that is not theirs and will be servants there, and they will be afflicted for four hundred years. But I will bring judgment on the nation that they serve, and afterward they shall come out with great possessions” (Gen 15: 13 – 14).

    400 years is a long time. I have problems waiting 20 minutes for an overdue doctor’s appointment but 400 years! God waited that long for His purposes to be completed. Why would God allow His people to be servants (enslaved and oppressed as the CSB puts it) for so many years?

    The writer of Genesis tells us a little more in the next couple of verses: “As for you, you shall go to your fathers in peace; you shall be buried in a good old age. And they shall come back here in the fourth generation, for the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete” (v 15 – 16).

    God was not in a rush for the descendants of Abraham (then, Abram) to enter their Promised Land because “the iniquity of the Amorites is not yet complete”. Basically, Abram, your kids and grandkids and great grandkids etc are going have to wait because the Amorites haven’t finished sinning yet! Why would God be content with such a slow-moving timetable?

    And what have the Amorites got to do with anything?

    The Exodus narrative is a key theme of the Bible. The story of Moses leading God’s people out of enslavement (when the 400 years was eventually up), is told and re-told many times throughout the Scriptures. The Lord often referred to himself as “…the LORD your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that you should not be their slaves (Lev 26: 13).

    Centuries later, the prophet Jeremiah reminded God’s people of that truth (in 7: 21) as did Hosea: “When Israel was a child, I loved him, and out of Egypt I called my son” (Hos 11: 1).

    When Matthew describes the Christmas narrative of Joseph, Mary and their newborn, Jesus, fleeing to Egypt to escape the clutches of a jealous king Herod, and their eventual return to Israel, the same Hosea reference to the Exodus story is quoted, suggesting Jesus as a fulfillment to it.

    A grown-up Jesus miraculously met with Moses on the Mount of transfiguration and our Lord eventually became the Passover lamb. The meal before the Exodus evolved into a meal of bread and wine signifying for all time Christ’s death for our sins on the cross.

    God seemed shockingly patient with the Amorites as they continued to sin before Him for hundreds of years, whilst His people quietly formed themselves into a nation, waiting for his salvation.

    Time ambled on through centuries and millennia, occasionally marking an instant of God’s presence or intervention (e.g. Esther being raised to Queen “at such a time as this” to save God’s people from annihilation), God patience always waiting for the perfect moment for the next step of His plan: “For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly” (Rom 5: 6)

    God is infinitely patient because He knows His timing of all things. He sees all the circumstances, knows when the variables will fall into place, and like Gandalf in The Lord of the Rings, “…is never late, nor is he early, (but) he arrives precisely when he means to”. 

    5m - May 5, 2024
  • He Restores my Soul

    When was the last time you had a day when you felt like something of you was coming apart? Unravelling. It had taken every effort to keep things together throughout the ordeal and now you are scrambling to work out how to put your brain and heart back in order.

    When David wrote Psalm 23, the great king and war hero likened himself to a sheep! I have to admit - not the first animal I would think of to try to describe the man. Surely a bear or a lion – the very creatures he had once defeated in face-to-face combat (see 1 Sam 17: 34 – 36).

    But the once shepherd, in prayer before Almighty God, saw himself as a sheep. With His Lord as the shepherd. Probably because the battle-hardened soldier king knows what it feels like to have your strength sapped from your very core.

    And with that in mind he wrote this…

    “The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

    He makes me lie down in green pastures.

    He leads me beside still waters.

     He restores my soul…” (Ps 23: 1 – 3)

    The rest of the psalm talks about enemies and dark valleys but here at the beginning, David has found peace. We don’t know the specific context of Psalm 23, but David experienced enough traumatic adventures during one lifetime to last several. And if this psalm is anything to go by, there must have been at least some occasions when David found the Lord putting him back together, Restoring his soul.

    Can we glean anything from these few lines to help us in such times?

    First of all, David declares “I shall not want”. This is a bold statement of faith. Whatever the enemy may throw at me, The Lord will give me everything I need. I need not fear that I am going through this on my own. My Father in Heaven and great provider, knows what I need before I ask him, as Jesus taught in Matt 6: 8. And He is with me.

    David then describes the Lord, making him lie down in green pastures. I don’t believe that the Lord forces us to do anything (even though He could). But David has learned to sense the promptings of the Spirit and discern his leading to the point where he knows the green pasture is where he is meant to be.

    In this place of peace, the sun is warm and there is plenty to eat. He can feed on God’s Word as well as the food God provides and he might even catch up on some well-needed sleep.

    The Lord then leads David beside still or quiet waters. Jesus once described the Holy Spirit as water in John 7. We are told he “said in a loud voice, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as Scripture has said, rivers of living water will flow from within them.” By this he meant the Spirit, whom those who believed in him were later to receive” (John 7: 37 – 39).

    There is obviously a difference between quiet waters and a river, but the point is there is an invitation to drink. Just as David was led beside quiet waters to drink.  To drink of the Lord. To drink of His Holy Spirit.

    No wonder he found his soul restored. 

    5m - Apr 28, 2024
  • He is willing

    ​“When he (Jesus) came down from the mountain, large crowds followed him. Right away a man with leprosy came up and knelt before him, saying, “Lord, if you are willing, you can make me clean.” Reaching out his hand, Jesus touched him, saying, “I am willing; be made clean.” Immediately his leprosy was cleansed” (Matt 8: 1 – 3).

    “Now when the sun was setting, all those who had any who were sick with various diseases brought them to him, and he laid his hands on every one of them and healed them” (Luke 4: 40).

    If you have been Christian for a while, you will know that there are times when the healings or miracles don’t happen. There can be good reasons, for example, James writes that we can “ask and don’t receive because you ask with wrong motives” (James 4: 3). For as long as I can remember, I have preached that we can’t claim a healing as a guarantee, but when we ask, we come to the One who hears us, loves us and wants the best for us. He is the One who healed back then and can still heal today.

    But somehow, I feel I am missing something when I teach that way. I feel like I am making excuses for God. The bottom line is that Jesus was constantly willing to heal and there were times when the gospel writers noticed that every person asking Jesus for healing received it. He also encouraged His disciples (on several occasions) to ask, assuring them they will receive what they have asked for.

    Much has been written (and preached) on this subject and depending on your church or denomination’s theological perspective, conclusions will be formed, ranging from an acceptance of suffering instead of praying for the healing, to an expectation of miracles on a regular basis. And anything in between.

    Where does the Bible sit on this? A small devotion like this one cannot do justice to that question, but one thing that strikes me is Matthew’s observation that when Jesus was asked if He was willing to heal the leper (make him “clean”), which would also have restored him to his community, He responded in a heartbeat, “I am willing; be clean”. Without hesitation Jesus ministered love and power to those who asked.

    Jesus was willing, and on numerous occasions the gospel writers noted his compassion. When we come to the Lord in prayer, we come to the One who is moved with compassion and willing to help.

    Jesus’ words and actions always mirrored the heart of the Father. To encourage us to be bold in our asking, he even appealed to our desire as human parents to give the best for our kids. So how much will our Heavenly Father want to give to us? “Which of you, if your son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake? If you, then, though you are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your Father in heaven give good gifts to those who ask him!” (Matt 7: 9 – 11).

    I still don’t understand why some people don’t receive the miracle they are praying for, but I do believe we come to the One who loves us, is full of compassion and is willing to step in and help us.

    In a heartbeat. 

    5m - Apr 21, 2024
  • The Narrow Way

    “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it. But small is the gate and narrow the road that leads to life, and only a few find it” (Matt 7: 13 – 14).

    I used to think that this was about people becoming Christians and not pursuing other religions. I think it includes that interpretation, but I also believe there is more to it.

    One of the amazing things about God is that when He created human beings – when he created us – he gave us the power of choice. We are not robots. That’s why Genesis 3, the story of Adam and Eve, and their decision to disobey God is such a shocking story.

    Why would God create people with the choice to reject Him?

    I guess the simple answer, is that He wants love to be genuine. If we are to put Him first, to pursue Him and do His will, it must be because we have chosen that from a heart of love and gratitude.

    The choice laid before us in these two verses is the broad way or the narrow way. “Enter through the narrow gate. For wide is the gate and broad is the road that leads to destruction, and many enter through it.”

    Narrow can feel like a negative word, can’t it? It has negative connotations. We talk about some people being narrow-minded or having a narrow point of view.

    And so, many have concluded that Christianity is therefore a religion of restrictions. You can’t do this; you can’t do that. No smoking, no gambling, no drinking; no movies, no having fun of any kind!

    And this verse, they say, proves it!!

    I am so glad that these words come at the end of the Sermon on the Mount and not the beginning. Earlier in the sermon, in Matthew chapter 5, Jesus said to his audience, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven”. Later He talked about doing things “in secret” where only the Father sees but where the Father loves to reward them. And then Jesus encouraged His listeners to pray to the Father directly asking Him for all of their needs and be participants in His growing Kingdom (as they pray “your kingdom come”). Jesus has been wonderfully drawing them (and us as we read it today) into a love relationship with the Father.

    This is not a religion of restrictions, but a Kingdom of love and purpose and blessing. We are not being forced to sit in a prison of misery; we are being invited by the creator of the universe to join Him in His work of healing and salvation around the world.

    The road that leads to destruction is broad because there are an infinite number of ways to reject God and put ourselves first. The road to life is narrow because there is simply one path: a relationship with the Father through Jesus Christ. Yet that one path leads to infinite possibilities of what life with Him can look like.

    Sadly, many do not see it. Many just want to do what they want to do with their life. 

    4m - Apr 15, 2024
  • Love - the Fulfillment of the Law

    “Let no debt remain outstanding, except the continuing debt to love one another, for whoever loves others has fulfilled the law. The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery,” “You shall not murder,” “You shall not steal,” “You shall not covet,” and whatever other command there may be, are summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbour as yourself.” Love does no harm to a neighbour. Therefore, love is the fulfillment of the law” (Rom 13: 8 – 10).

    The famous Ten Commandments contained four that related to the Israelites’ relationship with God and six that spoke of how they should treat each other. Jesus summed them up when he answered a question from a religious teacher about which of the commandments might be the most important.

    Jesus simply said, “‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbour as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these” (Mark 12: 29 – 31).

    Paul reiterates all of this in his letter to the Romans. If we do not set out to hurt or harm another but choose rather to love the person who has wronged us, we have fulfilled the law that commands us to not murder.

    If we honour others above ourselves, seeking to give recognition of a job well done, instead of taking it, we turn our jealousy and covetousness into love, fulfilling the command not to steal.

    The Ten Commandments carved on stone tablets were always meant to be carried in human hearts. God spoke through the prophet Jeremiah,

    “This is the covenant I will make with the people of Israel after that time,” declares the LORD. “I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts” (Jer 31: 33).

    The writer to the Hebrews picks this up, reminding us that we have direct access to the Father in the Most Holy Place through the blood of Jesus and that therefore, we can draw near to God, know that our sins are forgiven, hold on to His promises and “spur one another on toward love and good deeds” (Heb 10: 24).

    As children of God, we have all the resources of Heaven available to us to fulfill the law. Not by self-righteous acts of religious activity but by genuine love, for our neighbour and for each other. By good deeds inspired by the cross. By pouring out on the world around us the same love the Father has lavished on us.

    As Paul writes, both the acts of love and the people that love in Christ’s name, take the law once carved in stone and infuse it into living and breathing human souls, who, in turn share it with each other as co-members of Christ’s body and radiate it out to a dying world.

    Christ has fulfilled the law. Love continues that work.

    4m - Apr 8, 2024
  • What can I give to God?

    “Keeping a close watch on (Jesus), they (the teachers of the law and the chief priests) sent spies, who pretended to be sincere. They hoped to catch Jesus in something he said, so that they might hand him over to the power and authority of the governor. So, the spies questioned him: “Teacher, we know that you speak and teach what is right, and that you do not show partiality but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it right for us to pay taxes to Caesar or not?”

    He saw through their duplicity and said to them, “Show me a denarius. Whose image and inscription are on it?”

    “Caesar’s,” they replied.

    He said to them, “Then give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

    They were unable to trap him in what he had said there in public. And astonished by his answer, they became silent” (Luke 20: 20 – 26).

    In today’s story, those trying to trap Jesus into saying something that might harm His ministry heard him say, “give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.”

    Jesus used the opportunity to remind the “spies” that everything belongs to God. Lifting the story into our day, when we give something to Him, like our time, our love, or our money, we are simply returning to Him what He already owns. What He has already shared with us.

    We give Him our time because he has given us a lifetime. We love Him because He first loved us. And we give him portions of our possessions and wealth because he gave us the ability to earn them.

    Is there anything we can give to God that He didn’t already give to us? Let me suggest two things. First, our thanks. God has no reason to say, “thank you” to us, but 1 Thess 5: 18 reminds us to give to him “thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.” God doesn’t force us to express gratitude, but it is certainly His will. What parent wouldn’t find joy seeing appreciation in the excited heart of her child? In comparison, there is so much that we can thank the Lord for. Perhaps our excited and grateful hearts bring joy to our Father in Heaven in a similar way.

    Second, thanks must surely lead to worship. “Ascribe to the LORD the glory due his name; worship the LORD in the splendour of his holiness” (Ps 29: 2). Again, God doesn’t give us worship, but we can certainly pour ours out to Him.

    “…give back to Caesar what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s.” Caesar may have given the Israelites in Jesus’ day some level of peace, a road system and trade networks but God gave them life, His Word and His Son. Oh, and He created Caesar.

    Everything comes back to a generous and loving God. How can we ever live a day without a “thank you” on our lips and love in our hearts? 

    4m - Mar 31, 2024
  • Speaking the Truth

    Jesus said, “…you have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘Do not break your oath, but fulfill to the Lord the vows you have made.’ But I tell you, do not swear an oath at all: either by heaven, for it is God’s throne; or by the earth, for it is his footstool; or by Jerusalem, for it is the city of the Great King. And do not swear by your head, for you cannot make even one hair white or black. All you need to say is simply ‘Yes’ or ‘No’; anything beyond this comes from the evil one” (Matt 5: 33 – 37).

    Would you say that you are a truthful person? An honest person? Most of us would agree that lies can be destructive and can break trust. But what about so-called, “white” lies – withholding truth because you don’t want to hurt somebody?

    In today’s passage, Jesus is encouraging honesty. To lie for our own gain or to hurt another is clearly wrong. A person of integrity will be truthful. But this must be balanced with genuine love for those around us as Paul teaches in Eph 4: 15: “speaking the truth in love, we will grow to become in every respect the mature body of him who is the head, that is, Christ”. We speak the truth in love so that we may all grow together in our faith, recognising that we are strongly connected to each other as Christ’s body.

    Or, to put it another way, we don’t lob truths or opinions at each other from a distance, we share honestly with kindness and gentleness and in close proximity. In fact, if a truth might hurt another we need to ask, first, if God’s wisdom counsels us to stay quiet; or to find a different way of reaching the same goal. 

    Jesus is also teaching that “swearing” (e.g. “I swear I am telling the truth, on my mother’s grave”, or “on the life of my children”), is not necessary if people know that you are a truthful person. A simple statement or answer to a question, like yes or no. is enough.

    In Jesus’ day, people would swear oaths in a similar way to us to emphasize that what they are saying is true. So, they might use the name of God.

    But, some leaders, lacking integrity, might swear an oath in the name of something less than God, like ‘Heaven’ or the city of Jerusalem, or something created by God, if they planned on not quite speaking the truth. Or the whole truth.

    It sounded good (“I swear it’s true on the name of our beautiful city Jerusalem”, or “this is as true as the hairs on my head”), but they may be lying.

    Assuming that everybody reading this (or listening to it) is keen to be a truth-teller, if some struggle to trust information shared by us, will it really make any difference if we try to validate it by making reference to somebody’s grave. Or our children.

    The Bible teaches us to speak the truth, clearly and simply, but always from a place of love and genuine commitment to one another. A family with those values at its core will never need to question the truthfulness of words shared by another.

    5m - Mar 24, 2024
  • Taking Revenge

    Have you ever wanted Payback? To get even with someone who has wronged you; or hurt you?

    There are literally hundreds of movies about revenge. In fact, IMDB (the go-to website for info on any film) has even created a list of the “50 best Revenge movies of all time” – including several that many would call classics.

    People love to hear stories about someone getting what they deserve.

    But I wonder what all this looks like in Jesus’ new World – His new Kingdom.

    Today we are going to read something from Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5. We might say, this describes how Jesus wants us to live; or what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. It is certainly different to the world around us.

    “You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you” (Matt 5 :38 – 42).

    At first glance these words seem like they are saying, “just be weak; just be a victim; don’t stand up for yourself; let people walk all over you!”

    Is Jesus encouraging a victim mentality?

    The answer is – No, He’s not!  Yes, sometimes we do need to defend ourselves (or defend others) but there is a big difference between blocking ourselves from harm and exacting revenge. If we have the power to protect ourselves (or somebody else) in danger, we must do so. However, if we can diffuse a bad situation peacefully, for example, refusing to hit back or blessing somebody with more than they deserve, it is surely better than letting anger rule the day.

    Imagine a Roman soldier in Jesus’ world, picking on a frail old man, demanding that he carry a heavy load for him for a whole mile, even though the young soldier is more than capable of picking up his own things. But, instead of the man refusing to comply or becoming angry, he looks at the boy, not much older than his grandson, as says, “Son, I am not going to carry this bag for 1 mile, I am going to walk with you for two. You may wonder why. Well simply this: I serve a God who gives us more than we deserve, who pours out blessings both on the Godly and the godly, who reaches out to us even when we want nothing to do with Him. It’s called Grace.  I just wanted you to experience something of that grace.

    Jesus’ words in the Sermon on the Mount are not about becoming a victim but about overcoming evil with good, responding to hatred (or anger) with mercy and kindness.

    I don’t know about you, but I would rather be in a world like that than one where revenge is unrestrained. 

    5m - Mar 17, 2024
  • Above all else, guard your heart

    Prov 4: 23 (in the modern NIV) says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for everything you do flows from it.” The CSB says, “Guard your heart above all else, for it is the source of life.” An older version of the NIV says, “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life”.

    Above all else. Above everything.

    The first 6 verses of the book of Proverbs tell us its purpose. The various sayings are for gaining wisdom, instruction, for understanding words of insight and learning about prudent behaviour, discretion, and discernment – so that we will do what is right and just and fair.

    And, in order to live in the good of these teachings, we are told we must embrace the Fear of the Lord. “The Fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge (1: 7) or the beginning of wisdom (in 9: 10).

    But today’s verse (chapter 4: 23) seems to go even deeper – Above all else; above everything else – guard your heart. Why? Because it is the wellspring of life. God puts a high value on what goes on in our hearts.

    The book of proverbs has a lot to say about the human heart. For example, My son do not forget my teaching, but keep my commands in your heart” (Prov 3: 1) and “Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding” (Prov 3: 5).

    Then there are other references to the heart that show how vulnerable it is, like, “A heart at peace gives life to the body, but envy rots the bones” (Prov 14: 30) or “A cheerful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones” (Prov 17: 22). “Anxiety weighs down the heart, but a kind word cheers it up” (Prov 12: 25).

    The human heart is fragile. That’s why we need to protect it; to guard it.

    When the stuff of life happens, maybe we don’t mean to, but, if we are not careful, we give permission to harmful emotions to enter and fester in our hearts – anxiety, disappointment, pain, which if left untreated can lead to… self-pity, anger, depression, cynicism… No wonder the writer of this proverb (4: 23) pleads with us: “Above all else, guard your heart for it is the wellspring of life”. 

    What does wellspring mean”?  A wellspring is a well head; a place where a spring comes out of the ground. A source of life.

    God made our hearts to be sources of life.

    When we keep the Lord’s commands in our heart, when God’s Word is welcomed there, they become a source of life inside us. When we trust Him with all of our heart, we invite the strength and wisdom of God into its depths.

    Jesus once said, “the Kingdom of God is within you”.

    How do we guard our hearts? Jesus also said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt 5: 8). In other words, keep it pure. Continually pursue purity of heart – in our thoughts, attitudes, reflections, emotions.

    Paul said it best: “…brothers and sisters, whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable—if anything is excellent or praiseworthy—think about such things” (Phil 4: 8).

    Let only Godly things in your heart and you will guard it well. 

    5m - Mar 10, 2024
  • 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
  • Fruifulness

    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). 

    Much fruit. 

    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
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